Monday, February 22, 2010

Frank Sprouse, Woodsman

Lumbering was a major occupation in central West Virginia, also a hard and dangerous one. Frank Sprouse was an experienced and capable woodsman, but on a day in May, 1951, husband, father, friend and neighbor Frank Sprouse became another work-related casualty.

by David Parmer

The Free State
It was spring, early May 1951. The leaves were new to the trees on the Free State, and the air was fresh. The day looked promising to Frank Sprouse, an experienced woodsman, and to his son, Eugene. They hoped the sky would remain blue, as they left their house early on the morning of May 1st to cut timber on the 1300 acre Free State tract. Most woodsmen would rather cut timber when leaves are gone because it is easier to see both the shape and location of the trees to be cut, as well as the adjoining trees, which allows them to plan how the tree will fall. But the trees this day had already leafed out and Frank’s vision of the woodland was somewhat obscured. Although the conditions were not ideal, Frank was not worried because he had cut trees at all times of the year without difficulty.

Upper right: Verna and Frank Sprouse
Left: We have only the northwest third of the Free State mapped. The area in red is approximate, determined from the information we have at hand. The "Free State" was actually property left unimproved by the absentee owner Robert Water.

Frank’s Lineage - from Albemarle to Gilmer
Tipton "Tippy" Sprouse, father of Frank Sprouse, was living in Gilmer County before 1860. The Albemarle County, Virginia native migrated to the Indian Fork area with his wife Eliza Ann and their four children. According to the 1860 census, their family consisted of Rachel, aged eleven and Nicholas, aged nine, both of whom had been born in Albemarle County, and the two youngest children, Sarah, aged four and Henry, aged two, both of whom had been born in Bath County. Since Henry was two years of age at the time of the 1860 census, the family’s move to Gilmer County must have been made sometime between 1858 and 1860.
By the time of the 1870 census, twenty-one-old Rachel and nineteen-year-old Nicholas had left home. However, the family at home still consisted of four children because James and Martha had been born to Tippy and Eliza since the 1860 census.
Sometime between 1870 and 1876, Eliza died because in the latter year the forty-two-year-old Tippy married twenty-one-year-old Sarah E. Ratliff, daughter of the widow Rebecca Ratliff.

Right: Tipton and Sarah (Ratliff/Radcliff) Sprouse.
Children of the Second Marriage
Tippie wasted no time producing a second set of children by his young wife Sarah. By 1900, the sixty-seven-year-old Tippie was the father of nine additional children by his then forty-five-year-old second wife Sarah, their ages ranging from twenty-two years to one year: Lewis, aged 22; Mary C., aged 13; Homer, aged 18; Hiram, aged 16; Thomas J., aged 11; George Frank, aged 9; Effie V., aged 8; Edward, aged 2 and Angie L., aged 1. The sixth child of Tippie and Sarah, George Franklin Sprouse, or Frank, as he would be called, is the woodsman of this story.

Frank Sprouse
Born on Indian Fork, Frank Sprouse grew up in the midst of the feverish oil and gas drilling which took place in the early 1900’s around Orlando. Being well-acquainted with horses on his father’s farm, Frank obtained a job as a teamster hauling drilling equipment from the Orlando and Burnsville rail depots and the Burnsville oil field supply houses. Managing teams of horses who were straining to pull heavy loads was a difficult job, but the pay was good, and the work was outside which Frank enjoyed.
When Frank was twenty-two, he took a wife and start a family. He looked no further than the adjoining Indian Fork farm of Cain and Mary "Polly" Wimer who had a nice looking daughter named Mary Verna who was about his age. On February 14th, 1913 Frank and his sweetheart Verna went to Orlando and caught the train to Weston to pay a visit to the County Clerk’s office. Returning to Orlando with a license to marry in hand, the United Brethren minister, V. F. Williams, married them three days hence. After the deed was done, Frank and Verna settled into home-making and began raising a family. Four girls, Icie, Bridget, Frena, and Thelma, and two boys, Denzil and Eugene, soon graced the hearth of the Sprouse home.
Right above: Frank and Verna (Wimer) Sprouse's wedding picture.
Right below: Frank and Verna (Wimer) Sprouse's children Icey, Denzil "Dick". Bridget, Frena, Eugene and Thelma

Frank the Teamster
When Frank gave the County Clerk information for his marriage license, he gave his occupation as "Teamster." His earliest teamstering was done for the many oil and gas drillers in the Orlando area in the early 1900’s. Eighty-seven-year-old Tom Pumphrey recalls that he was employed as a truck driver for Leach and Wallace Tie and Lumber Company during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s while Frank worked as a teamster for the same employer on various timbering jobs in the Three Lick and Goosepen areas. "Frank had a way with horses. He talked to them like they were humans and the horses seemed to understand what he was saying to them. He was a master with horses." Tom also recalls that "Leach used a steam boiler to power the saw mill, and it was my dad’s (William Jackson Pumphrey) job to keep the boiler running. Fred Gibson and Frank Sprouse, both worked the teams, Audrie Burkhammer and Jiggs Riffle were sawyers, and Denzil Sprouse, Frank’s son, Martin Posey, Eddie Donaldson, Charlie Posey, and World War I veteran Harry Keats, also cut trees and worked around the mill." Tom further recalled that Harry Keats was from the Buckhannon area and his sister Pauline worked as a housekeeper for Shelton Wallace who had a farm on Pine Run. Tom continued, "I drove truck, delivering the pulpwood or sawn lumber to Orlando where it was loaded onto boxcars. Later, we trucked the wood to Homewood, outside Weston." Tom also recalled that there was a lot of pulpwood to be cut on the Free State property.

How Trees Fall
Frena (Sprouse) McCauley
, daughter of Frank Sprouse and Vernie Sprouse, remembers the morning of May 1st, 1951 as clear and a little chilly during the early morning as she began doing the family laundry at her Goosepen home just over Ryan’s Hill from her parents’ home on Three Lick. On the Three Lick Free State tract, Frena’s dad had selected the first tree to be cut that crisp morning and laid his sharp axe blade into the trunk. Tree-cutting was hard work in 1951. Although chain saws had already been invented, they were still a few years away from common use, so Frank labored with his axe. Unfortunately, when the tree fell, it lodged into another tree and the only way to get the first tree down to the ground was to cut the tree it was lodged in. Frank set to work on the second tree and soon it was ready to fall. The physics of how trees fall when cut are subject to lots of variables. Having the weight of two entangled trees in the balance causes great consternation even among experienced woodsmen such as Frank Sprouse. Apparently concentrating on the direction of fall of the larger of the two trees, Frank did not anticipate the smaller tree falling in an unexpected direction. It all happened so fast that Frank could not escape the falling tree. The entire weight of the errant tree fell squarely on Frank’s head, breaking his neck and killing him instantly. Frank’s daughter, Thelma Prince, now living in Delaware, recalls that her father often said that no self-respecting woodsman should be injured by a falling tree. However, as Thelma remembers the day of her father’s unfortunate death, the story as she knew it was that the entangled trees began to fall in the direction of her brother Eugene, who was lethargic and inattentive on this morning as the result of too much alcohol the night before. Her father recognized the danger and ran to push Eugene out of danger but instead he himself fell the victim.

Bad News Brought to School
Mrs. Ernestine Tulley’s Three Lick School was business as usual and lessons had to be taught on this early day in May of 1951. The weather was warm and shoes had been left at home as the bare-footed students thought of recess and the end of the school year, which was nearing. Ten-year-old Patty Ann Riffle, daughter of Bridget and [Junie] Jiggs Riffle, and granddaughter of Frank Sprouse, enjoyed school and was not anxious to see it end. It was late morning when Patty’s father appeared at the door of the Three Lick School. After a whispered conversation between Jiggs and Mrs. Tulley, Patty Ann was called to the rear of the room and left with her father. Bob Pumphrey recalls that after their classmate had left, Mrs. Tulley gave the class the bad news that Patty’s grandfather had been struck by a falling tree and the woodsman had not been spared. Frank was laid to rest in the Finster Cemetery.

Left above: The Three Lick 4H club photo shows Patty Ann Riffle with school friends. Patty is in black and white near the middle of this photo.
Right above: Patty Ann the same year her grandfather was killed by a falling tree.

. . . . .

Frank Sprouse's Death Certificate. Click on it to enlarge it

Note 1
When Frank Sprouse was killed by the falling tree on May 1, 1951, two daughters, Thelma (Sprouse) Prince and Frena (Sprouse) McCauley, had already married and had left home. Frena now lives in Weston and Thelma resides in Delaware. Both daughters recall vividly the day they received word of their father’s death. Frena was living at Goosepen and was doing the family laundry when word arrived of her father’s death. Thelma was living in Weston and was expecting birth at any time. Thelma, because of her condition, was unable to return home until the day of the funeral at the Finster U. B. Church.
Frank’s other two daughters, Icie and Bridget, now deceased, were also married but were living on Three Lick at the time of the accident.

Note 2
Tipton Sprouse, an early Indian Fork settler, was the father of Frank Sprouse, as well as his brother Homer. The current member of the West Virginia House of Delegates from Lewis County, Margaret “Peggy” Donaldson, is the g-g-granddaughter of Tipton Sprouse and the g-granddaughter of Homer Sprouse.

Note 3
Dale Barnett recalls that the Free State tract consisted of about 1300 acres. “The Waters heirs from Baltimore owned the property at one time,” recalled Dale, and “then they sold it to the Koppers Company, and later it passed on to Charlie Moran.” Tom Pumphrey recalls that Charlie Moran began selling parcels off the original Free State tract and that “[Junie]Jiggs Riffle, Frank Sprouse’s son-in-law, bought a parcel, as did [Arthur A.] Os Davis, and Clarence Riffle, another Frank Sprouse son-in-law. Frank Sprouse also bought a Free State parcel.”

Note 4 by Sonny Wymer
When Frank Sprouse was killed by the falling tree, he and his son Eugene were cutting trees for “Old Man Leach” in what we call the “Dark Hole” on the Free State property. The location was near the home of Edward Scott “Bud” Blake and was at the head of a hollow. This hollow is on the right side of the road going up Three Lick on the Lewis County side of the Free State.

What remains of the Free State property after all the outsales have been made is now owned by the Rosewood Lumber Company out of Buckhannon. The timber has been cut so many times over the past few years that there isn’t enough timber left for a “good toothpick.”

Note 5 by Bob Pumphrey
I was still attending school at Three Lick when Frank Sprouse was killed by the falling tree. I recall that there was a two day wake at the Sprouse home and many people attended. The funeral services were held at the Finster Church, again with many family and friends in attendance. The day of the funeral was rainy and with heavy thunder. To get the casket to the top of the hill required a team and sled which was furnished by Cecil Pumphrey who lived nearby

Right: Bob Pumphrey the year Frank Sprouse died.

Note 6
Sarah Ratliff Sprouse, widow of Tipton Sprouse, died at age 72 on June 29, 1926 at Bower in Braxton County. She was buried in the Boilon Cemetery in Gilmer County.

1 comment:

  1. Jessica Sprouse-AndrewThursday, March 24, 2011

    I would really love to know who compiled this information because I want to know more! Frank was my great great grandfather. I am the daughter of David Sprouse and the grand daughter of Denzil(Dick)Sprouse. Please email me!