yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

Lum Finds a Bee Tree

by Harlan Blount

During the 1930's a small cluster of familes lived about 1 1/2 miles from our house across the fields and woodlands. These neighbors didn't exactly farm for their living. Some of them worked at saw mills, day labor when work could be found, Works Progress Administration (WPA), and cut trees and hewed cross ties to be sold on shares to the railroad, and collected surplus food products from the government.

One man, Columbus Montgomery (Lum), often roamed the woodlands on our farm as well as other farms nearby. Lum also kept several hives of honey bees on his small farm where he kept a cow and raised a garden. Of course the bees flew all around the community collecting the nectar from fields and fruit trees as well as wild flowers such as blackberries, honeysuckle, and huckleberries. The beekeeping activity provided a small source of income to Lum's family as well as honey for their kitchen.

Lum would occasionally conract to cut a number of trees for other farm owners and hew them into railroad cross ties. When the cross ties were sold, the landowner received 1/2 of the proceeds from the sale and Lum kept the remainder. It was during one of these times when Lum was "hacking" ties on my Dad's farm that he noticed considerable honeybee activity in the small stream near where he was cutting trees and hacking ties. He carefully observed the direction the bees always flew when they left the stream of water. Then he followed them as best he could through the forest listening carefully for the buzzing sound that came from the bees' nest high up in a hollow tree. After several attempts to follow the bees and much walking and careful listening, Lum finally located a large beech tree which had a hole high up on its side. He noticed that there was a continuous stream of bees coming and going from the hole and he could hear their buzzing. He was sure that this was an active hive of wild honeybees.

That evening Lum came to see my Dad and told him of his latest discovery. Lum proposed to cut the bee tree, capture the swarm of bees, and divide the honey that would be found inside with my family. He would take the bees to his house and create a new hive of bees for his beekeeping operation. Since the tree was hollow, it was not good for sale as timber. My Dad agreed to let Lum proceed with the plan.

Early the next morning, Lum and my Dad proceeded to the location of the "bee" tree with their crosscut saw, axes, and other equipment for capturing the bees plus buckets to collect the honey. As they sawed the tree trunk near the ground nothing happened since the bee's nest or hive inside was perhaps 20 feet up inside the tree.  Soon the tree began to lean to one side as the wedge was driven inside the sawed notch behind the crosscut saw. After a few more tugs at the saw handle, the large tree crashed to the ground, and the honey bees came swarming out of the hole. Lum and Dad had to run away quickly to avoid being stung. Those bees were angry!

Soon, Lum gathered his beekeeping gear - a hood with a face mask, gloves, knife, strings for tying around his sleeves and trouser legs to keep bees from crawling up inside his clothes and put them on his body. Then he proceeded to the location where the bees were gradually settling down around their next. He placed his hand inside the hole and began to search for the Queen Bee who always stayed inside the hive. Once he had located her, he removed her to a wooden box which he had brought. It had several small holes in the side which were too small for her to crawl through but large enough for the worker bees to crawl inside. As soon as he placed her inside and closed the lid, the worker bees began to locate the holes and go inside to protect the Queen Bee.

After a while when no more bees were flying around outside, Lum closed the holes in his box so all the bees could be carried to his home. Then he and Dad sawed the tree in two at a location below and above the open hole. After they finished cutting the log, they split it open and scooped out the honey which was stored in honey combs created by the bees. Some of the honey was old and rancid, but it was good for bee feeding. It was kept separate for Lum to carry to the bees' new home. The remainder was divided between Lum and my Dad.

When dad arrived home, we were excited to have fresh, new honey. Mom began to press and drain the honey out of the honey combs into a large pan. After several hours, all the honey that could be extracted was placed in glass jars for use in the kitchen. However, the remaining honeycomb had much sweet tasting honey inside. I was given a small piece about 2 inches square from which I could chew and enjoy the sweet flavor. It was something like chewing gum today that had a sweet flavored syrup located in the center. Nothing was wasted since we saved the chewed honey comb in a cup to be melted into a beeswax ball. Then when Mom wanted to sew buttons on a coat or other garment, she could "wax" the thread with the ball of beeswax before pulling the thread through the button.

We were pleased that Lum found a "Bee Tree" on our farm!

from other sources...

Columbus Franklin Montgomery (1881-1972), better known as "Lum", lived at the intersection of Crawford School Road and Highway 114. Lum is the son of John J. and Sarah M. Montgomery. On October 2, 1904, he married Daisy L. Ivey (1882-1953), daughter of James A. Ivey and Harriet Autrey. They raised their family consisting of Clyde, Johnny James, Venie, Jim F., Elvie L., Dewey Edgar and George in the "Lick Skillet" community. Lum and Daisy are buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery.

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