Dr. Stephen Sloan from Baylor University Oral History Institute, Waco, Texas demonstrates interview procedures for Live Oak County Historical Commission workshop hosted by Glynis Holm Strause, LOCHC Oral History Chair, and supported by Ross Harris, Humanities Texas from whom Glynis received a grant, Dobie West Performing Arts Theatre, and Storyfest. George West, Texas, June 9, 2018. Thanks also go to the LOCHC Hospitality Committe for refreshements, Kirsten Gerth for videography, and Mary Margaret Campbell for photos.
Stephen Sloan: Thank you, sir, for sitting down with us today. I was told I had to start one question for you. That is the question that is on everybody's minds. That is the question about your grandfather’s relationship with Mr. George West. Is that correct?
Dale Burell: Yes, sir.
Sloan: Can you share with us if you would some of those memories of those stories that were passed down to you?
Dale: I have some memories, but I would like to if I could let Mr. West answer that question about their friendship together. I have several letters, but I would like to read two short ones if I may rather than just orally tell you because he can give a better perspective on this that what I can. This letter from Mr. West to my grandfather. It says:
"Your esteemed favor of Feb. 29 to hand, contents carefully noted."
My grandfather was always sending him produce and vegetables because they were friends.
"But, I have had several applications to rent the little 10-acre field and pay me for use of it. That is, I decided to write to you as I did and offer it to you free of charge. You have shown a disposition to treat me fairly and respectfully since you have lived on Block A, and I have been dealing with men in a big way for some 60 years and I have never turned my back on the men that befriended me yet and never will.
Use this small tract of land to cultivate it to suit yourself, and I hope you will succeed in raising a fine crop. I will pay you for the extra wire you say the fence needs. Keep an account of what it costs and send the bill to me, and I will send you a check for the money.
With Kindest Wishes for you and your family,
I am sincerely your friend,
Dale: My grandfather was not a man with a lot of money, but what he had, he shared. And Mr. West was very good to my grandfather. But my grandfather gave what he had. This ten-acre field - he [George West] could have rented to other people, but he wanted my grandfather to have it.
I won’t read all these letters, but they would take up all our time.
My grandfather was known to be a very good farmer, and he made crops even during the drought when other people’s crops failed. When prospective farmers would come to George West, he [George West] would see to it that they got taken out to my grandfather’s farm and the ten acres here in town and shown his crops. Because he generally had the best crops, but he had a bunch of sons to help him.
My grandmother gave birth 14 times, and my grandfather raised eight boys to adulthood. He raised nine of his own kids to adulthood and three of his grandchildren. But he was very proud of his boys and always worked with his boys.
One story about sharing, more important than the fact that they [Albert Burell and George West] were friends, is why they were friends. What brought the two men together.
Really, about Mr. West, he had a tremendously strong work ethic. He was raised in the saddle more or less. Raised workin’ and my grandfather was raised behind the plow, and both of them had a very high respect for labor. They knew what that was first hand. As far as my grandfather - had a saying that, "A man is only worth what he does."
But coming from his culture and his day when everybody made their living by the sweat of the brow. I say, everybody. So many people did. You know, that a man’s ability to work. And his work had an awful lot to do with his worth – what people thought he was worth.
I don’t agree with that, but I was raised in a different culture. I am two generations later and each generation is its own culture. They are totally different.
On the other hand, my grandfather was generous. There was a man that lived out at past him, and he had a peg leg. My grandfather would always notice that some of his crops next to the fence would be gone whether it was watermelons or corn or whatever.
It doesn’t take an Indian scout to figure it out who it is, if a man has peg leg that is jumping your fence. (Laughter).
When his sons helped him plant, when they were just about to get through, he would say, “Ok, Boys, ya’ll two more rows for Peg Leg." I forgot what the man’s last name was. "Ya’ll plant two more rows for him."
My grandfather understood that he was incapable of planting crops and doing for himself, so he had his boys plant two more rows for him and was glad to do that.
Sloan: Now, can you give me your grandfather’s full name?
Dale: Albert Burell and his wife was Anna Burell.
Dale: They moved here in a wagon from Medina County, and I am not sure what county. They put in an application to buy a place in 1914 and took about a year for the application to get approved. He got the land in 1915, the first place that they bought. He came here and worked for Mr. West for several years prior to that to save money to buy the land here. I am not real sure what year they came here, but I think somewhere around 1911.
Sloan: So, their relationship went back to the time when he worked for him [Mr. West] and when he was his employer.
Dale: Yes, sir.
Sloan: So what sort of agriculture when your grandfather set out on his own, what was he growing? What was he growing primarily?
Dale: He grew primarily - cotton was number one, and corn, and since he had sandy soil, he grew peanuts. He grew sugar cane, which most people don’t realize how much cane was grown here, but then it rained more.
My grandfather had a press that pulled by mules, and he would squeeze the juice out of those sugar canes. Then he had a big vat where he would cook it down. And other farmers that raised cane would bring their cane to him, and some would pay him to squeeze it down and boil it into molasses. On some, he would do on shares. He had honey and various other things. Cotton was the big one.
Sloan: So, when he put in for his land in 1914, did he own that land or was he tenant farming for a while before that?
Dale: What he did in Medina County before he came here, according to the Census, he was a farmer there.
Sloan: I see, he owned the land there, and he owned the land here?
Dale: I don’t know if he owned the land there or farmed some family land. The family had land up there. His family and his wife, Anna Mussman, and they had a horse ranch that dated all way back to the middle 1800s. It was between Hondo and Yancy.
Sloan: Now you talked about being in a different time period, that is also a time period where the more children you have, the more workers you have.
Dale: (Laughing) Yes sir, that is absolutely true. I think that is why so many of the families had so many kids. More families more, workers.
Sloan: Is there your father’s father?
Sloan: Ok, so your father was involved in the farm along with your uncles and aunts?
Sloan: U-huh. What stories did he relate about his involvement on the farm?
Dale: My dad’s family? Lots of hard work. Kept them out of trouble. Mostly out of trouble. Laughter.
Sloan: When you say that, I have to inquire, when you say, MOSTLY out of trouble, what are some stories that come to mind, or things you may think about that he may have shared with you?
Dale: Well, one story was when he was dating my mother, and they had a date right here in this theater. There was another man here that had a crush on my mother while my dad was dating her. He decided he was going to whup my dad when they came out of the theater here with my mother. (Laughter.) Victor Hahn was a friend of my dad that lived here. He was known to be a really good fighter, Victor was. He was fast and strong and anyway, he caught Sandler and whipped Sandler right outside the doors for my dad’s sake. He and my dad were friends.
Sloan: A bit of a Peyton Place! Right here in George West. (Laughter.) So, their involvement with the farm? Did they stay? Who took over your grandfather’s farm?
Dale: My grandfather farmed that until he got too old to, and they moved to Belmont, Texas. After that he rented it out.
Sloan: I see. So the boys, none of the boys took the farm as far as working the farm?
Sloan: You mentioned this other correspondence that you have between Mr. West and your grandfather. Does much of that have to do with his work, his agriculture work back and forth?
Dale: Some of it did, but there is one letter about him just being a friend of my grandfather that I think is quite noteworthy. If I can take just a second to read it.
Letter: It shows the kind of man Mr. West was and what kind of friend that he was.
" I hear this morning from T. R. Coker that Albert Burrell’s family has been very sick, and that his wife is in bed now. I will ship tomorrow by Wells Fargo Express a case of crazy water from Mineral Wells west of Ft. Worth which is considered to be the equal of any mineral water in the United States.
I am shipping another small box that has some other medicines for Mrs. Burrell. I want you, as soon as your read this letter, to try to make arrangements with some reliable party that has an automobile that won’t break down to be at the depot at the arrival of the down train tomorrow, and take these two packages immediately out to Albert Burrell. The directions are on all the medicine in the small box and there is also on the bottles of crazy water.
Call me immediately on receipt of this letter on the telephone here. The call charged here, and let me know if you have arranged with some reliable party to be ready at the depot to take these packages out to Mrs. Burrell’s home, and pay the party for making the trip. But I want you to see that the party that goes out is at the depot ready on the arrival of the train.
I want to get this mineral water and medicine to Mrs. Burell at the earliest possible minute.
Truly your friend,
George W. West"
That is a friend. This letter was written to Mr. Canfield. I heard my grandfather talk about him [Chauncy Canfield], and my grandmother, what friends they were with the Canfields. How they started buying groceries for them before they built the store; they sold groceries out of a tent.
Sloan: So, yes, I think that reveals something about Mr. West. I think it also reveals something about that time, that time period. What do you think it reveals about that time period as far as relations between people here in the county?
Dale: I think they still had a lot of frontier attitudes where people depended on each other and helped take care of each other. That was what friends and neighbors did. Now days, a lot of people don’t visit with their next-door neighbor and don’t know their next-door neighbor which is really sad. But I think people were closer in those days because they needed to be for survival. Today, hardly anybody is in survival mode. Back in those days, things were a whole lot tougher, and they were different.
Sloan: Yea. That is why I love that story that you told about his one-legged neighbor. About what charity looked like. Just knowing that you needed one another. Yea. To do that sort of work.
Dale: I think that family was a lot closer then too because you depended on family and on friends and family was family.
Sloan: You know, I think of these letters that you have and what has it meant to you have this connection to Mr. West and have this connection to your grandfather to Mr. West.
Dale: I am so glad that my grandfather thought enough of him to save these letters all his life. We got these letters out of a tin can after my grandfather was passed away. He outlived my grandmother by about nine years. I really treasure the letters, and it gives me a lot of insight into that time and how much harder things were back in those days.
Sloan: It meant a lot that he saved them.
Dale: Oh yes, absolutely.
Sloan: Now you brought some other artifacts with you over there on the table.
Albert Burell's grubbing hoe - artifact brought by his grandson, Dale Burell.
Dale: I will pass - well this might not be safe. My grandfather - I remember many days. He would head out in the morning and get up before daylight. He would feed the hogs and milk the cows and have his coffee and breakfast. Then he would set out a grubbing hoe. It is pretty well worn out, but he would set out early in the morning and be gone all day. Mainly his enemies that he fought were sunflowers and yellow tops and mesquite. But this was a very big part of his life. His life was a life of hard labor, and my grandmother’s life is in the house and the kitchen was just as hard as his - because I like.
I don’t want to pass that around because some might get cut on it.
But part of their wedding vows, they got married in 1908. She was 17 and he was 21, I think it was. He promised her as part of their wedding vows that he would always have chopped wood at the house. Of course, they didn’t have gas or electricity back then. For a man to promise to always have cut wood, that is a mighty big promise! And he always did! He had a huge pile of chips out front, and he didn’t own a chain saw. He cut it all with an ax. He got it up pretty good.
Him and grandma and the kids were wanting to get them some butane. They didn’t have propane out yet. He told them, “NO,” because he had promised her that he would always have chop wood for her, and he didn’t want to break his promise.
Well they [the boys] plan together and got him out of town to go visit his daughter, Martha.
Martha was born on his birthday, May 1. His only daughter that he raised to adulthood. They had one more that died early. But anyway, they got him out of town to go visit with Martha. Then the boys came and took the wood stove out of the house and hooked them up with butane stove and a butane bottle. When they got back ,(laughter) my grandma had a butane stove which she really liked.
Sloan: We may have forgotten what romance is too! (Laughter.) Now you said that he sold the farm. What year?
Dale: He didn’t sell it. He divided it up amongst his seven living sons and one living daughter at that time and each child got so much.
Sloan: Okay, I see. Now do you have memories from the farm?
Dale: Oh, that is one thing special about my granddad. He kept all of his grandchildren along with my grandmother. My granddad would take the boys all day, whatever he was working on, you would go with him and he would find some way that you could help. He taught us all. My grandmother would keep the girls at the house and she would teach them how to cook and how to sew. She had one little treadmill Singer sewing machine.
They [the grandparents] didn’t just spend time together, they worked together during the day, and my grandfather taught me lots things when I was kid. My dad was always busy workin’, but my granddad taught me how to shoot, taught me how to swim, how to throw a rope, how to tie knots. Taught me how to count - playing Moon and 42.
Dale Burell #1 Army Rifle Marksmanship Trophy.
But, uh. I have one thing here that I attribute to my granddad. When I was in the army, I placed first in battalion in basic rifle marksmanship. As I remember, there were about 500 men. Five companies of 100 men in each company. I placed number one.
Well, that is not to my credit. I would have never got this it had not been for my grandfather teaching me how to shoot. I didn’t learn how to shoot like that from the Army. Some people were amazed at how I could knock down those 300-yard targets and not miss, and I was amazed how they could shoot a man-sized silhouette at 50 yards and miss it. (Laughter.)
But that, I attribute this to my granddad, and I want to be the kind of granddad that my granddad was to me. I want to work with my grandsons and teach my grandsons things like my granddad taught me.
What he taught me - how to swim. I was still pretty young teen ager and many of ya’ll know Pat Clifton. She got off in a tank and got over her head and was floundering and going under, and I was able to go in and get her out. If my grandfather had not [taught me] how to swim I wouldn’t be able to help her, you know. Maybe somebody else would have got her out, I don’t know, but something that I remember.
I attribute so many things in my life to my grandparents because they taught me so much.
Sloan: I gotta ask you, but I can assume I know how he taught you, but I will ask about shooting. His approach with teaching you how to shoot? Can you tell me some memories? Can you tell me some memories about that?
Dale: He taught me gun safety first. Always keep the gun pointed, not up in the air but down toward the ground. The bullet had to come down somewhere, so always keep It pointed down at the ground and to be real calm. Never get excited with a gun, but always think about what you are doing.
Taught me how to take the good aim and always squeeze the trigger, and don’t get in a hurry to shoot. Always squeeze the trigger slowly until the gun goes off. Don’t look up to see what you hit, because if you aimed right and you squeezed the trigger right, the bullet is going to hit where it supposed to. You don’t have to jerk your head up to and look and see where it hit. It may be pulled off. Take your time, be calm but mainly be careful.
Sloan: He gave you confidence with a gun.
Dale: Absolutely. I killed lots of rats under the house, and rats in the barn, and woodpeckers and mocking birds out of the orchard. He had a nice peach orchard, and I had a good time. I had a good time learning how to shoot with my granddad. He was a great teacher.
Sloan: You mentioned when he would take you guys out. It was about always finding something that everyone could do to contribute to the task. Are there some things that you remember when you were younger, some first assignments that you got, that some jobs that were yours that you got to accomplish?
Dale: Well, picking cotton was one of them. That is one of the hardest things that I have ever done is to pick cotton. Now, not too many people around still that have picked or pulled cotton. Either one is lots of hard work. That sun gets hot dragging that big sack down between those rows.
Sloan: Particularly for a young boy.
Dale: I was young then.
Sloan: So, you were very involved through your teen years with the farm too? How old were you?
Dale: I was 12 when they left from there to Belmont. I think I was 12.
Sloan: Ok. I gotta ask. He taught you how to swim? Cause I am imagining how he taught you how to swim, but I want to know.
Dale: There were people that lived between us and town named Norris and Katzfey’s had a nice big tank up on the hill with real pretty clear water. Sometimes we would go, and Johnny Norris’s tank and swim. He would hold me, teach me how to paddle and dip, and you know, and all that. Sometimes we would go up to Katzfey’s big tank up on the hill, irrigation tank, and swim up at Katzfey's.
Sloan: When you talk about your grandfather, I imagine he was tough, but it sounds like he was tender as well.
Dale: He was known to be a fighter when need be. But his generation, if you didn’t know someone good, you just kinda stood back and respected people for who they were. But for one incident - him and my dad were traveling from Houston to Belmont to visit my Aunt Martha, and they stopped at a place called Adamek’s Café.
They had all kids of funny things in there like shot guns with long barrels that turned around and came back and all that. He and my dad stopped for coffee, and my granddad would always pour his coffee in his saucer. He would blow it and drink the coffee out of the saucer. To cool it. A lot of the old times did that.
They don’t do it anymore, but anyway he was doing that, and the owner of the place was an old fellow too. He came by and put a little sign on the table. That sign said, “If you are so smart, why ain’t your rich?” Well, my dad knew it was joke, and my granddad didn’t. He took it as an insult, and he walked over and hit the old man and knocked him down. (Laughter. ) Then my dad got mad at my granddad and vice versa. (Laughter. )
But in those days, it was a different culture and a different time. You just had more respect for each other, than today.
Sloan: That is great, that is really interesting. Now you got another artifact over there.
Bowl made by Dale Burell from limb that fell off tree his father was born under.
Dale: I want to show a picture here. In fact, I will pass it. It is a picture of a tombstone. It is my grandparent’s tombstone.
All the grandkids got together and bought a nice tombstone for my grandparents. They just had little fat markers on the ground. We all thought enough of them that we wanted to do that for them, so we did. On the tombstone, is my grandmother gave birth 14 times and each time she did, she wrote in down in the family Bible. So, on the back of her tombstone we put down there what she had written in her Bible about the names and days that she gave birth.
Under the old oak trees, they built a house first up on top of the hill. The horses had a real hard time pulling carts up that sand hill. So they put the house on logs and rolled it down the hills under some Live Oak trees where it stayed until Celia blew it down in Hurricane Celia. My dad would lean on an oak tree there and say, "Don’t ever forget that I was born under this tree.” My grandmother gave birth nine times under that Live Oak tree.
The tree eventually died and rotted and fell off. I make bowls, and I took that limb. You can see that lots of holes and cracks. It was a rotten limb. I made the bowl to remember what my dad told me about "don’t ever forget that I was born under this tree", and a bunch of my uncles and one of my aunts was born under that tree. I made several of these out of that and passed them around. It is a reminder of what my dad told me not to forget.
Sloan: What is it like to still have that with you? That piece with you?
Dale: Well, I really enjoy it, but I think I enjoy more the ones I give away to my first cousins. (Laughter.)
Sloan: Is that tree still standing?
Dale: Oh yes, it is alive and healthy. It is doing great.
Sloan: That is great. Now do you have some other things you have to show over there?
Dale: I have some pictures that goes with some stories. One thing, another thing that my grandfather and Mr. West had in common - one of the letters goes into that. That was education. Both of them believed in education.
Mr. West encouraged my granddad to educate his children, but it was a bunch of Germans that settled out there. A bunch of them from Castroville where my grandparents came from. But they built a school called Oak Ridge School which is on the place that I own now. Little place. They hired a teacher to teach their German speaking kids how to speak English.
So, my grandfather, he spoke German and some French. He came from Alsace Lorraine. Sometimes it was part of Germany, and sometimes it was part of France, depends on between which war. You know, anyway, he spoke German. When he came here, he got to learn Spanish right off because Spanish was spoken more than English when he first came here. Then he learned English last. It was his last language.
But they built a school; the German community pitched in and built Oak Ridge School. They hired a teacher to teach their kids English, and the school was open until 1943. I asked my Uncle Hugo, in the nursing home already, I asked him about the school, about how it was at the school and all.
He said that when he went there, that they had between 30-40 students. It was a pretty nice little school. But my grandfather donated 10 acres of land for the school and wrote in the school, that if the school ever went under, he got his land back; which he did in ’43. But it was there for a good long time. I got a few little stories about the school. (Laughter.) Maybe I should not tell them all.
Sloan: Start with the ones you are not sure you [should] tell! (Laughter.)
Dale: Many of you know who Leroy Geffert was. He went to school out there. If they did good on a test, they got to bring their dogs to school. They boys would get to go on a rabbit hunt as a reward for doing good on their test, so Leroy come to school and brought his dog with him. The dog got to fighting outside so he got to bring it in and tied it to his chair. Well, Leroy was sitting next to a window, and the other dogs started making a ruckus outside. Well, his dog jumped out the window. When he did, it broke his neck and killed it. (Laughter/Groans.) They whooped on him some.
We had an old man that I really admired. Many of ya’ll knew Ray Mussman. You knew who Ray Mussman was – a local carpenter for years he was a carpenter here, and I have a picture with of Ray with his mother, my Aunt Minnie. My Great Aunt Minnie and her brother in front of her house on what now is the Middle Road. Now, it is a six-mile-long road, and it has three names on it – Middle Road coming out of George West, then it turns into 3336 and 136 on the other end.
But here it is just a dirt road and hardly graded right in front of Aunt Minnie’s house. The little baby here is Ray Mussman. He was a bully control. Whenever anybody would mess with one of the younger, smaller kids and that then Ray would whoop it. Ray was a fighter too. In the old days, people fought a lot more than they do now. But he was the Oak Ridge Bully Control. All the little kids loved Ray Mussman. (Laughter.)
My grandfather took three of his granddaughters and my grandma raised them until they made adulthood. When Francis was little, she had to take a bathroom break. So, the teacher let her out to take a bathroom break. She was always mischievous, and she still is. She is in her 80s, and she is still pretty mischievous.
She had to go to the bathroom and didn’t want to go to the stinky outhouse so just went out there and found her a place to go. Well, recess time came. Well the boys played washers. They would take their washers and throw them in their hole. They noticed somebody had peed in their washer hole. (Laughter.) They were wanting to whup whoever it was. They were trying really hard to find out who it was, and nobody suspected sweet little Francis did that. (Laughter.) So, she did not get caught.
Sloan: That is fantastic! I think that speaks also of the community as well for his desire for there to be a school there.
Dale: Yes, it does. He believed in the education. I have one cousin, you [Sloan] remind me of him. You are built just like him, my cousin William, tall lanky fellow. He was raised on a ranch working cows, and all. He got an awful lot of education and became a professional student for a while and just stayed in college. Then he taught as a professor in college, and then he became a city planner for Houston.
I asked him one time. His dad was always real proud of him for his education and used his head to make his living with his head instead of working and sweating for it. I asked him one time, “You were raised on the ranch and your brothers loved ranching and farming, but you were different. You took to the education field. What made you do that?”
He said he was out working cows one real hot summer day with his two brothers and his dad, and they had screw worms in those days. He had a cow down, and they roped it and got it down doctoring it for screw worms. They took a knife and scrapped it to get the pus out of it and get the screw worms out of it. He said he had blood all over him and pus all over him, and he had worms crawling on him. Those screw worms and the heat was just awful, and the smell was even worse. He said there has got to be a better way to make a living. (Laughter.) So, he started using his head and got his education and a bunch of it.
Sloan: I could go on for hours, but they can’t. They are getting hungry. So, you need to agree that you will do some more interviews for the project? You got more stories to tell?
Dale: I have a bunch more stories to tell if people are interested in hearing them.
Sloan: They are! They are interested in hearing them. So, I am going to say, "Thank you for this first interview today. We are going to close it off there. You have to agree to do some more interviews for the project. Will you agree to do that?"
Dale: If they want me.
Sloan: They want you to. (Clapping.) Thank you so much.
Transcribed by Glynis Holm Strause on July 6, 2018. Edit, Janis Hudson.
The Honorable Jim Huff, County Judge for Live Oak County, welcomes you to the Live Oak County Historical Commission (LOCHC) Website. The Live Oak County Historical Commission is an arm of the Live Oak County Commissioners' Court; appointees are selected at the beginning of odd numbered years and serve two year terms. Judge Huff and the Live Oak County Commissioners support and approve actions of the LOCHC in coordination with the Texas Historical Commission (THC).
Live Oak County Commissioners:
Precinct 1: Richard Lee
Precinct 2: Donna Kopplin Mills
Precinct 3: Willie James
Precinct 4: Emilio Garza
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