Monday, September 13, 2004

I remember Mama

Minnie Ashworth was born on September 13, 1888. She was never afforded much of a childhood. Her mother, Mary Heard, was only about 14 years older than she, and it fell to her to help her mother take care of her brothers and sister.

Her life was not easy. Her father, Owen Ashworth, went to prison in 1898 and died the same year. Her mother married another man whom she subsequently divorced for deserting her and her children. Young Minnie and her mother worked very hard to keep the family fed and clothed.

She was a pious woman. My grandmother raised me to believe the word Christian was a verb, not a noun. Christian is the way you act, not what you call yourself. My grandmother walked the Christian path all of the 40 years I knew her. She never wavered.

She wouldn't have a television in her home until well into the 1960s. She said it was a tool of the devil. I sit here 50 years later and have come to the same conclusion. In 1952, she was newly widowed, living in a 4-room frame home with porches across the back and front, each room with a door to the rooms next to it and one out onto the porch. While it had electricity, it did not have indoor plumbing. That would come at the end of the 50s, just before sputnik.

I remember my grandmother's bed which was a metal frame with slats and about six or seven mattresses piled one on the other. When cousins stayed overnight (which was often), a mattress would be pulled down to the floor around the bed, sometimes as many as three. My brother and I shared a rollaway bed, but I more often than not slept with my grandmother. Usually I would be asleep by the time she came to bed, but if I was awake when she came to bed, I would ask her the kind of crazy things a five-year-old asks his grandmother. If I cried for my mother and father, which I'm sure I did, it was into this generous bosom I was hugged. We were very poor in material wealth, but rich in family and tradition. My grandmother was genuinely loved by hundreds of people, all of them related in some way. Day in and day out, cousins, whose genealogy would be explained to me by my grandmother and her oldest daughter, Elsie, came calling on her, bringing her gifts of food and love. By the time I was ten I was convinced that I was related to everyone in the world. I believe that all of the good that I am comes from this time when I was being raised by her.

Minnie was married Joseph William "Bud" Droddy for 46 years. Minnie had told her cousins that she wasn't going to marry until someone came along and gave her a gold watch. Bud gave her a gold watch. They had eight children, my mother being their youngest.

On the night of December 7, 1952, on a foggy highway in East Texas, my father was killed along with several others in a terrible car wreck. Fate had delivered two young boys, one 5 and one 8, into her hands for raising.

When I speak about my grandmother raising my brother and me, I almost feel like I'm being disloyal to my mother for remembering my grandmother's sacrifices. My mother never abdicated her responsibility for my brother and me, fiercely protecting her rights and responsibilities as a mother. Sometimes that fierceness clouds from her vision the contributions made by others.

My grandmother grew weak and feeble the last ten years of her life, losing her eyesight, her ability to move around independently. She became so very frail. These are very painful images in my mind. That is not how I choose to remember her. This is how I choose to remember her, out in the garden working.She died on May 15, 1986, just a few months before her 98th birthday.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Melungeons and Redbones

I happened onto an article by Jack Goins writing about Micajer "Cajer" Bunch. "The first record ... on Micager was this 1749 tax list of Lunenburg County, Virginia (from Sunlight on the Southside) William Howard’s list; Gedion Bunch and tithe Cage Bunch. Note; Obviously, Cage is the son of Gedion Bunch. I am convinced this is the same Micajer “Caiger” Bunch who has such a close association with the Riddles, Collins and Gibsons. Who later moved 1790’s into Hawkins County, Tennessee."

Lee County, Virginia tax list. 17th March 1795.
Drury Bunch (1 horse)
Micajah Bunch (1 horse)
Torel Bunch (1 horse)
Clem Bunch (no horses)

The Bunches were being listed as "mulatto" as early as the middle 1700s. At this point, I'm assuming that my 4th great grandfather, Drury Bunch, is the same one listed above, and related in some degree to Micajer Bunch. Jack traces the migration of Cajer Bunch and several other families from Virginia into Kentucky. My 4th great grandfather, Drury, married Rhoda Moslear and settled near present-day Starks, Louisiana. I think on one of the censuses they said they were born in Kentucky.

Jack also appears to have reached the same conclusions about Melungeons that I have about Redbones. I'm not sure if they began their journey as an identifiable group, but rather became an indentifiable group after several generations of shared experiences. Moses Ashworth and Anna Bunch may not have been Redbones, but their children probably were. Cajer Bunch may not have been a Melungeon, but his grandchildren were. Does that make sense?

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Checking Back In

I haven't written much about our families recently, and the reading I've been doing has been more of a political nature and I try to stay away from politics on this blog. Politics is for my other blog. Also, I clean up my language a bit for this one.

I have been keeping in touch with various branches of Ashworths and Droddys. A few months back I received a copy of the probated estate of William Droddy, son of Daniel, husband to Ruth, and the more probable head of the Droddy family that came to populate West Virginia, Texas and Louisiana. His father Daniel doesn't get that honor for those branches of the family because he abandoned William and his sister Margaret and brother Ezekiel.

For some reason or another, William didn't serve in the American Revolution. He did serve on the frontier fighting Indians and received credit for it as though he had served in the Revolution. In 1776, he would have been 22 years of age. Most of the American Revolution was over by 1781 when Cornwallis surrendered to Washington. There's no record of him serving before 1783 when he was listed in the Virginia militia. That's the basis by which some of my Droddy cousins got into the Daughters of the American Revolution. Why would a hot-blooded American wait until the war was over to enlist? I think it may have had something to do with the fact that he had been "bound out" to William Scott when he was six. In those days you weren't bound out simply until you were 18 or 21. You could be bound until 35, although usually it was more like 26. This is an area I'm going to investigate year after next when the National Genealogical Society has its big convention in Virginia. Inquiring minds want to know.

There are quite a few Redbone Droddys now. Three of William's grandsons, all sons of Adna Samuel, married Redbone women. Those three boys were incredibly prodigious, and now there are so many Redbone Droddys that it can easily be said that Droddy is a Redbone name. It's a third generation Redbone name, though.

William married Ruth Ellison on September 13, 1787. She was 20, he was 33. They had seven children, my great-great-grandfather, Adna Samuel, being the sixth. He was born about 1805. By the time William died in 1824 in St. Charles County, Missouri, he had lived in what is now West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Missoui. In Missouri, he had been a justice of the peace.

I don't mean to give Ruth a short shrift here, but we don't know as much about her. We know her genealogy, but we don't know about her. Frontier women left fewer records than frontier men. Seldom could they read or write. I have no doubt they left their mark on each subsequent generation, but that mark is indelible. In our hearts we know it's there.

William's three sons who came to Texas were William, John and Adna. Each of them deserve a story, but not at this late hour. I started this by mentioning that I got copies of the papers filed when William's estate was probated in Missouri. There are several interesting points I garnered from it. First, anything you hauled across the frontier from "back East" had a value. Even a broken skillet was inventoried. Second, people broke the penny down in fractions. You could owe someone $4.06 and two-thirds cents. Third, his last child, Malissa, was forced to buy her own bed at the auction when the estate was sold. Those people were tough!

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Cane River Creoles of Color

I just finished reading a romantic, historical novel about the Cane River creoles of color by Elizabeth Shown Mills, an imminent genealogist. She must have studied these people for years, so rich is her book in details of their lives in the late 18th and all of the 19th century. If you aren't aware of the Cane River creoles, they were a mix-raced group in the northern part of the neutral zone. Their mix was French and African for the most part, with a dose or two of Indian thrown in for good measure. Unlike ourselves, they never claimed to be Indian rather than part Black. They were descendants of a very impressive and determined woman who made her own way out of slavery, and was able through sheer determination to get 8 of her 10 children born into slavery out of slavery. She also had 5 kids who were born free. Jeez, can you imagine? Fifteen children. If you owned a slave, it was to your interest to see that your slaves were fruitful and multiplied. This woman rescued all but two of her children from slavery. Sounds almost Redbone to me, but no, she was not one of us. She was an African born into slavery. Her name was Coincoin, or Marie Thereze to White people.

Her focus had been to get her children and grandchildren out of slavery. Her sons and their children went on to become wealthy, much like the children of James and Keziah Ashworth. The kids were all tight with each other, helped each other out, had a strong sense of community. Just like our people.

These Cane River creoles differed from Redbones in several very important ways. One, they were literate. Our Redbone ancestors weren't idiots, but neither could they read and write from what I can tell of reading the records. I'm surprised Redbone names don't have an "x" at the end like the 'Cajun names. You know why 'Cajun names so often end in "X" don't you? It was because none of them could write and so many records had their names followed by their mark of "x" that the Anglos thought that's how the name was spelled.

The Cane River creoles were rich. It is obvious from the record that the White father of Coincoin's last ten, mixed-race children, Pierre Metoyer, helped his mulatto children a lot and often.

Although there is Indian blood in the Cane River creole lines, it's mostly insignificant. Their racial story is about French and African.

I finished Elizabeth Shown Mills' book, and now I'm reading another book on the same subject by Gary B. Mills, former husband of Ms. Mills who is now deceased. He draws a few conclusions she avoids in her book. She prefers to romanticize the relationship between Coincoin and Pierre Metoyer. He points out that Pierre's generosity to Coincoin and her children was specifically and legally designed to ensure her Black children did not prosper from his generosity.

Here's the one thing I notice immediately. These people never challenged their racial classification. They were what they were. When one of the women lived with a White person, they did so by contract which provided for them and their children from the placage, as it was called. The men never married anyone except other creoles. The Ashworths in Texas, on the other hand, were indicted over 15 times in the 1840s and 1850s in Jefferson County for illegally marrying outside their race.

In my reading and writing on the subject, I have continually pointed out my contention that we never saw ourselves as anything but White, no matter what the law said. I believe we made people enforce the law on every level. We never cooperated with it.

Within one generation following the Civil War, the Cane River creoles were no longer rich, were no longer literate, but were still Colored. Contrast that with the Ashworths, who one generation after the Civil War were beginning to be literate, were still poor, but were no longer Colored.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Hazel, we miss you already...

They buried Hazel in Miller Cemetery in Starks on Wednesday. Hazel Gillis Standley was born October 30, 1925, at home on the old homestead according to her daughter Beverly Jackson, and died at home in the arms of her family, as it should be. Hazel was a no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners straight shooter, in the proud tradition of Redbone women. I did not know her as well as I would have liked nor as long as I would have desired, but the good works one does lives long after them. We have the Starks Historical Society today because Hazel and a few others dedicated many years and countless hours to give us a repository of our families' histories. Thank you, Hazel. Blessed be your memory among the stories of our people.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Introducing Myself

My Christian name, as my grandmother would say, is Raymond Lawrence Bridges. If I were Mexican (and we almost were) it would be Raymond Lawrence Bridges y Droddy, which would be more fair because such a big part of my story comes from my mother. I think she ought to get more credit. Since I was raised by my mother's mother for so many years, I think I should also link to her name, Ashworth. So I would be Raymond Lawrence Bridges y Droddy y Ashworth. That still would not tell enough of the tale. On my own, I would add Perkins because of the essential role that name has played in my story. And I'd add Bunch, too. I have such a beautiful image in my mind of the two Bunch sisters, Anna and Mary. Because I know they added steel to my inherited character I would include their name as well. I am rich in the number of names I can claim as my own.

My father's name was Lawrence. We lost him in 1952 in a mismatch between a semi and an automobile filled with people hurrying home to Christmas late one night in East Texas. With his death though, I lost his story and his family's stories. I have since sought out and heard many of his family's stories, but I didn't grow up with them, so they don't resonate as strongly on a personal level. So the Lawrence Bridges part of my name is my father. Raymond was pulled from thin air. There is no history of it in either of my families. My father, who was only given one name when he was born, started using Raymond with the intention of making me a junior. He died before he got to do that.

Over my lifetime, I have been called at least a dozen variations of my several names. My earliest remembered name is Sonny. When I started school, I was introduced to Raymond. It took me months to get used to it. After living a couple of years in Houston, I moved to a small town near Houston. The kids at my school started calling me Houston. That lasted until I went back to Houston, a couple of years later. The kids in Houston saw me no different from themselves and went back to calling me Raymond. When I moved to California with my mother and sisters in 1963, I was called Ray. I heard Tex a couple of times, but thank God, it didn't stick. Ray sounded fine to me, cool even. I was in California now, a new person. A new name felt good.

Recently I outgrew the name Ray. I began considering it a name given to me by others and without reason. It was just laziness of language that gave it to me. I began encouraging people to use Raymond with mixed results. In writing I would use Raymond Lawrence Bridges which sounded much better to me than just Ray, but I didn't think it reflected me as I had come to see myself. I even invited a few of my cousins who have always known me as Sonny to go back to using Sonny. That didn't work either.

I decided that I could choose the name by which I wanted to be known. Looking first to all of my called names over the years, I chose r. Houston Bridges. I was born in Houston. It was used with great affection by good friends the several years it was used. I live in California, but I have retained that Texas and Southern flavor that expatriates cultivate so meticulously. As I thought about it, I started to become comfortable with the name. Within weeks of introducing the name to my close friends and immediate family, it began to take..

You can continue to call me anything you want. As long as I know you're talking to me, I'll answer. I have always been known as Sonny and will always respond to it. It identifies me from a particular time in people's lives. I will always be Raymond Lawrence to my Aunt Melvin. Most of the kids from high school will always know me as Ray. I have started signing my stories and letters as Houston. The r is retained in lower case because I'll be Ray to a lot of people for a long time, but it also has another value known only to me.

Y'all say hi to Houston.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Meeting Cousins

When I was growing up in East Texas, "cousin" was an almost magical word which filled me with joyful anticipation. My grandmother would say something about my cousins coming, and I knew that fun was imminent. I had the potential for having as many as 68 to 86 first cousins. (The number varies because I'm never sure when to count stepchildren. The Texan in me tends to go for the higher number regardless of its sustainability. So if you over heard me at a cocktail party bragging about how many cousins I had, you heard 86. Then I modestly smile, and reduce the number by 4, allowing as my siblings are not cousins, although with so many cousins marrying cousins in our family, I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that my sister was also my cousin. And we wonder why yankees make fun of us, bless their hearts.)

When I was growing up, I bet I had over a thousand cousins within a 100 mile radius. I'm using the Southern expanded definition of how many numbers you add before someone really isn't a relative anymore. For purposes of marriage, you're not supposed to marry closer than a third cousin. For purposes of loaning money, you stop at first cousin-once removed. That means you can probably loan the children of your first cousins money. All other cases are determined on an individual relationship basis. For purposes of attending funerals, it goes to about 4th or 5th. There aren't any hard and set rules, but for purposes of playing on the school ground and having a bully give you grief, it's as far out as a 10th-cousin and possibly more. We don't let people mess with us.

The internet has brought me contact with hundreds and possibly thousands of cousins in the 5th and 6th range. Now it's as if we all share backyard fences and can walk over and talk just about anytime we have something to say. Only you don't have to put on clothes to answer the door. Well so to speak, for chrissake. I'm not sitting here nekkid, but I don't have my shoes on and my hair's a mess. With each newly discovered cousin, though, comes a rush of pleasant anticipation. I just can't wait to meet them.

Maybe I'm just curious to see what they look like. There's a bond that's already there. All you have to do is uncover it, nourish it a little, and watch it bear fruit.

A couple of months ago, I drove to Huntington Beach, California to meet with a fourth cousin, once removed, Joan Williams-Harman. (She pronounces Joan as if it were spelled Joe Anne.) She is the ggggranddaughter of Mary Bunch who is presumed to be the sister of my ggggrandmother, Anna Bunch. The two sisters, children of Rhoda Mosely and Drury Bunch, married the two sons of Keziah Dial and James Ashworth, Aaron and Moses. That makes us really close the way I count cousins. Fortunately for me, she's one of those people that both get the picture and has a grasp on the details. She's fun to "speculate" with. (None of those snide yankee jokes about cousins speculating either.)

Joan taught school and was a librarian for enough years to now be retired. This is a picture of Joan:

So, Terry, Brenda, Linda, Michelle, Jeanne, Sharon and the rest of ya', the next time you see her name on a post or a comment, say hi to her. I've told her about each of you, so she knows you a little already, too.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Your Comments are Welcome

I hope we can expand the conversation. Your opinion is always welcome.
Forgotten Past, Remembered Stories

I resist writing in the "our people" voice because I'm not sure we have such a voice. If we are a people, we are a people with amnesia. We remember bits and snippets, but not the big story. I should have grown up with stories of my ggggrandfather and his brothers forging into Texas. Even with the Texans marginalizing us to the extent they did, we should have been legends in our own minds. Nada, though. Zip. No memories of Texas. We should have had legends in our family about the American Revolution. Ggggggrandfather and gggggrandfather were both tories fighting the rebels. What was that about? Did they care about the king of England or were they still fighting their old enemies among the Regulators? Were they driven out of South Carolina? Several Ashworth researchers have written that they sought refuge in a Cherokee Indian village for over ten years? Where are our stories about our time among the Cherokees? Why don't we have stories about the Civil War? Why did Thompson Lorraine name a son born immediately after the Civil War "Ulysses"?

A lot of my cousins are having an animated discussion about whether our Ashworth and Perkins ancestors somehow sojourned in Portugal before settling in South Carolina. That somehow relates to explaining the persistent family legend about being "portygee" and perhaps our being dark complexioned at the same time. To my cousins, talking about it isn't doing the research. Go out and do some research on more immediate questions. There are a million details about our families that we need to remember. What were they doing during the Civil War? Were they being hounded by the Home Guard? Were they secretly supporting the Union? Who ended up with the plantation in South Carolina?

There is a disturbing pattern to our lack of memory as a people. Are we ignoring the obvious? This is a pattern of a people not wanting to remember the past.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Lonie and the Bear

Since I quote Terry a lot, and Terry's always talking about his great-grandma, I want to make sure anyone who just stumbled into this conversation knows about whom we speak. My grandmother and Lonie were best friends all of their lives. They were also cousins. Lonie married my grandmother's brother, Buster (he's the one standing behind the right shoulder of my grandmother, who is seated in front of her three brothers). Buster's real name is Rufus Edward and my grandmother's was Minnie. Their father was Amos Owen Ashworth, son of Thompson Lorraine. Thompson Lorraine was married to Sarah Perkins, who is from a different family of Perkins than Josh, if I remember correctly. Their mother, Mary Heard Simmons, was the daughter of Melissa Drake, whose mother was an Ashworth (Polly Ashworth, James, Jr.'s daughter) and whose father was John Drake, Jr. The Drakes were the first Mulatto family of our group to arrive in Louisiana and Texas.

But I digress. I knew Terry's great-grandmother as Aunt Loan. My grandmother always called her "Loan, my sister." I guess that about says it all. Blessed be both their memories.

Well, Aunt Loan was a real card. She had the most delightful way of speaking. Very slowly and very deliberately. "Well" became about three syllables as "We way uhl". She also had a slight vibratto to her voice. I loved taking my grandmother to visit with Lonie for a few days at a time.

This is a true story as recounted to me by my grandmother, Minnie Ashworth Droddy, "Mama." I was home from college, sitting in the kitchen with Mama, having a cup of Seaport coffee, dark roast. "How's Aunt Loan? I ask. "She's fine," Mama tells me, "but did you know she saw a bear?" It seems she was sittin' in the rocker on her porch, mama says, when she noticed a big ol' black dog across the road, and her thinking it might be one of her grandson's deer dogs, she heads across the road to collar it and put it in a pen. "Well, Minnie," she says, "I got right up on that ol' dog and it suddenly reared up on its hind legs and turned into a ba-a-a-ar," in that amazing voice of hers. Mama said Lonie didn't remember how she got back to her rocking chair on the porch, but that she did it in a hurry. Terry says he's not sure what the greater miracle was, that dog turning into a bear or Loan getting back across that road to the safety of her porch, covering about 30 to 40 yards in about 4 steps.

And that's a true story.

A Letter from Bearhead on the Origin of Names

Terry writes:

Your letter brings a couple of more short stories to mind. Whenever my birthday would come around my Great-grandmother and my Grandmother would give me a yearling. By the time I was 10, I already had about 10 head of cattle. My brand was this: RTJ, The R and J were turned backward and placed against the T. And oh my Lord yes. Every person had their "mark". If you owned any cattle or hogs, the first thing you did that was to mark their ear.

As far as the name "Bearhead," my Great-Grandmother told me that at one time there were a lot of bears around. I also read a story somewhere that there was a man who love to pull pranks on people. He knew one man that was scared to death of bears. He also knew this man had to cross BearHead creek at a certain place. Where this man crossed the creek he had to climb up a bank. Well the man pulling the prank had killed a bear, so he took the head and placed it on a stick and stuck it in the ground at the top of the bank the man had to climb. The story went on to say when the man topped the bank he was face to face with the bear head. It scared the crap out of him. And it has been called BearHead ever since.

I can also tell you of how Singer got it's name. The story I have heard all my life, is that one time a train was passing through there on it's regular route and a SINGER sewing machine fell from one of the box cars and it was in a wooden crate with the word SINGER Sewing machine on it. Well, someone picked up the plank that said SINGER and hung it on a tree and it has been SINGER ever since.

One more. I heard a story one time about how De Ridder got it's name. The story goes this way. Way back when they had the pony express, on every mail day they would send someone to the edge of town to climb a tree and to sit there and whenever he saw the pony express coming he would then holler at the towns people: "HERE COMES DA RIDER"! HHHHHAAAAAAAA now that is a good one. "

Monday, January 26, 2004

Grandmothers Peoples

My cousin Linda and I were talking about the particular nature of our collective culture, and we both agreed that if we are a people, we are a people created by grandmothers. If we ordered words according to their sanctity, God, Jesus, Holy Ghost and Grandmother would appear in just that order.

Cattlemen and women

Terry writes from Bearhead that his grandmother, Estelle Ashworth Yarborough, remembers when her grandfather, old Josh Perkins, would drive cattle from one part of a pasture to another, and the number of cattle would be so great that they would stretch out over seven miles. Driving cattle through the woods is a little different from the way Hollywood shows it. First off, cows are stupid. They take a lot of herding. The drovers would have had plenty of help, since every kid who could get on a horse would have been there at least part of the way. The other thing is there would be plenty of cow dogs. A good cow dog isn't a movie version of an Australian shepherd saving the farm from disaster, but rather a dog of undetermined pedigree that is not afraid of pushing against a half-wild cow or bull to keep them from wandering off the wrong direction. Anyways, seven miles of cattle working its way through the woods and swamp is a lot of beef on the hoof.

Linda writes about ear marking. I'm pretty sure there's a registry in most parishes and counties for ear markings, just the same as there is for brands. You can understand a lot about the history of cattle people by studying their brands. During the Civil War, several Ashworths from Louisiana and the Sabine Pass area of Texas registered brands in Brazoria County where they had Thomas and Hayes cousins. Louisiana was pretty much conquered by federal troops by 1863, and no one was safe from heavy-handed confiscation of goods, including non-White Redbones of western Louisiana. Brazoria was a little farther away from the rumors of war .I can see these very pragmatic people moving a few thousand cows down the coast just to make sure they were safe.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

The One-Drop Rule, or Black Like Me

I went to a party last night and in the course of conversation with a charming and attractive African-American woman about my age, I said I was Black. She just smiled at me and said, "Yeah, right." Earlier in the day I had googled the word "Ashworth" and among the several hits was the good old Online Handbook of Texas History telling us that William Ashworth, the son of Keziah Dial and James Ashworth was black. It mentions a few details of his life and accomplishments. It goes on to say that "of of sixty-three free blacks in Jefferson County, thirty-eight were named Ashworth." Those would be my cousins. The other unnamed free blacks were also my cousins. But I digress.

Back to the party. Having garnered the attention of about half a dozen people around me, I went on to say that Whites had invented the One-Drop Rule, but that it was now maintained mostly by Blacks. William Ashworth did not see himself as black. His neighbors did not see him as black. He was married to a white woman. His nephew killed a man who called him black. No one doubts they were not legally accepted as whites. On that the record is clear. My objection to the Handbook's telling of William's story is that is doesn't really give William credit for his victories, nor does it tell the ignanimous ending in late 1856.

I wrote to the Handbook people a few years ago, and found them very receptive to my complaints. They didn't change what they have written and published, but they encouraged me to tell the tale. I've been thinking about how best to go about that task since then. I'm very encouraged by my interaction with other family members this past couple of years. I have discovered that each of us has part of the story, and that when we share it with each other, we remember more details. It's not for the Handbook of Texas to define us or to tell our story. That's our job. So let's do it.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Smokey Cove

Near Singer is the site of the old C.V. Logging Camp. Since August 4, 1891, it's been referred to as "Smokey Cove" because of the amount of gunsmoke that hung in the air down in hollow, or "holler" as my people say. My cousin, Linda Bass Clark, just told me that in response to the plea below. Other cousin, Terry, wrote to me about it because he's a double descendant of those Redbone outlaws. Terry's grandmother, Estelle Ashworth Yarborough, had two grandfathers in the fight. Her paternal grandfather was Amos Owen Ashworth, and her maternal grandfather was ol' Josh Perkins mentioned in the tale. Well, anyways, Terry writes that Ol' Josh had a pipe shot out of his mouth, but by golly, he killed the low life that shot at him. According to family legend, Ol' Josh--finding himself outnumbered--ran into the swamp and jumped Beckworth Creek, which Terry says must have been a lot smaller in those days or else Ol' Josh was one helluva broadjumper. He got away because none of his pursuers would even try jumping it.

You know, if a bunch of men with guns were chasing me . . . . ? Hell, I'd jump that creek or give it a helluva try.

Now, the following is a true story (sort of). I remember once when I lived in Alaska, this buddy of mine and I were going hiking back off in the country, or as they say up there, "the bush." Well, anyway, I show up in my adiddas and he looks at my feet and laughs. "Why you wearing running shoes," he asks, "We're going hiking in the tundra." "I'm wearing running shoes," I answer, "just in case we run into a bear." Says he to me: "You can't outrun a bear, even in running shoes." "No," says I, "but I can outrun you."

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Gunfight

On August 4, 1891, my great-grandfather and his brother Austin, apparently got into a gunfight with some other men. Below is a story from a Lake Charles paper as printed in Redbones of Louisiana by Don Marler. There's another version from a Galveston Paper that W.T. Block used as the basis of his story. He doesn't have it on line, so I can't link to it. It's similar in its details to the story below. Most of the details in the story below are wrong. None of the Redbones listed as being killed can be confirmed as being killed that day. Presently, I'm trying to find out if there's a version of this story handed down to anyone in the present generation. Read the story below. If you have an opinion about it, I'd love to hear from you.



The Leaders of Both the Factions Shot Dead and Their Followers Fiercely Contest the Ground


A Bad Class of Citizens to Deal With and Much Trouble May be Encountered in the End

Lake Charles, La., August 4. – A Post reporter was detailed to p rocure the full particulars of the wholesale killing which occurred on Lock, Moore & Co.’s tram twenty-two miles from here, Sunday morning and afternoon, of which The Post has an exhaustive report this morning.

There is a class of people who live in a settlement known as “Bear Head Country” on Lock, Moore & Co.’s tram about twenty-five miles from here and who are known as “Redbones.” They are supposed to be a mixture of white, negro (sic) and Indian blood, and have a redish cast which suggests t he name.

The Ashworths, Dials, Dysons, Murcles and Perkins families are the recognized leaders of the “Redbones.” These men receive employment from the Lock, Moore & Co. and McDonald trams, and only work sufficiently to give them money for drink, and it is said that they obtain their living by depredations upon the better class of people in that section.

They (the Redbones) have always looked upon the whites, who obtained and profited by steady employment, with envy.

The cause of the immediate trouble occurred last week, when Hooker Morris, one of the foremen, questioned one of his men as to where were those “Redbones” who ought to be driving those wagons? Mr. Morris was not aware at the time that these men objected to the nickname applied to them, and which has been in common use in this community for years, and on last Friday Mr. Morris was surprised by a gang of Redbones, led by Austin Ashworth who came to his house and ordered him to come out and receive a whipping and then leave the country.

Upon his refusal to come out, Ashworth informed him that they would “lay for him” the next day. Morris went to the woods Saturday with his men, as usual, but was careful to arm himself before going, and in consequence was not molested that day.

Sunday morning at about 10:30 o’clock Hooker Morris, Jesse Ward, Jesse Killen, Jim King, Sam Fulton, Jim Bagget and two others left their camp and went down to Dupree LaComb’s saloon, about one and one-half miles from the camp, to get some whiskey.

When they arrived at the saloon the found a crowd of ten “Redbones,” one of whom asked “Did you fellows come up here to get up a fuss?” and one of the camp men replied that they only came after whiskey.

At this moment Jesse Dyson emerged from the saloon and said: “I am the best man on the ground,” and followed up the remark by pulling his six-shooter, when Jesse Ward of the camp crew pulled his gun and shot Dyson through the head.

Immediately a fusillade (sic) began. Seven out of ten of the Redbones were shooting. When the shooting began Jesse Hellen [elsewhere given as Kellen] Jim King, Sam Fulton, Jim Baggett and Buck Elliot, whose gun would not work, took to their heels, leaving Hooker Morris, Jesse Ward and the two others to do the fighting. And well did they fight, killing five of the Redbones, and carried off the body of one of their own men, Jesse Ward, who lingered on till yesterday morning, when he expired. Wards said to Dr. A.J. Perkins, the coroner, just before he died, that he wanted the bullet extracted from his body as soon as dead, because he did not want “to be buried with a Redbone bullet in his body.”

In the fight Hooker Morris had his left ear burned by a rifle bullet from the gun of the opposing faction.

Dupree LaComb, the bartender, was shot in the leg and is eight year old boy, Louis LaComb, was shot in the knee. Neither of these wounds are serious.

After the battle a report was received at the mills that the “Redbones” were murdering men, women and children up at the tram and a reinforcement went up t o aid the camp boys. Among the latter was an old man by the name of T.T. Swan, who insisted on going up t o the saloon, contrary to the advice of his friends, and when he was about a quarter of a mile from the camp was shot dead by one of the “Redbones” in ambush.

Mrs. LaComb took her children and ran to the woods and remained there until after dark. She said to The Post reporter that upon returning she found the bodies of Lee Perkins and Andrew Ashworth (Redbones) lying in the saloon and the body of their leader, Jesse Dyson, lying on the stp. Marion Murcles’ body was lying under the gallery of Josh Perkins, an old negro living near by, and the fifth man, Owen Ashworth, was rolling in agony over the hill about twenty-five yards distant, but was dead on Monday morning. She stated further that on [Mo]nday morning, at sunrise, about twenty-five Redbones armed with rifles and shotguns came and carried off their dead.

Dr. A.J. Perkins, the coroner, was interviewed and stated that he was telephoned Monday morning to go out and hold an inquest upon the bodies, but was unable to find any bodies, except those of Ward and Swann. He said t hat he did not make a very vigorous search, because he did not know but what some one might shoot from ambush again, and that he did not care to make a target of himself. He had to summon two juries before he could hold inquests upon the two bodies that he did find.

Deputy Sheriffs Joe Courtney and E. Lang Clark went to the scene and arrested Hooker Morris and the two men above mentioned whose names are unknown, all of whom are now in jail at Lake Charles.

The Post reporter interviewed the gentlemen arrested and they substantiate all of the above report.

When Coroner Perkins arrived on the scene he found five or six men with shotguns on guard over the bodies of Ward and Swann.

More trouble with this gang of Redbones may be expected at anytime as theyare a tough element and will not be arrested without making a strong resistance.

Saturday, January 10, 2004


I was reading the paper yesterday and read where the authorities had killed a big mountain lion down in Southern California that had killed and eaten one man, attacked a woman bicyclist, and fought with another woman who was with the attacked bicyclist. That brought to mind my own experiences with mountain lions or, as we call them down in Louisiana, panthers.

My daddy died when I was about 5, and I went to live with my grandmother, Minnie Ashworth Droddy. I remember laying in her bed next to her, listening to the sound of the night. Sometimes we would hear my old hound dog and a few of his friends doing a little freestyle hunting back in the woods behind her house. She could tell what the dogs were doing by how they bayed. One night, Ol Red's bay had a particular ring to it, and my grandma, not missing a beat, said, "Red's got himself a panther."

For the next half hour, we followed the sounds of Red chasing the panther. Suddenly, this chilling scream was heard that sent chills all over my body, causing me to snuggle even more closely to my grandma. My Aunt Elsie asked from her bedroom in the next room, "That was a panther." Then the sound of his baying changed again, and mama said, "he's treed it." That old dog kept on way past after my falling asleep. The next morning, hardly remembering the hunt from the night before, I went out to find ol' Red barely alive. I guess that cat got tired of one old hounddog keeping him from his appointed rounds, so he must of come down and kicked ol' Red's ass. There was my poor old hound, just torn up. We nursed him back to us, his wounds healing over time. He didn't go hunting again for a few months, but he did heal.

That night, Mama and Elsie remembered other stories about panthers. One of my uncles had killed one that had come a little too close to the chicken yard one winter morning many years past. There was another story of a couple of her cousins who were on their way home when they encountered a big panther that turned and started stalking them. The girls kept facing the big cat and walked backwards all the rest of the way home, screaming all the time for help. Finally they got close enough for the folks at home to hear, and some of the men folk ran to save them, killing the panther who never stopped stalking the two girls.

And that's a true story. - Ray

Friday, January 09, 2004

The Homeland: Bearhead

A friend called and asked me what was a Bearhead. Well, Bearhead is a creek that runs north to south (mostly, in a meandering sort of way) in western Louisiana. It starts up in what is now Beauregard Parish just below DeRidder and becomes Houston River just south of old highway 90, but we know it only as Bearhead Creek. The Ashworths and their related families live around it up in Beauregard and Calcasieu Parishes. It is our family homeland. That's the heart of what is called the Neutral Strip. It was from there we migrated into Texas, it was to there we returned to escape annihilation by the Texans following the fight in Orange County in late 1856.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

A Letter from Bearhead

My second cousin, Terry Jackson, who lives in DeQuincy, Louisiana (very near Bearhead) has become a loyal correspondent, often writing to me after visiting with his grandmother, Estelle Yarborough, the daughter of Lone Perkins and R.E. (Buster) Ashworth. I've been fretting over how best to present the stories, and it came to me that all I had to do was to just post them as they come from Terry. I got this one last week. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. If anyone reading this wants to contribute a story or two, just send it to me and I'll post it here.

Howdy Cuz,
Not doing anything tonight or going anywhere. Just sitting here recalling stories passed on to me down through the years. I just thought of another one that I think you would like.

Granny Estelle told me that Maw [Lone Ashworth] once traded a bale of cotton for a radio. Up till then, they walked for miles to listen to the Grand Old Oprea on Saturdays nights.
Years later when their kids had grown up and had kids of their own, Maw and Paw (Buster Ashworth) decided the would all go to NASHVILLE to see the GRAND OLD OPREA. Well Maw and Paw Buster and Granny and my father and three more loaded up and drove all the way to Nashville to see the GRAND OLD OPREA. When they got there they got a motel room. They all cleaned up and got something to eat and then went to the OPREA. After the show they were headed back to the motel, when they all agreed that in such a big town that there were many more people needing that motel room worst than they did. So they did not even stop at the motel. They drove straight back to BEARHEAD.

Hey, I'm out of here, TERRY

And that's a true story. - Ray