~An Oral History Story~
My grandfather, Jasper Newton Cox, worked at McHenry mines for nearly three years from about 1912 to about 1915. When the coal miners went on strike, he was out of a job.
Both my grandparents told me a little bit about their decision to leave Kentucky. As a young man, Granddaddy had tried farming and there was no money in it. Farmers were at the complete mercy of the weather and perhaps the seasons had not been kind to farmers in the area. Ultimately, the miner’s strike prompted their move. To get ready, they held an auction.
During different interviews with my grandparents, I asked each one about how they happened to move to Louisiana. In a 1969 interview, my grandfather summed it up this way:
Granddaddy (Jasper Newton Cox - 1884-1974): “One time when Lizzie and Everett came back home for a visit, we all got to talking and I decided to move my family up there and go to work in the oil fields. I worked on a drilling rig, 12 hours a day for $3.00 a day. Steak was 35 cents a pound.
“We went by train from Kentucky to Louisiana. It was a long trip for the children. Gilbert had his sixth birthday in Edgerly, which was about 17 miles from Lake Charles. He went to school at West Lake, Louisiana in Calcasieu Parish.”
In a 1976 interview for my grandmother’s memories about their move and the auction they held, she gave the following account:
Grandmother (Eva Caroline (Smith) Cox - 1889-1988): “Well, you know, Auntie and Uncle lived at Edgerly, Louisiana. They were married in 1905 and went to Texas on their honeymoon, so they had been married about ten years when they came home for a visit. She talked me into going back with her.”
Introduction about the Auction
Auctions are one of the oldest forms of selling property, and date so far back in history -- spanning centuries -- that no one really knows for sure how they started or who started them.
In times gone by, in rural areas, one of the most common reasons for an auction was because the family planned to move to another town, county or state. When they decided to move, my grandparents began thinking of holding an auction, and my grandfather made a contract with a local auctioneer. My grandmother couldn’t remember his name, but she said Granddaddy hired a local auctioneer with a good reputation, known for paying close attention to the bidders. In other words, one who did more than just fast-talking and slamming the gavel down to announce the winning bid.
The auctioneer may have been one who had experience holding cattle auctions, or possibly a man who also auctioned off tobacco at county tobacco warehouses at Hartford and Fordsville.
The event took some planning and Grandmother had “hand bills” printed, announcing the auction with time, place, and directions. Grandmother said it read, “Rain or shine. Don’t forget the day. Tell all your friends and come see for yourself.”
I wish I had asked my grandmother exactly where their house was located. I’m not sure whether it was at or near McHenry mines or maybe they had moved somewhere near Select or Rosine after the miners went out on strike. Grandmother probably had the help of her mother and sisters to get ready for the sale.
On auction day, the auctioneer got there early to survey the variety of everything for sale and familiarize himself so he could help my grandparents get the most value from the sale. He may also have talked with potential bidders about some of the items to be sold for cash. Then he opened the bidding.
Some auction goers came early - with money in their pockets – and a few brought measuring tapes. Grandmother said whole families came - men, women and children - in wagons, buggies and by horseback. The weather was ideal and the attendance surpassed their expectations.
Right off, the auctioneer gave a sample of his chant and made the crowd feel like spending. As he auctioned off the items, his lively and rhythmic bid-calling made for some great entertainment. He was humorous and good at sprinkling in a few jokes and stories, and kept folks interested. Thus, my grandmother said, the auction became fun and entertaining.
Oral History Interviews about the Auction
November 11, 1976
Jerri (my nickname): “Grandmother, I wanted to ask you about when you auctioned off all your things to go to Louisiana. Do you remember if it was spring, summer, or fall?”
Grandmother: “It was in the fall. And Gilbert was six years old, I believe. He had his birthday in Edgerly. I know he celebrated his tenth birthday in Kentucky, because we were back there on a visit.”
Darrell (my aunt): “Mama, tell us some more. You and Auntie came to Texas?”
Frankie (my mother): “You came to Louisiana first, didn’t you?”
Jerri: “You all came together? I thought Auntie said she came on her honeymoon?”
Grandmother: “Yes, she did. But she came back home later on a visit and talked me into going back with her.”
Jerri: “And so where did you come back to? And how? On the train?”
Jerri: “What town was that?”
Grandmother: “Edgerly. Daddy went to work in the oil fields for Gulf Oil Company.”
Jerri: “And uncle already had a job in Edgerly and they had been living in Louisiana several years when they made the visit back to Kentucky?”
Grandmother: “Well, I can’t remember that, Jerri, exactly. I don’t know what kind of job he had at the time. But we went down there to live. And I sold everything I had in the house.”
Jerri: “You sold everything you had in the house?”
Grandmother: “Yes. Everything!”
Jerri: ““Is that right?” What did you do? Just have a big yard sale?”
Grandmother: “No, everything was in the house except what was outside, too.”
Jerri: “Did they auction it off?”
Grandmother: “Yes, we went to Hartford and had bills – you know, hand bills printed.”
Jerri: “How exciting! Darrell, you are missing this. She is telling about the sale and her auction! They had handbills (posters) made and they tacked them up on the trees.”
Grandmother: (Laughing). “And we went along – all the way from Hartford to McHenry mines - and put these bills (posters) up about the sale – and everybody came. And we just had the best time. And we had an auctioneer come. He was real good.”
Jerri: “Did you ride a horse to take them?”
Grandmother: “Went in a buggy.”
Jerri: “Who drove the buggy?”
Grandmother: “Oh, we had a buggy and a horse. We could go anywhere we wanted to.”
Jerri: “Do you mean the girls took the buggy out?”
Grandmother: “We drove the buggy, honey; Ella drove. It was her horse and buggy. But that’s where we went, and had the bills struck…printed. Hartford. And we drove along and tacked the handbills upon the trees. All the way to McHenry.” (Laughing)
Jerri: “How exciting! And it didn’t bother you to sell your things?”
Grandmother: “And then we had that man – I forget what his name was – to auction everything off. And one would bid on it, and the other one would bid against them. And I just got twice as much money out of my things! And that’s the truth! I just had a wonderful sale! And my fruit jars brought more! People would just bid against each other. (Laughing) I had that – and I just had a wonderful sale.”
“But I don’t know what – Daddy was out of work and I was just…and that’s how come us to leave. All the family didn’t want us to go.”
Jerri: “So how long did all of you live in Edgerly, Louisiana?”
Grandmother: “I just don’t remember now. Not too sure. But really and truly, I hated to leave Ma. Of course I did. And they sure did hate it. But we were tired of struggling from one job to another.”
Darrell: “And you and Daddy and Auntie all lived close and worked together for how many years?”
Grandmother: “Oh, for a long, long time. Clear down here (meaning Texas) to Excellent. We always lived close together. Excellent, in Coryell County...where Retha was born.”
Darrell: “And they always helped each other. Auntie and Mother had each other, and if one was sick, the other one helped the other one.”
Grandmother: “Yes, we were always close. We never were separated.”
Darrell: “And Eula Mae and Gilbert and Joye always had their childhood together. They were just like sisters and brother.” (Joye was Lizzie and Everett’s daughter, born 1912 at Orange, Orange County, Texas – not far from Beaumont.)
Grandmother: “And when I had typhoid fever. I’ll always have to give credit to her. (Auntie). I don’t think I would have ever been living if it wasn’t for her. She would make that beef tea and bring it up to the hospital every day. And she taken care of Gilbert and Eula Mae and did the washing. Bathed me. Dressed me. She was an angel. Done the cooking and the washing and ironing. Not only for her family, but for mine.”
Darrell: “Well, you were lucky to have each other.”
Grandmother: “Oh, yes. We always stuck together.”
Granddaddy also told this story: “While we lived in Edgerly, it was the time of the great flu epidemic – 1917-1918 - and all of us had it except Eula Mae. We were very sick. Lots of people died, including the mother of Gilbert’s playmates next door. Gilbert had a relapse with the flu and almost died…and he thought he was going to die. The doctor was called, and he came and convinced Gilbert that he wasn’t going to die like he thought he was. We called Dr. Brooks, who was a good doctor, and he told Gilbert that he couldn’t die, even if he wanted to.”
When the flu epidemic took place, grandmother, granddaddy and my daddy had the flu while they were living in Edgerly. Their little daughter, Eula Mae, escaped it, however, and she saved the day. At five or six years old, she was able to take instructions from her mother and cooked rice for the sick folks. That’s all they wanted to eat. I wish I had asked Eula Mae (my aunt) if she remembered cooking for her family members. I do recall grandmother and Eula Mae saying that she was a chubby little girl at that time, and
when people asked her why she didn’t catch it, Eula Mae declared, “Sat solks don’t get sick.” Meaning “fat folks don’t get sick.” (And that’s why she missed the flu).
Submitted by Janice Cox Brown
(Excerpts from more than one tape recording)