Summary: The sons and grandsons of Copiah County pioneer William H. Mullins turned to industry and commerce for their livelihoods. G. N. Mullins and his brother-in-law, Cecil Turner, moved frequently to find work as skilled tradesmen. G.N.'s first marriage to Mary Rife ended in divorce.
In 1820 the US government obtained a large block of land immediately north of Pike County in Mississippi from the Choctaw Indian Nation. This Second Choctaw Cession or New Purchase of 1820 included the land that is today Copiah County. Copiah County is about 50 miles north of Pike County and a few miles south of the state capital at Jackson. It is on the edge of the Piney Woods region of Mississippi but its western half has soil similar to the brown loam and loess of the old Natchez District to the west. It is a well-watered land of rolling hills and, for many years, vast and productive cotton fields. As early as 1836 Copiah County had 29,370 acres under cultivation with cotton and produced 7,422 bales for export to England.
Among the earliest pioneers to settle in Copiah County was Clement Mullins. He was a Revolutionary War veteran from North Carolina who made his way to Georgia after the War's end with his wife, Anna Hunt. In 1818 Clement and his wife sold their farm in Georgia and traveled to Mississippi with Clement's brother, Nathaniel, and Nathaniel's wife. In 1818 both of these men were nearly sixty years old. Several of Clement's children followed him to Mississippi and became slave-owning cotton planters in Copiah and Lawrence counties. Several of his sons became prominent figures in Copiah County. One became a Baptist preacher and an officer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention. Another was a Methodist minister. By 1821 Clement was living with his youngest son, William Norvell Mullins,a Baptist preacher. Clement lived in the William Norvell household until he died in February 1834.
In 1850 there were five families of Mullins living near the cross-roads community of Barlow in Copiah County. The husbands in each of there families were born in Georgia, their wives in Alabama or Mississippi. They were sons and grandsons of Clement Mullins. The oldest son of Clement and Anne Mullins was James. He was born in 1784 in either Georgia or South Carolina, married Temperance Seale in 1803 and moved to Copiah County sometime after 1818. Among the ten children of James Mullins was William Henry Mullins, my ancestor. James died in 1849 on his farm in Copiah County, followed by his wife in 1858.
William Norvell Mullins was Clement's fifth and youngest child.. In 1820 he married Margaret Parkman and, after her death, he married into the large family of Seth Granberry. Judge Seth Granberry was an important figure in early Copiah County, an officer of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and a planter. In 1840 he owned 14 slaves. As early as 1826 Granberry was appointed a Justice of the Peace and by 1829 he was an Associate Judge of the Circuit Court of Copiah County. William Norvell Mullins' wife may have received an inheritance from the Granberry family. In December 1837 William N. Mullins sold 1,000 acres of land in Copiah County including a grist mill on the Homochitto River. He continued to farm but was first and foremost a Baptist preacher. In 1852 he founded the Pine Bluff Baptist Church and continued as its pastor until 1857 when he was 62 years old.
Another son of Clement Mullins, Hardy, became a Methodist preacher. Judging from the number of marriages he performed, he was an active Minister of the Gospel from 1831 until at least 1858. Hardy Mullins was a member of the Masonic Lodge at Shady Grove in the 1840s and he too was a planter. In 1840 he had five slaves, one daughter and two sons still at home.
William Henry Mullins was the youngest of the five Mullins men with farms near Barlow in 1850. He was a grandson of Clement Mullins and a son of James Mullins. He was born in Georgia in 1819. He was a farmer and owned real estate valued at $500. This probably amounted to 80 acres of land. He wife, Frances Emaline Cato, was 20. They had three boys, the oldest of whom was seven. The youngest of these boys was Henry Mel Mullins, my great-grandfather. Soon after 1850 William's wife, Emaline, died and he married Louise Carradine. By 1860 his family included six boys, four of who were in school. A young woman named Sonya Mullins was also living in the William Mullins household in 1860. Sonya was single and may have been living in this household temporarily, perhaps employed as a seamstress. White women were still expected to sew all of the clothing worn on the farm and, since this was too much work for one woman, it was customary for wealthy families to employ single white women to help with the clothing.
William's second wife, Louise or Louisa, may have brought with her some wealth. In 1860 the William H. Mullins farm was valued at $6500 and consisted of perhaps 1,000 acres. The couple had $13,000 in personal property, probably mostly slaves. Census records for 1850 show that William H. Mullins owned eight slaves, three of whom were children. Willie Turner said that William Mullins paid $1,800 in gold for a single slave. This may have been so. As early as 1842 a really exceptional male slave cost as much as $1,100 and an exceptional woman $600. In 1842 an average price was $450 per slave when purchased in lots. By 1860 even freshly imported slaves with no knowledge of English and no farming experience sold for as much as $500 each. So it is entirely possible that a planter would pay $1,800 for a really exceptional slave. Willie Turner also told the story of one of the plantation slaves who ran away. The slave traveled all night and at daylight hid inside a hollow log. The log was a rattlesnake den. After daybreak the snake became active and the man lie quietly all day as the snake came and went. The man was so shaken that the next night he went back to the Mullins farm and turned himself in.
Willie Turner also said that William had three wives. Willie said that William Mullins had three sons by each of the first two wives and six boys and a single girl by the third wife. I have found records of only two wives and nine boys. However there is a possibility that Emaline was William's second wife. If not then Emaline would have given birth to her first child when she was only 13 years old. This would have been very unusual in ante-bellum Mississippi. Most women of that time and place married when they were over18 years old. Of the two wives I have record of, one did have three boys and the other six boys and a single girl. If there was another wife before Emaline the census records make no mention of either her or her three boys. The only girl in the family was said to have ran away with a farm hand and was disowned by her father.
I have little information about this family's involvement in the Civil War. Willie Turner said that all 12 of William Mullins' sons were soldiers in the war but I suspect that he is wrong. He was probably confusing our William Henry Mullins with another, older William Norvel Mullins who was an uncle. In reality only two of Henry Mel's brothers likely served with the Confederate military. One is said to have spent his latter years in an old soldier's home in northern Mississippi. Henry Mel's father, William H, might have served in the active duty forces as well or he may have been exempt from the draft under the Twenty Negro law. This law exempted one white man from any farm with 20 or more slaves. Henry Mel himself was only 11 years old in 1860 and his brother W. R.. was only 9. Both of them were too young for even the Home Guard. If Henry Mel and his family were active supporters of the Confederate cause then he could have joined up with the young boys and old men of the Home Guard in the last year or two of the war but he would have been too young to serve in the state militia.
The family lived on their farm in Copiah County during the war. The only story that has come down to me is that on one occasion a raiding party from the Union army appeared and stole the farm's stud horse. The Union cavalry were in the area in 1863 and 1864, burning military stores and wrecking the nearby railroad. In May 1863 Grant's army of 40,000 men passed just to the north on its way to Jackson. The Yankees burned the Captial City before returning to the Mississippi River and laying siege to Vicksburg.
The loss of the slaves after the war did not ruin the William Mullins family. There was enough money to send Henry Mel and all of his brothers to high school, probably Soule's College in Summit, Mississippi. Very few Mississippi children continued beyond elementary school in the 1860s and 1870s. In many ways, Mississippi was still on the frontier. Prior to 1872 the capital of Copiah County was Gallatin. It enjoyed the reputation of having a man killed once every week, as it is said, "for pastime." Schools in these rural areas were just beginning to be organized. Willie Turner said that Henry Mel attended Tulane University in New Orleans. This is unlikely since Tulane University was not founded until 1884. Someone probably confused "Soule" with "Tulane" and Henry Mel did not continue his education beyond high school.
Henry Mel, the third child, and his younger half-brother, William Rufus or W.R., were good friends throughout their lives. In 1880 both Henry Mel and W. R. were still living at their parent's home. Henry Mel was 30, single and working as a sewing machine salesman. W. R. was 29, widowed and working as a bookkeeper. W. R. is said to have been a drinker and not able to keep a steady job. Around 1900 W. R. was the bookkeeper at Steven's Lumber Company in Chatawa in Pike County. The saw mills were by then beginning to run short of virgin pine in southwest Mississippi and they were moving, one by one, to Texas or Louisiana. Shortly after 1900 W. R. moved to east Texas where he found a job with the Kirby Lumber Company in Kirbyville in Jasper County. Afterward he supposedly went to west Texas where he owned a ranch. In later years, uncle "Ruf" returned to Mississippi. He lived for a while in an old folk's home and died in his nephew G. N. Mullins' home in Magnolia in Pike County. W. R.'s brother Henry Mel stayed in Mississippi. In 1903 he was part-owner of a hardware store in Union Church in Copiah County and a traveling salesman for the Singer Sewing Machine Company thereafter.
Also living in the Barlow community of Copiah County was the family of Joseph and Margaret Reynolds. Joe was born in Tennessee in 1843 and his wife, Nancy Turnipseed, in Mississippi in 1841. Joe was a Confederate veteran and a farmer. In 1876 his first wife died and in 1877 he married Margaret Lupo Weeks, a widow. By 1880 Joe and his wife had nine children at home in Barlow. This included two step-sons, Allison Weeks and his brother Charles. The oldest child was Mary Frances Reynolds. She was nicknamed Fanny and by 1880 was an attractive young woman of 14. Joe Reynolds was not a wealthy man and his daughter Fanny could neither read nor write. As the oldest daughter of a large family she was expected to do a large portion of the household chores and to help with the work on the farm. She had no opportunity to attend school. But while the family was not rich neither were they poor. Fanny was probably courted by several eligible bachelors. The man she choose to marry was well educated and came from a well-known family. In 1885 0r 1886, when she was almost 20 years old, Fanny married Henry Mel Mullins, a man 16 years her senior.
Henry Mel and Fanny had five children, including my grandfather G. N. The first child and the only daughter was named Willie. The second child, a boy, was named Robert. The third child was named W. R. Henry Mel was on the road for months at a time selling sewing machines and Willie Turner believed that, during one of these absences, her brother W.R. was conceived. Fanny supposedly named the baby after his biological father, Henry Mel's brother. The fourth child was George Nelson Mullins, my paternal grandfather. He was born in or near Brookhaven, Mississippi, in April 17, 1900. In this story, he will be called G.N.
In 1905 when he was 56 Henry Mel moved his family to a 320-acre farm located three miles west of Osyka. Osyka is about 40 miles south of Brookhaven on the Illinois Central RR. Henry Mel spent his remaining years raising cattle and farming this place. He also continued to sell sewing machines. The family lived in a two-story farmhouse that has since burned down. As an educated man Henry Mel was welcomed by the community. He was a member of the Osyka Camp of the Woodsmen of the World, which met at the Grange Hall in Osyka, and his family attended the Osyka Methodist Church.
G.N. and at least two of his brothers attended school in Osyka. The 1911 roll for the Osyka school lists G.N. and W.R. as students. G.N. remembered that he and two neighboring children walked to school together. One of the children was a boy and the other a young lady. In those days it was considered to be a honor to escort a girl home from school. G.N. and the other boy fought for this honor, occasionally flattening their syrup-can lunch buckets on each other's heads. In the spring of 1911 Fanny died at the age of 41. Her family carried her body to Barlow and buried her near her father in the cemetery of the Rehoboth Methodist Church. Henry Mel had a Woodsmen grave marker prepared for her. This six-foot tall stone column, resembling the trunk of a tree with the limbs cut off, still stands in the middle of the quiet and well-maintained graveyard across the road from the old Methodist Church.
After his mother's death tensions between G.N. and his father increased. Henry Mel continued to travel with his sewing machines and was away from home much of the time. He delegated the farm chores to his sons. G.N. recalled that it was not uncommon for his father to take the buggy whip to the boys if he returned home and found things not to his liking. A year or two after his mother's death G.N. ran away from his father's home. He was 12 or 13. He went to live with his married sister Willie in Port Arthur, Texas.
Henry Mel kept the farm near Osyka until at least 1922. When it was sold the mineral rights to 140 acres were reserved and deeded in 28-acre lots to five people, one of whom was G.N. G.N. kept this deed and eventually gave the mineral rights to his youngest son, Claude. In 1928 when he was 82 Henry Mel died in Hazelhurst, Mississippi. G.N. did not know his father well. His father's long absences and his harsh ways were not good examples for his sons to follow. G.N. was destined to repeat in his own life many of his father's mistakes with his wives and his children.
Fanny's oldest child Willie married a sawmill worker from around Tylertown in neighboring Walthall County, Mississippi. Willie's husband, Lee Hardin, was a millwright. He sharpened saw blades and maintained the belt-driven planners and circular saws used to cut lumber. Within four years of their marriage the couple moved 300 miles west to east Texas. There Lee found a job with the Kirby Lumber Company. Willie's uncle, W.R., had just taken an office job with the same company in Kirbyville and he probably arranged employment for Lee. After four years of marriage Willie divorced Lee Hardin. He was a "gambling man" and Willie grew tired of being broke so much of the time. She kept custody of their only child Henry Mel Hardin. Not long after the divorce Willie met a young man named Cecil Turner who had grown up on a farm in east Texas near Kirbyville. Cecil Turner may have been working for the Kirby Lumber Company when he and Willie met. Most farmers in east Texas worked on a sawmill's wood's crew when farming was slack. Within a few months, he and Willie were married. They did not stay in Kirbyville. During World War One, Mr. Turner found work as an apprentice boilermaker for the Texas Company in Port Arthur, Texas, some 60 miles south of Kirbyville.
Port Arthur is a deep water port on the Sabine River about 10 miles upstream of the Gulf of Mexico. After the discovery of oil in Beaumont in 1900, Port Arthur became a center of a booming oil refining business. By 1916 Cecil and his wife Willie owned a house on Nederland Avenue, five or six blocks from the Texas Company refinery. When G.N. ran away from his father's farm in Mississippi, he went to live with his sister in Port Arthur. In 1916 G.N. was working in the nearby town of Beaumont. He was employed to caulk the wooden ships being built in a shipyard south of the railroad bridge on the Neches River. The shipyard was near the old Magnolia Refinery (now the Esso Refinery). G.N. boarded at 347 Flowers Street in Beaumont and rode the streetcar on Park Avenue to work. He was 16 years old. When the US entered World War One G.N. signed on with the Texas Company for the duration of the war. He was still legally a minor so his older sister, now his guardian, signed his "release". G.N. worked at the Texaco Refinery in Port Arthur as a form carpenter. He was working at the refinery when he met Morris Rife, his future father-in-law.
Morris Rife was a son of Thomas Rife, a disabled Confederate veteran. Thomas Rife moved from Louisiana to San Antonio, Texas, before the Civil War. In 1850 he served briefly in a company of Texas Rangers and during the War he was in a cavalry unit. By 1880 he was a policeman in San Antonio. Sometime after 1873 Thomas Rife married a young woman who had recently arrived in San Antonio from Chihuahua, Mexico. Together they had nine children, at least six of whom survived childhood. This was a bilingual family. The children spoke Spanish with their mother and English with their father. The family lived in a working class neighborhood on South San Saba Street, less than a mile from the ruins of the Alamo. Thomas Rife received a gift of 1,280 acres of land from the state of Texas in 1881 as a disabled Confederate veteran but he was in no position to do anything with it. He continued to work as a policeman for the City of San Antonio and spent his final years as the security guard at the Alamo. Thomas died before 1900 leaving his widow in a rented house with all seven children still at home. They ranged in age from 8 to 25 years old.
In 1902 Morris Rife married Josephine Tobias. When they married, Morris was nineteen and his bride was seventeen. They soon left San Antonio where work was scarce and moved 250 miles east to the boom-towns created by the discovery of the Spindletop oil field in 1901. The Rife family rented a house not far from the shore of Lake Sabine and near the oil refinery where Morris worked. In 1904 their first child, Mary, was born. The Rifes were Catholic and they took Mary to the Cathedral in Beaumont to be christened. Morris was described as a good family man. His son said that he did "neither drink nor chew tobacco". Before 1910 Morris was employed as a laborer at the Texaco refinery. Later he became an oil treater at the Gulf Oil Refinery, also in Port Arthur. In July 1921 when he was 35 years old, he collapsed and died while working at the refinery. He died from internal bleeding with no apparent cause. His wife Josephine remarried and lived until 1935.
G.N. was 18 years old in 1918. He was becoming an excellent carpenter. He was especially good at reading blueprints and estimating jobs. He was a good draftsman and, on occasion, designed small buildings such as homes and churches. His drawings might include a detailed pictorial sketch of the proposed building. My father described G.N.'s drawings as works of art. He remembers drawings for a church near Mount Hermon, Louisiana, that G.N. made. G.N. did not get the job but the church used his drawings anyway. G.N. was somewhat of a dandy and always dressed well. When he was in his twenties, he wore a dark suit and a tie, a white shirt and a white starched straw hat. In his thirties he preferred white suits and Panama hats. In 1918 he was courting several young ladies including Selma Katle and Mary Rife. Mary and Selma were high school chums in Port Arthur. G.N. often visited in Selma's home and she and G.N. were quite attracted to each other. Suddenly, according to Selma, soon before the death of Morris Rife, Mary and G.N. married. Mary was 17 years old and G.N. was 20 or 21.
Selma Katle eventually married J. C. Kelley, a Texas oilman. She and G.N. kept in touch for sixty years. It was through G.N. that my parents became friends of the Kelleys in 1974. It was partly because of this connection that they retired to Burkeville, Texas. The Kelleys had retired to Burkeville some years before after traveling widely in the oil business. The Kelley's had spent many years in Saudi Arabia and Mr. Kelley built a brick-veneer replica of a Bedouin encampment for their retirement home.
G.N. and Mary's first child was born on July 25,1921 while the family was living at 247-18th Street in Port Arthur. G.N. continued to work for the Texas Company. His two-year apprenticeship ended in 1918 and he was now a journeyman carpenter. Only one of G.N.'s brothers served in the military during the Great War. His oldest brother Robert volunteered for the US Army. In February 1918 about a year after he had enlisted, Robert Mullins died. In 1918 and 1919 an epidemic of influenza swept the United States, killing 548,000 people. Thousands of soldiers living in tents on the rolling plains of north-central Texas caught the flu and died of pneumonia. G.N. expressed his disdain for the manner in which his brother had died by saying that his brother "collapsed while dancing on a cannon at Fort Worth." Robert was 30 years old when he died. Henry Mel buried him next to Fanny in Barlow, Mississippi. In that same year Henry Mel's father, William H Mullins, passed away at the age of 98 and was buried on his farm in Copiah County, Mississippi.
It was considered fortunate that Henry Mel's second son W.R. failed the army physical. He had an obstruction in his throat and could not swallow solid food. G.N. was too young for the Army and he was also protected from the draft by his employment with the Texas Company. The fourth son was a year or two younger than G.N.
After the end of World War One both the Turners and the Mullins left Port Arthur at different times and for different reasons. After a separation of about ten years the two families found themselves living near each other again. During the Great Depression the men of the two families worked together and the children went to school together. During the Depression years the story of the two families will merge. During the Second World War the children left home and the families separated but remained close friends until Cecil Turner and G.N. Mullins had both died. I will tell the story of Cecil and Willie Turner first and then that of G.N. Mullins.
After she had given birth to two children Willie Turner began to lose weight. The city of Port Arthur is built on a low plain on the edge of a great fresh water swamp. This and the high humidity along the Gulf Coast gives Port Arthur its reputation as a haven for mosquitoes. Willie's doctor could find nothing wrong with her but he advised her to leave the area. The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Willie's health continued to decline until some of her teeth were found to be abscessed. Once the teeth were pulled, she regained the weight she had lost. Meanwhile Cecil found a job in Memphis as a boilermaker with the Illinois Central Railroad. He was later transferred to the railroad repair shops in McComb, Mississippi, where he worked in the same capacity.
In 1922 Mr. Turner became involved in a strike against the railroad. The strike lasted for eight or nine months. Finally the railroad broke the strike and Mr. Turner found himself blacklisted by the Illinois Central. He found some work in small sawmills and with the Kentwood Gravel Company repairing steam-driven shovels used in the gravel pits. However work was scarce for Cecil Turner. To make matters worse Henry Mel, Willie's father, kicked them off his farm west of Osyka. They had been living on the farm during the strike but now had to leave because Henry Mel sold the property and moved to Hazelhurst. Fortunately George Simmons and Henry Mel Mullins were good friends. When the Turners left Henry Mel's place, George Simmons offered to let them sharecrop on his farm. George Simmons lived some 16 miles east of Henry Mel's farm. The Turners moved into one of George Simmons' many rent houses and Cecil sharecropped for a year. The oldest boy Henry Mel Hardin remembers that George Simmons was kind to them and gave them food.
Cecil was not a successful sharecropper and in 1928 he ended the temporary arrangement with George Simmons. Mr. Turner and his family moved back to his parent's farm south of Jasper, Texas. There they survived an epidemic of typhoid fever that killed several of Mr. Turner's relatives. In 1931 they moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Cecil and the oldest boy Henry Mel Hardin both found work at the Standard Oil Refinery. Turner's brother-in-law G.N. Mullins was a foreman there and he put them on his crew. G.N. was by then an expert in form carpentry and in the construction of wooden scaffolding used during the construction of towers and smoke stacks. In Baton Rouge he was building scaffolding for a smoke stack at a refinery on the banks of the Mississippi River.
This was not the type of work that Cecil was accustomed to. On at least one occasion he became mesmerized by the height and very nearly fell from the scaffold. A fellow worker pulled him back just as he started to fall. The scaffolding the crew was erecting was made entirely of wooden timbers and sometimes the entire structure collapsed. One time a similar scaffolding fell while G.N. was working on it. He rode the scaffold down until it was about 20 feet from the ground. He jumped to safety but landed on a hammer in his nail pouch. He bruised his thigh but otherwise was not injured. Working conditions were not as safe as they are today and refineries where known as dangerous places to work. One day during this job the evacuation whistle blew the signal for the workmen to evacuate as quickly as possible. Everyone ran for the gates. Their way was blocked by drainage ditches filled with a heavy, tar-like liquid. The ditches were 15 to 20 feet wide and carried residue from the cracking towers to a swamp behind the Mississippi River levee. The men were trying to jump these ditches. The way Henry Mel Hardin remembered, he and his father made it across but G.N. fell into the ditch and ruined his white coveralls. But G.N. was quite athletic and in better shape than Cecil Turner. In my father's version of the same story it was Cecil who fell into the ditch. Probably most of the men fell into the ditch. The refinery did not blow up and after a few hours the men returned to work.
When the scaffolding job was finished the Turners moved to Osyka where they waited out the Depression. They rented various houses in Osyka and eventually bought the old Walker house on the east side of the railroad tracks. Their children grew up there. Willie's first husband Lee Hardin had moved back to Mississippi after the divorce and never remarried. He was a frequent visitor to the Turner home and remained a friend of the family for many years. He was Henry Mel Hardin's father and the other children knew him as uncle Lee. My father and his parents were also frequent visitors in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The children were cousins and best friends as teenagers. After Willie Turner passed away in 1965 one of G.N.'s sons Claude bought the house and in 1985 his ex-wife still lived there.
G. N. Mullins
G.N. Mullins stayed with the Texas Company in Port Arthur until 1921. That year the refinery introduced an identification system which required each tradesman to wear a color-coded tag. G.N. didn't like the idea in principle. He became even more upset when he realized that his tag was identical to that of a group of Negro workers. We walked off the job and did not go back. He packed his bags and moved his wife and baby to Pike County, Mississippi. Mary had a baby who was less than six months old when G.N. decided to leave Port Arthur. She took her younger brother, Morris Jr., then 11 years old, to help with the baby. They all traveled by rail to Osyka where G.N's brother W.R. met them with a wagon. G.N. rented a log cabin in the middle of a corn field for his family. It was near a couple of houses called Chatawa and a few miles north of Osyka on the Illinois Central Railroad. G.N. himself found a job with the railroad building trestles near Yazoo, Mississippi. He lived on the job site and came home by train most weekends.
11 year old Morris Rife attended school in Centreville. Morris did not know any of the children at Centreville and had little recollection of the school. In 1981 he did recall fetching water from a nearby spring and having to deal with the large rats that inhabited the corn field. When Mary's second son Robert was born, Morris ran to Chatawa, swimming the Tangipahoa River, to get a doctor for his sister. G.N. was gone all week. During this time Henry Mel Mullins sold his farm west of Osyka and moved away. This left the Turners and W.R. Mullins as Mary's closest friends and only sources of aid and comfort. Morris remembered that G.N's brother, W.R., went up to Jackson, Mississippi, and married a woman named Ruth. W.R. brought his new wife to the log cabin with the intention of spending the night there but Ruth left the cabin after dark and didn't return. Morris never saw her again and, when I talked to him 60 years later, he asked me if W.R. ever found her again. I told him that I didn't know.
The next year G.N. moved his family closer to town but they were still three miles from Osyka. Morris now had two babies to fetch water for and he was delighted to find that water could be gotten from a sunken spring only 1/8 of a mile away. G.N. continued to work elsewhere and came home only on weekends. In 1923 G.N. got a job in Baton Rouge and the family moved there. At this point Morris Rife returned to his mother's home in Port Arthur, Texas. G.N., Mary and the two babies lived in Baton Rouge until 1925. Mary and G.N. were having frequent arguments. Sometimes G.N. left Mary at home with the children while he went dancing. If he returned home with lip stick on his shirt or a stranger's hair on his shoulder after having been gone most of the night then a fight was likely to follow. After one of these arguments Mary went to Port Arthur for a week or so to cool off and to visit with her mother. She returned to Baton Rouge to find that G.N. had divorced her. He put her belongings on the front porch and would not allow her inside the house. The two children saw their mother outside on the porch but were not allowed to go outside. G.N. had gotten custody of the boys by claiming that she had deserted them. Mary went back to Port Arthur and my father did not see his mother again for 18 years.
G.N. had gotten custody of the boys but he could not care for them. My father vaguely remembers staying at the Clarence Strickland farm in Pike County but I suspect that G.N. took the boys to stay with his married sister Willie Turner. In 1926 or thereabouts Cecil and Willie Turner were sharecropping on the George Simmons place. Somehow perhaps because the Turners moved away the boys were finally boarded with the family of George Simmons.
My father and his younger brother spent at least a year in the home of George Simmons in the care of the youngest daughter Irene. Irene was 18 when she assumed responsibility for the boys. On his periodic visits to see his sons, G.N. began courting Irene. George Simmons opposed the marriage because G.N. was divorced and because he had what George called "city ways". I don't know if he explained to Irene what he meant by "city ways" but Irene insisted and George would not stand in her way. G.N. and Irene were married in 1928.
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