February 28, 2012

Nimrod Lindsay Norton

Nimrod Lindsay Norton, government official, was born near Carlisle, Nicholas County, Kentucky, on April 18, 1830, the son of Hiram and Nancy (Spencer) Norton. He was educated at Fredonia Military Academy in New York and Kentucky Military Institute. On October 27, 1853, he was married to Mary C. Hall in Nicholas County; they had eight children. The family moved to Missouri, where he farmed. At the beginning of the Civil War Norton organized one of the first companies north of the Missouri River for the defense against federal troops. In May 1864 he was chosen as one of the Missouri representatives in the Confederate States Congress. After the war he returned to Missouri. In 1867 he and his family moved to DeWitt County, Texas, then to Salado, in Bell County, where in 1873 Norton was a charter member of the Grange, an agrarian order that powerfully influenced the Constitutional Convention of 1875.

A section of the Constitution of 1876 provided for the designation, survey, and sale of 3,050,000 acres of public land in the High Plains to pay for the construction of a new Capitol. Governor Oran Milo Roberts selected Norton as commissioner to supervise the survey of that land for the state in July 1879. With surveyors and a ranger escort, Norton made the necessary land surveys, which opened the Llano Estacado to settlement. In his diary (from August to December 1879) and in his letters to Governor Roberts, Norton described the country, the daily camp life, and the flora and fauna that the survey party encountered. In 1880 he was appointed a member of the three-man Capitol building commission, which considered eleven designs submitted for the Capitol, made a survey of various quarries in the Austin area, and studied qualities of various building materials. On February 1, 1882, Norton and another Capitol building commissioner, Joseph Lee, shoveled the first spade of dirt for the beginning of construction. Norton with his two business partners, W.H. Westfall and G. W. Lacy, ended the limestone-granite controversy by donating all the red granite needed for construction from Granite Mountain in Burnet County.

Although Norton had purchased land in the Montopolis area in 1872 and journeyed to Austin to supervise the annual Travis County fairs, he continued to live in Salado. He and his family were living in Austin later, however, and in 1893 he built a large home north of the site of the present Travis County Courthouse. He died on September 28, 1903, in Austin and was buried in Oakwood Cemetery there.

GPS Coordinates
30° 16.605, -097° 43.587

Section 3
Oakwood Cemetery
Austin

February 21, 2012

"Blind" Lemon Jefferson

Lemon Henry Jefferson, a seminal blues guitarist and songster, was born on a farm in Couchman, near Wortham, Freestone County, Texas, in the mid-1890s. Sources differ as to the exact birthdate. Census records indicate that he was born on September 24, 1893, while apparently Jefferson himself wrote the date of October 26, 1894, on his World War I draft registration. He was the son of Alec and Clarissy Banks Jefferson. His parents were sharecroppers. There are numerous contradictory accounts of where Lemon lived, performed, and died, complicated further by the lack of photographic documentation; to date, only two photographs of him have been identified, and even these are misleading. The cause of his blindness isn't known, nor whether he had some sight.

Little is known about Jefferson's early life. He must have heard songsters and bluesmen, like Henry "Ragtime Texas" Thomas and "Texas" Alexander. Both Thomas and Alexander traveled around East Texas and performed a variety of blues and dance tunes. Clearly, Jefferson was an heir to the blues songster tradition, though the specifics of his musical training are vague. Legends of his prowess as a bluesman abound among the musicians who heard him, and sightings of Jefferson in different places around the country are plentiful.

By his teens, he began spending time in Dallas. About 1912 he started performing in the Deep Ellum and Central Track areas of Dallas, where he met Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, one of the most legendary musical figures to travel and live in Texas. In interviews he gave in the 1940s, Lead Belly gave various dates for his initial meeting with Jefferson, sometimes placing it as early as 1904. But he mentioned 1912 most consistently, and that seems plausible. Jefferson would then have been eighteen or nineteen years old. The two became musical partners in Dallas and the outlying areas of East Texas. Lead Belly learned much about the blues from Blind Lemon, and he had plenty to contribute as a musician and a showman.

Though Jefferson was known to perform almost daily at the corner of Elm Street and Central Avenue in Dallas, there is no evidence that he ever lived in the city. The 1920 census shows him living in Freestone County with an older half-brother, Nit C. Banks, and his family. Jefferson's occupation is listed as "musician" and his employer as "general public." Sometime after 1920, Jefferson met Roberta Ransom, who was ten years his senior. They married in 1927, the year that Ransom's son by a previous marriage, Theaul Howard, died. Howard's son, also named Theaul, remained in the area and retired in nearby Ferris, Texas.

In 1925 Jefferson was discovered by a Paramount recording scout and taken to Chicago to make records. Though he was not the first folk (or "country") blues singer-guitarist, or the first to make commercial recordings, Jefferson was the first to attain a national audience. His extremely successful recording career began in 1926 and continued until 1929. He recorded 110 sides (including all alternate takes), of which seven were not issued and six are not yet available in any format. In addition to blues, he recorded two spiritual songs, I Want to be Like Jesus in My Heart and All I Want is That Pure Religion, released under the pseudonym Deacon L.J. Bates. Overall, Jefferson's recordings display an extraordinary virtuosity. His compositions are rooted in tradition, but are innovative in his guitar solos, his two-octave vocal range, and the complexity of his lyrics, which are at once ironic, humorous, sad, and poignant.

Jefferson's approach to creating his blues varied. Some of his songs use essentially the same melodic and guitar parts. Others contain virtually no repetition. Some are highly rhythmic and related to different dances, the names of which he called out at times between or in the middle of stanzas. He made extensive use of single-note runs, often apparently picked with his thumb, and he played in a variety of keys and tunings.


Jefferson is widely recognized as a profound influence upon the development of the Texas blues tradition and the growth of American popular music. His significance has been acknowledged by blues, jazz, and rock musicians, from Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and T-Bone Walker to Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong, Carl Perkins, Jefferson Airplane, and the Beatles. Among Jefferson's most well-known songs are Matchbox Blues, See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, That Black Snake Moan, Mosquito Blues, One Dime Blues, Tin Cup Blues, Hangman's Blues, 'Lectric Chair Blues, and Black Horse Blues. All of Blind Lemon Jefferson's recordings have been reissued by Document Records.

Jefferson died in Chicago on December 22, 1929, and was buried in the Wortham Negro Cemetery. His grave was unmarked until 1967, when a Texas Historical Marker was dedicated to him. Musicologist Alan Lomax and Mance Lipscomb were among those in attendance at the dedication ceremony. Jefferson was inducted in the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980. In 1997 the town of Wortham began a blues festival named for the singer, and a new granite headstone was placed at his gravesite. The inscription included lyrics from one of the bluesman's songs: "Lord, it's one kind favor I'll ask of you. See that my grave is kept clean." In 2007 the name of the cemetery was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
31° 47.863, -096° 27.804


Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery
Wortham

February 14, 2012

William George Harrell

World War II Medal of Honor recipient William George Harrell was born on June 26, 1922, in Rio Grande City, Texas, to Roy E. and Hazel Marian (Culber) Harrell. His father served in the cavalry in World War I, worked as a ranch hand, and patrolled the Mexican border as an employee of the Bureau of Immigration. After the death of Roy Harrell in 1931, Hazel Harrell was left to support William, his older brother Dick, and his sister Virginia. As a youngster, Harrell attended school in Rio Grande City and in Mercedes. In junior high school, he was a member of the Boy Scouts. Like his father, Harrell developed a love for horses. He also enjoyed camping and hunting and spent much of his time boating at a local lake. He worked in the summer at various jobs including a stint on a ranch. In 1939 Harrell graduated from Mercedes High School and enrolled at Texas A&M University.

In September 1939 Harrell arrived at Texas A&M and remained there for four semesters. With an interest in the scientific breeding of horses and cattle, he selected animal husbandry as his field of study and selected the cavalry as his military science requirement. An aunt provided some financial support, but Harrell understood that he had to finance his own way. After two years in College Station, he decided to seek employment in order to pay for his the rest of his education. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he sought to join the military.

After being rejected twice by the United States Army Air Corps due to color blindness and once by the United States Navy, Harrell enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in July 1942. He took basic training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego and received training as an armorer at Camp Elliott. After completing the basic rocket course, Harrell was assigned to Company A, Twenty-eighth Marine Regiment, Fifth Marine Division in early 1943.

After additional training in Hawaii and then Saipan, Sergeant Harrell hit the beach on Iwo Jima with the Twenty-eighth in the early hours of February 19, 1945. The Fifth Division was ordered to the southern part of the island facing Mount Suribachi. The marines had taken Mount Suribachi and one of the two airfields by February 24. In the early morning of March 3, Harrell and fellow Texan PFC Andrew J. Carter of Paducah manned a foxhole in a perimeter defense about twenty yards in front of the company command post. At about 5:00 A.M., the enemy attacked. Carter shot first and killed four Japanese moving toward him. Sergeant Harrell rapidly fired his carbine and killed two Japanese that had emerged from a ravine. After Carter’s rifle jammed, Harrell ordered him to the rear to secure another one. Fighting alone and ignoring the dangers of enemy grenades landing near him, Harrell fought the Japanese and took enemy fire that shot off his left hand and fractured his thigh. After securing a rifle, Carter returned to aid Harrell. Unable to reload his rifle, Harrell drew a pistol with his right hand to kill a Japanese officer who slashed Carter’s hand with a samurai sword. Convinced his comrade might bleed to death, Harrell ordered him to the command post. Although exhausted and injured, Harrell found the strength to kill two more Japanese charging him; one with pistol fire and the other with a grenade that exploded and tore off his (Harrell’s) right hand. After the fighting, medics found Harrell and twelve dead Japanese by him. Harrell’s commander called the position the “two-man Alamo.” For their heroics, Harrell received the Medal of Honor, and Carter received the Navy Cross.

First treated for his wounds at the Army Hospital Station on Iwo Jima, Harrell was later moved to a U.S. Naval hospital at Pearl Harbor and then to the U.S. Naval Hospital at Mare Island, California. While undergoing treatment and rehabilitation at the Mare Island Hospital, Harrell met Larena Anderson, a clerical worker at the local naval base. They married on February 16, 1946. Their son William Carter was born in 1947 and daughter Linda Gail in 1948. President Harry S. Truman presented the Medal of Honor to Harrell in a ceremony at the White House on October 5, 1945.

With his new bride William Harrell returned to Mercedes, Texas, in early 1946 and was welcomed home as a hero. The local Kiwanis Club along with several other groups raised $25, 000 for the marine hero to purchase a ranch. Harrell accepted a job with the Veterans Administration as a contact representative and relocated to San Antonio where he purchased a home. Equipped with general hooks for hands, Harrell appeared to have adapted well after the war. He later served as the chief of the Prosthetic Appliance Group with the Veterans Administration, worked with disabled veterans, and was a frequent speaker to groups and an advocate for disabled veterans. Harrell’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1951 he married Olive Cortese; they had two children - Christie Lee and Gary Douglas.

Tragically, William Harrell used a rifle to kill Ed and Geraldine Zumwalt and then himself in the early morning hours of August 9, 1964 at his home in San Antonio. Ed Zumwalt, who had lost part of his leg during the Korean War, had known Harrell for about a year. Friends of Harrell and the Zumwalts knew of no friction between them. Dr. Ruben Santos, the medical examiner, stated a motive “probably never will be established.” William Harrell was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery on August 11, 1964.

Harrell has been honored in a various ways. In Mercedes, Texas, a monument of Harrell stands in the center of town, and the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps building is named for him. Texas A&M named a dormitory William G. Harrell Hall, placed a large bronze plaque of him in the Sam Houston Sanders Corps of Cadets Center, and hung an artist’s portrait of him with a specimen Medal of Honor and the citation for his medal in the Memorial Student Center. On December 11, 2015, the Mercedes ISD rededicated the new North Middle School as the William George Harrell Middle School in his honor.

Citation
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as leader of an assault group attached to the 1st Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division during hand-to-hand combat with enemy Japanese at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, on 3 March 1945. Standing watch alternately with another marine in a terrain studded with caves and ravines, Sgt. Harrell was holding a position in a perimeter defense around the company command post when Japanese troops infiltrated our lines in the early hours of dawn. Awakened by a sudden attack, he quickly opened fire with his carbine and killed 2 of the enemy as they emerged from a ravine in the light of a star shellburst. Unmindful of his danger as hostile grenades fell closer, he waged a fierce lone battle until an exploding missile tore off his left hand and fractured his thigh. He was vainly attempting to reload the carbine when his companion returned from the command post with another weapon. Wounded again by a Japanese who rushed the foxhole wielding a saber in the darkness, Sgt. Harrell succeeded in drawing his pistol and killing his opponent and then ordered his wounded companion to a place of safety. Exhausted by profuse bleeding but still unbeaten, he fearlessly met the challenge of 2 more enemy troops who charged his position and placed a grenade near his head. Killing 1 man with his pistol, he grasped the sputtering grenade with his good right hand, and, pushing it painfully toward the crouching soldier, saw his remaining assailant destroyed but his own hand severed in the explosion. At dawn Sgt. Harrell was evacuated from a position hedged by the bodies of 12 dead Japanese, at least 5 of whom he had personally destroyed in his self-sacrificing defense of the command post. His grim fortitude, exceptional valor, and indomitable fighting spirit against almost insurmountable odds reflect the highest credit upon himself and enhance the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

GPS Coordinates
29° 28.572, -098° 25.794

Section W
Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery
San Antonio

February 7, 2012

Stephen Heard Darden

Stephen Heard Darden, public official and soldier, son of Washington Lee and Ann (Sharkey) Darden, was born in Fayette County, Mississippi, on November 19, 1816. He traveled to Texas in 1836 as a volunteer under Capt. David M. Fulton for service in the Texas Revolution. Darden served as clerk in the office of the comptroller in September 1836. He returned to Madison County, Mississippi, in the early 1840s but was back in Texas in 1841 and purchased land on the Guadalupe River in Gonzales County. He represented the county for two terms in the state House of Representatives and once in the state Senate.

In 1861, as a state senator, he initially opposed secession but finally voted with the majority; at the coming of the Civil War he was elected first lieutenant of Company A of the Fourth Texas Infantry in Hood's Texas Brigade. He served under colonels Robert T.P. Allen, John Bell Hood, and John F. Marshall. He was elected captain of his company on May 20, 1862, but after the battle of Antietam that September he resigned due to ill health. Darden was the appointed colonel in command of the Fifth Infantry regiment of state troops on the Texas Gulf Coast in 1863 and, upon the death of John A. Wilcox, was elected to fill the unexpired term in the Second Confederate Congress, where he took his seat on November 21, 1864. As a Confederate congressman Darden served on the Naval Affairs Committee. As a firm states'-rights advocate he opposed the growth of the central government of the Confederate States of America and thus generally voted against the Jefferson Davis administration. While he supported higher taxation, a larger army, and a powerful commander-in-chief, he fought against taxation in kind, centralized control over transportation and production, and the confiscation of slaves for public works.

Darden was financially ruined by the war and apparently returned to his Gonzales County farm. When Reconstruction ended he was appointed comptroller of public accounts and served from 1873 to 1879. He recommended that the school money be invested in state bonds and thus raised the bonds to par. Although he retired from office in January 1881 because of his age, he accepted the chief clerkship in his old department. He was appointed superintendent of public buildings and grounds on February 9, 1884, and chief clerk of the comptroller's department in January 1887. He assisted in organizing the state Democratic party in 1871 and was secretary of the Texas Veterans Association from 1886 until his death. Darden may have been married four times; the last time to Catherine Mays in March 1862. He died at Wharton on May 16, 1902, and was buried in the State Cemetery, Austin.

Note
The birth date on his stone is incorrect.

GPS Coordinates
30° 15.920, -097° 43.651

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery
Austin