Category Archives: Missouri History and Legend

1909: W.C. Handy, ‘Memphis Blues’ and the Crump Machine

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Posted Friday, March 18, 2022

By Matt Chaney, for chaneysblog.com

©Copyright 2022 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

“The blues” was breaking out, music purely conceived of the American South. Blues pickers sang about sorrow and elation in the delta, and vice, violence. From Memphis joints on Beale Street, “there came the sound of banjos, of automatic pianos, and of the weary blues.” Machine politics inspired music at Memphis, dating to the prison chain of deputy Joe Turney, the ballad of Joe Turner.

Edward H. Crump campaigned for Memphis mayor in the 1909 election. A police commissioner, Crump ran on the reform platform, promising to eliminate gambling and liquor sales to square with dry laws of Tennessee. The red-headed Crump, 34, blamed crooked cops and officials for debauchery. He was a native of Mississippi, son of a Confederate, a hard-working, successful merchant, and a crafty politician.

Crump upstaged the police and sitting mayor, gathering his own deputy posse to raid “Negro dives” from Memphis south into Mississippi. Newsmen went along, recording scores of arrests, and Crump enjoyed good press. The Commercial Appeal hailed him as “pathfinder” for local law enforcement. “He has done a good service for the city, and members of the legislative council applaud him.”

Memphis was “wide open,” recalled Luke Kingsley, former jug musician and bartender at the Monarch Saloon on Beale. “You had to check your knife and gun at the front door before you could get in.”

“I could remember counting 14 opium dens in town. Drugstores made a fortune selling nothing but opium. Whorehouses were all over town. The going rate was 50 cents. They were thought of as being just as legitimate as grocery stores. And the only kind of policemen you had were down-and-outers.”

In political ads and rhetoric, Crump made examples of two Memphis criminals: black saloonist Hammitt Ashford and white dive-keeper Bill Latura. Crump branded them thug cronies of the mayor’s office, immune from prosecution in exchange for their delivering black votes, by whatever means. Afro-Americans constituted the rising voting bloc of Memphis and western Tennessee, harnessed by politicians through dangerous associates, black and white. Election fraud was a delta staple and simple for Ashford and Latura, reputed racketeers and killers who were bitter enemies on Beale.

Beale Street stood urbanized by the 20th century, from the 1845 muddy lane named for a cotton dealer. On east end of the avenue, residential development hemmed around old antebellum mansions, estates dwindling for parcels sold. Back west of the Beale intersection with DeSoto, center of modern action, former stately homes were boardinghouses. Beale’s large commercial buildings clustered near Main Street, down to the riverfront.

A newsman took in Beale on a Saturday night, strolling eastward from Main. “The street itself, the peculiar mixed style of its architecture, its crooked topography, and the curious jumble it presents of pretentious buildings looking down in lofty contempt upon the mean shanties that surround them, these things alone are worth the visit,” he reported. “But the life of the street itself, the cosmopolitan character of its inhabitants, the dense mass of humanity that bars the progress of pedestrians on its sidewalks, the multiplex character of the shops that line the populous thoroughfare, the indescribable variety of goods that fill the shelves of the shops—all these present points of interest.”

“Pass by the cheap [whiskey] barrelhouse, where a small placard labeled ‘Drinks 5 cents’ describes the character of the commodities sold within.”

Beale Street was “Negro America,” declared George Washington Lee, resident writer. “There are many other streets upon which the Negro lives and moves, but only one Beale Street… Adventurers, drawn to it by some hidden attraction, wander up and down this old avenue of gray buildings where golden balls above pawnshops glisten in the sun; where Jewish vendors stretch their racks of clothing across the store fronts, and glib-tongued barkers call to passersby to come in and view the bargains; where laughter and song ring out from the cafes and dance halls, and electric pianos join with the traffic noise to create a sound triumphant.”

At nightfall on Beale, electric lights cast colorful hues, “red, pink and yellow” on storefronts aglow. A writer met “throngs of people on the sidewalks” at sundown one holiday. “The colored folks were out in force [with] broad grins and boisterous laughter, with oft recurring ‘snorts’ taken at barrelhouses… everywhere the utmost good humor prevailed.”

But some folks frowned passing Hammitt Ashford’s saloon, 352 Beale, for its open doors and windows, wall paintings of nudes blaring visible outside, among elements. The joint sat at northwest corner of the raucous DeSoto intersection, with gamblers, drug dealers and prostitutes cavorting day and night. Pimps, or “mashers,” sold mere kids, such as the 17-year-old dead of her botched abortion in Ashford’s home. Ashford distributed a masher business card, “bearing his picture and offensive language,” remarked the Commercial Appeal. A woman notified the mayor, alleging “she has suffered at the hands of the notorious Negro… Ashford is enticing young girls into his place and ruining them.”

Hammitt Ashford’s publicized assaults and victim complaints demonstrated his brutality against females for a decade in Memphis, yet he avoided prison time. Ashford also committed cowardly attacks on males, cutting and shooting them in ambush. The “payback” assassination of Fatty Grimes was legend, occurring at the front door of Ashford’s dive, with the saloonist one of four accused gunmen acquitted of murder charges.

Jim “Bad Eye” Musgrove fought a friend of Ashford in Robert Church’s saloon, 324 Beale. Ashford and his hyenas jumped in, knifing Musgrove viciously, leaving entrails “protruding from several abdominal wounds.” Musgrove survived but others did  not, tangling with Ashford crews. George “Cousin Hog” Flynn, gambler and bouncer, shot Ashford in M.L. Clay’s saloon, 351 Beale. While Hammitt recovered Cousin Hog busied himself on DeSoto Street, where he stabbed a man to death. Back on Beale he chased Clay with gunshots, and Cousin Hog probably sensed fate at hand. An assassin appeared at his door beside the Monarch and shot him dead.

“Wild Bill” Latura was worse than Ashford. A serial killer, Latura’s carnage began at his family’s Italian grocery and barroom in 1902. A drunk wielded a knife and Latura beat him to death with a baseball bat. Latura ran Negro gambling houses and frequented brothels, acquiring girlfriends and racist grudges. Ashford thrashed a black mistress of Latura, cracking her with a buggy whip. Latura, enraged, shot the woman in an argument and afterward targeted black males, numerous incidents. He struck one man with a car and shot at others, wounding a porter in the Dixie Saloon on South Third, surprising M.L. Clay at his joint on Beale. Clay dodged bullets and fired back. Beat cops were terrified of Latura, a crazed “Negro Hater,” everyone said, who sought a showdown with Hammitt Ashford.

On a December night in 1908, Bill Latura strode into Ashford’s place on Beale, looking for the dive-keeper. Learning Ashford wasn’t present, Latura brandished an automatic pistol and strafed blacks around a pool table. Four males died and a female was hit, shielding her fallen man. At trial doctors testified Latura was insane, a delusional paranoiac, and a white jury astonished the public, dismissing quadruple murder charges. Critics objected, alleging political protection for Latura, 28, a cousin of the sheriff. Predictably, a judge ordered Latura released from mental care after one year, and he continued to intimidate cops, court witnesses, juries, newsmen and rivals. Roaming as the most feared man in Memphis, Latura would kill again.

For corrupt officials, Ashford and Latura, Democrat E.H. Crump made political hay in 1909, ripping them all on campaign. Crump won the mayoral election, edging Joseph John Williams by 79 votes. Afro-Americans favored Williams, who topped voting precincts along Beale, but Crump “reform” carried the white bloc and enough blacks. Crump’s victory set in motion his political machine to become infamous above predecessors. But a larger mark of the Memphis time swept America—milestone music by W.C. Handy, bandleader and composer.

Handy, three years in the city with his family, had clawed to the top of black bandsmen, rivaled only by Charles Bynum. Handy’s dance band was a headliner at Church’s Park on Beale, Dixie Park on the Southside, and on excursion steamers like the Pattona and White Light. During the last week of October 1909, Handy and his players worked both sides of the political aisle, first welcoming Republican President William Howard Taft to Memphis, belting their patriotic tunes from Steamer Kate Adams.

Handy also contracted with local Democrats for Crump. Jim Mulcahy, saloon owner and Crump operative, hired the band for campaign music. Mulcahy wanted a Crump theme song but Handy wasn’t interested in covering familiar melody, pop or otherwise. “Hot-cha music was the stuff we needed, and it had to be mellow,” wrote Handy. “Where was it to be found? Certainly not in any existing files. I closed my eyes and tried to dream it.”

Handy considered instrumentals and lyrical snatches “half-moaned, half-spoken,” from his experience. He imagined Spanish tango rhythm, Italian crescendo, Hawaiian guitar and country picking—disparate entries coming melodious together, now in mind. He heard again a black pianist in Pee-Wee’s, plunking melody “haunting and thoroughly original.” Handy remembered delta Mississippi, waiting on a train, when the black guitarist wailed and pressed knife blade to strings. “I could hear what I wanted. It was a weird melody in much the same mood as the one that had been strummed on the guitar at Tutwiler.”

Handy composed a campaign instrumental, Mister Crump, writing on the cigar stand in Pee-Wee’s. He assembled players for a street band, aiming to sway black votes from Republican to Democrat. The ensemble was Handy on trumpet; brothers Paul and Ed Wyer on violin, and possibly Jim Turner; Archie Walls, bass violin; George Higgins, guitar; Bob Young, clarinet; James Osborne, saxophone; and George Williams, trombone.

“They put us in a two-horse wagon and hauled us to Main and Madison,” Young told the Commercial-Appeal decades later, for this account: The band played the song, with its eerie blues rhythm… and pretty soon, says ‘Uncle Bob,’ everybody on the street corner was dancing—they just couldn’t resist the urge that the odd melody seemed to give them. Young recalled: “Professor Handy, as leader, was bearing down on his trumpet so hard that he almost made it smoke.”

Handy designed music breaks for solos, and two players got creative: Young improvised a flurry on clarinet, and Paul Wyer finished memorably on violin. Wyer “went wild,” producing “something new and unheard-of,” reviewed Abbe Niles in the book edited by Handy, Blues: An Anthology. Wyer “deviated from his score and put in some licks on his own account; he licentiously patted his feet.” Niles noted that Handy “learned something from this; from then on his musicians had carte blanche in the breaks of his blues, of which they, and soon other Negro bands, made use with gusto. Such things cannot be hid under a bushel, and it was not long before whites were doing the same thing.”

“The effect was electrical wherever heard,” Handy wrote for New York Age. “When we played, no matter where, the people could not refrain from dancing. They danced in parks, halls, stores, on sidewalks, streetcars—anywhere. I shall never forget the night we played this for a colored dance as a tryout. We had played only a few measures when a shout went up that thrilled me.”

Recollections conflicted over whether words were initially part of the song. Handy and Young thought so, decades later, maintaining that “Mister Crump” was mentioned from outset. But evidence indicates the ditty remained an instrumental through end of 1909. Ed Crump later insisted his name wasn’t used until 1910, when Handy visited to ask permission, first time they met, for a song titled “Mister Crump Blues.”

Regardless, Mister Crump was a three-line blues number in 1911, for the mayor’s reelection. E.H. Crump had lost Beale precincts in his first mayoral drive, but he swept the city this time, trouncing J.J. Williams.  Eyesight, meanwhile, confirmed Crump “reform” meant nothing along the packed streets of Beale and Gayoso, DeSoto and Hernando, prime Afro districts.

Gambling and alcohol still reigned and dive owners paid poll tax on behalf of black voters, bundling thousands for Crump. Hammitt Ashford left Memphis for North Little Rock then Pine Bluff, Ark., still a bootlegger and pimp committing assaults, accused of pummeling two females with a baseball bat, among reports. Bill Latura remained on Memphis streets, having switched his allegiance to the Crump Machine, though changing in no other way.

The lyrics of Mister Crump were satirical, belying reality, purporting he banished hustlers and revelers, “easy   riders.” Phrasing was borrowed from the folk song Mama don’t ’low no pickin’ and singin’ round here. Memphis musicians and audiences contributed wry words, chanting merrily over instrumentals:

Mister Crump don’t ’low… no easy-riders round here.

Mister Crump don’t ’low… no easy-riders round here;

Well, I don’t care what Mister Crump don’t ’low.

We gonna barrel-house any-how.

Mister Crump don’t ’low, and ain’t gonna have it here.

Well, Mister Crum can go… and get his-self some air.

Handy self-published an instrumental version in 1912, renaming the song Memphis Blues, and distributed more than a thousand copies, many hand-written. Black vaudeville shows demanded Memphis Blues, including Salem Tutt Whitney’s Southern Smart Set, which employed the lyrics for singers like Mamie Smith and Goldie Chappelle. Unfortunately a store pianist bamboozled Handy, catching the musician strapped for cash. Theron C. Bennett bought song rights for $50, securing himself a small musical fortune and enduring notoriety as a con artist.

Composer W.C. Handy won adoration of the planet, applause everlasting, as a founder of American music.

“The ‘Memphis Blues’ is known all over this country and its composer is almost as well known,” observed the Nashville Tennessean in 1916. “Down in Memphis town Handy reigns almost supreme at most of the dances, his music being the one big boast that Memphians have.” G.W. Lee, on Beale Street, said his friend Will Handy “changed the entire tempo of American music.”

In 1930 Clifford McGuinness, Pittsburgh Courier, credited Handy for the “first real blues” published. “After the success of the ‘Memphis Blues,’ which ushered in the present era of jazz, both races recognized his genius and lent encouragement.” Elsewhere in the Negro press, poet Langston Hughes lauded Handy, 1954, writing for New York Age: “Given new vitality just before the First World War by the folk blues and the personal creations of W.C. Handy in blues form, Negro syncopation became the popular music of America.”

“Handy was the father of it all; he was the beginning,” said Papa John Gordy, Dixieland jazzman, following the composer’s death in 1958. “I never met him, never had the chance. I never had to. What he did has been in my blood all the time I’ve played.”

Merl Eppse of Nashville, expert in African-American history, had met Handy on occasion. “He captured something great and left it behind. We’re lucky, I think. I always liked him as a person.”

O.V. Wright, singer of R&B and gospel, cited Handy for the chart-busting “Memphis Sound” of Stax Records in 1968. “Some people call it ‘soul,’ but it’s only the old blues. I think it’s the old Handy sound passed down to a new generation.”

Judy Peiser, 1990, Center for Southern Folklore, said “eventually someone would have written the blues, because it was a music of the people. The reason Handy is so important is that he was a classically trained musician. Not only could he conceive and perform the music, but he could write it down.”

“Handy has become a controversial figure, his mythical title father of the blues much disputed,” author Preston Lauterbach stated in 2015. “But his true claim to fame was never to have invented blues music outright but to have crossed the music over from Beale Street to Main Street, from colored honky-tonks to mainstream America.”

Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music, tentatively titled River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music and, the sequel, Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See the page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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Shall The Dives Elect The Next Mayor. (1909, Oct. 30). Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 13.

Sheriff’s Men Raid Three County Dives. (1914, Sept. 21). Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 5.

Shootist Flynn Captured. (1900, May 28). Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 5.

Shot In The Shoulder. (1900, May 27). Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 12.

Silver, L. (1966, May 13). Handy’s blues trumpet honor to Beale Street. Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 1.

Slight Errors Are Corrected. (1909, Aug. 14). Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 5.

So Many Good Things To Tell You. (1912, Oct. 13). [Advertisement.] Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 35.

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Strong And Progressive Firm. (1896, April 17). Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 5.

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Talley, R. (1949, July 10). You know Handy’s blues made Memphis famous, but do you know where they were composed? Memphis Commercial Appeal TN, p. 51.

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1845: Beale Street named for cotton dealer, said Memphis family

Book Preview

By Matt Chaney, for chaneysblog.com

Posted Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Copyright ©2022 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, FourWallsPublishing

Around Christmas Day, 1811, the first steamboat on the Mississippi River came down to the “Third Chickasaw Bluff,” imposing limestone uplift at the Tennessee shoreline, future site of Memphis. Atop the hills, Chickasaw Indian lookouts had watched the steamer trail smoke for miles, coming round the bend from the northwest. The braves were concerned about the strange machine and resolute in their response.

Steamboat New Orleans was a model of Fulton engineering in New York, built at Pittsburgh on the Monongahela, launched down the Ohio to the Mississippi. The sleek craft was wood and iron with sky blue hull, black trim, measuring 134-feet long by 20 at beam. The steamer swept in at Third Chickasaw Bluff traveling 9 to 10 mph, bellowing smoke and sparks, and canoes sprang from both sides of the river, loaded with warriors in body paint.

Boatmen hurried about the boiler deck, tossing wood blocks in fireboxes, arming themselves, readying battle positions.  The steamer had passed through major earthquakes of the New Madrid seismic zone, bobbing along a volatile river amidst enormous shocks, collapsing banks and liquefying earth. Chaos reigned at villages and clearings, where structures tumbled and people panicked. But Chickasaw war parties posed a nightmare for Easterners aboard the steamboat, and they wouldn’t pause at the bluff. The New Orleans chugged ahead of the canoes and Chickasaw braves were content enough, chasing it off.

Theater man Noah Ludlow came along a few years afterward, on a flatboat full of actors for New Orleans. The Third Chickasaw Bluff stood higher than floodwater could reach, Ludlow marveled, recording a “beautiful site for a city” that stretched “southwardly on a plane.” Another traveler described the limestone as “delightful elevation” above a vast flatland of river, marsh and timber. “The bluff begins at the mouth of Wolf River and extends south about four miles.”

In 1819 white settlers laid out a town north on the bluff which they christened Memphis, for Egypt’s ancient city of the Nile Valley. Memphis trade catered to Indian tribes of western Tennessee, whose couriers followed narrow pathways through wilderness. Merchants exchanged supplies for “ponies, beef cattle, hides, furs and peltries,” recalled early Memphis resident Thomas P. Young. “Up to 1833 the Indian trade was better than the white, their annuities mostly spent in this place.”

“We had no sawmills, no cotton gins, no lumber to be had, and to build a shanty you had to get an empty flatboat which had sold out its load of produce, break her up, and build you a house… It was along about 1830 or 1831 before we had brickyards.”

“The Indian trade held up till cotton began to come in, and then we all went for cotton. I don’t remember the year when cotton first made its appearance, but think it was about 1829, increasing every year from that date.”

American treaties “settled” Indian land claims and thousands of native people were removed west of the Mississippi, including nations of the Chickasaws, Choctaws and Creeks. A greater depravation continued at Memphis, human bondage, ownership and trade of slaves of African descent, driven by cotton industry. Slave auctions were conducted at Auction Square, with bidding for Afro men, women and children on the sale block, as livestock, rendering families shattered among the suffering.

Cotton, steamboats and stagecoaches keyed development of the Memphis area in the 1830s. Town population increased as business and residential districts expanded; Shelby County gained farms, villages and roads. In 1840 cotton buyers shipped 35,000 bales from Memphis, primarily to New Orleans for international markets. In 1844 Memphis shipped 100,000 bales, sending steamboats stuffed with product, piled deck upon fluffy deck. “Memphis is the largest cotton market in the interior of the country,” proclaimed the New York Tribune.

Wagons poured into Memphis from every delta direction, including ferrying across the Mississippi from Arkansas. “In those days before the advent of railroads, cotton was hauled to Memphis by ox and mule teams for a hundred miles in the interior, and in the winter season the roads were very bad,” recalled John Hallum, early resident. “I have seen many caravans of cotton wagons five miles long.” At night wagons backed up on the short Memphis riverfront, stringing southward into woods and undergrowth. Farmers felled trees and lit bonfires to last the darkness.

The clearing of “savage forest” was undertaken everywhere, creating home lots and cotton fields, and a hot sector emerged below Union Avenue, southern boundary of Memphis. Investors platted South Memphis by 1839, after departure of Indian tribes, with streets laid out on the highest points of old Chickasaw Bluff. South Memphis was “regarded as the most beautiful portion of the bluff, and the property was eagerly sought,” read an account. “All this tended to draw most of the newcomers and many of the old citizens from North Memphis.”

Stately homes multiplied along a “muddy tree-bordered lane” to be known as Beal Street, where land magnate Robertson Topp constructed his mansion and grounds. Topp, an attorney and legislator, cleared acres of wood and tangle, utilizing a mass of slaves, reportedly owning hundreds of them for his various properties. The Topp estate took three years to complete, finished by “a small army of workmen” about 1843, according to Memphis writer William McCaskill. “Every packet [boat] brought new fixtures and equipment—rosewood furniture, French mirrors, silver hinges and door knobs, shrubbery and flowers. A Creole artist was brought from New Orleans to paint the frescoes, and a landscape architect from St. Louis came to design the garden.”

Planters, cotton buyers and slave traders erected more columned mansions along the road in South Memphis. The boggy thoroughfare, west to east, extended from its river landing uphill to a high plane, then over streams and knobs for a mile, ending at Pigeon Roost Road, headed to Mississippi. “They were fabulously wealthy, as wealth went in those days,” McCaskill wrote of residents on the gilded lane. “To the south and west of Memphis stretched their great plantations, where small armies of black men toiled from sunup to sundown in the blistering heat. Their cotton, piled high on the palatial river packets which ploughed the Mississippi, found a ready market in New Orleans. The black virgin soil was rich and cheap and it gave forth a harvest of abundance.”

The term “Beal Street” did not show in any document—whether plat or map, business proposal or advertisement, news text or book—until likely 1845, when South Memphis leaders applied for incorporation with lawmakers at Nashville. No document dated earlier suggested otherwise, none located for this book. Newspaper evidence and maps from 1819 to 1846, electronically available, indicated the streets of South Memphis weren’t publicly named until filings and hearings for incorporation.

A Nashville newspaper mentioned the Beal Street landing of South Memphis in the initial week of 1846. The township act of incorporation was ratified by legislators in June, and that summer the Memphis Enquirer began designating Beal Street in advertisements. The Memphis Eagle, among news-pages available for this book, was first to mention “Beale Street,” spelled with an “e,” 1849, for a gunfight between partner cabinetmakers, both wounded. Memphis and South Memphis merged the following year, with a combined population pushing 10,000.

Robertson Topp died in 1876, his fortune wiped out by the Civil War and business failures. He left no written record or direct quote regarding origin of Beale Street, but family members said Old Topp named the thoroughfare for a military hero unknown to them. None was sure of the name’s proper spelling, either, Beal or Beale.

The Locke family of Memphis, meanwhile, declared the namesake for Beale Street was an antebellum man of business and politics, not warfare. Gardner B. Locke, an early mayor of Memphis, was county assessor and tax collector in 1845-46. Locke bought and sold South Memphis properties, becoming acquainted with William M. Beal of New Orleans, himself a Shelby County landowner planning to relocate. Beal’s reputation preceded him at Memphis as a banker, investor and cotton broker known across the South, boasting heavy contacts in Washington.

For publicity and advertising of William M. Beal, appearing in historic newspapers, his career included the following: 1828, cotton trade at New Orleans and Nashville; 1831, lawsuit victory in western Tennessee, Obion County, north of Memphis; 1837, brokerage trade in Nashville and Selma; 1838 to 1839, brokerage trade in Jackson, Miss., and Louisville; from 1838 to 1840, Beal sold “Texian Bonds” issued by the “Texian government,” speculating on U.S. annexation, and a Vicksburg bank claimed $40,000 lost in a “swindle”; 1841 to 1843, slave trade in Kentucky, Beal purchased a young “negro man named John” in Union County then resold him at Hopkinsville, within 16 months; 1841, sugar plantation listed for sale by Beal, Gulf Coast; 1841, property purchases in Tallahatchie County, Miss., where Beal had a power partner in Senator Robert J. Walker of Natchez; and, 1844, controversy of the Texas Annexation bill which, if passed, figured to reap riches for co-investors Beal and Walker, alleged the Vicksburg Whig. In 1845 the U.S. Senate confirmed Walker as Secretary of the Treasury, setting up Beal for a federal post, and meanwhile Texas was granted statehood.

Beal died in 1850 at New Orleans, succumbing of sudden “paralysis.” His demise cast “gloom over a large circle in which he had moved for so long a time,” remarked the Times-Picayune. “He had many warm friends, among whom it was our pleasure to number all the editors of this newspaper… He was a native of Georgia, and removed to this city in 1823, when quite a young man.” Beal was 40-something at death and a federal treasury official in New Orleans, appointed by President Zachary Taylor. Beal granted emancipation for at least two slaves in his will: John B. Jordan and Stephen W. Rogers, who later appeared in news as freemen.

Gardner B. Locke died in 1860 at Memphis, apparently maintaining that Beal Street, or Beale, was named for his late associate William M. Beal. A son of Locke later declared as much, Charles G. Locke, longtime business manager and copywriter for the Memphis Public Ledger. C.G. Locke was a crippled former Confederate soldier who lived with his widowed mother. Relaying local tidbits through advertising, C.G. Locke identified William M. Beal as Beale Street’s namesake, stating the entrepreneur once intended to reside in South Memphis but “failed to carry out his plans.”

“The city government and the maps of the city generally spell Beal Street with the final ‘e,’ making it Beale,” Locke wrote in 1892. “The street was named in honor of Wm. M. Beal, who was a prominent merchant of New Orleans at the time South Memphis was laid off into streets. His name was Beal and not Beale.”

Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music, tentatively titled River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music and, the sequel, Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See the page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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1960: Elvis Drives Highway 61 Amidst Music Legends

Preview episode of the upcoming book River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music, by Matt Chaney

Copyright ©2021 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

Posted Monday, May 31, 2021, chaneysblog.com

When Elvis Presley was an Army private in basic training at Fort Hood, he went home to visit Memphis on a furlough widely publicized. Texas folks waited at roadside to see Presley’s Continental sweep by, and signs were posted in on trees and fences: Elvis Passed Here.

Later in eastern Missouri, 1960, no one expected to see Presley’s Cadillac headed south on U.S. Highway 61, a summer morning. Surely someone recognized the matinee idol in country and town below St. Louis, flying by in the Caddy rental—he was driving—which would jibe with sightings elsewhere. Memphians spoke of Presley on motorcycles around the city, clung to by exotic women, actress Natalie Wood and leggy dancers. Once near Graceland a girl playing catch with friends spied Elvis on a Harley. She turned her glance and was hit in the mouth by a baseball, losing two front teeth. She said it was worth it, seeing Elvis.

No Presley reports made Missouri daily papers after he and cousin Gene Smith sped down 61 on Thursday, June 30. Presumably they enjoyed themselves in the hinterland, heading home to Memphis following a Hollywood film shoot and their harried jet ride to St. Louis, through night storms.

Highway 61 southbound traversed exquisite scenery of the Mississippi Valley, especially below Festus and Crystal City, Mo., where hills and valleys resembled an American Rhineland. Motorists were stunned for the highland views and antiquity communities founded by French and German settlers. Travel writers lauded the trip, “wandering along banks of history in backroads Missouri… rich in legends and lore, time-haunted towns and evocative byways,” as one described.

The road moved through Ste. Genevieve, renowned for French Creole architecture under Spanish rule, attacked by Osage Indians in the 1700s. Farther south, the counties of Perry and Cape Girardeau counties boasted the historic Saxony Lutherans, rustic district of postcard farms and way stops, Brewer, Perryville, Longtown, Uniontown, Altenburg, Old Appleton, Pocahontas and Fruitland.

Sixty One became Kingshighway Street in college town Cape Girardeau, population 23,000, overlooking the Mississippi, where began a frontier trading post about 1794. “Cape” teemed with lore ranging from explorers, Indians and military leaders to steamboat pilots, musicians, composers, circus performers and baseball players. A rich line of American figures were visitors and many dwelt here.

Cape Girardeau’s entertainment past predated the Civil War with flatboat theaters and steam showboats. American circus industry broke out along interior rivers and railways, with major outfits training and touring in southeast Missouri for generations. Circus owners included ringmaster Dan Rice, premier clown, singer, actor and equestrian from the 1840s to ’80s. There was Isaac Van Amburgh, “Lion King” trainer, lord of the animal menagerie. Gilbert R. Spalding and Charles J. Rogers were creators of the Banjo showboat and innovators of the calliope steam organ, among circus standards. Phineas T. Barnum brought sensational acts and exhibits from New York, arriving under maximum hype. The Ringling brothers were regulars in southeast Missouri, particularly Cape, having begun with a wagon show in Wisconsin.

Jazz greats of the 1920s and ’30s played boat excursions from Cape, including local product Jess Stacy, pianist, and Fate Marable of Paducah, Ky., a bandleader for Streckfus Steamers Inc. Marable recruited Dixieland talent from New Orleans, notables such as Louis Armstrong. Swing bands later performed at East Cape, Ill., across the river bridge, orchestras led by Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Harry James, Stan Kenton, Tex Beneke, Lawrence Welk and more.

Cape Girardeau hosted traveling shows of “hillbilly” musicians, “radio stars” with dancers and comedians. Hillbilly groups of clear-channel radio were local favorites through World War II, namely the troupes of WLS Barn Dance Show, Chicago; WSM Grand Ole Opry, Nashville; and Barnyard Follies of KMOX in St. Louis.

Rockabilly pioneers toured Cape in the Boomer Fifties, representing Sun Records in Memphis, led by Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Presley’s Blue Moon Boys—Elvis, Scotty Moore and Bill Black—who played the fairgrounds Arena Building in July ’55.

A writer described Cape County as “Snortherner,” where foothills leveled off into the Mississippi delta, bridging North and South, if not bringing sides together. In June 1960 Elvis Presley drove a bypass route around Cape city, down into the great flatland. Memphis was 170 miles away on delta highways, and he knew every place in between since a kid.

Elvis was right at home.

***

Generations of entertainers worked the northern delta, common flatland of Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee. American music styles and players blended here as water, the heartland intersection of rivers, rails and roads. “Country western” and gospel artists generally flowed back and forth between Nashville and the Southwest. Blues and jazz players moved up and down the Mississippi and railways, catching the Illinois Central Railroad for Chicago, “The IC.” Bluesmen strolled roads and railroad tracks, playing and passing the hat, old style. They jumped trains at Clarksdale, Helena, Memphis and Cairo for Chicago.

Rockabilly, spawn of all types of delta music, was performed live in bars and halls well before disc releases by Sun Records in 1954, according to a host of musicians black and white.

“We were doing what they called rock ’n’ roll,” said A.C. Reed, bluesman reared in southeast Missouri. Reed was born Aaron Corthen at Wardell, son of sharecroppers and grandson of slaves. A horn player, he came up focused on jazz but switched to blues when swing bands declined in popularity. In the 1940s and ’50s Reed starred as blues saxophonist and singer for hot groups of Chicago. “We were all playing the same thing—Little Richard, Fats domino. They called it [rhythm and blues] back then, but when Elvis Presley came along singing black music, they decided to call it rock ’n’ roll.”

Carl Perkins had similar impressions, growing up a musician near A.C. Reed but on opposite side of the Mississippi. The Perkins family share-cropped at Tiptonville, Tenn., delta landing town bounded by the river and Reelfoot Lake, watery expanse formed by earthquakes. Carl, his siblings and parents were whites on plantations.

Perkins helped found rockabilly, becoming an American giant in songwriting and guitar. “It all started for me in the cotton fields of Lake County,” he said in 1974. “The type of music I’ve always played, I always just called it ‘music with a beat,’ and there’s no question it came from colored people in the field… I couldn’t get away from their rhythm. I loved it. It was in my head. So I started adapting country music to that colored rhythm beat. There were just a few of us white boys doing that type of thing, and one of them was a Tupelo, Mississippi boy named Elvis.”

Presley discussed roots of rock during a 1958 presser at an Army base. “Rock ’n’ roll has been around for many years,” Elvis said. “It used to be called rhythm and blues, and as far back as I can remember it’s been very big, although in the last five years it’s gotten much bigger.”

White rockabillies at Sun Records, mid-’50s, included Presley, Scotty Moore, Bill Black, Charlie Feathers, the Perkins brothers, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Narvel Felts, Malcolm Yelvington, Hayden Thompson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Warren Smith, Eddie Bond, Charlie Rich, and Harold Jenkins, who switched his name to “Conway Twitty.”

Rockabilly featured “electric guitar leads based on both blues and country music models,” observed Robert Palmer, delta-born musician and author. The essential band or sound was “cutting electric guitar [with] furiously strummed acoustic rhythm guitar, slapped string bass, sensual lead vocals with heavy vibrato… and sometimes pounding drums, barrelhouse piano, and rasping saxophone.” Rockabilly sax gave nod to river horn-blowers but also to cowboy jazzers of the Southwest, masters of western swing like Phil Baxter and Bob Wills, both huge in the delta.

Presley, Moore and Black recorded at Sun Records on July 5, 1954, laying a cover of That’s All Right Mama by bluesman Arthur Crudup. Studio owner Sam Phillips made an acetate dub for WHBQ radio in Memphis, and stations relayed the rockabilly hit, exciting youths of the Mississippi Valley. Radio audiences latched on at Blytheville, Ark., Kennett, Mo., Jackson, Tenn., more delta locations, and the initial press of 45-rpm records sold in weeks. Phillips distributed thousands regionally, unloading plastic discs from his car, and rushed back to print more in Memphis.

Phillips had marketed black artists for years, of jazz, blues and R&B, along with white gospel quartets, hillbilly pickers and yodelers. Then he recorded Elvis, Scotty and Bill, as the trio were quickly known. Some critics charged racism, alleging Phillips had found a white man one to sing “Negro rhythms” and make a fortune. Phillips bristled quietly for decades, finally responding in interviews after Presley’s death in 1977. “I was trying to establish an identity in music, and black and white had nothing to do with it,” said Phillips, once a farm boy with preacher aspirations.

“The Southern black man and the Southern white man understood each other, despite everything, because that basic deprivation existed for both, even though it was extremely more pronounced for the blacks, and we all loved fundamental religion. The fundamental thing for me is that spirit and fervor… I’m no genius, but I had patience, and I hope I had an understanding of where people were coming from and why.” Phillips said Elvis “knew those good old black blues” as a sharecropper’s son. “He was as close to them as I was.”

“I had grown up in the South and I felt a definite kinship between the white southern country artists and the black southern blues or spiritual artists. Our ties were too close for the two not to overlap. It was a natural thing. It’s just that the record business in those days looked at the music as totally separate [racially]. They didn’t realize that it was a natural change and that the public would eventually accept it.”

Washington Post writer Michael Harrington, 1985, pondered cultural impact of the late Elvis. “We discovered that the shock was less musical than ideological. That Presley made his first record within weeks of the historic 1954 Supreme Court decision on school desegregation was just one more indication that new winds were blowing in America. The social intermingling of black and white was being eased by the kind of musical intermingling provoked by rock’s pioneers, an evolution much more important that the sexual one rock ’n’ roll’s critics fixated upon. Little wonder then that it’s as a symbol that Presley still dominates. He was the one who most publicly and effectively sowed the seeds of the new rhythm, and in so doing, unleashed a million libidos. He was the fuse as well as the flame.”

“He simply dipped into America, the America that he heard singing on the radio, the record player, in the church, on the tin-roof shack porch, at the roadhouse. Presley listened to the heartbeat of Tupelo, Miss., and Memphis, Tenn., and imbibed from all sources, black and white, holy and profane. He understood precisely the distance between the hedonism of Saturday night and guilt of Sunday morning and tapped the middle ground, drawing on the energy and fervor that bound as much as separated them.”

“Presley’s sources—blues, gospel, country—shaped another trait: They were working-class art forms, the property of the South’s two disenfranchised minorities, poor whites and poor blacks. Unlike many musicians, Presley never made any bones about his sources. As to charges that he stole his style, one has only to listen to those sources to understand just how much transcendence was involved. Presley displayed enough character to be seen as fresh and innovative. The same could be said of early Dylan and Beatles material.”

Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music, tentatively titled River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music and, the sequel, Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See the page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Song and Dance: Chapter Preview

American Music in the Northern Delta, Post-Civil War

Preview chapter from the book River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music, by Matt Chaney, scheduled for release in 2021

Posted Monday, March 15, 2021, for chaneysblog.com

Copyright ©2021 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

This post is in memory of Steve Sharp, music man

A striking appearance marked Cairo, Ill., following the Civil War: Progress, beginning with brick buildings rising on the riverfront. Troops and artillery had departed and military influence was fading. The Ohio levee no longer glinted “blue with the garb of soldiery.” The four-story St. Charles Hotel stood majestic, providing finest accommodations, no longer headquarters of generals like Grant. Many travelers were impressed, arriving at the storied little city of southern Illinois. “This was our first visit to this famous place since 1844, and, of course, the change is great—indeed wonderful,” remarked an Indiana newsman. “Since then [Cairo] has spread itself greatly.”

Freedom graced the river port and mirth manifested in music. A wide spectrum of song was heard, from symphonic to syncopated, opera to ballad, and multi-ethnic in origin. Cairo welcomed occupation by musicians and dancers after war and armies. “No gunboats block the rivers… and from no source does that contemptible word ‘halt’ come to grate upon the ear, and send its shivering shock through every nerve of the body,” noted a Tennessee writer. “All around you may be seen peaceful symbols, and from every direction music rings out upon the passing breeze. This is as it should be.” A Cairo Bulletin editor felt at ease in late 1865, for “the delicious power” of song postwar. “Music has an influence for good—it soothes one’s feelings and inspires all the ennobling attributes.”

Life remained difficult at intersection of the Mississippi and Ohio, border between North and South. In 1870 the Cairo population was 6,267, about one-fifth being Afro-American, mostly freed slaves. The transient “floating population” could top 20,000 monthly, coming from worldwide on visits legitimate and otherwise. Meanwhile this was frontier landscape, where every class, color and character confronted the forces daily, natural and man-made. Conditions could deteriorate quickly, get primitive. No one was immune to disease, injury or mortality, and there were casualties young and old. Deaths of crime and accidents could tally double figures in a week, without a steamboat wreck.

But achievement flourished here for simmering humanity and nature, particularly developments in artful sound. Pure American music was distilling in the delta, early renderings to become known as gospel, blues, ragtime, jazz, and “hillbilly,” or “country.” Cairo boasted church choirs, brass bands, cornet bands, string bands and full orchestras, performing outdoors, indoors and on riverboats. Strolling musicians played at street corners and building fronts. Dancers patted juba, busted wing moves, jigs, toe spins, reels and waltzes. Dance broke out anyplace except a church.

Black and white performers exchanged ideas, techniques and respect, if hesitant to show together on stage. Dance crowds integrated publicly despite friction that could turn violent. Many whites persisted, unwilling to stay away from music and dance of blacks. Music was universal like little else in segregated society; a church doctrine didn’t rate.

Transients proved good musicians in Cairo, like the morning a stranger picked up violin and bow at a livery stable, “striking suddenly into the tune of The Arkansas Traveler, which he played in astonishing manner.” Men paused in the dirt street and danced jigs, including cops, attorneys, the mayor, a judge, doctor, editor. They competed at toe twirls, won by a court clerk, “making four.” On another day a boy fiddler strolled Cairo, a “musical prodigy” about age 5, reported the Bulletin, accompanied by an unkempt man on second violin. Children gravitated to the wee musician, following him along streets in “admiration and envy.”

Dramatic productions had been popular since floating troupes like the Chapman family, and stage venues on land were established during wartime, when federals strengthened Cairo levees and installed pumps for seep water. Illinois historian Roy Stallings found this vantage location, however remote, competed with Chicago for theater and more western entertainment. “In the post-Civil War period, amidst a general revival of drama in the United States, southern Illinois, and Cairo in particular, were beginning to develop their own brand of drama culture. Originating on the Mississippi and Ohio river showboats, this development passed into the era of the theatrical halls and from this transition period into the final age, that of the opera house.”

“During the Civil War, the gunboats had forced the showboats on dry land. Very few of these boats, but enough to uphold tradition, returned to the rivers after 1865. The river towns were forced to substitute for these showboats. The theatrical halls served in their places. In Cairo… the Atheneum, located on the east side of Commercial Avenue near Seventh Street, became the center of drama for the Civil War decade… The influence of the theatrical halls lasted until 1881, when the Cairo Opera House was opened.”

“Cairo was as important a center to southern Illinois and points farther south, as Chicago was to its surrounding territory,” Stallings concluded. “Cairo was not only immune to Chicago’s brand of drama, but she developed a drama that was more influential and more widely distributed than that of Chicago.”

***

Melodies tooted off the rivers, loudly from calliopes of steamboats, ambient noise of the delta. Steam-whistle organs broadcast for miles over water and flatland. Riverboat calliope music “made mostly everybody want to knock off work right away and start frolicking around,” said pilot Louis Rosche, noting nothing else compared “for fetching a crowd.”

At Cairo, Ill., folks critiqued a calliope player like a pianist or horn-blower. The entire town heard a calliope, which better sound good, as was the case on a holiday afternoon at the wharf in 1868. Approving locals came atop the levee, dancing to greet the musician.

“The calliope of the steamer Silver Moon—a good one very skillfully played—gave the feet of every listener a twitching that very nearly produced a general ‘break-down’ all along the levee,” a newsman reported. “Such tunes as Black CrookRack-Back Davy, and Daddy, Dang It, Shove Along appeared to invite a regular ‘hoe-down.’ ”

Exceptional music was standard for Cairo tastes accustomed to the best of America and Europe. Famed white minstrels appeared locally, including Billy Emerson, Billy Manning, George Wilson, Cal Wagner, E.M. Hall, Johnny Booker, Edwin French, George Primrose, Dick McGowan, Charlie Christy, George Powers, Billy Rice, Cool White, Johnny Bowman, Ned Goss and Jim Fox. McGowan opened a saloon, short-lived, but Bowman profited in ownership of a Cairo theater, the Comique.

Ex-slaves were surging in American music and for America, revolutionizing entertainment and spurring racial progress. Blacks aspired for show business, many dreamt of stardom and affluence, and more were realizing it, such as Billy Kersands. Black talents were eclipsing whites in minstrelsy and leading in the upstart variety formats of “vaudeville” and American burlesque. Opportunities flourished along major river valleys and lakes, from New York to Kansas.

Afro-American minstrels thrilled Cairo in the 1870s stars like Kersands, Bob Height, Tom McIntosh, Burrell Hawkins, Billy Jackson, Sam Lucas, and the Hyer Sisters. A Cairo Bulletin critic gushed over the celebrated troupe originally founded by slaves in Georgia. “Without fear of contradiction, the performance of Callender’s Georgia Minstrels, at the Atheneum, may be pronounced the best minstrel performance ever given in this city… the most artistic, refined, and thoroughly enjoyable.” Jazzy cornet players had opened the entertainment with a street parade.

Bar none the biggest star was  Kersands, hysterical song-and-dance man who ranked among America’s highest-paid performers, any race. Kersands was tall and lithe, commanding spotlight anywhere, Windsor Castle in London notwithstanding. “It is as much the ‘propensity’ of Mr. William Kersands to be funny as it is the propensity of men generally to eat and drink,” an English critic remarked. “The singing of whimsical effusion and the comic expression of face caused roars of laughter. Mr. Kersands has equal talent as a dancer. There never was a more nimble fellow on ‘the light fantastic toe,’ and his imitations of an opera dancer were droll in the extreme.”

Kersands would appear at Cairo for 40 years. The town was a cradle of Afro-American musicians. Groups included the Phoenix Brass Band, Scott’s Saloon Minstrels, O’Brien’s Saloon String Band, and boat bands. The packet Tyrone moved freight and staged entertainment along its route from Cairo to Nashville, traversing the Ohio and Cumberland rivers. Performers black and white comprised the Tyrone crew, working together in shows and boat duties.

Steamer Tyrone was envy of the rivers, deftly mixing business and pleasure—and creed. At showtime the deckhands came “full force with comic and sentimental songs, jests, dances,” per an advertisement, “closing with Capt. Harmon’s inimitable trombone solo.” When rival boats drew up on the Tyrone, the band cranked Shoo Fly. The Tyrone struck a rock and sank in the Cumberland, and a river journalist wrote in epitaph: “Steam-boating on her had been so constantly cheered with music, feasting and revelry that her career had been one continual scene of fun and gaiety.” The steamer wasn’t finished, however, submerged in clear waters of the Cumberland. Salvage men raised the wreck for repair at Paducah and the Tyrone resumed river freight and entertainment from Cairo, eventually a circus craft exclusively. Dan Rice used it.

Cairo experienced an extraordinary black performer in Henry Hart, violinist and composer, born a freeman in Kentucky and educated in the North. During wartime Hart bravely passed down the delta, into Deep South, an Afro-American showman risking all, but his gambit paid off. Hart was a showbiz standout in federally occupied New Orleans and returned north a star, adored by musicians and audiences. Fans called him Henry, from the East to the Rockies. Hart, who would perform for three U.S. presidents, played the Cairo area for decades as a resident of Evansville and Indianapolis. He spoke proudly of “bloods,” fellow blacks in music, while maintaining close friendship with whites like Andy McKee, lightning dancer who began at Cairo.

Henry Hart worked steamboats of the lower Ohio in the 1870s and ’80s, with talents such as Sam Lucas, Joe Johnson, Jake Hamilton, A.A. Thomas, J.H. Ringgold, Cecil Sanders, J.T. Birch and John Lewis. Hart’s music covered the spectrum from symphony and opera to emerging ragtime on banjo and piano, and “farmer” picking. For his Cairo following, Hart presented string bands and small combos that utilized piano, fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass and brass horns, variously adding harp, piccolo and drums.

“The excursion on board the Idlewild last night, from this city to Columbus, was a very pleasant affair,” the Bulletin related in August 1875. “A goodly number of young people, sprinkled with a number of older and more sedate folks, were in attendance, and all enjoyed themselves. After the excursionists had partaken of a most excellent supper, the cabin was stripped of its furniture, and a splendid string band, headed by Henry Hart, took their places and the mazy dance began.”

Gospel music garnered acclaim on the rising Afro-American singers from Fisk University and Hampton Institute. Most of the college students had been enslaved as children. Sheet music sold by the thousands, prompting Hampton’s release of a volume, Cabin and Plantation Songs. “The slave music of the South presents a field for research and study very extensive and rich,” wrote Thomas P. Fenner, Hampton music director.

Fenner, a white music composer and arranger, believed free Afro-Americans could elevate the art form in a renewed nation. “It may be that this people which has developed such a wonderful musical sense in its degradation will, in its maturity, produce a composer who could bring a music of the future out of this music of the past,” he wrote from Nashville.

Choirs propelled “spiritual” songs into pop culture. The plaintive, bluesy melodies of slaves had appealed to Divinity for delivery to Promised Land, but now the content hit glorious mass sales. Pioneer gospel had been unleashed by Emancipation, and the pious market craved concerts, sheet music and more. Sacred lyrics helped sell newspapers and magazines.

The original Jubilee Choir hailed from Fisk U., institution founded for blacks at Nashville, but top singers abounded in the South. Cairo audiences heard the choir of Memphis State University, headlining a production of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” while jubilee vocalists flourished locally at the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Those who attended the Plantation Concert, given by the members of the AME Church at the Atheneum last night, were lavish in their praise of the efforts of all connected with the affair,” the Bulletin reported in 1879. “The concert, which consisted of songs sung by the colored people in the days of slavery, proved a capital hit and was the best thing of its kind ever presented to a Cairo audience.”

Excursion steamers boomed and musicians capitalized along the Mississippi and Ohio through end of the century. The publicized Afro-American names included King Hatcher and his Coachwhip Band at Dubuque; H.B. Hunter’s Cornet Band at Alton; the St. Louis Silver Quartette of F.S. Woodson; and the Cape Girardeau Silver Cornet Band. Cincinnati’s Gussie L. Davis was cutting-edge composer, heading black ensembles. Louisville offered the Silver Cornet Band and Falls City Band, among notables, and cornet player W.C. Handy of Henderson, Ky., directed brass for Mahara’s Minstrels.

In Memphis were the Bluff City Cornet Band, Bob Wardlow’s Conservative Colored Band, Sam Ager’s African Brothers Minstrels, and a hot troupe aboard the steamboat Pat Cleburne. Vicksburg had the Electric Band and Wesley Crayton’s Silver Cornet Band, while the Brierfield Cornet Band originated from Jefferson Davis’ old Mississippi plantation. Donaldsonville produced “two of the best colored bands” of Louisiana, the Crescent and St. Joseph’s bands.

New Orleans nurtured a mass of black artists and groups, with just a few examples in Buddy Bolden’s Eagle Band, the Excelsior Band, and the Lilliputian Cornet Band composed of children. Bolden, jazz pioneer on cornet, blew notes “heard across the Mississippi River when he was going right.”

Thomas Wiggins was iconic by 1870, “Blind Tom,” syncopating pianist and composer born of slavery. Mark Twain was floored by Wiggins, who likewise mesmerized people in Cairo. Blind Tom was possibly an autistic savant, mimicking sound to perfection, speeches, battles, gunfire, animal cries and stormy weather. Although musically educated, Wiggins learned melody primarily by ear, in instants, memorizing thousands of piano pieces from concerto to ballad. Wiggins summoned volunteers from an audience to play piano, then sat down and replayed exactly their songs and snatches, precise to the errors.

For syncopating overlay on piano, melody upon melody, the powerful Wiggins keyed two songs simultaneously and sang a third, according to Twain. In Cairo the Bulletin reviewed a Wiggins show: “Of the excellent entertainment given by this wonderful person, we have but little to say, except that the performance of last night was fully up to his former efforts, if not superior. The audience was kept in a state of wonder and delight from beginning to end, frequently making the house fairly ring with their approval.”

“Whenever Blind Tom visits Cairo, he will meet with a most cordial welcome from our citizens.”

***

The children of Cairo, Ill., met an array of heroic models during and after the Civil War, including celebrity Americans and Europeans. Cairo kids encountered steamboat pilots, locomotive operators, military officers, civil engineers, politicians, doctors, authors, poets, philosophers, teachers, preachers and athletes, among intriguing types.

Figures of show business were powerful symbols for a Cairo youngster, regardless of the kid’s socio-economic class, race, or gender. Stage-struck children were common, given the entertainment choices and glittering performers, ranging from circus to theater. Show promoters, talent scouts and writers were regulars around town, juicing atmosphere.

The circus captivated Cairo children. “No less than 86 youngsters white and black, male and female, were at one time today in full chase of the circus bandwagon,” reported the Bulletin on Nov. 18, 1870. “Their object was to hear the musicians in red coats ‘blow.’ ” Cairo kids witnessed America’s best circuses in the postwar, of showmen such as Dan Castello, George W. DeHaven, Bill Lake, Dan Rice, Seth B. Howe, P.T. Barnum, W.C. Coup, James A. Bailey, James E. Cooper, C.W. Noyes, John Robinson, Yankee Robinson, W.W. Cole, James DeMott, A.B. Rothschild, Frank A. Robbins and John B. Doris.

When circus boats hit Cairo the levee crawled with kids doing somersaults, handsprings and handstands, singing and dancing. All ages anticipated arrival of Rice’s boat on a Saturday in September 1869. The steam calliope tooted over flatland, pumping music from far out. Folks hurried to the Cairo wharf and immediate shorelines of Missouri and Kentucky.

“The steamer Will S. Hays, with banners flying, and giving out strains of delicious music, sailed into port this morning… circus on board, under the special management and direction of the irrepressible Dan himself,” the Bulletin reported.

Performers strode off the Hays, down gangplank. Horses were led off and caged animals wheeled out. Circus workers and levee roustabouts hauled equipment for setup. “The canvass was soon spread at the corner of Poplar and Tenth streets, an eager crowd eyeing the operation, in delightful anticipation of the sights and sports of the afternoon and evening. While we write [at the newspaper], the shouts of a delighted multitude reach us from the cover of the canvass.”

The big-top seated 5,000 spectators with more tickets for standing room. Boys with no money plopped down outside the tent, peering under flaps for “a thrilling glance at the horses’ hoofs as the animals lope around the ring,” the paper described. “Other youngsters find small rips in the canvass, not larger perhaps than a finger would fill.”

“They tell eager companions gathered about that they can almost see the clown; that they did see a man in spangles; that the bass drum stands in full view.”

Circus personnel and animals were spectacle by merely passing through town. “Colonel Robert Stickney, the famous bareback rider, arrived here from Memphis with a large circus yesterday, and had his menagerie wagons and other circus paraphernalia strung along [the] Ohio levee, with the intention of have them forwarded by rail to Pana, Ill., where he intends to give a show.”

“Among his curiosities he had a horse—a hump-backed horse—that was about as intelligent as man could make him… At the command of Colonel Stickney, he walked backwards, knelt down, sat on his haunches, stood up and walked around on his hind legs. The cages of the wild beasts were standing just below the stone depot on Ohio levee… surrounded by a large crowd of curious spectators.”

Wild animals were reportedly on the loose north of Cairo after a wreck of circus trains. The story was false, just another circus tale in circulation, like a Missouri report that flew among newspapers. Lions and tigers supposedly broke from cages during a street parade, scattering residents of a town; big cats leaped onto a bandwagon and mauled musicians, killing several—all a hoax, newsmen revealed on follow-up.

But alleged sightings of a giant alligator near Cairo weren’t easily dismissed. Some locals claimed close calls with a 20-footer, a circus escapee in summer waters of the Ohio. A fisherman said the toothy reptile snapped off prow of a skiff, and the Bulletin cracked, “That alligator in the river in this neighborhood has had the effect of keeping all cautious boys out of the water.” A posted reward excited folks, from Cooper and Bailey Circus, offering anyone $400 for live recapture. Nothing further developed.

Circuses visited Cairo year-round at the southernmost tip of Illinois. Show tugs and barges parked at wharf boats and on Missouri landings across the river. Circus trains and special cars parked along tracks encircling the town, hub of the Illinois Central. Performers wintered in the area while show managers restocked talent and revamped programs. Boats and equipment were stored and repaired, new parts shipped in. In springtime circus shows launched from here while others visited to open tours. Cairo anchored northern end of the delta trough where train and wagon routes intersected. Boosters sold the tri-state vicinity as navigation head for river, rail and trail through the heartland, “gateway between the Northeast and Southwest.”

The Barnum Circus brought some 150 railcars, attracting enough humanity to cover the little peninsula of Cairo Township. “There were people of all sizes, shapes, sexes and colors, who came from all around us,” the Bulletin reported. “The trains were all full, the transfer boats ditto, the ferryboat was crowded at each trip, and our streets were full of farmers’ wagons loaded with produce and children. The great Barnum took everything in, and no doubt departed with a snug sum of money.”

***

As transportation and communication carried American population westward, so went the entertainment industry. The “Middle West” became distinct between coasts, and the heartland of American circus. “After the Civil War, a generation of midwestern showmen permanently reoriented the center of the American circus industry away from the East,” stated Janet M. Davis, for her book chapter. “Although overland wagon shows were still common, a handful of circuses became behemoth railroad shows, a development that ultimately redefined the American circus.”

Perry Powers was an aspiring circus man of the Midwest, after fire destroyed his varieties theater and livery stable at Cairo. Circuses and personnel clustered around Cairo and Bird’s Point, Mo., with the hugging rivers and crisscrossing trails, railroads. The area benefited year-round of circus business, and Powers organized his Cairo show for travel in 1867.

The Powers Combination Circus boasted “first-class acts despite its small size,” observed Stuart Thayer, circus historian. “Tom Burgess, Willis Cobb, Oliver Bell, Don Santiago Gibbonois (John Fitzgibbons), Fred O’Brien, and Ed Schofield were on the roster. It also appears to be Frank Lemen’s first circus job. [Levi J.] North was again the manager. The circus traveled on a steamboat.”

But problems dogged Powers, age 40. On the business front his show lost money while North’s son died on tour, likely of tuberculosis. In domestic life Powers’ marriage was crumbling. He lost possession of the circus and was arrested in Chicago, for debt to North, famed equestrian. Downstate, Powers’ wife sued for divorce in Cairo. He didn’t give up, determined to realize profit and spotlight as a showman.

Powers debuted a new theater in downtown Cairo, the Palace Varieties, and hired a stock company of minstrels. He opened a circus gym for males in training. Additionally, Powers was building repute as expert handler of circus animals. Bulletin editors favored this personable fellow known for resilience in face of adversity, and who bought advertising besides. “Excepting ourselves we would as soon see Perry Powers make money as any man in town,” remarked a newsman. “He keeps the article in circulation—evidently earning it for the satisfaction of spending it again.”

Powers’ gym was an old stable converted for “flying circus.” Ropes hung from rafters. Young males climbed ladders to grip metal bars and rings and swing about the room. They practiced release moves, twists, flips, flying clutches and landings. On floor the acrobats tumbled and lifted weights for strength and conditioning. The Bulletin urged every young male to patronize the facility and didn’t mention whether injuries were mounting. Powers incorporated circus spectacle for his theater, sports of the ring, staging a human cannonball act and trapeze around music and comedy. And Powers found top acrobats locally.

Cairo children trained variously in gymnastics, “turning” or tumbling in streets, yards and barns. Schools offered instruction and the athletes of upper grades were the main attraction of a variety show, performing “revolutions, motions, jolting, twisting, turning, bending, bowing and stretching,” the paper reported. “The boys were uniformed in red Zouave pants, white shirts and red turbans; the girls in black bloomer dresses and drawers, elaborately trimmed in red.”

Gymnastics and trapeze were hallmark of German Turner Societies in 19th century America, represented by a vibrant organization at Cairo. The Turners, titled after modern gymnastics founded in the “fader land,” established Turngemeinde clubs serving as “athletic, political, and social centers for German communities in the United States,” archivists noted. River valleys of the American interior resembled fabled Rhineland, impressing Dutch scouts, and they directed a mass of German emigration to Iowa, Wisconsin, Missouri and Illinois. Gymnastics facilities rose up as did vineyards. The Turners movement coincided with circus industry’s plant in the Midwest, influencing talent and show stunts.

The Turners of Cairo practiced acrobatics indoors and out, and they showed for audiences on land and water, venues such as Scheel’s Hall, Flora Garden and excursion boats. Team acrobats were men and boys presenting “gymnastic and trapeze performances of a daring and interesting character,” the Bulletin reported. A multipurpose facility opened downtown in 1875, at corner of Tenth and Poplar. This gym in new Turner Hall was “furnished with all the modern exercising implements… dumb bells, parallel bars, horizontal bars, rings, trapeze, ropes, sand bags, spring boards.” Muscular immigrant Conrad Alba was a gymnast “altogether beyond the ordinary,” drawing fans and press for the Turners.

Amateur circus acts developed locally, including promising youths at Charleston west of Cairo, led by the Danforth brothers. “Our Juvenile Circus Troupe,” the town paper headlined proudly, reviewing “the boys” for an exhibition of trapeze, gymnastics, trick-riding and strength displays.

Locals entered commercial entertainment. Leslie May performed on trapeze in Atheneum Theatre, and steamer pilot R.W. Dugan moonlighted as circus acrobat. An 11-year-old trapezist and rope-walker, Sidney J. Allen, joined A.B. French’s showboat New Sensation in 1879. Teenager Frank Herbert, a Turners talent, became a daredevil for the Rice Circus and Johnny Bowman’s variety troupe. Herbert was stellar on the high rope and had to be, traversing over city streets and hall floors without netting.

The area teemed with circus animals. Exotic livestock and full menageries passed through constantly on steamboats and railroads. During circus offseason animals were quartered in stables and pasture on the Cairo peninsula and Missouri shoreline, for Mid-South climate. During performance season animals were paraded through Cairo streets and displayed at the wharf and rail yards. There were camels, elephants, hippos, lions, tigers, bears, monkeys, horses, mules, alligators, crocodiles, hyenas, boars, porcupines, canaries and more specimens, with the majority trained for show.

Circus menageries dated locally to prewar appearances of Van Amburgh, Lion King, aboard the old Floating Palace of Spalding and Rogers. Celebrity trainers had frequented Cairo for decades, including Dan Rice with “Excelsior,” his snowy white horse, along with Spencer Q. Stokes, Levi J. North, Sam Stickney and James DeMott.

And so Perry Powers met trainers locally and on his travels, learning from all. He excelled in the care and training of animals for circuses like DeHaven’s, Rothschild’s, and the Rice combinations. Many equestrians knew Powers, entrusting their horses with him, and he was friend of Rice and DeMott, periodic residents of the Cairo area. During wintertime Powers stabled the Rothschild menagerie for DeMott, manager of the circus. The Rothschild and Rice circuses launched tours from Cairo on train, boat and wagon, thanks in no small part to Powers’ presence.

But still he floundered as entrepreneur, for factors of his making and otherwise. Circuses folded which Powers funded or operated, and his training gym closed. A hireling musician swindled him, taking a bandwagon to Memphis for hock. Too trusting of customers at the livery, Powers leased horses and mules that weren’t returned, or he paid for stock already stolen. Powers invested for an “educated hog” that didn’t pan out, and serious injury befell his second wife, an actress “knocked senseless” by a falling post. Powers purchased a fleet of used carriages from a railroad, envisioning his own omnibus line, but nothing materialized except rows of the broken-down hacks. Expensive horses dropped dead on Powers, who surely lost money in thoroughbred racing as trainer and gambler, based on news reports. “Perry Powers has met with another streak of bad luck,” the Bulletin announced.

Powers fell ill and died in January 1878, possibly of yellow fever at Cairo. His live-in nephew, a musician, married his widow and assumed control of the livery business. And that sort of luck came to mark local circus owners. Several Cairo men tried circus operations—steamer captains, boat clerks, railroad personnel, an auctioneer, a lumberman, each on exciting venture—only to lose in prospecting.

On the performance side, circus sports were highly popular in Cairo and southeast Missouri through the late 1800s—for spectating. Youths still fantasized of ring glory but fewer pursued it. Rising team sports led by baseball and football attracted athletes while circus life increasingly drew criticism, particularly regarding young performers. Publicized issues included child endangerment, animal cruelty, low pay, risky stunts evermore, and broken individuals. In Cairo a teen rider was shot accidentally, crippling him, during a fight between circus workers and locals. “It is a dangerous life to live, you may be sure, and a great many who follow it die young, while many are killed,” stated veteran showman C.M. Sherman, retired in Missouri, 1886.

“What mother would wish her son to be a professional rope-dancer or circus-tumbler—not to mention her daughter?” posed a national commentary, reprinted in Cairo. “Aside from the unnaturalness and debasing effect of a such a life, the ‘accidents’ to which even the best-trained and most experienced performers are liable are too frequent and of too sad a kind to be generally known. It is for the showman’s interest to keep [injuries] secret.”

Cairo saw tragic casualties in novice and professional acrobats. Local youths were crippled and killed. William Bambrick, 20, died of a spinal injury from “excessive gymnastic exercises,” the Bulletin reported. Thirteen-year-old Charles Riley became entangled by rope “doing circus acts” in a coal shed; boys panicked and fled, and Charles perished, strangling to death.

Most Delta youths gravitated to show performance of less risk—song and dance—for their pleasure if not career. A few Cairo products were already famous on stage. “Cairo is a city which good music is, of course, always a prominent feature,” the Bulletin editorialized in 1882. “Social entertainments and balls, both great and small, public and private, are the order of the day and night in Cairo. Good music is desired—is a necessity, in fact.”

“The city has been prolific in its production of good musicians.”

***

In 19th Century America, as ragtime music and jazz rose along the Mississippi and Ohio, a pioneer pop artist was remembered again for his great old song.

Nelson Kneass had been famous before the Civil War, playing his hit Ben Bolt on piano and banjo, when the sheet music sold thousands in America and abroad. The legend revived during the 1890s, long after Kneass died in rural Missouri. A popular novel and stage drama featured Ben Bolt, the “plaintive melody” sung by comely heroine Trilby O’Ferrall, and suddenly fans worshipped a dead pop star in Kneass.

Kneass was a Pennsylvania native who sang Ben Bolt as early as May 1847, according to advertisements of the Eagle Ice Cream Saloon in Pittsburgh. Other musicians were adapting the song from a poem, in forgettable versions, until Kneass arranged his smash hit. “Kneass was not only an excellent singer but also a very capable pianist, a versatile banjoist, and a talented composer… first-class entertainment,” observed historian Ernest C. Krohn.

Memphis vocalist Joseph H. McCann said Kneass produced his golden take of Ben Bolt during a riverboat trip they shared around 1847, steaming up the Mississippi and onto the Ohio. Kneass finished his composition on a landing in Kentucky and summoned McCann, according to Will S. Hays, lyricist and columnist. “If we are not mistaken, Mr. McCann was the first person who ever sang [Ben Bolt by Kneass],” Hays reported. “He did so from the manuscript,” McCann toured with the famed Kneass Operatic Troupe among major companies, but ceased in the 1850s to open a music store in Louisville.

Kneass continued in entertainment but his name faded in the war period. Struggling financially, Kneass complained of paltry royalties for Ben Bolt, a tune beloved in America like the classic Oh Susanna—which Kneass had also introduced on stage. A wife of Kneass died in a riverboat accident while his drinking and health posed problems. One story had Kneass arriving at his own funeral, after he’d been missing for days. Family and friends were stunned to see him, gathered round a stranger’s corpse fished from a river.

Kneass felt illness creeping, stomach malaise, as his troupe toured northern Missouri in September 1869. The performer’s condition worsened on a train and he succumbed at a boarding house in Chillicothe, railroad town. Nelson Kneass died in debt, about 46, leaving a young wife and children. His widow could afford $6 for the burial but no gravestone, and the family relied on charity to travel home in the East. Troupe players made do from Missouri on their own.

Praise revived for the showman in his wake. “Nelson Kneass… is dead,” announced a theater critic in the Memphis Appeal. “He was one of those men that worked hard, lived poor and died miserably. He was a genius.” A newspaper commentary, widely printed, noted “Ben Bolt was sung in the lordly mansions and in the lowly cottages all over the land. There was a sadness and sweetness that touched all hearts alike.”

“He was the author and originator of very many popular songs,” said Sam S. Sanford, American stage legend, remembering Kneass. “He and Stephen Foster are the two bards of the minstrels.” Kneass “died poor and unattended by friends,” said Sanford. “The publishers of Ben Bolt made $50,000 from that one song alone, and its author often needed bread.”

Eventually a modest marker was placed on the Kneass grave in Missouri, and the site stood undisturbed for years. Then the Trilby fad happened, sexy storyline made fashionable, spawning neo-fandom for Kneass. Visitors to the Chillicothe cemetery cracked into his tombstone, carrying away pieces.

“Kneass’s grave was marked until within the last year or so, when curiosity and relic hunters have chipped souvenirs from the slab,” reported the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1899, adding that “scarcely enough of it remains to show that a headstone had ever been there.”

***

Cairo, Ill., suffered economic “panic” of the 1870s, with America at-large, but local entertainment expanded despite no opera house. Rickety Atheneum Theatre and other venues hosted the business. Every musical genre was patronized along with comedy and drama.

Sol Smith Russell and Katie Putnam, former local talents, were renowned in comedy and song. Russell was a Missouri native and Putnam of Chicago, but Cairo proudly claimed the youthful stars. Both had been stock players at the Atheneum and old Defiance Theatre. Now Russell and Putnam headed major troupes touring under their names, with each boosting Cairo by appearing regularly.

Variety format led river entertainment, with requisite sex appeal, and audiences loved Putnam, always applauding for encore. Putnam enjoyed sold-out runs in Cairo and throughout the delta, for “exquisite songs, dances, and her unrivalled banjo solos,” per an advertisement. She adorned herself with diamonds and rubies on stage. The market embraced Andy McKee, comic breakdown dancer who debuted in Cairo stock.

European violinist Ole Bornemann Bull came during bitter winter, drawing 500 to the drafty Atheneum. None was disappointed as the master lived up to hype, performing the best of symphony, opera, and ballad with improvised flurries. When the Norwegian covered Arkansas Traveler by request, fiddler style, folks really warmed to him. “Ole Bull smiled, and his fiddle went through the melody as though it was used to playing it every hour in the day.”

Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi saw big crowds on his American tours of the 1880s, and a Cairo date was no exception, with many musicians in attendance. “The old gentlemen made the instrument speak to the audience in tones that visibly affected everyone in the house.” Jules Levy was another musician of international acclaim, performing on cornet, the horn of Cairo favor. “Our ear, in youth, was cultivated up to an appreciation of cornet music, and it was highly gratified last night by the blowing of ‘the greatest,’ ” saluted the Bulletin. “Our cornetists went into ecstasy over Levy’s playing.”

Levy, nonetheless, was second billing for the show—opera singer Adelaide Phillips was headliner, American great. “A large and fashionable audience greeted Adelaide Phillips and her concert troupe last night. We have not the time to devote the troupe the attention their merits deserve… Miss Phillips has few superiors in [opera], if any, and she sang As The Years Glide By with a pathos that banished the smiles and invoked the tears of the audience.”

The white Methodist Church hosted Philip Phillips, “The Singing Pilgrim,” epitome of pulpit popularity, best-selling evangelist of “sacred songs.” Phillips went beyond rhythmic preaching to sing hymns during his sermons and lessons. A favorite of President Abraham Lincoln, Phillips “sang his way around the world and into the hearts of kings and heathens alike.” Phillips published a Sunday School songbook, selling it widely, and lent celebrity to a crusade of Cairo churchmen that condemned dancing. Phillips realized fulfillment besides the spiritual—cash, a pile of it, for local concert and book sales.

Harmonists were huge, “barbershop” quartets and such. Steller companies showed at Cairo like the Peak Family and Berger Family, associates of P.T. Barnum, along with the Baker Family and The Alleghanians. But their line increasingly relied on variety accompaniment in bell ringers, harpists, horn blowers, dancers and comics. Sex appeal helped, too. The Bergers presented pretty Swiss bell clangers and an all-female orchestra.

***

Burlesque was labeled sacrilege by some folks, plain obscenity by more in Cairo, Ill., but city councilmen were unanimously in favor. The council meeting adjourned early on Thanksgiving Eve, 1876, as the men rushed off to see the Madame Rentz burlesque show at Atheneum Theatre. The Rentz women were American sex symbols, “voluptuous” and “suggestive” on stage, according to reviews. M.B. Leavitt, later known as Father of Burlesque, managed the troupe on a triumphant tour northward from New Orleans.

Music, stunts, parody and satire comprised early burlesque, interspersing fem imagery and erotica, when bare ankles and high heels were termed risqué. The Rentz company starred curvy Mabel Santley with females “scantily clad,” meaning low-cut blouses, knee skirts, frilly petticoats and bloomers, sheer stockings. Skin exposed below necklines was limited to arms and cleavage. Males did know a burlesquer might wear short pants on stage, for a tantalizing prospect that risked her arrest.

Cutesy, buxom burlesquers sang, danced, cracked jokes, shed tears on cue. They turned flips on stage, jiggled with jump ropes, rode swings over audience, titillating fashion. They smiled and sang funny refrains, making eye contact with men. “The girls” pedaled about on velocipedes—bikes on tall wheels—butts perched atop tiny seats, swaying provocatively. They joined in a leggy line for the can-can dance, high kicking to blaring horns and crashing cymbals. The audience watched every move, virtually all male, whistling and whooping.

The famed Chapman Sisters raised eyebrows for skimpy attire at Cairo, coming out in leotards and silk leggings. A critic remarked “the costuming might seem objectionable, but there was nothing in the play that could be objected to.” Blanche and Ella Chapman were burlesque queens and showbiz royalty, having been reared in theater, learning to “act well, sing sweetly, and dance splendidly,” a scribe commented.

The Chapmans also wrote well—at Cairo the sisters created hilarious satire of local life and personalities, assisted by their mother, actress Julia Drake Chapman. As descendants of showboat and theater pioneers long connected to Cairo, the Chapman women delivered a zinging parody on citizen characters. “It abounded with local hits, nearly all of which were loudly applauded by the audience,” the Bulletin observed. “It is a marvel how the troupe learned so much about Cairo in so short a time.”

The paper endorsed burlesque of the Worrell Sisters accompanied by comedian George S. Knight, but editors took exception with the May Fiske English Blondes. The Bulletin ripped Fiske’s cast of mostly bleached hairdos for selling “nastiness… verbal smut and shapely female ankles.”

Olden drama required spice to play in Cairo, and femme fatale Fanny B. Price was the stuff. She caused the daily paper to suspend publication for threat of a printers’ strike. The young actress entranced gobs of boys and men, particularly along western rivers. Males penned letters and placed print notices for Price at stops like Cairo, where 45 fawning men signed a welcome ad. Price was a tragedian player, “girlish” and “prepossessing” in appearance. She hit in roles such as Parthenia, Greek maiden of myth, and Lady Macbeth.

Bulletin pressmen were riled over prospect of missing Fanny Price at the Atheneum on Thanksgiving, 1873. They grumbled about skipping work until the editor canceled the day’s printing, and the boys saw the show. Fans viewed Price as “chaste and pleasing,” and Cairo men doted until finally she’d been married, divorced and remarried, living in South Dakota.

Price was a dramatist who could dance and sing, standard for top thespians in Cairo. Mary Anderson, stage phenomenon from Louisville, succeeded Price as hot ticket locally, accompanied by actor John W. Norton. Kate Claxton was a hit dramatist, hearing calls for encore. Shakespearean stars Lawrence Barrett and Englishman Frederick Warde were fantastic, according to the paper, while Robert McWade personified a classic Rip Van Winkle, truest to Irving’s character.

The Bulletin scolded readers over lackluster support for serious drama, a national trend. Critically acclaimed actors could go broke in the hinterland, such as Price’s getting stranded on occasion with her outfit. “Those were the days of fat parts and good notices, but no salaries,” recalled Roland Reed, former actor with Price. Once, with the troupe penniless in Illinois, Reed turned to his comedy forte, staging shows that paid fare home for everyone.

With Old World convention on decline in America, classic drama had a problem for lack of fashionable music and movement. In the delta and elsewhere, most Americans wanted popular songs and stirring beats. People wanted dance—“leg ball, fantastic toes”—whether for watching or participating.

***

Mark Twain traveled down the Mississippi again in spring 1882, returning to the lower river after 21 years. Changes in the channel startled him. “I wondered if I had forgotten the river,” he confessed, in his subsequent book Life on the Mississippi. Ste. Genevieve was no longer riverfront, after the channel had cut away toward Illinois bluffs. “Sainte Gen” was hillside property now, overlooking bottomland. The Mississippi “made a ‘country’ town of it,” Twain huffed. “It is a fine old place, too, and deserved a better fate.”

On Twain’s trip the river ran high and easy for steamers headed down, approaching massive flooding in the delta at the Ohio’s convergence. Twain only worried slightly about Hat Island below Chester, old low-water hell for boats, but he shouldn’t have at all. “No vestige of Hat Island is left now; every shred of it is washed way,” he noted. Past Cape Girardeau, into the alluvial bottoms, the Mississippi channel had shifted wildly.

Twain watched in disbelief, down the altered river, ex-pilot aboard the steamer City of Baton Rouge. “I could recognize big changes from Commerce down,” he wrote. “Beaver Dam Rock was out in the middle of the river now, and throwing a prodigious ‘break’; it used to be close to the shore, and boats went around outside of it. A big island that used to be away out in mid-river has retired to the Missouri shore, and boats do not go near it anymore. The island called Jacket Pattern is whittled down to a wedge now, and is booked for early destruction. Goose Island is all gone but a little dab, the size of a steamboat. The perilous ‘Graveyard,’ among whose numberless wrecks we used to pick our way so slowly and gingerly, is far away from the channel now and a terror to nobody.”

Approaching Cairo, jerky turns of Dog Tooth Bend ran cleanly, cleared by government snag boats along the river. Beacon lights burned at night for steamers. Twain suggested he could steer Dog Tooth with eyes closed, as he used to do in effect on foggy nights, “sounding” through on depth calls of hands from bow and yawl. “One of the islands formerly called the Two Sisters is gone entirely; the other, which used to lie close to the Illinois shore, is now on the Missouri side, a mile away.”

Twain enjoyed a high perch coming into Cairo as pilothouse guest. Flood had crested but remained near top of levees. Steamers rolled above houses and buildings. The 1882 flood was worst-case, leaving the Cairo vicinity an inland embayment, water to flat horizon in every direction. But Twain saw major changes, islands gone, and rocks, along with a huge chunk of Bird’s Point. Correspondingly, Cairo had added land directly across the Mississippi, claiming new shoreline extending hundreds of yards from town. “The Mississippi is a just and equitable river,” Twain wrote, “it never tumbles one man’s farm overboard without building a new farm just like it for that man’s neighbor. This keeps down hard feelings.”

Cairo impressed Twain, 40 years after the visit of Charles Dickens, then a young Englishman. Twain disagreed with Dickens for famously branding the locality a rank morass. “Cairo is a brisk town now; and is substantially built,” Twain attested, “and has a city look about it which is in noticeable contrast to its former estate, as per Mr. Dickens’s portrait of it.” Twain didn’t much like reading Dickens, on anything. “Cairo has a heavy railroad and river trade,” declared the former boatman Sam Clemens, as Twain, “and her situation at the junction of the two great rivers is so advantageous that she cannot well help prospering.”

Maud Rittenhouse echoed Twain, writing in her diary. Rittenhouse was another precocious teenager of Cairo, committed to arts and entertainment, and proud for her hometown. She rebuked haughty critics and jokers. “Every rickety old house looks familiar and sweet, every tree an old friend,” Maud wrote. “I was born here and have lived here and can never do ought but love our dear ugly Cairo.”

Maud, someday a best-selling author, saw positives even in the flood Twain witnessed, lapping at the levees, forcing groundwater into homes. For this girl, highwater under moonlight in Cairo assumed Venetian splendor. “I can scarcely express to you the lovely time we had last night. The moon full, the water just rippling lightly, the skiff large and light,” Maud recorded of rowing over submerged streets in spring 1882. “There was a barge of musicians floating, too, and the clear notes of the guitar and cithern [harp] rang dreamily over the water, and the singing was very sweet. It was delicious floating off under the locust trees, past the new white church with its tall spire reflected in the water.”

“Verily, we are a modern Venice.”

Rittenhouse was an aspiring actress, good singer, serving stage support for touring professionals. Several locals shone alongside stars, no skill gap apparent. Headliner soprano Imogene Brown won the audience, for example, but particularly of her accompaniment by a Cairo insurance man, W.H. Morris, subbing as bassist for the company. “Mr. Morris sang three songs with fine effect, receiving the long continued applause of the audience,” the Bulletin gushed. Morris, of the stellar choir at Cairo Church of The Redeemer, entertained regionally as baritone and humorist until his sudden death in 1879. Additional accomplished locals complemented stage pros, led by Frank Howe, tenor; Annie Pitcher, salaried church singer; and Walter McKee, cornet whiz and choir director at the Methodist Church.

Local youths were coming on. Soprano actress M. Adella Gordon stole limelight in school productions, church choir, and in the new Grand Opera House. “Miss Adella Gordon… was really the feature of the evening,” a Bulletin critic concluded for a show in 1883. “Although she was known to be one of the best singers in Cairo, the power and richness of her voice as developed on the Opera House stage was a surprise to her friends and the audience. It filled the house with melody without any apparent effort of the singer. Every verse and almost every turn of the song was applauded to the echo. For an encore Miss Gordon sang a beautiful little waltz song, Peek-A-Boo.”

“Miss Adella scored a triumph in ‘Engaged,’ both in acting and singing.” The critic also praised Gordon for calliope play, “one of the musical gems of the performance.” She later married a physician and the couple moved to New York and London. Their daughter born at Cairo, actress Ruth Bower, became noted internationally.

Local history of opera divas traced to Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale” who passed through on a steamboat with Barnum in 1851. The money P.T. Barnum paid the songstress, an astounding $250,000 for 150 dates in America, along with his shrewd merchandising of Jenny Lind items, left lasting imprint on the country. Youths were inspired while elites pushed for Americans to capture the opera world. In the postwar opera stars came frequently to Cairo stages, male and female, including Americans Emma Abbott, Clara Brinkerhoff, Imogene Brown, and Madame Bailer, a black songbird sponsored by AME congregations.

Marie Litta, or Litta, billed as “America’s Greatest Soprano,” hit Cairo only months before death struck to inflate her legend. The young woman wasn’t Italian but actually Illinois Dutch, named Marie Von Elsner, reared at Bloomington and groomed for opera royalty.

In one sense, Litta’s brief career signified the European dogma stifling American music and talent. The problem rested with American “society” and industry, stuck on trying to do everything European, better than the Europeans. Belief transferred from East to the West and South, and Von Elsner seemed a prime case, or victim profile. Her father, an impoverished immigrant musician, saw rare gift in his first born.

Benefactors surfaced round her in rural Illinois and the girl was sent to music conservatory in Cleveland. She made the requisite jump abroad, studying in France through her adolescence, accumulating debt and favors owed. On advice she swapped her German surname for an Italian-sounder, typical of opera aspirants, and took her shot at concert acclaim.

Litta was hyped by Paris handlers and their crony pressmen, and hired by the Strakosch Italian opera company for American tours of 1879. She arrived in New York under heavy fanfare, as latest native hope for opera, but Litta didn’t remotely perform like an American Jenny Lind.

Skeptics cried humbug! New York reviewers skewered her, led by nemesis critics of The Times and The Herald. “A perfect failure,” carped a Buffalo critic. Even Litta’s name change was ridiculed. Maurice Strakosch placed her in lead roles but she faltered vocally and stunk for acting, said the critics. The company released Litta after two seasons, and the New York Times bade a parting shot: “As an operatic prima donna (she) could not expect to hold a leading position.” The Boston Globe intoned that “Marie Litta… is at home in Bloomington, Ill., where she belongs.”

She appeared at Cairo a discard of big-time opera. Merchandise bearing the Litta name barely sold anywhere, a few Illinois towns. A small hall in her homestate canceled Litta for lack of interest. An Illinois preacher had to deny snoring through her concert. Litta was 26, failing in health, heading her own troupe, trying to meet payroll and expenses. She held debt to creditors and old handlers, as provider for her siblings and invalid mother. A small fortune had been frittered on diamonds and wardrobe for Litta and family entourage.

A good Cairo crowd applauded the Litta Opera Company in 1883, calling for encores. The Bulletin lauded the fading star, if politely. Soon she died in Bloomington, reportedly for symptoms of neural degeneration, “chronic meningitis.” Opera queen Clara Louise Kellogg pledged benefit concerts to stall home foreclosure on the Von Elsners. Bloomington  residents raised thousands of dollars for a massive cemetery monument, declaring the greatness of Litta in stone, their last word.

In retrospect, Marie Von Elsner may have been better off in pop music, playing right at home, the American West. As she died young, song and dance swept the nation despite elitists fixed on Euro convention. Perhaps the statuesque Von Elsner would’ve preferred frontier opera houses and riverboats, playing banjo, singing dance songs, flashing blonde tresses and pink stockings, hot steps, just showing off. Because Marie Von Elsner would’ve only been normal, gravitating to popular song and dance as a talented young American.

Boys and girls were pouring into variety entertainment, consuming, learning and performing. In the northern delta, the talent pool was exceptionally strong. Homegrown musicians of every focus were headed upward, the region’s first showbiz generation, laying path for more to come. And they could keep their own names.

***

Baseball served as tonic for Americans following the Civil War, rising in appeal across race and class. The Cincinnati Red Stockings of professional baseball became national darlings, winning 80 straight games over challengers like the New York Mutuals, the Philadelphia Athletics, and New Orleans Southerns.

The Red Stockings built national audience for the team and sport. Other cities responded, producing fully paid baseball clubs to rival the famed “Red Legs,” such as the White Stockings in Chicago. By the time the Red Stockings finally lost, an upset at Brooklyn in 1870, fans were hooked on baseball’s daily drama. Scribes hailed it the National Game.

Amateur teams attracted hopeful players along the Ohio and Mississippi, where the Red Legs had thrashed best clubs of Louisville, St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans. “Baseball is becoming the rage with our old and young boys,” observed the Bulletin at Cairo. Nearby in Massac County, “cockfighting and baseball are Young America’s amusement.”

Baseball games in Cairo streets constituted a nuisance, already, banned by city officials. Vacant lots filled with players in warm weather, for games typically segregated but sometimes mixing whites and blacks. Ball clubs of both races organized in the tri-state flatland, men’s teams of name like the Deltas and Shoo Flies, with junior squads for boys. Young males were mindful of pro baseball and Cincinnati, but the game was crude in form from equipment to playing fields.

Many Cairo kids and adults strove for careers in the amusements of convention—drama, music and circus. Local products were working in show business, on stage and in management, and some would realize that old cliché, fame and fortune, or former if not the latter.

Cairo in the postwar offered theater clubs and instructors, schools of music and dance, gymnastics and equestrian classes, even training in trapeze, the crowd favorite introduced by Jules Leotard. Athleticism was asset in each and paramount for circus, where spectators demanded “break-neck gymnastics” of performers. Sports of the ring anchored circus entertainment. Fans clamored to see acrobats fly fast and high, including child daredevils, on floor, horseback, high wire and trapeze. And Cairo witnessed many greats.

Henry Magilton, superstar of bareback tricks, tumbling and trapeze, appeared for years at Cairo with Spalding and Rogers Circus. Later Magilton was paralyzed of a 25-foot fall in trapeze at London’s Alhambra Theatre. The Hanlon brothers were with DeHaven’s Circus at Cairo, famed acrobats on trapeze and horseback. The Siegrist brothers appeared—Louis, Toto, and young William—in their “phenomenal gymnastic groupings” for Batcheller and Doris. The Leslie brothers performed “graceful and daring double trapeze” in Rothschild’s Circus. And “leaper” Frank Gardner vaulted into “a double somersault over four camels and one elephant,” stealing the show in Cole’s Circus, reported the Bulletin.

Maggie Claire of Cole’s was “Queen of Air” on the “flying rings.” A brilliant talent, Claire debuted in Memphis vaudeville as a child contortionist in 1867. She appeared at Cairo in 1880, going up ropes, grasping rings by hands and feet, twirling and flipping to band music at 50 feet high, no safety net.  Decades later she admitted, “Cold chills sometimes run over me, when I think of my daring, and, especially, the ease with which I performed. It wasn’t work, it was mere play. My happiest hours were those when I swung high over the heads of my audience.”

In the big-top at Cairo, Maggie Claire “captivated all present,” a scribe recounted, adding “her dangerous and quick movements, at so great a height, stamp her as an altogether superior artist.” During a quarter-century of ascents in tents and theaters, thousands, Claire fell four times, each due to rope malfunction. Her final drop was 44 feet to floor, causing hip dislocation and brain concussion among injuries, and she retired.

Barnum brought a breath-taking aerialist to Cairo, Rossa Matilda Richter, Zazel, Paris teenager in America. Barnum collected name performers by the dozens for his circus, and ZAZEL! dominated advertising for 1880 touring. Richter was a pioneer “human cannonball” but likewise an elite athlete, climbing like a spider, unshakable on high. A big tent fell silent as Zazel reached the darkened ceiling crest. There she pranced and danced across a wire, frolicking child-like, toting a pink parasol. Suddenly Richter would launch away, midair in her “eagle dive,” timing a half-flip on descent to bounce off net.

“She is on her feet again in an instant to perform the crowing act of her feat,” a newspaper reported. “She enters the muzzle of a large cannon suspended over the ring, and is ejected from its mouth with a loud report and a smell of powder, rising some 20 feet in the air and landing in the net about 50 feet from the cannon. This act concludes the performance, which is certainly the best that Barnum has ever prepared.”

High-wire females drew Cairo audiences. Ella Zuela rode a bicycle, pedaling tent heights for Coup’s Circus. Zuela starred at Cairo the night of Aug. 19, 1882; hours later, two trains of the show crashed together in southern Illinois, at Tunnel Hill. Ella Zuela apparently wasn’t hurt in the collision, but circus animals were rumored loose in woods north of Cairo, proven false.

Legendary rope-walker “Professor Leon” frequented Cairo, performing downtown on lines from rooftops. Professor Leon, birth name Jesse Albert St. John, had crossed Niagara Falls by tightrope numerous times, famously toting a little nephew on his back. The maneuver was repeated at Cairo. “The rope was stretched from the roof of Dr. Wardner’s building to the roof of the Arlington House… perhaps 60 feet above the ground,” the Bulletin reported, “more than once the spectators were held breathless and trembling while Leon performed some of his most difficult parts.”

“When he started to cross on the rope with the little boy, Master Curtis Hackett, a child less than 7 years old on his back, an expression of fear and uneasiness was visible on the face of nearly everyone present. But Leon made the trip as easily as if he had been walking on a plank a foot wide, and the little fellow on his back seemed to delight in the undertaking.”

Child performers relied on supple body and steely mindset for circus success. Some kids couldn’t cope but many reeled off cold-blooded feats and smiled, charming crowds. In 1876 small acrobats were prime acts for Howe’s circus at Cairo. Little Willie Dorr was billed as “The wonderful child gymnast… who throws 14 consecutive double-somersaults.” Frederick and Willie O’Brien were hyped as “only 6 years old… the finest actors on the trapeze ever seen in America.”

Equestrian skill rated highly in the delta, and thousands came to Cairo for circus children on horseback. The Stokes sisters of the Noyes Circus were beloved riders, Ella, Emma and Katie, displaying cunning and flash. Noyes also featured a boy who stood out among men on horseback. “Master Woody Cook is a prodigy… a miracle of agility, fearlessness and daring,” declared the Bulletin. “Although a mere lad, he is entitled to rank among the first equestrians and gymnasts of the period.” Cook turned forward flips, back flips and double-somersaults in one ride. “A standing challenge of $10,000 that Woody Cook, a mere boy, is the best bareback somersault rider in the world stands unaccepted,” promoted Noyes agents.

Equestrian star Lizzie Marcellus-Stowe first appeared at Cairo around age 12, with the Dan Rice Circus. She trained and performed in the area for a decade, until her death of steamboat fire in 1882. She had been “in early life a pupil of the renowned Dan Rice, and under the name of Lizzie Marcellus she won renown as one of the best female riders in the country,” reported the Bulletin.

Mollie Brown was first female to forward flip on horseback in circus. Brown drew a fan mob at age 19 in Cairo, starring for the Batcheller and Doris Circus. “Superb,” the Bulletin reviewed of the show. “The crowd at the circus… was the largest we ever saw anywhere at an afternoon performance. It is estimated that over 3,000 people were present. At night the immense canvas was jammed and crammed full.”

“The city was literally crowded yesterday with country people. Commercial Avenue and Ohio Levee were thronged with them.”

Adult equestrians, of course, were most anticipated by Cairo audiences. In 1880 Barnum brought Lizzie Marcellus, Emma Lake, and Parisian import Eliza Dockrill, known worldwide for gymnastics across haunches of galloping horses, six at once. Barnum paid huge salary to “Madame Dockrill,” who headlined his shows for years, and contracted her husband as equestrian director. Male riders headlined postwar circuses at Cairo, led by James Robinson, C.W. Fish, Sam Stickney, Levi J. North, James DeMott, Frank Melville, and Dan Rice.

Rice, native of New York City, first landed at Cairo with a circus in the 1840s. During the 1870s and ’80s the aging celeb often made home of the area, conducting business in southern Illinois and Missouri. He apparently liked distancing from Pennsylvania creditors and his estranged wife, in-laws. Rice had been America’s most famous entertainer in his prime, and columnists mused how boys confused Old Dan for Biblical Daniel.

Some delta folks weren’t laughing though, the anti-circus parents, preachers and others. They seethed, contending children should understand circus was sinful with false idols like Rice.

The Bulletin countered, charging hypocrisy on part of the circus critics, primarily churchgoers prone to praise team sports—baseball and tackle football—for so-called Muscular Christianity. Editorial writers scoffed:

“The weather permitting there will be another game of baseball played in the Fifth Ward on next Sunday, and also a game of football. The whole to be concluded by a rousing fight. These kind of amusements are becoming very fashionable, and yet our good Christian people do nothing to prevent them.”

“We do however maintain that pugilistic encounters should not be put down upon the list of recreations. Several Christians also called upon us to say they had prayed for the reformation of the baseball men, but to little effect.”

***

Shortly following the Civil War, a riverboat dance was set for young people of New Madrid Bend on the Mississippi. This area of delta Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee had experienced terrible fighting of clashing armies, a no-man’s land of war with thousands killed, more victimized, including children. Citizens suffered atrocities, seeing communities, homes and farms shot-up by soldiers, guerillas and more gangs. Assorted marauders committed wanton robbery, arson, sexual assault and murder.

Peace declared, now was time for “wild enchantment of the dance,” urged the New Madrid paper. Steamer T.L. McGill picked up belles and beaus along Kentucky landings of Madrid Bend community and Island Number 10 then docked at New Madrid Wharf on the Missouri side.

Music and dancing had begun when “a shot was fired into the circle from the top of the boat, through the sky lights,” killing a young man. A passenger shot dead the assassin, identified as a 70-year-old man from Illinois with “deep-seated hate” for Southerners and the defunct Confederacy. The war had ended in 1865, but viciousness would carry for generations in the river wilderness.

“The Civil War took a very heavy toll on the area,” said Frank Nickell in 1992, regional historian at Southeast Missouri State University. “The civilian population suffered, and no one has written at this point, to my knowledge, about the devastation of the Civil War upon this region, how it touched the lives of civilians. Vance Randolph in his folklore has touched on that… he has written a lot of books. One of those is entitled We Always Lie to Strangers, and there’s a reason for that. He’s got another book entitled Never Trust a Stranger. And the reason for that is, I think, the Civil War.”

“Because the men went off to war; the women stayed at home and took care of the kids, and tended the cows and the hogs, and they could survive with a garden. They could raise their food and they could survive. But they were subject to every group of men that came through. I think rape was very common. I think women were exploited, brutalized… and I think that feeling, never trust a stranger, is still in some parts with southeast Missouri.”

Modern historian T.J. Stiles, biographer of Jesse James, observed that politics of Civil War Era were complex, tough to unravel for context and blame. “In Missouri, more than anywhere else, neighbor literally fought neighbor, invading homes, looting, burning, and murdering unarmed partisans of the other side. It would be remarkable indeed if wartime allegiance had not become a defining element in postwar politics. Could the average farmer or merchant honestly be expected to forget the fact that his neighbor stole his horses, killed his son or brother, or burned his house?”

Criminality rampaged in the Missouri bottoms postwar, plaguing the Mississippi shoreline for a hundred miles below Cairo and Bird’s Point. The range encompassed three counties: Mississippi, New Madrid and Pemiscot, with port towns New Madrid, Gayoso, Caruthersville and Cottonwood Point, and way landings. “Southeast Missouri has been infested by a gang of horse thieves, guerrillas and desperados,” complained the Cairo Bulletin, after the killing of villain Pope Conyers, “whose hands were stained with the blood of more than a score of victims.”

The Bootheel region was branded for bad men and evil events, oft-sensationalized in print. Novelty news included the elderly woman who fought back against swamp hoodlums. Bold cutthroats operated a store boat, working the Mississippi and bayous, passing counterfeit paper, and they defrauded the woman of $71 on Island Ten. She hopped aboard a steamer at New Madrid to pursue the bandits downriver— becoming cause célèbre of headlines, the Old Lady of Swampeast Missouri—and caught them at Gayoso to see their arrests.

An old boat pilot recounted “bloody deeds” along Pemiscot landings. “I don’t think there is a bend in the river between Cairo and Memphis but has a tragic history, not because the Mississippi River is or has been more criminal than other localities, but you must remember it has always been a highway where people from all over the land meet,” wrote the pilot for Waterways Journal, under penname Jackstaff. “I wonder why writers of fiction resort to their own imagination for such themes, when truth furnishes so much.” An Osceola paper reported a “general feeling of insecurity” at Caruthersville, “badly afflicted with tramps who rob and plunder promiscuously.”

The region produced prime crime in 1874, amidst charged politics. Incidents of New Madrid County included the man struck with an ax in a fight, “completely severing the head from the body.” A man shot his close uncle, arguing over welfare of a child. Masked “nightriders” adopted Ku Klux Klan terror, trying to drive out blacks over farm jobs and hate. Racial murders and gunfights shook communities, with the district attorney and citizens pleading for help to protect Afro-Americans. “Life Cheap,” declared the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, headlining wickedness of southeast Missouri, always a tasty read elsewhere.

A band of outlaws showed up in historic fashion, becoming America’s most notorious gang of the century. Five horsemen came up from the South, identified as Missouri fugitives back in Louisiana, following a stagecoach robbery in Bienville Parish on January 8th. They looted a stage and passengers near Hot Springs on the 15th and continued north through Arkansas, bound for their home state. Initial reports named Arthur McCoy as gang leader, former Confederate spy and guerilla of St. Louis. The others were ex-bushwhackers of western Missouri and avowed Rebels till death: Cole Younger and a brother, likely John Younger, and Jesse James with his brother Frank. There was a $1,000 bounty on the James brothers, each, tripling the normal reward for wanted men in Missouri.

The desperados were fully armed and well-dressed on “fine-blooded horses,” sporting new saddles and bags. They wore plush leather overcoats and neck furs, packing Colt .45s and shotguns holstered on belts and saddles. The gang had committed years of robbery and killing in the Midwest and South, armed assaults on banks, stage lines and more. The new target was railroads, with the gang responsible for a stickup on the Rock Island in Iowa. Their mission in southeast Missouri was the state’s first train robbery.

The James brothers and accomplices crossed Arkansas border into Butler County, Mo., about January 27th, along the delta rim with Ozarks Plateau. They picked up the Iron Mountain Railroad at Poplar Bluff and rode northward along Black River Valley. This was all familiar for the James boys, Black River of the Ozarks, their route to and from Kentucky, old family ground and a getaway state. Frank James had slipped through southeast Missouri during the war with William Quantrill, guerrilla leader later killed in Kentucky on their trip.

As their routine, the five horsemen “took dinner” at a farm along the Black on Jan. 30, 1874, outside Mill Spring village. The place was in a hollow off the bottoms and train tracks, home of William T. Leeper, who figured the strangers to be hunters, without prying. Leeper was a Democrat but likewise a Union loyalist during the war, then-captain of the Enrolled Militia of Wayne County, a fact perhaps lost on his visitors. Mounted again with full bellies, the James Gang followed the rails from Mill Spring north to Piedmont, boom town on the Iron Mountain.

“That night, they asked for shelter at the home of the widow Gilbreath, three miles north of Piedmont,” Stiles related in his Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War. “Three of them set down double-barreled shotguns, she noticed, and when they took off their overcoats, she saw that each of the five carried a pair of large revolvers. They had maps, a compass, and a spare horse; they also came with a fair knowledge of the countryside and the Iron Mountain’s schedule.”

“At perhaps three in the afternoon the next day, they trotted their horses into the hamlet of Gads Hill, just north of where they had spent the night.”

Gads Hill was a flag stop on the railroad, and around 5 o’clock Engine Number 7 chugged up, southbound from St. Louis. Topping the mount the train was diverted onto sidetrack and locked in with switches, thrown by the gang. The engine halted for a flag-waving bandit, and the theft operation took but minutes. “While two of the band stood guard, the remaining three bandits looted the express car and robbed the astounded passengers,” stated an account. “The train robbery at Gads Hill is said to be the second committed in the United States. All the robbers were masked, and as they robbed the passengers, kept up a constant flow of conversation and banter.”

Total take for the American train robbers likely exceeded $5,000 at Gads Hill, and, unchallenged, they remounted and rode into the pines, headed west for Current River Valley. Posses left Piedmont next morning, pursuing fruitlessly, for the James Gang was long in front, riding to Springfield along trail and developing roads. The five spread 100 yards apart in a forward line, guerrilla style, defending against attack. Families of many posse members didn’t want loved ones to catch and confront these outlaws, each a killing machine.

Jesse James was a multi-talented sociopath, intelligent, athletic and handsome; a marksman, expert horseman and elite warrior; and a decent writer, superior scholar. He loved reading periodicals, books, classics. Jesse surely produced the gang’s prewritten release at Gads Hill, left behind on the train, addressed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “MOST DARING ROBBERY ON RECORD!” proclaimed the copy. “There is a hell of an excitement down here… You had better send a reporter.” The release was signed “JOHN A. MURRELL,” indicating Jesse grew up consuming Land Pirate literature like Sam Clemens at Hannibal, so many Missouri youths.

Down in the delta, a fearsome family of gunslingers made news once again from Madrid Bend, of the surname Darnall, also spelled Darnell. Patriarch Henry M. Darnall, Sr., was known for violent episodes with neighbors and strangers since before the war. In 1869 Darnall and sons became infamous for their feud with the Lane family, gunning down three male targets in front of wives and kids at Darnall’s Landing.

In summer 1874 it appeared Henry Darnall was finally vanquished, having been “mortally wounded” in gunfight, taking two shots to the chest from a ferryboat competitor. The Memphis Avalanche reported of him as essentially past-tense, done for. “General Darnell is a gentleman of about 65 years of age, a man of large property and unbounded hospitality. He had a very vindictive temper, and when once aroused it was uncontrollable, and has figured in several deadly feuds. He leaves a large family.” But Darnall recovered within months and showed in Memphis, “looking hale and cheerful,” corrected the paper. “The General is the same who was perforated in a half a dozen places with bullets and buckshot last summer, and who for a while was reported dead and buried, all of which was a mistake.”

Darnall was charged repeatedly for violent crime, but he defied local authorities, “bulldozing” judges and sheriffs, accompanied by armed men in court, and was never convicted—“Wholesale Murderer,” decried the Memphis Appeal; “Disgraceful,” added the Nashville American. Old Darnall died among family in 1880, afflicted of past wounding. His namesake son was already dead of gunfire, and a second would follow same. Twain discussed the family and feuding clans around Island Number 10 in his nonfiction. Surviving was the Darnall son who avoided trouble to complete medical school and training—Dr. Walter Darnall became a top physician residing at New Madrid, preferring song and dance over gunfights.

An outfit of Jesse James wannabes launched from New Madrid on a tear in May 1881. Newspaper coverage exploded for these imitators who had come together in Wayne County at Mill Spring, along the Iron Mountain Railroad famed of the James Gang.

The upstart “New Madrid Gang” was led by Jasper “Jesse” Myers and Frank Brown, neither a native of Missouri. The five in number was the only commonality for these drifters with legendary banditti of Gads Hill. They robbed nothing, managing only to shoot and wound adults and a child in ambush at New Madrid. They fled up King’s Highway to Sikeston, with barely a good horse and firearm among them. They dreamt on, discussing their escape to the West and maybe Mexico, committing great train robberies and more attacks against society and the rich. But live posses were in pursuit, swelling by the hour for publicity, and armed riders didn’t fear these characters. The desperadoes killed a sheriff’s deputy and matters got hot.

Driven west off Sikeston Ridge, the gang crossed marshland, running, walking and swimming, starving and bickering with each other. Hundreds of armed riders awaited them in Wayne County, a publicized manhunt that grew upon itself through news and talk, accurate or not. Gunmen swooped in to slaughter two gang members, and another was hung by vigilantes. Surviving fugitives Myers and Brown made it to Mill Spring, only to be apprehended by posse leader W.T. Leeper, former unwitting host of the James Gang. Lawmen secreted Myers and Brown to St. Louis to avoid lynch mobs, taking trains to Cairo and a steamboat upriver.

Myers and Brown ultimately were hanged, anyway, satisfying a crowd of 5,000 at New Madrid in July. Before execution Myers confirmed he emulated the James brothers “to get up a gang.” He told the New Madrid Record he didn’t know Jesse, Frank, or the Youngers: “Not personally, but I have read a good deal about them. Oh, yes, those books are calculated to load a man off—they excite his evil passions.”

Soon after, James sightings were reported from New Madrid into Kentucky. “It is said Jesse James attended Dan Rice’s circus in Bardstown last spring, and that his wife visited friends in the county during the summer,” noted the Louisville Courier-Journal.  “It is certainly true [Jesse and Frank] have many friends in this county, where they spent several years after the war.”

Missouri offered a $10,000 reward for the James brothers, each, and on April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot in the back at his home in St. Joseph, assassinated by Bob Ford. A few months later, Frank surrendered at the governor’s office in Jefferson City. Governor Thomas T. Crittenden paid out bounty money then boasted of stopping the James brothers, the “Meyers Gang” of New Madrid, and “outlawry” statewide. Crittenden stated:

“Since the close of the war Missouri has been infested by bands of train and bank robbers, whose lawless deeds not only rendered railroad travel and banking dangerous, in certain localities in the state, but also gave the state an unenviable reputation at home and abroad.”

“I paid $20,000 in rewards to various persons for the capture and overthrow of the [James] desperadoes, not one dollar of which was taken from the State Treasury. It is not probable that Missouri will again be cursed and disgraced by the presence of such a band of men, confederated together for desperate purposes. [Missouri] is fully redeemed and acquitted of that unwarranted appellation of ‘Robber State.’ ”

“It is done, and Missouri is today one of the most peaceful states in the Union. Fewer crimes are committed within her borders than those of surrounding states.”

Lusty thugs still roamed southeast Missouri, however, unspeakable acts kept occurring, and the Jackson Cash-Book newspaper wasn’t buying talk of civil tranquility. “Our hangings should be speedier and more frequent,” the paper editorialized. “There is altogether too much leniency and red tape exhibited in dealing with criminals.”

***

The Grand Opera House opened at Cairo, Ill., in 1881, a spectacular showplace amidst riverine marsh. Teen sensation Fay Templeton headlined on opening night, singer and dancer, starring in the comic opera Les Mascotte. The curtain rose and “a large chorus of pretty and shapely girls in pink fleshings and short skirts pranced forth in a huge sensation.”

In the audience sat Maud Rittenhouse, schoolgirl actress, spellbound. “Oh! It was grand!” she recorded in diary. “Seated in that comfortable, spacious, lovely theatre with its blaze of lights, immense stage, artistic scenes, I couldn’t realize I was in Cairo until I looked around me and beheld the familiar faces… all the people in town, and many from abroad. Not a seat in parquet or parquet-circle, only a few in dress-circle, and some in gallery.”

Thirteen hundred spectators packed the auditorium trimmed in Victorian woodwork, ornamental plaster and crimson drapery. There were “perfect” acoustics and gas-jet lighting, chandeliers, globes and foot lamps, and 36 fire exits, reported the Bulletin. The brick building stood four stories, occupying most of the 600 block bounded by Commercial Avenue and Railroad Street [later renamed Halliday Avenue]. The facility culminated a long drive of local supporters since Perry Powers and W.H. Morris, deceased showmen.

The Opera House joined theaters, halls, saloons, gardens, showboats and excursion steamers among stage venues of Cairo, amusement hotbed of 9,000 residents, 250,000 visitors annually. American vaudeville flourished for family entertainment, and burlesque thrived, too, despite opposition of churchmen and others.

Variety was staple, a series of short acts in musical ditties, dance steps, laughs, acrobatic stunts and animal tricks—“A  Veritable Mardi Gras,” declared an advertisement. Variety carried fast-hitting programs and melodramas from opening scene to climax. Companies touring Cairo included the Alice Oates English Comic Opera, Ada Richmond Comic Opera, Harry Webber in “Nip and Tuck Detectives,” the Milton Nobles Comedy Company, Wallack’s Comedy Company, Felix Vincent with Mollie Anderson, and Alf Burnett with Helen Nash.

Homegrown performers came back as American stars in the 1880s: Katie Putnam, banjo and dance maven, and Sol Smith Russell, singing comedian. Both began locally under the tutelage of Putnam’s mother, Mary McWilliams, actress and theater manager. Popular actress Minnie Maddern Fiske made a return of sorts, having been on stage in the womb at Cairo; her mother was actress Lizzie Maddern, who performed while pregnant at end of the war.

Circus of the Opera House characterized Tony Denier’s pantomime troupe, presenting clown characters amidst spectacles of melodrama, comedy, music and stunts. Dernier’s signature production, “Humpty Dumpty,” turned profit on multiple runs at Cairo. The troupe came replete with orchestra, military band, wire walkers, jugglers, gymnasts and chalk-face mimes to accompany the star clown. Denier was Brooklyn-born and roundly skilled, authoring how-to books on theater and circus performance. He studied in France as a youth, immersed in Old World circus and vaudeville.

Show venues proliferated around southeast Missouri in the 1880s and ’90s, modeling after Cairo for indoor and outdoor sets. The big trend was so-called opera houses, various forms from the elegant grand down to drafty hall, or barn. Opera houses opened at Cape Girardeau, Commerce, Benton, Morley, Sikeston, Charleston, New Madrid, Portageville, Caruthersville, Kennett, Campbell, Malden, Dexter, Bloomfield, Greenville, Poplar Bluff and Doniphan.

Top troupes visited the Missouri delta and foothills, covering the gamut in music and theatrics, acts like the Emma Warren Company, Si Perkins Comedians, Orton’s Comedians, Watty Wallack and J.A. Rider, “Blind Tom” Wiggins, John William “Blind” Boone, the Georgia Minstrels with Billy Kersands, and Mahara’s Minstrels with W.C. Handy.

Touring shows often employed “home talent” to augment bands and play casts, instilling professionalism in local musicians and actors, nurturing careers in many. A wave of northern delta products would excel in show business, greats among them, in the new century.

***

“Old-fashioned songs” coursed through America, variously labeled as frontier tunes, farmer songs, rural music, cowboy songs, quadrille, folk, plantation melodies—and country music, destined as the umbrella classification.

During winter 1887 the term “country music” appeared in print for a square dance in Illinois, east of Decatur, reported by a newspaper. That evening drivers in bobsleds and snow cutters fetched guests for a party at the farm estate of Bering Burrows. “There was dancing in country style to country calling, and country music, and at 11 o’clock an old-fashioned country supper was served. After supper, dancing was resumed and continued until 12:30.” Horse-drawn sleighs returned folks home, zipping over moonlit snow cover until 2 a.m.

The Cairo region was thick with country fiddlers and banjo pickers, white and black. Southern songs resounded such as Dixie and Turkey In The Straw. Henry Hart’s Afro-American band showcased his fiddling at square dances from Indiana to Missouri. Tom Lewis played fiddle and poured drinks in his Gem Saloon at Cairo. Local bandleader Charles Wittig, with sons and daughter, formed a fiddling family for dances and stage shows. Other top musicians heading string groups included Harry O’Brien, George Eisenberg, Lee Boicourt, Edward Dezonia, George Storer, A.L. Goss and Edward Lemon.

Banjo music was trademark of Cairo and Missouri landings since the instrument was established by African slaves and freemen. White minstrel Emory M. Hall performed a banjo history lesson on stage, playing artifact instruments and songs in progression. Hall began with a gourd banjo and its three strings on a stick, presumably from that instrument class of cornstalk fiddle and sassafras bow. He concluded on his customized 13-inch Clarke banjo, “The Thunderer,” picking five strings on a fretted fingerboard. Hall was amazed at technological advancement in his time, having been a Union drummer boy in Louisiana during the war, rigging together his first banjo, a cheese box with horse-hair strings. “I made music out of the thing,” the Maine native recalled in 1898.

Hall played masterfully and knew music evolution better than professors, garnering repute as Paganini of Banjo, America’s “best twanger of strings.” A solo by Hall sounded “simply wonderful,” saluted an Alabama paper, “playing as he does the most difficult variations on favorite themes [like] Home Sweet Home.” A Memphis critic raved: “He is to the banjo what Ole Bull is to the violin… sweetest and most touching melody.” E.M. Hall was among Chicago minstrels closely associated with southern Illinois, a group that included dancer Andy McKee and singing stepper Cal Wagner. Hall played Cairo for J.H. Haverly and other managers until his death of the disastrous theater fire at Chicago in 1903.

Minstrel Dick McGowan was a superior banjo talent in Cairo, along with George Powers and Edwin French, a pair on par excellence with Hall. Actress Kate Partington picked banjo for encores at the Opera House, starring in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as heroine Topsy in blackface.

Afro-American banjoists picked ragtime and country melodies at Cairo before the Civil War, according to numerous sources of 1800s news coverage. Charles E. Trevathan was a white songwriter and journalist, native of west Tennessee bottoms along the Mississippi. In 1896 he wrote that ragtime originated “as a simple beat, but practice brought it to the dignity of a rhythm, weird, in no degree like any other musical expression, and intensely characteristic of the people who gave it birth. Now you may go anywhere along the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans, at Cairo, Memphis, Natchez… and you will hear the rag.”

Black troupes brought extraordinary banjoists, notably the Georgia Minstrels in their combinations. “The Georgias” put a banjo orchestra on stage, upwards of a dozen artists coming together in strings “made to talk.” The Bohee brothers, James D. and George B., were star pickers along with Dick Little, John H. Taylor, J. Locke Warwick, James Layton, C.F. Stanbury and Horace Weston. “The Georgias have no superiors and are favorites with the Cairo public,” the Bulletin raved.

American music pioneer James A. Bland headlined for the company at Cairo while introducing his popular songs from 1874 to 1881. Bland had grown up a free black in Washington, D.C., becoming a professional entertainer at 14 and later graduating from Howard University. Bland was multi-skilled, a composer, banjoist, singer, dancer and comedian. His classics Carry Me Back to Old Virginny and O! Dem Golden Slippers were among tunes he debuted with the Georgia Minstrels, pleasing audiences across ethic lines.

Ford’s Theater in Washington proudly billed “The Great James Bland” in spring 1881, prior to his departure for Europe and international acclaim.

***

Famous persons often passed unrecognized in Cairo, Ill., before photography’s mass dissemination of images. Luminaries were many in town during the latter 19th century, recognizable names but unfamiliar faces, like Susan B. Anthony, American suffragette; James Milton Turner, civil rights pioneer; James B. Eads, steel bridge master; John H. Tice, “weather prophet”; burlesque icon Lydia Thompson; and Ben De Bar, actor and theater mogul. Tell-all author Ann Eliza Young, internationally known as divorced Wife No. 19 of Brigham Young, was just another face off a train until introduced for her eager audience at the Atheneum.

Annie Oakley and husband Frank Butler were sharpshooters appearing at Cairo, little known yet. But Oakley was a sure-fire show promoter, tossing up tickets and shooting the airborne flutter, picking off pieces. Onlookers scrambled for bullet-ripped ducats to gain free admission. A holey shot paper was an “Oakley,” prized among her instant fans. Annie Oakley was dazzling in Comique Theatre, firing .32- and .22-caliber rifles from various positions, like behind her back, a mirror to sight. She nailed targets, popping glass balls, snuffing candles, and snapping off lit cigars. In 1885 Oakley and Butler joined Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Annie highly impressed Chief Sitting Bull, co-headliner; he named her Watanya Cicilia, Little Sure Shot, adopted member of the Lakota Indian Nation.

Some celebrities were easily identified for their likenesses en masse, engraved on news pages, magazine covers, showbills and product advertisements. And alerts usually preceded such arrivals at Cairo, where locals rushed atop the Ohio levee in 1882 to await John L. Sullivan, heavyweight boxing champion of the world. They watched railcars with Sullivan and entourage cross the river on transfer barges and unload on the Cairo side. The reassembled train climbed up from wharf to level tracks for layover, and townspeople ran on beelines for the private cars.

Kids and adults raced to see Sullivan, man and myth. “He was finally discovered near one of the windows of the Chicago sleeper, and after much solicitation and begging on the part of the crowd to show himself on the platform, he walked to the rear end of the car and descended to terra firma,” the Bulletin reported. “He was kept busy shaking hands with the crowd until the train moved out to Chicago.” Before departure the champ wired a St. Louis paper, rebuking the report he was “drunk and on a carousel for two days” in New Orleans. “Absolutely false,” fumed John L. Sullivan.

The little showman known as “Tom Thumb,” Charles S. Stratton, needed no introduction in Cairo, attracting crowds. Three hundred children attended a theater matinee starring Tom Thumb, Commodore Nutt and their wives—The Lilliputian Quartette—in song, dance and comedy. Rare few Americans were recognizable like Tom Thumb for his illustrations pervading pop culture. William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was another, the western scout turned entertainer.

Locals had heard plenty, read plenty of Buffalo Bill by the time his Wild West troupe arrived via railroad for a theater production. Cody was unmistakable stepping from the car, a ringer for his portraits plastered about on fences and buildings. An admiring mob trailed Buffalo Bill from train depot to the Halliday Hotel. “It was really amusing to see men of all ages stand with hands in their pockets and open mouths, staring in mute wonder at the tall, finely formed, neatly dressed, long-haired, pleasantly faced hero of novels and of the plain—exact counterpart of the fine engravings of him on the fancy bills.” Black and white kids filled the walk affront the hotel; boys jostled to peer inside for Buffalo Bill, “their eager faces against the large windows, expressing awe.”

Cody drew the biggest attendance yet at the new Opera House, upwards of 2,000 jammed in seats and standing space. Children crowded in and blacks filled segregated seating in the dress circle. Buffalo Bill’s western extravaganza featured musicians, dancers, American Indians and cowboys. Cody took spotlight for his marksmanship, shooting tiny objects around the stage while “holding the gun in many different positions,” recounted the Bulletin. Apparently no ricochet bullet reached the audience.

Future analysts would lambast such entertainment for racial and gender stereotyping, and firearms, child endangerment, among issues. But all shades of people loved the content in real time, 1880s America. Buffalo Bill’s western show rocked the Cairo Opera House on the delta frontier. “When the curtain went down upon the last act, the house shook with wild shouts, clapping of hands and stamping of feet, and there was a general expression of the wish that the company would remain another day.”

“Yesterday morning about 11 o’clock, headed by a cornet band, [Cody] led his band of Indians picturesquely uniformed and on horseback through the principal streets. The sidewalks along the line of march were crowded almost densely with people, and the streets were alive with noisy boys. From here the company went to Evansville, leaving on the Wabash train.”

Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music, tentatively titled River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music and, the sequel, Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See the page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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Circus. (1851, Jan. 14). New Orleans Times-Picayune LA, p. 2.

Circus Days. (1899, Nov. 4). Wheeling Intelligencer WV, p. 8.

Circus Performers. (1895, June 7). New Orleans Times-Picayune LA, p. 8.

Circuses, Circus Players, Circus Patrons. (1828, Aug. 8). Missouri Intelligencer, Fayette MO, p. 1.

City And County. (1866, Aug. 2). Janesville Gazette WI, p. 1.

City And County News. (1882, Jan. 19). Alton Telegraph IL, p. 3.

City And County News. (1886, July 6). Alton Telegraph IL, p. 3.

City Council. (1876, Nov. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

City Council. (1881, Jan. 13). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

City Department. (1879, July 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

City Department. (1879, Aug. 12). Decatur Republican IL, p. 3.

City Matters. (1869, July 9). Cincinnati Enquirer OH, p. 8.

City News. (1875, Oct. 31). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

City News. (1876, April 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

City News. (1876, Aug. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

City News. (1878, Jan. 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

City News. (1879, Nov. 29). Indianapolis Leader IN, p. 4.

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Col. H.J. Deal In Ste. Genevieve County. [LTE reprint from Cape Girardeau Argus MO.] Charleston Courier MO, p. 1.

Col. Will S. Hays. (1878, July 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Colored Fair. (1878, Sept. 13). Interior Journal, Stanford KY, p. 3.

Coming! (1869, Sept. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Coming! Kennett Opera House. (1893, Oct. 12). [Advertisement.] Dunklin Democrat, Kennett MO, p. 1.

Concert. (1871, Feb. 21]. [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Conner, E.S. (1881, June 5). New York Times NY, p. 10.

Correspondence. (1866, June 7). Lancaster Gazette OH, p.3.

Correspondence. (1869, March 5.). Vicksburg Herald MS, p.3.

Crescent City. (1884, Feb. 11). [Advertisement.] New Orleans Times-Picayune LA, p. 5.

Crime And Sensational Literature. (1882, Feb. 4). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Crime Near Hickman! (1867, Aug. 3). Murder, arson and rape! Charleston Courier MO, p. 2.

Crossing The River. (1874, Aug. 20). A quarrel among ferrymen—Three men killed in a minute [Reprint from Memphis Avalanche TN]. St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 2.

“Dan Rice Brings Suit.” (1881, Feb. 27). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Dan Rice On The River. (1880, Feb. 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Dan Rice, The Veteran Showman, Is Dead. (1900, March 1). Southeast Missourian, Portageville MO, p. 4.

Dan Rice’s New Show. (1876, April 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Dan Rice’s Only Own Circus. (1869, Sept. 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Dastardly Murder. (1868, Jan. 9). Missouri Republican, St. Louis MO, p. 1.

Davis, J.M. (2012). The Americanized circus. In Weber, S., Ames, K.L., & Wittmann, M. [Eds.] The American circus, pp. 22-53. Bard Graduate Center: New York NY, & Yale University Press: New Haven CT.

Dead Beat. (1870, April 4). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Dead, Or In Custody. (1881, May 28). Bloomfield Vindicator MO, p. 2.

Death Of A Desperado. (1882, April 8). Jesse James at last laid low by a bullet in his brain. Bloomfield Vindicator MO, p. 1.

Death Of General Darnell. (1880, Feb. 24). Memphis Public Ledger TN, p. 4.

Death’s Domain. (1882, April 1). The steamer Golden City burned and thirty lives lost. Grenada Sentinel MS, p. 1.

Deem, D.B. (1924, Dec. 18). Man known here killed by raiders. Poplar Bluff Republican MO, pp. 4-5.

DeGive’s. (1875, March 30). Atlanta Constitution GA, p. 3.

DeHaven’s Circus Coming. (1869, Aug. 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Des Arc Items. (1923, Sept. 20). Wayne County Journal and Piedmont Banner, Piedmont MO, p. 5.

Dick Turpin Outdone. (1874, March 29). Knoxville Press and Herald TN, p. 3.

Dickens, C. (1842). American notes. John W. Lovell Company: New York.

Died. (1875, Jan. 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Disgraceful. (1877, Aug. 11). A court bulldozed by a criminal, aided by twenty-five armed men [Reprint from Nashville American TN]. Memphis Appeal TN, p. 1.

Doomed! (1881, June 17). New Madrid Record MO, p. 2.

Dramatic Notes. (1878, Nov. 24). Philadelphia Times PA, p. 8.

Dramatics On A Flatboat. (1884, Jan. 20). Louisville Courier-Journal KY, p. 14.

Dugan, R.W. (1877, July 18). Dugan’s dose. Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Dunklin Democrat. (1898, Dec. 2). Dunklin Democrat, Kennett MO, p. 4.

Educative, Instructive, Entertaining! (1884, Nov. 16). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Edwards, W.H. (1878, May 28). Kansas City Times MO, p. 2.

Ellis, C.E. (1910). An authentic history of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. Author: Chicago IL.

Ellsler’s Atheneum. (1864, Sept. 1). Ohio Statesman, Columbus OH, p. 2.

Emancipation Celebration. (July 17, 1874). Cairo Bulletin IL, p.4

Episcopalians to Celebrate Anniversary 50. (1912, Nov. 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 5.

Everything Grand, New, Fresh and Bright. (1875, June 12). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p.2.

Facts For The Curious. (1881, Jan. 27). Stockings. Clay Center Dispatch KS, p. 2.

Fatal Affray At Compromise, Ky. (1859, Sept. 10). Missouri Republican, St. Louis MO, p. 8.

Fenner, E.P. [Arr.] (1874). Cabin and Plantation Songs, As Sung by the Hampton Students. Musical Department, Hampton Agricultural and Industrial School: Hampton VA.

Ferguson Hall. (1889, May 2). [Advertisement.] Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 5.

Fair Items, Personal and Otherwise. (1873, Sept. 27). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Farewell Tour! (1869, Sept. 2). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Fate Of An Acrobat. (1882, May 5). [Reprint from St. Nicholas Magazine.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Fifth Avenue Opera House. (1899, Aug. 28). [Advertisement.] Arkansas City Traveler AR, p. 2.

Fired Cannon to Win Crowd. (1929, Jan. 5). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 6.

Fires. (1870, Nov. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Fisk Singers’ Music Given To World Years Ago. (1946, Jan. 10). Kingsport News TN, p. 12.

Five Bandits. (1874, Feb. 10). Some information about the men who have made Gads Hill memorable. St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 4.

Force of Example. (1878, Aug. 1). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Ford’s… The Georgia Minstrels. (1881, May 16). [Advertisement.] Baltimore Sun MD, p. 1.

Forstall, R.L. (1996, March). Population of states and counties of the United States: 1790 to 1990. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of The Census: Washington DC.

Fort Benton Strategic Pint During Civil War. (1995, July 24). Springfield News-Leader MO, p. 9.

Fraternal Opera House. (1898, Dec. 15). [Advertisement.] Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 8.

Free Concerts Every Evening This Week At The Eagle Saloon. (1847, May 27). [Advertisement.] Pittsburgh Post PA, p. 2.

Friday And Saturday. (1880, Oct. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

From All Around. (1881, June 1). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

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From Cairo And Below. (1865, Oct. 9). Chicago Tribune IL, p. 1.

From Canton. (1880, Nov. 25). McPherson Republican KS, p. 2.

From Commerce. (1895, June 15). Benton News Boy MO, p. 1.

From Exchanges. (1902, Sept. 25). Caruthersville Democrat MO, p. 12.

From Fulton County. (1867, Aug. 1). Louisville Courier KY, p. 4.

From Morley. (1894, Jan. 27). Benton News Boy MO, p. 1.

From New Orleans. (1870, April 27). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 1.

From New York. (1879, Jan. 19). Buffalo Courier NY, p. 4.

From The 25th Missouri. (1863, Sept. 1). St. Joseph Herald MO, p. 1.

From The 25th Regiment. (1863, Aug. 15). The murder near New Madrid by negroes. St. Joseph Herald MO, p. 2.

From The St. Louis Evening Chronicle. (1880, Aug. 7). Ste. Genevieve Fair Play MO, p. 2.

From Thursday’s Daily, Sept. 16. (1869, Sept. 18). Weekly Atchison Champion KS, p. 3.

Full Of Peril And Adventure. (1895, Oct. 20). St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 25.

Fun In The Country. (1887, Jan. 7). Decatur Herald IL, p. 3.

Funeral of Mr. Perry Powers. (1878, Jan. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Gads Hill Robbery Fifty-Eight Years Ago. (1932, Feb. 4). Wayne County Journal-Banner, Piedmont MO, p. 1.

Gad’s Hill. (1874, Feb. 2). St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 1.

Gadshill. (1874, Feb. 3). Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock AR, p. 4. General Items. (1875, Sept. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Gen. Grant in Cairo. (1880, April 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General. (1874, Oct. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Items. (1871, Nov. 21). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Items. (1872, April 4). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Items. (1875, March 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1875, April 10). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1875, Aug. 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1875, Sept. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1875, Sept. 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 5.

General Items. (1875, Oct. 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1875, Nov. 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1877, July 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1877, Aug. 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1877, Sept. 5). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Items. (1877, Sept. 27). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Henry Darnell. (1877, Aug. 14). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 4.

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General Local Items. (1879, Aug. 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1879, Dec. 13). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1879, Dec. 19). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, Jan. 15). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, Jan. 16). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, June 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local News. (1880, Sept. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local News. (1880, Sept. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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General Local Items. (1880, Oct. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, Nov. 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local News. (1880, Nov. 16). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, Dec. 16). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, Dec. 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1880, Dec. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, March 5). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, April 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, April 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, April 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Local Items. (1881, April 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, May 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local News. (1881, May 13). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, Aug. 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1881, Dec. 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Jan. 8). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Feb. 4). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Feb. 21). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, April 2). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, April 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, May 11). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, June 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, July 9). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Aug. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Aug. 31). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Oct. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1882, Nov. 15). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, Jan. 18). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, Jan. 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, Jan. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, June 28). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, Sept. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, Oct. 9). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

General Local Items. (1883, Nov. 10). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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General Local Items. (1884, Dec. 4). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General Local Items. (1884, Dec. 5). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

General News Of The City And County. (1900, Dec. 28). Caruthersville Democrat MO, p. 3.

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George Wilson. (1898, Nov. 10). Paducah Sun KY, p. 1.

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Good Show Coming. (1899, Dec. 8). Dunklin Democrat, Kennett MO, p. 2.

Goss, A.L. (1880, Sept. 28). A card. Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Gould, F. (1958, Feb. 19). Hall became carnival scene for Mission. Indianapolis News IN, p. 28.

Governor’s Message. (1883, Jan. 13). Bloomfield Vindicator MO, pp. 1, 4.

Graham, P. (1951). Showboats: The history of an American institution. University of Texas Press: Austin TX.

Grand Excursion. (1883, May 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Grand Gala Night! (1876, Jan. 7). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Grand Old-Time Fiddlers’ Contest. (1902, Sept. 25). Pemiscot Press, Caruthersville MO, p. 12.

Grand Opera House. (1880, Nov. 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Grand Opera House. (1882, Feb. 11). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Grand Opera-House. (1882, Aug. 27). [Advertisement.] Chicago Tribune IL, p. 16.

Grand Opera House! (1893, April 22). [Advertisement.] New Madrid Record MO, p. 4.

Grand Picnic. (1873, May 13). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Grant, U.S. (1885-1886). Personal memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant: Volumes I & II. Charles L. Webster and Company: New York NY.

Grant, U.S. (1990). Memoirs and selected letters: Personal memoirs of U.S. Grant, selected letters 1839-1865. Literary Classics of the United States, Inc.: New York NY.

Great Central Emigrant Route. (1868, March 31). Stanford Banner KY, p. 3.

Great Excitement In Madrid Bend. (1874, June 25). Ste. Genevieve Fair Play MO, p. 3.

Green, L. (1956, March 18). Profile of Cape Girardeau. Globe-Democrat Magazine, St. Louis Globe Democrat MO, pp. 6-11.

Grise, G.C. (1947, August). Will S. Hays: His life and works [MS Thesis]. Department of English, Western Kentucky State Teachers College: Bowling Green KY.

Guerrilla Warfare. (1862, May 22). Missouri Republican, St. Louis MO, p. 2.

Guerrillas Again. (1864, June 15). Louisville Journal KY, p. 1.

Gussie L. Davis—Cincinnati’s Colored Composer of Music. (1881, Feb. 12). Indianapolis Leader IN, p. 1.

Gymnastic School. (1878, Jan. 9). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Hallowed Songs. (1870, Sept. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Handy, W.C. (1941). Father of the Blues. The Macmillan Company: New York NY.

Harmonic Echoes. (1879, Aug. 3). Boston Globe MA, p. 3.

Harper’s Weekly. (1871, June 12). Fort Wayne Gazette IN, p. 4.

Hart, G.O. (1863, Aug. 15). Horrible murder. [Reprint LTE from St. Louis Republican MO.] Palmyra Spectator MO, p. 2.

Haverly’s Black Minstrels. (1881, Aug. 6). London Era, England, p. 14.

Haverly’s Genuines. (1881, Aug. 1). Chicago Inter Ocean IL, p. 8.

Haverly’s Minstrels. (1874, Sept. 25). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 4.

Hays, W.S. (1883, May 26). The late Joseph McCann. Memphis Public Ledger TN, p. 1.

He Is Truly American. (1889, Sept. 1). Chicago Tribune IL, p. 7.

Henry Hart As A Composer. (1870, Aug. 16). Evansville Journal IN, p. 4.

Henry Hart, Colored, is Dead at Age 75. (1915, Dec. 7). Indianapolis News IN, p. 22.

Here Is A Story For Those Little Boys. (1881, July 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 2.

Here’s All About “Jazz.” (1917, Nov. 10). Oshkosh Northwestern WI, p. 4.

Herring, H.C. (1906, Feb. 4). Music to-day and then. Charlotte Observer NC, p. 2.

High-Class Vaudeville. (1904, Aug. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 8.

Holiday Ball. (1869, Dec. 20). Evansville Journal IN, p. 4.

Home Items. (1883, April 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Hon. J. Milton Turner Last Night. (1879, Jan. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Honor Composer Who Wrote St. Louis Blues On Cigar Box Lid. (1937, Aug. 23). Jefferson City Post-Tribune MO, p. 4.

Hot Locks Of Jam. (1946, March 26). Sydney Herald, Australia, p. 16.

Houghtaling’s Battery. (1865, June 17). Ottawa Free Trader IL, p. 2.

How They Liked It. (1869, April 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Humkorous Clippings. (1870, Aug. 27). Charleston Courier MO, p. 4.

Hunter And Jones’ Colored Cornet Band. (1879, May 5). Alton Telegraph IL, p. 3.

Husking Bees. (1906, Oct. 20). Washington Times DC, p. 7.

Illinois Items. (1874, April 10). St. Louis Republican MO, p. 3.

Immense Posters. (1869, Nov. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Important Military Order. (1863, April 28). Missouri Republican, St. Louis MO, p. 3.

In And Around The City. (1878, March 10). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

In And Around the City. (1879, Aug. 10). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around the City. (1879, Aug. 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Aug. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Aug. 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Sept. 9). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around the City. (1879, Sept. 27). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around the City. (1879, Oct. 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Oct. 8). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Oct. 11). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Oct. 19). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1879, Oct. 28). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

In And Around The City. (1880, April 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Interesting Foreign Letter. (1874, April 4). Nashville Union and American TN, p. 4.

Interview With Myers And Brown. (1881, June 24). New Madrid Record MO, p. 2.

Invasion Of Southeast Missouri. (1864, Oct. 1). Missouri State Times, Jefferson City MO, p. 2.

Isaac Chilton’s Death Recalls Train Robbery. (1934, Feb. 22). Wayne County Journal-Banner, Piedmont MO, p. 2.

Isaac Wyatt. (1871, Aug. 11). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 2.

Island Number Ten. (1884, Jan. 10). National Tribune, Washington DC, p. 1.

It Will Be Here. (1881, April 24). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Items. (1857, March 3). Louisville Courier KY, p. 3.

Items. (1869, Aug. 7). Green Bay Weekly Gazette WI, p. 4.

Items In Brief. (1876, Oct. 5). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Items In Brief. (1878, May 3). Quad-City Times, Davenport IA, p. 1.

Justice at Last. (1895, Oct. 5). Buffalo Morning Express NY, p. 12.

Katie Putnam. (1882, Dec. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Knight’s Combination. (1877, Nov. 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Knapp, E.M. (1876, Dec. 7). Talks with My Music Scholars. Saline County Journal, Salina KS, p. 1.

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Jackstaff. (1892, July 1). [Reprint from Waterways Journal.] Caruthersville Democrat MO, p. 2.

Jazz Tooter Dies. (1949, July 9). Long Beach Independent CA, p. 4.

Jeff Davis At Home. (1882, July 21). Idaho City Semi-Weekly World ID, p. 2.

Jenny Lind’s Proposed Visit To America. (1850, Jan. 22). Liverpool Mercury, England, p. 8.

Jesse And Frank James. (1882, May 6). Agents wanted for the only authorized history. Bloomfield Vindicator MO, p. 4.

John B. Doris’ New Monster Shows. (1884, April 12). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

John B. Doris’ Reminiscences Of Sawdust Arena. (1899, Nov. 4). Dan Rice as a trainer. Wheeling Intelligencer WV, p. 8.

Johnson’s Circus. (1871, May 25). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Jones, W. (1870, Feb. 3). A card from Mr. Willis Jones. Memphis Public Ledger TN, p. 2.

Jottings. (1878, July 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Jottings About Town. (1887, April 21). Vicksburg Herald MS, p. 4.

Jubilee. (1879, Dec. 27). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Ke-Arve Dat ’Possum. (1879, Aug. 1). Indianapolis News IN, p. 3.

Killing At Madrid Bend. (1908, July 23). Hickman Courier KY, p. 4.

Knight of Freedom. (1879, Sept. 26). Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock AR, p. 8.

Krohn, E.C. (1971). Nelson Kneass: Minstrel singer and composer. Anuario Interamericano de Investigacion Musical, 7, pp. 17-41. University of Texas Press: Austin TX.

“La Mascotte” Makes a Hit. (1905, April 18). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 6.

Lake County Outlawry. (1877, Aug. 13). Knoxville Tribune TN, p. 3.

Lake County Tragedy. (1874, Aug. 25). Nashville Tennessean TN, p. 3.

Lansden, J.M. (1910). A History of the City of Cairo, Illinois. Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale IL.

Late News. (1881, Jan. 11). Harrisburg Telegraph PA, p. 1.

Latest War News. (1863, March 27). Charleston Courier MO, p. 2.

Lawrence Barrett. (1877, April 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Lead Pencil Jottings. (1891, Aug. 8). Cape Girardeau Democrat MO, p. 3.

Lead Pencil Jottings. (1892, Oct. 29). Cape Girardeau Democrat MO, p. 3.

Lennox’s Floating Theatre. (1848, Dec. 12). Louisville Courier KY, p. 1.

Letter From Balloon. (1858, April 10). Louisville Courier KY, p. 1.

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Life Cheap. (1874, April 2). St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 2.

Life In The Ring. (1886, Dec. 30). Clinton Advocate MO, p. 7.

Little Willie Dorr. (1876, June 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Lizzie Davene’s Death. (1881, May 15). Philadelphia Times PA, p. 1.

Local Brevities. (1869, Jan. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Local Brevities. (1869, Jan. 25). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Local Brevities. (1869, Feb. 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 5.

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Local Brevities. (1876, March 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Local Brevities. (1876, Nov. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Local Brevities. (1909, June 17). Iron County Register, Ironton MO, p. 5.

Local Happenings. (1878, Dec. 31). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Local Intelligence. (1874, Oct. 9). Montgomery Advertiser AL, p. 3.

Local Intelligence. (1879, Feb. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Local Intelligence. (1879, May 2). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Local Intelligence. (1879, May 25). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Local Items. (1877, Feb. 28). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Local Items. (1877, March 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Local Items. (1877, Nov. 22). Topeka State Journal KS, p. 4.

Local Items. (1899, Jan. 5). Blind Boone and corps of musicians arrived this morning. Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 4.

Local Jottings. (1875, Dec. 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Local Jottings. (1878, April 20). Donaldsonville Chief LA, p. 3.

Local Jottings. (1881, Sept. 1). Decatur Republican IL, p. 7.

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Local Matters. (1898, Nov. 17). Bloomfield Vindicator MO, p. 3.

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Local News. (1898, Dec. 8). Southeast Missourian, Portageville MO, p. 6.

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Local Paragraphs. (1882, Feb. 15). Decatur Review IL, p. 4.

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Locals—General. (1874, Oct. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Locals Of The Week. (1872, Oct. 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Look Out For The Calliope! (1857, Sept. 3). [Advertisement.] Glasgow Times MO, p. 3.

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Louisville. (1870, April 22). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 1.

Loved A Chalk-Face. (1885, May 7). Buffalo News NY, p. 7.

Ludlow, N.M. (1880). Dramatic life as I found it. G.I. Jones and Company: St. Louis MO.

Macdonald, M. (2017, July 5). Female firsts. Anderson Valley Advertiser, theava.com, Boonville CA.

Madame Brinkerhoff’s Concert. (1873, June 10). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Madame Rentz’s Minstrels. (1876, Feb. 3). Minneapolis Star Tribune MN, p. 4.

Madrid Bend, Ky. (1902, April 6). Where the ability to “Draw” still counts for something. St. Joseph News-Press and Gazette MO, p. 11.

Madrid Bend, Ky., Really Is The End Of the Road. (1994, Jan. 9). Lexington Herald-Leader KY, p. 17.

Malone, B.C. (1979). Southern music/American music. The University Press of Kentucky: Lexington KY.

Man Claims He Is Jesse James. (1932, Jan. 15). Caruthersville Republican MO, p. 1.

Marie Litta. (1883, Jan. 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Marvelous Gymnastic Feats. (1859, Nov. 18). London Guardian, England, p. 4.

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Matters of Local Import. (1878, Dec. 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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McWade. (1876, Nov. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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Metropolis. (1871, April 2). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

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Minstrel Men Disagree. (1900, March 8). Florence Herald AL, p. 1.

Minstrels. (1877, Jan. 14). Brooklyn Eagle NY, p. 3.

Minstrels At Airdome. (1910, July 19). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Minstrels Coming. (1899, Sept. 14). Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 1.

Mirth and Melody. (1875, Aug. 25). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Miscellaneous. (1865, Dec. 26). Birmingham Post, West Midlands, England, p. 3.

Miscellaneous. (1866, Aug. 13). New York Times NY, p. 2.

Miscellaneous. (1872, Sept. 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Miscellaneous Items. (1869, July 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Miss Kate Claxton. (1880, March 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Miss Ruth Bower. (1914, Aug. 16). Buffalo Express NY, p. 12.

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More About the Concert. (1882, Jan. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Mrs. Imogene Brown’s Concert. (1871, Feb. 21). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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Much Interest. (1902, March 14). Paducah Sun KY, p. 7.

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Musical and Dramatic. (1879, May 5). Rochester Democrat and Chronicle NY, p. 4.

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Nelson Kneass’ Double. (1896, April 12). St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 34.

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News Of The City. (1870, July 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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News Summary. (1881, July 21). Indiana Progress, Indiana PA, p. 9.

Nick and Tuck. (1880, Feb. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Old Dan Rice. (1876, April 13). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Old Dan Rice Is In Trouble Again. (1876, May 21). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 2.

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Old-Time Minstrelsy. (1874, Sept. 11). National Republican, Washington DC, p. 1.

Ole Bull At The Antheneum To-Night! (1873, Jan. 28). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Ole Bull’s Concert. (1873, Jan. 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Olympic Circus. (1813, Feb. 19). [Advertisement.] Liverpool Mercury, England, p. 1.

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Opera House. (1882, Nov. 26). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Opera House. (1883, Dec. 18). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Origin of Vaudeville. (1901, Feb. 22). Emporia Times KS, p. 2.

Our Commercial Position. (1865, Nov. 26). Cairo Evening Times IL, p. 2.

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Our Friend, Dr. Condon of Anna. (1873, Jan. 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Our Neighbors. (1863, Oct. 16). Charleston Courier MO, p. 2.

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Paris. (1878, May 23). Buffalo Commercial NY, p. 1.

Passed Paducah. (1898, Jan. 10). Paducah Sun KY, p. 4.

Patent Bell-Ringing Apparatus. (1869, April 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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Perry Powers. (1869, Nov. 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Perry Powers’ Opening. (1869, Nov. 10). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Personal. (1868, July 4). Nashville Tennessean TN, p. 2.

Personal. (1874, Nov. 21). General H.M. Darnell. Memphis Avalanche TN, p. 4.

Personal. (1874, Dec. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Personal. (1876, Feb. 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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Philip Phillips. (1870, Aug. 31). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Philip Phillips’ Compensation. (1870, Sept. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Pith And Point. (1878, July 11). Batesville Guard AR, p. 1.

Port List. (1876, July 1). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Positively One Night Only. (1871, Nov. 25). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Powers, P. (1871, May 25). Perry Powers to the people of Cairo [LTE]. Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Powers’ Palace Varieties. (1869, Nov. 23). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Prize Zouave Drill. (1884, Oct. 23). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Probable Homicide. (1853, June 22). Nashville Union and American TN, p. 2.

Prof. Leon, The Rope-Walker. (1877, Nov. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Prof. Mayer’s Brass Band. (1872, Dec. 28). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Property Changes. (1882, Nov. 25). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Prostration Of Mr. Perry Powers. (1878, Jan. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Proud Of Our People. (1897, Jan. 9). Benton News Boy MO, p. 1.

Public School Exhibition. (1868, Dec. 28). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Pursuing Thompson Through Swamps Of Southeast Missouri. (1862, Feb. 3). Missouri Republican, St. Louis MO, p. 3.

‘Queen of Air’ Bows To Age. (1922, Jan. 22). Detroit Free Press MI, p. 6.

Queen’s Circus. (1874, May 9). Rock Island Argus IL, p. 1.

Radical Meeting. (1868, March 26). Louisville Courier KY, p. 1.

Raffling. (1871, Aug. 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Reason Dethroned. (1892, Sept. 16). Decatur Republican IL, p. 4.

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Red And Green Stockings. (1870, May 4). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 4.

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Religious Notes. (1880, June 12). Cincinnati Star OH, p. 2.

Return of the Veterans! (1869, Feb. 8). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p.4.

Review of Amusements. (1874, June 14). Chicago Tribune IL, p. 7.

Reward For Murderers. (1869, May 25). Nashville Union and American TN, p. 4.

Rice, E.L. (1911). Monarchs of minstrelsy, from “Daddy” Rice to date. Kenny Publishing Company: New York NY.

River News. (1870, Jan. 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

River News. (1870, May 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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River News. (1870, June 16). Evansville Journal IN, p. 3.

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River News. (1872, Oct. 8). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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River News. (1875, Dec. 21). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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River News. (1879, June 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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River News. (1882, May 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

River News. (1884, April 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

River Intelligence. (1873, Dec. 9). Memphis Public Ledger TN, p. 3.

Robert D. Watson. (1900, July 19). Southeast Missourian, Portageville MO, p. 4.

Rockwell & Co’s Circus. (1848, Sept. 30). Saturday Morning Visitor, Warsaw MO, p. 3.

Roland Reed Dead. (1901, March 31). Boston Globe MA, p. 1.

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Rothchild’s Great Show. (1876, April 22). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Rothchild’s Menagerie. (1876, April 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Rothchild’s Show. (1876, April 13). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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Rural Music. (1894, April 26). Sterling Standard IL, p. 16.

S.B. Howe’s Great American Circus! (1865, Nov. 24). [Advertisement.] Cairo Evening Times IL, p. 1.

S.I. Sabbath School Convention. (1870, Sept. 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Sabbath School Convention. (1870, Sept. 9). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Salaries Of Negro Minstrels. (1882, Oct. 18). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 2.

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Saturday Last. (1867, Aug. 13). Louisville Courier KY, p. 3.

Scranton. (1878, Aug. 2). Wilkes-Barre Record of the Times PA, p. 1.

Select Council. (1871, June 16). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Settle, W.A., Jr. (1966). Jesse James was his name. University of Missouri Press: Columbia MO and London, England.

Sherman, C.M. (1886, Dec. 30). Life in the ring. Clinton Advocate MO, p. 7.

Shocking Affair. (1874, Feb. 27). A man’s head cut off in a fight. Sedalia Democrat MO, p. 1.

Show Him Up! (1875, Nov. 18). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 2.

Sickness, Death and Burial of Mr. William H. Morris. (1879, Jan. 24). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

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Slout, W.L. (1998). Olympians of the sawdust circle: A biographical dictionary of the 19th century American circus. Borgo Press: San Bernardino CA.

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Social and Personal. (1911, Sept. 12). Is successful actress. Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Sol. Smith Russell. (1882, Nov. 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Some Somersaulting. (1869, April 22). Lancaster Gazette PA, p. 1.

Songs We Used To Sing. (1890, Sept. 20). Sterling Gazette IL, p. 3.

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Southeast Missouri. (1890, Nov. 13). Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 4.

Southeast Missouri. (1891, July 2). Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 1.

Southeast Missouri. (1897, Nov. 4). Caruthersville Democrat MO, p. 4.

Southeast News. (1896, April 10). Caruthersville Democrat MO, p. 1.

Southeast Notes. (1895, Feb. 9). Benton News Boy MO, p. 4.

Southeast Notes. (1897, Jan. 23). Benton News Boy MO, p. 1.

Southeast News Notes. (1897, Jan. 9). Benton News Boy MO, p. 4.

Southern News By Way Of Cairo. (1863, Jan. 7). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 2.

Spalding & Rogers. (1857, April 2). Memphis Appeal TN, p. 3.

Spalding & Rogers. (1859, April 27). [Advertisement.] Louisville Courier KY, p. 2.

Spalding’s Monster Circus. (1848, March 22). Louisville Courier KY, p. 2.

Special Local Items. (1880, April 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Special Local Items. (1880, Sept. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Special Local Items. ((1882, Jan. 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

Sprague’s Original (?) Georgias. (1879, Nov. 24). Harrisburg Independent PA, p. 1.

St. Louis, March 13. (1862, March 20). St. Joseph Herald and Tribune MO, p. 4.

St. Louis, April 25, 1876. (1876, April 25). St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 4.

St. Louis, Cairo and Paducah. (1880, July 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

Stage Talk. (1879, Sept. 17). Decatur Republican IL, p. 3.

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State News. (1871, May 16). Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock AR, p. 1.

State Items. (1874, Feb. 12). Sedalia Democrat MO, p. 1.

Statements Of Myers And Brown To The “Record” Reporter. (1881, July 23). New Madrid Record MO, p. 1.

Steamboat Register. (1865, Nov. 12). Cairo Evening Times IL, p. 4.

Stiles, T.J. (2002). Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War. Vintage Books: New York NY.

Stopped The Music. (1887, Jan. 11). Vicksburg Herald MS, p. 4.

Streycemans, F.B. (1940, Feb. 8). The name is familiar. Dexter Messenger MO, p. 9.

Such is Fate. (1865, Nov. 23). Cairo Evening Times IL, p. 4.

Sudden Death Of John Terrell, The Musician. (1882, Oct. 12). Huntsville Independent AL, p. 3.

Suhr, J. (2002, Aug. 4). Life goes on quietly in small town that became famous for bloodshed [The Associated Press]. Park City Daily News, Bowling Green KY, p. 32.

Sunbeams. (1889, July 18). Poplar Bluff Citizen MO, p. 5.

That Educated Hog. (1875, July 11). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

Taylor, B. (1899, July 22). Governor Taylor’s love letters to the public. Grenada Sentinel MS, p. 6.

Terrible Affair In New Madrid County. (1881, May 19). Iron County Register, Ironton MO, p. 4.

Terrible Tragedy In New Madrid. (1867, Feb. 6). Two men killed—crowded ballroom fired into. Louisiana Democrat, Alexandria LA, p. 3.

Thalia. (1872, March 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

That Soiree. (1875, March 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

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The Alleghanians. (1878, Feb. 1). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

“The Arkansas Traveler.” (1886, March 19). Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle TN, p. 1.

The Atheneum. (1869, Oct. 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Atheneum—The Metropolitan Star Troupe. (1869, Oct. 14). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Atheneum To-Night. (1877, Nov. 15). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Atheneum Was Crowded Yesterday. (1869, Oct. 12). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Atlantic Monthly. (1873, Jan. 19). Chicago Tribune IL, p. 12.

The Average Small Boy’s Ambition. (1879, April 3). Lawrence Chieftan, Mount Vernon MO, p. 1.

The Bakers. (1869, Feb. 4). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Best Show Traveling. (1873, May 20). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Big Circus. (1868, May 16). Louisville Courier KY, p. 3.

The Big Hit They Made. (1885, April 3). Brookville Transcript KS, p. 2.

The Bombardment Of Island No. 10. (1862, March 21). Chicago Tribune IL, p. 1.

The Cairo Turngemeinde And The Fourth. (1869, June 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Calliope Of The Steamer Silver Moon. (1868, Dec. 31). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Candidates At Forrest City. (1888, July 14). Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock AR, p. 1.

The Centennial Carnival! (1876, June 3). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Centennial Fourth. (1876, July 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Champion Pugilist. (1882, Feb. 11). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Chapman Sisters. (1873, March 12). San Francisco Examiner CA, p. 3.

The Chapman Sisters. (1873, Nov. 14). Montgomery Advertiser AL, p. 3.

The Charleston Leap Year Ball. (1872, Feb. 10). Charleston Courier MO, p. 3.

The Chief Sensation Here Of Late. (1865, Oct. 26). Baton Rouge Tri-Weekly Gazette and Comet LA, p. 2.

The Circus. (1874, April 26). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Circus is Coming. (1869, June 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Circus Tonight. (1869, Oct. 2). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The City. (1865, Nov. 21). Cairo Evening Times IL, p. 4.

The City. (1866, Dec. 7). Theater. Vicksburg Times MS, p. 3.

The City. (1870, May 5). Turned Blue. Memphis Appeal TN, p. 3.

The Colored People. (1883, Sept. 25). Louisville Courier-Journal KY, p. 6.

The Colored Population Will Hail The Proclamation. (1870, March 3). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Commercial Position Of Cairo. (1865, Oct. 5). Cairo Evening Times IL, p. 3.

The Concert Last Night. (1870, Nov. 30). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Contract Awarded. (1884, May 10). Decatur Herald-Despatch IL, p. 6.

The Cotton Season. (1875, Sept. 16). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 2.

The Country Dance. (1883, June 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Dance. (1901, May 30). Pemiscot Press, Caruthersville MO, p. 12.

The Dead Bandit. (1882, April 18). Bourbon News, Paris KY, p. 1.

The Delta City Cornet Band. (1873, June 6). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Dispatch. (1874, March 20). St. Louis Post-Dispatch MO, p. 2.

The Drama. (1875, April 18). Chicago Tribune IL, p. 3.

The End. (1881, July 15). New Madrid Record MO, p. 2.

The Event of the Season! (1874, Jan. 29). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Excursion Last Night. (1875, Aug. 29). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Excursion This Evening. (1875, July 17). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Excursion To-Night. (1876, July 8). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Exhibition Last Night. (1869, June 19). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Famous Rentz Santley Novelty & Burlesque Co. (1890). [Poster.] Courier Lithograph Company: Buffalo NY.

The Gad’s Hill Gang. (1874, March 30). Rochester Democrat and Chronicle NY, p. 3.

The Georgia Minstrels. (1865, Oct. 10). Detroit Free Press MI, p. 1.

The Georgia Minstrels. (1865, Oct. 26). Cleveland Plain Dealer OH, p. 4.

The Georgia Minstrels for Europe. (1866, May 26). Buffalo Courier NY, p. 8.

The Georgia Minstrels in England. (1866, July 24). Buffalo Courier NY, p .8.

The Georgias. (1878, Sept. 24). Sioux City Journal IA, p. 3.

The German In Cairo. (1871, Jan. 8). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Girl Rider In O’Brien’s Show. (1873, Aug. 4). Rochester Democrat and Chronicle NY, p. 4.

The Great 7 En-Route To Cairo! (1879, Oct. 8). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Great Chicago Show!! (1873, May 13). [Advertisement.] Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 4.

The Great Fire In Cairo. (1864, Sept. 21). New Orleans True Delta LA, p. 1.

The Great Show-Boats. (1858, Aug. 5). Glasgow Times MO, p. 3.

The Great U-Rope-In Combination. (1875, July 27). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Greatest Show on Earth for 25 Cents. (1879, June 21). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 1.

The Horrible Story. (1870, June 28). Kansas Tribune, Lawrence KS, p. 3.

The Humboldt Celebration. (1869, Sept. 15). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Idlewild Excursion. (1875, July 7). Cairo Bulletin IL, p. 3.

The Iowa Homestead. (1873, Aug. 8). Holt County Sentinel, Oregon MO, p. 3.

The James Brothers. (1881, July 29). Hickman Courier KY, p. 4.

The James Brothers. (1881, Nov. 4). Louisville Courier-Journal KY, p. 1.

The “King Laugh Makers” To-Night. (1873, Aug. 1). Buffalo Post NY, p. 3.

The Kneass Opera Troupe. (1847, Oct. 16). [Advertisement.] Cincinnati Enquirer OH, p. 3.

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1960: Elvis Escapes St. Louis for Highway 61, Southbound

Preview episode of the upcoming book River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music, by Matt Chaney

Copyright ©2020 by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

Sunday, July 19, 2020, chaneysblog.com

This post is in memory of Benjamin Keough, grandson of Elvis Presley

During the 1960s, U.S. Highway 61 was reduced to a byway in southeast Missouri—and throughout the lower Mississippi River Valley—supplanted by Interstate 55 of the new federal road system. And traveling southbound from Cape Girardeau and Scott City, where I-55 blazed over knobby foothills, motorists met a stunning sight: the great delta flatland, stretching into beyond. The interstate’s twin tracks bore straight south, melding together in the distance, with the horizon a flat line.

Southeast Missouri had been ocean coastline in eons past, an ancient embayment subsequently altered through ice ages and meltdowns, concluded geologists. The modern Mississippi River stood relatively young at around 10,000 years of age, scientists calculated in the 20th century, with the delta basin composed of sediments washed from across the continental interior. Core drilling indicated more than 1,000 cubic miles of sediment filled an entrenched rock valley from Cape Girardeau to New Orleans. Geologists determined that the New Madrid Fault, notorious seismic rift, would never resolve for boulders far underground, encroaching perpetually.

Delta swamps and spillways were drained, levees fortified in the early 1900s, as farms and communities developed from Missouri to Louisiana. Population influx was led by planters and sharecroppers from the Old South, escaping regions beset by soil depletion and the boll weevil. In “reclaimed” delta land, the basic scenery was crop rows, flat, rolling on in expanses of cotton, corn, beans and alfalfa, framed only by fence and tree lines.

On appearances the delta seemed no place for artistic greatness to influence a civilization, yet it became wellspring for American music. Multiple genres were impacted, including folk, gospel, blues, ragtime and jazz, “hillbilly” music or country, and, ultimately, rock ‘n’ roll. And the essential delta factor, according to authorities, was the rub of class and race in a harsh frontier.

“All the music culture that’s come into Memphis has come in here from poor whites and poor blacks,” said Judd Phillips, record producer, in 1979. “I think we need to take into consideration that poor whites and poor blacks came in here looking for jobs… and they were singing their hearts out. It’s not there in Chicago, or New York, or on the West Coast. It came from right here in the melting pot of human suffering.”

“These untrained musicians in the Mid-South, from the delta of Mississippi, the delta of Arkansas, west Tennessee, southeast Missouri, northwest Alabama—you had a combination of country people,” said Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, brother of Judd. “I mean really country musicians, amateur musicians, black and white, the likes of which no other section in this land had.”

Delta songsmiths “created a sound out of the way they lived and their backgrounds and their roots,” said Al Bennett, recording magnate reared on a farm in northeast Arkansas. “I don’t think it was designed.”

“There are two choices in Arkansas…,” said singer Ronnie Hawkins, founding member of The Hawks. “You either pick cotton for three or four dollars a day, or you can play music and get out. So there’s an awful lot of people trying to pick guitars in that area.”

As a boy Johnny Cash helped his family clear tangled swampland for a meager farm at Dyess, Ark., with floodwater the perennial threat. Cash believed the experience translated later for his music, attracting wide audience. “When you work close to the earth on some poor dirt farm… you learn to understand the basic things about love and hate and what people want from life,” Cash observed.

“I think the Mississippi delta was just as fertile to American culture as the delta was in ancient Egypt,” said author Nick Tousches, biographer of Jerry Lee Lewis, in 1994. “It was where black people heard the white man’s music and made something new out of it. It was where the white man heard the black man’s music. And people say the blues came from Africa; well, I think they really came from the Deep South.”

Author Rose Marie Kinder heard lyricism in everyday delta expressions. The language of her native southeast Missouri “differs from anywhere else in the state or country,” Kinder said. “It’s subtle, perhaps, but you’ll know the true southeast Missouri vernacular when you hear it. It’s not Southern inflection, not just metaphor and certainly not just colloquialisms. It’s wit and pacing and sharp, apt observation.”

“An added pronoun or two can make music if they’re in the right place.”

***

Elvis Presley appreciated modern aircraft, he just didn’t like flying. And now the TWA jet he’d boarded in Los Angeles struck turbulence at 35,000 feet, bearing east at 600 mph. A massive storm system draped the country this early Thursday morning, June 30, 1960, with damaging winds having struck St. Louis at midnight. But Presley’s flight charged through rough skies and then, three hours airborne, the Boeing 707 decelerated noticeably, dropping in elevation.

The aircraft nosed downward, immersed in clouds, jumpy through pockets, pitching about. The fuselage quivered and visibility was zero outside. A few years earlier young Elvis would’ve been terrified in his seat, but he’d learned better about flying in the Army, especially on jets. Presley was tense on descent in the 707 but knew landing was near at Lambert Field in St. Louis. He thought good thoughts, like the old saying, of reaching home in Memphis, Graceland mansion, and getting there by car, his preferred mode of travel.

The plane’s landing navigation was state-of-the-art electronics, leading pilots and craft to earth. Cloud cover began separating and Lambert Airport came into view below, runways crisscrossing in a giant outlay. Morning sunlight burned in from the east, shimmering off the Mississippi River at downtown St. Louis.

The urban sprawl westward represented St. Louis County, suburbia and commercial development including the airport and auto plants, so fascinating from above. Super highways snaked along with cars swirling round “cloverleaf” interchanges. Lindbergh Boulevard marked the metro’s outer belt, and new Interstate 70 was pure freeway,  a few miles pavement adjoining Highway 40. Subdivisions clustered along Lindbergh in honeycombs of streets and cul-de-sacs; strings of homes were uniform below, cookie-cutter models of ranch and split-level.

The big plane came down right over Lindbergh traffic to land yonder on Runway One at Lambert. Pilots hit brakes and reversed thrust, big rubber tires bowed and groaned, and the Boeing slowed down to taxi speed within 4,800 feet. Elvis Presley—age 25, heartthrob singer-actor, more famous than the president—exhaled after a long night and morning yet. He was wide awake now, no amphetamines needed, ready to go home after 10 weeks shooting the movie G.I. Blues in Hollywood.

St. Louis weather was sultry and blustery, rain light, with storms still forecast. Presley and cousin Gene Smith disembarked the aircraft, donning sunglasses under dark skies, avoiding recognition. Passing incognito wasn’t exactly their goal, for Elvis enjoyed meeting fans and signing autographs, posing for photos. Mobbing was his constant fear, capable of manifesting in seconds, as the superstar experienced worldwide. Nothing of the sort transpired at Lambert and local media had no clue Elvis was here.

He and Gene loaded a rental Cadillac without interference. Elvis slid into the driver’s seat as usual, turning the ignition key and hitting the gas. The luxury car shot out of the lot to a cloverleaf exit for Lindbergh Boulevard, looping down the ramp, tires squealing, and merging quickly into traffic, southbound.

Presley put pedal to the metal, coming up fast on the new Holiday Inn at the Lindbergh intersection with “I-70.” The Holiday Inns of America Inc. was brainchild of Kemmons Wilson, Memphis businessman, acquaintance of Presley and an investment partner of Sam Phillips, Sun Records. Phillips had produced pioneer rockabilly hits of Elvis with Scotty Moore and Bill Black during 1954-55. Sun sold Presley’s contract to RCA for $40,000, and Wilson, reputed genius for launching his hotel chain, was rather infamous for advising Phillips to release the singer.

Presley glanced at this first Holiday Inn of St. Louis, occupying choice location at major highways and the airport. On another morning he might grab a room for sleep, to “crash” after a restless night, but not today. Rainy weather meant no chicks at the hotel pool, none Gene could herd to meet Elvis in his room. The celebrity was Memphis bound, besides, where plenty females awaited him, girls to women.

The Cadillac sped on, weaving through cars and trucks on Lindbergh, a most dangerous roadway labeled Racetrack of Death by a coroner. The notorious Dead Man’s Stretch, some three miles of the four-lane, would tally 150 casualties for the year, including 12 fatalities. White crosses stood at roadside, reminders of the dead erected by activists. Presley tore through in the big car, never minding track hazards. Heck, since ’56 he’d driven New York expressways, California freeways and German autobahns. Elvis relished flying low, in vehicles on ground, like hauling ass around Memphis on his motorcycle.

Presley wouldn’t stop for food in St. Louis although restaurants lined Lindbergh. Local classics were Schneithorst’s for breakfast, Dohack’s for barbecue, and The Parkmoor for burgers. Spencer’s Grill in Kirkwood was an institution, open 24 hours “If You Want Good Food,” per the advertisement. Franchises bustled along the boulevard like Steak ’N Shake, Dairy Queen, Big Boy Burger and Howard Johnson’s.

Billboards pasted the roadsides of St. Louis, prompting the Post-Dispatch to complain “our highways are being disfigured.” Billboards for Meramec Caverns and Onondaga Cave were everywhere, a joke among locals and visitors alike. Lindbergh stood littered with cave ads since the parkway linked highways to the Ozarks, particularly Route 66.

Suspect advertising drove cave signs, “Ozark truth” in marketing myth, such as the claim Daniel Boone discovered Onondaga. Billboards blared: “VISIT THE FAMOUS Jesse James CAVERN… MERAMEC CAVERNS… JESSE JAMES HIDEOUT… World’s Only Natural Air-Conditioned Restaurant and Souvenir Stand.”

Elvis always noticed a theater marquee, filing movies in memory, and Ronnie’s Drive In was a suburban fixture at Lindbergh and Route 21. A double feature was slated to begin at nightfall with Stop! Look! and Laugh!, starring The Three Stooges, and the opener, My Dog, Buddy, starring a German shepherd. The outdoor theater also served as travel marker for Lindbergh drivers.

Presley’s next turnoff came directly, Lemay Ferry, where he struck the “River Road” south to Memphis—U.S. Highway 61.

Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music, tentatively titled River Shows, Jazz, Blues and Country Music and, the sequel, Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See the page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Remembering Jimmie Rodgers, Music Greats In Mo-Ark Delta

Billy Springer, retired guitarist at Kennett, Mo., recalls the Blue Yodeler, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and the Perkins brothers, among players

By Matt Chaney, for chaneysblog.com

Posted Thursday, October 24, 2019

Copyright ©2019 for original content and historical arrangement by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

Historical evidence continues to surface on the last musical tour of Jimmie Rodgers, yodeling great, as he looped through southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas at end of 1932.

Recently I have uncovered news texts and witness accounts that confirm a minimum 10 scheduled shows for Rodgers in Missouri—at Kennett, Malden, Dexter, Sikeston and Charleston—along with two shows at Blytheville, Ark., during that holiday season. Time gaps in the dates suggest more discoveries remain, additional shows in other towns to affirm.

Here is the list of scheduled stops for Jimmie Rodgers on local tour in 1932, with corroborating news texts in the References section:

  • Nov. 30 at Kennett, Palace Theatre.
  • Dec. 8 at Malden, Liberty Theatre.
  • Dec. 9 at Malden, Liberty Theatre.
  • Dec. 10 at Malden, two tent shows with Billy Terrell’s Comedians.
  • Dec. 13 at Dexter, Weeks Theatre.
  • Dec. 14 at Dexter, Weeks Theatre.
  • Dec. 15 at Sikeston, Malone Theatre.
  • Dec. 16 at Sikeston, Malone Theatre.
  • Dec. 17 at Charleston, American Theatre.
  • Dec. 18 at Blytheville, Ritz Theatre.
  • Dec. 19 at Blytheville, Ritz Theatre.

Regarding Jimmie Rodgers and more music talents, I’ve come to know a living link, Billy Springer, legendary steel guitarist at Kennett.

Springer is 90, born in 1928, embodying music history for his experience, associates and accurate anecdotes. The man recalls songs and artists from World War I to present, male and female, of music like “old-time” folk, “hillbilly” and western, jazz, blues, gospel and rock. Springer played alongside greats of rockabilly and country—Scotty Moore, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich, Conway Twitty—among his colleagues crossing decades and genres.

Springer has been a Jimmie Rodgers fan since wee boyhood in the delta. From Billy’s earliest memories, circa 1932, the Blue Yodeler stood huge for Springer clan and kin of northeast Arkansas and Bootheel Missouri, marshy farm country along Highway 61 and the Mississippi River.

“I was pretty young, and we’d get Jimmie Rodgers records from Sears, Roebuck Catalog. My mama, every time one would come out, she’d order it,” Billy said. “We had a big ol’ Victor Electrola, set up kinda like a desk.”

“My mama would set me up in that chair, and I’d stand there and listen to them Jimmie Rodgers songs. That was the only way she could get me quieted down.”

About this time, mother Ollie Belle Springer heard exciting news—the “Singing Brakeman” was coming, Rodgers himself, on local tour.

***

Musical revolution rushed the northern delta in 1954-55, rockabilly, breaking from Memphis, impacting southeast Missouri. A call for musicians went out from Kennett by Jimmy Haggett, an ambitious promoter, bandleader and deejay on KBOA radio.

Haggett solicited artists from Sikeston to Memphis and scored big, securing Elvis Presley, rockabilly king of Sun Records, for stage shows in the northern delta. Haggett had instantly established rep as promoter, attracting more rock stars for his marketing in Missouri, Arkansas and Tennessee.

In early 1955 Haggett billed shows for the Blue Moon Boys, Presley’s trio with Scotty Moore on guitar and Bill Black on upright bass. Haggett packaged them with other acts, including his own hillbilly band, for stage stops like Leachville High School, the Sikeston Armory, and the B&B Club at Gobler, Mo., remote crossroads.

“I knew he [Presley] had a different style,” Haggett later commented. “And when I started working on shows with him, and saw the reaction of the crowds, and the crowds he drew, I knew the boy had something.”

Haggett rebranded his outfit, dropping the moniker Ozark Mountain Boys for one to embrace western swing and rockabilly. Trumpet, saxophone and piano were added to the band he renamed Jimmy Haggett’s Daydreamers.

Haggett phoned his former steel guitarist Billy Springer, who was finishing a job at Cairo. “I sure need you now,” Haggett told Springer. “I’m gonna start booking stars, artists, and I gotta have a big band to back ’em up.”

Billy recently recounted the conversation. “I started hearing about Elvis through Jimmy. He booked everybody that came outa Memphis: Bud Deckleman, Warren Smith, Charlie Feathers, Eddie Bond, a bunch of ’em. There wasn’t a soul down there Jimmy didn’t book.”

Springer accepted Haggett’s offer and returned to Kennett, opening a new phase of his career, glittery already. Springer had known and accompanied fine musicians for a decade, many from Grand Ole Opry or headed there. Springer met the artists primarily while a radio musician at Kennett, Caruthersville, Blytheville and Memphis.

Names included Jerry Jaye, Buddy Emmons, Paul Howard, Clyde Moody, Wilburn Family, Sonny Boy Loden [Sonny James], Louvin Brothers, Pappy Stewart, Stoney and Wilma Cooper, Tommy Paige, Lonnie Glosson, Wayne Ranney, Pete Pyle, Ted and Wanda Henderson, Kern Kennedy, Curly Hickson, Speed Moody, Onie Wheeler, Dale Potter, and the veteran Slim Rhodes—who regaled Billy with stories of shows alongside Jimmie Rodgers, old friend.

American rockabilly proved epic if brief during the latter 1950s, and Billy Springer stood out, made his history. Today Springer is humble of his role and amazed as anyone, reflecting on this Field of Dreams, pioneer rockers in the delta.

People often ask him about Elvis Presley, specifically September 1955, when Haggett booked the singer a final time for the B&B. The show in Pemiscot County marked one of Presley’s last at small venues, anywhere, and Haggett’s Daydreamers, with Springer on steel, opened for the roadhouse crowd.

“Elvis’ band was nice guys,” Billy said. “Elvis, I don’t remember ever talkin’ to him… I talked to Scotty. I always went with the musicians, ya know. I was interested in the music, and Scotty had that great cotton-pickin’ sound on guitar.”

Moore utilized the EchoSonic amplifier designed and manufactured by Ray Butts, a buddy of Springer in Cairo. When Springer played at Turf Club in the storied river town, he hung out next door at Butts music store. Ray, former touring accordionist with Chuck Harding, made good conversation for visitors as he tinkered around in electronics.

The revolutionary Butts amplifier was rage among guitarists such as Chet Atkins and Les Paul. Butts hand-crafted his EchoSonics, building more than 60 total, and today’s surviving models are prized by collectors worldwide. In Kennett, Springer declares the amp elevated Scotty Moore and thus Elvis.

“Scotty’s the one that come up and made Elvis,” Billy argued. “He made that sound, Scotty Moore did. That lick of his… with that echo chamber, man. Heck, it sounded like a 10-piece orchestra, and then he never got credit for that.”

Later, Springer wrote songs and cut a 45 disc at Moore’s Fernwood Studio. Scotty played guitar for Springer’s record, featuring singer Buford Peek on Wishing and Knock Down, Drag Out, A- and B-side titles. The latter was Billy’s ode to the raucous B&B.

In the rockabilly years Haggett’s Daydreamers cut several discs at Sun Records, with Springer on steel. Billy had initially worked the Memphis studio in 1951, arranging his swingy instrumental Hot Foot Rag. Slim Rhodes recorded the song for the Gilt Edge label of 4-Star Records, featuring composer Billy Springer on lead at steel.

Springer’s music stories are fascinating for the genesis factor, grassroots details of stars in making, operating locally, largely yet unknown.

Whenever Haggett’s Daydreamers played at Newport, Ark., an aspiring singer always managed to get on stage: Harold Jenkins, from Mississippi. “But we didn’t pay no attention to him because he didn’t have no hit or anything,” Billy recalled, chuckling. Then, under new name, Conway Twitty amassed his incredible mark of No. 1 songs, 40 that topped Billboard country charts.

Around January 1957, Springer was booked to back a Deckleman combo at the B&B in Gobler. Springer set up at stage right with a youth on piano, newly arrived from Louisiana: “Jerry Lee Lewis was Bud Deckleman’s piana player that night,” Billy recalled. “He didn’t do no singing and you’d never heard of him.”

“I also played a dance at the B&B with Charlie Rich; sure did, all night long. He was a dandy, boy, I liked him. He was a heckuva piana player, too.”

Springer backed young Johnny Cash on several occasions, 1955-56, but not according to plan. Before Cash shot to fame, Haggett booked him around at the B&B, Zanza, the Watermelon Festival in Hornersville, Mo., more spots. And Cash preferred backing by Haggett’s band instead of his own sidemen, Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant, according to Springer. Western swing was likely factor, specialty of the Daydreamers and a love of Cash since his childhood at Dyess, Ark.

“Yeah, good night, he played with our band a lot,” Billy said. “Now when Haggett started bookin’ Johnny Cash, he wouldn’t play with his band! He wanted to play with our band, see, because we had a great big band. We’d try to play like his band, but we had our style… Johnny sounded right, but our music wasn’t right.”

Haggett intervened after four or five episodes. “At the Zanza Club one night we had Billy Walker, and Warren Smith, Johnny Cash,” Springer said. “When it come time to get Johnny up on stage, he didn’t want to sing with his band. He just had a two-piece, ya know. But Jimmy said, ‘Now, Johnny, you gotta get your band up here now. The people want to hear what you sound like on your records. You get ’em on up here.’ ”

“And from then on, that’s the way we played for Johnny Cash. He’d get Luther and Marshall up ’ere and that’s what the people wanted.”

Springer apparently enjoyed every star he accompanied, but Carl and Clayton Perkins were favorites, from Jackson, Tenn. “I loved them guys,” Billy attested. Haggett booked the brothers and backed them with his band for years, including shows at Reelfoot Lake near Tiptonville, Tenn., native ground of the Perkins boys, sons of sharecroppers.

“Carl Perkins would come over and stay a week, two weeks at a time with us,” Billy said. “He’d bring his band with him… Jimmy had a big house in Blytheville, and he could keep anybody in there. A lot of these artists like Carl Perkins would come and stay with Jimmy, play every night we would. And we’d go over to Jackson. I’ve had the Perkins boys in my house to eat breakfast, supper, whatever.”

“Clayton was wild as a deer, boy. Played upright bass. Carl wasn’t much better.” Billy paused, laughed fondly. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun in them days. We all had fun.”

“When we booked Carl Perkins, you had to go fishin’. We had to fish everywhere.”

***

Jimmie Rodgers, beset with tuberculosis, arrived in Kennett on Nov. 30, 1932, for a night show at Palace Theatre. Wife Carrie accompanied him on the roadtrip from Texas, via Alabama and Mississippi, as confirmed by newspapers and biographer Nolan Porterfield.

Rodgers, 35, drove up alone in his Cadillac outside The Palace that afternoon, “sickly looking,” per a witness account. The story goes a man met Rodgers for distributing showbills in Kennett, and they conversed amicably. Rodgers said, “Just put these fliers out in the poor class of town here, and that’ll be all right.” That evening a packed house saw the Blue Yodeler perform around film showings, his mode of “independent vaudeville.”

“Jimmie Rodgers didn’t have no band with him, just him and his guitar,” Billy remarked in Kennett. “He did that yodeling, ya know, what he always wanted to do. That took care of a band, see. Instead of an instrumental section of stringers, he’d yodel.”

“I was a kid in Manila [Arkansas] then and we couldn’t get here. Back then, to get to Kennett was like going to St. Louis now. There wasn’t no way we could come that far. But I remember him.”

Rodgers died within months of his delta tour, spring 1933, succumbing to a TB hemorrhage in his New York City hotel room. Back in Kennett, for long afterward, Billy Springer gravitated to locals who saw or met Rodgers, savoring their stories. A relative gave him a showbill of the Palace show, printed on blue paper, since lost in a home fire, as were original Rodgers 78 discs.

“That T for Texas, T for Tennessee, that’s the song that made him, Blue Yodel Number One,” Billy said. “There was 12 Blue Yodels on records.”

“Gene Autry, now, he come along in the ’30s and was puttin’ out records and yodelin’ like Jimmie Rodgers. Then he went on like Jimmie.”

But Rodgers “was the first, the one that started it,” Billy said. “Jimmie Rodgers was the one who started country music.”

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music. Tentative titles are River Shows, Jazz and Country Music in the Northern Delta: Legends of Song, Dance and Circus; and Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See Chaney’s page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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1932: Final Tour For Jimmie Rodgers, Father Of Country Music

Details Surface of Lost Shows in Missouri and Arkansas

By Matt Chaney, for ChaneysBlog.com

Posted Thursday, August 15, 2019

Copyright ©2019 for original content and historical arrangement by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

Issues confronted star musician Jimmie Rodgers at San Antonio in late 1932.

Rodgers, 35, someday known as Father of Country Music, faced waning record sales, property loss, marital discord and lethal disease. The yodeling string player was forced to hock his mansion and move wife and child into an apartment. Likewise he was losing to tuberculosis, often bedridden with breathing difficulty, bloody mucus and body pain.

Rodgers took off from Texas by Cadillac, anyway, pursuing cash work, show dates of any sort amidst Depression economy. He was bound for the Mississippi River Valley at behest of old friend Billy Terrell, for an interstate music tour to be his last.

That much we’ve known of James Charles Rodgers, retrospectively, and now additional details emerge through electronic search of historic newspapers in Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama.

Advertisements, reports and witness accounts of Jimmie Rodgers in 1932 —long buried within miles of microfilm—are becoming readily retrievable as e-search opens old news-pages. Advent of cyber search, in fact, already spurs revisions in so-called history, edits and corrections, for topics like American football.

Recently uncovered in music are portions of Rodgers’ farewell loop through western Mississippi, southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas. Imagery is vivid when considering Rodgers in the delta, given new information to complement the biographical Jimmy Rodgers: The Life and Times of America’s Blue Yodeler [1979], by Nolan Porterfield, a college instructor of mine at Southeast Missouri State.

Early November, 1932, Jimmie and Carrie Rodgers reached his father’s house in Alabama. Aaron W. Rodgers was a railroad man retired at Geiger, his native community just inside the state line. Two decades previous, over in Mississippi, Aaron had secured son Jimmie’s job with the Mobile & Ohio at Meridian. The boy was 14, quitting school to labor around trains and track, and so marked was the art of Jimmy Rodgers. His music and performance oozed railroad culture, ranging from lyrics and visuals to his whistle imitations and a second stage name, The Singing Brakeman.

Jimmie and Carrie traveled on to hometown Meridian, where her three married sisters lived in the same block. They drove west from the Mississippi hills, down into the delta from Greenwood to Indianola, where he booked gigs at familiar venues. “Jimmie Rodgers has been visiting over his home state between his recording and regular theatre engagements,” reported the Indianola Enterprise, cheerily. “Jimmie takes his vacation by getting out and playing the dances in the towns among the people he knows and loves.”

In truth Rodgers suffered on that trip, badly as anytime since TB unleashed a lung hemorrhage eight years before. He’d been a hearty young man to that point, standing 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, but subsequent, recurring  illness diminished his frame and fortitude.

Rodgers arrived at southeast Missouri in December 1932, resembling “a walking skeleton” for his first and only performances in the Bootheel. The visit began with ice and snow whipping over the bald, deforested flatland. “A strong north wind was blowing that seemed to drive the cold right into your bones,” recalled Robert E. Legan, writing decades later for the Malden Press-Merit.

Legan was 21, clerking in Miller’s Store at Malden on Dec. 10, 1932, a Saturday, when the living legend appeared about noon. “Jimmie Rodgers came in, bundled up in an overcoat with a hunter’s cap pulled down over his ears. He was shivering and said he could not get warm,” Legan recounted. “Because of the weather we were all standing around without very much to do and I think we all helped to wait on Jimmy. We sold him a pair of overshoes, a heavy sweater and a muffler. He put them all on.”

“Before he left I told him how much I liked his singing and his songs—especially Waiting For A Train. He thanked me and started out. He hesitated a moment and looked out through the glass door at the terrible weather outside. Then he shrugged his shoulders, turned up his coat collar and went out into the cold… ”

Seeing Rodgers go, his splaying legs and bony hips didn’t fill the trousers. “Time was running out,” Porterfield noted of the TB stage. “For him there was no long-range anything, as he knew all too well.”

Rodgers was in Malden with showman Billy Terrell, veteran Missouri talent and proprietor of popular comedy companies. Terrell once hired Rodgers for the Blue Yodeler’s first tour, straight out of Meridian. At Malden, Rodgers picked guitar and sang during matinee and night shows for Terrell under canvas, winter elements be damned.

“Billy had a big coal stove on each side of the tent, with the stovepipes going out under the tent flaps,” wrote Legan, who had adored and followed Terrell since boyhood. But Legan also grasped the dire context for famed Jimmie Rodgers, “down to traveling with a tent show.”

Packed houses savored the entertainment, stirred by Rodgers, renowned for his overriding optimism amidst hard times—embodying the essence of blues theme. “He could still sing,” Legan recalled in 1978. “His songs were of a natural melancholy nature and the sight of this emaciated, doleful creature, singing his heart out with his shining eyes, glowing away back in their sockets, just naturally drew compassion from the audience.”

“I will never forget him or his songs that somehow took hold of the common people.”

The tour of Jimmie Rodgers continued through southeast Missouri and northeast Arkansas. Scheduled performances are now documented at the Malone Theatre in Sikeston [Dec. 15-16, 1932] and the Ritz in Blytheville [Dec. 18-19], per news texts recently retrieved. The vintage advertisements and reports don’t mention Terrell, indicating Rodgers booked dates and provided promotional copy himself.

The Sikeston Standard reported “thousands of country folks have developed a taste for Jimmie’s particular talent, and his record of ‘packing ’em in’ is well-known wherever he has appeared in theatres outside of the large cities.” And this from the Steele Enterprise: “Jimmie is that same likeable fellow that he was when he sat high in the [train caboose], strumming the guitar and singing the songs that made him famous on both continents.”

Note that presently only a fraction of the region’s historic news-pages are available for electronic search. Rodgers possibly appeared elsewhere locally, with evidence yet uncovered. Anyone can review newspapers on microfilm for the month of Rodgers’ visit, representing localities like Poplar Bluff, Dexter, Chaffee, Cape Girardeau, Illmo-Fornfelt, Benton, Charleston, New Madrid, Portageville and Kennett in Missouri; Cairo in Illinois; and Blytheville in Arkansas. A host of indexes and microfilm editions are available through The State Historical Society of Missouri, website shsmo.org.

Regarding December 1932 in southeast Missouri, the news-pages available for modern search were published at Malden, Sikeston, Caruthersville, Hayti and Steele. See newspapers.com and maldenmuseum.com for more information.

***

Jimmie and Carrie Rodgers apparently returned to Texas by outset of 1933, where Porterfield picked up their trail again in his research. That January Rodgers played the Joy Theatre in Dallas then started a tour of Texas towns with showman J. Doug Morgan. “But Jimmie had ignored the elements and jeopardized his health once too often,” Porterfield observed. “While they were playing Lufkin during the second week of February, he collapsed and was rushed to Methodist Hospital in Houston.”

Family members traveled to his side. “Little, if any, hope is held for the recovery of Jimmie Rodgers,” reported the Chocktaw Plaindealer in Mississippi. After a month hospitalized, however, Rodgers rose again from sick bed, seeking work. “Money did not mean much to him personally…” Porterfield stated, “but now he was increasingly anxious about those he would leave behind, especially twelve-year-old [daughter] Anita.”

Rodgers scheduled recording sessions in New York for a $3,000 advance at completion. He boarded an ocean liner at Galveston, accompanied by personal nurse, and arrived in Manhattan on May 14. Rodgers cut some 10 songs in studio but his lungs hemorrhaged catastrophically at a hotel. He fell comatose and succumbed in his room on May 26, 1933.

“Jimmie Rodgers had not quite literally died alone, but it was very much the same thing,” Porterfield remarked. “To his family and friends, his death had been imminent for years, yet all of them were far away when the time came.”

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music. Tentative titles are River Shows, Jazz and Country Music in the Northern Delta: Legends of Song, Dance and Circus; and Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See Chaney’s page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Select References

Do You Suffer From Painful Feet? (1928, March 2). [Advertisement.] Malden Merit MO, p. 5.

From Railway Boxcar To Stardom Overnight. (1932, Dec. 15). Steele Enterprise MO, p. 3.

Geiger, Panol And Gainesville Voters. (1928, May 2). Our Southern Home, Livingston AL, p. 4.

Ice And Cold On Weather Menu. (1932, Dec. 13). Sikeston Standard MO, p. 5.

Jimmie Rodgers, “Blue Yodeler,” To Be Stage Attraction Dec. 15-16. (1932, Dec. 9). Sikeston Standard MO, p. 1.

Jimmie Rodgers, Famous Singer, Coming. (1932, Nov. 24). Indianola Enterprise MS, p. 1.

Jimmie Rodgers, Yodeling Brakeman, Dies in New York. (1933, June 1). Kerrville Mountain Sun TX, p. 1.

Legan, R.E. (1978, April 27). Things I Remember About Malden: ‘Toby’ shows and Jimmy Rodgers. Malden Press-Merit MO, p. 74.

Like Your Music “Grand Ole Opry” Style? (1953, April 19). [Advertisement.] Nashville Tennessean TN, p. 71.

Little Hope Held For Recovery Of Jimmie Rodgers. (1933, Feb. 24). Chocktaw Plaindealer, Ackerman MS, p. 4.

Look Who’s Coming! (1932, Dec. 13). [Advertisement.] Sikeston Standard MO, p. 2.

Look Who’s Coming! (1932, Dec. 16). [Advertisement.] Sikeston Standard MO, p. 7.

Over The County. (1932, Nov. 9). Our Southern Home, Livingston AL, p. 1.

Over The County. (1933, March 1). Our Southern Home, Livingston AL, p. 1.

Peterson Purchases Home In Westland. (1933, March 23). Kerrville Mountain Sun TX, p. 1.

Porterfield, N. (1979). Jimmie Rodgers: The life and times of America’s Blue Yodeler. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago IL.

Ritz Theatre. (1932, Dec. 15). [Advertisement.] Steele Enterprise MO, p. 4.

Skelton, B. (1972, May 23). Meridian’s Jimmie Rodgers father of country music. Jackson Clarion-Ledger MS, pp. 27, 30.

Smith, B. [Dir.] (1930). Jimmie Rogers in The Singing Brakeman. Columbia Pictures Corporation: Hollywood CA.

Society. (1932, Nov. 28). Greenwood Commonwealth MS, p. 3.

Some Relief From Weather. (1932, Dec. 15). Caruthersville Republican MO, p. 1.

The Tactless Texan. (1933, June 6). Amarillo Globe-Times TX, p. 2.

Worst Ice And Sleet Storm In Years Visits This Area. (1932, Dec. 16). Malden Merit MO, p. 8.

 

1917 River Jazz: W.C. Handy and Fate Marable in the Northern Delta

Thirty-First in a Series

By Matt Chaney, for ChaneysBlog.com

Posted Saturday, June 8, 2019

Copyright ©2019 for original content and historical arrangement by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

Cairo, Ill., remained a place of converging forces, of conflict and collaboration, creation, even as the old river town struggled in early 20th century.

New railroads and a bridge bypassed Cairo, crossing the Mississippi near Cape Girardeau. Paved highways were routed elsewhere, establishing automobile traffic through southeast Missouri and western Kentucky. Aircraft flew overhead but only stunt pilots landed at Cairo, marshy tip of southern Illinois.

River commerce had been reduced to barge freight and local packets, to showboats and excursion rides. Timber and grain drove Cairo industry but supplies were shrinking from southeast Missouri, booming itself through deforestation, draining and settlement of vast bottom lands. Bootheel crop farmers, burgeoning in number, stored and sold harvests through new elevators on their side of the river. Sikeston’s high-rise grain elevator, a concrete cluster of 12 towers, held 800,000 bushels.

Cairo was fading in significance, increasingly cut off in the northern delta. This confluence of great rivers, merge point of the Mississippi and Ohio, wasn’t so important anymore. Town population peaked at about 15,000 during the 1910s, outset of the First World War. Talk of Cairo as a budding metropolis was over, and meanwhile the pressing concern, as for a century, remained flood protection. Cairo’s survival had relied on federal aid and development since the Civil War. Only government could maintain the huge levees, river gates and pumps for repelling catastrophic river surges.

Entertainment and show business, and complementary vice, endured as Cairo’s consistent economy—and community pride or infamy, depending on perspective. Many citizens were fed up with the “live town” reputation.

“Cairo’s future depends, in one important sense at least, upon the people of the city themselves,” wrote John M. Lansden, attorney and local historian. “They cannot change its geographical features, nor its topographical features very much; but they can and should make it a place from which good and desirable people will not turn away.”

But Cairo always relied on show business and nightlife, even illicit gambling, said advocates. And brothels and unlicensed saloons were incidental problems, not a plague, they said. More outside folks were attracted than not for Cairo’s entertainment scene; positives outweighed negatives, advocates argued.

Local culture for performing arts was special, undeniably. Historic Cairo still attracted major shows and talent while nurturing young musicians, dancers, actors and comedians.

The circus was tradition for generations here, since Dan Rice and Spalding’s Floating Palace on the Mississippi. Circuses no longer wintered around Cairo but big shows visited into the 20th century, including Barnum and Bailey, Sells and Downs, Hagenbeck-Wallace, and Ringling Brothers. The modern circus arrived by railroad in the night, “awe-inspiring for the ease with which it flits from hither to yon,” remarked a columnist. “A circus carrying a thousand people and 500 varieties of fierce and fragrant beasts will slip into a town at 4 a.m. and by breakfast time will have set up 10 acres of tents and will have its calliope fired up.”

Showboat lore traced to the floating barges of Ludlow, Chapman and Lennox, and the steamer tug Banjo of Spalding, in period of early to mid-1800s on the rivers. The 1900s showboats, like predecessors, set up at Cairo wharf and across the way at Bird’s Point. Modern vessels were spectacles on water, a football field in length and electrically illuminated, led by Markle’s Goldenrod and Emerson’s Cotton Blossom.

Classical drama and opera waned in popularity but remained trademarks of Cairo, drawing enough regional audience to support major shows and performers. Famed Lillian Russell appeared here in twilight of her stage career, 1913. Cecille B. DeMille and Marguerite Clark made acting runs at the Opera House prior to entering silent movies, he as a director. Helena Modjeska, acclaimed tragedian, made a farewell appearance at age 67.

But the crowds turned out for song, dance and laughs, from stars like vaudevillians Lew Dockstader, Max Bloom and Al. H. “Metz” Wilson, showing at the Opera House.

Music was popular as ever in Cairo and the riverine delta. American genres had emerged, pure native styles with hot beats, along with technology like the phonograph player. Entertainment infrastructure expanded along automobile routes, adding live venues. And black artists impacted music in facets such as song composition, instrumentals, stage performance and marketing.

Pioneer blues singer Ma Rainey played Cairo, starring for the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels, while soprano Matilda Sissieretta Jones visited on numerous dates, leading her Black Patti Musical Comedy Company. Jones was a songbird of range from grand opera to pop, known as “Black Patti” in deference to Italian great Adelina Patti. In 1911 Jones’ troupe advertised “40 Colored Comedians, Vocalists and Dancers” at Cairo.

The Smart Set Company packed showplaces in the South and North, from Cairo Opera House to the Lafayette Theatre in New York. The Smart Set was a “black vaudeville” institution for decades with lead men such as Tom McIntosh, Sherman H. Dudley, and the Whitney brothers, Salem Tutt and J. Homer Tutt.

In 1915 a “Negro Renaissance” was apparent in the arts. James Reese Europe, Afro-American composer and conductor, said contemporary spotlight trained on black performers because of “modern dances, and the consequent demand for dance music of which the distinguishing characteristic is an eccentric tempo. Such music usually takes the form of a highly syncopated melody, which in the early period of its development was known as ‘ragtime’ music.”

“Perhaps it is fair to say that the negro has contributed to American music whatever distinctive quality it possesses,” Europe said. “Certainly he is the originator of the highly syncopated melody so much in favor today [jazz].” Europe headed an association of black musicians in New York City, where they endured prejudice and royalties theft from music publishers but likewise dominated jobs for shows and dances. “Our negro musicians have nearly cleared the field of the so-called gypsy orchestras,” he said.

Jim Europe highly admired W.C. Handy of Memphis, the bandleader who composed early blues songs that burst barriers and captured mainstream audience, endearing white fans and black. Handy was a pioneer of American music whom dancers should thank for the fox trot, Europe said in Harlem, adding, “both the tango and the fox trot are really negro dances, as is the one-step.”

Handy stood revered in the lower Mississippi and Ohio valleys, already, and across the South.

“The Memphis Blues is known all over this country and its composer is almost as well known,” remarked a Nashville critic. “Down in Memphis town Handy reigns almost supreme at most of the dances, his music being the one big boast that the Memphians have.” An Atlanta paper saluted Handy’s band as “a Memphis musical institution.” A Texas advertisement touted “Dance Music That Will Make You Kick Back The Rugs.”

Atlanta reporter Britt Craig was struck that hundreds of whites turned out with blacks to see Handy’s band. “The variety demonstrated the democracy of ragtime,” Craig stated. “The applause that greeted the livelier ragtime numbers, especially The Memphis Blues, shook the rafters. Handy was compelled to render the Blues three times when he first played it, then later by special request.”

The self-effacing Handy credited blues music to multi-ethnic artists preceding him along the Mississippi: “Negro roustabouts, honky-tonk piano players, wanderers and others of their underprivileged but undaunted clan from Missouri to the Gulf.” A son of slaves, Handy drew inspiration from experience, his past of incidents and encounters. “There was what we called the folk blues,” he recalled. “It seemed to me I’d always heard them. Our people talked of ‘singing the blues,’ but that was just a phrase. Blues wasn’t written music then. There would be just a snatch of song among my people. It was music from the heart.”

Handy appeared frequently in the northern delta during the 1910s, particularly at Caruthersville and Cairo. He conceived a classic melody on visit to St. Louis, jotting notes in a riverfront saloon. A century later, the BBC recounted: “In 1914, Handy followed up Memphis Blues with his next hit… called St Louis Blues. It was even more popular and influential than its predecessor and it went on to become a jazz standard.”

As America was drawn into world conflict, W.C. Handy played Cairo on multiple occasions, with varying combinations of his Memphis players. The term “jass” or “jaz” was just surfacing in the northern delta. A reporter described the music, close kin of ragtime and blues, as “that peculiar brand of ultra-syncopation.” For longtime ahead, many would refer to jazz as ragtime, “raggy” tunes.

“A jass band is composed of oboes, clarinets, cornets, trombones, banjos and always a drum,” commented a New Orleans musician in 1917. “But the music is a matter of ear and not of technique. None of us knows music. One carries the melody and others do what they please. Some play counter melodies, some play freak noises, and some just play. I can’t tell you how. You got to feel jass. The time is syncopated. Jass, I think, means a jumble.”

Jazz was long heard in locales besides New Orleans, according to Elijah “Lige” Shaw, legendary drummer born in Tennessee south of Cairo, 1900. “We just called it music, not jazz,” Shaw recalled of boyhood in Jackson, Tenn., where he earned money dancing and playing drums in his father’s saloon.

“So this music, everybody says that this music comes from New Orleans, but that isn’t necessarily true, because I’ve been hearing it all my life and I didn’t know New Orleans existed. But it’s the same music as the older musicians that I would follow around as a little boy, getting a whooping every night for staying out because I was out and around where the musicians were.”

Shaw had 15 siblings and left Jackson as a teen, after his mother died. He landed at Memphis and in 1915 joined a network of musicians and bands supervised by Handy. Shaw toured at age 16 with the Dandy Dixie Minstrels, operating from Cotton Plant, Ark. The outfit played Cairo theaters and tent shows. “We’d make a different town every day,” Shaw said. “There was always excitement; every day you could count on a laugh and a change of scenery.”

Handy appeared twice at Cairo in 1917, when Columbia Records released his Jazz Dance Blues—“weird and super-syncopated strains… compelling call to the dance floor”—in national distribution. Handy ended each show with St. Louis Blues, packing the floor of dancers and ensuring encores. Cairo couples enjoyed modern dancing, controversial moves, some considered taboo, of names like the tango, fox trot, turkey trot, bunny hug, grizzly bear, shimmy and toe wiggle.

A modern dancer moved “with every part of one’s body”—alarming churchmen locally. Methodist minister Curwen Henley denounced dancing in “most ardent” fashion, reported the Bulletin. “I am set against the practice of dancing,” said Henley. “I do not believe in being a sanctimonious church member in Cairo and a dancer on the boat. The modern dances are of death.”

Reverend Henley had penchant for making headlines, including as a leader of the Anti-Saloon League. Illinois elders of the Southern Methodists assigned Henley to Cairo, where he admonished the community for “lawlessness and anarchy.” The pulpit firebrand equated locals to hedonists and vowed to fight evil “with every drop of blood in my veins.” Pastor Henley condemned Cairo for infidelity and divorce, alcohol consumption, dancing, gambling and more ills. Given Cairo alone, the “second coming of Christ seems near,” he cried.

Newsmen covered Sunday sermons of Henley, harvesting quotes that grabbed attention on frontpage. “Why should Cairo be the only open town for miles around?” Henley pleaded, championing the Temperance Movement for banning alcohol. “We are surrounded by dry territory; should we continue open so as to invite all the vile here? We will never build up our city that way. Shall we stay open just to be conspicuous?”

In spring 1917 Preacher Henley headed into a showdown. The Handy band was fantastic for dancers at an Elks party, thrilling Cairo generally, but dance opponents felt differently, and the annual picnic for Sunday schools was coming up. The gathering was multi-denominational and this year featured a river excursion aboard the palatial Steamer Saint Paul of the Streckfus Line. Many anticipated trouble with Henley around, since the boat offered dance tunes from bandleader Fate Marable and his jazzy players.

Marable pushed the issue straight away, on morning of the event, a May Saturday, by broadcasting calliope music from atop the Saint Paul moored at Cairo wharf. Gangplanks were opened and church picnickers came rushing. The side-wheel steamer was 300-feet long, wooden hulled, four stories tall, painted bright white with latticework from stern to bow. Tall black stacks streamed thin smoke as the Saint Paul got up steam for the excursion run. Launch was in a half-hour.

Marable, 27, refined pianist and master calliope player, hit notes on the steam organ like none other—“when Fate allows his fingers to wander dreamily over the brass keys all lovers of ragtime sit up and take notice,” gushed a river listener. And as 600 church people boarded Marable’s boat, toes were tapping and fingers snapping, especially among youths.

At a quarter past 9 o’clock, Marable left his calliope perch under the smokestacks. He headed downstairs to the second deck, with its 200-foot hardwood dance floor, to join his musicians. Marable was an Afro-American of light complexion and red hair, native of nearby Paducah, fronting a band of black players from his hometown. In final minutes until boat launch they played catchy melodies, snatches of their advertised “special dance program,” to stir the crowd.

Gangways were withdrawn onto the Saint Paul and moorings untied, ropes reeled in. Deckhands signaled up to the pilot house for departure. At 9:30 sharp the captain gripped the brass handle on the ship’s telegraph mount, a porcelain dial of throttle commands for the engine room. He pushed the dial from STAND BY to SLOW AHEAD, and engines fired below. At rear of the ship the big paddle wheel turned forward, churning water.

The Saint Paul pulled away from Cairo wharf, billowing dark smoke, horn blaring, and made a wide U-turn on the Ohio to point upriver. Straightening out, the pilot ordered steam power to FULL AHEAD; pouring on the coals, the boat glided toward picnic grounds 20 miles up the channel.

Marable’s band played loudly on the dance deck, and there was action. Many churchgoers would dawdle no longer. “Although they knew there would be objection, a large number of the young people succumbed to the lure of the music,” the Bulletin later reported, “and the magnificent dance floor was soon filled with swaying couples.”

But the band was interrupted, told to stop by churchmen, and Reverend Henley and Fate Marable came face-to-face. Marable wouldn’t relent, informing the anti-dance crusaders his band would continue, with or without couples on the floor. And music resumed.

“Instantly the floor was again filled with dancers, and several numbers were played with the same result,” the Bulletin reported. Henley and company halted the music, once again, but Marable remained determined to perform. Henley mentioned sacred songs as proper for the gathering, and, perhaps to his surprise, Marable agreed.  Now only hymns would be heard from the bandstand.

“For a while it was thought the dancers had been defeated,” the Bulletin relayed, “but first one and then another couple returned to the floor. It was found that music of hymns, when properly played by an orchestra accustomed to furnishing dance music, was just as good as ragtime for their purposes.”

Music and the fox trot rolled on. The nifty collaboration between Marable and churchy dancers had won out, their resorting to Bringing In The Sheaves and such. Preacher Henley fumed over the sacrilege, leading his disciples at edge of the floor.

“Charges of desecration were hurled at the dancers by the outraged objectors and many personalities were indulged in, but as long as the music continued, some remained on the floor,” the Bulletin reported. “They flung back a challenge to make them stop and told their criticizers they were bigoted and narrow-minded.”

“The dance or not to dance at a Sunday school picnic… was never settled.”

Reverend Henley was perturbed that night in Cairo. “No person truly a Christian can endorse or favor the dance idea,” he said. “The dance never builds character but destroys it. It never builds the constitution but undermines it.”

In 1918 Fate Marable and his steamboat musicians were billed as the Kentucky Jazz Band by Streckfus Steamers. The next year Marable retained only one Paducah musician, Boyd Atkins, while hiring a host of New Orleans players, including Warren “Baby” Dodds and teenager Louis Armstrong.

The group, known as Marable’s Jaz-E-Saz Band, toured the rivers on Streckfus steamers Saint Paul and Sidney. Armstrong performed his first trumpet solo from a boat at Caruthersville. Marable nicknamed the kid “Satchmo,” and decades later Armstrong credited the pianist “for lots of us youngsters getting a start.”

“We were the first hot band to come up on the boats and people thought we were really something out of the ordinary,” Armstrong said. “Baby Dodds used to play on the rims of the drums, y’know… we really had ’em jumpin’. Deedy, we used to make ’em swing.”

In 1918 Reverend Henley left Cairo, reassigned to Murphysboro by the Southern Methodists. Soon after he saw a cherished cause become federal mandate in the 18th Amendment, which outlawed the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States.

Prohibition of booze didn’t last. Jass did.

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling a book on historical song and dance, tentatively titled Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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Stories From River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta

By Matt Chaney, for ChaneysBlog.com

Copyright ©2019 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

Feb. 16, 2017

Missouri Boasts Its Place in Rock ‘n’ Roll History

March 6, 2017

Rock ‘n’ Roll Thrived in Underworld of the Missouri Delta

March 16, 2017

1964: The Beatles Flee For Hills of Missouri

April 2, 2017

The Local Elvis: From Good Kid to Garbo in Rock Legend

April 27, 2017

The Missouri Delta Nurtured Rock ‘n’ Roll

May 6, 2017

Memphis Cast Delta Beacon for Rockabillies

June 3, 2017

As Rockabilly Fell, Musicians Adapted in Delta

July 22, 2017

1955: Elvis Effect Rocked The Missouri Delta

July 29, 2017

Memphis, Sun Records Integrated Music in Race and Genre

Aug. 9, 2017

Rockabilly Born of Boomer America

Aug. 12, 2017

1955: The Local Elvis in Missouri, Cut 2

Aug. 24, 2017

1956: Girls Mob Elvis from Missouri to New York

Sept. 14, 2017

The Delta Factor In Great American Music

Sept. 26, 2017

Pioneer American Pop Star: Nelson Kneass

Sept. 30, 2017

Steamboats Impacted The South Despite Quaky Start

Oct. 16, 2017

Entertainers Followed Rivers West and South

Oct. 24, 2017

River Music, American Music Prior to Civil War

Nov. 10, 2017

American Pop Music’s Bittersweet, Essential Beginning

Nov. 19, 2017

River Entertainment Illuminated Cairo in Desolate Delta

Dec. 1, 2017

Blacks Electrified Early American Music and Dance

Dec. 14, 2017

Showbiz Hooked the Kids of Cairo, Illinois

Jan. 13, 2018

Music and Social Mores in Swamp-east Missouri

Feb. 2, 2018

American Music: ‘Jazz horns were on fire along the delta’

Feb. 20, 2018

Music Legend from ‘Satchmo’ to Elvis in Pemiscot County, Missouri

June 28, 2018

Jazz Great Jess Stacy Lived The Highs, Lows of Showbiz

July 8, 2018

Hot Dancing’s Popularity Overwhelmed Churchmen a Century Ago

August 10, 2018

Showbiz Landed at the Missouri Delta and Cairo

August 31, 2018

Olden Circus Topped Baseball for Athleticism at Cairo, Illinois

September 19, 2018

Circus Spectacle Inspired Show Hopefuls at Cairo, Illinois

November 10, 2018

Delta Youths Gravitated Toward Music, Stage Stardom

December 29, 2018

1881: Song and Dance Rocked the Opera House at Cairo, Illinois

January 29, 2019

Pioneer Radio Aired Jazz and Country Music from Paducah

January 31, 2019

Radio Rolled Out Grand Ole Opry from Nashville

February 26, 2019

Jess Stacy Grew With American Music in the Missouri Delta

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling companion books on Southern music. Tentative titles are River Shows, Jazz and Country Music in the Northern Delta: Legends of Song, Dance and Circus; and Rockabillies in the Missouri Delta. See Chaney’s page Stories from River Music to Rock in the Northern Delta. For more information, including Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

Jess Stacy Grew With American Music In The Missouri Delta

Thirtieth in a Series

By Matt Chaney, for ChaneysBlog.com

Posted Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Copyright ©2019 for historical arrangement and original content by Matthew L. Chaney, Four Walls Publishing

The Illinois Central Railroad stood famed for men and machines at outset of the 20th century.

Legends of “The IC” included a young attorney of the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln, whose representation helped establish the line. During the Civil War the railroad keyed Union victory westward, funneling troops, arms and supplies down to Cairo. In 1900 locomotive engineer Casey Jones died heroically on the Cannonball Run from Memphis. Casey sacrificed himself on IC Engine No. 1, slowing his train before collision with freight cars, saving passengers and crew, for immortality in song.

Fred Stacy was another storied engineer of the Illinois Central, heroic in his own right, of many friends, as characterized in newspapers. The personable railroad veteran resided at Bird’s Point, Mo., across the Mississippi from Cairo, where he also piloted a steamboat ferry for railcars.

Stacy had driven the first “fast through train” from Chicago to New Orleans; his IC Limited topped 80 miles per hour on runs, preceding the Panama Limited to become iconic. Stacy once helped foil train robbers, protecting a shipment of gold and currency from the World’s Fair in Chicago. Desperadoes attacked Stacy’s train at Centralia, but workers and passengers fought back. Stacy cracked one bandit with a wrench, knocking him from the train, and seized a pistol to join gunfire that scattered the others. Stacy and crew were awarded gold medals and IC stock for their bravery.

But questions confronted this railroad man after turn of the century, personally and professionally. Eyesight was deteriorating in his 40s, curtailing operation of trains, and driving the tug barge was dangerous, ferrying railcars over conjoined mighty rivers.

The channel between Cairo and Bird’s Point was a most perilous on the Mississippi, cut by rocks, currents and heavy traffic at confluence with the Ohio. Extreme weather conditions ranged from thunderstorms and drought to massive flooding and ice. Drowning victims were routine along Missouri shoreline, daily sometimes, corpses washed up or otherwise recovered.

The waters pounded Missouri’s banks, collapsing ground in acreage. Trains, wagons, buildings, people and livestock were deposited into Big Muddy. Railcars broke loose on earthen ramps to water, destroying track and crashing transfer barges. Periodically an incline caved into liquefaction,dunking everything with it.

Moreover, by 1904, Fred Stacy had a new family with younger wife Vada, who was 29 and pregnant. The Stacys were impoverished, dwelling in an old boxcar and pasture at merge of the great rivers near Bird’s Point. Hot summer dragged on and Vada delivered a baby boy on August 11, whom the couple named Jesse Alexandria Stacy.

Facts on the family at Bird’s Point would be scant for future accounts, but apparently neither Fred nor Vada considered the swampy vicinity of raucous Cairo as suitable for child-rearing. Vada, a professional seamstress and devout mother, certainly wanted to relocate. Decades later the son, musician Jess Stacy, discussed his parents in an interview with New Yorker magazine. Jess described Fred as gregarious, carefree: “he never worried, which was the exact opposite of my mother.”

Malden, Mo., was attractive to the Stacys, a town of 1,500 where Fred and Vada each had siblings. The mother and infant headed first to Malden and the father followed in September.

Malden was a key railroad stop on the Cotton Belt, some 65 miles southwest of Cairo across the delta. The blossoming community nestled around a sand ridge with decent elevation and no major river in sight. Meanwhile, back at Bird’s Point, the relentless Mississippi chewed and swallowed former home turf of the Stacys. Thousands of feet of earth dropped into churning water, taking the old boxcar and pasture; the area of “Merge Point” was dissolved, gone.

The Stacys lived poor but stable in Malden, nurtured by family network and friendships. Fred held jobs as a railroad brakeman and store salesman, and Vada built repute as a superior dressmaker while she expanded into clothing sales. Jesse, an only child, grew and worked odd jobs, earning from two bits to a half-dollar per day.

Jesse excelled in grade school and acted in plays, exhibiting flair for performance. “Neither of my parents was musical,” he would recall, “so the first music I heard was played by an old music teacher, from across the street, who knew things like Memphis Blues and In The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.”

That music teacher was likely Elmore E. Mason, horn blower and bandleader, although a young man during his Malden tenure at beginning of World War One. Mason performed across the Mid-South when Memphis Blues was a song for youthful players, typically acquired either from ear or from sheet music printed by composer W.C. Handy.

E.E. Mason, native of the Missouri Lead Belt, played trombone and cornet for circuses, troupes and theaters. He founded orchestras and marching bands in the Bootheel, attracting crowds and publicity. Mason was a talented musician and educated instructor, adept in classical song, opera, folk, pop, and the hot new sound—jazz.

Jesse Stacy played snare drum in school and was recruited for Mason’s Military Band at Malden in spring of 1915. The drummer boy was 10 years old, joining Mason’s group for a big event at Caruthersville, live town on the Mississippi.

Boosters promoted Caruthersville as entertainment hotbed, calling it the new Cairo on Missouri side of the river. The town of 4,000 hopped with shows and events, drawing partygoers from near and far. Caruthersville boasted theaters, dance halls, saloons, club rooms, classic showboats and flashy excursion steamers. There were fine musicians, amateur and pro, in every bloom of American music, playing ragtime and jazz, blues and ballad. The local social whirl involved weekly dances, holiday picnics and balls, fairs, rodeos, circuses, carnivals and business conventions. Vice was readily available, too, notorious gambling and prostitution of Pemiscot County, on marshland border with Arkansas.

Jesse Stacy was wide-eyed at Caruthersville, marching for Mason’s drum line in the annual parade of a salesmen confab. Thousands watched him, in turn, but the kid wasn’t intimidated, performing with relish to cheers along streets.

“Jesse Stacy, drummer boy for Mason’s Military Band, made a ‘hit’ with the [conventioneers], spectators and citizens in general at Caruthersville,” reported the hometown Malden Merit. “Jesse is a manly and talented little fellow who is deserving of every compliment that can be bestowed on him. The band boys in general won the recognition of being a first-class aggregation, which is a compliment to Malden and their very able leader and instructor, Prof. E.E. Mason.”

Multiple musicians influenced young Stacy at Malden, such as Jeannette McCombs, teen housemate in foster care of Vada. The girl “had a piano, which was moved in, and she took lessons,” Jess Stacy said later. “I’d listen to her practicing, and then sit down and play what I’d heard by ear. When my mother caught me doing that, she said I should have lessons.”

Jesse began piano in Malden, but Vada fretted for his schooling post-elementary, among her concerns. She’d become primary income provider of the household, and largely so, after Fred’s failing eyesight halted his railroad career. Fred still worked sporadically for Sexton’s Store, but Vada found employment elsewhere, a new place, as Jesse turned 14 in summer of 1918.

The Merit reported: “Mrs. F. L. Stacy, one of Malden’s oldest dressmakers, has accepted a position in the alteration department at [Vandivort’s Store], Cape Girardeau, Mo., and would be glad to have her friends while in the city to call on her and see the new Princess Coats and Suits.”

Jesse Stacy accompanied Vada to picturesque Cape Girardeau, settled among bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, where he would benefit of “school advantages,” she told the Malden paper. And within months Fred joined the family at “Cape,” as regionally known, where he and wife would remain permanently.

Music was elemental of the old French town, capturing Jesse’s fancy, especially the dance beats resounding from river wharf up to hilltop college. “I took [piano] lessons in Cape Girardeau from Professor Clyde Brandt, and he had me playing Beethoven sonatas and Mozart and Bach partitas,” Stacy said in 1975. “I think it was then I realized that Bach was the first swing pianist.”

“I’m sorry now I didn’t practice more, but all I wanted was to play in a dance band and get the hell out of Cape Girardeau.”

Writer and consultant Matt Chaney is compiling a book on historical song and dance, tentatively titled River Music and Rockabilly in the Northern Delta. For more information see the ChaneysBlog page “Music History and Legend of the Missouri Delta.” For information on Chaney’s previous books, visit www.fourwallspublishing.com.  Email: mattchaney@fourwallspublishing.com.

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