All this century I have been collecting paper documents (more than 4 linear feet of them now crammed into 10 x 13 manila envelopes labeled with family names) and onto my computer (9 gigabytes worth now).
ORNERY PEOPLE is not going to be about showing how we are kin to kings and queens, though we are, like most people, as it turns out. All you need is one well documented line back to Sir Thomas Leigh, Lord Mayor of London at the time of Elizabeth's coronation, and you are kin to everyone worth knowing, sooner or later. Cousin Jane Austen was proud of her descent from Sir Thomas. ORNERY PEOPLE is not going to start off about how prosperous some of the Maryland immigrants were, not even the ancestor who seemed to own all of present-day Silver Springs. One thing you learn right away is how fast you go from pretty high civilization to primitive life in the backwoods. But I don't want to do a Start High and Retrogress story such as Oscar Ameringer saw. ORNERY PEOPLE will trace stages in Southern History, for many of the ancestors were not on the periphery of events but at the forefront, such as the Sims Intrusion of hundreds of people down the Elk River into what became NW Alabama got the personal attention of Jefferson who left instructions to Madison to send soldiers to burn them. When your folks get burned out of their homes and driven miles away because they have intruded too far, you are part of the western movement!
I have to make it a bundle of stories. One of the best short stories is about Aunt Margaret’s ride to King’s Mountain, the day after the battle and the shock that awaited her there. Many of the stories are of journeys. There's the Revolutionary vet cousin in North Carolina who at 78 decides he has to see his daughters in Indiana and Illinois before he dies so he saddles up and sets off. He and his horse got back home safely but somewhat brought down by many miles in the cold in Illinois. There is the 150-person ox-drawn wagon train from eastern NC arriving in NW Alabama, as described half a century later—the shouts of greetings. There is the illiterate old half Choctaw woman in Yalabusha MS who decides she has to find her children in northwestern Arkansas and harnesses her ox and gets onto the wagon and sets off and crosses the Mississippi somehow and goes on and finds them. Sometimes the glimpse is simply stunning as you realize how these people remembered great moments in history. Cousin Rachel Copeland remembered, more than half a century later, how a brother-in-law carrying one of her children called her out of her father-in-law’s house in Spartanburg County to listen. The guns at King’s Mountains were only fired for an hour, give or take a few minutes, but Rachel never forgot standing there hearing them.
Sometimes I will have to talk about how I found things—like the extraordinary three-line comment about Robert Ewart in an 1844 newspaper, more than half a century after his death. This supplements the pages in the 1877 Cyrus L. Hunter book on him and a son and a band of sons-in-law under son-in-law Col. Johnston fighting at King’s Mountain. And there he is in a National Register of Historic Places form as the co-donor of a Presbyterian church and cemetery! Of course, there he is on the Committee of Safety, brave guy that he was. My GGGGG Grandfather and also my GGGGG Grandfather again. We believed in keeping the bloodline pure, or as a descendant of Grandpa Ewart by the Texas Bells, a Hightower cousin in Waco, likes to put it, we favored limbs that did not branch.
I'm thinking the way to proceed is to start with the great grandparents and work backwards. What has made me happiest all along is glimpses of their lives and records of their words. Anyone experienced would have known from the start that there were many words to be recovered from wills, despite the destruction of records by Grant and Sherman and the other Union firebrands. Who would have thought that a Bell cousin had been a captive in the Mier Expedition and lived to write a book about it? And Texas has letters of his. I did not expect to see records of religious experiences or passages from sermons. I did not expect to see newspaper interviews. Who would have thought that I could have retrieved spoken words such as words hollered out by GGGGGG Grand Solomon Sparks while tied up on the bottom of a canoe going down the Yadkin? Or GGG Grandma Amanda Tucker Coker's words in her 1880s affidavit before the Dawes Commission? So she was literate? Well, she lived to be counted in the 1900 census which says she would read and speak English but could not write it. Her words could be taken down in an affidavit. Quoted comments sometimes survive Revolutionary pension applications and the applications themselves are sometimes partly in the applicants’ own hands. We have reports of the words a mother in NC said to her son as she sent him off to northern Virginia to get a bride from a particular family. We have many pages of local stories through the words of Cousin Fred Slimp—stories he was most competent to write them down. Because of an Arkansas Studs Turkel we have dozens of stories about the Cokers including many quotations.