Uncle Tobe: “Looking Back”

Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.

Riley Thompson Hankins enlisted in the 10th Alabama Cavalry on August 5, 1863, at the age of fifteen. He did not participate in any major battles but was in a few minor engagements before the end of the war. Returning home, he married in 1869 but his first wife died in childbirth. He later married again.

He and his second wife, Malissa, had twelve children, many of whom died in infancy. The family left Alabama and moved to Mississippi where they lived a few years before joining a wagon train with some friends and heading for Arkansas.

In December, 1889, he bought some property in Pleasant Valley, south of Wooster, from W.W. Martin and D.O. Harton. The property was located about a mile west of the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. He cleared the land and built fences but had to mortgage part of the land to meet expenses. He eventually had to sell the land and move in with his son, Mart, who had bought 40 acres west of him. He continued to live with his son’s family after his wife passed away in 1918.

The people who lived in Pleasant Valley at that time would go to Wooster, two and half miles away, to get most of the things they needed and could not produce on their farms. Occasionally, they might cross the Cadron bottoms in a wagon to go to Conway but that trip would take all day.

Finally, in 1921, Mr. Hankins decided to build a small store out by the road where he carried a small line of groceries, tobacco, candy and kerosene. It was located near the intersection of what is now West Pleasant Valley Road and Burnett Road. By that time, he was 73 years old and everyone called him “Uncle Tobe” so the small store soon became known as “Tobe Town”. Since everyone used oil lamps at that time, kerosene was the main item he sold.

Many people would pay for their purchases with a few eggs or chickens. There are stories of children raiding their parents’ hen houses so they could trade eggs for candy. Every Friday, “Uncle Tobe” would take the eggs and chickens to town to sell them and buy more supplies.

In 1928 and 1929, “Uncle Tobe” and his son rented a general store west of Conway from Moore Harton. They carried a full line of groceries and merchandise needed for the home and farm. Every Saturday morning, they would butcher and then package and sell beef or pork. The store was located on Highway 60 west of Conway approximately where Westin Technology Building on Prince Street is today. The family lived there a year before returning to Pleasant Valley.

In 1938, Mr. Hankins was a guest of the United States government at a Blue and Gray Reunion on the Battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. There was a ceremony to light the “eternal fire” signifying peace between the two sections of the nation.

He was accompanied by his grandson as well as two other Faulkner County Civil War veterans, J.S.L Wright and G.W. Dalton.

Although local history sources indicate otherwise, Mr. Hankins was the last surviving Confederate veteran in Faulkner County when he died January 15, 1943. Many years before his passing, his son and daughter-in-law started a tradition of observing his birthday with an ice cream supper on Saturday night and a potluck on Sunday.

That tradition continued for decades after his death. Every year on the second weekend of August, his descendants would hold a family reunion in his honor. I remember attending most of these gatherings since my grandmother was his granddaughter. Sometimes, the relatives from Alabama would come to remember him as well. Many of his descendants continue to live in Faulkner County today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.