The sun was bright and hot on the gently rippling stalks of ripe wheat. The time of day a farmer considers right for harvesting grain. Clanking noises came from the shadowy interior of the barn, and upon looking further, I found Mr. Cole preparing to crank up his combine. A hay baler and tractor could be heard from up the dirt lane, indicating that it was a very busy time for farmers.
After Mrs. Cole had called her husband to the cool shade of the front porch, we spent a pleasant two hours chatting about the hundred-year-old Cole home and various incidents from Mr. Cole’s boyhood days.
Pointing out the barn, Mr. Cole told of the slave quarters that once stood there during his grandparents’ time. The Isham Coles had come to Slygo from the Rufus Street place north of Morganville, but were originally from White County Tennessee. Three generations of Coles have been raised on 135-acre farm since, and all have enjoyed life the farm to the fullest.
Mr. Polk Cole earned his first money at Cole City at the age of nine. At that time the coal mines were in operation and around six hundred prisoners were kept in a stockade. His father and Bob Thurmond, once sheriff of Dade County, sold beef they had raised to the camp along with produce from the Cole garden. Vegetables had to be driven up the mountain every day by horse and wagon, and Mr. Polk was allowed to gather June apples from the family orchard to sell to the prisoners.
Once, when the corn in the field was knee-high, he remembers hearing rifle fire from the mountain. It turned out to be the worst break in the history of the stockade. Several prisoners were rounded up not far from the Cole farm and were marched back to camp along the road in front of their house.
Later, just before Mr. and Mrs. Cole were married in 1909, an Indian, dusty with travel, knocked at their door and requested permission to sleep that night under an elm tree in the yard. He had been born under it and had come all the way from a reservation out West to see Bade valley once more. The tree was cut several years after that.
Mr. Polk was educated at Cole City and at Jasper, Term. When he attended the one-room subscription school at Cole City, S.J. Hale was the instructor and boarded in the Cole home. Forty pupils were enrolled at the time, and later, when Mr. Cole taught there, thirty-two were on roll. He was eighteen years old and remembers the qualms of teaching a boy one-year-older than himself.
School was held on coal company property in a ramshackle one-room building until the weather turned so cold the group had to move to the pine plank church for lessons. The term was set to end after five months, but severe cold usually closed the school after three and a half months. Everyone who didn’t live within the coal camp rode horseback to get to school.
It was the last school held at Cole City and was finally closed during a small pox epidemic. Since the coal supply was exhausted about that time, the prisoners were moved to Durham and people began slowly drifting away.
After having raised seven children, six of whom graduated from Dade High School, the Coles are content to stick to the farm and raise cattle. They became interested in shorthorn breeding several years ago and are the owners of a registered bull, Cherry Hill Clansman, which they bought at Winchester, Term. The Cole herd includes a registered Hereford cow and a half-dozen half-breeds. They were successful in raising sheep until they sold out several years ago.
Mr. Cole works in Chattanooga in the construction business when he is not busy farming. His youngest son, Clark assisted him, until he went to California to live. The other children, Mae, Lillian, Noel, Ila, Earl and Velma are all married and living away from home.
The house contains evidences of Mr. Cole’s powers as a carpenter, the most recent of which are new walnut kitchen cabinets built from a tree in the back yard which was only a bush when he and Mrs. Cole were married. (Myrna McMahan, DADE COUNTY TIMES, June 23, 1955. Used by permission of Myrna McMahan)
William Polk was born in 1888 and died in 1976. His wife, Willie Luverna Doogan Cole was born in 1893 and died in 1961. Both are buried in the Bethlehem Cemetery in Slygo Valley not far from the old Cole farm.