Walter James “Jim” Stephenson

January 18, 1918 – February 6, 1996

Written by his son, Jenk Stephenson, February 2017

My father was born in McAdoo, Dickens County Texas.  As the story goes, they had been at their new home for only one day when my father was born. Traveling by wagon and team from Red Mud, sometimes referred to as TAP, the trip had taken the better part of a day and must have been an uncomfortable one for my grandmother.  Red Mud was a community west of Spur, Texas, which was founded by the Spur Ranch and approximately 35 miles away from McAdoo.  My father was born at home so there is no birth record for him.  Many years later when he was getting ready to receive Social Security, he was able to get a delayed birth certificate after several family members vouched for his birth record. 

My grandfather, Samuel Walter Stephenson, had purchased in about 1916, 160 acres of ranchland covered with mesquite trees—this was to be their new farm and home.  My grandfather cleared the land of all the mesquite trees and broke the land for farming.  This was to be my father’s home for all of his growing up years.

Home was to be a “dugout”, something I imagine to be similar to a cellar or in other words a hole in the ground, for this land was all flat—we called it the plains of Texas.  My father was child number six, but there would only have been seven in the family in 1918, since an older brother, Benny, had died at the age of six in Arkansas in 1913.  There would be one more brother and two sisters born at home on this farm.  I don’t know how long they lived in this dugout, but I’d imagine a couple of years.  Eventually Walter Stephenson, with wagon and team, hauled redwood lumber from Spur, to McAdoo (a distance of 25 miles) to build a home that housed all ten of them and more (that will be a later story).  My grandparents would live in this house until my father and neighboring farmer, Raymond Brown, built a new one in 1948. 

The house had no indoor plumbing.  The outhouse was located a distance to the rear of the house and water was hand carried inside from the windmill that had been dug.  Water directly out of the ground was for human consumption as well as for all the animals.  The barn was built just to the east of the windmill, now with a small pond with a cottonwood tree.  I’m sure all 26 grandchildren climbed that cottonwood tree—I sure know I did. 

My dad worked on that farm with his father and brothers and sisters.  They farmed with horse-drawn equipment for the most part, not getting tractors until the 1940s after World War II was over.  I remember my father telling me that he used to be on the turn-row with his team waiting for it to get light enough to see how to plow and he would plow the whole day long. 

My father quit school in the sixth grade.  Apparently on his way to school each day he met up with some other boys and they would head to the “breaks” for the day.  It was some months later that his parents found out he had not been going to school so they just let him stay home after that and work on the farm.  He could read and write but that was the end of his formal education.  Maybe that is why he always insisted that I go to school and get a good education and go on to college. 

At some point as a teenager my father had an accident.  He either fell off a cotton gin or was kicked by a horse and I don’t know if either is accurate or not, but he ended up with a crushed skull.  He had an indention in his head such that if I placed an average size chicken egg in the hole, two-thirds of the egg would disappear.  He should have had surgery and a plate put in, but his parents were skeptical of doctors so he never got the plate and had the depression in his head all of his life.  Doctors told my grandmother he would never live past the age of 35, but they were wrong. 

My father’s family was very musical.  I remember there was music every time we had a gathering of all the family.  My grandfather played the fiddle, and my grandmother could play the piano.  All eight of the children played instruments and most of them could play multiple instruments, especially string instruments.  My father could play the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, and banjo. Growing up as kids they had a Stephenson band playing for local dances and rodeos.  I’m guessing it was a way to earn some money during the depression days.  My father really enjoyed playing music.  Often a neighbor farmer, Raymond Brown, would come over and they would play together for hours on the weekends and even after my father retired. 

Right before all the banks were closed during the depression my grandfather had borrowed $3,000 from the bank.  Hearing that banks were closing my grandfather went to Spur to get the money, but the banker assured him his money was safe and just to leave it there.  My grandfather did take out $1,000 and left the remaining part in the bank.  He not only lost that money when the bank failed, he had to repay it to the bank when they were reopened.  This left a bad taste for my father and he took a long time to trust banks again.  He often kept his money under his mattress at home.

I know that during the depression years my father worked as a laborer in the beet and potato fields near Hereford, Texas.  I think he only worked one or two seasons there and for his labor he earned $1 per day.

My father saved his money and in about 1940 he bought his first 80-acre farm (Medford 80 we called it) which was only about a mile south of his parent’s farm.  A few years later my father bought another 80-acre farm across the road from the first one.  During Christmas time of 1951 while visiting my Aunt Lou and Uncle Kermit Stanley in Paducah, our farm house burned to the ground.  For about a year we lived in a neighbor’s migrant worker’s house until my father and Raymond Brown could build a new house across the road on the new farm.  We lived there until 1958 when my Dad sold the farm.

At some point, maybe the 1920s my grandfather, Walter Stephenson, became the guardian of about 6 of his sister’s children.  Both parents had died young and the Yarbrough children came from Arkansas to live with them for a number of years.  My father often spoke of growing up with the Yarbrough cousins.  In addition, my grandfather’s brother, Victor Stephenson, moved with his large family from Arkansas to Texas to be near because of his ill health.  My father grew up with a large extended family in the area. 

In about 1936 a migrant family coming through with a wagon and team and working for my grandfather had a large family they could not feed and take care of.  They left behind a four year old boy, Roland Waldrop, to be raised by my grandparents to adulthood.  Now at the age of 84, I still talk with Roland from time to time.  He is the only one that remains alive from my Dad’s family.

After my dad sold the farm in 1958, we moved to Lubbock, Texas where my father went to work for the City of Lubbock in the Parks and Recreation Department, mostly as a mower of grass in the city parks and painter.  He was never satisfied working for others so in 1961 we moved again to Spur, Texas for three months and then on to Swenson, Texas where my father had rented a farm.  We lived there for about one and a half years before moving in March of 1963 to a farm in Paducah, Texas, where I graduated from high school in 1964.  In 1965 my family moved to Farwell, Texas where he worked on a farm, while I was living in Lubbock with my Aunt Edna McCoy going to college at Texas Tech University.  Finally, in 1966 my parents moved back to Lubbock where my father went back to work for the City of Lubbock.  He continued working for the city until his retirement at the age of 65.  My father lived to the age of 78, dying on February 6, 1996.  My father is buried in the McAdoo, Texas cemetery near his parents.