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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Life in a small rural town during the early twentieth century

East describes what it was like to grow up in Tyronza, Arkansas, during the 1910s. East talks about how his own family subsisted at work and home. In particular, he talks about how his family lived with no electricity and he describes how ice was brought into towns via railroads and through "swamp country." Overall, his comments offer a revealing portrait of life in a small rural town during the early twentieth century.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Clay East, September 22, 1973. Interview E-0003. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Did you grow up in Tyronza.
CLAY EAST:
No, I was born in Tyronza and we left Tyronza when I was about three or four years old and we moved to Greenville, Texas. My Dad went there to work for his uncle in his wholesale grocery business. And, we lived in Greenville until either 1910 or 1911 and we moved back to Tyronza. My Dad built a store and went into business there at the time and up until the time I left, I lived in Tyronza.
SUE THRASHER:
How many brothers and sisters did you have?
CLAY EAST:
Well, I had three sisters and four brothers.
SUE THRASHER:
And your father was a farmer or a merchant?
CLAY EAST:
Both. He had nice grocery store and then he farmed on the side when he first began. He had the only butcher shop in town. We killed our own beef, so of course, he bought a lot of cattle, and on Sunday, we'd get out and a bunch of us on horseback and buy up cattle. Many…quite a lot of the time, he'd buy a cow out there, never had seen it. Just ask them about it, what kind of shape it was in, what it would weigh. And when they told him, he'd say, well, I'll give you so much for it, and he'd buy it sight unseen. Then on Sunday, we'd get out and horseback and round these cattle up he'd bought and take them down and put them on the pasture on the farm, see, a woodlot he called it, it was all in timber…it hadn't been cleared up. Then, generally, over the weekend, we'd send the butcher and myself out and we'd kill the beef. That would generally be on Friday and that give the beef time to cool off. We'd have to kill them late at night to keep the flies off them, see. So, we'd go out and kill the beef. At that time I was only about fourteen years old.
SUE THRASHER:
Did you have refrigeration or electricity?
CLAY EAST:
Ice.
SUE THRASHER:
Ice. How about electricity?
CLAY EAST:
No, we had gaslights and that was furnished by gasoline that was underpressure…a hollow-wire () system. Now, in our home, we had carbide lights and had a big machine out back that put fifty pounds of carbide in at a time and lasted three or four months. Electricity, we didn't have any electricity in there yet, no one had electricity. The first electric light lamps that came into that country there, as I've told you, my cousin, Eli East put in the first, that was the Delco light plant, was just a small affair, was storage batteries and they'd run in there and build the storage batteries up and even then, they didn't use their electricity for anything except lights. All the rest of it was done byhand, such as separaters, a lot of the big farmers had separaters to separate the cream from out of the milk.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, you would kill the beef on when, Sunday night?
CLAY EAST:
On Friday. that would give it a chance…we would get it in and put it under refrigeration. And now, that ice was shipped in there by rail, see, by or in three hundred pound cakes. And they'd have an ice plant. At that time, they had an ice plant at Harvard, which was about two miles from Marion, which was about twenty some odd miles from home. But they used that ice for cooling and I'd say along about 1912 or something…that country was called swamp country and it was.
SUE THRASHER:
It was part of the Delta?
CLAY EAST:
It was Delta country, but they called it swamp country and they called the Arkies that lived there in that country" "swamp angels" and these guys come over there from Tennessee and around, they called them hillbillies. So, in the wintertime, they had no roads, they were impassable in the wintertime. They had mules until they run a dredge ditch in there through Dead Timber Lake, which had sunken when Real Foot had had an earthquake in that country and Real Foot Lake sunk and Dead Timber lake sunk. That's where it received its name, all these trees had sunk, there was a lot of big walnut trees in there and those stumps. They got out and cut this timber from boats. They'd get in boats, see, and water was around this big timber, so they'd get in boats and cut this timber and float these logs, drag them out …well, the sawmills, that was what opened up the timber country. Sawmills had what they called tram roads, which runned manybe five or six miles down through the woods. That's all that was in there and theyd drag these logs up to where they could get them loaded on to the carts which was iron-wheeled carts. And the rails on these tram roads were just wooden timbers and of course, those were flange-wheeled carts that they put on there and they was first drawn with oxen.
SUE THRASHER:
What's a flange wheel?
CLAY EAST:
Well, a flange wheel is like what a railroad has, has a flange on the side to keep it on the rail and they had the same type of wheel on those carts. They was drug in there, and these places they would drag them with those oxen, mules and all couldn't stand up, they'd just bog down. They couldn't use mules in there until that country was drained some…but where they'd drag these logs through, there'd be a rounded out place and they called those lizard roads. And they was all over that country, even up in 1914 or 1915, there was still traces of these lizard roads in the woods up there, where they had drug those logs out.
SUE THRASHER:
What was the town of Tyronza like then, did it have paved streets or anything like that?
CLAY EAST:
No, that was just before we came back from Texas, a mule bogged down there on main street and they couldn't get him out and he died in there. And that is approximately where the post office was built when my Dad had his last store there which was during the time he had it, which was when the union was in operation.
SUE THRASHER:
Now, how big was Tyronza? About how many people lived around there then? In 1930.
CLAY EAST:
I'd say around 500.
SUE THRASHER:
Around 500 families? Oh, it was a little community.
CLAY EAST:
Yeah, small.