Foreword to

TRAIL OF TEARS

AND OTHER POEMS

BY LEONARD STEWART

(1969)

Grandson of Jasper Byrd Stewart and Vicy Thacker

 

Leonard Stewart was born on May 31, 1887. He attended Berea College and received an L.L.B. degree in 1911 from Transylvania University. After graduating, he practiced law for five years and subsequently was a teacher in Adair County, Kentucky, for seventeen years. He also delivered mail in Adair County. He married Julia Combs who died in 1952. They moved to Oklahoma. Thereafter, he married Lizzie Driskill. They lived in Tahlequah, Cherokee County, Oklahoma. He was an active minister in the Freewill Baptist Church.

 

He was also a poet. He was particularly interested in the history of the Cherokee Indians. His poem, Trail of Tears, published in 1926, is on display at Tsa-La-Gi, in Tahlequah, the Capitol of the Cherokee Nation. (Taken from Comments by Lucy Jane Makoske in the introduction to the book of poems by Leonard Stewart entitled God’s Indian Children and Other Poems.)


            For the benefit of my children, and my grandchildren, and for the pleasure of my friends and my loved ones, that love me, I'll try to write a short story, or history of my life.

        

Leonard Stewart

  I have investigated and looked into a lot of things that happened before that I was ever born into this world, I've talked with old men that knew our family history from a way back, and I have had a lot of experience of my own, I want those that come after me to know about themselves.

 

            To begin with I was born May 31, 1887 on the Mile Fork of Upper Mill Creek, in an old one room log cabin, on what is known as the Old Jim Manor Place, Mill Creek runs into Troublesome, and Troublesome runs into the Kentucky River, Mile Fork is about three miles above Hindman in Knott County Kentucky.


            My father was Robert Thacker Stewart. He was the son of Dr. Jasper Stewart, and Vicy Thacker Farrel.


            Dad was born on October 8, 1861, at the mouth of Mill Creek near Hindman, and died on Jones Fork in June 1939. Dad was born and raised in Knott County Kentucky. He was born and grew up with the Civil War in progress, Kentucky tried to remain neutral which made things worse, than if she had been on one side or the other. For they had their home guards on each side, the Rebels would come by one day and take what the people had, and if they left anything the Yanks would come along the next day and take that, that was left. So Dad had a hard time growin' up. He said the first pair of shoes that he ever owned. that his Dad tanned a cow hide and made them for him, and that he was big enough by then to take a gun and dog and go a rabbit hunting and was he proud.


Robert Thacker (Stewart)

            He said that he had neither coat or pants until he was a great sized boy. that his mother made him long shirts to come below his knees out of spun flax, tow shirts. they called them. One day in his long, tow shirt, his mother sent him to get the geese out of her bean patch and that she had one old sturdy gander, that was apt to flog. This old gander tackled Dad and took him by the privy member, so Dad took him by the head and led him up to a hollow stump and sharpened his knife on a rough rock and cut the gander’s head off and threw him in the hollow stump. He said Grandmother wondered what had become of her gander, but he was afraid to tell.


            Dad was a wonderful man. The last time that I saw him he had me kneel in front of him and he kissed me on each Check, and said, "Leonard, when you come back to Kentucky, I won't be here, for I will be in heaven waiting for you." I am going there to see Him before too long, and if you read this. won't you come to see us? Dad will have on pretty clothes up there, no home made shoes, and no long, tow shirts, but a beautiful robe washed and made white in the blood of Jesus.


            Grandfather Stewart was a self-made, self-educated, self-made man and medical doctor. He could trace his ancestors back to Bloody Mary of Scotland and James the second of England.

 

            The first Stewart to come to America was a man named William. He had a son named Alexander, that was a merchant prince. Grandfather said that he was a close Scotchman, that he would not waste even a piece of a string. He said that Alexander said the way to get rich was "Work like hell and spend nothing." Alexander had a son called William or Charlie, and Charlie was Grandpa's father. Charlie, or Bill, as he was called, came into Kentucky. Charlie was a great hunter, but not tight like his father, and not so rich. Grandpa said if his dad got without meat and had only one cow or one brood sow he'd kill them for meat.


            Great-grandfather Charlie, or Bill, as he was called, was the father of three sons, Preacher Jim, Doctor Jasper, Byrd, to his friends, and Will, Jim and Will lived in Rowan County, and Dr. Byrd stayed in Knott County, Preacher Jim had a boy that he called Will that was a great preacher and a medical doctor. Will had a son that he called Jim that was a Baptist preacher and a politician. He died in the Kentucky Senate making a speech. The Stewarts were Scotch Irish before they came to America. They were also Baptists.


            A young doctor came to Knott County to practice medicine and he tried to stop Grandfather from practicing medicine because he had not attended a Doctor's College. The Kentucky Legislature was in session at the particular time and they passed a special act to give Grandfather the right to go ahead with his practice. He was indeed a great doctor and we consider that a great tribute to his wisdom and to his honor that the legislature of the state would take that much notice of him. He never sought public office but once, and most of the people in Knott County voted for him. He was elected to be county assessor. Dad did the work for Grandfather. He was too old to get about much by then.


            Grandfather and Preacher Dave Maggard married sisters. Grandfather married Nancy Mullins, a wonderful and good woman, and she bore him ten children, Alexander, Ambrose, Jack, James and Willie. Alex and Willie were doctors, Jim was a merchant. Ambrose was a school teacher and a fireside preacher, and Jack died a young man.


            The girls married off to their neighbors. One married a Boggs, one a Stamper, two married Tripletts, and little Mary died when she was a young girl.


            Grandmother Nancy would come to our house to visit Dad. She would say that Dad was more like grandfather Stewart than any child that he ever had. She was the mid-wife when my oldest half brother was born and she named him Willie, after her baby son, Uncle Willie Stewart.


            Grandmother Vicy, the reputed daughter of Jesse Thacker, was a beautiful red haired fair faced young woman, and

The family of Vicy Thacker Stewart in front of her home. She is in the front row standing the second from the far right.

Grandfather made her his common law wife, and she bore him nine children, Henry, Robert, Wilburn, Rufus, and Isaac were the five boys; Four daughters, Polly married a Pratt, Nancy married a B. Smith; Lizzie married a Stamper and Malean married a Slone. But grandmother was not the daughter of Jesse Thacker, for the very good reason, he had got himself into trouble with the law and had to go to prison, and while he was in prison, great-Grandmother took up with a man named Farrel, and Farrel was Grandmother's dad, but when Jesse got out of prison arid returned home he and Nancy patched up things and he stayed with her and helped to raise my grandmother and she bore his name. He was a good man and lies buried at the mouth of Mill Creek. I've been to his grave but Grandmother and her children bore the name of Jesse Thacker, which was not right, but sin makes a lot of things not right.


            Grandmother Vicy's children were as much Stewart's as was Grandmother Nancy's. I say and I think that such an arrangement was unfair to both families, to Nancy's children and to Nancy and to Vicy's children and to Vicy.


            Great-Grandmother Nancy was the sister of Dr. Cook of Rock House, Letcher County, Kentucky and she was a Cook. So Grandmother Vicy was a Cook on her mother's side and a Farrel on her father's side and her children are Stewarts on their father's side. If they had gone into court the court would have so decided, and I think that they should. I think that every calf should bear the marks of the bull that got them.


            That is the reason that I went into court during the lifetime of Grandmother Vicy and Grandfather Stewart and asked the court to ratify their mistake so far as I was concerned. It did and I am glad that I am a Stewart according to law and in line with nature, and the gospel. I want to say for Grandmother Vicy, a better hearted woman never lived than Grandmother Vicy. She'd give you the shirt off of her back if she thought that you were in need. Her besetting sin was just loving my precious Grandfather. He was a big man, and smart, and good looking. I suppose that he was hard to resist. He said and she said, that she never knew another man. I do hope that God was gracious to them both, and that I'll meet them in heaven together with all their decendants where we will be one big happy family.


            I think that I have given a pretty fair description of my father's people, and now for my mother's.


            They were French, the first emigrant to come to America was a man named John Pigman. He had a son, Leonard. Leonard had a son, Madison. Madison had a son, Campbell. Campbell had a son named Madison and that Madison was the father of another Campbell that was my grandfather. Madison married Rhoda Cornett and they had six children. Campbell, Milton, Robin, Wilburn, and Elhanan, and a daughter named Mary that married an Amburgey.


            This is the line on mother's side on her father's side, and Grandmother's people were from England. They were from England and she had three brothers and one sister, her sister married Uncle Milton Pigman, a brother to Grandfather, two brothers took two sisters. Her brothers were Ivan, Hiram and Joe. Joe died on Mill Creek at Grandmother's house. Her sister's name was Eliza Ann. Their names were Pridmore.


            Mother had six brothers, Madison. Hansford, Robert, Milton, Russell and Harlan. Five sisters, Parthena, Dulcena, Rhoda, Emily and Mattie. She had eleven brothers and sisters and they are all dead except Aunt Mattie, and Dad's brothers and sisters are all dead.


            Mother was born August 31, 1 871 on Mill Creek, about one mile from where that I was born. She was 15 years older than I was. She lacked from May 31 to August 31 being 16 years old when I was born. Dad was ten years older than Mother when they were married. Mother was 14 and Dad was 24. Mother was 22 when she went to heaven and she left four children, Leonard, Nevada, Lurana and Kay. Kay was five months old when our mother died and Grandmother Vicy raised him.


            Nevada, Lurana and Kay and Dad have already gone home to heaven. I'm 83 next birthday and the Death Angel will soon come for me and I'll cross ole Jordan and join them in heaven to live with the Angels. We will all know each other there, though Kay was a baby and Nevada and Lurana were just little girls. Mother will know us everyone.


            Two years after Mother died, Dad married a woman named Sabra Smith. She was the daughter of Elder Simeon Smith and Ann Smith. Grandpa was an old Regular Baptist Preacher and he took great pains with me to explain the Bible, and he gave me many good lessons. He and Granny were good to me and to my two little sisters, may God ever bless them.


            Dad and his second wife had six children, Willie, Arizona, John C., Daniel, Blaine and Russel. They are all dead except John C. and he is 70 years old and Arizona and she is 72 years old. Dad had ten children and two wives and they are all gone except us three.


            I had a pretty hard time growin' up, but not like Dad had. My struggle was mostly trying to get a little education. When I was 17, I had been through the fourth grade in the free schools of Kentucky. One day Dad sent me to a Grist Mill to get some meal. The mill was crowded and I had to stay all day to get my turn ground. It was election day and there was a big crowd at the mill and W.W. Craft was a young school teacher and he made a speech for one of the candidates that he happened to favor. I thought that it was the best speech that I had ever heard and I decided then and there that I was going to be a school teacher and make good speeches like W.W. Craft. I commenced that day to work to that end. R.W. Huff was teaching a subscription school and I went to that. The next year he taught the free school and I went to that. He was a good man and he put things into me that made me want to be a man. At that very time George Clark came back to Hindman and started up a Training School to train men and women to be school teachers to teach school. I didn't have any money but George Clark was a Christian and a good man with a tender heart, and he taught me and boarded me in his dormitory for two years until I could get a first class certificate and teach school and pay him. I went to Berea College for parts of two years, then I decided to be a lawyer and I went to Transylvania University for two years and got my LLB degree. I got my degree in 1911, June 11. I was really a proud young fellow of 24 years. I went back to Hindman to practice law. I tried for nearly five years. The Governor appointed me to take the office of police judge, and the people elected me for another term. I got dissatisfied and left for Oklahoma to practice law in a new state, the trouble with me was God wanted me to be a preacher and not a lawyer.


            On the 17th day of August 1912, I married Julia Combs, and to this union was born six children, Julius and Emily were born in Kentucky. Ernestine, Anthony, Aberdeen and Robert were born in Oklahoma.


            I taught school seven years in Kentucky and ten years in Oklahoma. I carried the mail as a rural route carrier for thirty-three years and two months, all this time I carried mil and taught school. I preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. I never preached for money and the Lord has always taken good care of me and my family. I'm a Baptist of the old school, the kind that Jesus set up here in this world and I believe in washing feet as He said to do in the church. He said salvation was free and I don't believe in trying to sell it. I have 12 grand-children and 3 great-grandchildren. I joined the church when I was 21 and was ordained the first year I came to Oklahoma, 1915. On February 4, 1 952, Julia went to heaven. I stayed single for more than twelve years. Then I met and married Lizzie Driskill, the widow of Bill Driskill. She had two daughters, Mary and Ethel. Mary had one daughter and she has three children, Mike, Pat and James. Mrs. Driskill lived at Chouteau, Oklahoma and I lived at Stilwell, so we met at Tahlequah and went together and bought us a house in Tahlequah and we were married in our own house in April 1964, and I have been preaching and writing a book of poems ever since. Lizzie and I work together and pray together and we are making it just fine. I'll be 83 and Lizzie will be 70 at our next birthdays. Just two kids.


            I have twelve grandchildren, Aberdeen is the mother of Gail, Charles and Cimberly. Bob is the father of Leslie, Lisa and Julie. Julius is the father of Gary, deceased, Eddie, Linda and John. Ernestine is the mother of Julia Lynn, Roger and Shayla.

 

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