Gene Foster – Part 8: Life with Papa

My dad always spoke highly of his mom and dad to me, but he reserved a special reverence for his grandfather, John Henry Morton, whom he called Papa. John Henry and his wife, Amanda Carylon Roberson “Big Mama” Morton, lived on a hill southeast and across the road from the Fosters’ place. They called it Hickory Hill. The Mortons lived “in a big nice white house upon hill above where we lived,” Gene wrote. 

John Henry Morton on the steps of his house in Cottonwood

John Henry Morton owned about 1,700 acres and ran Hereford cattle. “There wasn’t many cattle operations around,” Gene remembered. “Most everyone had to farm their land and use other land for grazing” the horses and mules they used to work the farm. The Mortons did have some milk cows. “Grandmother Morton was a nice sweet, neat Christian lady. I’ll never forget her beautiful white hair. I can just see her shaming Papa for saying some off color remark.”

Gene loved to talk about his Papa’s earlier days. “Papa was quite a cowboy I’m sure before I knew him. He told me about riding Chisholm Trail at age 16.” The Chisholm trail ran north from central Texas, through Fort Worth in north Texas, and on north through the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and to the railroad heads in Kansas. John Henry told his grandson about driving a herd of cattle to and through Dallas, presumably heading west to catch the trail near Fort Worth. “They pushed cows across Trinity River & bedded them down, an went into town,” Gene recalled Papa telling him. His grandfather talked about horse drawn trolleys in the city. “On this particular drive he had the mumps. I’ll never understand how, but he finished drive & raised a family of 7 children, 3 boys & 4 girls.”

Gene hated that he couldn’t remember and retell more of Papa’s stories. He did share that his Papa told him of Cottonwood “having worlds of deer in the old days.” By the time I joined Dad in hunting deer in Cottonwood in the late 1960s, deer were not as plentiful. Dad would say he thought there were plenty of deer in the deeper woods, but you did not see them as often as in the old days.

Amanda Carylon Roberson and John Henry Morton with Hilda Noble Foster in late 1940s (most likely)

 Gene did speak of Papa taking him fishing–walking “all the way to Clear Creek to fish,” which was probably a mile or so from Papa’s house. Gene wrote:

“We gathered up things one day & left for Clear Creek. He always took his old 12 ga double barrel [shotgun] to kill a rabbit for bait. Papa was getting older and probably didn’t see as good as needed. We got about ½ mile down in the Flat and before I knew what was going on he fired away at a rabbit. We went over to pick up rabbit. To our surprise he had shot Mama’s turkey gobbler. This was quite a shock an also ended our fishing trip.” [Source: Ferrell E. “Gene” Foster, Sr., “Life of Gene Foster,” probably written in the early 1990s, because he did not list his mother’s 1995 death.]

The larger portion of John Henry’s land was south of what is now FM 2709. Papa called this portion of his land, The Ranch. Gene said:

“He always had a good horse. Trixie is the one I remember most. He would ride to ranch most every day. He always tied a sack of salt on behind saddle. When I got big enough to ride he bought a Shetland pony. He would saddle both animals and we would head for ranch. We would ride until he checked every animal. He had certain rocks & split logs he would put the salt in he always carried. Papa died when he was 96. He rode his horse into the low nineties.” [Source: same as above]

The house of John Henry and Amanda Carylon Roberson Morton on the top of Hickory Hill in Cottonwood

Years later, when Gene owned a portion of his Papa’s land, he would drive around the property in his pickup truck repeating what his grandfather had done on horseback — inspecting the cows, making sure everyone of them was accounted for. Gene also did something else his grandfather did. “In his late years I’ve seen him [Papa] out walking tearing up every cow chunk he could find.” In other words, as John Morton walked around his place, he would use a stick to break up dried cow poop. By breaking up the piles, the mature was spread to help the grass grow.

Just one more detail on John Morton. “I don’t ever remember Papa driving a car,” Gene said. “I know he had Model T’s but someone else done driving (uncle Jess & Wilson).”

Copyright © 2020 Ferrell Foster

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