Stephen F. Austin State University

The Dowden Homestead Plum Tree (February 2012)

The Dowden Homestead Plum Tree
By Rickey Robertson

The settlers and homesteaders who resided on Peason Ridge were completely self - sufficient. These hardy folks raised cattle, sheep, goats, hogs, horses, and crops of all types. The crops that were raised were used for a two- fold purpose, one being to provide much needed food, and the other to sell as a cash crop to provide much needed money. All these families had a smokehouse full of fresh smoked hams, middlin's of bacon, and sausage. Vegetables were canned for the winter, and the corn crop was gathered and placed in the corn crib, where it would be used to feed the animals and also to take to the mill to be ground into corn meal.

To go with all these meats and vegetables, something special was also preserved. This was fruit preserves. Each homestead had a large fruit orchard of peaches, plums, and pears, and out in the woods and around the creeks were persimmons, mayhaws, muscadines, and wild grapes. These fruits were made into jams and jellies, plus some folks even made some homemade wine and sipping liquor out of these sweet treats. The women in the springtime would pick both dew and black berries for pies and cobblers for Sunday dinner. Wouldn't a good fresh cobbler taste good right now!

But in 1941 the US Army began taking these homesteads by using eminent domain. Sadly these folks had to load their possessions onto wagons and what few vehicles they had and had to move from the lands that had provided them so many riches. The army had them move so fast and would not allow them to go back, so many of these old fruit trees are still located on the old home sites. One of interest is the old plum tree that was in the front yard of the William "Billy Boy" Dowden place. The old plum tree is still located right where the old yard was and each spring it STILL bears the native fruit. This old plum tree provided the kids a bush to climb up on and play, delicious fruit for them to eat, but also enough fruit to be preserved into plum jelly. Over the years I have been by this old home-place hundreds of times and have partaken of this delicious fruit. Right in front of the old plum tree is the remains of the old wagon road that ran right in front of the Dowden Place. Up until the 1970's an 80's we could still travel this old road. There is no telling how many horses, mules, and wagons traveled this old road over the many years. As the travelers came by, the old plum tree was right by the road.

In the summer of 2011 I talked with the folks at the Environmental Section at Fort Polk who monitor the historical sites and locations of our ancestors on Peason Ridge and was able to get orange protective markers placed around this old tree to prevent its destruction by military training. Hopefully this will save the old plum tree for other generations to enjoy. It has been over 71 years since the Dowden Family had to leave their beloved home place, but the old plum tree allows us to remember this old place and the history of our ancestors who settled these lands. And through the Lord's Blessings, this old tree is still bearing fruit! Thank you Lord for allowing us to see Your Hand at work in nature through this old plum tree!