by Colonel James Gayle Garner (U. S. Army, Retired)
Some years ago, I began to write a personal memoir for my children and grandchildren, so that they would have some of my recollections about my life and our family. I was born and spent my childhood in Lafayette County, Arkansas, where my father ran a country store in the Red River “bottoms”, twenty miles from the nearest paved road, where cotton was “king.” However, some of our roots lie in Beauregard Parish, Louisiana, so I have extracted the following chapters which relate to Beauregard Parish:
My mother, Christa Pearl Lindsey Garner, was born in DeRidder, Louisiana, on April 27, 1892. She was a late child and the only female survivor of three daughters, the other two dying in infancy. She had four older brothers, John McNeese Lindsey (whom she called “Mack”), Joseph Lawrence Lindsey (whom she called “Lawrence”), William Burkitt Lindsey (whom she always called “Will”), and Winfrey Florence Lindsey. My Uncle Winfrey’s and Aunt Ella Presley Lindsey’s only child was my favorite cousin, Winfrey Kermit Lindsey (born September 9, 1910), with whom I stayed in contact until his death on November 5, 1999. Kermit never married. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in DeRidder.
Mama’s father, Asbury (or Asberry) Monroe Lindsey, a Master Mason, had been a Confederate soldier in Company E of the 28th “Thomas” Louisiana Infantry Regiment. He fought under General Pemberton at Vicksburg and was in the seige of Vicksburg. He surrendered when Vicksburg fell to General Grant and was paroled. He walked back to his home near Dry Creek in southwest Louisiana. I was told that after waiting six months or so, he crossed the Sabine River into Texas where he joined a Confederate Texas Brigade and served out the rest of the Civil War, but I have never been able to confirm that. According to Bible records he was born November 7, 1841, although his tombstone gives the date as October 7, 1841. He died July 2, 1929 and is buried in the Dry Creek Cemetery. Asbury Monroe Lindsey married Ellen Lenora Bilbo, the daughter of William Bilbo and Hulda Cole, on December 9, 1868 in Barnes Creek, Louisiana. Ellen Lenora Bilbo was born May 3, 1848 in Barnes Creek, Louisiana. Mama said her mother was a woman who “enjoyed poor health” all of her life. I never knew my Grandfather Lindsey since he died before I was born. My grandmother Lindsey died December 30, 1935 when I was five years of age, and I only have a vague recollection of going to her funeral and of her burial in the Dry Creek Cemetery. Dry Creek is near Bundicks Lake about 20 miles east and south of DeRidder. I have never known why my Grandfather and Grandmother Lindsey were buried in the Dry Creek Cemetery instead of the nearby Lindsey Family Cemetery where many of the Lindseys and other close relatives are buried. Mama graduated from DeRidder High School in the class of 1911. The class of 1911 consisted of herself and one male student. It was unusual for a woman to go to college in those days, but after she graduated from high school, she enrolled at Louisiana State Normal School (now Northwestern Louisiana University) in Natchitoches. She attended college for two years and got her teaching certificate. I can recall that she used to mention that one of her classmates was a local girl whose last name was Longino. It was the great regret of her life that she never did have the opportunity to finish her degree.
After she left Louisiana State Normal School, Mama got a job teaching the first grade in Sugartown, Louisiana. She tells the story that Sugar Creek ran near the little town and that where Sugar Creek ran into another stream named Whiskey Chitto, the locals called that intersection, "Toddy."
The superintendent of schools in old Imperial Calcasieu Parish was my mother’s Uncle John McNeese (who was married to her mother’s sister), a pioneer educator. Apparently, prior to this time the elementary schools in Louisiana were not divided into grades, but rather a student just advanced through courses until he left school. Uncle John developed a curriculum and a plan under which he organized the school in Sugartown by grades, the first school of its kind in the state, which became a model for other schools. For this and his other work in the field of education, McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was named for him. Incidentally, at the time my mother worked for Uncle John, who was her favorite uncle, she became acquainted with his attorney, whose name was Arthur Gayle. It was because of her fondness for Mr. Gayle that I was named for him.
Mr. Gayle continued to practice law in Lake Charles until he was in his 90s and I had the opportunity of meeting him for the first time when I was the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Polk, Louisiana, from August 1969 until February 1972.
My mother also worked in Houston and in DeRidder, but I am not certain of the sequence of events. She worked for the draft board in Beauregard Parish at the time of World War I. Their offices were located in the courthouse in DeRidder and it apparently was a happy time because she had many friends locally and she was near her family. She also worked in Houston, Texas, at some time during World War I She met my father, Merritt Guyraud Garner, in DeRidder when he came down there from southwest Arkansas on a mule-buying expedition for his father and grandfather, who had a levee and road construction business. They were married in De Ridder on December 23, 1919. At some point thereafter he left the construction business and went to work for Libby-Owens Glass Company in Shreveport, Louisiana. They lived in an area called Jewella, near the state fair grounds, and it was while living there that my brother, Merritt Gerald Garner, was born on February 27, 1922, before they moved back to southwest Arkansas. (My brother, whom every one calls “Jerry”, is now retired from the U. S. Air Force as a Colonel, having served as a pilot in World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.) The house where my parents lived in Shreveport is no longer in existence, it being among those houses in an area cleared for the building of Interstate Highway 20. I tell all about my father in a separate chapter of my memoir. He died on September 22, 1957, and is buried in the Walnut Hill Cemetery, Lafayette County, Arkansas, where many of the Garner family are buried.
Mama passed away in Longview, Texas, on April 18, 1983, just nine days short of her 91st birthday, and is buried next to my father in the Walnut Hill Cemetery, Lafayette County, Arkansas.
During the years that we lived in Arkansas, even before World War II when there was no gasoline shortage, we rarely traveled far. There was an occasional trip over to Longview, Texas, about 100 miles away, where my Aunt Mamie and Uncle Tom Williams lived, and I can recall a few times when my mother and I went down to DeRidder, to visit her relatives.
In the summer of 1940 when I was ten years old, we went to DeRidder and spent a long visit with her brother, my Uncle Will Lindsey (William Burkitt Lindsey, born at Dry Creek on December 18, 1869; died at Dry Creek on April 19, 1943 and is buried in the Dry Creek Cemetery). Uncle Will and Aunt Mary Jane (Mary Jane Bailey Lindsey, born July 29, 1874; died October 28, 1972 and is buried in the Dry Creek Cemetery. She and Uncle Will were married on June 8, 1903.) didn't live in DeRidder, but rather lived far out in the country in a community known as Dry Creek. It was about 20 miles southeast of DeRidder near Bundicks Lake, and reached only by a dirt and gravel road. Dry Creek's chief claim to fame was that it was the home of the Southwest Louisiana Baptist Encampment, where hundreds of Baptists gathered each year. Also, the Lindsey Family cemetery and the Dry Creek Cemetery were located there.
Uncle Will and Aunt Mary Jane never had any children of their own, but they had taken an orphaned cousin to rear as their own. Her name was Mattie Belle Singletary (born October 1, 1907), and no one else in the family apparently wanted to take her because she was born with a cleft palette. Aunt Mary Jane, however, in her own strong-willed way, insisted on taking her with the words, "She has more to her than all the rest of you, and she will be worth her weight in gold!" (Aunt Mary Jane was right, although Belle had a speech defect until the day she died, she is still remembered in DeRidder for her brilliance and contributions to the community.) She was an adult when I visited there in 1940 and she and I immediately became friends because of our shared love of books. Belle was an ambitious, talented person with wide interests and a teacher who nurtured several writers and poets. She had a Masters Degree in English and taught at DeRidder High School. She belonged to a Louisiana State literary society and helped them publish occasional books of poetry. She had a spirit of adventure, and when World War II came, she joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and served her time as a cook. One of my favorite pictures is of her wearing her WAAC uniform, with its distinctive “Hobby” hat. In her later years she did extensive research on the Lindsey family and compiled many genealogical records. She had a bountiful collection of books on high shelves in the old wood frame farmhouse nestled in the woods and surrounded by azaleas and other flowering bushes.
I remember that when I arrived, Belle handed me a book that she thought I would like to read. It was The Yearling, by Marjorie Keenan Rawlings. She was right. Sitting in a cane-bottomed rocking chair on the wide front porch of the house, floored with its wide, hand-sawn boards, I read and delighted in this and other books that she found for me. Another one of my happy memories of that visit is of eating warm slices of the wonderful pear pies baked by Aunt Mary Jane.
In later years, after Uncle Will passed away and she lived there with my aunt who went blind in her later years, Belle started calling the house, "San Souci", and it was an apt name.
After my Aunt Mary Jane died at the age of 98, Belle lived there a short time, but it was simply too isolated for a single unmarried woman. She regretfully sold the house and moved into DeRidder where she lived until her death on August 13, 1983, at age 75. She willed me her entire collection of Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost books, which are a treasured part of my library. I understand that she left most of her book collection and many of her genealogical materials to the library in DeRidder, although I have extensive genealogical materials and pictures which she passed on to me throughout her life.
I was told (but can’t confirm) the house at Dry Creek had originally been built by my Grandfather Lindsey some time around the Civil War (?). It was one of those houses with a "dog trot." This meant that it had a series of room arranged single-file on both sides of an open hallway which ran from the front porch all the way through the house to the back porch, where there was a well with a pump. They called this hall a "dog trot" because the dogs could freely trot through it from the front of the house to the back of the house without going around. The house had two fireplaces, one in each front room. Although it originally did not have indoor plumbing, my Uncle had added this feature in recent years.
My other vivid memories of that trip to Dry Creek are of the lines of Army jeeps and trucks and tanks which raised clouds of dust as they passed up and down the dirt back roads. Occasionally, we could see a Piper "cub" light airplane painted olive drab colors and with a star insignia on its side passing overhead. The woods were full of soldiers, and I was fascinated with all these interesting military vehicles and cannon and all the activity. I was told that these were "maneuvers" and that they were pretending to be in a war. My Uncle told me how that sometimes they dropped sacks of flour on the vehicles from the air and pretended that they were bombs. He told me that "up at Leesville" they were building "Camp Polk," where many soldiers were to be stationed. I was wide-eyed and drank in all the sights of soldiers everywhere in their olive drab and khaki, with their British-style flat helmets. I wished that I had one of their canteens, their metal mess kits, and their other military paraphernalia to use when I played soldier. I later learned of the massive extent of these pre-World War II maneuvers, when two American Armies under Generals Ben Lear and Walter Krueger played at war across a large segment of the Louisiana countryside and learned lessons which would be put to good use in the war years to come.
AUNT MARY JANE LINDSEY
When I was the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Polk from August of 1969 until February of 1972, one of my joys was to get to visit with my Aunt Mary Jane Lindsey during some of her last years, as well as to visit Kermit and my beloved Belle. My mother had told me stories about how, in her younger days, Aunt Mary Jane was an active political force in the Dry Creek area, diligently working for Huey P. Long and other politicos that she supported, and getting out the vote on election day. She said that, as a consequence, Aunt Mary Jane’s determined “feisty” ways were well known throughout southwest Louisiana. In her last years she had lost her eyesight, but not her spunk and determination to live her life to the fullest. Despite her blindness she still would efficiently cook and clean house, steadfastly maintaining that Belle never did learn how to cook properly, and, at the same time saying that it was her (Aunt Mary Jane’s) own fault: “I just didn’t bother to teach her and just let her become an old maid school teacher!”
During my time at Fort Polk, I became acquainted with a retired Louisiana State Trooper, who, upon learning about my relationship to Aunt Mary Jane, told me a story about her that had been passed around for some years. As long as she had her eyesight, Aunt Mary Jane drove all over the countryside in an old Dodge Touring Car long after Uncle Will passed away. It was black, dated back to the 1930’s, and had its spare tire mounted on the back. Once, somewhere between DeRidder and Lake Charles on Highway 171, a Louisiana State Trooper pulled her over to the roadside. Upon seeing her driver’s license, he apparently recognized who she was, saying to her: “Mrs. Lindsey, I pulled you over because you still have last year’s license plate on this car, and it is now July!” She replied in her own peppery fashion, “Well, young man, they are lying there in the back seat! There aren’t any men around my house to put them on! If you want them on, you’ll just have to do it yourself!” The trooper, without a word, went to his car and got a screwdriver and did just exactly that. He apparently told this story more than once and it finally came down to me.
Yes, some of my roots are in Beauregard Parish and sturdy roots they were!