Book Review Thursday: The Mockingbird Next Door

MockingbirdNextDoorAs it turns out, this book, which I actually found delightful, is full of controversy.  Browse the comments and reviews on Amazon or other book sites and you will find both raves and pans.  The book, as stated by author Marja Mills, was never intended to be a biography of the uber-private recluse Nelle Harper Lee, author of the acclaimed novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  Rather she wrote it as a memoir after meeting Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice while working on an article for the Chicago Tribune.

Ms. Mills later moved next door to the Lees’ home in Monroeville, Alabama in 2004 and, according to the book, seems to have become well acquainted with the pair as well as their friends.  Whether or not the author’s stated premise is true or not, I still found it delightful and full of Alabama and Deep Southern history.  It is obvious that the Lee sisters are proud Southerners, even though over the years Nelle Harper Lee spent a great deal of time commuting between Alabama and New York City.

The reviews I read seemed to express dismay that the Lee sisters never authorized the book and it was a blatant intrusion of their privacy.  Mills refers to a letter from Alice (an attorney) in which she receives the blessing of both sisters to write the memoir.  In July of 2014, however, Nelle Harper Lee issued a statement: “Rest assured, as long as I am alive any book purporting to be with my cooperation is a falsehood.”

Nelle Harper Lee is now eighty-eight years old and lives in an assisted living facility following a stroke in 2007.  The letter which Mills relies on for authorization was written by Alice at around age one hundred years.

Some reviewers go so far as to call Ms. Mills a liar.  If that’s true then I guess the book might be called a work of fiction rather than a factual memoir.  There are several places in the book where she pauses in her approach to the sisters, concerned that she may be invading their privacy.  It seems apparent that scores of people still revere Harper Lee – she is a national treasure.    Whether entirely true or not, I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it – just be aware that in the summer of 2014 it has become a controversial publication.

Rating:  ★★★★

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Ghost Town Wednesday: Cloverdale, New Mexico

CloverdaleStoreCloverdale is believed to have been established sometime in the 1880’s.  On May 2, 1882 The Critic (Washington, D.C.) had a story about an Indian fight at Cloverdale between Apaches and the Sixth Cavalry, led by Captain T.C. Tupper.  One soldier was killed in the battle, two wounded and fourteen Apaches were killed.  It was not the first battle with Indians in the area and certainly not the last – the war with Apaches continued until about 1924.

The Cloverdale Ranch was also established in the 1880’s by either Bob Anderson or John Weames, but sold to the Victor Land and Cattle Company in 1889.  According to C.W. Barnum, a New Mexico genealogist, other ranches were established and the number of residents increased.  The name “Cloverdale” was chosen as the name for the spread-out community.  Said to have had as many as two hundred residents at one time, the town had a general store (built in 1918), post office, blacksmith shop, school and cemetery.  A stage line ran from Cloverdale to Animas.

CloverdaleSchoolIn 1902 and 1903 the area suffered a severe drought, according to the oral interview of a former resident, George Pendleton.  His parents, Thomas Maynard and Eva May Bass Pendleton (see yesterday’s Tombstone Tuesday article on the Bass family), had married in Carlsbad in 1912 and moved to the area in 1914.  In 1912 the post office was established, making it the southwestern-most in the state of New Mexico.  More on the Pendleton family in a future article.

CloverdalePicnicBeginning in 1913 the Cloverdale community held an annual camp meeting and picnic, drawing large crowds of ranchers and area residents.  As mentioned in yesterday’s Tombstone Tuesday article about the Bass family, the Mexican Revolution brought the likes of Pancho Villa to the area, as well as General Jack Pershing who pursued Villa in 1916.  Such characters as the Clantons of OK Corral fame and Geronimo also roamed the area and made history in that part of the world.

The annual picnic continued to be held until 1962, although by 1943 the community had declined and the post office was closed.  All that remains today is the deserted general store, a flagstone house belonging to Henry Sanford (see next week’s Tombstone Tuesday article for more on Henry) and the remnants of a dance floor.

CloverdaleScenesI found several stories about the Bootheel of New Mexico and Cloverdale which are fascinating, so watch for future articles about Cloverdale and the surrounding area – Military History, Wild West, Ranching History (a new article theme coming soon), as well as more Tombstone Tuesday articles on settlers who came in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (Cousin Randy told me he saw another cemetery in the area!)

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Tales From Cloverdale Cemetery (Cloverdale, NM)

EdAndSusieBassI just never know where a story idea will pop up.  This one came from some bantering back and forth on Facebook between my brother and one of our cousins about the “Bootheel” area of New Mexico.  Today’s article features one family who started out in Texas, wandered up and down the Pecos Valley of New Mexico for years, and finally ended up in Hidalgo County at a volatile time in history.

The Bass Family

The patriarch of the Bass family, William Edwin “Ed” Bass, was born in July of 1854 to parents Richard and Sarah Francis (Means) Bass in San Patricio County, Texas.  In 1872 he married Susan Iona Chisum in San Patricio County.  Together they raised a large family of twelve children:

Richard Isom (1873)
Clara Edna (1876)
Daniel Edwin (1878)
William Holland (1880)
Susan Iona (1882)
Margaret (1885)
Ludie Mary (1888)
Eva May (1890)
Frederic (1894)
Clyde (1895)
Edgar (1898)
Vivian Leonard (1901)

Note: Susie’s obituary noted that she raised fourteen children.  However, available census records indicate only twelve.

BassFamilyEd and Susie resided in Bandera County, Texas in 1880 with four young children.  Sometime after the 1880 census, the family moved to the Pecos Valley of New Mexico.  They settled in an area called Hackberry Draw, then moved back to the plains and later returned to the valley on land near the Black River.  Ed and his neighbors built a school house there which was also used as a community gathering place.

The Bass family were wanderers apparently and later moved to Eddy (now Carlsbad), where Ed owned and operated a livery stable, ranched in Artesia and finally sold out and moved to Cloverdale, Hidalgo County in 1917.  The family picked an historic time to live in the Bootheel of New Mexico when they settled in an area near the Mexican border (their home was within a half-mile of the border).

The Mexican Revolution had begun in 1910 and continued until at least 1920.  One of the most well-known Mexicans in the area would have been Francisco “Pancho” Villa.  Indian raids were not uncommon (occasionally) either, all of which meant that everyone was armed and on guard.  Susie was known for her generosity and kindness, according to her obituary:

If Mother Bass ever had to defend herself from the rougher element of the Old West, no one ever heard of it. She lived a life of unselfishness and generosity, and was loved by the bad as well as the good. The worst “hombre” would have defended her, for the night was never too dark or cold for her to leave her bed and prepare a meal for a hungry traveler, or go see some sick woman or child among her neighbors.

Their sons raised sheep in Hidalgo County and Ed remained in Cloverdale until his death on March 9, 1925.  His obituary included the following description: “Ed Bass had a heart of gold and a cursing vocabulary that would reach from hell to breakfast.”  His tombstone is inscribed with the words “Life’s work all done, he rests in peace.”

Susie returned to Eddy County and lived there until her death on March 27, 1950.  In her obituary, she was remembered as “one of New Mexico’s best-known and loved pioneer women of the Old West” and an adherent of the Baptist faith for seventy-eight years.  She died at the age of ninety-two, having entered the hospital a week earlier for the first time in her long life.

BassChildrenTwo of their children, although adults, had died young.  Their son Vivian Leonard, born in 1901, was just a few weeks short of his thirty-second birthday when he was thrown from his horse while riding the range just east of the Arizona border.  He was killed instantly when his head struck a rock (December 11, 1931).  Their oldest daughter, Clara Edna, had married Len Scott in Eddy County in 1898.  At the time of her death in 1901, she was pregnant with their first child.  She died of smallpox.

Another son, Daniel Edwin, met an untimely death in 1942 at the age of 64 when he was murdered in Fort Huachuca, Arizona.  He ran a bowling alley and was attacked with a bowling pin, crushing his head.  His body was interred in Cloverdale Cemetery with his parents and Vivian.

Tune in next week for Tales from Cloverdale Cemetery, Part Two with a story about Henry Francisco and Cordelia Augusta (Caldwell) Sanford.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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On This Day: The Great Moon Hoax of 1835

calendar-Aug25        Looking back, we might refer to it as the “War of the Worlds” hoax of the nineteenth century.  On this day in 1835 a series of articles began to be published in the New York Sun, purporting, among other things, that evidence of life on the moon had been discovered.  The Sun had been established in 1833 and according to, “was one of the new ‘penny press’ papers that appealed to a wider audience with a cheaper price and a more narrative style of journalism” — a nice way perhaps of describing sensationalized yellow journalism.

Perhaps it was a ploy to increase circulation, because in the opening days of the series circulation numbers rose to fifteen thousand.  By the end of the series the number was 19,360, and editor Benjamin Day would proclaim his newspaper had the largest circulation in the world.  Competitors started to panic a bit and began printing the series in their own papers, pretending they had the same access as the Sun.

It was implied that a well-known astronomer, Sir John Herschel, was the author but that was completely false:

GreatMoonHoaxHdLineHerschel had traveled to Capetown, South Africa in 1834 to build an observatory housing a powerful telescope.  The article was attributed to the Edinburgh Journal of Science as the original source, although the publication was defunct.  Dr. Andrew Grant, an associate of Herschel’s, had apparently (purportedly) relayed the story to the Journal.  Grant was later found to be a fictional character.

On day one of the series the Sun printed a detailed description of the telescope which Herschel had reportedly built, including its enormous size and magnification power:

The weight of this ponderous lens was 14,826 lbs. or nearly seven tons after being polished; and its estimated magnifying power 42,000 times. It was therefore presumed to be capable of representing objects in our lunar satellite of little more than eighteen inches in diameter, providing its focal image of them could be rendered distinct by the transfusion of article light.

The public was hooked after the first day and each succeeding day provided more vivid (and unimaginable) detail.  On day three the following description was provided:

The surrounding country is fertile to excess: between this circle and No. 2 (Endymion), which we proposed first to examine, we counted not less than twelve luxuriant forests, divided by open plains, which waved in an ocean of vendure, and were probably prairies like those of North America. In three of these we discovered numerous herds of quadrupeds similar to our friends the bisons in the Valley of the Unicorn, but of much larger size; and scarcely a piece of woodland occurred in our panorama which did not dazzle our visions with flocks of white or red birds upon the wing.

By day four there was heightened interest as the series continued by describing “life” on the moon:

We counted three parties of these creatures, of twelve, nine and fifteen in each, walking erect towards a small wood. . . Certainly they were like human beings, for their wings had now disappeared and their attitude in walking was both erect and dignified . . . About half of the first party had passed beyond our canvas; but of all the others we had perfectly distinct and deliberate view. They averaged four feet in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and glossy copper-colored hair, and had wings composed of a thin membrane, without hair, lying snugly upon their backs from the top of the shoulders to the calves of their legs.

The face, which was of a yellowish color, was an improvement upon that of the large orang outang being more open and intelligent in its expression, and having a much greater expansion of forehead. The mouth, however, was very prominent, though somewhat relieved by a thick beard upon the lower jaw, and by lips far more human than those of any species of simia genus. In general symmetry of body and limbs they were infinitely superior to the orang outang; so much so that but for their long wings they would look as well on a parade ground as some of the old cockney militia. The hair of the head was a darker color than that of the body, closely curled but apparently not woolly, and arranged in two circles over the temples of the forehead. Their feet could only be seen as they were alternately lifted in walking; but from what we could see of them in so transient a view they appeared thin and very protuberant at the heel.

MoonHoaxPicNot only were rival newspaper editors interested in “getting a piece of the action”, the Journal of Commerce expressed interest in printing the entire series in pamphlet form.  This was when, however, the whole thing was exposed as a hoax.  Richard Adams Locke confessed to having conjured up the story, and Benjamin Day finally admitted on September 16 to being aware of the hoax.  Even with the admission, the Sun continued to maintain its increased circulation levels.  Perhaps their readers could laugh at themselves for having been so gullible.

The whole episode seems to have inspired none other than Edgar Allan Poe to write a hoax-based tale of his own.  At the time, Poe was writing The Strange Adventures of Hans Pfaall and confessed later that he stopped work on the second part, assuming he had been out-hoaxed by Locke.  One scholar argued, however, that Poe came up with his hoax after Locke’s, in an attempt to capitalize on the success of “The Great Moon Hoax.”

Whatever the reasons or the possible connection Poe had to The Great Moon Hoax, the nineteenth century certainly had its share of hoaxes.  Another one, The Balloon Hoax, was written and perpetrated by Poe in 1844.  There were many more, including perhaps the first Photoshop® job ever in 1895.  I feel a “Far-Out Friday” article coming on — stay tuned!

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Quakers in Texas: Part Two

FriendswoodCemetryBy 1895, Frank Jacob Brown and Thomas Hadley Lewis must have felt that Paris Cox (see Part One here) had steered them down the wrong path when he encouraged fellow Quakers to come and settle on the “staked plains” of West Texas (Llano Estacado) in the late 1870’s.  This especially after Cox died in 1888 of throat cancer and the disagreements with other non-Quaker settlers in the area – plus the harsh conditions they faced such as grasshoppers and drought.

FriendswoodPicIt’s little wonder then that Brown, a buffalo hunter, and Lewis, a college-educated man, felt they were directed by God to settle an area near the Texas coast in Galveston County.  Instead of the treeless plains of West Texas they found over fifteen hundred acres of prairie, supplied with plenty of water from nearby Clear, Coward, Mary and Chigger Creeks, and surrounded by dense woods.  They called it their “Promised Land”.

After striking a deal with a Galveston bank on July 15, 1895, their colony’s name, Friendswood, was recorded in the Galveston County courthouse.  With the attraction of plenty of water and a more hospitable climate and environment, word soon spread to other Quaker colonies in the northern and midwestern parts of the United States.  Soon afterwards almost a dozen additional families had joined the Brown and Lewis families.

In 1900 the coast of Texas was battered with a massive hurricane in September of 1900, and although there was massive destruction and loss of life along the coast, the Friendswood colony survived with no loss of life.  Perhaps in an attempt to make “lemonade out of lemons” they turned the downed trees into lumber to construct a building they would use as a church, school and community meeting place.

For years the Quakers operated the school and even had students from surrounding communities where there was no high school.  Between 1895 and 1915 most new settlers were Quakers, but gradually other settlers came to the area for the lush farm land along the Gulf Coast.  Farmers raised oranges, wild rice and figs – two fig plants were constructed to process and preserve those crops.

In the early 1930’s families impacted by the Great Depression came looking for a better life.  By the end of the 1930’s oil fields were being developed in the area, although until about 1945 the town of Friendswood consisted only of a handful of buildings – a church, school, post office and grocery store – no doctor, bank, police or newspaper.  Today the city runs on a multi-million dollar annual budget.

FriendswoodFigsWith the passing of more time, the Quaker way of life faded into the background as Houston spread out and families moved into the “burbs”.  In 1949 a new Friends (Quaker) Church was built to replace the original building that was constructed following the 1900 storm.  Today there is very little left of that historic time, save perhaps a few historical markers.  Nevertheless, the citizens of Friendswood are proud of their city’s heritage and its Quaker foundations.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Surname Saturday: Overhuls (Oberholzer)

OberholtzerCrestWho knew that a visit to a prairie cemetery in West Texas could generate so many articles (and I’m not done yet!)?  Today’s Surname Saturday article focuses on another name found in the historic Estacado Cemetery.  Other articles related to this cemetery can be found here, here and here.

James Edward and Emeline Jane (White) Overhuls are buried in the cemetery.  As noted on his gravestone, James was a Civil War veteran who served in the 6th Kansas Cavalry.  Emma must have been a special lady of fierce determination, as noted on her tombstone: “This marker is also dedicated to the strong-willed women who helped settle the western frontier.”  The children born to their union were:

Josephine M. (12 Dec 1866)
George H. (14 Dec 1867)
Cornelius E. (14 Mar 1869)
Mary Ethel (25 Mar 1871)
Octavia (6 Dec 1873)
Emma (6 Dec 1875)

All of their children, except Emma, lived to adulthood; Emeline died in 1876.  According to family history, James did not remarry until 1888 so for several years he was a single parent.  He and May Jones Lewis had three children of their own:

Fannie M.
Ida Louise

James was a farmer and rancher and died on July 17, 1895.


So where does the surname Overhuls derive from?  It is likely that the name derives from the surname Oberholzer which, according to House of Names was first found in Austria:

. . . where the name Oberhofen and Udelhofen were synonymous with the Teutonic Order.  The Barons Oberhofen became noted for its branches in the region, each house acquiring a status and influence which was envied by the princes of the region.  In their later history the name became a power unto themselves and were elevated to the ranks of nobility as they grew into this most influential family.

Other branches of the Oberholzer family originated from the Swiss region of Oberholz and over time the surname evolved to include variations such as: Oberholtz, Uberholtzer, Overhuls, Overhalt, Overhults, Oberheuser, Oberhofen, Udelhofen and more.

Another source indicates that the Oberholzer surname was derived from “Ober”, a German word which might have referred to someone living at the upper end of a village or perhaps someone who lived on the upper floor of a building.  Other possible variations of the surname would also include: Obermann, Overmann, Oberth, Avermann and more.

When the Oberholzer name began to evolve is unclear, although reports that many Germans anglicized their names after immigrating to America, often by dropping a single letter.

One of the earliest recorded Oberholzer immigrants was Jakob Oberholzer who arrived in 1731.  The record included immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine (France), Switzerland and southern Germany.  Another immigration record referred to “Swiss Mennonite Family Names”.

For James Overhuls’ family the name may have changed during his generation.  One family tree indicates that his father was born Cornelius Overholser, but the children are all listed as “Overhuls”.  It appears that Cornelius’ family had migrated from Pennsylvania to Darke County, Ohio in the early 1800’s, but no one seems to know much about his parentage.  If the spelling which Cornelius’ family used was “Overholser” then it seems quite plausible that “Overhuls” would be derived from the Swiss (or German) surname of Oberholzer.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Feudin’ and Fightin’ Friday: A Bloody One in Arkansas

FeudingFightFridayThe Arkansas feud known as the Tutt-Everett War or the King-Tutt-Everett War or the Marion County War wasn’t over love, money, water or land – it was pure politics and it was bloody.  The Marion County War might be the most appropriate name since it eventually seemed to have involved just about every citizen in the county.

The Tutt family, led by Hansford “Hamp” Tutt, had come to Searcy County, Arkansas from Tennessee sometime in the 1830’s.  The Tutts were members of the Whig Party and wielded political influence in Searcy County.  They were also known to be a rough bunch – gambling, horse racing, fighting and drinking.  Hamp was a merchant and also owned a saloon which served as a local hangout.

The Everett family of John, “Sim”, Jesse and Bart were members of the Democratic Party and wielded great influence in the area where they lived.  Marion County was created in 1836 by the Arkansas legislature out of the area where the Everett family resided.  It would also place the Tutts in the same county as the Everetts.  To add a little more drama, the King family, fellow Whigs, joined up with the Tutts.

By 1844 most of the county’s three hundred or so residents had lined up behind one faction or the other.  The first noted public confrontation between the two sides occurred in Yellville in June of 1844 at the site of a political debate.  A brawl, which would later be seen as the match that “lit the feud”, broke out – no guns, just fists, rocks and whatever else they could grab.

In the middle of the fray one of the Tutt supporters, Alfred Burnes, struck Sim Everett in the head with the blade of a hoe, cutting a large gash.  Burnes, thinking he’d killed a man, quickly fled the scene.  Sim did recover but thereafter both sides never ventured out unarmed.  A series of lawsuits and brawls in the ensuing years served only to continue fanning the flames.

As volatile as the situation was, the first gunfight didn’t occur until October 9, 1848 in Yellville.  When the gun smoke cleared, several men lay dead, including Jim Everett.  Retaliation was swift when two days later the remaining Everetts ambushed and killed Billy, Sr. and Loomis King.  Billy’s son and a friend of the family were both wounded but managed to escape.

For the next several months, gun fights continued to erupt although there were no more fatalities.  Tensions increased when Ewell Everett became an elected judge, while George Adams, a supporter of the Tutts, was elected constable.  The Everett support waned a bit though by the end of the year when Jesse Everett and ally Jacob Stratton decided to move on to Texas.

By the summer of 1849 Sheriff Jesse Mooney, having a reputation as a tough and principled lawman, decided to organize a posse and end the feud.  The posse was organized on July 4 and subsequently the biggest gun fight of the entire feud also occurred on that day.  Before the posse was fully engaged, the Everetts already had a plan to ambush the Tutts who had assembled at the saloon.

The gun fight was a fierce one, and when the ammunition was spent the fighting continued with rocks, sticks, bricks, again whatever they could lay their hands on.  This time the body count was much higher – ten men, including one King (Jack), two Everetts (Bart and Sim), and three Tutts (Davis, Ben and Lunsford) lay dead.  Dave Sinclair, an ally of the Tutts who presumably killed Sim, was killed by Everett allies the following day.

When Jesse Everett learned of the deaths of his family members, he returned to Arkansas to avenge their killings, unsuccessfully attempting to kill Hamp Tutt several times.  Stepping in again, Sheriff Mooney sent his son Thomas to the capitol to ask the governor to intervene and send the state militia.  The governor agreed to intervene but Thomas never made it home, presumably ambushed by one of the factions or the other.  His body was never found, although the carcass of his horse later washed up in a creek.

On August 31, 1849 three King family members were ambushed by the Everetts.  In September a militia was raised in neighboring Carroll County and later relieved Mooney of his duties.  Several members of the Everett faction were arrested, but following the militia’s retreat were freed after a jail break.  So much for martial law.

In September of 1850 the feud was essentially over when Hamp Tutt was killed, some believe by a mysterious man from Texas hired by the Everetts.  It would become known as the most famous and bloody feud in Arkansas history.

TuttsInterestingly, Davis Tutt, only a child at the height of the Tutt-Everett feud, made history of his own on July 21, 1865.  Said to have been the date of the first Western gunfight, James B. “Wild Bill” Hickok killed him over a gambling debt on the town square in Springfield, Missouri.  The event is commemorated at the spot where Hickok stood with an historic marker:

HickokMarkerLottie Tutt, Davis’ sister, was Wild Bill’s girlfriend.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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