Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Friday, October 31, 2008

Saints and Sinners of Attala County, Part 1: "The Bully Boys"

Ed Huchison, author of "Yesterday," a book about Attala County families, has encouraged me for some time to write about a convicted murderer named Leon Turner and the Attala County murder case that skyrocketed Attala County into the national news in early 1950. I have chosen, until now, to write stories primarily about my own relatives (no murderers included!) and the ups and downs of their personal lives, and sometimes, their deaths.

But today, the day before All Souls' Day, I have decided to write the story of Leon Turner as the first in a series that I am calling "Saints and Sinners." When you finish this article, I am certain you will know who fit which category.

I had never heard the story about the ex-convict and moonshiner named Leon Turner and two brothers, Malcolm and Wendell Whitt, until I talked to Ed about his book. I don't think anyone in my family ever mentioned this tragic event instigated by these three Attala County men. The incident was likely too controversial to discuss at the time, or even more likely, it was one that I was just too young to remember. The initial incident that led up to the later murder began as the home invastion and intimidation of a sharecropper, his wife, and his children was instigated by Turner and his two brothers. Because the incident was triggered by bigotry and fueled by "white lightning," the trio would later be called "The Bully Boys" by a national news magazine.

The murders involved the shooting of four residents of Attala County, Thomas Harris and three young children. The shooters were Leon Turner and his two brothers. From the beginning, the murder, the trial, and the subsequent conviction of the three accused men became controversial. It was an interracial incident that occurred at a time of racial uncertainty in Mississippi in particular and in the Deep South, in general. While violent events involving racial incidents were certainly not rare in Mississippi during those tumultous years, the accused were three white men, the victims were a man and three children, and all four victims were black.

News accounts indicate the Mississippi State Legislature publicly disapproved of the actions of Turner and his two brothers and called for a speedy prosecution of the accused, but the incident apparently "split" many of the residents of Attala County. Allegedly, some residents, including the mayor of the town at the time, called for a day honoring the victim and calling for donations for his wife and survivors left in his household. Other residents who supported the accused men began accepting donations of monies for a defense fund.

Ultimately, justice prevailed when the trial ended in a conviction that became the first in the history of the State of Mississippi in which a white man was convicted of murdering a black man.

The story of this unfortunate event was published in Time magazine and can be read at,9171,858555-1,00.html.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Boy and His Hound Dog

Isn't he cute? This picture of my father was taken in the 1920's in Attala County near the old J. J. Porter homeplace. He is standing beside a fairly large hound dog, maybe a "red-bone hound" with the longest ears I have ever seen. My father seems to be reluctantly holding his left hand on the back of the dog. I am certain that my father's male relatives, but less likely his mother, could barely wait until he became old enough to go raccoon hunting with them. Based on the look on his own face, however, I am not sure if he shares those same feelings. He may be just in awe of this huge dog.

Raccoon hunting was a rite of passage for men during that time and in that place. My father was an infrequent hunter, but when we visited his aunt and uncle in Attala County during my childhood, he always participated in the Saturday night 'coon hunt. To me and to my brothers, the sound of a hound dog's throaty bark from deep within the woods was a certain sign of Saturday night success in "treeing" and subsequently the death of an elusive raccoon. It meant, too, that our father might be home in time to tuck us in.

My great-uncle died of complications from Alzheimer's several years ago, and my father's hunting days are now in the past. The woods are less dense, and wildlife less plentiful now, but the tradition and the sport of raccoon hunting lives on.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Conner Cemetery

Earlier this week, I posted a story about Boley Conner and Anne Traweek Conner and her connection to the Porter family of Attala County.
Here is a picture of the Conner Cemetery in Attala County, taken by Natalie Maynor in 2007.
Several generations of the Conner family, well known Attala County residents, are buried in this cemetery.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Railroads to Nowhere and "The Yellow Dog"

Two attempts to build a railroad in Attala County failed, one due to the Civil War, another because of the Great Depression. Yet another was built and survived for a time. It was called "The Yellow Dog."

On March 3, 1852 the Mississippi legislature issued a charter for a railroad that would be built through the cities of Canton, Kosciusko, Aberdeen, and Tuscumbia. Construction began near Canton, Mississippi, but start of the Civil War prevented completion. Later, the charter was amended, and the rights were transferred to the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad.

A charter was granted in May 1916 to the Kosciusko & Southeastern Railroad to construct a railroad from Kosciusko to Ayers, Mississippi, with a one year completion date specified in the charter. The company had a capitol stock of $35,000, with each share valued at $100. Officers of the company were S. H. Bolinger and B. H. Bolinger of Shreveport, Louisiana, A. L. Franklin of Reeves, Louisiana, and R. N. Steedman of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This railroad was built and connected with the Illinois Central Railroad that ran between Memphis and Jackson. The new railroad ran eastward, parallel, and approximately one quarter mile south of the Illinois Central line for about two miles. From that point it turned to the southeast and crossed Highways 14 and 19 about one half mile east of their junction, and continued on to Zama, a small community named after A. L. Franklin's oldest daughter, Zama. The purpose of the line was to supply a saw mill across Lobutcha Creek from the community of Ayers. The book, "Kosciusko-Attala History," states that a passenger train, known as "The Yellow Dog," ran on this line.

According to ICC Finance Docket No. 9091, on December 28, 1931, the Kosciusko & Southeastern Railroad Company requested permission to abandon the 16.3 miles of railroad that ran from Kosciusko to Zama. The request stated that construction had been "primarily for the purpose of transporting supplies and materials to the Bolinger-Franklin Lumber Company's lumber mill at Zama and to provide facilities for shipping outbound forest products of that Company."

Also, according to the document, the lumber mill had been sold to W. P. Brown and Sons Lumber Company on June 24, 1924. By 1931, all available timber in the area had been cut, the facility planned to discontinue its sawing operations, and operation of the railroad would no longer be required. The application indicated that passengers had been primarily employees of the lumber company and their families, or they were individuals traveling to the lumber company to transact business. It seemed there was no further need for the operation of the railroad, since the other big crop in the area, cotton, was taken to market in wagons or in trucks.

At that time the railroad ceased operation, Kosciusko had a population of just over 3,000, and the number of people living in Zama was about 150. Closing of the sawmill and operation of the railroad line between Kosciusko and Zama was expected to cause the population of Zama to drop below 50 residents.

On February 15, 1929, another attempt to build a railroad occurred when the Mississippi legislature issued a charter for a line to be built from Kosciusko, Mississippi to Canton, Mississippi, with an extension on to Jackson. The name of the railroad was to be the Kosciusko Railroad. Since the Depression occurred shortly thereafter, and construction had never started, the state legislature revoked the charter several years later.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Conner Family in Attala County

Yesterday, I found this picture of a historic marker for the Conner Plantation, once located in Attala County, Mississippi, and the home of Boley Conner and his wife, Anne Traweek Conner. The lovely picture was taken by Natalie Maynor and is one of many in her beautiful collection of Mississippi photos taken throughout the state. If only I could find a picture of the house that was part of the Conner plantation. I was particularly pleased to have discovered a photo of the historical marker, since Anne Traweek was the first wife of one of my Porter ancestors, Archibald Porter. According to Attala County records, a number of Conner family members are buried in the cemetery. My Porter line is descended from Samuel Porter, a brother of Archibald Porter. As the story goes, when Archibald's first wife died, he went back to Alabama,, where he still had relatives, and married his second wife, Anne Traweek. Anne moved to Attala County, Mississippi, where she and Archibald became the parents of Susannah, named for his deceased wife, and Burwell and Isabella, named for her parents.
Archibald Porter died several years later, leaving Anne a young widow with three very young children. A short time later, Anne Traweek Porter married Boley Conner, a son of Uriah Conner, who had settled with his Maryland-born wife, Rebecca Chappelear, in Winston County, near Louisville, Mississippi, after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed. According to the U. S. Census of 1850, taken in Winston County, Mississippi, Uriah had already died, since Rebecca was shown living in a household that did not include her husband. 

Over the next dozen or so years, Anne and Boley had a total of thirteen children, including three sets of twins. When their first set of twins were born in 1846, Anne and Boley named them for his parents, Rebecca and Uriah. Interestingly, some years earlier, Anne and Archibald Porter had named two of their children for her parents.

A few years ago, we had the pleasure of staying overnight at Linden Plantation in Natchez, Mississippi, now operated as a bed and breakfast. It is a truly lovely house, with beautiful gardens surrounding it. The house, the gardens, and the big plantation breakfast, served each morning on antique china complemented by old sterling flatware and period sterling pieces, make a guest believe they have stepped back into the days of Scarlett O'Hara. The house with its period furnishings is said to be one of the best examples of Federalist design in the United States. At breakfast one morning, the owner related to us the story of how the doors to Tara Plantation in the movie "Gone With the Wind" were an exact replica of the front door at Linden Plantation, including the beautiful leaded glass sidelights and fanlight.

The Conner family made its mark in Mississippi, both socially and politically. Interestingly enough, some of that same Conner family built Linden Plantation, and descendants of the family have lived there consistently since before the Civil War.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Commander Family in Attala County

My grandfather's name was Clark Commander Branch, and his middle name always puzzled me.

Why would someone name a child "commander?" The only commander I could identify with was the person who was in charge of a ship.

I simply couldn't figure it out, and no one in my family, not even my grandfather himself, knew why he had been given this name. By the time I was old enough to question the source of his name, my great-grandmother, Claudia Baldridge Branch, had already died. I was still young enough at the time that it never crossed my mind to ask one of my great aunts, his sisters. If I had asked, maybe they could have told me the story of how my grandfather was named.

Years later, when I began genealogy research, I stumbled across a cemetery listing for the Harmonia Church near the Attala County communties of Newport and Sallis. My grandfather's family, along with several other Branch and Baldridge families, lived near Newport.

The listing contained several individuals with the surname of "Commander." At that point, I had never seen the surname of "Commander," or known anyone who had that name. A little more research showed that many Commander family members now live in Georgia and in Florida. To add to this mystery, I found two individuals in the cemetery listing with the surname of "Clark," my grandfather's given name.

Was my grandfather named for two families? And what was the Branch family's connection, if any, to the Clark and to the Commander families? Was Rev. Commander their minister?

I had never even considered that my grandfather's middle name might really be someone else's surname. And I still don't have facts to back this up, and the puzzle remains unsolved.

Commander family members buried in the Harmonia Church cemetery are:

Margaret S. COMMANDER, Sept 28, 1821 - June 4, 1897, daughter of James & Susan Commander

Amanda D. COMMANDER, Dec 25, 1852 - Sept 15, 1877, daughter of James & Susan Commander

Susan COMMANDER, Oct 16, 1794 - May 1, 1873, wife of James Commander

James COMMANDER, Oct 13, 1791 - Aug 15, 1866

Two infant sons of L. J. & N. P. CLARK, b & d Jan 8,1867

Eliza E. COMMANDER, July 8, 1817 - Oct 17, 1854, wife of James P. Commander

Rev. James P. COMMANDER, Jan 15, 1817 - June 7, 1889

Adaline T. COMMANDER, Nov 22, 1829 - Sept 14, 1884, wife of Rev. James P. Commander

Friday, October 24, 2008

"Yesterday" in Attala County by Edward Hutchison

Mississippi has long been known as the home of many fine authors, and sometimes it seems that writing must just be something that is in the genetic makeup of those who call Mississippi their "home." Since I began researching my family, I have discovered dozens of valuable family history books written by those who have strong family ties in the state.

One of these individuals is Edward Hutchison, who has written a book entitled "Yesterday," a genealogical and social history of Attala County, Mississippi from 1830 to the present. The book includes biographical and anecdotal information about early Attala County residents, particularly those who lived in the southwestern part of the county.

Mr. Hutchison is a psychotherapist in private practice in Madison, Mississippi. He has earned three degrees from Syracuse University where he was a Regent's Scholar. Mr. Hutchison has taught behavioral sciences at three colleges and was elected to two terms in the local legislature in New York. His achievements have earned him a listing in "Who's Who."

A copy of "Yesterday" can be ordered for $43 which includes immediate shipping via two-day USPS Priority Shipping by mailing orders directly to:

Northpointe Publishing
166 Armonde Ct.
Madison, MS, 39110

You can also order via email, by telephone at 601-906-8571, or by faxing to 601-982-7177.

Below is a listing of some of the names appearing in Mr. Hutchison's book:


Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Fishermen

This is yet another picture from my grandmother's photo album with people pictured whom I cannot identify. I know of no one in my family who was a priest. The picture is an interesting one, because it appears the priest is attempting to show the child how to fish using a rod and reel, and the serious look on the child's face shows that he was intently focused on the task at had.

The picture was likely taken during the 1950's, based on the haircut and his clothing. Written on the back of the picture is "James Porter" and "Mrs. J. J. Porter."

The only clue I have regarding the identity of the priest is that I do remember my grandmother telling me about someone from the Mahaffey family in Attala County who entered the priesthood.

Please let me know if you can help me identify the individuals in this picture.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Graveyard Rabbit of Attala County

The title of today's post is actually the name of my new blog, The Graveyard Rabbit of Attala County," which became active on Sunday, October 19, 2008. I have also published an announcement about the new blog at the Clarion-Ledger, the daily newspaper in Jackson, Mississippi, where I write about genealogy under the name "magnoliamemories."

I am proud to announce that I was invited to become a "Graveyard Rabbit" by Terry Thornton, the Founder of "The Association of Graveyard Rabbits." Terry is already well-known in the "blog world" as the writer of a widely-read top blog entitled "Hill Country of Monroe County" (Mississippi.) Terry's entertaining and informative blog can be read at

He is also writing his own "Graveyard Rabbit" blog entitled "The Graveyard Rabbit of Hill Country" which can be found at

The Association's purpose is to promote the historical importance of cemeteries, grave markers, and the family history that can be learned from a study of burial customs, burying grounds, and tombstones.

I invite you to follow me on this journey through the many old graveyards of Attala County, Mississippi. But I need your help to make this blog a success. Since I am not a resident of the state, I welcome questions about the burial places of your ancestors. I also welcome your comments on posts you will see on the new blog, as well as on this one.

Have you ever wondered why older gravestones seemed almost like works of art? It seems that most of the ornamentation was not just for art's sake, but was actually symbolic in nature. A great list of symbols and their meanings can be found at

Although there have been literally hundreds of tombstone designs and symbols over the years, here are a few examples from a book entitled "Interpreting our Heritage" by Freeman Tilden.

Anchor -May mean the deceased was a sailor or seaman, but it almost always meant hope

Angels - Tombstones bear angels of all shapes and sizes, but the many meanings of an angel include rebirth, protection, wisdom, mercy, divine love

Bird - Often the bird is a dove. Means eternal life, winged soul, spirituality

Chain with three links - Symbol for a member of the "Odd Fellows"; also means faith or trinity

Column - Commemorates a nobel life

Frog - A symbol for worldly pleasure or sin

Ivy - Denotes fidelity, attachment, undying affection

Poppies - Represent eternal sleep

Rope Circle - Simply means "for eternity"

Rose - A symbol for victory, pride, triumphant love, or purity. Often used for a young child's tombstone or for that of one's mother

Tree - Stands for life and knowledge.

Leaning Tree - A symbol of a short interrupted life; also a symbol for mourning

Urn - Classic symbol of immortality, death of the body and its return to dust

Wreath on Skull - Means victory of death over life

After you have read the list above, you will understand why I have mentioned to my family that although I really do love frogs, I don't want one on my headstone. I rather prefer an angel, or poppies, roses, or ivy.
And always keep in mind, that a trek through an old cemetery and a look at old tombstones there, may help us piece together the puzzle not only of how those who went before us lived, but also how they died.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Smile for the Camera, 7th Edition

Kiddie Pool - Mississippi Delta Style - circa 1953

This is my submission to the 7th Edition of Smile for the Camera, due out in early November 2008. The subject of the photograph, taken in the early 1950's shall remain unnamed for privacy's sake. As you can see, the picture is one of a small child, in what I call the original "kiddie pool." It is actually an old washtub of years gone by. The washtub, a small amount of water, and a sunny summer day created the setting for a splashing good time for this little guy. And the look on his adorable young face says it all.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Last of the Lantana

Gardening is always a challenge when the heat is as intense as it it is here, but it is something I love and enjoy. Lantana is one of those plants that even a novice gardener can grow, because it absolutely thrives on sun and heat. It is also popular as a water-wise plant, perfect for a fairly new type of landscaping design, known as a "xeriscaping," that focuses on plants needing very little moisture to grow.

The fact that butterflies are attracted to lantana's proliferant blooms has made our yard a daily stopover during the past few months for beautiful butterflies of all colors and sizes. Some of these beauties have included the spectacular monarch butterflies, passing through on their winged migration to parts further south. Now that fall is actually here, and our days and nights are somewhat cooler, with daytime highs hovering around eighty degrees, it is time to replace the heat-loving lantana with pansies.

Pansies are the perfect winter flower for this part of the country. These delicate plants will bloom from now until May, if they are in planted in part shade, and they will even perk up their seemingly fragile and frozen blooms after a hard freeze, an ice storm, or a fairly heavy snow like the one we had last March. Unlike lantana, with only a few colors from which to choose, pansies come in a rainbow of hues, some with "faces," the dark spot in the center, and some without. This year, we chose a mix of indigo, white with purple faces, and cornflower blue, and we look forward to enjoying these lovely flower throughout the winter and into the spring.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Three Sisters, Three Lives

Right: Etta PorterParker and Vertie Porter, circa 1925

Daughters of J. J. Porter and Margaret Meriweather Porter, and sister of Lelia Porter Branch, pictured below. Lelia Porter Branch was my paternal grandmother.

Vertie, Etta, and Lelia were the daughters of John James Porter and Margaret Meriweather Porter, and all were born a few years apart around 1900. Lelia Porter was my grandmother. The three sisters were close growing up, but as adult women, they would venture down three separate and unique paths.

Lelia (pictured to the left) married my grandfather when she was only eighteen, and my father, their only child, was born exactly one year and one day later. Her entire life centered around being a wife and a mother, and later, a doting grandmother to three grandchildren. And she never forgot her roots in Attala County.

As a young woman, Vertie became engaged to the love of her life, but life dealt her a cruel blow when he was killed in an accident shortly before they were married. This event seemed to shape the remainder of her life. She continued to wear her engagement ring on her left hand and never married. According to her family, Vertie never met another suitor who could quite measure up to her deceased fiance. After studying at a normal college, Vertie became a schoolteacher and taught school in several states, including Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri. Eventually, she retired from teaching and began working at the University of Tennessee Dental School in Memphis, Tennessee, where she retired during her mid-sixties. Vertie was well ahead of most women her age. She was a career woman, an independent thinker, and she believed in women's rights from an early age.

Etta, the oldest of the three sisters, married a local man named Fred Parker, but that marriage would end after only a few years of marriage. She became a very young widow when Fred fell to his death while working on the construction of a steeple at a Memphis church. Sadly, they never had children. After Fred's death, Etta began working as a nurse's aid at the old Baptist Hospital in Memphis (now Baptist Medical Center) and continued to work there until she retired at age 65.

In their later years, Etta and Vertie lived together, sharing expenses in their retirement.

Three sisters, three separate paths, one descendant.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Who was Dot Mabry?

The picture here is another "mystery photo" from my grandmother's picture album from long ago. A name appears on the back of the picture, written in childlike penmanship - that of "Dot Mabry."

The surname "Mabry" was a very well-known and well-respected name in Virginia during the 1700's. Sometime during the early 1800's, members of the Mabry family migrated to other colonies, and some of the family ended up settling in Attala County.

In Virginia, the patriarch of the Mabry family, Hinchia Mabry (often spelled "Mabury") already had ties to the descendants of Christopher Branch. So it does not seem unusual that I have discovered Branch family members living near Mabry family members on U. S. Census records dated during the 1800's in Attala County.

Although I have not discovered a direct relationship between my Branch ancestors and the Mabry family in Attala County, it is almost certain that intermarriages occurred between these two pioneer families during the 19th and 20th centuries. My grandmother apparently knew the people in the picture, or it would not have been included in her photo album. It is likely the children pictured attended either the Midway School or the school at Shrock, Mississippi. But all I have to go on is the name on the back of this picture.

Who exactly was Dot Mabry? Is she one of the young girls pictured in the photo, or was she the mother of the seven children pictured there? What was the connection, if any, of this family to the Branch family in Attala County? I am puzzled by the picture, and I would like to know how this family was connected to my grandmother. Why it was in her album, appearing next to known relatives.

Maybe a reader of this post, possibly a descendant of the Mabry family in Attala County, will help me solve the mystery.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mr. and Mrs. Moreau of Cleburne, Texas

This is an "orphan" photograph. Actually, it is an original picture postcard that I found in my grandmother's photo album. On the side used for mailing is written "Mr. and Mrs. Moreau, Clebourne, TX." The postcard was never mailed, unless it was inside an envelope.

The couple in the picture remain a mystery to me and to my other living family members. First, we don't recognize the name "Moreau" as the name of anyone in our family tree. The fact that "Clebourne, Texas" is written on the reverse of the card, however, may tie Mr. and Mrs. Moreau to the second family of James Monroe Porter, my great-greatgrandfather, since that family left Attala County, Mississippi and settled near Cleburne, Texas (current spelling) after he died.

The picture postcard, now about one hundred years old, is a priceless family treasure that should be in the hands of the descendants of Mr. and Mrs. Moreau.

Maybe someone who reads this post can help make that happen. I sincerely hope so.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Today, October 15, 2008, is Blog Action Day, and bloggers worldwide have been encouraged to write about poverty. This post is my contribution.

First, I would like to share some information with you from the Bureau of the Census. As defined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the average poverty threshold for a U.S. family of four in 2004, was an annual income of $19,307; for a family of three, $15,067; for a family of two, $12,334; and for individuals, $9,645. According to a census summary report, there were 7.9 million families who met this criteria and who were defined as living in poverty (12.7 percent) in 2004, up from 7.6 million in 2003.

A total of 37.0 million people (12.7 percent) were living in poverty in the U. S. in 2004. That figure was up from 35.9 million (12.5 percent) in 2003.

I think you will agree these figures are astounding, and they have almost certainly grown since 2004. Our present economy is in terrible shape, and the number of unemployed workers in this country continues to rise daily. There is not a single morning that I don't read in my local newspaper about another company laying off workers, and many of these are large corporations with thousands of employees. And it seems this situation is likely to continue for some time.

Unfortunately, poverty is something that has existed in our country since it was first settled. Many immigrants who came to this great country were seeking work that would pave the way to a better way of life. But many of these immigrants, especially those who settled in large metropolitan areas, continued to exist in poverty for several generations. Some of those include the many Irish, German, and Jewish people who came to this country during the 1800's. Most immigrants who have arrived in this country during recent years are consistently among the poorest of the poor in our cities.

During the early 1980's, I was privileged to have had a job that allowed me to see first-hand how people, young and old, with limited incomes, really lived. I was required, as part of my job, to visit certain families and individuals in their homes in several states, including some located in the South, some in the Southwest, and a few north of that imaginary line dividing the North from the South. My experiences during that time allowed me to grow as a person and shaped many of the beliefs I continue to hold dear even today. Making ends meet continues to be challenging, to say the least, for most of our country's elderly and disabled.

Rural Mississippi has also experienced its share of poverty over the years. My family is truly blessed that we survived life in the Mississippi Delta during the 1940s and 1950's. Although I was quite young when we moved to the big city, I still remember the rampant poverty around us in the rural area where we lived. One thing I learned from those early years in rural Mississippi is that values don't have to be compromised simply because a person is poor. There are plenty of poor people who "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps," so to speak, and rise above the life to which they were born. You have met these people, and so have I. They have strong moral beliefs, integrity, and genuine regard for those around them. Thankfully, my parents instilled in me early on that an education was of the utmost importance. And my personal belief is that one's own will, coupled with an education, paves the way out of poverty, anywhere, anytime. I know, however, there are some who may argue that an education, even an early one, is often the largest stumbling block of all.

Presently, in our large metropolitan areas, a new lower middle class is emerging. More and more young people are going directly to work, soon after leaving high school, at jobs paying an hourly wage with no benefits, and absolutely no future. These workers, many of whom are employed in service industry jobs, are the backbone of this new class of workers who need at least two employed people in the household even to meet basic living expenses. Home ownership is simply out of the question, at least for the immediate future. If a child is born into this family, there is often not enough money to pay for child care, and the parents become dependent on relatives to take on the caregiver role.

But is there light at the end of the tunnel for these young people? My thought on this issue is that high school students who either can't meet college academic standards, or who just don't have the funds necessary to go to college, should be offered some type of technical training during their high school years. This type of technical training, coupled with part-time internships, might possibly offer jobs with improved working conditions, higher pay, and most of all, the hope for a better future.

I certainly do not have all the answers. And I don't believe anyone does. But finding ways to help this country's people get out of poverty is something our next leader needs to take very seriously.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Family Cars of Yesteryear

The picture here is of my father and my grandfather taken shortly after my father got his first job and purchased his first automobile. The picture is dated October 1941. My father had driven my grandparents, who didn't own a car at the time, from the Mississippi Delta, where they were living then, to Holmes County and Attala County to visit relatives. I can tell from the picture that his father was very proud of him, and my father must have been proud to be able to show off his new wheels.

My father was about three when this picture was taken of him standing on the running board of a Model T owned by his maternal grandfather, J. J. Porter. He seems to be rather happy posing for the camera from this position, and it may have been from this experience and this moment that he developed his lifelong love for all things cars

To the left, you will see my paternal great-grandmother, Margaret Meriwether Porter, posing in front of a Model A, owned by her husband, J. J. Porter. The snapshot was taken around 1920, and the small child pictured smiling in the right rear is one of her four young sons.

Cars seem to appear often in old pictures, frequently serving as the backdrop for the entire photograph. They were something new and different, and our ancestors were quite proud of them. Not only did they represent a large investment of money at the time, but they represented a significant change in lifestyle, since ownership of a car must have been a "step up the social ladder."

Little did our ancestors know how this new form of transportation would go on to alter the world.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Ever-Lovin' Kate Adams

In 1917, my grandfather, Clark Commander Branch, met one of the great loves of his life, Kate Adams. Kate made regular trips between Memphis, Tennessee and Arkansas City, Arkansas. Although she was known by many residents in the Lower Mississippi Valley as "Ever Lovin' Kate," to those in the riverboat industry, she was known as "The Kate Adams."

My grandfather needed a job during the summer of 1917 and sought out employment on the riverboat. The job would bring in much needed money to help support his widowed mother and three unmarried sisters still living at home. Not yet eighteen years old, he had been the sole breadwinner for his family since his father had died almost two years earlier.

According to "Life in Arkansas: The First 100 Years," The Kate Adams carried "mail, freight, and passengers" and was a type of craft known as "a sidewheeler and of the type known as a short-trade packet." According to the book, the craft became stuck in the mud on June 23, 1917, during a stop at the Mississippi River Port of Helena, Arkansas. She would remain there for the next fifteen months, and my grandfather was forced to abandon "Ever Lovin' Kate" early in their relationship.

Early in the 1920's, The Kate Adams was placed back into service as an excursion boat, an adventure that only lasted a few years, when she was moved to the Ohio river. Her demise was an early one when she burned in 1927.

My grandfather's stint as part of a riverboat crew was a story we heard many times growing up, and he was very proud of his rather adventurous experience. But his real love was not the river or the riverboat, it was the land and the people of Attala County, Mississippi, and it was there that he met his lifelong love, my grandmother, Lelia Porter.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Smartest Girl in Her Class

Copy of an excerpt from "The People of Shrock" by Duncan C. Covington.

Above: Lelia Porter
circa 1922 - 9th Grade
Midway School, Attala Co.

Recently, while thumbing through my new copy of Duncan Covington's book, "The People of Shrock," I found that my paternal grandmother, Lelia Porter Branch, was the only student in the 9th grade at Midway School, who was on the "Honor Roll." Also, on that honor roll, were two of her brothers, Clarence Porter and Leonard Porter, one of my paternal grandfather's sisters, Laura Branch, and a cousin of my grandfather's, Mart Baldridge.

I always knew that my grandmother was a smart lady, and I based this opinion, in part, on the variety of books she read. When she was not busy with household chores, gardening, or chasing us when we were young, she could likely be found reading a newspaper, a book or a magazine. Her choices were many, ranging from the classics of her young years to modern day fiction and non-fiction, and any current event publication she could get her hands on. One of her favorites of the 1950's was "Grit" newspaper. My best recollection is that this was some sort of "tabloid" newspaper that included some current event items.

She remembered so much of what she read, and many of the things she discussed with me as a child came from what she had learned from something she had recently read. I feel so fortunate to have had a grandmother like her, because she instilled in me the belief that I should "take care" of all books. She also passed along to me her fondness for books and her lifelong love of reading. I still have some of the books she gave me over the years, and I will never, ever part with any of them. Each time I pick up one of the books that belonged to her, I feel that she left a part of herself with me.

One of my most sentimental possessions is a copy of Eudora Welty's book, "Delta Wedding," that my grandmother gave me during my teen years. A few years later, I actually met Miss Welty while she was "Writer-in-Residence" at Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, and I was fortunate enough to have her sign the book. Now, many years later, the book is not only a sentimental treasure, but a valuable one as well.

I also have in my possession two of my grandmother's well-worn textbooks, "Latin for Scholars" and "Textbook of Chemistry." According to the many marks in these two books, her two sisters, Vertie and Etta Porter, must have used them in school, as well. The fact that three young ladies who lived in rural Attala County, Mississippi, who pursued difficult courses such as Latin and chemistry during the early 1900's, should dispute the opinion of many outside the State of Misssissippi that Mississippians have not valued education.

My personal belief is that Mississippians have always valued education and the dreams that blossomed along with it. And books will continue to allow those dreams to flourish and grow.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The People of Shrock

To the right is a photograph of the front cover of a book edited by Duncan C. Covington. Duncan grew up in Attala County, Mississippi, in the Shrock Community, near where my Branch, Porter, and Baldridge ancestors lived. We are "almost related."This post is about Duncan's book, a wealth of family information and a true treasure trove of family photographs.

Several months ago, my parents were among those celebrating the birthday of Duncan Covington's mother on the 100th anniversary of her birth. The celebration was held at the Shrock United Methodist Church in the Shrock Community near Kosciusko, Mississippi.
See my post at

While my parents were talking to Duncan, my mother mentioned to him that I was writing this blog about Attala County, Mississippi, and she gave Duncan my phone number. Although Duncan has been a Texas resident for sometime now, he grew up in the Shrock Community, just like several generations of his family before him. See my post about the Covington family at

Duncan later called me, and we talked about a number of things, including how the Covington and the Porter families intermarried many years ago and my Attala County Memories blog. I already knew that several years ago Duncan had written a book about the Shrock Community, in Attala County, near Kosciusko, Mississippi. During the discussion, I asked Duncan if he still had available copies. He replied that he did not, stating that he had sold all copies of the book and was having some extra copies printed that would not be available for a couple of months. The next week I wrote a short post here, with details provided by Duncan, about the connection between his family, the Covingtons, and my paternal grandmother's family, the Porters. Descendants of both families have lived near each other in the Attala County, Mississippi area since the early 1800's.

On Monday of this week, I received a copy of the book from Duncan. It is entitled "The People of Shrock, Mississippi 1895 - 1922" as seen by the writers of the local newspapers. The book is edited by Duncan and was published privately in College Station, Texas. I have been reading the book since I took it from the mailbox, and am overjoyed with the information that it provides about Attala County families. The book contains transcriptions of articles about people who lived in or near the Shrock community between 1895 and 1922, as well as other bits of information of local interest at the time. Along with the newsy articles about people, places, and things, including birthdays, engagements, marriages, and deaths, the book contains many wonderful photographs, too. Some of the photographs are copies of the originals, while others have been copied from old glass negatives, and all are owned by the Covington family and are from the Covington Family Collection.

My summary of Duncan's book is that it is indeed a work that can assist many reseachers in finding information about their ancestors who lived in Attala County, Mississippi between 1895 and 1922. He has already donated a copy to the Mid-Mississippi Library located in Kosciusko, Mississippi, and it has been available for sometime now in the genealogy research area's reading room there. I reviewed the book's index first, which is my usual way of first reading a reference material. Although I did not count every name, I estimate that several hundred names appear in the index.

One of my personal findings in Duncan's book was part of the answer to how my great-grandfather, Edward Arthur Branch, died. I never knew the cause of Edward Arthur Branch's death. My paternal grandfather, his only son, had just turned sixteen years old in August before his father died in September 1915. According to the news article, "Ed" Branch, as my great-grandfather was known, went into the hospital in Jackson, Mississippi for surgery, and died several days later. The question now is what surgery had been performed and for what reason.

But as we all know, genealogy research never stops; one stone is overturned, and another is still buried underneath.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I am a New Genea-Blogger

Yes, it's official. I am now a member of the Genea-Bloggers on Facebook. Terry Thornton, who writes the Hill Country of Monroe County (MS) blog, invited me to become a member. I accepted Terry's invitation and have now officially joined the group. Membership in this blogging group has grown by leaps and bounds during the past few months, and I look forward to learning from the many capable family history writers who are already members.

You can read Terry Thornton's blog at

Monday, October 6, 2008

My Dad, the Birthday Boy - But on a Horse??

I have written and submitted this photograph for Smile for the Camera, 6th Edition.

What you see here is a photograph of my father on a horse – not a pony, but a full-sized horse WITH a saddle. The back of the picture says it was made at the old J. J. Porter place in rural Attala County, Mississippi, near the community of Sallis. J. J. Porter was his maternal grandfather. The writing on the back of the picture also states that my father was celebrating his first birthday….but on a horse??

Over the years, I have seen family photographs of children sitting on Shetland ponies, standing on the running board of a Model T, posed beside or in front of a another type car of long ago, sitting in a wagon pulled by a goat, standing beside a tractor, and yes, even sitting on a tractor. But this is the one and only picture I have ever seen of a small child sitting on a full-size horse!

Now back to the picture. First, “smile for the camera” must not have yet been understood by my father when he was one. He is not smiling. In fact, he appears to have been very reluctant to sit on the horse in the first place, and is probably quite afraid of his predicament. His eyes appear closed….was it the sun, or was it just time for a quick nap?

A one-year old sitting on a horse must have thought he would never see his parents’ safe arms again. Was someone holding onto him, possibly behind the horse? I certainly hope that was the case, although I am unable to make that determination from this picture. And what WAS he wearing? Something all white, including the coat and the cap, it appears. It must have been his Sunday clothes, but maybe he had been christened on his first birthday….unlikely, although possible.

But I am still wondering…..was a horse, a car, a tractor, and a wagon pulled by a goat all “accepted” as normal places for photographing children “way back when?” Or was it common practice only in rural areas?

Maybe someone who reads this post can enlighten me.

Goodbye Delta, Hello Big City

This post is dedicated to my grandparents, pictured below. They were among the many survivors of life in the Mississippi Delta during the Great Depression in Mississippi.

Clark and Lelia Branch, circa 1945 In 1955, my life, along with the lives of my grandparents, parents, and two siblings would change forever. It was the year they "sold the family farm." In July of that year, we left the only home I could remember and moved to the big city, at least it was a big city to a nine-year old child born on a farm in the Mississippi Delta. We had always lived with my grandparents, or my grandparents lived with my parents. Which of these two situations was true was not really important to me as a child, and since my father was an only child, it seemed logical to me at the time.

As I look back on my parents and my grandparents living arrangement, my parents must have moved into my grandparent's house in the Mississippi Delta the year that I was born. They had married in Mississippi but had lived out-of-state during the first few months of their marriage. Although I was too young to remember specific details about any division of household duties, it is likely that my mother was not the "mistress of her own domain" or the "only cook in the kitchen" until I was in sixth grade, when my grandparents moved into a different house. For the first time since late in the year they were married, my parents were alone in their own home with only their children.

The move from the farm to the "big city" was precipitated by my grandfather's age and health, along with the simple fact that farming was not making the kind of living that it once had. My grandfather raised cotton in the Mississippi Delta, beginning after his move from Attala County in the depression years and continuing until the move to the city in 1955. Cotton was "king," and the entire Delta economy around 1950 revolved around planting, "hoeing" or "chopping" and the fall "picking." We could see the cotton gin in the distance from our yard.

My grandfather also raised soybeans that he sold to the local farmers' coop and corn and sugar cane. The corn was taken to the gristmill for milling into cornmeal, and the sugar cane was used for making syrup. We also had a number of animals that were raised for milk and butter and for meat. And the large vegetable garden and small fruit orchard cared for by my mother and grandmother produced enough fresh vegetables, fruits, and potatoes for our family all year. My mother became a "canning" expert. This farm had enabled my grandparents to make it through the depression years.

The fact that my father did not become a farmer, but opted for a job in a small town nearby, allowed our family to live modestly, but comfortably, in the post World War II years. Their lifestyle was dramatically improved from the depression years my grandparents saw as a young married couple raising a child and what my parents experienced as children growing up during that time in Mississippi. My father's job "in town" enabled our family to have some of the comfort items they did not have during the depression years, including a newly remodeled house with electricity and running water, along with a new car, and later one of the first television sets.

My father's job move from the small town near where we lived to the big city was actually the final decision maker to leave the Delta in 1955. Farm life for my grandparents, as well as my parents, quickly became a thing of the past, leaving behind memories of some difficult years, but taking with them pleasant memories of family and longtime business and personal friendships.

An era had come to an end, and all our lives, particularly the lives of my grandparents, would never be the same.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Depression Years, Part 2 - Headed for "The Delta"

Yesterday, I began the story of my paternal grandparents during the depression, and this is a continuation of that journey. It was quite a bold undertaking for my grandparents, because they left the only place that either of them had ever called home, Attala County, Mississippi, to travel to Humphreys County ("The Delta") where they would continue to live for almost twenty years. The decision to go somewhere else to farm must have been a difficult choice for them to make, or it may have been a necessity rather than a choice at all. It must have been a sad experience for both of my grandparents, since they left all their family members behind. My father was a child, an only child at that, and he had to leave his numerous cousins and his young friends to attend a school in a place that was "next to nowhere." He later graduated from the high school in that very small town in the Delta (pop. 450) in a class that had only 14 students.

Moving to "The Delta" meant more years of farming and guiding a plow for my grandfather, at least until times improved and he acquired a tractor and the machinery that went with it. For my grandmother, it meant living in a house that had even less creature comforts than the one she left in Attala County. Water came from an outside "pump," not a well, and there was no household help for washing and cooking, a convenience she had left in Attala County. She had grown up as the daughter, granddaughter, and great-great-granddaughter of farmers who earned a good living before this depression, but farm life in the Mississippi Delta was the least attractive life of farmers anywhere in the state at the time at the time. Even the look and feel of the Delta landscape was strangely different, even stark, with its absence of trees contrasted against the lush woods of "The Hills" of Attala County.

Life was tough for everyone who lived in the Mississippi Delta during the depression years. Cotton was "King," but the weather ruled everything the farmers did. Heavy spring rains that caused flooding and summer droughts, along with insects, such as the ever-present and destructive boll weevil, kept farmers busy trying to predict when to plant, apply chemicals, and when to harvest. They toiled from daylight to dusk, and their work seemed to never end.

There were basically two classes of people during the depression years: the "haves" and the "have nots." Most families didn't even own a family automobile unless it was an old farm truck that was considered a necessity for bringing supplies from town or for taking some of their crops to market. Food was grown at home, and families subsisted on the "three M's," (corn) meal, molasses, and meat. Staples, such as flour, had to be purchased at the local store, and many children wore clothing made out of "feedsacks" or "floursacks." In the summer, children "went barefoot," with shoes reserved for church on Sunday and for wearing to school. Since the early years of the Depression had caused many farmers to lose ownership of their land, a new group of farmers, known as "sharecroppers," had emerged.

But these families, including my grandparents, were survivors of the times. They held on to each other and the things they considered most precious - memories of better times and sentimental possessions that money could not buy.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Depression Years in Attala County, Mississippi

Lelia Porter Branch and Clark C. Branch
Newport Community, Attala County, Mississippi, circa 1922

The picture here is the earliest picture I have of my paternal grandparents, Lelia Porter Branch and Clark Commander Branch. Lelia and Clark were married on December 9, 1922 in rural Attala County, and they began their life together in the Newport community located in Attala County, Mississippi near both families. Her family, the Porter family, lived near Sallis, and the rest of my grandfather's Branch relatives also lived near them in Newport or around McAdams. Their only child, my father, was born the next December, and his life, like the lives of my grandparents, was to change because of this Great Depression.

As you can see in the picture, my grandparents lived in a very simple house in a rural area of Attala County, on land they farmed. Their life must have been very hard, with no conveniences. They used kerosene or "coal oil" lamps, they had well water, and they heated their home with wood burned in an iron stove. There was no refrigeration, no electricity, and cooking was done on a wood stove. Living conditions such as this are almost impossible for most people my age to even imagine.

I thought it seemed "right" to write about the depression years at this particular time, since for several weeks now, our world has been filled with information about the troubled economic conditions that prevail now in our country. There is talk about a probable economic recession, and even talk that another Depression may be around the corner. My plan is to write a series of posts dealing with rural life in Mississippi, as it was experienced by my ancestors during the depression. Today is the first article in that series.

The post today is actually about something good that came out of that other period of dire financial circumstances, one that left genealogists like me with a wealth of information about how their relatives lived during those years. One of the parts of the New Deal program was a project designed to put unemployed individuals to work during the Depression. The name of this program was the U. S. Work Progress Administration or "WPA." Within the program was a project developed to put unemployed intellectuals to work, and it was known as the Federal Writer's Project. Materials written by those who worked in the Federal Writers' Project are housed in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division, and it is part of a larger collection titled The U.S. Work Progress Administration Federal Writers' Project and Historical Records Survey.

This collection covers the years 1889-1942 and includes many topics about varied subjects. Approximately 300,000 items are contained in the collection, including correspondence, reports, essays, and oral histories. Included are life histories of men and women describing their feelings while coping with life during the Depression; studies of the social customs of ethnic groups living in the United States; records of interviews with ex-slaves describing life during the period of slavery; and drafts of publications produced.

The unemployed writer who may have participated in this project could have been a lawyer, a teacher, a librarian, or someone else who had experience writing when they were employed. Many felt during this time that the Roosevelt Administration could find more jobs for those who had an academic background than for those who worked in "blue collar" jobs. The project was not popular within the U. S. Congress and was referred to as the federal government's attempt to "democratize American culture," especially after it was approved for federal monies in June 1935.

The project continued into the late 1930's, but Congress remained critical and some opponents were intent on shutting down the project. Funding for the project ceased in late 1939, primarily because the Roosevelt Administration needed funding for an increased defense budget. After that, the project continued in a less active roll, funded on money given to the states, and it closed about a year after the U. S. entered World War II.

The result of this collection is that it contains genealogy records that allow us to have a snapshot of life as it actually was during these troubled years, told by real people who lived it.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Some Things Never Change

In late August, I published a post that included a thought-provoking poem by "Anonymous," that I found in an article written by James T. Buck in the Lexington Advertiser. I thought the poem worthy of reposting , especially today when the U. S. Senate will vote on a rescue bill for the U. S. economy.

Ironically, the poem was published in 1936. Even more ironic is the fact that the poem could have been written in 2008 about our current society and some of its pervasive problems.

I hope you read the poem, and I would love to hear your comments.

Too many hours that we don't toil;
Too many highways, too many cars;
Too many people behind the bars;
Too much poverty, too much wealth;
Too many people have poor health;
Too much politics, too much booze;
Too many wearing high heel shoes;
Too many loafing, too many bets;
Too many failing to pay their debts;
Too many spending their dough for gas;
Too many talking of Europe's sass;
Too many buying beyond their means;
Too many buying canned corn and beans;
Too many sowing a crop of wild oats;
Too many candidates after your votes;
Too many hiring their washing done;
Too many playing bridge for fun;
Too many looking to Uncle Sam;
Too many people don't give a d---;
Too many poets, too much prose;
Too many girls without underclothes;
Too much buying of goods on time;
Too many people don't save a dime;
Too much bail, too much play;
Too many officers on big pay;
Too much taxes, too much rent;
Too many folks spend every cent;
Too much fun, too much ease;
Too many rips in my BVD's;
Too much reform, too much law;
The darndest mess you ever saw.