Friday, July 6, 2007

Why We're Not Razorbacks

At left: Silas Jones as a young man, in a photo generously provided by a Jones cousin from Arkansas. (Click to make it bigger) I'd guess that this was a little before Silas's run-in with the law, which came when he was in his early 30s.

I've been promising to get around to this post for a while: the story of how Silas Jones and his family left Arkansas. Unlike a lot of the things I've reported on this blog, this story has been part of Jones family lore for years, and Silas's son Cal wrote it all down in a letter to his sister Irma just after their mother died in 1964. I'll start in this post by quoting the relevant parts of Cal's letter. You should know that Irma was much younger than Cal, and all these events took place long before she was born. Their sister Tommy, whom he refers to in the letter, was just a year or so younger than Cal. He begins with some background, some of it touching on things I wrote about in an earlier post about the Joneses and Shumates in the Civil War.

After some initial remarks about their mother's death, Cal writes:

This letter is to set you straight on another matter which I had intended to discuss further with you but I just didn't get around to it. It was a remark you made, quoting Tommy, and I'm sending her a copy of this letter for I certainly want her mind put at ease.

A remark she had made to you about Dad being "run out" of Arkansas. This has been bugging me ever since and I want to let you know this matter just as it was, for I believe from what you said, Tommy has the thing completely out of focus, and to get you straight on this, I must go way back, even before our father was born. As you know, Grandfather Jones fought on the Union side in the Civil War, while Mama's father fought on the side of the Confederacy, both in Arkansas. Jones the Republican, Shumate the Democrat. After the War, Grandfather Jones decided he wanted to settle in Arkansas (he was from Alabama), and how he came to fight on the Union side I do not know, nor for that matter I don't know how he happened to be a Republican. But of course there have always been a few Republicans in all the Southern states.

I'll stop here just to say that Cal had part of this wrong--his Grandfather Jones (Charles Matthew "Matt" Jones) had come to Arkansas with his parents in the 1840s, when he was still a child; his family had settled there long before the War. Cal continues:

Now picture if you can a family of robust young Republican boys (the Jones Boys) growing up in a predominantly Democratic community where just about all the fathers had fought on the losing side, the Confederacy. Being the oldest son and I believe a little closer to our father than the others, I can tell you now that Dad and his brother Will, both excellent boxers and rough-and-tumble fighters, fought their way out, back to back a many a time. He told me that in their youth they usually had to double date, in order to be close together as much as possible.

At left: three of the "robust young Republican boys" in later years, from the same cousin who sent me the photo above. (Click to make it bigger.) Left to right: Will, Silas, and Edgar Jones.

Well, to cap this off, Dad went and married a girl out of a Democratic family, which spelled more trouble. That separated the brothers and they each had to go it alone, and by the way Will married a Shumate too, a cousin of Mama's. But by that time Dad and his brother had pretty well established themselves and didn't have to fight too much, but the old hatreds continued and the first year of married life he had to lick two of Mama's brothers, Johnny and George. After that they more or less left him alone but he was still quite a minority in the community.

That should be enough of the background, and now I will tell you what happened:

Yes, I guess you could say that Dad was "run out" of Arkansas, and when you hear what it was about you may smile a little, but if you have ever entertained the idea that he left because of some criminal act you can set your mind at ease.

Remember what I said about the old, persisting hatreds. Just across the road and 100 yards west of our house, toward Durham which was less than half a mile away, lived a man named Zode Robbins, one of the worst of the haters and a man whom Dad had had to quiet down a couple of times. He had two large ferocious dogs which he had trained to bark at Dad and which I'm sure he had hoped would attack him some time. When Dad went to the store or west on the road he usually rode a horse or drove a wagon, but this time he didn't. Remember I was either 7 or 8 years old, I just can't remember if it was the spring of 1903 or 1904.

I've been able to figure out it was 1903 based on court records. More on that later.

Anyway, Dad had part of his crop in and he and I were making posts for a fence, and he decided he needed a new saw and a hammer, and on the way back these dogs actually did attack him and he killed one of them with the hammer.

The whole community knew about this and there was quite a stir about it. I remember it. I remember it quite well, the conversations he and Mama had about it and naturally opinions were divided. Zode wanted Dad to pay for the dog and he wouldn't do it, so Zode went into Fayetteville and swore out a warrant for Dad's arrest. Of course I was too young to know about that, or what it meant, but I will never forget what followed. Dad and I were putting those posts in the ground when a man rode up on a beautiful chestnut colored horse. He had a fine saddle and I was impressed by that too, for we didn't have a saddle of any kind. I probably wasn't interested in the preliminary remarks, but I remember this manreading a paper to Dad while I was looking at the horse and saddle. I will never forget the last words he read from that paper "and for killing the dog." It was then that I knew Dad was in trouble, and I cut and ran to the house as fast as I could and told Mama about it. I can't remember if she was scared, but I'm sure she was, because law-abiding people are just not used to getting arrested. To cut it short, Dad and the man came on into the house and Dad told the man to wait while he got some things out of the bedroom. Well, he simply went out the back door and so far as I know, the next we heard from him he was working in the state of Washington.

Now you can smile to think how naive Dad was to think he was in real trouble over killing a dog. Even a son of a Union soldier in the deep South couldn't have been hurt too badly over that, but evidently he didn't think that way.

I started out thinking I could get it all on one sheet, but since I couldn't find a stopping place I'll just fill you in on what happened after that.

As I said Dad had started a crop. He was gone and Mama was left alone with six children, Hub was a baby. So it fell to Grand Dad Jones to look after us and see that that crop was tended. How he did it I do not know, but in the fall of 1904 we left Arkansas, and here is how that happened:

Dad had two fine teams of mules and I don't know what else, but Grand Dad Jones fixed up a covered wagon, filled it up with bed clothes, clothing, himself, a mother and six kids, plus a little wood-burning King Heater and we headed west. I remember that trip quite well, in fact I'm sure Tommy and Boy do too. Just before dark every day we would find a promising camp site and as Boy called it, we would "scamp out." Outside of the rough, jolting part of the trip, the one thing that stands out in my mind was that Mama, most of the time, had no milk to cook with. I'll never forget that gravy and those baking powder biscuits. And I remember one treat we had. Grand Dad shot a hawk and then got some milk at a farm house and we had a feast--as far as one hawk would go. I thought that was the best bread and gravy I had ever had. How long it took I don't know, but as covered wagons go, I guess we made pretty good time, alternating those two teams of big mules and most of us walking most of the time.

For the record, Google Maps tells us that by modern highways, the distance from Durham to Westville, their destination, is about 40 miles.

Then one night which seemed no different from the rest, we camped out again. Mother had done the best she could with what she had to do with and we were gathered around the camp fire eating whatever she had prepared. We looked up and there was a man coming out of the shadows. Yeah, you guessed it. It was Dad, and you can imagine what a reunion that was. We were in Indian Territory, and out of the clutches of the law, but into what was another story. I remember Dad letting me sit up with him and Grand Dad after the others had gone to sleep, and another incident was burned into my memory. Grand Dad Jones had bought our farm and he paid Dad for it right there, and I had the privilege of watching them count the money--all in $20 gold pieces, how much I never knew, out of a cloth bag.

Hay, I just thought of something. Where do you suppose you and I would be today if Dad hadn't killed that dog?

So there you have the story as told authoritatively by the eldest son. In the next post, I'll give Tommy's reply--she remembered things slightly differently, but the gist was more or less the same. After that, I'll report on what the Arkansas court records were able to tell us. But nothing else I've learned about this story can measure up to the wonderful details that Cal provided: the chestnut horse and saddle, the hawk dinner, counting out the gold pieces by the fire. I hope it'll inspire all of you to write down some family memories. People will be grateful for decades to come.

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