Monthly Archives: January 2013

Murders, etc., etc. – A hot June in Carrollville

The following two passages are reprinted, with minor punctuation adjustments, from the diary of Carroll E. W. Milton – a photographer, teacher, surveyor and keen observer of humanity – who lived just north of Carrollville, Mississippi, and worked on the M & O Rail Road in 1854.

Sunday, June 4th, 1854

[I was] in the office [on the] 1st, 2nd, 3rd, [and also] down below staking for Lindsey and Gambrell.

A terrible encounter and death [occurred]. Yesterday evening as I came through Carrollville home, I witnessed a shocking spectacle, a quarrel arising between Ayers of the one part [and] old Bill Humphrey and Wilson Jones of the other. Ayers retreated; Jones advanced upon him for a fisticuff, I suppose. Ayers drew a bowie knife [and] struck him in the thigh, thereby causing Jones’ death in 20 minutes by loss of blood. Ayers was immediately brought before Esquire Strange for trial and committed to jail, there to await his trial by court next fall. Comment is unnecessary. Suffice it to say that Jones was esteemed by all who knew him, while the reverse is applicable to Ayers. Both parties were somewhat intoxicated, and the terrible deed committed behind the counter in Kent’s doggery, where the blood stains of the murdered man will ever remain an eloquent though silent monitor to all who indulge too freely at such foul dens.

An advocate of temperance reforms could in this case gather material for a touching lecture – the sorrowing and widowed wife, the babes, etc., etc., etc., thus bereft of a kind husband and affectionate father, etc., etc., etc. I leave the reader to extend the picture if he or she will, as I never spread myself that way.

Heigh ho! I am getting tired. Warm this evening [at] 3 o’clock. I – yes! – I shaved this morning [and] turned out a beautiful goatee! Red!

While staking and cutting the Mobile & Ohio Rail Road bed across old Tishomingo and Itawamba Counties in June of 1854, Carroll Milton, red goatee and all, recorded just what the volatile combination of alcohol and sweltering summer heat in Mississippi often produced among rough men on the edge of civilization. June was hot, and it wasn’t over.

Sunday, June 18th, 1854

[I] staked for Mosley [and] Petty and tried to re-stake some for Robinson but couldn’t excavate beyond the limits. [I was] in the office [for] two days, etc., etc.

All of this happened in the week past “of course,” and that is not all. On Thursday, at Robinson’s store on the railroad, near the turnpike on Twenty Mile – Is that definite enough? I suppose so – then, on last Thursday, 15th inst. as above set forth, Mr. “What-you-can-call-him” Kirbys killed Jenk Lyre, the particulars of the affray I have not learned. The one that shot Lyre has taken up his abode in the county prison at Jacinto, awaiting a higher promotion, while his aider and abettor took “leg bail,” caring not to be promoted to such a responsible situation by his dear fellow citizens!

And on the same day, or night rather – Thursday night – Mr. James Lester, yeoman of this vicinity, did in the dark stilly night proceed to the dwelling of J.C. Carpenter and from thence entice his – Carpenter’s – daughter from the parental roof and were of twain made one flesh, for which piece of audacity Lester was challenged by the injured father to fight a duel at 60 paces with rifles! Which was a matter of course in such cases, [but] Lester passed unnoticed.

These telling passages from the diary Carroll E. W. Milton paint a pretty clear picture. It seems the nature of man around old Carrollville in the heat of June in 1854 was not so very different from the nature of man in 2013. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Dick Clayton’s Letter From Jacinto (1860)

Clayton Street - Baldwyn, MississippiA letter written to a young boy from his uncle in Jacinto, the county seat of Old Tishomingo County, in 1860:

Jacinto, Miss
Oct. 28th 1860

My dear little Nephew,

I received your kind letter of the 8th a few days after it was written and am now seated in my office by a good little fire – all alone – to engage in the pleasant task of replying to the first letter ever written me by a nephew. I tell you, I was smartly puzzled to know who it was from, for I didn’t dream that little Dick could write so well. I hope; I know you will continue to study hard and improve until you become a man. Then you can be a man in truth and honor to your Pa and all other friends, as well as have yourself a good name. But there is no use to lecture you and Davie, for I know you will be good boys and will make good men of yourselves should you live.

Well, you wanted me to write if I was elected, I suppose you have heard this – I was – for I wrote your Pa soon after the election. I beat my opponent more than any candidate ever beat an opponent in this county before.

I have been at your Grandpa’s ever since the election until yesterday, helping him move to the Depot. He is now living at the Depot. He tore his old house down in Carrollville and moved it to the R.R.
He and your Grandma are there alone now, so far as children are concerned – for your Aunt Mat and Julia are off at your Aunt Harriet’s and have been for a month. I told him what you said about his not answering your letter. He told me to write you that he had not forgotten it but had been so busy moving and etc. that he really hadn’t time to write, but as soon as he had a moment’s time he would write you a long letter.

I stayed with Mr. Moore and Cousin Annie night before last, they were well, Cousin Annie is very anxious to see her mama – don’t you tell her though – they will be up to live with or near you in about six weeks. I would like to be up there to eat some of the chestnuts you said you would save if I would come up, but it will be impossible for me to leave home much for the next two years. It’s late at night. I must close. Give my love to your Pa and Uncle Clinton, to Davie and Sister. When you see her, tell her I will write to her soon. Give my love to your Grandmother, and tell little Buddie he must save that pup for me, that he said would make such a good possum dog. You must write to me again.

Your devoted Uncle,
Dick Clayton

 

Richard Erskine “Dick” Clayton, was a year old in 1836 when his father, Col. R. B. Clayton, took charge of the Carrollville tavern. Following in his father’s footsteps, Dick became postmaster in Carrollville, for six months in 1855, when he was only 20 years old. The old Colonel had held the post himself for a dozen years, beginning in 1843.  In 1860, at the age of 25, the younger Clayton penned the letter reprinted here to a nephew near Huntsville, Alabama, just two months before the Mobile & Ohio Rail Road reached town and Baldwyn was born.  He encouraged his young relative, Richard Hunt, to “be a man of truth and honor” and to have himself “a good name.”

The bright prospects for the future of Dick Clayton of Carrollville, Mississippi, ended far from home in Jefferson County, Virginia.  It was there he died from wounds suffered at the Battle of Shepherdstown, where confederate forces stayed behind to protect General Robert E. Lee’s Army from Union pursuit in the days following Antietam. The date of his death was recorded in Col. R. B. Clayton’s family Bible as September 30, 1862, less than two years removed from an uncle’s letter to his nephew and a time when Dick Clayton’s foremost concerns were of possum dogs, travelling sisters and helping his aging parents set up shop in the new city of Baldwyn.

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58 Minutes To Wrestle

Beautiful Bobby Eaton

“Beautiful” Bobby Eaton

An old friend of mine – Tim Garoutte – asked me recently about a story I once told regarding an encounter that a football teammate of mine had had with a professional wrestler named Bobby Eaton. It took me a while to scratch this particular tale up from the memory banks (probably because Tim did not use the full and correct name of the wrestler, that being, of course, BEAUTIFUL Bobby Eaton). But it finally came to me anyway, and I recalled the occasion in question when a 6’-5, 275-lb starting right tackle for the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles took a seriously misguided step one winter night and whacked ½ of the Southern Tag Team Champion Midnight Express, the Beautiful One himself, in the back of the head from his second row seat. My muscle bound buddy learned that wrestlers, when touched in such a manner, are apparently released from all restraints that would prevent the pummeling of said offender. When security finally separated Eaton from our tackle, who by this time was on his back in the fifth row, and escorted our humbled Golden Eagle from the arena, Beautiful Bobby leaped into the ring and stood in the spotlight, basking in his villainy, to an equal mixture of boos and cheers from the 5,000 or so in attendance that night in Cookeville. What a glorious night of wrestling!

As I laughed upon this extracted gem of a tale from years ago, I realized something. Maybe my “inner redneck” is not so “inner” after all. If truly pressed, would I not be forced to admit that many of my fondest memories are intertwined with the ridiculous sport/event/spectacle that is professional wrestling?

Just last week, I read in Rick Bragg’s column on the back pages of Southern Living magazine where he said that, in his boyhood, television with only the two or three channels available was much better than today. Now, what 40-something alive in America would not agree with that? Well, I sure do. But then Bragg went too far. He had the audacity to add a throw-away statement at the end of his paragraph that basically said that ‘his day’ was a day when “the worst thing on television was professional wrestling.” I was taken aback. My heart sank just a little bit. “The worst thing”? Had Bragg never seen “Let’s Make a Deal”?

When I was a boy of 14, my brother and I visited our big-city Georgia cousins in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta. Of course, all cultured boys of our age in rural Mississippi in 1978 knew an important fact about Marietta, Georgia, and we were surprised, shocked in fact, to learn that it was something that our Marietta cousins didn’t know. It was common knowledge, we thought, that the very best in rasslin’ could always be found in the famous Marietta Civic Center. We rushed to check the paper and found that, sure enough, on the very Saturday afternoon we were in town, Tommy “Wildfire” Rich, Dusty Rhodes, Bullet Bob Armstrong and Chief Wahoo McDaniel all would be making an appearance within 2 or 3 miles of where we stood. If that didn’t make a kid envious of big-city living, nothing would. The Civic Center was at least half full (which strangely came as a surprise to our Georgia relatives), and right away we got a taste of what we had come for. It seems Tommy Rich’s head had been shaved on one side by Arn Anderson months before, live on TBS, and somehow miraculously it was still in EXACTLY the same condition when he reached the ring on this Saturday. And he was still just as mad about it as he was the day Anderson applied the clippers in the first place. A titanic battle ensued, followed by another, and another. We even hung around outside the Civic Center after the matches ended to watch the rowdiest of rowdy fans throw wadded-up paper cups at the Outlaw Don Bass, who flipped us off before ducking into his car. “The worst thing on television”? Really, Mr. Bragg?

I think now of holding a young cousin up on my shoulders for an autograph from Jerry “The King” Lawler at Northeast Community College in 1985; of watching a short, fat, 60-year-old Tojo Yamamoto chest-chop 6’-8 opponents to the mat on Channel 5 every Saturday in the 70’s with Tojo’s biggest fan, my short, fat, 60 year-old grandfather; of my dad’s encounter with Plowboy Frazier over the last piece of fried catfish on the Freshtastiks Food Bar at the Tupelo Bonanza; of taking a date (my lovely wife Rothann) for a romantic evening in the green building south of Main in Tupelo to see Kimala the Ugandan Giant take on Superstar Bill Dundee in 1981; and of finally having to turn off Wrestlemania XV when my six year-old Reggie elbow dropped on me from the back of the couch as his older brothers tried to apply figure-four leg-locks on each other in the middle of the living room floor.

Tojo and Papa have been gone a long time now, and yeah, I know that Kimala was really from Senatobia, not Uganda. And the truth is – Plowboy actually got that last piece of fish without much resistance from Dad, even though he would still tell you different.

But, the worst thing on television? Really, Mr. Bragg? “Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Banana Nose!” At least that’s what “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton would say.

And my friend Tim wondered if I had enough material to do a whole story on wrestling. Tim, Tim, Tim.  “2 minutes gone, 58 minutes to wrestle.”

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The Starting Point

Carroll E. W. Milton Headstone

The headstone of Carroll E.W. Milton, whose personal journal (1847-1860) contains valuable historical information about Carrollville and Baldwyn, Mississippi.

Continuing investigations into the history of Baldwyn, Mississippi, and its notable predecessor Carrollville, provide the substance of the stories found in TALK OF THE TOWN.  A census record here, a land deed there, a date on a headstone in a neglected cemetery – all these add to the portraits of the people who wrestled this patch of ground from a wilderness dominated by Chickasaw Indians prior to the Treaty of Pontotoc in 1832.  Photographs, newspaper clippings, family stories and court records are just a few of the items pored over by the amateur historian who hopes to build the most complete sketch possible of a specific person or event.For historical investigations centered in and around Baldwyn, however, there are a certain unique sources that go beyond the run-of-the-mill marriage certificate or family Bible record in shedding light backwards through time.

First, there is a diary written by Carroll Elisha Washington Milton, an early settler, who came to Tishomingo County in 1849 with his father and mother and several siblings.  Tishomingo County, prior to the Civil War, included modern day Tishomingo, Alcorn and Prentiss Counties and had its county seat in Jacinto, a city located at the geographic center of what was then Mississippi’s largest county.  Carroll Milton was a teacher, a farmer, a photographer and a member of a surveying team that cleared the way for the Mobile & Ohio Railroad through Itawamba (modern Lee) and Tishomingo Counties.  He was also an excellent writer and a keen observer of the local populace of Carrollville, which was located about five miles south of his home on the Blackland road.  Milton’s diary documents church revivals, municipal celebrations and the progress and details of railroad construction, along with more than a few lurid courtships, drunken murders, and back-stabbing business deals.  Milton’s diary ends in 1860.  His death came on New Year’s Eve in 1861, its cause likely tuberculosis given the symptoms recorded in his journal.

Second, the well-studied diary of the Reverend Samuel Agnew, a pastor at the Bethany A.R.P. Church in the late 1800’s, is the single source of the greatest amount of specific information on the early days of Baldwyn and Carrollville.  The Rev. Agnew came from Due West, South Carolina, with his father, Rev. Enoch Agnew, and a large contingent of Scots-Irish Presbyterians in 1851 to found Bethany Church at Brice’s Crossroads.  Beginning in 1850, Samuel Agnew recorded the daily goings-on in the area for more than fifty years – virtually every single day.  While the Presbyterian minister’s descriptions were decidedly more pious than those of Milton, he nevertheless accurately recorded from his perspective the full range of human activity in a wide circle around Bethany.  His diary has been studied extensively by Civil War historians for its firsthand account of the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads, but there is much yet to be learned from his voluminous writings on the topics of local genealogy and history.

The third unique source of valuable information on early Carrollville and Baldwyn is an interview, or at least the facts obtained from an interview, with Thomas G. Stocks, a Baldwyn mayor in the 1870’s.  Mayor Stocks gave an account of Carrollville that was handed down to him by his mother, Susan Taylor Stocks, who arrived at that original city in 1838, just one year after the Treaty of Doaksville forced the final removal of the Chickasaw Indians to Oklahoma.  Stocks’ interview was given to the Mississippi Historical Society for a 1902 publication, and information from the resulting document has often found its way into the works of local historians Simon Spight and Claude Gentry.  This interview, with its citation of over thirty names of original Carrollville settlers, is the best starting point for any comprehensive study on the history of the immediate area around Baldwyn, Mississippi.

These are the names found in the interview:  Wylie Belsher, Jack Thompson, Joe Galling, the Holcombe brothers, George Wilburn, William Gates, R.B. Clayton, Guilford Stocks, A.I. Taylor, David Mills Allen, Robert Traylor, the Robinson brothers, Porter Walker, Robert Lowry, James Robinson, T.B. Stubbs and brother, W.H.H. Tison, William Smith, P. Langley, William Waldrow, John Outlaw, William Waldon, John Rogers, Walder Moffet, a tailor named Carpenter, Sam McCarley, Sprightly Williams, Dr. Burton, Dr. Booth, Dr. Scruggs, Dr. Long, Dr. Smythe, William M. Cox, John Mills Allen and Thomas G. Stocks.

Over the next few weeks, TALK OF THE TOWN will present additional information on the characters whose names are mentioned in the Stocks’ interview, information that will hopefully reveal the dramatic, entertaining and meaningful lives of the pioneering folks who declared:  “We will live here.”

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Tommy Moffit Was a Great American

Tennessee Tech - Overall FieldOnce in a blue moon, I’m washed over by a flash flood of memories from the old days, my college football days.  I don’t know exactly what triggers these high tides of recollection.  Maybe it’s subliminal.  Maybe I’ve overheard some simple, almost-forgotten phrase, or caught the scent of fresh-cut Bermuda, or felt an all-too-familiar twinge of pain in my right knee, and the heavens just open up.  Today, my subconscious raised Tommy Moffit from the stream and paused.

I want to say:  “Tommy Moffit was a great American!”  But … while I suspect that may very well be a true statement, the fact is I really don’t know what Tommy was.  I knew Thomas Moffit only as an ‘acquaintance’ when he was a teammate of mine at Tennessee Tech University in the late 1980’s, and I haven’t heard from him, or of him, in the past 25 years .  In fact, even though I played football with him for two full seasons, for the life of me, I can’t tell you what position Tommy even played.  I remember him as being 6’-2 or 6’-3, maybe taller, and weighing about 230 pounds.  He was reasonably fit and muscular but not excessively fast or strong.  I recall that he had a head full of bushy, dark hair and that he spoke with an accent that was unmistakably eastern Tennessean.  So with that description, today here stands Tommy Ballard, as vividly in my mind as if he was physically beside me on the sideline at Murray State or Austin Peay, making ready for what we considered a winnable conference game.

Tommy’s forte, the quirky practice that accompanies this old teammate into my thoughts after three decades, was “Motivation Through HIGH VOLUME Screaming.”  Very simply, he was the BEST, better than anyone I’ve ever known.

On a football team, there are always a few guys who are compelled (by genetics, I believe) to yell out verbal adrenaline shots, the purpose of which is to stir their teammates into a frenzy of aggression.  THAT was Tommy.  Whether he was officially assigned this task by the coaching staff or not, I’ll never know, but Tommy reveled in “Pump Up the Crowd” duty at home games, and, of course, its flip side “Infuriate the Crowd” duty on the road.

In carrying out his mission for Golden Eagle Football, Tommy developed a catch phrase. “O-V-C, baby!”  Not very imaginative or unique, true, but it was all his.  And he wielded it early and often any time Tennessee Tech played an Ohio Valley Conference opponent.  When he said it, at the top of his lungs, sometimes preceded or followed by a “WHOOO,” he would typically be looking some teammate directly in the eye.  At that point, the teammate was bound, by the Official Teammate Code, to respond with a “YEAH!” and a nod, so that Tommy could proceed to the next linebacker or split end in need of his inspiration. To ignore the “O-V-C, baby!” was to incur hammered fists to your shoulder pads and a re-boot of the process, now nose-to-nose, and this time with a change of inflection. “O-V-C, baby?! O-V-C, baby?!”  Tommy demanded the appropriate response – PERIOD.

As we entered the field for warm-ups: “O-V-C, baby!”  Just after the national anthem: “O-V-C, baby!”  During the opening kickoff (I’m almost certain Tommy was on either the kick-off or the kick-off return team. If he wasn’t, he certainly was in spirit): “O-V-C, baby!”

As our games progressed, Tommy’s signature phrase usually took on a more plaintive, pleading tone, and the meaning of “O-V-C, baby!” became “This is the O-V-C, baby!  How can we have gotten behind by two touchdowns already?!”  But any positive turn of events would always rekindle the energy in Tommy’s battle cry, and if we were in the games at all, he was right there to the bitter end (most of our ends were bitter; we were 5-16 in my two seasons at Tennessee Tech).

“O-V-C, baby!”  I remember it like it was yesterday.  The ineloquence of the phrase always makes me smile.  “O-V-C, baby!”  The repetitive, random usage of that idiom, containing not a shred of originality, yet persistently echoing over the course of two college football seasons, has seared this unquestionably ridiculous, two-word call to arms, and its creator, into my psyche forever.

I remember Tommy Moffit as a slightly crazed, moderately athletic college football player, excessively enthusiastic, with no apparent awareness of the reality of our mediocrity.  My inner cynic tells me that Tommy’s efforts were absurd.  Was it reasonable to think that just because we were in a conference game we were somehow going to become a better team?  Was it reasonable to think that because he screamed in my face I had a better chance of blocking Eastern Kentucky’s defensive tackle than I did without the scream?  No, it wasn’t reasonable.  But youthful exuberance, and optimism, and enthusiasm aren’t based on reason.  They’re based on hope.

I remember Tommy Moffit as a slightly crazed, moderately athletic college football player who screamed youthful exuberance, optimism and enthusiasm.  I wonder if he remembers me at all.

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