George Eli Turner

by Everett H. Turner

George Eli and Nancy Catherin Moore Turner arrived in Polk County, Arkansas in February 1888 from Franklin County, Arkansas. They arrived with six children, all born in Franklin County; Edith Anolia married Emmett Gus Rowe; Robert Olin married Martha Drucilla White; Elsie Mae married Doyle Hughes; Ethel Ozella married John McKinney; Edna Viola married Luther Cummings; and Effie Dell married Millard McCarroll Lowther.

They settled near present day Old Potter and three children were born in Polk County, Ola Maude married Drew Delta Davis, Odas Randall married Ova Rust Hunsaker, and John O'Restus Roxie Olive Ernest. All the children were married in Polk County, Arkansas.

From the Polk County Enterprise, Not dated.

Death came Saturday night to end the life activities of another of Polk County's real pioneers - George Eli Turner, widely known throughout the highlands as "Eli" Turner. His passing, which was not unexpected, came at the family home at Potter, where he lived after retiring from active business some years ago.

In the death of Eli Turner, Polk County lost a notable figure - one that had spent most of his fourscore years of life in the Ouachitas. He lacked a few months of reaching his eightieth birthday but all of his life had been spent in his native state of Arkansas. During that time Eli Turner had lived to see Polk County emerge from a land of woods, to a developed country. There was no Mena when he first came here, no railroad, and only a few scattered communities, connected with trails through the mountains and woods.

Eli Turner began his life here as a farmer, which later led into the merchandising of goods, at Rocky and Mena, until his retirement. During his lifetime, especially a quarter century ago, he took an active part in politics, and won many followers because of his ability as a speaker and a leader. Throughout his life he was respected for his friendliness, integrity, and square dealing.

At his death he left to mourn his passing, many descendants, members of some of Polk County's best known families. At his burial there were nearly 100 persons present related to the departed by blood ties or marriage.

Decedent was born March 24, 1856, at Ozark, Arkansas and came to Polk County while a young man. Dallas was then the County Seat. Many changes have taken place in Polk County since he first located on a homestead west of where Mena now stands. When the railroad came, he was one of many who helped change the site of the prospective city from woods to a place of modern civilization.

Surviving are the widow, Nancy C. Turner, five daughters and three sons. Daughters are Mrs. Emmett Rowe of Rocky, Mrs. Elsie Hughes of Cove, Mrs. L. A. Cummings and Mrs. Drew D. Davis of Hatfield, and Mrs. Millard Lowther of Pine Valley, Oklahoma. The sons are Olin Turner, Ode Turner, and Res Turner - all residents of Potter. Other survivors include 37 grandchildren and 17 great grand children.

Funeral services for the pioneer farmer were held Sunday afternoon at Rocky, the old family home. Decedent was a member of the Methodist Church and the burial rites were in charge of Reverend J. A. Simpson, pastor of the Methodist Church at Hatfield and Reverend J. T. Bowling Baptist minister of Mena. Reverend Land of Rocky also assisted and Mark P. Olney of Mena, and old time friend, offered prayer. Congregational singing by the many friends present was directed by Andrew Maulden of Potter. Special musical numbers were given by a quartet composed of Reverend Bowling, Misses Bowling and Peeler of Mena and Johnny Lynn of Potter.

Internment was in the family plot at Rocky Cemetery, the casket bearers being six grandsons of the pioneer - Richard Davis, Carroll Davis, Thomas Davis, Travis Turner, Glenn Lowther, and Clement Cummings. The Beasley funeral home directed the burial.

Eli and Catherine Moore Turner by Ode Turner (Turner Tattler 1966)

In February 1888 Eli and Catherine Turner, two of the greatest people in the world to me, loaded all their worldly possessions, including their six children, into two covered wagons, pulled up stakes, cracked their whips, pointed their wagon tongues towards Texas and left Ozark, Franklin County, Arkansas. But fate changed their destination and they pitched their tents in Polk County.

They didn't have the privilege of traveling with Major Adams and his wagon train, but they formed their own wagon train. Dad was a wonderful Wagon Master, and my mother was one of the greatest Scout Masters that ever walked by the side of man.

I could never understand why dad took off on a journey like this in the middle of winter, unless he wanted to get through the Indian Territory while the Indians were all driven inside from the cold weather and they would be too busy keeping their papooses and their squaw's "kabooses" warm to start a fight. Eli and Catherine were likened unto Moses -- they never entered the promised land of their dreams, the great state of Texas. They had to settle for visits later to the Texas Turners. The destiny that caused them to settle down in Polk County was rain, sleet, and snow, that caught up with them at Potter, Arkansas, four miles south of what is now Mena, where they made camp for the night. The next day they pulled stakes and drove south down the old line road which would have taken them south through Idabel, Oklahoma and across the Red River to Clarksville, Texas. But the sleet and snow was so bad, and the road so slick, they only made five miles that day.

In late afternoon after leaving Potter, dad drove up to a large house that had many trees in the yard. He asked the lady of the house if he could camp under those trees for the night. She obliged him and invited the women and children to come inside and sleep but told the men they would have to sleep in the barn, which they did. This obliging lady was the grandmother of Juanita, now wife of Travis Turner.

The weather continued bad and Eli and Catherine's seventh child Ola was soon to be born. So dad rented a farm from a Mr. Harris and made a crop that year. By this time they had discovered their money was slipping away from them and decided to buy a farm. From that day on they were stuck in Polk County, Arkansas and missed being Texans by the skin of their teeth. The sleet and snow storm of 1888 kept me from being born in Texas whereas today I could be wearing a big white hat and boots like a Texan I know in Washington, and also like the well known editor of the Turner Tattler.

Dad made good cotton and corn crops but had to sell his cotton for 5c a pound. Times got worse and they got poorer each year until the Kansas City Southern railroad was built in Mena, and then things began to get better for Eli and Catherine Turner.

Dad was elected Justice of the Peace for several years and was a good one. He never allowed a case to go to trial if he could settle it out of court. If he could get the parties involved to sit down and talk things over he could usually get things settled before it went to trial. As I have said, my dad was a great peacemaker. He also had a little temper. When I was 15 years old dad and I were plowing corn when the dinner horn blew. Dad stopped his horse and went around to strip the harness off. The horse had on a blind bridle and as he approached the horses head a nit fly lit on the horses neck. The horse threw his head back striking dad with such force it knocked him to the ground. That's where dad's temper got the best of him. He grabbed the old horse and bit him on the lips. The horse jerked loose and almost took one of dad's teeth with him. He wanted me to pull the tooth but I pushed it back in place and he had that tooth when he died. He had a talent for handling horses, and was the only man I ever saw who could work two balky horses at the same time.

To me my dad was a diamond in the rough and at the proper time the sparkle would show through. He asked me one time if I had ever paid close attention to my mother's prayers? I told him I had and he said, "Her prayers are masterpieces in English with never a grammatical error that, if nothing else could convince me there was a supreme power, her prayers would, for I know she makes connection with a Higher Power above."

When I decided to unite with the church I told dad my plans and asked him to join the church with me. He said, "Ode, I'm getting too old." I felt like he had always wanted to join the church and we talked it over together and he said, "all right, we'll join together". We joined and were baptized together in Rock Creek just back of our home. I feel proud of having had the honor of having assisted the preacher baptize my dad.

Nine Children were born to Eli and Catherine; six in Franklin County and three in Polk County, Arkansas. They were Olin, deceased, Edith, Mrs. Emmett Rowe, deceased, Elsie Hughes, Oklahoma City, Ethel McKinney, deceased, Edna, Mrs. Luther Cummings, Hatfield, Ode, Mena Arkansas, and John Res, deceased. Eli and Catherine Turner are buried at Rocky Cemetery, 8 miles west of Mena, Ark.

The Looking Glass May 8, 1975
by: Inez Lane

A Family's life in the Joe Smith Sawmill Camp

The Joe Smith sawmill on the Ruff Lane homestead was in a beautiful Ouachita Mountain setting with a large spring of clear cold water making a sparkling stream that rippled over the rock near the camp site.

Each sawmill family chose the location among the lofty virgin trees for it's simple shack built from a "house pattern" of rough lumber cut by the mill. The slab doors had wooden latches and leather hinges. The windows had no glass, only sliding wood shutters. The green boards of the oval roof, walls, and floors soon shrank allowing snow and rain to enter freely.

The Eli and Catherin family had an extra large shack: a long room with a kitchen, wood burning stove, a cook table, and a safe (cupboard) in one end. In the center stood a large wood heater, nearby a large dinning table with a bench on the side next to the wall and hickory or cane bottomed chairs to seat the family and the six boarders. At the far end of the room were the beds of the Turners. Adjoining this the long bunk room for the boarders, the men and grown boys, whose folks did not live in the camp. These fellows usually spent a few hours off work back down at the mill talking with other mill hands or in their sleeping quarters so they were not a nuisance to the family life of the Turners. Ode Turner often joined them as he and Eli were regular hands at the mill.

The seventeen year old daughter, Ola Turner, made a pleasant yard about their shack by grubbing out roots and marking the boundary with selected unusual rocks. She kept this area swept clean with a brush broom, a broom made from small tree branches.

A cow and chickens were sheltered beyond the back yard and Ola cared for them, milking and feeding the cow twice a day and gathering the eggs providing fresh food for the table. While the birds and chickens were still fast asleep, the day began for Catherin and Ola as they rose before the sun to fire up the wood stove and prepare a piping hot breakfast of sausage, eggs, hot biscuits, and bowls of oats and rice for the mill hands whose work began at 7 a.m.

The kitchen stove never got cold. Water, carried from the spring, was always hot in the great iron tea kettle for the washing of dishes and the kerosene lamp globes, and for the scrubbing of the splintery wood floor whose boards were soon worn smooth by the traffic of many booted feet .

The noon meal was begun; fresh beef from a farmer who peddled what his family didn't need, always a big pot of navy beans, potatoes and onion; peeled dried fruit or berry cobblers were baked. Both corn bread and hot biscuits were made from scratch. By the time the last hungry man's appetite was appeased (several extra hands from nearby homesteads ate with the boarders at noon) and the dishes washed, preparation for the evening meal was begun.

Making up the beds of the many occupants of the shack was a daily chore. The tik, full of fragrant straw or crab grass, which served as a mattress was vigorously stirred. The goose feather bed was fluffed up and placed next. Then came the rough homespun sheets and over all colorful handmade quilts to keep everyone warm, even when snow drifted across the sleepers on a cold wintry night.

Wash day was a weekly event. Ola carried the soiled clothes through the sawmill camp to a deep hole of clear water which never got "riled up" regardless of the amount dipped out by the bucketfuls. Several other women of the camp were at the wash place the same day. Fires were made under the big black wash pots filled with water. The first heated water was poured into a tub on a wooden plank bench. Here the clothes were rubbed on a wash board with home made lye soap until clean. The white clothes, washed first, were put into a refilled pot and boiled awhile to whiten. All were rinsed thoroughly in clear cold water, carried wet back to the yard and hung on the line to dry in the sun. The small children played by the stream while their mothers and Ola talked while they washed. It was a happy time and none thought of the work as drudgery.

During the short evening, Eli and his son Ode split the wood for the next days supply of fuel. Catherin and Ola, after cleaning up the kitchen, often braided or crocheted rag rugs for the floor. The laborers of the mountain woodlands engaged in varied social activities after work. By light of lantern or pine torch, they gathered at some home to spend the evening singing, accompanied by a French harp or guitar. They sang old ballads, the then popular songs, and sacred songs from shaped-note song books. Sometimes a musical was the entertainment, mountain music by the talented, though untrained, on fiddle, mandolin, banjo, jew's-harp, and guitar. Often it was a play party where singing and games such as Old Joe Clark, The Bear Came Over the Mountain, and Shoo Tang kept the feet moving and bodies swinging until midnight.

The school age children of the camp walked three miles to the Old Potter School. This building also served as a gathering place for all community affairs. Ola and her brother Ode, with the other young people of the camp, walked there together every Sunday morning to join the homesteaders for Sunday-school and church. Minds, bodies, and souls developed and were strengthened by the physical, mental, and spiritual exercises of the day.

Many of the sawmill's hands, like the Turners, owned farm homes in nearby communities often spending weekends there, bringing back fruits and vegetables from orchard and garden. Ola and her mother even gathered the green tomatoes at danger of frost, keeping them in shallow boxes under the bed for ripening, serving them fresh well into winter.

Other families were drifters, following only saw milling, moving from one site to another, rarely spending more than one year in one place. Shacks in the Joe Smith sawmill camp were abandoned as the crew went on to a new set. The Turners returned to their home at Rocky. About four years later, Ola Turner and Drew Davis picnicked back at the Big Spring. All signs of the happy, busy days were gone. Again the quiet wonderful work of nature was erasing the marks made by man.

Everett H. Turner
6985 Granero Dr.
El Paso, TX 79912
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