Jim Hamby of Brimstone: Without a Home, But Not Homeless
EDITOR’S NOTE -- Information for this story was provided by Harold Gene Young, Freddie Griffith and Elsie Thompson.
By JOSETTA GRIFFITH
FNB Chronicle Editor
He was a tall, lanky man who quietly roamed the mountains of Brimstone, Emory and Coal Hill. Except for a stint working for Ritter Lumber Company, he never held a paying job. He was a drifter . . . a man without a home, but he wasn’t homeless.
|Jim Hamby (1896-1967)|
This is the story of Jim Hamby.
Jim Hanby was born September 15, 1896 to Calfurnia Sexton Hamby and Lewis Hamby. He had one sister, Ida Hamby Shannon, and two brothers, Will and John Hamby. Calfurnia died in 1925 and Lewis died in 1933. His siblings are also deceased.
Jim’s childhood years were spent on Griffith Mountain at Brimstone. As long as anyone can remember Jim he was a drifter.
He was good at any kind of farm chore that needed to be done and most every family needed an extra work hand now and then. If it was planting time, Jim would work the family horse or mule to plow the fields. If it was time to shock up the hay, Jim pitched in. If repairs needed done on harnesses or sleds, Jim had his own tools and set about doing whatever was needed.
Families welcomed Jim with a good, warm bed, clean clothes and plenty to eat because he made himself useful. Sometimes he would stay with a family weeks on end because there were plenty of chores for him to do.
He stayed a lot with the family of his first cousin Oda Griffith. Jim’s mother, Calfurnia (Sexton) Hamby, was a sister to Oda’s mother, Katherine (Sexton) Griffith.
Jim was an expert squirrel hunter and could dress squirrels with a speed and technique all his own. It was not unusual for him to bring in 15 squirrels from one hunting trip. As a lad of seven years old, Freddie Griffith would climb the mountains of Brimstone with Jim squirrel hunting. Gyp a little, bench-legged Fiest dog that belonged to Freddie’s grandmother, would tree the squirrels. Freddie carried the squirrels that Jim threaded through a tree branch by the squirrel’s leg tendon. The weight of 15 squirrels for a seven year old gets pretty heavy, but hunting with Jim was an experience treasured to this day by Freddie. If Jim had more squirrels than the family he was staying with needed, there were families down the road who would get a bucket of ready-to-cook squirrel for their supper.
|This book was always in Jim Hamby’s possession whenever he traveled. It includes such notations as birth and death dates of family members.|
Gyp, the little squirrel dog, was multi-talented. After a hunting trip, Jim would stretch out his long legs while relaxing in a porch chair. Gyp would pick Jim’s pants clean of beggar lice. She would get the beggar lice in her teeth and spit them out . . . going all over his pants until they were all gone!
Jim’s 12-gauge squirrel gun was handed down to Freddie Griffith’s father, Carl, and now belongs to Freddie’s brother, Clyde Griffith.
Jim was neighborly in a shy, soft-spoken way. When he laughed, his whole frame shook, but you wouldn’t hear a sound. He was pretty much a loner. He never married. He would visit his niece, Elsie Thompson, from time to time. According to her, one minute he would be sitting on the porch and the next thing you knew he was gone. He wouldn’t say where he was going or when he’d be back. This was troublesome to the family because back then, there was no way to know if he made it to his destination or if he might be hurt somewhere in the woods. This was before telephones so there was no quick way to check on someone.
The only "public work" that Jim did was for the Ritter Lumber Company during the big logging operation on Brimstone. If he received pay for squirrels, ginseng, or odd jobs from families other than those he was staying with, he would report those earnings quarterly to the Internal Revenue Service. This provided him with a $30 monthly Social Security check. With this he could buy clothes, chewing tobacco and pay the fare for his occasional trips on the local bus back and forth to visit relatives in Wartburg. Until Norris’s Store at Elgin, Tennessee closed, it was where Jim would cash his check each month. He was very secretive about cashing his check and would only do so when no one else was in the store. He probably didn’t want it known that he had money since he traveled the mountains on foot and alone from one destination to another.
After Zane Young’s wife Martha and her family moved from their farm on Wolf Creek in 1965 to Mountain View, Jim asked to stay at the farm house. He took care of upkeep on the farm and raised a small garden. He sold vegetables for extra money.
On November 2, 1967, Jim was visiting at Mountain View with Martha Young and her sons, Harold Gene and David. Harold remembers that Jim arose that morning, showered, shaved and dressed in clean overalls like he was going somewhere. Jim sat down in a living room chair and closed his eyes as if to nap, but never awoke.
He may not have had an earthly home, but at the age of 70, and having, by all accounts, lived a full life, Jim crossed peacefully to his eternal home . . . a drifter no more.
|Jim Hamby’s 1889 silver watch with a leather shoelace that Jim attached to it. The watch was inherited by Harold Gene Young. Note the winding stem is at 3 o’clock, versus 12 o’clock.|
|This is Jim Hamby’s squirrel gun. It is a 12-gauge Eastern Arms showgun and is now owned by Clyde Griffith.|
|This was Jim Hamby’s "call to arms" at the outbreak of World War I. He was due to report to the local draft board in Oneida for a physical exam for the armed services on October 29, 1918. It is not known whether or not he responded to the call, but it is known he did not serve.|
|John Hamby (Jim’s brother), in his Army uniform in World War I.|
|Jim Hamby poses with his sister, Ida Shannon, Katherine Sexton Griffith, and Oda Griffith, her son. Jim and Ida’s mother, Califurnia, was a sister to Katherine, making Jim, Ida, and Oda first cousins.|
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 18, No. 3 – Summer 2007
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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