Life in The Piney Woods
By Ona Wood
The Pines Whisper
Peter M. Gunstream loved the Southland of the United States. It was the place to which he had turned his steps when he set foot in America. He loved his home in the pines, and he and his family had worked hard to develop the land.
Although Mr. Gunstream owned some six slaves, he was opposed to the system of slavery and treated the Negroes very humanely. He worked them hard; he did not ask more of them than he could do himself, but Mr. Gunstream was not one to condone idleness.
He always gave the Negroes their Sundays to go anywhere they wished. If a young Negro, man or woman, married in some other section of the county, Mr. Gunstream arranged to buy his or her mate, or if the choice was to go to the mate’s owner, he managed to trade or sell.
He deeply deplored the fact that the south was planning to leave the union and did not believe that secession was right.
Each year since he and his family had lived in East Texas, they had strived to make their home more comfortable. His wife, though a little French lady, had been born in the Southland. Her people had become his people, and they had been helpful through the years; she had been courageous — a characteristic which befitted the life of every pioneer.
By 1862, the Gunstreams had lived on their land in Wood County for 15 years.
Mr. Gunstream had reached the age of 46 years and was still able to turn out much work, but with the South at war, he and his family would need to extend their energies a little further.
Pioneer women could never be idle. They had loved ones on the field of battle who were suffering hunger and disease.
In all the little homes could be heard the hum of the spinning wheel, the clicking of knitting needles, and the noise of the weavers’ shuttles. Cooking, washing and mending had to be done.
Though only 36 years of age, Mrs. Gunstream grew tired. Hard work weakened her body, and she became ill.
Few doctors were available; the difficulty of travel and the distance between settlements in East Texas made it well nigh impossible to have medical care.
Mary Alitia Gunstream died 24 July 1862.
Peter Gunstream had been called upon many times to make coffins for his neighbors, but he was now confronted with the sad duty of constructing a coffin for his lovely little wife.
They buried her on top of the hill about one-half mile from her home on the land she had helped to settle. She was buried near her son, Little Peter, who had died at an early age.
The grave site was in the deep woods where peace reigned supreme, and the fragrance of the beauty of the countryside pervaded the soft breezes as they stirred gently through the dense foliage of the woodland.
Mockingbirds whistled in the giant oaks, and redbirds nested in the green cedars. In the springtime, wild azaleas bloomed profusely; Sweet Williams fringed the hillside, and from their heliotrope blossoms floated a delicate perfume.
Buckeye with plumes of scarlet flowers and dark green foliage grew in the deep woods and added their queenly beauty to the haven; while from under a carpet of deep brown leaves, spread by the hoar frosts of countless ages, purple violets peeped modestly.
High above it all, like a canopy overspread, the tall pines whispered and moaned, but always they told a story of love.
Mrs. Gunstream left six children. Gustavas was just reaching young manhood; Belinda was 16 years old. The younger children were Andrew, Limuel, Christina, and the baby, Jerome, scarcely six months of age.
To Belinda fell the task of attending the younger children. Jerome, flaxen-haired and fair, was her pride and joy. To him, she devoted her untiring attention.
Continued on the Members-only page which can be accessed with the link at the top right of this page. If you have forgotten the member password, send an email to the Bulletin editor.