'Pon My Word And Honor

In Ireland, when one is affirming his honesty and truthfulness, he will say "Upon My Word and Honor." This saying, which was brought over to this country in the colonial days, was preserved in the language of the Jack Cassity family in Rowan County, Kentucky. By the time the phrase "upon my word and honor" came down through nearly the last 300 hundred years in this country the original meaning of affirmation seems to have been lost. My mother, Rosa Alice Cassity, used the phrase as an exclamation of surprise or amazement. The old Irish saying was shortened to just "PON MY WORD AND HONOR!" When I came home from school with a good grade in arithmetic, Mom would say in amazement, "Well 'Pon My Word And Honor!" which meant she could hardly believe it.

I have been asked to write "recollections" of the Cassity family as I remember them. Some of the stories you may accept as truth and others you may think far-fetched. I will do my best to pass them along as they were told to me. When you finish the last page and you sit there in amazement or disbelief, it is OK to say "Well 'Pon my word and Honor."......Jack Elam

Movin' Down The Lickin'

My Granddad, John Jackson " Jack" Cassity , was born October 31, 1863 on the North Fork of the Licking River. His parents were James B. and Sarah Ellington Cassity. James B. Cassity was a blacksmith as were many other members of the Cassity clan. Shortly after the birth of Jack Cassity his parents decided to leave North Fork and move to the Farmers Cross Roads area of the newly formed county of Rowan. The road to Farmers followed the riverbank of the main fork of Licking River. Today KY road # 801 has taken the place of the old river road. The Cassity family said goodbye to their friends and kin and started this all day trek to Farmers.

In late evening, when it was almost dark, they were driving the team along that was pulling the wagon with all of their earthly belongings. All at once a confederate soldier, a deserter, jumped from the bushes with a rifle and was going to holdup the Cassity family. His actions spooked the horses, they reared up and turned the wagon over into the Licking River. The horses being still in their harness and hitched to the wagon were dragged into the river too. The Cassity family barely escaped with their lives, but lost all of their belongings as well as the horses and wagon.. The deserter leaped back into the bushes and left the Cassitys stranded a short distance from Farmers. They walked into Farmers and stayed with friends and went back the next morning to see if anything could be saved. The only item they found was an iron skillet that was lodged in some bushes along the riverbank.

About ten years ago Eula Cassity Lowery , the youngest daughter of Jack Cassity knowing I was interested in the history of the family gave this writer that skillet and told me this story. The little skillet, which measures seven inches in diameter is a part of the past which I cherish very much. On examination of this little frying pan I discovered right where the handle attaches to the pan and molded into the iron are the initials of "S and J ". Could this be the initials of my great-grandparentís parents, James and Sarah Cassity ? It is very possible that this skillet could have been made on a forge by one of the Cassity blacksmiths on the North Fork of Licking River. After this escapade on the road to Farmers, James Cassity seeing the need, became a member of the Home Guard of Rowan County.

A Tip of The Hat to Jack Cassity

I'm very sorry to say that I never knew my Granddad, Jack Cassity, personally as he died in 1920 and I wasn't born until twelve years later in 1932. I have four pictures of him. The earliest of these pictures is one taken at the "Doc.Van" Stone Quarry in Farmers, KY in the early days of this century. The picture is a group of employees that worked at the mill. Standing on top of one of the large blocks of stone is Grandpa Jack. He was over six feet in height and stood straight as an arrow.

Three of these stone quarries operated in the Triplett Creek valley. One was at the town of Rockville (later Bluestone), one at Freestone and the one mentioned above at Farmers. These quarries were the economic backbone of this area. The stone was sawed into various sizes and used to build bridge abutments for the many rivers and streams that had to be crossed as the C & O laid track toward Ashland and on into West Virginia. Shortly before World War One the demand for stone began to slow down and that is when many of the workers went to Harvey, Illinois to seek employment. But, that is another story for later.

The next picture of Jack Cassity along with Grandma is one taken in front of their home in New Castle, Indiana probably around 1917 or 1918. He has a mustache and although older than the first picture still stands tall and slim. Grandma Cassity, like all Moodys I ever knew was short. She was less than five feet in height. If I remember right, they moved to New Castle in 1916. I do know they were living there when the terrible tornado of 1917 cut a swath through the center of town. The house next door to them was destroyed. The only damage to theirs was something came down through the front porch roof, on down through the porch floor and out of sight . From the size of the hole they decided it must have been a fence post.

In 1917, Granddad made a trip by train back to Rowan County, KY. Wanting to show his two youngest sons where he was born, they boarded the Morehead and North Fork train at Clearfield. The MH&NF RR was a narrow gauge railroad that ran from Clearfield up to Paragon, Wrigley and Redwine in Morgan County. It was used for the purpose of hauling lumber from Morgan County to Clearfield and connecting to the C & O RR, which would take the lumber to the market in Cincinnati.

Granddad, his sons Clyde and Chester, Uncle Jim Cassity along with their cousin Claud Utterback got off the train at Paragon and walked along the North Fork of the Licking River to see the old house where Granddad had been born. While there, my uncle Clyde took a picture of Granddad, Uncle Jim Cassity, Chester and Claud Utterback in front of the house. My Granddad standing tall and straight had on a white shirt with suspenders.

The latest picture of Jack Cassity I have is probably a family Sunday get- together taken in Indiana. The center of attraction is a Model T Ford. Two of my aunts, Eulah and Jessie Cassity are sitting on the running board. My Uncle Clarence Cassity is sitting in the back seat being easy to see since the side curtains are missing. My father John Ernest Elam is leaning against the radiator. On the other side of the hood standing very erect is Granddad Cassity.

These pictures cover a time span of nearly twenty years and Jack Cassity is easy to distinguish from anyone else in the pictures. So you might say, yes, I know, it is because of his posture. Well, to some extent you are right. One thing I forgot to mention is the fact that over this twenty-year period he is wearing the same hat in every one of these pictures.

Growing Up In Rowan County, KY

It is too bad that my parents who were born at the end of the Nineteenth Century, lived in the Twentieth Century for sixty-one years could not have lived until the beginning of the Twenty-First Century. They would have been amazed at the many changes in the way people live today. My mother, Rosa Alice Cassity, was born near the community of Freestone KY. April 8,1888. She was the eldest child of John Jackson (Jack) and Nancy Moody Rawlings Cassity. My grandmother Cassity was a widow with two children by a previous marriage to Henry W. Rawlings. The half brother and sister were William and Lena Rawlings.

At an early age Mom said she and the family attended the Siloam Church which is located on the Bull Fork road near the little town of Bluestone. This log structure sat in a cemetery and at that time it was a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). On Sunday morning the children would rub tallow or lard on their shoes to make them shine and then walk barefoot on the dusty road to church. As they approached the church they would slip on their shoes and walk into church with shiny shoes.

She started to school at the Freestone school. Later they moved to Farmers and she attended school there. Later they moved back into the Freestone district where she finished her education. Their books were the McGuffey reader, the "Blueback Speller" and Ray's Practical Arithmetic. She finished the eight years of education that was offered in these country schools and enrolled in school at Morehead Normal. Morehead was six miles away from home and she got homesick, came home and never went back.

Later the Jack Cassity family moved to the "John Moore" hill. As near as I can find out this was on the left side of the road going from Freestone to Farmers. Mom said they had a very heavy load and her Dad borrowed a yoke of oxen to pull the wagon with all there belongings. She said the oxen had a lot of strength, but "poked along" very slow. This home was near Farmers and the family attended the Christian Church in Farmers. It was there that my mother, at age nine, was baptized in Triplett Creek and became a member of the Farmers Christian Church.

One morning while living on the "John Moore Hill", when breakfast was cooking, sparks from the fireplace chimney caught the wood shingle roof on fire. Grandad Jack climbed on the roof of the house with a hatchet and started ripping off shingles ahead of the flames. He told my mother, who was nine years old, to go get help. Mom ran down the road as fast as she could to a neighborís house and beat on the door. The people opened the door and asked her what she wanted. Mom was so out of breath that all she could do was point to her house. The neighbors saw the smoke and flames and ran to help Grandad. They managed to draw enough water from the well to put out the fire. Grandad quickly made some more shingles and repaired the hole in the roof.

When the family lived on the Bull Fork of Triplett Creek, loggers had floated some logs to a nearby sawmill. Grandad Cassity was walking across the creek on the floating logs when he saw a very large pike that was trapped between some logs. He swung his axe and killed the fish. He picked it up and carried it over his shoulder to the house and the tail of the pike was dragging the ground behind him. This would make the length of this fish to be around six feet in length. Grandma, aunt Lena, Mom and aunt Effie cleaned the fish and cut it up for cooking size. Mom said that it filled a number two size wash tub. They had so much fish that they gave a lot of it to their neighbors.

Wherever Grandad lived he always had his anvil and bellows so he could set up his blacksmith shop. He did repair work for the stone quarries and repaired tools for his neighbors. He made a set of andirons, a shovel and poker for their fireplace. In later years the andirons became lost. After the death of my grandparents my mother became the owner of the shovel and poker. Many times I used them to shovel ashes from the heating stove and "poke" up the fire. With the death of my parents in 1961 these tools of Grandad Jack Cassity were given to my brother Arthur Elam. If Arthur had been born fifty years earlier I'm sure he would have followed the tradition of being a blacksmith. Instead, he followed the profession of a schoolteacher. With the inheritance of the Cassity blood in his veins he was talented in making things with his hands. It was natural for him to teach industrial arts as one of his subjects. Last fall we were invited to a Thanksgiving dinner at Arthur's daughter, Joy Tindall living near Lapel, In. Joy has one room that is full of antiques. In her collection all painted up in flat black color is the shovel that has remained in the family for four generations that was made by the old blacksmith himself, John Jackson (Jack) Cassity.

Love Comes to Triplett Valley

Before the coming of the railroad to eastern Kentucky, life had not changed much from the times the pioneers first crossed the Appalachian Mountains or floated down the Ohio River in flatboats. Now that the railroads were running on schedule a letter from Cincinnati could arrive at the Post Office in Farmers in one day rather than two weeks. Now a person could order an item that was seen in a Sears and Roebuck catalog and have it shipped by way of the C&O railroad all the way from Chicago. Items such as ready to wear clothing or heating stoves to replace the less economic fireplaces was now at the fingertips of the people of Triplett Valley.

A person could now leave the valley and go to such far away places as Mt. Sterling, Winchester, Lexington and Cincinnati. As I mentioned earlier in my writing, around 1910 many people left Rockville, Freestone and Farmers to seek work in other parts of the country. Who went first and wrote back that work was to be had in Harvey, Illinois is a mystery yet to be solved. During this time the Elams, Hydens, Cassitys, Days, Wards and many other families packed up and went to Illinois to seek employment. Mom (Rosa Alice Cassity) said that Grandma Cassity fixed up a basket full of fried chicken with all the trimmings for the family to eat while traveling on the train. Grandad Jack Cassity purchased what was called an "excursion ticket" because the fare cost less that way for a large group. Grandad, Grandma along with William and Lena Rawlings (Mom's half-brother and sister) , Mom, Effie, Clarence Chester, Clyde, Jessie and Eulah boarded the west bound C&O at Farmers, destination Harvey, Illinois.

Mom and Effie were now in the dating age and were watching a couple of Elam boys. Effie had her eye set on Ward Elam and Mom on Ernest Elam. A group of these young people left Harvey one day and went to downtown Chicago. My mother said it just "made your head swim to see all of those cars running up and down State Street." She was afraid to cross the street and had a policeman stop the traffic so she could get across.

As the day progressed the Cassity sisters ended up with Ward and Ernest Elam at an amusement park in downtown Chicago. They decided to take a ride on a roller coaster. Mom said it started out as a very mild ride, first going on the level and then climbing a hill. Then a sign appeared that said "hold onto your hat." Well, anyone that has ever ridden a roller coaster can pretty well fill in the rest of this story. A few minutes later when they returned to the starting point, her date, Ernest Elam, asked for four more tickets to ride again. The two girls screamed and jumped out of the cars with the two Elam boys laughing at them. One other memory that Mom told me was at the amusement park there was a replica of Mrs. O'Leary's cow of the great Chicago fire fame. A person could place a glass under the cow and twist her tail and get a glass of cold milk.

In less than a year the Jack Cassity and Marion Elam families along with others found their way back to Farmers and Freestone. Mom and her beau, Ernest Elam, continued seeing each other and like all love affairs they would have an occasional spat. During one of these, my Dad to be, wrote Mom a letter and told her "she wasn't the only pebble on the beach" and started dating Lida Shay. Soon this relationship ended and he and Mom got back together. Dad was not one to spend money foolishly so when he wrote Mom the above letter, rather than send it by U.S. mail he walked up to the front gate of the Cassity home and left it on top of the gate post. They were married in April of 1911 at Morehead, KY. Henry Clay "Pete" Elam and W. J. "Joe" Elam witnessed the marriage. Dad rented a surrey for the ride to Morehead and back. They had a house rented on Main Street in Farmers. During this time Dad along with his brothers were members of The Victor Band of Farmers. His instrument was a king cornet. When the bride and groom arrived at the house, the band was on hand in the front yard and serenaded them with such songs as "Over The Waves" and "Sweet Bunch of Daisies". A friend of Dad's, or he was until that night, went into the house with the bride and groom and sat down on the sofa between the couple and sat there until around midnight. This is how it was in Triplett Valley in the first decade of the Twentieth century.

Good-Bye Forever

Once again the C&O railroad played an important role in the lives of the Cassity family. This railroad which had provided employment in the stone quarries by using the stone for their bridges. This railroad employed many as section hands to maintain the rails. This railroad purchased many cross ties for the laying of track to West Virginia. This railroad which brought in the U.S. mail and merchandise from mail order houses and provided transportation to and from neighboring towns also carried many people to the outside world. This was so with the Jack Cassity family.

In the years just prior to World War One, first the married sons and daughters and then Grandad Jack, Grandma and the younger children boarded the C&O at Farmers. This was different from the Harvey, Illinois trip, with the exception of a visit now and then, was the last time these Cassitys would live in what they had called home. No more would they go to school in a one-room school where they knew everyone. No more would they go to church on Sunday at Siloam or the Christian Church in Farmers. No more would they hear the steam whistle at the quarry or the clanging of the bell of the mail train as it pulled into Rockville. No more would they attend a baptism in Triplett Creek on a sunny Sunday afternoon. No more would they hear the familiar tunes from the Victor Band of Farmers, echo back and forth across the valley. This time it was good-bye forever.

I'm sure as they settled down into their seats in the passenger car, with their eyes moist and knots in their stomachs, they would wonder if they had made the right decision to leave all of that. What would New Castle, Indiana be like? The children wondering if they would have any friends and do the kids in Indiana put lard on their shoes for Sunday to make them shine? As the train continued the clackety-clack rhythm out of the Kentucky foothills into the bluegrass and on to Cincinnati the memories became shrouded like the early morning fog that rises over the Triplett valley in a county called Rowan.

©1999 Jack Elam


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