1839 – 1918
Scanned from Hood County Genealogical Society Newsletter
No. 19, August 1988
Contributed by: Lena Ratliff
Once upon a time there lived on the banks of the Brazos River a man named Thomas Barlow (called “Uncle Tommy”). He lived in a little dugout that he made all by himself. It was neat and clean with newspapers and magazines all stacked in neat piles.
Uncle Tommy was an educated man and, as the story has been told, he grew up in Kentucky – a beautiful place. He and a young girl fell in love and were planning to marry on a certain Sunday. On Wednesday, just before that Sunday the girl suddenly took sick and died. That put an end to Uncle Tommy’s dreams. Determined to put it all behind him, he left Kentucky and came to Texas. I do not know what mode of travel he used; I only know that he was in Mitchell Bend, Hood County, about 1870. It could have been earlier but he taught school there at that time. That school was one of the first in Hood County. The benches were made of logs and had no backs. I don’t know about the floor, probably dirt.
Mama told us about going to school there when Uncle Tommy taught. She said that every day at noon Uncle Tommy would disappear off into the brush somewhere. Of course in Mitchell Bend at that time there were plenty of hiding places. The big boys all got curious about where their teacher was going and what he was doing. One day curiosity got the best of them and they followed him – at a distance, of course, and they were astonished to see what he was doing. He had cleared off a big space of ground real clean, surrounded by trees so that no one could see him (he thought). There was Uncle Tommy dancing! He who was so strict, so staid, and never smiling!? dancing around and around! Was he capturing the dreams he had as a young man back in Kentucky? What else? But the boys never told him; they had too much respect.
And so – Uncle Tommy lived in his dugout on the banks of the Brazos River. Everyone thought of him as a hermit, but he visited people, and if anyone went fishing near where he lived he always enjoyed their company. Also, he told Uncle Will Poe he always went to the river to watch the boys swim and cavort in the water. Some of them were so daring, he said, that he feared for their lives. The old Brazos had “eddy-holes” where the water swirled around and around; every one knew they were dangerous.
Uncle Tommy was a tall man, stood erect (never stooped), always dressed in a black suit: black pants, black coat, black hat, white shirt, and shoulder length white hair.
As children going to school at Mambrino we very often saw Uncle Tommy going home with a 50 lb. sack of flour on his shoulder. He walked wherever he went. He visited the Crites, Hayworths, Snelsons, Uncle Will Poe, and others. Often we have seen him pass our house at ‘Brino on a hot summer day dressed in a black suit: black pants, black coat, black hat, white shirt, and his shoulder length white hair.
It was on one of those summer days that he stopped by our house, unannounced. Mama greeted him at the door and asked him to sit near the south as that was the coolest place in the room. I am sure it was on a Monday as Mama was washing and Monday was always her wash day, rain or shine, come what may. She seemed a little flustered with her old school teacher coming in like this. She went all out to please him. After she had settled him and given him a book to read, she told me to “go to the well and bring Uncle Tommy a cool drink of water”. So, I went to get the “cool drink of water.”
I came back and stood near Uncle Tommy who was deeply interested in his book. As I stood there, barefooted and in an old everday dress, I thought I was standing before a great man. Holding the big zinc bucketful of water with the dipper inside I said, “Uncle Tommy, do you want a cool drink?” Without a word he took the dipper and dipped deep into the bucket to get a big dipperful of water. He then put the dipper back and said very politely, “Thank you.” I hurried to tell Mama about him being so polite. “Mama, he said ‘Thank you”‘. “Of course he did,” she said, as she knew he was a very nice man.
Uncle Tommy had bee hives all around his little place and often brought a jar of honey to Uncle Will and Aunt Al Poe. He visited with them a great deal. One hot summer day he went to visit them, got sick, and died a few days later.
My brother, Van P. Morrison, held Uncle Tommy’s funeral. If I remember right Van told the story of Uncle Tommy’s early life in Kentucky and why he had left there. He was laid to rest in the Nubbin Ridge Cemetery in 1918. His epitaph is “Faithful unto death”
Uncle Tommy was a Great Man!
Indeed he was! Troy Purselley recalls that Uncle Tommy was an inventor. One invention was a gadget that would tie the twine on bundles of feed as they were ‘kicked out’ by the harvester. Farmers were having to tie them by hand. Uncle Tommy asked Mr. Poe if he could put the gadget on his harvester to test it. They did use it and it worked! Mr. Poe thought that was great and his field was the first where the bundles were tied automatically. It was a wonderful time-saver!