by Pete Kendall

Hood County News – March 19, 2004

Along upper and lower Fall Creek, wagon-weary pioneers found three essentials they’d sought since departing Alabama, Kentucky and points east.

Cool, clear drinking water.

Fertile, plow-friendly soil.

Innocuous, if socially challenged, Indians.

Fall Creek was a little bit of paradise in the 19th century except for one annoying feature, inclement weather.

It was colder in the creek bottoms. Also, on occasion, windier, as when an 1890 tornado claimed at least three lives and destroyed several structures in its winding path.

Reconfigured and rejuvenated, the community pressed forward.

Abandonment wasn’t an alternative for families that had traveled thousands of miles on a hope and a prayer.

Fall Creek was home.

“People stopped because of the water and land,” Fall Creek native Julian Massey said. “That was good land. It’s still good land.

“The water was clean and clear until the ’50s. The drought of the ’50s dried it up.”

Residents learned quickly to abide environmental anomalies.

“We lived over there for many years,” Massey’s wife, Willie, said, “and it’s colder there than it is here (Mabrino highway). They have ice long before we have ice.

“People would laugh when we’d tell them about the water from our shallow well. When the wind was from the north, we had soft water. When the wind was normal, we had hard water.

“People would look at you crazy when you told them that. They’d ask, ‘Do you have hard water?’ I’d say, ‘It depends on which way the wind is blowing.’”

Water was particularly prized in the 19th century. It quenched thirsts and dampened fields. Well into the 20th century, the creek provided recreational amusement for young men with a little time on their hands.

“We fished for catfish and perch, and we used to rope suckers,” Julian said.

“You’d take a piece of copper wire and a pole and string. The wire was the loop. The wire is hard for the sucker to see.

“You’d sit on the bank and watch for the sucker to swim into the loop. When it did, you’d jerk the rod. That’s how you roped a sucker.

“They say they’re not fit to eat. I never tried one fried. But if you catch ’em, clean ’em and put ’em in a pressure cooker, they’ll make salmon take a back seat any day.”

Julian and his buddies occasionally fished with their hands, skinny-dipping and feeling for finned-critters in shore-line crevices.

“We’d always wad our clothes up together on the bank,” he said. “One evening, we came back after we’d fished a good long while, and we couldn’t find our clothes.

“We’d seen the girls scouts go down the river a while before. They were hollering at us. I guess they were hollering because they hid our clothes.

“We found them under a big cedar. They were stuck at the base of the cedar. We got scratched all over getting them out.

“Another time, we were skinny-dipping and got run out of the creek by the Gee and Morrison girls. We were in the baptizing hole. We didn’t know anybody was watching us.

“All of a sudden, we heard hollering and looked up, and there they were on the west bank. They ordered us out so they could swim. They were older than us.”

There were other kid-friendly pursuits.

“We rodeo’d with the neighbors’ cattle,” Massey said. “We’d tail a cow and run and blind her. She’d stop. Then one of us would get on. It was entertaining.

“We’d chunk wasp nests and have cob fights and pigeon egg fights. We’d get pigeon eggs out of the barn and choose up sides.”

The community of Fall Creek sprawled. The creek flowed, once briskly, between Cresson and the Brazos.

“Fall Creek starts this side of Cresson,” Julian said. “There’s upper Fall Creek and lower Fall Creek. That’s how the oldtimers separated it. Upper was above (Highway 4). Lower was south.

“Cresson is on the head of Fall Creek. You can pour water on one side of Cresson, and it goes toward the Trinity. Pour it on the other side, and it goes to the Brazos.

“There are falls on the Stewart place and on El Tesoro, the girl scout camp, before Fall Creek reaches the Brazos.

“I did a lot of playing there when I was a kid. I haven’t been down there in 50 years.”

What Massey saw in the 1930s was pretty much what the pioneers eyed from covered wagons and buggies.

“I grew up at Fall Creek, past the old cemetery and where the school used to be. You cross the creek and turn left. It’s the first house on the left. The house burned 10 or 15 years ago.

“I started school in 1932 when I was 5. The community was wonderful. Everybody knew everybody else. There were a lot of chores … chopping cotton, picking cotton, gathering corn, milking, slopping hogs, feeding chickens.

“But everybody had the same work, so it wasn’t unique to you.”

Great wealth was a rare commodity in Fall Creek in the Depression years. But hard times brought the community together.

“I say we were raised poor, but everybody thought they were poor,” Julian said. “I look back, and there was a variation in the poverty level.”

Most land holdings ranged from 40 to 60 acres.

“That was all that one team could work,” Julian said. “Back then, if you didn’t have several kids, you couldn’t pick the cotton.

“There were a lot of people who were farmers but who couldn’t farm. There was a lot of sharecropping then, people who moved every January.

“We were very fortunate. Daddy (Riley Massey) bought the house I was born and raised in. I believe Tommy Morris had owned it. I don’t know if he built it.

“We built a second story onto the log room that was already there. There was a big kitchen, about 18 or 20 x 30 north of the log room. The house had porches all the way around. It was a big thing.”

All that remains, sadly, is the foundation and well.

“Both my parents (Riley and Myrtle Carmichael Massey) were born at Fall Creek. My great granddaddy (William Massey) settled on the south river. He had 800 to 900 acres.”

The William and Caroline Massey cabin still stands, proud and tall, ready to withstand mischievous Comanches.

“My mother’s daddy, Major (Archibald) Carmichael, settled on the north river,” Massey said. “That bend is Carmichael Bend. So apparently the Carmichaels got there before the Masseys. The Masseys arrived in 1859.

“Major Carmichael settled on what was the Carmichael crossing that’s under water now. My grandmother Carmichael (Nancy R.) was a Rhodes. She married one of Major’s boys (James).”

The major and the Indians coexisted less than peacefully at times.

“My grandmother said Major would be off running the Indians, and the Indians’ women would come to the house begging. So the Carmichael woman would give the Indian women corn while the men were fighting each other.”

Virtually everyone at old Fall Creek community was related … meaning virtually everyone in old Fall Creek Cemetery is, too.

“There were 18 children in Julian’s granddaddy’s family, and they’re all in the cemetery but three,” Willie Mae said. “There must be 40 or 50 relatives down there, kinfolks or kin of kinfolks.”

“My great granddaddy and grandmaw are there,” Julian said. “My great greats are buried there. My great greats’ mother is buried there.”

“There might be two or three siblings from one family marry siblings of another family,” Willie Mae said. “It was very confusing when I got into the family.”

“For instance,” Julian said, “we’re not kin to the Johnsons, but I’ve got two aunts who married Johnsons. Aunt Lola was a Johnson, and she married a Rhodes, which are kin to me.”

Yearly cemetery workings unite the old community the first Saturday of April. Homecomings unite oldtimers less and less. There are fewer and fewer oldtimers.

“Homecoming is the first week of August,” Julian said. “We used to have a heck of a bunch of people. Well, the older folks are dying off and the young folks don’t care. But we still have it.”

Tales are told. Tales are, conceivably, stretched.

“Mr. Keith had a little rock store at a curve in the road when I was growing up,” Julian recalled. “As the story goes, that’s where a lot of boys learned to dip snuff and chew tobacco. They’d buy it there.

“I learned to dip snuff from those people who gave out the little round cans. They knew they couldn’t give them to school children, so they’d drive down the road and throw them.

“One day, I got me one. I thought, ‘Boy, howdy, I’ll try this when school’s out.’ I did as soon as I walked off the school yard.

“We had to walk a mile and a half to get home. I was going to be through with my snuff by the time I got home because I knew I’d get the hell beat out of me if I got caught.

“Well, a neighbor came down the road and asked if we wanted a ride. Everybody else hopped on the running boards. I knew I’d be in trouble if I didn’t hop on, too. When I got home, I must have been green. I sure was sick.

“I got to the front porch. My brother and sister went around to the back. I heard mama ask about me. She came around and saw me, and I guess she detected why I was sick by my color.

“She gave me the damndest whipping, and that ended that … except for the time I smoked a cob pipe.”

Fall Creek would seem the ideal locale for walking, talking ghosts. Julian is aware of none.

“The only ghost story I ever heard was about a holiness meeting at the tabernacle one day in the summertime. Sometimes they got a little carried away down there. We could hear them at home, and that was a mile and a half away.

“Well, I wasn’t in on this. I was too young. But a half dozen boys went up on Buzzard Roost, which was on the Rhodes place, and caught a buzzard.

“They went over on John Little Hill, kerosened a cob and tied it onto the buzzard’s feet. Then they set the cob on fire and turned the buzzard loose.

“And here come the Holy Ghost, just like the preacher at the tabernacle said.”

The buzzard made out better than Henry Davis.

“Henry was a schoolteacher who made judge and was also a historian,” Julian said. “He taught at Fall Creek. He was a little feller. The kids were bigger than he was.

“But he was pretty rough on the kids, and I reckon my uncles didn’t take lightly to being talked down to.

“Henry was at the blackboard one day with his back turned when somebody raised up and threw a ball bearing plum through both walls. It barely missed Henry’s head.

“Henry never did find out who did it. Right before he died, he asked my uncle, ‘Will you tell me who did it?’ My uncle would never say.”

Quite an honorable uncle.

“Wesley was his name, but everybody called him Mugg,” Julian said. “I was Socks. All the Masseys had nicknames. The Masseys were bad about that.”