Introduction

Highway 80 is a stretch of road that ran at one time from California all through Georgia and was once part of the early auto trail known as the Dixie Overland Highway.

However, the entire segment west of Dallas, Texas, has been decommissioned in favor of various interstate and state highways. Currently, the highway’s western terminus is on the Dallas–Mesquite, Texas city line. Highway 80’s last stop is Tybee Island, Georgia, just past Savannah.

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My focus will be the stretch from Dallas to the other side of Macon, Georgia.  I will weave a fictional narrative revolving around nine families and many secondary characters going back to when they first came to America. More specifically, when and how they got to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia. In the process the vicissitudes of American history will be the context for the lives, the successes and losses, of the characters in these stories and songs.

Although the stories and songs are based on real events and typical experiences of the people who settled the southern United States, all the characters and stories are fictional.

“Robert Dodge”

Of the approximately twelve million Africans brought to the Americas, as few as 350,000 came directly to the territories that would become the United States.  Virtually all of those slaves were brought to the East Coast, primarily to Virginia and the Carolinas.  Among them were the ancestors of Winnie Mason (1845-1930) and Charles Dodge (1841-1912), whose ancestors had been given their freedom prior to the Civil War.  Charles and Winnie moved from Virginia to Mississippi as free persons of color.

Winnie had given birth to nine children, but only five survived to adulthood.  Robert Dodge (1884-1932) was the youngest and last to leave home.  The events of this song took place roughly from 1880 to 1920.

Free blacks in the South were not uncommon.  In 1810, there had been over 100,000 free black persons there, and by 1860 more free blacks lived in the South (261,918) than in the North (226,152).  Forty percent were mulattoes, and for the most part they had been released from slavery through manumission (formal acts of emancipation by their slave-owners). That had been the case for the Dodge family, whose mixed-blood ancestor had fought in the Revolution and been granted his freedom as a result.

After receiving their freedom former slaves often moved from the upper to the deep South, as did the Dodges who went from Virginia to Mississippi. For the most part, such movement was instigated by the possibility of money to be made in the Lower South’s cotton industry.

Robert Dodge was not like his father, who was a hard worker and entrepreneur. While Robert was blessed with musical talent he was cursed with a lack of discipline and need for instant gratification. He never settled in any town long because of his wanderlust and wherever he went trouble was not far behind.

Robert was one of many songsters who traveled around Mississippi singing and playing for house parties in what were called jukes or juke joints.

Robert Dodge
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Robert was born on a plantation
Charlie Dodge’s youngest son
The Dodges lived in Albemarle
Six generations before Charles

A Dodge had fought with Washington
That’s how their freedom was won
Charles left Virginia for Mississip’
He’d heard there was cotton to pick

Charles was good with his hands
He set up a blacksmith stand
Put his money in a crockery pot
Til he had enough to buy his own spot

In the year nineteen-aught-one
Robert wanted his own freedom
He didn’t like plantation work
Picking cotton made his hands hurt

He got a guitar by trading his shoes
Started making money playing blues
He was known in all the juke joints
From Clarksdale to Friars Point

When he was living in Greenville
Took up with a gal named Lit’l Lil
Til her husband found them both in bed
And he hit Lit’l Lil upside the head

He came at Robert with a knife
Robert ran for his life
Shouting, “I don’t mean a thing to her
I’m just a poor songster”

He ran to Memphis, Tennessee
Found a hoodoo shop on Beale Street
A conjure woman sitting at a boiling pot
Said her concoction would bring him luck

She gave him a bag made of jute
Filled with graveyard clay and snakeroot
Added some cat’s teeth and colored glass
Would make him play his guitar fast

He found his way to New Orleans
His fingers flew across his guitar strings
There was a train would take him North
To Chicago and Detroit

Robert was born on a plantation
Charlie Dodge’s youngest son
The Dodges lived in Albemarle
Six generations before Charles

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Butterfly of Tyler”

In the early decades of the twentieth century, upper class Southern families, in many ways, still lived by a code of behavior that reflected antebellum values.  Young men and women socialized at the frequent balls and dinners held at the large homes among the wealthy Southern families. Lillian Cobb was often the prettiest girl there and enjoyed the attention of most of the eligible young men, who would crowd around her, filling her dance card. She was described by some as a butterfly, flitting from partner to partner.

A vestige of what was a 19th century value system, fathers controlled whom their daughters saw socially and ultimately married.  It was unusual for a daughter in her early twenties, or more likely eighteen or nineteen, to defy her father in her choice for a husband.  Lillian Cobb’s father was no different, and she was a product of a culture which strictly prohibited her from choosing a romantic partner from outside her family’s social strata or someone whose reputation had been seriously tarnished.

In the 1910s and 1920s, prior to the Great Depression, this society was peopled by men who did not inherit their wealth but had grown rich in industry or one of the professions, doctor or lawyer.  This was especially true for East Texas towns such as Tyler, where much of the new wealth came from oil and gas production. But there were still the old money families, and these two classes, the newly rich and the old guard, made up one upper social class.

In the case of Lillian Cobb, she fell in love with the irresponsible but dashing son of a Texas family whose roots went deep, back before statehood.

William MacLachlan was the second oldest son of Andrew MacLachlan, patriarch of an old family whose money derived from huge land holdings and cattle.  Andrew had never allowed drilling on any of his land, considering it a blight on the landscape.  Cattle were living things, warm bodies which you raised from birth and fed and took care of for several years.

Andrew’s son William, Willy his friends called him, was a Romantic youth, whose mind was filled with the poetry of John Keats and Robert Browning, and ideas about manhood coming out of novels of Walter Scott.  He had aspirations to write, himself, and filled composition books with his poetry.  A couple of times Willy bound these poems into folios, adding some ink and watercolor drawings, which he then gave to Lillian as his form of courtship.

Willy had dropped out the University of Texas, living off his family without any clear direction for earning his own way, or plans for the future other than bumming around Europe.  Willy was known to drink copious amounts of whiskey, something else which would not endear him to any of the Tyler aristocracy.

William MacLachlan was just the kind of boy Randolph Cobb, Lillian’s father, would never approve of for his daughter. And he did every thing in his power to thwart any ideas of marriage between his daughter and Willy MacLachlan.

By contrast Walter Murphy was in his final year at University of Texas law school, with a promising future assured.  Lillian might have been in love with the dreamy Willy, but her father knew to whom he was going place his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Lillian Cobb (1894-1986) married Walter Murphy (1889-1966) in 1916, gave birth to Peter Cobb Murphy (1917-1999). Peter C. Murphy was father to Helen Haynes Murphy (1947), Louann Bowden’s mother.

Butterfly of Tyler
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

There had been a round of parties
For Lillian Cobb’s upcoming wedding day
She spent the night before crying in her room
That 1916 Saturday in May

A great-aunt on her daddy’s side
Sat with her, they talked the night away
“I’ll tell your father to call this wedding off”
“You mustn’t do that; it’s too late.”

The butterfly of Tyler
Flitting on her careless wings
Young men would crowd beside her
A vision fading into a dream
A vision fading into a dream

Any other girl would have been thrilled
Walter Murphy was the catch of the year
But he was not who Lillian had set her eye on
Her father refused the one she held dear

So she cried for the good times that would be no more
For the names that had filled her dance card
For all the twilight parties and the one
Who lives still in her heart

The butterfly of Tyler
Flitting on her careless wings
Young men would crowd beside her
A vision fading into a dream
A vision fading into a dream

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Riding Shotgun in Phenix City”

Josh Tate, Tully Tate’s nephew, the son of his sister Ruth, was born in 1985 in Phenix City, Alabama.  This song is a coming of age story, describing Josh’s first two loves: his girlfriend Sally Anderson and his car, a 1978 Chevelle.

Josh and Sally met in high school and were best friends which developed into their first experience with love.  As soon as he could Josh saved up and bought a 1978 Chevelle, which he worked on and got running.  With his new drivers license in hand he and Sally would go driving on Highway 80 outside of Phenix City.

Until the summer night that changed Josh’s life

Riding Shotgun in Phenix City
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Phenix City, Alabama
We were in high school
Talked like we were slick
Walked like we were cool

I got my drivers license
Summer of 2001
Bought a green ’78 Chevelle
You rode shotgun

Didn’t know how brief
Our time would be
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me

We rolled the windows down
Laughin’ in the wind
I’ve never loved anyone
Like I loved you then

Never knew what hit us
80 at Evans Road
A little cross stands at that corner
The Chevelle was sold

Didn’t know how brief
Our time would be
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me
That summer was sweet
You rode shotgun with me

Phenix City, Alabama
We were in high school

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“1951”

Luther Lee McLemore was Jake McLemore‘s older brother.  Born in 1951, Luther came of age during the turbulent period of the Sixties.  This song has him looking back on those times in 2019 as a retired mailman living in his hometown, Shreveport, Louisiana.

Luther’s most vivid memories are from his teenage years, living through the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the Vietnam War.  However, Lyndon Johnson had created draft deferments for anyone in college, as well as a variety of minor medical conditions which could qualify as an exemption.  This policy ultimately meant that while most Middle Class young men eligible for the draft had several avenues to avoid service, those from less affluent families were caught up in the war.

Luther was just young enough that his four years in college effectively placed him out of range of the draft, since by 1973 the US was deescalating the war effort, bringing soldiers home instead of sending more over.

After he graduated, Luther worked a number of dead-end jobs, but eventually took and passed the civil service exam.  In 1976 he began working as a postman, which he did for the next forty years, retiring in 2016.  But those forty years seem like a blur, overshadowed by his formative years during the Sixties.

1951
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

My name is Luther McLemore
1951 is the year I was born
It made me who I am
I was taught to say, “no, sir” and “yes, ma’am”

Was eleven in ’63
Saw my mother cryin’ at the TV
Mama said someone shot the president
I didn’t know then what it meant

Was in high school in ’68
The streets were filled with so much hate
They killed Martin Luther King
Then Bobby Kennedy, and a dream

Graduated in ’69
A man from the army tried to get me to sign
I was lucky and got in a university
Plenty of others weren’t lucky like me

’76 I took the civil service exam
A post office in Bossier hired me as a mailman
Loved one woman, we had a couple of kids
But by ’88, we’d hit the skids

I’m retired now, back in Shreveport
Sipping a beer, sitting on my porch
Last forty years seem like a blur
Mostly I think about how things were
Last forty years seem like a blur
Mostly I think about how things were

© 2020 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Highway 80 Families

I thought I’d make a list of the nine families and the generations within them in order to create a context for the stories and songs.  Eventually I plan on expanding this list into a narrative for each family line and ultimately merge them into a coherent book.

Under each family there will be their settlements in America, and the prominent members of the family.  Generally these will be successive generations, i.e. parent > child, etc.  However, in some cases there will be a brother and sister notated if that is important for a story or song.

Next to each name is the birth date and sometimes a death date.

Families 1Families 2Families 3

“Mike was a Soldier”

Michael James “Sarge” Broussard (1948-2014) was born and raised in Vivian, Louisiana.  He served in Vietnam (1966-1967) in a transport unit, keeping the vehicles running in the jungle, but on occasion, as necessary, he would go out on patrol.

D.W. Washington was from Detroit, African-American, and he and Mike became friends.  If not for D.W., Mike most likely would have died over there, as had his brother Luke (see songs, “Vivian, Louisiana” and “Shreveport, 1963“).

But they both made it back, and Mike returned to Vivian where he owned and operated a filling station and repair shop (see song, “Sarge“).  D.W. joined him and worked there with him (see song, “Mike and D.W.“).

Mike and his high school sweetheart, Marie, got married and had one child, a daughter Rosalie.

Mike was a Soldier
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Mike was a soldier
He’d just joined up
Off to Vietnam
To work on trucks
Nineteen sixty-six
Just turned eighteen,
Doing his duty
Like his brother done

Just a teenager
Nineteen sixty-five
Mike and Marie
Said their goodbyes
Made some promises
Like getting married
That is, if Mike made it
Back alive

Not like his brother
No, all too often
Families just have the flag
That draped the coffin
And some memories
Of him on a bus
Thumbs up, and laughin’
Just laughin’

Mike was a soldier
Barely breathin’
It was D.W. got him home
To Vivian
After forty years
They ‘re still friends
Down on Main
At the filling station

Mike was a soldier
And a husband
Was a good friend
To dozens
They called him Sarge
And said he was
A pretty good guy
Yeah, Mike, he sure was one

Mike was a soldier
He’d just joined up
Off to Vietnam
To work on trucks

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

“Vernon and Molly”

Vernon Raney was 49 years old when he met Molly Motts, and didn’t need to get married, but that is just what he ended up doing; to a girl more than half his age.

The Raney family were bootleggers, had been making clear whiskey for more than a century before Vernon took over the still (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).  He made a change, though, from the family recipe, he began to age the distilled product in charred oak barrels, turning the clear shine to a golden tobacco color, and mellowing the taste considerably (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

Molly Motts, from Delta, Louisiana, just across the river from Vicksburg, was a precocious young woman, who was looking for any way out of Delta when she met Vernon at a party on the Mississippi bank of the river, just outside Vicksburg (see song, “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney“).

Long story short, Vernon and Molly got married; Molly took over the moonshine business and turned it into a drug enterprise.  With the help of her two sons, they established a distribution network from Natchez to Memphis (see songs, “Louanne in Vicksburg” and “Molly on the Mountain“).

You could say that Vernon never knew what he was getting into when he married Molly, but then again, he was never known to say a cross word about Molly or their life together.

Vernon and Molly
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Vernon had his whiskey business
And his V-8 coupe
But he felt something was missing
He wasn’t sure just what to do
He wasn’t sure what to do

There was a party at the river
Vernon drove by real slow
Molly was tall and slender
He felt something inside let go
Something inside let go

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy
Molly was wiser than her years
She wanted more than what a small town could deliver
Vernon was her ticket out of there
Her ticket out of there

Once a month he went to Memphis
Delivering a load of shine
He did okay with his bootleg business
Could show Molly a good time
Show Molly a good time

They were always seen together
Then her belly began to show
Vernon said let’s put it on paper
She said I’m ready, let’s go
I’m ready, let’s go

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy …

Molly gave him three kids
Two sons and a daughter
She had plans beyond his
Vernon never fought her
He never fought her

Molly took over the business
Began selling pot and more
Vernon stopped going to Memphis
Spent his time down at the store
Spent his time down at the store

Vernon was old enough to be her daddy …

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.