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…

Related Posts:

 

Mary Jane Smith and the Poison Pork

In the fall of 1916 Mrs. Mary Jane Smith, of Nashville, GA came to visit her daughter, Rachel Smith Sirmans, at Ray City, GA.  Rachel was recently widowed, her husband, Jay Sirmans, having died suddenly on September 20, 1916.  Rachel was left alone with two teen age boys to do the work of running a farm.

It was late October and with the first frosts of the season, people’s thoughts naturally turned toward the harvest of fresh meat from hogs fattened over the summer. Hog slaughter was generally reserved for the coldest days of the year. But after a diet of cured meats over the long heat of the Wiregrass summer and perhaps with the  smokehouse stock nearly depleted, for many farms the first cool day would do for a hog killing.  This was perhaps the occasion of Mrs. Smith’s visit.

~~~~

Hog-Killing

In the  Ray City of 100 years ago, winter was the season for hog killing as mechanical refrigeration was not available and there were no real facilities for cold storage.

In the 1920s, the Clements Lumber Company operated a cold storage facility and Ray City built a municipal electric plant in 1922, but dependable home electric service and electric refrigerators would not be available in the town until the 1930s.    Before that, most kitchens were equipped with  an “icebox” – a wood or metal cabinet insulated with straw or sawdust. A compartment near the top could be loaded with a block of ice to cool perishable food stored on lower shelves. Water from the melting ice was collected in a pan below the cabinet.  The ice kept the interior of the box far cooler than room temperature, but certainly no where near freezing.  As the ice block melted, it had to be continually replaced. Even small towns like Ray City had ice delivery men, such as Wilbur and Walter Aultman, or Ferris Moore, who regularly supplied ice to local homes and businesses (see Ferris Moore ~ Ray City Iceman).

In The Art of Managing Longleaf, Leon Neel describes  the practical and social significance of hog killing time in Wiregrass Georgia:

Hogs were a staple and we always had hog killings.  The families would get together to kill a hog or two when the weather was right, and then we would smoke our own meat.  Hog killing was a great time. Hogs were killed in cool weather, because pork spoils so easily.  The colder it was, the better it was for hog killing. But lots of times, the stored food would run out early, and we would have to kill hogs before it got to be the dead of winter.  Hog killing was a full-day’s process, and everybody had a job – the men folk, the women folk, everybody.  The process got started early in the morning.  Daddy had a little .22 rifle, and he usually shot the hog between the eyes.  Then we processed it right then and there. We had a big syrup kettle, and for hog killing time we would fill it with water and build a fire under it to get it boiling.  Then we put the hog in the kettle, which scalded it and made it possible to get the hair off with any trouble. Then we butchered the hog.  It is true what they say: Every part of the hog was utilized, everything but the squeal.  Hog killing was hard work, but it was also a great social occasion. 

For Mary Jane Smith  the visit with her daughter in Ray City was a homecoming of sorts.  She and her husband, John Woods Smith, had formerly been residents of Ray City.

Mrs. Mary Jane Smith was born Mary Jane Whitehurst, a daughter of James Whitehurst (1818-1914) and Sarah Ann Findley (1822-1914). She was born on July 7, 1848 in that part of Lowndes County which in 1850 was cut into Clinch County, GA . Her father’s place was on Land Lot 516 in the 11th Land District,  just east of the Alapaha River near Cow Creek.  Her father later moved to Berrien County and settled on the east side of the Little River where he established a grist mill and operated a ferry across the river.  For several years he had the contract to carry mail on the Star Route from Nashville, GA to Alapaha.

About 1866, Mary Jane married John Woods Smith  in Clinch County, GA.  He was a veteran of the Confederate army, having enlisted March 4, 1862 in Company G, 50th Georgia Regiment.   His time in active duty had been marked with sickness. Within months of his enlistment he had become so sick he was sent to the hospital at Macon,  GA. In June of 1862 he was given leave to “escort the dead body of a comrade home. ”   He returned to his unit but by the end of the year he was again on sick furlough.  He was sick yet again in June of 1863,  with typhoid fever.  This time he was sent to Chimborazo Hospital No. 2 at Richmond, VA then transferred to Jackson Hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia.  By the fall he had recovered sufficiently  to return to his unit, but on November 29, 1863 he was captured near Knoxville,  TN.  He was sent to the military prison at Louisville, KY as a prisoner of war,  then on to the notorious Camp Chase, Ohio where he was imprisoned for two years.   In March of 1865, he was transferred to Rock Island Barracks, IL  and from there he was released in a prisoner exchange.  He was  admitted to the Confederate General Hospital No. 9 at Richmond, VA where he recuperated before returning home to Berrien County, GA.

For a short while Mary Jane and John Woods Smith made their home in Clinch County, but by 1880 the couple had moved to Berrien County, GA.  In 1890, their home was in the Rays Mill district, GMD 1144, where they were neighbors of Isabelle Sirmans and Andrew W. Turner and others of the Sirmans family connection.

Children of Mary Jane and John Woods Smith were:

  1. Osborn Levi Smith  (1867 – 1896), buried at Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA
  2. Rachel Allifair Smith (1869 – 1940),  married Jay Mitchell Sirmans, son of Hardeman Sirmans
  3. Susan Earlie Smith (1871 – 1960)
  4. Cassie Jane Smith (1874 – 1948),  married Lucius John Knight, son of Rhoda Futch  and George Washington Knight, buried at Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA
  5. William David Smith (1876 – 1887)
  6. Barzilla Newton Smith (1878 – )
  7. Sarah Levinia Smith (1880 – 1964), buried at Pinecrest Cemetery, Vidalia, GA
  8. Mary Ann Smith (1882 – 1965), married Henry J. Parrish
  9. John Dixon Smith (1884 – 1943)
  10. Martha Missouri Belle Smith (1887 – )
  11. Kissiah Amanda Smith (1889 – )

Mary Jane’s eldest daughter, Rachel Allifar Smith,  was married  to Jay Sirmans on March 22, 1893. He was son of Hardeman Sirmans and Elizabeth Knight. Rachel and Jay made their home and farm near Rays Mill (now known as Ray City), GA next door to Jay’s father. By 1910, Mary Jane and John Woods Smith had moved from Ray City to Nashville, GA where they owned a home on Washington Street where they operated a boarding house.

Mary Jane’s husband, John Woods Smith,  died April 24, 1915 and was buried at the Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA. Mary Jane Smith died a year and a half later while visiting with her daughter, Rachel, at Ray City, GA.  The cause of death was “pork poisoning.”

Without refrigeration the home preservation of meats, especially pork,  presented challenges.  In The prevention of disease; a popular treatise (1916), Kenelm Winslow reported:

Pork causes poisoning because it is imperfectly preserved by salt or smoking, and is often eaten insufficiently cooked in sausage and other forms.  Four-fifths of all cases of meat poisoning are due to eating the flesh of animals suffering from one of the germ diseases…unfortunately the meat is not altered in appearance in such cases, nor is cooking by any means a sure preventative against poisoning. Even poisoning by meat which has decomposed from too long keeping is much more frequent in the case of animals diseased before slaughter.  Expert veterinary inspection of the various organs of slaughtered animals will detect disease and prevent the killing of sick animals for food, which is most apt to occur in small towns where meat for local use is not properly inspected. Poisoning from meat which has putrefied from long keeping is more common in warm months and in the case of chopped meat or sausage. Putrid meat is usually recognizable, if not chopped, by softness and bad odor, especially about the bones and fat.  Boiling, roasting, or frying lessens the danger from putrefying meat, but does not absolutely prevent it.  Proper refrigeration in the household, both before and after cooking meat, is essential in order to preserve it, otherwise it should be eaten fresh. It is also advisable to clean refrigerators frequently with a hot solution of washing soda.  The poisoning is due to toxins in poisons produced by germs which originate in diseased animals, or contaminate the meat after slaughter and grow luxuriantly when refrigeration is imperfect.

 

1916-mary-jane-smith

Tifton Gazette

Friday, October 27, 1916

MRS. MARY JANE SMITH

Mrs. Mary Jane Smith died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. J. Sirmans, near Ray City, Saturday night after an illness of only a few days, says the Adel News. Mrs. Smith died of poison, some pork which she and Mrs. Sirmans had eaten, violently affecting them. Mrs. Sirmans was very ill for a time.

Mrs. Smith was the mother of eleven children, nine of whom survive her. Among her children are Mrs. Sirmans, Mrs. H. J. Parrish and Rev. John D. Smith, of Morven. The deceased was reared in this county and was sixty-nine years of age. She was a devoted member of the Methodist church. The funeral services and burial took place at Nashville Monday, the services being conducted by Rev. J. Harwell House, of Ocilla.

 

Grave of Mary Jane Whitehurst Smith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

Grave of Mary Jane Whitehurst Smith, Old City Cemetery, Nashville, GA

Related Posts: