March 24, 2015

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

A multi-faceted musician whose eclectic tastes reflected the great diversity of musical styles found throughout the Southwest, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown was born in Vinton, Louisiana, on April 18, 1924. Brown’s father, who was one of his strongest musical influences and taught young Clarence to play piano, fiddle, and guitar, was a railroad worker and a local musician who played country, Cajun, and bluegrass. Throughout his career, Gatemouth Brown performed a variety of musical styles on a broad array of instruments, including guitar, fiddle, piano, drums, mandolin, harmonica, and viola.

As a youth who grew up in Southeast Texas near Orange, Brown absorbed the country, bluegrass, R&B, Czech and German polka, Cajun, and early jazz and swing that could be heard throughout the Texas-Louisiana border region. By the time he was five years old, he had learned to play fiddle, and by age ten he was performing on guitar. By the time he was a teenager, Brown played the drums in territory swing bands where he was given the nickname “Gatemouth” because of his deep voice.

After returning from military service following World War II, Brown first relocated to San Antonio and then eventually to Houston where he found work at the Bronze Peacock nightclub. During a T-Bone Walker concert there in 1947, Walker became ill and could not finish his show. Brown went onstage, picked up his guitar, and proceeded to play Gatemouth Boogie, to which the audience responded very enthusiastically. The club owner, Don Robey, also was impressed and arranged for Brown to sign a recording contract with the Los Angeles record label Aladdin. Brown’s first singles for Aladdin were not as successful as he had hoped, so Robey decided to start his own label, Peacock Records, in order to market Brown’s music. Brown’s first single with Peacock, Mary is Fine, hit Number 8 on the R&B charts in 1949. Soon afterwards, Robey picked Brown to be the front man for a twenty-three-piece orchestra that toured throughout the South. During his time with Peacock, Brown recorded a number of hits, including Okie Dokie Stomp, Ain’t That Dandy, Boogie Rambler, Depression Blues, and Dirty Work at the Crossroads.


By the late 1950s Brown had become frustrated with the limitations of being strictly a blues and R&B musician and decided to finally part ways with Robey and Peacock Records by 1961. However, throughout the 1960s Brown had difficulty finding other work as a musician, something he blamed in part on his strained relations with the influential Robey. During this period, Brown held a variety of jobs. He worked as bandleader on the Dallas syndicated R&B television show The !!!! Beat in 1966. In the late 1960s he was a deputy sheriff in New Mexico. At one point he moved to Nashville where he appeared a few times on the popular country music television show Hee Haw. It was also in Nashville that Brown released his first series of country singles. He later recorded a well-received album, Makin’ Music, with Roy Clark in 1979.

In the 1970s Brown was able to restart his career, this time performing the broad range of styles for which he would become famous, including country, jazz, and Cajun, as well as the blues and R&B he had played earlier. Brown also began touring again, not only throughout the United States, but also in Europe and around the world. On several stints he toured as a music ambassador for the United States State Department.

During the late 1970s Brown signed with Real Records, and by the 1980s he was enjoying success recording for both Alligator and Rounder Records. In 1982 Brown’s Alright Again received a Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album. He also appeared several times on the PBS television series Austin City Limits. Brown’s second release through Rounder Records, One More Mile (1982), along with the re-release of his earlier Peacock recordings, brought him more acclaim. Brown won eight W.C. Handy Awards. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1997 and was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1999. Brown’s independent spirit and eclectic repertoire influenced a variety of other musicians, including Guitar Slim, Albert Collins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Brown’s wide-ranging tastes also helped broaden the parameters of blues music and redefine the entire blues repertoire.

In the summer of 2004 Brown was diagnosed with lung cancer. Since he was given only a 15 percent chance to survive after chemotherapy, he decided against treatment. His final album, Timeless, was released on the Hightone label in 2004. Despite failing health, Brown continued to perform at various festivals, including the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in April 2005. After being displaced by Hurricane Katrina, he died at his brother’s home in Orange, Texas, on September 10, 2005. Brown was given a military funeral due to his honorable discharge following World War II, and he was laid to rest at the Hollywood Cemetery in Orange, Texas. During his lifetime, Brown had married and divorced three times. His survivors included four children, Renee, Ursula, Celeste, and Dwayne. Brown is honored as a music legend in the Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame in Port Arthur. A Texas Historical Marker honoring Brown was dedicated at his gravesite in 2012.

GPS Coordinates
30° 06’14.1, W -093° 43’40.8

Hollywood Community Cemetery
Orange

March 17, 2015

Mills M. Battle

Mills M. Battle, early settler and public official, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 20, 1800. He was a partner of M. Berry and John Williams, Sr., as one of the families of the Old Three Hundred. One sitio of land now in Matagorda County was deeded to them by the Baron de Bastrop on August 10, 1824. Battle was a carpenter and contractor in business with Berry at San Felipe de Austin, where he voted in alcalde elections as early as December 1824, and where he himself was alcalde in 1827. The census of March 1826 listed him as a married man with a small daughter. His wife, Mary, died before August 26, 1837. Battle was president of the election at Stafford's Prairie to choose delegates to the Convention of 1836. He was justice of the peace of Fort Bend County in 1837-38 and in 1839 was deputy clerk of the probate court. He met with other citizens of the county at Richmond in 1839 to appoint delegates to a railroad meeting at Fayetteville. Battle married Mrs. Treasy Springer on December 29, 1842. He was notary public in Fort Bend County in 1843 and county clerk in 1851. He participated in meetings to nominate Sam Houston for president in 1841 and James B. Miller for governor in 1847. Battle died at Richmond on January 15, 1856, and is buried in Morton cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
29° 35.133, -095° 45.824

Division B
Morton Cemetery
Richmond

March 10, 2015

George Washington Smyth

George Washington Smyth, early Texas surveyor and signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, son of a German millwright father and a Scots-Irish mother, was born on May 16, 1803, in North Carolina. After moving to Alabama and Tennessee as a child, he left for Texas in 1828 against the wishes of his parents. He crossed the Sabine River on February 11, 1830, and briefly taught school at Nacogdoches before securing an appointment in 1830 as surveyor for Bevil's Settlement from Thomas Jefferson Chambers, surveyor general.

In 1832 Smyth and seven other Bevil-area residents, upon hearing of the Anahuac Disturbances, went to the scene but arrived after the excitement was over. Smyth married Frances M. Grigsby in 1834; they had seven children. Smyth became surveyor in 1834 for George A. Nixon, recently named commissioner of the Zavala, Vehlein, and Burnet colonies. He also served as land commissioner at Nacogdoches, where he remained until the office of land commissioner was closed on December 19, 1835. He was appointed first judge of Bevil Municipality by the General Council of the Provisional Government.

Independence Hall, location of the Declaration signing
After being elected a member of the Convention of 1836 by the residents of Jasper Municipality, Smyth signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and raised sixteen men, but they arrived at San Jacinto after the battle was over. Smyth and his family took part in the Runaway Scrape. Mirabeau B. Lamar appointed Smyth to the boundary commission that was to set the Texas-United States boundaries in 1839. He was also elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1844 and avidly supported annexation. In addition he took part in the convention that drew up the Constitution of 1845.

Smyth became the second commissioner of the General Land Office in March 1848, a position he retained for four years. As Democratic elector for president, he voted for Franklin Pierce in the 1852 election. The following year he won a seat in the Thirty-third United States Congress, but he did not seek reelection in 1855. He returned to his farm in Jasper County and by the eve of the Civil War had amassed an estate valued at $27,000, which included twenty-eight slaves. Smyth opposed secession, although his sons served with Confederate troops. After the Civil War, he went to Austin as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1866. He died in Austin on February 21, 1866, and was buried in the State Cemetery. In 1936 the Texas Centennial Commission erected a marker at the Smyth home, built 100 years earlier in Jasper County at the junction of Big Run and Little Walnut Run.

GPS Coordinates
30° 15.934, -097° 43.645

Republic Hill
Texas State Cemetery
Austin

March 3, 2015

Edward Miles

Edward Miles, Texas army soldier and clerk, son of Edward Miles, was born in Natchez, Mississippi, in 1816. The family moved to Texas in 1829 and settled at Old River, at the head of Galveston Bay. Miles took part in the Anahuac Disturbances in 1832. After his father's death in 1833 he went back to Natchez for a time, but at the outbreak of the Texas Revolution he returned to Texas; he served in the battle of San Jacinto under Capt. William Wood. He continued in the army and on September 10, 1836, was transferred to the company of Capt. Thomas Pratt.

Miles enlisted in the United States Army in 1846 and was in charge of ammunition at the battle of Palo Alto during the Mexican War. He was in the Confederate service in some capacity during the entire Civil War, first as clerk to the secession commissioners at San Antonio, then as clerk in the ordnance department, as chief clerk in the quartermaster's department in Arkansas, and as agent's clerk for receiving and shipping cotton on the Rio Grande.

On October 31, 1850, Miles married Mary Ann Soye, a ward of John McMullen; they had one daughter. Miles held various official positions in San Antonio and Bexar County and was a member of the Texas Veterans Association. He died in San Antonio on April 1, 1889.

GPS Coordinates
29° 24.988, -098° 27.899


St Mary's Cemetery
San Antonio