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