Written by Brenda Collins Dillon

July 7, 1995
Today a band of angels gathered,
Round a body tired and small.
His life on earth has ended
Daddy heard his Master’s call.
He has gone to be with mama,
To the mountains over there.
To walk the fields of roses
With not a single pain or care.
Tho his life on earth has ended
And I will miss this gentle man.
I know he’s at peace with mama
And they’ll walk heaven hand in hand.

Written for a very Special Stepfather


Arthur Tazel Shoulders b. October 1918,Braxton Co. WV. d. July 1995 Pierce Co. Wash.

married Zelma Zane Bennett Mar. 1949

Children 1. Brenda J. Collins-Bennett b. 12-26-1944 (stepdaughter) 2. Hazel C. Shoulders b. 5-15-1950 3. Karen K. Shoulders b. 6-22-1951

I was 5 years old when mama married "Daddy Top" . I remember going down the dirt road from my Aunt Pearl Spencer's yelling, "I got a daddy. I got a daddy." He was a good man, very gentle and a very hard worker.

Mother was raised by a couple named Godfrey and when Grandpa Godfrey died he left mother 5 acres of land on Fenwick Mountain. Mother and Daddy Top moved an old railroad car out on the land and we lived in it til they got the house built. Daddy Top and Lonnie Bennett would work in the mines and come home to work nights and weekends on the house for us to live in.

The little house had two bedrooms, a front room, and a kitchen. The bed- rooms were square with a mattress in each room and hooks on the walls for the few pieces of clothing we owned; the front room was slightly bigger with a pop bellied stove in the corner, two rocker chairs, and a small table with mother's bible on it; the kitchen had a wood cook stove with a hot water tank built on the side of it. Two sawhorses with a plank made tabletop was our table. In the corner Lonnie built shelves for our dishes, and two shelves hung on the wall for everything else. A kerosene lamp hung in each room, and a well and bucket stood outside the house. With the outhouse done we were ready for our first winter in our own home.

Come Spring 1950 Daddy Top and Lonnie built a porch across the front of our little house. Mother bought some chickens and the folks made the railroad car into a chicken house. I remember we had one old hen we called "Blackie" she would come to the house and lay an egg every morning on the doorstep.

Mother brought me home a baby sister in May of that year. At first I thought that baby was taking my family away but Daddy Top treated me the same as he did his baby girl.

The folks planted a garden and I helped. Someone had to take care of that new baby. Mother canned fruits and vegetables, and used lots of flour to make bread. When she finished the flour she would wash the cloth sack, take the stitches out and make a new dress for Hazel or me. When we didn't need clothes ,cause we already had two or three, she would make curtains, pillowcases, or tablecloths with napkins.

That winter was a bad one. We had a lot of snow and the old house was drafty. The house was never finished on the inside and we had to pump that old stove up to keep from freezing to death. Daddy Top was working long hours in the mines. He would be gone before I got up and not get home til way after dark. I remember Christmas Eve 1950, I was so upset. Mother, she pretended not to be but I knew she was worried too. It was past 8:00 PM and Daddy Top was nowhere in sight. Of course, if he didn't come home soon he would miss Santa Clause and Hazel and I was getting tired. Then Mother thought she seen someone coming through the snow but then he disappeared. A few minutes later there was noise at the back door and there stood Daddy , covered in snow and half frozen. Mother helped get off his boots, dry him off and get him set by the fire when there was a knock on the front door. I went to the door and opened it and there standing on our front porch was SANTA CLAUSE!! HO HO HO . Santa came inside and dug down inside his bag and gave me a doll and Hazel, who was screaming her head off, got a toy too, but she didn't want anything to do with that funny man in the red suit.

It was years before I was told Santa was Lonnie Bennett and Daddy had worked all that overtime so he could give us a Christmas to remember. By today's standards it wasn't much but to me it was a Christmas I will never forget.

1951 started off great. I was happy. I loved school. Went to church with my folks and there we usually went home with somebody. I had lots of Uncles and Aunts and jillons of cousins and mom was expecting another baby. But one day I came home and they told me we were going away, some- place far away. I was told we was going on a train to a place called Washington State and I'd meet a grandfather I had never met before. I was going to live in a house with an outhouse built inside, where the water came through the walls, and there would be lights in every room without kerosene. It sounded like a fairytale to a 7 year old.

Mid July 1951 the folks had sold everything we owned, which wasn't much and mother carrying Karen, Daddy Top carrying Hazel and a picnic basket and me carrying the baby's needs said goodbye to all our people and boarded a train headed west.

The train was great! The conductor finally had to come and tell mama to keep me out of the bathrooms so other folks could used them. I didn't have to go all the time. I had never seen myself in a mirror and I stood there for the longest talking to myself and singing.

We ate sandwiches Aunt Pearl had made and chicken Aunt Lelia Spencer had given us just before we left. There was a special car that served food but a body would starve to death on what they would serve you and besides mama said they should go to jail for what they charged. We managed to eat once a day in the dinning car and get a snack when the train stopped. The babies were good. Karen was just weeks old and all she did is eat and sleep. Hazel was more active but she loved to watch out the windows. Both were still in diapers so that made for some diff- iculty.

We arrived in Washington a mess. We were tired, dirty, and broke. Where was this wonderful grandfather we were expecting to meet us. Mother took us to the station bathroom and stripped us, made us wash and put clean clothes on. Daddy Top wanted to go back to the mountains, and I just wanted the family we left behind. It was pouring down the rain when a tall white haired man came us and ask us who we were. This must be granddad Fred.

Granddad Fred wasn't like my Granddad Ervin, or Granddad Doc, or any other grandfather I had ever meet. He had never been around children, and made no secret that he didn't cotton to them. He was married to a woman 15 years older than him and she had never had any children. They lived in this huge house, must have had a jillon rooms, and it had all kinds of breakable things in it. Mama couldn't put the babies down, daddy couldn't smoke, and I think Grandma Rosa would have had a COW if she caught daddy chewing. That is when daddy started going for long walks but mama was stuck inside that museum with two babies that never stopped screaming.

Mama didn't know how long we would have to live with granddad Fred so she entered me in school. Now this was different---- I had only been to school in a one room schoolhouse with 5 grades in it. This was a big school and every kid in my room was in the second grade. The teacher was nice but the kids were awful. They made fun of the way I dressed, talked, and what I ate for noon. I couldn't understand why they thought I dressed funny. Their parents were putting dresses on the girls that didn't even cover their knees, and the way I talked... the little girl ask me where I lived. I told her, " I liv yonder past the Gulsh". She asked me where I came from and I told her "the hills."

Six weeks after we landed in Washington Daddy Top went to work on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Mom took the money she sold our home for and bought a small house. It had belonged to an old lady who had died and all the furniture went with it. Granddad Fred helped us get moved and I guess he needed a vacation from being a father because we didn't see him again for months.

Daddy Top loved his job. I was getting older. I started bringing books home and it was about this time I realized daddy wasn't able to read or write. Mom said she was told he had had an accident when he was young and for years we thought that was the reason. The truth is he was never sent to school. Daddy didn't know much about his past. He didn't even know his birth date, birth place or anything about his early childhood. It didn't make him bitter, he just took each day as God gave it. Mother sent for birth records when he had to produce one for social security but none could be found.

Several years after daddy went to work on the railroad his nephew, David Bennett came west with his family and he too went to work on the railroad. David and Ruth Bennett lived east of the mountains in Washington. Several years later David moved closer. Many times daddy's job was threatened. He couldn't read or write and jobs were hard to find. Men with high school and college educations were bumping the men already working. Mother would set and read every rule book that was given daddy. If he was to keep his job he had to know the rules if his boss ask him. Daddy learned to write his name, read the buses that took him back and forth to work.

As I got older and started high school I joined the band. I had never gone to any of the extra things because we were different. Everything went okay til I was told that I needed to play with the band at the school games for my grade. Up to this point I was never allowed to go to school dances or date. I thought the folks would flip when I told them I had to attend the games and march in the parades. Well, they agreed, sort of. Daddy would walk me to the game on Saturday and wait for me outside the gate til I finished and then he would walk me home. I rebelled a little but I knew it would do no good. The folks loved us girls and they wanted to give us a better life than they had.

All in all we survived. I married a military man and had 4 children, Hazel married her childhood sweetheart and had two boys, and Karen never married. (UPDATE: Karen married Mr. Frank Brown 2000 )

We lost mother in March 1988 to a heart attack and thought daddy would follow her. They were so dependent on each other. I think if Karen hadn't been there he might have. In his elder years he developed cancer and we thought he was going to die but he fooled us. I remember the stories he would tell about going out to lunch with the big bosses of the railroad from the home offices in Chicago. "Ya daddy, if you say so." And then came the day daddy retired after almost 30 years and who came to his retirement party and presented him with a gold watch. No other than the big bosses from Chicago.

Daddy died in July 1995 but he lived a good life. He was a gentle man and a hard worker. He brought up all three of us girls with the same morals. He never once treated me any different. He loved to grow roses in his garden, had an awful sweet tooth, oh heck, he just plain loved to eat.

The last time I saw the folks together was the summer of 1987, 6 months before mom died. they came to visit. They stayed 6 weeks with me then Herbie Collins, who lived, at the time ,not far from me, took them down to WVa. That was the last trip home. If there are mountains in heaven, with a railroad running though, mom's probably walking through the fields singing one of her favorite hymns, and daddy...... he's riding the train and telling the engineer just where to go.

written by Brenda Dillon


Arthur Shoulders, supposedly was born in 1918 in Braxton Co. WV., the son
of Mary Catherine (Prince) Shoulders and Marion Sanford Shoulders. This
may or may not be true. According to the Braxton Co. census they lived at
a place called Heater's ,WV. Marion was a coal miner, and Mary Catherine
raised the children, and tended to the garden and animals to feed her children.

The children of the Shoulders family consisted of Scynthia Gay b. 1900, named
after her grandma Scynthia Bice Shoulders; Marion Robert b. 1902 named for his
father; Bessie Bell b. 1903; John Amos b. 1906 named for his grandfather & great
grandfather; Georgia Elizabeth b. 1909 named for an aunt; twins Joseph Grant and
Nancy Lucille b. unknown, one died at 6 weeks and the other 11 months; Iza Emmaline
b. 1912; and Arthur Tazell b. 1918.

Marion Shoulders found work where he could find it. Mary Catherine stayed in the
house at Heater's with her children ,while Marion went to work for the Margarette
Coal Mines in Marfrance, WV. He would come home on weekends if he could get time off.
Anyway over the period of this time he took up with a woman named Dora Hagy. IF Mary
was the mother of Arthur then Marion had two women with child at the same time. Dora
had a baby girl 3 months before Arthur was born .

In December 1918, 6 weeks after Arthur was born, Mary Catherine Shoulders was dead.
The older children all have said that she was murdered by poison but no proof has
ever been found. She was taken to a family graveyard in the cornfield of the old Snyder
Farm and buried. ( This grave was moved with several others when the dam was built)
Mary Catherine wasn't the only death in 1918 for 16 year old Marion was drown in late
summer of that year.

February 1919, Marion married Dora Hagy, and the family left the Heater's home where
they had grown up. Marion and Dora ,  with their daughter moved to Quinwood, WV while
the older children of Mary Catherine tried to keep their family together in Nicholas Co.
Scynthia  was 19 years old and took baby Arthur and John and Georgia, Bessie wasn't even
15 when she married Hance Bennett and they took Emma with them. Scynthia couldn't handle
things so she apparently took John to his grandma Prince's house to live and baby Arthur
and Georgia were taken to Marion County Children's Shelter.( 1920 WV soundex shows John
with Prince family; Arthur,age2 yrs,in household of a John&Sarah Gregory in Fairmont,WV;
and Emmaline in the house hold of Hance Bennett)

Arthur was taken from the Children's home by a John Gregory, somehow related. I don't
know if this meant related to the Prince family , the Shoulders family, or if he was related to the child.
Georgia Elizabeth Shoulders was left in the home til she was 15 years old, almost 6 years.
Scynthia went back to Fairmont and returned home with her but Georgia was bitter, hurt,
and didn't know how to relate to people. She ended up in the mental hospital at Weston, WV
for a lengthy stay.

When Arthur was 10-11 years old the old man Gregory wrote to Scynthia and told her he was
in poor health and someone would have to come and "fetch" the boy. It was Emmaline's husband,
Clerance Collins, that finally went and brought Arthur back to Nicholas County. Clerance
Said the boy was dirty, and with no manners. It took several of the guys to hold him down
and give him a bath. He ate with his fingers, and slept for a long time on the floor, tho
a bed was given to him. He resented rules til he was told if you want to eat you have to
do your chores. I am told Emma won him over with good cooking and God knows Arthur loved to

Over the next weeks Arthur was shipped from one family member to another but he always wanted
to return to Emma and Clerance. He was never sent to school but he was a hard worker.

In 1929-30 while visiting relatives in Braxton Co. Arthur and a cousin were walking down a
country road and passed in front of a filling station. Now in 1929-30 in a farm community
there couldn't be very many filling stations nor cars, but, from out of nowhere a car driven
by a doctor Eakles went off the road, crashed through the filling station window, leaving
Arthur, who was walking along the road, on the inside of the filling station.

I don't know how they got him out of there to a medical facility. I don't know who took care
of him. I only know that we were told that he lay for months between life and death, with
his head looking like an egg that somebody cracked open. He was just a boy of 12 years old.

This is the story we were told about Arthur. I am not sure of the facts. Mother met him at
church. We went home with "Aunt Scynthia" and stayed for dinner. Mother and Arthur took a
long walk and next week the same. They were married in March 1949. Mother was told that
daddy couldn't read or write because he was in an accident as a boy and couldn't remember
any of his schooling before the accident and he was so big that he didn't want to go back.

It is true he had no memory. He couldn't remember old man Gregory, Uncle Clerance coming
to get him, or Aunt Emma's cooking til he was told these stories over and over. He was told
Mary Catherine was his mother. He was told he was born in October but one sister says the
18th and Scynthia swears it was the 22nd. No birth record has ever been found for any of the
children or any deaths for those that died.

The person that caused the accident was a Doctor Eakles, and I realize many folks living
in that area were beholding to this doctor. I am not casting blame because it might have
been this very doctor that, indeed, saved the life of this man. Perhaps I will never know
the truth about what really happened but whoever put that boy back together was a miracle
worker and way beyond his time. I am sure God had plans for daddy if it were only to answer
the prayers of a little girl a few years down the road.

Appalachian Mountain Families - Brenda Collins Dillon