Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clarence McCauley, A Man of the Soil

by David Parmer

Clarence McCauley quietly passed away at the age of ninety one years on October 2, 2003. His wife, the former Mary Means had died on April 17th of the preceding year. Thus ended the unique farm family of Clarence McCauley.

At the head of McCauley Run, just over the hill from the Burnsville Dam, lies the McCauley farm, the lifetime home of Clarence McCauley, son of Jonathan Hedges and Minnie (Taggart) McCauley. Consisting of approximately 140 acres, the farm provided the sole living for Clarence, his wife Mary Means McCauley, and their six children. It was an exceptional achievement for a family to wrest their living from the soil during the mid-20th century in central West Virginia. Most farm owners in this area had other employment, either full time or part-time, to help them make ends meet. Clarence McCauley and his wife Mary were exceptions to the rule.

The McCauley farm has little flat or tillable land. Most of the farm is made up of sloping hillsides, cleared for the most-part and primarily suitable for grazing stock. The farmhouse is a two story, frame house of unknown age, with the usual farm outbuildings. Clarence McCauley was born in this house during harvest time in 1911. For the next ninety one years, except for service to his country during World War II, this house was his home.

The McCauley Farm in Winter and Summer

Jacob McCauley
Jacob McCauley, the pioneering McCauley in the Orlando area, was a Confederate veteran of the Civil War and lost a hand during that conflict. Prior to acquiring the lands of W. M. Riffle in 1866, which consisted originally of 221 acres on what would later become McCauley Run, but was first known as the “First right fork of Oil Creek,” Jacob farmed in the Roanoke area.

Jacob and his wife, the former Cynthia Rohrbough, were the parents of at least ten children: Cora who married Draper Riffle; John J. who died in infancy; Thomas Marion who married Mary Taggart; William who married Lucy Hinkle; Samuel who married Cecilia Murphy; Jonathan Hedges who married Minnie Taggart; Amos who married Anna Crawford; Idena who married John Solomon Heater; Luella who married Benjamin Hinkle; and Clara who died in infancy.

The Jacob McCauley lands at his death were divided between his children William, Amos, Luella, Hedge, and grand-daughter Eva, each of whom received approximately 65 acres on McCauley Run.

Double click on the map to the left, of the distribution of Jacob MeCauley's land.

Jonathan Hedges McCauley

Jonathan Hedges McCauley, the father of Clarence McCauley, was born on McCauley Run in 1872. His father, Jacob McCauley, was a strong adherent to Methodism. During the mid-1800s, the Methodist faith was propagated primarily by traveling Methodist preachers who visited rural West Virginians with their gospel. One of these Methodist preachers who frequented central West Virginia was Jonathan Hedges. It is believed that the father of Clarence McCauley was a namesake for Jonathan Hedges, Methodist preacher.

To the left is Hedge McCaulley, to the right is his wife Minnie Taggart.

Jonathan Hedges McCauley was known to his family and contemporaries as “Hedge” or by some as “J. H.” Hedge was married to Minnie Taggart, daughter of Patrick Taggart and Sarah Sands Taggart who were neighbors to the south of the McCauley farm. Hedge and Sarah were the parents of ten children: Eva who married Robert Brown; Opal who died in infancy; Masel who married Coleman Conley; Mildred who married Jack Weaver; Venia who married William Zinn; Brent who married Bessie Whytsell; Ercie who married John Graff; Clarence who married Mary Means; Nina who married Lester Hardesty; and Lambert, also known as “Buck,” who married Jean Johnson. Hedge supplemented the acreage he acquired from his father by purchasing the Patrick Taggart farm, which increased his farm to around 141 acres.

To the right are the children of Hedge and Minnie McCauley: Ercie, Brent, Venie, Mildred, Lambert, Nina and Clarence

Clarence Becomes Lord of the Manor
Upon his death in 1946, Hedge McCauley left his McCauley Run farm to his sons, Clarence and Lambert. Clarence bought Lambert’s interest in the McCauley Run farm after World War II when Lambert decided to move to California. Clarence then became the sole “lord of the McCauley Run manor.” Clarence was still a bachelor and was devoted only to the husbandry of the soil.

Clarence was born in 1911 and had worked on the McCauley Run farm of his father since he was old enough to carry a bucket of slop for the pigs. Clarence did take the time from farm work to complete eight years of schooling at the McCauley Run School. He knew that he wanted to be a farmer for his life’s work and that more school would simply be a waste of time, especially since his father was getting older, his older sisters had married and left home, and there were only three boys to do the heavy farm work. Clarence enjoyed the hard work of a farmer and enjoyed even more the birth of lambs, calves and colts. He enjoyed tossing grain for the chickens, building fence, cutting “filth,” and the harvesting the crops.

To the left is the Lord of the Manor.

How Long Does it Take to Hoe a Row of Corn?

Clarence’s daughter Sawahana recalls that her father liked to talk about the work on the farm during his boyhood. He was particularly fond of reminiscing about a corn field planted by his father in which it would take a whole day to hoe just one row of corn. Shawn McCauley, Clarence’s youngest son and present owner of the McCauley farm, recalls the corn hoeing a little differently. Shawn estimates that the corn field stretched about 1400 feet from the scale house to the head of a hollow. Shawn who himself hoed a few rows of corn growing up on the McCauley farm recalls that it took one-half day to hoe a row of corn one way and another half day to hoe a second row back. So, in either case, whether one row or two rows of corn were hoed in a day, blisters and tired backs prevailed by the end of the day.

Sawahana also relates that her father was not a strong believer in labor-saving devices such as hay bailers. For example, Clarence believed that haymaking should be done as it was in the old days: by building hay stacks from shocks of hay with the help of a horse.

World War II
The dream of being a lifetime farmer was interrupted for Clarence in early 1942 when Uncle Sam sent him a draft notice. However, a childhood accident affected the nature of his service. During a game of “Dare You” with his older sister Venia, Clarence had laid his right hand on a chopping block and dared her to cut off his right index finger. Neither child acknowledged the bluff of the other and as a result Clarence was left with the last digit of his right index finger dangling from a thread. Jim Duvall, a farmhand who worked for Clarence’s dad, patched the pieces together as best he could until Doc Trimble could come from Burnsville to try to salvage the finger. Although the finger was saved, the first joint healed at a right angle to the rest of the finger. As a result, the draft board in 1942 took notice of Clarence’s right hand deformity and disqualified him from service as an infantryman because it would have impaired his ability to squeeze the trigger of the M-1 rifle. He was sent to the European theater where he served in the 35th Infantry Division as a litter bearer, combat medic, and surgical technician throughout the war. He was discharged from service in December 1945 with the rank of Tech 5. Carrying memories of the horrors of the war with him, Clarence returned to the more tranquil life of a farmer on McCauley Run. During the remainder of his life, he participated in Veteran’s Day events of the American Legion post in Burnsville.

Above, left, Clarence is the first soldier on the left.
To the right: Clarence & his errant trigger finger.

Back to Life on the Farm
His father had less than two months to live when Clarence came marching home from war. When Hedge McCauley died of lung cancer in February 1946, he left the McCauley Run farm to his sons Clarence and Lambert. As mentioned above, Lambert decided on a life in California and Clarence soon was the sole owner of the McCauley Run farm.

Clarence continued to raise cattle, sheep, milk cows, hogs, and chickens and was able to squeeze a simple living from his 141 acres. He sold eggs and vegetables in Burnsville and took livestock to the market in Weston. His daughter Sawahana recalls that her dad would arise at about 5 o’clock each morning and would feed his stock before eating himself. He would then work all day with a short break for lunch, and then resume his farm work until late in the evening.

Clarence Takes a Wife

Clarence was forty three years of age when it occurred to him that he might like the idea of being married. A handsome, personable farmer, Clarence set his eyes on thirty five year old Mary Means, a lovely, intelligent lady of Burnsville who lived on a small farm in Stringtown with her parents, W. A. “Dock” and Nora Means. Mary’s parents had operated a general store and a restaurant in Orlando during the second decade of the 1900s where their first child, Mark, was born. Dock Means sold his Orlando store to J. W. “Bill” Conrad around 1922, moved to a small farm in Burnsville, and entered the trade of traveling salesman and wool buyer. Clarence had become acquainted with Dock Means as the result of the wool trade and was aware that Dock had a beautiful daughter. Dock was aware that Clarence was a hard working farmer and approved of the courtship which ensued.

Clarence took Mary for his bride in a Weston ceremony witnessed by his sister Masel and her husband Francis. For the next nearly fifty years of marriage, Clarence and Mary would compete to see who could make the best butter, according to their daughter Sawahana.

Lovely Mary is above left, her dad, Dock Means, is on the horse below left.

To the right are Malora, Mark and Marlece.

In between butter churnings, Clarence and Mary also became the parents of six children, David, who died as a child in a tragic fire around 1957, Mark, Shawn, Sawahana, and twins Malora and Marlece.

The Farm Pond
Drought is a serious problem for farmers. Livestock needs to be watered. Plants need water to produce. A fulltime farmer takes the prospect of a drought probably more seriously than a part-time farmer with outside the farm employment. After surveying his farm for a suitable spot for a farm pond, Clarence set to work to build a pond with the help of his children. Clarence’s daughter Sawahana recalls that when her father wasn’t busy with other farm chores, or when it was too wet to work in the hay, he and his children worked on the building of the farm pond. Sawahana recalls that her father frequently referred facetiously to what he called his “African backhoe” which was used in the farm pond construction, that is, a wheelbarrow, shovels, and mattocks. Sawahana recalls that she and her sisters Marlece and Malora, and younger brothers, Mark and Shawn, spent many days over a two year period building the farm pond without machinery other than wheelbarrow, shovels and mattocks. Sawahana recalls that she helped to pack the lower pond wall of dirt and rock with a sledge hammer and that the pond was built so sturdily that it holds the pressure of fifteen to eighteen feet of water without a problem.

The Produce Van

Early each Saturday morning, Clarence would load his old 1961 Apache 30 Chevy van with farm produce, butter, cottage cheese, eggs, milk, buttermilk and anything else from the farm which might be sold and would visit usual customers or any other homes that might be a market for the farm products. Prior to using the 1961 Chevy van on his rounds, Clarence used a 1951 Chevy flat bed truck as the produce wagon. Clarence made stops on Riffle Run, and up the river toward Napier and Knawl, and came back to Main Street in Burnsville and on to Copen, Bower, Gilmer Station, Orlando and many places between, to sell his produce. He would never return from his merchandising rounds until dark on Saturday evening. He could sell his goods cheaper than grocery stores and always found customers. Clarence knew that to be successful at farming it was also necessary to know how to sell what was raised. This writer, thinking that he may have taken some of his children on the selling trips, posed the question to Clarence’s son Shawn, who chuckled and said that all of the children had farm chores to do on Saturday which had to be done by the time their father returned late on Saturday evening.

Being a farmer means being a businessperson. This document represents five shares of the Kanawha Grocery Company. Farmers who provided goods owned part of the enterprise.

The Farm Store

A small building, approximately 14 x 16, built atop a cellar stands behind the McCauley farm house. Clarence operated a little store in this building for many years for the convenience of close-by neighbors and in order to make a little profit. Clarence’s son, Shawn, believes that his dad opened this store around 1947 and operated it until around 1976. The glass showcase where he kept candy is still in the building as is the scale on which he weighed salt, coffee, or sugar which he kept for sale. Clarence also sold dried beans, Clorox, laundry soap, and maybe even a little moonshine whiskey.

Problem Solving
Clarence’s daughter Sawahana also recalls that her father was eager to have his wife Mary and their children participate in decisions, as well as the work, concerning the farm. Often at the kitchen table Clarence would pose a problem involving the farm and ask his wife and children to think about the problem and to offer solutions. The McCauley children through this experience learned practical solutions to vexing farm problems. Sawahana also recalls that farming is often just pure old hard work and that she and her siblings were thoroughly acquainted with the concept.
A Major Problem Without a Solution
During the early 1970s, a major problem without a solution confronted the Clarence McCauley family. Over the hill to the east of the McCauley farm is the Little Kanawha River, just below the mouth of Riffle Run. The United States Corps of Engineers was in the process of planning for the building of the Burnsville Dam and acquiring land through either purchase or condemnation. The Corps of Engineers decided that a forty five acre parcel of the McCauley farm was needed to furnish stone for the core of the dam structure and advised Clarence that he either had to sell at their price or a condemnation proceeding would commence. Mindful that he was a full time farmer and the part of his land in question was a vital part of his farm, Clarence refused to sell. The Corps of Engineers began condemnation proceedings despite the fact that at the time Clarence was grazing twenty two head of cattle and fourteen sheep on the land they sought. Clarence eventually offered to let the Corps have the stone they wanted for free and the only thing he would ask in return would be that the Corps would use equipment to clean up the construction site and return the land to him so his animals would not be deprived of the grazing area. The Corps refused Clarence’s proposal and proceeded with the condemnation action in federal court in Charleston. Clarence sought legal advice but the high cost of legal fees caused him to try to represent himself in the proceedings. Clarence advised the court that he had “five children in school and that the loss of forty five acres would leave them in a rough situation [and] that he would have to dispose of some stock.” Words, of course, cannot be heard by a deaf ear and Clarence lost a significant portion of his farm to the Corps of Engineers. As it turned out, the Corps of Engineers never did use the rock from the McCauley farm for the dam construction which had been the gist of the condemnation suit.

The Rule of Frugality

Frugality was a watchword for Clarence McCauley. Every penny expended in the farm budget had to be justified. An example of his philosophical bent in this regard is illustrated when Clarence fell and broke his arm. Instead of seeking expensive medical treatment, Clarence and his son Shawn set the broken arm and put it in a cast of plaster of Paris. All’s well that ends well, and Clarence made a full recovery without incurring any cost except for the plaster of Paris.

The Present Day

Clarence McCauley has been dead for six years and lies next to his wife Mary in the Quickle Cemetery on the Little Kanawha River side of the McCauley farm. Upon his death, he left his farm to his youngest son Shawn. Although Shawn is not a full time farmer like his father, he does admirably well in keeping the farm much the same as it was when Clarence did his last farm chore the day he died at 91.

To the right is the Quickle Cemetery.

comment 1 by Penny
Shawn has been married to my Aunt Penny for around ten years now, i think. I'm a college student and my aunt and uncle go out of their way to help me any way they can. The McCauley farm is my home when I leave WVU. It's beautiful and very tranquil, especially in the summer. You won't find better people on the planet than the McCauleys. I am old enough to remember Clarence and Mary and they were just as good hearted as Shawn.

comment 2 by Homer Heater

My grandmother was Idena Jane McCauley. That made my father and Clarence first cousins. I grew up on Riffle Run and spent a lot of time on McCauley Run. I remember as a little boy hoeing corn on the Taggart farm. I was so hungry I thought I would surely die, so my father sent me to Mrs. Taggart's house to ask for a sandwich. It was wonderful.Thanks for a great (as usual) story.

comment 3 by Donna Gloff
According to Don Norman, "Jacob [McCauley] traveled to Hillsboro, Pocahontas County in 1862 and enlisted in Company C. 17th Virginia Cavalry. CSA. While recruiting behind enemy lines, he was arrested by Union troops in Roane County VA. In October of 1863 and was sent to Military Prison at Wheeling VA (Atheneum Prison), then to Camp Chase at Columbus, OH and then to Fort Delaware, DE. He was released after taking the Oath of Allegiance on June 20, 1865."

comment 4

to the right is Minnie (Taggart) McCauley's father, Patrick Taggart. Click on Patrick's photo to see the fine garden behind him.

comment 5

Write your own caption for the McCauley farm photo to the right.


  1. My grandmother was Idena Jane McCauley. That made my father and Clarence first cousins. I grew up on Riffle Run and spent a lot of time on McCauley Run. I remember as a little boy hoeing corn on the Taggart farm. I was so hungry I thought I would surely die, so my father sent me to Mrs. Taggart's house to ask for a sandwich. It was wonderful.

    Thanks for a great (as usual) story.

    Homer Heater

  2. Shawn has been married to my Aunt Penny for around ten years now, i think. I'm a college student and my aunt and uncle go out of their way to help me any way they can. The McCauley farm is my home when I leave WVU. It's beautiful and very tranquil, especially in the summer.

    You won't find better people on the planet than the McCauleys. I am old enough to remember Clarence and Mary and they were just as good hearted as Shawn.