“’57 Fleetwood to Memphis”

’57 Fleetwood to Memphis
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Vernon took pride in his small batch corn whiskey
Made it in his great-great-granddaddy‘s copper bowl
He would age it five years in oak barrels
It came out tobacco gold

He sold it to Memphis judges and politicians
Hundred dollar bottles in back alley deals
Come a long way from his great-great-granddaddy
And those Ulster hills

On and on and on and on it goes
They are tryin’ to get somewhere
On and on and on and on it goes
They just know they ain’ quite there

1741 his people came to Virginia
Indentured servants just tryin’ to stay alive
Seven long years they learned one hard lesson
Do what you have to: survive

On and on and on and on it goes …

Vern drove a ’57 Fleetwood to Memphis
Tailgate riding low with gallon cans and Mason jars
Coming back empty he’d open up that Caddy
Just to hear the V8 roar

On and on and on and on it goes …

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Louanne Murphy Bowden (1967- )

Louanne Murphy Bowden (1967- ) comes from an old Texas family, descendants of Thomas Bowden (1802-1836), one of The Old Three Hundred and the first Bowden to live in Texas.  The Bowdens became quite wealthy during the first decade of the 20th century when Louanne’s great-great-grandfather, Jonus Caldwell Bowden (1860-1914), struck oil on his ranch, before dying of a stroke.  The ranch and oil wells went to his son, James Neal Bowden (1889-1961), who proved himself more than a competent steward of the family’s burgeoning wealth.

By the time Louanne was born the family had been living for decades in Dallas, the “old-money” part of town, Highland Park.  As was true for many kids who grew up during the Seventies, of privilege, Louanne’s idea of rebellion centered upon hanging out with kids from “the wrong side of the tracks”, and in general, frustrating her parents’ ideas about whom she ought to date, i.e. a nice boy from the club.  When it came time for Louanne to go off to college, she chose the University of Mississippi in Oxford because she had heard from some friends in Baton Rouge that it was an even bigger party school than LSU (see song, “Louanne in Vicksburg“).

In her first semester at Ol’ Miss, Louanne met a good-looking fellow, Ronnie Raney, who definitely was not a boy from the club, and not even enrolled at the university.  His main preoccupation appeared to be selling quality weed to fraternity boys.  One thing led to another and soon Louanne and Ronnie began dating, ending up with Louanne unofficially dropping out of school and moving to Vicksburg with him.

Louanne did not fully appreciate what she was getting into, since unbeknownst to her, Ronnie’s little pot business was only the tip of the criminal iceberg run by Ronnie’s mother, Molly Raney.  The Raney family led by Molly had a strong hold on the political and judicial levers of power in Warren County, and in fact, exerted influence and received protection from prosecution from Natchez to Memphis.

Shotgun House VicksburgFor a while Louanne partnered with Ronnie in the marijuana distribution enterprise, but her main occupation was managing the bar owned by the Raney family.  However, after few years, even getting married to Ronnie, she got tired of Ronnie’s habit of becoming violent when he’d had too much to drink, which was often.  She finally found the nerve to shoot him while he sat at their dinner table eating a slice of chess pie with a beer (see song, “One Time Too Many“).

She did not even attempt to flee the jurisdiction nor avoid prosecution for this crime.  She was well aware that Ronnie’s older brother, Lonnie, sheriff of the county, would make sure that her justifiable homicide defense at trial would not convince the jury.  In short order Louanne was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to twenty years to be served at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.

While at CMCF, Louanne developed an exemplary record of good behavior including mentoring several other young female prisoners.  For example, about half way through her sentence, a young woman, Lucy Cooper, was sent to CMCF on a drug charge, given eighteen months.  Lucy was a funny, bright, and street smart but fragile woman who simply could not do the time for her crime.  Despite being taken under Louanne’s wing, Lucy became increasingly more and more despondent, eventually suiciding from an overdose – within weeks of her release (see song, “When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison“).

LouannePSNot long after this tragedy Louanne’s case was reviewed by a judge who ruled that hers was a case of justified homicide and her sentence was commuted to time served. These events coincided with the death of her grandmother in 2015, when she was released after serving about 60% of her original sentence.  She returned to Texas for her grandmother’s funeral and remained there with her mother, to live once again in Highland Park, however, now in somewhat reduced grandeur (see song, “A Waxahachie Funeral“).

“Louanne in Vicksburg”

Louanne in Vicksburg
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Louanne came from Dallas money
A mansion in Highland Park
Brought julips to her daddy on the veranda
While fireflies flickered in the dark
A summer of magnolia ‘n’ mimosa
Sweet perfume on the heavy August air
Louanne left for college, Oxford Mi’sippy
Ronnie Raney was what she’d find there

When you don’t hear what momma says
And don’t think daddy knows best
If nothin’ is all they’re owed
You’re headed down your own road
You’re headed down your own road

Ronnie Raney was the perfect antidote
For Louanne’s Highland Park innocence
They traded Ol’ Miss for a shotgun house in Vicksburg
With no thought to consequence
Molly Raney was Ronnie’s mother
His brother Lonnie was shurf
The Raneys sold drugs from Natchez to Memphis
You get in their way, you got hurt

When you don’t hear what momma says …

November and an iron sky
Fields of skeleton cotton and corn
Louanne was tryin’ to drive back to Dallas
To the one she was when she was born
At a Pak-a-Sak this side of Waskom
Standing at the Texas line
Drizzlin’ rain fallin’ steady since she left Monroe
She ain’t ready to leave Vicksburg behind
She ain’t ready to leave Vicksburg behind

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Vicksburg is the only city and county seat of Warren County, Mississippi, United States. It is located 234 miles (377 km) northwest of New Orleans on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers, and 40 miles (64 km) due west of Jackson, the state capital. It is located on the Mississippi River across from the state of Louisiana.

The city has increased in population since 1900, when 14,834 people lived here. The population was 26,407 at the 2000 census. In 2010, it was designated as the principal city of a Micropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) with a total population of 49,644. This MSA includes all of Warren County.

Highland Park, Dallas

Highland Park is a town in central Dallas County, Texas, United States. It is among the five wealthiest locations in Texas, and the most affluent suburb of Dallas. The population was 8,564 at the 2010 census. It is located between the Dallas North Tollway and U.S. Route 75 (North Central Expressway), 4 miles (6 km) north of downtown Dallas.

Highland Park is bordered on the south, east and west by Dallas and on the north by the city of University Park. Highland Park and University Park together comprise the Park Cities, an enclave of Dallas.

Addresses in Highland Park may use either “Dallas, Texas” or “Highland Park, Texas” as the city designation, although the United States Postal Service prefers the use of the “Dallas, Texas” designation for the sake of simplicity. The same is true for mail sent to University Park.

The land now known as Highland Park was bought in 1889 by a group of investors from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known as the Philadelphia Place Land Association, for an average price of $377 an acre, with a total of $500,000. Henry Exall, an agent, intended to develop the land along Turtle Creek as Philadelphia Place, exclusive housing based on parkland areas in Philadelphia. He laid gravel roads, and dammed Turtle Creek, forming Exall Lake, before the Panic of 1893 brought a blow to his fortunes, halting development. Afterwards, he began a horse breeding farm. In the 1890s, Exall Lake was a common picnic destination for Dallas residents.

Highland Park 2

 

In 1906, John S. Armstrong (the former partner of Thomas Marsalis, the developer of Oak Cliff), sold his meatpacking business and invested his money in a portion of the former Philadelphia Place land, to develop it under the name of Highland Park. He chose this name as it was located on high land that overlooked downtown Dallas. Wilbur David Cook, the landscape designer who had planned Beverly Hills, California, and George E. Kessler, who had previously planned Fair Park and most of downtown Dallas, were hired to design its layout in 1907. Notably, twenty percent of the original land was set aside for parks. A second development in Highland Park was developed in 1910.

In 1913, Highland Park petitioned Dallas for annexation, but was refused. The 500 residents voted to incorporate on November 29, 1913, and incorporation was granted in 1915, when its population was 1,100. The first mayor of Highland Park was W. A. Fraser. A third and fourth development were added to the town in 1915 and 1917, respectively. In 1919, the city of Dallas sought to annex Highland Park, beginning a lengthy controversy that lasted until 1945. J. W. Bartholow led the fight to resist the annexation. The final major land development occurred in 1924. In 1931, Highland Park Village was constructed, the first shopping center of its kind in the United States. The distinctive Moorish Style ornamental metalwork and lighting in Highland Park Village were created by Potter Art Metal Studios, a 90-year-old custom metalwork company still in existence today.

Because of its location near Dallas, Highland Park had, by the early 1930s, developed a moderately large (8,400) population, with a few businesses. Eventually the school districts and newspapers of Highland Park and University Park were combined. In the 1940s, after the failure to annex Highland Park, Dallas began annexing the land surrounding it. Reaching a population high of just under 13,000 in the late 1950s, Highland Park afterwards grew only by building houses on the remaining vacant lots, and by the destruction of old buildings. Since 1990, Highland Park has maintained strict zoning ordinances. Known for its quality housing, the town still has many parks running along Turtle Creek and is home to the Dallas Country Club.

Highland Park became somewhat famous in the early 1980s when the popular television show Dallas used to shoot on location there. From the Netflix original show, House of Cards, main character Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright) grew up in Highland Park.

The Knox Family : Ulster Scots

Matthew Knox was the first of his family to cross the mountains and enter Mississippi.  The covered wagon he drove pulled a milk cow while two sows and a collie dog trailed along, and his wife sat in the back. Under the tarpaulin, among the farm implements, resting neatly next to a jug of clear whiskey medicine, was a small bible his grandfather, Jeremiah Knox, had given him in 1862 when he went off to fight in the Confederate War. Together Matthew and this bible had survived the war and would stay together throughout the tense aftermath.

Matthew cared nothing for the book itself. He placed no stock in anything as speculative as religion and was even suspicious of those who preached from a bible despite coming from a family that boasted of no fewer than six Presbyterian ministers.  No, the significance of the book lay solely in the list of names written in a careful scrawl by different hands over more than 200 years: his Knox progenitors.

Matthew went to Meridian, Mississippi in 1866, just after the end of the Confederate War in which he’d served.  He’d heard that the new territory was ripe for an industrious young man looking to make his mark.  A new start is what he needed, after his grandfather’s farm had nearly burned up when a spark from the fire under a pot of molasses jumped loose and set fire to the dry field grass which had seen no rain for more than six weeks.

Matthew only heard about the fire well after the fact.  When he rode up to the farm, months had elapsed since that dreadful day of the fire that had taken not only grass and trees, but his grandfather’s life as well.

Jeremiah and his daughter-in-law Cora had fought that fire all afternoon and into the evening, digging fire breaks and throwing the dirt on the fire.  But a steady wind fueled the fire that leapt over each break they created and burned everything on the near side short of the house and barn before finally burning itself out at the springhouse.  Jeremiah had inhaled too much smoke; burns to his head and hands, as well as the stress of the physical exertion, it combined to be too much for the tough 90 year old man.  He lingered for almost three weeks before dying in his sleep.

Matthew’s father Josiah did not arrive back at the farm until mid-1865, almost a year after the fire.  However, once the full impact of the devastation had sunk in, his father told him, “you go; your mother and I might have just enough strength to rebuild this farm even if it takes the rest of our lives.  You’re still young, at the start of your life and can make something of yourself in a new territory.”

This Matthew did.  With him into the wilderness of Mississippi he brought the bible with the list of names: a tether to his past and his Ulster family.

Family Bible

Tristan Knox, Scotland, (1622), to Ulster in 1656
Angus Knox, Scotland, (1645), to Ulster in 1656
Jacob Knox, Ulster, (1670)
James Knox, Ulster, (1701)
Nathaniel Knox, Ulster, 1722, later to Pennsylvania in 1756, then Carolina, 1783, d. 1799
Bartholomew Knox, Nathaniel’s son, Ulster, 1750, Pennsylvania after 1756, Carolina 1783, d. 1829
Jeremiah Knox, Nathaniel’s grandson, Pennsylvania, 1774, North Carolina in 1783, dies in fire 1864
Josiah Knox, Jeremiah’s son, 1804, North Carolina, d. 1886
Matthew Knox, Jeremiah’s grandson, North Carolina, 1833, Meridian, Mississippi, 1865, d. 1909

The first name in the bible was put there by Matthew’s sixth great-grandfather, whose name was unknown to him, but this anonymous Scotsman notated the name of his eldest son, born in 1621 in County Galway, Scotland.  The name he wrote was Tristan Knox.

Tristan was born during the first great wave of migration from Scotland to northern Ireland begun by King James the VI  known as the Ulster Plantation.  His father decided against relocated across the channel.  However, Tristan left Scotland in 1656 along with other Scotch Presbyterians.  The Tristan Knox family went to Donegal, where a few  kinsmen had staked out some land.

Several generations of Knoxes lived on this land in Donegal, the names written under Tristan Knox on the list were Angus (b. 1645), Jacob (b. 1670), James (b. 1701) and Nathaniel (b. 1722).

But by now, Scots in Ulster were feeling the pinch between the Irish Catholics and the English Anglicans.  Scots left Ulster in growing numbers for religious tension but they also left for economic reasons forced upon them by rising rents imposed by English overlords. Those were the sticks driving them out, the carrots were stories of a bountiful and rich the land, with no overlords or religious persecution, that waited for them across the Atlantic.

Almost exactly 100 years after Tristan left Scotland for Ulster, Nathaniel left Ulster for America.

Nathaniel Knox did what many Ulster Scots did in order to find a ship for America, he signed a contract for himself and his family for five years of labor.  Indentured service was common and often the only method a tenant farmer in Ulster could pay for passage across the ocean.

The Knox family entered the New World through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was the largest Colonial city, and a common port of entry.  The service contract Nathaniel Knox had signed placed him on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, within view of the Allegheny Mountains.  Nathaniel’s son Bartholomew was just six when they stepped off the boat, and by the time the family had worked out of the indenture, he was nearly a teenager.

Marriage was going to be a possibility for Bartholomew in a few years, so Nathaniel started looking for some acreage of his own. The first Knox farm was a 66 acre tract of Pennsylvania land that was covered with rich topsoil and timber.  Nathaniel increased his holdings whenever he could and over the next twenty years amassed nearly 200 acres of productive land.

Also over that time Pennsylvania was becoming more crowded and government intrusion becoming more and more of a bothersome thing for Scots-Irish immigrants and something of which they were decidedly intolerant. Eventually, Nathaniel and the Knox family packed up and moved once again in 1783, this time to North Carolina. Along with Nathaniel came Bartholomew’s growing family, whose oldest son, Jeremiah, at nine years old was the first native born American Knox.

Nathaniel and Bartholomew invested the money from the sale of their Pennsylvania farm into even more acreage in Carolina, where there were fewer people and less government.  They might still be on the east side of the mountains, but they were well into the frontier.

This is the land where Jeremiah grew into a young man.  The Knox farm produced tobacco, corn, sugar cane, and barley; and provided a good living for the Knox family.  Jeremiah married a local girl, Kathleen Kerby, in 1799.  Kathleen lost two infants before finally carrying to term a boy, whom they named Josiah after Kathleen’s father, Joseph, but also following in the Knox family tradition of choosing biblical names for their male children.

Josiah began helping his father with the farm work when he was eight years old and by the time he was 25, he was ready to take over the day-to-day operations and find a wife.  That was Cora Adams, whom he married in 1830.

Our story began with their son Matthew, who married Willa Thomas in 1855, had their first child, Georgiana in 1856 and together they went to Mississippi, in the tarp-covered wagon with the bible, to continue the Knox family adventure in America .  Having experienced the precarious nature of farm life, at the mercy of the elements, Matthew chose instead to operate a mercantile store in Meridian, Mississippi. Later he became quite successful as a cotton agent in Jackson.

Matthew and Willa were the grandparents of Elijah “Lige” Langford, and the great-great-great-great-grandparents, on his mother’s side, of Levi Hooper (see songs “The Langfords and the Littlejohns” and “Mildred’s House of Values”).

Although he knew of the bible, Levi Hooper was only vaguely aware of the entire history of his mother’s family.  He’d heard how the bible had been carefully handed down from Scotland all the way to his maternal grandmother Marjy Littlejohn, the daughter of Emily Langford and George Littlejohn.  Mamaw Littlejohn in turn gave it to her daughter Mildred Langford Motts, Levi’s mother.  Mildred was saving this bible for her oldest grandchild, if and when Levi ever found a nice girl and settled down.

“Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man”

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster Man
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Nathaniel Knox was an Ulster man
A staunch Presbyterian
Sold his labor for a six week voyage
With a wife and two small boys

Traced his line to 1621
To his great-great-grandad Tristan
They came to Ulster from County Galway
Nathaniel Knox will sail away

It was a small thing that he took
A list of names in a holy book
Every Knox that’ll come along
Will write more names of his own

Nathaniel Knox went to Carolina
With a grandson Jeremiah
Who was the first Knox American-born
In seventeen seventy-four

It was a small thing that he took …

It ain’ rained for six weeks now
Jeremiah watched his fields turn brown
One minute he’s cooking molasses from sugar cane
Then everything he’s built goes up in flames

Matthew Knox was Jeremiah’s grandson
He left Carolina for Meridian
Mississippi soil is rich and dark
Matthew Knox has an Ulster heart

It was a small thing that he took …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Marjy Littlejohn (1921-1982)

Majorie “Marjy” Littlejohn was the daughter of George and Emily Littlejohn, the maternal grandmother of Levi Hooper.  Marjy not unlike her own mother married into a somewhat disreputable family, the Motts.  However, also like her mother, the Motts she chose for a husband, Donald, was one of the better characters among the rest.

 

Mildred Motts Hooper (1944-2014) )

Mildred Motts Hooper was born in Tallulah, Louisiana in 1944, the half sister of Molly Motts Raney. Mildred married Leon Hooper and had one son, Levi Hooper, and passed away in 2014 at the age of 69 just before her 70th birthday.

Mildred liked to cook and crochet and was happy as a homemaker.  One of her favorite dishes to prepare was baked cheese grits which she would serve with breaded pork chops and homemade rolls.

She and Leon were married in 1963 shortly before Leon was shipped off to Vietnam.  When Leon returned from his tour of service they settled down in Jackson, Mississippi where Leon worked as a welder and they raised their only son, Levi, who was born in 1973.

However, Leon only lived another two years, dying in 1975, and Levi had no memories of his father.  To help make ends meet Mildred began to sell items from her home, establishing a thrift store at her residence (see song, “Mildred’s House of Values“).

Mildred passed away in 2014 after suffering a stroke.

Leon Hooper (1933-1975)

Leon Hooper made a good living as a welder and hardly spoke of his war years.  However, he was quietly proud of his Marine service, first in the infantry in Korea later in a support unit in Vietnam, and kept in touch with his buddies from the war.  Leon did not drink hard liquor as a rule, but on those occasions when he got together with his Marine buddies, mostly those who were with him in Korea, he would have a few shots of  bourbon and turn a bright shade of red if the talk became bawdy.

Leon was born in Jackson, Mississippi and lived his entire life there with his wife, Mildred, and son, Levi.  He did not see Levi grow up, however, because Leon died in 1975 just two years after Levi was born.

Leon would repair bicycles and give them to the neighborhood kids and he also created steam powered folk art which he would roll out and run on the Fourth of July each year.