“A Rusted Plow”

Jed Phelps describes life after his Pa died:  His sister Nellie marries a Texas rancher who brings them all to his ranch and puts sixteen year old Jed to work.  However, after a few years Jed doesn’t take to ranchin’.  He’d heard heroic stories about the Texas Rangers and joins up.  When that isn’t all he dreamed it’d be, he decides to go back to their farm in Tennessee only to find something less than he expected.

A Rusted Plow
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

After Pa died Nellie married Bob Dorsey
Brought us to Texas to the biggest ranch I seen
Had me punchin’ cows and breakin’ horses
I joined the Rangers when I turned nineteen

I’d heard about the Indian Wars
But by then the Kiowa were off the plains
We were so good they don’t need us no more
‘Cept to chase off a few fence cuttin’ gangs

Things won’t be how you remember
The truth ain’ what you want to hear
Leave the past behind you, it’s better
Than seein’ what’s waitin’ there

1888 I went to Tennessee
Wondered how the ol’ homestead looked now
Rode for a week and what greeted me
Was a crow sittin’ on a rusted plow

I found the block where I split wood
The barn was all but fallin’ down
Squattin’ on my heels, chewin’ a cheroot
Thinkin’ how Pa had been so proud

Things won’t be how you remember …

Went around back, found th’ graves
Cleaned them up as the sun sank down
A part of me wished I had stayed
But back then I couldn’t wait to get out

Spose I got what I came for
It’s sure all that’s here to be found
I’ll ride away to return no more
Not for any crow sittin’ on a rusted plow

I’ll ride away to return no more
Not for any crow sittin’ on a rusted plow

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

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“).

Nellie Phelps (1855-1922)

Eleanor “Nellie” Davis (1923-2007) was Louanne Bowden’s paternal grandmother.  She was named Eleanor and called Nellie for her own great-grandmother, Nellie Phelps (1855-1922).  Nellie Phelps had died the year prior to Louanne’s grandmother’s birth.

The Phelps family had come from England to America in the 1690s, the first Phelps born in Pennsylvania was William Phelps (1721).  From Pennsylvania the family went to Tennessee and began farming.  Nellie Phelps had two brothers, Burch and Jethro (“Jed”).  Their parents, were another William Phelps (1834-1872) and his wife Martha Massey (1835-1862).  Martha died when Nellie was eight, probably from some kind of “heart sickness” after Burch, their oldest, had died from a fever.  She had never been happy on the frontier anyway, and just went to bed one day and never got up.

Nellie and her brother Jed were left with their father to tend to the farm, which they did for nearly a decade before William, too, got sick with consumption.  He died when Nellie was 17 and Jed only sixteen (see song “I Didn’t Know What Else to Do”).  When Nellie got married the next year to Robert Abbott, they and Jed all went to Texas where the Abbotts had a nice sized ranch.

Nellie lived a long life in Texas, but Jed died young, only 32, as a Texas Ranger in the Indian wars.

Jake McLemore (1951- )

An American historian in the 19th century described the frontier vanguard in the following words:

“Thus the backwoodsmen lived on the clearings they had hewed out of the everlasting forest; a grim, stern people, strong and simple, powerful for good and evil, swayed by gusts of stormy passion, the love of freedom rooted in their hearts’ core. Their lives were harsh and narrow; they gained their bread by their blood and sweat, in the unending struggle with the wild ruggedness of nature. They suffered terrible injuries at the hands of the red men, and on their foes they waged a terrible warfare in return. They were relentless, revengeful, suspicious, knowing neither ruth nor pity; they were also upright, resolute, and fearless, loyal to their friends, and devoted to their country. In spite of their many failings, they were of all men the best fitted to conquer the wilderness and hold it against all comers.

The Anglo-American 18th-century frontier, like that of the Spanish, was one of war. The word “Texan” was not yet part of the English language. But in the bloody hills of Kentucky and on the middle border of Tennessee the type of man was already made. ”

These were the McLemores who left Tennessee for Texas.

Owen McLemore was born in 1791 in Tennessee and married Annabel March in 1816.  Together they worked a sustenance farm in Tennessee and began to build a family outside of Nashville, seeing their first son Jacob McLemore come into the world on  Christmas Day 1818.  Annabel gave birth to six other sons before dying in 1838 at which time, Owen took his seven sons to West Texas (see song, “Blinkin’ Back a Tear“).

Jacob “Christmas” McLemore, as he was known his entire life, was Jake McLemore’s great-great-great-grandfather. There was one other Jacob McLemore, “Christmas” McLemore’s grandson, who got in on the first oil boom in 1911, made a killing, losing it, getting rich again before ultimately losing all his money and dying with empty pockets if you don’t count bitterness.

Jake McLemore’s father, Charlie McLemore, was farmer and small businessman of Nacogdoches, Texas where Jake was born in 1951 and where he spent his early life.  charlie moved the family to Shreveport in the 1960s after he got a job at United Gas Corporation.  Shreveport would be Jake’s home until he graduated high school, and went to Louisiana Tech University at Ruston.

Jake decided to make his way in the world by returning to the family’s old territory of Tennessee and moved to Nashville in 1978.  After investing in several businesses, he came to own a bar, which he had won in a poker game.   He promptly changed the name and settled down as proprietor of McLemore’s Bar in 1984 (see song, “McLemore’s“).

By that time Jake had already married and had a son, Lee, in 1982 (Jake’s wife Amerlia died in childbirth) who would go on to join the army and fight in Iraq.  On March 31, 2004, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a large IED on a road a few miles outside of Fallujah, one of the soldiers who died that day was Lee McLemore. But before he had gone to Iraq, Lee had a son himself in July 2003 (a child Jake knew nothing about) with Ellen Brewer whom he secretly married shortly before being shipped out in December 2003.

Jake kept the bar going for several years after Lee died but ended up selling it in 2008 and buying some land outside of Shreveport, Louisiana near Caddo Lake where he used to go fishing with his father as an adolescent.  Being bored with retirement, Jake bought a diner in Shreveport where Pearl Robison happened to enter one day in January 2010 (see song, “Pearl + Jake“). After five years of on again off again, but during which time they had a little girl (Sadie), Pearl grabbed up Sadie and took to the road again, heading west on U.S. 80, leaving Jake to wonder what he did wrong  (see song, “The River and Jake“).

Jake is living out the rest of his days fishing and shooting the breeze with Mike Broussard and other men from the area until the day Jake met his grandson, Charles, named after Jake’s father, in 2016.  It remains to be seen if he will ever see his daughter again. I expect he’ll make a trip back to Texas and find Pearl and Sadie.

Jake is currently raising Charles outside Shreveport, Louisiana, to be a sturdy young man in the long line of McLemore men.

“McLemore’s”

McLemore’s
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Walked in there first time in aught-four
Took a stool by the pinball machine
Come to know the owner Jake McLemore
Dropping by each day became routine

He looked to be about my dad’s age
If my dad ain’t died in ninety-three
Jake was always adopting strays
Like a three-legged dog and me

Time seemed to pass a little slower
Behind soft country music and bumper pool
The world looked a whole lot better
From where I sat on that bar stool

Pickled eggs and pigs feet in a jar
Antique cash register, black dial phone
Scratches ‘n’ nicks in a hickory bar
Left by those who are never really gone

He pointed to a snapshot of some soldiers
Leaning on a tank in Iraq
“They call my son a hero,” Jake told me
“Would’ve preferred if he’d just made it back”

Time seemed to pass a little slower …

Jake sold out last year with a big payday
Bought 26 acres outside Shreveport
I don’t drink much anymore and anyway
Can’t find a bar like McLemore’s
No, there ain’t no place like McLemore’s

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

Owen McLemore (1791-1867)

Owen McLemore was born in Tennessee, but his family originally came from Ulster Ireland, Scots-Irish, landing in North Carolina in the mid-18th century. Owen’s grandfather, Allen McLemore came to North Carolina as a young boy in 1854, he stayed there acquiring some land not far from his father’s farm and also lived as a sustenance farmer. His son, Jason was the McLemore who left North Carolina , crossing the Appalachian mountains and making his way to middle Tennessee by 1788.

Owen McLemore was born in 1791, the second child to Jason and wife Lucy; a girl had been born in 1789, but only lived a few months. Owen grew up on his father farm and learned everything he needed to become a farmer himself before marrying Annabel March in 1816. Together they worked a sustenance farm in Tennessee and began to build a family outside of Nashville, seeing their first son Jacob McLemore come into the world on Christmas Day 1818.

Annabel gave birth to six other sons before dying in 1838 at which time the family migrated to West Texas where Owen died at the age of 76, living to see all of his sons make their way in the harsh world of West Texas.