As I visited with Brice Sprouse at his home, he reminisced about his school days in the mid 1930’s. “I went to first grade in Glenwood. Then I went to Dysartsville second to seventh grades. And in the eighth grade went back to Glenwood, where I finished high school in the late 40’s. But they didn’t have enough buses to go around. We had what was called jitney buses. Flat wood top, long, low. Had sides, windows and seats. The first ones the county bought in 1934, and our area got one. Noisiest thing, top rattlin’, you couldn’t hear yourself talking. About four years later, they got a different bus. The cities had them years before, and they expanded to counties to use for school buses. The county didn’t have enough buses to haul everybody so if you lived in a certain area you went to that school. By the time we got to the second grade then they had a couple buses from Dysartsville, because Dysartsville was closer (to us), less expensive for the county to operate.”
The schools were not integrated, and the African-Americans in our community went to school at the end of Brackett Town Road. “Head of Brackett Town, there is a two acre tract of land with a school on it, and a two acre tract of land with a church, called Mt. Moriah. They bought their own books.” (They were not bused. They had a community school that may have been one of the Rosenwald projects supported by the President of Sears. There were 800 schools started in North Carolina with grants.)
The children of Henry’s childhood friend, Gus O’Neal, went to Mt. Moriah school. Gus had stayed with the folks who took care of him when he was a youngster. He had married and built a house on the Sprouse farm and worked until he could pay off the debt.
Nora said, “It was a nice house, bead board all inside. Years later, when everyone had moved out, I went up there with Mama to get March flowers. We went upstairs to one big room with lots of windows. It was on a hill, and I could see a long distance.”
Gus had several children, and then his wife died. And if I have my history right, her name was Matilda and she died in 1930, buried in the Brackett Town cemetery.
Richard Buchanan was also raised in the neighborhood. He was younger than Brice , and he lived in a two-story house on Vein Mountain Road at Landis Loop. When I was on his property last year, he talked about this time. “There’s a lot of history right here. We had a store inside of our house back in the 40’s, and we had a panel truck and people would place their orders. There wasn’t a lot of cars in this community, and we would deliver the stuff to them. Daddy would bring feed and groceries or whatever it was he was haulin’ and I would get candy out of the store and had me a box and I would carry it with Daddy as he was makin’ his rounds, and I would sell candy to customers as he delivered it, and there was a black family, the Owens. We talked earlier about some who were free slaves and then bought their freedom. Mr. Owens, I think, bought quite a bit of land, and they lived up the road from the Sprouses, and they were the best candy customers I had. Bill Owens. Lily Owens was one of the last ones in that community.”
Bill Owens lived on Brackett Town Road close to the Sprouse farm. Brice said, “He had been a wealthy farmer from the Bridgewater area where the power dam was. (Lake James in Nebo, east of Marion) He farmed all kinds of things, but family problems caused him to get into financial trouble, and I guess the bank foreclosed on him and took everything they had. He had been a free man, had never been a slave, and had a lot of descendants. His lawyer ended up with Bill’s big farm in Bridgewater, and Bill ended up with the farm here. He sawmilled a bit but after a few years shut it down. They just lived ’til they died.”
“Truth be told, Bill’s son, Clarence, had a hard life. He lost his leg in an accident, and he was as mean as a rattlesnake. Nobody in his family could do anything with him. His old man was once wealthy and Clarence bankrupted him. Bill had to trade a nice farm in Bridgewater for a farm over here to pay his bills. They were respectable people and had property. More educated than most of the other black folks around here.”
“I don’t know what happened to Clarence, but his old man didn’t spare the rod. Me and Daddy went up there one time to get a little slab from the sawmill, and they were loading lumber on an old dilapidated truck. Old man Bill was piddlin’ around. Clarence was tryin’ to hold the lumber down, and he threw a log chain across the truck and it hit Bill in the head. Knocked him cold as a mackerel. They shut down the mill. They got Bill’s head patched up and gave him some water, when he came to. He stood up, grabbed a trace chain about seven feet long and gave Clarence a whippin’. And him with one leg. You wouldn’t beat a mule that way. When we left, Daddy said, ‘That’s some way to treat your son. It was an accident. Clarence had no idea his father was millin’ around over there when he threw the chain across the truck.’ But when Bill came to, first thing he did was to get him back.”
In the early 1940’s, while his children were still young, Gus married one of the women in the community who also had children. She was Bill Owen’s daughter and Clarence’s sister.
And around the time of this story, Gus worked for J.L. Koon, a sawmiller. He took care of J.L.’s horses. “If they were working anywhere in this area, Gus brought them home at night, fed them, and carried them back the next day.”
“One day, Daddy had us all picking sweet potatoes along the road. Gus was walkin’ along, with his lunch pail, talkin’ to us on his way home. And here comes a nice lookin’ Model A car. Clarence had got out of prison. He had got on the chain gang for making liquor, and he always blamed Gus for it. The still was down in the holler behind Gus’s house, and of course, he had to blame somebody. The car stopped and Clarence jumped out. He just had one leg and had to have crutches, but he found a boulder and said, ‘Man, I told you I’d kill ya.’ And he powered down. He hit Gus in the shoulder and knocked that shoulder out of socket. Gus just walked up there to him, hit him with his lunch pail and knocked him down. Then stomped him into the ground, had blood everywhere. Then he got through with Clarence, and Gus turned to the five or six blacks with him. None of them got out of the car. Later that night, Gus came by the house and apologized to Daddy for the scene in front of the kids. And Daddy said, ‘Think nothing about it.’ Cause Clarence was supposed to be a bad dude, yunno. Old man Gus just whittled him right down.” “Later on, I heard Clarence died in prison for killing a woman.”
“Daddy always had a great deal of respect for Gus, and Gus for Daddy.” And his children were close to Henry. “When they came back to visit as adults, they would always come to see Daddy. So did his step children. Doug O’Neal retired from the automotive industry in Detroit and bought a house in Marion. He visited about once a week in Daddy’s last days.” Brice heard that Henry had warned Doug to get Gus off the farm for his own good. Henry was worried for his safety. Gus wouldn’t leave. It was his home.