The New House
They decided to make the house separate from the other house and provide a breezeway between the two houses. That way, each family could have more privacy and would seem more at home. The house did go up quickly since it was basically only two rooms with a loft.
With all those boys running around, it was necessary to feed the children first and then the adults afterward. Their long, harvest table just wasn't long enough for all of them and the adults at the same table. And with all those boys under foot it was necessary to lay down some pretty strict rules in the house. When it was really cold, all the boys spent a lot of time in the hayloft of the barn. They could play hide and seek or wrestle or tell stories. Most of the time, they had a good time but occasionally there was an argument or a fistfight to deal with.
Of course, they had chores to do: milking the cows and feeding the stock. And school. If there was any tending to the cattle, the older boys rode out with Billy and Port to help. Albert and Mack were still toddlers, so they stayed in the house with their mothers. Baby Owen and baby Rosa Ella were babes in arms so their mothers were either holding them on their hips or singing them off to sleep for naps. There was no question; it was a houseful of kids and that second addition came in handy.
Spring came on slowly after a rather cold winter. Billy and Port had cleared more acreage so they put in more cotton in addition to the original ten acres Port had planted the year before. They had a big garden of vegetables which Sarah and Mattie tended to but insisted that the boys take care of some of that work. Their cows produced one more calf that spring and they bought some hogs for meat. It was an abundant year for both families, but Billy was restless, wanting his own place and his own land. He regretted letting go of the land he had claimed but there was nothing to do but find a way to get his family up here. It was his only solution.
School let out in May and the boys were home for the summer. Port decided to dig a cellar and a water well. He had heard that there was water down about 15 feet for a well. It was worth the try to dig it. If it didn't produce water, he could always convert it to a cistern where they collected water in the hole by building drain spouts off the roof of the houses into the well. In the meantime, they used the rain spouts to collect water in "rain barrels" around the house.
The cellar would be used for storing canned goods and keeping items of food cool. But it was also to be used for shelter during the terrible wind storms that came up on occasion in Indian Territory . They were called tornadoes and the cellars were called 'fraid holes; a body goes into the fraid hole during a storm because you are afraid! That spring, Paoli had some good rains but no tornadoes.
With spring come and gone, Billy thought about leaving for Paucanla in the fall. Baby Owen was getting big and his other boys had grown like weeds. They could make a quick trip of it with just the wagon and the two horses.
Two letters had come from the Mead family in Paucanla. Bird and Bob had added to the livestock and the cows had produced four calves that spring. The living quarters for the family in Paucanla were pretty rough that first year since they converted the original shelter into a log cabin, rough hewn with a dirt floor. The women were complaining quite a bit about this, so they were planning to build a house on the land in the fall.
All the news from Paucanla made Billy itch to return but there was plenty of work, helping Port dig the well and the cellar. The cotton needed a lot of care so the older boys were assigned to "chop cotton", a backbreaking job in the hot sun. Cottonseeds were planted close to each other in the spring. As they grew from sprouts into plants, they had to be thinned. Thus, it was necessary to chop out unwanted plants to allow those remaining to develop into hearty plants with lots of cotton bowls to form on them.
Summer came and the boys found a good swimming hole just a mile away and they spent a lot of time there after finishing their chores. They planted watermelon in the garden and enjoyed old fashioned dinners outside with watermelon and homemade ice cream. The women canned a lot of green beans and potatoes from the garden and stored them in the cellar after it was completed.
The school building doubled as a church for various groups of worshippers, but the Methodists were planning to build a separate church in Paoli as soon as they could get the funds together for the lumber. Every Sunday, the Mead family and the Gowers were found at church. Billy sat on one end of the bench and Mattie on the other to keep an eye on those rowdy boys. Mattie's thimble was always on her finger, ready to thump any mischievous boy on the head. The Gower boys had to sit with their parents to ward off any would-be shenanigans between the Mead boys and the Gower boys during church! It all went pretty well each Sunday, especially when one of the boys got to drive the family home in the family buggy.
As fall came, there was the cotton to pick. It was a difficult task, pulling cotton from the thorny, sharp-edged cotton bowls. There was a window of time that was critical to picking. If it rained too soon, the cotton would be ruined. If it didn't rain enough during the growth period, the cotton would be sparse and hardly worth picking. So, when the harvest was ready, every man, woman, and child was found picking cotton from morning into the night. If any extra field hands showed up for work, they were hired immediately.
Long cotton sacks, some ten feet long, were pulled between rows by each individual picker. A leather strap was attached to the cotton sack and pulled over the picker's shoulder and back to the other side of the sack. Each picker would walk slowly between two rows, picking the cotton from plants on each side of the rows. When the sack was full, it was pulled to the nearest wagon and dumped into the wagon bed. Then the process began all over again.
Meals during those times were "catch as catch can." But usually, two women spent hours cooking huge pots of meat and vegetables, hauling up great pitchers of milk and slabs of bacon, cooking lots of cornbread or biscuits. People came in to eat on a schedule so that someone was eating or leaving to return to the fields most of the day or evening.
It was a hard working time, but when all the cotton was taken to the cotton mill and processed, the farmers could go home, rest and get ready for the harvest parties and dances. There were box suppers at the school and harvest dances at a neighbor's barn or another. Fiddlers and "callers" came and called the square dances that everyone knew. Lots of food was hauled in and a little corn whiskey hidden out in back for the men. Those were the days of joy and often a little romance for young, unclaimed couples.
Then, the cold days of winter arrived again. The Meads had spent a whole year at the Gower place. The little cottage Port had built for them served them very well. Only one thing was missing—Billy's land for his cattle back in Paucanla.
[Author's Note] Cecil Gower, son of James Elihu Gower, and grandson of Elisha Porter Gower described the house in Paoli as having two parts to it with a “breezeway” in between.