Tag Archives: History

The Hill

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By Jim Byous

s 1 1 _9922 Byous Property view of Oklahoma Mountain and Sugarloaf from the property

A predawn photo of Eastern Oklahoma. The cone-shaped hill to the right is Sugarloaf where my paternal grandfather was born. Oklahoma was wild back then filled with rock-hard and tough people.

The hill by my grandfather’s house was a world unto itself, without a tear or care or worry.  Eastern Oklahoma was a place where the dreams of small boys lived… where they played… where everything came together for a young American’s life.  It was not a place for sorrow back then, or so I remember it.  It was beyond life.  The grass on the hill was lush and green, where summer flowers bloomed and was always just the right height for running through and diving into and wallowing about, all in blissful laughter… chiggers and tics be damned.

The watermelon fields were down below the barn beside a bend in the road.  And it seemed that each time we visited was just the right time for the melons to be picked and cut open and eaten and the seeds spat to see who was champion.  I was champion once though I was the smallest of the lot.  While sitting on the fence beside the barn I spat one large black seed, oh… twenty feet or more.  It jetted half-way to the horseshoe pit where my uncles Clyde and Paul were pitching.  Those times were fun.  The girls didn’t like it, but seed spitting was part of the ritual.  Seeing their twisted, contorted faces was worth the occasional, slobbery drool.

What seemed to be a huge house back then was a simple four-room country home that sat in another bend of the road.  Before my teens, the bathroom stood a thirty-yard dash away on cold winter nights.  The road out the front door was half way, either way, to the left or to the right, half way to town, five miles distant.  To the left, you wade through Mountain Creek, through Kennedy and back across again, then on to 133 and turn left then you’re there.

If you went to the right from the house the lane wound past the Midgley’s farm, then past Uncle Clyde’s.  From there to town was an endless string of relatives, J.C. Donaho, L.T. Johnson, cousin Dural at Morgan hill.  Then it was straight to town… unless of course, you decided to cut past the Chapel, the small church building a short jog off of the main road.  There the grounds are dotted with mounds and stones and crosses of family gone before, all related, all remembered and always illustrated and described by the elders in the family.

When old enough I rode a young bay mare those long, quiet, interesting miles to town.  There I stopped at the Dairy Queen where my cousin worked the window.  I still see it.  A quick hello, a few minutes gazing into her captivating brown, Cherokee eyes… damn!  She had to be my cousin.  First cousin at that.  Second cousins maybe, third would be okay, but this beautiful lady was way to close, that and ten years my senior.  “Sometimes life’s not fair,” I thought.  Later she married a fellow from the next town south.  So, I continue on.

A gulped-down malt, back in the saddle then back on the road.  The bay canters along the road, rocking-horse smooth, the wind gently flows over my face and through my hair.  Time and place have no meaning.  I am here and all time is here.  There is no other place.  I am moving down the same route that had been traveled by my family generations before – along the hoof-marks made by the mounts of my grandfathers and my uncles and my cousins.  Back to the days of the outlaws, of Jesse James, the Youngers, and Belle Starr.  Their lives cross those in my family along with lawmen Heck Thomas, Bill Tilghman, and Chris Madsen.  Their times were tough.  So were the people.  Rough-edged would be a descriptor.  Life is good and easy today.

My grandfather’s wagon traveled this route many times over the years.  When I was small; what wonderful times we enjoyed.  Drawn by two horses we would ride over the hill and down to town for supplies.  The carriage was made of rough-hewn wood and rolled on rubber tires changed-out during the depression when wood-spokes were scarce and even more expensive.  Along the washboard road, we bounced and jostled over pot-holes and pock-marks cut by the fast, modern, in-a-hurry vehicles.  Their tires spinning on the gravel course, bounding, vibrating and digging the lane, turning the surface into a tooth-rattling, bone-shaking, corduroy of rocky roadbed.

We, at a slower pace, picked our route along the springless journey, holding tight to the sideboards, waiting for the next bump to launch us above the plank-lumber bed.  The bobbing heads must have been a strange sight to those passers-by in the sleek-finned automobiles that zipped past with a wake of dust and grit.  But we loved the wagon.  We loved the driver.  We loved the land that we crossed.

And the mound, the hill…  The hill had a life and being of its own.  It was a magical thing – like no other entity or place.  To a child, it was where castles formed in a stand of trees and mountains from the clouds.  Where good guys and bad guys gunned it out for the sake of the fearful townsfolk.  It was where dragons were fought and conquered, sometimes twice a day, sometimes three… and it was where an old white mare carried three knights at a time again and again from campaign to campaign… only to avoid our every command at feeding time, unless, of course, we too wanted to wander back to the barn.

But mostly I suppose, it was the people of the hill.  The bond of love.  The binding of family, of friends, of caring.  It’s a good memory.  From time to time it bubbles up from the past and grows a grin on aged lips and shines a light on a life-battered soul.  Memories are good.  That’s what youth is for – making good memories.  Those memories are good.

I think back to the hill and I smile.  The people are all gone now.  The house is too.  Only the hill remains.  Those memories are good to review – good for lifting the heart.

Nowadays I think of it often.  And, it’s very, very good.

 

 

 

© J Byous Company, 2015 All Rights Reserved.

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The more things change…

Visit our main website at SoutheasternBound.net. We post history/travel every Monday, then photos/photo tips each Thursday.  Please click the Follow button (below right) for updates on Southeastern Bound.

By Jim Byous

While going through old clips from the 1980s I came across a couple of editorial cartoons from my newspaper years.  The first was a comment on the drug culture of the era… This brings into mind the old saying that the more things change the more they say the same.

The second was an editorial cartoon that almost got me fired… George Bush (the first) was running for president and was accused of being a “wimp” by opponents.  Being from old-school journalism training, I tried to stay neutral and made fun of both sides.  During the campaign, Bush combated the label of being soft in foreign policy.  The Democrat tag stuck to him right up to the election… that he won.  This ran in the Merced Sun Star, a Central California newspaper.  The General Manager was a staunch Republican.  My editorial cartoon rights were revoked for a couple of months.

Dinosaur extinction

Bush I wimp

© 2015 J Byous Company, All rights reserved

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A Chip Off the Old Block?

Visit our main website at SoutheasternBound.net. We post history/travel every Monday, then photos/photo tips each Thursday.  Please click the Follow button (below right) for updates on Southeastern Bound.

By Jim Byous

I am not proud of this gritty chip of stone.  Nor am I ashamed of it.  It was, oddly enough, part of an inheritance from my father.  Tucked away in a dresser drawer it had been one of his possessions – a souvenir – that he took from a gravestone in Missouri when I was young.

Chip of Jesse James Grave Stone bw

A small symbolic sliver of stone from the headstone of outlaw Jesse James.

It is a fragment cracked and split from the headstone of the outlaw, Jesse James. Taking a chip of that stone was the norm at that time in history…  Hell, everybody did it.  Few complained.  And, this small chunk, a fragment of the lower section, was from the second headstone to mark the site.  The rest of the monument had been flaked away by hundreds or even thousands of earlier visitors who had grabbed a rock and splintered off their own piece of notoriety.

The first stone was and is preserved in a museum display after years of chipping history-seekers.  We as Americas… as tourists… have changed.  We understand the need to preserve history – take a picture, leave the artifact… the old National Park slogan, “Take nothing but pictures.  Leave nothing but footprints.”  But, to look back at those who came before us and judging their actions must be weighed with the social and cultural norms of the day.  Our generation and their generation differ in thought, in ideology, and in actions.

Beyond obvious abhorrent and evil actions in history, we cannot effectively judge previous generations.  Bias of the present obscures seeing the reasoning of the past, the old Monday morning quarterback syndrome.  We can say they were wrong and we should strive to do better.  But to judge in hind-sight is akin to being a referee in a sports event in which we have never played.

Getting into the heads of past or future generations is a difficult if not impossible undertaking.  People don’t think the same between cultures, they really don’t think the same in differing centuries.  Two hundred years from now we will be judged on things we now find sacred.  What will they think of us?  What are we doing wrong in their future eyes?

Understanding the mindset of serfs of medieval Europe and their acceptance of social station is a concept that is foreign to most Americans and people of free societies.  People tend to conform to the norms of the day.  They adapt.  They survive.  They tend to settle for what they think is expected of them and get on with living.  That mindset is still prevalent in many cultures.  Singer Ricky Skaggs sang it in his song about don’t-get-above-your-raisin mentality.

So, this simple sliver or limestone is more than a snatched souvenir.  It’s an artifact, a symbol of changing cultures, differing ways of thinking and views on life from generation to generation.

Anybody want to buy a rock?  It has a great story… and, the statute of limitations has run out.

Jesse-james-farm

The Missouri home and the third gravestone of Jesse James. Credit: Americasroof, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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The Mysteries of the Trustees’ Garden

The History of the Trustees’ Garden

The Gas Works Wall

The 1853 Gas Works Wall at Trustees’ Garden is often mistaken for “Old Fort Wayne.” Studies find that it is partially… very partially… true.

 Historians and archaeologists uncovered a wealth of military and industrial history on the grounds and in the buildings situated on an historic bluff overlooking the Savannah River.

The surface is rough and scratches at my fingertips as I run them along the plane of fire-hardened bricks.  A faint-but-pungent scent of coal tar wafts from the walls that have been forgotten and misinterpreted for generations. In sequence, seven earthen fortifications stood here through the years.  There is nothing left of them today – or so many historians believe.  But here is the evidence:  a small section of one fortification did survive, undetected by decades of history buffs and connoisseurs of the past.

This remnant of an earlier Savannah is old.  Well, “old” by the youngest-of-the-thirteen-colonies benchmark.  Hidden in plain sight for a century and a half, the now sandy-brown wall reflects the morning light through a narrow archway. A few yards away sleepy commuters navigate past, their vehicles climbing the road-grade beside the city’s legendary Trustees’ Garden. If a piece of land could be a movie character, Savannah’s Trustees’ Garden would be Forrest Gump.  Always in the background, excluded and ignored.

But like the character portrayed by Tom Hanks, the site holds secrets of which the bus-stop folks know little.  The Garden’s ten-acre plot of sloping ground has, as some say, “more history per square foot than any other spot in the city.”  And, I like to think, possibly in the southeast.  I love and study history.  Never have I seen one small plot of land with so many significant and overlapping historical characteristics. The Trustees’ Garden was planned in 1732 when Georgia’s founder, James Edward Oglethorpe, enlisted the help of John Pine, an English artist, and engraver.  The two of them conferred and drew a plan for rows, rank, and file for mulberry, orange, peach and other trees and then inked the lot lines for the rest of the town.

When the settlers arrived in 1733 Oglethorpe staked-out the garden and had it planted the following spring. The garden itself lasted less than two decades.  In historical records, the area is always an afterthought — a footnote.  Life and history are like that.  Who knew this chocolate-history-bonbon in a box held so many hidden treats and treasures?  You never know what you’re gonna get. The land has changed hands many times over the years.  Early on, the profits expected by the Trustees failed to blossom, so the title was passed to former Royal Governors, then to industrialists, and eventually to hotel developers.   The current owner, Charles H. Morris, initiated a shift toward the preservation of the Garden’s rich history.  The renovation and historical inspection of the site is slowly revealed forgotten stories that seem to peel away, like the layers of a Vidalia onion.

A historian in his own right, Morris took his time with the renovation.  “I want to get it done right,” he said.  “I want to make sure we think it through.” The Garden’s northernmost section, alongside the Savannah River, has long been known as a strategic military location.  Over the years, military leaders fortified the bluff to provide protection against enemy ships that might sail up the river from the Atlantic.

Earthen fortifications were built on the site when hostilities seemed imminent.  Then, as each war or threat of war ended, each successive fortification fell into ruin. Dirt is easy enough to move, so for each new conflict, the battlement-du-jour was staked and excavated in accordance with the newest defensive plan.  The soil from the dry moats was “thrown up” to the inner line to create the parapets… time after time, fortification after fortification. At least seven battlements have stood on this site, beginning with colonial times and extending through the Civil War, when the last fort anchored the Union Army’s line on what was then the terrace of the Savannah Manufactured Gas Works.

In order the seven were; Oglethorpe’s fort, built circa 1740, Fort Halifax, circa 1759, Fort Savannah, 1778, British cannon emplacements employed during the Siege of Savannah 1779, Fort Prevost, 1780, Fort Wayne, 1813, and the Union fortifications in 1865.  There is evidence that there may have been additional fortifications as well, but that is yet to be determined. An interesting legend surrounds the brick wall that currently stands watch over the river at the location of the recently discovered Revolutionary War-era structure.  Guide books refer to the wall as part of “Old Fort Wayne.”

Many historians do the same.  The confusion is justified.  The building of the wall in 1853 destroyed the older fort that was the namesake of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.  The older earthen ramparts were shoveled into the interior of the wall to create a terrace for gasholders.  Workers unearthed old cannons that they placed along the wall, making it look like an old fort to generations of Savannahians.

Everybody in town knew that the fort had been located on that spot. After all, the cannons were there to prove it. Fort Halifax, the second on the bluff, was built in 1759.  It was a tender spot and tinder box during the days leading up to the American Revolution.  In December 1765 the “obnoxious” stamps that represented taxation by the Crown were stored at the fort.  Royal Governor James Wright placed the stamps there for protection against the local Sons of Liberty, who vowed to burn them.  Fifty-five Royal Rangers under the leadership of the Governor and Captain John Milledge stood guard.  Nearby, 200 angry Patriots awaited an opportunity to strike a blow for liberty. Wright had the stamps moved by ship to Cockspur Island at the mouth of the river, thus defusing the matter, at least for awhile.

And that’s only a partial history of the site. I’ll post more later.

– JD Byous

Looking east from the location of the ancient powder magazine.

Looking east from the location of the ancient powder magazine.

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The Box

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Not long ago Becky (Rebecca Harrison Byous) and I had the opportunity to visit a friend here in Savannah who allowed us to view a family heirloom that has been passed down through four previous generations. It was a small leather-covered box about 12 inches by 9 inches by 4.5 inches deep. A small medallion highlighted the lid with an eagle and an inscription, “E Pluribus Unum.” The box served as a desk secretary for General Robert E. Lee and was carried by him through his early career and during the years he served and commanded troops during the War Between The States. It was a gift from his mother upon his graduation from West Point. I’d had the honor of viewing it once before late last year and was able to touch and handle it. But today it was an extra thrill for me to watch Georgia-girl, Becky as she was able to see, touch and feel the history. For an Okie cowboy who grew up in history-sparse North-Central California, living here in Savannah has been exceptional and exciting experience… being the history nerd that I am. But watching others discover history is an equally fantastic event. Here, each footstep and conversation treads on and teaches of things historical. How cool is that?

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The Trustees’ Garden in the beginning

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If cotton was once king of the South, then the royal cradle was the sandy plot of land along Savannah’s eastern bluff called Trustees’ Garden. The role of the Garden changed over the years following the modes of history along the currents and courses that progressed from agriculture to industry to tourism. Events there helped form the face and destiny of Savannah, of Georgia and the world.
Cotton was first introduced to the New World in Virginia and Florida but was first nurtured for the commercial market at Trustees’ Garden in 1734. Joseph Fitzwalter, the caretaker of the Garden, wrote James Oglethorpe in January 1735, “I have met with some cotton seeds from Guinea, which from it I have raised… [a] thousand plants, some of which have shot eight feet… and a second season will come to their bringing forth fruit [of] cotton to the Trustees’ use.”
From the beginning, silk was the desired product to be produced in Georgia. Modeled after London’s Chelsea Botanical Garden, silk production was the goal. Cotton was seemingly a second thought for the Trustees and to founder James Oglethorpe.
Though the Garden fell into disuse after only a few years, the advancements achieved there were wide-sweeping. The short time when cotton plants were nurtured at the end of Broughton Street was an instrumental step in the development of a product that shaped the politics, the culture and the events of a growing region, nation, and eventual world power.
The bluff at the Garden was more than an agricultural nursery. It was situated with a strategic military overview of the Savannah River. Many forts and cannon batteries occupied the spot that also served as an anchor spot for fortification walls that ringed and protected the city from advancing armies, real or projected. On a map entitled “Savanna Town” a diamond-buttressed fort just outside of the Garden area entitled “Castell” can be seen. A battery of cannon was located on the bluff of the Garden.

The Gas Works Wall

The Gas Works wall at Trustees’ Garden is often mistaken as Old Fort Wayne because it stands on the same spot.

Later in 1759 Fort Halifax occupied the bluff. The fort was named for the Earl of Halifax, the godfather of the second royal governor of the colony, Henry Ellis. The bluff was an emblematic location during the days before the Revolution. Demonstrations against the Stamp Act by the newly named “Sons of Liberty” erupted in the city in December 1765 when two hundred protesters mustered around the fort to destroy the loathed papers. Governor James Wright reported, “The Liberty Boys, as they call themselves, had assembled to the number of about 200 & were gathering fast and that Some of them had declared they were determined to go to the Fort & break open the Store & take out & destroy the Stamp’t Papers &c”. The Governor and fifty-four Rangers moved in to protect the stamps. When the crowd of protesters grew to three hundred Governor Wright spirited the stamps aboard the ship Speedwell that was docked at the base of the bluff. They secreted to Cockspur Island and the protection of Fort George at the mouth of the Savannah River. Wright had reason to be concerned since the fort was in a state of disrepair from neglect over the years.

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