Tuesday, July 26, 2005

To my knowledge, my ancestors weren't involved in too many atrocities.

My mother's father's family comes from Bukovina in the old Austrian Empire and from Berlin. They're 100% German. The Berlin branch left town in 1848, showed up in Rock Island, Illinois, and then moved out to Ellis County in western Kansas. I assume their leaving had something to do with the 1848 revolution. There they met up with the Bukovina branch, who had originally come from Wurttemberg in southern Germany and moved out to Bukovina, now divided between Romania and Ukraine, in the early 1700s when it was part of the Austrian Military Frontier. That was mostly vacant land recently conquered from the Turks and repopulated with people from all over the old Hapsburg empire. The Bukovinians didn't get to Kansas until 1888. Those are the most recently immigrated ancestors we have.

My mother's mother's family were probably more victimized than victimizers. Half of them were poor white folks from Mississippi who moved out to West Texas after the Civil War. My I think great-great grandfather was a buck private in the Confederate army and got shot in the ankle at Antietam/Sharpsburg (in fighting near the Dunker church, for you Civil War buffs). He survived and then went AWOL, though it was cleared up and he was discharged. He was a soldier, no perpetrator of atrocities. The rest of the family were Cherokee. They show up in Cherokee lands in Alabama in the 1830s, and they got deported west. Most of the family wound up in Oklahoma, but our ancestor went to West Texas where he met up with the Confederate soldier's daughter.

The Cherokees' story is particularly poignant. What happened is that a man called Balljack Shoemake, who was a white frontiersman, married a Cherokee woman and had five children. All of them are known only by Cherokee names. The Cherokee woman died and her children were later deported west. No one knows what happened to them. They probably died. Balljack then married a woman named Annie Bone, who was either full Cherokee or half Cherokee, who had a son by a previous liaison, and Balljack adopted the son and gave him his surname. We are descended from the son and not from Balljack. He could have been as much as full Cherokee or as little as one-quarter. Of the son's children, most went to Oklahoma, probably not voluntarily, along with Balljack's half-Cherokee children by his previous marriage.

As for my father's family, they probably came out of Virginia and North Carolina, and they show up in central Tennessee in about the 1820s, specifically in the town of Shelbyville. At least some of these people had some money; my great-great grandfather, John Alexander Stuart Shannon, was a miller and owned a few slaves. He was an officer in the Confederate army. As far as I know he was never in combat, and he was discharged in 1862 as millers were necessary workers. I'm not going to blame this guy, either. He did what was done in his society. He was a low-level leader, not from the ruling class.

The family went west to Lamar County, Texas, after the Civil War. You have to remember that Lamar County is a lot more like Oklahoma than it is like most of Texas. It was frontier territory during the late 1800s, only fifteen miles away from Indian Territory, which didn't become the state of Oklahoma until 1907. There aren't too many black people there; Lamar County's not the Deep South. They grew some cotton there, but it was marginal cotton land, and it's mostly been taken over by ranching now. What Lamar County is is hillbilly highland South. Nobody who's not from there has moved there in the last hundred years, unless they come from one of the even crappier next-door counties of Red River and Delta, and this means everybody from there is from Tennessee and Kentucky. British. Specifically, Scotch-Irish, Ulster Protestants.

Another thing hillbillies were was fanatically anti-black. They were not rich, and they despised blacks. The middle and upper classes in the South were racist, too, but rather benignly most of the time, if that's possible. Or at least not horrifically so. The hillbillies committed maybe three-quarters of the about 5000 lynchings that happened in America between the Civil War and the 1950s; the other quarter probably had the approval of the local middle and maybe even upper classes.

The difference between the two types of lynching is that the "condoned by the society of the time" kind were generally akin to vigilante actions. They occurred all over the country except New England, more frequently in the West and Southwest. More of their victims were white rather than black, and all of them were believed to be guilty of heinous crimes by what were then considered respectable people. (Of course probably some were innocent.) The executions were carried out without unusual cruelty in an orderly manner. The leaders were persons of some substance and influence in the community. There are several cases of black-on-black lynchings, in which black community leaders lynched other blacks who were thought to have committed heinous crimes. As late as 1933 there was a notorious lynching in San Jose, California, of two white kidnap-murderers. I am certainly not condoning this kind of lynching, but worse things have happened in frontier communities.

Like "hillbilly" lynchings. The "hillbilly" kind were different. They almost always happened in the South, more often in the highlands than in the Deep South. The victim was almost always black. He was usually thought by the mob to be guilty of some crime, but not always, and often the crime was being "uppity" or "disrespecting a white woman". He was generally killed quite horribly.

People in Paris, Texas, the seat of Lamar County, are and were mostly hillbillies. The weird Lamar County thing is that the local upper and middle classes weren't too far removed socially from the hillbillies, and so Lamar County lynchings combined the planning of an organized lynching and the cruelty of a hillbilly lynching. They were spectacularly atrocious events, and they had eleven of them.

These are the atrocities our people were in. Have a look at this local newspaper squib from 1932 about important events in county history. The boldface is mine.

Important Dates in the History of Paris, TX

Taken from Backward Glances by Alexander White Neville, Volume Two, edited by Skipper Steely - Column dated March 15, 1932

HERE are some facts that will serve to settle arguments that sometimes arise. I have from time to time been called on to give several of these dates. I have documentary evidence of each and they are not based on my memory.

The coldest officially recorded weather in Paris was Sunday, February 12, 1899. At 7:30 that morning it stood at 14 below zero on a private thermometer, which later was found to register one degree higher than the government Instrument. It had reached zero at 8 o'clock Saturday night.

Henry Smith, negro, was burned by the people of Paris the afternoon of Wednesday, February 1, 1893. The crime for which he died was committed the night of Thursday, January 28.

The first great fire in Parts was on Friday, August 31, 1877,
beginning about noon. The second began Tuesday, March 21, 1916, about 5 o'clock in this afternoon and burned about twelve hours. Yet another devastating fire occurred on April 27, 1896.

Organization of Lamar county was authorized by act of Texas Congress December 17, 1840, and organization was made early in 1841, the first court being hold in George Wright's store house 1n the present corporate limits of Paris February 22, 1841.

John A. Rutherford was the first presiding or county judge (1841-45) William Brown was the first sheriff (1841-44) and John R. Craddock the first county clerk (1841-52.) The first court house, a frame structure, was built at Lafayette, about three miles northwest of Paris, in 1841. Court site was moved to Mount Vernon. about six miles south of Paris, in 1843 and to what afterwards became Paris, in 1845.

The first brick court house in Paris was built by Epps Gibbons and Claiborne Chisum in the center of the square, 1846-47.

The first store was kept by James Johnson, near where 1s now the corner of South Main and Sherman streets. George Wright had his soon after near where is now the northwest corner of the Plaza.

Claiborne Chisum's residence was the first in what is now the corporate limits of Paris, but George Wright's was the first in the first corporate limits.

The first marriage license was issued February 28, 1841, to John C. Bates and Mrs. Nancy O'Neal and executed March 28, 1841 by Willard Stowell, justice of the peace.

Lamar county voted for prohibition in August, 1904 and delay in the courts prevented closing of the saloons until the latter part of April, 1906.

Clip and preserve this--it will settle an argument sometime.

Yeah. The argument it settles is whether Lamar County was a very sick society or not. I'm amazed that it's gotten so much better in so little time. It's still pretty racist and pretty redneck, and the local poor whites are as bad as poor whites can get, but it's not an awful place anymore like it was then. Its redeeming qualities have become much more visible than they were then.

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