"Gus" Evans Billings
JUNE 15 1910--MAY 23,
Contributed by Wayne
was the only child of Gaither and Anna Sophia Evans Billings,
he was born at a Niota, TN address on June 15, 1910. Laura Billings
Fox recalls Gus as "one of the most beautiful little children
I ever saw, his eyes were the color of Autumn skies and his
hair the color of buttercups."
Blair Bowers recalled, "Pearl and I visited Gaither and Annie
around 1909 when Annie was pregnant with Gus. Annie played the
organ for us." Pearl Blair Creasman later described Annie as
"a woman of quality." At this time Gaither and Annie lived in
a little house close to the "Green House." Based on the foregoing
this location is probably where Gus was born. Maude says this
was a Niota postal address at the time and Gus's TN birth certificate
lists his place of birth as Niota, TN.
Augustus Billings was born June 15, 1886 in his parents' log
home in Surprise, Roane Co., TN. He was the fifth of seven children
born to Bayless Winslow and Rachel M. Cooley Billings.
Evans' Parents were Andrew and Sophia Clutter Evans. He was
born in Ohio and she in Austria. When Annie was born Nov. 28,
1888, her parents lived in a log home in the Head of the Creek
community in McMinn Co. , TN. , which is near the town of Sweetwater.
Blair Creasman said, "At the time of Gus' birth, Gaither and
Annie were living somewhere near the " green house."The green
house is so called by present day relatives because of the color
of the house. The house is standing today and is located in
the vicinity of Pisgah church, in McMinn Co., TN, on the left
side of Hy. 68 at Mile marker three near the intersection of
McMinn Co. rt. 292 with Southbound Hy. 68.The old gravel road
that was once rt. 68 runs 20-30 yds. away from the front of
the house. `A small spring runs about fifteen yds. behind the
house, further on past the small spring is a bigger spring and
about 120 yds. from the back of the house stands a barn. Pearl
Blair Creasman said the area where the house was built was called
Bulah's chapel at the time the house was built.
was four months old when his mother, Annie. died of typhoid
fever on Dec. 23, 1910 in McMinn Co., TN. , leaving her husband
and their four-month-old son, Gus. Annie's brother, Lafayette
had contracted typhoid while moving his family's outdoor toilet
and had been placed in quarantine at his home. Annie visited
her brother saying she was going to see him regardless of the
quarantine. Her obituary in the Sweetwater News says she was
"buried near her home in Blue Springs." Several Billings relatives
also say Annie is buried at Blue Springs Cemetery in Roane CO.,
TN, near the Erie community.
Baskets, who were Gaither's neighbors, cared for Gus after Annie's
death just long enough to pay Gaither for Annie's organ which
he traded for Gus' care, according to Pearl Blair Creasman.
the Baskets, Gaither took Gus to live with his sister, Myrtle
Billings Blair, in Surprise, TN about 1910/11. Myrtle's daughter,
Maude Blair Bowers, recalls "we began caring for Gus when he
still wore a dress and a diaper. Gaither brought all Gus' clothes
in a woven wooden shopping basket, They consisted of five or
six dresses which buttoned up the back and some diapers. There
was a baby bottle full of milk laying on top of the clothes.
My sister, Blanche Blair, assumed Gus' day to day care, while
I took care of my brother, Fred."
Gallant Starnes, Blanche's daughter, says, Gaither presented
Blanche with a large hand blown glass Easter egg bearing a verse
and hand painting. The verse on the egg read, "So will thy heart
to quiet and calm, So wilt thou gather the wayside balm. So
will the blessings of Easter Tide deep in thine inner life ever
abide." Maude says they took care of Gus from the time his Mother
died until Gaither married Bertha Wallis. A couple of years
ago Gwen was kind enough to give this writer the Easter egg
and Miss Bertha Wallis were married 21 Sept. 1913, Bertha was
a few days past her 16th birthday. Bertha was the daughter of
Joseph William "Barlow" and Artie S. Kennedy of the Ten Mile
Community in Meigs Co., TN. Gaither took his son, Gus, back
from his sister, Myrtle, who had cared for Gus for three years
by this time. On 21 Aug. 1914 Bertha presented Gaither with
another son who was named Theodore Douglas Billings. Pearl Blair
Creasman says Gaither lived in a house on Pine St. in Athens
around the time Ted was a baby. The Pine St. house was high
in front and had no front porch. To prevent Ted falling out
the open front door, Gaither nailed boards across the door.
1914 Gaither moved his family to Niota, TN where they lived
on the farm of Gaither's 2nd cousin Amos Walter Billings, according
to Amos Walter's daughter, Laura Bessie Billings Fox. At this
time Gaither and his Father, Bayless, built a house for Laura's
widowed Mother, Mary Alice Nelson Billings.
Dec. 27, 1916 Gathers 19-year-old bride of just over two years
died of typhoid fever leaving Gaither alone again. Gaither was
to care for two sons, two and a half year old Ted and six year
old Gus. Bertha was buried near her parent's relations at the
Pond Hill Cemetery near Athens in McMinn Co., TN.
the responsibility of earning a Living and having no one at
home to care for his sons Gaither now turned to Tim and Annie
Carpenter, who were related to Bertha Wallis, to care for Ted
and Gus, according to Maude Blair Bowers. Zelda Newton Billings
says that after Bertha died, Gaither "lived high and wide" leaving
someone else to raise his two sons. Zelda said, "Gaither loved
dances and drank until his later years." On the other hand,
Bernice Wallis Thompson says, "Gaither's drinking never affected
his family life."
Douglas Billings recalls going to school hungry and in rags
because he says Gaither "farmed him out" to different families
after his Mother, Bertha, died. He continued, "If Aunt Mert
(Myrtle Billings Blair) hadn't taken me in I don't know what
would have happened to me."
apparently took Gus and Ted back to his sister Myrtle Billings
Blair after they had lived with the Carpenters because Ted Billings,
said that after Myrtle Billings Blair's husband, James Hardin,
died in 1922 he and Gus were cared for by the Tim Carpenter
family who were related to Gaither's second wife, Bertha Wallis.
Later Gus and Ted were cared for by Bernice Wallis and her Sister,
Maude Wallis, who lived in Athens, TN in a house on (Pine St.
?) near the Cedar grove Cemetery according to Pearl Blair Creasman.
They were next cared for by Myrtle Blair who also lived near
the Cedar grove cemetery according to Zelda Billings.
Nannie Ford Fitch recalls Gus attending the first Concord school
in Ten Mile, Meigs Co. , TN. The school was located between
the picnic ground and the cemetery at present day Concord Church.
Mrs. Fitch says the Billings boys lived with their Uncle and
Aunt, James Hardin and Sarah Myrtle Billings Blair on the old
Bayless Billings farm about a mile from Concord Church. Mrs.
Fitch continued saying, "J. H. (James Hardin) Blair taught at
Ten Mile School in Meigs Co. , TN around 1918 and then at Concord.
Gus' brother, Ted, recalls that he also attended school at Concord.
Blair Bowers says, "Ted attended Concord but Gus never did because
Gaither took Gus back before he was old enough to go to school."
Ted is in a school group picture made at Concord School ca.
1918 when he was about four years old.
Blair Creasman says, "one day when he was little, Ted was looking
at a picture of his Aunt Myrtle Billings Blair, Ted said there's
a picture of Aunt Mert (Myrtle) but she ain't got no whicker
( hickory switch) in her hand." When Pearl told her Mother this,
Myrtle just laughed and said, "well I kept a whiker most of
the time or those boys would ride rough shod over me."
- Gilmer Massey of the Ten
Mile Community in Meigs Co. , TN says he and Gus were returning
to Ten Mile from Athens, via the Clearwater road, one day when
Gus pointed out the location of the place where he had gone
to school. This was in the vicinity of where present day (1989)
Clearwater rd. to Athens, TN (McMinn Co Rt.305) crosses under
Interstate 75. After going under I-75, continue toward Athens
for about one half mile on Clearwater Rd. The school was located
just before reaching the Russell place. A house is standing
on the location of the former school and there is a pretty big
church nearby. In this vicinity, a road forks off Clearwater
Rd. and goes to a rock quarry.
Billings says, "one day in school the teacher asked Gus to go
to the blackboard and do a math problem. Either that day or
soon after Gus quit school. In spite of his limited education
Gus could saw lumber all day and tell you at the end of the
day exactly how many board feet he had sawed."
disdain for formal education, Gus was to later tell his wife
that their oldest son, Wayne Paul Billings, didn't need to go
to school because he could learn all he needed to know by accompanying
him to the sawmill every day.
Uncle Bayless Winslow Billings Jr. bailed him out of Loudon
Co. , TN jail when Gus was fourteen" says Winslow's daughter,
Estella Billings Yates. Ted Billings says, "Gus drank from the
time he was fifteen until he was twenty-five or thirty, but
held his liquor well. The only time I ever saw Gus high was
in the 30's, we both got pretty high that time. We had picked
enough blackberries to make ten or twelve gallons of blackberry
wine and drank our fill of it." Billy Thompson confirmed Ted's
statement saying, "both Gus and Ted drank but they never got
into any meanness."
Billings recalled that as a young man Gus went to California
for a while, where he worked in the nut groves. Gus may have
worked in the area where his Uncles Israel and William Evans
Thompson recalls, "Gus had a nineteen twenty nine A Model Ford
with a rumble seat. One day Gus was going somewhere and wouldn't
let Ted go along. Ted sneaked into the car's rumble seat and
eased the lid down to prevent its locking, then waited quietly
for Gus to leave. Later as Gus drove along the bumpy gravel
road the trunk lid bounced shut and locked. Knowing he was trapped,
Ted became frantic and began to sing and holler at the top of
his voice. It only took Gus a second to figure out Ted had hidden
in the rumble seat and he just drove on like he didn't hear
Ted, letting him sweat it out."
Billings remembered, "Gus and Jake Ward were both courting Elsie
Burtrum. It all came to a head down at the spring behind Pisgah
Church one night. Gus and Jake got into it, with Gus using brass
knuckles and Jake using a knife. Although he only had brass
knuckles, Gus was strong as an ox from years of timber cutting
and operating a saw mill. He was only about five feet eleven
inches tall and probably weighed 180 pounds but it was all muscle.
When it was all over, our first cousin, Fred Blair took both
of them to the hospital in Sweetwater where Gus was treated
for cuts across the left chest and arm and Jake for head injuries."
1927/30 Gaither owned an International Harvester threshing machine
according to Ted Billings. During 1930 Gaither had such a severe
intestinal problem that Gus and Ted had to plant their crops
alone. Even in this condition Gaither would make contract with
the local farmers to harvest their wheat.
these were depression years and most people couldn't afford
to pay cash, therefore, Gus and Ted would harvest their crops
for one tenth of the harvest. They then had the wheat converted
to flour, paying the miller with a portion of the flour and
then selling or eating the rest.
- Ted recalls that Gus had
an asthma problem which the dust and wheat chafe aggravated,
to partially escape the dust problem Gus drove the new John
Deer tractor pulling the thrasher while Ted worked at the rear
feeding the wheat into the threshing machine.
one year old Clyde Simpson of Ten Mile, Meigs Co. , TN says
he knew Gus since Gus was a child. Clyde's Uncle Henry Simson
married Gus' Aunt Cora Billings. Clyde said, "Gus once sawmilled
between Concord and the Tennessee River. This was before Watt's
Bar dam was built and Gus lived in Hornsby Hollow in the Peakland
Crossroad community on the old Pinhook Ferry Rd. To find the
area today, travel west on Hy. 68 to River Rd. , turn right
and go about one quarter mile to Peakland Crossroads where you
turn left. Gus lived on this road about a mile from the Tennessee
River before TVA backed the water up behind Watt's Bar Dam."
- Clyde continued, " It was
at this time that a man named "Red" drove a milk truck for Howard
Hornsby hauling milk to Chattanooga. Very early one morning
when there was snow on the ground, Red got stuck in a ditch
on River Rd. near where Gus lived. At that time Gus had the
only tractor in Ten Mile, it was a steel Wheeled two cylinder
John Deere which you started by spinning the flywheel. Red walked
to Gus' house and "hollered" him out of bed saying he was in
a ditch and couldn't get out. Gus replied, well wait till I
get me some clothes on and we'll go down and pull it out. Red
said, that was the first tractor I'd ever seen and once Gus
cranked it I thought to myself, that thing is missing, it's
only hitting on two cylinders so it will never pull me out and
right there we are both stuck." By this time Gus was ready to
go and told Red, get on and let's go!"
said, "when we got to the truck, Gus hooked the tractor to it
and just pulled it right out and that tractor never did hit
on but two cylinders, and made a Splat, splat, splat noise.
I come to find out it just had two cylinders to start with."
Thompson doesn't recall Gus ever living in the Peakland area
and thinks Gus probably lived in the house on Clearwater Rd.
at the time of the foregoing "tractor story."
- According to Billy Thompson,
who married Bertha Wallis' sister Bernice, Gaither bought a
large tract of timber on the old Cunningham place in Ten Mile
around 1928. Gaither and his two sons, Gus and Ted, lived on
the 600 acre Cunningham farm in a house they rented from the
house they lived in is located on the right side of Hy. 58 immediately
past the intersection with Hy. 68. as you travel South in Meigs
Co., TN. The Billings family remained here four or five years.
Bernice Wallis lived with Gaither and his two sons, keeping
house for them, until she married Billy Thompson.
Marion Keylon, Gus' brother-in-law, thinks it was about this
time (1928) that Gus met Molly Hair who lived with her parents,
Ruben and Edna Cunningham Hair, in her Grandmother Cunningham's
home, Molly probably thought Gus intended to marry her since
they had gone together for three or four years and the relationship
had became an intimate one.
- Ted Billings said that in
his and Gus' younger years Gaither owned a steam powered sawmill
that he bought from his brother Bayless Winslow (Wins) Billings
Jr. A lot of time was spent providing wood and water for the
boiler, therefore, in 1928 Gaither traded it for a new sawmill
and a new John Deer tractor, which had steel wheels. This was
used to power the sawmill, pull the threshing machine and anything
else it could be used for.
Billings said, "It was Dad's (Gaither's) habit to operate the
sawmill September through June sawing lumber which was stacked
to dry as it was sawed. The lumber was hauled from July through
August to a local lumber yard and sold, Long oak boards with
very few knots bringing $16.00 per 1,000 board ft.
also recalled, "I worked for Gus at the sawmill in the nineteen
thirties for a twist of tobacco a day. I remember one day in
particular when the drive belt from the tractor to the sawmill
broke and commenced slapping the ground with terrifying force
on each revolution. I ran toward the tractor to shut the engine
off but was knocked down when the slapping belt threw a rock
which hit me on the leg. I thought my leg was broken but managed
to get back up, stumble to the tractor and shut it off. Gus
came running over and commenced to chew me out for having allowed
the belt to come off in the first place. I never said a word,
just turned and limped away. I never spoke to Gus for the next
fourteen years, except when absolutely necessary."
Wallis Thompson said "I can tell you that Gaither, Gus and Ted
were good and honorable men" Bernice knew the men well because
she lived with them at the Cunningham place keeping house for
them until she married Billy Thompson. She continued, Gaither
loved his music and was a really good banjo player as was Gus,
Ted played the guitar. Billy added, "they (Gaither, Gus and
Ted) loved a good time, so this and their music led to having
dances at their house pretty often. They drank a little, not
too much, just enough to have a good time. Neighbors came from
far and near to dance and have a good time."
Hair Keylon, Molly's sister, said it got pretty loud at the
Billings' home during the parties. Bea was the daughter of Ruben
and Edna Cunningham Hair and was living with her parents at
her Grandmother Cunningham's which was only a stones throw from
the Billings home. Bea said her Grandmother Cunningham had a
lot of money but her Uncle Lije Cunningham "ran through it"
and Gus was the biggest duck in the puddle with Lije, meaning
that they drank and partied the money away. Lije was a Baptist
preacher who told his congregation, "don't live as I do."
- Bea added, "You needn't think
we got any rest when Gaither, Gus and Ted threw a party. You
could always tell when Gaither was drinking because he was funny,
carried on and told everything he knew."
Thomson says, "around 1933 Gaither, Gus and Ted lived in Bayless'
"Green House" on Hy. 68 in McMinn Co., TN, Bayless having died
March 29, 1923 and his wife Rachel Oct. 29, 1909.
relates the following story which occurred at the time the Billings
men lived at the Green House. "I loved to play tricks on anyone,
so me and Lavery Henry made a lifelike dummy of straw which
looked almost like a real man. One evening as the Billings men
were eating supper, I crept silently into the bedroom and placed
the dummy at the foot of the bed. By this time it was almost
dark and there was very little light in the bedroom. I hid nearby
to watch the events unfold. Gaither came in first and, glimpsing
what he thought was a visitor on the bed, simply said "how do
you do." Receiving no answer, Gaither quickly figured something
as going on at which point I came out of hiding and asked for
Gaither's cooperation in my prank. Gus came in next and though
I can't recall exactly what Gus said, he was pretty "stirred
up" at having a prank pulled on him. Gus had to leave to go
somewhere in his car."
that I already had Gus pretty "stirred up", I decided the time
was ripe to aggravate him a little more and really "get his
Goat." Me and Lavery positioned the straw man dummy near the
Billings' second automobile in such a way that it appeared to
be someone stealing the wheel off the car. Though he never admitted
it to anyone for the rest of his life, Gus flew into a rage
when he returned home and saw what he thought was someone stealing
the wheel off his car, right there by the house! In his rage
Gus attacked the straw man, whereupon, he soon realized I had
fooled him a second time in the same day and then he became
even madder and tore the straw man to shreds. After he realized
what a good laugh I would have at his expense, he carefully
picked up all the pieces of the straw man and hid them under
the porch, hoping to avoid me ribbing him the next day."
says "we hunted and hunted for that dummy before finally finding
it where Gus had stuffed it under the porch." Bernice says,
"I never did say a thing about the incident to Gus." Knowing
Bernice's love of fun it is safe to say Gus never heard the
last of the Straw Man.
- Bill Kyle says, "It was around
1934/35 that Gus and Ted Billings owned a service station in
Athens. After passing only a few houses as you came into Athens
on Hy. 11, the station was on the left side of the highway and
near a present day hotel, at that time there was a Dodge automobile
dealership across the road from the station. Gus and Ted had
the Mayfield Dairy account and Ted was seeing Zelda Newton.
Gus sold me his share of the station around 1935/36."
1934/35 Gaither and Gus lived on the old Hackler place near
the Barnard farm. The Hackler place was then owned by Bill Kyle's
Father, according to Bill Kyle who was Gaither and Gus' neighbor
at the time. The Hackler Farm was reached by turning left off
South bound Hy. 58 onto Old TN. Mile Rd. in Ten Mile near the
Migs/ Roane Co. , TN line. Travel Old Ten Mile Rd. about 400
yds. to the first curve, look to the left and you will see the
overgrown road bed of the old Ten Mile Rd., which continued
on to Kingston at one time. Travel this old road bed about 450
yds. to the North, the Billings home on the Hackler place was
somewhere at this point, according to James Keylon.
and Gus had bought timber rights and had set up the sawmill
on the old Barnard place nearby. Bill Kyle says his Father loaned
Gaither's brother, Bayless Winslow Billings Jr. , money to buy
the old Barnard farm that belonged to the parents of Winslow's
wife, Cora Barnard. Bill said, "When Dad loaned the money to
Winslow, Dad told Winslow, now don't get mad, I'll have to ask
for this money back one of these days." Gaither may have made
a favorable deal when he bought the timber because either his
brother owned the timber or was married to the woman whose parents
owned the timber.
Kyle says, "when Gaither and Gus lived on the Old Hackler place,
me, my little brother and one of our buddies planned to steal
a watermelon out of the Billings' watermelon patch. I let Gus
in on the scheme and together we planned to scare the pants
off my brother and the other boy. Having "hatched" the plot
with Gus, I innocently returned home. That evening after it
got dark, I led the unsuspecting boys into the waiting trap.
Gus had hidden in the thick woods armed with his double barreled
shotgun. I remained behind as my little brother and the other
boy crossed the fence into the watermelon patch. Just as the
last boy entered the patch Gus screamed out at the top of his
lungs and fired both barrels of his shotgun at the same time.
Our buddy made a fast U turn and literally dove through the
barbed wire fence and ran at top speed for the cover of the
deep woods. My little brother was scared completely out of his
mind and could only manage to scream, don't shoot, over and
over as he ran in small circles through the watermelon patch,
trampling everything in his path.
"Stell" Billings Yates was the daughter of Bayless Winslow Jr.
and Cora Barnard Billings. Stell said, "When Gus had his sawmill
on Dad's place, he had accumulated a very large slab pile which
Dad had asked Gus over and over to burn and get rid of. Gus
never got around to it, so one day Dad decided to burn the slab
pile. The fire got out of hand and burned Gus' sawmill to the
ground along with the slabs."
was probably around 1935 when twenty six year old Gus met a
fifteen-year-old beauty from Ten Mile, TN, named Ellen Irene
Keylon. Ellen was the daughter of James Loon and Katherine Melissa
Keylon of Ten Mile.
Blair Creasman said, "one day back around 1935 I was in Athens
when I ran into Gus on the street, he said he wanted to talk
to me, somewhere in privacy. I suggested stepping into one of
the nearby stores since it was raining. Gus said, I have my
car here lets sit in it. The car was red and probably a convertible
because it had side curtains to keep the rain out. Gus started
to pour his heart out about how much he loved Irene and wanted
to marry her but was worried about their eleven-year age difference.
I just told him age doesn't matter if you really love her."
- Gus and Irene were probably
married in 1935/36 because Zelda Newton Billings recalled, "Gus
and Irene had been married for a while when I began working
for the phone company in Jan. 1937 when Ted and I lived in Powell,
TN near Knoxville."
Mother, Katherine Sensaboy Keylon, said of Gus and Irene's age
difference, "well I'm glad at least one of them (Gus) is old
enough to have some sense."
Sensaboy Reed said, "Katherine (Irene's Mother) kept a loaded
pistol hanging on her bedroom wall. Gus later commented after
his courtship and marriage to Irene, I always felt uneasy about
that pistol." Bertie said, " I always liked Gus, he was a good
- "Irene contracted pneumonia
and nearly died at the age of three or four," says Irene's older
brother, James Keylon. "Mom nursed Irene back to health without
benefit of a doctor. Our brother, Harold, had died four years
continued, "As a young girl, Irene was pretty wild. When she
was fourteen she would hide notes to a young timber cutter.
He crossed our property on his way to work and would look for
his notes under a rock." Once when we were walking home, I had
to chase the timber cutter off with a pistol when he stopped
to pick Irene up. Another time, we were at a party and Irene
wanted to leave with this guy but I made her get in our car
and took her home."
Hair Keylon recalled, "Irene and my sister, Nell Ruth Hair,
used to slip off down behind Ten Mile elementary school to smoke
when they were in the fifth or sixth grade. Even though they
hid behind a big fallen tree, they were easy to spot. Mrs. Emma
Ewing, the principal, could easily see their brightly colored
tams (caps). The tams stood out like beacons in the night."
- Bertie Reed says, "Around
1936 Gus and Irene moved into their first home, which was a
house on Kate Keylon's farm. The house was located on the left
side of Northbound Hy. 58 at the Northern boundary of the Keylon
farm. The flu in the kitchen was a hazardous affair and Gus
always told Irene that if the house ever caught fire to get
out and not even try to save anything.
- One day while Irene was cooking,
the house caught fire. Irene ran to her vehicle and drove about
a mile and a half South on 58 to Huff's store to get help. By
the time they got back to the house, saving anything was hopeless.
Even though it was Summer, Gus had to butcher their hog which
was badly burned because the hogpen was so near the house. Gus
and Irene may have lived with Kate for a while after that."
to Trusty Sherman of Ten Mile, Gus and Irene had a pet pig when
they lived as his neighbors somewhere in the vicinity of the
intersection of Hy. 58 and Ten Mile Rd. One day the pig came
over to Trusty's home, knocked over his family's bee hive and
ate all the honey.
- Billy Thompson said, "Around
1939 Gus and Irene lived on Clearwater Rd. In Meigs Co. , TN.
The house where Gus and Irene lived on Clearwater Rd. has been
torn down and replaced by a white frame house which sits a bit
further back off the road than Gus and Irene's home was. There
is an old shade tree in front of the new house and Gus' hose
stood directly behind this tree as you look from the road."
and Irene's next home was on the left of Southbound Hy. 58 in
Ten Mile about one quarter mile South of the intersection of
Ten Mile Rd. With Hy. 58.They probably began living here about
1940/41. The only vehicle Gus owned at this time was a flat
bed lumber truck which he often drove home loaded with logs
or lumber. This writer's first memories are of things which
occurred while living here as a baby, laying in my baby bed
with a gauze insect screen over it, a toy train, walks with
Grandfather Gaither Billings along the creek in the field behind
our house, an entire stalk of bananas that Gus once brought
home, convicts in stripped prison uniforms working on Hy. 58
in front of our house.
and Irene next moved to the Legg farm in Ten Mile where they
lived in half of Mrs. Legg's home while she occupied the other
half. The Legg home was on the left, on Ten mile Rd., about
one half mile toward Watt's Bar lake from Hy. 58.It was while
living here on June 23, 1943, that Gus barely got Irene to Sweetwater
hospital in time for the delivery of her twins. Douglas Evan
and Linda Sharon Billings were born only twenty minutes after
Irene's arrival at the hospital, according to their TN birth
certificates. This writer recalls that Irene and the twins were
brought home in an ambulance which must have been rare in those
days, rare to me at least for it was the first ambulance I'd
1944 Gus moved his family to a house he rented from Earl Bostic.
Earl's farm and the house was reached by turning right off Northbound
Hy. 58 one mile North of the intersection of 58 and Ten Mile
Rd. After turning right travel straight, crossing Ten Mile Rd.
Then about 200 yds. up a slight hill to a frame house on the
right. There was no water or electricity here, kerosene lamps
provided light at night. We carried water from Earl Bostic's
well at his house by Ten Mile Rd., where the road to our house
crossed. Gilmer Massey said the Bostic house is so old, they
found arrowheads embedded in the log walls while doing a remodeling
job. Gilmer was Earl's nephew and lived with Earl as a young
at the Bostic place were the same as they had been in all Gus'
previous homes except that it had never been necessary to carry
water before. We used wood burning stoves for cooking and heating
and kerosene lamps for light. When one of us had a bad cold
Gus would rub raw onion on the side of the stove saying the
smell would break up the cold. The rank smell of onions permeated
the house for days afterward.
Massey knew Gus well since Gilmer was living nearby with his
Uncle Earl Bostic. Gilmer said, "I really liked Gus, he treated
me like a son. Around 1944/45 Gus bought a new Jeep, he was
tickled to with that lil ol Jeep. We were coming back from Kingston
once and there at Kimbal's on Hy. 58 was a panel delivery truck
turned over on its side. The driver was waiting for a wrecker
to get the panel truck off the road. Gus told the driver, if
you want I can move it. The driver didn't think Gus' lil ol
Jeep could do the job, but said go ahead and try. Gus hooked
his Jeep to the panel truck and not only moved it but turned
the panel truck back up on its wheels."
continued, " When Gus had his Jeep he came by one day when I
was working a 25-acre piece of ground with horses pulling a
cutting harrow and after that I'd use a drag harrow. Gus drove
out to where I was working and said, let's hook this Jeep to
that thing (harrow.) I was going to ride the harrow so my weight
would hold it down. Aw! He got it up to twenty miles an hour,
I couldn't see the Jeep for the dust! It tickled him to death
when he got the dust stirring but I got kindly uneasy! When
Gus finally stopped, he was laughing so hard he could hardly
talk, when he regained his breath he finally managed to say,
dusted you out didn't I?
to Meigs Co. Deed book Q, pgs.467 & 501 Gus purchased forty
acres of land from Fred and Salle Reed. This land adjoined the
Katherine Keylon farm in Ten Mile, on the N. W.
said Gus had planned to build a house on the "new ground" which
was his 40-acre property. James Keylon said Gus' new ground
adjoined Katherine Keylon's farm at the North West boundary.
writer can recall, as a six year old, going with Gus to the
new ground to set out fruit trees. He would first locate water
then set a tree at each location. The water was located by means
of a "divining rod", which was a Y shaped branch of a certain
type of tree. Gus would hold one prong of the upper end of the
Y in each hand at waist level, with the single lower leg of
the Y out in front of him and parallel to the ground. He would
then walk across the property until an unseen force pulled the
straight end of the Y toward the ground indicating he had located
was while living at the Bostic place that Gus and Irene began
to quarrel, the end result being a separation and Irene taking
her children, Wayne, Douglas and Linda back to her Mother's
to live. Zelda Newton described Gus' temperament as, "wonderful
to live with one day and then blow up for no reason the next."
childhood memories are of an exceptionally kind man who spoiled
me with toys and held me on his lap as I drove his prized Jeep
across rough fields. On cold Winter nights Gus would warm the
blanket from my bed by holding it up to the stove, then tuck
me in with it. The only spanking he ever gave me was when we
met some of his friends while driving on a dirt road in the
woods one day. Gus stopped his truck and went over to talk to
them, soon he told me to get out of the truck and come over
to him so the men could see how much I'd grown. Being bashful,
I refused and got a good "wearing out."
1945, when Gus and Irene separated, Gaither moved back in with
Gus and the two men "batched," and continued saw milling as
they always had done. I was allowed to spend some time with
Gus and Gaither. The once clean beds were now full of sawdust
since neither man was too concerned with house keeping. This
wasn't destined to continue for Gus died on May 23rd 1946. He
was buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery in Athens, McMinn Co. , TN.
Gus' death, Irene worked for the Department of Defense in Oak
Ridge, TN. Later while visiting her sister, Jewell Keylon Cappola,
in Detriot, MI, Irene met Theodore Roosevelt Swing. They were
married around 1947 or 1948. Irene and Ted had two children,
Juanita May born July 20, 1948 and Theodore Roosevelt Jr. born
Jan. 26, 1950 in Rockwood, Roane County, TN.
19, 1955, Meigs Co. TN Deed Book U, Pg. 546 & 554. Irene
Billings Swing sells Gus Billings' forty acre "New Ground" to
J. A. and Charles J. Hagler.
1956 this marriage failed, Irene attempted raising her children
alone but became ill about 1958, and was committed to a hospital
in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. At this time Douglas was sent to live
with Ted Billings in Charleston, TN. Linda went to live with
Jewell Keylon Cappola in Detroit, MI. Theodore Jr. and Juanita
were returned to Theodore Swing Sr. in Ft. Myers FL. All the
children eventually returned to live with Irene in Ft. Lauderdale.
Around 1970, Irene was diagnosed
as having an acute sinus problem. The "sinus problem" was brain
cancer which led to her death on Sept. 3, 1971 in Ft. Lauderdale,
FL. Irene was buried beside Gus Billings in Cedar Grove Cemetery
in Athens, McMinn County, TN.
Compiled by Wayne Paul Billings,
son of Gus Billings