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“).

 

“Feel Like Dirt”

Ruby Jones Robison (1955) is Pearl Robison’s aunt, her father’s sister. Ruby met Darrel Haynes (1951) at Texas Tech in Lubbock, TX, and they were quickly married settling into a house in Midland in 1977 where Darrel had gotten a job at Baker Oil right out of college. They were happy for a few years, but when they lost their first child, a girl, it broke the marriage up. Ruby was 32 in 1981 when she decided to leave Darrell and go back to Conyers, Georgia, her hometown. This song encapsulates a conversation she had with her sister, Ruth Ann, told in both of their voices, several years after the events.

Feel Like Dirt
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

She got on the Greyhound with her suitcase
And her little patent leather bag
Had two Cokes, a package of peanuts,
And a fifth of Ancient Age

“I nursed that bottle all across Texas,
But I was sober when I crossed the Georgia line, in fact.
Lord, I cried those first few weeks
But I didn’t look back; couldn’t look back.”

“It was either kill the man or leave
Killin’ was more trouble than he was worth
Gettin’ on that bus made sense to me
First time in a long time I didn’t feel like dirt”

She left everything in the house
And nothing of herself behind
She dropped her keys on the kitchen table
Along with the reason why

It was a matchbook she found in his jeans
A heart with a phone number inside
All those loads of laundry
The dreams she compromised

“It was either kill the man or leave …

She got on the Greyhound with her suitcase
And her little patent leather bag
Had two Cokes, a package of peanuts,
And a fifth of Ancient Age

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). (Hat tip to Dorothy Allison for the image that inspired this song.)

“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.