The Independent Democrat / Tellico Laker, (MOnroe Co. TN) Tuesday, August 21, 1990:
It has been said many times, but things have changed a lot during the last 100 years.
No more dramatic example of this can be seen than in modes of travel. Chester and Ernest McLemore’s father left Monroe County in a covered wagon. Chester and Ernest returned in two luxurious motor homes.
It took their father six months to reach Texas. It will take them two days to return.
Chester and his wife, Lelia, along with Ernest and his wife, Evelyn, are visiting their cousin, Tip McLemore, in Hopewell. They, along with about 30 or 40 other relatives are back in Monroe County for a McLemore family reunion.
Chester and Ernest are Texas natives. But their ties to the Tennessee hills are still strong.
Like many young adventurers from this part of the country during the last century, in 1898, their father decided to move to Texas.
He left with a couple of friends and a family who owned a covered wagon. They walked.
Elbert McLemore and the others arrived at their destination in Central Texas six months after they left the Hopewell community. Elbert put his clothes in the back pf the wagon which was owned by Will Dyer.
Dyer had been there before in 1895, and had come back to see if any friends and kinfolk wanted to make the trip back to Texas with him.
Elbert was the father of Chester and Ernest, but they were born in Texas after he arrived. Elbert’s wife had recently died, and so he decided to make the trip with Dyer and his family.
To make a journey like that in those days was basically deciding to change your entire life forever.
“In those days, when people left Tennessee like that they never did get back to the old home,” Chester said. “My mother was a Dyer, and when she was five, in 1880, her daddy left Tennessee and nobody ever saw him again. He said he was going to Texas.”
Interestingly, their mother was Will Dyer’s sister. They were married in Texas after her husband lost his life. “He was working cattle and his horse stepped in a gopher hole and threw him. He died,” McLemore said.
Will Dyer looked for his father all the time he was in Texas, but never found him. “Every time he heard of a Dyer someplace, he would go to wherever it was and asked for him, but he never found out anything,” Chester said.
Will Dyer, unlike his father, eventually came back to Tennessee where he died. He is buried next to his mother in Mt. Zion Cemetery.
Travel over land with a wagon was very difficult. One of the most difficult things was finding food. It was very hard to pack enough provisions to last several people for six months.
The travelers could hunt along the way, but that was not as easy as it might sound. More often than not, the travelers would have to stop and ask residents along the way to sell or give them some food.
“After they crossed the Mississippi River, they stopped at a place where a farmer had a bottom (a low field usually of rich soil) full of corn,” Chester said. “They asked the farmer about it. They had to find food. The farmer said he had not harvested any of the corn and they were welcome to pick what they needed. Daddy said when they went through that field they didn’t find a single ear of corn. There had been so many travelers pass by and take corn from that field that there wasn’t any left,” Chester said.
Another problem often encountered by travelers in those days was bandits. “In the rock hills near Valley Mills (where the McLemores grew up in Texas), you can still see the tracks through the rocks where the wagons would go,” Chester said. “The bandits would hang around the rocks at the top of those hills and rob the people as they came by.”
Crossing the Mississippi River was a major undertaking. There were no bridges and the only way to get across was to wade. Elbert told his sons the problem was knowing where on that huge expanse of water to begin wading across. “They sat on the bank for a week. There was no ferry, but finally a wagon train came by and the wagon master told them if they waited much longer the water would rise,” Chester said.
Apparently the water was at a periodic low point. The country was wide and flat, and the river was also wide and flat. The wagon headed out across the wide expanse of water with the other wagons. The water was shallow and only reached about hip deep, but it was still a nerve wracking experience to wade across the mighty Mississippi with everything you own in a wagon.
After the crossing, the group left the wagon train and headed for Waco, Texas, where Will had some land.
Elbert got a job with the Cotton Bale Railroad. “It was the first job he had. He worked for an old man Stephens, who was a foreman. Basically, he was a water boy. All Stephens asked him to do was go into Waco every day and bring him back a quart of whiskey,” Chester said.
After a time he went to West Texas. “He wouldn’t stay in one place for very long. He joined a wagon train headed for West Texas in 1904 and went to Sweetwater, Texas.
As a child when Chester was four years old, he said he would watch covered wagons through the window of their house. “They were going to California,” he said.
Chester, who is a retired postal worker and the owner of a water company, spent the last two months traveling himself. He and his brother, along with their wives, traveled into New England and down the east coast of the U.S.A.
However, the brothers now enjoy a level of luxury never dreamed by their father.”