East Texas Wooddells

by Helen Crawford Wooddell, as told by her grandmother, Mary Ann House Wooddell

"1910 Wooddells,John Henry, Hiram Thomas, Emma Caldwell, Laura,Tommy Josey, Darthula,
Mary Ann, Ester"

Wooddell Family Move from Alabama to East Texas

Wooddell Family Move from Alabama to East Texas

As told to Helen Wooddell Crawford by Mary Ann House Wooddell

There was in Tuscaloosa and Bibb Counties, Alabama a group of people who wanted to move to Texas. That was all they could talk about. So, in 1896 they decided they would start getting ready for the trip.

When the crops were gathered, they decided what they could bring and what had to be disposed of, and in the fall they carefully selected the trees for logs to build the rafts.

My grandfather built two rafts. They hauled the logs up to Centreville on the Cahaba River.All helped each other so they would all be ready at one time. They planned to travel together for protection from the Indians or had some difficulty on the way. They worked all winter getting ready for spring rains. At that time the river would be high enough that travelling would be easier.

They took one raft, after it was all strapped together and floored it with fresh-sawed planks, and cut out a three-foot square in the center. That was where they would lower the milk and food in watertight buckets for refrigeration. They took a large five or six foot wide iron pot that had been used for cooking for the slaves, put some rocks under it to raise it off the planks, then filled it about half full of dirt. On the dirt they would build a fire for cooking. Over the pot, they made a tripod to hang the pots. A wagon was placed on this raft with beds in it, so the kids would not fall overboard at night, and the household goods were placed on this raft.

On the second raft they put their feed, seed, cattle, hogs, oxen and such. The men and boys slept on that one and cared for the cows.

When they started there were 12 families, as I remember the story. Some single men came along to help where they were needed.

They started one beautiful spring morning. It was a sight to see with some 20 or 25 rafts going down the river, headed to a new life.

The people along the way, who had settled near the river, would come out and visit as the rafts floated past, getting news of the people back home and warning of the Indians down stream.

When they got to where the Indians were on a rampage the rafts stayed close together, and at night they would look for a wide place in the river so they would anchor in the middle and keep watchmen on the lookout all night. One night they were in such a place and those on watch saw an Indian swimming towards them under the water. Just as he tried to hoist himself up on the raft one of the men hit him in the head with a pole ax.

Other times when they got scarce of fresh meat they would tie up at a settlement, take the livestock off the rafts to graze, with the boys looking after them while the men went hunting. A preacher in the group would hold church services and perform marriages. At one place where they had stopped the people all got out their instruments, called in all the other settlers, and had a square dance. During the dance grandmother helped deliver a baby. One of my aunts found a young man she liked and they married and headed for Oklahoma.

All the settlers had horns made from cow horns. They had worked out signals. A certain number of toots meant different things, so those down river would know the rafts were coming. As the rafts floated down the river, if it was getting late in the day, the settlers would get in their boats and follow the rafts until they stopped for the day just to get word from those at home.

When they got to the Mississippi River, they tied all the rafts together to avoid being separated, floated across, but landed some miles further down the river.

My people got their oxen hitched to the wagons, loaded their things into them, and traveled with the McDurmets to Milam County, where they lived for three years. Later, moved to Cherokee County, where some of the descendants still live.

Hiram Thomas Wooddell (b. 1848, d. 1924), son of Wiley Wooddell and Barbara Tabitha Weaver, married to Mary Ann House (b 1852, d. 1935), daughter of James A. H. House and Rachel Caroline Lawless, on April 19, 1871, at Tuscaloosa, Alabama. –Helen Wooddell Crawford

Webmasters Note: Looking at a watershed map of Alabama, The Cahaba River does not flow west to the Mississippi. The story was told by my GG Grandmother in her later years and it may be just what she recalled some 30 some years before. However, there was a Centerville Community, near Hartselle, in Morgan County, Alabama, to the north. It so happens that nearby was a location found on early maps called "Woodall's" marking both a landing and a crossing on Flint Creek, which did flow into the Tennessee River, and then into the Mississippi River. Many Wooddell/Woodall resided here, although I have yet to make a direct connection to Wiley. It is quite likely this was the route taken.

The Centreville in Bibb County, retained the name, while the one in Morgan County did not. In later years the one remaining on the Cahaba River, may have been the only Centreville, Alabama that could be located, thus causing confusion.

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