Saturday, December 10, 2016

James William Cox and Mary Elizabeth Mitchell - Part IV

Trapping, Hunting and Fishing

Sometimes after the evening chores were done, the livestock fed, and holes chopped through ice in the springs and branches so the animals could get water, the Cox boys and perhaps their cousins would head for the woods.  They took their bait, axes, hatchets, hunting knives, game bags, and dogs and set out to carefully set their traps and rabbit snares.  Traps were placed at the animal hole entrances or at feeding places.  While their fathers engaged in setting traps on their farms for bigger game like deer, wolves, and bears, sons were encouraged to trap smaller animals to keep them from destroying crops and stocks. Deer and turkey were watched and shot to keep them from eating the growing corn and grain. Squirrels could riddle a corn crop in a short time. 

No doubt the boys had exciting adventures, trapping possums, weasels, coons, woodchucks, muskrats, squirrel, and rabbits.  It was customary to set their traps before nightfall and hike back to them at daybreak to see what they had caught, before going on to school.  Sometimes, a skunk was an unwelcome catch!  But they were a big nuisance, too, and often wreaked havoc in the hen house. Hides and pelts of rabbits, mink, fox and other animals were sold for money or bartered for other goods.

Old records reflect the payment by the court for wolf hides and the newspaper often had ads such as,

“Coon Hides. Coon Hides.  George Williams wants them all, and pays
 the best money.” 

So then the boys got busy setting their traps, dreaming of what they would spend their money for.

Hunting was largely a matter of necessity to put fresh meat on the table.  Just as their fathers had done, men and boys also liked the challenge of hunting, and every farmer had favorite hunting dogs. Most were good shots and brought home deer, squirrels, wild turkeys, rabbits, and birds. 

Nearby rivers and creeks provided all the catfish, blue gill and black bass the men and boys could catch and their families enjoyed having fish fries with big platters of fried fish, served up with heaping bowls of fish gravy, and plates of golden fried potatoes.


Finally, when the snow and sleet were about all gone, the roads got really muddy, but by then, spring was just around the corner, and usually in March, everybody got busy planting potatoes and breaking corn ground.  Young and old looked forward to pleasant weather and to the new farming year ahead. 

So there were good times and hard times for the Cox family - but at the end of the year, looking back, it must have been a satisfying experience - planting the crops, tending the animals, and bringing in the harvest to keep the homestead going.


James Cox, the Young Man

James Cox was born with a crippled foot – the left foot was smaller than the right, so he learned to walk wearing two different sized shoes.  Though it had a crippling effect, the disorder didn’t keep him from doing almost everything other children could do.  When he was grown, however, it did prevent him from serving in the Civil War. 

In 1859, when James William Cox turned twenty-one, he became old enough to vote in the 1860 election for the United States Presidency.  Several candidates were running for the office:  Abraham Lincoln from Illinois, Republican Party; John Cabell Breckinridge from Kentucky, Southern Democratic Party; John Bell from Tennessee, Constitutional Union Party; and Stephen Arnold Douglas from Illinois (Northern) Democratic Party.  The little-known politician from Illinois, Abe Lincoln, who ran on a platform that promised to halt the expansion of slavery, resulted in a land-slide victory for the Republicans with a popular vote of 1,865,908 and electoral vote of 180, followed by Breckinridge of Kentucky with a popular vote of 848,019 and electoral vote of 72.  Lincoln’s first election in 1860 set the stage for the American Civil War.

We don’t know for sure how James William Cox voted, or if he voted, but it is believed his family was inclined to be Republican, and he probably voted for Abraham Lincoln.  We know his brother, Leonard Cox, who fought on the Union side in the Civil War, cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1864, because it is recorded in his Ohio County biographical sketch. 

When we were doing an oral family history interview in 1969, my grandfather told me: 

            “My father voted in the elections every year, but he was not a party
  man.  You know, he voted for the man he thought would make the
  best candidate; therefore, he was an independent.  He was ninety-three     
  years old when he died.”

It was on his father’s farm that Jim learned his blacksmith skills, which later became one of several occupations he held during his lifetime.  He also taught school at a number of places in the county.  At some point in his life, he was appointed postmaster at one of the communities where he lived.  More research may reveal the community name where he served as postmaster.  Most likely it was at Pincheco, a few miles southeast of Hartford.

Schools and Education

By 1860 at age twenty-two, Jim Cox was operating his own blacksmith shop in Fordsville, up in the northeastern part of Ohio County, but primarily he was a school teacher. By studying at home between calls on him for work around the homestead, he sought every opportunity possible to get an education, attending school at odd times.
Thus as a young man he was able to obtain a position as a school teacher and it was under his teaching that many young people throughout Ohio County got their education.

Teaching and learning in that day consisted mainly of literacy, penmanship, arithmetic, and “good manners.”  To become a teacher in that period, a person simply had to know how to read, write, and figure arithmetic.  That was where the term “Three Rs” came from - reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.  Probably, the self-sufficient and hard-working settlers also wanted their children to learn to read so they could study the Bible. 

When the children were needed to help work at home or on the farm, school was suspended and they were not taught at all until the crops were in. School sessions usually lasted about three months at a time.  Teachers frequently boarded with a community family.

People in those days entertained one another with music, storytelling and other recreation and much of it took place at the rural school house, a major center of community life, as were rural churches. 

In the “olden days,” pupils received much more attention from their school teachers than is given today, even with all the modern methods and equipment we have.  Although times were hard in those days, there was a closeness, as a rule, between teacher and pupils that we don’t have today.  They felt like a family and they learned to work together and they helped each other learn.  Sometimes parents sent under age children to school with older brothers and sisters because they had to work in the field that day.  Otherwise, the older children would have had to stay home to take care of the little ones. 

The older kids helped teach the younger kids if they needed help when the teacher was busy on the other side of the room.   In this day and time, all of the teaching is left to the teacher. 

Not to be forgotten is the fact that some of the scholars might often be older and larger than the teacher in charge.  On picture days, smaller siblings were sometimes brought to school so they could have their picture made.  Now and then old school pictures are found showing non-school age children included with the group because their parents wanted to have a picture of their smaller children.
When James William Cox taught school in Ohio County they had a tradition at the end of school whereby the teacher took all the boys to the Green River to swim in a favorite swimming hole and have a picnic.  The area had a high bank overlooking the river and a few of the older kids who were brave enough enjoyed jumping or diving off the high embankment into the water. 

One memorable summer, about the last day of school, James Cox took a group of his boy students, ranging in age from eight to fourteen or so, to the river to swim.  The boys had made it up in advance to gang up and throw or push their teacher into the river.  So when they got near enough, they all crowded around him and began pushing him closer toward the edge of the bank.  Realizing they would be strong enough to push him over, just as they got to the brink’s edge, he spread his arms wide and hugged them all in to him. 

When he went over the bank into the water, he took all the boys with him, arms and legs flailing every which way.  And lots of laughter and whooping and hollering.  The news quickly spread far and wide in the county because these boys told this story for years, even to their grandchildren.  They considered it a big joke because their teacher turned the tables on them and they all got wet together.

One of the duties and responsibilities for Jim Cox was to fill out the absentee report and make out academic reports on each student for the school trustees to go over.  Teachers were the key to the success of the schools.  Parents were no different then than they are today – all wanted a good education for their children.     


It was good that Jim’s mother lived long enough to see her son use the education he received in the county where he lived.  Susannah Miranda (Leach) Cox died an untimely death at age fifty-two on June 7, 1859.  It is unknown if she had been ill or just what caused her death.  Thomas Jefferson laid his wife to rest in East Providence Cemetery next to their little son, John T. B. who died at age five.  The cemetery is located on Prentiss road, not far from their Cromwell farm where they lived for many years.   

Jim was about twenty-one when his mother died.  His older sister, Elizabeth Mary, had been married for about eight years and was about twenty-seven, and his younger brother, Leonard, was only sixteen, and was probably still attending school.


In the 1860 Ohio County census records, James Cox, 22, blacksmith, was the first name enumerated on the census page in the Adams Fork District.  Fordsville was listed as the post office.  H. Baltzell, the census taker, may have gone to the livery stable early that morning on July 25 to get his horse and buggy hitched up, before starting out on his rounds to visit the county residents.  Since he found young James Cox already at work there, he just made that his first visit of the day and began the first census page with the name of “Jas. W. Cox.”  George W. Ezell, 19, also listed as a blacksmith, was recorded with James at dwelling No. 1. James put a value of $50 on his real estate and $150 as the value for his personal estate.  George Ezell listed the value of his personal estate as $100, which was probably the value of his blacksmithing tools and supplies; he was listed without real estate.


My grandfather told me his father became known as one of the best horseshoers in the county.  In that era horses were essential for both work and transportation.  Jim Cox performed a variety of services in his community, but keeping horses’ hooves in good condition kept him busy.  Good horseshoes, properly fitted and shod on a regular basis, contributed to the working life of the horse.

Jim located his blacksmith shop near the livery stable and at first he worked alone.  Eventually, he employed an apprentice, George Ezell, to assist with such tasks as pumping the bellows to stoke the fire.  The bellows forced air to the fire to make it burn hotter during the production of horseshoes and other farm tools.  In return for his assistance, Jim taught the younger man the art of being a blacksmith.  Most likely, George may have later bought his own tools and gone out into a nearby community to practice his new skills.

It is interesting to note that George W. Ezell became the brother-in-law of James Cox when George married Ellen B. Mitchell, the sister of Mary Elizabeth (Mitchell) Cox.  Their marriage occurred on October 17, 1860, about three months after the marriage of James and Mary.  It would be fun to know how and where the Mitchell girls met James and George.  Perhaps it was at the blacksmith shop, though I’ve often wondered if Mary Elizabeth was one of the pupils James taught in school.

With basic tools such as a forge, hammer, anvil, tongs, and bellows, Jim may have produced a variety of other iron and metal items for use in homes and around the farm.  Many blacksmiths produced such things as iron pots and pans, fireplace utensils, hinges, brackets, and other hardware.  In addition they forged wagon wheels, plows, and farm tools like chains, axes, saws, shovels and even cow bells and traps for hunters.  A full-time blacksmith was an important man in the early communities.


In a 1969 oral history interview with my grandfather, Jasper Newton Cox, he said this about his father, James William Cox:

            “My father had an education, and in his younger days, he taught school.
            And then he was a farmer, a blacksmith, and he had the post office. 
            When he left Rough River he bought a farm close to Cromwell.  My
            brothers ran the farm and he had the blacksmith shop.  He studied and
            learned to temper iron and was one of the best horse shoers in the
            country.  At first he didn’t always have the money to buy the iron he
needed for his blacksmith shop, but his word was his bond, and he
            would get the iron he needed and pay for it when his customers paid
            him.  The man he bought his iron from told him he could buy all the
            iron he wanted and he would ship it to him.  And when my father got
            it worked up and got his money, he paid for the iron.”          

I’m not certain if my grandfather was speaking of a community called Rough River, or if he was referring to an area where his father had located his blacksmith shop, near the river.   Rough River is a tributary of the Green River, 136 miles long, in west-central Kentucky.  It has also been known, historically, as “Rough Creek” – rising in north-western Hardin County, and flows generally west-southwestwardly through or along the boundaries of Grayson, Breckenridge, Ohio and McLean Counties, past the town of Hartford.  It joins the Green River at the town of Livermore, on the common boundary of McLean and Ohio Counties.  

At one period of time, a newspaper column, called “Rough River Ripples,” appeared in The Ohio County News, begun in 1953, written by McDowell A. Fogle, but that may have just been a selected name for his column.  Later, Dorothy Gentry edited this column in the Times-News.


On the eve of the Civil War, James William Cox married Mary Elizabeth Mitchell, on Saturday, August 4, 1860, just as the harvest season was over.  He was twenty-two and she was sixteen.  Because she was under age, Mary Elizabeth’s father would have had to give his consent in writing to the county clerk before a license could be obtained. While we have no record, it was customary in that day, unless they eloped, for weddings to be performed in the home of the bride.  Weddings were a special time for families with only close relatives and perhaps a few friends present.  The ceremony may have been solemn, but was surely filled with personal commitment, sincerity of feeling, with the promise and hope of a happy future.  As far as is known, no photos were made of the happy bride and groom in that early day. 

Often called “Bettie,” Mary Elizabeth was the daughter of Joseph Martin Mitchell and Susanna C. (Acton).  Her paternal grandparents were Robert and Judith (Benson) Mitchell, of Ohio County, but formerly of Shelby County, Kentucky.  Her maternal grandparents were Bartemus Acton and Sarah (Robey), who moved to Ohio County from Charles County, Maryland, in 1831.  He was a large landholder until his death in 1868. 

Mary was the oldest of the nine children of her parents.  Her brothers and sisters, in order of birth, were Ellen Boatman Mitchell, who married George W. Ezell; Anthony T., who died at four months; Sarah Ann “Sallie,” who married William Neighbors; Corella Evelyn, who married Robert H. Daniel; Martha Benson who married Calvin W. Daniel; Robert B., who died two weeks after birth; Joseph G. Mitchell, who married Henrietta A. Hurt; and Allison Pierce Mitchell, who married Viola V. Miles.

Mary Elizabeth (Mitchell) Cox

What money Jim Cox had saved from profits in his blacksmith shop and school-teaching was used to help the newlyweds set up housekeeping.  Most likely they started marriage while living in the Fordsville area since Jim’s blacksmith shop was located there.  As usually happened, children began to come along very close together, and their first son, Joseph Thomas, named after his two grandfathers, was born thirteen months later.

On June 6, 1870 the census taker visited household No. 77.   Listed there as living in the Cromwell precinct, Hartford Post Office, was James W. Cox, age 32, farmer, and his wife, Mary E., age 26, along with Joseph T., 8; Susannah, 6; Delana, 4; John W., 2, and Mary E., age 6 months.  William Bratcher was living with the family, age 23, and was listed as a farm laborer.  He probably helped with plowing, feeding cattle, and other work around the farm, until the little Cox boys grew big enough to help out and became little farm helpers themselves.  Later the Cox boys ran their father’s farming operations, while he ran his blacksmith shop.

Two years later on November 11, 1872, James Cox purchased a lot of land at Rosine, described as being near the tunnel on the E.& P.R.R. on the south side, and nearly opposite the house of  his brother, L. T. Cox.  He may have located a blacksmith shop there for awhile.  Or, he may have just been dabbling in land - buying and selling - when he thought he could make a little profit.  In a December 1883 deed, James and Mary E. Cox are shown selling two acres – a certain tract or parcel of land, lying adjacent to the town of Rosine, containing about two acres.  It may have been the same land he had previously purchased eleven years earlier.  His farm, however, was located near Cromwell.

Along with school teaching and shoeing horses on the side, Jim Cox still had a good deal of farming to do.  Enough can’t be said for the large crops of corn, grain, oats and wheat that had to be raised to feed all the livestock around the Cox farm, as well as for the needs of the family.  Each week’s work was a step onward.

NOTE: This article is Part IV of several.  It was written by Janice Cox Brown, an expert genealogy researcher whose ancestry is from Ohio County. Janice now lives in Texas. We thank her for her work and her desire to share her family research.

No comments:

Post a Comment