Jed Phelps was the younger brother of Nellie Phelps, the grandmother of Earl Bowden’s maternal grandmother. Earl Bowden was Louanne Bowden’s father, which makes Jed Phelps her great-great-great-granduncle.
By the time Jed was six he’d lost his older brother Burch and his mother. Ten years later his father died leaving his sister and him alone on the family farm in Tennessee (see song “I Didn’t Know What Else to Do“). Nellie married Robert Dorsey the son of a wealthy Texas rancher when she was 17, in 1873. Dorsey brought Nellie and Jed with him back to his family’s Texas ranch, which was rather large. Dorsey land stretched between what would become the future cities of Monahans and Abilene.
Abilene was established by cattlemen such as Charles Dorsey, Bob’s father, as a stock shipping point on the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1881. Monahans grew up around a deep water well dug a few years later when the railroad surveyors discovered that the lack of water for the laying crew and their animals would slow down construction of the rail. Monahans’ digging of a water well produced an abundance of good water and the town would thrive.
Jed was a disgruntled young man, at sixteen he didn’t much like being bossed around by Bob Dorsey. Having an active imagination Jed dreamed of joining the Texas Rangers whose fame of heroic deeds fighting the Indians and Mexicans he’d heard all about in the bunkhouse. And so, that’s what he did as soon as he turned nineteen.
But by then the Indians had been run off and the Mexicans no longer posed much of a threat. Mainly the Rangers were a mercenary band supporting the ranchers whose barbed wire fences were an obstacle for the old cattle drovers accustomed to driving their herds north unobstructed.
There had been a fence war raging between the cattlemen taking large herds across Texas to places like Kansas City and the ranchers who tried to preserve the integrity of their ranches. This conflict eventually petered out when the railroad was completed since it made no sense to drive the herds north when they could much easier be loaded onto a train.
Disenchanted with this life, in 1888 Jed decided to return to Tennessee and the family farm to see what was there. More disappointment awaited him, and so he rode off again, never to be heard from again (see song “A Rusted Plow“).