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Totty’s Bend treasure

With 91 years under his belt, Jimmy Mathis has built a life centered on faith, family, and farming in Hickman County community
Story and photos by: Chris Villines 2/25/2019


Jimmy Mathis, left, and son Tim get an up-close look at part of their herd at Mathis Angus in Hickman County. Another son, Gary, is also a partner in the operation.
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As he approached his 90th birthday in 2017, Jimmy Mathis put pen to paper.

He had a story to tell.

Checking in at exactly 1,381 words,“The Good Life in Totty’s Bend” is the Hickman County farmer’s account of his experiences, from childhood to present day, in this rural community hugging the Duck River.

It’s a condensed autobiography, if you will, from this two-time cancer survivor, whose latest battle with the disease — now in remission — has limited his farm activity to bookkeeping but afforded the chance for written introspection:

My parents, Grady and Mammie Coleman Mathis, had six children: three boys and three girls. I was the oldest … I was born in Totty’s Bend [in 1927]. We moved to Perry County for a few years because Daddy drove a road grader for the state.

Knowing the family would eventually settle back in Totty’s Bend, Grady bought a 100-acre farm there for a grand total of $1,800. This was the Great Depression era, after all.

When the Mathises returned in 1937, young Jimmy was introduced to farming. The family raised corn, hay, wheat, hogs, cattle, and pasture.

When I was twelve, I started plowing with the mules in the fields from sun-up to sundown. I would walk behind the plow, rest a few minutes to eat lunch and feed the mules, and continue to plow only to accomplish two acres per day.

Hard work, yes, but nonetheless a labor of love for Jimmy. He knew then that a career in farming was where he wanted his compass to point. After graduating from Hickman County High School in 1946, he would join Grady fulltime on the farm. His father would go on to live to the age of 95.

That same year, they were able to purchase their first tractor, a John Deere Model B, though legend has it that the adjustment from animal to machine initially got off to a rough start.

“When Daddy pulled the tractor into the shed, he yelled ‘Whoa!’ to get it to stop,” Jimmy says with a laugh. “Well, it kept on going … right through the back of the shed!”

Jimmy liked the tractor so much that he says he would sometimes “plow all night long” to the point of exhaustion.

“There was a time or two I dozed off while plowing,” he admits. “That tractor would change sounds and I’d wake up in a hurry!”

He and Grady figured it out, and five years later, Jimmy married Wilma Orton, the daughter of another local farming family. Wilma is still spry at 86 and is also a cancer survivor, having beaten breast cancer.

We moved into our current home in September 1951. It was a small, four-room home with a bathroom, one of only two in Totty’s Bend at the time. In 1952, we put our garden behind the house and have raised a garden there for the last 65 years.

The 1950s also marked the birth of Jimmy and Wilma’s two sons, Gary and Tim who, like their father, have made farming their livelihood. The trio operate Mathis Angus Farms, which Jimmy established with just 10 black Angus heifers in 1965. Precipitous growth has followed; today, the Mathis Angus herd includes around 275 mama cows and 600 head overall, all registered. Hogs were also a focal point of the business until the volatility of the market forced them to exit in 2013.

“When we started, we didn’t do anything special with the cattle for a long time,” says Jimmy. “Then I went to three days of AI school in 1980 and we’ve been improving them ever since.”

Word of mouth about the quality of the Mathises Angus has attracted customers from throughout Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama. The majority of their cattle sales occur straight from the farm.

“We’ve been able to use the best bulls in the world to improve our herd,” says Jimmy, whose operation has earned numerous awards both nationally and statewide. “One of the last bulls we bought, we gave $20,000 for it, and that same day we bought another one for $16,000.”

The family’s operation also includes pasture and hay and encompasses some 750 acres spread out over a 15-mile radius of Totty’s Bend. Five of these farms are designated as Century Farms, including Fogg Hollow Farm, owned by Gary’s daughter, Amanda, who is the Chief Financial Officer of Bridgestone Americas.

There’s a Co-op connection, too. Jimmy’s other grandchild and Gary’s son, James, is the manager of Humphreys Farmers Cooperative’s Centerville branch store. James’ two sons, Britton and Wiley, are the two great grandsons of the family. Jimmy served on the Co-op’s board for several years and proudly notes that the Mathises have been a member since 1945, when the Co-op was first established in the county.

Good Lord willing, Jimmy, who still teaches Sunday School at Twomey Church of Christ, says he’s looking forward to celebrating birthday No. 92 in December. Come what may, he writes he’s been fortunate to lead a life centered on faith, family, and farming:

There is no finer place to live and raise a family than Totty’s Bend. The Lord has blessed me and my family above and beyond that which I could have ever dreamed.

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