May 9, 2017

James Augustus "Gus" Bailey

Gus was born in 1834 to carnival folk, and employed in his father's circus once he was grown enough to perform. In late 1857, he met Mollie Kirkland while working as a cornet player in the circus band. The two fell in love, and after her parents refused to let the two marry (Mollie was only fourteen, and her parents were well-off), they eloped. They swiped a few horses and a wagon from her family's plantation - for which Mollie was promptly disinherited - and married in March, 1858. With Mollie's sister Fanny and Gus' brother Alfred joining them, the young couple formed the Bailey Family Troupe, which traveled through Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas acting, dancing and singing, until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861.

Gus enlisted in the Forty-fourth Infantry Regiment at Selma, Alabama, but was later transferred to Hood's Texas Brigade, where he served as the regiment's bandmaster. On the evening of August 28, 1862 the unit was marching through Thoroughfare Gap to the east slopes of the Bull Run Mountains, where they could see the flashes of Jackson's guns engaged at Groveton, only ten miles east. As they bed down for the night, a group of officers accidentally kicked over an empty oat barrel and sent it hurtling down the slope toward the Texas Brigade's bivouac. Frightened by the noise, a grey pack horse dashed up the hillside, still laden with frying pans, tin cups and other kitchen utensils. Aroused from their deep sleep, the veteran Texans panicked and scrambled several hundred yards downhill, tearing through a well-built fence in the process. Regaining their composure, the Texans laughed off their folly and Gus put the escapade to song. Originally called The Old Gray Mare (Came Tearing Out of the Wilderness), it became the brigade's marching song.

When the war was over, the couple traveled throughout the South and then by riverboat with the Bailey Concert Company. Bailey's circus was a success, and at its peak claimed 31 wagons and about 200 animals, including camels and elephants. The circus primarily toured small towns and became well known throughout the state for being free of the cheating and con games typical of other carnivals, as well as it's practice of giving free tickets to veterans, both Union and Confederate.

Gus became chronically ill, and, permanently weakened, was forced to retire from the day-to-day operations. He stayed at the circus' winter grounds in Blum while Mollie took over the business entirely. He died on November 10, 1900 and was buried with military honors in Houston's Evergreen Cemetery.

GPS Coordinates
29° 44.306, -095° 19.317

Section B1
Evergreen Cemetery
Houston

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