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 matzos 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.)

Allison’s Wells

A primary function of Mississippi Sideboard is to provide access to documents of specific interest in danger of being lost. Hosford Fontaine’s Allison’s Wells: The Last Mississippi Spa (Muscadine Press: 1981), certainly qualifies. This wonderful work was printed only once, and, according to Fred Smith of Choctaw Books, the press plates were melted.

When Allison’s Wells was destroyed by fire in January, 1963, the event was considered a major calamity for the city of Jackson, since the resort functioned as a significant event venue for the city as well as a popular weekend getaway and the site of a thriving artists’ colony, but the spa had a long history of appeal throughout the Mid-South. Periodicals from the 1890s through the 1920s are filled with reports of people traveling to Allison’s, and advertisements were run in papers across mid-America both by the hotel itself and by the Illinois Central Railroad whose small depot at Way, Mississippi (nine miles north of Canton) was only about a mile away. An Illinois Central notice promoting five resorts, including Allison’s, located along its line ran in many newspapers in 1902.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1921 advertised I C RR rates from New Orleans to Allison’s Wells as $8.65. It was $26 to St. Louis and $33 to Chicago. The healthful benefits of the mineral water at Allison’s were an important attraction. An Allison’s Wells ad in the 1921 Times-Picayune stated that: “Time for a vacation? Here’s the place. Rest and Recreation, Hot Sulphur Baths for Skin Disorders and Unsurpassed Mineral Water for Malaria.” The November, 1953 issue of Lincoln-Mercury Times described it as: “A hotel, a resort, an inn, a spa, home, grandma’s house, a weekend at a wealthy friend’s — it combines the best of all of these.” A 1921 description of Allison’s Wells from the Grenada Sentinel could just as easily describe the Gray Center which now occupies the site of the old resort. It is “…an ideal place to commune with nature and to forget for a short while the turmoil and rush of a busy world.”

Foreword
By Charlotte Capers

It is hard for me to realize that Allison’s Wells has to be explained, for it was such a special part of Mississippi life in the forties and fifties. The prospect of a weekend at Allison’s was enough to sustain me through the week; a thirty-mile drive from Jackson on twenty-five cent gasoline led to another world. There at the end of a winding gravel road off old Highway 51 the rambling resort hotel sparkled in summer with its seasonal coat of white paint, and in the kitchen an ancient black cook produced culinary marvels on a fragrant wood stove. The old well house was a reminder of the magical properties attributed to its healing waters; waters temporarily healing and more palatable were available in the Fishes’ Club. The Pavilion was the focal point of constant activity, from snapping beans to painting portraits, and the heart of Allison’s was the dining room, dim and cool, where dignified family servants served memorable meals to diners from Jackson, Canton, the Delta, the hills, and metropolitan areas as far away as Memphis. Presiding over the whole production with grace and charm were John and Hosford Fontaine, the hereditary proprietors, who dressed for dinner because dinner was worth dressing for, and expected you to do the same.

Perhaps it should be noted that Allison’s Wells was not for everybody. There were and are those who might prefer a Holiday Inn. It is true that at Allison’s there was a good deal of uncertainty. Allison’s regulars learned to expect the unexpected, and that was part of the fun. For example, it happened upon one occasion that the dreamy youngster at the registration desk assigned two honeymoon couples to the same bedroom. When the Art Colony was in session experimental art might appear mysteriously in the guest rooms, the plumbing was always independent, and for several seasons chicken wire was much in favor for decorating effects. Mattresses and springs varied in quality from room to room, and old friends might be quickly switched from A-grade accommodations to an A-minus room if an A-plus dignitary of church or state hove into view. No matter, this is the stuff conversation is made of, and no planned activities were necessary so long as the guests had the other guests to talk about.

In a laudable effort to cool the dining room one hot Mississippi summer, an ingenious window fan was rigged up, which was supposed to blow through wet straw, thus cooling the air in the dining area and producing an early version of air conditioning. The straw was to be kept wet by a hose, which ran from a tub of water on the porch to the straw packed in the window. On the occasion of a July birthday party, soap bubbles suddenly burst upon the startled diners. At first, the dinner guests were simply amazed. They later compared notes, and reported that they all saw spots before their eyes at the same time. After much slapping at the air, the spots were identified as soap bubbles, which burst impartially into the soup, the salad, and the entree. It seems that the hose had inadvertently been immersed in the laundry tub, thus producing the unexpected visual effects. Was Hosford daunted by this phantasmagoria? Not at all. When a sudsy guest complained she smiled sweetly and said, “Darling, isn’t it wonderful? Where but at Allison’s could this have happened?”

As has been shown, Hosford was an early exponent of positive thinking. She could be seen any cold morning in early spring or late fall strolling gracefully toward the ice-cold swimming pool, fed by waters which must have originated in a glacier. Without changing pace, she would step lightly into the pool, do a few brisk laps, and float out, with never a sign to indicate that the temperature of the water was below freezing. This attitude enabled her to convince newcomers to the spa that shelling peas was fun, darning old table linen an art, and dredging leaves out of the swimming pool a game. Regulars knew better, but all had to serve their apprenticeship.

The ultimate reward for being a good guest was an invitation to “the Retreat.” This meant a drink before dinner with John and Hosford in their bosky hideaway beneath their own apartment. A basement space had been screened and floored with bricks; outside a cornfield pressed close, and vines of various denominations clung to the screens. Inside there was candlelight and conversation. If there should be a lull in the conversation, which was unlikely, you might hear an owl hoot or a dove mourn. The Retreat’s furnishings were eclectic, and so were the guests. John and Hosford might gather together a collection of artists and writers, clergymen and cotton planters, bridge players and ordinary people, provided they all seemed to be guests of good will. If their will was not good when they entered the retreat, it was usually good when they left. A white-coated waiter brought ice and real napkins, two drinks, no more, no less, were served, tall tales were told, and the stories got funnier with the second drink.

Allison’s Wells burned to the ground in 1963, shortly after John’s death. John’s water colors, Hosford’s oils, as well as papers, books, silver, antique furniture, and souvenirs of almost fifty years were lost in the fire. Many of us who belonged to the Allison’s enclave lost more than that. We lost a special place that had preserved for us a special time and enhanced our lives.

These random memories, perhaps inaccurate, may serve to suggest the spirit of the place. I hope so. Allison’s was worth a book, written by John with Hosford as the heroine. As it has fallen Hosford’s lot to write the book as well as play the lead, I’m sure she is equal to the task.

History of Allison’s Wells before the Sam Wherry and Latimer Families

In 1899 my Grandfather, Sam Wherry, a horticulturist, who shipped from Durant the first carload of strawberries from the state of Mississippi, bought the property of Allison’s Wells from Mrs. Mary B. Allison, a widow originally from New Orleans.

Mrs. Allison first lived on the Original Natchez Trace where the gullies are. When the road was opened off of Highway 51 a main road to Way to the Illinois Central Railroad, she moved to Allison’s with her family. In 1879 Parson Hargon dug a well for the Allison’s and discovered this strange tasting water – medicinal. This health-giving water brought people to come and drink the water and buy it. It was of particular value in the treatment of malaria, a purgative as well as a tonic water, with all the minerals. So it was necessary to build the cottages on the hill for health seekers who came for weeks and months, as well as to enlarge the original home for guests.

When Sam Wherry, my grandfather bought their place the Allison’s moved about a mile away toward Way, which became known as the Allison’s House. Mrs. Allison’s son, Matt, spent his entire life time searching for the supposedly buried gold in the gullies off the Natchez Trace during the Civil War. A life time of digging, but he never found it. The Allison’s Water was from a shallow well pumped by hand — a red pump and it was sparkling, bubbling, ice cold and quite palatable at the well, but harder to drink when allowed to settle, because the heavy minerals had a slightly oily film which developed. Such a shock to attempt to mix an alcoholic drink with this ice-cold water for it turned the drink black from the content of the sulphur.

ANALYSIS OF THE 1879 WATER
by W.T. Hand, State Chemist

Silicia: 5.722
Potassium Sulphate: 1.540
Sodium Chloride: 10.640
dium Sulphate: 3.135
Calcium Sulphate: 81.537
Magnesium Sulphate: 35.656
Iron Sulphate: 12.439
Iron Oxide: .2.028
Total: 214,203

The flow, the quantity, the mineral content never changed through the years.

.A History of ALLISON’S WELLS from 1890 to 1938

In 1900 under Sam Wherry, Allison’s was a convivial health and pleasure resort, first famous for the heavy mineral water — Allison’s Water, so called – which was a tonic as well as a purgative. The resort developed with my father first a partner – Latimer and Wherry. Then Wherry sold his interest to P.H. Murphy, his son-in-law, W.H. Jeffers, a contractor, who was in charge of all the extensive building — the men’s row changed to the annex with a real bath house for the men who took the sulphur baths and massages.

It was all in the Wherry connections until Latimer became sole owner in 1909: Latimer & Jeffers until 1909 and from then until 1963, D.C. Latimer & Co. In the continued search for pure drinking water the sulphur well in the lawn was discovered and the curative power of it heated helped to relieve tension and was found to be a real aid in curing any skin trouble. A bath house for men and women was built on the lawn and massages given first just for the men. The emphasis continued under the various partners to be health first with the value of the sulphur baths combined with the real cure of the Allison’s water. Of course, the massages by a trained masseuse was a part of the treatment. Dr. Taylor, a woman osteopath, trained the masseuses. She gave osteopathic treatments and the entire family really enjoyed having a treatment — Mother particularly after a busy day in the kitchen – so relaxing.

Allison’s was a busy, happy place buzzing with action from May through September. The horse drawn bus met the trains for guests at Way four times a day, and the wagon took the water to the station to ship and bring back the trunks of the guests. They came to stay for a month with their families particularly from the Delta, New Orleans and Memphis. It was fun to see the new guests arrive at Allison’s and hear Charlie Plez, the Porter, describe them. The days were filled with the pleasures of the time – horseback riding, buggy riding, hay rides, walks to the gullies, taking pictures in the gullies, tennis, croquet, euchre and auction bridge with expensive, elaborate prizes, music by Bud Scott’s orchestra from 10 to 11 in the pavilion every morning. Bud played for luncheon and dinner every day and the dance every week night with a ball on Thursday night.

An early memory is hearing my grandfather and his two sons rattling the small glasses filled with ice, sugar and bourbon about 10 a.m. – a cold toddy. My first taste later of the remains of the cold toddy – ice, sugar and bourbon.

Allison’s was noted for its fine food. It was such a personal operation by the family that it was really impossible to get anyone who could run the kitchen. My mother, Norma Wherry, managed the kitchen with first chefs from New Orleans and Memphis, but later tenants from the place were trained. My grandmother, Candace Barger Wherry, preceded Mother in running the kitchen. Allison’s menu was developed from cooking from scratch – home grown vegetables, fresh fruit from the orchard, wild muscadines brought from the swamp; even quail and wild ducks occasionally; hams, stuffed sausage, bacon cured in our smoke house. A Jersey herd furnished yellow heavy cream, fresh churned butter and buttermilk; cream of cheese dripped from a sack. Squabs were also served from our own pigeons. All cooking was done from two big black stoves with wood only for fuel until 1955 when an electric stove was added for baking cakes.

Tea time in the Pavilion, 1950s.

Health, gaiety, joy of living was uppermost – silver epergnes filled with fresh fruit and flowers, finger bowls, butter served in high silver compotes with small individual silver plates. The head waiter and white coated men waiters added the right touch of formality and welcome.

Wherry and Latimer operated with vision far ahead of their time. They were the first to have gas lights, then generated their own electricity: Electric lights, running water, toilets indoors and bathroom at the end of the halls and later in each room.

Allison’s was a farm for seven months out of the year and five months a health and pleasure resort. The Opening Ball was the 20th of May usually when Ole Miss ended the semester, and the closing ball around Labor Day. Farming was a real activity, cotton, corn, cattle, pigs, pastures and ponds. The Allison’s water was shipped by the 5-gallon jugs, which was a year-around operation. Regularly a car load of jugs of water would be shipped to and sold by a drugstore in Athens, Georgia. These jugs, if you can find one now, sell for $75.00, if perfect.

My father Douglass Colquhoun Latimer and my mother, Norma Wherry, had a certain formality. Guests dressed for dinner and the dance that followed. Father often called the Virginia Reel and Square Dance at night. Men had to wear coats in the dining room; but if you did not have a coat, he had hooks outside of the dining room with coats on them, which you could borrow. All of the family dressed before they left their bedroom. Mother always looked lovely. She was beautiful – brunette with brown hair and brown eyes and a skin you loved to touch. Daddy called her “Young Lady”. She was ever a Young Lady. She died at age 53.

Flowers were her hobby, along with sewing and embroidery. One year the front was filled with enormous chrysanthemums and the Maréchal Niel roses all across the front – a mass of yellow roses — so fragrant. When everyone dressed for dinner in the evening, my one desire was to look as lovely as the young ladies. So, one day, at the age of 7, I wore several dresses and a pair of red slippers. It did not work.

After being dressed one afternoon in white, which was normal, we children all went plum hunting. Of course, it was muddy. We came in bedraggled and Mother immediately put us to bed without dinner. Daddy was very stern, but very soft hearted. He fixed our dinner himself – a thin broiled steak like veal, fresh tomatoes and buttered hot rolls — and brought it to us. Mother had punished us, so she really did not mind. On went the music outside of our room – Bud Scott at his best – probably feeling sorry for us in bed.

School days — a public school of one room, where we had to have five pupils. The two Allison girls along with the three of us, Thelma, Sam and me. We walked to the end of the Men’s row, so called, to the Fishes Club for our schoolroom. This had been the room where the men gambled. A professional gambler usually spent the summer at the Wells.

Later we caught the train at Way to go to school in Canton usually driven to the station by our Uncle Harvey Latimer, who lived with my grandmother, Angelena Lancashire Latimer, born in London, England. The property was bought in 1905 and my father built the home, now Gray’s Center an Episcopal Center, for my grandmother and Uncle Harvey. I lived with them for a year when I was seven years old.

We had three modes of transportation every school day. At first either horse and buggy or carriage and then a car to catch the train at Way – No. 33 to Canton. We then walked from the Canton station a mile to school and perchance if we forgot our lunch and left it on the train, we walked to town to Mosby’s Drug Store to charge 50 cents and buy an oyster loaf for lunch. The money was charged to Allison’s and probably no bill was sent until after the Fourth of July, which was the financial cure for Allison’s.

Douglass, the youngest, who never wore shoes or a hat to school, frequently had the train passengers taking up a collection to buy him shoes. No, he did not take the money, but instead got real mad. When Douglass was in the first grade in the Canton School, he missed his train one winter afternoon, and when he did not arrive at Way, a frantic search for him began. Winter dark rapidly coming — cold — and where was the little boy? The stark terror when Daddy realized that Douglass must be walking home on the railroad track. Visions of seeing him crushed by the on-coming trains. The blessed relief to rush to meet this tiny sobbing child that had walked ten miles to get home.

Strawberries were grown commercially and we children picked some and were paid extra for it. I sold The Commercial Appeal—a source of income—as a child. Douglass Latimer was a great gardener and we had a large vegetable garden as well as flowers—worked in and managed by Daddy. He rose early, worked in the garden and oversaw the milking of the Jersey herd. We sold butter in Canton.

When he appeared for the day Daddy had on a Manhattan shirt starched by the laundry. One of his joys as he ran the office was the usual afternoon set back or poker game on the porch outside of the office with close friends. He had many – from all walks of life. We all adored him and though over 50 years have passed, he is an ever-present personality. He was ever filled with sternness and deep warmth and love for humanity and especially for his wife, “Young Lady”, and his children.

ALLISON’S from 1938 to 1963

As 1938 opened with John and Hosford coming home to Allison’s it brought back memories of life in Boston and how Allison’s was remembered there with such nostalgic memories that when the radio would play “Take Me Home Again Kathleen” I would burst into tears, though quite happy in Boston. And John and my son Doug would laugh. I talked about Allison’s as I went through life – a period filled with happiness, dancing, playing dolls, playing bridge, euchre and early and late dates, with the great love of my mother and father and family. When I think of it today it is like another world. As children and young ladies, we were never presented with the problems, but of course there must have been problems.

John was first advertising manager of The United Drug Co. and next the vice-president of The United Drug Co. His most inventive bit of advertising was The Rexall Train, which traveled all over the United States displaying Rexall products. Mr. Liggett, the President, was aboard and they had a big party at each big city where they stopped for tours.

Home again with the unloading of the big van from Boston with part of our possessions at Allison’s and the rest on Lookout Mountain, Tenn., Chattanooga, where John was connected with Nelson Chesman Advertising and later a partner. In the winter we lived on Lookout Mountain, and in the summer, I ran Allison’s with John and all the employees’ help. John drove down twice a month – an eight-hour trip and spent his vacation at Allison’s.

When John and Hosford bought the Latimer heirs out — Sam, Douglass and Norma — the emphasis continued on high living and health, joining the National Spa Association, going to the meetings – one at Hot Springs – and having the national group at Allison’s. The Saratoga Springs Group gave a cocktail party in the rose garden at the gazebo with Ellis and Preston serving them in white coats – a not to be forgotten moment in time — moonlight, roses and jasmine.

Allison’s Wells, c. 1944

Emphasis on unusual and good meals, beauty, landscaping; flowers everywhere in and out, large arrangements done by Parthenia in the living room as well as fresh flowers on every table in the dining room. These were often done by my Aunt, Mrs. S.D. Wilson of Tupelo. Ed O’Leary, the gardener and an ardent Catholic, hated to see Evy have so many of the flowers picked. Evy was a real designer with flowers, but she liked a mass of blooms the best. She won many prizes. Bowls of fresh sweet peas on each table in the dining room an Allison’s tradition.

A continued feature of Allison’s was the delicious food along with the art activities, as well as the many, many retreats and workshops and meetings. Everything was cooked on two big black stoves with wood brought up steep steps to the kitchen. Allison’s was written up in a number of magazines as “Off the Beaten Path,” which after sixteen years an inquiry comes: “How to reach Allison’s? I wish I knew How.” Duncan Hines included Allison’s and a feature article by Wendreoth Saunders, the artist, was published in The Lincoln-Mercury Times in November and December 1953.

Allison’s, which had been leased to Dr. Brown after the death of my mother and sister Thelma, needed a real face-lift and a return of the sparkle of living with emphasis on beauty, comfort and today’s feeling of life. This meant landscaping, rebuilding. As you entered, the bare clay hill was planted in peas to enrich the soil – so eventually out came the beautiful rose garden with the gazebo.

This presented a real challenge to my husband John, who was an engineer, an architect, a writer, a fine watercolorist and an advertising executive. He brought the joy and beauty and fun of living back to Allison’s. The redecorating continued when John retired and was an account executive with Godwin Advertisers in Jackson. Son John III is chairman of the board there now. Bathrooms were added to most of the rooms, the men’s sulphur bathrooms had a face-lift. The tops of the old toilet tanks became metal planters with flowers at the entrance. The artists painted them – “Realism” in today’s language; in yesterday’s language, “An old reality of time gone by object.” The ladies’ sulphur bathrooms were moved upstairs where Parthenia reigned supreme with the great massages.

The entrance was moved from the lower gate to the upper gate, a pleasing brick entrance planted with flowers, clumps of wisteria trees – shrubs marking the entrance and to the right the beautiful rose garden with Latvian touch to the gazebo. Beds of roses divided by brick walks — running roses in the background — perennials in beds around the center rose beds. Douglass Latimer, my brother, was bringing a bride home, Leigh Barret from Texas, so the first major rebuilding was a bridal suite for them in the annex upstairs last rooms where it overlooked the rose garden as well as the pool and grounds – beautiful view.

With the arrival of our displaced Latvians, Janis and Leontine Lazdin, John had a real engineer Janis to help with the continued improvements, the gazebo and featured seat in the rose garden, the boat house and seats down by the pond down the hill from the garden, which was also a feature in the nature trail, which was developed by “The Canton Garden Club” with the aid of the County Forester, who also marked the trees in the woods. Yes, I was and am a member.

The most important building was in true Latvian style the studio – at first and then the Chapel – Episcopal, because the artists outgrew it the first year. Another building, the enclosure of the pavilion with a small kitchen added for the priests — Catholic retreats. Always decisions should we have a lake or a pool — the pool won and what a big pool – reinforced concrete – there to stay forever — it’s still there. Scrubbed down every Saturday and refilled. Another renovation was the sulphur bathrooms for the women over the dining room—Parthenia’s domain.

1945 and 1946 War years brought our baby sister Norma Latimer Watkins back to Allison’s while Tom was in the service in the Philippines with her two girls Norma and Mary Elizabeth.

John renovated for them a bedroom and sitting room upstairs. Norma was in charge of Allison’s and her third daughter Sydney was born on the 2nd of January 1946 – in Jackson and then back to the Wells for the winter. Allen, our man of all work looked after getting Norma to school by bus to Pickens and of course Mary Elizabeth tagged along about a block to the big road to catch the school bus. Allen built the fires, cooked the children’s breakfast and served it in the sitting room in the early morning light — practically black, and took Norma to the big road.

Allison’s had many firsts: First American Bridge League Tournament in Mississippi … First Art Colony in Mississippi… First Continuous Exhibition of Paintings with a Tea … This is a few of them. From Allison’s to La Font at Pascagoula where the Art tradition continues a fall Workshop every first Tuesday in November for five days. There is a continuous Exhibition of paintings.

Doug and his wife Bertha continue with the same fine cuisine with emphasis on fine seafood. Landscaping and flowers are important. Fresh flowers on the table—as at Allison’s. Art continues to be important. Nothing dies—realities live.

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 thorough ass-kicking.

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

So there.

The Culinary Welty

Welty’s use of foods in her fiction includes the green-tomato pickle in Why I Live at the P.O., the shrimp boil at Baba’s in No Place for You, My Love, and–most notably–the groaning boards in Delta Wedding

But Welty  wrote the introductions for three Jackson cookbooks, Winifred Green Cheney’s Southern Hospitality (1976); The Country Gourmet (1982), put out by the Mississippi Animal Rescue League; and The Jackson Cookbook (1971), which was compiled by the Symphony League of Jackson. Mark Kurlansky, in The Food of a Younger Land (2009), includes an essay of hers entitled “Mississippi Food” that Kurlansky claims was “a mimeographed pamphlet that she wrote for the Mississippi Advertising Commission and which they distributed.” Kurlansky doesn’t provide a date for the essay, but it was likely written in the mid-1930s.

Welty’s introduction to The Jackson Cookbook, “The Flavor of Jackson”, is arguably the best offering of Southern culinary exposition, a finely-seasoned piece with a flavor all its own. Most of the city’s culinary history concerns home cooking; restaurants were novel until the mid-twentieth century, but Jackson’s storied hospitality has always featured a superb board. 

The Flavor of Jackson

Most Jacksonians would agree, I think, that Jackson has always characteristically dined at home and entertained at home, and does so still by first preference. It’s been out natural form of hospitality as of course its been the most logical and economical way to live.

There was indeed and for many years, the elegant dining room of the Edwards House ready for the important or large occasion. But we were too small a place and too far inland from the Gulf or New Orleans to have been heir to restaurants of another kind: one Mexican at his hot tamale stand, on the corner of North West and Hamilton during the cold months, couldn’t make us cosmopolitan. Rather than anything else, I think—and I like to think—the word for the Jackson flavor is “home”.

It was mostly the young who went forth with any regularity for outside refreshment. After the movies, the ice cream parlor. After “The Thief of Bagdad” at the Majestic, the other dime went for the strawberry ice cream soda at McIntyre’s. And wasn’t it Mr. Key’s Drug Store that seemed a functionable part of the Century Theatre? It had purple paper grapes on a cardboard trellis overhead—almost like a part of the stage scenery to come. Just before curtain time, my father took me in there and presented me with the box of Jordan’s Almonds—“bird eggs”—that was part of the theatre rite. Some tired road company would go through its Victor Herbert for us, but it was magic, all the same, and holding a “bird egg” in the mouth (impossible to swallow, in the excitement) was part of the magic.

When the whole family sallied forth for refreshment, it was very likely after supper on hot nights just before bedtime. They’d get in the car and drive to Seal Lily’s and have ice cream cones all around; it was best to hold them outside the car and eat them through the windows, and finish fast before the last bit melted.

But parties were given at home, and they started—I believe it was true for old and young—plenty early in the afternoon. You began eating around 3:30 and kept it up until you had entirely spoiled your supper. Party food drew its praises for how pretty it was (example, Bridemaids’ Salad, all white down to the white grapes) or for how much trouble the hostess went to make it (Pressed Chicken), but it’s a safe bet that all the refreshments were the successes they were because they were rich—thunderously rich.

Sometimes we branched out from home as far as Shadow Lawn. When parties were given there it wasn’t in order to save the trouble at home but to offer the guests a change—an al fresco in the quiet country air of the Terry Road. Some of our high school graduation “teas” took place at Shadow Lawn. The receiving line stood there on Miss Anita Perkins’s lawn, in the very early shadows, and the punch bowl waited on her porch, and there were her own delicious things to eat—frozen fruit salad was her specialty—and all was elegant. It was the era of the Madeira tea napkin. I believe I could say that more tea napkins were handed round at that high-minded time than I ever saw in my life, before or since. (And at least half of them must have been embroidered by Miss Irene Anderson. She too was very much a part of the flavor of Jackson.)

As a child, I heard it said that two well-travelled bachelors of the town, Mr. Erskin Helm and Mr. Charles Pierce, who lived on Amite Street, had ‘brought mayonnaise to Jackson’. Well they might have though not in the literal way I pictured the event. Mayonnaise had a mystique. Little girls were initiated into it by being allowed to stand at the kitchen table and help make it, for making mayonnaise takes three hands. While the main two hands keep up the uninterrupted beat in the bowl, the smaller hand is allowed to slowly add the olive oil, drop-by-counted-drop. The solemn fact was that sometimes mayonnaise didn’t make. Only the sudden dash of the red pepper into the brimming, smooth-as-cream bowlful told you it was finished and a triumph.

Of course you couldn’t buy mayonnaise and if you could, you wouldn’t. For the generation bringing my generation up, everything made in the kitchen started from scratch. There was a barrel of flour standing in the kitchen! Perhaps a sugar barrel too. The household may have provided (ours did) its own good butter (which implies a churn, and, of course, a cow), and its own eggs, and most likely it grew its own tomatoes, beans, strawberries, even asparagus. There’d be the seasonal rounds of the blackberry lady, appearing with her buckets at your door, and the watermelon man with his load, who’d plug you one to your taste, and the regulars sending their cries through the summer streets—“Butterbeans, snapbeans and okra!”—followed by the ice cream man, of course. Meat? Why your mother called up the butcher, talked to him, asked what was especially nice today, and let him send it. There was communication with butchers. And my father sometimes saw them, for he’d stop by on his way from the office and come bringing home by hand the little squared-off, roofed over, white cardboard bucket with the wire handles, fragrant and leaking a little—and produced oysters for supper, just ladled out of the oyster barrel that the butcher got in from New Orleans.

And of course they grated from whole nutmegs, they ground coffee from the beans, went to work on whole coconuts with the hatchet. Some people knew how to inveigle for the real vanilla bean. (Vanilla must have had a central importance in those days—think of all the cakes. Wasn’t there a local lady who made her living, and her entertainment, just selling vanilla extract over the telephone?)

Our mothers were sans mixes, sans foil, sans freezer, sans blender, sans monosodium glutamate, but their ingredients were as fresh as the day; and they knew how to make bread.

Jackson believed in and knew how to achieve the home flavor. And if ever there was a solid symbol of that spirit, one that radiates its pride and joy, it is the hand-cranked ice cream freezer. I see it established in a shady spot on a back porch, in the stage of having been turned till it won’t go around another time; its cylinder is full of its frozen custard that’s bright with peaches, or figs, or strawberries, its dasher lifted out and the plug in tight, the whole packed with ice and salt and covered with a sack to wait for dinner—and right now, who bids to lick the dasher?

I daresay any fine recipe used in Jackson could be attributed to a local lady, or her mother—Mrs. Cabell’s Pecans, Mrs. Wright’s Cocoons, Mrs. Lyell’s Lemon Dessert. Recipes, in the first place, had to be imparted—there was something oracular in the transaction—and however often they were made after that by others, they kept their right names. I Make Mrs. Mosal’s White Fruitcake every Christmas, having got it from my mother, who got it from Mrs. Mosal, and I often think to make a friend’s fine recipe is to celebrate her once more, and in that cheeriest, most aromatic of places to celebrate in the home kitchen.

Jackson had its full plenty of recipes, but I hardly remember a cookbook. My mother had the only one I ever saw as a child, “The White House Cookbook”. I don’t recall which president’s wife was in headquarters at the time of our edition, but the book opened to a full-length drawing of a deer, complete with antlers, marked off with dotted lines to show how to cut it up for venison, which suggests poor Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt. The most useful thing about “The White House Cookbook” was its roomy size, for in between its pages could be stored the recipes jotted down on scraps of paper and old envelopes, that my mother really used. They accumulated themselves over the years from friends and relations and from her own invention and a time or two from the Mystery Chef who came in over the radio. She had a cookbook within a cookbook. She had some of the making, in fact, of the very sort of cookbook that this one (i.e. The Jackson Cookbook) is certain to be. Today there’s a cookbook available for every conceivable purpose and occasion, but in this one we come a full circle: we’re back again to the local using these cherished recipes we can make and delight in the fruits of Jackson itself.

I’d like to express the pious hope that we’re to find these recipes given in full. My mother’s don’t do me as much good as they might because she never included directions. Her reasoning, often expressed, was that any cook worth her salt would know, given a list of ingredients, what to do with them, and if she did come to a momentary loss while stirring up a dish—taste it! Cooking was a matter of born sense, ordinary good judgment, enough experience, materials worth the bothering about, and tasting. I had to sit on a stool while she made spoonbread and take down what I saw like a reporter, to get her recipe.

I can’t resist adding this, for I think it applies. John Woodburn was a New York editor who’d com through Jackson on a scouting trip for young unknown writers and spent a night at our house. He carried my first collection of stories back with him and worked very hard trying to persuade his editor to take them. Several years later, when he succeeded, he sent me a telegram to say, “I knew as soon as I tasted your mother’s waffles it would turn out all right.”

Image via Janine’s World

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, but sours if mishandled.

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.

Parakeets in the Pines

In flight, a jewel, in flocks, a mandala, Carolina parakeets animated primal Southern woods. It was a beautiful little bird; brilliant green, with a yellow head, and a line of red around the face. The wings were edged in orange. They were easily exterminated because when one bird fell to a gun, others descended around it, calling. Most inevitably, gunfire resumed. They were slaughtered.

Audubon kept one as a pet; Wilson found them in Natchez in 1811, but records are spotty. Chances are they were never that numerous, just fleeting, noisy spectacles in the temperate jungle that was the virgin South.

Carolina parakeets died out in the early 20th century. The last known wild specimen was killed in Okeechobee County, Florida, in 1904, and the last captive bird died at the Cincinnati Zoo on February 21, 1918. This bird, Incas, died within a year of his mate, Lady Jane. In a case of what has been termed tragic irony, Incas died in the same aviary cage in which the last passenger pigeon, Martha, died four years earlier.

By 1939, the Carolina parakeet had been declared extinct by most authorities. Some believed a few may have been smuggled out of the country and repopulated elsewhere, but that’s the same wishful thinking that buoys up news of ivory-bills. And in some places, unicorns.

The Town of Bruce and the Skuna Valley Railroad

Dennis Herron Murphree (1886-1949) of Pittsboro, Mississippi has the singular distinction of serving twice as governor of Mississippi without ever being elected to office. He was twice elected to the lieutenant governorship, once in 1923 and again in 1939. In each instance, he succeeded the governor who died in office and completed the term of his predecessor. In March 1927, he became Governor of Mississippi after the death of incumbent Henry L. Whitfield and served for about ten months until Theodore G. Bilbo, who defeated Murphree in the Democratic Party primary by 10,000 votes, was sworn into office in January 1928. With the death of Gov. Paul B. Johnson, Sr. in December 1943, Murphree finished out the three weeks left in Johnson’s term, serving until the swearing in of Thomas L. Bailey in January 1944.

According to historian James M. Young, Murphree wrote/compiled his county history in 1928 but that it wasn’t actually published until sometime later. “Some references I’ve seen show the publication date as ‘unknown’ and some show 1948. I remember that The Monitor-Herald published it (in installments, I think) at least two times, and I suspect that the first time was in 1948 and that copies in the form of a book were also made at that time. The last chapter of Murphree’s history deals with the organization of Bruce and the last paragraph in the history is the one I sent you (the following text; jly) concerning the roads out of the new town of Bruce. Murphree’s version consists of 16 chapters. The first 5 or so (short chapters) were written by him, and then a section covering 1852-1876 which had been written by Judge J.S. Ryan was inserted. This was followed by a section consisting of a long letter covering the legislative creation of the county, written by Judge J.A. Orr (who introduced the bill in the legislature). A section covering the period 1875-1900 was written by Thomas Martin Murphree (Dennis Herron Murphree’s father) followed that, and the final section was written by Dennis Murphree and was titled “History of Calhoun County from 1900 to 1928”. The Orr, Ryan, and T.M, Murphree sections are heavy with who got elected to office. Dennis Murphree’s section has some of that as well but also lots of more interesting stuff; for example, he has a fairly detailed account of the murder of Robert Lee Crawford, Papaw Young’s brother-in-law, in the yard of the T.W. Young house across from the church at Ellzey. The section written by Thomas Martin Murphree was published by The Calhoun Monitor (in Pittsboro) at the end of the summer of 1904. 500 copies of the “booklets” (as Dennis Murphree called them) were printed and sold for 25 cents each.”

In order to tell the story of the “Skuna Valley Railroad” and the new town of Bruce, in Calhoun County, Mississippi, it will be necessary for me to go a long way back as to make the proper beginning.

It was, I think, in the year 1901, that a very smart, shrewd old Michigan lawyer first came into Calhoun County. His name was Roger W. Butterfield. Mr. Butterfield had watched the huge white pine forests of Northern Michigan fall relentlessly under the lumbermen’s saws and axes, and he realized that timber would sometime be a real item of value, and so having some money to invest, he looked about over the country for some places where timber could be bought cheaply and in bountiful supply. Somehow, he chose the South and Calhoun County, Mississippi as the base for his operations and investments. He sent several men of his own force into the county seeking to buy land and timber, employed Attorney J. L. Johnson at Pittsboro as his local attorney and then hired Andy J. Bounds of the Bounds neighborhood and one of the county’s best citizens to represent him as land buyer and local representative.

These people immediately entered on a land and timber buying campaign which lasted several years. They took their time, looked about, located land which was not expensive and which was covered with fine timber and then made the purchase. They did not seek to link up all the tracts, although naturally they preferred to buy in a block as much as possible. In the main, however, they avoided buying any in cultivation. They bought large acreage in the Schoona River Valley, and they bought many tracts in the hills. Most of their purchases, however, were north of a line which might have been drawn east and west through the center of the county. When finished the Butterfields owned some twenty-five thousand acres of timbered lands in Calhoun County and some three thousand in Yalobusha with a small amount in Lafayette and Pontotoc Counties. The average price paid for these lands was approximately $2.50 per acre.

It would be a real treat for members of the younger generation to see today the giant trees which made up a large part of the growth on these Butterfield lands. In the river and creek valleys the huge forked leaf white oak trees grew often fifty feet from the root to where the first limb appeared, and several feet across the base. Other hardwoods grew in like size and great abundance. In the hills, the old “virgin” pines dotted the hillsides and they too were a sight to behold, because they grew so tall, so straight, so uniform and with only a small cluster of limbs in the very top. On the hillsides too as in the valleys, grew every specie of hardwood likewise in great abundance. Until the coming of the Butterfields, these trees were valueless on the market. In fact, the first time in my life I ever knew about timber of any kind being sold was when some stave workers came into Schoona Valley near where we lived at Oldtown and paid $1.00 per tree for huge over cup and white oak trees several feet through, provided these trees would “split” after being cut down, meaning that provided they could easily be split up into staves six feet long. If the tree did not split well, they simply abandoned the log and went away leaving these huge logs, the kind which became almost priceless in later years, to rot where they fell.

I well remember that during the winter of 1902-3, Mr. Butterfield sent a young lawyer and a young lady who was an expert clerk, though not a lawyer, down from Michigan and they spent the winter in the old courthouse making abstracts of the land which Butterfield had up to that time purchased. These two people were a source of much amusement to the young people of that date, with their, to us, Northern accent, quaint expressions, unusual customs, etc. I am sure that on their part, they found us even more amusing. Time passed, and Roger W. Butterfield went the way of all mankind, but his heirs held on to the Calhoun County lands and timber and each year paid their taxes regularly, while from time to time, a few more acres were bought and added to their holdings. Along about 1920, however, these owners began to feel the urge to sell and dispose of their property. This was probably because timber prices had advanced to such an extent that they could secure a huge profit on their original investment; and, second, because with the cutting of canals in the rivers and creeks and the issuance of bonds for roads, schools, etc., their Calhoun county taxes, which in the beginning had been practically nothing, began to be a heavy burden.

I have related how that over all the long years, it had been the dream of the people in Pittsboro and the Northern section of the county that someday they would see the building of a railroad into that section. Along about 1921, it became known that the Butterfield interests would sell their holdings in Calhoun, and hope began to be revived as to the possibilities of a railroad being built out into our section in order to carry the timber. It will be remembered that this was in the days when the huge log trucks powered by gasoline and used over concrete roads were utterly unknown in our section. Much discussion was had between various citizens and firms seeking some plan to accomplish the result desired. Acting on instructions from an organization of Calhoun County business men, a meeting was arranged whereby representatives would go to Chicago and there meet with Mr. Markham, President of the Illinois Central Railroad, and seek to interest him and his railroad in the idea of building a short line of railroad either from Coffeeville or Bryant out to Pittsboro. Mr. H. H. Creekmore of Water Valley, a native Calhoun citizen, Mr. Jim L. Johnson and I were chosen by our people as their representatives on the proposed trip. This I remember it was in 1922.

Agreeable to plan, we three went to Chicago and had a lengthy and friendly session with Mr. Markham. We found him very sympathetic to the proposal. Naturally so, since it would mean an immense amount of tonnage to be hauled by the Illinois Central Railroad after it had been brought out to their main line. However, Mr. Markham would not agree to undertake the building of the short line. He promised that IF we could get some timber manufacturer or sawmill company to buy the Butterfield tract and the railroad right of way and do the grading for the new railway, the Illinois Central would furnish the steel rails for the road and when finished would also furnish the locomotives and box cars to use on the new railway on a very long time sale plan with a low interest rate. Our people were very well pleased with the report of the Committee, and then began an effort to try to interest some timber company or manufacturer in buying the timber and building the railway. This kind of effort went along over a period of two or three years. I remember that on my own personal expense and with the consent of the Butterfield folks, I placed an advertisement costing a neat sum in the Manufacturers Record of Baltimore, briefly outlining this situation. I had a number of replies and furnished each with quite a bit of information. I had nothing to do with the making of the deal between the Bruce Company and the Butterfield heirs when the timber we have been talking about finally passed out of the Butterfield hands. I have always thought, however, that it was easily possible that all the planning, talking, advertising and publicity which I and others in Calhoun County had been doing, had something to do with bringing this matter to the attention of the Bruce Company folks and therefore the ultimate result.

Anyway, about 1924 or early 1925, the Bruce Company of Memphis, Tenn., purchased outright all of the Butterfield holdings in Calhoun and adjoining counties. Soon thereafter it began to noised around that their plans included the building of a standard gauge, common carrier railroad, from Bryant’s Spur, located four miles south of Coffeeville on the Illinois Central Railroad, up the Schoona Valley to the neighborhood of the old town of Pittsboro. In my service as Lieutenant Governor, I was often called on to serve as Acting Governor on those occasions when the Governor left the state. On one of these occasions, for me a very happy coincidence, Attorneys H. H. Creekmore and N. I. Stone, came to the Governor’s office, bringing with them the proposed Charter of Incorporation of the “Schoona Valley Railroad.”

M&SV_Map-1 blogThe Attorney General of the state, who was Hon. Rush Knox, himself a native son of Calhoun county, but at that time a citizen of Chickasaw, approved this charter and at ten o’clock A.M. on the 1st day of June 1925, as Acting Governor of Mississippi, it was my sincere pleasure to sign the Charter for this railroad for which along with many other Calhoun folks I had worked for and hoped for so long. I pause long enough to say that later on, by amendment, the name of the railroad was changed from “Schoona Valley” to “Skuna Valley”. This, I think came as a result of effort made by Will C. Bryant, who had always claimed that “Skuna” was the proper way to spell the name of the Valley. Personally, I think “Schoona” is correct, because all of the old records, manuscripts, etc., which I ever saw in Calhoun County spelled it that way. Slowly the new railroad was built, and during the year 1926, progress was made in laying off and planning the new town. The name decided upon for it was “Bruce” because of the fact that the Bruce Lumber Company of Memphis, Tenn., was the force behind the plan.

Governor Whitfield became ill during the summer of 1926 and spent almost all the rest of the year in a hospital in Memphis. So I was very busily engaged during the period acting as Governor during his absence. It is my recollection that in such capacity I also signed the Charter for the new town, but of this I am not positive. Anyway they named one of the streets in the new town for me, for which I have always been grateful. Governor Whitfield returned to Jackson in February, but rapidly grew worse and died on the 18th day of March 1927. After the Constitution, I succeeded him, and on taking the oath of office became the 35th man in our state’s history to be Governor of Mississippi. It has not been my intention at any time to clutter up these pages with stories of my various political campaigns. I will say again, however, that Calhoun County people have never failed me, and I have carried the county by a large majority in each and every race that I made. This has always been a source of much pride and gratitude to me. By force of circumstances, I was “pitchforked” into the race for Governor in 1927. I had not planned to run, and felt always that I would be defeated but after Governor Whitfield’s death, it became necessary that I run or forever be branded as one who was afraid to try. In July 1927 my Calhoun County Campaign Committee planned a huge barbecue and political picnic for me and chose as the spot for this great gathering the location of the brand new town of Bruce. I think that it was on July 4 1927. The location was what is now the public square at Bruce, which at that time was only an old field with only one or two houses. Thousands of people from all over the state attended, and it was truly an enthusiastic and heartwarming affair. This was the very first public gathering ever held in Bruce, Mississippi.

The new town of Bruce grew rapidly. Besides the huge Bruce Company mill, several other timber manufacturing plants were established there. A number of people from over the county moved in and set up various lines of business. Too, there was in influx of immigration from several of the northeastern counties of the state, particularly from Tishomingo and Alcorn counties. These new people settled largely in the Bruce area and many of them still remain in that section. Another thing which contributed to the growth of the new town was the policy adopted by the Bruce Company of selling off its valley lands as soon as they cut the timber. The land bought at a reasonable price was immediately opened up for cultivation so that now, for miles up and down the Schoona Valley, where I had as a boy hunted for squirrels, turkeys, etc., there flourished the finest farms in the country. New roads began to be projected: one going east toward Houlka out of Bruce, another west down the Schoona valley toward Coffeeville; another toward Water Valley. Neither of these roads has been fully improved as deserved, but all hope that they will be in good time. Laying out of these roads had an odd effect on the old time traveler who returned to view the section. Oftentimes he found himself “lost” in a neighborhood or area where in former years he was absolutely familiar.

(Photos courtesy of the Calhoun County Mississippi Historical and Genealogical Society, Timber: A Photographic History of Mississippi Forestry, by James E. Fickle, and msrailroads.com)

Dock Bishop

Dennis Murphree

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.

Dock Bishop

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. 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.

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

Farish: A Dead End Street

After over thirty years and $25 million, the prospect of transforming Farish Street into an urban oasis of bright lights, great food and memorable music has lost its luster.

In January 1980, a month before Farish Street was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the city of Jackson launched plans to revive the area by making a contract with the National Business League for a $200,000 revitalization study. The contract as well as the cost of its extension a year later (an additional $34,000), was paid out of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The result of this study was the city’s ambitious 1984 Farish Street Revitalization Plan, which proposed to restore commercial and cultural activity in the district by enforcing codes, upgrading the infrastructure, improving housing and constructing a park between Farish and Mill streets. These improvements were to take place over a five-year period, but by 1989, the effort had failed; businesses had not moved into the area, crime was rampant and what housing existed was substandard.

But the revitalization of Farish Street retained its glamour, and in 1999, by far the largest infusion of money came from the State of Mississippi and Fannie Mae, $6 million from each. This money went to upgrade the infrastructure of the historic district, which began in 2002, the same year the city signed a contract with Performa Real Estate to develop the area at an estimated cost of $20 million. Six years later, Performa left the city after a bitter imbroglio with Mayor Frank Melton.

*(Community Development Block Grant – HUD)
(Not included in this document are amounts for donations of real estate (e.g.: from state of Mississippi; donation of Alamo from Sunburst Bank), funding for the Smith-Robertson Museum and contract fees paid to Performa Entertainment and subsequent developers, among other costs.)
1) Hester, Lea Ann. “City expected to extend study of Farish Street.” The Clarion-Ledger 19 October 1981: 1B. Print.
2) Ibid.
3) Hester, Lea Ann. “Farish: Older than thought?” The Clarion-Ledger 23 July 1801: 1B. Print.
4) Scruggs, Afi-Odelia E. “Development plan fails to revitalize Farish Street.” The Clarion-Ledger 10 December 1989: 1A. Print.
5) Ibid.
6) Simmons, Grace. “Farish Street consultants to share info.” The Clarion-Ledger 9 October 1993: (no page cited)
7) Gates, Jimmie. “Renovation closer for Farish Street’s Alamo Theatre.” The Clarion-Ledger 22 November 1995: (no page cited)
8) Harris, Barbara. The Jackson Advocate. “Farish Street Historic District gets infusion of national, state funding.” 7 March 1996: 1A. Print.
9) Ibid.
10) Fleming, Eric. “Farish Street renovation under way.” The Mississippi Link. 26 March 1998. 1A: Print.
11) Henderson, Monique H. “Draft document targets Farish St. Historic District:12M allotted for development of district.” The Clarion-Ledger. 27 April 1999. 1B Print.
12) Ibid.
13) Mayer, Greg. “$1.5M grant going to Farish Street.” The Clarion-Ledger. 22 March 2001. 1B: Print.
14) Ibid.
15) _______. “Black museum receives grant.” The Picayune Item. 12 January 2000. (no page cited)
16) Mitchell, Jerry. “$2M-plus in grants awarded to state civil rights sites.” (“$210,000 will help stabilize the foundation and repair the Medgar Evers House Museum in Jackson.”) The Clarion-Ledger. 3 August 2011. (no page cited)

Prospective investors have been discouraged by the unaccountability of financed development in the area, particularly by the Farish Street Historic District Neighborhood Foundation, the steering organization for the revitalization project, which was founded in 1980, moved to the Office of City Planning in 1995 and disappeared (along with its documentation) in 2006. The ensuing decade brought diminishing appeals for Farish revitalization, and the current mayor, Tony Yarber, faced with a city-wide breakdown of essential infrastructure, stated in 2015 that the project was “on the back burner”.

Once considered the keystone project towards the revitalization of decaying downtown Jackson, Farish Street has instead become a byword for boondoggle and corruption as well as a forlorn Potemkin village in the heart of the city.