Friday, February 20, 2009

Interview with Watson G. Craft

Watson Craft is the youngest child of Archelous Columbus Craft and Pricy Adkins and a grandchild of Chunk and Polly Ann Caudill Craft. I met him in person in October of 2007 with his wife, Manerva. This is what Watson had to say in that interview:

I am not sure if you know it, but you may find Crafts on both sides of your
family. The first Craft who came into Kentucky was Archelous Craft. His son was
James Craft. One of James’ grandsons married a Mullins.

My dad was Archie or A. C. Craft, Sr. His dad was Enoch Craft. His dad was Preacher Arch Craft. His father was James Craft, the oldest son of Archelous. Arch’s father was James. Beyond there I do not know the family. I don’t know of anyone who has found the ship manifest, but we know that they came into New York. We have relatives in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Alabama. The family basically split in New York part going south and west and part going north and west.

The family that went north and west became the Kraft Food Company. One of them was hired by the merchants to take a team and go to the ships on the Great Lakes and pick up the goods principally cheese for the stores. He got the idea to buy the cheese from the ships and sell it to the merchants. That was the beginning of Kraft Foods.

Once, a lady in Ohio was researching the Backs, my wife’s family. We looked in the two volume Backs books we had and found that she had at least three first cousins who married each other. I told my wife to let her find that out herself.

I had always been told that my mother was one quarter Cherokee Indian. I really had my doubts about it, but my oldest daughter had heard me say it and called me about it. She said that if my mother were one quarter Cherokee then she would be eligible for a tax free loan for Native Americans. I told her it shouldn’t be too hard to find out since we would only need to go back to my mother’s grandfather, Peter Adkins. I found that though they had many characteristics which looked Indian that they were probably melungeon blood.

The first Adkins family was from Tennessee. The brother and son of my Grandfather Adkins looked very melungeon.

I remember the first time I ever saw a Melungeon. I was very small. I had gone with Dad to Whitesburg on the train at the mouth of Millstone. A black man got on the train. He had no characteristics of a black man except color. He was tall. He did not have full heavy lips. He spoke perfectly. They made him ride in the Negro car. He protested, but they made him ride there.

There were two trains a day – one in the morning and one in the evening. It stopped all along the way, at Thornton, then Ermine then Whitesburg. They were called milk runs.

I did not know your grandmother, Lettie. I was born after she died. I knew Rachel who was the oldest child and married an Adams.

I did find out what Grandpa Chunk did by reading a book about the life of Fess Whitaker. I think it was called the Life and Times of Fess Whitaker. They were bivouacked in Tennessee on land that was owned by a man who was sympathetic to the south. They were ordered not to touch any of his property. They were starving, but the strict orders were not to bother his livestock. They saw one sheep who was really fat. One night Fess got some guys to steal and slaughter that sheep. He says that the cook, Chunk Craft, cooked that sheep. That’s how I found out what he did in the Civil War.

I knew my grandfather, Chunk, for about eight years. He was a kind,
fatherly person. He would talk with anyone – children or grandchildren—not in a
lecturing way.

I remember as he got very old I would tie his shoes. I would stop on the way to school and tie his shoes each day.

Chunk and Grandma’s house was painted yellow and white.

I remember that she fell and had a broken hip. They thought she was going to die and they called all the children in. The children came. When they got there Grandpa told Dad and Uncle Ben, “you boys come with me.” They were fully grown men, but he called them boys.

In the house there were two rooms downstairs and two rooms up. Grandpa and Grandma lived in one of the rooms downstairs and Aunt Sairy and Uncle Ben’s family lived in the rest.

When Grandpa told the boys to come, I was nosey so I went along. He had them removed the hearth, which was a big piece of slate rock. He told them to dig there. They found a cast iron teakettle. They brought it out. It had a lid. They carried it to Grandma. She got out twenty dollar gold pieces. They were wrapped in tissue paper like you would find in a box of shoes. She gave each child one of the gold pieces, and then they put the lid back on the kettle. I never saw it again.

I used to tell people that we lived on one twenty dollar gold piece in the depression. That was about a ten year period and they could not understand how I could say
that. Dad would take his gold piece and trade it in to Jesse Holbrook at his
store. Jesse would hold the gold piece. We would work as hard as we could until
we paid that twenty dollars off. Then we would do it again. Dad did that over
and over always insisting that he be given back the same gold piece. The last
time I saw it, it was in Dad’s house when he died. I suppose that Morgan got it
since he moved into the house after that.

Grandpa made his own liquor. He made it as long as he was able. He made straight corn liquor. Grandpa distained people who added sugar to corn mash. He would sit at the head of the table. If anyone was visiting he would take a glass and pour moonshine into it and offer it to them. Some would apologize and say they did not drink. He would say, “Take a little dram for the stomach’s sake.”

When he made a batch he would always come to mom with a cane in one hand and a half gallon jar in the other. She kept bitters. If the house is still standing and the mantle is there, I could show you exactly where they sat. The bitters were made of roots, plants and tree bark in a juice. She would add half of the jar of the liquor to her bitters and put the rest away. When she had a headache she would take the jar down, unscrew it and drink from it. She was the only one who used it. I did taste them, but she was the only one who used them.

I never thought about what happened to the rest of that liquor. I think my mother must have drank it.

How often would Grandpa make his liquor?

Prohibition was in effect. The revenoorers came and inspected what he had. They sampled his liquor. There was no penalty. You could have six gallons for your own use, but you could not sell it.

Did you ever meet Bad John Wright?

No, he was gone before I was around. There were bitter feuds fought right near your Grandpa Bentley’s place.

As for Dad’s brothers and sisters, Rachel was the oldest. She lived in near Ashland. I remember seeing her twice. It could have been when Grandma died. Maybe the other was when Grandpa died.

Sarah, we called her Aunt Sarey, lived with Grandpa and Grandma.

After the service I spent a year at Blackey. I went to Berea College and got my degree. I first taught in Mason County and then in Boone County.

You know when you lived in St Louis you were near a lot of family. There
was a ridge there that was full of names you would have known.

I was a teacher. I taught agriculture at Blackey. When I was in Mason County I started going to U.K. in the summers. I just started taking things I thought I needed to know. It got to the point that I had so many credits that they said I needed to decide on a major, so I got a masters in Agriculture.

I was teaching at a small county school in Maysville. I taught there two years. They consolidated four schools into one big high school in Florence. I taught there fifteen years. Then I thought I wanted to go into administration so that meant another degree. I went back to U.K. for more classes and got a masters in administration and supervision. I was principal or assistant principal the last part of my working career. I liked doing both the teaching and the administration. I was ready to move on to administration when I did and ready to leave administration when I retired. I was ready to quit.

What made you leave Millstone?

(He points to Manerva.) She was teaching at Upper Millstone. She and her first
cousin, Gaynell Back. Once I met her, I wanted to be where she was.

Manerva Back Craft

Enoch Collier would pick up the mail and deliver it to Lick Fork. I think your family would know him.

The Crafts did not think much of Joe Hall. Aunt Lettie caught him with another woman and killed herself. He was a traveling salesman and when he returned home she found silk stockings in his coat pocket. She was suspicious for a while and then caught him with another woman. She went to the barn and hung herself.

I told him that I had looked through weeks of Mountain Eagles and had not found a mention of her death. I said I wanted to go to the court records to see her death certificate and see what it said her cause of death was.

It wouldn’t have been in the paper and I doubt you will find a death certificate.

A. C. Craft went to Greenwood College in Greenwood, Virgina before he was married. He attended classes for two years. I have one of his algebra textbooks. It has a date in it of Januray 5, 1892.

Dad taught school. It was contract schools then. It was for whoever wanted to pay for the length they wanted. He might teach in someone’s home for their children and the neighbors’ children. He might stay with them. It could be for four months or whatever time period the contract called for.

I remember a story about Aunt Sarey. There was a quilting party. Well it wasn’t a party, they just called them a quilting. We raised sheep. Mama had fixed mutton. Aunt Sarey was about as wide as she was tall. She would eat some of the mutton and loosen her belt and say, mmmm that was good. I shouldn’t eat more, but it was so good. She would loosen her belt some more.

When we killed a sheep we would always kill a hog, too. Then we would have Aunt Sairy, Uncle Ben, Grandpa and Grandma to supper. Uncle Ben would never touch the mutton which is why we always killed a hog. This happened over and over. Well, the women got together and said they were going to make Uncle Ben eat mutton. It was mother and Grandma and Aunt Sarey. They said “Ben Franklin will eat mutton today.”

When Grandpa and Grandma came to dinner Dad would give up his place at the head of the table and Grandma would sit at his right where Mom would usually sit. It was the only time I ever saw Dad give up his place at the table. I can see them at the table, Grandpa, Grandma to his right, then Aunt Sairy and Uncle Ben.. They would put a bowl of lamb between Grandpa and Grandma and a bowl of pork between Aunt Sairy and Uncle Ben. On this day they switched the bowls.

Uncle Ben put in a fork into the lamb and ate a piece. He got a second piece and ate it. When he went for the third piece Aunt Sairy stopped him and said he was going to eat all the lamb and she wasn’t going to get any. He said he thought it was pork.

I asked about them sitting at the table together.

We always sat together. Sometimes I would take a plate and go to the porch, but we sat together when Grandpa and Grandma came to dinner. It was only when the church came to Sunday dinner that we would eat in shifts – men first, then the women and last the children.

Did you know of any KKK activities?

I heard about them whipping people. There was a man below the Millstone Baptist church. That fellow planted his corn across the street on the hillside, but he didn’t hoe it. The Klan wrapped a bunch of switches up and put them on his porch with a warning to get the hoeing done in a week. That cornfield got hoed.

I also heard of a loose woman who got whipped with saw briars.

I mentioned I had heard a story about some Bentleys who left the county in coffins to escape being punished for Klan activities.

I don’t know about that, but mentioning coffins and being carried out reminds me of Morgan Reynolds. He was in trouble with the Klan. They aimed to kill him. This was before the Spanish American War. He was hoeing corn. The Klan was laying at the end of the field waiting to kill him. He was dressed in his mother’s clothes and her hat. He hoed til noon all the while they were waiting to get a shot at him. He came out and got on a mule and rode to Pound to join the Army. He went to Texas and fought in the Spanish American War.

He was in Brownsville, Texas when someone recognized him. They yelled
out “Hey Morg!” He kept going and they ran after him calling, “Hey Morg!” They
kept on and when the man following him came around a corner Morgan was waiting for him and caught him by the throat. He told him, “If you ever utter Morg Reynolds again, you are dead.”

Morgan came back after the war and became sheriff of Letcher County and made a good one. He brought in Bad John Wright on an outstanding warrant. Bad John would move over to Virginia when things got hot for him here and then come back to Kentucky when things were bad over there. I don’t think he served any time, but Morgan brought him in.

We had an Adkins relative of Mom’s who left the county because he killed a man. Actually, he killed two men. The first man was stealing corn. The corn crib would be open. He would find the door open. He could see the front of it from the house. One night he waited up and saw a man come around the corner. He let him get about half a load of corn and then shot him. That’s the way they found him in front of the corn with half a sack. He didn’t get indicted because he was protecting his own property.

Later, he had some men digging a well for him. He was down with the rheumatism. He probably had a strained back. He hired men to dig the well. They got into a fight and one of the men went home to get his gun. When he came back he couldn’t find any of the men. He came into the house and asked where they were hiding. He said, what do you mean, I hired you to dig the well. The man
said he was going to find them and shoot them and if he couldn’t find them he
would come back and shoot him. He kept a gun hanging at the bedpost.
He took it down and put it under the covers. The man returned to shoot him and
he shot him from the bed. He went to the state of Washington, Chahlis Washington and worked in the logwoods.

He was afraid the powers that be would send him to jail since there had already been one killing on his property.

There was a good story about Enoch Collier in the Kentucky Explorer last winter.

Drusilla wrote a good story of her memories. She was the middle of seventeen children. The older girls were married and gone by the time Druscilla came along. Sarah was in the household, but she would have nothing to do with chores or housework. She would go out in the fields and plow, garden and do what was considered man’s work. A lot fell to Druscilla because she was the only girl for much of the time.

Sometimes families can argue over things that don’t mean a whole lot. I remember a time when Dad and Uncle Ben argued over a piece of property. It was just a tiny piece of property, but Dad thought the line was on one place and Uncle Ben another. They didn’t speak for about five years. Grandpa was the one who gave them the land and he even showed them where the line was, but that didn’t settle the argument. Dad and Uncle Ben made up before Uncle Ben died, but they were mad at each other for a long time.

Did Grandpa Chunk speak to you about the Civil War?

He didn’t speak much about it. I do remember he when it would come up he would say, “That was a terrible time.” I wasn’t interested enough at the time to ask questions. I let it pass. He was one of John Hunt Morgan’s raiders in the Civil War. Later, I read every book I could get my hands on about the Civil War period. I read all I get on John Hunt Morgan.

Grandpa Chunk was in the Kentucky 13th. It went by several names. First it was the 5th Mounted Infantry. Then it was the 13th Calvary. It ran thru 13 names during the Civil War. They started at the mouth of Sandlick. Grandpa, his brother, A.C. and an uncle were with Ben Caudill who organized them.

Sandlick is West Whitesburg. Grandpa Archeleus helped start the Indian Bottom Church Association. It was originally at Blackey on Arch Cornett’s property. Later it moved to Colley. Arch Craft was a founding member of three Old Regular Baptist churches. He was a member of the Roaring River church in North Carolina before he came to Kentucky. In 1829 he helped start the church at Blackey. It was the first Old Regular Baptist Churches in Kentucky. He was a founding member of the Sandlick church, which was an arm of the Indian Bottom Association at Blackey. Then he helped found the Thornton church. It was quite a ways to go to Blackey from Colley for church. He would have to go on Friday and come back Monday so it was four days to go to church.

Arch was appointed as a delegate for the Indian Bottom Association. He was also a delegate at Sandlick. The church at the mouth of Colley Creek was just out of the Colley and to the left so it was very close for him. He and his son “Preacher Arch” were both delegates for the Colley church. I found all this in a book about the United Baptist Church of the U.S.

There were no land grants for rebel soldiers. Now Arch Craft had a land grant in North Carolina. He got it from being in the Revolutionary War. He had land in Boone, North Carolina. They could have it and keep it if they improved it. How they improved it was to put up a house and have a garden. They asked him to go to Kentucky and he said no, his house was built and he did not want to leave. He finally agreed to go when the State of Virginia gave him another land grant. He and James Caudill, Stephen Adams and some others all came together. They were headed for Bryan Station. When they reached Pound they traveled all day and got as far as Camp Branch. They stayed their first night there. The next morning they woke up to snow. They had their families with them. They stayed there the whole winter. There was plenty of game, fish and they just decided to stay.

I don’t know where Preacher Arch homesteaded, but Grandpa Chunk bought all his land.

Nelson Craft, one of the first postmasters at Craftsville. He was Grandpa Chunk’s brother. The only post office in Craftsville was in A.C. Craft’s kitchen. Millstone was a separate post office where the train came in. Watson delivered mail by horse on Saturdays and Holidays when he wasn’t going to school.

Watson Craft and his wife Maneva Back Craft were one of the most hospitable and interesting people that I have met in all my years of
gathering family information.

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