This website takes its name of Stray Leaves from the diary of John James of Alvarado, Texas. John began his diary “Stray Leaves” on March 8, 1903. But he never wrote any more of the diary other than the initial four typewritten pages. His progeny inherited his four-page diary. John also sent copies from Texas to relatives at home in Shopville, Pulaski County, Kentucky. This four-page document and historical record has since been disseminated among the James family and its descendants.
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
“Stray Leaves” from my diary
John James – Alvarado, Texas, March 8, 1903
My father is of English descent on his paternal side. My mother’s name was Hall and her people were mixed-Americans. Both were born and raised in Pulaski County, Kentucky.
I was born on Flat Lick Creek, same county and state Apr. 29, 1832, and recollected quite distinctively some of the people and places there, such as Grandma Hall’s orchard [ed. Rhoda Loveless-Hall]. Grandma James’ stone house [ed. Rhoda May-James] and mill pond, the Peyton Randall place, and of going there and staying all night with Grandma James and of sleeping in a small side room in which I saw the first high chair for children. I was less than 4 years old then.
I can remember Uncle Perry James [ed. Edward Perry James] building me a cornstalk playhouse in a fence corner to the front and right of the stone house, and of he and I and Aunt Babe [ed. Elizabeth Langford-James] coasting downhill, out in from of the house on the sleet and snow using warped clapboards from an old ash hopper to ride on.
I can remember mother, carrying water from the mill pond to wash with in a cedar churn and of the churn getting away from her in the mill pond and of someone getting it for her own at the dam. I also remember playing hide and seek with Aunt Babe and some neighbor children and of Aunt Mary [ed. Mary Martha James] hiding me under her big cook apron. I also remember being at Uncle Shad Owens place [ed. Samuel Chadoin Sr.] and some of the family, also remember some of the places where we lived all before I was 5 yrs. old.
In Feb. 1857, Father [ed. Cyrenius Waite James] and family and Uncle Henry [ed. Henry James 1813-1887] and his young bride (who was Rachel Tomlinson) moved to Illinois. Jesse Nance [ed. Jesse Nance 1813-1888] hauled us to Danville, Kentucky in a covered wagon where we stayed all night with Uncle Mack James [ed. Joseph McAlister James, aka Joseph McJames] Uncle Henry being drunk all the way and his young wife crying all the time, Uncle Mack offered her $50.00 if she would go back to her father. We traveled from Danville to Louisville on R.R. train, crossed the Ohio River on a large ferry boat stayed all night in a hotel in the Ind. side and from our window saw a big fire over the river in Louisville. We went on to Pesotum, Illinois on the train. At Pesotum, we stayed in a small depot until father walked out to Squire Lee’s, 4 miles, [ed. Squire William Lee 1820-1885, spouse of Elizabeth Ann James 1821-1896, a sister of Joseph McAlister James] and got a wagon and team and hauled us out there.
We lived in Champaign County two years near Uncle Squire Lee’s then moved to Uncle Mack’s farm in Douglas County, 15 miles S.W. (Spring 1859).
In 1861 father enlisted in the U.S. army and was a soldier 3 years passing through 17 of the great battles of the rebellion in Sherman’s and Grant’s armies. He got wounded slightly once at Rebecca Ga. was paroled and came home and stayed a few days and returned to his command, then in Tennessee.
During the war, mother and I tried to farm and did make a crop but had a hard time to keep something to eat and wear. Everything was high-priced and father’s 13 dollars a month was not sufficient to keep us supplied as there was then a family of Mother myself, William Henry, George Mack, Squire Martin, and Mary Martha, our four children.
My little and only sister Mary Martha only 2 years old got choked to death on a grain of corn. While father was a prisoner of war at Marietta Ga 1000 miles away but in a vision the night and hour she died, he saw her come to near his pallet dressed in white and was the most beautiful. Father woke up his bedfellow and told him of the strange vision, and looked at his watch and noted the time.
When Father came home in 1865, I was 13 yrs. old and could do a man’s work on the farm. Father’s health was bad and I had all the work to do. We had nothing left but a poor pony team an old wagon and one cow, but prospered and came to Texas in fall of 1869 when I was 17 years old. I had never been to school but nine weeks in my life but had picked up a fair education and had read the New Testament through one that Father brought home and given me.
2nd Installment from my diary
In my last I told you about our moving about up to the time I came to Texas. Now I will go back and tell some other things connected with my life in Illinois, for it was there the greatest epoch in my life and history occurred, when we lived there it was a new and sparsely settled country and not very much society schools and preaching until after the war.
Just before I was 16, I professed religion and joined the “New Light” church and from that time I became an active Sunday school and church worker, and I now see that was the very best thing that could have happened.
While father was gone to the war I grew out from under his rule and influence so that when he came home I felt in me a feeling of rebellion against him and was never willing for him to boss me as I called it, so in the summer after I was 16 I left home “ran away” after night I went to another county about 30 miles from home taking only one extra shirt and my testament that I loved so well. I hired to a man to herd cattle, so did not have much to do but put in all my spare time reading my Testament.
I planned to get myself plenty of clothes and then go to school for I wanted to get an education I wanted that above everything else, of course I loved my dear mother and the children, wanted to see them and went home in the fall on a visit intending to go back to Philo, Illinois, where a man had offered to board me and send me to school for my work of nights and mornings. But father begged me to stay at home and promised me an education, so I stayed on account of our financial condition and father’s feebleness (from hardships and exposure in the war) I never got to go to school any more, I had never went to school but nine weeks and that was to Uncle Henry… (illegible writing)…by a chip fire light until I ruined my eyes that had been afflicted with granulated lids from the time I was 5 yrs. old (our first year in Illinois), but I stayed with my Father and learned to love him again and done all I could for him but read and studied all the time I could.
I loved that Sunday School and prayer meeting and debating societies and sing schools and became active in all that work and I loved the girls too and had several precious sweet hearts ” that I hated most of to Leave” when we came to Texas, but I learned to write by writing back to several of them for over a year after I came here.
During the summer (our first summer here) after I was 18, the neighbors fixed up an old log house with split log seats and plank on pegs in the wall for a writing desk and put me in as teacher over about a dozen children, but my school was a success from the start. It gave me the chance to study and I would study every evening after school was out every lesson that was to come up the next day so I kept ahead of my school. I taught four schools at that place and my salary grew from about $20.00 up to $75.00 per month and at the end of the 4th school I had carried my advanced classes up into such high branches as higher arithmetic, algebra, physical geography, philosophy and astronomy and bookkeeping.
I had not only taught a good school, but had educated myself during the two years or four schools that I taught there so I kept on teaching for 18 years, the last three years a mission teacher to the Indians where I learned to love the Indians and learned their language and can talk it yet, though it has now been 15 years since I quit teaching.
The 3rd year, after coming to Texas in September after I was 20, in April I married into one of the very best families in this country or state, I would teach in the winter and wake crops in the spring, teach again in the summer. Father had moved to Wise County, 50 miles north of here. I also moved up there and went to teaching and farming as I did here where my wife and baby child died the same week in which I had joined the Baptist Church in spring 1873 and up there in Wise County in 1878.
I was licensed to preach and was ordained soon after, so I mixed preaching with teaching and farming. I had 4 motherless children that my dear Mother was taking care of so I married again in fall 1879. I now have eleven children living and thirteen grandchildren.
While I was among the Indians I was a Missionary preacher, teacher, and doctor, and I would have stayed there had it not been for my family, I did not want to raise up my children and have them marry off in that country. So in spring of 1883 I moved back to Johnson County to the same neighborhood we first came to 33 years ago and where I first began teaching. Some of my first pupils are living here yet and most of them grandfathers and grandmothers and when I think of it, it makes me feel old, but I am only 51 next month, have not a grey hair in my head.
In politics, I am a Democrat but in politics religion and everything else I am very liberal and kind to those who differ with me in their views. I believe there is good in all creeds and in all nations of the Earth and believe God’s people do wrong in keeping up separate denominational creeds instead of trying to live together in Love and Unity. I began to preach that kind of doctrine about twelve years ago. Of course, that did not suit Baptists. They took my credentials away from me; but I am glad of it, and have never regretted it. From that day until this I have been an independent free man and preach and teach what I believe and hold myself accountable to no man or set of men but God only.
While a mere boy reading the Bible, I began to believe in the Mighty Power of the mind. I felt that I had some mysterious secret power but did not know how to use it. I believed a correct understanding of this secret mental or Spiritual power would make plain many of the mysterious things spoken of in the Apostles and of the similar things among the different nations of the earth, all the way down from that time until now. There were my feeling and thoughts back to 30 or 40 years ago and I have lived up to those very things demonstrated.
I have learned how to recognize and use that secret power that I felt swelling up in my very being when I was but a mere child from a mere boy. I have always desired to be able to heal the sick. Now I have witnessed hundreds of them getting well under my treatments and; yet it is not I that do it, but it is done by God-given power that I have learned how to use.
All my youthful desires for knowledge and for power was my earnest prayer, and God has answered them not as I expected but more fully than I had ever dared hope for and above all I have a better understanding of the great doctrines of the Bible and have a more vital and intelligent conception of God’s love and serve him better than I could ever have done by following human creeds.
I have had many strange and wonderful experiences through life much that was dark and mysterious at the time but all is plain now. As I look back along the journey of my past life, I can now see how God in his mercy and wisdom was leading me. I seem to have come to the great Fountain of Wisdom and day by day Wonderful Knowledge of the here to-fore hidden mysteries of the world and of life are coming to me. Praise the Lord, O my Soul. Amen.
JOHN JAMES March 8, 1903
The Choctaw Teach John James to Sing for His Supper, an excerpt from the book My Experience with Indians, by John James of Alvarado.