There were houses built in
Oklahoma long before there were any roads. Later, when the counties were
surveyed and roads were built on the mile sections, a few such houses were
located far from the road. George lived in such a house. Three miles
southwest of Horntown, the trail to George's house left the county road
and wound down the rocky hillside, eventually crossing a creek bed that
was dry for much of the year. The trail continued up the far hill, leaving
the rock behind and becoming deep sand. The land on either side of the
trail was thickly timbered with scrub oak. Some called them post oak,
others called them Black Jack. They were scrawny trees that matched the
area. The trail ended a quarter mile from the county road at George's
house. It has been at least fifty-five years since I was there, but I can
still see it today. There was a roof across the front porch which sagged
badly. The porch floor was even worse. Some of the floor boards were
rotten, others were missing altogether. As I tiptoed across the porch, I
noticed that the porch posts were rotten. I wondered if the roof would
fall on me.
The living room was small. A wood stove took up most of the usable
room. There was a sofa/cot//bed, (thing) against the wall. It was made of
used boards on four apple crates. It served as a place to sit during the
day and a bed at night. To the left was the lone bedroom. I did not go
into that room, but from the door, I could see only one bed. I remember
wondering how George, his wife and their children could all sleep in this
little house. And the problem grew worse. George's brother-in-law Dave,
Dave's wife and their children also lived in this house. I could not
understand how that many people could find room to even take a blanket and
lay on the floor.
A black and tan hound lay by the front porch. His back and ribs
showed. He looked hungry. A brindle milk cow with large horns roamed
around the house. She was rail thin and looked hungry. I did not see a
fence anywhere. There were sandburs and a few blades of grass growing
between the scrub oak, but not many. The brindle cow ate the leaves from
the low hanging limbs. As poor as she was, she provided milk for the two
families. Some years, cottontails were abundant; other years, they were
not. Jack rabbits were extremely hard to catch and the big swamp rabbits
were far to the south on the Sandy creek bottoms. Very few squirrels lived
in the scrub oak. There were always a bunch of little, ragged children
playing around the house. They, too, looked hungry.
Most of the people in our neighborhood didn't know who the house and
land belonged to. None of it was worth farming or grazing. Someone said
that it might be part of an oil lease that belonged to some rich oil man
who lived far away from Hughes county. But that was only a guess. No one
knew for sure.
Neither George nor Dave had a job. Not a regular one, anyway.
Sometimes, someone would drive out from Holdenville and pick up George or
Dave. They always met at the country road. People were afraid to drive
their car down that rocky, wooded trail. The job would last from a few
hours to a few days. They sometimes walked the ten miles to Holdenville
and stayed there until the job was finished. In such cases, they slept
wherever they could. Often on the ground.
But even those jobs were not always available. Days, weeks and even
months went by between such jobs. I recently asked someone who knew them
better than I did how, exactly, did George and Dave feed their children?
"They carried tow (gunny) sacks", he answered.
"What does that mean?", I asked.
"They gathered up things", he said.
He explained to me that they daily walked the country gathering up
anything they could eat, sell, burn or use.
I could not imagine anyone so poor. They were the only people I had
ever known who were poorer than we were. It is undeniable that one of the
reasons for their poverty was that they were black.
They were friendly, likable people. Everyone said they were excellent
workers. But opportunity was not as available to them as it was to others.
Opportunities were extremely scarce for everyone at that time, but
opportunities were nonexistent for George and Dave. I do not recall any
racial bias. No one ever criticized them. But things were this way
because...well...because that's the way things were. It was tradition. A
It was sometimes said that some of the things George gathered up along
the road were perhaps across the fence from the road. Someone said they
had been up and down those roads for fifty years and had never found
twenty-five ears of corn lined up in the road. Someone else suggested that
they had never found a nice, ripe cantaloupe laying in the road either.
But no one knew for sure from which side of the fence these things were
Having been raised in a strict fundamentalist Baptist home, these
remarks troubled me. I asked my father about this. He said, "Son, you
have to realize that the man's children are hungry."
"But you would never take something that didn't belong to you, no
matter what," I said.
"Yes", he replied, "If my children were hungry, I probably would."
I was stunned. My Father was the most strict moralist I knew.
"Never judge a man until you fully understand his circumstances," he
said. "And only God fully knows their circumstances."
And then the brindle cow died.
George had an old Model A ford, though it was rarely used. At nineteen
cents per gallon, gas was too expensive. It was cheaper to walk to
Holdenville. But on this Saturday morning, George cleaned out the trash,
put water in the radiator and got several family members to push him down
the hill. He let out on the clutch and on the second or third try, the car
started. The Model A bounced almost violently over the rocks in the
trail. Once on the county road, the going was easier. When he reached the
270 highway, he sailed on toward Holdenville at a brisk thirty miles per
The Hughes County sale barn was a beehive of activity each Saturday
morning. It did not take long for George to find what he was looking for.
The little jersey cow had a gentle, dished face, horns curved over her
head and had recently freshened. She was carrying milk.
She was too skinny for the packers, all bones and belly. Showing some
age, no one wanted to take her home as a milk cow. She was a small cow,
but that was an advantage for George.
Most people still agree that George was the only one to bid on the
jersey. Some say he bid ten dollars. Others say he only bid seven fifty.
Everyone agrees that his was the first, last and only bid on the little
George got a piece of worn out well rope from the Model A and tied it
around the jersey horns. She led as obediently as any old work horse. He
took her to the model A. He had already removed the back seat. He opened
both doors and ran the rope through the car. People standing by and
watching the show, quickly volunteered to help. One man pulled on the rope
while George and another man put their shoulders to her hips and pushed.
She went in pretty well until she was in to her stomach. But they
pushed, shoved and twisted until even that was inside the Model A. But it
soon became apparent that the whole cow would not fit in the back of the
The passenger side door was closed and the rope passed through the
window. With more pushing, shoving and grunting, soon the cow was in the
car. The driver's side door was forced closed. The cow was obviously in
some discomfort, so George jumped into the car, several people pushed him
through the parking lot until the motor started, and George headed back
east toward Horntown.
There is some disagreement today about whether the jersey's head was
doubled back into the front seat or whether her head was out the window. A
neighbor who lived near George recently told me that the cow's head was
definitely out the passenger side window. At least that's the way she was
when she came by our house, he said.
The cow reportedly lived several more years providing milk and meat
for the two families. She always seemed to annually have a good calf that
looked a lot like Elmer Lankford's Hereford bull. That was difficult for
some to understand since, as far as everyone knew, she was never exposed
to any bull. Someone suggested that she might have had some help getting
through the fence late at night. Who knows?
This whole matter was troubling to me as I wrestled with conscience
and compassion. It is troubling for a young child to be taught one thing
and see something different being practiced. I often wondered, if the
needs of these two families were so dire that they used compromising
methods to feed themselves, should it not have been the responsibility of
everyone in the Horntown community to help them?
My mother was, perhaps, the wisest person I have known. On several
occasions I asked her about this. No matter how busy she was, she always
stopped, dried her hands on her apron, faced me, looked me in the eye and
always recited the same answer.
"There is so much good in the worst of us,
And so much bad in the best of us,
That it ill behooves any of us,
To talk about the rest of us.
Right on, Mama.
Clayton Adair, Class of 1954 (Clayton attended Moss 1942-53 and
graduated from Holdenville - 1954)