August 2006
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Crenshaw Co. Farmer Jessie Salter Going Strong At 96

 
  Jessie Salter enjoyed riding in the back of the pickup during the parade in honor of his 96th birthday.
by Ben Norman

Motorists driving by Jessie Salter’s home on Crenshaw County 59 recently may have wondered if they had happened upon the camp of the 7th Horse Calvary. The hill top encampment across from Salter’s house was covered with motor homes, horse trailers, and mounted riders. But it wasn’t the cavalry; it was a gathering of Salter’s friends and family who had come to help him celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday.

Salter was born on a farm in Crenshaw County on June 8, 1910. He has been farming in Crenshaw County since he started plowing a mule for his father in 1920. It is Salter’s love for the land and horses that inspired his granddaughter, Yvonne Salter Edwards, to invite her trail riding club from Atlanta to come to Salter’s farm near Luverne and help him celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday.

"Granddaddy’s love for horses has been passed down to his children and grandchildren. We just decided a couple of years ago to incorporate this into celebrating his birthday. This year we had a parade with Granddaddy riding in the back of a pickup as seventeen mounted riders followed him from his home to The Star of Hope Baptist Church," said Edwards.

At the church, everyone enjoyed the cake and punch, but it was Salter’s talk to the attendees about his early farming years that had everyone spellbound. Salter told his well-wishers how hard it was coming up on a farm in the early 1900s. "My daddy had acquired around 400 acres of land and all eleven of us children had to plow, hoe, and gather the crops. We killed our own hogs and calves, made syrup, and kept a large vegetable garden," said Salter.

 
Jessie’s twin granddaughters, Yolanda Salter Bolden (left) and Yvonne Salter Edwards (right), inherited their love of horses from their grandfather.  
Salter recounted how he began farming with his new bride, the former Bessie Allen, in 1933. "I had a one horse crop with my daddy on halves. He furnished the land and the mules and I furnished the labor, then I gave him half of what I made. I had a turn plow for breaking the land and an old "Georgia Stock" plow for cultivating."

Salter said following a mule on a balmy summer day would test the mettle of any man. "You needed a good breakfast and a lot of water to follow behind a young mule all day. We either carried our water in a jug or went down to the spring for a drink. Sometimes you even had to run a water moccasin off before you could get a drink," laughed Salter.

Salter said he bought 225 acres from his father in 1945. " I farmed the land and cleared the right-of-way for the REA lines that were bringing electricity to the rural areas. I used the money I made on this job to fence my land and buy some cows."

 
  Family and friends get ready to ride in Jessie’s birthday parade.
"You just don’t know how exhausting it was to plow a mule all day during the summer and then come in and have to cut and split enough wood for your wife to cook the next day," said Salter. "Why I remember coming in for lunch one day in July and Bessie had a roaring fire going in that wood stove. Man, it was so hot you couldn’t stay in the house. I told her right then I was going to go to town the next Saturday and buy her an electric stove. Not too long after buying the stove we got a refrigerator too. Until then I had to let jugs of milk down in the well on a rope to keep it cool. Things were a lot better with that electric stove and refrigerator," said Salter.

Farming practices were beginning to change about this time too, said Salter. " I had been farming with a pair of mules up until 1950 when I bought my first tractor, a 8N Ford. I later bought more land and expanded my farming operation and I was soon running three tractors.

Herbicides and pesticides were coming into the picture too, said Salter. "Until we started using herbicides, we had to do a lot of plowing and hoeing. I can remember losing a whole cotton crop to boll weevils. I had a cotton crop planted near the swamp, the boll weevils ate the whole crop up."

"The people at Luverne Cooperative Services can really give good advice about what kind of chemicals to use to control weeds and insects. I have been buying my chemicals and other farm supplies from the Co-op in Luverne since the day they opened."

Salter’s daughter, Betty Pounds, says they have a hard time keeping Salter off his tractor. "Jessie Junior is doing most of the pea and butterbean farming now, but daddy will still get up on that John Deere and do some plowing. We used to try and keep him off the tractor, but he would get up at daybreak and sneak out of the house. By the time you heard that diesel fire up, it was too late – Daddy had done left on that tractor."

Salter says he tries to stay active by doing a little gardening, looking after a few cows, and fishing in his pond. "I used to really love to squirrel hunt," said Salter. "I had a pair of squirrel dogs that was as good as any in this country. I could still do a fair job of keeping up with them dogs until I was about 85. I really love squirrel and dumplings," said Salter.

According to Salter, getting around has been much easier since he got his battery powered "scooter." "I just can’t walk like I used to, but I get around the farm pretty good on my scooter. Why, I might even be able to ride this thing down to the pecan trees and get a squirrel or two."

So if you are riding by Salter’s house on County 59 and hear that old single barrel 12 gauge go off, don’t be alarmed. It’s probably just "Mr. Jessie" collecting the ingredients for a squirrel and dumpling supper.

Ben Norman is a freelance writer from Highland Home.