Texas Country Singers
Phil Fry and Jim Lee
Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2008
We have received e-mail from Dr. Kirk Bane, Professor of History, Blinn College, Bryan, with a review of a book, and the offer to send us more reviews of books having special "Texas" connections. Let’s introduce it by saying that Kirk Bane is a Texas history professor at Blinn College in Bryan and, additionally, a member of the FCHA. Tom and Martha Phillips are his uncle and aunt and he have been visiting Mt. Vernon since his childhood. He says that he has always been interested in the area’s history, that he subscribes to the Optic-Herald, and that he hopes to play a role in the FCHA by offering book reviews two or three times a year. That said, here is his first review:
“Buck Owens is one of the rare country musicians who ruled the 1960s without attaching himself to Nashville. The odd side of this dominance—fifteen number-one hits in a row—was his long engagement with the television program Hee Haw, which diminished rather than enhanced his reputation as a creative force in country music. The cornpone series, which also attracted some outstanding performers, was not to be Owens’ downfall, however, since he was rediscovered in the 1990s and achieved almost reverential treatment from an entirely new crop of performers.” So observe Phil Fry and Jim Lee in their informative, breezy, and entertaining little survey, Texas Country Singers (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 2008, 96 pages, $8.95).
Fry, an independent scholar who has written for The Handbook of Texas Music, and Lee, emeritus professor at the University of North Texas and a fellow of the Texas Folklore Society, provide succinct assessments of twenty-five country artists, all born in the Lone Star State, including Gene Autry, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Mandrell, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Jim Reeves, Tex Ritter, George Strait, and Ernest Tubb.
While all of their entries deserve reading, two are particularly fascinating. George Jones’ classic songs number “Why Baby Why,” “White Lightning,” “The Race Is On,” “She Thinks I Still Care,” and, with wife Tammy Wynette, “Golden Ring.” The Jones-Wynette “marriage was a stormy one, and the story is told of George riding a lawn mower to a local bar because Tammy had taken his car keys away.” Fry and Lee also assert that Jones led a “lifestyle that almost killed him more than once. He was addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and yet, in 1980, he recorded what was voted in 1992 the greatest all-time country song, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” After he had recorded the song, he listened to it in the studio and said, ‘Nobody is going to buy that morbid son of a bitch,’ but buy it they did, and it led to his being named CMA vocalist of the year in 1980 and 1981.”
Tanya Tucker—sometimes called “The Texas Tornado”—became an “overnight star” at the age of thirteen, with the unforgettable “Delta Dawn.” Thirteen! Fry and Lee point out that Tucker, who, like George Jones, battled substance abuse, “was the half-time entertainer at Super Bowl XXVIII…appeared on several episodes of The Love Boat, was once on Fantasy Island, and made the obligatory visit to Hee Haw. She continues to record, and her 2005 album, Live at Billy Bob’s, received good reviews. She had a television series, Tuckerville, on the History Channel in 2005-06 that ran to seventeen episodes…Over a long and tumultuous career, Tanya has had eleven number-one country hits, and was named to the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2003.”
Texas Country Singers belongs to the Texas Small Books Series, pocket-sized texts of approximately 100 pages each, published by TCU Press. Other titles in this commendable collection include Carlton Stowers’ Texas Football Legends: Greats of the Game (2008) and Don Graham’s State Fare: An Irreverent Guide to Texas Movies (2008). Texas history buffs and country music fans will enjoy the creditable offering from Fry and Lee.
Note: Readers desiring additional information on Lone Star country should consult part one of Rick Koster’s fine study, Texas Music (St. Martin’s Press, 1998). Jan Reid’s sterling The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock: New Edition (University of Texas Press, 2004) is also indispensable.
Readings from Stories of Saltillo: About the People, Places and Events over Time in a Small Prairie Town in East Texas
Copyright 2008 Thomas J. Minter
Booklocker.com, Inc. 2008
Cover illustration of town from G. G. Orren, The History of Hopkins County (M.A. thesis, East Texas State Teachers College, 1938)
Dedicated to the people of Saltillo – past, present, and future
It is available for purchase online from its publisher Booklocker.com for $15.95 each, plus $3.00 shipping and handling (no matter how large the order). If you want to go straight to it, the web page for the book is www.booklocker.com/books/3435.html.
The stories have many references and connections back to Mt. Vernon and Franklin County. We have obtained permission from the author to run a few of the stories which we think present a good overview of the collection and serve to encourage your interest. A copy of the book is available for reading in the Wilkinson Library in the Fire Station Museum if you want to inspect the book before deciding on a purchase.
Mr. Minter gladly gives permission for use of material; persons interested in what they see below should also visit his website www.saltillotexas.homestead.com for the photos and stories posted there. Contributor Bob Cowser gives his blessings on our web site’s electronic publication of his story and sends greetings to Darwin and Connie McGill (“Darwin and I were in the same class at Saltillo until he moved away when he was in fifth grade, I believe”).
“At Last, There Was Light”
by Robert Cowser, on pages 28-31 of the book
In the years just before and during World War II there were two unpaved roads leading south from Saltillo. For seven miles there was a distance of almost a mile between these roads until they approached the Greenwood community. There the roads converged. Those of us who lived on farms on the road that started from the east side of Saltillo used kerosene lamps, wood-burning heaters and cook stoves. We milked our cows by hand. Those who lived on the road that ran from the west side of Saltillo had the benefit of power supplied by an R.E.A. co-operative out of Greenville. A few of the farmers on the west road had milking machines. Their families could freeze ice cream in a tray in their refrigerators.
In the evening while our classmates on the west road worked their math problems at the kitchen table by light that came from a bulb dangling from the ceiling, my younger brother and I squinted our eyes in an effort to read the "stated" problems in the math textbook. Our light was provided by two kerosene lamps. We were one step ahead of Abe Lincoln, who, according to legend, used firelight from the hearth to enable him to scrawl numbers on the back of a coal shovel.
Once the United States entered WW II our parents and the neighbors knew there was no hope of getting electricity for their farms until the Axis powers were defeated. Postponing delivering a petition for electric power was one of our contributions to the war effort.
After the Japanese surrendered, both my brothers-in-law returned from military service. One sister and her husband bought a farm on the east road. They built a house and joined the rest of us without electricity. My sister used an iron that burned kerosene and bought a lamp with a special wick called an Aladdin lamp.
Early in 1947 my brother-in-law decided to circulate a petition in the community. He wanted to present a request with signatures to the Wood County Electric Co-operative in Quitman. I accompanied my brother-in-law and my father on their visits to the neighbors on the east road. Most agreed to sign the petition, but, to my surprise, a few did not. They seemed content to live as their parents had before them, burning wood for heat and using kerosene lamps.
Eventually, Wood County Electric Co-operative agreed to extend its line from the western part of Franklin County into Hopkins County, thereby providing service for our house and the other farm houses on the east road. The next problem was finding an electrician who would wire our house. A second brother-in-law and another WW II veteran had some experience as electricians while in military service. They agreed to wire the house. Since ours was a boxed house, the covered wires extended in plain sight from the ceiling of each room along the wall to the switches. The exposed wires were not aesthetically pleasing, but, more importantly they brought the power we yearned for. My sister took my mother shopping for light fixtures. They were the first my mother had ever had the opportunity to select, so choosing had to be done with care. For one bedroom she selected an opaque glass fixture with a beige rim. It was attached to the metal part of the fixture with four small chains. Many is the time I had difficulty re-attaching the bowl after I had washed it.
For the kitchen she chose a fixture of milk glass with two exposed bulbs, a lower maintenance fixture.
The day that the Wood County workers turned on the power to the house was one of the most exciting days our family had ever experienced. As we celebrated, we waited for the water to freeze in the trays we had placed in the new refrigerator Daddy bought. The next day my mother plugged in her new electric iron she had bought with the pennies she had saved for months. Before long we had a Maytag washer on the back porch. There was even more celebration after the sun went down. My brother and 1 walked through the house, switching the ceiling lights on and off and then on again. I continued reading Sinclair Lewis' novel Main Street, which 1 had begun before the power was turned on. I could hardly believe how much clearer the printed words were.
When I told my sons and daughters about our long wait for electrical power, they were amazed. I wonder sometimes if they actually believed me. But there are former neighbors still living who could verify my story if that ever became necessary.
By Angela Lowry Whitt, on page 32 of the book
My Dad, A. C. "Al" Lowry owned a grocery store/service station in Saltillo from 1938 to 1953. He had many friends in the community. Dad was a practical joker. He pulled a lot of practical jokes on innocent people, and could take the payback when it was paid. One day Walter Deprang came by the store and asked Dad if he knew the banker Brice in Sulphur Springs very well. Dad said he did. Then Walter told him that he needed a loan to have some expense money to go back to work on the pipeline. Then he asked Dad if he would co-sign a note. Dad said he would. Then Dad told him that he needed to know that banker Brice was deaf as a door knob, and you will recognize him because he talked real loud. And you will have to yell for him to hear.
After that conversation, Dad went to the bank and told Mr. Brice that Walter was coming in for a loan and that he would co-sign. Also, that Walter was deaf as a door knob and he talked real loud. The stage was then set for two normal hearing men to negotiate a loan in a yell.
This episode was probably one of Dad's finest hours when he and others watched, and heard the two men negotiate the loan.
“Saltillo on the Beaten Path”
by Thomas J. Minter, on pages 202-212 of the book
If you lived in Saltillo in the 1930s, you surely would not know it was on any kind of main stream. But it was. When I was there, I was aware of the two rotating beacons, and, that they had something to do with airplanes. That was all. Sure the Cotton Belt railroad came through town, but I didn't know where it came from or went to, other than from Mt. Vernon to the east and Sulphur Springs to the west. My ignorance was about the same with US Highway 67, as it was with the railroad.
I am not so sure that adults who lived there when I did knew much more about these byways than I did. It was only later – fast forward 60 years – that I came to learn more about these thoroughfares.
My interest in knowing more about the rotating beacons was tweaked by John Bradbury, a pilot who lives in Sulphur Springs, who was doing research on the beacons. Early airmail pilots had no instruments in their planes, so when they flew into fog, they parachuted out of their craft. Charles Lindbergh, an airmail pilot, did this several times. There were few navigation aids on the ground. When flying mail from coast to coast in the best of weather conditions, one still had to contend with darkness in the middle part of the country.
To help remedy this, in 1926, responsibility for establishing a system of lighted airways passed from the Post Office to a new Aeronautics Branch. Not long afterward the Branch completed the lighting of the transcontinental airway. Enthusiasm for the new aerial highways was reflected in the 5 cent air mail stamp of 1928.
The lighted airways consisted of beacon towers located at intervals of approximately 10 miles. These towers were 51 feet high, topped with a powerful rotating light. Below the rotating light two course lights pointed forward and back along the airway. The course lights flashed a code to identify the beacon's number. The tower usually stood in the center of a concrete arrow 70 feet long. A generator shed, when required, stood at the "feather" end of the arrow.
Another feature of these early airways were intermediate landing fields. Federal authorities established these facilities to ensure that pilots could land safely, if the needed to, at intervals of approximately 50 miles along their route. The fields were usually co-located with the course beacons.
Saltillo became a part of the lighted airway system in the early 1930S as indicated in this Mt. Vernon Optic-Herald newspaper article on March 27, 1931:
Saltillo Gets U.S. Airport North Of Town On Prairie
The United Sates Government has established an airport at Saltillo. One hundred acres have been leased from Minnow Sparks for ten years at $5.00 per acre. The land lies just north of the town on the high prairie and is an ideal place for the port.
Mr. Sparks is moving fences so that work may begin at once. The entire tract is to be graded, with concrete road leading from the highway in Saltillo to the landing. A big light will be installed with sufficient power to reflect rays into Dallas on clear nights. Not only has an ideal site been selected by the government, but the location of Highway 1 half way between Dallas and Texarkana makes it accessible to both cities.
Government officials have been in Hopkins County for several weeks making surveys. Como offered a site and several sites around Sulphur Springs were offered, but Saltillo won out.
The new port will mean much to that town.
The Sulphur Springs News Telegram also reported on the airfield on the Sparks place:
Saltillo had the distinction of having the only intermediate landing field in Hopkins County. The United States Airway Communication Station (adjacent to airfield) was equipped with a Perforator-automatic Transmitter Distributor on the Bureau of Air Commerce Teletype network. The station at Saltillo was the tape record station for the Ft. Worth-Washington Teletype Circuit and monitored the-Ft. Worth and Texarkana Radio beam and Waco, Tulsa and Ft. Worth Airway Broadcast hourly.
Once established, these airfields and course beacons were maintained by the Bureau of Commerce (1934), as the Aeronautical Branch came to be known, on a twenty-four-hour basis with a full complement of radio operators. The man in charge of these operators at Saltillo field was C. R. Carlson, a former army pilot and a member of the Air Corps Reserve. In addition to the airfield beacon there were radio sheds located nearby.
Saltillo was on the Southern Transcontinental Airway on the Los Angeles-Dallas leg of the Los Angeles-New York route. Another such airway crossed the country in the north.
Just west of Saltillo about a quarter of a mile on the south side of Highway 1 (later US 67) an airway beacon was installed. This was in addition to the one on the Sparks place northeast of town. Apparently having two rotating beacons in proximity caused some confusion for pilots, for a few landed near the highway instead the airfield. (See story “On the Homefront” in this book [Stories of Saltillo]).
There were instances of these airway facilities serving local citizens, as indicated in this item from The Hopkins County Echo newspaper, dated August 30, 1935:
A U.S. Army ambulance plane arrived at the Saltillo landing field with Col. Huttle, U.S. Army Medical Corps, for Sgt. Browning's little daughter, who had taken seriously ill while visiting relatives in this County at Pickton. The plane took off at 3:55 p.m. with Mrs. Browning and her daughter for Randolph Field in San Antonio, where the child entered in Govt. Hospital at Fort Sam Houston. Sgt. Browning left for Randolph Field via automobile.
This was the first instance of the kind at Saltillo landing field, so is important locally.
In the late 1920s, the Aeronautics Branch of the Post Office began experimenting with the Low Frequency Radio Range system of navigation which consisted of four thin radio towers located closely together. These were in use before World War II. The perfection of this system, along with James Doolittle's successful experiments with flying airplanes by instruments in the fall of 1939 eliminated the need for beacon-lit airways.
The people of Saltillo probably knew more about the two-lane US Highway 67, that ran through Saltillo, than they did the airway. It was the road they took to get to the county seat, Sulphur Springs, Texas, 17 miles to the west. It also led to Mt. Vernon, five miles to the east, where one would go if they had a hospital emergency.
I knew this highway went on to Dallas, as I took a Greyhound bus once to go see my mother in Oklahoma City, and Dallas was where I transferred to another bus to continue the journey to Oklahoma. The bus happened to be driven by a kinsman of mine, Bruce Minter, who drove it between Dallas and Texarkana. Bruce was entrusted by my Uncle Jack to look after me, and see to it that I got on the right bus at the Dallas terminal for Oklahoma.
Highway 67 went to other places too. In its entirety it ran from Sabula, Iowa, to Presidio, Texas. Before it was U.S. 67, this was State Highway 1, so designated in 1917, which was the Texarkana-Dallas-Fort Worth-El Paso highway. Highway 1 also included Bankhead Highway, which was named after John Hollis Bankhead, U.S. Senator from Alabama, and which connected Washington and San Diego. There are several visitors' centers dedicated to the old highway located in different parts of the country. Mt. Vernon, a few miles east of Saltillo has one. It is called "The Bankhead Highway Visitor Center."
In 1926 the federal government decided to go to a numbering system for its highways instead of using names. Thus, the portion of the Bankhead Highway that ran from Dallas to Texarkana was designated U.S. 67. The highway was paved with concrete in 1928.
In 1886-87 a railroad passing through Saltillo was built. Formally, this railroad was the St. Louis Southwestern Railway Company (SSW) of Texas. Its nickname or slogan was the "Cotton Belt Route." In 1931 a service called "Blue Streak" freight was inaugurated to provide overnight delivery along the route.
The Cotton Belt Route was a single track type that required sidings and an elaborate system of signals. The main route was from St. Louis, Missouri, to Gatesville, Texas. The total mileage of the system, including trackage rights, was 1,542 miles, with 803 of these miles in Texas.
In 1925 the slogan of the Cotton Belt Route was, "All trains on time all the time." In 1928 the railroad had 250 locomotives, 9,642 freight cars, and 172 passenger cars. With its stops, it took a freight train about 57 hours to go from St. Louis to Fort Worth. The railroad had its shops at Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where there is now a museum devoted to the line. In 1932 the railroad was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad, but the Cotton Belt Route continued to operate by that name.
In earlier days, Saltillo was yet on still another main stream, which was the old Jefferson Wagon Road. This road, which was built in 1843, ran from Jefferson, Texas, to the settlements around the Trinity River near Dallas. It was used to haul freight to and from its extremities and points in between. The road passed through Saltillo at what is now called "Old Saltillo," which is one-and-half miles south of present day Saltillo. Old Saltillo was a favorite overnight stopping point for teamsters who hauled freight with hitches of oxen, horses, or mules over this road.
In 1907 Gulf Oil Company built a 480 mile pipeline to transport crude oil from Sapulpa, Oklahoma, the site where at that time was one of the richest pools of oil in world. Discovered in 1905, it was called Glennpool after the Creek Indian woman, Ida E. Glenn, on whose land the oil was discovered. From Glennpool, the pipeline ran to Sour Lake, Texas, on the Gulf coast, passing a half mile east of Saltillo.
Every 50 miles along this line a pump station was installed to boost pressure. Saltillo had one of these stations. The pump station and the building and maintaining of this pipeline provided job opportunities for area residents. Some oil was shipped out of Saltillo in railroad tank cars. The platform adjacent to and east of the railroad water tower was used for that purpose. About all that remain of the Gulf facility now is some large round storage tanks that can still be seen just off of Highway 67. A satellite/topo view (see below [in the book]) shows the Gulf facility near Saltillo. The pipeline and stations were closed in 1958.
Correspondence from Ray Loyd Johnson: Recollections of "Legendary Kaufman Street"
Mount Vernon History spans many aspects of life. The Spirit of Mount Vernon is not a myth. Old timers can talk about their early years as though specific things happened last week, and newcomers are made to feel like home folk.
I asked for help from a few others on some aspects of this report. B.F. Hicks knows more about local history than anyone. Ed Joyce tells colorful stories about long ago in such a vivid way I wonder if he is a reincarnation of some of his many foundation ancestors. The most amazing input was from Berniece Meek Allen of Dallas, who lived on Kaufman Street for about 40 years. In her 90’s, she recalled with clarity her years in Mount Vernon and growing up out in the country. The Optic-Herald Centennial Edition (Sept. 16, 2010) made my report easier. There was much history about Franklin County families, businesses and community life. I decided to make this report an easy-to-read story capturing the essence of the subject. The Historical, Genealogical, and other associations exist to assist those having a yearning for specifics. Or, just sip a cup with an old timer and learn all kinds of stuff. (Do you know that 300 pound Ed Galt was such a consistent home run hitter that he hired a guy to run the bases? Or that a Kaufman Street resident moved to New York City and had the only garden in Manhattan, on top of a building?)
Ken Greer encouraged me, and encouraged me, and encouraged me to write this story. In 2007, Ken persuaded me to speak at the Reunion of 1954 Mount Vernon Champions—Dallas Dr. Pepper Cotton Bowl Basketball Tournament (Meredith Scholarship event). The other speaker was Charles Lowry. He told about boys in the 1940’s gathering on Saturdays and playing football on Superintendent Fleming’s big Kaufman Street lawn. Many of them became key performers, including school year 1947-48. That year, Mount Vernon’s football and basketball teams, under Coach Catfish Smith, achieved the incredible record of 45-0. After hearing Charles, an idea for a story generated in my mind. Still, it took Ken Greer encouraging, encouraging, encouraging.
I started thinking about all the great athletes and other popular students who lived on Kaufman. This expanded to the many long-time teachers and school officials. Families were immersed in civic service and dedicated to activities at the schools and at the two large churches on Kaufman. Some families owned major businesses, including Lowry’s largest store in any small town. Other fine people were scattered throughout Mount Vernon and Franklin County, but on Kaufman so many strong and influential families lived so close together.
The time frame referenced in this report is from the 1940’s to the 1960’s because that covers my close relationship to Mount Vernon from youth into adulthood. I never lived on Kaufman, but from first grade in the two-story school building on Kaufman, I felt a part of that street. During my school years, I came to know, or know about, so many people who lived there. Peddling my strawberries early before school time, I sold out quickly on Kaufman. It was like the song, “Dear Hearts and Gentle People,” as smiling ladies on that street welcomed me and bought a gallon of berries. From first grade year, classmate Don Meredith entertained us with goings on in the Meredith’s Kaufman Street home---parents Jeff and Hazel, big brother Billy Jack and Ladybug the dog. Don could turn any situation into a funny happening. I heard him say things on “Monday Night Football” that I first heard in grade school.
Between the 300 and 500 blocks of South Kaufman were large buildings, meeting places which reflected the spirit and vitality of Mount Vernon. The grade school was on the west side of Kaufman and the two biggest churches were on the east side. The high school was between the churches but facing Holbrook. I had teachers who had long tenure; Grade School: Beth Cargile, Mary Lou Stringer, Gladys Lawrence, Edna Puckett, Eula Carter, Laura Garner, Hey Gilbreth, Mary Nell Henry, Jack Henry, Carlton Newsom; High School: Rufus Bolger, Irene Binnion, Charles Bruce, Irene St. Clair, Zenna Irons, Winnie Petty, J.P. Stanley, and Forrest Johnson. Other teachers with long tenure overlapping my school days were: Virgie Beth Hughes, Vera Mitchell, Viola Bolger, Margaret Campbell, Evelyn Newsom, Flonnie Guthrie, Agnes Burns, and Superintendents Millard Fleming and Bill Copeland. Mary Lou Stringer had 48 years and several of the others taught at Mount Vernon for two or three decades. Virgie Beth Hughes directed the annual Halloween Carnival Coronation for 30 years. Eula Carter left a large fund for scholarships. Irene Binnion and a gaggle of girls wrote the school song while she was rooming with the Merediths on Kaufman in the early 1940’s. In fact, a dozen of the forenamed teachers were at home on Kaufman or behind the grade school building. In the first house behind the grade school lived the Roy Smith Family. Roy was on the school board, Ann served as emergency teacher when called, and daughter Lou Haley was a talented musician and class valedictorian in 1950. She returned as a teacher, Lou Haley McCorkle. The Bill Meek Family moved to Kaufman in the 1950’s. Bill was on the school board, Melba became a teacher, and in recent years their daughter, Judy Meek Lindley, brought the school system into the 21st century via her knowledge of technical services.
It is fitting and proper that the Parchman House at 701 South Kaufman is headquarters of the Franklin County Historical Association. Joe and Tish Parchman lived there, and the property was part of a big farm long ago. B.F. Hicks has publicized the Civil War Diary kept by the father of Joe Parchman. Joe was a longtime merchant, and the store origin dated back to the 1890’s. In the 1920’s he employed an energetic teenager who later became his business partner. That youngster, Jeffy Meredith, grew into his role as one of Mount Vernon’s leaders. Jeff was on the school board all 12 years that Don was in school.
Although Jeff, Hazel, Billy Jack and Don gave Kaufman Street an All-Star Family, it was no more outstanding than many others. A few family names, such as Lowry, Fleming, Moore, Moulton, Meek, Joyce, Hill, Cargile, Henry, Rich, Newsom, Carter, Bolger, and Solomon seemed to be involved in all aspects of life. Moms raised fine sons and daughters, yet were also dedicated to church, school activities, and clubs (Shakespeare and Coterie were the biggies). Fathers performed in the same manner. At times the School Board was almost a Kaufman Street club. The School Board and Rotary were just for men back then. I noted last year that the presidents of both were little Mount Vernon girls when I was in high school--Marilyn Long Elbert and Ann Newsom Holland. Ann grew up on Kaufman. Millard Fleming, who lived on Kaufman, was School Superintendent for many years. His powerful mellow voice needed no amplification, authoritative yet reassuring. Millard Fleming lived for the school, and the school song was part of his funeral at the Methodist Church. Regarding school spirit, Kaufman became the home street of the Curly Newsom Family. Simply stated, Curly was the most enthusiastic and engaging Tiger fan during an era when the Mount Vernon Tiger football and basketball teams were well known far and wide.
The Baptist Church was in the 300 block of South Kaufman, and the Methodist Church was in the 500 block. The large open area in between, across from the grade school, was for school buses. Maybe the space separation of the two big churches symbolized theological differences, but there was harmony between families (except for the Baptist roof loudspeakers blasting tuned bells out across town early every Sunday). Kids attended summer Bible School at both churches. Jean Hope was a fixture on the Baptist piano and organ while Irene St. Clair performed at the Methodist. Sometimes, they combined talents in a wonderful musical duet for the community. After Irene moved away in 1955, Peggy Lowry took her place and just recently retired. Reverend John Whitt served the Baptist Church as Pastor for decades and no doubt conducted more weddings and funerals than anyone in town history.
A perfect example of unity between families was told by Berniece Meek Allen, who with husband Lloyd Meek and daughter Arlene lived south of the Methodist Church. It was well known that Berniece was a zealous worker in the Democratic Party and served as Election Judge. Right next door lived the Curtis Penn Family, proudly Republican in an era when there were only a few GOP loyalists in Franklin County. Berniece stated that the two families did not let politics interfere with their neighborly acts and friendships. She laughed and told how when Republicans finally got a toehold, she received an invitation to a Victory Party. (Career note: Berniece was recruited by Judge Wilkinson to work with him when he was age 76 and worked there 20 years. Then she was hired to assist the new Franklin County Water Board. She was asked for her idea as to name of the lake. She suggested “Lake Cypress Springs”.)
The most impressive historical house on Kaufman faces the Baptist Church. The Solomon sisters, Snow Bolger and Stella Cranford, lived there with their father, who hauled freight from the depot in a rickety old truck. After Dave Bolger, the local Chevrolet dealer, died in the mid 1940’s, the sisters opened a popular shop on the south side of the square. It had fashionable apparel and shiny treasures that teenage girls just had to have for the big date. Snow’s son, David Jack Bolger, was a scholar, a hot drummer, a really cool kid, popular and polite. He and I decided to master a new sport in Mount Vernon after the first tennis court was built behind the Methodist Church. Nobody in town knew anything about the game, including us. All summer we lobbed and sweated and learned how to serve. By September, we were pretty good players. This episode is mentioned for a reason. When that tennis court was built, Mount Vernon High School had two sports for boys, football and basketball. During following decades other sports were added. Today there is a whole array of opportunities for boys and girls. David Jack, like athletic Ted Moulton down the street, went on to reach executive levels in education outside Mount Vernon.
What is it that inspired that quest for excellence on Kaufman Street? Did a cosmic force hover over the street pumping endless energy into the residents? Many factors contributed, all blending together. But a standard bearer for “never give up the spirit” was a lady from a foreign country. She was a mom with incredible drive and determination, an immigrant from Ireland in the early 1900’s, worked many years cleaning for a few dollars a month, and raised six sons while her husband prospected in faraway places. The sons became outstanding citizens and Isabella Bolger finally got her U.S. Citizenship late in life. One son, Rufus Bolger, became a legend in Mount Vernon. He was high school principal from the 1940’s until the 1970’s, delivering morning announcements and lessons for living to all students assembled together. He emphasized that we should not get “big headed” by saying “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly”. His motto was “Tomorrow’s successes depend on today’s preparation”.
Everyone impacts many other people. You were affected by the generations past and you affect friends and offspring, on and on. Those Kaufman Street families were neighbors in the best way; respectful of each other and they contributed to the lives of each other. I saw a TV interview with Don Meredith, a “Texas Legends” program. Don was asked what it was like growing up in Mount Vernon. He said that at age seven, he was skipping barefoot down his street and stumped his toe. A lady living in the house where he hurt his toe rushed out to him, consoled him, and doctored his toe. Don said, “That was what it was like growing up in Mount Vernon.” On “Monday Night Football” for a dozen years, Don talked about “Mount Vernon and the folks back home”. I could be in another state and say I came from Mount Vernon, and the reply would be, “Don Meredith’s town”. Without question, Don made Mount Vernon the most recognized small town in America except for Mayberry.
South of the Lowry home lived “Doctor Dread”. All kids back then got measles, mumps, chicken pox and worse. Dr. Chandler made house calls carrying a big black bag. Inside the bag he had the most awful, baddest tasting medicines, just for kids. I vividly recall chill tonic, forced down, whether you were cold and shaky or hot and sweaty.
Every story should have an element of intrigue. Isolated and alone on a big lot at the corner of Kaufman and Rutherford was a dilapidated dwelling, creepy and uninviting. It cast out vibes of being haunted, with nightly glow of a coal oil lamp flickering through the window. Dozens of cats were visible all around, but humans were seldom seen. This corner was as different from the rest of Kaufman Street as the movie “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” differs from “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I have liberty to profile that spooky place because the inhabitants were kinfolk of my cousins and Mike Edwards. (Well, all right, they were my kin too).
People crossing the railroad track on Kaufman today probably never think about its historical significance, except that the depot is now a museum. Recently, a panel of historians ranked the 25 most pivotal events in the history of Dallas. Number one was the coming of the railroad, ahead of DFW Airport at number two. The Cotton Belt Railroad was vital to the Franklin County economy for decades as Mount Vernon was a major shipping point for produce and livestock. Freight business was heavy. L.D. Lowry and Fleet Moulton were known to sell appliances out of a boxcar on siding, well advertised in advance. Automobiles even came by rail. It should be noted that in the 1950’s, Mount Vernon had quite a selection of new cars: Chevrolet, Ford, Chrysler, Plymouth, Pontiac; plus Ford, Dodge, GMC and Chevy trucks. Passenger train service continued until my graduation year, 1956.
From the railroad track heading north, the ice house was on the east side where the Post Office is now. Ice deliveries were a necessity for stores and cafes. Kenneth Cason can quickly call up images of his teenage deliveries before school, and rushing into the hallway with wet pants. The area under the water tower was the wagon yard or trade lot. Billy Jordan came to town on Saturday in the family wagon until 1949. The rock structure on the corner of Kaufman and Scott was our City Hall/Fire Station. F.J. Joyce was responsible for city services and Jesse Groom was like jolly Santa the year round. The loud fire alarm brought quick response from Chief M.P. Long and his team of volunteers.
In the first block of South Kaufman, there were several family-owned grocery stores on west side, with family members working. Merle Hill had ice cream cones, two dips for a nickel. Across on east side was the Tittle Brothers store, a hanging-out place. Cotton pickers grabbed a bite to eat before piling onto a truck on way to field. “Gimme a red sody pop and a peanut spreadwide.”
At the intersection of Kaufman and Main, there is the only downtown traffic light. It was known as the “Blinking Light” when U.S. 67 was the “Broadway of America”. Teenagers parked on the square facing out and watched the light blink. What a peak experience! Bennie Ruth Melson Connally has worked under that light on three sides, joining First National Bank in the 1940’s. For more than a hundred years, the bank has been located at that intersection—first over there, then over here, and now a branch across yonder. Mount Vernon’s oldest business, the Optic-Herald, relocated to that first block of South Kaufman in 1963. For the past 58 years, the newspaper has been owned by three generations of the Bass Family. Previously, the Devall Family had it for 57 years. Its origin was in 1874, preceding Franklin County being carved off Titus in 1875.
Looking at North Kaufman from Main, the view is much like it was when I was a kid: The restored Merchants and Planters Bank Building and M. L. Edwards store on west, Plaza and 1912 courthouse on east. People who lived a generation before my kid years would feel at home. As in earlier times, the center of town is still on top of a hill. There is a drop-off in all four directions. Notice that the courthouse faces Kaufman, with six columns vs. four on Plaza side.
Go north a ways and Harvey Funeral Home is on left. Like the Optic-Herald and M. L. Edwards, this business is directed by the third generation. So proper it is that this “Legendary Kaufman Street” story ends at Harvey Funeral Home, last stop on Kaufman for so many. What they gave of themselves in life is beyond any measurement of value.
I have written much about my growing up years in Mount Vernon, and I know others who have recorded memories of early life. It is a rewarding experience. I recommend you do so. You will have impact on those who did not walk down the same path. May your life be as good as those “Dear Hearts” on Kaufman.
Other Good Books to Read
HUMMINGBIRDS OF TEXAS
A&M Nature Guides, Texas A&M University Press, February 28, 2009
In October several events in the Fort Worth Stockyards commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train that traveled around the state in honor of Texas' 150th birthday.
The train's induction into the Texas Trail of Fame was followed with the dedication of an exhibit of wagon train artifacts at the North Fort Worth Historical Society Museum in the Livestock Exchange
Building. Then there was a book signing for a new book by authors Dominick J. Cirincione and J’Nell L. Pate together with a reunion of wagon train participants and friends. The activities occurred in
conjunction with the annual Red Steagall Cowboy Poetry Gathering and his usual arrival in the stockyards by wagon train on Thursday, October 20.
The 1986 Sesquicentennial train ended in the stockyards on July 3 after leaving Sulphur Springs on January 2, 1986. Many thousands of Texans, young and old, saw the wagon train during its clockwise, 3,000-mile circular route around the state. It came within 100 miles of each community so all Texans might experience it and camped in 150 communities over the six month period. A total of 10,000 riders from 27 states traveled at least a part of the way during the six months. Over 200,000 school children throughout the state visited the wagon train and saw the school room where 27 lucky students studied during the trip. The Texas Press Association called the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train journey the number one event of 1986, and the Associated Press placed it in their top ten news stories that year. For more information see Texas Wagon Train 1986 on Facebook.
The new book by Cirincione and Pate is entitled Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train. The book boasts more than 200 vintage images, giving readers a unique opportunity to reconnect to the history that shaped their community. Coauthor Dominick J. Cirincione caught up with the train on weekends and became an acknowledged participant. He took the bulk of the photographs that appear in this book. J'Nell L. Pate grew up in Fort Worth and attended public schools and graduated from Texas Christian University. She is retired from Tarrant County College in Fort Worth where she taught both U.S. and Texas history and government. Now retired from Bell Helicopter in Fort Worth, a graduate of both Tarrant County College and Texas Christian University, Cirincione was taking a photography class at Tarrant County College that he became involved with the sesquicentennial celebration. Over the course of six months in 1986, he flew to destinations around the state to record what became a class project and was subsequently archived in the Texas Northeast Tarrant College Heritage Room, University of Texas at Austin Archives, and the Texas History Portal website. He considers the photo project to be a contribution to Texas history, and the Arcadia Publishing title is a way of sharing the event with the general public and future generations.
TOMAHAWKS AT TWILIGHT
By Bob and Doris Bowman
Best of East Texas Publishers, 515 South First Street, Lufkin, Texas 75901, phone 936-634-7444, for $36.00; also available at www.bob-bowman.com/bobsbooks.htm
The authors have completed a new book on Indian attacks in the eastern half of Texas. The book deals with some of the most famous massacres in the area, including the Fort Parker attack in 1836 near Groesbeck and the Killough massacre in Cherokee County in 1838, but also describes lesser-known attacks in East Texas. The Bowmans, who live in Lufkin, spent three years on the 330-page book, traveling throughout Texas and Oklahoma for research, interviews and photographs. The book is the 43rd written by the Bowmans and includes stories from Angelina, Burnet, Bowie, Cherokee, Delta, Fannin, Franklin, Freestone, Houston, Jack, Lamar, Limestone, McLennan, Montague, Nacogdoches, Panola, Parker, Polk, Red River, Rusk, Robertson, San Augustine, Smith, Titus, Trinity, Van Zandt, and Young counties.
With the establishment of the Republic of Texas in 1836, thousands of new families poured in with intentions of acquiring land, building homes and shaping new futures. Coming largely from the Old South, the new settlers found an impediment many had not expected: native Indian tribes who saw the settlers as intruders on lands they and their ancestors had occupied and hunted for centuries. The Indians had no concept that land could be owned by anyone; the land, in their minds, was owned only by "the Great Spirit."
Texas, as a new land, wasn't always prepared to protect the settlers. The Republic's army was inadequate to deal with the Indians because Texas was a huge territory. And the Indians knew the land better and where to lose their pursuers. They also knew when the white men were vulnerable. Many attacks, for example, occurred at twilight, the time between full night and sunrise or the time between sunset and full night-times of the day when the settlers did not expect them. For a decade, the Texans contended with the Mexican nation on the west and bands of fierce Indians on the east and north," said the Bowmans.
COACH "CATFISH" SMITH AND HIS BOYS
By Glen Onley, Cover by Philip Tripp
$34.95 at www.sunstonepress.com or by mail at
P. O. Box 2321, 239 Johnson St., Santa Fe, NM 87504
Glen Onley, author of BEYOND CONTENTMENT, DISCOVERY TREE, and SUNSET, all published by Sunstone Press, attended Mount Vernon schools immediately following the Catfish Smith era when the spirited coach’s accomplishments were already legendary. At Mount Pleasant High School, Mr. Onley learned the game from one of Catfish’s star players, Coach Herb Zimmerman. Now residing in Greenville, Texas, the author is writing a second volume that will cover Catfish Smith’s coaching years at the college level.
Milburn "Catfish" Smith rose from the humblest of beginnings in rural East Texas to lead the Carey Cardinals and the Mount Vernon Tigers to numerous football and basketball championships, including Texas State Schoolboy titles. In doing so, he defied the sports gurus of his day, many of whom subsequently credited him with three of the greatest coaching feats of his century. How did he do it? Here for the first time, the secret behind this most unusual and colorful man's success is revealed, unknown until now even by many of his former players, "His Boys." No slow climb to the top was acceptable for this firebrand coach. In his first year he took his Carey Cardinals, a school with less than one hundred enrollment and no basketball court, to a fourth place finish in the Texas Schoolboy state basketball tournament, including a twenty-six-game winning streak. The twenty-three-year-old coach followed that with a 50-2 season and the state championship, back when the smallest schools competed against the largest for the coveted title. World War II soon interrupted his career, as it did that of many of his contemporaries, but the experience was to change Catfish deeply, and in ways even his closest friends did not understand. Called to Mount Vernon, Texas in September 1943 to temporarily fill a coaching vacancy, Catfish exceeded all expectations. Seven years later, with two hundred fourteen victories and over twenty titles, including district, bi-district, regional, and state crowns, he was one of the most recognized high school coaches in the state of Texas.
BOB BULLOCK: GOD BLESS TEXAS
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008)
By Dave McNeely and Jim Henderson
Bullock served as Democratic secretary of state, comptroller of public accounts, and lieutenant governor, ending his career as a politician in 1999. "He was an active volcano, and the eruptions were always intense, usually brief, and wholly unpredictable." The book may be ordered online from www.utexas.edu/utpress.
EARLY TEXAS SCHOOLS
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008)
By Mary S. Black
The book includes Bruce F. Jordan's photographs of historically significant Texas school buildings from the 1850s to the 1930s and documents the development of Texas schools from the Republic to the modern universities of the Twentieth Century. The book may be ordered online from www.utexas.edu/utpress.
ALL THINGS RECONSIDERED: MY BIRDING ADVENTURES
By Roger Tory Peterson, edited by Bill Thompson III
Published by Houghton Mifflin in 2007, 354 pages
Available at Amazon.com as well as retail booksellers
Have you seen the IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER? Here, in the context of a review of a splendid book, you will find a report of a first-hand sighting, along with a melancholy reflection on the fact that many experiences once ordinary have now become extraordinary, if possible at all.
John Terborgl offers a look at an interesting book in a review entitled “Hero of Birdland,” written for The New York Review of Books, Volume 54, Number 7, April 26, 2007. Here is a lengthy excerpt from that review, including an excerpt in which Peterson describes an encounter with the ivory-billed woodpecker:
According to the US Forest Service, 70 million Americans call themselves bird-watchers, making bird-watching one of the most popular leisure activities of our time. It hasn't always been so. A century ago, bird watching as it is practiced today didn't exist. There were no field guides to help identify birds and binoculars were clumsy, expensive, and optically primitive by today's standards. The records people kept of the birds they sighted had no credibility. To prove you'd seen a bird you had to shoot it and prepare it as a specimen. Amateur enthusiasts gathered information about birds but largely through the now outlawed hobby of oology, egg collecting. For the oologist, the rarer the bird, the more desirable was its clutch of eggs. Oologists contributed to sharp declines in several species, including the peregrine falcon. More benign ways of enjoying birds began to spread into popular culture in the early twentieth century. Previous centuries had seen grotesque abuses of nature in the US, such as the "side hunts" organized during the Christmas season as aimless competitions, the winner being the person who killed the most birds without regard to size, appearance, or potential edibility. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, responded to this outrage by proposing that people celebrate the holidays by counting birds instead of killing them. Thus originated the Christmas Bird Count in 1900 when twenty-seven observers took to the field to count birds in twenty-five locations across the country. A century later, the Christmas Count at the end of 2000 drew 52,471 observers to count birds in 1,823 localities in seventeen countries.
Without a doubt, the person who contributed most to this change was Roger Tory Peterson. For half a century, he was probably the best-known and most revered naturalist in the US. A modest man who carried himself with a quiet, informal dignity, Peterson brought multiple talents to a lifelong obsession with birds. He was first and foremost an artist, but in his later years turned to writing, lecturing, and photography. He became known to the American public upon the publication of A Guide to the Birds in 1934. The first printing of two thousand copies sold out in one week, an indication of the public's interest in birds. Peterson's guide was not the first illustrated bird book. Frank Chapman had written one more than a decade earlier. What was so appealing about the Peterson guide was the impeccably accurate artistic quality of his colored illustrations and what later became known as the Peterson Identification System, the practice of adding small arrows to the drawings to flag key features that distinguished one species from another. The system immediately caught on and launched Peterson into a career of writing and overseeing the production of field guides. More than seventy guides in the series that bears his name are now in print, covering birds but vertebrates, invertebrates, and plants, even the stars and minerals. Among the many offerings of the series, there is something for nearly everyone; the titles include, for example, A Field Guide to Advanced Birding and A Field Guide to Feeder Birds.
Late in life, from 1984 until his death in 1996 at eighty-seven, he contributed a regular column, "All Things Reconsidered," to Bird Watcher's Digest. During these years he was still traveling actively, in part to indulge his passion for photographing birds. These travels carried him back to many of the places he had visited forty or fifty years earlier. The essays recount stories of his travels and traveling companions and his perceptions of changes in the environment of our continent and its bird populations over nearly half a century.
The essays, which have been collected in the anthology under review, each tell a story, and Peterson was a master of the art. In one of the most poignant essays, Peterson recounts his most exciting birding experience, seeing an ivory-billed woodpecker. By 1940 there was plausible evidence of ivory-bills in only three states: Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. Cornell graduate student James Tanner spent three years in the early 1940s slogging southern swamps and bayous to assess where and how the species could be saved. By his reckoning, no more than twenty-four ivory-bills remained in the entire Southeast. Despite a prodigious effort, he was able to locate only five, all of them in northeastern Louisiana in the Singer Tract, at 80,000 acres the largest stand of virgin timber then remaining in the Southeast. Armed with permits to enter the closed area, Peterson, with a companion and a guide, trudged a day and a half across the swamp, crisscrossing the moist bottom land and wading murky sloughs until they were brought up short by an unfamiliar call that has been likened to the sound produced by a clarinet mouthpiece (without the clarinet):
"With our hearts pounding, we tried to keep cool, hardly believing that this was it, the bird we had come fifteen hundred miles to see. We were dead certain this was no squirrel or lesser woodpecker, for an occasional blow would land - whop! - like the sound of an ax. Straining our eyes, we discovered the first bird, half hidden by leafage, and in a moment it leaped into the full sunlight. This was no puny pileated; this was a whacking big bird, with great white patches on its wings and a gleaming white bill."
The date was May 1942. The last ivory-bill was seen in the Singer Tract in December 1946. A few months later, the great forest that harbored the nation's last ivory-bills was razed to make way for agriculture.
While in the swamp, Peterson glimpsed a long-tailed creature he took to be a Louisiana panther and noted footprints left by a family of red wolves. He didn't realize then that he was looking at living ghosts, for neither of these carnivores survives in Louisiana today. Current monitoring efforts suggest the mixed counter currents that underpin many of Peterson's essays. Let us set 1900 as the baseline. Since then, waterfowl have declined dramatically due to the draining of wetlands in both breeding and wintering areas.
Lately, grassland birds have become the category of greatest concern. The reasons are many. The native prairies of the Great Plains have either been converted to cropland or replanted in nonnative grasses. The advent of synthetic fertilizers in the mid-twentieth century permitted the intensification of farming and ended the traditional system of crop rotation with fallows. Even hay production has been intensified, so that grassland birds can no longer fledge their young in the spring before the hay fields are mowed. Sighting any of a long list of once common birds, among them, meadowlarks, grasshopper sparrows, and bobolinks, has thus become an exceptional event in a day's birding.