Let’s All Be Americans Now: The Great War and the Soldiers of Jacinto, Dallas County, Arkansas

DCM WWI slideshow for Mt. Carmel Jacinto

The following is the full text of the program at the Mt. Carmel Homecoming on September 10, 2017, presented by Sandra Parham Turner and Melrose Smith Bagwell. They have close ties to Jacinto and are both on the board of directors at the Dallas County Museum in Fordyce, Arkansas, where Melrose is the assistant director, and Sandra is over public and media relations. Earlier this year, the museum received a grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage to upgrade its World War I exhibit. As a result of this and through much research, a program was developed that can be tailored for the audience to whom it is presented. This particular one was designed for Jacinto in Dallas County, Arkansas. A pdf of the slideshow is included in this post (click on the link above), as well as the full text of the presentation.

(Sandra Parham Turner) [PHOTO OF LET’S ALL BE AMERICANS NOW] This year marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ involvement in World War I. Today, Melrose and I are here to tell you about the men from Jacinto who served in “the war to end all wars.”

[NAMES OF THOSE WHOSE REGISTRATION CARDS I FOUND] I did some research on the internet and was able to find several men from Jacinto, some young and a few who were a little older, who were registered for the war. I am sure this is not all of them, but these were the ones I found online. I only listed the ones who were living in Jacinto at the time of registration (with the exception of Claude Bradley), but there were several more who listed Jacinto as their birthplace who were living elsewhere when they registered for the war. I’m going to show you some of the registrants who ended up staying on the home front, to my knowledge, for various reasons. So, on these cards, the information asked would vary depending on which round the registration occurred. For instance, they either had boxes to put the height and weight or boxes to check whether the registrant was slender, medium, or stout. [PHOTO OF CHAMPIE] It is on record that George Champion “Mr. Champie” Ennis was 43 years old when he registered! He was 5’7” and it was noted at 160 pounds, he was in the “stout” category. They also would have a place to note the eye color and hair color and a yes or no to whether the registrant was bald! Nearly everyone had brown hair except for Arthur Edwin Mann. [PHOTO OF ARTHUR] Guess what color it was? (Red!) You could claim an exemption for not being able to serve in the war, but whether or not it would be granted would be up to the board. [PHOTO OF HILLMON] John Hillmon Taylor claimed exemption because he had weak eyes – and a wife! The registration also listed the person’s occupation. Every one I found was listed as a farmer; either working for themselves or their fathers. The only exception was for John Lemuel Dedman. [PHOTO OF LEM] At 26 years old, he was of medium height, his build was “stout,” he had blue eyes, dark hair, he was married, and he was a minister for the Little Rock Methodist Conference. My granddaddy, Ray Smith, enlisted in the third and final round on September 12, 1918. [PHOTO OF RAY] He was listed as being 5’10” and on that day, he weighed 170 pounds, making him three inches taller and ten pounds heavier than Mr. Champie, but he was listed as being of medium height and build. I guess the heaviness was in the eye of the registrar and no two of them judged a person the same. A month after Ray registered, evidently he had gained 5 pounds already. His mother wrote a letter to his brother Jesse who was serving as a camp cook at Camp Pike. “Here’s Ray, he’s been feasting since he got in. Says he eats too much. Weighs 175 pounds and looks to weigh 200 by the time they get through vaccinating him. I told it wrong he said by the time he got through eating Uncle Sam’s grub.” He never made it – we all thought he didn’t serve because he had flat feet, but the real reason was simple….the war ended before he got called up to serve.

One person who did go on to serve was Claudius, better known as Claude, Bradley. [PHOTO OF CLAUDE] The American Legion post in Fordyce was named in his memory, as he was the first Dallas County resident to die in World War I. His registration card stated he was born in Jacinto and located his residence at Swaty, just outside of Jacinto. Claude was 26 years old when he died at sea on February 5, 1918. Of course, he was buried at sea, but he has a marker at Tanyard Cemetery.

In the Taylor Cemetery is a grave marker that always has fascinated me. It has the names of two brothers on it, John Hunter and Robbert Sidney Walker. They were the sons of Joseph Thomas and Bettie Sue Walker, who I believe sent four of their sons off to this war. Only two would return. [PHOTO OF GRAVE MARKER] I’ve been to that cemetery many, many times in my life, and I always was drawn to that marker because it was for two brothers who died close together, both during World War I. Even more fascinating to me was that the marker said Hunter died at sea. Let me tell you more about these brothers.

[PHOTO OF HUNTER] John Thomas Hunter Walker was a member of the U. S. Army. His World War I draft card listed his occupation as farming and that he was employed by John Mays in Jacinto. It also described him as being of medium height and build and having blue eyes and brown hair. Hunter wrote this letter home on September 19, 1918:

“Dear Marther [Mother?] Will write you a few lines to let you hear from me. I am doing fine and hope you all are well. We leave here tomorrow Sept. 20 1918. We got orders last Friday to get ready to leave here and we are Still here now. But I guess we will go now. They have just drilled the fool out of us this week. I can act like a Soldier now – I know a little about army life I think by this time. I don’t know where we will go for sure. One of the Lt. died aboard ship en route to France.” In a letter home written less than two weeks later, on October 2, Melrose’s father, Jesse Smith, mentioned that Hunter was at Camp Merritt in New Jersey. Camp Merritt was a military base activated during World War I, from which nearly one million troops marched to board ferryboats that took them to Hoboken, New Jersey, where they boarded troop transports bound for Europe and the war. It would be interesting to know just how many of our Dallas County men passed through that camp.

The Chaplain on board the ship Hunter sailed on wrote the following letter to his parents:

At Sea. Oct 11-1918

Mr. & Mrs. J.T. Walker

Parents of John Walker

Prvt in 19th Co.

As one who was with your son during his last illness and death, and called on to perform the last rites at his funeral. I write you more fully than the official announcement would carry the circumstances surrounding his last days. He came aboard the ship with a slight cold as it seemed, but was too plucky to report sick. After a few days out from land, it developed into an attack of measles, He was taken to Hospital where most sufficient and kindly doctors did all they could for him, but pneumonia developed, and he became very sick. He sent for me after I had left him about 2 hrs. before and said “I don’t want you to just come and cheer me up But I feel I am a pretty sick man and may not get well. And if I do not, wish you to write home. Gave his Father’s address. He said “I am not afraid to die. Jesus Christ is my Savior and whatever he thinks best for me. That is the best. Say a prayer for me, and I will pray with you. I tried to do my best, and I am going to do all I can to get well, and go on with the boys, and help finish up this job. But let’s face things as they are. Do what we can, and leave the rest to God.” I prayed with & for him and called frequently after that. But he kept getting worse and Early this morning passed away. I held a service with his company and then his body was committed to the great deep, while his spirit had already gone on to the Father of us all. His body was wrapped in the flag of his country. He was a brave, noble and heroic a soldier as if he had died on the field of battle in the cause of Liberty.

(Rev) Lee M. Brothe [r?] Sec. of Y.M.C.A.

Hunter was 13 days’ shy of his 26th birthday when he died on October 11. His body was committed to the Atlantic Ocean, but he shares a marker with his brother in the community where they were born and raised, and where they called home.

[PHOTO OF SIDNEY] Robbert Sidney Walker was four and a half years younger than his brother Hunter. He, too, was a member of the U. S. Army, and his draft card showed that he worked for W. A. Green in Jacinto.  It stated that he was of medium build and height, that he had blue eyes and light-colored hair. He was stationed at Camp Pike in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he died at the age of 21 of a respiratory illness on November 6, 1918, just five days before the war ended.

(Melrose Smith Bagwell) My father was Jesse B. Smith.  He enlisted in the Great War in July of 1918 and was discharged in December of 1918. Due to the war ending on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, he never did leave Camp Pike.  [PHOTO OF JESSE] I never saw a photo of him in uniform.  He was a cook and attended the School for Bakers and Cooks. He knew about cooking because he was the oldest of 6 children and had helped his mamma cook at home.  We have several letters from him to the family back home as well as some that he received from the family. I found a letter last week that I found very interesting.  He wrote home and told his family to:

Please Ans. my. Questions

how Sid is and what his address is Will Hunter be brought back home. Have you ever heard from Horace Mann. Hope it will soon all be over what was Hunter’s trouble wish I could hear from you all more often. Oh Papa dear Papa it look’s like you would write your dear son more often. Oh why not. Ray it may be you would have to go if you do when do you think you will go.

Well Papa place that check in the bank in my name or your’s if it is easier or you put in your name and give Ray check for $32.00 for carrying it is that correct and also pay him for the fodder he pulled do this at once make mamma a check at once for $7.00 Mamma is that correct.

(4) Papa pay for all cotton picking at your prices and figures and send me a statement of it push my cotton picking and corn pulling with this money. Did you sell my suit of clothes did you want my horse.

I just Red a letter for Clarance Rigg he can’t Read nor write his name. Mamma thank you for that chicken I have not got it yet but oh I wish I had it is Ruined by now I can’t help but think of poor Hunter. Wish I knew how Sid was also glad to hear from Geo. Bradley. You know you wrote me he was so low. Sorry to hear of Miss Callis death also Mrs. Holmes. You know Reace carried me home. I expect to be home a bout Xmas for good. We will know by Monday morning. I guess it is not worying me much I am very well satisfied lifing a easy life. Must stop so by by Jesse B. Smith Mamma I am living a joly [jolly] life and will be home some day by and by I am taking the very best care I can of my self)

Dear Family about 7:30 A.M. Nov. 9 over my light lunch only 2 slices of bread little mush few spoon’s of milk and a poor cup of coffee. We all stay hungry well I have got my bed made. I hear the rifle range

4 out of our 19 have got sick a gain and gone to bed. I am making it fine getting a little weak with nothing to eat much and not much money to buy from the canteen. I will be out of here in a few day’s I think. Last thing last night and first thing this morning was Poor Hunter that has passed on from this vail of tears. Prepared or unprepared ok it makes me feel so snug and sweet to Know I am Prepared to meet my God in the judgement day I am resting in my savior’s precious love. Ah it makes me hapy to know I have a home on high where there will be no war no death no pain no lonelyness no parting no weeping no hunger no thirst and no night there a sweet rest for ever and ever this heaven my home on high where I will go some sweet day. Don’t get the (idea) I am home sick for I am not so by by Jesse B Smith

The Sid that he wanted to know about was the Robbert Sidney Walker that Sandra just told you about. Daddy didn’t know that Sid was dead. He asked if they would bring Hunter’s body back.  That was the Hunter Walker that died at sea..  He was sad all through the letter about Hunter.  He kept wondering if Hunter was prepared to die, and he went on to tell the family that he was prepared to die. I noticed in the chaplain’s letter that he said Hunter told him that he was prepared to die. Then he asked if they had heard from Horace Mann [PHOTO OF MR. MANN] who was another one of the Jacinto boys in the War … and was Sandra’s step-grandfather.  Mr. Horace was one of daddy’s best friends.  He told about so many of the soldiers having the flu and dying, and at one time, he talked about how hungry he was because they didn’t have any food. In his letters, Daddy talks about his crops and what his brothers needed to do about harvesting them so apparently he had already planted his crops before he enlisted. One of his brothers that he mentioned was Ray Smith, who was Sandra’s grandfather.

At the Dallas County Museum, we have photos on the wall of our new World War I exhibit of the men from Dallas County who served, as well as relics in display cases from a few of those men. If you have an ancestor from Dallas County you would like to include, we would love to add to our display. We have a number of letters written during WWI, including a binder of letters written by Joseph Edward Smith to his mother back in Sparkman as he traveled from there to Missouri, Georgia, in France, and back to New York. We also have Jesse Rothwell’s journal of his journey to and in France. To me these letters and this journal give us a better idea as to what these soldiers went through and the sacrifices they made and how many of them lost that lives in order for us to enjoy the freedoms that we have today … which reminds me [PHOTO OF FLAG ON FIELD IMAGE]

All Gave Some, Some Gave All

Some stood through for the red, white and blue

And some had to fall

And if you ever think of me

Think of all your liberties and recall

Some Gave All


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New Books

Turtlehull Publishing has made available the latest books to be published. They are both fascinating histories; one is about a small Dallas County, Arkansas, community, the other about a young boy who became a man through his years of service in the United States Army.


First is The History of Jacinto, a revised edition of a book compiled by my mother Clora Smith Parham and her cousin, Melrose Smith Bagwell. The updates to it include new formatting, additional photographs from the 1800’s to the 1970’s, new information and stories on various families, and the addition of one of my favorite columns of any newspaper, the “dots.” If you have read in small town newspapers the columns dedicated to the news of the various communities, then you have read a “dot.” I did research at the Dallas County Library in Fordyce and used that wonderful invention, the microfilm reader, to go through area newspapers from the 1920’s and the 1940’s. I could have sat there for days reading through those old newspapers. They were fascinating not just for the dots but for the grocery store and clothing store advertisements and front page headlines. What an excellent source of history contained on those rolls of microfilm! The original version of the book was stories and photographs copied onto sheets of paper and placed in page protectors inserted into 3-ring binder notebooks. This release will be an 8×10 paperback book, with a full-color cover and 175 pages of black and white photographs, family histories, and stories of the community of Jacinto, Arkansas. This book will be available September 9. It will retail for $20 with proceeds from the book to be divided equally between the Mt. Carmel Methodist Church Homecoming and Preservation Association and the Macedonia Baptist Church, both located in Jacinto.




The second book is entitled Memories of a Colonel, a first-person account of a young boy born in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1927 who would eventually become a leader of men. It is a life told with much detail, sometimes humorous, often sobering, always enthralling. There are football games, youthful exploits, gripping details of battles and the grim aftermath, friendships, love, family, travel, and making a home wherever he was in the world. This book, written over 30 years ago by the man who lived it, was set aside and forgotten about until this past spring when he and his wife rediscovered it. I have been working on it since April 1 with the transcribing it into a digital copy, researching, editing, and formatting it into a 6×9, 363-page paperback book, divided into sections illustrated with photographs of the Colonel and also of his wife and family. This book will be available November 11 on Veterans Day. The book will retail for $20 with proceeds from the book to benefit the Dallas County Museum.


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Miss Myrtle


The Princeton High School Junior Class of 1949 presented a tribute entitled, “The Life of Miss Myrtle Smith” and in the program, the quote below her name said, “To live is not to live for one’s self alone; let us help one another.” Today I want to talk to you about how appropriate this quote is and was for this woman who influenced so many in this community of Jacinto, and beyond.

Cora Myrtle Smith was born April 5, 1900, the oldest daughter of George and Mollie Smith. She grew up in the Jacinto community and lived there for most her life, occasionally leaving to teach school or to take her father to McFadden Springs, near Hot Springs, so he could receive treatments for his health in the 1930’s. Not until Myrtle suffered a devastating accident in the mid-1970s did she leave the home she grew up in, for good. However, she left behind a legacy of the paper kind that has been invaluable to me, as well as to many others.

One afternoon earlier this summer, there was a message on the Dallas County Museum’s Facebook page. A young woman wanted to know if we had any information about the Swaty family, or if I’d ever heard of a community named Swaty. That name sounded vaguely familiar to me, so I forwarded the question to Melrose. She replied she had gone to school with one of the Swaty family members, but I should ask Aunt Doris, who would know more about the family. I wracked my brain trying to recall where I had seen that name, and it suddenly dawned on me. I dug around in some boxes and files until there it was – a piece of notebook paper, yellowed with age, with very familiar cursive handwriting on it. At the top of the page was the heading “Swaty” and underneath was a list of names and a one- or two-word description beside several of them. I took a picture of it and sent it to the young woman, who immediately responded with a big thank you!

I explained to this woman how I happened to have this piece of paper. I told her how my mother had inherited most of the papers that had belonged to her aunt, my great-aunt, Myrtle Smith. Aunt Myrtle had made lists of people she knew, and I found many of them in her papers. These lists were how she kept everyone straight in her mind, their lineage, who belonged to who. Her papers are a wealth of information. For instance, I know from looking through her 1962 appointment book that Nora Bell’s birthday is March 9. She also wrote on the cover, “Saturday, 12:30 P.M. January 26, 1963, Ice on the ground!” I know from a list of phone numbers that she could call Louise Mann at 2-7300 or Mr. Ben H. Owens at 2-3878. She had many long distance numbers listed, also – remember dialing 121 when it was long distance? – and she could call John Steelman at 121-693-5672.

Aunt Myrtle had so many letters – seemingly hundreds, which is probably not an exaggeration – both to her and from her (such as the ones she wrote to her mother while tending to her father at McFadden Springs). I found it interesting that if you had read the letters she wrote, you would know she just had to be the oldest daughter and the oldest sister. You know – they’re not bossy, they just know what you need to be doing, and when and why and how and where you need to be doing it. Myrtle was no exception, and in fact, being a teacher is probably the reason why she wrote her instructions in great detail. In a letter written on October 28, 1935, to her brother, Conger, she wrote: “Wonder what you and Mamma are doing today! Don’t work too hard, or too long without a resting spell. Be careful about your eating. “Tis very important. Use little, if any, grease. Fry your meat out crisp. It’s the grease, not the bacon, that isn’t good for you. Buy and use lots of fresh fruit. Eat an apple or an orange when you are hungry. Drink lots of water. It’s cheap when you consider sickness and medicines and doctor bills!” I love how she is doing what she can to take care of her “little” brother, who at the time was 32 years old. Two days later, she wrote to her mother, Mollie, “… Mamma, how are you? Be sure to take medicine when you need it but don’t take salts. It will kill you.” Even in later years, she wrote her sister and brother-in-law, Connetta and Robert Roach, on how to take care of a poinsettia. She wrote to them on January 5, 1970: “You keep the poinsettia and let it be yours….After the plant’s usefulness is over, place it in a dry place where it will not freeze. Do not water it, or at least, very little, and let the soil dry up. Next May bring the plant out, cut the stem back about two-thirds, wash the soil off the roots and repot in new soil.” I wonder if they did what she said to do. These are good instructions, so I’m saving them for myself!

Aunt Myrtle had a kind heart and a generous spirit, and she shared what she had with those in the community. She had saved innumerable thank you cards within her papers and they all pretty much said the same thing: “Thank you for the money.” She might have tucked in a dollar bill in a birthday card – five dollars if you were graduating – maybe ten or so if you were getting married. She saved many programs from graduations. One was from the University of Arkansas School of Medicine when Rex Norman Moore graduated on June 16, 1952. Another program was from the Henderson State Teachers College Commencement in 1955. In the section where the names of graduates were listed, she wrote “Ones I know” and put a checkmark beside many of those names – including Thomas Marvin Frazier, Laura Glenn Mallett, and Mary Ann Taylor. Another program, also from Henderson, listed Cora Myrtle Smith. In 1957, at the age of 57, she finally had her bachelor’s degree – in Education.

Going back to the thank you cards: One, in particular, caught my eye. It was written in careful penmanship and even though it was not dated, I knew for a fact the writer wrote it in 1972. It was from one of Myrtle’s former students, and it said: “Thank you very much for the five dollars. I can use it when I go to SSC this summer. Can you imagine that skinny little third grader going to college? Again, thanks for the gift.” Well, that skinny little third grader, who wrote this card as a graduating high school senior, would write the following article published in the Arkansas Democrat on April 2, 1975, when he was a junior in college at SSC, now known as SAU, in Magnolia. It was by Eddie Parham as a special to the Democrat and was entitled, “Readin,’ Ritin,’ and ‘Rithmetic.” The article is published in its entirety in the revised History of Jacinto book so I won’t read it now, but here are a few tidbits:

“The small rural schools that dotted Dallas County early in the century have gone the way of wood stoves and coffee grinders. All that remains of some of them are empty buildings, while others are no more than blackened rubble heaps on the ground.

As the rural areas changed, and people left the country for larger communities, these schools were closed and consolidated with larger schools. But, these small country school houses weren’t all that was left behind in the migrations from the country. Along with the closing of these schools went the profession of the ‘country schoolteacher.’

Myrtle Smith of Jacinto is one of these teachers. She taught in the rural schools of Dallas County for 44 years.

Miss Smith’s parents, Rev. and Mrs. George S. Smith, spent several years teaching in some of these country schools. And, their daughter entered her career as a teacher even before she had graduated from the school where she began teaching.

In 1919, with an eighth grade education, she received a license to teach the second grade. However, she was hired by the Mount Carmel school at Jacinto to teach the upper six grades – this meant that she was a student in her first class.

As her students were her contemporaries and older than her 19 years in many cases, discipline became a major problem. She remembered having trouble with a couple who were continuously exchanging letters during class.

‘He was older than I was, and he would always sit in the back of the room writing little notes to his girlfriend, who sat in another corner of the room,’ she said. ‘I caught him one afternoon and demanded the letter. He held the letter behind his back and said that I wasn’t getting it, so we locked horns.

‘I grabbed his hair and he grabbed mine and we went ’round and ’round the room until he managed to throw the letter out the window. The next day, his daddy drove up to the school in his buckboard and wore him out.’

…For the next few years, Miss Smith taught in several of the small schools in the area, among them Eaglette, Midway, Oak Grove, Nix, Ebenezer and Cooterneck. At Eaglette, a thriving lumber mill community in earlier days, she taught the entire school of 55 students by herself.

While Miss Smith was teaching, she was also working on her own high school education at Bearden and Sheridan in her spare time. She graduated at Sheridan Missionary Baptist College in 1928, and immediately reentered to begin work on a college degree.

But, it was 30 years before she was able to receive her degree from college. The depression, family illness and the need for her teaching services kept her from continuing her education.

In 1957 Miss Smith received a degree from Henderson State Teachers College (Henderson State University) at Arkadelphia…

…In 1937, Miss Smith began teaching at Princeton School where she spent the next 27 years of her career. Princeton School was one of the larger rural schools in that area and had absorbed some of the smaller schools that Miss Smith had once served.

Miss Smith retired in 1968.

Talking about her students and her 44 years of teaching she said, “I don’t know how much they learned – but I learned a lot!”

When Aunt Doris was asked by Searcy Smith, her cousin, to say a few words about Aunt Myrtle in remembrance of her back in 1997, she wrote this: “Aunt Myrtle never married or had a family in the way that we usually think of family. All of her siblings’ families were her family. She was always doing special things for them, always bragging about them, always showing her love toward them.” Aunt Doris wrote how Aunt Myrtle was her teacher in the sixth grade, in 1937, the year Jacinto consolidated with Princeton. She said Myrtle was a good teacher who expected a lot from her students but was patient and kind. She said Aunt Myrtle gave her a set of little tin dishes when Aunt Doris was an adult. The box they came in was as prized as the dishes, because Aunt Myrtle had written in the lid of the box: “Aunt Myrtle I want to see your little dishes is what little Doris would say while visiting us on Sundays. My mothie gave them to me. When I am gone, they are for the sweet little niece, Doris Elaine. Aunt Myrtle June 6, 1944. P.S. I’m cleaning my trunk up. M.S.”

Now, not only was Myrtle a schoolteacher, more importantly to her, she was a Christian. She held her church membership at Macedonia Baptist Church across the road, where she served many years as church clerk, just as her mother did before her. I am almost certain she would never have dreamed she would be the topic of the program at the Mt. Carmel Methodist Church’s annual homecoming. Myrtle knew what words to live by, and they all came from the Bible. Among her papers was a simple sheet of lined paper and written in pen were these words:

In facing a crisis, read Psalm 46
When discouraged, read Psalm 23 & 24
Lonely or fearful, read Psalm 27
Planning a budget, Luke Ch. 19
To live successfully with others, Romans Ch. 12
Sick or in pain Psalm 91
When you travel, carry with you Psalm 121
When very weary, read Matthew 11:28 and 30, and Romans 8:31-39
When things are going from bad to worse II Timothy 3
When friends go back on you hold to I Corinthians 13
For inward peace, John 14
To avoid misfortune John 7:24-27
For record of what trust in God can do Hebrews 11
If you are having to put up a fight – the end of Ephesians
When you have sinned read 1 John 3:1-21
And Make Psalm 51 your prayer

In closing, I want to read a little thank you note written on a plain postcard, mailed from Sparkman on July 27, 1970. It reads, in part: “Dear Miss Myrtle, Thank you so much for the picture and beautiful cards. The Roses fit you exactly. Your life has been an inspiration to me. I appreciate you more as the years pass. If we had lots of Miss Myrtles in this world, we would have a beautiful and wonderful world.”

(From the program given at Mt. Carmel’s annual homecoming in Jacinto, Arkansas, on September 11, 2016.)

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The Friendship Quilt

Yesterday I met cousin Melrose down at the Dallas County Museum on Main Street in Fordyce. We planned to discuss our upcoming presentation in August at the Clark County Historical Society meeting in Arkadelphia on our book, My Own Precious One. First, though, we went over ideas we had for the Smithsonian traveling exhibit the museum will host beginning in April 2017, Hometown Teams: How Sports Shape America. I wanted to go to the Sports Museum, across the street and at the end of the block, so we stepped out into the 90+ heat to walk over to it.

The Sports Museum is in a beautiful old building, formerly known as the People’s Store, a longtime fixture in downtown Fordyce. The original hardwood floors and soaring ceilings lend a stepping-back-in-time feeling, perfect for showcasing history. Melrose pointed out how the brick on the back wall was again chipping onto the staircase, and I texted photos of the wall from the outside and the inside to my brother, who works at an architectural firm in Little Rock and has experience dealing with these type problems. While we waited for his reply on how to address the issue, Melrose showed me the empty lot next door where a building once stood. The brick front facade was all that remained, but even that had fallen over during a storm earlier in the year. That space has so much potential, and we stood there, envisioning children playing games or watching demonstrations, or museum parties that would tie into the theme of the exhibit. We finally had enough of the heat and started walking back to the museum.

A man with a big voice, standing in the shade of an awning and talking to a friend, hailed Melrose, and we went over to talk to him about what Fordyce was going to get in the spring. He became very animated and was thrilled to hear about what could be a big draw for Main Street. He and his wife have businesses on the street, on both sides, and also own the now-empty space by the sports museum. About that time, his wife walked up and she took us down to the lot. We talked for a while about the plans they have for the lot – fixing it up and turning it into a wedding venue or party location – before returning to the sidewalk. We strolled along, talking until we reached their store on that side of the street. It’s a flea market, with several items on display in front of the shop. I idly looked at them as I made my way past the storefront, following Melrose. I glanced down at a wooden bench, covered by an old quilt. When I saw a name stitched in the middle of a block, I paused to look at it. “Look, Melrose, it’s a friendship quilt!” She has the ones that once belonged to her mother on display upstairs at the main museum.

Upon closer inspection, we saw other names and a few sounded familiar, so we picked it up and began looking in earnest. “Look! It’s Edith Smith, Uncle John’s wife! Oh, my word! There’s a Mrs. Nutt with a Martha Jean beside it – that means that’s Vivanaye! Martha Jean was her daughter who was my Home Ec teacher in high school!” We kept looking and marveling at all the names we knew. The woman called over to her husband, who had walked into the store. “She said this woman was her Home Ec teacher!” We all chuckled over how small the world is. Suddenly I saw in faded red thread an embroidered signature so familiar and dear to me. “That’s my grandmama!” Tears sprang to my eyes and my throat tightened. My sweet grandmother, Essie Smith, had been a part of this friendship quilt.

In the Jacinto community, as in many communities decades ago, women would be invited by friends and/or family to make a block with their names in the middle, to be sewn to all the other quilt blocks. A quilting bee would take place in the quilt-receiver’s home, and the women gathered together to stitch and talk, a welcome respite from their daily routines. I was reflecting on this as Melrose and I held the quilt between us when I looked down, and there it was. “Clora Smith” in block letters, embroidered with the same faded red thread as her mother’s. I pointed it out and told them, “There’s Mama.” By now, I was nearly overcome. We told the woman how my mother had been an expert quiltmaker and how that made finding a quilt with her name on it even more special.

friendship quilt clora smith

I looked up and asked, “How much is this quilt?” She didn’t know, she said, but she would ask her husband, who had been inside the store. As we folded the quilt, I looked at Melrose and quietly told her, “I’ve got to have this quilt.” Then just before I put it down, one last look and the trinity was completed. “Louise Mann” was stitched in black and anchoring a corner, two blocks down from my other grandmother. It was like the three of them had gathered together to say hello to me, in a message from heaven embroidered on an old quilt.

Shaking my head, nearly speechless, I waited for the price. The woman was kind enough to tell me to take it with me back to the museum and take pictures of it while she and her husband discussed the price. That’s what Melrose and I did, and we sat upstairs discussing the names and the people we knew from long ago.

Louise Mann moved to the Jacinto community in 1949 when she remarried after my grandfather died in 1946. My mother married Louise’s son in 1953. That meant the quilt had been made sometime between those years, making it well over 60 years old. I could recall the faces so easily when I read the names of some; others I knew only by name:

Mira Lee. Joan Smith. Mildred. Miss Amy. Lucille Moore. Dessie Walker. Drue Smith. Irma Deadman. Edith Smith. Virginia Walker. Nora B and Kathy. Velma Crow. Essie Smith. Dean. Louise. Miss Pearl. Loeta. Ruby Hollman. Mrs. Green. Marion. Martha Jean. Clora Smith. Daddy. Mother. William. Tiny Smith. Louise Mann. Lynn. Maxine.

I had only a small amount of cash with me and had not brought a check when I came to Fordyce. Melrose said she could help if needed. Anxious to find out the price, knowing how much quilts sell for in other places, we found the couple at their other store, next to the main museum. They sat there a moment when I asked what they had decided. They didn’t speak right away and my heart fell. I just knew it was going to be something I could not justify spending, even for something so priceless as this quilt was to me. The wife said quietly, “$50.” I thought I had misheard her. “How much?” She smiled and said, “$50.” Melrose went to get her money.

I explained to this nice couple how this quilt had to have come from Jacinto. Wondering where it might have come from and how they had found it, we went back and forth on ideas. Finally, the woman asked if there was someone still alive from that community, probably in their 90’s, who was now in the nursing home. I thought a split-second and replied, yes, Vivanaye Nutt. Their faces lit up, and they told me that’s who it was. Vivanaye and her husband had been long-time, down-the-road neighbors of my grandmother and her husband and I had known her all of my life. She was the last survivor of the four and had continued living in the house in the big turn for many years after her husband had passed. When she went to the nursing home, apparently her things were disposed of, and the couple had procured this quilt. She told me a woman had come to the store just the day before, looking for a quilt to use, but this one wasn’t what she wanted. I told her it was because of Divine Providence because that quilt was meant to be mine. They laughed and said they guessed so. I reached down to hug the woman tightly, maybe a little too tightly. When you get a chance to hug someone who helped bring you a message from heaven, you hug them as hard as you can.

Melrose returned with the money and gave it to the woman. We walked away, me hugging my new old quilt to my chest, close to the heart that has these names embroidered on it.

friendship quilt louise essie clora

*** Please visit Main Street Flea Market in downtown Fordyce. The couple in this post are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. They have adopted Fordyce as their hometown and are making every effort to bring vibrancy back to that area. Their names are Loretta and Keith Cotton. Loretta is quiet but full of ideas and Keith has a megawatt smile with a voice to match. When you go, please tell them Sandra Parham Turner sent you. If they don’t know who you are talking about, say she’s the teary-eyed woman with the friendship quilt.

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What is Turtlehull Publishing up to now?

Currently, I am editing a memoir written over 30 years ago by a retired Army Colonel. He and his wife rediscovered this manuscript not long ago and promptly asked if I would help them publish it privately for their family. The book is fascinating, a “coming of age” book, military-style. It spans a period of over 50 years, beginning in Little Rock in the late 1920’s and ending in Little Rock in the early 1980’s, with a full circle of the globe in between those years. The Colonel and his wife will decide later whether or not they want to make it available publicly. Stay tuned!

Also, I had someone inquire about the possibility of us having mutual family members and if I could help her find some information on them. I referred her to the book my mother, Clora Smith Parham, and her cousin, Melrose Smith Bagwell, compiled of family histories called The History of Jacinto 1849-2007. It was printed on copy paper and placed in binders. Since she will be purchasing one of the last available copies, I decided it was time for another project. I am planning to work with Melrose to update the book and publish it in a soft cover, with the proceeds donated to a worthy cause in Dallas County. If you have connections to Jacinto, contact me if you want to include your family’s history in the book.

I am going to move my personal blog, The Turtlehull, to this blog over the upcoming month of July. I hope you will take a look at it – either come back in a month, or go to http://theturtlehull.com/. Since I haven’t posted on it in over a year, I believe it’s time to merge the two and by doing that I hope to keep up with it better!

For now, follow me at one of the links at the bottom of this post, and click on the contact link above to let me know if Turtlehull Publishing can help you with your book!

Thanks for stopping by to see me –


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