Yam Not

Okay, let’s straighten this out once and for all. Those big orange roots you find in the grocery store are not yams. Got that? As a matter of fact, it’s a good bet that most of the people who just read that have never even seen a yam.

Sweet potatoes came to be called yams because they’re kind of/sort of similar, both starchy/sweet root vegetables, but they’re quite distinct; a sweet potato is far sweeter and much smoother than a yam. The most important distinction is that yams don’t grow in the South, but sweet potatoes do, in glorious profusion.

Sweet potatoes have always been a staple of Southern tables as well as a reliable source of income. The sweet potato is the state vegetable of North Carolina, and the Sweet Potato Capitol of the World is Vardaman, Mississippi. (If tells you any different, they’re a double-dog liar who needs a solid ass-kicking.

Still and all, you’re bound to find cans of yams in many local grocers, but due to USDA requirements, you’ll find “sweet potatoes” somewhere on the label.

So there.

Halcyon Soup

Homemade soups should grace our tables more often; they’ve fed body and soul long before canning came along, and a good soup made with stout stock and proper care is a measure of the cook.

Gazpacho is a king of cold soups, an easily-made, refreshing and to most minds somewhat novel way to serve fresh summer vegetables. Old recipes of this dish always include bread as one of the basic ingredients, usually melded early on with oil, salt and garlic into something resembling a paste. While my recipe does not include bread at that juncture–to me, it gums up the soup–take it from someone who crumbles cold cornbread over his, bread is a service requirement, and any well-textured bread will do.

This recipe is from my halcyon days in Oxford, which was an intoxicating environment, doubly augmented by the wine of youth itself.  I was desultorily studying for a degree, diligently exploring my capacities for vice, and desolately working in a string of eateries, among them The Bean Blossom Bistro, by some reckoning the first health-food restaurant in Oxford. It was located on Jackson Avenue across from the old telephone exchange.  The Good Food Store, Oxford’s first health-food store—then in its second incarnation—was on the corner next door. Carol Davis opened the Bean Blossom in 1978. We had worked together at the old Moonlight Café, which Betty Blair had opened up in the Hoka a couple of years earlier. Carol and I became fast friends during that time, and when she opened up her own place, she brought me with her.

The Bean Blossom, like so many small restaurants, was founded more on good intentions than experience. I don’t think we ever seated more than fifty people at one time, and usually far, far less. The kitchen could barely hold more than three people. Our menu changed daily, though we could always whip up a tofu burger, or a veggie stir-fry or a great salad any time you wanted it. Carol introduced me to a lot of new foods, including adzuki beans, which I cook like cowpeas, and tofu, which I of course deep-fry.

She also brought gazpacho into my world, and for that I am evermore grateful. I remember dipping the soup from a bucket in the bottom of our double-door refrigerator, a sheen of oil glistening atop the mixture. We served it with a variety of breads, and each bowl I eat now is a serving of nostalgia. Like memories themselves, this soup improves with age.

Bean Blossom Gazpacho

Take two or three cloves of garlic, mince very, very finely and mash in the bottom of a glass or enamel bowl with a teaspoon of salt and about a half a cup of olive oil. If you want to try adding bread, now is the time, but I can’t make a recommendation as to what kind. Add in fine dice one yellow onion, three very ripe summer tomatoes, two peeled cucumbers, two ribs celery (with leaves), and a sweet pepper if you like, though be careful, since the pepper can overpower the other vegetables; a sweet yellow banana pepper works well. If you want to add a hot pepper such as a jalapeno, fine, but I don’t recommend heat; this is a cooling dish, and should be refreshing rather than pungent. Likewise, starchy vegetables such as fresh corn or peas seem out-of-place to me as well, though there are countless variations.

Add another teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of cumin, a teaspoon of fresh basil, a heaping tablespoon of freshly-chopped parsley, a teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper and a bit more olive oil, perhaps a tablespoon. Add a vegetable juice such as V8; tomato juice is too thick. Let this mixture sit for a couple of hours in the refrigerator in a sealed non-metallic container overnight. An hour before serving, add more juice if needed, a little fresh chopped parsley, adjust the salt and pepper and return to the refrigerator. Serve in chilled bowls (freshly chopped chives are a nice touch) with good crusty bread.

Eudora on the Rocks

The muse of fiction is a thirsty bawd, particularly in the South where the icon of a hard-drinking writer unjustly brushes even us most humble wordsmiths with a tar of dissolution.

Eudora Welty, every inch a lady, certainly did not fall into the rough-hewn writer category. Nonetheless, I have it on good authority that Welty and her friend Charlotte Capers, a Jackson historian, wit, and essayist, and various wafting guests were often found on the porch at Eudora’s home on Pinehurst with a bottle of Old Crow.  (The same authority relays that Welty later became a convert to Maker’s Mark, which she took on the rocks with a splash of water.)

Eudora lived to a ripe old age, garnering laurels all the way. In her youth, she worked for the short-lived (1935-39) Federal Writer’s Project. Thousands worked on the project, including several well-known authors, many of them women. Fieldworkers such as Welty made about $80 a month, working 20 to 30 hours a week, collecting stories, local histories and taking photographs. They also collected recipes for a project entitled “America Eats”, and most of these recipes and recollections of foods have been gathered together by Mark Kurlansky in his splendid Food of a Younger Nation. Welty’s contributions to “America Eats” are somewhat substantial, and from all over the state: stuffed apples, stuffed eggs, lye hominy, barbecue sauce, a seafood and an okra gumbo, court bouillon, beaten biscuit, Spanish rice, potato salad and, last but not least, a mint julep. Welty writes:

A collection of recipes from the Old South is no more complete than the Old South itself without that magic ingredient, the mint julep. In the fine old City of Columbus, in the northeastern part of the state, hospitality for many years is said to have reached its height in Whitehall, the home of Mr. and Mrs. T.C. Billups. “The drink is refreshing,’ Mrs. Billups says, needlessly enough, “and carries with it all the charm of the Old South when life was less strenuous than it is today; when brave men and beautiful women loved and laughed and danced the hours away, but in their serious moments, which were many, aspired to develop minds and souls that made them among the finest people this old world has known.’ The Whitehall recipe is as follows:

Have silver goblet thoroughly chilled.
Take half lump sugar and dissolve in tablespoon water.
Take single leaf mint and bruise it between fingers, dropping into dissolved sugar.
Strain after stirring.
Fill the goblet with crushed ice, to capacity.
Pour in all the bourbon whiskey the goblet will hold.
Put a spring of mint in the top of the goblet, for bouquet.
Let goblet stand until FROSTED.
Serve rapidly.

“Who could ask for anything more?” she adds.

Kettle-Fried Matzo Balls

The name beneath this recipe from Jackson’s New Stage Theatre’s Standing Room Only: Recipes for Entertaining (1983) is Ellen Douglas, but everyone should know that Ellen Douglas is the pen name for writer Josephine Ayers Haxton. Born in Natchez, she married composer Kenneth Haxton in 1945 and shortly afterwards moved to Haxton’s hometown of Greenville. There she befriended Shelby Foote, Hodding Carter, and other local literati.

According to the author, she entered into a wager with her husband and a mutual friend on who could finish a novel in the least amount of time. She won the bet by writing A Family’s Affairs (1962), which is largely autobiographical in nature, requiring her to get her family’s permission to publish the narrative and resulting in her adoption of the pen name Ellen Douglas. The book not only sold well, but it also won the Houghton Mifflin Esquire Fellowship Award for best new novel and was named as one the year’s ten best books by The New York Times. Her second work, Black Cloud, White Cloud (1963), a collection of short stories, also won the Houghton Mifflin Esquire Fellowship Award, and her 1973 novel Apostles of Light was a finalist for the National Book Award. Other works include The Rock Cried Out (1973) and A Lifetime Burning (1982). Josephine Haxton died in Jackson in 2012.

Though Ayers was not Jewish, her mother-in-law Ellise Blum Haxton was the daughter of Jewish merchant Aaron Blum of Nelms and Blum department store in Greenville, and this recipe may have come from her kitchen. From my (demonstrably non-Jewish) perspective, fried matzos seem like just another variety of hushpuppy, though serving them with catfish—which is decidedly non-kosher—might be a bit rude. These make a great side for any number of meat dishes—baked chicken or fish, beef roast, what have you—but they’re also a great buffet nosh served with a sauce made with one part each grated horseradish, sour cream and mayonnaise seasoned with salt and cayenne to taste.

Soak two matzo crackers in water; drain and squeeze dry. Heat 2 tablespoons chicken fat, and sauté ¼ medium onion until golden brown. Add soaked crackers and cook and stir until the mixture “clears” the skillet. Cool. Add a teaspoon chopped parsley, a teaspoon salt, a quarter teaspoon of ground ginger, an eighth teaspoon both ground pepper and nutmeg, two lightly beaten eggs and enough matzo meal (about a quarter cup) to make a soft dough. Let stand for several hours to swell. Shape into small balls. Fry in deep fat (assumedly not lard, jly) until golden brown. The balls can be formed and frozen before frying. (This recipe makes about 20 balls.)

Drama Peas

As a librarian in Tupelo, a colleague and I were in charge of taking books to those who couldn’t come to us. Every Wednesday we’d load up our trusty little station wagon and drive around the city dropping off new checkouts and picking up returns.

Our main destinations were nursing homes, and they were all, without exception, far from the dismal environments some people might imagine. As a matter of fact, those under care were often robust enough to elbow a neighbor out of the way to get the best Cartlands, Christies, or L’Amours, and if we didn’t have enough copies of the latest John Grisham potboiler, they’d fight over them.

We once had to disarm a dame wielding a plastic knife. During one of these feeding frenzies, a blue stocking with pink hair sniffed and said to me, “They shouldn’t have been taught how to read.”

My partner Beverly, a seasoned veteran, rarely instructed me on nuances, so the assignment was full of pleasant surprises and lessons. We often picked up returns at the nurses’ stations, which are always a nexus of activity. I remember once early on reaching a station just as a produce man was dropping off three bushels peas in the pod.

Being a fugitive kitchen grunt myself, I expected some surly person to appear, haul them in the back, and begin the tedium of shelling them, so I was astounded when at least a dozen ladies came out of the TV room, ripped a pea sack open in seconds, filled up their colanders, and retreated—just yakkin’ up a storm the whole time—back into the TV room.

I was trying to take it all in while Bev started packing up the returned books. Finally I tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Bev, are they in there shelling peas?”

She looked over at the TV room door and said, “Oh, yes. They love watching soap operas and shelling peas.”

Sure enough, a squadron of ladies had settled into their seats with peas and bowls in their laps and paper sacks on the floor at their sides. They didn’t even look at the peas as they shelled them; their eyes were glued to the drama unfolding before them. The nurse on duty told me that the shelled peas were collected before dinner (I had a vision of some old lady trying to stash HER colander of peas in a bottom drawer), bagged and kept in the refrigerator until cooked or offered to visitors, but “sometimes there’s so much in there, we just end up taking some home to keep them from being wasted.”

Bill Neale suspected that the Lord invented porches and television to make pea-shelling easier. My mother Barbara, as a young bride, was out on her porch one afternoon sweeping when she saw her husband’s Aunt Bess walking down the road with a sack and crying her eyes out, going to her sister Ethel’s, who was Barbara’s mother-in-law. Not being one to impose (at that point), mother assumed the worst and started cooking. After about an hour, with two casseroles and a cake in the oven, she called up Daddy and said, “Jess, your Aunt Bess just went over to Ethel’s just bawling her eyes out. I think Uncle Ed’s finally died.”

So Daddy ran up to Ethel’s house, assessed the situation, came out sweating and said: “Barbara, Ed didn’t die, Bess is just all wrung out over some soap character dying—her and Momma both.” Then Daddy handed her a bag of shelled peas.

“Here,” he said. “I told them to come over for dinner tonight. You need to start watching ‘Days of Our Lives.’”

The Sultan of Jazz: A Black Russian from Mississippi

If you were to travel back in time to Constantinople’s Taksim Square in the 1920s, you might hear the lively beat from Club Maxim. Inside, you’d likely find a black man in a top hat, perhaps with a pipe in his hand. He might just tell you, as he did one tourist, how he’d overcome “difficulties that would stagger the ordinary man.”

This would be Frederick Bruce Thomas, known later in his life as Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas, the Mississippi farm boy who became a Moscow impresario and introduced jazz to Asia.

Thomas was born June 12th, 1872 to Hannah and Lewis Thomas, who owned 600-plus acres in Coahoma County, Mississippi. In 1886, a white planter took over their land. Against all odds, the Thomas family sued the planter, and in what must have been one of the few successful cases for black landowners at the time, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled in their favor. However, the planter appealed and, under threat, in 1890 the Thomas family decided to leave Mississippi and settle in Memphis. In late October, 1890, just a few months after moving the family to Memphis, where he took work as a flagman for the railroad, Lewis Thomas was hacked to death in bed by a jealous husband.

A short time later, Frederick Bruce Thomas, who’d only known life in the South, hopped on the rails, first to Arkansas, then to St. Louis, Chicago, and Brooklyn. He went to Europe in 1894, and in 1899, after crisscrossing the Continent, mastering French, and honing his skills as a waiter and valet, he signed on to accompany a nobleman to Russia.

Thomas’s career in Moscow proved to be more successful than he could ever have imagined. He found no color line in Moscow, where he worked for ten years as a waiter, a butler, and a valet, before becoming assistant to the owner of Yar, the city’s most prominent café-theatre. The Sokolovsky gypsy choir performed there on a regular basis and their songs about their years as slaves likely reminded him of his own people’s story.

Yar was frequented by the bourgeoisie of Moscow and Frederick Thomas became the darling of the wealthy clientele. By 1911 he had earned enough money to open an entertainment garden, “Aquarium,” with the help of two Russian partners. In 1912, he rented a music venue in the city center called “Maxim” which very quickly became popular with wealthy Muscovites.

In Russia, Thomas was one of only a dozen blacks. With his résumé of jobs in the finest European hotels and restaurants, he had the three things he needed most: opportunity, access and know-how. Ironically, he also had history on his side. The African Abraham Gannibal had been seen as “the dark star of the Enlightenment” in Russia as far back as the 18th century, and his great-grandson, Alexander Pushkin, became an icon of Russian literature.

With his talent for booking musical acts from Western Europe, Thomas’ night spots, Aquarium and Maxim, became the spots in which to be seen (and from which to disappear) during Russia’s late imperial era. Black performers visiting from the States remembered, everything was “gold and plush” so that “you would sink so deep in carpets that you would think that you would be going through the door to the cellar.”

Frederick Thomas blossomed in Moscow. He obtained Russian citizenship, was married three times and had five children. Around 1914, he bought a dacha near Odessa and he also owned buildings in Moscow. An African-American immigrant from Mississippi, the son of slaves, had made a fortune in Russia.

But when the Bolsheviks seized power in 1917, Thomas found himself on the wrong side. His newly acquired wealth trumped his past oppression as a black man in the United States. He went to Odessa, but the city was evacuated in April 1919 by the French and British forces allied to the White Army. He managed to embark with his wife Elvira, his children and other refugees on the Russian ship “Emperor Nicholas” bound for Constantinople.

Arriving in the Ottoman capital, he hastened to the American embassy to seek help, or even repatriation to the United States. Officials at the embassy refused to recognize his American nationality and therefore refused to help him; his skin color undoubtedly played a decisive role.

Having lost all his wealth, Frederick Thomas started to do business again in Constantinople, like many Russian refugees. After three months, he opened his Anglo-American Garden Villa (the “Stella Club”) on August 31, 1919, with acts by “Mr. F. Miller and Mr. Tom.” Thanks to his new establishment’s success, he rented the basement of the Magic cinema with gardens in Pera in 1921, and transformed it into a jazz and night club. He named it “Maxim” in memory of Maxim in Moscow which had allowed him to start his career in the entertainment world.  Harry A. Carter and the Shimmie Orchestra to headlined the first season, 1921-22.

Though opening “Maxim” left Thomas on the verge of bankruptcy, business at last started to pick up. After the First World War, you had been an American tourist looking for a good time in Constantinople, you probably would’ve been directed across the Golden Horn to one of the popular Russian-Western, European-style “cafés chantant,” where you could order a drink (outside of Prohibition), sample the finest cuisine, listen to all kinds of music and dance.

Despite the economic and political upheavals of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, Frederick Thomas succeeded in making his establishment the most popular place in the city.  He was the first person to import jazz to Turkey, and its popularity among the city’s natives and swarms of well-heeled tourists consolidated his success and made him rich once again. All those who remained of the Stanbuliot bourgeoisie, along with the English and French soldiers occupying the capital, hurried to listen to jazz at Maxim. Thomas became known as the “Sultan of Jazz.”

It’s astonishing that a black American who’d left the U.S. in 1894 and became a Russian citizen in 1914 was bringing America’s greatest music to the other side of the world by hosting black jazz bands in Constantinople before Louis Armstrong had even joined King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. But Thomas had already done similar things for the tango in Russia, and whatever obstacles he had to overcome as a Russian refugee. Ottoman Turkish had no word for Negro. Thomas told those who visited his clubs “he was ‘conservatively rated to be worth at least $250,000,’ which would amount to $10 million today.

Then, during the first years of the Turkish Republic, business began to decline. Foreigners and a large part of the bourgeoisie had left the city, while embassies and their staff began to be transferred to the new capital, Ankara. Frederick Thomas plunged into debt. Unable to pay his creditors, they had him put in jail and seized his nightclub, which they renamed “Yeni Maksim”.

Frederick Thomas was never to recover. Although his skin color was of no concern to the Turks, he could not avoid dealing with the diplomats in the American Consulate General in Constantinople, or with their racist superiors in the State Department. When he most needed their help, they refused to recognize him as an American and to give him legal protection.

Abandoned by the United States, and caught between the xenophobia of the new Turkish Republic and his own extravagance, Thomas fell on hard times, was thrown into debtor’s prison, and died in Constantinople on July 12th, 1928 at Pasteur Hospital in Taksim. Forgotten by the Americans, Russians, Stanbuliots and all those he had entertained throughout Europe, Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas was laid to rest at the Protestant Feriköy Cemetery in Istanbul, far away from the “most Southern place on earth.”

(Thomas’s biography, The Black Russian, by Vladimir Alexandrov, was released by Atlantic Monthly Press in 2013.)

Hemingway’s Twister: The Candlestick Tornado

On March 3, 1966, a supercell thunderstorm developed over central Mississippi and produced a large tornado around 4:00 pm CST near the old Adams community in Hinds County, several miles south-southwest of Raymond.

Tracking generally to the northeast, the tornado moved through mostly rural areas, though several barns and a few homes were heavily damaged. Around 4:30 pm CST, the storm struck the southern limits of Jackson as an F4 or F5 tornado and leveled the Candlestick Park shopping center, which gave the tornado its name; cinder-blocks from the structure were scattered for long distances, a number of homes and businesses were destroyed, eyewitnesses reported pavement scouring and a few cars were tossed upwards of 0.5 mi (0.80 km). A brick church was destroyed with such force that it seemingly exploded. Once the storm moved through Jackson, it crossed the Pearl River and entered Rankin County, maintaining a nearly straight northeastward track through the county.

The tornado reached its maximum strength of F5 near the Leesburg community; multiple homes were swept away, large swaths of trees were leveled, pavement was scoured, and chicken houses were obliterated. In Neshoba County the storm began to weaken though not considerably as about a dozen more homes were destroyed before the system crossed into Alabama. The tornado finally dissipated near the city of Tuscaloosa around 7:45 p.m. CST. During the storm’s three-hour-and-forty-five-minute existence, it traveled roughly 202.5 mi (325.9 km), one of the longest paths ever recorded.

The Candlestick tornado touched down in what was in 1966 rural Rankin County, which like the area around Cooper Road is more heavily populated today. The tornado crossed Highway 25 (Lakeland Drive), and homes and businesses in the area around River Oaks, the north side of Jackson International Airport, Laurel Wood and Castlewoods lie in or very near where the tornado passed. The storm was also going through the Jackson metropolitan area between 430 pm and 5 pm, during the afternoon rush hour. In 1966, the interstate system was in the process of being constructed, but today the tornado would have been moving near the Stack just south of downtown Jackson where Interstates 20 and 55 converge. The tornado would have also been passing near or through the heavily trafficked areas along Highway 80, Flowood Drive and Lakeland Drive in Flowood.

The tornado’s story is told by Lorian Hemingway in her book, A World Turned Over: A Killer Tornado and the Lives It Changed Forever (Simon & Schuster; July, 2003). Hemingway, the granddaughter of novelist Ernest Hemingway (the daughter of Hemingway’s youngest son, Gregory, who left his wife and eight children when Lorian, the youngest, was 6 years old), moved to Jackson with her mother and stepfather into a house fifty yards north of Candlestick Shopping Center some years before the storm and moved to Nashville a month before the tornado hit, but in an interview after the book’s publication said the tornado, “… wouldn’t let me alone. I was haunted by it. I’ve been haunted by it all my life; I’ve been haunted by it in dreams. Each time I would go back to Mississippi — and I did not go back until I was well into my adult life — just by happenstance, just sitting around and hearing people talk, that tornado would come up. Not through any provocation of mine. I was amazed to see how much it had lived on and how much it had impacted people and become a part of their history.”

Hemingway’s book takes us back to Jackson with interviews of friends and neighbors. Included are the stories of Ronny Hannis, who was severely injured but helped dig survivors from the rubble,  and Donna Durr, who was sitting in her Volkswagen with her child and was carried away in the air, only to be gently set down in a field. As you might expect, there are plenty of people who talk of God and their belief that there was a plan to nature’s savagery. Hemingway, who shares her contrary thoughts with the reader, brings a sophisticated yet sympathetic tone to the conversations, never passing judgment. In fact, she seems desperate to reconnect with the people who made Jackson seem like home for her. Her style is radically different from that of her grandfather’s; the story is told in fully-rounded sentences often brimming with emotion, and the descriptions of the area around Caney Creek along Cooper Road seem pastoral.

She tells the story in her own words and those of other survivors. Weaving childhood nostalgia with apocalyptic images of that world “rolled onto a spear, of the sky punctured at its heart,” Hemingway draws the reader into the nightmare, describing the moments preceding the tornado and the instant when everything was turned upside down. Hemingway describes how a familiar setting is suddenly turned into a morass of shattered concrete, twisted metal, splintered glass, mangled cars and broken bodies and how everyone walks and speaks “with reverence because what is heaving and bending at jagged turns all around them is a burial ground they must undo.”

Even after Candlestick Shopping Center was rebuilt, local residents stayed away. They couldn’t bear to remember.

Charlotte Capers: “The House”

In addition to their numerous charitable endeavors, the Junior League of Jackson has issued two quite remarkable publications. The first, in 1978, was their landmark Southern Sideboards, a truly luminous work that has since gone through fifteen printings, five of those Southern Living Hall of Fame editions. The recipes in Southern Sideboards altogether comprise nothing less than an exhaustive tutorial for home cooks in the Deep South, and if that weren’t enough also includes a heart-felt introduction by Wyatt Cooper.

Their second, more important work, is Jackson Landmarks (1982) dedicated to the Manship House, one of Jackson’s most beloved architectural treasures. Jackson Landmarks is important not only for the wealth of detail and historical data, but also because Jackson’s urban landscape has changed significantly in the 35 years since its publication, and an estimated 25-30% of these structures are gone.

Jackson Landmarks also includes this essay by Charlotte Capers. Miss Capers was director of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History from 1955-1969, and during that time saved the Old Capitol from destruction and saw to its renovation and establishment as the state historical museum. Miss Capers also oversaw the restoration of the Governor’s Mansion. In addition, Capers was a “world-class raconteur”, a writer (The Capers Papers as well as hundreds of magazine articles and book reviews) a wit and a close friend and companion of Eudora Welty. Charlotte Capers is a significant figure in Mississippi history and deserves a work of equal if not greater thoroughness than the one recently afforded Fannye Cook.

The House

My first opportunity to participate in this book was an invitation to write a brief and breezy history of Jackson.” Well, Jackson goes back to the 1820s and I don’t, so I declined. When I was reminded that I do go back to the 1920s, and what’s a hundred years more or less, I agreed to write a few recollections of my old home at 705 North State Street, as I remember it and as for me it was the heart of Jackson when I was very young.

When I first saw the house it was white, and I was five years old. Therefore, it remains in my memory as white, and only recently I learned that it was not white to begin with, but a darker hue much favored by home owners of the 1890s, when it was built. Perhaps it was buff or brown or gray. It doesn’t matter, except to point out that things are not always what they seem. The house was built by Mr. and Mrs. A. D. Gunning on the corner of North State and George streets. The Cunnings had a large family and must have been much given to hospitality, as the house was plainly built for entertaining. A large reception hall opened into a graceful living room on one side, and a dining room with striking midnight blue wallpaper and painted white paneling on the other. A mirror was built into the ornately carved hall mantelpiece; a central staircase which divided and curved upward from the landing was the architectural focus of the hall. Shining oak floors invited dancing, and of more concern to my mother, suggested more rugs than we had and required a good deal of waxing and polishing.

After the Cunnings, the house was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Crowder. Mr. Crowder was at one time mayor of Jackson; Mrs. Crowder was the former Mattie Robinson Saunders, whose family home was a block away on the corner of North State and Boyd streets. When the Crowders moved to Birmingham, the house was purchased by St. Andrew’s Church as a rectory for my father and his family. Subsequent owners were the Lamon Goings, who had a Studio of the Dance therein, and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Jacobs, who adapted the house for use as a retail outlet for their business, Greenbrook Flowers. The original architecture is essentially unchanged.

As I see the house now, it is big. As I looked at it with five-year-old eyes, it was tremendous. Adorned with every detail and conceit available to admirers of the Victorian style, it had towers, minarets, gables, a scary basement, a cobwebbed attic, cushioned window seats, and wonder of wonders, swinging doors for the dogs. Scaled to fit the family canines, these doors opened at the touch of a muzzle. When I tried to describe them to a contractor for my own house, he was confounded. My dogs have to bark to get in. So everything isn’t more convenient now than it used to be. Ask the dogs. Anyway, when I was a child I saw the house as a fairy-tale castle, and untroubled by the economic realities of maintaining such an establishment, I thought it was a perfect home.

This depends upon your point of view, of course, and I remember Our struggle to keep the house warm in the winter. Beautified by countless windows and French doors, 705 North State was a veritable cave of the winds. The windows called for draperies which we could not afford, so my mother settled for glass curtains. My childhood memories seem to return filtered through yards and yards of filmy material, which let in the light as well as the breezes. Another problem was the coal furnace. Coal was expensive, plus the fact that my father had to stoke the furnace and bring coal to the fireplaces throughout the house. My father solved this problem by rising above aesthetics and installing a pot-bellied stove squarely in the middle of the elegant reception hall. This at least indicates that he put first things first, like not freezing to death. The feature of the house which I remember with most affection, next to the dog doors, was my bathtub. It was splendid, something like a gondola, mounted on iron paws with a stalwart wooden rim. Into its watery vastness could submerge the vicissitudes of childhood, and dream great dreams as they soaked away. When I left that bathtub, and moved to a shorter and stubbier one, my dreams grew shorter and stubbier.

It seems to me that 705 North State Street was a fine place for growing up in Jackson and learning the lay of the land. Around the corner and less than five minutes by skate, foot, or bicycle, was Davis School. The New Capitol was only a few blocks away, and young skaters did not hesitate to skate through the tiled basement floor and admire the Egyptian mummy who was the star of the building. A streetcar track ran in front of the house. When we were very young, we would put two straight pins on the track, spit on them, and wait for the streetcar. As it rumbled past it fused the pins into a charming design of crossed swords. If you wished to travel, the streetcar could deliver you north, south, or west. East was the Pearl River, and the suburbs in that area were not yet developed. As St. Andrew’s was the only Episcopal church in Jackson for a long time, my father’s congregation was scattered all over town and from Clinton on the west to Madison on the north. Sometimes Father would let me ride with him in the family Essex when he went calling, and we covered a lot of territory. The Fairgrounds were within walking distance, as were the downtown picture shows. Beulah, my nurse, took me to the Fair every year on the five dollars my grandmother sent us. This included lunch. When we got home, Beulah became our cook. I should note that Beulah was not my nurse because I was sick, but because I was a child, and nurses were what children had in the 1920s. Nurses were for taking care of children, cooks were for cooking, and so far as I knew, maids had bit parts, like “Your carriage awaits, madam,” in the occasional stage plays which came to the Century Theater.

An interesting thing, at least to me, is the fact that I can remember the telephone numbers of the neighborhood children, I have always had a block in my head about numbers, and now I have trouble remembering my own telephone number. At any rate, to suggest the size Of Jackson in the 1920s, I could get Mary Woodliff at 2628; Winifred Green at 1210; Ann Sullens at 560; and Maude McLean at 247. As Maude’s father was a doctor, we thought we would help his practice, which did not need any help, by making up a jingle for him. It went like this: “If you think you’re going to heaven, call two-four-seven.” I believe you call the Fire Department nowadays, whatever your destination.

The Depression was an exciting time at 705 North State. There were a good many home weddings, as it was more economical to get married in the Rectory than in the home of the bride. Sometimes a drop-in bride and groom, having proven that they were of age and met other canonical requirements long since forgotten, got married in the living room, and if any of my friends were there Father might ask us to be witnesses. This custom ended when Winifred Green and I stood up with a lisping groom, and got the giggles every time he repeated his vows. Mother was good about entertaining, and we had a lot of company. I always had a Hallowe’en party and a birthday party, and during the Depression some of our company often included tramps. Tramps are now known as vagrants or street people, but they amount to the same thing. Our tramps knew the best places for a handout, and occasionally one would make a great impression on my father, who would invite him to spend a few days with us One of our favorites called himself Jiggs, and more than repaid us for our hospitality by his tales of travel and adventure. Jiggs left us wearing my father’s clerical vest, and some months later appeared in a news magazine, photographed in ecclesiastical garb while attending a Tramps’ Convention in Washington. It is interesting to observe that in spite of the real economic hardship of the Depression, I don’t remember it as a bad time. It was in the 1920s that we learned to dance, and perfected our skills later during the Depression at dances in our homes, including the Rectory, to the Dixieland jazz of Joe White and his combo, fifteen to twenty-five dollars for four hours, depending on the number of instruments.

This isn’t much of a “brief and breezy history of Jackson,” but it may recall a certain time in a certain place, both gone forever. North State Street has just about given up the ghost, the town has grown into a city, the city has spread into the suburbs, and sometimes I can’t remember my street address. •sour crowd” had a good time, there was room in our house for friends and my grandparents and my brother and his wife, and even for transients who could tell a tall tale.

Much of what was once “old Jackson” was swept away by commercial development after World War Il, but as this is written, 705 North State Street still stands! (And still does. jly)

WPA History of Calhoun County

You can find a print resolution of this document in the Mississippi Library Commission’s Online Resources. It is a formidable file, 1.7 G, but I’d encourage everyone with an interest or–as in my case–love for this place, this land, these skies, these people, to download the copy at MLC just to have it. Dennis Murphree’s introduction is a testament of devotion from the heart of a man who loved his home, his people, and the land he grew up in; the rolling, wooded foothills of the Appalachians. They strike a very strong chord in my heart.

A Holy Grail among Calhoun County historians would be the volume provided for “the (Calhoun County) library,” which might possibly be in the Murphree house in Pittsboro.

From the Forward:

“This volume of historical data is one of a series of eighty-two, assembled by the W. P. A. Mississippi Historical Research Project, under the Division of Women’s and Professional Projects, Miss Ethel Payne, Director. In 1935, under the New Deal, funds were allocated to the Works Progress administration for that purpose. The project was set up on a state-wide basis, February 19, 19236, with a unit in each county, and employing about 400 persons of work relief status. The plan was unique in that it provided for the writing of eighty-two county histories instead of one state history. Each volume purports to set forth the background of social, economic, and political history of its respective county.

The original Project Proposal, which has been closely followed, succinctly states the objectives and character of the work: “Historical research and compilation of historic data: Work to consist of (1) searching city, county and official records, (2) interviewing old inhabitants, (3) collecting date, (4) compiling data pertaining to historic, civic and cultural development of locality. Index and condense into handy volumes for educational and reference purposes.

This compiled data will be made a permanent record. One volume of the historical data will be given to the State Department of Archives and History, one volume to the county library, and other volumes to other designated public institutions. Particular consideration will be given to the making of photographs and sketches of public institutions, municipal halls, schools, churches, and all historic sites and places of interest as well as photographs of old portraits of pioneer citizens and famous men and women who have been instrumental in building and developing Mississippi.”

Dock Bishop

Mississippi politician Dennis Murphree became governor of Mississippi twice on the death of the state’s chief executive while he held the lieutenant governancy, and was governor during the Great Flood of 1927. Murphree was also a newspaperman, editor of The Monitor-Herald, the weekly in his native county of Calhoun, and took a deep interest in its people and their histories.

I reproduce here Murphree’s account of the story of Dock Bishop, a north Mississippi outlaw whose reputation has passed into the romance of legend. In the summer of 2002, deputy marshals from Fort Worth made a 12-hour journey from Texas and replaced the brick inscribed “WISE” in the Sarepta cemetery with a proper tombstone for their fellow officer. The ceremony was well-attended by the good people of Calhoun County.

The Hanging of Dock Bishop
by Dennis Murphree

The Monitor-Herald, Calhoun City, Calhoun Co., MS, Thursday, April 9, 1942 

A few days ago the newspapers of the nation carried the thrilling story of how the FBI or “G” men had surrounded the Number One Bad Man of the United States, Charles Chapman, over in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and called on him to surrender. When he refused the demand and opened fire these representatives of the law promptly sent him to his death with eighteen bullet holes in his body. For years, it is said, Chapman had slipped in and out of this, his home community, being shielded from the law by friends and kinsfolks, while members of the FBI kept relentlessly on his trail until they finally cornered him and sent him to his death.

Pondering this grim story and talking with friends who had first-hand and personal information about its stark details, there came from time to time back to my mind the story of Calhoun County’s All-time Bad Man, and his gruesome end. This is a story which was fresh in the minds of all Calhoun County folks in my earliest boyhood days, and the details were so thoroughly implanted in my fresh young mind in those days that I have never forgotten. One day this week, I was gratified indeed to have a personal visit from my lifetime friend, Uncle Bill Yancy, 87 year old citizen of Sarpeta, and talking over these things with him and having him refresh my mind on various points, I decided I would endeavor to write this story for Calhoun County folks, all of whom have heard of it, and many of whom perhaps will find it of interest.

Nearly sixty years ago, up in the high hills of Northeast Calhoun County and along the line of Lafayette, there lived the characters of this story among a people who were honest, sincere, hardworking, mostly god fearing, and all in all the kind and type of folks who are even yet the very backbone and sinew of good citizenship of our land today. The blight of the four years of Civil War still lay heavy on the land. Times were hard, money was scarce, opportunity was lacking and yet these people made the best of what they had, and enjoyed life as best they might. There was a dance one night in the home of a good citizen who lived Northeast of Sarepta, with a fiddle and a banjo, and a man to “beat the straws,” in a big old log house, with a huge fire place, in which blazed a big fire of hickory logs and fat pine knots. It was the old-fashioned square dance. “All hands up and circle left,” “right hands across and left hands back,” ladies do see and gents you know,” “swing your partner and promenade.”

Ab Kelly was quite a character. Big and strong, a fine fellow when sober, but given to being quarrelsome and overbearing when under the influence of the brand of “wildcat” liquor, which was at that time a rather plentiful product on Cowpen and Potlockany. Ab was at the dance, more or less looking for trouble. Dock Bishop was there too. He was a man of striking appearance. More than six feet tall, coal black hair and eyes, handsome face, fine personality, Dock with his impressive personality, made many friends easily. Always he was a favorite with members of the fair sex.

On this night, Dock was having a fine time, dancing with one of the most beautiful girls present. Round and round he went, keeping perfect time, his polished boots seeming to tap most lightly as he lifted his beautiful partner to the strains of “Soldier’s Joy” and the “Eighth of January.” Somehow the sight of Dock Bishop having such a good time jarred on Ab Kelly’s vision. Somehow, Ab resented it. So, when Dock swung by with his partner on his arm, Kelly deliberately spat a brown stream of tobacco juice on Dock Bishop’s polished boot. Dock looked Kelly in the eye, half stopped, but decided to let the insult pass. Round he came again, and this time Kelly spat a big shot of tobacco juice on Bishop’s new jean trousers.

This was entirely too much. An invitation to go outside, a wild melee in which others joined, and in a few moments, Kelly was flat on the ground with a pistol bullet through his shoulder, and there was the beginning of a feud which smoldered as messages passed back and forth between the principals and with friends on both sides being slowly drawn into the affair. Months passed and finally in the little town of Dallas, two miles north of the Calhoun-Lafayette County line, the long smoldering feud burst into full blaze when principals and friends on both sides met and engaged in a general battle and shooting scrape, in which it is said that Dock Bishop, always a crack shot with a pistol, shot and killed two men whose name was Harmon and shot through the mouth another man who was present. This was too much, and immediately the officers of the law began a manhunt for Dock Bishop, and for two or three other men who were his kinsmen and friends charged as accessories to the crimes.

But Dock Bishop, like Charles Chapman, had many friends, many kinspeople scattered throughout the area from Yoccona to Scoona Rivers. It was not easy to catch him. Over a period of several months, he roamed the territory accompanied by his friends, staying a night with one kinsman, a week with another, moving as the word was brought to him of efforts being made to apprehend him. I do not remember whether or not a reward was offered for their capture. Evidently there must have been.

Anyway, down in the Robbs neighborhood in Pontotoc County and the Paris neighborhood in Calhoun County, each bordering the Calhoun-Pontotoc line, there appeared a man named Wise, from Texas, who claimed to be a cow buyer or cattle man and who made it his business to try to locate Dock Bishop and his associates. In reality, Wise was a famous detective, and he felt that he was outwitting these bad men thoroughly. But he was badly wrong, and he paid for his error with his life. Wise made friends with a member of the Bishop crowd, and agreed to reward this man if the man would direct him to Bishop’s hideout. All plans were made, and it was agreed that on a certain night, the accomplice would go on ahead of Wise and from time to time drop pieces of torn newspaper in the road so that Wise might follow and take the outlaws in their nest.

Jim Bishop was the man who promised to lead Wise to the outlaw den. It was the theory of the state in the prosecution of Dock Bishop that Jim Bishop was a tool and accomplice of Dock Bishop and that instead of leading Wise to the place where he might arrest Dock Bishop and the others, he betrayed Wise and led him to his death.  Whatever is the truth about this, there can be no doubt but that Wise on a starlight night followed what he thought was a certain trail to catch the outlaws.

As a boy I saw the place where Wise was murdered. A narrow country road winding along the ridges and slopes of the red hills some five miles southeast of Sarepta in Calhoun county, and only a little way from the Pontotoc County line, came at one point between two huge white oaks trees, neither tree being more than ten feet from the road bed. It was down this road came Detective Wise on that starlight night way back in 1884, looking from time to time for the piece of newspaper scattered along the road. Neighbors who lived in hearing distance swore on the witness stand that suddenly there rang out on the still night air several gunshots and then there was silence again. The story is that when Wise walked down the road and just as he reached the two huge trees a signal was sounded and from shotguns and pistols a stream of bullets and buckshot poured into his body killing him instantly. Wise was missing several days before the countryside was aroused. But aroused it became when the story of the shots and his disappearance became known.

Posses were formed and a widespread search of the countryside was made. Combing the woods and the entire country, one member of this searching party, riding horseback through the woods, noticed as his horse stepped across a fallen log, a piece of bright red clay lying there. A clod of red clay lying by itself there in the deep woods aroused his suspicions. He got down off his horse and tied him to a nearby bush. Then he went and got down on his knees and began to remove the leaves, pine straw and other debris which covered the spot. It was a matter of a moment to determine that the earth had been disturbed there and recently. He notified other members of the posse and soon with shovels they began to remove the earth. Buried almost under the huge fallen log in a shallow grave not more than two feet deep, they found the bullet torn and mangled body of Detective Wise, and as you can very well imagine, excitement flared to a crescendo. Word went by telegraph back to Texas and within a short period there appeared on the scene grim and determined relatives of the dead man bent on seeing to it that the murderers of Detective Wise should be speedily brought to justice.

The shocking crime was too much for even the friends of Bishop and his associates. No more could they find shelter and safety in the home of people in that country. No more could they roam scot free. Public indignation mounted to such extent that realizing they could no longer escape, Bishop and one or two others went to Oxford and surrendered themselves all the while bitterly denying the murder of Wise. Money was not lacking to defend Dock Bishop and so there was employed as his legal counsel, the Hon. Hamp Sullivan of Oxford, one of the greatest criminal lawyers of his day and age.

Representing the State of Mississippi as District Attorney was the Hon. Ira D. Ogglesby, reputedly one of the ugliest men in personal appearance ever known in that country, but at the same time, one of the brightest and shrewdest prosecuting attorneys that section has known. From the very outstart, it was a battle of giants. Sullivan, with all his vast legal knowledge and great ability, took advantage of every legal technicality, every loophole, every possible avenue to save and acquit his clients. Ogglesby on the other hand backed by the majority of the law as well as public opinion, met his adversary on every point and maneuver.

Bishop was tried first. He was the chief object of the state’s attack. He was the acknowledged leader of the gang. Back and forth the battled raged, with each prospective juror being scrutinized and put under the legal microscope. Many were challenged and set aside. Those finally chosen were seated only after a barrage of questions seeking in every way and manner to determine their leanings or opinions. For days on end Ogglesby put on the stand an array of witnesses linking one to the other certain facts which all together would irrevocably damn and convict the accused Dock Bishop. Then for days, Sullivan threw forward an array of men and women whose testimony he hoped would raise a doubt as to Dock Bishop’s guilt. In the end, after many hours of deliberation, the jury filed back into a tense and crowded courtroom with a unanimous verdict of “guilty as charged.”

Standing cool, calm, and unruffled in the court’s presence, Dock Bishop declined to make any statement as to why the sentence should not be pronounced and heard the Judge sentence him to be “hanged by the neck until your are dead, dead, dead, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.” Then followed many months of waiting while Mr. Sullivan appealed to the Supreme Court and finally that high court said: “The case against Dock Bishop is affirmed,” and set the date on which he should die. Friday, the fourth day of July, 1886, was the awful day on which Dock Bishop was slated to pay with his life for his crime.

Bright, hot sunshine fell upon the untold thousands of men, women, and children, who on horseback, on foot, in mule and ox wagons and all other kinds of transportation then in existence, wended their way toward Pittsboro, the county seat of Calhoun “to see Dock Bishop hung.” The Board of Supervisors had made arrangements to have the hanging in public. They had selected a valley two miles west of Pittsboro on the old Pittsboro and Big Creek road as the site. It was a natural amphitheater, at the head of a little hollow where on three sides the earth sloped down to the little valley and under the fine trees that covered these hillsides, thousands upon thousands of people from all over Calhoun, Pontotoc, Lafayette, and Yalobusha Counties gathered in restrained silence, waiting, watching for the dread event. A gallows of huge square timbers had been built there, and from the cross beam several feet above the hinged trap door there hung a brand new grass rope, already coiled ready for the fatal knot.

As the appointed hour drew nigh, there was a buzz from the crowd, and coming slowly down the winding country road, there was a wagon with spring seats on which sat the sheriff and his deputies, one on each side of the prisoner. In the back of the wagon, partly covered by a quilt, was the black draped coffin inside of which the body of the prisoner was soon to rest. Scott Hardin, a good man and true, was sheriff of Calhoun County. He led the way up the steps of the scaffold and the prisoner followed.

Dock Bishop stood on the gallows and looked over the great crowd assembled. There was the stillness of death over all. Pale from his long days in jail, Bishop was yet a fine looking man in the very prime of his life. A minister prayed for the forgiveness of all sins, and especially for the soul of the condemned man. Then Dock Bishop was offered the opportunity to speak for the last time on earth, and stepped forward. There was not a tremor in his voice. There was no hint of a breakdown. Calmly and with deliberation, Dock Bishop expressed his thanks to those who had befriended him; he told of how he held no malice against him nor against those officers of the law at whose hands he must suffer his life. With almost his last breath, he finished his statement by declaring that he was innocent of the death of Wise, at the same time admitting that he had killed a man in Alabama.

Not a muscle in his fine body quivered as Dock Bishop stepped on the fatal trap. The black cap was swiftly slipped over his face, and then the peculiarly tied hangman’s knot was adjusted so that it would break his neck when he fell. There was a long drawn sigh from the assembled thousands, and then Sheriff Hardin swiftly raised his hatchet and struck the rope which was so tightly stretched across the block, but not striking with the full blade, severing all strands in two save one, and the Sheriff found it necessary to make the second stroke. The trap door fell with a bang and Dock Bishop’s body shot through the hole, jerked tight on the end of the rope several feet below. There was the sound of a sharp crack as the bones of neck snapped, and swinging slowly in the ghastly circle, Dock Bishop’s body “hung by the neck until he was dead, dead, DEAD.”

When his body was finally cut down, and placed in the coffin, there stepped up to the sheriff a comely woman, who made request that she be given the rope which had taken Bishop’s life. “I was the wife of Detective W.A. Wise,” she said, and these men are my brothers.” She was given the rope, and took it back to her home in Texas.

I was born on January 6, 1886. Dock Bishop was hung on July 4, of that same year. (NOTE: July 4, 1886 was a Sunday, which casts doubts upon this being the actual date of the hanging.) I was, therefore, only six months old, and the things I tell you are, of course, only those that were told to me when I was a little boy. But I have never forgotten them, and there are many, many people yet living in Calhoun County today who will remember as I have this terrible tragedy and its shocking sequel. Jim Bishop was finally found not guilty. Bob Lamar, another one of those implicated, was kept in jail for months and years and finally the case against him was nolle prossed. W.A. Wise’s body lies today in the old cemetery at Sarepta far from those who loved him, while Bishop was buried I know not were.

And so ends the story of the man who in his day was Calhoun County’s “Charles Chapman” while “time marches on.”

Dock Bishop (b. 27 Oct. 1857, Marion County, Alabama) was buried in the Collums Cemetery, which is some 8 mi. northeast of Bruce, Mississippi.

 

Tom  Freeland, an Oxford attorney and historian, added this postscript to the original post in August, 1914:

The article is correct about outlawry in that area. Not quite 20 years later, two federal marshals went to a house east of Yocona and north of Dallas (but nearby– outskirts of what is now Tula) to arrest a counterfeiter/parole violater. He talked them in to staying for the dinner just put on the table, and the arrestee and another shot the marshals through a window (at the trial, the coroner testified that marshalls had cornbread in their throats at death. In Greek mythology, those who killed dinner guests had gruesome eternities). They were later brought back to town, and James Stone (Phil Stone’s father) and his law partner as special prosecutors held an inquest by torchlight, largely to try to make clear to the crowd justice would be done. Later, both murderers were sentenced to hang, after a trial in which W.V. Sullivan (who had been a senator in the interim, and who was NOT a favorite of the Stones) defended the ringleader. When he was sentenced, he asked to be hung seperately than his cofelon, who was black. The judge pronounced sentence, stating that it “is not a social occasion,” that they were to be hung together. They were.

The ringleader wrote a confession which was published and sold at the hanging (I have a copy), there are pictures of them being taken from the jail in a wagon on the Square. Dept of odd coincidences; There’s an account of the day of the hanging in Blotner’s bio of Faulkner, because that was also the day 6-year old Billy Falkner moved to Oxford with his family. A few years later, James Stone bought Sullivan’s law office, where I am seated at this moment. A few years ago, an elderly client, since deceased (who gave me an original of the confession from which I got my copy) told me that she was related to the murderer, and that a cousin out in the county still has a trunk with mementos of the incident, including the window curtains with bullet holes in them. She would not tell me who it was because the family is still VERY private about this lore.

Further aside: There are not too many instances of double murders of US Marshalls in the history of the marshall service. This one is still remembered in their histories.

This is the entry on Wise from the “Officer Down Memorial Page,” (www.odmp.org) The a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring America’s fallen law enforcement officers..

Marshal Wise was shot and killed in Oxford, Mississippi, while working undercover in an attempt to apprehend two men who were wanted for murder in Texas. Marshal Wise had first gone to Oxford to return a prisoner to the local sheriff. While in town the Sheriff requested Marshal Wise’s assistance to capture the two men. Marshal Wise returned to Fort Worth where he was given permission by the City Marshal to return to Oxford to help with the investigation.

Upon his return to Mississippi, Marshal Wise disguised himself as a cattle buyer and made contact with a man close to the suspects. The man agreed to help Marshal Wise in exchange for part of the reward money. Marshal Wise devised a plan to drug the suspects with tainted whiskey and then take them into custody. The informant, however, betrayed Marshal Wise and informed the suspects of the plan. As Marshal Wise approached the home the suspects ambushed him on the roadway, shooting him with a shotgun and pistol.

The suspects buried his body on the side of the road where it was located the next day by a search team. Three suspects were eventually apprehended and sentenced to death. Two of the sentences were overturned but the third man was hung in Pittsboro, Mississippi, on July 3, 1886.

Marshal Wise had been with the agency for 18 months and was survived by his wife. He is buried in Sarepta Cemetery in Sarepta, Mississippi.

 

The following letter comes from a descendant of the Bishop family in the tri-corner area of Calhoun-Lafayette-Pontotoc in Mississippi. It was written by Dock Bishop, who was convicted for the killing of a federal marshal and hanged on July 4, 1886. The circumstances of the crime and the atmosphere of the time and place were such that Bishop passed from outlawry into legend, and his story became a fireside tale in the area for generations. The narrative is uneven and at times unintelligible, but those are likely for the most part due to my errors as a transcriber, and a sentence may be missing, since this is a poor copy of the original.

A few things to note are, first, the date, which Bishop gives as Oct. the __ 1850, cannot be correct, since Bishop murdered Detective Wise October 2, 1884. Why Bishop gave this date is unaccountable, but duress likely played a factor. The handwriting is in Spencerian script, a Copperplate-based style, widely used from approximately 1850 to 1925, the American de facto standard writing style for most correspondence prior to the typewriter. The use of this script, along with somewhat good—if uneven—spelling indicates some degree of education. The use of “verrie” for “very” is likely due to a familiarity with older versions of the King James Bible, composed when that variant was still in use. The letter does not mention his two co-defendants in the crime(s), Jim Bishop and Bob Lamar, but a certain G.D. comes in for condemnation, and the wording hints that Dock is trying to put the finger on him.

Finally, it seems to be that Dock signs the letter “Jeff Bishop,” and it seems reasonable to assume that Jeff/Jefferson may well have been Bishop’s actual given name.

Oxford, Miss
Oct. the ___ 1850

Mr. Bill Bishop

My dear cousin, with pleasure I write you this leaves me well and hope this will find you and all the counsel. The same I wrote has as soon as I got back from Pittsboro tho have not heard from him, yet I will not have my trial the 26 of this month for the judge has called in his court and now I will have to say here until March. I think that my case will be misprocessed here and then they will send me to Coffeeville. I fear though I hope that I can stay here where I can be with my friends. I have not seen my counsel in time time cousin I am so troubled now I have a letter from my sister and ma is dead and it is verrie grievous to me to hear

I get my trial and want you to find out all you can for me so I still have no trouble when the time comes for my trial I want you all to write me for I am glad to hear from you all tell Jim that I want him to come to me soon would be glad to read a letter from him and learn all the news. I have been expecting some of you up for some time. I want you to bring me a bushel of potatoes when you come. I hear from my wife each week she is well and in good heart about my cast and has no fears but what I will come home when I have my trial she has some good evidence for me since court. Cousin, I want you to not forget to go to see

I will take it as a favor if you all will do this much for you and you shall never lose anything by it in the future. Give my love to Cousin Mallie and kiss the little ones for me. Tell them I will send them my picture when I go out to court so I can get one taken for them. Tell my little cousin that I got those peaches she sent me while I was at Pittsboro. Would be glad if you could bring them all with you at court here to see me. Tell Hal I don’t think that he has treated me right by not evidencing my card. Cousin, I have a heap to tell you when I have a chance. Tell Henry to not think hard of me for not writing him for I have so much writing to do. I want you all to come around to see me when you can at

Pittsboro this month that I think that I can demand a trial at any time and they are bound to give it to me if my liberties is debared on account of that case being against me there I want you to do all you can here on this case for I think that Jim will be present in his trial in this court and get up all you can in regards to evidence. Let me hear from you as soon as you get this with the news in the community. I hear that G.D. ed was gone and I think he is ashamed of himself and can not stand to face everybody that ever knew him after surviving such lies as he did. He is 8 miles (about) Pontotoc near Cedar Grove. I am your true cousin with love to all the connections.

Jeff Bishop

And, finally, we have “The Ballad of Dock Bishop,” written by Dottie Moore of Pontotoc County, which is justly more about Texas lawman William Wise than Doc Bishop. What a Ft. Worth detective was doing in Calhoun County then is complicated—and ambiguous—even when detailed in Selcer and Foster’s Written in Blood: The History of Fort Worth’s Fallen Lawmen, Volume 1, 1861-1909, but his murder initiated a reinstatement of justice in an area scoured by war. Bishop was hanged on July 3, 1886, “the first white man legally hanged in the state of Mississippi since the Civil War”. Selcer says that this ballad is a “variation on the more famous ‘Ballad of Sam Bass’ and ‘Ballad of Jesse James’”. He also notes that the ballad was frequently sung—to an unknown tune—at folk gatherings for over fifty years.

When I lie down at night to rest
And slumber deep steals o’er me,
As I close my heavy eyes in sleep,
Dark visions pass before me.

I see a calm still moonlight night,
No breath of air is stirring;
No sound the silence breaks, except
The wings of insects whirring.

I see a forest deep and dark,
A man walks through it quickly,
Now in the shade, now in the light
Where the dark leaves mingle thickly.

A man with soft, brown, shining eyes,
And gold brown hair o’er lying,
And daring courage on his face,
On his own strength relying.

He treads the darksome forest through,
Where outlaws lie in hiding,
No fearful thought in his strong heart,
The thought of fear, deriding.

He is a bold, true officer
Attending to his duty,
No thought he gives to nature bright,
Nor the night’s calm, holy beauty.

He follows scraps of paper thrown
Into the path before him,
By one in whom his trust he placed
Who threw a glamour o’er him.

He’s walking swiftly to his doom,
But alas! He does not know it;
He sees naught of the danger there,
Oh, God! If thou would show it!

A little distance on ahead
Are two oak trees, o’er bending,
Behind which two cold hearted men
Evil faced are standing.

Crouched, with weapons cocked in hand,
Awaiting for his coming,
They make no sound to warn their prey
Of the awful risk he’s running.

He’s nearer, he’s almost in their hands,
Will nothing now delay him
From those who plotted, worked and planned
To murder and betray him?

Ah! No, for now he steps along
In the path marked out before him;
He sees the fiendish daces not,
No sense of fear steals o’er him.

Another step, Great God! A shot!
Of oaths and groan a medley;
Another shot! And the ground around
With his lifeblood, gleams redly.

“Tis done, a noble soul is sent
to the land of Heavenly Glory;
a brave detective low is laid
by hands all red and gory.

O, Heavenly Father, pity her,
Whose heart will now be broken,
Grant her in mercy, from thy throne,
Some sweet, peace-giving token.

Help her to bear the awful blow,
Her heart with thy grace cover;
She, in the far off “Lone Star” state,
Awaits her husband lover.

Be thou a friend to this fair child,
As much as to the mother,
Oh, Father of the fatherless,
Than Thee, they have no other.

The murderers, here, may still go free,
By lawyers shrewd, defended,
Free in this world, but yet the next,
Shall see their triumph – ended.
–Dottie Moore