Hear Their Voices


1961 May 28: Eugene Brownlee Smith (left) with Sammy and Maria Smith, and Grandson Eric. A great grandson of Nathan Smith, Eugene was fourteen in 1902 when his father Gideon, Jr. died accidentally in Bonham. At that time the family land in Mulberry was passing to J. E. Spies. His father told him, “You’ll have to take care of your little brother [Claude].” There were also three sisters: Mary Cornelia, Katilee and Vera.                          

    Throughout his life Eugene retold the Smith family stories; and his son John Eugene, of the fifth generation, continued, charging his wife Letha, after more than sixty years of hearing them, to put the stories in a book.

    Hear the voice of  John Smith (in 1981), remembering an “Uncle Sam” in Mulberry, the grandfather of this “Sammy”.

Pauline Topsy: “ ... born February 21, 1903. Mother was Margaret. We called her Maggie Fitzgerald. Papa [Milton Fitzgerald] was from Alabama.... I had two sisters and I had two brothers, two sisters and two brothers, besides myself.... What did I look forward to? I looked forward to Christmas because Minnie and Millie were going to get my nice Christmas things. My daddy was blind. See?”

Aunt Marinda, the mother of Ben and Ed Johnson

    Walter Potts told me he was the “first Negro” to serve on the school board, remembering it was during the time Ira Wisely was president. The school for black children was in a church on land owned by Ben Johnson, opposite the road leading east, past Siloam Cemetery. Walter was a deacon. At the County Superintendent’s office, he’d said the school couldn’t continue in the church....

Joe Choice: “Over there’s a fence. If we follow it through the field, it will come out on the road at my house.” They went that way, still carrying three rabbits, and got home long after dark.

    “I have a fear....” Joe said there were white boys around Ravenna who sometime “beat up” on the black boys. His father often sent him out on errands, “... and when he said Go, you went.” He also said, “Don’t come cryin’ back to me if you’re not willin’ to fight for yourself, ’cause when you get here, if you didn’t fight ’em, I’ll whip you, too.”

Joe Choice, growing up on Caney Creek, remembered frequent meetings with Uncle Fount Oliphant “in his buggy, pulled by a broken-down horse.”

    Photo shows the gravestone of Fountain Oliphant  (1842-1927) in Siloam Cemetery, now called Union.

    Photo of James Edward Gay (1871-1960) and wife Della in Mulberry. Their sixth child, a son, Jewel (born 1910), worked in Edgar Price’s store. With his infant brother, he’d moved into the Mulberry home of his sister Cleo, the first of the Gay children, who had married Steve Carroll in 1919.

    Throughout his life, Jewel Gay preserved memories of Mulberry, and created pictures in words, like this:  “He was walking beside a river. The moon was bright as day. He heard a large dog rushing toward him. People from a porch shouted, ‘Don’t shoot our dog!,’ but the dog came on, and Dad, with his silver-plated revolver, laid him down at thirty feet.”

    Photo of the Price brothers: (back: Newton “Lafie,” Roland, Alonzo “Lonnie”  front: Harry and Edgar

    Harry Price operated the store in Mulberry after Edgar died in 1917. According to Jewel, he “had a nack of adapting” young boys to help out, and for this he bought their clothes and other necessities.

    Jewel started work in the store, and the next year moved into a two-room house that Harry built nearby. In the school year 1923-24, Jewel made weekly trips to Bonham in Harry’s T-model truck to get merchandise. “We sold everything from tooth picks to horse collars. I wouldn’t get back to school till late those days, but that didn’t matter.” 

1920 December 1: If the price of cotton rose during the World War from ten cents a pound to over forty, it started to fall when the war ended and farmers were complaining.

    According to Jewel Gay: J. F. Hall was “ambitious, not afraid of going into debt. He had bought the Plummer place and expanded too much. He held cotton instead of selling and, as the price fell, bought more and held. It broke him. He had to homestead.” 

About the 1919 “Cyclone,” hear Mandy Parks:

    “Oh, I remember like it was yesterday. I’d crossed the hall with a lamp. The fireplace room blew away and mother’s ankle was hurt. We started out and got nearly to the corner down there at the store, but mother got to hurting so bad she had to go back. They had all the dead people in that little house where the Pettis’ lived. I almost got there once but somebody saw me and made me go back.” 

After the storm, C. W. Parks built a new house. The large circle of a concrete curb in front was for roses. My mother—Gladys—recalled a morning on her way to teach school at Mulberry. “Mandy came out to the road by her mailbox and handed me the most magnificent white rose.”

    Mandy lived alone at the Parks home place for nearly thirty years after Pierce’s death in 1957. At a nursing home in Durant (1991) she said, “I don’t want to go back. When I pulled the door to, I knew I’d never come back.”

    She said (1995), about the Assembly of God church building I demolished, “Well, I’m not going to hell over it, but you will!” Then we talked about other things and laughed some.

“Miss” Odie Crumby told me many Mulberry stories, including her own experiences the night of the storm. She accompanied me to the nursing home when Mandy identified people in the photos she gave me, in a box, including the “card from Gladys”.

    This photo of Odie was made in Mulberry cemetery on the afternoon of Mandy’s funeral. The Reverend Jack Ball officiated.

Lafie and Ida Price were living near the old Reed gin lot on the bluff overlooking Mulberry bottom. Their five children were Bertine, Edgar, Delton, Mera and Marvin. Grandmother Vaughan was with them. Since Olif’s death she hadn’t felt “at home” anywhere, moving as she did, from house to house. She’d been with them, Odie said, the week before. On Saturday morning, examining the coffee grinds in her cup, she said, “I see blood in Mulberry from the river to the hill.” Ann Vaught was struck by lightning; there wasn’t a bone unbroken, the undertaker said. Only the children, Mera and Marvin, survived. She was pinned under the wreckage of her home. In the lightning flashes she saw strange sights: a kerosene lamp on the kitchen table, globe upright, unshattered. Mera could hear her mother’s groans and knew when she died. As neighbors searched in the darkness, only Ida was missing, then her body fell from a tree; they heard it.

1902 February 28: (BN)  Murder Most Foul! A Young Woman Murdered and Her Body Hid in an Old Hollow Stump.

        Ida (Davidson) Hair spoke a fragment of Lena’s story.

Jim Venable received the following letter dated April 9, 1919, from a brother in Bonham:

    Dear Brother & Family, ... There isn’t a house left from Mulberry to the river. It just swept things clean. Jim, I witnessed the saddest sight this evening I ever did before in my life. I hope I’ll never have to witness it again. I saw them bring 9 dead persons, men women and children in a truck to the undertakers office.....

    Joe Choice described touring the the devastated sites.

A family recollection: “One day it came a bad thunderstorm while they were baling hay in Indian Territory. Uncle Bill was struck by lightning. They carried him to a black couple’s house and they nursed him back to health. Later he was engaged to a girl from Ravenna. She and her father went to Bonham to buy her wedding gown. While returning home, the team ran away and she was thrown from the wagon and killed. She is buried in a cemetery near Caney Creek. Mulberry didn’t have a cemetery at the time. Her father buried her in her wedding dress. Uncle Bill never dated another girl.” 

    Georgie Cain remembered Uncle Bill, born in 1868, who is buried in the Mulberry cemetery.

1917 August 21: (BN) Balance of List of Drafted Men... [including] Chester Hill, Rolan Lee Price,  Ira Rosser Wisely,  Waldo Cain, Robert Price, Donald C. Parks, Thos. Jackson, Perry Parks, Olif Vaughn, Frank Underwood, Willie Stephenson, John Rich, Samuel Bramlett, John Underwood, Jno. Vaughn, Lusk Dehoney, Howard Lester, Milton Sanford, Loyd L. Nipper, Alsie L. Nipper, Henderson Gentry, Oscar Blankenship....

    Georgie Cain described the return of Waldo Cain’s body to Mulberry.

In her story for a new friend in Paris, France, Gladys (1957) described the start of her parents’ courtship (1904):

    He was Alvin Gregory. She was Maudie Gertrude Bugg (1887-1938), daughter of George Franklin Bugg, of the tenth generation.

    Gladys’ story continues:

    “The George Bugg home was a mansion for that day and time, and for that particular section of the country, where truck farming was carried on without the aid of farm day-laborers.  It exemplified all the comforts that this type of farming could afford, yet this was not as much as might be expected....”