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James R. Stout

Time Capsule

Date: August 19, 2025

What follows is a letter written by James Russell in 1925 that was placed in a time-capsule to be opened and read 100 years later.

Dear People of 2025,

            It was in February of 1854 that I went to live with my aunt and uncle in Austin, Texas. My ma and pa died in a yellow fever epidemic that spread through our little town of Cincinnati in East Texas. My little sister Cassandra also died. They said it was brought into town on a riverboat carrying a load of cotton up to Dallas on the Trinity River. Nearly half of the town either died or got sick and many others moved away due to the epidemic. Within 15 years or so the town was abandoned. I was 9 years old at the time that I went to live with Aunt Betsy and Uncle Dolph. Dolph was my father’s brother and they had 6 children of their own. I was younger than their kids, but Stephen was only 3 years older than me. Dolph was 15 years older than my father and was his oldest sibling.

            Uncle Dolph was a good man and would end up being like a father to me. Aunt Betsy was very sweet to me and treated me like one of her own. That’s what families did in those days. Dolph was what they called a “cooper”. It was a good trade and skill to have. He was a master at his trade. They opened a small general store when I was about 12 and besides the various items that are found in such an establishment, they featured Uncle Dolph’s buckets, barrels, cups, tubs, troughs, and various instruments such as rakes and shovels. Just about every trough in most of the towns around Austin were built by my uncle Dolph. I started working in the store at 12 by sweeping, cleaning, stocking, and occasionally helping customers with their purchases. Aunt Betsy ran the cash register and made the sales.

            In 1861 the war between the states started. It was a horrible thing to see when families were divided by their beliefs and loyalties, but to tell the truth, most Texans sided with the Confederate States. Uncle Dolph was not only too old to go fight, but his skill was much needed. The local militias and the Confederate army needed many of the items that Dolph made. By the time I was 17 all of my friends had joined up and were off to fight the Yankees. But the year before that Aunt Betsy had died from consumption and I was needed to run the store. My cousins, the male cousins that is, had already left home years before and of the three of them, two lived out in California and Stephen left home in 1859 and we never heard from him again. Uncle Dolph needed me to run the store for him and I owed him so much I couldn’t say no. So, I sat out the war as a clerk in a general store. But when it was all over, only one of my friends came back home and he had lost a leg after being shot with a mini-ball and the wound got infected. I heard once that about 600,000 people died in that war. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but if it is, then it just doesn’t seem possible. Brothers killing each other? It just didn’t make any sense.

            Well, the war was over and then we survived the aftermath too. The carpetbaggers and thieves on the Union payroll who stole so much from the people of not only Texas, but the southern states. And you know what? It wasn’t much better for the freed slaves. They had to deal with the Democrats who made sure the freed slaves were kept in poverty. Heck, some of them took to wearing silly looking white robes and pointy hats that covered their faces and they did all kinds of horrible things to freedmen. Just ‘cause they were black. Never has made a bit of sense to me.

            Uncle Dolph got to where his hands shook so much that he couldn’t be a cooper anymore. Then one day in 1873 he was trying to walk down the stairs from the living quarters on top of the store and he fell. He must have broken several bones and he lingered for two days before he died. I couldn’t believe it when they read his will later. He had left the store to me. I was 28 years old, married, and had two kids of my own by then. It meant I could afford to provide a better life for my family.

            Life marched on like it always does, and the years just seemed to fly by. Suddenly we were in a new century. I was 55 years old and we had 8 grandchildren by then. I had expanded the store back in the 80’s and then opened a second store in 1894. Two of my kids had gone to college and were doing right well for themselves. My oldest was now a professor at Baylor up in Waco and my middle child went on to be a doctor. My youngest had a head for business and in 1905 I decided to retire (well, sorta) and I let him start running the stores. By 1915, when I was turning 70-years-old, he had 6 stores doing big business and he had also branched out into selling gasoline for them new fangled automobiles.

            Well, here it is 1925 and I’m 80-years-old. My wife passed away two years ago when her heart just gave out one day. I’m now a great-grandfather to 5 little girls and I dote on them almost as much as they dote on me! I’m having to use a cane these days and my eyesight ain’t what it once was, but I seem to be doing OK. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I might make it to 100! But who knows what the 1930’s and 1940’s will have in store?

            I got one of my grandsons to take me on a trip recently. We went in his fancy Buick. That fella Mr. Ford may outsell most of the other automakers, but that there Buick is some automobile. They call it a “Master 6” and would you believe that thing can go about 50 mph? Not that I would suggest doing such a reckless thing! Anyway, we drove over to where Cincinnati, Texas used to be. About all that’s left is a few remnants of the old buildings, mostly big river rocks used for the foundations, and you can still see some of the pilons where the docks used to be. But the prairie has pretty much taken the land back to itself. As we sat there on the big running board of the Buick eating a picnic lunch, I thought back to those long-ago days when I had lived there. It hardly seems real now. That got me to thinking what it’s going to be like in 2005 or 2025 for that matter. Will there be as many changes as I’ve seen? I’m betting there will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sending men into space, cooking meals in some kind of oven at 10 times the speed, and flying from Texas to California in a matter of hours. I just hope that we don’t have any more wars. That last one, the one they are calling “The War to End All Wars” was so senseless. Maybe it will be the end of wars, but in my heart of hearts I don’t think so. Mankind has been finding ways to fight wars for thousands of years. Why stop now? But one can always hope. I hope this letter finds a peaceful world when it’s opened in 100 years. They’re going to bury a bunch of letters from us old-timers in a safe and then pour concrete on top of it. Then they’re going to put a big plaque on it instructing whoever the Mayor of Austin is in 2025 to open it and have these letters published. I’m betting that’s going to be an interesting thing to read. Heck, maybe before I reach 100 in 1945, they’ll come up with a potion to make you young again and I’ll be there to read this letter. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Yours Truly,

James Russell

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