Two Yoke Of Oxen
This story came to me from my first cousin, Merlon Derossett.
He is 84 years old now and lives on the farm where he was born
and reared. This farm is located on the Left Fork of Bull Creek
in Floyd County, Kentucky. Merlon's mom was Lounata Crisp Derossett.
She was a sister to my dad. Lounata was married to Will Derossett.
They were the parents of six children. They were Edward A., Edna,
Merlon, James D., Aileen, and Willie. William died at the age
of 35 due to a ruptured appendix. That left Aunt Lounata to rear
six children by herself. The family stayed together and worked
hard to make life as easy as possible for this large family.
When Merlon and his younger brother, James D., were just teenage
boys, they took on the responsibility of helping to support the
family. They were doing the work of men in running the farm.
They did not have horses or mules for plowing the fields and
doing regular farm work. They knew of people using oxen instead
of horses, and they thought it might be easier to come up with
oxen. When bull calves were born on the farm, these boys kept
them so they could train them to work. They had the help of a
great uncle, by the name of Jeff Gray, whom they called Pap.
He was a brother to their grandmother, whom they called Mammy.
Uncle Jeff saw the difficult situation that this family was in.
He knew these two young boys would need all the help they could
get as they tried to run the farm. After a while they were the
proud owners of four young bull calves. Uncle Jeff knew that
these young bulls had to be taken through the surgical procedure
of castration before these boys could ever train them. A grown
bull could be dangerous and more than these boys could handle.
Uncle Jeff knew how to perform the necessary surgery which he
did. After the surgery these young bulls were called oxen. They
were calm and easily controlled. These young oxen had to be
trained to work, and not only to work, but to work together.
A large wooden yoke, that kept them side by side, was placed
over their necks. A large chain was attached to the yoke and
ran between the oxen back to the load that they were to pull,
whether it was a sled, plow, logs or whatever. When the oxen
were told to go forward, they would groan and strain and start
to move forward pulling the load behind them. Uncle Jeff knew
they would need a sled, so they could bring in the corn and fodder
from the fields at harvest time, so he helped them make one.
It was large and just what they needed. These oxen had to be
shod with metal shoes. They had split hooves, so the metal shoes
were small half moon pieces of flat metal with holes in them.
These little pieces of metal were nailed onto the hoof. Uncle
Jeff would shoe the oxen and let these boys watch so they could
take over the job of shoeing the oxen themselves. One ox was
the leader of the others. He was named "Old Joe."
He was named after a man in the community by the name of Joe
Meadows. He went by the name of "Smoky Joe."
Springtime had come to the beautiful hills of Eastern Kentucky
and these two young teenage boys were ready to start plowing.
The ox teams had been trained, and they were ready to get started.
Part of the farm lay in a large cove that was in the head of
a hollow up the road from their home. They plowed that cove,
laid it off into rows and planted corn. After a short while they
went to see if the corn had come through the ground. They were
thrilled to see young corn all over that large field, row after
row. The thing that had to be done now was to go through the
field and thin the corn.
There would be three or four stalks in each hill. In thinning
the corn, the idea is to pull up the little sprouts and leave
the two largest ones. That way there would be two stalks to each
hill. At this point in this story I want to pause long enough
to tell you about our uncle Grover Crisp. When we were all small,
he told us how we should thin corn. He said to pull up the large
stalks so the little ones would have room to grow. Of course,
he wasn't serious and it is a good thing that we didn't follow
his advice, because we might have got our hide tanned if we had
been caught doing that. The corn grew and was a beautiful sight
to see. There was good reason to look forward to a great harvest.
There was going to be plenty corn and fodder to take the livestock
through the winter. After thinning the corn it had to be plowed
and hoed three times and after the third plowing and hoeing it
was "laid by," which meant that it would not have to
be plowed or hoed any more. All they had to do is wait until
harvest time in the fall, gather it and bring it into the barn.
Merlon and James had a neighbor up the road by the name of Alex
Sizemore who was a fine man and a good neighbor. Alex kept a
small herd of hogs which ran free on his property. One day those
hogs discovered a crop of corn in a large cove right nearby,
and they invaded that crop of corn and destroyed the whole crop.
These two young farmers learned about the hogs and went to see
what had happened. Surely enough those hogs had destroyed their
large corn crop. These two young farmers were hurt and very disappointed,
but they kept their heads and did exactly the right thing. They
went to Alex and explained to him just what had happened. Alex
told them that he did not have the money to pay them for their
crop. He said that he would take the hogs to the stock market
and sell them and then he would pay them for their crop. These
boys got some other young fellows to help and they herded all
those hogs into a large fenced barn lot and fastened them in.
Two brothers by the name of Alex and Ed Banks were friends of
their Dad, Will. These brothers brought their truck and hauled
the hogs to the stock market and sold them. They also bought
a truck load of corn and brought it back to the farm and filled
their corn cribs. These boys had all the corn they needed for
the winter. There is a real lesson to be learned here as to how
to handle a bad situation. No one was threatened with lawsuits
or bodily harm. A plan was put into place as to how to replace
the loss that these boys had suffered. They planned the work
and worked the plan and everyone involved was satisfied. It is
wonderful that this tragic story has a good ending.
Donald A. Crisp
1104 Bucks Branch
Martin, KY 41649