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Interview with Earnistine Keaton, August 27, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Earnistine Keaton, August 27, 2002
Date:
August 27, 2002
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee:  Keaton, Earnistine Interviewer:  Jones, Patricia Date of Interview:  8/27/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length  77 minutes

 

Jones: We are here with Miss Earnistine Keaton at the North Carolina Museum of Forestry in Whiteville, North Carolina, doing an oral history on the forestry industry. I am Patricia Jones. I ask that Miss Keaton just give us some background information.

Jones: Where were you born, where you grew up, your occupation, that kind of thing.

Keaton: I grew up in the Riegelwood area in the section called East Arcadia. It’s Bladen and Columbus County as a matter of fact.

Jones: My husband worked up there a lot doing land surveying.

Keaton: I left the area in 1966 after I graduated from high school and I went to New York. I worked in New York. I had a career at the telephone company in engineering. I returned here in 1997, just to have the privilege to stay home as long as I wanted to. I’ve always loved home. What happened was I got interested in researching the history of my family and it turned into something more in terms of the communities, specifically the black communities in Columbus and Bladen around Cape Fear River around Highway 11, East Arcadia, Sandy Field, Delco, and Sarafax.

I looked at how the people lived and how they worked and also how they played. I came up with some interesting things and it prompted me to start writing. I wrote based on things that were happening now. I thought about how things had changed since I was a girl, some things for the better. But sometimes, you know, you have tradeoffs. You give up some things for other things. So I saw a lot of that and I wrote about that.

Jones: You refer to those were the good old days, even though they might have been hard, but you still had things…that were…

Keaton: Oh certainly, they were the good old days because we had to work together. Everybody worked together. You worked hard, but you worked together. There were a lot of interesting things, you know, when you live in the country as far as forest work is concerned.

Jones: More of a sense of community do you think than now that things are bigger?

Keaton: Certainly because people have more things. They have to work more to get more things and the work is not community work anymore. It’s individual work as opposed to neighbors working out in the woods together. The men, well I guess they work national, you know, where years ago the men worked in the woods together. So it’s just a continuation.

Jones: Sure, but a private thing, now they work for a company. Maybe we can touch on that some. I know you’ve done a lot of interviews and a lot of research like you said with people in your community and their background on forestry. Can you give me kind of like a start of how they began in the forest industry and an example of work together and what they accomplished?

Keaton: Well the first person that I know of that worked in the timber industry was my great-great-grandfather, George W. Dixon. He was a slave in Duplin County. Right after the Civil War and during reconstruction, he came over from Duplin County over to the pinewoods of Columbus and Bladen because as a reconstruction measure, they were offering turpentine rights to anyone that could pay the wages and could buy equipment.

Jones: And who was offering that?

Keaton: Well the government offered it. It was the 8th District which was New Hanover, Columbus, Bladen, Sampson, Duplin, all the counties. I guess they were in a transitional stage. Johnson was the president then I think. So there were a lot of freed men and there were a lot of poor whites out of work.

What they did is they opened up the pinewoods to, like I said men who could afford to pay the wages and buy the equipment. Consequently my great-great-grandfather, George W. Dixon, came over to Columbus County out near the Atlantic Coastline Railroad and what you call the Woodyard Road that runs the Riegelwood community of Sandy Field. It’s right off of 87 highway. It runs, Wayman Creek runs across the 87 highway from the Cape Fear River.

So most of the creeks, the larger creeks had sawmills somewhere along the creek because that’s the way the sawmills had to have water. They generated steam from the water. So consequently there was someone named A.B. Lucas who had a sawmill over near where we live now. My great-great-grandfather got a job with him and he was a cooper. Now I had heard of a cooper before, but in the 1980’s one of my great aunts whose George W. Dixon’s granddaughter challenged us, you know, in terms of are you in school, are you working, do you have a trade, well if you’re not working, you should have a trade.

Well your great-great-grandfather was a slave, but he had a trade, he was a cooper. Well we were all, you know, what’s a cooper. I went home and looked in the dictionary and it said he made barrels. Well anyway from that I found out about him working for Lucas and he would work for him, but in his spare time, he made his own barrels. There were other men too that were working like that. In that area, you had people who were never slaves. You had free issue people living in the area so they worked along with the slaves.

So after slavery was over, they had maybe a head start in terms of a homestead or something. So my great-great-grandfather in order to earn money, he made his own barrels. Most of the coopers took their barrels down to Lloyd’s Landing and the boats would come and stop there. The merchants would come from Wilmington and they would buy the goods there at the landing. But George W.Dixon, I guess he probably had a head for business because he didn't sell his barrels at the landing. He booked passage on the boat for himself and his barrels and he went down to Wilmington and sold them directly. He cut out the middle man.

Jones: Middleman! Good for him.

Keaton: I gained a lot of respect for my ancestor in that case.

Jones: That’s right, what insight you know.

Keaton: It was passed on to his son because the next generation, his son, George P. Dixon, was born in 1865 and he was not a slave. Most of the men that were working in the turpentine industry around him were former slaves. Like I said before, they were freed. I just imagine him growing up in the woods, you know, because it was just all woods.

Jones: Just raw. I mean we know how it is now and we think it’s rough stuff. Sure, back then.

Keaton: Those people scattered about. Like I said, I can imagine him growing up in the turpentine industry in the area because it was such a busy industry. You know you had men all over the woods. They were boxing the trees and dipping the turpentine and distilling it. I just felt that that type of industry influenced him as a boy to see his father have a business as a cooper.

He, I think, took what his father did as a lesson. Of course his father didn't devote himself entirely to the cooping business because he was missionary Baptist minister also. His son, George P. Dixon, didn't follow in his footsteps exactly because by the time he reached his maturity around 1885, all the trees were boxed out for the most part in the area. Therefore the men in that area in Brunswick, Sampson, Duplin, they all began to follow the piney woods belt which stretched from North Carolina to Texas.

Now George P. Dixon, I would guess that he worked in the forest industry, what was left of it which was lumbering and lumbering has always been around. It was still, trees even though they were boxed down, you could still use part of them. The sawmills were cutting these trees and using whatever was left for lumber. Anyway he worked there some. He learned to use a broadax very well. He was known for that.

What he did was he left the area like the other men did following work. He left Columbus County and he went to South Carolina, Georgia, south Florida and he worked in the logging camps and sawmills and cutting crossties, and he made money. Unlike a lot of the men during that time, in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, the logging camps were notorious for drinking, gambling, and a lot of the men that I traced in my research, some families lost households that way because they left to follow the piney woods belt and worked in turpentine logging camps whatever and sawmills and they never came home.

George P. Dixon was not that kind of man. He was interested in making money so he was cutting cross ties and he would come home periodically. He came home for the last time around 1898. By I’d say 1910, he had begun to buy land. Now this was wood land you know. He cleared some of the timber for farming I would guess. He sold timber to the sawmill.

I talked to someone the other day who mentioned that the land that we live on now was a tract that he bought in 1907. He had men to cut it for him and they used oxen and log carts. What they did was they would cut the logs and load them on the cart and they would take them down to the Cape Fear River to one of the landings I guess, Lloyd’s Landing or King’s Bluff. He would put them on a barge and they would go down to I think Corbetts at a sawmill in Wilmington.

He would have them shipped down there and sold or the agent would come there and buy them and then they would put them on a barge and take them. But some men who I guess didn't have the money for passage on the barge, they built a raft out of their logs and they put them on the river and they floated them down. They had a steering mechanism that was built in the front of the logs. The logs were all latched together and they used a stick to steer away from the bank.

They had on the ramp, they had a quilt. They would take a quilt and a cooking pot to cook unlike the barges that were pulled by the tugboats that went down. They went down fast. If you floated the logs down, it was like a day and a half from the Riegelwood area to Wilmington so you had to cook and you had to sleep. I wondered how you know you could sleep, but the water didn't come above the logs.

Jones: So they were high and dry, yeah. Somebody must have slept while the other stayed awake.

Keaton: Yeah, they would float them down the river that way. Grampa Georgia, that’s what I called him, he got that name because he had been down in Georgia and so a lot of the men at home began to call him that. My mother, she refers to him as Grampa Georgia. Anyway he really took the example set by his father in terms of businesses. There were other men in the community by the 1920’s that were his equal in terms of having a business and more black men.

Mr. ______, he had a sawmill. Mr. Alex Daniels, he had a sawmill. There were other black men too like John D. Brown who was a contractor. He could get a crew together and he would cut timber. George P. Dixon, my great-grandfather had a crew like all the other black men that were in the timber business. They hired men from the community, their neighbors and that was work for them.

What they did, if he had any kind of timber to cut, of course his own, what he did was either cut cordwood or crossties. I think the crossties were more lucrative then.

Jones: What are the crossties?

Keaton: Well crossties were used for the railroad. It was explained to me by my father, he would talk about cutting crossties. During the 1930’s, the day would begin cutting crossties. George P. Dixon, he would walk to the site. Usually most of the timber they were cutting was usually within walking distance. Five miles was considered within walking distance.

Jones: Not for us today maybe (laughter).

Keaton: No, no, high for some of us. Anyway the day would begin by they would all assemble at the place where they were going to cut ties that day. The first thing he would do would be to give out numbers. Each person had a number and the first number that was given out called the ought and that was a zero and the one they called the mark. And those were the two most desirable numbers, the ought and the mark.

Jones: How come?

Keaton: Because some of the men couldn’t read or write. You know, it was easy to make a zero and there was usually a little time spent before they started before anybody new showed up and wanted one of those numbers. There were two people who usually had them. My daddy’s father, John Paul Keaton, he was one of those men. Mr. Charlie Robinson was another. They would either have the zero or the mark.

Jones: They had like seniority?

Keaton: Yes and if anybody else came along and got one of those, called for it before they did, you had to… it was like 10 or 15 minutes settling that (laughter).

Jones: I wonder if you could buy your way into that position (laughter).

Keaton: Well anyway once that was done, he would give them a piece of blue chalk and the chalk was used to mark their crossties and they would start to work. The tools they used were the crosscut saw of course, the broadax and the pitching axe is you know, it’s a smaller axe that you use. There were two men teams to cut, to saw the tree down.

Everybody didn't own their own saw so the way they did it was if you had a saw, you and your partner, when you sawed two trees down, you would drop the saw down and somebody else would pick it up.

Jones: So they would share.

Keaton: Yeah, they would share and then each person would have a tree, you know, the two, the partners, each one would have a tree to work on to cut their crosstie. Now the most desirable tree would be a three or four tie tree. Those are the tall trees. Nobody really wanted to cut a two tie tree, a smaller tree. So what they would do is just cut the limbs off, saw it to the standard 8 feet length so they can use the saw again. They would cut it to the standard crosstie which was 8 feet.

Once they did that, they would use the broadax and hue it down to four sides and that’s where you got your crosstie from. You cut ties from three sections of the tree, the abut of the tree, the middle of the tree and the top of the tree. Sometimes George would use the top of the tree as cordwood and he’d also leave the limbs for the women in the community that perhaps didn't have a man as head of household so they would have wood to use for cooking and heating. So he was the type of businessman who was interested in more than just making money.

Jones: And utilizing the whole tree, you know, which is really beneficial for everybody. If you’re going to cut it down, you get to use every part of it. That’s great.

Keaton: From that, once they had the ties cut, there was a crew coming along after they would cut the ties and leave them right there. George P. Dixon, he had sons and they worked for him. Two of them were, they did what you call watching out which was to pull the ties out to a clearing.

They would use the horse, the horses. He had two horses, Queenie and Tom. They were big horses. And his son Jake drove the freight wagon. It was a big wagon with a big high seat and the big hand brake. Once they had the crossties munched out, George P. Dixon would come along and count them and he would see who cut the tire by the number on it and he had a book where he would make slashes, you know, you cut five ties, four marks and then a slash across it.

Once he had counted the ties, they would load them on the wagon. They would take the logs to the intersection of the woodyard road and the Atlantic Coastline Railroad. There was a sawmill there, I think it was called Jones Sawmill. Most of the businesses along the Atlantic Coastline Railroad had…if there was a timber business along the way, there was usually boxcars, a sidetrack. It wasn’t a regular depot where passengers got on.

It was the point where the business would use it and there was always an empty boxcar there and when you had ties to ship, George P. Dixon would bring the ties out and they would load them onto the boxcar. When the train came through, you had to flag it because it wasn’t a regular stop. You flagged it and you gave the freight man a slip of paper with how many ties there were on there and who they were being shipped to.

They would pull the cart back and they would take them away and I guess the money would be sent by mail.

Jones: I wonder if they had trouble in transit, you know, disappearing goods and what-not.

Keaton: Well I don’t know how long crime has been around (laughter).

Jones: Since day one probably (laughter). So did he speak about that, if that would occur. If it came up short, how would it affect how he paid his men? It would affect anybody I’m sure.

Keaton: I’m sure he had ways to compensate if anything like that happens, which I would think would rarely happen. He may have paid them before. I think he did probably keep a little money around and use that until…I’m sure he didn't let them wait that long.

Jones: So would you say if you had a job then involved in cutting the crossties, that you had a decent job at that time? It sounds like it was a lot of hard physical work. That was a desirable job to have.

Keaton: Oh yes, it was, it was because you could cut as many as I guess you were capable of. Some men were better at it. I heard my daddy thought Keaton was very fast. He could crossties very fast so men like that would make more money. He told a story about two of his cousins, Lurie Monn and son Crawford. It seemed they liked a good joke. Most of the men avoided working near them because they told such great jokes. Nobody wanted to have to stop and laugh so they tried to work a distance from them.

He said you could tell when a good joke was coming or laugh was coming because the saw would stop. Then they would bust out laughing and it was the same thing when they were cutting. You would hear the whack of the axe and then nothing. Consequently they only cut like four or five ties a day which was not what most men would want to cut, you know, for a day’s work.

Jones: What happened after that dried up so to speak? What did they get into after that?

Keaton: Well there was always…after crossties, there were the bigger outfits like Green Brothers and Olden Lumber Company, they began to cut timber in the Green Swamp and Colley Swamp. According to some, there was wood that had never been cut so you had huge trees and no way to get into there to cut the trees. I guess modern technology helped them quite a bit because they built tracks. They weren’t the regular train tracks, into the woods, into the swamps.

Jones: Green Swamp and all that.

Keaton: Yes, they had a crew who went in before they actually got things ready. It was a process called cutting slats. They would cut these slats and they would be laid down like train tracks. What they had were these little cars, they weren’t like regular boxcars. They were more like I guess the body of a truck. They had smaller wheels. They would attach about six or seven of these little cars together and they would go out into the woods.

They had what you call a skittle and that was a crane. It didn't have any wheels or anything. I think they had to take it out in the woods and set it down. It was usually placed at the head of the track, the last part of the track on the side. It had cables attached to it. Sometimes you would have four cables and each cable had a man would take that cable out into the woods where the trees were being cut and the man out in the farthest reach was sawing the tree down.

Once the tree was sawed down, there was a man to bring the cable out from the skittle and hook the cable around the tree. The man working on the skittle would pull it in. Now it was so far from where they were cutting to the man on the skittle that you had to have a man in the middle (laughter). The one that was actually cutting the tree and the one that brought the cable out. Now they would holler to the man in the middle to take it in or bring it in.

If the tree would get caught on a stump or something, the man on the skittle couldn’t hear you. They would follow the tree where it was pulled in to see that it didn't get on a stump and if it did, you would holler to the man in the middle. The man in the middle used hand signals because the noise from the skittle, you couldn’t hear. When he waved his hand fast like that, that meant everything was okay and you could bring it in.

But if he waved his hand like that, that meant to stop because the worst thing that could happen would be to keep pulling and the cable snap and someone could really get hurt if that had happened. Or if not that, then the skittle would turn over, you know. That was the process they used in the remote areas, the swamp areas to get these logs out. Then they brought them out to what they called the deck. That’s where they were sawing them into 8 foot logs.

They put them on the cars. When they would load one car up, you know, they would pull it out, back or whatever and then they would load another one. Then they would pull them out to a clearing. This was just the same thing that George P. Dixon was doing, bunching out, another generation with a different way of doing things.

Jones: Different equipment, different tools, same process.

Keaton: Yes, same process. They would haul them on a truck to the sawmill and that’s where they would process them, cut them into lumber.

Jones: What time period do you think that was when they started going into the swamps with equipment?

Keaton: I would say the 30’s. Yea sometime in the late 30’s or 40’s.

Jones: Did you have a relative or a close friend that was maybe injured or died? I’m sure it was dangerous.

Keaton: The only person that I know of that was injured was a man in the neighborhood. He was blind. I remember him as being blind. His name was Charlie Underwood. I heard that he was blinded working at the sawmill. He was the person that was putting the wood in the furnace, he was feeding the furnace and something exploded or caught fire, something caught fire and he lost his sight. That’s the only thing I remember in terms of anybody getting hurt.

But, working in the woods like my father did and a lot of other men did throughout their lives until they were too old to go in the woods. It was always there. You always had someone in the family to get hurt. I don’t remember anybody getting killed, but it was an industry where you had trees falling, you had power saws…

Jones: The potential was great, I’m sure.

Keaton: Power saws were very dangerous. I talked to someone who mentioned how the change from the regular saws, the crosscut saws and the introduction of the power saw and how it looked. It looked like something that was sitting on a bicycle and had two wheels. They had problems with it because in the woods, it had wheels, but you’ve got weeds and everything. It wasn’t a very good idea.

Jones: Right, it wasn’t a paved road (laughter).

Keaton: So it was very difficult to get it into the woods to cut. It was something to see according to one person I talked to, how fast it would go. You had to really know what you were doing because of the way you had to position the wood, you know, to be cut. If the blade was turning, you had to put the wood on the saw a certain way. If not, it would kick back and you could suffer very serious injury by being hit by the wood.

Jones: So where did they go from there? You know, eventually I guess that dried up too or something bigger and better would come along.

Keaton: As I said before, it was always there. The pulp wood industry, that I guess was a continuation you know. It was just modern technology and some of the same men who worked as boys, my daddy said he was 12 years old and he was going with his daddy to cut crossties. So you think he was born in 1915 and he was 12 years old and he really retired at 62. He’d always worked in the woods in some manner. If you’re a farmer, you have farming season. He worked for a fertilizer factory.

Jones: Was that there in that same area?

Keaton: Yes, yes.

Jones: What was the name of that factory?

Keaton: Riegelwood, that was Acme Fertilizer. You worked at different ones. They had Royster, they were further down. Work was always available it seemed in our area.

Jones: With the natural resources.

Keaton: Yes.

Jones: It’s so rich that way.

Keaton: Especially the timber.

Jones: So the people that you talked to, did they feel like they had the opportunity to learn and train on the new equipment? Was it hard for them to make that transition? Were they given that opportunity or did they have new guys come in that knew the new stuff already?

Keaton: Oh there was no such thing, old guys learned the new stuff. I just think that it wasn’t…

Jones: So they didn't feel like they were left behind cause they didn't know the technology. They were able to pick up and make the transition.

Keaton: Oh certainly. It was not that much different. You always used the axe at some point. You could use a saw, whatever kind. If you went from a crosscut saw to a power saw, you had certain men that did do that. Everybody didn't use a power saw. You didn't bring your 16 year old son to work with you in the woods and let him use the power saw (laughter). You had him to hook the log on to something or get water or something.

Jones: Sandwiches or something.

There was not a whole lot of changes in the industry in terms of one generation to another. Certain things, there was just an improvement on something they had done before.

Jones: Faster, better.

Keaton: Yes, yes.

Jones: This type of work, so did it afford a certain quality of life for the people in the community? Were they living high on the hog from this industry or was it just moderate?

Keaton: I think overall the people in southeastern North Carolina and more specifically in the Riegelwood area have enjoyed a higher standard of living because of the timber industry. They have had a chance to have their own businesses because of the timber industry. There have been other industries in the area as well and farming. So I look at it as if you were poor, you didn't know it.

Jones: Cause you had everything you needed, you had your own business.

Keaton: Right and farming was a business. If you had your own farm…

INTERVIEWER 2: You supplied your own food for the most part except for staples I guess, coffee and stuff, but you grew your own food. I mean it wasn’t a big grocery store trip or anything. You owned your own place most likely.

Keaton: And if you had some timber, you could cut that. But of course you couldn’t only cut it one time in 20 years (laughter).

INTERVIEWER 2: There wasn’t any managed forestry going on there like you see today. It grew back on its own. It wasn’t like IP setting out a million trees. Were these men powerful men physically? Was your father a big, strong man? I mean it seems like you know, doing this kind of work, labor, intensive work, it would make a powerful man out of you or break you down, one or the other.

Keaton: Well my father was not overly tall. He was only about a good 5’10”, 11” at the most. He was always trim, maybe 150. But he was strong and if you started working early as he did in a labor intense industry, physical labor was necessary, I think you gain some stamina and muscles over a period. My father worked in the pulp wood business in the latter years and he was very fit. I think that may have had something to do with working all his life.

Jones: Did he ever tell you any stories about natural elements out there like alligators and snakes and things like that? I wonder out at the Green Swamp if they encountered alligators or bears or things like that.

Keaton: No, nothing like that. It was usually about the men themselves. My father was a great story player. There was always something that went on that was funny and he would come home and tell these stories or joke on someone.

Jones: It seems like there was quite a camaraderie out there. My husband works out surveying and you do, you get a bond cause you work with these same guys closely every day and so you do have a bond, especially if they’re from the same community, relatives or friends. It sounds like a really close-knit, you felt like you were helping yourself and others at the same time.

Keaton: Oh sure. If you didn't have a job, there was always somebody that you knew who was working with this particular crew or that particular crew. If you weren’t working at International Paper, after they came, they were the men that had businesses, logging businesses. My father worked for these other men. There was one good friend, Burnett Pollard. Now he was a tall, strapping man, a good looking man. He had a logging business and my daddy worked with him. They always put it like that.

Jones: You worked with them, not for them.

Keaton: Yes, I guess that was a way of really describing what the pulp wood business was during that time, the 50’s, 60’s. The men that they knew that had the money to buy equipment, they were there kin or their neighbor and friend. They at one time had worked with them, with someone else or for someone else. Once Burnett Pollard had his own equipment and everything, my daddy worked with him.

He worked just as the men did. There was no standing around watching. No supervisor. You worked, you were hooking those logs or whatever had to be done. It was that sort of thing in the pulp wood business. It was dangerous too because of the power saws. That was the only thing, I was always afraid of.

Jones: So you have memories of that.

Keaton: Yeah, one of my friends, her father was cut on his face by a power saw. It was a very nasty cut. There were possibilities every day for real serious injuries.

Jones: No doubt. Did you find talking to people as time went on, International Paper became a larger presence there, did people in the community start to sell their land? Were they kind of getting out of it and working for International Paper?

Keaton: That’s the tradeoff. Yes you have a job that pays good professional wages, you know, more than teachers make. You don’t need land anymore. All they want is a house, not even a garden. You can go to the supermarket down at Riegelwood shopping center and buy your vegetables as opposed to having ten acres of land. You don’t even plant a garden.

The only thing I really see people doing is, you know, there’s some people really holding on to land and passing it down. If you don’t buy anymore land, every generation gets to divide up each time because you inherit the land your great-grandfather, my grandfather left land to his son and daughter and she left land to my mother. So my mother and father, they bought some and had hers too. You know that all gets divided up 11 times. We have to really think about buying land too.

Jones: To add on.

Keaton: Yes, to add on because really that’s the only thing…we don’t get anymore land, that’s it.

Jones: There’s only what there is.

Keaton: Yes, it just goes from person to person. You find a lot of land, especially the land along the river, is in the hands of the big companies, the paper companies, they need land. They need trees therefore they’re going to make sure they have enough resources to keep it going. But, mostly the other landowners, the smaller landowners, they are, if they’re not farming, they’ll sell some lots. They’re cutting timber.

At one time you thought you had included homestead. Now you can look for miles and it’s something that I don’t really like. I like the idea of being in the woods with the main road that comes through and not a lot of traffic. But now people that are joined to the land, you can’t tell them what to do with their land and they’re cutting the timber. I don’t think it will ever grow back. It will be used some other way.

Jones: I see a lot of that. People, even the smallest little bit, have people come out and cut 10-12 pine trees, you know. It’s just sad to see them go even though it is a renewable resource in that respect. Do you find that children now growing up are leaving the area whereas at one point they would stay with families? Are they going to find bigger and better things or are they hooking on with International Paper and staying in the same area as their home was?

Keaton: They’re staying at home. Those men who got jobs at International Paper when it came here, some of their children left to go away because that was about the only good job and how many people could they hire. But later on, the people were able to go to college and work in Wilmington, they’re professionals. Of course they’re staying on, but you also have men whose sons come out of high school, go to the military, come back home. And they get to work at International Paper.

Jones: What a far distance it is from the beginning of cutting the ties, putting them on the river, cooking out there on that little raft to now going straight to a corporate gig, if you will. Like you said, there’s a tradeoff maybe with that.

Keaton: Oh certainly there is. I don’t think there are a lot of people who miss it, miss the good old days.

INTERVIEWER 2: Sometimes not so good.

Jones: You find a lot of people that have gone through those days, oh give me a microwave any day or give me a grocery instead of picking off tomato worms. My mother-in-law grew up on a farm and she doesn’t want to go back to that.

Keaton: No, there’s a lot of people like that. They make no bones about it, their preferences.

Jones: Those were hard, hard times.

Keaton: And remote control, I hate all that stuff (laughter).

Jones: It’s funny how people who lived through it and want it, nostalgia for it.

Keaton: But you know the first time there’s a storm and all the lights go out, I’m the first one that wants the lights back on (laughter). So I use all these gadgets that I seem to not like. But as a historian, I do have this feeling about history and things then and things now and I want to hold onto things and others don’t. We had one of the last unpaved roads and I didn't, I was one of the children who didn't want it paved. Of course I lived in New York (laughter).

All that dust and everything from the dirt roads on the furniture, people were tracking dirt in. I just miss the quiet. The only car that comes along is the mailman. Once you put a highway in, it’s a short cut now. You’ve got a garden on the other side of the road so children can’t go over there and pick tomatoes, you know, stuff, cucumbers, because we could do that. They are deprived of a lot of things because…that’s one of the tradeoffs.

INTERVIEWER 2: Why did you decide to go New York first?

Keaton: I decided to go to New York because I was following my sisters and brothers. I’m number seven. At that time you either got married, stayed home and got married, stay home and got married, farmed or married someone who worked at International or whatever or you could go to New York and get a job. I did, I went to New York and I worked, first I worked a summer.

Then I came back to North Carolina and went to college in Raleigh. I went to St. Augustine’s. My mom and daddy couldn’t keep me in. There was no money. So I left college and went to New York. I got a job and I got my degree in political science, but by that time I had put in quite a bit of time with the telephone company so I decided I would just stay on and I would use my political science degree to argue points, you know (laughter).

Jones: For your own personal use (laughter).

Keaton: Yes, for my own personal use, you always need politics because politics is who gets what, when and where. When you understand that, you know, you can move around without any problem.

Jones: Well good for you for venturing out and good for you for coming back and researching your roots and educating us and a lot of other people now.

Keaton: Well it’s been a pleasure. The only thing that I miss is that when you work so hard, you usually get paid. Your pay here is a sense that you’re doing something that old people who had these experiences, who kept the history, I can mention their names. I can mention their names in the newspaper and some of them are still around to read about what they shared with me, and to know, what they’ve done, what they accomplished is being written down, it’s being remembered.

Jones: It’s not lost.

Keaton: Exactly.

Jones: There’s so many riches there and you think for it not to be documented…

Keaton: The area itself is so different from any area. The people themselves are so different than what you would call southern black people, southerners, they’re all mixed up.

Jones: Because there’s Indian and Scottish actually in that area too?

Keaton: Oh yes, they all got together in the piney woods when nobody was looking and they’re all mixed up. So you had that mix coming together right after slavery. It was something that created an attitude of self-help, entrepreneurship. It was just something that was passed on to those of us who left home and met other people from the south.

You didn't have the same experiences that they had. People had, you know, assumptions about your life growing up in the south. I would tell people that every area of the south is different. We all came out of the same experience basically, but there were differences in the type of work that you did in slavery. You were a slave in the piney woods area, you were trained, you had a trade. You had a skill. You were skilled in something.

You didn't go from being a slave on a plantation to being a slave as a sharecropper which a lot of people did. A lot of people weren’t able to make any money. They weren’t able to communicate any money. But because we were raised in an area which had an economic base which was the timber, the forestry, and it allowed for them to be paid wages and there was no such thing as sharecropping the part of the wood that you cut. You got dollars and they used that to buy land.

Jones: Right, just keep enhancing their situation. It’s a neat thing to have your natural environment, your natural resources be your livelihood and hopefully the two complemented each other. Like you were saying how they used the entire tree, were mindful of that and trying to get the most of everything without waste and keep it going, and move from one phase. As times change and equipment changed, they tried to keep up with it. That is unique to that area.

Keaton: Sure, the likelihood of a relative of mine being here in colonial days is very good because I have a great-great-great-great-grandmother who was born in 1768 in Brunswick County so I can imagine that someone in my family began in colonial days working in the forest industry in naval stores. And now you have some of my family at International Paper.

Jones: Full circle (laughter).

Keaton: It’s a continuum. After, I think there’s nothing after International Paper. You know, that’s the end of it. What else can you do.

Jones: If you are loosing land, do you think at some point, like Harry was mentioning, there wasn’t really any managed forestry then like replanting. Do you think they consider that now or at the time we should be replanting as we go or we should be renewing this as we go?

Keaton: Well I’ll tell a story of my oldest brother, we call him Bubba. He’s very conscious of that. He’s like me. I write about it, he talks about it and he does things. When the timber was cut all along daddy’s place, he didn't like it. He didn't want it cut. He had gotten to the age where he valued that, just seeing big trees out there. After they were cut, he got together that spring with…he got all the little boys in the family to help him.

They pulled pine trees, little ones, and they set them out. I think that might have been 10 years ago and they’re growing. So he’s the only one that I know of and he looked at, well not him, but another one of my brothers, looked at my sister and her husband just starting a new house. They had timber cut and my brother-in-law said, “I don’t want any trees” so we didn't have anything to say about that because it was their house.

Well when they finished cutting the area, my brother Randolph said, “Wow, it took 50 years to grow those trees and five minutes for them to cut them down”. So there are people who have, you know, that sense and my family is one of those families that has a sense of history and knows the resources that we have.

Jones: Right, to keep it sustaining and keep it going as opposed to going just to the next crop wherever that is.

Keaton: And you have the creeks you know. They don’t look like creeks anymore. There’s no rushing water anymore. Everything is stagnant, getting green. So it’s something I really can’t devote myself to being an environmentalist, but I just wish other people, companies that have the money, would take that as some kind of project, you know, to do something about the creeks in Columbus County.

Jones: But you’re right, the forestry industry and the water system, that’s all connected. I know when they went into the Green Swamp, they drained that basically so they could… anything that you want to ask?

INTERVIEWER 2: You said your father started working for Riegelwood. Did he go from lumbering and forestry to working in the plant and then gave up all of his lumbering and forestry?

Keaton: Oh, there’s a nice story to tell about my daddy working at International. He got the job at International, like a lot of men who were hired there. He had so many other jobs. My daddy was a farmer, he was a barber and he and my uncles made liquor on the side (laughter).

INTERVIEWER 2: That’s another old history, we won’t focus on that (laughter).

Keaton: He sort of dozed off on the job (laughter). You know what, we often talk about what if my daddy had kept the job at International. We would have probably stopped farming tobacco. The type of work that we had to do as a family, there were 11 of us and we always had to work together. I’m thinking that if we had had a new car every year, could find clothes all the time, that we wouldn’t really appreciate things as much as we did. Plus down the road to see how prosperous we were without working at International.

Of course our siblings, you know, some of them worked at International, but for the most part we didn't grow up having a father working at International. We had a father who had a lot of jobs (laughter). We had to keep things going to have hogs, if you needed money for a class ring or something, you’d sell a hog (laughter). It kept us I guess doing a lot of the things that people stopped doing.

INTERVIEWER 2: I think anybody who did that would have a greater appreciation for what you do now because we have so much these days, we take things for granted. You mentioned that your father would tell you funny stories that had happened that day. Do you recall any of those stories, something that happened to old Joe or Fred or something?

Keaton: I hadn’t given that much thought. He had such good jokes, they may not have actually occurred at work, you know. He would always bring home something.

Jones: That’s good that he came home in a good frame of mind. He wasn’t ill from his job so he must have really enjoyed what he was doing out there.

Keaton: I enjoyed it I think because of the camaraderie, just working closely with people. Now if I had thought about this earlier, I would have stories.

INTERVIEWER 2: Maybe for the next interview. When did your father pass? Has he?

Keaton: In 1999.

INTERVIEWER 2: So he was 84 years old.

Keaton: I left us a great legacy, especially me, because I like to tell the stories. He listened a lot and I do that too. I listened to him and his friends. If you were a barber…

INTERVIEWER 2: Oh yeah, that was the cultural center of the community. I only have one more quick thing. You mentioned Bolton, some folks that worked, lived there in Riegelwood, but were working there. Was there any connection between the folks from your neck of the woods, not only with Bolton, but there was of course a couple of large lumbering plants in Hallsboro and then Borden at one time had a lot of activity. Was there any tie with those communities or were they just a little too far away?

Keaton: No, people at home would catch the train and go up there to Hallsboro to work. They would have to camp out. They would go to…my daddy talked about going to Macatopia out there, I guess that was a swamp area out there, going towards South Carolina because he used to talk about how isolated it was. They had a county store there and that was about it. They had tents they slept in.

He said that the boys from South Carolina, South Carolina was very close by, and they would come over to work. On Friday evenings, they would just dress up. I mean they would get really dressed up with white shirts on and everything and sit in front of the store (laughter).

Jones: On display, huh? Hoping something would happen.

Keaton: But that was not something he did for a long period of time, but some of the men did go out there. That was…the camping out was common especially the men, they didn't get contracts to cut right away. My father talks about working out here on 71 bypass cutting. There places where there’s stores and everything you know, and businesses and he talks about camping out and cutting timber.

They would, Mr. Alex Daniels, had a sawmill and he would carry, I guess it was like carrying the sawmill with you. You know, in the woods you put the saw in a truck and you would go where the work was. If you were cutting a right-of-way, you would transport it wherever you were working. You would set it down and build a deck there. I guess they put boards down whatever and built the deck. They would cut the logs and bring them onto the deck and saw them up. They used diesel then, diesel fuel to run the sawmill.

INTERVIEWER 2: Have saw, will travel (laughter). Well Patricia, that pretty well wraps it up for me. It was a good interview. Very much so.

Jones: Wonderful interview. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

INTERVIEWER 2: I can tell you got more from this one than any of the others.

Jones: It’s so descriptive. Now when I pass by certain places, I’ll know a lot more. I thank you so much for your time.

Jones: Thank you so much for your time.

Keaton: And that part about my daddy, making the liquor, cut that out (laughter).

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