A Christmas Gun

Montgomery M. Folsom in 1889 sketched a Christmas scene from in old Berrien County in which he reminisced about his boyhood desire for a “Christmas gun.”

Montgomery Morgan Folsom (1857-1899) Montgomery M. Folsom was the eldest son of Dr. James Roundtree Folsom and Rachel Inman Swain. He was a grandson of Randal Folsom and great grandson of Lawrence Armstrong Folsom, one of the pioneer settlers of Lowndes County, GA. On his mother’s side he was a grandson of Sarah Wooten and Morgan G. Swain, early residents of Troupville, GA.

Montgomery Morgan Folsom (1857-1899)
Montgomery M. Folsom was the eldest son of Dr. James Roundtree Folsom and Rachel Inman Swain. He was a grandson of Randal Folsom and great grandson of Lawrence Armstrong Folsom, one of the pioneer settlers of Lowndes County, GA. On his mother’s side he was a grandson of Sarah Wooten and Morgan G. Swain, early residents of Troupville, GA.

In the antebellum plantation Christmas, according Marion Harland in The Christian Union,

The ‘Christmas gun’ was a big tree -oak or hickory- a cavity of which, natural or artificial, was plugged with powder and touched with a match. Guns and pistols were discharged in quick succession; canisters and bottles filled with gunpowder were set off under barrels and hogsheads. Everything that could explode and reverberate was brought into jubilant action. ‘Christmas comes but once a year’ was a formula that palliated disorder and excused hubbub… [At] midnight of Christmas Eve…as the clock tolled twelve… the simultaneous roar of the Christmas gun and the scattering detonations of smaller artillery which were kept up until sunrise. 

Given Folsom’s birth date of 1857, this memoir appears to describe Christmas during the Civil War seen through the eyes of a young boy ignorant of the work required to prepare for such a celebration.  His mentions of African-Americans participating in the Christmas celebration are pejorative references to his grandfather’s slave “Uncle Mose” and to the young slave boys,  children of slaves, the Christian Union said, for whom “The nominal holiday meant, for the domestic and stable staff, a week of incessant occupation – cooking, serving, cleaning, much grooming, harnessing, and driving, infinite hewing of wood and drawing of water.

Ragged Reminisences

How Grandpa Got Away With Me on the Christmas Gun.

Oh, I did want a Christmas gun so bad!

For weeks before Santa Claus had started on his rounds I was forever hanging round.

“Grandpa, how much do guns cost? Grandpa, can’t I buy a Christmas gun? Grandpa, get me a gun.”

The old gentleman must have got mighty tired of it, but I lived in hope if I died in despair.

In those days there were various ways of firing Christmas guns. Down at the shop Uncle Peter was able to make a pretty horrible explosion by spitting on the anvil, laying a piece of red hot iron on it and striking it a sharp blow with the big hammer.

I did not understand the reason for this at that time, but age and experience have informed me that it was the steam generated between the spittle and the hot iron. Now, if some other smart fellow would come along and explain to me just how comes steam to make a racket of that sort I shall be a wiser if a sadder man.

I guess it is on the same principle of a pop-gun, but I swear I’ve never correctly understood the principle of a pop gun, yet, I suppose like the Grecian philosopher, that with a gun long enough and a pusher strong enough, a fellow could make a tumultuous noise in the world.

Then there was another sort of a gun that was a rip roarer, but it was rather expensive. That was to bore an inch auger hole in a tree, drive a peg in the hole with a groove in it for the train, and put powder in the hole. The way we fired it was by laying a nice little train of powder, putting some shavings and scraps of cotton on it, setting the shavings afire, and then retreating to a safe distance.

This was a pretty good sort of a gun its own self, and it always reminded me of a story – a very funny story – that grandpa used to tell us about an Irishman who had an aching tooth.

The Irishman, according to grandpa’s version, put powder in the tooth, touched fire to it and ran.

With the full white light of modern research, and the gigantic strides of scientific investigation, I am led to believe that the Irishman was a myth and the whole story a hoax, but I believed it then, and I was happy.

I knew General DeLoach once swinged his eyebrows off and loosened his front teeth, fixing a train for one of those explosions, but the general had wet his eye so often that his vision was bad that day, so grandpa said.

I did want a gun so bad.

I made life exceedingly interesting for grandpa on the gun question.

But grandpa had some sense, and he waived the plea and I got no gun, although I got a good many other very nice things, among them a rag doll that affected my spirit sorely, for above all things I hated for anybody to suppose that I was not thoroughly masculine in all my preferences and predilections. I suppose I might have been a more useful citizen had I never changed my notions.

Old Christmas – you know that comes just twelve days after new Christmas – was a bright and beautiful day. On the night before I had sat on a log and shivered for half an hour to see if the sheep all got down on their knees, as folks said they did, on old Christmas eve. That is a superstition, you know, and they further allege that the black ones get up on their legs and the white ones kneel on the ground. I don’t know about that.

By sun up, and before the frost had melted from the woodpile, a dozen big fat hogs were being scraped and scalded, and we were busy getting the sausage mill ready, and preparing for a hog-killing time.

Then when they were swung up, we boys stood around and claimed melts and bladders. We wanted the melts to broil and the bladders to blow up. I laid siege to the big blue barrow, and stood guard over him for three mortal hours, getting in everybody’s way, and prancing around and cutting up generally, for fear of losing my rights.

It was royal fun to sharpen a twig and string a slice of melt on it and hang it over the glowing coals until it was done, and have it nicely seasoned with a pinch of salt.

I guess I could tackle one with undiminished gusto even unto this day. It was the lingering taint of the savage taste cropping out in our blood, and aided and abetted by the little negroes who were not far removed from the condition of their Hottentot ancestry, after all.

But after the feast was over we began on the bladders. It was a matter of personal pride with us to see who could blow up the biggest. We would blow and blow till our eyes stuck out like pot legs, and we would beat and bang them to make them stretch, and then we would brag about who had the biggest. I blew up the biggest bladder I ever saw that day. It was the big blue barrow that furnished me the material, and I was awful proud of it.

Grandpa, he kept eyeing it, and I noticed that the old gent was in high good humor. He held a conversation with Uncle Mose, and afterwards I could see that Uncle Mose was tickled half to death, and he would keep slipping, and sliding, and snickering around, and every now and then I would hear a half suppressed, “Jesus, Marster!”

They were plotting my downfall, but I, in my childish innocence, went on my way rejoicing.

John Exom had given me an old ramshackle of a flint and steel gun, with only a remnant of stock, and no lock at all. The old thing was rusty, and choked up, and looked like it had been lost in time of the Revolution.

I wanted to get the thing cleaned out, but in spite of all the washing and rubbing and scrubbing I could do, it remained plugged up. When I asked Uncle Peter about it he said I’d have to burn the rust out of it, and while they were finishing up the hogs I embraced the opportunity to clean out my gun. I thrust the breach into the dying embers, and left it while I worked at the bladder.

While I was tying it up securely Grandpa came up to me, whetting the big butcher knife.

“Well, my boy, you’ve got a big Christmas gun now.”

“Jesus, marster!” snickered Uncle Mose, who was standing near, with his back to us.

“Yes, sir, I’m gwine to save it till next Christmas.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t do that. To-day’s old Christmas, and that is just as good as new Christmas. Put it down and jump on it hard, now, and let us see what a gun you can shoot.”

“Oh, no, sir, I can’t,” said I.

“Jesus, marster,” whispered Uncle Mose under his breath.

“Why, yes you can. See here, do it this way,” He laid the bladder down near a puddle that had been made in scalding the hogs. He fixed his feet carefully, and went on to explain: “Now, draw in a long breath, place your feet carefully, jump away up—.—”

‘ Slam—bang!—splash!”

“Jesus, marster! Oh, I’m shot!” squealed Uncle Mose, as he jumped up and down and rubbed himself.

Everything was confusion, and as the smoke rose Grandpa picked himself up from the mudhole, with the remains of the bursted bladder clinging to his pants.

“What in the name of common sense is the matter, Moses? Was it loaded?”

Then he saw the old gun barrel smoking in front of the furnace, and the hot coals scattered all around, and he took in the situation.

Uncle Mose walked half bent longer than I did, though…

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Tales of Old Troupville: The Pranksters

Tales of Old Troupville, GA

General DeLoach (1795-1884) was a resident of Old Lowndes county in the 1830s, later moving to Hamilton County, FL.

General DeLoach (1795-1884) was a resident of Old Lowndes county in the 1830s, later moving to Hamilton County, FL. DeLoach was among the characters who frequented Troupville, GA.

Back in the days when Troupville, GA was the county seat of old Lowndes County, the town had a notorious reputation, especially during “court week” when the Superior Court was convened.  Troupville then was the site of “much drinking and horse swapping, and for indulgence in cock fighting, horse racing, and other ‘Worldly amusements’. Indeed, among the Godly, it was regarded as a wild town – almost as wicked as Hawkinsville.” Troupville also had a notorious gaggle of pranksters who were ever ready to play a trick. Perhaps the most infamous prank perpetrated by “the boys” was the time they turned the Lowndes Superior Court into a menagerie. Among many hapless victims who fell into their clutches were General DeLoach, Carter Newsome, innkeeper William Smith, Robert Kendrick and Jesse Pipkins.   General DeLoach, who was alleged by Montgomery M. Folsom to imbibe freely, “once swinged his eyebrows off and loosened his front teeth” in an intoxicated mishap while playing with explosives. Deloach lived to the age of 87 and was said to have fathered 24 children.  Carter Newsome brought his family from Warren County some time in the 1850s to settle in the Clyattville district. Robert Kendrick was known for a prodigious appetite. Jesse Pipkins in 1855, according to Pines and Pioneers, was “accused of adultery, fornication or running a lewd house” with  Martha McDonald (1855 Lowndes census shows they were co-habitating), and had to get married to avoid conviction.

An 1885 Valdosta memoir reprinted in the Savannah Morning News recounted some of the Troupville pranksters’ more memorable exploits:

Savannah Morning News
May 18, 1885

Old Troupville.

How the Boys Got Rid of Drunken Characters – Rough Practical Jokes.

“Little River” in Valdosta Times.

         Among the odd characters who frequented old Troupville was old Gen. DeLoach. His rule was “red eye” first, business afterwards. The business was swearing that he could whip the best man in the State, getting down on his hands and knees, bellowing and pawing up dirt in imitation of a bull. The General was once put in jail for some offense. He was a stutterer. The boys gathered around the jail window to tease him, and says he: “B-boys, I c-can c-crow b-but I can’t f-fly down.”
        Another humorous character was Bob K. Uncle Billy Smith was noted far and wide for his excellent table. The boys had a habit of occasionally paying the fare for some famous eater like Carter Newsome and others to have them clean out Uncle B. Bob was on one occasion employed for this purpose. Well fortified with “red eye” Bob fulfilled their expectations, but the red eye and the feast proved too much for him, and Uncle Billy had to wash his floors. The next day he called on Bob for extra damage, which he settled under protest, and in retaliation sang at all the street corners the following:

“Old Billy Smith, that good old man,
I ne’er shall see any more,
He charged the Kendrick seventy-five cents
For spewing on the floor.”

        Jesse Pipkins would come to town and stay for days drinking. Finally the boys got tired of him, and one Sunday morning Jesse was found cooped up in a big crockery crate hanging to the limb of an oak 20 or 25 feet from the ground on the public square. He begged hard to be let down, and having got sober was afraid to make the least movement. Jesse declared that it was 50 feet to the ground.
        Another drinking character, Tom M., would remain in town for weeks together. Circumstances favored the boys in getting rid of him. One dark night Tom was talking with someone in from of Godfrey’s bar. A buggy was standing in the street nearby. It was only a short distance to the river, and there was a high and steep bluff close by the bridge, fringed at the water’s edge by stout trees covered with thick branches. The boys saw there opportunity. While the rest hid behind trees and houses, one of them called Tom off for a private talk and going towards the buggy for convenience they took a seat in it. Now a half dozen or more of the boys rushed from their hiding places, some got between the shafts and some behind the buggy, and a race for the river began. Tom was too drunk to jump out, but on the way his companion jumped out into a sand bed. Just before they reached the edge of the bluff all hands turned loose. On went the buggy. The shafts stuck in the group, capsized the buggy and threw poor Tom headlong on and through the branches of the trees into 10 feet of water. The buggy was left hanging and dry among the trees. All was quiet for a few moments and then Tom’s head was soon above the black waters for an instant only, and then disappeared with a gurgling sound. The frightful truth then flashed upon the boys that Tom could not swim, besides being too drunk to even float. Here the point of the joke was broken off and matters had become serious. Off with coats and into the cold black water plunged several of the boys, and they pulled out poor strangling Tom. He was never seen in Troupville again.

Tales of Old Troupville, GA in the Savannah Morning News, May 5, 1885

Tales of Old Troupville, GA in the Savannah Morning News, May 5, 1885

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