Monday, September 30, 2013

Is this a photo of Julia Lavinia Moody?

This photo is believed to be of a young Julia Lavinia Moody (1886-1965) who married Napoleon Bonaparte "Bonie" Pierce (1880-1964) in 1902.

The backdrop appears to be the kind a traveling photographer would use. A photographer from Mobile probably spent a day or two in Wilmer, Alabama, to photograph those in the farming community who were unlikely to travel the 25 miles into the Port City.

Do you have any clues as to the date of the photo from the clothing and hair styles? Compare this photo with the others on this blog known to be of Julia (use the search feature). Could this be someone other than Julia?

Monday, September 23, 2013

How did open-range or stock laws affect your ancestors’ farming decisions?

Photo from An Overview and History of Pineywoods Cattle

Most people today associate the term “open range” with the great cattle ranches in the America west of the Mississippi River. But until the 20th century, Mississippi and other Southern states also had an open range, and it played an important part in how farmers, including my Poore family ancestors, ran their farms.
The voters of each county decided if it had an open range.

Jasper County was among the state’s counties with an open range. Mississippi’s open-range law allowed animals to roam freely on unfenced land. The law required farmers to fence their crops if they wanted to protect them from any damage caused by someone else’s foraging animals.

In 1880, 41 of Mississippi’s 74 counties had open ranges like Jasper County. In the other 33 counties, the law required stockholders to keep their stock fenced. These are called stock-law counties. The stock law required the fencing of horses, mules, oxen, cattle, sheep and hogs, which were especially destructive of crops.

But in an open range county, if a row-crop farmer did not put up a fence, then he could not recover damages from the stockholder if the animals got into the farmer’s fields to munch on the crops.

Fences cost a good deal of time and money to keep up. By one estimate, out of every 10 working hours, a farmer spent one hour repairing fences. As for money, my Jasper County ancestor William B. Poore spent $12 building and repairing fences in 1879, according to the 1880 agricultural census.

In many ways Jasper County’s open range directed farmers’ choices more than the fertility of the soil. The open range amounted to weakly enforced property rights. The law allowed stockholders, whether they owned land or not, to benefit from using other people’s property freely to pasture and feed animals throughout the year. They turned the resources of the forests into farm income with hardly any cost.

Because of the costs to grow, protect and harvest a crop, the Poore family and others had little incentive to invest in improving their land. Nor did most other farmers in Jasper County. In the 1870s, 77 percent of all farmland remained unimproved.

In contrast, those who owned land and those who didn’t both had good financial reasons to keep larger herds than if they had to provide all the forage themselves.

The Poore family, too, focused more on raising livestock on the open range than on raising crops.

Did your ancestors live in an open-range county? How did that affect their farming decisions?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Know of an activity, perhaps long-forgotten now, that your ancestors used to make extra cash?

The Jasper County Review reported in 1904 that the community “had an old time log-rolling at W. B. Poore’s” on February 26, a Friday. By the time William and Emily Poore hosted this social gathering in the Moss community, the frontier necessity of log-rolling had long past.

Log-rolling had been a settler tradition that took place in late winter or early spring. A landowner such as William and his sons usually had spent the winter felling trees to clear new land. They sometimes chopped or sawed the felled trees into 10-foot lengths that made them easier to carry and stack.

Or, as was more usual, William and his sons may have only notched the timber every 10 feet. By starting a fire at each notch they could let the fire do all the hard work of cutting the timber into shorter lengths. The men and boys tended the fires morning and evening.

At log rolling time neighbor men and their sons came with handspikes to help gather the heavy logs into a pile. The handspikes were made from strong limbs or small tree trunks about 3-inches thick in the middle and trimmed smaller and smoother at the ends.

The men pried up the logs and slipped the spikes underneath. Men on each side of the log grabbed an end of the handspike in order to lift and carry the log.

Log-rolling was always an occasion for men to show off their strength, swap stories and play practical jokes. Sometimes a man would poke one end of his stick in cow dung before slipping it underneath the log to the unwary man waiting on the other side. Thus originated the saying, “I got the dirty end of the stick.”

When the logs were stacked high, the men set the pile on fire.

The wood ashes from such fires were once an important product on the frontier. The fire converted hardwood trees into mounds of ashes rich in potassium salts. From the ashes the settlers could make lye. In turn, they used lye to make soap. 

The settlers also could boil down the ashes to produce valuable potash. Or they sold their ashes to a storekeeper who ran an ashery. Until the late 19th century, the country was dotted with asheries that further processed the potash into pearl ash. Besides soap, potash and pearl ash were used to bleach textiles, make glass and in fertilizers.

By selling potash, settlers had a way to getting badly needed cash for their farming operations.

Do you know of an activity, perhaps like potash production, long-forgotten now, that your ancestors used to make extra cash?