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Suddenly Silly

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

A milk cow has four teats. Well, most of them do.

That factoid of bovine anatomy is necessary to fully appreciate a transaction between erstwhile friends that got “udderly” out of hand. It happened sometime before the Civil War at Snow Hill, now a ghost town on the Morris and Titus county line in North Texas.

State Highway 49 follows what used to be town’s main street, once lined with businesses and homes. Like many early Texas towns, Snow Hill melted into obscurity when the railroad bypassed it in the mid-1870s.

Founded in the 1840s along a well-traveled trail to the Red River variously known as the Caddo Trace, the Choctaw Trail, or the Clarksville Road, Snow Hill by 1852 had a Baptist church serving a wide area. The church’s congregation included the families of Charles Coley and Hill Davis, two God-fearing men considered pillars of their community and church.

As the nation verged on insurrection over slavery and state’s rights issues, Brother Coley had a much more minor problem: He needed a good milk cow to provide for his family’s nutritional requirements.

Hearing of Brother Coley’s interest, Brother Davis informed him that he happened to have a fine milk cow available for purchase. She could let down as much as one gallon of milk from one teat, he boasted.

That sounded good enough to Brother Coley, who bought the bovine sight unseen. After all, the seller sat not far from him at church every Sunday. Money changed hands and the cow soon grazed in Brother Coley’s pasture.

But when Brother Coley got around to taking a closer look at Old Bossy, he discovered much to his surprise that she had only one teat, not the usual quad set. Finding it hard to believe a one-teated cow could produce as much milk as Brother Davis had claimed, Brother Coley called on his fellow congregant with the deformed cow in tow.

Had he milked the cow yet, Brother Davis inquired?

No, Brother Coley replied, why bother to milk an obviously-deficient animal?

Well, Brother Davis responded, milk her and see what happens.

Brother Cooley milked the cow and sure enough, she gave down a gallon of sweet-tasting milk. Even so, Brother Cooley did not care for a milk supply with only one dispenser and asked for his money back.

Brother Davis, pointing out that the cow he had sold did indeed produce one gallon per teat, refused to take Old Bossy back.

At that point, Brother Coley had several options. He could file a civil suit, he could fetch his shotgun and adjudicate matters himself or he could instigate proceedings to “church” Brother Davis. He chose the latter, bringing up Brother Davis in church on a charge of having lied to a fellow Baptist.

The church deacons met and heard evidence in the case. Though divining the truth seemed as simple as counting to one, members took no immediate action in the matter. But Brother Davis could see the writing on the wall, and it wasn’t a list of the hymns that would be sung the next Sunday. Reading body language and recalling things both said and not said, he knew he would be expelled from the church if he did not give Brother Coley his money back along with an apology for misrepresenting his merchandise through clever word play.

Back then, having been “churched” made almost as black a mark against a man’s name as jail time. Rather than return the money and rather than being kicked out, Brother Davis opted to resign his membership in the Snow Hill Baptist Church.

Several of his friends left with him. Soon they organized their own church, the Hickory Hill Baptist. For years after that, knowledgeable locals jokingly called the Hickory Hill congregants the “one-teaters” while those who went to Snow Hill church came to be known as “four-teaters.”

First appearing in the Mount Pleasant Daily Tribune on June 13, 1971 in A.L. Burford’s “Fuss over a Cow at Snow Hill,” the tale seems too unusual to be an udder fabrication. But the passage of time may have led to confusion over who left the church and who stayed.

Online cemetery listings show one C.C. Coley, who died Jan. 5, 1906 at 71, as having been buried in the Hickory Hill cemetery, not at Snow Hill. No one named Hill Davis is buried in either cemetery, but a W.T. Davis, who died at 98 on March 5, 1917, reposes in the Snow Hill cemetery. (As does a Linnie A. Davis, who died on Aug. 3, 1914.)

No matter where the participants in the ante bellum cow controversy ended up, the cemetery records tend to “clabberate” the unusual tale.

© Mike Cox - "Texas Tales"
January 3, 2008 column
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