The Story of a Well

Howell County is generally drier in its north than in other parts. Reliable water sources, especially in drought, were prized and their location was “well” known to the early settlers. In 1973 retired schoolteacher and local historian Ella Horak wrote of a watering location, which happens to also be familiar to me for fifty years. I drive past it several times a week. It is indeed one of the oldest landmarks in the Lost Camp area, or Howell County for that matter, predating the Civil War. Ella’s story illustrates the lengths to which the pioneers had to go to get water.
“Long Lost Fount Uncovered” by Ella Lilly Horak
“We are indebted to the late grandmother Lilly (mother of the writer) for the following story of an old landmark in this immediate territory.” (Ella’s mother was Artiller Lilly)
“Mrs. Lilly was the eldest daughter of Thomas J. Estes who came to Howell County in 1859 and homesteaded in the best part of Lost Camp Valley. The homestead includes a portion of the present (1973) home of Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hinds and extended down the valley to the east to include the home of Mr. & Mrs. Walter Horak. Walter is the writer’s son and the fourth generation to live on the Estes homestead. A portion of the land where Bob Hinds lives was sold by Thomas Estes to Joel Hinds, Bob’s great-grandfather, in 1875.”
“The old pump well on the Hinds farm is one of the oldest, if not the oldest landmark in Lost Camp Valley. It was during the spring and summer of 1859 that Mr. Estes dug the well.”
“The location of the well some may say was by chance. Mr. Estes knew a stream of water was not far below the land surface at that particular spot. When he came to Howell County in 1859 a pond covered a low sag of land adjacent to where the well now rests. Water supply for home use was not plentiful at that time as people had not dug cisterns and wells. So any natural source of water supply was of great benefit to the early settlers.”
“One morning in the winter of 1859/60, Mr. Estes sent his son James to cut holes in the ice on the pond so that the cattle might be able to get water. James returned from his errand and told his father that the water was not frozen on one corner of the pond. Mr. Estes investigated and found water seeping from the ground.”
“During the winter and spring, he began to dig to find the underground spring. The process was slow as the hole would fill with water and he would have to wait until the water receded before he could dig any deeper. The hole was small as a man could work in for Mr. Estes thought a spring of water would be near the surface. By middle summer he had dug to a depth of eighteen feet when he came to a bar of sand and water. How deep the sand bar was he did not know. He was assisted in digging the well by John Martin who lived in a cabin just north of the Estes home.”
“Estes and Martin had laid a stone wall in the well about halfway when it began to settle and sank several feet in the sand. They later finished laying the wall and the well was just large enough to sink a three or four-gallon basket, but they had uncovered a fount of pure, clear cool water that was destined to flow for days to come.”
“An amusing incident occurred at the well before the rock wall was finished. Jennie Martin and her younger sister had gone to the well for water one day. Jennie sat down on the edge of the well with her feet dangling down in the well. She was carelessly trying to sink her bucket when she accidentally slid off into the well. Her sister ran to the house and told her parents that ‘Jen’ fell in the well. Mr. and Mrs. Martin went immediately to the well to rescue Jennie. Her dive evidently didn’t hurt her for she was sitting on the rock wall singing when help came. She was lifted from the well and afterwards managed to keep her feet on top of the ground when she went to get water.”
“Many years after the well was dug Mr. Estes passed away and the story of his well was forgotten or never heard of by the operators of the old Estes homestead. Other water supplies had been made more convenient to the homes and the neglected well had disappeared from view. Grass, weeds, trash, and leaves had collected through the years and the pond and the well had been filled up. Corn, wheat, hay, and other crops were grown over the well and bond basin.”
“How many years the well was lost is not known. Families came and went, old settlers had died. New settlers had never heard of the well. Mr. and Mrs. Lilly was the only people living in the neighborhood that knew there had ever been the Estes well.”
“The summer of 1901 is remembered as our first great drought. Farmers were hauling water for stock and home use. Some hauling from Pine Creek, Jacks Fork, and Poe Spring.  Others from Eleven Point distances of four, five, and more miles. Everyday water haulers with teams and wagons could be seen rattling along the roads early and late to bring water to the thirsty hearts, birds, and fowls.”
“Frank Lilly (my father) told Marion Hinds who was hauling water from the Hood pond that he had water within eight feet if he would go to it. Mr. Hinds rather doubted that a stream of water was so near the surface when he dug a well forty feet deep near the old Estes well but found not a drop of water.”
“Mr. Hinds sent two young men John Lilly (my brother) and George Gulley (both now deceased - 1973) with picks and shovels to try their luck. The men poked and jabbed around in different places trying to find the old well. They had spent the greater part of half a day shoveling here and there and were just in the act of giving up when thud went John’s shovel against something solid. He scooped a few more shovels of dirt and uncovered what seemed to be the end of an old rail. By this time George was on the spot and in another minute the boys had uncovered what proved to be an old rail standing on end with one end down in the long-lost well. Needless to say, John and George were not long in making known their discovery.”
“Immediate preparations were made to open up the well. As the well was too small for a man to go into the stone wall had to be removed. Neighbors turned out to help and in a short time the stone wall, which had been laid by Tom Estes forty-one years before was all on top of the ground once more. The well was dug larger but no headway could be made in removing the sand for as fast as it was scooped out more came in to take its place.”
“It is here that Mr. Lilly again came to the aid of the workmen. He measured the sand bar and found it to be about 8 feet deep. He then took two old iron wagon tires and made two hoops about the size of the well. To these hoops, he bolted heavy wooden two-by-fours, which completed made two hoops about the size of the well. This cylinder was placed over the well and when Mr. Lilly gave the signal the supports were slipped from under the cylinder and it dropped to the bottom of the well.”
“It was an easy matter now to remove the sand and gravel as the cylinder settled and prevented sand from coming in as it was removed. At last, a solid rock bottom was reached and workmen were ready to lay the rock wall again. Mr. Lilly then sixty-four years old went to the bottom of the well and carefully laid the stone as fast as it was lowered to him by windlass in a heavy wooden box.”
“Mr. Hinds installed a long-handled hand pump which was used for many years. The water was soon clear, clean, and cold. It rose to about half the depth. Mr. Hinds was always very generous with friends and neighbors during dry years we have experienced. He said when the old well was ready that neighbors could have water as long as there was any to get. Many times he was scarce of supply for himself during dry season but he never said no to anyone who came for water. The flow of water through the sand into the well was not too fast and when many people came they sometimes had to wait for more water to come into the well.”
“Mr. (Marion) Hinds passed away on October 6, 1945. There have been many changes since that time. The old well is there beside the road and we never pass by without thinking of our grandfather and father whose hands were instrumental in bringing to light the treasure which Mother Earth has held securely within the folds of Her embrace.”
“In later years the Hinds brothers, Clinton, Bob, and Bill installed an electric pump sheltered within a pump house built over the well. They tried the well for water supply for their Grade A milking dairy, but the supply was not enough water for such a large business, so the boys drilled a deep well near their dairy barn and the old Estes well had a few years rest. But not now. Mr. and Mrs. Joe Hinds built their modern farm home up the hill a short distance south of the well. The electric pump forces the water up to the house and furnishes all the water needed for the family home.”
So the well grandfather Estes dug 109 years ago is still in use. We talked with Clinton (Hinds) a year or two ago and he says the sand has drifted into the bottom of the well again. Perhaps the old wooden cylinder grandfather built in 1901 had given way.
“So we leave you with the story of a fountain opened 109 years ago and destined to serve its purpose on and on,” so ends Ella Horak’s story.  
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Howell County News

110 W. Main St.,
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