Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Joe Sparkman, April 7, 1990

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:01 - Sparkman family genealogy

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Partial Transcript: This is an oral history interview with Joe Sparkman.

Segment Synopsis: Joe Sparkman describes his family relationships including parents, grandparents and siblings, along with his Irish ancestry that migrated to Kentucky via Virginia. He says his parents and siblings were not educated and that he is the only member of the family who received an education (to the 6th grade). He describes his experiences in school, including subjects and childhood diseases.

Keywords: Diseases; Measles; One-room schools; School discipline; School lunches; Teachers; Whooping cough

Subjects: Education--Kentucky; Families.; Genealogy

00:08:33 - Recollections from the 1920s and '30s

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Partial Transcript: Okay tell me like--you went to school in the, in the early, uh, nineteen teen--teens, like six--the early sixteen, seventeen, eight--seventeen. When did you enter the Army in World War I?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman talks about joining the Army before the war. He talks about working for US Steel and Piggly Wiggly after his discharge in 1920. He talks about his marriage in 1924 and having two children before the Depression. He talks about making moonshine during the Depression.

Keywords: Great Depression; Moonshine; US Steel

Subjects: Depressions--1929--Kentucky; Distilling, Illicit; Families.; United States. Army.; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans--United States

00:11:37 - Kentucky railroads and coal mines in the 1920s

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Partial Transcript: Okay, expla--uh, you know, sort of, uh, go into detail about this area that you grew up in and this, this region right in here of, of that time of period of 1920s.

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman tells how railroads were built into Letcher County, Kentucky to service the coal mines in 1912. He describes how the Kentucky River Coal Corporation bought mineral rights at $.50/acre.

Keywords: Coal boom; Deep mines; Mineral rights; Roads; Strip mines; Trains

Subjects: Coal mines and mining--Kentucky; Letcher County (Ky.); Railroads; Strip mining

GPS: Letcher County (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.12, -82.85
00:19:12 - Army life before the war

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Partial Transcript: Like when you was a child, what did your diet consist of?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman describes his diet as a child. He then talks about his life in the Army before World War I. Sparkman tells how he contracted chicken pox and then the mumps on the troop train from San Antonio to El Paso. His says his first days at Ft. Bliss are in the hospital where he becomes an orderly while recuperating and is promoted in rank.

Keywords: Basic training; Chicken pox; Columbus (Ohio); Court martial; Diet; El Paso (Texas); Fort Bliss (Texas); Fort Sam Houston (Texas); Isolation; Mental ward; Morphine; Mumps; Prophylactic ward; Prostitution; San Antonio (Texas); Texas; Venereal diseases; Wild game

Subjects: Medical care; United States. Army--Military life.

GPS: Fort Bliss (Tex.)
Map Coordinates: 31.807211, -106.433669
00:30:52 - Conflicts with Army authority

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Partial Transcript: Well you had to give them the real stuff huh?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman describes being slapped by a patient and his retaliation by hitting him with a lantern, breaking it. He talks about being admonished and told he will have to pay for the broken lantern, though he was never charged. Later he describes an altercation in the mess hall over goat meat, after which he describes being admonished again, this time against mutiny, and placed on probation for complaining about the mess hall.

Keywords: Goat; Mess hall; Mutiny

Subjects: United States. Army--Military life.

00:38:18 - Work assignment in hospital

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Partial Transcript: So your job then, then you got to go back to the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman talks about his assignment to the Ear, Nose and Throat ward as well as mental ward. He describes Army treatment of two homosexuals he meets in the mental ward. He talks about the influenza epidemic which is raging at the end of the war. He talks about leaving the hospital with a friend without permission one night when guns and artillery began firing in celebration of the armistice.

Keywords: Artillery; Celebrations; Court martial; Desertion; Going over the hill; Guns; Homesick; Homosexuality; Influenza; Mental wards; Passes; Shooting

Subjects: Medical care; United States. Army--Military life.; World War, 1914-1918

00:48:42 - More on childhood recollections

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Partial Transcript: Let's go back to your childhood. I, I forgot to ask you about, you know--let's go back to your childhood. We didn't finish your childhood before we got into the Army. What type of house did you live in as a child?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman describes the one-room house he lived in as a child, and hauling logs on a skid with oxen. He describes trapping various types of animals for fur.

Keywords: Feather beds; Homespun clothing; Loom; Oxen; Puncheon floors; Shuck beds; Skid; Step stoves; Trapping; Trundle beds

Subjects: Childhood; Rural children; Rural conditions

01:07:02 - More recollections of rural life

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Partial Transcript: Can you remember the first car you saw and who owned it?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman continues his recollections of civilian life in rural Kentucky, including seeing his first car, buying whiskey, receiving mail, and entertainment activities.

Keywords: A-model Ford; Automobiles; Entertainment; Mail; Whiskey

Subjects: Childhood; Rural children; Rural conditions

01:19:40 - Sources of food

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Partial Transcript: Did, uh, when you was a boy, and working, did you earn--was you able to earn any money at all?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman discusses sources of food, types of food he ate, and food preservation. He says there was a preference for drying food rather than canning. Sparkman talks about taking baths and washing clothes.

Keywords: Bathing; Bee gum; Earnings; Employment; Molasses; Preserving food; Trapping; Washboard

Subjects: Canning and preserving; Food--Preservation; Rural conditions

01:25:11 - Religious and holiday practices

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Partial Transcript: Did everybody go to church on Sunday?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman says that church attendance is irregular, and the predominant denomination is "Regular Baptist". Sparkman discusses religious practices and religious and other holidays. He says birthdays are not celebrated with gifts or cake.

Keywords: Christmas; Easter; Fourth of July; Funerals; Holidays; Regular Baptist; Santa Claus; Sunday School; Witches

Subjects: Baptists; Religion; Rural churches

01:29:24 - Snakebite in the summertime

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Partial Transcript: How did you keep cool in the summer?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman talks about getting bitten by a snake while exploring a creek as a child.

Keywords: Copperhead snakes; Snake bite

Subjects: Childhood; Rural children; Rural conditions

01:31:57 - Entertainment and making whiskey

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Partial Transcript: What were some of the things that you all did for entertainment growing up? Your brothers and sisters. Or what kind of games did you play?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman describes entertainment and companionship as a child and young man. He discusses the process of making moonshine.

Keywords: Baseball; Best friends; Checkers; Dominoes; Fermentation; Games; Hide-and-Go Seek; Kick-the-Can; Malt; Marbles; Moonshine; Stills; Swimming

Subjects: Childhood; Distilling, Illicit; Rural children; Rural conditions

01:43:00 - Visiting Hazard, Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: When you were growing up, what, what was the closest town that you lived or shopped?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman describes Hazard, Kentucky as the nearest town of any size and the reasons to visit included shopping, court appearances, and access to trains. He says travel to town is difficult because the roads are poor and river crossings difficult. He talks about his first train trip to Virginia with his sister when he was a teenager.

Keywords: Laws; Moonshine; Stores; Trains

Subjects: Distilling, Illicit; Hazard (Ky.); Rural conditions; Rural roads

GPS: Hazard (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 37.248611, -83.195
01:47:07 - Childhood dreams and childhood influences

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Partial Transcript: When you was little, what did you always dream of doing when you grew up?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman talks about wanting to be a medical doctor as a youth.

Keywords: Education

Subjects: Childhood; Medical care--Kentucky; Physicians--Kentucky

01:48:40 - Three marriages, children and military service

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Partial Transcript: --(Coughs)--you said you were married three times, so you want to tell me about that? When your first one was. Your first marriage was in Texas?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman discusses his various marriages. He discusses where his family lives and talks about his children. He recollects his Army experience in the United States during the war, and talks about family relations and friends.

Keywords: Cumberland; Divorce; Stoney Fork

Subjects: Children; Families.; Marriage; United States. Army.; World War, 1914-1918

01:55:25 - Organization membership and civic activity

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Partial Transcript: To what organizations have you belonged?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman discusses the various groups he belongs to as well as his service as deputy sheriff and postmaster. He describes his political activity in the Republican Party.

Keywords: American Legion; Deputy sheriff; Disabled American Veterans; Masons; National Tree Service; Philosophy; Postmaster; Religion; Republican; Soil conservation; Woodmen of the World

Subjects: Clubs; Republican Party (Ky.)

02:01:09 - Outlook on the changes during his lifetime

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Partial Transcript: What's your opinion of some of the changes that have taken place in your lifetime, say--it says, "proliferation of consumer goods." What, I mean, I don't know how to explain that. Or changes in men's and women's fashions. Have you seen fashions over the year how they have changed?

Segment Synopsis: Sparkman reflects on the changes he has seen in his lifetime and gives his advice for the future. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Civil rights; Communication; Consumer goods; Crime; Drug addiction; Fashions; Holocaust; Jews; Medicine; Pearl Harbor; Plumbing; Prisoners of war; Space exploration; Technology; Television; Transportation

Subjects: Technological innovations; World War, 1914-1918--Veterans--United States; World War, 1939-1945