Mrs. Emma Falconer Recalls Southern Life Before and After the Civil War

Oct 25, 2017
U.S. Work Projects Administration, Federal Writers' Project
Folklore Project, Life Histories, 1936-39
Interview with Mrs. Emma Falconer by Effie Cowan

"I was born in Green County, Mississippi, in the year 1850. My parents
were Theodore and Mary Shaw. My mother died when I was ten years old
and I went to live with my paternal grandmother, who was the wife of
Judge D. C. Shaw. She was a cousin of Captain Willis Lang who came to
Texas in the days before the Civil War and settled on a plantation on
the Brazos bottom near the then little village of Waco. I came to this
plantation with my husband in 1886 to live, he, being a nephew of
Captain Long. You will therefore see why later in my narrative I can
give you quite a lot of information about this Captain Lang who was
related to me thro' my grandmother as well as to my husband.

"My grandmother lived in Wayne County, Mississippi, near the
Chickasahay river. The town of Winchester was the county seat, and
when the Court was in session the attendants and the lawyers stopped
at her house. This place was famous for its southern hospitality and
for its excellent food. My grandparents had to send by wagon train to
Mobile for their supplies as it took large quantities to take care of
their needs. When the Mobile and Ohio railroads finally came through
our town, the whole population of the town and country were at the
station to see the first train come in. I can remember how kind
hearted conductors would give ice to families who had sickness from
their own ice they used for drinking water. Many times they gave help
in long spells of fever in this way.

"Beside the plantation my grandfather owned a leather factory where he
made all kinds of leather goods, from saddles, bridles, and harness to
shoes, boots and leather jackets and hats.

NOTE: C-12. Texas.

00022When the War between the States came, he made them for the
government, or the soldiers of the Confederate army. I will tell you
about the things that we lived thro' in the war times, buy first I
will tell you about the homes, customs and characteristics of the
southern people prior to this war.

"The twenty years before this war between the States, or the Civil
War, were the most prosperous years the South had experienced. I was
eleven years old when it started and so in my own memory it stands out
clearly in my early life. With the assistance of the slave labor and
the rich soil, as well as the high prices for their produce the
plantation owners lived in luxury and many rasped large fortunes. It
is true that today we have many luxuries which we did not have in that
time, on the other hand, there were many things that is beyond the
reach of most of us today that were thought nothing of in that day.
Most of the parents, both man and women had the advantage of European
travel and education. They had slaves for all their work, even to the
bodyguard for the master and the maids for the women. They enjoyed all
the advantages of the pleasures of the theaters in the cities close to
them, and both the young men and women had much more time for
cultivating their musical, literary or other talents than they do now.

"The commerce of the towns on the Mississippi and those in the state
was sent by way of the Mississippi to New Orleans and Memphis
Tennessee to the market. New Orleans had the largest market on account
of the ships from the ports of Europe docking here with 00033their
commerce and also taking the produce of the country back to Europe.
The coasting crafts from New York, New England and Baltimore also
lined the river front. Negroes sang as they rolled hogsheads of sugar
and bales of cotton on board these ships. The day of industry had
dawned for the south.

"On the plantations the families of the American planters were growing
up, the young men and women were dissatisfied with the little simple
dwellings of their forefathers, so this was the day the fine old
colonial mansions were being built. These houses were built between
the years 1830 and 1860. If you were to take a steam-boat ride down
the Mississippi you would perhaps see a few of these old mansions of
that day still standing altho' the Mississippi has widened and many
have been swept away by the Father of Waters.

"The custom not only on the Mississippi river but on the other rivers
anywhere in the southern states was to build the houses back, from a
mile or less facing the river situated in grove of trees. At some
distance in the rear would be the servants quarters, usually they were
between the Master's house and the fields. On some plantations they
were arranged in rows across a road giving the road the appearance of
a street. They were usually built of brick and lumber, the slaves
preferred the log houses or those made of lumber as they felt that the
brick held the dampness and caused rheumatism. Each cabin was
furnished a small plot of ground for their garden and as a rule, if
they sold any thing from it they were given the money. 00044"I started
to tell you of the typical colonial houses, they were sit in a grove
of trees and facing the river if there were a river with the
plantation. These houses had the tall white columns and the porches on
each side, the trees were mostly the oak, hickory, and magnolia. As a
rule, an avenue led down to the gate which was at least a quarter of a
mile from the house. The houses were built from heavy timbers and the
chimneys were of brick and mortar. Altho' the work was supervised by
an architect the labor was always done by the slaves who belonged to
the planter.

"The whole impression was of stateliness, spacious and grandour. The
furnishings were the best that could be afforded and many of these
were brought from Europe, since the ships made the port of New
Orleans, from there the same as from New York. The beds were the
four-poster type with the high posts, it was not an unusual thing for
a bed to have posts twelve feet high and the sofas from seven to eight
feet long. This was necessary for samll furniture in these rooms would
have been entirely out of place. A clothes closet was practically an
unknown thing, instead large ward-robes and cup-boards of walnut or
mahogany were used.

"The plantation families were fond of flowering trees and shrubs, as
well as the smaller varieties. The yards and gardens were the private
recreation grounds of the family. One [of?] the shrubs which they took
great pride in was the Pride of India, this grew quickly and gave
luxuriant shade in the summer. Many had botanical gardens and imported
sweet oil and tea plants. There were camelias and the spice trees also
in these gardens. Other plants were the oleanders, 00055the
pomgranetes, the figs and grapes, and the orange trees. There were
johquils and hyacinths bulbs that were brought from Holland.

"The air was fragrant with these trees and shrubs as well as from the
old fashioned roses. There was the cinamon, the York and the Demascus
together with the beautiful Cherokee rose which trailed over the
garden wall and was crowded with the jasmine and the honeysuckle.
According to the fashion of the times there were arbors where the
gentlemen smoked their pipes and the ladies drank their tea. Most of
the finest homes stood in the vicinity of a river, most of them facing
it. Aside from the appearance this gave it was also a matter of
convenience, as the produce was cheaper sent by boat to the market.

"March and April were the months that the farm work was in full swing
the grain was first sown and the busy season was in full sway. This
was one of the most delightful times on the plantation. The vegetation
was springing up and the air was filled with the fragrance of the
red-bud, dog-wood and the magnolia, while the mocking birds and the
red birds sang on every tree.

"Down in the Mississippi bottoms, or other river bottoms if the
family, had a summer home or a home in the nearest city they would
leave the plantation in May and stay until September to avoid the
malaria. The ponds were green and ugly and until the use of quinine
was learned, it was common for the malarial fevers to do its deadly
work. At the time I am speaking of they had not discovered that the
mosquito carried the germs of malaria and the fevers were thought to
be from too much exposure from the sun. 00066"The plantation owners
were said to have some traits of character in common, among them they
were supposed to be brave, truthful and manly, to be less would be
considered a disgrace. They were formal in their manner with the
courteous case and poise which only comes from generations of secured
position. To the women they were carefully polite; the wives and
daughters were as queens to the men. They were quick of temper, proud
and passionate, but generous to a fault. Their ruling passion was
their honor, in all probality the old saying that "a man's word should
be better than his bond, because ungaranteed," originated with this
code of traits of character.

"In the way of recreation there were many entertainments, for the
houses were large enough to accomodate everyone of any consequence in
the town or community. Most families gave dinners, carpet dances and a
grand formal ball every year. The time for the ball was around the
Christmas holidays, the dinners and carpet dances were given impromptu
on the occasions that they were needed or desired. Nothing gave the
slaves any more happiness than the word to go out that "We's gwine
hab'a carpet dance up at de Big House tonight". The rugs and carpets
were rolled back and removed, the waxed floors rubbed until they shone
like a mirror. The chandeliers with their long glittering crystals
drops and the girandoles on the convex mirrors were filled with wax
candles. The linen slips from the backs of the chairs were removed and
the high carved mantel was decorated with a few boquets placed in tall
china or cut glass. The rooms needed no decorations with their high
ceilings, 00077panelled walls, carved woodwork and long mirrors and
family portraits on the walls.

"The whole family, from the youngest to the oldest went to these balls
and all who were old enough danced, sedately in a minuet, gaily at the
carpet dances. At the formal balls a minuet was usually the opening
number led by the most prominent guest of the evening, high and
stately, but there was nothing stately at the carpet dances, the
grandfathers danced with their grand children, father and sons dances
with young and old alike. When the fiddlers struck up "Hands Across
and Down the Middle" young and old joined in this dance as happy as
little pickininies on a summer day. "As the time drew near for the
sets to be called the young men who wished to dance approached the
mothers and daughters and asked "if he might be permitted the honor of
the next dance"? The maids bowed and looked at her mother or
chaperone, and if that lady nodded her head then he was "permitted the
next dance". She replied that she would have the pleasure with just
the right tone of reserve.

"The customs and styles had changed from the Revolutionary period,
instead of the rich damask, the plumes and the powdered hair, the
girls dresses were made of the finest muslin, satins or silks. The
skirts were full and short, with the bodies from six to eight inches
long. The hair was worn in curls hanging round the neck. The dinners
were works of art by the cooks. There were boned turkeys, terrapin
stew called "cooter stew", there were chickens stuffed and baked as
well as jellies, creams and pies. Doves would 00088be cooked in nests
of fine colored shreds of oranges peelings. Last there would be a tall
iced cake with the American flag on the top layer. During the Civil
War the Confederate flag was used instead of the stars and stripes.

"There were wines and the old Madira that had been warming and
ripening for many a year in cedar shingled garrets, port and rum punch
made with pineapple, limes etc. used for appetizers. Of course, the
guests enjoyed themselves, but the ones who had the biggest share of
the enjoyment were the slaves who had watched with longing the
preparations for these dances which were given about the holiday
season. No master could keep them away from the windows, at every
window there were the black faces of the slaves gazing in fascination
at the scene. As soon as the company left the big dining hall the
slave musicians adjourned with the rest of the slaves belonging to the
household where the remains of the feast was carried out with the
musicians playing for them until the rising of the sun. I will tell
you about the last Christmas before the Civil War which changed this
way of living entirely.

"Christmas in the year 1859! The last one just like it on the old
plantation. As a child the memory still is with me of how for days
before there was the hurry and preparation in both the home of my
father and the quarters as well. The family is more than usual itself
and for the time there is banishment of the war clouds that were then
hanging over the south. I can see our old mammy servant as she brings
in the tray of mine to serve to some guests as the older ones ask
about the plans for Christmas, for on a plantation Christmas is the
most important time of the year. 00099"In the "big house" as the
servants called our house, our folks have prepared the candy and the
presents for the slaves. It is Christmas eve and the night is warm
enough for a tree to be put in the back yard for them. They come from
all of the cabins and they play some Christmas songs on their flutes
and juice harps. Then the presents were distributed to the house
servants first, then to the field servants. There was candy, pocket
knives, pipes, dresses, shoes and so on down the list. These presents
the slaves acknowledged with a "Thankee", then after the jug of
whiskey was brought and each one of the men given a drink, they
marched away for their weeks holiday from work.

"After the departure of the slaves whose voices and laughter could be
heard long after the gate was closed, we rushed around to complete
preparations for our own guests. They began to arrive in the afternoon
from up and down the country. Some had driven for miles in their
carriages with their baskets of clothes tied on behind (this was the
kind of suitcases of that time.) Some of these carriages were the old
style coach with the drivers seat up high in front, and if it were too
croweded the maids, who come with their young mistresses would sit
with the driver. Other guests came in boats from up and down the
river. In the bed rooms the maids and mothers of the young ladies
would be busy dressing them for the Christmas dinner and dance. After
the big dining room was filled and the family and guests had finished
their meal, then along came the plantation musicians with a violin, a
flute or tambourine. Then the dance begun and they danced until
daylight as I have already described to you. 001010"This last
Christmas was something for a child as I was, to remember, little did
the older ones think it would be the last of its kind and of course we
children thought of nothing but the happiness of the season. My
information is that the next Christmas, the war being on, some of the
old slaves had given up their sons to go with the young Masters, and
many did not come home for the holidays, so no one had the heart to
have the regular celebration. The children so happy this last
Christmas time were not children any more when the war was over. The
war had matured even the innocent ones into thoughtful grown-ups, and
it was many years before they learned again to be as happy as this
last time before the war came.

"When it came, my father and tow of my uncles went to fight for their
state. They were in the Mississippi Company of Wayne's rifles and
fought in the battle of Nanassas. I do not remember all the battles
they were in but my Uncle John was wounded and taken prisioner in
Virginia and sent to a northern hospital. He was still in prison when
peace came.

"This uncle was finally sent home from the northern prison after weary
months of waiting. Several times during the war there were rumors of
negro uprisings but this did not happen, and as a rule they stayed and
helped to take care of the plantation when the men were away at the
front. I remember how the plantation owners had to give their biggest
part of their feed crops to feed their own soldiers and of course when
the Union army came down into Mississippi they took what was left.
001111"I will not attempt now to tell you more about the war. I am
sure you have heard the story over and over. You have read the story
of how they held the siege over Vicksburg and how, when the Union
officer Gen. Butler was in New Orleans the people who lived in their
path had to refugee. And so in my next interview I will tell you how
the ones who came home from the war took up their lives and commence
the task of reconstruction. Also of my marriage and my leaving my old
home for the new country of Texas after I had a family of my own.

"The memory of my first Christmasses lingers with me yet, how, on
awakening I could hear the ringing of the old plantation bell with the
dawn, the baying of the dogs, and the little black maid as she opens
my door with her greeting of "mornin' Misses", and then in a breath
"Christmas Gif'!" May we meet in the sweet bye and bye with her
cheerful "Mornin' Miss" and "Happy Chrismus". 00121[??]


Miss Effie Cowan, P. W.

McLennan County, Texas

District No. 8.

No. of Words 1750.

File No. 240.


Interview continued with Mrs. Emma Falconer, Marlin Texas, (White

"I was fifteen years old when the war between the states ended and
still living with my grandmother in Missippi. It would be impossible
for me to give you an exact picture of conditions at this time. The
civil laws of the south were not in operation and the military
government that had charge of affairs was not enough to meet the
demands made upon it. The negroes had been set free and were supported
by the office of the "freedmens buerau". Many left the plantation on
which they were born and went from to place like lost sheep expecting
to be provided for. Most of them believed that freedom meant idleness
and to live as they had seen the wealthier class of whites live.

"Many went to the cities expecting the freedmens bureau to feed and
clothe them and this body could not care for all. Therefore, stealing
and incendiarism took place. The white people could hardly the slaves
were free and the old faithful slaves were still dependent on their
former masters for their support. We all know how the unprincipled
politicians came down and took charge and deprived the whites who
fought in the rebel army from voting and the vote and many offices
were given to the former slaves or their off-springs. It was the time
of the "carpet bagger rule and scalawags" as they were called.

"There is no doubt but that the indignities that were heaped on the
south led to acts of retaliation.

NOTE: C.12 -- Tex.

00132When there were political conventions it was these unprincipled
politicians that ruled the day, for this reason there were prejudice
aroused against the Republican party that to this day has not been
entirely overcome by the honesty of later officers of that party.

"There was the union League, a secret political soceity that had its
branches in most of the southern states, some under different names.
They told the slaves their old masters were making arrangements to
re-enslave them and this aroused more trouble and caused some of the
many unlawful acts of the reconstruction period, it was believed. It
was by means of these soceities the negroes were made to believe they
were to be given forty acres and a mule. These soceities were offset
by the Ku-Klux Klan which was intended to restore order, as well as a
protection to the communities which were suffering from these
troubles. However the spirit of it was often violated by parties doing
unjust things in the name of the Klan.

"When the southern men who were capable leaders gained control of
affairs, after several years and much needless expense which the
states had been subject to by these politicians who were making their
office's an excuse for their own private gains, the troubles began to
gradually die down. When the northern opinion had become disgusted
with the dishonesty that had been practiced in the name of the
Republican party there came a welcome end to this humiliating and
bitter rule. While both factions were busy trying to solve this
problem it solved itself with the help of their former masters. When
the negroes saw that they had to go to work to live they let the white
man arrange for them to 00143work the land for a part of the crops and
their supplies. After all, it was the southern planters who solved the
negro problem as it is solved today.

"When I was nineteen years old I married Willis Lang Falconer, he was
born in Wayne County Missippi June 27, 1848. He was a son of Hon.
Thomas P. Falconer, a planter and a lawyer, also an owner of slave
property, who was elevated to the judgeship of his district. He was
married twice, (and my husband was a son by his second marraige) to
Miss Jerusha Lang, of Scotch ancestry. This second wife was a sister
of Captain Willis and William Lang who settled on a plantation between
Waco and Marlin on the Brazos Bottom, and was later inherited by the

"I must pause here to tell you a little about the Langs. Captain
Willis Lang, was first a soldier under General Sam Houston when he was
governer, just before the war between the sates broke out, and with a
company under Captain Ross of Waco went on an Indian scout, hunting
the tribes which were giving trouble along the northern border of
Texas. After he returned the war was soon declared and he organized a
company at Marlin was sent to New Mexico where he met his death at the
battle of Val-Verde this company was known an the Fifth Texas Cavalry,
Army of the Confederate States of America. The roster of this company
contains the names of many ancestors of Marlin residents today.

"His brother William Lang was a master of the State Grange and Patrons
of Husbandry for many years. His body lies buried in Cavalry cemetery
at Marlin while that of Captain Willis Lang was interred on the
Val-Vared battlefield in New Mexico. 00154"My husband Willis Falconer
Lang was the only child by this second marriage. He was reared as a
member of the family of an Aunt on account of the death of both
parents. In 1864 he joined Company E. Merman 's battalion, General
Wirt Adams brigade. He saw service in a detachment detailed to run
down deserters untill near the end of the war. When he was
contemplating more arduous service in General Forrest command, the end
of the conflict came and he was discharged at Gainsville, Alabama, and
returned home.

"After the war he again entered school and obtained most of his
education at Pierce's Springs Missippi near Red Bluff on the
Chickasahay River. It was when we lived near this river that I have
already given you a description of the way the houses were built and
the grounds that faced the river. It was a typical plantation home.
Later we lived near Langsdale Missippi on a plantation also.

"In 1885 his relatives, the Billingsleys, who had come to the
plantation on the Brazos Bottom that had belonged to Captain Willis
Lang, sent for us and we decided to cast our fortunes in the new
country of Texas. Here the plantation life was very much the same as
in Missippi, only it was a wilder and more unsettled country. We lived
in Marlin and my husband still farmed on the Billingsley plantation
untill he formed a partnership with Mr. Nettles of Marlin when they
increased their operations to include ranching on a more extensive
scale untill his death in 1929 at the age of 81 years.

"The Brazos Bottom land was the first in this part of Texas to be put
in cultivation, the higher land was not thought to be good for
anything but grazing for stock. There were lots of ranches both in the
bottom and on the prairie country. Most of the work was done by
negroes, many had brought their slaves with them before the war came
00165on, and they were still in the community and most of them still
with their former owners. When we came we brought fifteen or twenty
negro families most of them were decendents of our former slaves.

"From about six miles of Waco starting on the Tehuacana there were
families who had settled on plantations down to Marlin, they were
first General Harrison, who also came from Missippi, Dr. W. W.
Dunklin, Dr. Bedwell, the Shaklefords, the Mullins, Punchards,
Billingsleys and the Oakes. Most of these families came either in the
Sterling Robertson colony or soon after. We came much later. But even
when we came it was in some ways a little wild and unsettled.

"The "Waco Tap" railroad as they called it had just been completed
from Houston to Waco. This made Waco the terminus and brought trade
from farther west as they brought their produce here to be shipped to
Houston to the market. For years Waco, Fort Worth and Dallas were said
to be wild cow-boy towns. Everything was what they called wide open,
saloons occupied the best business stands. The bars were in front and
the gambling dens were in the rear behind saloon doors. A special
stunt of the cowboys was to ride into the saloon and shoot a barrel of
whiskey untill they could / take a glass and catch their drink, then
ride away and the next day return and tell the owner to put his price
on the damage. This has happened here in Marlin and some of the oldest
families boys have been among the number, but who as they grew to
manhood made law-abiding citizens.

"Under the reconstruction period the lawlessness had continued in
Texas, theives were numerous and bold and found a secure retreat in
the thickets and timber of the Brazos bottom along the Brazos River.
Many a man has been trailed and caught here it the bottoms with blood
hounds. But it was said that this was changed when the Hon. Richard
00176Coke of Waco was made governor and Gen. Sul Rose the Sheriff.

"Another thing that we had to be on the watch for was the Brazos on
its floods,. In the years gone by it has flooded the country much
worse than now since they have terraced the farms and learned better
how to work to hold the floods in check. However it is not so many
years since one of the last big floods came and took half the big
bridge over the river, about six miles east of Marlin, and with it
some of the people who were on it watching the river, among them my
son-in-law Dr. Allen of Marlin. It was a sad time, the bodies floated
down the river to the bend and then men threw ropes and caught them as
they drifted around the bend in the river below Marlin. In the past
years the man would have to take their boats and rescue the negroes in
the bottom when the river was up. However it is this overflow that
comes every few years which makes the soil so rich. In days gone by
before the worms destroyed the crops the land always made a bale to
the acre.

"With it all we were not discouraged, for the country was over the
trials of the pioneer days and comforts Were to be had. We had plenty
of negroes to help do the hard work just as we did in Missippi. Some
of the decendants of the slaves we brought were still with us. I had
ten children and raised eight to be grown. Three sons went to the
Phillipines, one Albert died there, another, Theodore, returned, went
to the World War, was wounded in action and died later. The oldest is
Dr. Beliver Lang Falconer who was director of the Civil Service in the
Phillipines, and for many years in the United States held a post in
this work. He is retired at his own request and has since made several
trips around the world. The last being by air and has written a book
called "Flying around the World". I have one boy living in Marlin and
three 00187girls.

"In conclusion let me tell you my impression when I came to Texas and
saw the sunrise, the Texas Bluebonnets and the wild flowers, the
Indian head, the "Yellow Rose of Texas", the wild verbens, and all the
many beautiful Texas flowers. The traveller may be oblivious to the
wonders of his own land and feel that distance lands enchantment, he
may grow rapturous over other sunny clines, but if there is a sunnier
or more beautiful country then Texas, I have not seen it! The Brazos
valley has unequaled or unsurpassed anywhere in the state for its
fertility, and I have seen Marlin develop from a mere village to the
thriving health resort it now is, and entertains its visiter from all
over the United States.

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