Polk County Heritage
Article Author: (from a John Shamblin article in the Polk News, 1935.) By Marian Bailey Presswood, Polk County Historian
Big Families - Polk County Doesn’t Go in on Birth Control
Did you grow up in a large family with lots of siblings to work in the fields with, play kick-the-can, and maybe fuss ‘n fight a dab with? As I research Polk folks I am in awe of the large families some of those pioneer folks had. I occasionally ask a member of such a family how they managed, and they say the usual, “we grew our own food, made our own clothes, made do with what we had - or did without.” Although most say they were ‘poor’ as far as money goes, all say they had adequate food, housing, and clothing and may add “it might have been patched, but it was clean.”
Polk News Editor John Shamblin wrote about a couple of local men who had stopped by his office back in 1935 and what large families they say they had. Another one that I can think of was recently brought again to my mind by the new next door neighbors in the Wallace Higgins house beside the Historical Society Library. The lady there is related to John Rymer who was killed, along with his wife, Louise, and 5 children in an automobile accident back in June 1966. Some of you may remember it. Can you imagine attending a funeral with 7 caskets? Mrs. George Owens, my next door neighbor here at home on Oak Grove Road attended the service, or knew people who did, and said it was the saddest thing they ever saw. They are all buried in Fairview Baptist Church here in Polk County.
But my point in mentioning the tragedy was that in the article that was telling about it they said besides the 5 children that were killed, they had nineteen children left! That was with two wives, Lena Wilcoxon and Louise - but goodness! Twenty four children surely must be somewhere near the record for Polk County - wouldn’t you think?
The 1935 Shamblin article says, “When it comes to this birth control stuff, Polk County is not in on it, if the statements of the two Polk County men who were here Wednesday are to be believed. One of the men, Jake Cross, or ‘Uncle Jake’, as he is called, claims he is 106 years old, but he has no record of his birth, and fixes his birth by what his mother always told him. “My mother always told me that I was just a nursing baby when the Indians were removed to the West,” he stated in reply to my question as to when he was born.
The Indians were removed from this country in 1838, so according to Uncle Jake’s own statement as to his birth, he couldn’t be 106. He was born on the farm of Michael Hildebrand, who removed to the West when the Indians went, being the husband of Kate Harlan, granddaughter of Nancy Ward. Cross removed to Ducktown with his parents where he spent most of his life. He is very feeble, and was on his way from Ducktown to visit one of his sons near Cleveland. He stated that he had 17 living children and a number of grand and great grand children, but didn’t know just how many he did have.
The other man, Mr. Cheek, who is only 66 or 67, resides some two or three miles north of Benton and is now engaged in farming, although he worked for many years as a logger, cutting and rafting logs and helping float them to Chattanooga. He stated that he worked practically every day, and that he had eleven children at home with him, the youngest being seven years of age. The entire family worked in the cotton crop this year, the little 7-year-old girl acting as ‘water boy.’ He, like Mr. Cross, has 17 living children, but he didn’t know how many grands or great grands he has, either. He has been married twice, and Mr. Cross three times, but Mr. Cross said, “I only had children by two of my wives.”
Marian’s Note: Jacob Cross was married first to Nancy Johnson, 2nd to Rebecca Stillwell in 1904 and his 3rd wife is not know to me. He was the son of the 1792 Jacob and Nancy Prince Cross.
The Jim Cheek mentioned in the article having 25 children was James M., son of Martin and Mahala Hughes Cheek, who married first about 1890 to Tamsey Sexton. Their children in 1900 were Clifford, Jefferson, Maude and Isaac. Tamsey died about 1906, for in 1920 James is married to Arria Hooper, daughter of Frank and Cinda Henson Hooper, and they have added Nora, Lola, Dora L. and Elsie. In 1920 he has four more, Winston, Carrie, Lizzie and Gracy. In 1930 they add Vena, Wilberta and Edith. Arria also had two children by her first husband.
And like Granny Shields who raised so many of her grandchildren, the Cheeks must have forgotten to change the locks on the doors when the children married and left home, for several of them came back home with kids. Besides Arria’s two sons, Virgil and Jimmie, from her first marriage to a Clark, there are nearly always grandchildren in the household.
Arria died in 1955 and James in 1956 and both are buried in Zion Cemetery.
I certainly wouldn’t want to go so far as to limit a family to one child, like one country is said to do, but seventeen and twenty-four . . . might could use a bit of birth control instruction, you think? Or again, maybe not, for Genesis 1:28 in the Bible does instruct Adam and Eve to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ - and perhaps John Rymer, Jake Cross and Jim Cheek were just following instructions.
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