A True Ol' Cracker
an article by Carl Allen

Roy Whidden is a True Ol’ Cracker
By Carl Allen
Lakeland Ledger, May 10, 1984

I’ve known Roy Whidden ever since I can remember and I’ve always admired this
Ol’Cracker; he is really a true Cracker. His grandfather came to this county in an
ox cart before there was much in Central Florida.
Roy, 93, was born in Bartow on June 11, 1891, and moved to Auburndale when he
was only 6 years old.
He recalls many stories about his grandfather that were told to him by his
father. Roy remembers a lot about our early history in this county; those were our
pioneer days. Roy keeps telling me that it’s almost unbelievable how many changes he
has seen take place in this county.
He recalls when he came to Auburndale, it was just a small town with only two
stores and a saloon, and the streets were all dirt. He says it looked a lot like the
little western towns that he now sees on television. He says the two stores were
owned by two men. The dry goods store belonged to Mr. Baynard, and the grocery or
general store, as it was called, was owned by Mr. Patterson, who was the grandfather
of Sen. Lawton Chiles.
There was a good bit of business in Auburndale, for such a small town. At
that time, Lakeland was too far to go to do their shopping and Winter Haven was just
a wide open spot in the woods, and was called Sick Island.
Roy had a great uncle by the name of Jim Whidden that lived on Sick Island.
Roy remembers his uncle and two friends by the names of Combee and Alderman, along
with an old Indian whose name was Tom Tiger, used to come into town to buy supplies
and they would stay with Roy’s family while they were in town.
Roy remembers Indians passing through town and sometimes they stop over for a
few weeks and he would play with the Indian children.
On those Saturday nights of so long ago, the cowboys used to come into town
and all go to the saloon, which was located where the old theater building now
stands. Roy says there were no cars and just about everyone owned and rode a horse.
The streets of Auburndale were always filled with Cowboys on a Saturday afternoon and
they would ride up and down those old dirt streets on their fine little Cracker
Roy can remember many things his father told him about early life in our
county. He says his father was also Cracker-born and lived to be 108 years old. He
was a railroad man, and as the railroad was just beginning to push through Florida,
there were many thrilling stories happening during that time.
One thing Roy told me was when his father would let him go along on the train
with him. They used to have to stop along the way to cut wood for the engine to keep
it going.
Roy attended school in Auburndale in a little wooden building that was
located on Howard Street. His teacher was a Mrs. Walker and there were hardly a
dozen children in school at this time.
He recalls that the postmaster was Mr. Zackery, and remembers the town
burning down in 1913.
He tells about the town marshall, a Marshall Jones, and how he used to walk
up and down the wooden sidewalks of Auburndale, and how easy it was back them to keep
the peace.
With eyes looking off into the distant past, Roy tells of the time his Uncle
Pogas Smith walked into the saloon and said he would give any man $10 that had the
guts to walk up and hit him. Roy’s other uncle, Jim Whidden, who was a big man, and
a brother-in-law to Pogas, told him to give the bartender the $10 and when Pogas did,
Jim hit him so hard he was never able to hold his head straight again, although he
lived to a ripe old age.
If there is one thing Roy can do, and do it well, it is raise vegetables. He
always had a green thumb and it came mighty handy during the Depression, when he went
to farming for our old chief of police, Chief Alderman. I can remember seeing those
two together during the hard times and one thing for sure, Roy or the old chief were
never without food, for Roy knew when and how to grow it.
Roy says President Hoover was the first to set up a relief program by giving
men a job and paying them $1 a day and letting them work three days a week. He
remembers those trying days when he could not find a job any place, and he says,
tears wouldn’t put food on the table, for he saw many men in deep despair as he was.
But as he says, somehow God provided.
People today live in a world of paradise, he says, in comparison to that
time, because there is no such thing as hunger in this county anymore. The sad part
is that they just don’t know how lucky they are because they haven’t had to go
through the trying times he remembers.
Roy married the charming Irene Blackburn, who he met in Plant City on a
beautiful summer day at a parade many years ago, only to lose her during the
Depression. When talking to Roy, he speaks of her as though she was still alive, as
I am sure she is in his heart.
Roy is a grand old Cracker who I am proud to have known for so long. His
kindness to others can never be forgotten. He is what a Cracker really is.

Donated for your viewing by: Amy

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