The Early Years
After the move from Watauga County, Ransom grew
to manhood in the Meadow Fork community. This community was about 15
miles from the settlement on Fines Creek, over in Haywood County. The
trip to Fines Creek took about all day on foot or horseback. Going from
Meadow Fork to Fines Creek was not too bad, it was mostly all down hill.
However, the trip back was a different story. It was a long uphill climb,
often steep in places.
It is not clear exactly how Ransom , the boy from up
in Watauga met the local Fines Creek girl, Laura. There was a sizable
age difference between them. Ransom was 12 years old when Laura was born
The years passed and Laura grew up. Like all
mountain children they had plenty of work to do helping their families.
Ransom often helped his father, Harmon, in his logging work. After
the huge trees were cut down they had to be dragged or snaked out to the
sawmill to be cut into boards. This was often done with teams of
large oxen. Ransom became an expert at handling and driving these
teams. Control of the oxen was by voice command and the use of a
bull whip. Evidently Ransom’s skill and prowess with the whip became
known through out the community. Years later, far away in the Pacolet
community, old men who had worked with Ransom, would still remember it.
They said he could knock a horsefly from an ox’s ear with that whip.
Sometime after 1890, Ransom must have realized
that Laura was no longer a little girl and saw her in a different light.
The story of their courtship seems lost in the passing of time. But
court they did, for in about 1895, they were wed. They were married
in the town of Sevierville, Tennessee about 70 miles from Fines Creek.
Tradition has it that Laura’s parents, particularly James Russell,
were not pleased. It might have had something to do with the age
difference. In 1895, Ransom was 29 and Laura 17. This “risky” marriage
that bothered James would go on to last for over 60 years. It would
produce 11 children and more grandchildren, great grandchildren and great
great grandchildren than James Russell and his wife Elizabeth could ever
Ransom and Laura settled down in the Meadow Fork community close to
the homes of his father, Harmon, his brother Samuel, and other family
Ransom and Laura farmed and Ransom still helped Harmon with the logging
and the sawmill. They started to raise a family. Their first
child, Mary Elsie, was born the 23rd of February in 1896. The next
child, the first son, William Otis, was born September 30, 1898. Another
son, James Oliver, was born on June 12, 1900. Still another son, Monroe,
followed on December 12, 1902. A fourth son, Lee (Bo), arrived on
January 3, 1905. In all, they had five children while they still lived
in the mountains of North Carolina. Ransom and Laura would go on
to have a new child about every two years until the last child Foy (Jake)
was born on June 27, 1920. All the rest of the children would be born
in South Carolina. They would have a total of eleven children.
All of them lived to see adulthood at a time when many, many children
In the fall of 1905, a tragedy stuck the close
knit families and communities of Meadow Fork and Fines Creek. Harmon
was killed in a sawmill accident . Harmon left his widow, Susie,
but his children were all grown by this time. Harmon’s death must
have been a terrible blow to the family members.
The next year there was another loss when Susie, Harmon’s widow,
died. Ransom and his brothers and sisters had lost both parents in
a period of less than two years.
Life in the mountains was hard. It required the endless labor
of all the family members to make a living. Life was particularly
hard on children. There was almost no medical care of any kind back
in the mountains. The simplest childhood disease could take the life
of a child. A little scratch could become infected, turn into blood poisoning
and death could result. Home treatments could sometimes help cure a
disease but often these were more like superstitious rituals.
The Meadow Fork and Fines Creek regions were wild and remote even
for the turn of the 20th century. Travel was on foot or by wagon or on
horseback over steep and rugged country. It was a trip of a full
day to the Haywood county seat of Waynesville, if the weather was favorable.
These wild conditions took their toll on children, too. One
of Ransoms’s relatives, a little girl, died of snake bite. She had
leaned over to get a drink from a spring. A copperhead snake struck
her on the cheek. She had run home with the snake still hanging from
her face by its fangs.
There was little opportunity for an education for many mountain children.
There were few schools back in the mountains. Even if there were,
most children’s help was needed with running the farm, carrying water, chopping
wood and a thousand other things. Ransom would later tell some of
his grandchildren that he had never been to school. One of the most
knowledgeable and wise men in the world, to these same grandchildren, could
not write. He read the newspaper with a slow, deliberate effort
moving his lips silently to pronounce each word. (After a period of over
50 years since I saw him do this it still brings a lump to my throat to
think about it and how difficult it must have been for him.)
Promises of a Better Time
Stories had been spreading through the mountain
communities for some time that a better life was available far off
in the Piedmont area of the Carolinas and Georgia. It was said that
there were many jobs there just for the asking. The jobs paid hard
cash and everybody could work, even the children. There was even more,
if a family took a job, they got to live in a house as part of it.
There were said to be lots of these houses and they had coal stoves and fireplaces
in every room. There were stores to buy things for the people in
the houses. There were also free schools with free books for all the
children who wanted to attend.
The basis for these stories was true. They were describing the
opportunities that existed in the textile towns and mills that developed
all over the upper parts of the Carolinas and Georgia. They had started
in a small way as a means to recover the South’s economy after the Civil
War. They had been successful and northern textile industrialists
had joined in. By 1900 the textile industry was booming and beginning
to have a difficult time finding enough labor to operate the mills.
The textile plants and the mountain people discovered each other. Movement
of the mountain folks down to the lower areas started as a trickle and then
became a flood.
It is not sure how Ransom and Laura got word about the jobs in the cotton
mills. The mills sent recruiters up through the mountains to inform
the people about the opportunities and to sign them up for employment.
Maybe they talked to one of these recruiters. Maybe they heard from
one of the local families that had gone on before them.
According to family tradition, Ransom and Laura
were preparing to leave the Meadow Fork and Fines Creek areas for another
place before they decided to come to South Carolina to the textile mills.
They were going to Arkansas to settle. But, according to the family
story, Grandma Laura’s parents were strongly against the move because it
was too far away. It is not clear why they had chosen Arkansas.
One of Grandpa Ransom’s brothers, Jethro, eventually moved with his family
to Arkansas but was not there at that time. Today, there are a number
of Teaster families in Arkansas that are related to us. Perhaps, Ransom
and Laura knew Teaster relations out there and planned to join them.
What is known, is that about 1907, Ransom and
Laura made up their mind and decided to make the move to South Carolina.
It is likely that Ransom’s emotional ties to his childhood mountain
home had slackened with the death of both of his parents within the last
two years. Laura’s parents were still there along with brothers, sisters,
aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews on both sides. It must have been an
emotional parting for everybody.
The family story is that the destination they chose was Clifton Mills
in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.Clifton was located on the Pacolet
River about 100 miles from Fines Creek and it was going to be a long trip.
The story told is that Ransom and Laura loaded all their belongings and
their five small children into wagons and made the slow 15 mile trip to
the railroad station at Waynesville or Clyde. The train took them another
90 miles or so to the Spartanburg area. Wagons took them from the
station to the town of Clifton.
Not much is known or remembered about living or working in Clifton.
It does seem that Bonnie Mae was born there on September 14, 1907.
She was the first child born in South Carolina. The experience of
Clifton must have been a serious shock for all of them. In a period
of about one week, they had left their mountain home with its open area
and incredible views and been transported to live in the middle of more
people than they had ever seen. The homes on the mill village in Clifton
were well built against the weather but they were so close together.
The houses went on, side by side, on both sides of the street for what seemed
to be miles.
It must have been a tremendous change for Ransom. He went from
working almost completely outside as a farmer and logger to an inside existence.
Where once he had worked almost for himself, now he had to take orders
from someone he did not know. His every move was watched and controlled.
Inside the mill was a vastly different place than he had ever known.
It was a huge, cavernous place. The noise was unbelievable.
It was louder than any saw mill or corn mill in the mountains. The
air was filled with cotton dust. There were huge clanking machines
with parts flying around and back and forth. An unwary worker could
be caught and pulled into these machines as easily as they moved the thread
and cloth. Ransom and the other workers were in the mill at their
job from daylight till dark- twelve hours a day, six days a week.
Still, there were many good things about living
in the mill village. There was a school for the children who did
not work. However, many children did work in the mill, some starting
as young as six years old. Ransom and the other workers were usually
paid with actual cash. Cash money had been very scarce back in the
mountains. Sometimes workers could be paid with company script instead
of cash. This script could be spent, just like money, in the company
store that was owned and operated by the owners of the mill company.
The company store usually had a variety of groceries, shoes and other items.
The store had more things to buy than some of the mountain children knew
existed. Most mills allowed their workers to charge items on credit
at the company store. This was charged against their next paycheck
at the mill. Unless a family was careful, they could get into almost
perpetual debt at the store. Instead of getting money on payday, they
would see it credited to what they already owed at the store. Most mill
villages had either a doctor or nurse and a medical clinic to treat the
sick and to help deliver new babies.
A New Life
Ransom and Laura’s reaction to life in the mill
village must not have been very good at Clifton. Sometime in the next
year, 1908, they left the jobs at Clifton and moved back to the Fines Creek
vicinity. However, they only lived in Fines Creek for a short period
of time .By the time their next child, Fred (Doog) was born on April 28,
1910 they had moved back to South Carolina for good. Ransom and Laura
and their increasing family lived and worked at several mill communities
including Monarch mills, and maybe others, in Union County. Althea
was born on November 24, 1912 , Agnes Lorena on November 14, 1914
and Leila on January 3, 1918. The last child Foy (Jake) was born on
June 27, 1920. Sometime in the 1920’s or 1930’s they more or
less settled down in the Pacolet Mills area.
In the years between 1896 and 1920, a period of 24 years, Grandma
Laura had eleven children. This means that she was pregnant for
a total of over 8 years. During this time, she moved her household
and children back and forth from the mountains to South Carolina twice
and made several shorter moves. In doing all this she had to take
care of all the children and do most of the housework. This housework
included cooking on a wood stove, churning and making butter and canning.
In addition, she probably had to do a major part of the milking, gardening,
killing and dressing chickens and much more. Her relief from all
this work was to take time out to have another child. She is remembered
fondly as a short, very tough lady. In looking back, I remember,
maybe wrongly, that Mamma Teaster’s word was the law. It seemed,
from a child’s view, that Papa Teaster and all her grown male children
were quick to heed her directions. Present and future generations
of the family, when faced with what they think is a hard or difficult life,
might reflect on Grandma Laura Russell Teaster and what she accomplished.
She taught us all that a small stature can hide a huge heart and strength.
For a time, Ransom and Laura and the family farmed on a sharecropper
basis in Cherokee County in the Blue Branch area. Ransom and some of the
children also worked in the mill during that time.
This must have been about the time of World
War I and the great, world wide influenza epidemic. Thousands of
people, including entire families, were killed by this disease all over
the country. It was very bad in parts of the South. Family stories
say that Ransom had an unusual approach to preventing the disease.
The disease was worst in the winter when everyone was shut up in their houses.
It is said that Ransom thought that fresh air was the best prevention to
the flu. He kept the windows and doors open even in the coldest weather during
the epidemic. Drastic as it seems, it worked. No one in the
family died of the flu but many people in the area did.
Sometime during this period Ransom and Laura took in another child
to raise. His name was Andy Suttles. The details of how Andy
came to live with Ransom and Laura are not clear. However, he evidently
became a member of the family and lived with them until he was an adult.
Throughout the 1940’s the house in the country
was the place for many family gatherings. Some of the largest of
these were the “Birthday Dinners” held for Ransom and Laura.
Almost all of their children, grandchildren and many friends would come.
Usually they were held on Sunday afternoons. Every family brought food.
All this food would be set up on tables in the backyard. Everyone would
pass by and fill their plate. It was a feast. There seemed to
be every kind of meat and vegetable and an enormous number of different
kinds of pies, cakes and other desserts.
There was no organized, formal program for the dinners.
The adults mostly ate and talked and got caught up on the family gossip.
The many grandchildren ate, ran around, made noise and just had a good
time. Sometimes, something would happen that would draw the adults
away from the talk and the food. At one dinner, one of the uncles
brought his .22 rifle. An impromptu shooting range was set up with
a board nailed to a tree at a considerable distance off in the woods.
The men took turns shooting at small objects fastened to the board.
They started off by shooting at a small piece of cardboard about the size
of a business card. Well, that did not seem to be a worthy target
since all of them hit it. From there they went to a smaller target
and then still smaller. I remember that the target was so small that
I could not even see what it was. But some of the uncles and older cousins
were still hitting it. The unusual lesson that came out of this for
one little boy was that you had better learn to shoot if you want to be an
adult in this family.
At other times, some of the men would harness up a horse
or mule to ride in the lot beside the barn. I still have a vivid
memory of riding one of these with a cousin and both of us falling off
into blackberry vines alongside the fence.
Mostly though, the gatherings were a time for
family members to meet and talk. There were always stories about
the “olden times” when the children were growing up. Most of them
were very funny and the aunts and uncles vied with each other in telling
Most of the grandchildren took all of this in. It was
at these kinds of family gatherings that it began to be clear that Laura
and Ransom, their children and grandchildren had a special kind of bond.
They had a caring and compassion for each other that showed at these events.
The End of the Story
Grandpa and Grandma Teaster lived in the house
in the country until about 1948 or 1949. Then age and health began
to take its toll. In 1948, Grandpa was 82 years old and Grandma was
70. To the great dismay of everybody, Ransom’s once keen mind began
to go. He became confused and had trouble sorting out reality and
illusion. His physical health was strong while his mental health slipped
It was no longer possible for Grandpa and Grandma to stay
by themselves. They each went to stay with different children.
The household was broken up, livestock disposed of and the magic kingdom
of “Down in the Country” was no more.
Grandpa only lived a few years after this. In the
last years he was only a shell of the man we had known. The Papa
Teaster that all of us grandchildren had loved disappeared in the mist
of old age. On August 25, 1953, this kindly, compassionate man died.
He was 86 years old.
Grandma’s mind was clear but her physical health deteriorated.
She outlived Grandpa by 15 years and died on Christmas Day in 1968.
She was 90 years old.
With their passing, the first part of Ransom
and Laura’s story came to an end. But it was not really an end.
It goes on in each one of us and our children and grandchildren and great
grandchildren. Let us hope that the memory of Laura and Ransom and
their troubles and triumphs will pass down through the family and give comfort
and encouragement to generations yet unborn.
The Family of Ransom and Laura Teaster
More details about the Teaster family can be seen at