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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

CHARACTERS
William Benjamin Walker

Captain Edward I. Kellie

Needham Bryan Weatherford
Jack F. (Spot) Baird

Archer Fullingim
Jerry Sadler
Claibe Applegate

Charlie White

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
Some people collect antiques. Others collect baseball cards. Personally, I've always been partial to East Texas characters -- the sometimes slightly off-center people who lived lifetimes doing things differently than the rest of us.

Here are some of my favorite East Texas characters collected over the last half-century.
  • William Benjamin Walker of Lufkin called himself "an old, worn-out country preacher." But he had a special gift for recasting mundane words into verses sprinkled with humor or wreathed in sadness. None of Walker's poems ever appeared in a book. His fans discovered his works in the Lufkin newspaper. It was Walker, in fact, who described himself as one of "the oodles of poets who cut strange capers and print their dodoes in the papers."
  • Captain Edward I. Kellie, who weighed only 109 pounds, lived one of the fullest lives of any newspaperman in East Texas. His parents died of yellow fever in New Orleans in l856 and he hit the road, working as a newsboy, cowboy, printer's devil, steamboat captain, soldier, county surveyor and anything else that caught his fancy. He fought in the Civil War, coming to Jasper in 1865 with the battle flag of his Confederate flag hidden in his uniform. He founded the Jasper News-Boy and gave East Texas one of its liveliest newspapers with a writing style much like Mark Twain's. On his deathbed, he extracted from his daughter a promise to place his cherished Confederate battle flag in his casket.
  • Needham Bryan Weatherford of Camden was the last of the old-time logging bosses and could tell endless stories about his days with the W.T. Carter and Brother Lumber Company. He could remember when a visitor to East Texas could ride a train almost anywhere without getting out of hearing distance of a sawmill.
  • Jack F. (Spot) Baird brought national attention to Rhonesboro, a stop in the road west of Gilmer, by cooking possum dishes all over Texas, but with a tongue-in-cheek approach that made you wonder if he was serious or not. Baird often proclaimed "there are 22 differnent ways to cook possum...and 22 different ways to throw it out."
  • Archer Fullingim was perhaps the last of the old give 'em hell weekly newspaper editors. For years he ran the Kountze News with such controvery that a fellow newspaperman suggested that Kountze put up a sign in Fullingham's yard: "Warning! Do not arouse this crazy old man."
  • There will never be another snuff-dipper like Jerry Sadler, a politician-farmer who ran the Texas Land Commission, often from his farm at Hickory Grove in Anderson County. Sadler dipped snuff for 65 of his 74 years, starting as a youngster. Sadler contended that snuff dipping was no handicap to political success. "Texas is well-stocked with happy snuff-dippers," he said.
  • As an 18-month-old child, Claibe Applegate fell from a porch and crippled a leg for life. But, using a pair of crutches, he labored as a bandleader, postmaster, railroad agent, schoolteacher, and principal. It was as a newspaperman, however, that he left his greatest imprint. From his worn typewriter at the Panola County Watchman in Carthage came the sensitivity of a loving father, the wisdom of a patient schoolmaster, and the tartness of a tough newspaperman. He never received a high school diploma, but his legions of followers made that possible, too. In l965, seven years before his death, Applegate hobbled on crutches across an auditorium stage and received an honorary diploma from Gary High School.
  • Charlie White used to say, "Jesus don't need no hams or shoes. But there's lots of poor folks who do." It was that piece of country philosophy that prompted the former farmer to open God's Storehouse, a rickety plank building in Jacksonville that provided food for the hungry, clothing for the needed and toys for children. For years, White conducted his self-styled welfare program all by himself, often buying 30 to 40 hogs to be butchered for meat that would fill his storehouse for a year.
All Things Historical
June 20-26 , 2004 Column
Published with permission
Bob Bowman is a former president of the East Texas Historical Association and the author of 30 books on East Texas history and folklore. He lives in Lufkin
 
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