Lewis Franklin Chumley’s great-grandson, Van Weems Chumley

Some inserts from my Chumley Family Book, this one about my great-grandfather, Van Weems Chumley.

Van Weems and Dellar Chumley
55th Wedding Anniversary, June 21, 1964

Van Weems Chumley was born the oldest child of Lewis Garrett and Annie Katherine Hammock Chumley on 28 Aug 1887 in Arthur, Claiborne County, Tennessee. Van Weems would learn how to farm the land from his father Lewis, who learned from his father and his father before him. The land was rich and fertile on Powell River and 3 generations would live there on both sides of Powell River during Van Weems’ lifetime. He had 5 brothers, Jack, Jim, Wheeler, Landon, and Neal; and 1 sister Emma, but they called her Emmer. All the children would marry, raise their families, and farm the land in Claiborne County, except one. Landon would die young. In fact, Landon was only 23 when he died of pneumonia and he is buried in the Old Chumley Cemetery, on the East side of Powell River. We believe he was well educated and Uncle Harley mentioned to me that Landon traveled and stayed in Nashville quite often, as well.

By 1910, Van Weems, Dellar, and their first son Lewis were living in their home on Powell River beside Van Weems father and mother, Lewis and Annie, his brother Wheeler and his family, and his brother Jack and his family. Other families mentioned on the census include Dellar’s parents Tom and Rebecca Bussell and the families of Tuttle, Cupp, Ely, Brooks, and Cheek, just to mention a few. Homes of this time commonly were 2 room log homes with fireplaces and iron cook stoves for heating and cooking.

Cabin on Powell River around 1915
Left to right: Otis, Dellar and Van Weems
Front left to right: Agnes, Minnie, Lewis

Wood was plentiful and provided needed materials to build not only homes, but also other essential buildings, such as barns, corn cribs, chicken coops, etc. Wood cutting could be a year-round job, depending how much you had stored up before winter. Wooden sleds and mules were used for gathering and hauling crops out of the fields, because the fields were often on very steep hillsides where it was difficult for wagons and horses. Sleds were built from sawed lumber, and young ash trees were ideal for making the runners for the sled, as you could find them with just the right crook in them that would allow the sled to glide across the field and not burrow into the ground.

Warner Bussell, Van Weems Chumley, Grandpaw Bussell, Henley Bussell, Ed Bussell Powell river farm

Van Weems was a farmer all his life and our family prospered because they worked together and were self-sufficient. They grew their food, made most of their clothing, bartered goods for staples they needed, traded work with others in the community, and kept livestock for food, labor, and/or profit. As soon as the boys were old enough, they would work in the fields. Uncle Harley told me that he was about 14 when he started working in the fields and while he was still in school. They used a bull tongue plow pulled by mules to break up the hard earth on the steep hillsides. Uncle Harley told me Clyde and his daddy would take the mules, Jerry and Joe, and plow up the land and then he, Fred, and John would go behind them, hoe out the rows, and cut the weeds out. He also remembers using a double shovel that had hand handles on it like a plow with 2 and sometimes 3 feet on it that was used for planting corn.

In the fall, there was wheat to harvest. The mules, Jerry and Joe, pulled the thrashing machine and then the wheat was cradled and loaded onto wagons. Once on the wagons, the wheat was taken down to the mill on the creek near Old Underwood, where it would be ground into wheat for the family.

Hay Season Left to right: Tilmon Tuttle, JR Depew, George Chumley, Sarah Chumley, Woodrow Chumley, Van Weems Chumley, Tom Bussell

In addition to farming, grandpaw raised hogs and chickens. I remember once going out to grandmaw and grandpaws to kill chickens and this was quite an education. Over near the barn, grandpaw and the boys were set up for the first stage of the process, chopping off the heads of the chickens. Out back, between the house and the chicken coop, grandmaw had a large black cauldron filled with water that was heated over a wood fire. Once the heads were cut, the chickens were put in the boiling water of the cauldron, which allowed for easy plucking of the feathers. Grandpaw and the other women would pluck the feathers and prepare the chickens for the packaging process. Also, the feathers were washed, dried, and saved to make feather pillows and such. Nothing wasted in this family and their combined efforts provided meat for the winter and soft pillows for comfort. Tennessee is known for producing large quantities of corn and hogs for the country, as far back as pre Civil War, and the Chumleys have done their share. Grandpaw raised hogs and Uncle Harley remembers the hog killings. He said some of the hogs would weigh out at about 200 or 300 pounds. That is a lot of pork!

Grandma took her chickens and eggs to the store to trade for groceries. She would have a table full of food, and when there was not enough room for every-one at the table, the men ate first. When the boys would come home at night, from church or wherever, they were usually hungry; Grandma always left out a bucket of buttermilk and some cornbread for them. Aunt Bessie remembers gathering mussel shells from the riverbank for Grandma to grind up and feed the chickens. On the southeast side of the river (McDowell farm side), there is a natural spring, where the family kept their milk and food cold. They had to row across the river to reach the spring. You can still see where it bubbles up to this day. Grandma kept geese, the feathers of which she plucked for pillows and mattresses. Upon the marriage of any of the children, the new couple would receive one of Grandma’s feather mattresses.

Family photo at their 55th Wedding Anniversary 1964

The moral of this story is it doesn’t matter how many things you have in your life, what matters is what you do with what you have. My great-grandparents did a lot with the little material things they had. They never went hungry and they were self-sufficient on their small farm in Claiborne County, Tennessee. If were to ever have a recession, would we do as well?

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1 Comment

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. I was just working on this line. LOL. Thanks again.

    Reply

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