BIOGRAPHIES of HENDERSON COUNTY

JOHN WALTER ROBERTS

Born 6 September 1902 Henderson TN

Home is where the heart is, and Mr. Walter Roberts heart is in old Alberton. Now retired after many years as an educator in Gibson and Obion Counties, he often returns to this area to visit his kin and to drive through his old home community. Recent Progress articles on the Alberton community and school motivated Mr. Roberts to write his memoirs. He shared them with Brenda Kirk Fiddler, who now shares them with the other Progress readers.

I was born on a farm about six miles south of the Natchez Trace headquarters. We spoke of it as the farm near the Big Rock. My mother, Martha Viola (Altom) Roberts. had inherited it from her father, David Crockett Altom. He was born in 1839, at a time when the fame of the West Tennessee bear hunter and Texas martyr was at its highest point. I now live in Obion TN, the area in which Crockett killed 45 bears in the fall and 54 bears the following spring in the early 1820's. Grandfather Altom, while a Union soldier, survived one year in Andersonville Prison during the Civil War. He died two months before my birth on Sept. 6, 1902. My mother was the wife of George W. Roberts.

My family sold the farm near the Big Rock about 1910 to Lige Lewis for $300 and bought the 360 acre farm from Grandpa Roberts (known as "Uncle Dunk) for $1400. We lived there until 1917, when we sold it to Pub Maness for $3000. (The farm is still in the Maness family.) We then moved to Chester County near Henderson.

When we lived in the ALberton community, Grandpa lived with us. He made coffins for the burial of children. I still have the drawing knife he used. He visited friends and relatives, using "Old Bird," a white-faced black pony to bull his buggy. Grandpa Dunk died in 1922, ate the age of 85.

Borrowing the poetic expression, "We are seven," the children in George W. and Martha Roberts family were Flora Branche, Sarah Rebecca, John Walter, George Crockett, Wilton, Charles Clifton and Lyman Lanoice.

Our "grandpa House" was an interesting structure. It had a front porch with columns. Fireplaces heated the four big rooms, all with high ceilings. The kitchen had a wood burning Majestic cookstove with a reservoir for hot water and a warming closet.

We made kraut by the barrel, sausage from the slaughter of six to eight hogs and cooked out enough lard, hopefully, for the year ahead. Near the big smokehouse, we kept a barrel where we stored ashes to use at soapmaking time. Salt and flour were bought by the barrel, and sugar by the 100 pounds. A well served to supply drinking water and for cooking. For clothes washing water, we went to the spring about a quarter mile away, unless we had caught enough water in the rain barrels, which were placed to catch the runoff from the house top.

Between the house and barn was a large garden space enclosed with sharpened pointed palings, so treated to prevent chickens from lighting on the tops. Occasionally though, one chicken would try and miss, thus getting hung by the next. If the chicken was found in time, we would have chicken and dumplings for dinner.

Much of the 360 acres was in the finest of timber which had never been cut over Longfellow's line would fit - "This is the forest primeval." Dad, with the help of tenants began clearing the land. I am saddened as I recall the procedure of tall trees being felled, and the huge logs cut in such lengths as could be rolled over or carried by eight to ten men. I recall two log rolling my family put on. Later my sisters and I would help our mother burn off the "new ground." ... With the bringing into production of land, tenants were needed. I recall John Henry Woods wife Sally Ann, sons Lester and Chester and daughter Ethel; Logan and Ellis Sego; Jeff Keene and wife Mrs. Elizabeth, son Roy and Atlas Evans; the Charlie Jowers family that included Miss Lucy, Gene, Nelle, Georgia and Mary; the William Jowers family that included Ida, Jessie, and Klem with whom I possum hunted.

One mile to the east was the Dick Lindsey family that included wife Laura, Ellis, Allie, Melvia, Maud, Evie, Etta, Paul and Jim. Though I have not seen Allie since her family moved to Sweeny TX in 1917, we still correspond.

Though the telephone had become fairly common in Lexington, it did not come to the Alberton area until the early teens. Several families were on the same line, but each house had a different ring. Our ring was a long and a short. The Dick Lindsey ring was two longs and three shorts. The rings were produced by turning a crank on the side of the box. A common pastime for shut-ins was listening in.

I rebelled at the idea of going to school, and on the first day that I was forced to start, I turned around and started back home. Papa stepped out from behind a big tree with a switch. This ended my rebellion for school. From this time (1910), till 1971, I knew nothing but school, having taught 49 yeas and loved it.

The Alberton School House was a large, white building with two front doors. There were rows of double desks with girls sitting on the right and boys on the left. The teacher sat at a desk on the stage in the middle part of the room. Students were summoned to school with the ringing of the huge bell mounted on the large platform outside. The building faced west, with an ample playground to the front; a gully to the back extended to the Hare's pasture where we played "Gully Birt.". The catcher stayed in the gully and had to catch the players who ran from bank to bank. At recess time, most of the pupils, who ranged in age from primer to several grown boys and girls, took part of the games and occasionally the teacher joined in. Mrs. Pearl Helms, the teacher in 1914 often played games as "Drop the Handkerchief" and "Ring around the Rosy" with us. Other teachers I recall were Mrs. Roberta Hare, Mattie Joyce, Emerson McPeake, Zephie Howell and Neely Murren.
Mrs. Helms boarded at our house when she was Miss Pearl Owens. She married Dorsey Helms during the Christmas holidays. He brought her back in a buggy and spent the night.

The school was located near the fine Hare homes and the store. Hare Bros. carried everything country people needed, as horse collars, dishes and a cracker barrel which the customer helped himself to. It fell my lot to take the eggs and swap them for needed items. If there was any money left over, I could get a stick of candy. A much beloved clerk at the store was Mr. Case Hancock.

After graduation from Alberton School, Flora and Sarah attended Lexington High School six miles away via "Old Maud" and the buggy one year. The second year they kept house in a rented apartment. My parents, much concerned that we attend school, talked with Bro. N.B. Hardeman who was holding a protracted meeting at Alberton Church of Christ. He suggested that they sell the farm and buy a 65 acre farm that he owned near Henderson where we would be within walking distance of both church and school. I began school in Henderson at the National Teachers Normal and Business College (later to be called Freed-Hardeman College) in the fall of 1917.

During Christmas week of 1917, we moved in four wagons to the farm purchased from Bro. Hardeman. The older children took turns driving the milk cows and helping Mama drive the buggy carrying the younger children.

This ends the seven year period of my life spent in the Alberton community. I loved it and I still enjoy visiting the area. Again and again, I repeat the poetical expression, How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood".

Contributed by Bill Altom from the Lexington Progress Wed. Dec. 15, 1993

Editors note: In 1923, Walter Roberts, a native Henderson man was hired by Gibson Co. Superintendent F.L. Browning (brother of former Governor Gordon Browning) to be principal of Medina High School. He also taught five classes and coached the new game of basketball. During one period, five members of his family were teaching school. Mr. Roberts was senior class president and valedictorian of the class of 1922 at what is now known as Freed Hardeman.

John Walter was born 6 September 1902 Henderson County TN>
His mother Martha Viola Altom born 27 Nov 1875 died 17 May 1954
H is father George W. Roberts born 1873.. they were marreid 20 Feb. 1898

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