Sport?! Those who know me know that I have not got a single sport gene in my body. I tried playing baseball, football, and soccer as a kid. When it came time for basketball season, I figured out that I could score the games and they wouldn’t make me play on the school team. (It was a very small school.) So, I was a bit at a loss looking at this topic.
I’ve never really thought a lot about my ancestors and sports. However, I know that my grandfather, Hudson Wren, was a football letterman at the University of Arkansas in the 1920s. So, let’s meet him and his career there.
Some of you may recall meeting Hudson Wren in previous posts (here, and here). He was born in 1906 in Nevada County, Arkansas. He attended Prescott High School, where he played football for the Prescott Curly Wolves.
After graduation, Hudson went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to study Agriculture, having been raised on a farm. He arrived in Fayetteville in 1925 as a freshman and joined the freshman football squad. The Arkansas Razorback annual tracks his career during his years in Fayetteville. It sounds like his freshman year was successful, since he earned his number for the varsity squad that year.
After his freshman year, Hudson met a cute young transfer student from Southern Methodist University, Mary Higgs (always called Mary Jim by almost everyone). She was active in athletics, to a degree, herself. She participated in the Women’s Athletic Association, both at SMU and at Arkansas. The W.A.A. promoted intramural sports activities among the women at the university. A whole host of sports were represented, including women’s football. I have not been able to find out which sports she played, though. As you might expect, the 1920s were not a time when women’s sports got the same billing as the men’s teams.
I am not sure why Mary Jim (Nannie) transferred from SMU to Arkansas. Her mother and she lived in Dallas at the time. Her mother may have moved with her brother around that time (have to check further) so she was going to move somewhere. Why Arkansas? Don’t know. I had heard that she sat out for a time from SMU after a diving accident, but I could have made that up, too.
In the both the 1927-1928 and 1928-1929 seasons, Hudson lettered in football. He played tackle, predominantly. Remember this was in the days when the men played both sides of the ball – offense and defense. The squad wasn’t that large and the starters, especially on the line, just kept playing. It was also the days of leather helmets and far less protective gear than we see today. I remember Papaw saying that often by half-time, he would barely know where he was.
In addition to playing football, Hudson was active as a part of both the Arkansas Booster Club and the Varsity Club, promoting interest in athletics and other student activities. He was in the Press Club, different fraternities both on and off campus, and lead the Agri Days at the University.
After graduation with degrees in agriculture and home economics respectively, Hudson and Mary married and set out on careers. They started as teachers in the Portland High School in Portland Arkansas. Take a look at these previous posts (here, and here) to see more about Hudson’s career in agriculture. And visit the site of Wilson, Arkansas, to see more about the town birthed by the farm that he helped lead for many years.
For as long as they lived, Hudson and Mary Jim remained staunch supporters of Arkansas football. They contributed generously to the program and maintained really good season ticket seats at mid-field in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock (one of two homes of the Razorbacks).
I guess I never heard Papaw let go with a hog call, but something tells me he could get a pretty good” Woooooooo Pig Sooiee! Razorbacks!” going when he wanted to.
Ten. For October. But, when I think of Ten, I can only think of one thing – my beautiful, wonderful wife of twenty-one years, Kathleen Boyle Dickson. She’s the only Ten in my life! I am so proud of her and so proud and pleased to be her husband.
We were married in 25 January 1997. We met several years earlier when I was working at Penn State and she was in graduate school for her Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering. I moved to Harrisburg, PA and she moved to Reston, VA. When we got engaged, neither of us wanted to go where the other was, so we moved to Atlanta. As soon as we got here, we set a date for the wedding. The only date the church was available anytime in the upcoming year was Super Bowl weekend. Since neither of us are football fans, we took it. So, we were married the day before Super Bowl XXXI.
Kathleen is so smart. She teaches cooking classes and helps people to become more confident in the kitchen. Toss her a bag of random (vegan) ingredients and you will soon have an amazing meal. And you will never have exactly the same thing twice. She is always trying different sorts of spices or mixtures so that she can understand how the different tastes and ingredients fit together.
But at the same time, when we had a waterline break in the yard, I sent my engineer wife out to figure out the problem. I ask her about the difference between retention and detention ponds. We both laugh at math jokes and talk about how little we remember differential equations, but remember that we both aces the classes.
She’s such an asset to the community. She leads the food pantry at her church and she coordinates drivers collecting food from stores and restaurants for our (much larger) community food pantry. She has grown the volume of food collected for distribution every year and she has added pet food and pet supplies to what the food pantry collects and distributes. She’s always looking for a way to help those in need.
Since this is a genealogy blog, I’ll touch on that as well. Kathleen comes from the Boston area. A few years back, when it got hard to make headway on my own lines, I took a look at her family. She’s got a lot different background than I do. Mine is all Old South, all arriving prior to the Revolutionary War. Two of her grandparents have very Irish backgrounds, arriving in Massachusetts during the Irish Potato Famine and working in the factories (mostly shoes and boots) around Boston for many years. One of her grandfathers comes from French-Canadian ancestry, coming to the Boston area from Prince Edward Island around the turn of the 20th century. And her paternal grandmother was a true New England native.
Through her father’s mother, Kathleen has multiple Mayflower lines as well as several more that arrived during the Great Migration. I find it funny that in the last 400 years, that part of the family has moved about 20 miles from Plymouth to Hanover, Massachusetts. Even funnier is the story of her Mayflower ancestors, John and Elinor Billington. The short story of it is that William Bradford wrote that this family of four caused more trouble on the Mayflower’s voyage than the rest of the passengers combined. Elinor was convicted of slander and put in the public stocks. One of the sons shot his father’s gun while on the Mayflower and may have burned down several neighbors houses. Ultimately, John Billington became the first murderer in New England and the first person executed in New England. Thankfully, things got better for the family over the years!
So, she comes from a family of adventurers, with adventurers in every generation. We’ve still got many more adventures ahead of us! And I know that Kathleen will always be my Ten.
Anyway, that’s the theme for this week. Down on the Farm. And I decided to do something a little different. I want to introduce you a little bit to the Bailey Farm in Sebastian County, Arkansas. Francis Baker Bailey first came to Arkansas around the time of statehood. In a profile of Otway L. Bailey, son of F.B. Bailey, it was recounted that
[t]he father was a farmer by occupation, served as Justice of the Peace many years, made a prospecting tour through Texas in 1845, afterward roamed through Arkansas and Missouri, and subsequently returned to Arkansas, where he died in January, 1855.
HISTORY OF TEXAS TOGETHER WITH A BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY OF TARRANT AND PARKER COUNTIES, profile of Otway Licepious Bailey, Lewis Publishing Co, Chicago, 1895
I suspect that the Bailey family was in Arkansas or southwest Missouri prior to Arkansas statehood in 1836, since some of the children went to Texas as early as 1838. But, the first stake in the ground I can find is a patent for 40 acres on 10 July 1844 by F.B. Bailey. He purchased this land in Section 3, Township 7 North, Range 31W which puts it right on the edge of Fort Chaffee outside of Ft. Smith, Arkansas.
I don’t think they stayed here very long since I find the family living in Pope County, in the town of Galla Rock by 1850 and they appear to have stayed there until around the time of the Civil War. By then, F.B. Bailey was deceased and his son Hume Field Bailey was not a Rebel sympathizer. Perhaps he moved his family nearer to Ft. Smith, the site of a fairly large U.S. Army garrison, for a measure of safety and stability during a dangerous time. Being a border state, raiders were very active in Arkansas. Remember Josey Wales?
Hume Bailey bought land in Sebastian County, around today’s City of Hackett, very near to the Oklahoma border. Starting with most of a 1/16 of a section and growing his holdings to close to 100 acres by the time of his death, Hume had enough land to scratch out a living, but just barely. He and his wife Sarah Louise Council Bailey raised ten children – three that Hume had with his first wife Amanda Shafer, one that Sarah had with her first husband John O. Brewer, and six together.
Hume Field Bailey
Sarah Louise Council
It’s somewhat difficult to trace Sebastian county land records from Atlanta. FamilySearch.org has many indexes of the deeds online, but not many of the deed books themselves. Combine that with the fact that there are two courthouses in Sebastian county where things are recorded. So, I have not found as many deeds for the farm as I would like.
But my family is a bunch of pack rats. Turns out I have property tax receipts from about 1850 until about 1940, almost every year. Each one details the particular property that is owned and who paid the taxes. So, you can see when land comes in and goes out, as well as when the head of household changed.
In April 1874, Hume paid tax on part of the SW 1/4 of the SW 1/4 of Section 16, Township 6N, Range 32W just on the outskirts of what is now Hackett. This piece of land stayed in the family until the very end. By 1890, the Bailey farm has taken its final form, containing most of the SW 1/4 SW 1/4 of S 16 T 6N R 32W and most of the NW 1/4 NW 1/4 of S 21 T6N R32W. Also included are small slices immediately to the east of these pieces of land. On the map, this is the green square. Just for reference, the small red square was F.B. Bailey’s original patent.
So long as Hume Bailey lived, taxes were for the most part paid on time each year until his death in 1891. By then, the male children had for the most part moved away and the farm began to struggle. Sarah Bailey is now the name on the tax receipts. We see a lot of penalties for late payment on property taxes. On some receipts, there is a notation that a payment is for multiple years of taxes. And in fact, there are several instances through Sarah’s widowhood where the farm is sold for taxes and then redeemed. I don’t know the details of this practice. It seems like there must be a period where the farm is almost but not quite in foreclosure, when the original owner can redeem it for the back taxes and a penalty.
After Hume died, Sarah applied for a widow’s pension from the U.S. Army, since her first husband, John O. Brewer, had died during the Civil War and Hume had never served. This made her eligible for a small pension. In the application, she and several people comment on the fact that the farm is not worth a lot and that she is nearly destitute with it as her sole income.
At Sarah’s death, Charles Council Bailey, the oldest son of Hume and Sarah, inherits the farm. He is the father of my grandmother, Susan Louise Bailey Dickson. Charles married Viola Tennison and goes on to have ten children, with Susan being the youngest. Tax receipts hint that things were pretty tight for a family with so many children. Once during the height of the Great Depression, the farm is again sold for taxes and then redeemed. But, there are often penalties for late payment.
Everyone pitches in on the farm. The boys work in the fields. There is a great picture of “The Hay Crew” taking a break from working in the fields. Some of the land was used to grow cotton, based on Cotton Allotment forms filed during the Depression. Some appears to be rented. But the farm was never a highly productive piece of land. Charles worked as a merchant in addition to farming. Some of his sons worked in local coal mines. But, the family was close and many of the descendants remain in touch even today. We are hoping to perhaps have a reunion of the descendants of Charles and Viola in 2019.
The Hay Crew
Of course, there were plenty of animals on the farm. I love this photo of my grandmother Susan Louise Bailey and her calf, Blossom. And this is a pretty good one of her dad, Charles Council Bailey and one of his working draft horses.
Susan Louise Bailey with Blossom
Charles Council Bailey and one of his horses
So, what can we take from all of this? I think life on the farm was critical to the way this family grew together and how they turned out as adults. I think that if you imagine a small farm on the edge of Oklahoma during the Great Depression, you might have a pretty good idea of what this farm was like. But, it was home. And it remained in the family for nearly 100 years.
Eventually, I will track down the rest of the deeds to see when each piece was purchased or sold. I will continue to work to find out when Francis Baker Bailey arrived in Arkansas. And I will continue to figure out what it was like down on the farm.
What really is an unusual source? Is a Census record unusual? Could be, I suppose, if there were something really odd about it. I suppose lots of ordinary records could be unusual.
Even a regular vital record could be unusual. My grandmother told a story, that I have never been able to validate, that some of her ancestors wanted to marry but their families were against it. So, they asked one of the field hands on the farm, a black man, to get the marriage license for them. He did, and supposedly, their marriage license is recorded in the register of black marriages in that county, even though they were about as far from black as you could imagine, solid Irish stock. That would be unusual. (I’ve never been able to find any proof of this at all. It’s one of the mysteries I would love to prove or disprove.)
But, in this case, I have some records that are a little out of the ordinary to share. Nothing too odd, just not a place I would have thought to go find out the history of my ancestors. Letters written and mailed from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the journals of a Baptist missionary society, and a philatelists’ compilation of steamboat timetables all help to flesh out this story (which has turned out to be longer than I expected)
Bettie was the 4th of 12 children in the family. At least three of these children did not live to adulthood. It appears that Bettie was a twin to Rebecca and that Rebecca died while still a young child, before 1840. Her family was relatively well to do in their neighborhood around Bell Buckle and Wartrace in Bedford County, Tennessee. (If you visit Bell Buckle today, it’s a very cute little town and worth a visit.) In 1860, Micajah reported $8000 in real estate and $15000 in personal property for the Census.
Along the way, Bettie met a dashing young student at Union University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee name Jeremiah H. Cason. How their paths crossed, I don’t really know. He had started preaching when he was about nineteen. Perhaps they met at a camp meeting or at church or something like that. Wartrace and Murfreesboro are not far apart but are not immediately adjacent, either.
I have a nice collection of Jere Cason’s letters that he sent to Bettie while they were courting. Kathleen, my wife, tells me that had I sent her the same sort of courting letters that Jere sent Bettie, we would probably not be here today. They were sort of preachy letters and not exactly the kind of thing that would win her heart. But, I guess that they did the trick.
Jere Cason had big plans. (We’re still getting to the unusual records, I promise.) He very much felt the call to foreign missions. Bettie loved Jere and also felt the call to share her faith in the mission field.
Bettie and Jere married in early July 1856 and spent the summer traveling together and raising money for the mission. Brother Taylor, the leader of the missionary program in the Baptist Foreign Mission board, wondered why they married early in the summer rather than just before leaving, like the other missionaries. But Jere assured him that marrying earlier in the year would make it possible for the two of them to travel together to raise money, and would be able to raise more money for the mission together than Jere could alone.
On 27 August 1856, Bettie and Jere sailed from New York City for the Yoruba Country of Africa along with two other missionary couples. Their traveling companions were Robert W. and Clara Priest from Mississippi and Seldon Y. and Mary Trimble from Kentucky.
Being on a very tight budget, rather than taking a steamship or even a direct sailing ship, they traveled on a trading ship that made its way up the western coast of Africa. This added many days to their trip and made their accommodations not quite first class.
Finally on 13 January 1857, after 115 days at sea, the little band of missionaries landed at Lagos in what is today Nigeria.
Letters are not really an unusual source. Nor are diaries. But a letter, written as a diary, from a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, mailed ship to ship, is a bit unusual. This is one of my favorite sources. Bettie wrote a letter to her parents while on the ship. She wrote a bit each day and made it a bit of a diary.
This is a fascinating letter. It tells about life on the ship and about her newly married life. I am sure that I will come back to this in a later post. If you are interested, let me know. I have transcriptions of this and all of the letters that I have during their stay in Africa.
One of the funniest comments in the letter is when Bettie talks about how they are faring on the ship.
This has been a delightful day. We have sailing more rapidly than usual, which we are glad of, for our voige has been slow and tedious; though it would be pleasant to us were it not for one thing; the unpleasant smell of the vessel frequently makes us sick, especially of a morning when we first get up but as this is nothing serious, I think we have no reason to complain, but rather rejoice when we look at the other sisters; they have been sea sick all the time & were you to see them you would conclude that you never had seen anyone sick stomache before. This is the thirteenth day we have been on board, and Sister Priest has thrown more or less bile off her stomach every day. My sickness before I left home has proven to be a fortunate thing for me. I have never been sick enough to miss my meals. Mr Cason thinks I look better than I did before I was married.
Another unusual source to learn about Bettie Cooper Cason is the letters of the wives of the other missionaries. At the Foreign Mission Board archives of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, I found the collected correspondence of J.H. Cason and the other Africa missionaries. To my surprise, I also found a number of letters from Clara Priest, wife of R.W. Priest. In particular, one of her letters corroborated part of what Bettie said. Clara talked about the journey on the boat and about the places that they stopped to trade. While Bettie mentioned that a boat had been spotted and that they would trade mail, Clara actually recorded the date, position, and what ship they met. So, I can identify where in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa, the letter I have was “mailed”. Of course, however, this was very early in my genealogical career and I made a serious newbie mistake. I failed to make copies of EVERYTHING! I just spent two days tearing the house apart looking for that letter, only to finally find just my notes about the letter. Looks like it’s time to go back to Nashville again.
My unusual sources for this week are about searching in the archives of a church missions organization for information about my ancestor. Along with that, I searched the newsletters of the Baptist Foreign Mission Board. The newsletters and quarterlies printed reports from the missionaries. In the correspondence and reports submitted to the Foreign Missions Board, I found another poignant letter from J.H. Cason, Bettie’s husband, gives a window into their life in Africa. Remember how Bettie was feeling “seasick” only in the morning? In May 1857, she had a daughter. On 15 May 1857, Jere Cason writes:
On the 1st day of May we were delighted by the birth of a fine daughter. It grew and promised well to be raised. On the 12th it died and I followed it to the grave in a small band of Africans. Mrs Cason is doing pretty well and we hope she will be up in a few days.
You wished a good letter this time from me but you may not be accommodated as I am a little jaded mentally and physically from lack of sleep anxiety &c.
Ultimately, Jere and Bettie returned to Tennessee early due to her health. Reading the rest of the (unpublished) correspondence, it seems that things were very tense in the mission field and there was some disagreement about whether it was appropriate to return. But Jere felt like the best thing for his wife’s health was to return home.
Bettie apparently had always had sort of poor health. She was a twin. Her twin sister died as a young child. Losing a child after a few days was hard. She apparently had an injury falling from a horse. But, reading between the lines in some of the letters, it seems like she perhaps had no business going to Africa in the first place.
I have long wondered about their trip home. I felt sure that they landed in New York, since they took a steamship from England. But I could not find them in the passenger lists for New York, which are pretty complete. In one letter, Jere noted that they planned to sail on 4 November 1857 from Southampton in England on the Vanderbilt line and that they expected to arrive on 18 November 1857.
Looking online for 1857 steamship timetables, I found a very complete list from an unusual source. The U.S. Philatelic Classics Society published a book that details all of the known mail ships sailing during the period I was concerned with. It said that on the Vanderbilt line, the steamship Ariel sailed from Bremen, Germany to Southampton, England to New York. It left Southampton on 4 Nov 1857 and arrived on 18 Nov 1857. From that, I was able to look at the Ariel’s passenger list and found why I could never find Jere and Bettie in the index. On the passenger list, their names look much more like Cannon than Cason.
In the end, following the sources for her husband’s occupation to the Archives of the Foreign Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and their publications over the years really provided a much better window into Bettie’s life than I would have had otherwise. So, keep chasing those strange leads that don’t sound like they would lead very far.
I’m sure you will hear more about Bettie in the future, but that’s enough for tonight.
This week has been harder than previous weeks for me. The theme of the week is “Closest to My Birthday”. The obvious thing is to look for someone who shares your birthday. One would think that would be pretty straightforward.
They say that in any group of not so many people (is it 35 or so?) that there are better than 50:50 odds that two people will share a birthday. In my entire tree, I can only find one ancestor who shares my birthday and I really don’t know a lot about him. Besides, he’s sort of far from the main trunk.
So, let’s see what else happened on my birthday. My birthday is July 29. On July 29, 1884, my great-great-great-grandfather, George Washington Wren, died in Sibley, Webster Parish, Louisiana. Let’s talk about him.
George Washington Wren was born 7 Feb 1802 in Lancaster County, South Carolina. The family story always says he was from the Waxhaw settlement, which was also the birthplace of President Andrew Jackson. This is right on the North Carolina – South Carolina border. Where it lies has been a point of contention for many years. But G. W. Wren always claimed to be from Lancaster County, South Carolina. This is just south of modern-day Charlotte, NC.
His parents were George Wren (b. abt. 1760 in Virginia) and Alletha Dossey (b. in Maryland). The two of them married in Lancaster County sometime before 1798. Both remained in Lancaster County until their deaths. For Alletha, that would come sooner than expected. She died by 1810, when George Wren married Elizabeth Kimball. George, himself, died in between 1832 and 1835. George and Alletha had seven known children, four girls and three boys. George Washington Wren was the youngest.
Now, we have to get into the fast-forward machine and jump from 1802 in Lancaster County, South Carolina all the way to 1828 in Putnam County, Georgia. There we find G. W. Wren witnessing a deed between Herod Bridges and Moses Harvey. Soon afterward, G.W. married Herod Bridges’ daughter Sarah Bridges.
Sarah Bridges was born 19 Apr 1813 in Greene County, Georgia, and was living with her family in Putnam County by 1815. She was the eldest of Herod Bridges and Margaret “Peggy” Ware’s fourteen children. On 4 Sep 1828, Sarah Bridges married George Washington Wren in Putnam County.
George Washington Wren
Sarah Bridges Wren
G.W. and Sarah lived in Putnam County for more than twenty years. I can reliably find them in 1830, 1840, and 1850 census in Putnam County. Additionally, I find George W. listed in the property tax rolls for 1830, 1832, 1833, 1836, 1839. And I find him buying and selling land all through this time.
Between 15 September 1850 and 1 Sept 1851, the family picked up and moved from Putnam County, Georgia to Bienville Parish, Louisiana, south of the town of Minden, within the part of the Parish that was to become Webster Parish. Within just a couple of years of arriving in Louisiana, G.W. Wren sets about patenting 560 acres of land around Sibley, Louisiana. We don’t find the family in the 1860 Census, since it appears to be missing for Bienville Parish. In fact, there is no Population Schedule or any other Schedule surviving for the Parish. In 1870, we find George Washington and Sarah living in Sibley. Even after reading every entry in Bienville and Webster Parish, I am unable to find the family in 1880 in the Census. I have looked around all of their living children and have not found them there, either.
Ultimately, George Washington Wren died on 29 July 1884 in Sibley, Webster Parish, Louisiana, seventy-nine years before I was born. His estate was finally closed in probate in 1889.
I have a couple of pictures of G.W. Wren and he always looks so stern. I also have a Bible Dictionary that belonged to him. The inscriptions are hard to read, but his son, Alonzo Dossey Wren, who inherited the book, has highlighted where G.W. Wren inscribed the dictionary.
G.W. Wren wrote his name opposite the title page. Later, A.D. Wren noted in 1897 that his father had owned the book and had signed it around 1845. The book itself was published in 1842. Inside the front cover, A.D. Wren notes that the book was presented to him in 1867. This would have been around the time of the birth of A.D. Wren’s first child, who died in infancy.
There’s one last inscription in the book that baffles me. I have tried adjusting the lighting, contrast, color, etc. here and still cannot read this one. Can you see what the top part of this page says? The lower part of the page is the handwriting of A.D. Wren commenting on what his father wrote. But the top party is by G.W. Wren.
So, G.W. Wren remains somewhat of a mystery to me. There are plenty of open questions about his life. Here are the mysteries that I want to solve about George Washington Wren:
How did G.W. Wren get from Lancaster County, South Carolina to Putnam County, Georgia? There is a 25+ year gap between when we first find G.W. in Lancaster until we find him as an adult in Georgia. Who did he come with? How did he end up in Putnam County, 300+ miles away from his birthplace?
How did he decide to move on to Louisiana and why did he select Bienville? Again, I’ve not been able to link his FANs (Family, Associates, Neighbors) in Georgia with those in Louisiana.
Where was the family in the 1880 census?
If you have ideas on these, I would love to hear about it. Or if you can read the inscription in the Bible dictionary, please let me know.
It’s Labor Day weekend in the U.S. and our theme for this week is “Work”. Since the theme is about Labor Day, I will post this a little early this week.
Labor Day began as a holiday to honor the working person. It was pioneered and championed by the leaders of labor unions. And for that reason, we will take a look at one of my ancestors who was a member of a union.
When I look back at my ancestors, the vast majority of them were farmers. They owned farms. They worked on other people’s farms. They farmed to survive. Some of them grew wealthy as farmers, plantation owners, and dealers in farm products. But, the huge majority were farmers farming to get by.
There were also a lot of school teachers and preachers in the mix. Fewer were the merchants, storekeepers and other sorts of occupations.
Meet Robert Harrison Dickson, Sr., my great-grandfather. Robert was born 12 August 1878 in Coldwater, Mississippi. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Prairie County, Arkansas. I find them there in the 1880 census. He is with his parents, John H. and Martha Dickson, and his two brothers and his sister – Cecil, Minnie, and Walter.
Here is another time that the fire that burned the 1890 census is so frustrating. This twenty year gap has always been hard to bridge for this family. Somewhere around 1889, Robert’s father died. His mother moved to Crawford County, Arkansas and remarried to Jack A. Jones. Here’s where confusion comes in. In the census, she is listed as Martha A. Dickson. In the marriage record for John and Martha, she is recorded as M.A. Taylor. However, in the marriage record for her and Jack Jones, she is listed as Susan. In the 1900 census, she is listed as Emma S. But, the children, the location, and the rest of the family all fit for her. So, I don’t know what to think about who she really is. I thought perhaps she had died and Jack Jones married again. But Grandad said he recalled visiting her in Crawford County as a young boy. She has always been a mystery, and I’ve been trying to figure her out for thirty years.
The family story is that Jack Jones was a mean man and not a great step-father to Robert, Cecil, and Walter. The story goes that Robert left home with his brother Cecil when he was just fourteen or sixteen years old. Of course, Cecil married his step-sister in 1895, so he couldn’t have gone too far. But that’s another story for another day. I guess dating is easier when it’s just down the hall.
In any case, I can’t find concrete evidence of Robert until I find him in the 1910 Census, working as a machinist in a factory. According to Granddad (Robert H. Dickson, Jr.), he worked on the railroads around Fort Smith. In 1911, I find him working as an engineer at Ketcham Iron Co. Supposedly, he was injured while working here. He and two other men were carrying a long steel beam at the steel foundry. The man in the middle lost his grip, and then so did the man in the front. That left only Robert, who injured his back when he dropped the beam, too. His back muscles were pretty badly torn, keeping him from doing heavy lifting for the rest of his life.
In 1917, Robert went to work for the Fort Smith Light & Traction Company as a motorman on a streetcar. Granddad always talked about his dad being a motorman. Apparently, this was a job that he was very proud of and was meticulous in doing it well. Grandad remembered that his dad allowed no mischief or horseplay on his streetcar and never allowed him to touch the controls, even if no one else was around.
My dad (Robert H. Dickson III) still has his grandfather’s badge and insignia from his cap from his days with the streetcar line.
As a motorman, Robert was a member of the A.A. of S. & E.R.E of America – the Amalgamated Association of Streetcar and Electric Railroad Employees of America – a union that represented them. I have not found any particular mention of him as any sort of leader in the union, or as a particularly avid union member. But as a motorman, he was represented by this union and wore its pin proudly.
But his working life didn’t end there. Out of work as a motorman in the middle of the Great Depression, Robert opened a shoe repair store. According to Granddad (Robert, Jr), he had done some shoe repair as a young man. His cousin George (this would have to be George Collier Williams) taught him what he needed to open his own shop, so he did. As it turns out, George was the key to my figuring out who exactly Robert’s grandparents were. You can see more about that in some of my early blog posts if you are interested.
The Southwest Times Record (the newspaper of Fort Smith, Arkansas) reported that he had opened his shop in downtown Fort Smith.
Not long after opening on North 9th St, a spot came open at 2121 Midland Blvd and Robert moved his shop there. Robert worked in his shop until near his death. His sons worked with him until they moved to California. Richard worked as a clerk at the nearby Thom McKan shoe store, no doubt routing repair business to his dad’s shop. Robert worked in the shop both before and after his short stint living in Los Angeles, having come home to help out at home as his dad became unable to work.
Robert H. Dickson, Sr.’s life of working came to an end on 18 Nov 1942 when he died. He was buried in Forest Park Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He taught his children well the value of hard work. And they continued to pass it along to their families.
I never knew Robert H. Dickson, Sr. But I have known and loved Robert H. Dickson, Jr and Robert H. Dickson III and continue to be proud to be their son and grandson.
It’s week 35 and it’s the end of August and time for Back to School. Of course, here in the Atlanta area they have the crazy practice of starting school super-early. School started in Fulton County, where we live, the first Monday in August! So, kids and teachers have been back pretty much a month now and are coming up on their first day off – Labor Day.
When I think about Back to School and my ancestors, there are so many people that I think of. I come from a long line of teachers in every direction. Some were young women who taught in country schools for a time until they got married. Others made a career out of teaching. Others taught school to supplement their income at different points in their lives. There were some who helped to establish schools. And many, many who just went to school.
The Wren kids all went to school out in the country. I don’t remember a lot of stories about being in school. Based on Mildred’s 1912 report card, I get the impression that she made her way through, but wasn’t that excited about it.
She studied Arithmetic, Grammar, Geography, Reading, Spelling, and Physiology. She was also graded on Deportment, which, not surprisingly, she excelled. Her grades overall, however, were nothing to write home about.
In the fall, she had a lot of half-days where she missed school, probably to help out on the farm, since she would have been almost twelve years old.
At the end of the 1914 school year, Mildred had completed what was required to get her Pupil’s Certificate for completing the course of study of the Common Schools of the State of Arkansas. That would mean that she had completed the 8th grade. Her 8th grade teacher, who signed her certificate was Glen D. Sutton. Glen, as it turns out, was both a career teacher and a the wife of Mildred’s cousin. Glen Sutton was born in 1893 in Sutton, Nevada County, Arkansas. She married James Edgar “Edgar” Wren, Mildred’s cousin, in 1915, just the year after Mildred finished her class. Glen taught school for thirty years, herself, according to notes that Mildred made.
Before too long, Mildred met a dashing young guy, Henry Whitten. They fell in love and married. The two of them were made for each other. Both always had a twinkle in their eye and some kind of mischief in mind. They married in 1920 and were together until Henry’s death in 1979. When they first married, they had a house out in the country. Later on, after Mildred’s parents and sister had moved closer into the town of Prescott, Henry built a house for them across the highway from her parents. They were always a close family.
I’ve always loved how Mildred worked so hard to record memories. She has notebooks and notebooks of the lives of her family – uncles, aunts, cousins, and all of their children. She kept scrapbooks of all of the cousins’ children, though she and Henry never had any of their own. She had lists of all of her family’s birthdays, anniversaries, and dates of death, along with the same thing for her friends.
She made notes on her photos to capture the moment as well. For example, in 1934, she made a note on the picture above that she made the dress she is wearing as well as Henry’s overalls that he’s wearing. Mildred and Henry never had money to speak of, so the made do – making what they needed, raising a fabulous garden, and raising cattle on their farm.
In 1965, Mildred and Henry went to Glen & Edgar Wren’s Golden Wedding reception, held at the home of another cousin, Willard Wren. Yes, that Glen. Glen Sutton Wren. Mildred’s 8th grade teacher. Glen & Edgar even went on to have a daughter named Mildred Wren.
But, back to school. Early in their marriage, Mildred and Henry, like many young people starting out in their lives and their married lives, took up school teaching in the country. Mildred and Henry both were licensed teachers for both primary and high school through the late 1920s at least. They taught school in little country schools – Holly Springs and Thomasville, in particular. I wish I had the years for these pictures and a list of the students, but all I have is the place. It looks like one is Thomasville in 1923 – a girl is holding a basketball that says THS 1923.
But, you know, I came a long a long time after Mildred and Henry taught school. By my time, they were already getting on in years. But the twinkle and the mischief were still there. I am sure that we will get to a story about Henry’s magic tree at some point, or about how they named the calves each season, or about all of the amazing vegetables we ate when we visited. I remember them being so proud of their nieces, my mom and aunt, and being so proud of the next generation – my two cousins, my brother, and me. I remember Mildred and Norvelle taking the bus from Prescott, Arkansas to Jackson, Tennessee for commencement when my Mom graduated from Lambuth College. I remember that even when she was in the nursing home, not feeling well at all, she still had a smile and a twinkle and wanted to hear all about how you were doing rather than say how well she was not doing.
So, back to school. Time to head back. You never know. You may find yourself cousin to your 8th grade teacher, find out she named her daughter for you, and end up going to her Golden Wedding reception! Just keep a smile on your face and a twinkle in your eye and mischief in your heart along the way.