Blythe’s Regiment, From Kentucky to Stones River

On June 27, 1862, Braxton Bragg took over the Army of the Mississippi at Corinth.  Whatever his critics might say, he did a miraculous job rebuilding the beaten force that had retreated from Shiloh in April.  By July, the Army of the Mississippi numbered around 36,000 men and were healthy and ready for action.  Because of the slow advance of the Federal Army, he had the time to strengthen his forces and bring order to disorder. Blythe’s Regiment was reorganized as well.   Captain Jacob Hunter Sharp of Company A was elected Colonel.  James Moore of Company B became Lt. Colonel, and John Thompson was Major.  Colonel Sharp would not command the regiment in the upcoming battles though.  He was absent on sick leave in July 1862.  Sharp was  then detached to command the post at Chattanooga so Lt. Colonel Moore and Major Thompson would lead the regiment through the next few months of trial.

General Bragg decided to move in July toward Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The army linked up with General Kirby Smith there and the plan was launched for the invasion of Kentucky.  Hearing of the news that the Confederates had shifted, the Union commander did likewise.  Both left forces around Corinth to deal with Mississippi.  General reorganized his army into two wings.  The Right Wing was commanded by General Leonidas Polk and the Left Wing was commanded by General William Hardee.  Blythe’s Regiment was part of the Right Wing, 4th Division, 2nd Brigade commanded by James R. Chalmers.   His brigade consisted of the following regiments:

  • 7th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel W.H. Bishop
  • 9th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel Thomas W. White
  • 10th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel Robert A. Smith
  • 29th Mississippi Infantry – Colonel E.L. Walthall
  • Blythe’s Mississippi Regiment- Lt. Colonel James Moore
  • 9th Battalion Mississippi Sharpshooters – Major W.C. Richards
  • Ketchums Battery

On August 27th, Bragg’s army moved north across the Tennessee River.  By September the Confederates were entering Kentucky.  The Federal Army was moving backward trying to contact the northward bound Rebel Army.  General Polk ordered Chalmers Brigade to advance toward Cave City, Kentucky.  This would prove to be a fatal move, because it was near the Munfordville.   Things had been doing great up until that point.  When Confederate cavalry located a Union garrison at Munfordville,  General Chalmers was asked to come help take the city.  The Union force was commanded by Colonel J.T. Wilder.  Wilder was unknown to everyone then, but would eventually become one of the most well known Union officers of the war.  His raw recruits had been sent there to guard a railroad bridge. Since he believed that the rest of the Federal army was on the way to relieve him, he made the decision to stay and fight.  Wilder was on his own though, because the Union commander had no intention of moving to support him since he thought Bragg was moving elsewhere.

At dawn, General Chalmers attacked driving in the Federal pickets a mile in advance of Wilder’s main fortifications. Without stopping, the Confederates advanced on Wilder’s main line.  The Federals waited until Chalmers’ men were within 30 yards of their rifle pits and opened fire.  Volley after volley was fired into the Rebels.  His men fell back and advanced again.  Finally, Chalmers’ beaten men returned to their original lines.  Under a flag of truce, the Confederates collected their dead and wounded.  Wilder’s casualties were 37 men killed or wounded.  Chalmers’ casualties were 285 and he retreated back to Cave City. This was the first check of the Army of the Mississippi in the campaign for Kentucky.   Within a few days, General Bragg had brought his entire army up and ordered Munfordville to be taken. Although he had not ordered Chalmers to attack, he couldn’t allow this small force to hold out.  On September 17th, Wilder surrendered and  General Chalmers was ordered to take position there.  Blythe’s Regiment was commanded by Lt. Colonel James Moore and Major John C. Thompson during this engagement.

Report of Major John C. Thompson, Blythe’s Regiment, of operations September 14,1862:

At about 7 a.m. on Sunday, the 14th, the Blythe Mississippi Regiment, consisting of 281 rank and file commanded by Lt. Colonel James Moore, was ordered to leave the railroad depot at Woodsonville, to proceed to the battleground distance about 3/4 of a mile, and report to Colonel R.A. Smith commanding the 10th Mississippi.  Having no guide, and being unacquainted with the position of the regiment, we had be guided by the sound of the guns.  When arrived near the breastworks of the enemy, we were saluted with heavy and successive volleys of musketry.  Colonel Moore was at the center, Captain W.P. Malone on the left, and I on the right of our regiment.  Their fire was immediately returned and was kept up with animation on both sides for about 2 hours, when I was informed that Colonel Moore was shot down.  Proceeding to the center, I found him lying on the ground apparently mortally wounded.  I immediately ordered the firing to cease and the men to lie close to the ground.  The orders were given to induce the enemy to believe that we had withdrawn under cover of the smoke.  The firing by the enemy having partially ceased, the men were ordered to fall back quietly and with as little noise as possible.  The retreat was made in fine order, and we halted at a distance of 80 to 100 yards to ground where we were partially protected by a slight elevation.  The line was formed, but seeing that we were still exposed, I again ordered them to fall back a distance of about 100 yards where they were again halted and formed.  The falling back was done in fine order and without loss or injury of a man.  About this time, a flag of truce was sent in.  The Blythe regiment was animated with the most heroic spirit and throughout the conflict displayed a coolness and courage that defied all obstacles.  The retreat was made without loss, and when the line was reformed, the same eagerness was displayed which has been exhibited at the onset.  The regiment is entitled to high commendation for it’s conduct on the occasion.  Casualties were  4 killed and 38 wounded.

The regiment was only lightly engaged in the rest of the Kentucky campaign.  The main battle for Kentucky was at Perryville which was fought on October 8, 1862.  This was a Union victory.  Bragg’s army retreated to Knoxville, Tennessee and eventually around Shelbyville.  The Union Army advanced to Nashville.

On December 26, 1862, the 10th Mississippi and Blythe’s Regiment were consolidated with Colonel Sharp and Major Thompson retained for duty.  Records for the regiment are not abundant for this time period, but it appears the two units continued to operate in a semi independent state until January 1863.

According to J.N Thompson, who years later wrote in the Confederate Veteran Magazine, the regiment was quarantined from the rest of the brigade and army after Major Thompson’s servant returned from Hernando with small pox.  The regiment’s guns were taken and redistributed to rest of the brigade.  His story was supported in an unpublished report of the battle by Major Thompson.  Blythe’s regiment would have to make do the best they could in one of the bloodiest battles of the Western War.

As the two armies began to move closer to each other around Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Chalmers’ Brigade was posted to the right of the Confederate Army.  They occupied the high ground southeast of the Cowan House near the intersection of the Nashville Turnpike.  To compensate for the open ground, Chalmers had his men dig trenches.  This was done on December 29th.  By the 30th, skirmishing had increased and the Confederates got an order to attack the next morning. The Battle of Stones River, or Murfreesboro, began on December 31st.  Fighting intensified from left of right so it was some time before General Chalmers was ordered to advance.

There was a small wooded area near where Chalmers was stationed.  This was known as the Round Forest and it was surrounded by fields of cotton and winter wheat.  The remains of the Cowan farm house, which had burned, and outbuildings were nearby.  Union General John Palmer realized that this was an important position and ordered his men to occupy and get ready to defend it.  William Hazen deployed his brigade about 8 a.m. into this area.  The 6th Kentucky formed aside the Nashville Turnpike. The 10th Illinois formed in the woods behind Battery F, 1st Ohio artillery.  The 41st Ohio was next in line supporting the 10th Indiana artillery.  Quickly the Federals set up whatever breastworks they could to await the Confederate advance they knew was coming.  The 9th Indiana south of the Turnpike.  Here they waited and watched as the Confederates readied themselves to attack.  General Cruft’s brigade was to the right of Hazen’s men. These would be the men that the Mississippi Swampers would face on the 31st.

At 11 a.m. Brigadier General Chalmers received the order to attack the enemy on his front.  As the men neared the Cowan house, they were met by a destructive fire which slowed them somewhat.  General Chalmers got them moving again, but the brigade split around burned buildings.  Most of the regiments followed Chalmers south of the farm, but the 9th Mississippi and Blythe’s Regiment moved to the north.  According to Colonel Thomas Sedgewick of the 2nd Kentucky in Cruft’s Brigade, “They moved forward in splendid style.” Of all the Mississippians who charged that day, the men of Blythe’s Regiment were probably the most insecure.  Two days earlier they had been issued new weapons after their’s had been taken because of being quarantined.  According to Major Thompson, they were “refuse guns.”  Thompson went on to describe them in the following way, ” Many of these guns were worthless – some being bent, some cocked could not be pulled down, some whose hammers had to be carried in the men’s pockets until time to commence firing, others so foul as to render it impossible to ram home the cartridge, many without ramrods and only one bayonet in the lot.”  Because of this lack of weapons, he ordered his men to find sticks or use whatever they could find.  Blythe’s Regiment was then ordered forward.

General Chalmers got the left of his brigade to within fifty yards of the Federals before being stopped.  Volley after volley were exchanged with the 2nd Kentucky and 31st Indiana of Cruft’s Brigade. For 30 minutes, the Mississippians stood in the open ground firing and falling by the dozens.  Chalmers was hit by a shell fragment and carried from the field without his staff informing the next ranking officer.  The ground in front of the 31st Indiana was covered by so many bodies that the field was labeled the “Mississippi Half Acre.” With their commander gone, the left regiments of the brigade fell back disorganized.  Some fought with other commands or simply hid behind the remains of the Cowan House.

chalmers brigade plaque

The 9th Mississippi and Blythe’s Regiment were also stopped south of the Cowan farm.  The 9th remained near the farmhouse, but Major Thompson led his regiment further north toward the 41st Ohio.  After clearing away Federal skirmishers, Blythe’s Regiment stopped on a small rise and opened fire on the 41st with what weapons they had.  After an hour, the 41st Ohio withdrew looking for ammunition.  The 9th Indiana took their place forcing Major Thompson to withdraw to a low area out of the battle.  Here they remained watching attack after attack into the Round Forest by their comrades.  Later that night the brigade was brought back together, but they were out of this fight.  The two armies remained in place until January 31st when General Bragg withdrew further south.  The Battle of Stones River was another Union victory.  The casualties of the regiment were 4 killed, 31 wounded, and 17 missing.  Casualties of Company B were one killed; 1 wounded; 1 wounded, captured, and died.

Sources:

Compiled Service Records of the Confederate Soldiers who served in the Organization from the State of Mississippi; National Archives Microfilm Publicaitons; 1959; rolls 406 – 409.

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Serial 022 Page 0959, Chapter XXVII. Siege of Mumfordville, KY

Cozzens, Peter: The Battle of Stones River: No Better Place to Die, University of Illinois Press, Chicago, 1990.

Losson, Christopher: Tennessee’s Forgotten Warriors-Frank Cheatham and his Confederate Division.The University of Knoxville Press, Knoxville-1989.

 

 

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Village Creek State Park

Village Creek State Park contains nearly 7,000 acres located in Cross and St. Francis counties. It is located in beautiful Crowley’s Ridge which is a natural hilly area that runs through the Arkansas Delta.

There are 33 miles of multi use trails, campgrounds, horse stables, 10 cabins, and 2 lakes.

The visitor center has a very nice gift shop and information about the park. It is the best place to get your stay started. Experienced staff will be helpful to you about what to see.

Lake Dunn is one of the prettiest lakes. There is a small pier that is a nice place to just relax and enjoy nature. Another walking trail goes along the lake. These trails seem to be everywhere.

Check out Village Creek State Park along with all the parks at : http://www.arkansasstateparks.com

Johnson’s Fish House

Like so many restaurants in the Delta, you feel like you have walked back into history when you enter the doors of Johnson’s Fish House. As a child, my parents would take me to Branson every summer and our breakfast stop was always Wynne, Arkansas. That particular eatery has closed now, but Johnson’s reminds me of it so much, I actually asked the waitress if this was it.

From the older men drinking coffee and talking politics, this is another example of a classic American diner.

I ordered the catfish and it was delicious. You can get “all you can eat,” but I don’t know how a person can consume that much. The meal included 3 catfish filets, slaw, fries, and hush puppies.

If you traveling through Wynne, give Johnson’s Fish House a try. I’m looking forward to going back for breakfast.

Johnson’s Fish House

329 US 64 Wynne, Arkansas

Cross County Court House

Cross County, Arkansas was created in 1862. Wynne was chosen as county seat in 1903. The Cross County Court House is a large building that contains all the agencies of local government.

There are several Historical markers and memorials to veterans of Cross County.

There is a large parking area behind the courthouse.

Cross County Museum

The Cross County Museum is located in Wynne, Arkansas next to the Cross County Court House. This wonderful museum is located in the old New Hope School which dates back to the early 1900s. In 2007, the school and one acre of land was donated to the Cross County Historical Society.

The museum is well maintained and has a wonderful staff that is strongly supported by the community. There are a large amount of artifacts from school memorabilia to exhibits dealing with wars and veterans.

The museum was decorated for Christmas when I visited and it was beautifully done.

Stop by and visit awhile. You will enjoy learning about the history of this neat and beautiful community.

The Cross County Museum is located at 711 East Union Avenue, Wynne Arkansas 72396

Museum Hours are Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

website: http://www.CrossCountyMuseum.com

William Henry Grey

William Henry Grey was born on December 22, 1829 in Washington, D.C.  His mother was Elizabeth Grey, who was a slave until being granted her freedom by Henry Alexander Wise.  Wise was a U.S. Congressman from Virginia and there were rumors that William was his son.  Although Wise never officially recognized him, he followed the Senator everywhere.  Elizabeth was the only slave ever to be granted her freedom by Wise, so William was born free.  Young William would be by Henry Wise even when he was on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.  As a young boy, he attended the “pay school” of John F. Cook.  Later Henry Wise would serve as a Confederate General and become famous as the man who executed John Brown.

William Henry Grey.   William H. Grey

His Mother Elizabeth became involved with someone she met in Washington, had several more children, and moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Soon after, the family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where his mother passed away from cholera in 1852.  Grey moved to St. Louis, Missouri and worked as a cook on steamboats going up and down the Mississippi River.  In 1854, he married Henrietta Winslow.  They would have nine children together.  Their names were Nancy, Nathaniel, William, Edward, Oliver, Ulysses, Charles, Susan, and Anna.   In addition to working on the river, he also served as a minister with the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Although William registered for the draft, he never served in the Civil War.  When the war ended, his family moved further south to the city of Helena, Arkansas. There William founded a grocery store and bakery with his partners Oliver Winslow and H.B. Robinson.

In 1867, William Henry Grey was elected as one of four Phillips County delegates to the Arkansas Constitutional Convention of 1868.  Altogether, there were eight African American delegates at that convention and they supported the Republican platform promoting the rights of freedmen in the state.  Freedmen was the name given to African Americans who had been former slaves.  He served on several important committees at the convention and offered one resolution establishing federal aid  for the poor and allowing freedmen to homestead government land.  Also, Grey took to the floor 25 times to argue against measures proposed by the pro-confederate Democrats against freedmen.

On January 13, 1868, William Grey gave the following speech in response to one of those proposals.  Below is an excerpt:

“African Americans had earned citizenship by right of purchase on the numerous battle fields of our country.  From the Revolution through the Civil War, African American citizens had stood unswervingly by our country and flag.  They had fought for liberty, which could not be secured without their receiving suffrage rights.  For their loyalty, the federal government owed them a debt.  We are here to receive the amount due us from the State of Arkansas.  Pay us sir, the rights and privileges due us as citizens of the United States and the State of Arkansas.”

Grey served as a state legislator in both 1869 and 1872.  In 1870, he was appointed clerk of the First Circuit Court and ex-Offico Recorder of Deeds.  In 1872, he became the first African American to address a national presidential nominating convention, seconding the nomination of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Clipping from the Harrisburg Telegraph in Harrisburg, Dauphin, Pennsylvania on June 6, 1872- William H. Grey speaks at Republican Convention June 6, 1872-Newspapers.com

“Words failed him at the present time to express himself.  he scarcely knew where to begin.  If he raised the curtain of the past, he would recall unpleasant recollections.  He and his race were ready to “let the dead past bury it’s dead,” and go in the progress to fit themselves for the duties which had been conferred upon them within the past few years.  They had fairly worked out the problem so far as they had gone.  The colored delegates were here as part and parcel of the American people, and they were here to advocate the man who had said, “Let us have peace.”  Few people knew of the political situation in the South.  Ku Kluxism but sleep in the South, and but for the firm hand of President Grant it would have been stalking boldly across the land.  The colored men of the South wanted Grant for four more years.  His name would be a great tower of strength.  The laws of the Southern States were so weak that common civilities were denied the colored men.  They wanted the Civil Rights bill. He wanted to go home to the colored people and say that the Republican Party of the North was a unit for Grant.  Horace Greely is like Abraham of old, who took Hagar instead of Sarah.  the colored people are the legitimate sons of the old man, and will stand by Grant and not be led by Horace.  The negroes knew who their friends were, and they were well aware of the fact that there was no foothold for them outside the Republican Party.  (Applause) He prayed that the Republican ranks might be solid in the coming contest. ”

From 1872 to 1874, William Grey was Commissioner of Immigration and State Lands. While on assignment to New York in 1873 to supervise arrangements for Arkansas’s exhibit at the World Exposition in the Austro-Hungarian capital of Vienna, he suffered a stroke.  This forced him to return to Little Rock for medical care.  Grey then moved back to Helena. Although not well, he served as clerk of Phillips County probate and county courts. In September 1878, William suffered another stroke which left him partially paralyzed.  He passed away on November 8, 1888.  William Henry Grey is buried at Magnolia Cemetery in Helena, Arkansas.

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Military and U.S. Census Records from Ancestry.com

U.S. Civil War Draft Registration Records: 1863 – 1865

  • birth year about 1829, age on July 1, 1863 was 34, race: Black, Married, St. Louis, Missouri, Congressional District was the 1st.
  • his job was listed as porter

1860  U.S. Census: William Gray; age 30; birth year about 1830; birth place was District of Columbia; Home- St. Louis Ward 3, St. Louis, Missouri; Post Office was St. Louis; Occupation- steam boatman.  Other members of the household were Henrietta, Nancy, Nathaniel, and Edward

1870 U.S. Census: William H. Gray; aged 40; birth year about 1830 in the District of Columbia; Home was St. Frances, Phillips, Arkansas; Occupation was U.S. Assessor Assistant; personal estate was $500.00.  Other members of the household were Henrietta, Nancy, William, Charles, Ulysses, and Susan.

1880 U. S. Census: W.H. Grey, aged 50; birth date about 1830 in Washington, D.C.; living on Poplar Street; married; Mother’s birthplace- Washington D.C.; Father’s birthplace- Washington, D.C.; occupation- farmer; sick- paralysis. Other members of the household were Henrietta, Charles, Oliver, Anna, and Nancy.

Sources:

William H. Grey- Encyclopedia of Arkansas.      www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net

William H. Grey – Arkansas Black Lawyers.        arkansasblacklawyers.uark.edu

William H. Grey speaks at a Republican Convention.     http://www.newspapers.com

Publications of the Arkansas Historical Association.     genealogytrails.com

The Constitution of 1868 | Civil War Helena.       civilwarhelena.com

Debates and Proceedings of the Convention which assembled at Little Rock, page 92.         books.google.com

A trip to Richmond, Virginia, feminist analysis- The Feminist Wire.    thefeministwire.com

Lift Every Voice: African American Oratory, 1787-1900. – 86 Justice Should Recognize No Color: William H. Grey     books.google.com

Delta Cultural Center’s Fall Historical Play

The Delta Cultural Center, working in conjunction with the Helena-West Helena School District hosted a play dealing with historical characters from the region.  There was a Thriller theme and the kids did a Michael Jackson show at the end of the program.

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The event took place at the Boys and Girls Club in West Helena.

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Over sixty young people were present along with a number of adults.

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The Delta Cultural Center also sponsored a carnival featuring all types of outside fun. The cold didn’t stop any of the kids.

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The teenagers enrolled in the after school program performed a play dealing with famous characters from music and the arts.  They did much of the research and put in a great deal of practice and hard work preparing for this day.

Eliza Ann Miller

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Sister Rosetta Thorpe

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The young men portrayed Robert Nighthawk, Frank Frost, and Sam Carr.  They finished the skit with  a lip sink rendition of Big Boss Man!!!!

This was the second part of an after school program that the Delta Cultural Center has started to get the young people of Phillips County involved with acting and history.  It also develops leadership and creativity as they prepare and perform their acts.  The school program will continue after Christmas and the DCC will be looking for even more young people to get involved.  DCC Director Kyle Miller along with the entire staff are expanding the reach of this amazing agency more everyday.  Great things for the Helena area are always happening. Everyone is welcome.   I am so proud of these young men and women.  They did an outstanding job!!

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Check out the Delta Cultural Center website to find out about upcoming events:

http://www.deltaculturalcenter.com

 

Robert Nighthawk

“Nobody else could play a slide like him.  They think they can but they can’t…. I ain’t never heard anybody play a slide like Robert Nighthawk.  It’s wailin’ man.”

Thats what everybody said about Robert Lee McCollum,  aka.  Robert Nighthawk.  He was born on November 30, 1909 near Searcy, Arkansas.  Many modern day blues artists learned from his style of play.  Men like B.B. King, Elmore James, and Earl Hooker.  Robert came from a musical family.  All his family played from his parents to his siblings.  They played mostly dances, parties, and picnics.  Around 1924, he moved down to Louisiana where he picked up playing the harmonica.  He was multi-talented though.

Robert McCollum got married in 1928 right across the river in Friar’s Point, Mississippi.  That was a major town for blues music back then.  Her name was Mary Griffen.. They had two children, Sam and Ludy.  It wasn’t long before the couple decided to move.  They left their children though.  The road wasn’t a place for kids.  Sam got adopted by the Carr family in Tunica County and eventually would rejoin his Father in the Blues business later.

knighthawk marker

Robert started playing with Houston Stackhouse, who taught him everything he needed to know about the guitar.  They were working on a farm down around Hollandale, Mississippi.  They worked during the day and played dances and parties all night. While down there, he met all the big names like Charley Patton,  Muddy Waters, and Son House.  Robert even played at Muddy’s first wedding.  It was rumored that the place was hopping so much, that the floor collapsed.

By 1932, Robert felt like it was a time for a record deal so he moved to Chicago.  He stopped for awhile in St. Louis though and started playing with Laura Dukes.  They played everywhere from the country stores to the nightclubs.. The pair traveled from St. Louis to Memphis.  Even back down to Mississippi some.  He had to stop going further south for awhile when he was accused of drawing a gun on a fella during an argument.  Chicago, St. Louis, Memphis, and all the towns in between were regular stops.

knight hawk group

McCollum stayed up north too long and soon found out that a lot of people down home in Arkansas had forgot about him.  They only remembered one of his songs called “Prouling Night Hawk” that he had written back in 1937.  Because of that, he changed his name to Robert Nighthawk.  Amplified his guitar and got famous.

Around 1942, Sam moved in with him in a house at 308 Franklin Street in Helena.  They started playing together at all the jukes and clubs around Helena, Lula, Moon Lake, and Friar’s Point.  Every night, there were crowds of two or three hundred people.  He got so well known that he started playing on KFFA radio out of Helena.

knighthawk flour hour

Robert Nighthawk loved the women. There is no record of how many times he was married, but it was numerous.  In 1947, he took Hazel Moman away from Ike Turner and moved her into the Riverside Hotel at Clarksdale.  Kept another girlfriend named Ethel Mae right down the hall.  Ethel and Robert stayed together until 1953 and had three children.

He could never stay away from Helena long though.  From 1953 to 1963, he played with his son Sam and Frank Frost along with Big Jack Johnson.  They called themselves the Nighthawks.  In 1964, he made another trip to Chicago and recorded several albums.  He started not feeling well about that time and moved back to Helena for good. Robert spent a lot of time with his son at Lula and even visited a faith healer because he thought someone had given him poison whiskey.  The woman told him he was a sinner and couldn’t help him.  Robert McCollum died on November 5, 1967 of congestive heart failure at the Helena Hospital.  He is buried in Magnolia Cemetery and was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1983.

Sam Carr

Sam Carr was born April 17, 1926 in Marvel, Arkansas.  Marvel is a small town in Phillips County, just west of Helena.  His parents were Robert Lee and Mary McCollum.  Sam’s birth name was Samuel Lee McCollum ,so how did he become Sam Carr?  Who were Robert Lee and Mary McCollum?  Sam’s father was a musician who went by the stage name of Robert Nighthawk.  He and Mary had a traveling spirit and didn’t want to be held back by any children so they left Sam with the Carr family in Dundee.  Dundee is a small community in southern Tunica County, Mississippi.  Sam was only a year and half when his parents left him, so he didn’t remember much about them.  The Carr family was good to him and soon adopted the young man.  Thats how he became Sam Carr.

Robert Nighthawk

robert knighthawk

About 1933, when he was seven, Sam’s Father came by to see him in a bright red T-Model Ford.  He looked down at the little boy and told him, “I’m your Daddy, whether you believe it or not.  I know you ain’t seen me or know nothing about me.  I just want you to know I’m your Daddy.”  Four years later, he came back by and told Sam when he got bigger, he could come stay with him.  When he turned sixteen, he did just that and moved to Helena.  Sam collected money at the door to his Father’s shows and worked as a chauffeur for him as he traveled around to play music.  He also filled in on the band when he was needed.  Because he never knew what he had to play, he became a master at a number of different instruments from the harmonica to the guitar.

Sam met Doris in 1946 and got married.  He tried a little time as a sharecropper, but got mad one day when he was cheated.  His family packed up and moved eventually to St. Louis.  They lived with his Mother and soon formed his own band called Sam Carr and the Blue Kings.

Around 1956, he started playing with Frank Frost who played the harmonica and guitar.  Sam took up the drums for good.  They moved back to Mississippi and started playing with Sonny Boy Williamson and other acts in Helena.  Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Nighthawk were mainstays on KFFA radio out of Helena.

In 1962, Big Jack Johnson joined them.  Sam was working for a farmer in Lula and Jack was working for Lee Horace Bass, who became their first manager.  Frank got by the best way he could.  Later that year, the trio traveled to Memphis and recorded their first album under the band name, Frank Frost and the Night Hawks with producer Sam Phillips at Sun Studios.  Hey Boss Man was a big hit and the band soon changed their name to the Jelly Roll Kings after one of their big songs on the album.

frank and sam

The Jelly Roll Kings played at local clubs during the 60’s and 70’s, but never did really get any bigger.  In 1978, Frank left for Greenville and played with musicians like T-Model Ford and Willie Foster.  Frank kept up his solo career, but Sam would join him sometimes.  He helped with different artists, but basically lived out from Lula, worked on a farm driving a tractor, went to church with his wife, and enjoyed life.  It was always good to meet people with a smile, and Sam Carr was known for his smile.

Sam Carr at his home in Lulu, MS

Sam Carr, Lula, Miss.

After Frank Frost’s death in 1999, Sam decided it was time to start doing more.  He formed his own band called the Delta Jukes and recorded a couple more albums like Down in the Delta in 2004 and Let the Good Times Roll in 2007.  He played in front of thousands throughout Europe, but remained Sam back at Lula.  That was his personality.   Sam Carr passed away on September 21, 2009 after being sick a long time.  He and his wife are buried right across from where they lived in a small cemetery next to their church.  Sam was always known for being one of the nicest men you would ever meet.  He was also a talent and a great musician.

Arkansas Welcome Center, Helena

The Arkansas Welcome Center in Helena is located at the end of the bridge as you cross from Mississippi into Arkansas. It is an extremely well kept facility with restrooms and exhibits about the state. The staff are really nice and knowledgeable about tourism across Arkansas.

If you are planning a visit to the natural state, stop by and check out what’s happening, not only in Helena, but across the state.