SOME MEMORIES OF AUNT HELEN
(with some interpretations by Earl Henry Burnam)
Earl Henry Burnam
Aunt Helen was born October 42, 1907 at Ranger, Texas. She was the
third child of the marriage union of Jessie E. Burnam (Uncle Jack to
some, Grandpa to me) and Sarah Ann Rice Burnam (Sallie, my Grandma).
Aunt Helen was sister to Lon Stiver Burnam (my daddy) and Tura Hayden
Burnam Drake (my aunt). Helen's father, Jessie Edward was the son of
William M. Burnam and Eliza Jane Denham Burnam. Her mother, Sarah Ann,
was the daughter of James Madison Rice and Sophronia E. Hampton Rice.
When Aunt Helen was 4 or 5 years old, about 1912, while the family was
still living at Ranger, Jessie E. fixed up the covered wagon and the
burnam family (without Lon Stiver who was already working on his own
for the T & P Railroad) went to Chico, Texas to visit their grandmother,
Eliza Jane. William M. Burnam was already deceased. Chico is about 75
miles from Ranger as the crow flies. Both the Brazos and the Trinity
Rivers run between the towns of Ranger and Chico. Aunt Helen remembers
crossing the Brazos. Tura and Helen Rosalie walked when Jessie drove
the team with the wagon over the timber bridge across the Brazos River.
They had to be careful to not fall through the bridge timbers. Aunt
Helen remembers spending at least one night camping out on the way.
There may have been more nights on the road due to the distance,
creeks, rivers and terrain. Sallie Ann cooked using a dutch oven. She
cooked the breakfast bisquits on top of the dutch oven lid.
Jim Burnam, Jessie's brother, was farming Liza Jane's land at Chico for
her. This is where Aunt Helen first remembers meeting Uncle Jim. It is
the only time she remembers seeing her grandmother. Jim and Liza had a
big peanut crop which was already being harvested. The peanuts had been
plowed up and were drying. One of Jessie's mules died while they were
visiting at his mother's farm. Uncle Clem, another brother of Jessie's,
loaned him a horse for the wagon and Clem went back home to Ranger with
Grandpa. Uncle Clem rode a train back home to Chico and the horse was
shipped back on the train with him.
Ray Townsend, son of Rosalee (Rosie) Lulu Rice Townsend (Grandma's
sister, Helen's aunt), visited J.E. Burnam's family in Ranger when Aunt
Helen was about six years old. Lon S. and Ray were both about the age
of twenty. They were scuffling around with each other and aunt Helen
thought they were mad at each other and really figting. She tried to
separate them and they accidently kicked her off the porch. She started
crying and Lon gave her a quarter to stop her from crying. I guess he
knew Grandpa would not approve of the reckless scuffling.
Along about this time Lon would often come back from his work on
the railroad for a weekend on the farm at Ranger. Aunt Helen had long
stringy blonde hair. It was hard for a six year old girl on the farm
to keep the tangles out of her hair and she would sometimes
complain about it hurting her tender head. Lon talked their mother
into letting him cut Helen's hair, and he gave Aunt Helen her very
first haircut ever. It was a good haircut. It didn't hurt anymore
when she combed it. Anything her big brother did was okay with her.
Lon would let his little sister, Helen, go hunting with him, but he
always made her stay close behind him for safety. He would take her
with him to gather the wood for fuel for the cook stove, and the heater
if needed. She said she mostly tagged along, and he gathered the wood.
The Jessie Burnam's had moved to Sweetwater, Texas when Aunt Helen had
her eighth birthday. They moved to Chillicothe, Texas in 1917, where
Aunt Helen had her tenth birthday. This was just before Lon Stiver, who
had married Pearl Elizabeth Johnson, moved from Witchita Falls to
Childress with L.S., Jr., their infant son. Lond had smallpox at Witchita
Falls and had to live in a 'Rest House'. Aunt Helen was visiting Lon
and Pearl at the time. She, Pearl E. and L.S. were sent to Chillicothe
to stay with Grandpa and Grandma until Lon's quarantee for smallpox was
In 1917, J.E. Burnam moved with his wife, Sarah Ann, and two daughters,
Tura Hayden and ten year old Helen Rosalee, from Sweetwater to
Chillicothe, Texas. They rode the "Doodle Bug" (colloquial name for the
short passenger train driven by a diesel motor car, rather than a steam
engine) on the Orient Railroad to Chillicothe. The farmer, for whom
Grandpa was going to work, met them at the depot and carried the family
out to his farm in his wagon. When they crossed the Fort Worth & Denver
Railroad tracks, there were a bunch of twelve year old boys playing on
the boxcars and the tracks. They waved at the Burnam's and the Burnam's
waved back. When the J.E. Burnam's moved from the farm into town, they
moved next door to the Tom Taylor's, William Radord's parents. Rad &
Helen got acquainted there. Grandpa went to work at the Chillicothe
Cotton Oil Mill.
A few years later, William Radford Taylor started dating Aunt Helen. He
told her that he was with that bunch of twelve year olds that were at
the railroad tracks and waved when the Burnam's were moving to the farm
north of town. He said he pointed out Aunt Helen to the boys and told
them she was his girlfriend, although he didn't even know who she was.
Helen Rosalee and William Radford were married on October 6, 1923, two
weeks before Aunt Helen's sixteenth birthday.
Aunt Helen remembers a tower in Chillicothe at the intersection of the
Fort Worth and Denver RR and the Orient Railroad (which later became a
Santa Fe line). Lon had moved to Chillicothe by then to work as a RR
car inspector for the Orient. She said when the trains would come in
that Lon would take chalk and draw pictures of birds on the side of the
boxcars after he got through with the inspection. (I remember that
Daddy would sometimes draw birds for me, by the light of the kerosene
lamp, on paper from my five cent school tablet when I was in the