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May 4, 1980

 

[The following is a summary of information given in interviews with Mrs. Dewey Autrey Harris and Mrs. Cordia Autrey Bennett, both granddaughters of Absalom Autrey, and Mrs. Willie Farley and Mrs. Audie Britt, both great-granddaughters of Absalom Autrey. This copy was obtained during a visit to the Lincoln Parish Museum in Ruston, Louisiana.]

According to family tradition, Absalom Autrey moved his family west from Selma, Alabama by wagon train in the year 1848. He, his wife, Elizaberth Norris, and fourteen children, are believed to be the first white people to have crossed what is known as Bird Creek, just west of Dubach, Louisiana. They made their crossing and located at the old house place on Christmas Eve Day, 1848. Bird Creek was so named for Absalom’s son, Bird Autrey, who "located" on the east side of the creek.

A family member still has the old mantel clock when made the long overland trip with them, between two feather beds. The first year the family spent in Louisiana, Absalom and his boys killed 544 deer. They also had an abundance of squirrel and wild turkey for eat. With such a large family, there was no wasted meat. What their household could not use was divided among the grown children. Another child, Charlie Henry, was born to Absalom and Elizabeth after they settled in Louisiana., He would later be the head of the household of the old log house.

At the time that they moved west to Louisiana, Absalom already had several children. Three of his daughters married in Alabama before moving west with the family. The lure of even more virgin land in Texas called some of his children further west. Several of them settled in East Texas.

Absalom built his house of logs with two large rooms on the front, the smaller rooms on back, a large hall down the middle and a front porch that was constructed the entire length of the house. There was a large cellar beneath the front east room of the house where they stored their fruit and potatoes and kept a grist mill. This cellar was dug down about four feet into the ground with the floor of the bedroom serving as roof for the cellar. It was enclosed by planks with a doorway located in front of the east fireplace.

After the house was completed, Absalom went to New Orleans and purchased several pieces of furniture. Some of the pieces have survived these two hundred thirty-two years and are still in the possession of family members. They were shipped up the river to Monroe then overland by ox cart to the Autrey house. The pieces were a marble-topped sideboard, which was cracked on route overland, and again in later years, and two four poster beds. One of the beds has since been used to make other pieces of furniture.

Sometimes after they settled in Louisiana, two of their slaves were keeping watch during the night and witnessed a meteor shower. It startled them so much that the man, John, ran into the house, "Masta, the orchards on fire". It must have appeared to them that the trees were on fire. This story has been handed down through the years, and was told by two different people.

For several years the family carried water from a nearby spring for their household use. Charlie Henry told his daughter, Dewey Harris, that he remembered his father putting him on a mule named "Red Sebe: and letting him ride back and forth to the spring in the winter snow to pack it down. Later they dug a well on the east end of the front porch. The well was placed close enough to the porch that you could reach it and draw water while standing on the porch.

In Absalom’s day the loft of the house was used as a bedroom for all of the boys of the family. Dewey Harris remembers trundle beds being there. There were stairs located at the back left side of the hall for access to the loft.

In 1860 Elizabeth Norris Autrey died and was buried a short distance behind the house in what was to become a small family cemetery. Absalom later married Kezia McCalla. They did not have any children. Charlie Henry once told Dewey that Kezia gave him far more spankings than his mother ever had.

A school house was built on a hill west of the Autrey house and it became known as the Autrey School House. The place is now known as the D. Cauer place. The 1860 census shows that James Jackson Autrey, an older son of Absalom, was a teacher of common school. It is likely that he was a teacher and probably the first teacher at the Autrey School House. He would have been his younger brother Charlie’s teacher. Other teachers of the Autrey School boarded at the Autrey home over the years. The 1860 census also lists Absalom Autrey’s worth as $6,400.00 and owning four slaves.

The Autrey School House was also used for church meetings of the Primitive Baptist Church, sometimes called hard-shelled Baptist, where Absalom and his family were members. Their gravestones in the family cemetery have the inscription "Primitive Baptist" carved into them.

A large porcelain platter that was used by the family is still in the possess of a family member. It is told that they fried enough bacon for the family and slaves to fill this huge platter every morning. It is very discolored and pitted by many years of use.

When the Civil War came, all of the Autrey boys went to do their part except Charlie, who was too young. One son, Syra, died from wounds received in the hand which developed blood poisoning. A friend of his came to Absalom after the war and told him of his son’s death and the circumstances. He said that on the night of his death, Syra begged them to cut his arm off, but they would not. Another son, James Jackson, died from illness during the war, according to Booths Civil War Book.

Charlie Henry was born with a severe vision problem and was nearly blind. When he was old enough to go on his own, he went to Arkansas and stayed four months and four days for treatment of his eyes. He paid a little black boy a dime a day to lead him to and from the doctor’s offices. As far as we know, he did not respond to the treatment. He did go to school and did well in his lessons.

When Charlie was grown and had married Mary Jane Moncrief, he bought the Absalom Autrey place from his father and brothers and sisters with the provision that Absalom and Kezia would have their home there with them for as long as they lived.

Kezia McCalla died in 1878 and Absalom died in 1885. They are both buried in back of the Autrey house in the family cemetery.

Charlie raised cotton and corn for a living. He plowed much of the 200 acres that they owned. The land west and south of the house was in fields and to the east of the house was a calf and hog pasture. It was told that he was a very successful farmer, having good crops when neighbor’s crops failed. One man told a story about his dealing with Charlie Autrey. He had been warned by a friend to watch Charlie when he bought from him, that he would try to cheat him. When he went to buy his corn, Charlie took a bushel basket to measure the sale. Each time he filled the basket to a rounded top instead of flat and would then take one ear and lay it aside to indicate one basket filled. The buyer was so pleased with this method of measuring that he told our source that he had never received better measure from anyone.

Charlie Henry had milk cows and raised enough calves for meat for his family. If they were unable to use the whole beef, they divided with family and friends, then when they killed a beef, they would also share with Charlie’s family. They did not raise calves to sell. At that time, a large yearling would not bring more than three or four dollars.

Charlie Henry Autrey had a large family. His first wife, Mary Jane Moncrief, died in 1888, and they had several children. His oldest daughter was Laura Alice Autrey, born 1876, who married Thomas Russell Huffman. They are the parents of Willie Huffman Farley, born 1905, and Audie Huffman Britt, born 1910, who contributed much of this information.

His second wife was Willie Michael and they had several children. Their youngest daughter is Dewey Autrey Harris, born 1898, who also contributed much of this information.

Dewey lived in the house until 1918 after her father’s death in 1917. At that time, the land and house was sold and the estate divided. Dewey’s mother lived with Dewey and her husband, Alf Harris, until her death.

Audie and Willie lived within sight of the log house during their childhood years and visited there very often.

Cordia Autrey Bennett, born 1896, is the daughter of Thomas (Doc) Autrey, one of Absalom’s younger sons. She lived with her family two or three miles southwest of the log house until she was seven years old, when they moved into Dubach, Louisiana. She visited very often at her Aunt Willie’s and uncle Charlie’s home.

The following is a description of the house and grounds as they remember seeing it in the early 1900’s. The east front room contained the marble top sideboard, a cookstove to the left of the fireplace and one or two beds. One of the poster beds was in this room. There was one or more large rocking chairs covered with sheepskins in this room and possibly in other rooms. The right back room had a table with benches on the sides and armchairs at the ends a tall safe with a large bowl full of honey in the honeycomb, and a bed. The left front room was a bedroom. The left back room was a bedroom and may have also been used as a pantry. The loft was not used as a bedroom at this time. The hall down the middle and the front porch was used quite often as a place to sit and relax during the hot day. The east end of the front porch, next to the well, had a plank used to set the was pan and water bucket. Along the front on each side of the front porch were split log barristers.

There was a spinning wheel in the house but it is thought that it was no longer used. Also, "a counterspin" (bedspread) was used on one of the beds.

The cellar under the house was used to store their dried fruit and they ground their meal there.

The hall was closed in at one time to provide dry storage for several barrels of flour they had purchased in anticipation of a shortage. After this need passed, it was restored to its original appearance and use.

Large persimmon trees grew behind the graveyard, which bore huge fruit. There were also large oak trees growing in around the cemetery. A plank fence surrounded the cemetery. Crepe Myrtles grew in abundance around the house and it was also enclosed by a plank fence with a gate in front.

Located at the right rear of the house was the smoke house. To the left was a milk shed enclosed by a plank cowpen. The shed was long and built parallel to the road. It was closed in on three sides and was partitioned into stalls for milking. It had a loft where hay was stored and the chickens laid there. Behind the cowpen was a lane which led back to the pasture. A small calf and hog patch was located to the right of the house, between the house and the spring. Some apple trees grew in this patch. It is believed that there was no toilet at the time or previous. The land to the east of the house was plowed. Across the road directly in front o the house was a buggy house where they kept the buggies, saddles and some implements and tools. There was a large trough made from a hollowed log cut in half. They used these hollowed log halves for feed and water troughs also.

Further down to the west from the buggy house was a large log barn.

The Autrey School House was the sight of church meetings for many years before a formal church was constructed in the community. Whenever church services were held, the Autrey family always expected company for dinner. When revival meetings were held for several days, the family cooked, cleaned and prepared for days ahead of time for the large crowds they knew would eat and even spend the nights with them. Charlie Henry would usually go to Mt. Zion Community and get a negro woman to help while the meeting was in progress. Many times they would prepare for fifty or sixty people. They slept all over the house on pallets. Willie Autrey once told her daughter, Dewey, that she’d worked cleaning and cooking until she would have "running fits". She told another humorous story about all the people spending the night. It seems that everyone had retired for the night except for the men who were sitting on the front porch talking till very late in the evening. Willie got up and scolded them for staying up so late and told them that if they didn’t come to bed soon, they wouldn’t remember which woman they were supposed to sleep with.

Charlie Henry and some of the other Absalom Autrey sons sold their cotton in Monroe and floated it down river by barge to New Orleans. Whenever they made this trip, they came back with hard candy packed in wooden buckets, barrels of brown sugar, and all kinds of fresh fruit. These were rare delicacies for this area and were greatly looked forward to by the children.

Christmas was also a time for rare treats. Each Christmas the Charlie Henry Autrey family would sit in a circle in the front east room and have their "Christmas pass around" . They fixed a large bowl of oranges and hard candy and passed it around the room with everyone helping themselves to the goodies.

Willie Farley told a humorous story from her childhood. One day her grandma, Willie Autrey, came over and asked her to play with her little cousin, Harold DeFreece, while she went to a meeting. Grandma had already fixed dinner and Grandpa Charlie, Willie and Harold ate their lunch that day and enjoyed it very much. Grandpa seemed to enjoy his lunch extremely well and really ate his fill. He made the comment after the meal that he’d eaten a "dog’s bate". Later, when Grandma returned, little Harold ran and told her that Grandpa had eaten a "dog pie" for dinner.

Charlie Henry is remembered by his granddaughters Audie Britt and Willie Farley as a person that really made them feel good about themselves. Whatever small accomplishments they made were always an occasion for hearty praise from Grandpa. Willie remembered making a cake one time at Grandpa’s house while she was still a small child. She had recently learned to bake cakes and Grandpa’s opinion was very important to her. He bragged on her and praised her highly for her talent at baking cakes.

On another occasion, Charlie Huffman, Audie’s and Willie’s brother, was watching his Grandpa reroof the barn with sheet iron. They were not certain how it should be nailed and they put the nails in the valley’s instead of on the ridge. The roof leaked worse then than it had before. Young Charlie made the suggestion that they take the sheet metal off and turn it over so the nail holes would then be on the ridges. They did this and it worked extremely well. Grandpa was very impressed with young Charlie’s suggestion and appropriately praised him.

Charlie Henry Autrey died in 1917 at the age of 67 years. He is buried beside his first wife, Mary Jane Moncrief, in the family cemetery behind the Autrey house.

Pioneer America, Vol. 14 (1982), No.3 Sent to me by Lana Kern, descendant of Elizabeth Norris Autrey. Pages 137 - 142

RESEARCH NOTEBOOK

THE ABSALOM AUTREY LOG HOUSE: LINCOLN PARISH, LOUISIANA

Absalom Autrey was born in North Carolina on April 11, 1802 and died on February 14, 1884 in the log house which he built. He was buried in the family graveyard a short distance from the back of the house. Absalom had fifteen children by his first wife, Elizabeth Norris, who came with him from Selma, Alabama in an ox drawn covered wagon in 1848. All of his younger children were with him besides many of his married sons and daughters and their wives and husbands. He brought a large group of Autreys on that wagon train, most of whom settled in Township 20 North, Range 3 West of the Louisiana Meridian (U.S. Congress, 1851).

Absalom’s family traveled to Vicksburg, Mississippi where they crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana on a log barge. It took them seven weeks from the time they left Alabama to get to the public lands in northern Louisiana which were being offered to the public by the federal government. He patented 159.19 acres on January 5, 1849 through Military Warrant No. 17163 (US General Land Office). Absalom bought more land in this area a few years later and apparently was one of the largest landowners in the parish in 1860. Land could be secured very cheaply at this time. In the 1840’s it was selling in many places for 12 1/2 cents per acre.

Absalom built his log house in early 1848 of virgin pine logs under large shade trees. There was a natural spring near the house and a beautiful meadow close by. Abundant game in this area included deer, bear, squirrels, rabbits, turkey and waterfowl. A smokehouse was built in the rear of the house for curing meat. A fire was made on the dirt floor and kept burning day and night during the curing season.

Absalom built his log house with the help of his sons,. They constructed double-pen log house (dog-trot) with a passageway between the cabins out of hewn pine logs which were cut on the site. The men first constructed piers of laterite ironstone and large wooden blocks cut from the tree trunks. In north Louisiana all log houses were raised off the ground so that the bottom log never rested on the earth. The logs in this old house are extremely large, some 12 inches in width. The largest and strongest ones rested on piers. All the floor are made of pine and are still in good condition.

The large pine logs were halved, hewn on all sides, and square notched top and bottom and at both ends. Wooden pegs were also used in some of these outside log walls to make them more secure. Large wooden pegs are used all over the house – in the log walls and the lintels over the passageway. No nails were used in the construction of the original house.

The house is 27 feet 4 inches deep. The pen on the right is 17 feet 9 inches wide and the one on the left is 17 feet and 2 inches. The ceilings are 9 feet in height. The doors on the front are more than three feet wide-one is 3 feet 1 inches and the other is 3 feet 7 inches. The doors within the passageway were 29 inches wide. There were two doors into the cabin on the right and the one on the left leading from the passageway. There is also an outside back door in each.

There are no windows on the front of the house, but there are two on the end walls of each cabin, as well as one in both ends of the loft. The old house originally had heavy wooden shutters on all the doors and windows. Screen doors and glass windows were added much later when these were easier to secure.

This log house is two rooms deep on each side and a story and a half high. The boys slept in the loft beneath the steep wood shingle roof, which old-timers considered much cooler than the modern tin roofs. Although there were steps leading to the loft in the left front cabin, the boys sometimes used the small window and the rocky chimney for getting in and out at night. The two chimneys at both sides of the house were constructed of local ironstone. The fireplace provided cooking and heating in the house.

The cellar was under the kitchen on the front of the house with an outside door on the east side. It was about six feet deep according to one of his granddaughters who later lived in the house. The inside walls were planked and had shelves for storing fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. The dirt was piled close to the walls to keep it cool and dry. The cellar is no longer there.

The front porch is 45 feet 5 inches wide and 9 feet 11 inches deep. The front posts are 7 feet 11 inches high. It is said the 50 foot original main beam across the porch was made from one pine tree.

REFERENCES SITED

U.S. General Land Office

The U.S. Tract Book Records of the U.S. Land Office, Natchitoches, Louisiana, MS, State Land Office, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Absalom Autrey – SE ,Sec. 21, T20N, R3w.

U.S. Congress

  1. A Report of the Commission of the General Land Office, Senate Executive Document No. 2, 2nd

Session, 31st Congress (Serial Set No. 588), Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.