|Birth: ||Sep. 24, 1842|
|Death: ||Jan. 9, 1900|
Nancy Jane was born in 1842 into a small, tightknit mountain community where almost everyone was related. In 1860 she was married to George Runyan, her cousin and next-door neighbor. Their idyllic mountain lifestyle was soon spoiled by the Civil war and its aftermath, leading Nancy Jane and George to take their growing family to newer realms on the American frontier, first in the forested Ozark mountains of Arkansas, and then in the fertile plains of Indian Territory. Their family’s story is recounted in her husband’s memorial, complete with maps, publications, and satellite photos. The focus here will be on her close-knit family relations and their frontier lifestyle.
Nancy Jane’s grandfather, Stephen Lee, was descended from the Lees of Virginia, who were founding fathers of the state. Robert E. Lee was a distant cousin. Stephen’s father had served in the Revolutionary war, and as a consequence he was probably granted land on the frontier in Tennessee, where he moved with his family. What’s important here is that Stephen married Margaret Mantooth, daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth (Phariss) Mantooth. Their own daughter, Nancy Lee, was married to her uncle William Mantooth, who was also the son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Phariss) Mantooth. In fact, it seems that most of their local community was related to this family in some way.
In 1860 Nancy Jane Mantooth was married to George Washington Runyan, who lived next door. George was the grandson of Thomas Mantooth Jr, a son of Thomas and Elizabeth (Phariss) Mantooth. So the children of George and Nancy Jane were descended from three different children of Thomas and Elizabeth (Phariss) Mantooth. Relatives from this descent group were close-knit, often lived together as neighbors, and often married within the group. When one migrated west to another state, others often followed, and several families ended up with Nancy Jane in Indian Territory.
So who were Thomas and Elizabeth (Phariss) Mantooth? William L. Deyo, in his book The Monteith Family and the Potomac Indians, p. 29, writes that according to Monteith family tradition, “John Monteith, son of Thomas and Phyllis (Gallop) Monteith, traditionally went to North Carolina and had issue.” He goes on to say, “The Mantooth family tradition was that John Monteith, a son of [Sir] Thomas Monteith [of Scotland], married a Cherokee Indian woman and had a son, Thomas, known as ‘Cherokee Tom,’ who was born in North Carolina about 1760. Traditionally, ‘Cherokee Tom’ changed his name to ‘Mantooth’ and moved to Shenandoah County, Virginia, where on Sep 3, 1785, he was married to Elizabeth Pharris.” Thus Thomas Mantooth was of Scottish and Cherokee ancestry. The name “Pharris” is a variant of “Fergus,” which is a surname found in the Scottish lowlands and in northern England, so evidently she was Scottish.
They were a hardy frontier couple, but Cherokee Tom was also a justice of the peace. According to Donna Minke, Tom performed the wedding ceremony for Nancy Jane’s grandparents, John Lee and Agnes Jennings, in Buckingham County, Virginia (Feb 18, 1780). Evidently Tom and Elizabeth wanted to move to eastern Tennessee, but during the American Revolutionary War, the British had been arming Indians along the frontier and paying them to attack the Americans, and this forestalled migration into the area. With the cessation of the war, however, it was possible to settle the region. So around 1790 Tom and family, along with Elizabeth's parents and their family, crossed into Tennessee and settled in the Big Pigeon Valley of Cocke County. According to Brenda Schwall, he acquired the property where the Sweetwater Creek flows into the Pigeon River (now just called the “Pigeon River”). (See “Sweetwater” on the map at right. Click to see earth view of the property.) Cherokee Tom and Elizabeth Mantooth were among the earliest settlers there. Besides hunting and farming, Tom served as a justice of the peace. They were among the first members of Pigeon Baptist Church, but according to Donna Minke, they started a small church of their own on Edwina Road, which lacked a permanent building but had a bell tower that still stands. Tom disappeared around 1836. Brenda Schwall reports a family tradition told her by Jimmy Morrow, that when the U.S. Army began seizing people of Cherokee ancestry to force them to move to Oklahoma, Thomas Mantooth, then in his seventies, retreated to the forest near Nailon, near what is now Cherokee National Forest. (See Nailon on the map at right. Click to see topographical view of the area.) According to this story, that is the place where Tom passed from this life. Cherokee Tom was Nancy Jane’s paternal grandfather, and her maternal great-grandfather, and her husband’s great-grandfather, and it was into the community of Tom Mantooth’s descent group that she was born.
Move to Arkansas
After her marriage, Nancy Jane gave birth to two daughters: Mary Florence (1860-1899) and Dora “Dory” (1863-1900). But then the Civil War erupted. Although the counties of eastern Tennessee rejected secession from the Union, Confederate military forces occupied most of these counties, including Cocke, and forced men to join. So in October, 1863, George was sent away in the mounted infantry. After he came back, they had three more children: James “Jim” (1866-before 1891), Malcom “Make” (1869-1915), and Theodocia E. “Docia” (1870-1913), also called “Doshie.” The war, however, had caused deep divisions and resentments among the citizens of eastern Tennessee, and the mountain valley resources could not support a growing population, so in 1871 Nancy Jane and family moved to Arkansas. They evidently traveled by train with the family of Joseph Runyan, George’s cousin and war buddy. They had gone there the previous year to check out the locations. Joseph settled on a farm in Oil Trough, near Newport, but Nancy Jane and family traveled 110 miles up the White River to Bennetts Bayou, a sparsely populated mountain valley in the Ozark Mountains of Fulton County. Nancy had a second cousin there named William Thomas “WT” Mantooth, and most likely he had encouraged them to come. Nancy Jane and her family lived on a farm watered by the Bennetts River, and WT evidently lived on the same farm or else nearby. Click to see earth view of the property. In 1883 WT purchased a homestead on the North Fork of the White River, in Baxter County, and shortly afterwards he married Nancy Jane's eldest daughter, Mary Florence. In 1888, WT sold the property to the Runyan family, who moved there and further improved the property, while WT and Mary Florence moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). (Click to see a map of the two properties.)
Life on the Arkansas frontier
The frontier families who lived in these mountains sought a wilderness lifestyle, with few people, minimal interference, and with abundant fish to catch and game to hunt. The life they led is described in these excerpts from A Reminiscent History Of The Ozark Region (Chicago: Goodspeed Brothers, 1894):
[p. 20] The pioneers' cabins were generally made of logs, sometimes hewed on two sides and sometimes not hewed at all … One or two small openings were cut out for windows, in which greased paper, when it could be had, was often substituted for glass … All the tools required in building it were an ax, broadax, froe and auger. Many such a cabin was built without the use of a nail, and many of them come down to our own times, excelling in construction their modern neighbors.
[p. 21] The early settlers occupied themselves principally in making clearings, cultivating garden patches and raising hogs and cattle. They also hunted, dealt in furs and traded with the Indians. The bee tree furnished them with honey, the forests with deer and other large game, the rivers with fish, and their lands with corn. The women engaged in carding, spinning and weaving, as well as cabin-keeping, and sometimes aided their husbands in the cultivation of the ground. "Log rollin's," "corn shuckin's," and "cabin raisin's" were occasions which young and old enjoyed. There was abundance of fine deer, bear and turkey, while elk, beavers, muskrats, foxes, wildcats, catamounts, panthers and wolves were found also. Venison, bear meat and turkey constituted their chief meat, together with their own domestic stock. Then as now, the excellent water and grazing made stock-raising the most extensive and profitable of all industries; in fact there was little else.
How often when the cold nights began would the family, the cat and dog, draw near to the warm hearth inside, while on the warm chimney shoulder outside the fowls would roost! The spinning-wheel sat near when all was done; the gun hung on pegs out of the children's reach; fur hides were placed on some part of the house to cure; the boys lost their coonskin caps; the girls admired their home-spun dress in some clear spring which furnished water for the family; the grandfather reached his cob or clay pipe down into the ashes below the blazing backlog for a live coal; sometimes the doleful howl or scream of some animal startled them; supper steamed in a great kettle sitting on or hung over the coals in the fireplace; after that often the neighbors (ten or fifteen miles distant) would come in, and sometimes "the new preacher" would read the Bible and preach; … other times "thu young'uns 'ud have uh dancin' party," and walnuts, hickory-nuts, pop-corn, cider and apples would be set out; the "corn shuckin'" and "quiltin' " were not missed either. Sometimes the father or mother would have the girls and boys point out "a" and "round o" and "crooked s," and so learn to read in a spelling book or the Bible. The courier postman seldom brought letters, and still more rarely, newspapers.
In addition to farming, hunting, and home crafts, the Runyans seem to have supplemented their income by providing personal services, namely cutting hair and sewing clothes. They were a musical family, singing and playing stringed instruments, but that is unlikely to have been a source of income. During their twenty years in the Ozarks, Nancy Jane gave birth to five more children: Naomi Darlene "Oma" (1875-1936), Richard Houg "Hodge" (1877-1908), Lou (1879-BEF 1891), Alonzo "Lon" (1882-), and Lillie May (1885-1914). Lou died sometime after 1880 and was buried near the North Fork of the White River, just up the river from their second home. Their son Jim was probably buried there as well.
Move to Indian Territory
The family took an interest in new lands opening for settlement in Indian Territory. WT and Mary Florence travelled to Indian Territory in time for the land run of April 22, 1889. The 1890 census finds them living in Oklahoma County. But they sold their claim and moved across the South Canadian River from Oklahoma Territory to Indian Territory. (They were not united until 1907.) They opened a general store in the small village of Johnsonville, named after a Chickasaw rancher. Then in January, 1891, Nancy Jane sold their 208-acre property in Arkansas, and the family moved to the Johnsonville area, where they settled on land just two miles southeast of the village. ( See location of farm in photo section.) (Click to see earth view of the farm.) Besides raising stock, their sons Malcom and Alonzo worked as barbers, and their daughter “Oma” worked as a seamstress. Their married daughter Dora lived on a separate farm with her family, a few miles further east.
There were few medical services in that area at the time, and they invited John R. Runyan to come help. He was the son of George’s cousin and war buddy, Joseph Manning Runyan, who lived in Arkansas. JR Runyan had completed one year of medical school and was farming to earn money to pay for further training. So around 1894 JR came to the area, along with his brother Russell. JR Runyan provided services commensurate with his training, then in September, 1895, he went to Missouri Medical College to complete his medical education. Russell courted Moodie Mantooth, the daughter of Nancy Jane’s nephew Clayborn Mantooth, who worked on the Humbard Ranch in Collin County, Texas, and they were married there in February, 1895. They and her parents and family all moved to the Johnsonville area, where they settled next to the Runyan family.
Elizabeth (Pendergrass) Mantooth, who was the widow of Nancy Jane’s cousin (and WT’s uncle) John Mantooth, moved to the area with her many children but lived a few miles away. WT’s sisters and son moved to the area as well, with their families. Almost all of these adults had been born into the close-knit Mantooth-Runyan community in the Pigeon Valley south of Newport, Tennessee, and most had been with them in Arkansas as well. Nancy Jane seems to have drawn them to the Johnsonville area and been something of a matriarch to the clan.
Their Lifestyle in Indian Territory
There was considerable community spirit among the settlers. The Chickasaw Enterprise, a newspaper in Pauls Valley, wrote of the plans for celebrating Independence Day in Johnsonville in 1895:
JOHNSON WILL CELEBRATE
Arrangements Made for a Big Barbecue and Picnic on July 4. Fun for Everybody.
The business men of Johnson and the farmers of the country surrounding have completed arrangements whereby they will celebrate on July 4, on an extensive scale. In the large grove which surrounds the town, a barbecue and picnic will be held, and amusements such as horse racing, foot racing, greased pole climbing, ball playing, etc., will he provided. Swings will be provided for the children and a large dancing platform will be erected for lovers of that amusement. Prominent speakers from abroad will be present, and music for the occasion will be furnished by the Center brass band. Fill your baskets and turn out and make the day an enjoyable one for all. Good shade, water in abundance and amusement for all.
A few years later the newspaper published an opinion piece that described the growing town:
In the beautiful valley of the South Canadian river there is a town where peace and happiness dwells; there the church bells ring in a handsome edifice recently erected for a place of worship, where the blooming of wild flowers often meet in happiness the little children who come to recite their Sabbath-school lessons. A short distance from the church in a beautiful oak grove stands a magnificent building erected by people who till the soil of this beautiful valley in which to educate the children in and near the town. The upper story of this building is used as a fraternity hall by the different organizations. This little town is called Johnsonville.
The Runyans were musically inclined and had their own string band. A later photo) shows Make with the fiddle, Oma with the guitar, and Lon with the banjo. Docia used to sing, and perhaps others did as well. Dora’s daughter Beulah, who was raised by Docia for some years and listened to Docia singing at home, went on to become a professional singer. It might have been their custom all along to sing and play in the evenings, especially when they were all living on the farm, together perhaps with their relatives. After they moved to Johnsonville and left the Russell Runyan family alone on the farm, this was their custom. Russell Runyan’s youngest daughter told Donna Minke that her family would sit on the porch and sing after dinner, accompanied on guitars and a fiddle.
Life on the Runyan Farm
Donna Minke, who lived on the farm, gives following description of the property where the Runyan families settled:
“It was hilly and wooded with some steep hills and deep ravines, but also flatter areas for planting alfalfa, vetch, rye, corn, watermelons, etc. The plants and grasses that grew naturally were good for grazing. The deep red dirt was fertile, and they were able to produce corn, grain, nuts and fruit in abundance. The farmhouse was situated on the highest hill around and could be seen from miles away. Nevertheless, the land was fertile and well-watered. Although the main farmhouse was on a hill, there was an underground spring near the house that watered a large vegetable garden from underneath. In the garden they grew potatoes, tomatoes, vegetables, and fresh greens. The spring also fed the largest of the three ponds, which supplied them with fresh fish and provided water their dairy cows. Even when the creeks ran dry in the summer, the spring supplied water and kept the pond full. This was a stock farm, and they raised a lot of hogs, from the huge fat pink ones to the smaller hairy red ones. They would render the fat off the hog, combine it with wood ash and make lye soap in a large cast iron pot on the lawn under a small fire. They had two chicken barns in which they raised chickens and collected eggs.
“The land as a whole contained many creeks and ravines. There were gigantic gray rock formations which were flat on the top, and you could have put a dozen people or more or top of the individual rocks. In the spring the redbud trees, which had planted themselves in whatever nook and cranny they could find amongst the giant gray rocks, burst into beautiful deep pink blooms for several weeks. In the summer these redbuds provided shade, and that’s where they had their picnics, on top of ‘The Rock Pile,’ as it was called. On one of the giant rocks there was a 8"-10" circular hole that was unusually smooth and several inches deep. It was said this was where the Indians used to grind their corn.”
With regard to their diet, it would have been the high-country cuisine that was common to their homes in Tennessee and Arkansas, and which Moodie Runyan continued to prepare on the Runyan Farm long afterwards. Donna Thompson Minke describes it as follows:
“Moodie made homemade biscuits every morning. She served them with butter she had churned herself from cream. She churned butter every day but had advanced from the old wooden churn to a square glass jar with wooden paddles and a rotary beater. She served homemade fruit preserves with the biscuits. I liked her Sand Plum Jelly the most. They were small trees that grew wild along the creek banks, and their small fruit was very tart. We sometimes had fried chicken for breakfast and fruit pie for breakfast! A favorite was brains and scrambled eggs. If we had sausage gravy, then we’d have scrambled eggs. If we had fried eggs, we’d have fried bacon, ham and bacon gravy. In addition we usually had grits or oatmeal, with plenty of good milk from the milk cows. I loved the grits and butter with extra salt.
For lunch, everyone would just snack at random on whatever was left over from breakfast, such as bacon or ham on a biscuit, with or without mustard, and a glass full of milk. There was always plenty of milk and fresh butter! There were also apples; over ten different kinds were grown on the farm.
Living on a chicken farm, we had a lot of fried chicken for dinner, and we had fried pork chops frequently. Sometimes we ate fish from our pond. We had pinto beans with ham and navy beans with ham hock. We ate a lot of turnip greens with small pieces of turnip, seasoned with the vinegar from little yellow peppers. We had fresh corn in season, and we always had lots of potatoes and cornbread. My dad loved eating Moodie’s cornbread with a large glass of buttermilk.
For dessert we’d have blackberry or peach cobbler, sometimes with ice cream. I can remember some nights watching Uncle Richard eating a bowl of warm rice with melted butter, sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, topped off with milk. That was his favorite dessert, I think. But I thought it was gross.”
Nancy Jane must have been pleased at the end to be living on her own land, surrounded by so many relatives, as well as by her many children and grandchildren. She enjoyed them for her remaining years, then in January, 1900, as the new century dawned, she passed away.
******* Note about Johnsonville, Oklahoma
Today Johnsonville has only a few homes, but it was one of the first towns in Indian Territory, and early maps of Indian Territory included it among the few localities mentioned. It was founded in 1870 by a Chickasaw rancher named Montford T. Johnson, at the former site of Fort Arbuckle, near the South Canadian River. In 1903 a railway was built through the region to the coal fields further southeast, and the railroad company needed a town and services just south of Johnsonville. So the town of Byars was started at that location, and the railway opened a station there in 1907. The town quickly grew, while Johnsonville declined. When locomotives began using fuel oil instead of coal, this railway was no longer needed to transport coal and the rail service came to an end. The town of Byars dwindled as a result, and most of its business buildings remain empty.
George Washington Runyan (1840 - 1904)
Mary Florence Runyan Mantooth (1860 - 1899)*
Dora Runyan Bollinger (1863 - 1900)*
Malcom C. Runyan (1869 - 1914)*
Theodocia E. Runyan Brown (1870 - 1913)*
Naomi Darlene Runyan (1875 - 1936)*
Lou Runyon (1879 - 1890)*
Alonzo Runyan (1882 - ____)*
Lillie Mae Runyan Crouch (1886 - 1914)*
Old Johnsonville Cemetery
Maintained by: Darrell Brown
Originally Created by: Tammy
Record added: Aug 28, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 29387226