Family Matters

The Life and Times of Henry Johnson Burgin
(As told by his daughter Amanda Burgin Walker)

#156462 Henry Johnson Burgin

Henry Johnson Burgin was the son of James Lee Burgin and Fannie Elizabeth "Lizzie" Solomon. He was born January 13, 1862 in McDowell County, NC. In October of that same year, James Lee enlisted in the Confederate Army and left Lizzie at home with two small children. James served the Confederacy with the other "McDowell Boys" of Co. K, Capt. Alney Burgin's Company, until November 1, 1864.

The war had the same effect on Jim and Lizzie as it did their neighbors. What little they had was gone. The land laid were broken or worn out and any livestock that had managed to escape both armies during the war, soon fell prey to the carpet baggers, but with faith and stubborn endurance, they managed to survive and rebuild.

Henry grew up during those Reconstruction Years and met and married a young lady named Clara (Cleora) Coxey, daughter of Jonathon Coxey and Winney Moore. They were married on August 14, 1890. Clara, born January 31, 1873 was only seventeen at the time of their marriage.

Their first home was a two room log cabin on Crooked Creek. The cabin built of yellow poplar had two rooms downstairs connected by a hall. A fireplace used for cooking and heating was in one of the rooms and sleeping quarters were in the other. A room or loft was built above these two rooms and ran the length of the house. Edward and Amanda, their first two children, were born here.

Two years later, they moved to another cabin about one-half mile away. Henry moved the old cabin and joined it to the new one. Although this move gave them much more room, the fireplace was still used for cooking and heating. Henry and Clara had four more children after the move; Amanda, Frank, Hettie, and Dewey.

Clara became seriously ill in 1905 and on October 2nd, she passed away. Henry later married Mary Elizabeth Louise Byrd, daughter of Albert Lytle Byrd and Nancy Keeter. They were married in 1908 and appeared in the 1910 McDowell Co. Census. "Lou" was listed as Elizabeth, but everyone called her Lou. The life of this family after Clara died is best described in the poignant words of Amanda as she told the story to her daughter, Ruth (Mrs. Theodore McEntire of Old Fort). Pa is Henry Burgin and Ma is Cleora Coxey. Following is her story:

"Pa was about twenty-seven years old when he and Ma were married. Ma was only seventeen. She had light colored hair and blue eyes. She was a pretty girl. I remember how she looked even when I was very small. Hettie looks so much like her. Now me, everyone said I looked a lot like Aunt Mary Nesbitt. She was Pa's sister. She raised a large family, all her children went to college and did well. Most of them were school teachers.

Elizabeth "Lizzie" Solomon Burgin

Grandma Lizzie Burgin, Pa's mother was a fine woman. She was so good to doctor members of her family and friends in the community. She kept all sorts of herbs and salves which she had made from herbs, etc. If a person was bad sick, whe would stay several days to take care of them. I think Aunt Roney (Maroney) which was also Pa's sister learned a lot of what she knows about medicine made from herbs from grandma.

She cured a cancer once (which was on her face and looked bad) with a salve she had made from "sheep sorrell" she called it, which she boiled down to a strong liquid, then mixed it with lard. She kept using it on her face until it got well."

"Grandma Burgin was bound to have been a strong person because when her children were small, Grandpa had to go off to war. It made life hard for them, but with the Lord's help they made it.

NOTE: Lizzie Burgin had no formal medical training, but was highly skilled in the art of healing and midwifery. There were very few formally trained physicians in Western North Carolina at the time and Lizzie certainly filled the vacancy for many years. Riding a horse (they had no buggy and a wagon was too slow) she went wherever she was needed. Several years before she died, she had a stroke that left her unable to walk except with a cane. Unable to mount or dismount a horse, she would have someone put her on the horse, then ride to her destination hoping someone would be there to help her dismount. She continued this practice until shortly before her death.

I remember when Ed, Frank and I were real small, Pa and Ma would walk and take us up on the mountain where Grandpap Moore lived. Some of the young boys and men would meet up there and play musical instruments. Uncle Calas picked the banjo. He was Ma's brother. They would meet at night. I remember two or three got up and danced around some. As we went back down the mountain, Pa said to Ma, 'I don't know if we shoud take the children back up there or not.' He was a Christian man and back then parents were very particular about dancing.

Uncle Cal died when he was a grown man. He had TB. He was down sick in bed a good while. Ma said when he was almost gone, he was moving his lips and seemed to be talking. She stooped over and asked him what he said. He said he was praying. Ma said she felt good about him then. She knew he was alright with the Lord.

When there were six of us children and Dewey was about one and one half years old--maybe two, Ma took sick real bad. Pa sent out and got a women or two who lived nearby. He went to try to get a doctor, it was on Sunday. He couldn't get the doctor, but got some medicine.

Ma was so bad when he got back. He was in her bedroom. They were doing whatever they could for her. All at once Pa ran out of the house and down to the edge of the yard. He was crying real hard. I just knew that Ma had died. It was an awful feeling. I missed Ma real bad.

I was just eleven years old at the time, but I had to try to help take care of the other children. Ed was good to help me. Right after Ma died, Pa got his cousin Sallie Salomon to stay with us for awhile. Then, unless some of our aunts or relatives came in to help us some, we just had to do the work ourselves. I know it made life awfully hard for Pa, having all of us to care for and Ma not there to help him.

Pa told me that if I would learn to sew and make the children's clothes, he would buy me a sewing machine. So that is what he did. I didn't do so well at first, but I kept trying. Finally, I could do pretty well. If it hadn't been for that, I might not have been able to do all the sewing I've had to do since.

As time went on, Pa realized he needed a woman there to help us and him. He told me that if he could find him a good woman, he thought he might marry again. Said he would try to get one of the ladies down at the school at Mount Hebron, but he was afraid they might not understand children.

He got to writing quite a bit. I didn't ask any questions, but one time he had written several pages. He laid his papers up in the window and went to do some work outside. Well, there came a puff of wind an blew the papers all across the room. I picked up the letter as quickly as possible and put it back up in the window as near as I could to the way he had left it. I didn't read the letter, but I saw how he had started it. It read, "My Dear Sweet Woman", I knew by that he had found his woman.

It wasn't long before he an Lou Byrd, who was in her thirties and had never been married, got married and he brought her home. I can't say that she understood children too well. Hettie remembered Ma a little too much to accept a new person in Ma's place. Ed and I knew that Pa needed someone, so we tried to help and get along the best we could.

Frank and John were just at the age to cause a few problems if Lou got onto them about something. I don't know if they ever accepted her or not as children. Dewey, just being a baby, liked having someone to pay attention to him, so he accepted her as his mother. She was good to him. When she passed away years later, Dewey said, "She was the only mother I ever knew." --Written by Ruth W. McEntire

Source: Peggy Silvers, Echoes In The Mist (The Burgin Family 1677 - 1989)
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