“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“).

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)

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.

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.

“I Didn’t Know What Else to Do”

Jed Phelps is sixteen and dealing with, along with his sister Nellie, the death of his father.  The Phelps family were on Louanne Bowden‘s father’s side.

I Didn’t Know What Else to Do
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Got the lantern, walked out to the barn
Raised the axe, split a log in two
Much as I hated splitin’ wood
I didn’t know what else to do

Wasn’t that long ago that Pa could lift
Hunderd pound sack under each arm
He looked tiny now under all those quilts
Still, Nellie couldn’t keep him warm

[…]

Was about six when we lost Burch
Can’t hardly see his face at all
Ma went to bed and never got up
Now ten years later, looks like it’s Pa

The torn wood smelled green and sour
I started feelin’ pretty loose and relaxed
I’m sixteen and figure it’ll fall to me
Even if he got better Pa won’t ever be back

[…]

I looked up, Nellie was on the porch
Asked her, “How’s he?” She said, “Pa’s dead.”
We buried Pa next to Ma and Burch
I found a field stone and set it at th’ head

I swung the axe it stuck in the wood
Raised it again split that log in two
We had plenty wood already in the house
I didn’t know what else to do

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

Waxahachie, Texas

Waxahachie was founded in August 1850 as the seat of the newly established Ellis County on a donated tract of land given by early settler Emory W. Rogers, a native of Lawrence County, Alabama, who migrated to Texas in 1839. It was incorporated on April 28, 1871, and in 1875 the state legislature granted investors the right to operate a rail line from Waxahachie Tap Railroad to Garrett, Texas, which greatly increased the population of Waxahachie.

From 1902 to 1942, Waxahachie was the 2nd home of Trinity University, which was a Presbyterian-affiliated institution founded in 1869. Then-Trinity’s main administration and classroom building is today the Farmer Administration Building of Southwestern Assemblies of God University. Trinity’s present-day location is San Antonio.

Waxahachie was the home of Constance Maddox Haynes (1928-2015), Louanne Borden‘s maternal grandmother, and the only member of her extended family to which she had a special closeness. Louanne’s release from prison coincided with Constance Haynes’s funeral in Waxahachie.

In the mid-1980s Waxahachie became popular with the movie industry.

The majority of Tender Mercies, a 1983 film about a country western singer, was filmed in Waxahachie. The 1984 film Places in the Heart starring Sally Field was also filmed in Waxahachie. The 1985 film The Trip to Bountiful starring Geraldine Page was also filmed in Waxahachie.

“A Waxahachie Funeral”

A Waxahachie Funeral
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

A call from that charity lawyer
Words like “justifiable homicide”
She heard him say the phrase “time served”
Then a thirty hour Greyhound ride

Twelve years in Louanne walked out of prison
In a blue dress and a brand new pair of shoes
Destination: a Waxahachie funeral
Her grandma dead at a hunderd ‘n’ two

Standin’ with her people among weathered stones
Stiff new shoes powdered with red dirt
Back home to witness a tough ol’ Texas woman
Laid into a plot of Texas earth

Her daddy died five years before
That was a funeral Louanne had to miss
It’s just her and her Neiman Marcus mother
Left behind to make some sense of this

They climb inside a shiny black Lincoln
Go back to that big old empty house
Their polite Highland Park friends
Don’t know how to talk to her now

Standin’ with her people among weathered stones …

Louanne and momma sit in the kitchen
Mute and surrounded by their ghosts
They stare across a walnut table
A cup of coffee and a slice of melba toast

Louanne remembers another August
That magic summer of eighteen
When her life seemed so full of promise
Magnolias and September dreams

Standin’ with her people among weathered stones …

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

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.