Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Clara's Cotton Buyer

After Clara Paxton's mother and father died, she lived with a succession of relatives: her grandmother in Independence, Missouri, her uncle Charley and aunt Sue Overholser in Valley Falls, Kansas, and her uncle Will and aunt Ella Overholser in Oklahoma City. She lived with the Overholsers in the 1918-1919 school year, when she seems to have been taking courses at Central High School--probably to get some college preparation that her high school in Valley Falls had not provided. In 1919-20 she was at Hollins College in Virginia with Mary Overholser, and in 1920-21 she was back in Oklahoma City and earning her teaching certificate from what is now the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond. Because the Overholsers were part of what passed for society in Oklahoma City in those days (1918-1921), Clara turned up in the newspaper from time to time: hosting a lunch for friends at the Skirvin Plaza Hotel with her cousin Mary Overholser, attending a party here and there. On Sundays, the Oklahoman's society page would feature photos of pretty and prominent young women, apparently just so everyone would know who was who.

On September 26, 1920, it was Clara's turn (see clipping at left--click to make it larger). She was one of five women included that week, and the caption began "Two ambitious students, two charming brides, and an interesting young traveler in foreign lands. Upper left--Miss Clara Paxton, niece of Mr. and Mrs. Will L. Overholser, who is striving for a degree at the Central State normal at Edmond. . . . "

Two days after the picture appeared, a Mr. Sidney Caldwell in Duncan, Oklahoma, wrote her a letter (above--click on the pages to make them bigger). Mr. Caldwell had wisely ruled out the two brides and evidently preferred Clara to the interesting young traveler, who had just returned from Germany, and the other ambitious student, an undergrad at Cornell (unless of course he wrote to them, too.) Here's the letter in its entirety:
Duncan Okla.
Sept. 28--1920
Miss Clara Paxton
Centeral State Normal

My Dear Miss Paxton, I thought I would write you a little love letter to let you know I love you very much. I saw your picture in the Daily Oklahoman Sunday. It said that the college girls loved to receive letters from other towns and I thought I would write you a small letter to let you know I love you. If you will write me I will answer your letters.
I think you are the most beautiful girl in the world, and I don't know what you think about me. If you will send me a picture of your self, and I will send you a picture of myself. If you love cotton buyers that get a salary of $5000 a year you had better tie into me. I'm 19 and a little bit over and you look in the picture about the same age.
Don't forget to write, I must close as a wagon load of cotton is on the street.
Yours truly,
Sidney Caldwell
P.S. Be sure and write me.

I don't know what Clara thought about the letter; my guess is that she kept it because she thought it was funny (and of course a little flattering). What Mr. Caldwell had no way of knowing was that 86 years later, Clara's descendants could use the Internet to do a little fact checking on him. I found him in the 1920 census, and there seems to be some truth--well, truthiness--to what he told Clara. His FATHER is listed as a cotton buyer, but at the time of the census (January 1920), Sidney was still in high school. So perhaps he'd joined his father in business by September of that year.

So what do you think? Did Clara choose the right guy? Maybe if she'd gone with Sidney, we'd all be in the tall cotton now.

Why We're Not Razorbacks, Part III

So now you've read Cal Jones's story about his father's departure from Arkansas, and his sister Tommy's response disputing some of the details. Now, we'll look at what the Arkansas justice system had to say. Like Bill Clinton and Scooter Libby, Silas appears to have gotten himself in bigger trouble over perjury than whatever he might have done in the first place.

A few years ago, I wrote to the Washington County Courthouse in Fayetteville asking for any records they might have involving Silas Matthew Jones. They came up with one thing: a perjury indictment against Silas from November 6, 1903. The story told in the indictment doesn't directly address the killing of the dog at all, but rather some events in its aftermath.

The events in question—apparently an argument over the killing of the dog—took place on July 19, 1903. According to the sworn testimony of H.L. Robbins—that's Zode Robbins, the neighbor whose dog Silas killed—Silas "made use of violent abusive profane and insulting language towards and about one Della Carter and in her presence and hearing which language in its common acceptation was calculated to arouse to anger the said Della Carter and cause a breach of the peace." The exact words Silas is alleged to have said to Mrs. Carter? "You are a liar. I've got a rock for you. I'll hit you as quick as I would the dog."

The indictment, a hand-written document, says that four days later, Silas was in court having been charged with breach of peace. At that proceeding, under oath, he denied saying those words. The grand jury, apparently relying on the word of witnesses (more on that in a minute), decided that "in truth and fact" Silas did make that statement and that his testimony was "feloniously, willfully and corruptly false."

The cover of the indictment names the case ("State of Arkansas vs. S. M. Jones") and identifies the grand jury foreman and the witnesses. Besides Zode Robbins, the witnesses were Della Carter herself, Arizona Largent, J. Cherry, and Charlie Tunstill. I don't know how Tunstill fits in, but Cherry is identified as the justice of the peace at the original proceeding. As for the others, here's where it gets interesting.

In looking at some genealogy sources, I found out that Arizona Largent was the former Arizona Masters—not a desert golf tournament but a woman in Arkansas. She was the mother of Zode Robbins and Della Carter, who were half-siblings.

But the really funny thing is that Zode was a second cousin to Silas's wife Nannie Shumate—something that neither Cal nor Tommy had mentioned. It's possible they didn't know—or didn't remember it sixty years later. It's not a big coincidence; in their town of Durham in the 1900 census, at least a third of the residents appeared to be related to Silas and Nannie. But when Cal described the bad blood between his mother's and father's families, he wasn't kidding!

Was this indictment the paper that Cal remembered the man on the horse reading to his father? Was this what made him disappear out the back door and leave Arkansas for good? Cal says they left in the fall, which would square with the November date of the indictment.

This is all I have on the subject for now. I should say that Silas's grandchildren remember him fondly, and as a good man. The words he said to his neighbor that day—if he said them—might have been in character, or they might have been the meanest thing he ever said. I just hope that the meanest thing I ever said doesn't wind up on record in a courthouse somewhere!