AUTHOR SUNDAY: We went to a three-month school with a pot-bellied stove in Wilcox County, Alabama

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Marvin Malley Champion

submitted by Jean Champion Butterworth

We went to a 3-month’s school, had to walk through the wooded trails around a mile distance from home.wooded trail wilcox

We had one teacher and a pot bellied stove

The community used the church (Independent Baptist Church). We were all together in the big open church with one teacher, and a pot bellied stove in the center. The heat fuel situation was the same, as at home, the children had to gather up the wood; we got our drinking water from a branch that ran in the hollow in front of the church.

The boys used the woods in front of the church for the bathroom as the toilet and the girls use the woods behind the church. I started to school when I was five years old. My great aunt was the teacher. She was then Miss Minnie Champion. Yes, she petted me some, but not to a great extent. Just enough to get me into fights with the other boys, teasing me about being the teacher’s pet.

Dad was a good hunter

Dad was also a good hunter. He owned a double barrel 12-gauge shotgun, and he seldom ever missed a squirrel. The most he ever killed on one hunt was seven. He would always say when we eat these up; we’ll get some more.

I was not big enough to hunt, but I could bring in the catfish and eels.

I kept set hooks out the year round, the creeks would wash lots of them-away, but we didn’t have to worry about cane. It was plentiful in several places on the creek banks.  Some of the poles would grow 20 feet tall. Some of the community men would make fish baskets out of them.

On the Alabama River, there was a place called Yellow Bluff with as sand bar approximately 40 acres along the river edge. The community owned a 300-foot seine (net), so at least twice a year, we would go to this spot… men, women, children and all.

We made a haul before dark

We would leave in time to get to this place early enough to make a haul as they called it before dark. The seine had a 10-foot pole on one end with a rope tied to it. They would place this at the water edge stacking the rest of the seine on a skiff as it was called. Dad and another man would kinda go up and across the river draping the seine off the boat until the 300 foot wore out, drifting down stream until someone could reach the boat end, then we would start pulling it to shore. Never failed to catch tubs of fish. We would fish fry for a while, step on the sand bar, the rest of the night. Make another haul in the morning, eat, drink and head for home with fish to eat as long as they would keep (this was legal then).sunny south sign

The little town nearest to us was named Sunny South, which consisted of three stores, a depot and a post office with a bricked-up well and horse watering trough right in the middle of the road that ran between two of the stores. Off to the back was a gristmill to grind corn, only. That day was on Saturday. The man that operated the little mill would take the corn off the mule for me and put it back when it was made into meal. He would measure the corn and take a certain amount (toll) from each bushel. Then I would start my journey back home. This was an every Saturday chore.

We were sharecroppers

The man that owned the plantation where we lived was named Vandier. He owned over a thousand acres in this community (Independent). He never came around Him self to check on the sharecroppers as we were called then. Each house in the community had a certain amount of farming and pastureland that went with the house. We never had to share anything but cotton and corn.

He owned two barns or (warehouses) in Sunny South, so at harvest time, we would take every 4th bale of cotton and the 4th of the corn to these barns, however he had someone to see after it there. I can’t remember him checking anyone about their honesty, he trusted people to the fullest, and the people were honest. Evidently, he knew this.

We had to pick fifteen hundred pounds

I never missed going with Dad to gin the first bale of cotton unless I was sick. We had to pick fifteen hundred pounds of seed/cotton to make a hundred pound bale of cotton. The thing that thrilled us boys so much about going to the cotton gin was that we always ate dinner in one of the stores. Dad would buy salmon in the can fifteen cents, crackers-a big box for five cents, orange soda drink five cents, oiled sausage linked together… yum, yum, it was really a treat. Each store had a place in the back for this purpose, to eat. There was no place else, such as a restaurant.

This was known as the July Fresh of 1916.

I remember hearing the men and Dad talk about World War and I remember Dad was called up for a physical exam. He left home before daylight one morning on a mule to the county seat (courthouse) which was 15 miles from home. He had to spend the night. I remember how childlike worried I was thinking all the time he had been sent off to war.

I have a faint recollection of the President Woodrow Wilson declaring war. I do remember some of the men from our neighborhood leaving home for induction.

I shall never forget the song that the people were singing during the war. “Johnny get your gun, take it on the run, on the run, on the run, and they won’t be back until it’s all over there. Etc”

Mama was afraid to stay with just us kids

Dad didn’t have to go but he did have to find an essential job, so he went to work for the Southern Railroad, but came home only on weekends. Mama was afraid to stay with just us kids. She would bring the ax in every night and stand it in the corner at the head of her bed. We were not old enough to worry about things of that nature. so when night came. we would light up the two little brass lamps and sit, around until Mama sent us to bed and then began to pull something up against the doors. She managed to leave the cat hole open.

For some unknown reason. Mama was always afraid of the nighttime, and dark looking clouds. It could start thundering and lightening and she would start rounding us up to go to the storm pit. Sometime we would spend the night in the big underground house. It was about 12′ wide and 14′ long. 8 feet deep covered first with logs and boards, then covered with dirt.

Mama was not at ease with the weather

One afternoon, it began to thunder and lightening so Mama sent me to move 2 calves from the calf pasture to the coup where we milked. I had just drawn them in the pen and closed the gate when lightening struck a dead pine tree in the pen; killing both calves and knocked me down and out for a while. The thing that I remember most, when I did come alive I left there running. Mama never seemed to be at ease after this happened, especially when the weather was unsettled.

Dad taught us trapping

Dad tried to teach us what he knew about outdoor life, especially trapping.

He was pretty well supplied with steel trap, so in the fall and winter, when the animals bad put on their winter coat of fur. we would leave out early with all the traps in search for a hallow ground or water slide until all the traps were set. We did most of this in the Alabama River bottom, which was about 10 miles from home.

Mink (from trappingtoday.com)Mink (from trappingtoday.com)

Mink was the most sought fur animal. We had two kinds in this area; the brown and black mink. We made the trap line every day. Would usually catch one or two mink a week. A mink would never go by a ballow ground without going inside it. However, we caught more rabbits than mink. If the weather was real bad. The hares would head for the hollow ground and when we snared one, they would tear the area up as far as the trap chain would let them claw. Cruel, yes, but that was the way of bread and meat at that time.

We shipped all of the furs to St. Louis. Missouri. You might say they paid a reasonable price, anywhere from 3 to 12 dollars depending on bow well they were skinned and dried. If your knife blade slipped during the skinning process, you lost money. Muskrat pelts brought from four to around a dollar.

continued in Part III

Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth



  1. Enjoyed this article. My dad, Jim Beard Averitt, was born and raised in the Sunny South area up until the time he was drafted into the WWII conflict. His dad, grandfather, etc. are buried at Enon cemetery.

  2. I think our Skyline Farms photo just got taken by another County, According to Alabama Pioneers!

  3. Love all the old black and white photos of life a long time ago

  4. The school in the picture did not rate a pot-bellied stove. But I’m sure that 50-gallon oil drum worked very well to keep every one warm.

    1. I thought the same.

  5. The teacher in this picture, her grandaughter teaches here at Skyline Alabama today! The teacher in photo is, Lilah Wann Beason this photo was taken in the 1930s, As Skyline Farms was being built!

    1. Thank you for the info. We just borrowed the picture to go with the story since it was the closest example we had of a of pot bellied stove. We have the story and photographs from Skyline Farms in Jackson County, Alabama on AP. The story had to be spread over 8 installments. Here is the first one. http://alabamapioneers.com/skyline-farms-socialism/#sthash.dTFHfllp.dpbs I’ll add your info to the picture.

    2. Thank you i love your stories!

  6. My Mom used to tell stories about going to school in Ludlow, MS back then. They had a tin heater and the boys who were in charge of bringing in the wood, would randomly stick in firecrackers, which would go off later lol

  7. I love hearing stories from this area. My grandfather was raised in Pine Hill. My great great aunt was well known in the area. Her name was Etta Harrell. What timeframe is this article from? 30s? 40s?

  8. We had classroom in the 50s like that couple of the boys would come in light the fire in the stove before school. If your desk was close to stove you were too hot away from you kept your coat on

  9. Enjoyed the article, but was very frustrated when link to Part III did not work, and search as I may, could not find part III. Also missed part I

  10. I went to one in Limestone Co. Al. Wheeler Elementary.

  11. I have cane creek school photos

  12. 55 barrel drum for a stove, tree stump chairs, a chalkboard and by the eighth grade the equivalent of today’s high school diploma.

  13. My mom was teaching in a one room school house in 1928 in Washington County, Alabama.

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