Wanda Smith, of Garland, tells about her mother’s early life: My mother, Rosa (Willeford) Pelton, was a legend in her own right and I didn’t have to look beyond her to know who my hero in life was. She died just two months prior to her 104th birthday, but left a legacy ordinarily unobtainable by persons of such meager means.
Rosa, or “Aunt Rose” as she was called by her many nieces and nephews, was born near Sherman, Texas on October 15, 1894. She was the second of four daughters born to James Wylie and Emma Frances (Abernathy) Willeford. Her parents, natives of Tennessee, traveled by covered wagon from Giles County to Texas in the early 1890s.
Her dad’s working abilities were limited as the result of losing an arm in a threshing machine accident and her mother was in ill health much of the time. This forced Rosa to learn hard work at a very early age. Her dad provided for the family by raising and selling vegetables to nearby neighbors and stores in the surrounding communities.
The area doctor advised her mother to relocate to Arkansas for health reasons and the family moved, by covered wagon, to Prescott, Arkansas in 1905. Frequent stops were made along the way in order to earn money for food.
I’ll always remember Mother telling us kids some scary stories about that trip. She would frequently entertain us with details about Indians coming into their camp and taking food or clothing and then disappearing into the night. She said that her dad always complied with their demands.
The Willeford family returned to Texas around 1910. They arrived at the depot in Wylie onboard a train pulled by a big steam powered locomotive engine. Several years later Rosa met Chester Pelton of the Liberty Grove community in northeast Dallas County. They married, moved into a small farmhouse there and began their life as farmers with cotton being the main cash crop.
All of our vegetables and fruit were home grown by Mother and canning was a big project with the entire family helping out. She could bake the best biscuits and cobblers ever cooked on a kerosene or wood burning stove.
Our home was blessed with twelve children over the next twenty years. Then Mother and Dad were finally able to buy their own home and farm. But the Great Depression soon caused them, and almost everyone else, to lose their dream house. They never gave up though. Life continued on and they soon went back to sharecropping.
We all looked forward to hog killing time and we kids always had fun stuffing sausage in the long sacks that Mom had made. The hams, bacon, and other meats were hung up, smoked and stored in the smokehouse outback. Our entire family worked hard, but we always managed to have fun after all the chores were finished. We would play baseball, horseshoes, and the entire family attended every church service. All of the cotton had to be picked before any of us could start the school year, but the teachers expected that in those days.
Our Dad was only forty-nine when he died in 1945. This caused Mother to make the difficult decision of how she would support the five children remaining at home. Farming was all she knew so, she along with our older brother Gail farmed for the next two years before moving into Garland. Mother worked two jobs. She worked at a restaurant during the day and at Garland Cleaners during the night. She eventually opened a day care in her home and operated it until she retired at age seventy-three.
Mother was finally able to realize the dream of owning her own home. She bought a small house in Wylie where she led a quiet but meaningful life. She was a staunch Democrat and voted in every major election. I would pick her up, take her to vote, and she would campaign all the way to the election booth, much to the surprise of everyone around.
Mother attributed her long life to her deep faith in God, clean living and eating right. So, you see, Mother was my hero and she instilled in me the rules she lived by: hard work, honesty, and a deep faith in God. Her great courage in facing adversities of life will remain with me forever.
Rosa Lee (Willeford) Pelton died at her home in Wylie, Texas on August 10, 1998. This true pioneer of the Pleasant Valley area was mother to twelve, Grandmother to thirty, great-grandmother to fifty-three and great-great-grandmother to twenty-five at the time of her death. Her legacy will remain forever.
Photo: Front Row, L to R: Emma Frances, Cora Esther, James Wiley
Second Row, L to R: Martha Frances, Rosa Lee, & Pearl Elizabeth Willeford
By Wanda Pelton Smith.