September 28, 2010

Harry Henry Choates

   Harry H. Choates, Cajun musician, was born in either Rayne or New Iberia, Louisiana, on December 26, 1922. He moved with his mother, Tave Manard, to Port Arthur, Texas, during the 1930s. Choates apparently received little formal education and spent much of his childhood in local bars, where he listened to jukebox music.

   By the time he reached the age of twelve he had learned to play a fiddle and performed for tips in Port Arthur barbershops. As early as 1940 he was playing in Cajun music bands for such entertainers as Leo Soileau and Leroy "Happy Fats" LeBlanc. Choates, who also played accordion, standard guitar, and steel guitar, preferred to play on borrowed instruments and may never have owned a musical instrument of his own.

   Around 1946 he organized a band that he called the Melody Boys. Perhaps in honor of his daughter, Linda, he rewrote an old Cajun waltz, Jolie Blonde (Pretty Blonde). He recorded the song in Houston in 1946 for the Gold Star label, owned by Bill Quinn, who mistakenly spelled the title Jole Blon. Jole Blon became a favorite in the field of country music and a standard number in Texas and Louisiana clubs and dance halls. It marked Gold Star's first national success and the only Cajun song to reach Billboard's Top 5 in any category. A year after Choates's recording, Moon Mullican, a Texas-born singer and piano player, made an even bigger hit with the song. Jole Blon, which Choates performed in the key of A instead of the traditional G, featured slurred fiddle notes and has been sung with both Cajun French and English romantic lyrics as well as nonsense lyrics with references to the "dirty rice" and "filé gumbo" of Cajun cuisine. Choates, who suffered from chronic alcoholism, sold Jole Blon for $100 and a bottle of whiskey.

   He and his Melody Boys recorded more than forty songs for Gold Star in 1946 and 1947, including Basile Waltz, Allans a Lafayette, Lawtell Waltz, Bayou Pon Pon, and Poor Hobo, but none of those records earned Choates the success he achieved with Jole Blon. He also recorded for the Mary, DeLuxe, D, O.T., Allied, Cajun Classics, and Humming Bird labels during his brief career. His recordings have been preserved on Jole Blon, an album by D Records of Houston that contains the Gold Star issues, and The Fiddle King of Cajun Swing, a compilation of Choates's works released by Arhoolie Records of El Cerrito, California, in 1982. Rufus Thibodeaux, a well-known Cajun fiddler, recorded an album entitled A Tribute to Harry Choates in the mid-1960s on the Tribute label. Choates remained popular fare on Cajun French radio stations in Jennings, Crowley, and Ville Platte, Louisiana.

   Choates, who could sing in French or English, became famous for his "Eh...ha, ha!" and "aaiee" vocal cries. A real crowd pleaser, he frequently played his amplified fiddle while dancing on the floor with his audience and stood on tiptoe while reaching for high notes. He merged traditional French Cajun music with the western swing music pioneered by such musicians as Bob Wills. He played jazz and blues as well as country music, including instrumental tunes like Rubber Dolly, Louisiana Boogie, Draggin the Bow, and Harry Choates Blues. As songwriter, instrumentalist, singer, and bandleader he raised Cajun music to national prominence.

   One observer has characterized Choates as "a Cajun Janis Joplin." Like her, he achieved a great deal of notoriety for his raucous lifestyle. Often performing while intoxicated and oblivious of his personal appearance, he wore a formerly white hat which, according to one of his band members, "looked like a hundred horses had stomped on it and then it had been stuck in a grease barrel." Choates was virtually illiterate and incurred the ire of musicians' union locals for ignoring contracts. Consequently, after the union in San Antonio blacklisted him and forced a cancellation of his bookings, his band broke up.

   By 1951 Choates had moved to Austin where he appeared with Jessie James and His Gang, a band at radio station KTBC. His estranged wife, Helen (Daenen), whom he had married in 1945, filed charges against Choates for failing to make support payments of twenty dollars a week for his son and daughter. Authorities in Austin jailed him pursuant to an order from a Jefferson County judge who found Choates in contempt of court. After three days in jail, Choates, unable to obtain liquor and completely delirious, beat his head against the cell bars, fell into a coma, and died, on July 17, 1951, at the age of twenty-eight. Although some of his fans believe his jailers may have killed him while attempting to calm him, Travis County health officer Dr. H. M. Williams determined that liver and kidney ailments caused his death. The James band played a benefit to raise money for Choates's casket, and Beaumont disk jockey Gordon Baxter secured funds to bury him in Calvary Cemetery, a Catholic cemetery in Port Arthur. Baxter and music historian Tim Knight of Groves raised money in 1979 and 1980 to purchase a granite grave marker with the inscription in Cajun French and English: "Parrain de la Musique Cajun"-"The Godfather of Cajun Music." In 1997 Choates was inducted into the Cajun French Music Association Hall of Fame. He is also honored as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast's Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. A Texas Historical Marker was dedicated in his honor at Calvary Cemetery in 2007. Source

29° 54.817, -093° 55.649

Calvary Cemetery
Port Arthur

September 24, 2010

Frost Thorn

   Frost Thorn, empresario and merchant said to have been the first Texas millionaire, was born in Glen Cove, New York, in 1793. He first came to Texas with the trading company of William Barr and Peter Samuel Davenport. On April 15, 1825, he and Haden Edwards obtained empresario contracts from the Mexican government. During the same year Thorn was married to Susan Wroe Edwards, daughter of Haden Edwards. The couple had three children. Thorn donated land for church sites, served on the board of health of Nacogdoches, aided Stephen F. Austin in getting colonists into Texas, attempted to persuade José de las Piedras to join in the revolution against Anastasio Bustamante, was elected to the state legislature of Coahuila and Texas, and was chairman of the Nacogdoches committee of vigilance and safety during the Texas Revolution. He also aided in the establishment of the University of Nacogdoches and served on the board of trustees. Thorn's chief interest was in the acquisition of land. Besides his own empresario contracts with Benjamin R. Milam and Green DeWitt, whereby he obtained a share in each of their grants from the Mexican government, he acquired additional titles to land grants until his holdings amounted to hundreds of thousands of acres. His other business activities included trade with the Indians in the areas of his landholdings, a general store in Nacogdoches operated in partnership with Haden Edwards, a bank, a salt mine, and a lumber business. Thorn also operated large farms both in Texas and in Louisiana and attempted the establishment of towns in East Texas, one of which, called Thornville, was located north of Nacogdoches. His business activities resulted in the accumulation of a fortune estimated at well over a million dollars. He died in Nacogdoches on December 3, 1854, and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery. Source

31° 36.178, -094° 38.964

Oak Grove Cemetery

September 21, 2010

Frank Mariano Tejeda

   Frank Mariano Tejeda, Jr., congressman, was born in San Antonio, Texas, on October 2, 1945. He was the son of Frank Tejeda and Lillie (Cisneros) Tejeda. Growing up in the slums of the South Side of San Antonio, young Frank experienced the difficulties of being poor. Still, he served as an altar boy at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church and attended St. Leo the Great Catholic School, played Little League athletics, participated in the Boy Scouts, and worked with his parents to earn money. As a teenager, Tejeda appeared difficult and often found himself in trouble with authorities. An indifferent student, he skipped classes, fought with school authorities, and associated himself with a tough gang. At the age of seventeen in 1963, Tejeda quit Harlandale High School and joined the United States Marine Corps.

   Frank Tejeda served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 1963 to 1967, and the experience changed his life. While serving in Vietnam in 1965 and 1966, Tejeda excelled in combat and demonstrated leadership abilities. In one incident that occurred on January 17, 1966, Sergeant Tejeda was recognized for his efforts near Da Nang when his troops managed to take an enemy position. For his performance in this action, Tejeda was awarded the Bronze Star. He also received a Purple Heart for a wound he suffered in combat a month before his tour of duty ended in 1966. In 1996 Secretary of the Navy John Dalton ordered the Navy Secretary Awards Board to review Tejeda’s record in Vietnam. The board concluded that Tejeda’s effort at the risk of his own life to save a fallen Marine in a rice paddy under fire merited awarding the Silver Star. Backed by President Bill Clinton, the Silver Star was posthumously awarded to Tejeda’s family in 1997. Before his enlistment ended in 1967, Tejeda also earned a high school equivalency diploma. After leaving active duty, he continued his military career and later attained the rank of major in the Marine Reserves. In 1972 he attended Marine Corps Officer Candidate School at Camp Quantico, Virginia, where he established records in academic and athletic activities and received the Commandant’s Trophy for achieving a superior academic average. For the rest of his life, Tejeda credited the Marine Corps for providing him discipline and a purpose.

   After receiving his discharge in 1967, Tejeda returned to Texas. He enrolled in St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and received his B.A. degree in 1970. From Texas, Tejeda went to California where he earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974. After launching his political career, he earned a master’s in public administration degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1980 and a master of law from Yale University in 1989.

   Having an interest in politics going back to Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty programs of the Great Society in the 1960s, Tejeda sought a career in public office. Running as a Democrat in San Antonio, Tejeda was elected to a seat in the Texas House of Representatives in 1976. Later described as a “conservative, pro-business Democrat with a ‘streak of social activism’,” Tejeda, with his quiet but strong manner, would be known for garnering bipartisan support throughout his political career. Serving five sessions in the House from 1977 to 1987, he emerged as a vocal opponent of pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing and the establishment of a state lottery. In Austin, he found success in sponsoring a crime victim’s bill of rights and bills creating the Texas Veteran Housing Assistance program and the Texas Research Park. In 1986 Tejeda used his position as chairman of the House Judicial Affairs Committee to launch a series of hearings on the questionable behavior of some justices of the Texas Supreme Court.

   Elected to the Texas Senate in 1986, he served there from 1987 through 1992. In the early 1990s the Texas legislature redrew the state’s congressional districts. In the aftermath of their efforts, a new Twenty-eighth District was created that took most of its votes from Hispanic sections in South San Antonio and Bexar County. Senator Tejeda fought to determine the boundaries and constituents of the new district. In September 1991 he announced he would run as a candidate in the new district. Facing no opposition in the primary and the Republicans’ refusal to field a candidate, the popular Tejeda easily defeated Libertarian David Slatter in the general election in November 1992.

   As a member of the new Congress in 1993, Frank Tejeda was assigned to the House Armed Services and the Veterans Affairs committees. In Washington, he devoted much of his efforts to veterans issues and the hardships that came with cuts in defense spending that affected the military bases in the San Antonio area. Tejeda joined Republicans against efforts to close Brooks and Kelly Air Force bases in Texas. He also endorsed the North American Free Trade Agreement but supported government aid to displaced workers.

   During his second term in Congress, Tejeda learned he had cancer. On October 3, 1995, he underwent brain surgery in an effort to have the tumor removed. Although most of the tumor was removed, doctors failed to remove all of it. In 1996 Tejeda was reelected, but his health continued to decline. In December he quit granting interviews after his speech impairment grew worse and doctors determined the tumor’s growth. Unable to return to Washington for the beginning of his third term, Frank Tejeda died at the age of fifty-one in San Antonio on January 30, 1997. Former San Antonio mayor Henry Cisneros praised Tejeda as a “warrior for our country and.…He was a warrior for his neighborhood, a warrior for San Antonio and a warrior in Congress….”

   At the time of his death, Congressman Tejeda was survived by his three children, Marisa, Sonya, and Frank Tejeda III; and his mother; three brothers, Juan, Richard, and Ernest; and sister Mary Alice Lara. His marriage to Celia Tejeda had ended in divorce. His funeral Mass at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church on San Antonio’s Southwest Side was attended by 2,500 mourners. The Vietnam War hero was buried with full military honors, including a Texas National Guard “missing man” formation flyover, at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio. The Marine Corps Reserve Association established the Frank M. Tejeda Leadership Award to be presented to congressional members who demonstrate strong commitment to national defense, leadership, and service to country. The Frank M. Tejeda VA Outpatient Clinic, the Frank Tejeda Academy, the Frank Tejeda Post Office Building, and the Frank Tejeda Park, all in San Antonio, as well as the Frank M. Tejeda Texas State Veterans Home in Floresville were named in honor of the former Marine hero and Texas congressman. Source

29° 28.586, -098° 25.976

Section AI
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

September 17, 2010

James Wales Jones

   James W. Jones was born in Columbia County, Georgia, on January 13, 1797, the son of Thomas and Sarah Jones. He and his brother, Randal Jones, were among the first of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred colonists. By January 1822 they were in what is now Washington County. In July 1822 the brothers found Jane Long on the San Jacinto River and took her to San Antonio. On August 10, 1824, James Jones received title to a league and a labor of land in what are now Fort Bend and Wharton counties; he settled in Fort Bend County near Henry Jones. James Jones's wife, Hetty (Styles), was a sister of Mrs. Henry Jones. In 1826 James Jones was aged between twenty-five and forty. Ammon Underwood visited the James Jones plantation in January 1835. Jones served in the Texas Army under Capt. Wyly Martin from March 7 to June 7, 1836. In 1840 Jones was on a committee to check fraudulent land claims in Fort Bend County. He was living at Richmond in December 1845; he died at Prairie Lea on September 29, 1847. He and his wife were reburied in the State Cemetery in 1953. Source

30° 15.940, -097° 43.642

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery

September 14, 2010

Isaac Payton Sweat

   Isaac Payton Sweat, singer and instrumentalist, was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on July 19, 1945. Ike was born into a musical family. His father, Dawdie Sweat, had played with his three brothers for many dances and events in Pineville, Louisiana, in the 1920s and 1930s. Dawdie's brother, Charly Sweat, had moved to Jefferson County, Texas, to work in the refineries. Dawdie's family joined him there. Ike grew up hearing his father and uncle playing either together or with their friends.

   Sweat began playing instruments at an early age, beginning with the banjo and then learning guitar and bass. He played in rock bands while attending Nederland High School and, after graduation, enrolled as a pre-med student at Lamar University, where he planned to minor in music. The conflict of musical nights with educational days led him to drop out of school in order to concentrate on music. In the 1960s he became the bass player for the nationally-renowned blues musician Johnny Winter. Sweat continued to play for Winter's bands (first the Crystaliers, later renamed the Coastaleers) occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s. A product of the times, Sweat dabbled with psychedelic rock before returning to country music, a genre he found nearest to his heart. Although he played ably in other genres, whenever he sang, he sang country music.

   He had his first major success in the early 1980s with a vocal cover of Al Dean's instrumental standard, Cotton-Eyed Joe. The song was popular, especially where people performed the eponymous dance. It was so popular, in fact, that Sweat became known as "Mr. Cotton-Eyed Joe." He performed regularly until his death. After returning from a show in Houston, Sweat was found shot dead in his garage in Richmond, Texas, on June 23, 1990. The case is still unsolved. Sweat is honored in the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame at the Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur. Source

29° 44.383, -095° 36.524

Section 407
Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery

September 10, 2010

Carl Nettles Reynolds

   Carl Reynolds was born into a farming family in LaRue, Texas, on February 1, 1903, the third child born to Robert and Ann (Nettles) Reynolds. He attended the local schools there, batting a reported .500 in high school. He went on to Lon Morris College, named the outstanding student there, and continued his education, earning a B.A. from Southwestern University at Georgetown, Texas. He was captain of the football team, was All-Conference, MVP on the basketball team, and excelled at track and baseball. On the diamond, Reynolds played shortstop, with occasional work at third base and on the pitching mound. He was discovered by accident by White Sox scouts in June 1926 and signed up with the team for the 1927 season.

   Reynolds worked out for about a week with the White Sox and was assigned to play for the Palestine Pals, in the Lone Star League. Palestine finished first in league standings, and Reynolds - who mostly played outfield for them - led the league in base hits (180 in the 124 games he played), and in batting average, with .376. He also stole a league-leading 32 bases. The White Sox finished in fifth place that year, 12 games behind fourth-place Detroit. They decided to give Reynolds a look in the majors and called him up in September. His major-league debut came on September 1, where he was hit by a pitch. He appeared in 14 games, playing left field exclusively, with a .214 average and seven runs batted in. It was 10 years before he returned to the minors.

   Beginning in 1931, he was traded to a new team every year - the Washington Senators (1931), the St Louis Browns (1933), the Boston Red Sox (1934-1935), back to the Washington Senators (1936) and finally, the Chicago Cubs (1937-1939), with whom he stayed the rest of his career. After a brief turn as a scout/coach for the Pacific Coast League California Angels in 1941, he retired from the game for good.

   After baseball, Reynolds retired to Wharton, Texas, where he had purchased a farm back in 1934. In 1971 Reynolds was enshrined in the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in its first year of existence. In 1990 he was inducted into the Southwestern University Hall of Honor. Carl Reynolds suffered from myelofibrosis and myeloid metaplasia for the last three years of his life, and acute blastic crisis the last six weeks. He died on May 29, 1978, at Methodist Hospital in Houston, and was buried at Wharton City Cemetery.

29° 18.601, -096° 05.490

Wharton City Cemetery

September 7, 2010

William Houston Jack

   William Houston Jack, Texas revolutionary soldier and leader and Republic of Texas congressman, was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, on April 12, 1806, the son of Patrick and Harriet (Spencer) Jack. Upon graduation from the University of Georgia in 1827 he was admitted to the bar, and in 1828 he began the practice of law in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. On May 15, 1828, he married Laura Harrison, the sister of Confederate generals Thomas and James E. Harrison. The same year he was elected to the Alabama state legislature. Jack immigrated to Texas in 1830. He arrived in San Felipe de Austin on June 2 with his seventeen-year-old bride and their infant daughter and his two younger brothers, Spencer H. and Patrick Churchill Jack. In the spring of 1832 Jack became a leader in the resistance to Mexican authority precipitated by the arrest of his brother Patrick, Monroe Edwards, and William B. Travis in the Anahuac Disturbances. On July 18, 1832, Jack and others wrote the revolutionary Turtle Bayou Resolutions stating the colonists' grievances against Col. John Davis Bradburn and Anastasio Bustamante's administration. At a mass meeting held at Brazoria on July 18 the resolutions were presented to Col. José Antonio Mexía as justification for taking arms against the Mexican government. In 1834 Jack moved to Brazoria County, where, on June 28, 1835, he was elected a member of the local committee of safety and correspondence. On August 9, 1835, he prepared a resolution presented to the jurisdiction of Columbia calling for a general consultation of non-Hispanic colonists, but the resolution was defeated.

   Jack participated in the capture of Goliad, after which, although he expressed considerable misgivings about the wisdom of attacking Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, Stephen F. Austin appointed Jack "Brigade Inspector" of the Texas army with the rank of major and ordered him to Bexar. With James Bowie, Jack commanded the Texas troops at the Grass Fight on November 26, 1835. In this engagement, Jack wrote to Gen. Edward Burleson, "the first division flanked to the right and the second to the left and in a few moments the ditch and field were cleared of every Mexican except their dead & wounded." When Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna marched into Texas, Jack sent his family to the Neches River for safety while he joined Sam Houston's army. At the battle of San Jacinto, Jack was a private in Capt. William Hester Patton's Fourth Company - the so-called Columbia Company - of Col. Sidney Sherman's Second Regiment, Texas Volunteers. He was discharged on May 30, 1836.

   On April 2 Jack was appointed secretary of state in the administration of David G. Burnet. As a cabinet member he objected strongly to the release of Santa Anna, not wishing to see him "turned loose upon the world to seek for other opportunities to glut his cannibal thirst." His health being, he wrote to Burnet, "extremely bad," Jack tendered his resignation on August 9, 1836, but remained in the cabinet until October 22, 1836, when he was elected judge of the Brazoria district court. According to Henry Millard, Stephen F. Austin was going to appoint Jack chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court if Austin had been elected president of the republic in 1836. Jack served as compiler of the laws during the administration of Mirabeau B. Lamar but resigned at the end of 1838. He was elected to the House of Representatives of the Fourth Congress of the Republic of Texas from Brazoria County and served on the State of the Republic and the Judiciary committees, 1839-40. By 1840 he owned 2,574 acres in Brazoria County, plus seventeen town lots in Velasco and two more in Brazoria, thirty-one slaves, six horses, seventy-five cattle, two gold watches, and a silver watch. At the resignation of Timothy Pillsbury, Jack was elected to the Senate of the second term of the Sixth Congress; he was reelected to the Seventh and Eighth congresses and served until 1844.

   In response to Rafael Vásquez's raid of 1842, Jack volunteered for service in Capt. John Porter Gill's company of Col. Clark L. Owen's regiment and served from March 20 until June 20, 1842. He drafted a series of resolutions favoring war with Mexico that were adopted at a public meeting in Galveston on April 24, 1842, but in July he voted against Sam Houston's war bill in the Senate because he thought the use of militia for offensive purposes to be unconstitutional. Politically, he was a member of the party of Mirabeau Lamar and was generally opposed to the policies of Sam Houston.

   Jack died of yellow fever on August 20, 1844, at the Brazoria County plantation of Hiram George Runnels. His brother Patrick had died of the same illness only sixteen days earlier, on August 4, in Houston. William H. Jack was buried on his Brazoria County plantation. Later, however, his remains were removed to Galveston and reinterred in Lakeview Cemetery. He was the father of Thomas McKinney Jack and the father-in-law of William Pitt Ballinger and Guy Morrison Bryan. Jack County was named in honor of William Houston and Patrick C. Jack. Laura Jack died at Galveston on February 24, 1877. Source

30° 15.915, -097° 43.620

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery

September 3, 2010

John Matthew Moore

   John Matthew Moore, "Jaybird," United States congressman, and cattleman, the son of Dr. Matthew A. and Henrietta (Huddlestone) Moore, was born on November 18, 1862, in Richmond, Texas. After attending the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A&M University), he became bookkeeper and salesman for a Richmond business in 1879 and managed the family farm. In 1883 he married Lottie Dyer and became manager of her land and cattle interests; they had three sons and two daughters. From 1888 to 1892 Moore was the president of the Fort Bend County Jaybird Democratic Association. He served one term in the Texas Legislature in 1896 and in 1905 was elected to the United States Congress from the Eighth District. He served on the immigration and naturalization committee and worked to secure federal aid for Texas waterways, including the first appropriation for the Houston Ship Channel. He was a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1900 and in 1916. After four terms in Congress, Moore did not seek reelection but retired in March 1913 and engaged in cattle raising on his Fort Bend County ranch until his death, on February 3, 1940. He was buried in Richmond. Source

25° 35.143, -095° 45.819

Masonic West Section
Morton Cemetery