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Cordell Law resided in Wing, Ala., and crafted ax handles

Today’s column will be a review of an earlier feature published in the Andalusia Star-News on August 12, 2000. In that story Cardell Law’s practice of making handles, especially for axes, was described along with a little of his life. In the previous article, news and life style writer Renee LeMaire wrote of Cardell’s talents after visiting and interviewing him at his home in the Wing community.

Cardell Law was born in 1913 in the Hart community of Covington County where his family lived on a farm which his father managed. He was the youngest of five children born to Henry W. Law and Ella (Byrd) Law. His father, Henry W. Law, was born in Santa Rosa County, Fla., in 1864 toward the end of the War Between the States. His mother, Ella Byrd, was born in 1874, and she was married in 1903 in Walton County, Fla. to Henry W. Law. Henry W. died in 1934 in Andalusia, Ala., and Ella died in 1914 in Santa Rosa County, Fla.

Several local citizens will recall Cordell Law, a reputable member of the black community who resided in Wing, Ala. He and his hobby of making ax handles were featured in a story in the August 12, 2000, edition of the Andalusia Star-News. Feature-writer Renee LeMaire visited him at his home and interviewed him for a story. She took several pictures of him working and demonstrating how he made handles.

Before describing his art of handle making, a look will be taken of his life and family heritage. Cordell Law was born in 1913 here in Covington County, Ala., and he died in 2007 in Crestview, Fla. He lived his entire long life of 94 years residing in the southern part of Covington County, around Wing, and some in the area of Crestview.  When the 1940 federal census was enumerated, Cordell was living in the household of his older brother, Ellis Law, in Covington County.

Cordell was the son of Henry W. Law and Ella Byrd who were married in 1903 in Walton County, Fla. Henry W. Law was born in 1864 in Santa Rosa County, Fla., and lived until 1934 at which time he died in Andalusia. Ella Byrd was born in 1874 in Florida and lived until 1914 at which time she died in the Oak Grove community of Santa Rosa County, Fla. According to Ancestry.com, Henry and Ella were the parents of four children with Cordell being the youngest. These included the following: Cleo, b. 1903, d. 1927, m. Grover Cleveland Moore; Ellis, b. 1908, d. 1980, m. (1) Virginia Drakeford (1925-2019) (2) Rosie Mae Feagin, (b. 1909) (3) Mary Moore (b. 1896); Exellee, b. 1912, d. 1961, m. Frank Lee (1915-1993); and Cordell, b. 1913, d. 2007, m. Willie Mae Wilson.

Cordell Law’s paternal grandfather has not been identified, but he was believed to be born in North Carolina. His grandmother, Morning Hart, was born in 1850 in Alabama. According to Ancesry.com, she had children with a surname of Hart and Law.

According to Ancestry.com, Morning Hart was the mother of the following children: Henry W. Law, b. 1864, d. 1934, m. Ella Byrd; Sarah Law, b. ca 1870; Henry Hart, b. 1870; Mary Law, b. 1872; Sarah Law, Sallie Hart, b. 1873; John H. Law, b. ca 1875; Mary Hart, b. 1875; John Hart, b. 1877; Amanda “Mandy” Law, b. 1879; and Maudy Hart, b. 1880. There is some question of the names and birth dates since there is overlapping in both. (It would be great if someone has a more defined listing of Morning Hart’s children as well as the name of the father of her children. The family of her oldest son, Henry W. Law, is listed above, but information on the other children was not found by this writer.

Henry W. Law’s oldest child, Cleo Law, was married in 1924 in Covington County to Grover Cleveland Moore (1896-1960), son of Robert Wesley Moore (1878-1928) and Mariah Cawthon (d. 1925). The family made their home in Andalusia and the Hart community of Covington County. Grover had served during World War I before the two were married. Since Cleo died at a young age, it appears the couple did not have any children. Grover was married second in 1927 to Rosie Mae Feagin who was born in 1909 and was the daughter of Jack and Sarah Feagin. In 1930, the couple was living in the household of Jack and Sarah in the Hart community, and Grover was working in the turpentine industry. Grover was married later to Mary Moore who was born in 1896, and he was listed as a janitor in at least one census.

Henry W. Law’s second child, Ellis Law, who married Virginia Drakeford (1925-2019), born in Conecuh County, daughter of Robert Drakeford. In 1940, Ellis was listed as a farmer in Covington County. In 1942, he was rendering military service during World War II at Ft. Benning, Ga. He and Virginia were married in 1946 in Etowah or Covington County. The were the parents of four sons, but the oldest, Oduster, is the only one whose name was found. He was b. 1846, d, 1886, m. (wife’s name not found). He served in U.S. Military from 1965 to 1969.

Henry W. Law’s next child, Exellee Law, was born in 1912 and was married first in 1941 in Crestview, Fla., to Frank Lee (1915-1993). This couple resided in Okaloosa County, Fla. They were the parents of two unidentified sons and a daughter, Murzine Lee, b. 1940, d. 2017. Although her husband’s name was not found, they were reported to have two sons. Exellee was later married to Robert Wilkerson, and they resided in Crestview. They were the parents of two children: Isaac Daniel “I.D.,” b. 1933, d. 2005, m. 1964 in Andalusia, but wife’s name not named; and Ola Mae, b. 1937, d. 2010, m. 1980 Daniel “Dan” Hart. Ola Mae and Dan had one son.

Cordell Law was Henry W. Law’s youngest child. Cordell was married to Willie Mae Wilson, daughter of James Houston Wilson (1891-1954) and Martha Henderson (b. 1892). They were the parents of five daughters: Martha Lue, b. 1945, d. 2019; Hazel Ruth, b. 1948, d. 2013, m. 1968 Nathan P. “Pete” Bryant Jr. (1943-1985), son of Nathan Bryant Sr. and Gussie Mae Walton; and the names of the other three daughters were not available. Ancestry.com reported he had two sons, but no record of this was found. Hazel and Nathan had a son named Rodney Maurice, b. 1969, d. 2015, who was married and had two sons.

Cordell Law has been described as a very kind man who was small in stature. He was always neat and well-dressed in public wearing a starched white shirt and dark pants along with his hat. He worked for a time at Stokes and Brogden Stockyards, and he spent 30 years in maintenance work for the Blue Lake Methodist Camp from which he retired. He and his wife reared their children in a house located beside the busy highway in the Wing community of Covington County. He worked his hobby beside a small storage shed at the side of his yard where he sat working most afternoons.

Cordell learned his craft of making wooden handles as a child. He would proudly say, “I made handles when I was a boy.” He reported how he performed this task. “I split the log right down in half. I use a maul and iron wedges. Then I split it into quarters. I measure the size I want in the ax handle. I keep splitting until I get what I want out of it. You take a chop hatchet and chop it out. It will be thick on one end. You chop down the thick side to fit into the ax. Then you get the drawing knife and draw it out smooth. You got to be careful when you are working on the sides to keep it straight. It dries enough in two weeks to scrape it smooth.” He pointed out that they should be kept out of the weather to last a long time. He also preferred to shellac them to preserve them, but you don’t have to put anything on them.

This writer had a great uncle, James Wesley “Jim” Fuqua, who also made handles, and he is proud to have one of those handles in his best ax. It seemed Jim preferred to work with ash wood which Cordell preferred walnut.  This skill was quite valuable in the past, but it is almost a lost art today since such items are manufactured with machines.

Sources for today’s story include Ancestry.com, an article by Renee LeMaire in the Andalusia Star-News, August 12, 2000 edition and memories of friends.

Anyone who might discover an error in the above is requested to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-804-1442; or Email: cthomasson@centurytel.net.