rails to build a fence was extremely hard work. But honestly I have to tell you,
all work during the early days of this country was Ďback breakingí hard. Everything
done to produce food, fiber and shelter involved manual labor, long before the
invention of power tools. And the routine daily chores of cutting, splitting,
chopping or sawing wood was highly labor intensive. It was very physical; considered
a manís domain and took a strong manís muscle.
Soon after the Civil War
was over; along about 1867 - Ď68, my great grandfather, John Bruin Maxey, arrived
by horseback in NE Texas from Itawamba County Mississippi. Born in 1848, he was
now a strong young man of robust physical ability. Apparently he left all other
family members behind in Mississippi. I am not aware of others coming to Cass
County with him.
In the early 1870's he entered a countywide rail splitting
contest. And he won! The following year he entered the same contest again. And
he won again! Rail Splitting Champion two years in a row! I know he and his family
must have been pretty proud to hold that distinction.
splitting was mostly done with a double bit chop axe. Although some men may have
used a broad axe. Smooth oak logs without many knots, from 12 to 14 feet long,
some maybe 16 feet, were chosen to be split. A straight grain in the wood splits
much, much easier. Knots where tree limbs once were only make it harder to split.
A large log may be split into 8 to10 rails. For fencing, the rails are taken and
stacked about 6 to 8 rails high with the ends woven together and placed is a zig-zag
row, forming a fence. Stacking more rails on top can make the fence higher.
Grandfather John Bruin died in 1877 of pneumonia at the early age of twenty nine.
He left a wife, one son, (e.i; my grandfather, David Alfred Maxey-Maxie) and two
daughters in Cass County. Of his parents and family he had left behind near Fulton,
Mississippi, many still remain there today.
His (our) forefathers had migrated
over the years from Virginia through Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama into Mississippi.
Our ancestor, Jesse Maxey, came out of Virginia in 1780 soon after the American
Revolutionary War ended. After coming through the Cumberland Gap and down the
Cumberland River, he helped establish and set up Fort Nashboro. That was the leading
edge of the American Western Frontier which had not yet reached the Mississippi
River. The fort later turned into Nashville, Tennessee.
Jesse was scalped
by Indians in1788 and left for dead on what today is the site of the Tennessee
State Capitol Building. But he survived and lived another twenty years, to 1808
at age 58 years.
This brief is only a short glimpse of the hard times
all our frontier forefathers and families had in settling this great land. It
wasnít easy! It involved hard work and long hours. Iíve heard my dad tell of working
from sun to sun; meaning they worked from sun-up to sun-down. And, of how I, a
fourth generation Texan, came to be in Texas. Iím
mighty glad I finally made it here, too.
© Nolan Maxie
August 1, 2010 Column