James Hughy Fife



Submitted by Frank Butcher, updated May 28, 2007

James Hughy Fife was born in the Abbeville District of South Carolina where the 1850 census shows the following family living in dwelling #1593:
Samuel Fife  -  age 37  -  carpenter  -  born in South Carolina  -  no real estate
Mary Fife  -  age 36  -  born in South Carolina
Elizabeth J. Fife  -  age 16  - born in South Carolina
John Fife  -  age 14  -  born in South Carolina
William Fife  -  age 13  -  born in South Carolina
Frances  Fife  -  age 10  -  born in South Carolina
James Fife  -  age 8  -  born in South Carolina
Mary J. Fife  -  age 6  -   born in South Carolina
Rebecca A. Fife  -  age 4  -   born in South Carolina
George Fife  -  age 1  -  born in South Carolina
Samuel died in 1858, and the Fifes moved to Mississippi, where they are found in the 1860 census of Oktibbeha County, near Starkville.
Mary Fife  -  age 42
William Fife  -  age 22  -  Mill Laborer
Frances Fife  -  age 19
James Fife  -  age 18
Mary Fife  -  age 16
Rebecca Fife  -  age 14
George Fife  -  age 11
Sizzie Fife  -  age 8
Samuel Fife  -  age 7

The family was probably in very poor financial shape, as the census lists them as having no real estate or personal estate of any value.  
According to information in his application for a Confederate veteran's pension, James Fife enlisted in the CSA Army on April 3, 1862 at Persimmon Springs, Mississippi.  He served as a private in Company H, 31st Mississippi Infantry, fighting in northern Mississippi and Tennessee.  James and his brother, John, were captured May 16, 1863 by Union troops at the battle of Champion Hill, part of Grant’s campaign against Vicksburg.   His capture probably occurred when his unit was cut off while fighting a rear guard action to protect the retreat of the main Confederate force across Bakers Creek.  James was removed to Camp Morton, Indiana, where on February 19, 1865, he was paroled and forwarded to Point Lookout, Maryland for a prisoner exchange.
In 1870 James H. Fife is farming near the town of Maben, which straddles the boundary between Oktibbeha and Webster (Sumner) Counties.  He had started a family with Sceletce Jane (called Jane) Berry, the daughter of Thomas and Cinderella Berry.  Jane was just 15 when she had the couple’s first child, and probably married James at the age of 14.  All ten of the couple’s children were born in Mississippi.
Even though he weighed only about 160 pounds, James (called Jim by his friends) had the reputation of being one of the strongest men in the area where he lived.  One feat of strength passed down in the family as oral history was that Jim could pick up a rocking chair by its rungs and hold the chair steady with his arm extended parallel to the ground. A trait seen in his grandchildren possibly passed down from Jim is that some of the men had very powerful grips.
In Mississippi, the family grew just about everything they needed on the farm.  Jim made only one or two trips to town during a year, to buy just flour and coffee.  Jane’s nights were spent at a spinning wheel using cotton grown on the farm to make thread which she then wove into cloth to make clothes for the family. When her daughter asked Jane how she could weave and sew most of the night and still conceive 10 kids, Jane remarked, “Honey, that all went on at the same time.”
The boys had only one change of clothes, but according to Oscar, they were so well made that the kids could hang themselves going through a barbed wire fence, but their clothes wouldn't tear.  The children laughingly remember that once Jane asked her husband to bring back some calico from town. Jim brought back a whole bolt of the material, and the kids all looked alike afterwards.
None of the Fife children attended school past the third grade mostly because their labor was needed on the farm.
Several Fife families came to Texas in 1894.  According to one story, the men made the journey in ox-drawn wagons, crossing the Mississippi River on a ferry at Vicksburg.  The women and small children followed by train.  The first stop for Jim’s family was Northeast Texas, where he opened a general mercantile store in the small town of Petty, on the western edge of Lamar County.   When that store burned, the family moved to Limestone County, living at first on the Oliver Ranch, where Jim and some of the boys worked.  One recollection of some of the children was that when the family moved onto the Oliver Ranch to tenant farm, the shack they lived in was so infested with chinch bugs that Jane made Jim burn sulfur in the old house before she would move in.  Also coming to Limestone County were Jim’s brothers, Sam and George.  Jim bought 100 acres near Ben Hur, Texas in 1914 that was later sold to his son, Stephen.   At one time all ten of Jim’s children were farming in Limestone County.  Tyne owned a furniture store in Teague and later farmed in West Texas at Sudan, while Oscar eventually moved his family to Fort Worth.
As Jim and Jane aged, they along with Jim’s brother, George and his wife, moved in with Huey and his wife, Omaha (Omie).  The photo on the preceding page was taken at Huey’s house near Mexia.  This housing arrangement produced friction between Omaha and Jane, who tended to usurp some of the parental authority of her daughter-in-law, and Huey came home one day to find his wife’s bags packed.  Omaha gave him a choice of living with his parents or living with her, a dilemma that was resolved when Jim and Jane moved out.
Jane is also remembered as a very prideful person.  She kept the shirts and dresses of her children starched and ironed so that they always looked neat.  As one sign of her concern with cleanliness, Jane chided her boys that when having a meal at a date’s home they should not eat the butter.  In her opinion other families’ butter was dirty due to the common practice of scraping butter out of the churn with bare hands--a practice not allowed in the Fife home.
According to his granddaughter, Ruby Fife, Jim was “a little man, kind of round”.  Ruby remembered that when his grandchildren would ask him to spend the night at their house, Jim would always beg off, saying "no chillin, when it gets dark I want to be in my own bed."   He lost sight in one eye, the result of being hooked by the horns of a steer in that eye.
Jim’s application for a veteran's pension in 1913 was rejected "on account of having too much property”.  The application indicated that at the age of 70, his annual income was less than $300, and the value of his property (exclusive of homestead) was less than $1000.
Jim died at the age of 92 at the home of his son, Huey, near Mexia.  The attending physician wrote that the cause of death was "senility".