Written by Edna Liggin
Submitted by Molly Liggin Rankin
February 16, 1978
“The best and only place to live” is the theme of every statement Leon Austin makes about his 80 years of living near Lowery’s Ferry, his beloved spot on Cornie Creek. Here is his home, his natural environment, here he still hunts deer and squirrel; here stand the ancient oaks as reminders of his forefathers who first settled the place.
For over a century there has been a place known as Lowery’s Ferry, with a Lowery’s Ferry road leading to the creek. Several generations of Austins and Lowerys have lived here with little changes until the making of Lake D’Arbonne. Today, living on the road are, besides Mr. and Mrs. Leon Austin, the Henry Lunsford family and Mrs. Lottie Austin.
The name Lowery’s Ferry comes from Leon Austin’s grandfather, Daniel Lowery, who came from Alabama with his family, and settled on Cornie Creek, at a spot later known as Lowery’s Ferry. This Daniel Lowery was married twice, first to Ellen Ratley, then to Rachel Huey. Included in the children of the second marriage was a daughter, Sarah Elizabeth, or Betty. She married Andrew Austin, and they were the parents of Leon Austin.
Today Leon Austin lives not far from where he was born. Old trees mark the home-site of this birthplace, the home of Andrew and Betty Austin. It was here the boy Leon grew up helping his father in the blacksmith shop adjacent to the home, watching his father make musical instruments.
Leon Austin never knew his grandfather Lowery, but grew up on tales of the pioneer settler. He told us his grandfather Lowery was a big cotton planter, operating the farm with slave labor. He had a home for himself near Cornie, and also built tenant homes. He cleared many hundreds acres of land, all fenced with the customary rail fences.
“He had rail fences right up to where Patrick church is now.” said Leon, “But there came a big fire and they burned. After that grandpa did not put them up again.
THE AUSTINS COME TO UNION PARISH
The Austins did not settle at Lowery’s Ferry, but I lived further down the creek, near a place know as Stein’s Bluff. Later the area had the place named Scott’s lake, and is now the site of several lakeside homes. Many older people remember the Austin Springs. Leon told us they were so named for his grandfather, James Madison Austin.
The wife of this Grandfather Austin was named Catherine, possibly a Ferguson, Leon says. If so, the Fergusons came into the parish early, along with the Feazels (it was from this latter family the No. 1 settler, John Hunnicutt took his wife). Another link with the Feazels, is that Leon said he had two aunts buried in the Feazel burying ground, the remnant of which is still alongside Hwy 2.
The Austins were definitely in Union Parish by 1847, as old Police Jury records of that year indicate the reviewing of a road from Cornie Creek to Lack Creek to be done by (among others) Willis Austin and James Austin.
We asked Leon about this Willis Austin, but he did not know who he was. The 1850 census shows Willis Austin, 30, born in Miss. with his wife 26, born in Alabama. Three children were Malvina, Talitha, and Missouri. His succession record in 1871 shows the wife, Louisiana Henderson, dead with heirs, William A., Frances M., and Richard. They were heirs to 240 acres of land. From other records we think perhaps Willis Austin re-married and went to Texas.
James Austin was around in 1862 with a road crew that included G. W. Lowery and Daniel Lowery. Soon afterwards, however, he left to fight in the Confederacy, returning home wounded and sick in 1864 or 1865. He died very shortly after his return. He was 40 years old when he left to fight, with Catharine 29. The oldest child, Dozier, a son, was now 11 years old, then a girl, Cinderella, the twins Mary Ann and Sarah, and an infant boy.
How did Catharine Austin fare, down at Austin Springs, where Cornie Creek twists and turns, her husband away, and she with five small children? For some reason, Catharine did not bury James Madison Austin, her husband, in the Feazel burying ground, but buried him several miles further up on land know as the old Buce place, besides the early road that took travelers from Farmerville to Homer. By blocking out in our mind parts of the existing roads today, and remembering a little, we can visualize the road as it must have been, going from Stein’s Bluff, up northward to where Lowery’s Ferry road branched off, going again to Cornie Creek.
Leon Austin indicated there were once tombstones in this buying place on what was later to be John B. Tabor land. Later the whole was cultivated, and the buying place obliterated. Victor Tabor tells us he remembers plowing this spot, and realizing it was a burying ground, but thought the Indians had buried here. He told us once there was an old well on the spot, so perhaps when Catharine Austin buried her husband a dwelling house was here. Today the land belongs to Victor Tabor.
According to the census of 1870, Catharine Austin was now a widow with six children for Andrew Austin, born after his father died, was not five years of age. The Census of 1880 shows the same six children, most of them adults now. Leon told us the older son, Dozier, married a Hicks, while Sarah, one of the twins, married App Lowery. A tintype picture of Catharine Austin shows her with a severe hairdo, a thin face, but one full of courage. She must have needed courage and fortitude as she alone reared and cared for six children in the Reconstruction days after the War.
Leon told us his grandmother Austin spent her last days living with her son, Andrew, up at Lowery’s Ferry, but as she died when he was a baby, he does not remember her.
THE EARLY YEARS OF LEON AUSTIN
Leon Austin was born Sept. 15, 1897. the fourth child born to Andrew and Sarah Elizabeth Lowery, living at Lowery’s Ferry, at a site you pass before you get to the home of Leon and Ione. Already the family consisted of three children — Robert, James Madison, and Talitha. The next son, John Rich, died young, then came Rachel and Frank.
As a boy Leon Austin helped his father with the farm work, and watched Andrew Austin demonstrate his skill in making guns and musical instruments. By now Daniel Lowery was dead, so Andrew Austin operated the ferry. Mixed in with all this was Leon Austin himself becoming a very skilled marksman, hunter, and woodsman. These skills were to remain with him until 1977 or the present.
To the shop came people for miles around with their gun problems. From this shop went guitars and fiddles to make the wonderful, foot-stomping music Victor Tabor remembers from numerous shin-digs in the neighboring homes.
Our thoughts went back to the ferry. “Did you ever have a tragedy or bad thing happen there?” we asked. “In my grandmother’s time a young fellow got in a hurry to cross and failed to get his team on the flat. They missed and fell in the creek and drowned”. “Where did the road on the other side of the creek go?” we asked Leon. “To the Cherry Ridge road,” he told us. “Did many people cross?” we asked. “Oh, yes,” he said “Many times people from Farmerville came up and crossed because of high water at Stein’s Bluff. This ferry was the only one they could use.”
“Who lived on the other side?” we asked. “Many people,” said Leon. “One was Neal Key who had a big sawmill. He kicked a fan belt one time and got his leg cut off”.
“We asked Leon where he went to school. “I went to Patrick” he said, “but not long. I got sick and was sick for a long time. I had St. Vitus dance and they thought I was going to die. My hair got long. One night I heard them say I wouldn’t live until morning.”
He did live however. His Aunt Kitty Youngblood was his nurse and she gave him a bottle of castor oil every morning. This grew to be so distasteful, he bit her finger rather severely once.
Ernest Denham recalls he heard Jim Austin talk about this spell of sickness Leon had. Dr. Garland was his doctor and when Leon was better, he thought he’d test his steadiness by having him shoot at a sign, seeing if he could hit the sign. Leon promptly hit dead center the nail that held up the sign, so the consensus of the opinion of all was that Leon still had his old shooting arm.
Another memory Leon has of his childhood is seeing his mother, Betty Austin, take from an old chest of drawers enough Confederate money to completely cover the bed. He says he does not know what happened to that money.
THE PASSING YEARS OF THE WOODSMAN
Leon Austin was married to Ione Ray on October 30, 1919. To them were born two daughters. The first, Cecile, the late Mrs. F. V. Bennett, was born January 14, 1921, while Virginia, now Mrs. John McFarland was born August 19, 1941. They now have seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
The tale of the building of the house in which Leon and Ione live today is an astonishing one. “They cut a big tree and let it fall east,” Leon told us. They cut another one and let it fall west. That was two foundations. Then they cut a third on and let it fall north and south and three foundations were there for the house.” By this time we were slightly dizzy. We had never heard of such. These were trees that had grown up in the many years since Daniel Lowery had cleared the land.
Leon and Ione live in the same house today, though the foundations have changed. Leon and Andrew Austin built this house on the road to Lowery’s Ferry.
“It’s the best place to fish, or was”, Leon is speaking of Lowery’s Ferry. He remembers the times when visitors and fishermen came with regularity, and the fish were good and plentiful. He had his own boat dock there in 1958. However, the lake has changed the creek, changed the quality of the fish.
“What animals have you seen in the woods up and down Cornie Creek?” we asked Leon. He said he once saw a panther, the size of a big dog. The panther sat down by a tree. Leon did not have a gun wit him, so he waited. The panther did not move, so finally Leon popped his paddle in the water and the panther walked slowly away.
Leon has gotten his quota of squirrel and deer, right up to 1977. Last year he shot a deer that fell into the creek, and came “alive” in the water. Leon said he wrapped his horns in a sapling, and dragged him down the creek by boat to the landing. He was helped with the deer then by a fellow hunter.
A thought crossed our mind that Leon and the town of Bernice were about the same age, “When did you first go to Bernice?” we asked him. He said he thought he went when the first train went through, taken there by his father in a wagon. He never rode the train until he was 20 years of age, his longest train trip was to Kansas City, Mo., to an automobile school.
The creek has helped him in another way to earn a living in that he has floated big logs down the stream. Leon said he has both used his own timber, and bought timber, plentifully in those days. Then, he said, it was the only way to get the logs to Monroe.
Leon’s wife, Ione, told us about a particularly frightful time when she, Leon, their six-year old daughter, Cecile, John Lee and Nancy Youngblood, pulled a raft of logs by boat down Cornie Creek, into D’Arbonne. They had gotten to White’s Ferry and gone in for supplies in the boat when a storm came up. They were in extreme danger trying to get back to the raft of logs, now riding on rough waves. Ione said they finally made it, but this was a dangerous time.
And so the creek has been Leon’s Austin’s life. He has traveled up and down its waters by boat, and walked it shores in the woods, gun in hand, skilled in hunting and fishing, wise in the knowledge of the woods and water. It has been a very exciting life, one filled with zest, and an abiding love and respect for nature. In turn, nature, the woods, and stream have taught much to Leon Austin. The same opportunity to learn skills to live in the woods and on the waters will not be there for the next generation, though the love for fishing and hunting will live on in his descendants.