William Preston Goins Trapped a Corn Thief
By Louise Goins Richardson
Foundation Editorial Boardmember
2207 East Lake Street, Paragould, Arkansas, 72450
Night after night, William Preston Goins noticed that corn was
missing from his bin. My grandpa, a patient and gentle man,
had concluded that this must stop. Since he had lots of experience
at trapping animals, he decided one night to set a trap for
the thief. So he set his biggest, and strongest steel trap just inside
Later that night he heard the trap spring, however he decided
to leave the “animal” in the trap until daylight. The next
morning, sure enough, he had caught the thief. The big steel
trap held him securely by the wrist. But instead of scolding or
prosecuting him, Grandpa had the fellow come in and have
breakfast with him.
You will never guess who the culprit was.
William Preston Goins, only child of Oscar Claiborne
“Roscoe” Goins and Nancy Florence Potter Goins, was born
May 11, 1853 in Hamilton County, Tennessee. He and his
mother lived with his Potter grandparents, Moses Potter and
Ellander Potter when his father went away to serve the
Confederacy. His grandfather, Moses Potter lived to be 104,
and Grandpa, receiving these longevity genes, made it to 97.
Just prior to the Battle of Chickamauga the Potters found
themselves situated in the path of the Union Army of the
Cumberland under the command of Gen. William S.
Rosencrans. Before engaging the Confederate army, Gen.
Rosencrans halted his army in the fertile valley near
Chattanooga and sent out foraging parties. They stripped the
surrounding farms of their cattle and hogs and plundered their
barns for provender.
The book, “Battle of Chickamauga” describes how the
Union soldiers covered the valleys like a swarm of locusts.
Gen. Rosencrans even held his troops there in the summer of
1863 until the corn crop ripened and then had his soldiers
harvest the entire crop for the use of his army. After the corn
was gathered, they turned their horses into the fields for any
remaining grain and fodder. After the men and animals were
well rested, they pushed forward to the next battle line,
carrying all of the plunder with them.
Grandpa said nearly all of their food was devoured, crops destroyed,
animals taken and their wells were pumped dry, leaving
them destitute. Grandpa’s Grandpa had him hide the pigs
in the woods so they would have something to eat after the
Union troops had gone. But the Yankees found the pigs and
butchered all of them except one poor old sow. Since there
was nothing to feed the sow, the family butchered her as soon
as the troops pulled out.
Since the Union soldiers took their salt supply, Grandpa and
his grandmother tore the floor out of the smokehouse and
shoveled up the dirt underneath. Some salt had collected there
from the curing process. They sifted out the salt content and
purified it by boiling the brine solution.
As a young boy, Grandpa had learned to play the fiddle and it
was one his most prized possessions. The night before the
Union troops pulled out, they asked him to play for them. He
obliged them, and at the end of the evening hung up his fiddle
and the bow.
The next morning when he got out of bed, he discovered that
not only were the Yankees gone, but his beloved fiddle as
Grandpa dashed after the troops, found the thief who took his
fiddle and demanded it back. The soldier refused to give up
his plunder, and Grandpa went to the company commander
who ordered the fiddle returned to the boy. The fiddle is still a
treasured possession in the family and is now owned by my
brother, David Goins of Paragould.
About 1870 he removed to Martinsville, Illinois in Clark
County. He was married there October 20, 1878 to Lydia
Elizabeth Lafferty, daughter of Parmenas Lafferty and Mary
Jane McClure Lafferty. She was born in Clark County August
Grandpa, by now, was a good fiddle player and was hired by
the Laffertys to play at Lydia’s party to announce her
engagement to another young man there. However, when
grandpa saw her, he fell in love with her and knew that he
couldn’t let her marry the other man who was financially well
off, and Grandpa was broke at the time. It was love at first
sight for both of them. He started making plans to marry her.
I recall how he used to say, “I wooed her, and I won her.”
In 1884 they removed to Beech Grove, Arkansas in Greene
County. They travelled in three covered wagons, taking three
weeks to make the trip. Upon arrival in Greene County, they
purchased 40 acres and started farming.
In 1897 Grandpa and Grandma homesteaded 160 acres on the
‘Cache Bottoms,’ swampy land that was not very desirable for
farming. They obtained this land under Arkansas’ Donation
Act; the land was free if they lived on the land, improved it
and paid taxes on it.
Grandpa set about to drain the water from the land by constructing
a series of ditches. He hired neighbors to bring their
teams and equipment to dig the laterals, and he contracted
with dredgeboat operators to open the main channels. In time
the work converted a swamp into valuable farmland. This
property remains in the Goins family today.
In addition to farming, our grandparents had a number of
occupations and endeavors. Grandpa made the best knives to
use in the kitchen and around the farm. He also made
Grandma’s crochet hooks with bones.
He owned a large sawmill where they cut and sold lumber and
timber. Neighbors frequently came to his woodworking shop
to request a casket be made for a funeral. Grandpa would heat
the wood so that it would bend to form the contour of the casket.
Grandma, with the help of Aunt Roxie Schamb, would
line the casket with satin for the adults and white flannelette
for children. Grandpa or Uncle Dee Morrow would build a
pine box for the casket.
Grandpa was an excellent woodcarver. Once he carved his
own portrait on a beech tree in the woods with the aid of a
mirror. My brother, David Goins was squirrel hunting about
35 years ago recently and came upon the portrait. Grandpa
had signed it when he finished–just like an artist. The tree
and the portrait are still there, in a secluded spot in the woods
and in good condition..
A number of men were always employed by Grandpa working
at the sawmill, on the farm or opening ditches. In 1912 he
purchased a threshers which he took all over the county
threshing wheat for the farmers. It took a big crew of men to
operate this business.
Additionally Grandpa had a blacksmith shop and was a good
farrier. He was a good metal worker and taught his sons
blacksmithing and horseshoeing. He built farm implements
and in 1892 received Patent No. 479,269 for corn-planting
attachment which he invented. In 1915 he invented a locking
device for a multiple mailbox system. His locking device
must have attracted lots of attention. In his correspondence
file we found offers on it from several firms, including: Scully
Pattern & Model Works of Kansas City, Missouri; American
Investment Company of Washington, D.C; New World
Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati, Ohio and Gerding
Manufacturing Company of Cincinnati.
He did carpentry work and also bought and sold cattle, horses
and mules. Once he bought an expensive Red Polled bull
from Kentucky. I still have the papers on this purchase.
Perhaps the most memorable enterprise that I remember
during my early years living on a farm adjoining them was the
large orchard which contained many kinds of fruit and pecan
trees, strawberries and Concord grape vines. The orchard was
also home to 150 honeybee stands. It was amazing to us how
Grandpa could work around the bees, extracting honey and
beeswax for sale in town, without getting stung by them.
In 1920, Grandpa and several neighbors bought carbide
lighting systems from a traveling salesman who came through
Greene County. There was a pipe to carry the carbide gas to
each room in the house with a valve in each room to control
the flame. Carbide was fairly inexpensive, and the neighbors
were envious of those who could afford to install the system.
After all the initial systems were installed, the supplier raised
the price of carbide so high that hardly anyone could afford it.
Rural telephones came about the same time. For as long as I
can remember, our family had a telephone. It ran off batteries,
and we had connections to my grandmother’s house and to
Aunt Pearl Morrow’s house.
When electricity came to the area, the carbide gas pipes were
removed and replaced with electrical wiring. I recall that our
home was one of the first in the area to receive electricity.
Gypsies came through our area and people were suspicious of
them. We kept an eye on our chickenhouses when they were
around. They always had a group of bad horses to trade to
people who did not know horseflesh. On trading day, they
would feed their poor horses lots of salt so they would drink a
lot of water and look fat and sleek. Grandpa knew all of the
tricks of the trade, however and he always looked at their teeth
to determine their condition. He could tell exactly how old a
horse was by checking his teeth.
My grandparents were baptized into the Church of Christ August
24, 1915 at Evening Shade, Arkansas. He was 62 at that
time. Their daughter, Pearl Goins had been baptized two days
earlier in the revival meeting. The family took a very active
part in the church.
Grandma’s diary recorded that on October 15, 1915, Grandpa
cut and hauled lumber to Commissary, Arkansas where he began
to build a new church building. He later served as the
church treasurer. They remained faithful members of the
church until their deaths, setting a good example for their
Following a stroke, my grandparents moved in with their
daughter Mary Goins who was a registered nurse at Dixon
Memorial Hospital in Paragould. Grandma died there April
10, 1947 and was buried in the Morrow Cemetery which was
located on a hill overlooking the farm where she and Grandpa
had spent so many happy years.
After Grandma died, Grandpa wanted to return to live on the
farm, and his children acceded to his wishes. In his older
years, it was difficult for him to get around over the farm, but
my father, John Leon Goins would take him in the car anytime
he wanted to go for a ride. His favorite Saturday afternoon
pastime was to sit in the car parked on the Paragould square
where he could visit with his friends as they walked by.
On a cold, icy day, December 7, 1950 Grandpa died at the age
of 97 years and six months. He was buried beside Grandma in
the Morrow Cemetery.
Mrs. Elizabeth Thorpe Rockefeller was my Grandma Goins’
grandmother. While my grandparents were visiting in Minnesota,
some of the Rockefeller family came to Uncle Ross’
home to gather information for the family record. “The
Transactions of the Rockefeller Family Association for
1915-1925″ was published in 1926. My grandparents met
with the Rockefellers and gave them our family information
which was published in their book. Grandmother and her two
sisters Ginny Lafferty Knopp and Molly Lafferty Potter were
invited many times to the Rockefeller family reunions. We
still have some of the invitations to the Rockefeller reunions
today. After John D. Rockefeller died, these annual reunions
Oh, the man in the trap? Nobody knows.
This story was told many times by members of our family, but
nobody ever knew who the thief was. Neither Grandpa or
Grandma would ever reveal his identity.
Eleven children were born to William Preston Goins and
Lydia Elizabeth Lafferty Goins:
Ross Coe Goins born in 1879
Albert Goins born in 1881
Lewis Earsalee Goins born in 1883
Mary Irene Goins born in 1886
Jimmie Goins born in 1889
Edna Alice Goins born in 1890
George Chester Goins born in 1891
Jessie Attee Goins born in 1894
Alma Pearl Goins born in 1898
William Joe Goins born in 1900
John Leon Goins born in 1902