By Brad Dison
It is somewhat rare to get a firsthand account of what life was like in Bienville Parish over 100 years ago. Diaries, journals, letters, photos, etc. often get lost, misplaced, or damaged. Sometimes, people think that the items they have are not valuable in a historical sense, but they usually are. Here is one such case in point. Mr. Ellis Claiborne Hood was born at Saline on September 21, 1894. In 1979 or 1980, when he was 85 years old, Mr. Hood wrote the following account of his life:
“In the year about 1880, Joseph Bryant Hood and Bettie Holcom Howard were married.
They homesteaded some 200 acres of land in the south end of Bienville Parish, La., entirely in the woods. They cut down pine trees, peeled the bark off, split them open, notched each end, stacked them on top of each other and built a five-room log house with a front porch and hall running through the middle.
They cut down cypress trees, cut them in blocks, split them into boards to cover the roof, split strips, planed them by hand plane to fill the cracks and for flooring, using clay and straw to build a chimney and fireplace.
They helped build a one room church and school, and a plot for a cemetery. This is known as Old Saline Community.
To this couple was born nine children and I was number seven.
Each year we cleared a new plot for farming-raising cotton, corn, peas, potatoes, peanuts, and watermelons, using hand cultivators drawn by mules. We raised cows, hogs, and chickens for food supply.
There was no electricity or freezing units known in those days. We had a deep dug well. We let milk down in the well on ropes to keep cool until time to serve it.
We had to drive 15 miles over wagon roads to the nearest town to carry cotton to be ginned, and 7 miles with a sack of corn, horseback, to get it ground into meal to make cornbread at a water grist mill.
We had an outhouse with a dirt floor. We hung meat up overhead, built a fire under it, cured it with smoke, and used it year-round for food.
We walked a mile and a half to school and back every school day, and we only had one teacher for the entire school. We went to church in a wagon drawn by two mules. We packed water to school from a spring down a long hill, and all drank out of the same dipper from a large bucket.
After I was grown, they built a railroad from Bienville to Natchitoches, La., bypassing our place about one and a half miles. They built a small town about three miles south of our place known as Saline Town. My brothers and I walked to Saline Town down the railroad tracks several times and did not think it was too far.
There was a bayou running past our house on the east and north side where we did our fishing. My father killed wild game out of the woods such as turkey, squirrels, and birds for food.
I was converted when about thirteen years of age and united with the Old Saline Church. We had a music school in our church teaching shaped notes, and I learned to play the pump organ. I played the organ in the church for two or three years. My father entertained us children by playing an old-time fiddle around an old-time fireplace, and my mother sang the old-time religious songs. On Sunday afternoon my father would play ball with us and some of the neighbor boys out in front of our house. Then we would go back to church that night. Our church was divided into four sections-young women on the north side, young men on the south side, old men on the west side, and women with babies on front north side.
I needed an operation and I had no money. There was no public works. I was no longer able to work on the old farm. So, I decided to take a railroad course. In 1912, sometime during the year, I enrolled in Tyler Commercial College, Tyler, Texas. This consisted of telegraphy and typewriting. My tuition was only $64.00 for a nine-month course, which I finished July 16, 1914. They guaranteed me a job if I finished, and sent me to Omaha, Nebraska to go to work for Union Pacific Railroad. When I got there, they had some washout on the railroad and could not use me at that time. I came back to Kansas City and got a job on the Sante Fee Railroad at Burns, Kansas. I went to work as a station agent with assigned hours of thirteen hours per day, seven days a week. My salary was $37.50 a month. I got room and board for $4.00 per week, turning an old crank washing machine each week for my laundry bill. I worked there for nine months and then was promoted to Eldorado, Kansas with salary $55.00 per month. Then I had that much needed operation at Topeka, Kansas sometime in 1915.
Taking a vacation, I came home to Ashland, La. And married Bamma Thresher, November 29, 1916, taking her back to Eldorado, Kansas with me.
While World war one was in progress, we came back to Ashland, Louisiana where I became Station Agent for the L & A Railroad. In the year 1917, my brother and I went into the mercantile business. I worked part time with him. Sometime later I worked at several places on the L & A Railroad Company as relief agent.
On August 20, 1920, I went down to Ferriday, Louisiana as Depot Agent. We stayed at Ferriday until January, 1928. There was no church of any kind at Ferriday. I wrote the Home Mission Board and they sent us a preacher. Together we built the First Baptist Church. I was Ordained a deacon there in January, 1926.
I traded stations with Walter Barnard and moved to Sarepta in January, 1928. We bought the Tom Hearn home where we lived until December, 1955. We then built our present home at Sarepta where we were living when I retired in December, 1960. We have enjoyed our new home ever since. I served the railroad for forty-six and one half years as Station Agent.
My hobbies since retirement have been raising a garden, fruit orchard, fishing, hunting, visiting our children and going on vacations to various places.
On November 3, 1918, our oldest daughter, Vera Lucille Hood, was born at Ashland, Louisiana. She graduated from Sarepta High School and Louisiana Tech in Ruston. She is now teaching at Vida, Texas. She was married to Ben Cameron Gill on October 16, 1937. They have two children, Rose Marie married to Emerson Banack, Jr. They have two children, Trey and Courtney and they live in San Antonio, Texas.
Deborah Ann Gill, married to Mike Fletcher and they have one daughter, Shelby.
On March 25, 1924, Mattie Lorene Hood was born at Ferriday, Louisiana. She graduated from Sarepta High School and business school in Shreveport, Louisiana. She was married to Robert Vaughn Slack, November 21, 1942, and is now living at Sarepta, Louisiana. They have two children-Bobby Wayne Slack, married to Lois Rohrbacker and they have two children – Kelly Michelle Slack and Penny Lane Slack. Danny Robert Slack married to Fritzy Weible and they have no children.
I was made a Master Mason and joined the odd Fellow Lodge at Ashland, Louisiana in 1919. Made a deacon at First Baptist Church at Ferriday, Louisiana in 1926. I united with the New Sarepta Baptist Church at Sarepta, Louisiana, January 1928 and was automatically made a deacon. I was then elected Sunday School Superintendent, Teacher, Secretary, Clerk, Song Leader, and Training Union Director at the same time. I have filled almost all offices in the Baptist church and am still active in church. I am enjoying fairly good health at the age of 85.
I’ve seen many changes take place in this world since I have lived in it, and everywhere I look I can see the wonderful things God created and to me it has been a wonderful world to live in. The Lord ahs given me a long, happy, useful life in this world for which I can never thank Him enough. Someday I hope to meet Him in glory to live with Him for all eternity. I am thankful that my companion, our children, and our grandchildren are Christians.
I have no enmity against anyone and wish all people everywhere well and saying, ‘It pays to serve the Lord always, He will do you good.’
Ellis Claiborne Hood
Sarepta, Louisiana 71071”
Mr. Hood died on February 21, 1987, and is buried in the Springhill Cemetery. He was 92 years old. His wife died on June 14, 2001. She was 104 years old. Mr. Hood’s account of his life in Bienville Parish is an important piece of our history that must be preserved for future generations. Special thanks to Mike Hood for allowing me to share this. If you have writings, letters, photos, films, etc. pertaining to Bienville Parish or north Louisiana, please contact me at email@example.com.
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