Articles & Stories

Two Yoke Of Oxen

"I Remember"

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