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Pineywoods Cattle Registry & Breeders Association

Barnes

Pineywoods Cattle – The Barnes Line

Donald A. Cope

Barnes cattle owned by Allen Roberts
Barnes Cow A.jpeg Barnes Cow B.jpeg Barnes Cow C.jpeg Barnes Cow D.jpeg

The region of southeast Alabama lying between the Alabama and Chattahoochee Rivers is home to several small, barely navigable, and relatively short rivers (the Conecuh, Yellow, and Pea-Choctawhatchee) which make their way some 150 miles to the Gulf Coast.  One of these, the Yellow River, arises near the community of Rose Hill in the northeast corner of Covington County. Quickly joined by creeks such as Five Runs and Lightwood Knot, it is still diminutive when, some thirty miles to the south, it crosses the Alabama-Florida line en route to its terminus on the eastern side of Pensacola Bay. Its source is 400 feet above sea level in rolling red hills but it soon levels out in typical “north Florida” terrain.  Heavily wooded with considerable floodplains it early became host to settlers’ herds of semi-feral cattle and hogs. Grady McWhiney in Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South records:

Covington (County) was predominately cattle country; in 1850 it produced some  3,192 more cows and 10,253 more hogs than were needed to feed its population. Many of these animals were raised by people who owned no land. One man who owned no land nonetheless possessed 160 beef cattle and 250 swine . . . .  Of the (county’s) 497 heads of household listed in the 1850 census , 42 percent were Landowners and 58 percent were tenants . . . .  But fully 95 percent of the tenants and 96 percent of the landowners owned animals.

In the late 1850s Riley and Elizabeth Barnes relocated their family of five children from nearly Dale County to settle along Clear Creek, an eastern tributary of the Yellow River, approximately fifteen miles southeast of present day Andalusia. By the time of the Civil War Barnes had herds of sheep and cattle and a rural mercantile business and was a teacher and justice of the peace.  Enlisted in the Fifty-Seventh Alabama Infantry, he was killed in July 1864, at the Battle of Peachtree Creek.  His death left his widow with seven children, aged two to fourteen.

William Riley Barnes, the fifth child of Riley and Elizabeth, had been born in Dale County in 1857 but grew up on the farm at Clear Creek. Upon attaining manhood he ran cattle, floated logs down the Yellow River to Milton, Florida, and purchased land.  In 1893 he constructed a home just east of the Yellow River on what is now known as the Cravey Bridge Road and married Sarah L. Bulger.  The site remained their home until his death in 1949 and her death in 1956.  Between 1893 and 1908 they had seven children.  They farmed, bought several hundred acres of land, operated a store, raised livestock and dealt in lumber and turpentine. William R., like his father, served as justice of the peace and supported local schools. Across the dirt road from their home was their store which also served as the Iola, Alabama, post office (1887-98, 1904-08). The road past their house was a major route between Andalusia and Florala until Highway 55 was constructed in 1940-41.  Their cattle, around 300 head, ran loose from the east side of Five Runs Creek to the Geneva County Line. 

William Riley Barnes died in 1949 but his sons A. Dewey (1898-    ) and Okla (1908-1985) kept up the family tradition of range cattle until modernization forced fencing in the early 1950s.  Dewey’s son, William H. (Billy) Barnes (b. 1934) described the Barnes cattle of his youth as “white, blue-sided, red-sided, red pied, black pied, strawberry speckled, and some solid colored. Black ears and noses predominated and none were polled.”

Noah and Melba Oliver of Enterprise (Coffee County), Alabama, bought some of their first woods cattle from Okla Barnes in 1974.  She recalled going to the “Yellow River swamps” with Okla to select their purchases.  The cattle ranged widely and received little care. Okla had some pens with salt which drew the animals.  Mr. Oliver continued the regimen of mild support for his cattle and expected them to make their own way whenever possible.  He also acquired “Florida Cracker” cattle, and, fascinated with horned cattle, later acquired some Texas Longhorns and African Watutsi stock.

As was so often the case old age and infirmity forced Dewey and Okla to give up their cattle. Okla  retained his herd until the early 1980s, and the purchasers mixed them with commercial cattle.  Today W.H. (Billy) Barnes owns the old home built by his grandfather in 1893 and keeps a small herd of Woods Cattle separate from his commercial cattle.

Sources:

Interviews with W.H. Barnes and Melba Oliver, Summer, 2006.

Derlie Barnes, Down Our Barnes Ancestral Trail, 1750-1990.

Grady McWhiney, Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South.



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