The Life and Times of W. H. (Houston) Blevins
[EDITOR’S NOTE — The following article is reprinted from the Scott County Historical Society’s publication Profiles of Scott Countians by the late Esther Sharp Sanderson. The article first appeared in the January24, 1964 edition of the Scott County News where Sanderson wrote a regular column featuring Scott Countians. The photos which accompany this article were provided by Lena Jackson of Oneida].
Scott County was 100 years old in 1949. We have in this county an elderly gentleman who was born during its infancy. Happily, he remains with us long after his friends of former years have passed away. Like the last leaf upon the tree, he is a pleasant memorable link between the past and present.
Uncle HOUSTON BLEVINS was born in 1869, four years after the close of the Civil War. Nearing the century mark, he still has the zest for living that was characteristic of the pioneers. Always a man full of vim, vigor, and humor, he maintained the spirit of the pioneer but kept pace with progress.
Houston and Rosa Marcum Blevins were the parents of 10 children, which Houston said was small for the times because he married so late.
Houston Blevins (seated, left) holds Maude. Rosa Marcum Blevins (standing, left) holding Lawrence. Seated at right is John Marcum, with his wife Arlena Phillips Marcum in back, the parents of Rosa Marcum Blevins.
Uncle HOUSTON first saw the light of day in a crude log cabin with its dogtrot. Food was prepared on the open fireplace with kettles hanging from pot hooks. Bread was baked in an iron oven by placing live coals under it and on the lid covering it. All their food came from the fields, forest and streams. Corn was taken to the old water mill where it was ground into meal. In the fall, the boys did some gritting. Says Uncle HOUSTON, "Them that didn’t get the grit, didn’t git."
All the clothing was homespun or buck skin, and the clothing was made by hand. Their brogan shoes were homemade and one pair had to last a year. Most of the seventeen BLEVINS children slept in the loft on straw or cornshuck ticks. In every cabin yard, there was an ash hopper to make lye to be used in making soap. The clothes were washed by hand and a battle axe came in handy on wash days. Homemade candles and pine knots were used for lighting the cabins. People kept live coals the year around. If the fire went out, it was necessary to travel to a neighbor’s house to borrow fire.
Game was plentiful, and the streams were full of fish. Bears, panthers, wolves, wildcats and deer found a safe habitat in the unsettled wilderness on Parch Corn and Williams Creeks. Indians once used the cliffs overlooking Williams Creek to cure their pelts.
Houston Blevins is all dressed up for a trip to Washington, D.C. for the first inauguration of President Dwight David Eisenhower.
Granny women delivered the babies, and root and herb doctors who had studied their doctor books administered to the sick. The scarifying knife was used for blood letting, and people who had been bitten by mad dogs were taken to the mad stone on Buffalo Creek. There were folk remedies for every known disease. Teeth were extracted for children with bullet molds in the homes, and the grown-ups went to the blacksmith who used a pair of "pullengers." There was deep concern about the sick and the dead. Tools were so very scarce, that the neighbors worked together to build cabins. If a neighbor was sick and couldn’t plant, cultivate or harvest his crop, the neighbors did it for him. They traveled for miles to care for the sick and bury the dead. The coffins were made from pine lumber from the nearby hills. The funerals were preached months after interment, usually in the spring or fall. Quite a number of preachers would take part, and there would be dinner on the grounds.
When Uncle HOUSTON was a boy there were only two dirt roads of any length in Scott County, and they were almost impassable in the winter. Mountain trails and cow paths led to the smaller settlements. Over these, people traveled on foot, horseback, and by oxcart. But people didn’t seem to mind; they traveled for miles to church, amusements and to court in Huntsville. Whether or not they had litigation in court, they turned out en masse to visit with their friends and to swap drams and horses. Candidates for public office always spoke on the first Monday, and Houston Blevins was always on hand lending his humorous oratory.
There was not a telephone in Scott County. Uncle BILLY SHARP owned the only cook stove in the county and the cook was afraid to fire it up at first for fear it would blow up. Itinerate lawyers and judges who wore "store botten" clothes were called dudes by the natives. Uncle HOUSTON says that Democrats were as scarce as hens’ teeth. Only five families in the county had owned slaves, and they had all left out or died out, leaving Scott County without any colored population.
Some traces of folklore still lingers in the minds of the few remaining early settlers. They planted their crops, butchered their meat and weaned their babies by the signs of the zodiac. They had good and bad luck signs and charms. If someone who was a good shot missed the target at a shooting match, they blamed it on some old hag who had bewitched Old Betsy.
The chief amusements were square-dancing, cornhusking, log-rollings, lassie-making and shooting matches. There was no trace of aristocracy. Everybody worked, dressed and fared alike. People made their own corn liquor. Some feuding went on among some of the settlers, resulting in some killings. "But in spite of it all," says Uncle HOUSTON, with a merry twinkle in his eyes, "them were the good old days when men were men and, ‘wimmen’ were glad of it."
Houston Blevins was still going strong late in life. He was a teacher, orator, and politician who was recognized for his lifelong support of the Republican Party.
Scott County was an agrarian society for many years, and large families were needed to work on the farms, since all labor was done by hand. Fecundity and longevity united in populating it. "I had only ten children," said Uncle HOUSTON. "I guess I butterflied around too long before I got married. But," he continued, "my brothers and sisters made up for me. They intermarried with the PEMBERTONs, SMITHs, CARSONs and TERRYs and their ancestors in Scott County are as thick as sands of the seas." Those BLEVINSes obeyed the fiat of the Lord, "Multiply and replenish the earth." JOHNSON BLEVINS (his grandfather) had fifty-two grandchildren and ARMP BLEVINS (his father) had eighty-three.
HOUSTON BLEVINS grew up on Parch Corn Creek where he attended his first school under a cliff. He and the teacher both chewed their homemade tobacco and spit on the dust to settle it. At the age of ten he swapped a catfish for an arithmetic book, the first book he ever owned. He started school at the Huntsville Presbyterian Academy in 1889, and he went five winters by feeding livestock and doing other menial tasks for his room and board. He taught his first school in a log cabin that had a dirt floor and hewn log benches. His salary was $25 per month. He continued in the teaching profession for 27 years, making an average salary of $35 per month. He retired at the age of 75.
Mr. BLEVINS recalls, with pleasure, his winters spent at Huntsville while attending the Presbyterian Academy. He and the local boys would possum hunt and sell the pelts for pocket money. He said the boys really had a ball when they could get some "furiner" out on a snipe hunt. They would take him way out in the woods to some unfamiliar place and leave him holding the bag while they would go off to drive the snipes in. After spending the night holding the bag or rambling around lost in the woods until morning, the "furiner" would come in angry but wiser. "And how we did cut the pigeon wing at the square dances on Saturday nights. Uncle Billy Sharp would resin up his bow and strike up ‘Arkansas Traveler,’ ‘Billy in the Low Ground,’ or ‘Turkey in the Straw.’ "How those brogan shoes, homespun breeches and calico did fly," says Uncle HOUSTON.
As Mr. BLEVINS grew into manhood, he became interested in politics. He got his first forensic training in the Debating Club, organized by the young lawyers of Huntsville. Among the members were HAYWOOD PEMBERTON, BEATY CECIL, HENRY POTTER, DAN JEFFERS, HARRISON REED, REUBEN HURT, JOE McDONALD and others. The Cumberland Chronicle would advertise in advance the names of the "disputers" and the subjects that would be "disputed." Some of them were: "Resolved that man is growing worse, that conscience is a creature of education, that thirst is more destructive than water, that women should be seen and not heard."
The debates drew large crowds and HOUSTON was usually on the winning side, for as in later years, he had logic with sidesplitting jokes and antics to illustrate his points.
During his long public career, he ran for many offices. He always could bring the house down with his ability to speak from the cuff and to ridicule his opponent. On one occasion, he told the audience that his opponent was so wishy-washy that he reminded him of a strange bird, a mugwump. Said he, "This creature just sits astraddle of the fence, with his head on one side and his wump on the other, and he don’t know which way to fly!"
Uncle HOUSTON richly deserves the name of Mr. Republican, for he has worked consistently in the party for the past 71 years. He recently was honored with a plaque in recognition of his faithfulness to the party. He voted his first vote for President WILLIAM McKINLEY, and he attended the inauguration of President EISENHOWER. Dressed in his frilly ruffled shirt, his derby hat and the badges of McKINLEY, TEDDY ROOSEVELT, and EISENHOWER on his lapel, he made quite a splash on the screen and in the news. He also carried his ram’s horn used by his parents in pioneer days to call the children in from the fields at dinner time.
Almost a centurion, he can recall the gradual transition that took place during his long lifespan. With the development of the lumber and coal industries, an influx of outsiders came into Scott County. With them came Messrs. FORD and MACADAM, and things changed rapidly. Imagine if you may, living through the era from the oxcart to the jet airliner, from the open fireplace and tallow candles to gas and electricity, from homemade clothing, furniture and tools to factory made articles, from the root and herb doctor to a large hospital staffed by highly trained specialists, from the Blue Back Speller under a cliff to the great universities, from the tuning fork and five string banjo to stereo radio, and television, from the foot runner to Telstar, from a spark made by striking flint to nuclear explosions. Yes, to span a century represents a heap of living.
Uncle HOUSTON has practically lost his hearing and vision in the last few years, but his good wife ROSA, at the age of 85, still cultivates an acre garden plot and supplies many of her less industrious neighbors with vegetables and garden seed that have been handed down from generation to generation. Uncle HOUSTON regrets that he is unable to visit his friends, attend his church and make his oft repeated visits to the Courthouse in Huntsville. His fading from the public scene is like the removal of some well known landmark that has stood out in bold perspective for almost a century. The empty place can never be filled, for there will never be another HOUSTON BLEVINS. He has retained the mannerism, speech and spirit of the pioneer, but he has always kept the spark of youth in his heart.
Uncle HOUSTON says that he is ready to go whenever the good Lord calls. Many people who have lost their vision are able to see more clearly with their souls. When the autumn of life fades into winter, the seasons roll more swiftly by. We would say with Uncle Houston:
"Build three more stately mansions, 0 my soul, As swift the seasons roll! Leave thy low vaulted past! Let each new temple, nobler than the last, Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast, Till thou at length are free, Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea."
Obituary for W. H. "Huse" Blevins
Services for W. H. BLEVINS, "Ram’s Horn Orator," conducted Monday, Nov. 23 . He was 95.
WILLIAM HOUSTON BLEVINS, 95, of Oneida, passed away Friday night at the Scott County Hospital.
Mr. BLEVINS, who will always be remembered as "Uncle Huse," was prominent County political leader, public official and school teacher.
Services for Mr. BLEVINS were conducted from the Pine Creek Baptist Church Monday at 1 p.m. with Rev. ROY BLEVINS and Rev. W. C. MARCUM officiating. Interment followed in the Sunnyview Cemetery. Arrangements in charge of Oneida Funeral Home.
Survivors: wife, Mrs. ROSIE BLEVINS; one son, LAWRENCE BLEVINS; three
daughters, Mrs. EZRA MARCUM, Misses LUCY and HELEN BLEVINS, all of
Tombstone inscription: W. H. Blevins, b. 2 May 1869, d. 20 Nov. 1964; on same stone with Rosa Blevins, b. 11 Sep 1876, d. 28 Jun 1968. [Sunnyview Cemetery]
The Children Of
Lawrence Blevins, b. 11-24-1901, d. 9-264983, m. Pearl Watson
Maude Blevins, b. ?, never married
Helen Blevins, b. ?, never married
Arlenia Blevins, b. 10-24-1905, d. 10-12-1989, m. Ezra Marcum
Lucy Blevins, b. 7-23-1914, d. 1-12-1985, never married
Emmit Blevins, b. 7-5-1904, d. 5-25-1933, never married
Ralph Blevins, b. 5-8-1910, d. 2-2, 1932, never married
Willie Blevins, b. 11-10-1916, d. 2-25-1932, never married
Johnny Blevins, died as an infant
Viola Blevins, died as an infant
"Huse" Blevins and his wife, Rosa Marcum Blevins, behind their son, Emmit Blevins (in coffin). Emmit died in 1933 from being burned when he fell into a fire.
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 15, No. 1 – Fall 2003
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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