Old Roustabout


    Dr. John Cunningham of Ravenna—“Old Roustabout.” His tombstone is by far the most imposing in Sandy Cemetery east of Mulberry. (A “page” in this website titled “Digging for Gold” includes Dr. Cunningham’s account of “a mystery” there.) During his many years as “correspondent” for the Bonham News, Roustabout’s reporting included frequent reference to the agricultural scene and Ravenna’s “river section,” meaning Mulberry and Sandy.


    Dr. Cunningham was born in Trigg County, Kentucky, on September 21, 1836. During the Civil War, he was a “surgeon.” He “came to Texas a
tramp, without money or friends, and settled in Fannin County, near Ravenna” in 1867. His first wife having died in 1861, Dr. Cunningham married Fannie, a daughter of Allen Agnew, “a prosperous planter” in Mulberry.  Dr. Cunningham became a graduate of the Galveston (Texas) Medical College in 1873. Also that year he was elected a member of the Texas legislature, “the only legislature that ever voted itself out of office from under the reconstruction laws, and thereby setting the people free from a set of tyrannical laws, and giving the free-school fund of Texas eighty million acres of land.” Dr. Cunningham “stands deservedly high in the community, not only as a physician, but as a gentleman and a business man... the owner and manager of several large farms...partner in a thrifty and growing mercantile house.... At the beginning of the war the doctor was intensely Southern. He is now a staunch Union man and a democrat.”

    1897 January 14: “A Friend,” probably Dr. John Cunningham—Roustabout

John W. Palmore

    [Ravenna]...a dark, cloudy, drizzly, blue day, accompanied by a norther. About 9 o’clock, a.m., the sharp report of a pistol was heard coming from the corn crib of Mr. J. W. Palmore, but no one seemed to have paid any attention to it. Some little time later, Mrs. Palmore happened in the lot and incidentally went to the crib and looked in, and there beheld the prostrated body of her husband in the last agony of death with a 38-caliber bullet hole in his head and a smoking pistol by his side, fired by his own hand. She immediately ran across the street to Mrs. Lightfoot’s and gave the alarm. Robt. Lightfoot immediately went to the spot indicated, and there found Mr. Palmore drawing his last breath on earth.... Mr. Palmore was a very economical and conservative man and by hard work and attention to business, had accumulated a fortune of some ten or fifteen thousand dollars worth of property, but financial reverses from unexpected sources had of late thrown a gloom of despondency over his entire mental make-up. Mr. Palmore’s mind was strictly financial. He was a great friend to the poor, and was very accommodating...born in Franklin county, Virginia, about forty-five years ago. He came to Texas in about 1872. He landed in Denison shortly after the town was located, and was employed as a laborer in erecting the first houses built there. He came down to Warren and hired to Capt. Brooks at $15 per month, as a farm hand...moved to Sowell’s Bluff and opened a grocery store. Mr. Palmore then went into the dry goods and grocery business with Mr. John A. Agnew, on the latter’s farm...sold out and took a partnership in the dry goods and grocery business with Dr. Cunningham and resided there in business until this sad ending.

    The writer had gone to Mr. Palmore’s store on three different nights purposely...to try to cheer him up, and talked to him about the folly, foolishness and sin of so many business men no
w committing suicide on account of financial losses, but he would only answer in monosyllables to our talk.... He was also charitably inclined and never failed to give to the appealing distressed and breadless. He was nearly always foremost in donating to railroads, churches and college buildings...but he left a note beside himself and among other things he said: “It seems like I am financially and mentally ruined and can never do business any more, so I might as well be dead.” He also requested that his children be raised to useful men and women, and begged his wife’s pardon for the committal of the tragedy.... He was a man who talked but little, except on business. As a good citizen and useful member of society, he ranked well. He was a member of the Methodist church and taught a class of little girls in the Methodist Sunday school....

    Many a cold day, many noondays’ sun will shine, many years will come and go before we see again the exact counterpart of John W. Palmore.

    photo: “John Palmore,” a son of the man remembered above was to some degree controversial and feared in Mulberry for his land acquisitions. But first, in 1919, after the “cyclone,” D. E. Lyday wrote, “All funds paid to our local committees are deposited in the Ravenna State Bank, where cashier, Mr. John W. Palmore, is treasurer of our local committee....”

    1897 March 5: [Old Roustabout in the Bonham News]   Ravenna. The people in this section have learned that horses and mules can live on cottonwood poles and brush. Truly, necessity is the mother of invention and other things.... Mr. Sam Culpepper [born 1848], who lived on J. W. Craven’s farm on Red river, died last week of a congestive chill. Mr. Culpepper was in many respects a good man. He always paid his debts and told the truth. He of course had his faults —who hasn’t—but his faults affected him more than anyone else. He belonged to no church, but believed in Christ.... He always assisted in preparing for religious meetings and was charitable to the poor. He left a wife and about eight children. A large concourse of his friends attended his burial in Mulberry.

    “Mulberry’s Boy” a rival? Other “Items,” names in the news....


    1897 September 24: (BN) Mulberry. I see no one is representing Mulberry in the News’ correspondent list, and I will now let you know that Mulberry is still in the ring. Cotton pickers are in demand since the rain. Cotton in this country is far better than that of ‘96. It will yield from one-third to one bale per acre. The gin here is now in operation, but is unable to gin the cotton as fast as the people pick it. Prof. Campbell made a business trip to Bonham this week, and on returning reported cotton a dull sale. Singing last Sunday night, conducted by Profs. Chas. Sims and H. C. Hildenbrand. One of our most respected friends, Mr. [Peter] Jackson, was recently killed by a runaway team [he had hitched a ride with “Gup” Harris, the well-known “chicken peddler” from Denison]. His remains were enterred in the grave yard at this place. Mr. Jackson left a host of friends and relatives to mourn his loss. Mr. George Davidson and Miss Ada Larks [Alie Parks] were married Sept. 26, Bro. Melton officiating. We wish them happiness and prosperity. The boys who entertained them with bells, tin cans, guns, etc., reported a nice treat. Mulberry’s Boy

    1908 November 17: (BN) Last week brought in three more refugees from the great Windy West [Texas].... They claim it a feast or a famine for the poor immigrant. The large land owners there have prosperity all the time, selling and taking back their land with cash and teams advanced. They claim that lands are cheaper and better in old Fannin than the great West.... They have located in the great diversifying district of Ravenna, where crops never fail, when worked.... Immigrants from Arkansas, Oklahoma and the West are continually dropping in, hunting homes.

    Our first killing frost fell here on the nights of November 13 and 14. No damage resulting as all crops are ripened and harvested. Long before 1920 comes, it is believed that the beautiful rich and fructifying banks and bottoms along Red River will have blossomed like the rose, that it will have equaled or surpassed the famous Nile, in its varied and multiplied productions. When navigation comes these bounties will follow. Many farmers along old Red will own gasoline boats and steam launches to transport their many products to the shipping points of Denison and Arthur City. Those same lands will then be sold at from one to two hundred dollars per acre. With the river cleared of all decaying and rotting matter it will become one of the healthiest parts of Texas and Oklahoma.

    There will follow palatial residences on the high banks and filled promontories with happy families to enjoy the river scenery and excursions of pleasure and profit. Stranger things have happened.  Old Roustabout

    1909 June 29: Robert Lightfoot of Dallas was here last week looking after his crops on Red River....

    July 9: Mr. Armstrong, while crossing Red river with a load of lumber from Oklahoma, had his team to back off the ferry boat. He lost one fine horse and the lumber.... Hope Capt. [Joseph] Dupree will furnish The News and its thousands of readers with his bird’s eye view of the great Memphis reunion of the old Confederate veterans.

    July 30: Red river has been in fair steam boating stage almost the entire season so far.... 

     August 16: Last Sunday one week ago we were at a negro baptizing down on Sandy Creek. Between 20 and 40 young negroes were immersed. It was one of the largest negro gatherings we ever saw in this section. They were baptized in the name and profession of their faith.

    1911 June 23: Some time since an old trapper and fisherman down on Red River concluded to take some fish by the dynamite process. He also had a trained dog that would bring dead game, fish or anything else out of the water and drop it at his masters feet. On this occasion the old gentleman forgot the dog’s habit, and cut and lifted the fuse and threw the stick into the river. The dog saw it and made a dash to bring it to his master. He dived down, seized the stick and made for the fisherman. The fisherman knew the death dealing explosion would soon come, so he made lightnlike speed for taller timber. The dog followed suit. The explosion thundered and the trapper looked back and saw the dog’s head was going one way and his tail the other so old Ike fell to his knees and thanked God he was given strength to outrun the dog.

     July 7: The colored people on last Friday and Saturday gave a two-day picnic and barbecue at what they call Washington Park, one mile north of Ravenna. Happiest people on earth. They hold such occasions about once a month during the summer season. 

    July 18: Mulberry. The corn is burned up in this section of the county. Cotton holds up fairly well. Work is all over, hence the young folks are having a good time attending cream suppers....

    November 28: “Observations by the Way” by J. K. Luton...Nov. 10. I have just met the old war horse, Roustabout, the correspondent for The News at Ravenna. He was once a great lover of mountain dew, the Kentucky brand, that makes a fellow feel like a millionaire. Dock [Dr. Cunningham] and I have known each other for 40 years. We often differ on political questions but have always been the best of friends.... Cotton pickers are needed in Lightfoot bottom north of Ravenna. The weather is very much like myself, unsettled.... Ravenna has ginned to date 1301 bales.

    1913 July 22: Yes, there is a better and brighter day coming for the farmer. With the new scientific way of farming, or doubling of crops on half the land and labor, with daily mail delivery at your door, connection with every neighbor throughout the county and State, with autos and go-devils that out-rival the railroad flyers and the zephyrs; with airships perfecting to perfect daily and other great and good things not yet thought of but are coming. The midnight oil is still burning. The age of great improvement and progress is upon us. So educate on every line of science, especially agriculture, the ground sills of humanity. Yes, prepare and get ready when your day comes. Get in the swim with proper bathing suits on. Be not space fillers, but true and upright men and women in the image of your God. Be not a sham, like dumb driven cattle.... Roustabout

    September 9:  Every girl and boy should own and make a scrap book. Every good, short item you read in your daily or weekly papers should be clipped out and pasted in the scrap book, especially such as wit, wisdom, humor, poetry, historical, love and other like frivolities and novelitses. You would all be most agreeably surprised at the most entertaining, interesting and appreciated book you have made. Occasionally inserting a beautiful lady or gentleman’s photo clipping, intermixed with rustic scenes. Last year’s blotters, ledgers, etc. from dry goods and grocery stores make good material for scrap books. The business becomes very interesting, when once commenced. Then another great item, it will be education.

    August 29: ...still in the grip of an August drought. But you know, cotton is a sun plant and perchance about as much cotton would be made without a rain as with it. Of course, many squares have fallen from the cotton. They nearly always do. Had everybody made a big crop, starvation prices would have resulted. See?

    September 9: Edgar M. Price, a merchant of Mulberry on the river, has bought the Solomon Duckworth residence on Cunningham Street [in Ravenna]...and has moved his family in. The move was made on account of college and higher education of his children. Mr. Price will continue his mercantile business at Mulberry....   

    Roy Nipper, wife and baby and 60 dollars in debt immigrated to Fannin County from Alaba
ma last year. He located in Lightfoot’s bottom on Red river near Mulberry. Getting in late all the houses were rented, but thinking wherever there is a will there is a way. So he moved into an improvised tent, rented 25 acres of cotton land, cleaned up 6 acres of corn land, free of rent and now has 600 bushels of corn out of his crop, safely estimated his cotton at 12 bales. Had by trading caught on to 18 hens and 4 roosters. From these he supplied his family in meat and they are still supplying. Had an acre or so of Johnson grass, which grazed his team through the crop season, and stocked for another crop. At present prices his crop is worth about $1,350. His living expenses about $175, leaving a clear balance of $1,175. Who was it, who said farming had ceased to pay? “Git up and get” will always come out on top. Mr. Nipper’s motto is “Anybody in the world can do anything in the world, if they will only try hard enough.” In addition to the above the Nippers had half acre in garden, which helped largely to supply family wants. Mr. Nipper has 10 gallons of green beans, 20 gallons of peaches, 5 gallons of cucumber pickels all preserved for future use; also has a large crop of dried beans, where he dug his Irish potatoes and his corn field is full of black eyed peas and golden pumpkins. Peace and plenty of happiness will luxuriate around the Nipper home tent this fall and winter when the howling northers blizzard. This is a good object lesson....

    above: Nipper family monument in Mulberry cemetery

    1913 September 26: Sam Bramlett’s and Dee Lyday’s boys of Mulberry, were out a few days back, squirrel hunting. They soon ran a squirrel up a tree and into a hole. Young Bramlett, not proposing to be beaten that way, proceeded to climb the tree and oust the squirrel from his den, and young Lyday was to shoot him as he jumped from his home. Young Bramlett by this time had reached the hole, Lyday holding his gun ready with the hammer sprung. In order to get a better hold, Bramlett threw his arm around the tree above the squirrel hole. Lyday expecting the squirrel every second, immediately fired upon the sudden appearance of Bramlett’s arm above the hole, believing the arm to be the squirrel. No damage done, except a charge of squirrel shot in Bramlett’s arm.

    December 19:  We compliment the New’s girls for correct spelling and clear printing and forgive them making us call Dee Lyday, Miss Dee.... Mr. Bob Roach, of Mulberry, a few days back, sold his home place for $75 per acre. After due consideration and looking a few years ahead, he saw the place being at $100 per acre, he recanted, paid a bonus. He still owns the place and since then has been offered $85 per acre.... Mr. Jean Agnew  has sold his river farm out of the old Agnew farm, to Mr. Fred Cain, consideration $7,500.... Roustabout

    1917 May 4: (BN) Roustabout Is Still Patriotic.  We’ll Hang Our Harps Upon the Willows and Off to the War Again. It has been the fortune or misfortune since the founding of the American government for every generation to have a war, and we have come out victorious in all of them. Proud America knows no defeat.

    August 14: [Old Roustabout writes again]  At the request of the editor and forbearance of his readers we proceed to correspond. Son Bramlett of Mulberry autoed up to Ravenna on business today.... Some talk of boll worms in the cotton fields of this section and Mulberry. It is supposed that this section and Mulberry will produce corn enough to supply home demands and for the breadless of Europe and liberty armies....

    We heard a joke on Sambo:  It ran thus: Sam up before the registration board. After many questions he was asked what branch of the army he wished to serve in. Sambo said: “Well, boss, splain to me some of them.” The boss said: “Well, we have the infantry and cavalry. If you go in the infantry you walk, and in the cavalry you ride.” “Well, boss, we hearn that in battles we sometimes have to run.” “Yes, that’s so, Sam.” “Well, dat being de case you can put me down for de infantry, case in a run we don’t want to be fooling with a hoss. We want to be footloose, so we can just get up and fly.” 

    Many of our army boys have been putting in the last few days before the army board in Bonham. All seem to be pretty well pleased with the board’s decision. Yes, they say they will help to can the Kaiser and see the ocean, Paris and London....

    August 24: [Roustabout observes] Judging from the reading of the daily papers the English, French, Italians and others will have the Hohenzollerns, Hapsburgs and the Kaiser whipped and canned before the Sammie boys and Old Glory will ever get a taste of the grandeur or glory of battle. Hurry up boys or you will lose your chance for honor and fame.... Last Wednesday we made a trip down through the valley farms to Red River.

    1921 December 13: Dr. Cunningham was remembering correspondents of The Bonham News. Find his tribute and appreciation for “Ajax,” Joseph Deupree.