Robert Thomas Haile (1846-1931)
The fifteen-year-old Tom Haile seems to have thought
he lived in Kentucky. Actually, his father's store lay just south of
the obscure wilderness border in the mountains of Tennessee. Some rebels may
have been obtaining supplies there. When Federal troops entered
the Cumberland Valley they seized the storekeeper and sent him off to political
detention in Ohio. His son, perhaps with some adolescent hope of
setting things straight, joined the militia. So Tom soon found himself in the new Confederate Army, under a Nashville journalist and sometime Tennessee congressman just recently appointed general, Felix Zollicoffer.
FLIGHT TO TEXAS
Zollicoffer had grown up on bounty land received by his grandfather in the Revolutionary War. He had attended the little college in
nearby Columbia, but quit at age sixteen and was apprenticed
printer. He went on to become a journalist and eventually owner of a newspaper in
Knoxville. Prominent in Tennessee politics, Zollicoffer was eventually elected to Congress.
Aready while six southern states were following South Carolina in secession from the Union, a
hundred or so delegates from across the nation were assembling in Washington as a "Peace
Conference." For about three weeks in February, while Buchanan was still president, these statesmen were seeking some way to reconcile the
Constitution's commitment to state sovereignty with the abolitionist demands which awaited Buchanan's successor. As the Inauguration of a new president loomed, the Peace Conference looked
anxiously to the border states, but above all to Virginia and Tennessee, in hopes of restoring the Union.
Felix Zollicoffer was prominent among the unionists. The opening
words of Lincoln's Inaugural Address strengthened their hopes:
I do but quote from one of [my] speeches when I declare that "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere
with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I
believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do
so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that
I had made this and many similar declarations, and had never recanted
them. --Lincoln on 4 March 1861
Zollicoffer, a loyal citizen both of the United States and of his
home state, was still in the Tennessee State militia at that time. Within just a few weeks, the burning of Fort Sumter in South Carolina precipitated a
Proclamation which threatened to divide just such allegiances as his:
Now, therefore, I, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, President of the United States,
in virtue of the power in me vested by the Constitution and the laws,
have thought fit to call forth, and hereby do call forth, the militia of
the several States of the Union, to the aggregate number of
seventy-five thousand, in order to suppress said [secession], and to
cause the laws to be duly executed.
The details for this object will be
immediately communicated to the State authorities through the War
Department. --Lincoln on 15 April 1861
Like many fellow Tennesseans,
Zollicoffer had strongly opposed
secession. He still entertained hope after Tennessee joined the
Confederacy in June. The governor transferred his militia into Confederate service, and in July, Zollicoffer found himself in command
of the District of East Tennessee. On August 1 the general received the assignment to "preserve
peace, protect the railroad, and repel
invasion." If that was not sufficiently perplexing, East Tennessee was
not a slaveholding area, and its population (like Zolly's own soldiers)
were not particularly sympathetic to the
In the fall, Zolly--as the young general was known among his troops--was
stationed at the Cumberland
Gap. That winter he received orders to procede across the river
to resist Union forces advancing into Kentucky. This rash
move precipitated the Battle of Mills
Springs, the first major engagement of the War, and the first Southern defeat after
Bull Run. On a dark January day, in light rain, the woefully nearsighted Nashville news editor was slogging through a wooded area when he came upon a detachment firing upon his own men. He rode up to the officers and sternly
commanded them to desist. Colonel Speed S. Fry of the Union
Army shot the Confederate general dead. This was not the only irony of the situation.
Zolly's advance across the Cumberland River had been ordered by
General George B. Crittenden. Like Zollicoffer, Crittenden
was grandson of a Revolutionary
veteran, but his bounty land lay in
Kentucky. Crittenden's father, John Jordan
(1812-1863), was a protégé of Henry Clay, also distinguished by his life-long success at peaceful
compromise. Having studied at William and Mary (literature,
mathematics and law) Crittenden had been elected to the Kentucky legislature, where he
rose to Speaker. He was appointed to the United States Senate in
three (non-consecutive) terms, all the while his country was breaking apart. The party division of the previous nine presidential elections (Democrat vs. Whig) at last collapsed in 1860, with
election of a third party candidate, Abraham Lincoln. When Lincoln professed a desire to reunite his country, Senator
Crittenden was in full support of the Inaugural Address. He was author of the Crittenden
Resolution (25 July 1861) backing Lincoln's promise with Congressional authority.
But as we have seen, resentments hardened during the early months of the new presidency, so that by December a rump Congress repealed the Crittenden Resolution. Its backers assembled a new package of bills called The Crittenden
Compromise, seeking to appease the South by means of Constitutional assurances, but it, too, was rejected (its effect might have been something
similar to the Missouri Compromise). Already in February an editorial in the Charleston [Missouri]
Courier had summed up the mood in the crucial border states:
Men at Washington think
there is no chance for peace, and indeed we can see but little,
everything looks gloomy. The Crittenden resolutions have been voted down
again and again. Is there any other proposition which will win, that
the South can accept? If not—there comes war—and woe to the wives and
daughters of our land; beauty will be but an incentive to crime, and
plunder but pay for John Brown raids. Let our citizens be prepared for
the worst, it may come.
The statesman's lifetime of disappointment was ironically reflected in the accomplishments of his sons.
John Jordan Crittenden, 1787-1863
The younger, Thomas Leonidas, a
Major General in the Kentucky State Guard, was commissioned
Brigadier in 1861, and called upon to put down the Rebels who had taken
up arms in Louisville. In the subsequent year he
participated in the Union victory at Stone's River, then in the Union defeat at Chickamauga.* His older brother, also a career soldier, was the above mentioned Confederate General George B. Crittenden under whose command Zolly died. He had fought under Sam Houston in the Army of the Republic
of Texas. After the Battle of Perryville, George B. had accompanied Bragg's
circuit down into Mississippi and back up to Murphreesboro,
Tennessee. In the cold, rainy days between
Christmas 1862 and New Years, at the bloody but inconclusive Battle of
Stone's River, a "Corporal Thomas Hail" was reported missing
(from Company D, 4th Tennessee). The boy was
imprisoned at Camp Douglas, near Chicago, where he celebrated his sixteenth
birthday in April. Perhaps he was lucky enough to be exchanged: his daughter
reports that he was made a
of war three more times, and wounded once.
By the time the young prisoner was finally released at the end of
April 1865, he had got word that his father was still imprisoned in Ohio. He reported
to my mother that he had made it to Camp Chase and had carved the family name on his father's coffin. The dying father's "last words" were passed on to me by his son's own grandson, then an old man in a Texas nursing home. Rudolph spoke
them in the low rasp of confidentiality typical of the Haile menfolk.
"Always tell the truth Tom, to a hair's breadth." That long
remembered admonition must be pronounced with the dark, almost
diphthongal "Towm," and the very open "hair's brayudth."
*Thomas Leonidas's son, John Jordan Crittenden III, died with Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Tom was nineteen when he finally got back
home to Flynns Lick. He is
been the one who cared for his older brother Lafayette, incapacitated by
"shell shock." I have no further report of the young man in Tennessee. A half dozen years
later, the Comanche Chief out in
Texas reports the arrival of one R. T. Haile:
In the early spring of 1873, J.F. CHILDRESS, John FALLS, Joe MORGAN, M.A.
DRY, R.T. HAILE, S.A. BRIANT and Gus RODGERS arrived from Arkansas while
Jessie HILL, Emanuel DUNN, Wm. DUNN and J.W. DUNN left the eastern part of
the county, where they had been living several years and joined forces with
the young Sipe Springs settlement.
Two years later it records
his acceptance into the Masonic Lodge.
It was also Rudolph who
that his grandfather had come to Texas on account of
trouble" (also in a seriously confidential tone). In his "for
your ears only" whisper, Rudolph
suggested to me that there had been a killing. Such a
story might accord with the peopling of Texas, for so went the song:
what was your name
in the States?
Was it Johnson or Thompson or Gates?
Did you murder your wife and
run for your life?
Oh, what was your name in the States?
But the Hailes appear to have come to Texas the same way they came out
to Tennessee, as an extended family. At least three of Amon's
sons came to Texas after the War, and
three of his daughters were brought there by marriage--these
R. T.'s aunts and uncles. Of his own generation, two brothers and
During the earlier migration to Tennessee, families had tended to bunch
together, intermarrying only among their own people (including
cousins), but the remnants
straggling into Texas after the War scattered like dust over the Cross
story may help us with the discrepancy in R. T.'s name. R. T.'s daughter
Pearl, having married
into Texas oil money, entered her father into the Biographies of Texas--under the
name Randolph Thomas. Some
her information on her father may be valid, but she is
sometimes wrong, sometimes absurd. Pearl's oldest son, the grandson
closest to R.T.,
made a special trip back
to the old
man's home in Flynns Lick and left copious, if not
always quite accurate
notes. He recalls his grandfather's
Robert Thomas. The
name on the death
certificate I examined in Eastland County is R.T. Haile, that is
the name his sons knew him by, and it is the name inscribed on his handsome
Oakland Cemetery not far from Duster, Texas, a few miles south of old
Incidentally, the death certificate gives R.T.'s
birthplace as "Kentucky," a palpable mistake but one which
probably reflected R.T.'s own, still unrevised family lore. Back when
the family had left Virginia in the eighteenth century, "Kentucky"
designated the great wilderness to the southwest. Boundaries through the Cumberland Mountains remained long obscure.
It is also possible that both "Randolph" and
"Robert" are just conjectures. The name "R.T." does not appear at all in Tennessee, where everyone knew the boy
simply as Tom. The 1860
Tennessee census enters the 14-year-old as Thomas. It is "Thomas
Hail" who is reported missing after the Battle of Stone's River in
1863. As a
man on the range west of the Brazos, he was known to hands as "old Tom
Haile." The first
attestation I find for "R.T." is that in the
Comanche Chief of September
21st, 1873. Tom Haile may actually be one of
the many men who took a new name in a new territory--or perhaps just a new initial.
By the time his own grandfather,
Amon, died in 1867, Tom was long gone from Flynns Lick. Tom's route probably took him down
the Cumberland to the Ohio, across the
Mississippi, then down the Southwest Trail into the foothills of the
Oachitas, where Virginians had settled before the
War. Once upon a time, having grown thirsty in the barrens, Tom came upon a huge
tree and found plenty of water
in the crater beneath its roots. He climbed down and drank his
fill. When clambering back up on the other side he discovered the
carcass of a cow lying in the same puddle. "Sweetest water I ever
was Tom's judgment. I do not think R.T. had the benefit of
a classical education, but I find this same tale told about Darius the Great (ca.
500 BC). Here a footnote admonishes us that it was first reported
about Cyrus, his father. Well, many a traveler has been athirst,
and many a
has fallen, over the millennia. Where better for man or beast to quench
Tom may have spent months or years in Arkansas, home of
the tall and
handsome Amanda Richards. When he finally moved on, perhaps with help from her people, his new wife
came along. Bound for the promised
land, they followed the
meandering, sandy bed of the Red River on past the lush plantations and up into
raised cotton "on the shares," but
beyond the Brazos soon lured them south. When R. T.'s name
turns up in the Comanche newspaper, the twenty-seven-year-old was
already a father:
five, Mary three, and
the infant Elvis Lafayette, just one year old in 1873.
How the family fared during these next years may be the most
exciting part of my story, but I have been able to glean only the scantiest
details. It was still the "Wild
West" in the decades after the War. This was the era of the so
Wars, a vicious cultural conflict between hopeful small farmers and
R.T. and his sons managed to undertake both pursuits. They continued their
hardscrabble farming, trying to raise
while at the same time growing dryland cotton for money.
But they also dwelt on the cattle trails which Jesse
Chisolm and Charlie Goodnight had established after the War to drive the feral longhorn out of the
Rio Grande valley and across Indian territory to the railroad lines in
Kansas. R.T. himself set out to collect, grow, and graze cattle for sending to
market. By the turn of the century he had become a
wealthy man. In addition to farms and financial interests, he acquired enough stock in the Amicable
Life Company at Waco that his grandchildren thought he owned it. Sadly, I lacked the interest during the
time of my own life, and theirs, when I might have extracted details from those acquainted with young
R.T.'s career. He died the year I was born, and the Hailes are
not a story-telling family.
Indian attacks had begun to
subside about the time R.T. was settling down. Railroads
were being projected across the area called West
Texas. The state
extended on for hundreds of miles
farther westward, but R.T. and Amanda had ventured about as far as one might care to
go.* These dry hills
beyond the Brazos are called the
Comancherěa after the tribe who had
from southern Kansas all the way to the Pecos. Just at the time
R.T. and Amanda were underway, this
desperate, stone-age people was being systematically
decimation of their buffalo herds. But the
Comanche, accomplished horsemen, put up a stiff resistance to the steady advance of cattlemen, of rowcrops, and railroads. They had acquired the white
and were enthusiastic horse thieves. One
of R.T.'s sisters, Aletha, told how she surprised two of them just as
they were slipping away with her saddle ponies. Aletha shot
both dead. That act is not itself so shocking as is the young
unsympathetic way of telling about it.
C. Greene defends the designation"West Texas'" in his remembrances of A
(New York, 1969).
The free range
west of the Brazos had attracted settlers before the War.
famous Charlie Goodnight's family had come from Illinois to Palo Pinto
County while he was still a small
boy. As a young man Charlie
had begun to collect a herd of
his own. When President Lincoln withdrew the Federal troops from
Texas to subdue the deep South,
Comanche Indians quickly drove most settlers back past the
Brazos. Goodnight himself had gone east to defend the Confederacy. Upon his return after the War he found a
now desolate landscape. He "made the gather"
of his own stock and whatever other cattle now grazed twixt
scrub oak and prairie. He became partner with Oliver Loving, an
man who had supplied federal troops with beef by
drives into Louisiana. Loving and
profitable drives out of West Texas north to the new
in Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. Just ten years younger
than Goodnight, R.T. seized similar opportunity in adjacent Erath, and in
At Loving's grave in Weatherford
Goodnight would eventually
become a close friend of the
last of the undefeated Indian chieftains, Quanah Parker. Quanah, about the
same age as R.T., was on the war
path. The year of R.T.'s arrival in Comanche, 1873, saw the
savage rampages, scalpings and burnings on the frontier. In retaliation, the Paleface cruelly
banished their Indian neighbors to
in Oklahoma. Such conditions help explain why Texas land was
the range itself was free graze, and so were, sometimes, the cattle on it.
maintained herds around the Sabana River. He was able to establish the
bank in Comanche County, of which I have taken pictures. It was
removed from near Duster and is today on display at Sipe Springs.
is said to have acquired a great deal of land, and to have given each
his seven children 500 acres. When nearby Desdemona became an oil boom
town in 1918 ,
opened a bank there, too. I know of no oil interests held by R.T.
His house still stands today, not far from old Duster.
Amanda and R. T.
called "Fate" (the French hero's name was accented
on the middle syllable in Tennessee and
in December of the
same year of his father's death in August, just four days after the
author of these pages was
born. I do not know how to date the picture of Fate as a young man (left), but since the picture on the right must show Fate and Laura Ann in their mid twenties and their eldest son, born in
1894, is still of an age (four to seven years) to wear a long dress, it may go back to the 1890s.
Laura appears so prim and ladylike. When she told her grandson
that she had shot a panther off her front porch, that was hard for
him to imagine, but a claim like that stuck in
a small boy's
memory. In his mind's eye he had to imagine the panther
snarling on his grandmother's familiar, large porch, perhaps near its wide, comfortable swing. Only years later did I
realize that the panther had not been on any porch at
all, and that Laura had shot from her porch, at the door of
a house I had never beheld.
it was enlightening for me to try to envisage my gentle
grandmother confronting such a beast, even at a hundred yards. I
knew Laura Ann as a proper lady with the late nineteenth-century
virtues of modesty, reticence, humility. True, she had a set to
her jaw when she insisted on "the right thing to do," and she was an
astute domino player. I think she did not play cards, but she found a
subtle rascality in calling them "the devil's picture book." I
was impressed by the regimens in her life, how she had arranged
her daily Bible readings so as to complete both Testaments once each
year. I loved to watch her at night. Before going to bed she
took down her tresses to brush them before the big mirror of her
dressing table. They fell
well below her waist and
were still a rich brown, streaked only a little with white.
The little boy on the porch above has outgrown his long Victorian dress, but his mother has adorned his neck with Victorian lace.
He also has a new little sister, Rena Mae (b. 1897). The elegant
attire of the family contrasts more starkly with the simple home than
may appear at first glance. The one-bedroom structure not merely
lacks a window screen, but also plumbing That means that the slender lady of the
house drew her family's water from a dug well. Heat was
from a Franklin stove which served mainly for cooking. The
photographer has found an angle to conceal its flue, as well as the cauldron for doing laundry out back--and the privy, of course. The above
picture was exposed right at the turn of the century and the one
below, some twenty years later.
While Fate had built the earlier one himself, he laid down all specifications for the other, too: a
"double floor," heavy timbers, etc. The windmill and tank
visible behind the house testify to running water.
In addition to a large
bathroom, there was also quite literally a "water closet" set off a
its own. Electricity had to await Roosevelt's Rural
Electrification Act, a lustrum after Fate's death, but he had long
since piped the walls for gas, the ubiquitous hissing of the sconces at doorways
his younger sons Rudolph and Ardys (the two older boys were no
longer living at home). The little girl is his first grandchild,
Joe. She was beautiful. Fate spoiled her (as a little boy I
marveled at the side saddle and the carved croquet set he had given her). She was a
fine pianist. She declared at
an early age that she intended to "marry a millionaire," and she
did. That was something in those days.
Well, Fate was a hard worker. You have
to say that for him. His main business was cattle, but with his
boys he raised cotton and grain, too. I myself have
gathered nuts from his 80-acre "pecan bottom" on the Sabana, I have
picked peaches in the orchard, and grapes from the arbor behind the house. Fate was remembered as a hard man, hard on his boys, hard on the land
he worked together with them, and very obviously one of that generation
who promoted the erosion which eventuated in the Dust Bowl. He raised
cotton on soil so thin today that grass must struggle to grow. Laura
Ann has told me she had to throw her own body down over her sons to
"stop Fate from whipping them." He is quoted as having said of his
daughter Gladys, who died of a ruptured appendix, he would have
"no sawbones cutting" on a child of his. I feel I know Fate from
a story my father told. As a
young fellow Frank had been entrusted with "making a trade," one of the
treasured capabilities of that place and time, inherited no doubt from
and Tennessee. Fate had sent him off to trade for some horses for the
and Frank came riding home very proud of his negotiation and of the
animals he was leading behind him. When his
rode out to meet Frank, to inspect the newly acquired horses,
the first question was of course addressed to what kind of trade his
had made. Frank told him, looking for praise. On the contrary:
ruined me," Fate said. I take the story not only as limning
personality. It reveals also something of the economics in
which my own father
Fate died at a young fifty-nine. Here he is toward the end of an
Fate's sons liked to recall him as fast with a
six-shooter. They say he would let them toss a quarter into the air,
his pistol and
shoot the coin out of sight while it was still overhead. I would
that the example may have been set by Fate's own father, the one
who had indeed encountered Texas as the "wild west". Like such a fellow or not, this
is probably the character which struck the polite Englishman Francis Baily
when he observed that the
spirit of servility to those above
them so prevalent in
European manners, is wholly unknown to [Americans]; and they pass their lives
without any regard to the smiles or the frowns of men in power.
That American personality may have crested here in Fate's generation. He was
a contemporary of the Comanche warrior / statesman Quanah Parker.
A cousin was Gaston Boykin, the sheriff who captured Billy the Kid.
But during Fate's lifetime
America was fast becoming more urban than rural, and the economy
of the late 19th century was already industrialized.
His was still an agrarian
way of life, or as
I earlier called it "grebe-capitalism." Except that now the men folk did
cash money at their disposal. Fate bought a new car every year, he sent his
sons to college. Rudolph was a star
player, suffered the rest of his life from injuries received on
playing field and in several air crashes. He operated an airport
Austin, was a "barnstormer," also gave flying
lessons. The youngest,
spent his life in the peacetime U.S. Army. The two older boys, on
the other hand, thought themselves
too savvy to go to college. Erin / Aaron was shrewd. They called
"the Dealer." Perhaps that was because he was good at cards, or
dealership in town burned during the Depression.
As I "backward cast my e'e," Fate and R.T.
are the first of our fathers who come upon my horizon, and they tempt me
a judgment about their line, as it disappears into prior centuries. Shall we assume that Fate and R.T.
were following a
tradition handed down from Amon and Joshua, from the Nicholases who
raised tobacco in Virginia, even from the Englishmen demanding habeas corpus in the 17th, magna charta in the 13th century?
Or do we see in such men merely the temper of their
times? Here before us are those fellows called upon to make the
from agrarian life, which had prevailed for a quarter millennium on
shores alone. Theirs was a world now dominated by business and
industry, its social integration farther and farther removed from the easy
ways which so struck Francis Baily.