The Yellow Rose of Schoona

A poignant tale of love, loss and thralldom, doubtless embellished with the romance of legend as tales of that time often are, this story was published almost a century ago in The Calhoun County Monitor-Herald.

In the cold, dreary winter of 1852, just after the organization of Calhoun County, quite a number of citizens of Spring and Brushy Creeks were sitting in a rude log cabin by the roadside, where John McCord kept a store, lightly stocked with the necessities of life, discussing the new county and squirting tobacco on the old, rickety stove. Bob Brown, the Postmaster, (for there had recently been established at this place a post office called Banner), came around and stood in the door. Snow and sleet were falling thick and fast and the cold north wind howled through the towering pines and drifted snow against the rude fences. All nature seemed at war–and the howling storm quelled the spirit of those pioneers, who were acquainted with trouble and knew danger and privations.

“The coldest day I ever felt,” said Bob. “Everything outside is freezing.”

While the men were buttoning up their coats, preparatory to breasting the storm en route to their homes, Bob looked eastward along the road and saw a lone woman trudging through the snow storm, coming in the direction of the store. She soon appeared at the door and asked permission to warm at the fire. The gentlemen gallantly gave way and tendered her a seat near the stove.

“Bad weather to be out,” remarked McCord, the merchant. “Quite unpleasant,” replied the woman in soft, sweet voice. She was well and comfortably clad, and had in her hand a well filled grip. She was tall and well formed, with a handsome figure and soft, appealing eyes. Her hair was long, dark and wavy, and her skin was a soft yellow–not quite as dark as the Indian. Her features were animated and her countenance sparkled with every change of expression. Her step, quick and elastic; voice, soft and musical; her language, pure and faultless English and her age about 22 years. The men soon started for home through the drifting storm, and left McCord, Brown and Sid Brantley and the woman still clustered about the stove. The able, big-hearted Brantley asked the woman how it happened that she was caught out in the storm, and where she was going in all this bad weather.

After some hesitation, she answered in a low, musical voice, “I am part Indian and I am making my way to the Indian Nation, where my tribe, the Chickasaws, went in 1836. I was then a small girl living with my grandmother. My mother, a Chickasaw died when I was a baby. My father, a white man, went with the tribe. My grandmother, being very old, was left with me. After grandmother died, I was taken by a nice family of whites, who gave me a home, taught me the art of dressmaking and educated me. But I could not forget my brothers and sisters in the Indian Nation and at last resolved at every hazard, to make my way to them. I have no money or friends that I can call upon for assistance, so I am trying to make my way afoot.”

Her simple story touched Mr. Brantley’s heart, and he cordially invited her to his nearby home. She, with some hesitation, accepted his generous invitation and accompanied him home, where she remained until the storm was over. In conversation, on the way home, Brantley asked her name. She modestly answered, “Bombazelle McAllister”. She was introduced to the family and assured that she could make her home with them until the weather settled. She was assigned a room with Brantley’s oldest daughter. The next day was still cold and blustery and the ladies were confined to their rooms. The stranger soon became familiar with the family. Miss Brantley had a nice new dress pattern she was preparing to make up. Bombazelle examined the goods with great care and suggested how it should be designed. Sissy was delighted. Bombazelle took her measure–a thing heretofore unknown in these wild woods–and she assisted in making the dress. The family was delighted with the attractive design and the gracious fit of the dress. Hence the news spread rapidly throughout the neighborhood that a marvelous designer and dressmaker was stopping at Sid Brantley’s–and the blushing lassies in all the region gathered ’round to have Bombazelle cut and fashion their dresses. She moved from home to home as her services were requested, and at night, occupied rooms and beds with the young ladies of the community.

The snow storm had passed, but Bombazelle remained, kept busy cutting out and making dresses. She was well paid and was kindly received by every family. She was ready and willing to give the young ladies instructions in cutting materials and in dressmaking. She was a fine talker and a lovely girl, her color rather dark, but being part Indian, this was understood. She soon became the Belle of Banner, and the boys called her “The Yellow Rose of Schoona”, and she received the attention of all the nice young men in the neighborhood. John McCord fell desperately in love with Bombazelle, and after a spirited contest with the young swains about Banner, won her heart. McCord was, as the term was known in those far-off days, “well-off”. He had a good house, servants and quite a number of Negro slaves. The couple was married at Brantley’s home, Esquire John Hankins making the happy couple man and wife. There was quite a gathering at the wedding, and, as was the custom, all who wished, were privileged to kiss the bride, as did some of the girls and women present.

The springtime in all its beauty was rapidly approaching. The dogwoods were budding, the birds were all a-twitter and the geese were flying north to their faraway homes. Bombazelle was happy in the home of John McCord. She had a husband who was a leader in the young county and was loved and admired by everyone. She also had Old Sylvia, her trusted servant, and her flock of boys and girls, to attend to her every want. She kept a close eye on the servants, and they had to “toe the mark”. She had her rooms well furnished, wore wonderful clothes, and kept everything about the place in “apple pie” order. Every servant jumped when she spoke, for she was a firm mistress, and ran the house with energy and ability. McCord, too, was happy with his beautiful wife and his elegantly arranged home. The “Yellow Rose” was happy and excited because she was the leader in style and fashion in the whole county. She was constantly sought out and consulted about dresses and was a close friend to the young belles for miles around.

Spring opened in all its glory. The whippoorwills sang at evening, the sun smiled all day on the new fields, just wrested from the primeval forests, and the birds and animals made love in the swamps and endless forests. Late one afternoon, a fine looking gentleman was seen riding a splendid blooded horse into Banner. Mrs. McCord (Bombazelle) observed him–and, in consternation, made it convenient to disappear at once. The traveler alighted and entered the saddle shop owned by J. Brown, and after passing the compliments of the season, inquired if there had been seen in that place a woman who had disappeared. He gave an accurate description of Mrs. McCord. Bob hesitated, looked wise and gave an evasive answer. Night was approaching, so the stranger asked if there was a house of entertainment in town. Brown directed him to Mr. Arnold’s home, just west of town. He made his business known to Mr. Arnold, and said he had traced the woman to Banner–and that she was his Negro house servant and seamstress–and that she had run away from the family home at Aberdeen, Mississippi. Arnold repeated to him the story of Bombazelle’s appearance, her captivation of the community and her marriage to John McCord months before.

“That’s my Negro,” said the stranger, “she is almost white in appearance and is very smart.”

It is hardly necessary to add that the people of Banner were stirred up and greatly excited by his revelation. The belles and beaus were crestfallen. The girls who had entertained and associated with Bombazelle were dumbfounded. The idea of having so cordially entertained this servant in their homes was humiliating. And the young men who had called upon Bombazelle and sought her hand were shocked beyond expression while the older men, who had so fondly kissed the yellow blushing bride, were punched in the ribs by their wives for having embraced the woman in their presence. But the “Yellow Rose”! Where was she? McAllister (the stranger) could not find her anywhere. She had suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. McCord was wild and miserable. His happiness was swept away in the wrinkling of an eye. Dispirited and troubled, he stood about, wondering what to do! His wife, with his knowledge, had been secreted in a cabin on Schoona, there to await the issue. McCord was a good man, law-abiding and honest, yet he did not know but that McAllister was a fraud.

McAllister posted off to Hartford (the community now known as Oldtown, which was the county seat at that time), here he learned that the marriage certificate had been issued to John McCord and Bombazelle McAllister, and that it had been returned by Esq. Hankins. He at once instituted suit against John McCord and his securities, for marrying a Negro, contrary to the laws of the State of Mississippi. McCord’s friends were in close consultation all day, devising ways and means to extricate McCord from his dilemma. Brantley, with a keen eye to business, also went to Hartford, and there met McAllister. Brantley, being always a friend for anyone in distress, had a long interview with McAllister, and induced him to suspend legal proceedings until he could see McCord, assuring him that it was a fraud practiced on McCord, and McCord truly believed that she was part Indian, but had never dreamed that she was a runaway slave–and that she would be found and returned to McAllister. Old Sylvia was the happiest Negro in the county. She and her children clapped their hands at being relieved of such a hard head mistress.

Brantley returned to McAllister that afternoon, after having a long talk with McCord and Brown, entertained him that night and promised him that Bombazelle would be forthcoming in the morning. So, in the morning, bright and early, “The Yellow Rose of Schoona” fondly embraced Mr. McCord, bid him an affectionate farewell, and promptly reported to her master, and they departed for Aberdeen.

Editor’s Note: [1972] In the 1940’s, Dr. W. A. Evans of Aberdeen researched The Monitor Herald story of Bombazelle McAllister in the county courthouse records at Aberdeen. He found advertisements by the man McAllister, giving notice that his slave Bombazelle had run away. After McAllister took her back to Aberdeen, he sold her at once, as she had given trouble before. The money paid for Bombazelle went into the building of a new McAllister home, located in the city of Aberdeen. Dr. Evans reported that no further evidence of Bombazelle exists after she was sold.

Daniel Gerhartz

Love a Duck

Now that it’s warm enough to wear wife beaters, those rascals in the Greater Belhaven “There Goes the Neighborhood” Association plan on holding their annual White Trash Bash, and soon the middle stretch of Poplar Boulevard will fog with the aroma of heart-hindering foods cooking over carbon footprints. This year the guys in the Dirty Rice Duck Hunting Club are grilling stuffed breast of duck. These morsels are perfect for any gathering where folks meet and greet, rant, and rave, and try to rise above their raising, which of course is any gathering you will ever attend anywhere or any time in your measly little life.

If you don’t know a duck hunter, befriend one; they always seem to have an extra fowl in the freezer. Most often they’ll tell you how to how to cook them as well; after all, they shot the damn thing. Hunters and fishermen who can cook really well – like Billy Joe Cross, bless his soul – should be designated national treasures. Heck, if Japan can give a tofu maker a house, we ought to buy Billy Joe a Cadillac.

Like most game recipes, this one involves a marinade. Some marinades, especially those involving acidic ingredients such as citrus juice or vinegar, act as a tenderizer, and are primarily reserved for use with larger game such as deer or boar. With duck breasts, the marinade is for flavor. It’s also very simple: one cup of soy sauce, one half-cup of brown sugar, two tablespoons olive oil, 2 garlic cloves, finely minced, and a dash of black pepper. Marinate split, boned breasts of duck in this mixture for three hours. Stuff each breast with sliced onion and jalapeno. Wrap each breast in bacon, secure with a toothpick, and grill or broil.

Cornbread and Buttermilk

On summer afternoons when the air was smoky with dust and the sun bore down like a burden, my Grandaddy Jess would walk from his store up to his house, sit on his front porch, take off his hat, and holler at  Granny Ethel in the house to bring him milk and bread.

So she would crumble that cornbread she always kept on the back of the stove into a tall glass, pour in enough cold buttermilk to cover not all the way but almost, stick a long teaspoon in it, bring it out to Jess, then go back to the kitchen where she had her radio.

Jess would sit on the porch overlooking his store, his field of corn across the road, his son’s house with its tumbling children on the corner, and he’d think about this year, think about last year, think about next year, and then go back to the store, leaving behind a tall glass streaked with thick milk and bits of bread.

He was content.

A Southern Summer Salad

Within living memory, this simple dish was a staple on meat-and-three menus throughout the rural South. Juice from the vegetables stirred with oil and vinegar make a mild, flavorful vinaigrette best with beans or cold meats. I love to use it in the old three-bean-salad, and it’s great with fish or shellfish.

Use fresh vegetables; supermarket tomatoes don’t have enough of that wonderful gelatin surrounding the seeds, and those cucumbers are too watery. Sweet yellow onions spoil the bite, and red onions discolor the mix; white boilers are best. Cut vegetables into bite-sized pieces, place in a glass or ceramic bowl and toss with a generous salting and a good bit of fresh ground black pepper. Resist the temptation to use garlic and/or herbs. Add enough white vinegar to cover the vegetables by half and half that amount of corn oil. Do not use olive oil, which will coagulate when refrigerated. Refresh the mix with vegetables, seasonings, and liquids as needed.

A Dip from the Delta

When I was a boy, I won an essay contest sponsored by the local library committee in my hometown in the central hills of Mississippi. The speaker at the awards presentation was a lady from a little literary society in the Delta (I forget where; in retrospect, probably Greenville; the snootiest people who breathe are from Greenville, Mississippi). This woman just radiated dignity and graciousness from the top of her pill-box hat cum veil to the bottoms of her sensibly modest heels. She even wore little white cotton gloves with mother-of-pearl buttons. The ladies on our library committee were just undone by this exotic creature (the local women’s apparel stores sold out of teeny-tiny white cotton gloves the very next morning).

Being a brash young thing and all of thirteen years old, I was totally unimpressed; I just wanted to grab my $25 check and dash, but I had to sing for my supper by sitting through (poorly) selected passages from Lanterns on the Levee. Somehow, I don’t think our girls—who, I’ll remind you, played a big hand in the literary life of our little town—were listening; they had only one thing on their mind: “What does she keep in that clever little purse?” But I listened, and as I did, it slowly dawned on me that this lady was proselytizing; she had set her beady, be-vailed hat towards bringing the gilded prose of Percy to us heathen hill folk with the flattest, longest vowels possible in all the confidence of Luther with a hammer.

My Aunt Robbie Rae made me stay for the reception (cookies and Kool-Aid with a discreet splash of Evan Williams for everyone but me). The grande dame, to my mind, seemed just a tad bit patronizing to the other ladies. (They didn’t notice, of course; they were too busy pumping the old girl for the best places in Memphis to shop.) As our august speaker left, she came up to congratulate me, and even though I was as tall as she was, she patted me on the head. To me that bit of petty patting summed up her whole attitude. By the time she left I was about ready to lead the next revolt of the rednecks.

I would have been willing enough to dismiss this exhibition of arrogance as an individual aberration until I met others from the Delta, not the least impressive being the friend who gave me this recipe. You see, I was so ignorant: I didn’t know that the Delta was as close to the celestial as geography gets and that its denizens were canonized at birth. I did not know that my forehead automatically slopes when I mention that I am from Calhoun County. But now I know better; I know to speak of the Delta—not just any delta, you understand, but the DELTA—with vocal capitalization, and know to acknowledge the exclusivity (if not divinity) of its native sons and daughters, many of whom I love with all my heart. Occasionally I do slip and call them Bourbonists, but they shrug it off, thinking it’s a slur on their thirst rather than their politics.

For an antipasto dip or dressing, cream 10 ounces of a good blue cheese with four crushed and sieved anchovies, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, and a scant teaspoon very, very finely minced garlic. Refrigerate overnight; bring to room temperature before serving.

World’s Best Slutty Brownies

Preheat oven to 350. Cream two sticks softened butter with a cup of granulated sugar and 3/4 cup light brown sugar until well-blended. Beat in 2 large eggs and a tablespoon vanilla extract. Separately, add a teaspoon baking soda and a teaspoon salt to 2 ½ cups flour. Thoroughly blend this dry mix into the creamed butter mix, along with 2 cups chocolate chips. Line a 9×13 baking dish with foil and coat generously with cooking spray. Mash the cookie dough into the bottom. Add a layer of Double Stuffed Oreos. Top with a brownie batter made with a family size box of brownie mix. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking for an additional 15-25 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. And yes, slacker, you can use commercial refrigerated cookie dough.

A History of Jackson, 1865-1950

“When were Jackson’s historic neighborhoods developed?” “How did the city grow during different historic periods?” “What did Jackson look like as it evolved from the nineteenth to the twentieth century?” The answers to these (and thousands of other) questions are found here, in From Frontier Capital to Modern City: A History of Jackson, Mississippi’s 1 Built Environment, 1865-1950. While the document is not dated, it was likely published sometime in 2000. This project must have taken several years, drawing upon the resources of the Mississippi State Archives, Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH); the Records Management Division of the City of Jackson; and private collections of photographs from local citizens. A key player in this effort was Helene Ascher Rotwein—whose job in Jackson’s Department of Planning and Development was no doubt instrumental—and other members of the LeFleur’s Bluff Historic Foundation. While there is no index, the table of contents is incredibly detailed, as are the references cited, and the voluminous footnotes are incredibly precise. Click on the annexation map below to access the work.

Shrimp Eggplant Curry

Once as a very young man, I walked into a health food store that was run by one of those formidable New Age types whose moral superiority in the realm of nutrition–which she considered an extension of her deep-seated beliefs in The Great Mother and Her Bosom of Beneficence–was further exaggerated by just being an asshole herself. When I asked her where she kept the curry, she literally sniffed, tilted her nose towards the tie-dyed bed sheets covering the ceiling and said, “I’m sure you mean to make your own. If you’ll give me your recipe, I’ll show you where you can find the ingredients.”

So I fumbled in my pockets and mumbled something about leaving the recipe my friend Rupta had given me at home before beating a retreat and hitting the books only to discover that curry is indeed not a singular spice or seasoning, but a combination of any given number of ingredients with endless variations. Still, that experience cooled my already tenuous relationship with curries, and though I have read Madhur Jaffre’s pontificates on the subject, I’ve never reached the degree of sophistication peers have by actually making my own blend. Granted, curry isn’t a spice mixture I use very often, either, but I really do love a pungent curried roast chicken, particularly cold with sour cream. Like most people, I find curry most useful for vegetables, particularly cauliflower and eggplant.

Peel and halve (or cut into thick slices, depending on the size) six small or two large eggplants, brush liberally with oil (I don’t recommend olive oil for this recipe, nor ghee or what passes for it in your world; if you’re picky about it–and God help you if you are–use peanut oil), dust with pepper and place in a very hot oven until browned and soft. For this recipe you’ll need about three cups of cooked eggplant.

Saute about two pounds 26-30 count shrimp with a chopped a small onion and 2 small mild peppers. Don’t use a bell if you can help it; even a poblano is better. Saute with  two cloves of garlic until shrimp are cooked, then add eggplant. Season with a quarter cup of your favorite curry. Blend with a cup to two of weak stock to the consistency of a thick gumbo . Bake in a medium (350) oven until reduced by half. Seasoned rice is a great side.

Bobbie Gentry’s Cherry Cookie Bars

This recipe appeared in Bayou Cuisine (1970) and was credited to Edith Streetner of Greenwood. Bobbie Gentry was born Bobbie Lee Streeter July 27, 1944, on her paternal grandparents’ farm near Mantee, Mississippi. Her father, Robert H. Streeter, lived in Greenwood, Mississippi. Bobbi Lee Gentry moved to Arcadia, California at age thirteen to live with her mother and stepfather. They relocated to Palm Springs two years later, where Bobbie graduated from Palm Springs High School. She changed her name to Gentry after seeing the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, starring Jennifer Jones and Charlton Heston. Likely Edith is Gentry’s stepmother, who writes, “Bobbie’s favorite recipe that she has loved since she was a little girl, and I always made them for her when she came home.”

These are two-in one cookie bars. They have a rich, buttery cream-colored layer below and scarlet cherries, coconut, and nuts in the layer on top.

Sift together 1 cup plain flour and 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar. Cut in 1/2 c. butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Press mixture firmly into the bottom of an ungreased 11×7 or 9×9 inch pan. Bake in a moderate (350) oven for 10 minutes. Sift together 1/4 c. plain flour 1/2 tsp. baking powder 1/2 teaspoon salt and 3/4 c. sugar. Add 2 eggs lightly beaten, then fold in 1/2 c. maraschino cherries, finely cut, 1/2 c. grated coconut, and 1/2 c. chopped nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds). Spread over partially baked dough and bake in a moderate (350) oven 30-40 minutes. Cool and cut into bars or squares. Makes about 3 dozen.

This also makes a delicious main dessert. Cut into larger servings and top with whipped cream or ice cream.