These are some notes from Gilbert Sullivan’s memoirs as transcribed by his son Dan Sullivan
Within hours of my Father’s death I sought to be alone, and found myself in a bedroom of my parent’s home, the one away from the rest of the house, the one over the garage. As I grieved his death I felt all of a sudden very much alone, and I asked: Where have you gone Father, and why have you left me alone. Who will I turn to for advice and counsel for the thousands of choices I must make. Who will teach me of the old signs. When to plant corn.
When to dehorn cattle so the blood will not spurt, but only seep When to castrate the bull calves so they will not suffer and bleed When to plow to kill the Johnson Grass When to plant potatoes Who will teach me the wisdom of the moon
Without you I’m only a man, a soul of no particular distinction With you I was a boy of special renown I was the son of Gilbert Sullivan, someone to take note of and be reckoned with I was the son of the Sheriff, a man of the people, elected by the people in An election campaign conducted in the fields, on foot, horseback, and T-Model Ford The Sheriff who put out the boiler fires making illegal whisky The Sheriff who cleaned out the road houses on Nashville pike, and Columbia Pike between Brentwood and Spring Hill
You were my unshakable foundation, my connection to the beginning of time You were the Taproot by which I stood tall, firmly attached to the core of the earth I could withstand any tempest with you to turn to How will I now withstand the winds of time alone
Can you look down and see the messes I make Do you know about all the things I do that I should not have done Do you know about all the things I don’t do that I should do Where have you been when I’ve needed you so much Will you scold me when at last we meet again Will your firm hand on my shoulder reassure me that things are all right
Will I see those steel blue gray eyes again Those eyes that said so much That heaped praise and made me proud That burned holes in my soul and reduced me to elemental matter That gave me comfort when I was down That made me feel special when I did good That made me feel a wanted part of creation That made me feel an unnecessary crack in human frailty All this and more said without a word
The world seemed less secure the day I saw the bright gleam fade from those eyes The day he tried to get out of his death bed because “I’ve got to much to do to stay here” The day he appollogized for dying The day he squeezed my hand an said “You’re one that I can count on” A complement that I will cherish, but wonder if I deserve
The following narrative is based on a hand written journal by my father as he recalled things that happened in his childhood in Williamson County, Tennessee. Words in bold print are his words from that journal.
Williamson County Roots
“Gib”, as some close friends called him in the early days, was born in a small frame house on the banks of Turnbull Creek, about one mile above where Highway 100 crosses over the creek. It was the fifth day of January, 1907. “Gib” was the fifth of ten children, but as was so common in those days two of the children died at birth. Turnbull Creek drains a section of the western “Highland Rim” in Williamson County Tennessee, near present day Fairview. The soil along the ridges was never fertile like the deep silty loams of the “Middle Basin”, a few miles to the east. It took a hardy group of people to settle and survive there. A few years after James Robertson and John Donelson lead the Cumberland expedition to settle the territory around French Lick (Nashville), Jeremiah Sullivan brought his family to settle those ridges and hollows of the western highland rim. They with other families like the Lampleys, Mangrums, Lankfords, Buttreys, Whites, Tidwells, Thompsons, and others raised livestock and lived off the land. I can remember it being said in my family that they settled there because there was plenty of water and the game was plentiful. I suspect there were other reasons, like the land being cheaper there or that some had land grants in that area. By the time Gilbert was born to Allen Judson Sullivan, and Liza Elizabeth Roberts, generations of the Sullivans had been there for over 100 years. As my father wrote years later of the place he was born , this was my Grandfather Green Sullivan’s farm. Green Sullivan (William Green Sullivan) was the Grandson of Owen one of the original settlers to the area. In 1984 at the time Dad wrote about his childhood the house and barn still stood on the left side of the highway going west, about one half mile below Union Valley Methodist Church, one mile from Hudgins School where I went to school. He wrote, I went to school very little. I never finished the fourth grade.
Memories of Early Childhood
The first thing that I remember in my life, he writes, I must have been 3 or 4 years old. I was trying to follow my father, and I got up the road to Mr. Robert Stinsons home, (he lived about 200 yards from Union Valley Church) where there was a large Mulberry tree. Mr. Stinson knocked off some mulberries and gave them to me to get me to go back home. .My father bought and sold livestock, and he was going on a trip to buy livestock He was going with Mr. John Wess Sullivan. My father and Mr. John Wess Sullivan worked and rode together. Several years later, I remember when I was about 14 years old riding to Columbia (TN) on a Sunday to take mules to the big mule sale there. I had 2 mules on my right and had two tied behind to my horses tale. I don’t remember how many my father and Mr. Wess had. Dad wrote about another recollection when he was about four. We went to my uncle Londe Sullivan’s to visit, and I was playing on the stairway, and found some tobacco stamps in a can. I took a big yellow one with the name Old Statesman, the name of the tobacco pouch it came from. I put the stamp in my pocket and when I got home I showed it to my mother. She scolded me for taking it and said I would have to take it back. So the next time we went to see uncle Londe mother made me carry the tobacco stamp back and give it to Ante Hattie. Gib told about other troubles he had about that time. Along about that time we had two goats. Every time I would go out of the house by myself, those goats would get me down and really work me over. I hated those goats. Children learned about work early in life in those days. When I was six years old I would go to the fields with Nettie, Dixie, and Grover to chop weeds out of the corn. It seemed that Gib became a good hand with horses and mules at a very young age.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, he wrote, we had a big brown jenny, (female donkey) and Dad had several yearling mules and some were probably near 2 years old. I remember on several occasions in the winter (on trips to sell mules or to move them to other pastures) Dad would get me to ride the jenny and the young mules would follow the jenny, and he would follow behind the mules on his horse. I recall my Dad telling me on several occasions that as a young boy many of his friends were years older than he. I always had more friends of people being much older than I was. One of the best friends was Albert Brashears a large man, about 40 at the time.
He would always play very rough with me. One winter day we went out with young mules to do some trading for older mules to sell. About dinner time we stopped at Mr. George Lampley’s, and were out at the barn showing young mules. A real steep hill covered with large trees sloped away form the barn. There were two or three other boys there about my age. Mr. Brashears grabbed me and said out loud so the other boys could hear that he was going to chew my ear. He started chewing on my ear and told me to start hollering loud like he was chewing my ear off. One chubby boy was lying in the sun on a bed of leaves. About that time Mr. Brashears turned me lose and started for the big chubby boy, and the boy started rolling to get away from Mr. Brashears. He started rolling down that steep hill and couldn’t stop, but before he got to rolling very fast he rolled against a big tree. That probably kept him from getting hurt real bad. It must have been a long way to the bottom. One of Dad’s sisters, Dixie Clara, had married Monroe Buttrey on December 25, 1917 at the age of 16. On April 15, 1919 she gave birth to a son, Harley, and she died one month later, apparently from complications form the delivery. When Dixie died she was sick for some weeks. I was eleven years old at the time and would walk with Nettie, (an older sister) about 3 miles along a path through some old sage fields and woods at about 12 O’clock at night to sit with her until daylight, then walk back home. It was in the early spring. When I was 10 or 11 years old Grover (a younger brother) and I had two hunting dogs. In the winter we would go rabbit hunting and the dogs would tree rabbits in hollow trees or logs. We always carried an ax so we could chop them out. Some times we could run our hands in or jab them out with a small pole and catch them. When Dad would tell stories about his childhood, he would talked about his Dad’s drinking from time to time, and what a burden it was on the family. He would tell us how hard it was for his mother and the children. In his notes he wrote, I was about 12 years old when my father left home. He moved up the road about one half mile. Pretty soon Grover went to live with him, and that left my mother Hazel, Gertrude, Zelma (Dad’s sisters) and me alone. Zelma had asthma real bad. She was sick a lot in the winter time. I had a little mare named Kate, and on several occasion I would ride late in the night to get Dr. Zerbie to come see her. My mother had a real hard life. Kate was about the best piece of horse flesh I ever saw. The other boys and I were always having a horse race. I don’t remember her ever loosing. I also had a pair of little blue mules about that time. They were the first mules I ever owned. I broke them when they were coming two years old, and they were the best pair of broke mules I ever saw. They were always ready to do anything I would ask them to do. After my Dad left home he bought a grist mill, and a blacksmith’s shop. I worked with him part of the time in the shop. I also ran the mill when he wasn’t there on Saturday. When people would come by to get their horses shod they would bring their own shoes and nails. We would fit the shoes and put them on for $0.40 per head. I was 14 or 15 years old when Luther Daugherty brought two mules and one horse to get shod. There was no one at the shop. He came on to our house. I was in the bed with the measles. I got out of the bed and went with him and shod his horses, and as far as I can remember it never hurt me at all. Mother didn’t want me to go, but I went on. One story Dad told illustrated the skill required of a self reliant people to repair their tools and machinery without the availability of modern parts stores or machining equipment. Shortly before I was 12 years old, my Dad had borrowed a seed drill to sow wheat with. For some reason he had me carry the drill home. I had to go about a mile or maybe a mile and a half. The road was rough all the way. Two or three hundred yards before I got to where I was to take the drill, the road went into the creek, and had a rock bottom with little two or three inch falls in it. The drill wheel dropped off one of those falls and broke the axle in the drill. I remember helping my grandfather getting the axle out and carrying it to his shop to weld. He heated both pieces in a forge using a charcoal fire, and when they were white hot, he hammered them out like he wanted them. Then he put both pieces back in the fire and heated them to welding heat. I held the long piece, and he held the short one, and he welded them together, and beat them out to the right length. We put the axle back in the drill and it fit. I have always thought that was some mighty good blacksmith work for a man that only did his own blacksmith work. One time Dad swapped one of the mules I had been working off to Robert Edwards for a little bay mule. She was a pretty little mule, and in good flesh. But one of the mules he had traded off was from a pair that he had broke together, and I had worked together. You could take them both to the field and work one until about 10:00 o’clock, then take her out and work the other until dinner. The first time I worked the new mule, we were plowing in a little creek bottom breaking it. Dad was following me with another team. The mule did fine until about 10:30, and she quit and didn’t want to go any further. I was already mad because he had broke my team up, and got this little young mule that couldn’t do the work like the mule he had swapped off. I was trying to get the mule to go when he caught up with me, and said, “what’s the matter boy, can’t you work that mule. I looked to my right and there lay a wagon standard that had fallen from the wagon sometime before. So when he said that I saw blazes and said yes sir. I stepped over and got the stick, walked up beside the mule and hit her right behind the ear. The mule fell to the ground and quivered, and the blood began to ooze out of her nose. Dad said, “boy, you’ve killed that mule”. I said, “I hope I have”. But of course I didn’t really hope that at all. In a little while the mule got up, and in a few minutes we went on to the end of the row, and it started to rain a little. So Dad said that we had better take out. That evening I hauled a load of rock with her. Before I could work her again Dad swapped her for a bigger mule. This one had long hair, and was stubborn, and one of those kind that would work like she should.
Good Times With Dad on the Road
When I was 8 or 9 I would go with my Dad to Nashville on the wagon. We usually carried a mixed load, shelled corn, molasses, dried peas, hams, and sweet potatoes. Coming back home, most of the time we would be just about empty except for a few odds and ends, probably coffee, sugar, a few yards of cloth, or a few house wares, except in the spring on 2 or 3 trips we would bring back a load of fertilizer. Mother would fix a box of food and we would sometimes take a piece of side meat to fry at a camp on the road. When staying over in Nashville, we would put the mules and wagon in a large stable. At that time in Nashville there was some 8 to 10 large stables that would hold twenty or thirty wagons. We would sleep in the wagon at night. On two or three of those trips I remember going to a silent movie. One time we had a pretty team of sorrel mules that were not well broke. A section of their route between Nashville and home took them down Harding pike through Belle Meade. Out in Belle Meade on the Harding Pike where the road crosses the railroad at an angle, the railroad ran parallel to the road for a good way. We were close to the crossing when Dad looked at his watch, and said it was about time for the train. We looked and sure enough, here come the train chugging down the grade. About that time the whistle blew. We must have been some 30 or 40 feet from the crossing. The mules got scared and started raring up and jumping and got turned across the ditch by the road. Grandfather Judson must have been able to hold them in check while the train went on by. Dad continues by saying the train passed and we drove on. Shortly before World War I, there was an army base on Whites Bridge road just outside of Nashville. I remember from there on into town we would meet now and then an army freight wagon coming out of town. There would usually be six mules to the big wagon, and they would always be at a fast trot.
Two men would be on the seat of the wagon, one to drive and one to brake when it was needed. To me that was a grand sight. On one of those trips to Nashville, we left from down town in the early morning and drove to a fertilizer plant in West Nashville and loaded with fertilizer. We came back across the Whites Bridge road to the Harding Pike. On the way home it was beginning to get dark about the time we got to the top of Whippoorwill Hill. We stopped and made camp for the night. It was right cold, probably in the middle 30’s, and the wind was blowing right sharp. We hung a blanket between some trees to brake the wind and built a big fire, made some coffee, ate supper and bedded down for the night. There was another wagon with us, camped near by. The next morning when we woke we noticed that the teams had got lose and went down in a hollow to get water. Dad and the other man went to hunt the horses. When they found them and brought them back, we hitched up and were on our way home. On another trip with Dad it was a Monday and the weather was hot. When we got near the backbone hill on Harding Road, we came up on a Mr. McPherson. He had one of his mules lose from the wagon, and had pulled the harness off. The mule was rolling in the dust, and was grunting and groaning something awful. Mr. McPherson asked Dad what he thought was wrong. Dad said she acted like she had the colic. He had turned the mules out on grass on Sunday and thought she must have eaten too much grass. He ask Dad what should he do. Dad said if she had the colic he could bleed her and she would be all right. Mr. McPherson told Dad to go ahead and bleed the mule. So Dad got out his knife and cut little gashes in the mules upper mouth along the first ridge behind the upper teeth. The mule would wallow her tongue around and swallow the blood, and in a few minutes she was up. Mr. McPherson hitched her back to the wagon and drove with us on to Bellevue. He stopped there to unload. He was hauling lumber. Mr. McPherson would talk about that every time he would see me after that. He was very grateful. He lived on East Fork when we lived on Boyd Mill Pike. He’d stop by the farm occasionally, on his way to Franklin, loaf and talk about bleeding that mule. He was always a good friend, and an important one when I ran for sheriff.