Anabel March McLemore (1796-1832)

Anabel March was a Tennessee girl who married Owen McLemore in 1812.  She knew she had some Indian blood in her, and this is how she described her background:

“My great-grandma Macum, Dilsey, was half Indian and half white and my grandma told me how it happened, just as her mamma had told her.   Back when the Macums had just come to Carlina from Pennsylvania they were living out on Bear Creek.  They had built a kind of lean-to under an overhang they had kind of framed up with poles and mud.  Well, while the men was buildin’ a real house, my great-great-grandmamma went out with a basket hoping to find some chestnuts in the woods.  She was about fourteen years old and while she was out there by herself she was grabbed by two Indians and taken off to Kentucky.”

Eventually Dilsey got away but was already about six months pregnant.  When she showed up back at her family’s place, she told them what happened and her brothers think they got the Indian who took her. Anyway, a few weeks later she gave birth to the child, who was Anabel’s great-grandmother, Beatrice Macum.

Anabel used to say, “I got the Indian look from my Pa’s side. And it is true I have his black eyes and hair. But I got Ma’s fair skin and features.”  By the time Anabel had come around, the March family had crossed the mountain from North Carolina to East Tennessee.  After her mother died Anabel pretty much raised her brothers and acted as the woman of the house from the time she was around ten.

The McLemores had the neighboring farm and Owen, who was older, began courting Anabel when she was around 15 and soon after they married. Anabel gave birth to seven children, all boys, by the time she was 36, but the last was a difficult birth.  She died during the delivery and the child was sickly, and lived but two years.  Owen grieved bitterly for his wife and left Tennessee taking his six remaining sons to Texas right after the youngest had died (see songs “My Anabel” and “Blinkin’ Back a Tear“).  He never re-married.

Anabel once described herself like this, “people always said I went my own way, and that much I’ll admit. Some said it was because Mama died when I was young, and I never had nobody to show me how a girl ought to be.  I turned out to be sort of stubborn more like my Pa and brothers than any woman around here. Others said it was the revival meetings that got me all mixed up and queer. And still others said it was because I read too many books. But I did love to read books, and always have, when ever I can.”

 

William Crawford Harper (1942-2001)

William Crawford Harper was the great-grandson of a woman born into slavery, Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936 ).   Willie Harper would grow up just a few miles from the former plantation where Celsie lived,  however he would join one of the landmark events of the civil rights era, the march from Selma to Montgomery (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“).

William served in the Marines during the Vietnam War but came home and used his training to start an electronics business.  He married Corinne Morgan and they had one son, Morgan Harper. Morgan married Rosa Blanton, and they had three children, including one son Crawford Harper (1987).

Willie Harper always knew that his great-grandmother, Celsie, was half-white, and had given birth to a son Tully Tate in 1866 from her common law marriage to a white man, Joshua Tate.  Tully Tate married the illegitimate daughter (Pearl Robison) of a Louisiana prostitute (Ruby Robison) and Confederate soldier (Levi Motts) (see songs “Levi Motts is My Name” and “Fannin Street“).

The Harpers had lost track of the Tate side of the family.  But Willie Harper’s grandson, Crawford Harper, would end up coming into to contact with descendants from the white side of the family, Vernon and Donald Raney, in Meridian Mississippi, which is just across the state line from Demopolis, Alabama, where Crawford was living in 2007.

Unfortunately the Raneys were not exactly upstanding individuals.  Their family had  been involved in making moonshine, bootlegging and later drug distribution ever since Lonsom Raney established his copper pot still in the early 19th century in north Georgia.  Later members of the family moved to Mississippi (see songs “Lonsom Raney 1828” and “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

Crawford and the Raney brothers would join up for a period of time which would have greatly disturbed Willie Harper, who had tried to instill only the highest values in his children and grandchildren.  However, Willie never lived to see how his grandson turned out, dying in 2001 from a heart attack.

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936)

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936) was born into slavery but was freed by Will Monroe, a wealthy white planter and her father, in 1863 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Celsie’s mother, Jessie Crawford (1828-1905), was a slave from a neighboring plantation of whom Will Monroe had grown quite fond. Monroe made sure Jessie was provided for and also insisted that she be freed in 1863 by paying off her owner Carson Crawford.

Celsie was what was called a “yellow gal”, and quite beautiful.  Once she was freed at age 19, Celsie began seeing a white man, Joshua Tate (1828-1867), and their relationship developed into a common law marriage, although the possibility of such a union was denied at the time.

The Tates were a wealthy Alabama family held in high regard and Joshua’s indiscretion was of course never openly acknowledged by the family and surrounding community, although everyone knew of it and the child it eventually produced.

Joshua was nominally a lawyer handling cotton trades and other mercantile business for the planters. But as was the custom for sons of his class, his hours were at his own instigation. Although he made a daily trip to town, he might only spend an hour or two in the afternoon in his office, often asleep on the leather couch sitting against the wall, next to the large hearth fire.

After the War, Republican “carpetbaggers” entered the former Confederacy and worked to overturn every vestige of slavery and the old ways at every turn; Alabama was no exception.  These men were hated since they were seen as enemy outsiders, and interlopers and exploiters who added insult to the injury of losing the war.  It was during this turbulent period that Joshua Tate was murdered in 1867 in his second floor office by a man with a three barreled derringer pistol, while Joshua was relaxing on the couch with a volume of Homer.

Some said the motivation behind the killing was Tate’s relationship with Celsie Monroe; others said he was killed because of his covert support of the Republicans.  Still a few others said he was killed by a carpetbagger.  However, no one was ever accused much less arrested and convicted of Josh Tate’s murder.

Tate lingered for two days before dying, leaving Celsie with a son, Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948). Tully Tate was one-quarter African-American, light-skinned and who would marry a white woman and whose descendants would all be considered white, Tully’s blood becoming less and less present with each successive generation.

In 1872 Celsie’s first official marriage was to a African-American man, Jesse Harper (1850-1922), and Celsie and Jesse enjoyed a long and happy union, raising four children, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. However, Celsie’s oldest child, Tully, was raised by his spinster Aunt Ruth, his father’s sister.

One of Celsie’s great-grandchildren, William Crawford Harper (1942-2001), marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“). Willie Harper lived to see most of the Jim Crow laws reversed even as the stubborn stain of racism remained.

Cole Lucas Broussard (1946-1965)

Cole Lucas “Luke” Broussard was the older brother of Mike Broussard, and both were born in Vivian, Louisiana; Luke two years older than Mike. Luke and Mike were descendants of Confederate soldier Coleman Broussard (1842-1910).

Although they were born in Vivian their father moved the family moved to the “big city” of Shreveport in 1953, and one of the first things their father did was buy a new car, a Studebaker Champion.

Studebaker

As soon as he could, Luke learned to drive that car and he would drive around Shreveport, often taking his younger brother Mike along. Coming from Vivian, Shreveport offered what seemed to them a world of exciting things to do, and Luke introduced most of them to Mike (see song “Shreveport, 1963“).

Things like going to the Cub drive-through liquor store and buying some whiskey which they’d put in a Coke. I guess the Cub’s management figured if you were old enough to drive, then you were old enough to drink.  However, in Shreveport in 1963, a sixteen year old was old enough to drive.

Luke and Mike would also cross the Red River and go to the Bossier strip because of all the bars and clubs.  Places like the Orbit Lounge, the Kickapoo, the Shindig, Sak’s Whisk-A-Go-Go, and many offered exotic dancers.  During the ’50s and ’60s it was a little Las Vegas.

One of the milder things they’d do was play pool, their favorite game was “cutthroat”.  Cutthroat involves three players who each divide up the balls 1-5, 6-10, 11-15 and the first to sink the other two player’s balls, while keeping his on the table, wins.  They got pretty good at hustling guys from Barksdale Air Force base, who never seemed to catch on to the fact that Mike and Luke were brothers, playing two against one.

They also loved eating the local foods, onion rings at the Kokomo, Strawn’s strawberry icebox pie and Southern Maid donuts.

If they had nothing else to do they would park out at the airport and watch the planes take off and land, and if they were really bored they’d drive to Longview, Texas, late at night.  Mike loved it when out of nowhere they’d see the Eastman chemical refinery all lit up like a magical city, reflected in the reservoir water.

Both Luke and Mike served in Vietnam, Luke received his induction notice shortly after turning eighteen.  He had been dating a girl, Cherie Shnexnaidre, but they had not married yet.  Just before reporting Luke and Cherie visited a justice of the peace and tied the knot. Cherie had gotten pregnant and they wanted to be married when she gave birth.  A son, Cody Cole, was born in 1965 just before Cherie got the telegram informing her of Luke’s death.

Mike was also drafted two years later, but he came back unharmed and lived a long life back in Vivian where he operated a Texaco gas station and repair shop. Mike took up the role of surrogate father to Cody Cole and later, when Cody was around sixteen, hired him to work at the filling station (see the song “Sarge“).

Mike never forgot those Shreveport summers and that was how he chose to remember his big brother Luke.

Clara Sprague Robison (1911-1993)

Clara Sprague Robison was born in the mountains of north Georgia, in early 1911.  Her father was a sustenance farmer but after a series of deaths from influenza in the early 1920s, first her younger brother then her father, the family fell on hard times. Eventually, a fellow from off the mountain heard about their situation and stopped by their farm one day on his way back after delivering a piece of furniture to offer this help.  This was Johnny Campbell, a local carpenter and general handyman who lived in the valley.

There was an attraction felt immediately between Clara and Johnny but they did nothing to act on what they both felt, initially somewhat scared of the power of the emotions.  It wasn’t until he came to her mountain church, a not insignificant journey, did Clara allow her feelings to grow into love (see song “A River Running Wild“).

Clara and Johnny would soon marry and have three children, Marcus, Nora and Emily before Johnny is killed in WWII.

Clara is the great-grandaunt of Pearl Robison.

Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948)

Tullison Monroe “Tully”Tate was the direct descendant of the major landowner and planter of Perry County Alabama, Thomas William Monroe but was not considered an heir because he was an illegitimate offspring.  Tully was just another cotton sharecropper, on his grandfather’s land with no more status than any other black farmer  in Alabama around the turn of the 20th century.  The reason he was not acknowledged as a true Monroe heir was not simply because he was born outside of marriage, but more importantly, because his grandmother was a slave whom Will Monroe had impregnated in 1844.  The result of this miscegenation was Tully’s mother Celsie Monroe.

Celsie was briefly married to a white man, Joshua Tate, and Tully was their only child before separating. Josh Tate was unusual for that time, he was sympathetic to the plight of negroes and his marriage to Celsie was one of love.  After the war the years of Reconstruction were hardly less violent than the war itself. Joshua Tate wished to see the local political power elites toppled and sought to help the Republican elect suitable progressive candidates, including whenever possible negro men.  And he was shot down in 1867 at one of these elections when he confronted a mob that was attempting to control who was allowed to vote.

Tully was a cotton farmer whose status within the community was complicated by the fact of his heritage, which everyone knew, calling him Monroe’s Tully (see song “King Cotton“). After leaving Tully’s father, Celsie would go on to marry Mingo Harper, also a former slave, and they would have four other children, two of whom would play a not insignificant role in the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and ’60s.

Tully Tate would marry Pearl Robison, the daughter of Ruby Robison and Levi Motts resulting in the birth of Hazel Tate.  Hazel would in turn marry Virgil Raney, descendant of Lonsom Raney producing a son, Vernon Raney, husband of Molly Motts. This created the complicated reality that Tullison Monroe Tate’s mixed blood ran through the various strands of the Tate, Raney, Motts and Robison families.

Almost exactly one century later there would be another Tully Tate, the son of a country singer in Louisiana.

Ruby Jones Robison (1955)

Ruby Jones Robison is Pearl Robison’s aunt, on her father’s side. Ruby was also from Conyers, Georgia and for whatever reason, wanted to get as far away as she could. She chose Texas Tech in Lubbock, Texas when she went off to school, over 1,100 miles away.

She was a freshman when she met Darrel Haynes, a senior and with his wiry frame, Restitol hat and slow Texas drawl, he swept her off her feet. He was an engineering student and had a job in hand upon graduation at Baker Oil in Midland, Texas.

Ruby just managed to graduate before marrying Darrel in 1977.  An engineer at Baker Oil makes good money, and compared to her upbringing, Ruby felt like she was rich.  They lived in a 3,000 square foot house, to her a mansion, and she drove a Mercedes Benz. They had a good life and were happy for the first few years, but things started to sour when it became obvious that marriage was not enough to keep Darrel from succumbing to the attractions of single women in the local bars.

When Ruby lost their first baby, a little girl, and Darrel’s reaction was crudely insensitive, the next piece of evidence that she found of his cheating pushed Ruby over the edge and out the door. It took some courage for Ruby to walk away from the kind of life she had, but she was made of strong stuff.

She rode a bus the entire 1,000 mile journey back to Conyers, nursing a bottle of bourbon the whole time. By the time she got back home she had pretty much put Darrel behind her. What she grieved over more than anything was the loss of her little girl, whom she named Catherine Jane after her mother and grandmother.

Ruby stayed in Conyers and went to work for an attorney, who later proposed, and remained a close confidant to Pearl. Eventually Ruby told the story of the failure of her first marriage to her sister Ruth Ann Robison long after the fact (see song “Feel Like Dirt“).

 

Lee Allen McLemore (1903-1965)

Lee Allen McLemore was the son of a oil strike wild-catter and the father of a multi-national corporation executive. His life bridged the wildest years of the oil boom, it’s crash during the Depression and then the economic surge after the Second World War.

His father was Jacob Mac McLemore and his son was Charlie McLemore.

Lee Allen might be seen as having been over-shadowed by both of these other men but he was a capable and resilient individual who made it possible for both his father and his son to realize their dreams.

His life was cut short by a oil rig accident, he died at the age of 62 when a over-pressurized well exploded.

Charles Taylor “Charlie” McLemore (1921-2001)

Jake McLemore’s father was Charles Taylor “Charlie” McLemore.

Charlie grew up during the depression, traveling with his father, Lee Allen, on trains, with other hobos, with the putative goal of finding work. When the crash hit the oil industry, it took longer than for most other industries, but eventually the bottom fell out of the oil business in 1932. The wells were capped and the rigs hauled away, leaving the men who had depended upon the work stranded in small oil patch towns with no other opportunities for work. Many of them joined the large numbers of itinerant men riding the rails. Some looked for work but many had given up and made do as best they could.

But when we think of hobos riding in boxcars we don’t usually think of children doing the same thing. But when families had no money, little food and nothing on the horizon, they simply sent their children away to fend for themselves, as best they could.

“At the height of the Depression, as many as a million teenagers traveled the rails looking for work and community, moving in vagabond packs and living in hobo jungles, finding both charity and brutality in the broken-back cities of America. They crowded the cars and hid down in the tenders where the coal and water were stored; they squeezed between cars and clung atop their bucking roofs. In 1932, about 75 percent of the nearly six hundred thousand transients on the Southern Pacific line through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona were under the age of twenty-five.”

“Fathers, and sometimes sons, stayed in the network of “jungles” along the route, tucked amid the timber and hidden from view. Each camp had its own division of labor—one person went into town to find a potato for soup while another brought salt or an extra spoon. Pots and pans hung from tree branches; crude shelters were made from cardboard or tin scrap and sometimes built up in the trees. Pocketknives were like gold in the jungles. Blades were “hired out” in exchange for soap or a bowl of stew. In a pinch, a knife could be traded for a pair of shoes or sold for cash. Men cooked possums and jackrabbits caught in snares along the brush lines and traded their hides for food.” (Mealer, Bryan. The Kings of Big Spring: God, Oil, and One Family’s Search for the American Dream. 2018.)

This was the kind of life Charlie McLemore lived during his childhood.

Charlie and his father worked picking cotton in California for a few weeks and also fruit when they could. They managed to work just enough to feed themselves, as well as, put a little aside. Eventually they got back to Oil City just as things were starting to come back.

By the time World War II started, and a need for oil exploded, Charlie was in his late teens. His father got work immediately at a refinery and from then on, the Lee McLemore family did okay.

Charlie went into the oil business as well, but oil was not the only resource product that supported the Oil City economy. Natural gas was even more abundant and Charlie got a job at United Gas Corporation, headquartered in Shreveport, Louisiana, and moved his family there in 1960 a year after Jake was born.

Charlie worked at United Gas and survived the hostile takeover by Pennzoil in 1968, and became part of the management of Pennzoil United, Inc. He did pretty well, well enough to send his son Jake to Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

Retiring at the age of 70 in 1991, Charlie lived long enough to see Jake get married and have children.  Charles Taylor McLemore died in 2001 at the age of 80 from a heart attack a few months before 9/11, and several years before his grandson Lee’s death in 2004 in Iraq.

Despite surviving the Great Depression by riding the rails with his father, he was among the generation that experienced the economic boom after WWII.  Charlie McLemore saw nothing in his lifetime that undermined his faith in the American Dream.  A dream he lived out to the fullest.

Jethro “Jed” Phelps (1856-1888?)

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“).