The region of southeast
Alabama lying between the Alabama and Chattahoochee Rivers is home to several
small, barely navigable, and relatively short rivers (the Conecuh, Yellow, and
Pea-Choctawhatchee) which make their way some 150 miles to the Gulf Coast. One of these, the
Yellow River, arises
near the community of Rose Hill in the northeast corner of Covington County.
Quickly joined by creeks such as Five Runs and Lightwood Knot, it is still diminutive
when, some thirty miles to the south, it crosses the Alabama-Florida line en
route to its terminus on the eastern side of Pensacola Bay. Its source is 400
feet above sea level in rolling red hills but it soon levels out in typical
“north Florida” terrain. Heavily
wooded with considerable floodplains it early became host to settlers’ herds of
semi-feral cattle and hogs. Grady McWhiney in Cracker Culture:
in the Old South records:
(County) was predominately cattle country; in 1850 it produced some 3,192 more cows
and 10,253 more hogs
than were needed to feed its population. Many of these animals were raised by
people who owned no land. One man who owned no land nonetheless possessed 160
beef cattle and 250 swine . . . .
Of the (county’s) 497 heads of household listed in the 1850 census , 42
percent were Landowners and 58 percent were tenants . . . . But fully 95 percent of
the tenants and
96 percent of the landowners owned animals.
In the late 1850s Riley and
Elizabeth Barnes relocated their family of five children from nearly Dale
County to settle along Clear Creek, an eastern tributary of the Yellow River,
approximately fifteen miles southeast of present day Andalusia. By the time of
the Civil War Barnes had herds of sheep and cattle and a rural mercantile
business and was a teacher and justice of the peace. Enlisted in the Fifty-Seventh Alabama Infantry, he was
killed in July 1864, at the Battle of Peachtree Creek. His death left his widow with
children, aged two to fourteen.
William Riley Barnes, the
fifth child of Riley and Elizabeth, had been born in Dale County in 1857 but
grew up on the farm at Clear Creek. Upon attaining manhood he ran cattle,
floated logs down the Yellow River to Milton, Florida, and purchased land. In 1893
he constructed a home just east
of the Yellow River on what is now known as the Cravey Bridge Road and married
Sarah L. Bulger. The site remained
their home until his death in 1949 and her death in 1956. Between 1893 and 1908 they
children. They farmed, bought
several hundred acres of land, operated a store, raised livestock and dealt in
lumber and turpentine. William R., like his father, served as justice of the
peace and supported local schools. Across the dirt road from their home was
their store which also served as the Iola, Alabama, post office (1887-98,
1904-08). The road past their house was a major route between Andalusia and
Florala until Highway 55 was constructed in 1940-41. Their cattle, around 300 head, ran loose from the east side
of Five Runs Creek to the Geneva County Line.
William Riley Barnes died in
1949 but his sons A. Dewey (1898- ) and Okla (1908-1985) kept up the family
tradition of range cattle until modernization forced fencing in the early
1950s. Dewey’s son, William H.
(Billy) Barnes (b. 1934) described the Barnes cattle of his youth as “white,
blue-sided, red-sided, red pied, black pied, strawberry speckled, and some
solid colored. Black ears and noses predominated and none were polled.”
and Melba Oliver of
Enterprise (Coffee County), Alabama, bought some of their first woods cattle
from Okla Barnes in 1974. She
recalled going to the “Yellow River swamps” with Okla to select their
purchases. The cattle ranged
widely and received little care. Okla had some pens with salt which drew the
animals. Mr. Oliver continued the
regimen of mild support for his cattle and expected them to make their own way
whenever possible. He also
acquired “Florida Cracker” cattle, and, fascinated with horned cattle, later
acquired some Texas Longhorns and African Watutsi stock.
As was so often the
age and infirmity forced Dewey and Okla to give up their cattle. Okla retained his
herd until the early
1980s, and the purchasers mixed them with commercial cattle. Today W.H. (Billy) Barnes
owns the old
home built by his grandfather in 1893 and keeps a small herd of Woods Cattle
separate from his commercial cattle.
Interviews with W.H. Barnes
and Melba Oliver, Summer, 2006.
Derlie Barnes, Down Our
Barnes Ancestral Trail, 1750-1990.
Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South.