I was born in the mountains of Tennessee, in White County, on the 27th day of January, 1860, in an old log cabin with a dirt floor, a clapboard roof over our heads and a mud chimney about half way to the roof. We were in the very lowest depths of poverty. There was but one bedstead in the house, and it was not quartered oak, for the oak was not quartered. A little fork was put into the ground and one end of a pole into the fork and the other into the side of the house, and the bed was built on that scaffold. Our table was made the same way, of little oak boards.
There was not a window in the house, just one door, hung on the old wooden hinges and fastened with a latch which was opened by a string. No doubt the reader has heard of the latchstring hanging on the outside. The reading public ought to pay us something for that, as I think that must have started at our house. There was not a whole piece of furniture in the building. My mother cooked in the stewpot and baked in the old oven with a long-handled skillet. We generally ate out of tin pans, bucket lids, and with our fingers out of the skillet. That was not the worst part of it, for often we did not have enough to eat.
I have had people say, “Brother Bud, if you had just one bed, where did you all sleep? Were there many of you?”
I tell them, “No, there were not a great many, only mother and father and thirteen of us children.”
People say, “Well, how in the world did you sleep?” When I was a boy we said we slept with our eyes shut. But people want to know how fifteen persons could sleep on one bed. Well, if you have never thrown a quilt on the floor and put boys on it and made them fit together like a package of teaspoons, you will never know how many you can put on one quilt. Many a night I have gone to bed hungry and my companion was the watchdog. I don’t know which would growl the loudest-the dog or my stomach. The only trouble that I found sleeping with a dog was that you couldn’t make him straighten out. He was the crookedest thing you ever saw when he lay down, unless it was the fellow he runs with.
In my childhood days, within five miles of our old cabin there were ten big distilleries. My father made apple brandy and sold it for fifty cents a gallon. He made whiskey and sold it for twenty-five cents a gallon, but it would make men just as drunk at that price as if they were paying a bootlegger ten dollars for it. The price of liquor doesn’t seem to get the devil out of it, for men would swear just as loud when drunk on cheap whiskey as when they paid a big price for it; starve their wives and children and treat them just as bad. When a man tells you that he regrets that we are not back in the days of cheap whiskey, you might tell him that every day he stays away from the insane asylum he is going to be away from home, for I was brought up on cheap whiskey.
In those days everybody became drunk when a young couple were married or someone died. In the winter time they had whiskey to warm them up so they could roll logs. In the summer time they had whiskey to cool them off, so they could cut wheat. When people were sick they gave them whiskey to make them well. When they were well, they gave them whiskey to keep them from getting sick. So the reader will see at a glance that we used it for all purposes.
In those days, my father ran what was commonly called a grocery, which was nothing more nor less than a country saloon. They were generally located in an old log house at the fork of the road. Here our neighbors would meet and would often get up a shooting match, bring their old rifles and shoot for whiskey until they would all get drunk and then the fighting would begin. I have known them to make a big ring about ten feet across, pull off their shirts and tie their galluses around their waists, and sometimes fight for an hour, and beat each other until they were bloody. I have seen my dear old father come home with his head beaten up and his face bloody, and swear so bitterly at my mother that I would stand and tremble, while the little children would hide.
I have heard people say that they didn’t believe in a devil. I know there is one because he lived at our house. If there is such a thing as a hell on earth, it’s the home of a poor drunkard, for he
is without God and generally without money, without clothing and almost without food. I have known men unable to buy clothing for their families and the necessities of life, but I have never known a drunkard but what could get liquor and tobacco. They are the twin evils. We now have thousands of boys in our penitentiaries and schools of correction. The devil, liquor and tobacco have put every one of them there.
I have often thought of the little boy who was walking down the street and saw a drunken man lying at the door of the saloon. The little fellow walked to the door of the saloon, hailed the saloonkeeper and said, “Mister, your billboard fell down and I came to tell you in order that you could stand it up again.” But that is only one case among hundreds and thousands that our nation has produced.
I want to stop right here long enough to say that every bootlegger in the United States ought to be captured and if he is a foreigner, he ought to be sent back to his native land, with the understanding that he could never enter America again; and if he is American born, he should be sentenced to the state penitentiary for ten years. During that time he ought to be made to build public roads for the sober people to drive over. I think bootleggers have forfeited their rights to freedom and liberty in this great country of ours.
Well, after making this little detour, we are back at the little log cabin on the mountain side. Before the death of my father, my older brothers were getting drunk every week, lying in the yard so drunk they couldn’t walk and my oldest sisters were old enough to receive company. Now the next question was, what kind of company would they keep? Well, as the reader knows, it is customary for the boys and girls as a rule, to marry the boys and girls they run with. But the young men that came to our house were so drunk they couldn’t get off their ponies. We would help them down and bring them in, but they would be so drunk that they could not introduce a courtship. We would then throw down an old quilt and they would lie down and sleep off the drunk, wake up, go out by the old spring, wash their faces, wipe them off on a gunny sack, and if they combed their hair (I have seen them straighten it out with a mule currycomb) come in and start their courtship.
I have had people say, “Brother Bud, you people must have been mighty low down.” Well, the reader can see at a glance that we needed God and somebody to help us. Many people who made fun of my grammar never gave a nickel during their lives to help educate me. While we were low down, I judge we were just about on a par with the rest of our neighbors. The reader must remember that the great Cumberland mountain range of Tennessee sixty years ago, where they were without churches and without schools but with plenty of stillhouses, was by no means a paradise. I have been in the homes of some of our mountain people where the mother of the house would have six or eight children, the oldest daughter would have two or three, the next oldest from one to two, and then the younger girls were already wrecked. But nobody seemed to care.
The last time I was through those mountains, I stood on the spots where the old stillhouses used to be and could locate a half dozen places where men had been killed. The last time I preached in those mountains (just a few years ago), two young men fought in the door of the church and they were so badly cut up with their knives that one of them was carried off on a stretcher. One of the young men that started the fuss at that time had a brother in the penitentiary in Nashville, Tennessee, for murder. So the reader can see that even down to the present there is a great need of revival of old-fashioned, heart-felt, Holy Ghost religion in that mountain range.
Before the death of my father I was old enough to go to mill as we called it. The corn was shelled and put in a sack which was placed on the pony. I was then placed on the sack of corn and sent a number of miles to the old water mill, where the corn was ground into meal. It was necessary for each one to await his turn and while our corn was grinding, we boys would play marbles, play in the little creek, place the little fish in the pens built of rocks and have lots of fun.
It was at the old mill that I met another little boy who seemed to love me, and often would ask me to come to his home and stay all night. Finally my mother gave her consent. I walked about twelve miles through the mountains following the pig trails. I was dirty, ragged and barefooted. As the ground was very cold, it was a harder trip than going to New York from Los Angeles, California, by rail. I reached their home about sundown. It was a very large hewn-log house with a puncheon floor, a big rock chimney, a broad stone hearth and a big fireplace. They had on the big backlog, the forestick and the middle wood. There was a row of big, fat feather beds around the walls. Their big, hewn-log kitchen, with a puncheon floor and a big rock chimney, contained a long table with a beautiful, white tablecloth on it together with plates, cups and saucers, knives and forks, and, best of all, there was plenty to eat. When we sat down to eat everything was so nice and quiet. The old father turned his face toward heaven and offered thanks. I had never heard that before, therefore did not know what he was doing. I thought he was talking to somebody in the room. I tried to locate the person he was talking to. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard. When the blessing was asked he began to fill the plates. He piled good things on them until they were full and then passed them around to the family. When he came to my plate he piled good things on it until it could hold no more. It looked and smelled so good that I did not want to eat it. I wanted to smell of it, taste of it, and then put it away for a keepsake. I was afraid that I would never get anything else like it again. But I watched the boys wade into their supper and the next thing I had my supper wading into me. I ate up what was on my plate and the old man put on another spoonful and then he piled on some more and finally I came to the end, but he piled on another spoonful and said, “My little man, would you eat a little more?)’ All that I could do was to look up with a grin and say, “Well, I might chew a little more but I can’t swallow any more.”
After the good supper was finished, the family moved into the big parlor. Of course it was not like the parlor of the homes in our days but after traveling for a million miles, I have not seen a greater parlor than that one. It is true that all the beds were in one room, but the reader must remember that was customary in the mountains in those days. The mother and father sat down and entered into a conversation as though they loved each other, while the children entertained the little, dirty saloonkeeper’s boy. First, we had a great rousing game of blindfold. My, my, but that was exciting! When that was over, we roasted potatoes and played a game called “Clubfist.” You never saw the like of the fun we had that night! When that was over we played a game called “Chicka-ma-cranie-crow.” That was the most exciting game I had ever seen or heard of. My, we mighty near moved the house! But after that was over the old father told the boys to go into the cellar and bring up a big bucket of apples. They were the old “Mountain Reds,” commonly called “Limber Twigs.” They were a great apple and smelled so good that one of them almost perfumed the settlement. I think I ate apples until I could reach them with my finger. I am sure they came up above Adam’s apple.
After eating apples, the old father said, “Children, it is bedtime,” and every child quit playing and sat down on the floor and turned his feet toward the big fireplace. The old father sat over by a little table with a little tallow candle in the candlestick. Even now I can see the glimmering light of the little tallow candle as the old father pulled a big book over on his lap. I had no idea that they were going to have family worship. As I couldn’t read, I have no idea what the old man read.
Just for a moment I will skip over and tell you that many years later I was converted on the frontiers of Texas. Three months after my conversion I attended my first Sunday school, where a young lady gave me a nickel Testament which I learned to read. A year later I bought a Bible and in reading it through, came to that beautiful thirty-fifth chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy. Of course, I don’t know whether that is the chapter the old man read or not, but it sounded very much like it, and even if it was not the one he read, it was my experience. Out there on the great plains of Texas, forty-seven years ago, as I was reading my Bible by the sunshine by day and by moonshine at night, with my boyish heart overflowing with love for God and everybody on earth, I could look beyond the great plains of Texas, across Arkansas and western Tennessee, and see the big hewn-log house on the top of the Cumberland mountains. I could see that rugged old mountaineer with his shaggy beard his long brown hair combed back on his shoulders. I could see his wife sitting by him and the seven or eight children sitting on the puncheon floor, with their bare feet turned toward the big fire. I could hear him reading:
“The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
“It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing: the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the excellency of our God.
“Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees.
“Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you.
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
“Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
“And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water: in the habitation of dragons, where each lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
“And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.
“No lion shall be there, nor any ravenous beast shall go up thereon, it shall not be found there; but the redeemed shall walk there:
“And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”
When he had finished reading this beautiful chapter, he laid the Bible on the table and they all knelt in prayer. I had no idea what they were doing, but I knelt with them. He prayed for his wife as though he loved her and called her by name and seemed to hold her right up to the throne of grace. Then one by one he prayed for every child he had, calling them by name, asking God for His love and mercy to be thrown around his family, pleading with God to protect them from evil, harm and danger. He did not forget the little, dirty, ragged saloonkeeper’s boy. He began to pray for me and asked God to take that little boy and save him from sin and fill him with the Holy Spirit and make him a blessing to his family. Then he asked God to take that boy and make him a blessing to the world My little heart was breaking as I broke down and began to weep.
Although I was a little, dirty, ragged boy of twelve years, I began to make some good resolutions. I said, “Some day I am going to be as big as this man, and I am going to have a home, a wife and children. I am also going to have a big, long table with a white tablecloth on it, with plenty of good things to eat. When we sit down to eat, I am going to look up and talk to somebody and when supper is over I am going to play blindfold with my children. Well, beloved, I lived to see all those desires fulfilled. After I was married and God had given me two beautiful babies, I would go out and evangelize, come home and there find the long table with its white tablecloth and plenty to eat. We could look up and thank the heavenly Father for the good things of life. Then when supper was over, I would pull off my coat and tie an old towel over our eyes. My tots and I would have a great game of blindfold. The reader can see that a little boy may plan to do something good and live to see it fulfilled.
That night in the old mountain home, after the old father had said Amen, he led me back to a big fat feather bed, took off some of my dirty clothes and rolled me into a bed that seemed to be knee-deep in goose feathers. It just seemed to me that I was wallowing in goose feathers and could almost hear the geese saying that they had had their feathers pulled off in order to make me a bed. Then he pulled a big woolen blanket up around my neck (one of those old homespun blankets). My, my, how warm it was! The wool was so long that it tickled my neck. I have often thought I could hear the lamb bleat, “My wool has been sheared to make the blanket with which you are covered.” Of course I had heard about the goodness and the love of God. That night I thought I was in God’s house. Dear reader, I don’t think I was very much amiss for I verily believe that God dwelt in the home of that old mountaineer.
I am sure that I enjoyed a good night’s sleep, for the first thing I knew, he was calling us to breakfast. We boys were soon up, our faces washed, and served with a good breakfast, after which the old mountaineer called his family around the family altar and had morning worship and prayers. He took a big old grubbing-hoe and swung his chopping axe over his shoulder, striding across his farm to the back side where he was clearing land. I can hear him as he went across the farm singing, “Jesus, Lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly.” I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard.
I was soon wending my way across the mountains to my old home, but not for a minute was I satisfied. I had experienced something better and had seen something better. I am sure of one thing and that is: there is not a happy backslider in the world, for no one that has enjoyed something better than he now has can ever be happy. Therefore, after I had spent one night in a Christian home where they had plenty to eat, good beds to sleep on and family prayers, I could not go back to the shack of a moonshiner and be happy again.
A great while after that my father was on his death bed. He was then sixty years of age and his life had not been what it ought to have been. When he came to die he said, “I can’t die. Out there is the blackest world that a man has ever seen. I can’t go out into the darkness. It is blacker than Egypt. Go and find someone to pray for me.” A man was found who came and prayed for my dying father. He thought before he died that the light of heaven had come into his heart and the burden was gone. Beloved, I do hope and trust that my poor father was saved during his last hours, but sometimes I feel sad when I think of it, because the Bible tells us to try every spirit and see whether it be of God. The Book says the devil can transform himself into an angel of light. I have feared sometimes that my poor father was unsaved, he could not try the spirit to see whether it was of God and the devil might have come in his dying moment as an angel of light and deceived him. But oh, beloved, I do hope and trust that he is saved.
And now, dear reader, let me plead with you, if you are unsaved, for the sake of your precious, immortal soul, do not put off the salvation of your soul until you come to your death bed, for Jesus Christ said, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world if he loses his own soul?” Let the reader remember that when Jesus spoke about our soul he put the world in the balance and said our soul outweighed the world. Then, beloved reader, isn’t it strange that a man would sell his soul for naught? But whether ready or not, he passed out.