Back of Oak Ridge – Part 3
Autumn of 1914 was one that would long be remembered by many of this rustic community.
The water supply of the vicinity was from wells, springs, and cisterns; there was no such thing as chemically treated water then. Sometimes these springs and wells would become contaminated and people got sick from drinking the water. It was in this manner that a “darkening cloud” came over the bright days of this autumn in the form of an epidemic of Typhoid Fever. Hardly a home escaped the awful plague. Many lost loved ones in death, others had the long ordeal of sickness wishing they could die.
In one little humble but clean home, lived a frail young lady with her husband. One day she too was stricken with this terrible fever. As she had tended two of her sisters with this disease she had contracted it from them. At that time there was no innoculation against Typhoid. Because of the loss of her sisters she was very sorrowful and had no desire to live. She told me in later years that she had prayed to die. So for months and months she seemed to hang by a thread between life and death, being delirious most of the time. But God, in His wisdom, had plans for this little frail lady and as days went by she began to show improvement. Bye and bye she was able to be moved to another home the young couple had rented, but was still so weak that she had to be carried from the buggy up to the house by her husband. She gradually grew stronger and before too long was able to do her work again. She appeared to have a new lease on life.
The valleys and forests of this settlement were named after many of the old settlers there or for the locale of the land. For instance, Robertsville took its name from a family, Roberts; Scarboro form the Scarboro family. Bethel Valley was named for the church in this valley, Bethel. Bear Creek Valley, known for the bears that had been seen along the banks of the creek. A valley which was mostly inhabited by the Gamble families was so named, Gamble Valley. pine Ridge was so named because of the number of pines which grew there; Black Oak Ridge for the many stately oaks thereon; Haw Ridge for the abundance of the black haw trees it produced, and many other names recognized by those who lived there, but maybe uninteresting to the outside world.
It was in one of these very familiar places called the Flat Woods that an old gentleman known to many people as the “Prophet” lived. His name was John Hendrix, a name to be remembered in later years. Some even went as far as to say he was ‘touched in the head’. He made many predictions for the future that in many years hence did come true. He told many weird stories of how these things were revealed to him. He would go off into the woods and be gone for days, no one knowing where he was. When he returned, he would say he had been getting “revelations” by sleeping on the ground so many nights.
He told us that here in theis very community where we lived would be a great city with many large factories. Also that a railroad will pass right by his little farm an through Elza and that a tunnel would be cut through the ridge. All of this came to pass, and just as he said it would.
Now this little farm he had reference to was a fifteen acre tract of land, purchased from an adjoining neighbor, and paid for by day work on the farm for this man. You can imagine how long it must have taken to pay for it at .50 cents per day, the farm wage then.
John was married to Martha Jane at this time, she being his second wife. They had a son, Curtis Allen. But John was not a man for the quiet home life, he was a rambler and a dreamer.
He was the step-father of the “frail lady” spoken of in the preceding chapter of this story and Martha was her mother.
He had many quaint ideas on religion and liked to discuss them with anyone he could get to listen.
Due to his long excursions in the woods and from the exposure of sleeping on the ground in all kinds of weather, once he said his hair froze to the ground, and from malnutrition, Johns became ill. His illness was soon diagnosed as Tuberculosis, a very dreaded disease in those days.
Most everyone was afraid of people who had Tuberculosis and refrained from being near them in any way. It was because of this that John found himself “Set Out” from his wife and son, into a small cabin on the little farm he had bought, which joined the farm of his wife, here in these Flatwoods.
It did not take long for John to realize he was too sick to live alone and he pondered in his mind what would become of him. He wondered to himself who would risk his or her own life to take in an old fellow like me with “Consumption”. At that time when one contracted Tuberculosis it was fatal, no cure had been found, so he said to himself, “I’ll ask Paralee and Perry and see what they say”. Paralee, before mentioned as the “frail lady”, was his step-daughter and Perry was her husband. So he sent them a message by a neighbor that he wanted to talk with them. They readily came to his side, knowing he was alone and thinking they might be of some help, but when they arrived they found him in a very serious condition.
He said, “I’m a very sick man and I’m going to have to have help from someone. Would you be willing to take the risk of caring for me?” At this they hesitated not a moment but told him they would be glad to be of any assistance possible. For this service he made them a deed to the small farm he owned.
They took him to the little house they were living in, on a farm they had rented. It was there that Paralee came to know the deeper thoughts and character of her step-father.
He was very humble and appreciative of the things done for him and oft-times would remark, “Why would anyone be so kind to an old man like me? I do thank you over and over”.
As the days passed, the disease took more and more of his strength, until he was so weak he had to be turned in bed and fed the few bites he could be coaxed to eat.
One day he called Paralee to his side and said, “I do have a request to make if you and Perry will see that it is carried out”.
“What is it, John?” she asked gently.
He answered, “I want to be buried on the top of the hill overlooking my little farm and apple orchard so I can watch the thieves out of my apples.”
Now isn’t that just like the man, John Hendrix, to make a request such as that.
On June 12, 1915 he told the couple anxiously watching his every breath, “I’m going to be with the Angels.” It wasn’t but a few more breaths until he slipped away into the Great Beyond.
In those days it was the custom of some to have homemade coffins. Certain men in the community followed this trade. One such man by the name of Jim Dunlap was called upon to build a coffin for John. The cost for this coffin was $8.00. The receipt for this, in his own handwriting, is in my possession.
Most of the coffins were made of walnut wood, dressed and brightly varnished, lined with white satin, and well padded. On the outside were shining metal handles, a beautiful piece of handiwork when completed.
As John had requested, a grave was dug by several of his neighbors upon a hill overlooking his “little farm”. After a brief graveside service, he was lowered to his final resting place there. The grave is still there and can be located by one who is familiar with the land. It is now maintained by a class of students from Jefferson High School in Oak Ridge.
Little did people realize then that many of his predictions would come to pass in this generation. The great city he had seen in the future now being the “Atomic City” of Oak Ridge with its many nuclear industries, businesses, houses and the railroad passing on the edge of his farm.