This collection began with the Kentucky Oral History Commission’s effort to establish oral history programs in each of the state’s 120 counties. County libraries worked with local volunteers to collect interviews. Since 1987, county oral histories have been generated primarily by recipients of technical assistance grants from the commission that provide training and equipment to volunteer interviewers. Interviews donated by independent researchers are also included. Original collection held at Kentucky Oral History Commission/Kentucky Historical Society Access copies available at Lincoln County Public Library. Authorization must by granted by KHS to use or publish by any means the archival material to which the Society holds copyright.
LINCOLN COUNTY ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW
BEN GAINES, SR. INTERVIEWED BY GLENN MICHAEL DAMRON
May 3, 1983
Mr. Damron: Your name is?
Mr. Gaines: My name is Ben Gaines from Stanford, Kentucky. I was born in Lincoln County, Kentucky June 7, 1914. The purpose of this is to try to narrate to my children and grandchildren the changes in lifestyle and way of living that have occurred in my time. When I was born, the doctor came to the house and stayed till the baby was delivered. I was told that we had an old black watch dog, that was a very good dog, and he saw the neighbor ladies come in and it was fine that the doctor come in, and he decided that was enough traffic in, so he laid down across the door and wouldn’t let anybody in or out until he heard the baby…heard me cry, the baby cry, and then he got bristled up real good. My brother Morris came along sixteen months later. Our parents were Robert Gaines…who was a fifty year old widower, and our mother was a thirty-eight year old teacher. We were the only two children. We lived in a brick house that was built near the Whitley house here in Lincoln County. I remember the living room, the hall and another room across the hall were all paneled with black walnut. We had nice fireplaces. It was two story. We had a kitchen on the back where we did the cooking and the dining room, and had a full basement, and the attic was a nice wood floor and we stored flour and meal and things like that up there. But, when we were born, we had no electricity. We used the coal oil lamps. There was no radio, no TV, no refrigerator, no electric stove, no running water. We carried water from the spring, some hundred yards away from the house. And, little country boys were never without chores. If we weren’t carrying water, we were carrying in coal, wood, kindling, gathering eggs, and frequently we had pet pigs and pet lambs to take care of, as well as chores in the garden. We were a self-sufficient family. We raised practically everything we ate. And, the old house was always comfortable. We slept upstairs with no heat and never seemed to feel any discomfort. We had plenty of blankets and a feather bed to sleep on. Later on, father got real affluent, we had a Delco light plant, which was a series of batteries and a kerosene operated engine and it made a peculiar put-put-put-put-put-put-put. I remember it was hard to start. We had to put ether in it to start it. We had one light in each room. I don’t think there was an appliance receptacle in the house. And…there may have been one. And, we…for refrigeration, we had a nice spring and a spring house. And, we’d put milk in crocks and set them in the edge of the water, where the water circulated around them and we always had good cool milk and butter. We had plenty of eggs, because we had chickens. And, chickens and the cream can were an important thing to every housewife in those days because you could take those eggs to town on Saturday and get some money. The same way with the cream we had left over. We had our own meat. We killed hogs and cured the hams, bacon and shoulders. We made lard. We even saved the grease from the lard…I mean the fat from the kitchen and made homemade lye soap, which we used. We stored apples and potatoes in the basement and kept them until May each year. We had a good garden. We raised peaches, apples, strawberries, cherries, gooseberries and about any kind of fruit that was hardy grew there. There was very little of it wasted. What we couldn’t save, it was canned or preserved in some way. And, we sold quite a few peaches and occasionally a few apples. Turn that off for a minute.
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Mr. Gaines: We walked, approximately a mile, to a one room school that sat on top of Bald Hill. There were maybe twenty children in the school. And, I remember the first two years, we had a water bucket and a dipper. And, the bigger boys got to go get a bucket of water every so often. There were no sanitary cups. Everybody drank out of the same dipper. And, I don’t recall having any colds or complications. We all probably had a few fleas and some of us had some lice and occasionally we had itch, but as far as the sanitation part…a couple of years later, we got a new teacher who didn’t think that was the right thing to do so everybody had to have a cup. Well, then the childhood diseases begin to come out. We had an old coal stove to keep warm by in the winter and those that were close to it got too warm and those back in the corner didn’t get warm enough. Of course, we had two outhouses, and it was always a big thing when the county school superintendent would come to visit. He’d bring two boxes of chalk and an eraser and about half a dozen rolls of toilet paper and that was the last time you saw him for that year (laughing).
Mr. Damron: How many kids were there in the school?
Mr. Gaines: About twenty.
Mr. Damron: About twenty.
Mr. Gaines: And, a lot of the older boys had to work. The only time they could go to school was when there was no work on the farm. And, they’d go to school for awhile. I remember the first day I went to school, I sat with a man named Sprinkles, who looked to be about 20 years old. But, he was about the fifth grade level in education because the poor boy just didn’t have an opportunity to go to school. And, staying with the school thing, when we were in the fifth or sixth grade, we had to go to Crab Orchard for our mother to help take care of her parents. So, we went to this school in Crab Orchard. And, it began to be apparent then, that we hadn’t had the proper basics in spelling and reading and writing and arithmetic, that they had had in Crab Orchard. So, in our freshman and sophomore year, we came to Stanford to school, and you could see a difference there. And, that same difference is still apparent in our school systems here in the county. I don’t think we are getting enough emphasis on the basic communication of math and foreign languages. I went to the University of Kentucky for approximately two years, and in the classes that did not require a lot of English and a lot of math, I made A’s. In English, I had to have remedial English before I could even qualify for a grade. In the math classes, I had to have remedial math things. And, I think that condition may still exist today. We’re not putting the right emphasis on the right things for kids to live in the technology that we’re coming into today. Now, getting back to the change in technology, as I said before, when I was born, we had a kerosene lamp, we had no running water, we had no electricity, we didn’t know we even needed them. Our first thing I remember was the Delco light plant that I told you about.
Mr. Damron: Uh huh (yes).
Mr. Gaines: And, then, later on, dad bought a radio. He had to sell two mules to get it. It came in a nice little wooden cabinet and sat on a table. It had three batteries and two headphones. And, it was quite a thing for the neighbors to come in because it was the only one in the neighborhood. You would undo one of the headphones and hand it over to the next fellow, so four could listen instead of two. And, that was quite a thrill.
Mr. Damron: What about a car, did you all have a car?
Mr. Gaines: We had a Model T Ford.
Mr. Damron: When did you get that?
Mr. Gaines: We’ve had…as far as I remember, we had a car….
Mr. Damron: Yes.
Mr. Gaines: But, I remember riding to town with mother in a buggy.
Mr. Damron: Yeah.
Mr. Gaines: And, it took about half the day. It seemed like an awful long time to come five miles with an old buggy horse just plodding along.
Mr. Damron: Yeah.
Mr. Gaines: And, I’d get sleepy and lay down in the floor of the buggy. And, I’d get sleepy riding home always. But, the old Model T Ford was a very safe and successful automobile. Of course, we had…we farmed about a hundred and fifty to two hundred acres. We had to have…it was all…your power was all horse power.
Mr. Damron: Uh huh (yes).
Mr. Gaines: We had lots of horses and mules. Men worked. The workday was from six in the morning in the morning until six in the evening.
Mr. Damron: Uh huh (yes).
Mr. Gaines: And, sometimes, for a dollar and a half for most of the days. But that dollar and a half bought something. And, I remember the thrill of the first steam thrashing machine that come to thrash the wheat we raised. The steam engine had…was pulling the separator, a big black thing with smoke pouring out of it. It had a wagon to haul coal, it had a water wagon, it had a cook wagon. There were twelve to fourteen men that came with it. And, they thrashed wheat for so much a bushel. And, I’m…these poor fellows ate anything they could get. I’m sure their cook wagon fare wasn’t too good, and they slept in the straw stack at night. So, they had to be a hearty bunch of individuals. And, one funny thing about this thrashing machine…we were down at Uncle Will’s on Cedar Creek. And, Morris and I were old enough then to be some help in putting the straw back in the barn and doing things like that, and it came lunchtime, and they rang the dinner bell for the men to come down to the house and eat. And Uncle Will kept and bred some Jacks. Jacks are the father of mules.
Mr. Damron: Yeah.
Mr. Gaines: And, this old Jack was just about as curious about this steam engine as we were so we…the men went to the house, Morris and I climbed up there, and would just give anything to hear that whistle blow. So, we slipped up there and got ahold of that thing and gave it a big yank, about the time that old Jack came up to smell that steam engine. Well, that whistle scared him so bad he fell. He just fell right down like he was dead. And, in a minute or two that thing got up and Man-O-War never left there any faster than that old Jack left there.
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Mr. Gaines: It was a common practice for taxpayers to get a credit…I think you got a credit of $4.00 for working on the road. And, I remember working…people working on the road between Stanford and Crab Orchard. We’d take a team…lots of people did, go down…you got extra credit for bringing the team…and hauled gravel to put on the road. And I remember the Merchants of Stanford, some of them would volunteer a man or two to come out and help with it. And, a country church was an integral part of life in those times, because it was a social gathering, as well as a religious occasion. And, people would quite often talk for a long time after church, and it wasn’t uncommon for some nice lady to invite another family to come eat dinner with them.
Mr. Damron: Yeah.
Mr. Gaines: There are many stories about country churches and how long those services lasted and how tired little farm boys would get. It seemed like they had to have their revivals, as they call them, in July, August, about the time you are working your hardest, and frequently we would volunteer to keep the preacher and the song leader. And, I remember one particularly one, they was very much against smoking, drinking coffee and tea. And, the first thing mother did every morning was get that coffee pot hot and start drinking some coffee. And father liked to smoke a pipe. And, the first day, they got on them for drinking that coffee and smoking that pipe, what a bad influence they were setting for these boys and so on and so on. So, they reluctantly quit. And, that was about the most miserable week I can recall.
Mr. Gaines: Because those preachers were there; they were a little bit on the irritable side.
Mr. Damron: Yeah.
Mr. Gaines: I remember another occasion…quite often in the country church, the men would stand around out in the yard and talk and visit and smoke that last cigarette until they sang a couple of songs, and then they’d kind of really insist on the men coming in. There were two…two men out in the yard, on a cattle deal…I’ll give you so many dollars for so many cattle you got in that…you have in that field there. And, they were jockeying back and forth with it. And, it was Farley Scott and Mr. Holtzclaw…Baylor Holtzclaw. And, Baylor was a very nervous man that worked real hard. And, a lot of old farmers I knowed, they carried a short pencil in their pocket. So, as soon as they got inside, they asked everybody to kneel and pray. So, Mr. Holtzclaw is down on his knees, but he was figuring with that short pencil on that wood floor all the time that preacher was praying. So, he got so engrossed in his trade, the preacher said AMEN! Mr. Holtzclaw raised up and said, I’ll take it.
Mr. Gaines: And, quite a few little things like that went on. I never will forget a cousin of ours left home. He was about 21 or 22. And his father had never been a very religious man, but he came home that summer, and they were having revival, and this poor little church didn’t even have screens in the window. And, he was right up close to the front, next to the window, in front of his daddy. And, the preacher, he thought, looked right at him and said, now, Brother Gaines, lead us in prayer. Well, his mouth stopped up and he couldn’t think of a word to say. He’d never prayed in public before anyway. Only thing he could think of was jump out the window.
Mr. Gaines: Just as he started to jump out the window, his father started praying, because his father had started going to church while he had gone away from home.
Mr. Gaines: And, another one, is a man named Joe Chancellor. He joined the church in the early eighties, a young man, and they asked him to pray one morning, and his mouth got dry as cotton, his tongue just froze to the top of his mouth and he couldn’t think of a word to say, so he stammered…beg…beg…beg to be excused. So, he called on another young man about the same age, and he stumbled through a prayer. Mr. Chancellor had a way of saying ‘by Joe’ about everything. He’d say, “well, by Joe, I could have done that bit myself”.
Mr. Gaines: My father was married once before. I have a…we have a half-sister by that marriage. Around 1900, his first wife, as the old folks said, became sickly, and the doctors thought she had consumption. It was recommended then to go to a dry climate. So, to save her life, my father, his first wife and my half-sister got on a train and went to Ponca City, Oklahoma, which took several days. When he was there, he rented an apartment up over a butcher shop. I recall my sister saying that they didn’t have hamburger in those days and they had difficulty selling the small pieces of meat. And, the butcher would make soup and stews. And, they could take a dime and buy a gallon bucket of good beef stew that would feed them all weekend. And, father leased some land from the Indians and raised wheat and cotton, and he’d go out in the prairie wagon on Monday and come back the last of the week. And, I recall the first…one of the first times going out there, he told us about…he loved quail and grouse, prairie chicken, plover, so he didn’t take any meat at all. He took a shotgun. So, the first night, he’d kill enough prairie chickens for supper and breakfast the next morning. And, then he’d warm them up the next morning and they still tasted pretty good. It was about the third or fourth day, he got to where he couldn’t eat another one of those birds; they were so rich. And, there’s an old saying, that you can’t eat a quail a day for seven days…and he almost proved that to himself. And, these Indians were very friendly. And, I remember him telling about going by one of them’s house, the teepee, and it had a sewing machine that he was very proud of, and a Winchester rifle. And, he was going to go out and show my father some land that he could rent from him. And, father said, aren’t you afraid to go off and leave this gun and this sewing machine; your possessions here? He said, no, no, not at all. He said, there’s not another white man anywhere around here. So, the Indians were just as scared of us as we were…I’d imagine we had some bad white people….
Mr. Damron: Yeah.
Mr. Gaines: They robbed the Indians and everything else. And, he said, you’re the only white man around here; we trust you.
Mr. Damron: Yeah; so….
Mr. Gaines: And, another occasion he was going out to this land, and it looked like a storm, and there was an abandoned house, and he tied the horses up behind the wagon and took a blanket and went in and threw the blanket down on the floor on some loose straw and went to sleep. And, that country was full of snakes in those times. And, he felt something fall across his chest, and naturally he assumed there was a snake up there on the rafter, over his head, and it had fallen down there. So, he laid there for what seemed like hours and days, and finally he got enough courage up to move his hand up under the blanket and throw it just as far as he could, and run out of the building. Well, he lit a lantern and went back in there. Well, what had happened, there was an old halter hanging up on a rafter, and a mouse or something had gone across there and knocked it loose and it fell on him.
Another tale, I can remember him telling; there was a man named Dunn (sic) from Danville that was out there, and several of them wanted to go hunting. And, they took the team, a wagon, and some provisions and went quite a few miles. This is rough country where there were bear and several kinds of wild game. And, it became rainy time, and they were just almost bogged down. And, they didn’t have …couldn’t kill anything to eat. And, they tied their horses behind the wagon, and the horses ate what meal they had. And, that ruined…that was it. You know, they had a slab of bacon, and they hadn’t killed any game, and they ate the bacon up, and finally the second day after the bacon was gone, somebody killed a wild turkey. And, they brought that thing in and put it in a pot of water and boiled it, it just got good and warm, I reckon, and they almost jerk it apart, getting a piece to eat on. And, the next day, they wounded a bear, and he went into a cane thicket. And, they could hear him growling and they were afraid to go in there after him and try to get him. Well, the man named Dunn said, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to get out of here. Did that cut off?
Mr. Damron: It’s good.
Mr. Gaines: So, he started off, cross country…as I said before, it had been raining and the streams were up. And, the streams out there are flatter and a lot wider than ours. And, he planned to go across and the current carried him almost a mile down from where he aimed to go. And, the banks were muddy, nothing to get a hand hold in. And, finally he washed down and he got hold of a little root and kept pulling until he got himself out on the bank. And, he kind of…he was about half dried out and he thought he saw smoke and smelled smoke and he had come to an Indian house. And the Indian, he was…he just dashed in the door. The Indian woman was cooking their meal. She was making corn cakes on a hot rock. She had thrown her shawl down, her blanket, that’s what they ate on; they squatted on that and ate. And, he wasn’t particularly welcome, but they let him come on in. And, he grabbed the first corn cake because he was so hungry and liked to burn his mouth. He tried to explain to this Indian that he was trying to find a railroad and get out of there. And, railroad didn’t mean anything to the Indian. He tried to draw pictures. He finally got the Indian’s attention. He said, “ yeah, yeah, poo poo wagon, poo poo wagon. I’ll take you to poo poo wagon.” So, they got on two Indian ponies and they rode several miles to the railroad track and the Indian put him off. And, he paid him what little money he had. He sat out there by the railroad tracks until a train came by. And, he got back to Danville, and the last I heard, he was never back in Oklahoma again, either.
Mr. Gaines: Getting back to life on the farm, as I said before, we had no tractors, it took a lot of manpower. There was this little colored community across the road from our farm called Cedar Ridge, and the Stevenson family lived there. And, they had worked for our family, and the Green family worked for our family for a number of years. We had a wonderful relationship. One of the Stevenson’s we referred to as Uncle Charlie. That didn’t mean we were kinfolks, that meant he was an elderly person, and it was out of respect for him. And, Uncle Charlie liked to come, when he got too old to work, and work mother’s flowers and always have a good lunch. Mother had a sister, Aunt Mable, that had more education…had more social advantages than the rest of us had. She’d been out to Missouri, and had come under the influence of some of Mary Baker Eddie’s teaching. And, she tried to explain to all of us, and Uncle Charlie was listening, about how you just willed things away, and your sickness would go away and things like that. And the first peaches were beginning to get ripe down in the peach orchard, and we had an old bull we kept out there.
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