Along with everything else, Hurricane Harvey took with it decades worth of files, maps, notes, coordinates, names and research I had on my external hard drive; so for the time being, this site will be on hiatus until I finish republishing. I will upload as I go, so each post will reappear on its original date and can be found in the Archive section in the right sidebar. If you need to contact me for any reason in the duration, my contact info is found in my profile. Wish me luck, guys. - JES

December 29, 2015

Benjamin Rush Milam

   Ben Milam, soldier, colonizer, and entrepreneur, was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, on October 20, 1788, the fifth of the six children of Moses and Elizabeth Pattie (Boyd) Milam. He had little or no formal schooling. He enlisted in the Kentucky militia and fought for several months in the War of 1812. When his period of enlistment was completed he returned to Frankfort. In 1818 he was in Texas trading with the Comanche Indians on the Colorado River when he met David G. Burnet. The two became friends. In New Orleans in 1819 Milam met José Félix Trespalacios and James Long, who were planning an expedition to help the revolutionaries in Mexico and Texas gain independence from Spain. Milam joined Trespalacios and was commissioned a colonel. While they sailed to Veracruz, Long marched to La Bahía, which he easily captured, only to discover that the people and soldiers there were revolutionaries, not Royalists. They gave him a hostile reception, and he moved on to San Antonio. In Veracruz and Mexico City, Trespalacios and Milam met with the same reception that Long had received and were imprisoned. Ultimately, with General Long, they were able to legitimatize their purposes and intentions to the new revolutionary government which, in turn, accepted and treated them with respect and generosity. Long was shot and killed by a guard under circumstances that convinced Milam that the killing was plotted by Trespalacios. Milam and several friends then planned to kill Trespalacios. The plot was discovered, however, and Milam and his friends were imprisoned in Mexico City. Through the influence of Joel R. Poinsett, United States minister, all were released.

   By the spring of 1824 Milam returned to Mexico, which now had adopted the Constitution of 1824 and had a republican form of government. In Mexico City he met Arthur G. Wavell, an Englishman who had become a general in the Mexican army. Trespalacios, now prominent in the new government also, made overtures to Milam to renew their friendship, and Milam accepted. He was granted Mexican citizenship and commissioned a colonel in the Mexican army in 1824. In 1825-26 he became Wavell's partner in a silver mine in Nuevo León; the two also obtained empresario grants in Texas. Wavell managed the mining in Mexico and leased the most productive mine to an English company, which by 1828 was unable to fulfill the terms of their contract. In 1829 Milam sought to organize a new mining company in partnership with David G. Burnet, but they were unable to raise the necessary capital.

   In April 1830 the Mexican Congress passed a law prohibiting further immigration of United States citizens into Texas. This was one reason why Milam, as Wavell's agent for his Red River colony, and Robert M. Williamson, as agent for Milam's colony, were not able to introduce the required number of settlers specified in their empresario contracts, which were due to expire in 1832. During this time Milam removed the great Red River raft of debris, which for years had blocked traffic in the upper part of the Red River for all vessels except canoes and small, flat-bottomed boats. He then purchased a steamboat, the Alps, the first of its kind to pass through the channel.

   In 1835 Milam went to Monclova, the capital of Coahuila and Texas, to urge the new governor, Agustín Viesca, to send a land commissioner to Texas to provide the settlers with land titles. Viesca agreed to do this. However, before Milam could leave the city, word came that Antonio López de Santa Anna had overthrown the representative government of Mexico, had established a dictatorship, and was en route to Texas with an army. Viesca fled with Milam, but both were captured and imprisoned at Monterrey. Milam eventually escaped and headed for the Texas border, which he reached in October 1835. By accident he encountered a company of soldiers commanded by George Collinsworth, from whom he heard of the movement in Texas for independence. Milam joined them, helped capture Goliad, and then marched with them to join the main army to capture San Antonio. While returning from a scouting mission in the southwest on December 4, 1835, Milam learned that a majority of the army had decided not to attack San Antonio as planned but to go into winter quarters. Convinced that this decision would be a disaster for the cause of independence, Milam then made his famous, impassioned plea: "Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?" Three hundred volunteered, and the attack, which began at dawn on December 5, ended on December 9 with the surrender of Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos and the Mexican army. Milam did not survive to witness the victory, however. On December 7 he was shot in the head by a sniper and died instantly. In 1897 the Daughters of the Republic of Texas erected a monument at Milam's gravesite in Milam Park, San Antonio. The marker was moved in 1976, and the location of the grave was forgotten until 1993, when a burial was unearthed that archeologists think is probably Milam's. Source

COORDINATES
29° 25.570, -098° 29.978


Milam Park
San Antonio

December 22, 2015

"Blind" Willie Johnson

   “Blind Willie” Johnson, known as the “Sightless Visionary” and bluesman and virtuoso of the "bottleneck" or slide guitar, was born near Brenham, Texas, on January 22, 1897 (according to his death certificate). He was the son of Willie and Mary (Fields) Johnson. The family moved to Marlin when he was a small child. Reportedly his mother died, and his father remarried. According to one legend, young Johnson was blinded when his stepmother threw lye at his father and some of it got in Willie’s eyes. Johnson had aspirations to be a preacher. His father made for him a cigar box guitar, and he taught himself to play. He performed at Baptist Association meetings and churches around Marlin and nearby Hearne, Texas.

   At some point Johnson moved to Dallas. He may have married Willie B. Harris, though no marriage certificate has been found. They had one daughter. Willie B. Harris sang accompaniment with Johnson on some of his recordings for Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. A second woman, Angeline (listed as Anna in the 1920 census), sister of blues guitarist L. C. “Good Rockin’” Robinson, claimed to have married Johnson in 1927. According to Johnson’s daughter, her father lived with the family in Marlin, Texas, until the late 1930s. Eventually he settled in Beaumont.

   Blind Willie made his professional debut as a gospel artist. It total, he made thirty recordings for Columbia during four sessions. He was known to his followers as a performer "capable of making religious songs sound like the blues" and of endowing his secular songs with "religious feeling." Johnson's unique voice and his original compositions influenced musicians throughout the South, especially Texas bluesmen. He sang in a "rasping false bass," and played bottleneck guitar with "uncanny left handed strength, accuracy and agility." So forceful was his voice that legend has it he was once arrested for inciting a riot simply by standing in front of the New Orleans Customs House singing If I Had My Way I'd Tear This Building Down, a chant-and-response number that stimulated great audience enthusiasm.

   Johnson's celebrity career ended with the Great Depression, after which he continued to perform as a street singer but did no further recording. A 1944 Beaumont city directory listed him as operating the House of Prayer in that city. He died in Beaumont on September 18, 1945, and was buried in Blanchette Cemetery in that city. Anna Johnson was listed as his widow in a 1947 Beaumont directory. Johnson left behind a legacy of musical masterpieces, some of which have been rerecorded on Yazoo Records. His work includes such classics as Nobody's Fault but Mine, God Don't Never Change, Mother's Children Have a Hard Time, Bye and Bye I'm Going to See the King, God Moves on the Water, Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed, and I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole.

   His recording Dark was the Night (Cold was the Ground) was among the musical selections placed on board Voyager 1 in 1977 as a representative sampling of music on Earth. Johnson’s recordings were released by Sony/Legacy in 1993 on a double CD titled Complete Blind Willie Johnson. A Texas Historical Marker honoring Johnson was dedicated at Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church (the site of Johnson’s residence and House of Prayer during the 1940s) on December 15, 2010. Johnson was also recognized as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. Source

Note: This is a cenotaph. Although Willie Johnson is known to be buried in this cemetery, the exact location has been lost over time due to poor record keeping.

COORDINATES
30° 03.062,  094° 06.206


Blanchette Cemetery
Beaumont