I was born on March 11, 1890, in Malta, Morgan County, Ohio, a small town on the Muskingum River, about thirty miles northwest of Marietta.
Across the river is the county seat, which is the larger town of McConnelsville. Both have long been factory towns served by steamboats from the Ohio River. There were tobacco factories, plow works and other shops, and the people of Malta were largely workers.
My father's name was William O'Daniel, the son of a Morgan county farmer who was also called William O'Daniel. I have never tried to trace the family tree. I only know it is a good old Irish name, which is good enough for me. What county in Ireland my folks came from is another matter. But I was always told that my father's grandfather was the first of our line in America. He left a poor but beautiful country to cast his lot in this land of greater opportunity. He was just one of thousands in that almost forgotten generation of Irish laborers who, with their sweat and brawn, helped to build the railroads, man the iron foundries, or break new land on the frontiers as their part in the making of this country.
O'Daniel a Baby When Father Killed.
What my own father looked like, or how his voice sounded, I can't say of my own knowledge. There is a fine old Texan living at Harlingen, A. C. Moody, who wrote me just after my nomination. He was raised in Morgan County, four miles west of Malta, and remembers my father "from 1873 until as long as he stayed in Malta." There are other folks and relatives back in Ohio who recall William O'Daniel. One of these is Charles (Chick) Bell, a fellow worker in the foundry of the Brown-Manly Plow Company.
I lost my father when I was hardly more than a babe in arms. All his life William O'Daniel was just a hard working man. That was all he ever knew or did. He worked hard as a boy on the farm. When he moved to town he got a job in the plow foundry pouring hot, molten metal, making the plow beams, doing whatever he was put to. Before I can remember, at a time when work was slack in Malta, he went off to get a job on the building of a bridge over some Ohio river. There he was killed when a part of the structure, or maybe the hoisting machinery, suddenly slipped.
But if my father is not a clear picture in my mind's eye, that is not the case with my mother.
Life Centers About His Mother. Alice Ann Thompson, Mother
Sister - Ethel O'Daniel Pickering
It seems that all my life history has been wound round my mother around her character, her strong will, her hopes and ambitions for her children. She was such a hard-working, Christian woman, and, to me, always very beautiful. She was of medium height, with auburn hair some called her redheaded and with eyes of blue.
Her maiden name was Alice Ann Thompson, daughter of William and Mary Thompson of the Wolf Creek neighborhood in Morgan County. Her mother was a member of the Shields family, an old Quaker family which reminds me that I sometimes speak out in meeting too much.
Her father was just as religious, being an elder in the Wolf Creek Church of Christ. Which is to say that my grandparents were Campbellites, or followers of the Rev. Alexander Campbell.
Alexander Campbell was a famous preacher who sort of broke off from the Presbyterian Church, as I understand it, and carried a lot of folks with him into a new denomination. In those days the Campbellites, as they were often called, were founding new churches and preaching the gospel all over Ohio, Kentucky and near-by States and as far away as Texas. Most people today know it as the Christian Church, or by the name of the other branch, the Disciples of Christ.
Harlingen Man Knew the Family.
Mr. Moody's letter, written on Aug. 4, 1938, throws more light on my parents and grandparents.
"Had I known you were born in my old town and were a son of the Bill O'Daniel I had known from 1873," writes Mr. Moody, "I should surely have trespassed on your time when you were here in Harlingen (during the campaign) at least long enough to have been introduced.
"I knew your father before he was married, and I knew your redheaded mother before she was married.
"And your grandfather, William Thompson, was one of the elders of the Wolf Creek Church of Christ for many years. In fact, I first saw him when I went there as a very small boy with my father.
"William Thompson was a giant morally in his community. No one ever questioned his honor or his Christian life. He lived what he taught others to live. And your grandmother, Mary Thompson, was from an old-time, orthodox Quaker family."
Several of Family Were Preachers.
Being God-fearing people, my mother's parents read the Bible regularly. They followed good Old Testament examples by raising a large family. My mother enjoyed the good fortune of having one sister and eleven brothers. Several of the boys became Christian preachers, among them Uncle Cyrus. They held pastorates in several parts of Ohio. When the great conflict between the North and South broke out, three of the older Thompson brothers shouldered muskets and marched off to war. They wore the blue of the regiments of their native Ohio. They believed just a loyally in their cause as did any son of Virginia or Texas in his pledge to his Confederate State.
But there was kindly feeling in the midst of even that terrible contest. There is a story in our family that shows this. Since it also deals with how I got my middle name, it is doubly interesting, at least to me. One of my grandmother Thompson's boys was a young soldier in the Union ranks. He was serving in a campaign far to the South. Pure drinking water was a problem, and this uncle took sick with a serious stomach and bowel trouble. I suppose he was left for dead on a battlefield when the Yankees had to beat a quick retreat, because he was found by some Confederates.
Why He Was Called Lee.
But he was such a genial and likable young fellow that a Southern family took pity on him and moved him into their home. That family did everything they could to save his life, nursing him night and day and doing everything possible to make him comfortable. Although they tended him as they would their own son, he died in that home. Before he breathed his last he left a message to be sent to his fold in Ohio when the war was over. In this he asked his sister, whenever she got married and had a son, to give him the name of Lee, in honor of the great Southern leader. This is the story told me by my mother. When I was born she gave me that middle name, which is also the first name of Dr. Lee Humphrey, a beloved family physician who brought many a Morgan County child into this world. I understand he is still living and serving humanity back in Ohio.
An uncle of mine, Jack Thompson, lives in Hemlock, Perry County, and a cousin, William Thompson, still lives in the Wolf Creek neighborhood in Morgan County. These and others remember that my mother first married William Earich, by whom my half sister Effie, now Mrs. O. N. Hiller of Arlington, Kan., was born.
After William Earich's death, my mother married William O'Daniel. They lived above what is known as the old Dunnington tobacco house in Lower Malta. There my own sister, now Mrs. Ethel Pickering of Hutchinson, Kan., was born, and there, to the best of my knowledge, I was born also.
Some question over the year I was born has arisen in our family. I went all through the campaign and have thought for years that I was born in 1892. Since the primary election, a reporter for the McConnelsville, Ohio, Herald talked with a number of old residents and relatives of mine in and around Malta, and they all said they thought I was born in that year. But when I started getting up this autobiography, I checked through all my records and papers for years. From my school enrollment, from my wedding license, and other proof, I find I was actually born two years earlier. I am now, therefore, 48 years old, not 46, as I thought formerly.
Parent Were Very Poor.
My parents were very poor in Malta, even before my father died. Mother had long known hard work, and she pitched in to do all she could to keep her little family together. There was a kindhearted friend in Malta, Wilbert McHenry. Just before I was born, at a time when the family purse was flatter than usual and the family was in need of food, Wilbert McHenry sent a bill of groceries to our home. Mother was always grateful for that act of Christian kindness. To show her thankfulness, she gave me his first name along with that of Lee. Later, folks in Kansas used to call me Wilbur, but it is really Wilbert.
After William O'Daniel was killed, mother had a harder struggle than ever. But she was a determined woman who was going to take care of her children. She took in sewing, but it did not pay enough to keep soul and body together. She was not strong physically as a young woman, but she was not too proud to turn her hands to any honest toil. So, for a time, she took in washings. She worked over an old-fashioned back-breaking washboard. If there were washing machines in those days they were unknown in our house. Even the poorest farm or city home today has conveniences that were possible only among the richest people forty and fifty years ago electric lights, running water and all kinds of other laborsaving devices.
Incidents of Early Boyhood.
Since I left Ohio when I was less than 5 years old, not much that happened to me there sticks in my memory. I do remember some incidents. I remember standing on the long bridge connecting Malta and McConnelsville watching a free show down on a river boat below when my hat blew off and the folks on the boat took their fishing poles and fished it out of the river. I remember my sister Ethel falling in the Muskingum River which flowed past our home, and how she clung to a log for several hours, clinging to the slick, moss-covered log only because she was afraid the fish would bite here toes, and not because she was afraid of drowning.
I remember also one object lesson which had clung to me all my life. Mother always taught me that Sunday was the Lord's day and that we should not do anything on Sunday. Santa Claus came down our chimney Christmas Eve, which happened to be Saturday night, and he brought me a bright red sled. Snow was on the ground, there was a big hill in our back yard and the bottom of the hill had a picket fence across it. I wanted to try the new sled out the next morning, but it was Sunday and mother told me not to. But I sneaked out and climbed to the top of the hill with my sled and mounted same. And down the hill I sped not thinking about the picket fence at the foot of the hill and not knowing anything of four-wheel brakes at that time. There was nothing to stop me but the picket fence coming in contact with my nose, and my nose got the worst of the bargain, but it caused me to appreciate the logic of mother's teaching about keeping the Sabbath Day holy. And that little incident of childhood has stuck to me all these years.
Some time after my mother was widowed for the second time, an old childhood friend and schoolmate of hers in Malta, Charles H. Baker, lost his wife in Kansas. He had gone west some years before and settled in Reno County, about twenty-two miles southwest of Hutchinson and about a mile and a quarter out of the small town of Arlington. He had three young daughters of his own, all older than me and my sister. When he heard about mother losing her husband, he wrote back to Ohio, trying to get her to come out to Kansas and marry him. Mother finally agreed, and they were married in Hutchinson. He always said he had loved her since they were kids together in school. He saw her married three times twice back in Ohio and then to himself in Kansas.
Baker Only Father He Knew
Charles H. Baker was the only father I ever knew. And I don't see how a real father could ever be better to a son than he was to me. Dad Baker was a tenant farmer and rancher. All of the free land in Kansas was gone by the time he went there. He was easygoing, honest as the day is long and never touched a drop of liquor. But he was not a careful manager of his own business affairs, and he would place confidence in anybody not always to his own best interest.
Going to Kansas was a great adventure for my mother, my sister and me. Although I was too young to remember much about it, one event has always stuck with me. That was crossing the Mississippi at St. Louis. It was the biggest, widest river I ever saw, even bigger that the Muskingum. From the slowly moving train window, high above the long bridge over it, I thought we never would get across. Surely it was the largest body of water in the world. But we made it. And with that crossing we entered, like hundreds of thousands of Americans before us, from Texas to Canada, a new land of hope and dreams of a brighter future.
++++++++++++ CHAPTER II, - A Home in the West.
Mother moved her small family to Kansas in 1895. We went directly to Hutchinson, where Dad Baker met us. There mother and Dad Baker were married by a Christian preacher.
As a 5-year-old child I was terribly worried watching the marriage ceremony. Of course I did not understand what it all meant and I got the idea that this big stranger was taking my mother from me. I always worshiped my mother she was then, and always has been, my angel and I nearly cried my eyes out.
But soon I learned what a wonderful fellow Dad Baker was and how happy mother, sister Effie and I were to be with him. After the wedding Dad drove us in a fine runabout buggy to his ranch near Arlington, which was only twenty-two miles southwest of Hutchinson.
Kansas with its sunflowers is much like many parts of beautiful Texas. There are broad, gently rolling plains, a fertile soil, not too much rain and a fine climate generally speaking. Old Mother Nature deals some hard blows, though, from time to time just as she does to all other parts of the earth's surface. New to us would be droughts and the famous Kansas Cyclones, or twisters. But those would come later.
His New Dad Was a Rancher.
Dad was, as I have said, a tenant farmer and rancher, and the 640-acre place we lived on was owned by the A. B. Crabbs family. The Crabbs were the richest folks in all that part of Reno County. They owned the big general store in Arlington, where we traded on credit, year in and year out. They were also large owners in the bank, the small flour mill and other businesses, as well as owners of a number of other farms and pastures in that part of Kansas.
Although Reno County today is one of the great wheat-growing counties of Kansas, it was still pretty much of a cattle country in 1895. Our place was one of those ranches where we raised our own cattle, pasturing them in the summer on more than a section of land and raising feed to carry them through the winter. There was another section of 640 acres of bottom land where we put up the hay for the winter use.
Ranching didn't always pay back in Kansas in those days. Dad was about the biggest rancher in those parts. He raised cattle by the hundreds, and hogs also. But often just before we got them ready to ship off to market at Kansas City, the cattle would get blackleg and die. He'd grin and say, "There's one good thing about my hogs they don't get the blackleg." But the hogs got cholera and, then they would die like the cattle.
Dad Lost $5,000 in 17 Years.
Dad was never a hand for keeping his own books, and I don't think he ever had a settling up with the landlord and the storekeeper in all the years he was a tenant. Generally he came out at the end of each year without losing more than several hundred dollars. After seventeen years as a renter his net total loss on the ranch was about $5,000; so he was to figure it was an unprofitable business and quit it for a small farm of his own. But that was long after we went to live in Kansas.
The first thing I saw when Dad drove us up to ranch headquarters was an amazing thing, a huge pile of freshly shelled corncobs that seemed about twice the size of the house. In Ohio we burned coal, and I didn't know that corncobs were the main fuel in Kansas. Every year until the seven-year long drought hit us some time after we used this fuel. When the drought burned up our corn crop, we had to find a new kind of fuel, and anybody who has ever had to pick up as many cow chips as I did then as a kid would never have the nerve to complain over the size of the gas bill nowadays.
Small House, but Huge Barn.
The ranch was a thrilling place for a youngster fresh from town. Dad's place had the smallest house and the largest barn of any ranch I ever saw. The house was so small you would think it impossible to build a smaller one but we did, later. Then, with two houses we figured we were kind of aristocrats, and lived in the big one. We also had a granary and a windmill.
The barn was enormous. It was always kept painted a bright red, even though the small, four-room house missed getting a new coat of paint in many a season.
That barn sticks in my mind because so much of my childhood centers around it. As a little shaver I used to play there for hours, exploring every part from the stalls for the milch cows on the ground floor and the hayloft above to the three cupolas on the peaked shingle roof. It was different from the barns we usually have in Texas. That was due to the fact that it was built for cattle raising and feeding in much colder climate. It was laid out in an L-shape, to break the winter winds, I suppose. Most of the second floor was a haymow which held hundreds of tons of hay and large self-feeders handling hundreds of bushels of corn. The ground floor held a herd of cattle in the cold winter when snow was piled high outside. The ranch hands made their bunks above in the haymow.
Farm Life Was Fascinating.
Tons of hay were hauled straight into the barn by wagon teams, and a big, automatic hayfork, driven by horses or mules on a circular treadmill, lifted it above for storage. It took only about two bites by that big fork to empty a wagonload of hay. The two-pronged fork then caught into a little trainlike device and ran on an overhead track to be dumped automatically by remote control. To a kid watching all this for the first time, it was a fascinating sight.
But the three cupolas that stuck up about eight feet from the peak of the roof were more exciting. They were about ten feet square and had vents or shutters that let in enough air to keep the hay from going sour or bursting into flames by spontaneous combustion. It was kind of hard to climb up into these cupolas, but well worth the trouble. From any of them you could see for miles around, over the pastures or across the fields of growing corn, wheat and other grain crops.
One of the first things I learned in school when I started studying geography was the immense size of Texas and how close it was to Kansas. But I did not know I could prove that fact out in the old red barn as I will tell you.
Transcribed from an original copy of the Semi-Weekly Farm News, which is a publication of the Dallas Morning News, dated Tuesday, August 16, 1938. It has been copied word for word maintaining original spelling and punctuation. Joan Rash Pappa, 4600 State Highway 64, Ben Wheeler, TX 75754
OPHGR website created and maintained by Patsy Vinson, webmaster.
Webmaster Note: This is a free site. All information contained herein is copyrighted by the webmaster/owner of Organization for the Preservation of Historical and Genealogical Records known as "OPHGR" . The information and images shown on this site are Not public domain and should not be taken without the owner's permission in writing.
This page was created on 20 October 2007. 20 January 2015 updated.