tree has... by
Roots Made of Cedar
The early cedar choppers didn't really maintain
a home - many lived out of a wagon, sleeping in tents and traveling
from one cedar brake to another as they looked for fresh trees.
Living off the land, they hunted their meat ....
guess most folks, as they get older, have a desire to find out where
they came from. That is, they want to know their "roots."
In our family, my mother is the resident genealogist and it is from
her extensive research that this branch of the Montgomery clan gets
its information about our ancestors. And on her side of the family,
you might say Momma's roots are made of cedar - the fact is, she was
raised up in the hill country around Austin, Texas, and was part of
a family that made their living chopping down cedar trees. That's
right, they were what most folks called, "Red-neck cedar choppers."
Back in the old days, cedar choppers were not highly thought of. Some
considered them to be lazy or just plain trashy. Not true! Though
I'm sure some had a bad reputation, for the most part they were good,
hard-working people. "Some of the kindest people you'd ever want to
meet," says Momma.
And as for lazy…well, have you ever taken a double-bladed ax and spent
a hot day in a cedar brake chopping trees and dodging rattlesnakes?
Lazy? I think not! Heck, most of us today would probably just keel
over with "Cedar Fever." Momma says that she never heard of Cedar
Fever back then, I guess they didn't have anyone around to tell them
they were supposed to get it.
Fannie Potter Ringstaff, Margaret Ringstaff, Richard Ringsraff, Murray
Montgomery Jr., Jessie Potter Montgomery, with Linda Sue Montgomery
in her arms.
grandma's maiden name was Fannie Ringstaff, and her family was in
the cedar chopping business. Working in the hills west of Austin,
these hard-working people made their living off the land. And it was
a tough way to live. They went to work early and stayed late while
trying to support their kids off meager earnings.
The Ringstaffs and their fellow choppers spent most of their time
in the area know today as Westlake Hills. Those familiar with this
scenic part of Austin probably have no idea that these beautiful hills
once were the domain of a people who worked extremely hard from dawn
till dusk - and entertained themselves at the end of the week with
a night of dancing to traditional fiddle and guitar music - drinking
beer and moonshine, while picnicking on the banks of Bull Creek.
Heck, I can still remember swimming in Bull Creek when I was a kid
back in the 1950s - the water was clear, unpolluted, and you could
see fish with the naked eye. But, over the years, Bull Creek has been
turned into a contaminated stream - the old cedar choppers would probably
shed a tear if they saw the place today.
Cutting wood for a living was all they knew and they did it to survive.
Many of them were virtually uneducated and they got by on the strength
of their physical labor - and not much else. They scratched out a
living from the land, as their ancestors had always done, while striving
to make ends meet. Most of the cedar was sold as posts for fence building,
while part of it was turned into charcoal. Many of the families would
travel into Austin and trade the charcoal for food supplies.
The early cedar choppers didn't really maintain a home - many lived
out of a wagon, sleeping in tents and traveling from one cedar brake
to another as they looked for fresh trees. Living off the land, they
hunted their meat, with most of the prey being deer, squirrel, and
rabbit. These folks were proud and independent - they might have a
fist fight over nothing on a Saturday night and be friends again when
they attended church on Sunday morning.
My ancestors, the Ringstaffs, chopped cedar until the years caught
up with them. My great grandparents, Richard and Margaret, followed
in the footsteps of their family with the same strength and traditions.
Richard (Grandpa Dick) was a fiddle player and would play at the dances
on Saturday night, but Sunday's were sacred to him - he'd put the
fiddle down and refuse to play past midnight on Saturday.
I'm proud of the "wood-chopping" side of my family tree - those folks
lived a hard life and did the best they could under the circumstances.
They had their pride and didn't ask for handouts - many of them sent
their sons off to war - some died serving their country, while others
returned to the hills with distinguished military records. That's
good enough for me.
© Murray Montgomery
August 2003 Column
Texas Hill Country