John, Sarah, Tula, Charles, Porter, Bessie, Leslie, Lonnie, and Clyde
By Dana Stubbs – Special to the Navarro County Gazette
It never ceases to amaze me when serendipity happens, but I have to admit at times I wonder if it is luck or a more constructed will-power from some other place. My work at the Liz Gillispie Genealogy Department at the Corsicana Public Library has always felt like play more than work to me. I enjoy the detective work genealogy and history research requires. It seems to be built into me internally, does that make sense? I get these ideas in my mind and I spend lots of time and energy on a topic to find someone’s lost family member or an answer to a historical mystery. Then there are the days like last week when serendipity happens, or was it? I mean, it was not on my radar, I was not looking for it… it came looking for me.
My personal mission is to preserve Corsicana/Navarro County stories. I can tell you Corsicana has had its share of interesting “local characters.” Hubby and I have discussed many over the years. We have talked about one gentleman in particular with whom hubby had known personally. As a kid, hubby would stop and visit with this old hermit as they passed each other on the road. Sometimes hubby would go sit on the porch of the guy’s shack north of Corsicana and they would chat. These stories had given me a curiosity about this guy. I had even started a small file on him about six or seven years ago. But, I had not found the time to sit down and research him. It was a personal quest so I simply had put him on a back burner with a someday I’ll get to him attitude.
He was well known in the northern section of town or the Zion’s Rest community. This week this “local character” seemed to have presented his story to me via a thoughtful past resident of Corsicana and an anonymous donor, neither of which are related to the Gray family, nor each other.
I learned about this guy through memories posted on Facebook but mostly by stories hubby shared. The Stubbs family and Les Gray lived many years in the community of Zion’s Rest. If you talk to the people who remember Les today, they will tell you he was an old man that didn’t have a very good mental ability. Some credit his military service for that trait. He chewed tobacco, and it dripped down the sides of his mouth. He rode a bicycle where ever he went. He wore old dark khaki trousers and a worn out old styled hat. He was a hermit who lived by himself off the beaten path in a little shack in the Hickory Hollow area. You know, the kind of spooky place where boys would dare each other to knock on the door and run.
He was never in the limelight nor did he make any historical headlines. He just lived a simple life, his life, as best he could.
On Jan. 18, 1918, the Local Board No. 1 for Navarro County continued their work as the classifications appeared. Les Gray belonged to Class 1 along with many others from Navarro County including names like Baldauf, Montgomery, Miller, McKie, Fitzgerald, Sandwich, Glasgow, and Ervin. Les was assigned number 670. That digit was the order number of registrants. They were informed the lower numbers would be called up for service before the higher numbers.
Leslie Owen Gray’s June 17, 1917, draft card and his military discharge paper states he was born December 25, 1887 in Kershaw County, South Carolina. That made this Christmas baby 29 years of age during his tour of duty in WWI. He worked as a farm laborer for J. R. Russell at this time. The papers relate that Les had the responsibility of caring for his mother, Sarah Gray. His father, John Bowman Gray, had passed away in 1912. Les was a slim, medium built man with a dark complexion who stood 5 feet 9 inches tall with gray/brown eyes and dark hair.
When he was called up by the draft board he had already served three years in the United States National Guard as a private in Co. I, Third Infantry. With a World War raging in 1918, this son of Sarah Gray was mustered as a private into Company A, 360th Infantry. He served in a transport unit.
Les had a brother who also mustered into the service of the United States during WWI. Clyde Gray was born Sept. 30, 1892, in Kershaw, South Carolina. He worked as a farmer and for the government as a mail carrier in the Zion’s Rest area. He also claimed responsibility for his aged mother, Sarah. Clyde was two inches taller than Les with a medium build, blue/gray eyes and light brown hair and fair complexioned.
Les and Clyde were the only two doughboys of John Bowman and Sarah (Stover) Gray. They had brought their family of seven children to Navarro County before the turn of the century. They left four children in their graves in South Carolina. When they came to Navarro County they settled close to the Grange Hall area. In 1910 they moved north of Zion’s Rest.
The oldest son of John and Sarah was Tula Gray. He was born Oct. 22, 1874. All the children of John and Sarah Gray were born in South Carolina. Tula worked in the mail department at the train depot in Corsicana until 1904 when he moved to Dallas. He married Georgia Hassel in New Mexico but raised his family in Dallas, Texas. He retired in 1936 after thirty-three years of service as a mail clerk for the railroad. During WWII he took a job in the office of Dallas County Clerk Ed Steger. This was primarily as a public service since office personnel was in short supply because of the war. He retired from that job in 1950. He was a member of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church and Oak Cliff Masonic Lodge. He was also a member of the Postal Transport Association and a state director of Texas United Pension Association. In fact, while attending the convention of the TUPA in Waco during 1951 he suffered a heart attack and died. He and his wife are buried at Laurel Land Memorial Park in Dallas.
The number two son of John and Sarah was Charles Branch Gray who was born on April 30, 1876. The tall, slender, gray eyed, dark haired Charlie married Evie Whitaker. He spent his entire life in agriculture. He and his wife raised their family on a farm in Hood County, Texas. When he retired he and Evie moved to Fort Worth to live with their oldest daughter, Eddye. They were members of the Wichita Avenue Methodist Church and he was a Mason. His daughter found him dead in his bedroom from a heart attack on July 1, 1953. He and his wife are buried at the Fairview Cemetery near Granbury, Texas.
The only Gray daughter to make the move from South Carolina was Elizabeth “Bessie” Camellia Gray. However, she passed away at the age of 22, unmarried.
Porter Gray was the next son of John and Sarah. He was born on May 5, 1886. He was the shortest of the brothers with a medium build, brown eyes and hair. He first moved with his brother Charlie when he settled in Hood County. After a few years, Porter came back to Corsicana and married Miss Mabel Louise Oliver McCullock. They moved to Houston, Texas, where he got a job with the railroad. He worked as a mechanic and a car builder until he retired. He died on June 13, 1967 in Houston from kidney failure. He and Mabel are buried at Brookside Memorial Park in Houston.
Lonnie Rogers Gray was born between Les and Clyde Gray. His birthday was April 14, 1889. He worked at the Corsicana Post Office for several years. He married Miss Anna Belle Hardin in 1913. After a few more years he moved south to Houston to work at the Houston Post Office. He and Anna Belle divorced in 1939. He married Lillie and they moved to a farm in Guadalupe County, Texas. He died on Aug. 24, 1986 in Houston.
I have already mentioned the sons of John and Sarah Gray, Les and Clyde. They both lived out their lives in Corsicana. Les, like his father and brother Charlie, retired from a life of farming. He owned several hundred acres of land in the Hickory Hollow section of North Corsicana. He never married but lived out his life content as a member of the North Corsicana Methodist Church. He and his brother Clyde were big advocates in the name change of their church home from Zion’s Rest Methodist to North Corsicana Methodist.
Les was a bit of a collector. He cherished several old coins he had found over the years. One time while he was walking behind the Levi Bros. Market building downtown Corsicana he found a 1873 5-cent piece in near mint-condition. It was just laying on the ground. He most likely kept it at his shack as long as he lived.
As was the case for many local men of Zion’s Rest, Les enjoyed spending time at the local market at the split of North Beaton and Corsicana Streets and Hardy Avenue. That’s where they gathered to talk over the world happenings and solved all the world problems. Sometimes some of the guys around the area would congregate at the store and make prank calls. Les would be in the background laughing so hard he would give away the joke. Les died at a Athens nursing home on April 4, 1970 and he was brought back to Corsicana for burial at Oakwood Cemetery near his parents.
Clyde Gray came home from the World War and married his valentine, Eliza Caroline Robinson. He had sent cards to Eliza from the faraway theater of war. He and Caroline were active in the Methodist church. He retired from civil service at the Corsicana Post Office. He passed away on Dec. 16, 1985. He and his valentine are buried at Oakwood Cemetery.
A month or so ago a lady from Virginia called me at the library. She stated she was raised in Corsicana, but had not been back in many years. She told me she had been to an estate sale and found an envelope of pictures of a family from Corsicana. She felt the desire to purchase these pictures but did not know any of the family that was listed with them. She asked me if I would take them in order to get them back to Corsicana. I said sure, I could put them in a file for safe keeping. She promised to mail them within the next week. But, they didn’t come.
Last week, she emailed with an apology for the delay and said she would send the pictures if I still would take them. I let her know I would.
Also, last week an anonymous donor (someone who hubby has known since he was a kid) called and left a message on my cell phone.
“Call me, I may have something for you.”
Hubby returned the call and agreed to take the offered papers and I agreed to make a file to keep them safe at the archives at the library. The caller said he would bring them by the next day. But, he didn’t come.
He called that night and said he simply forgot to come by but it was time for him to find a place for them. He had kept them safe since he had rescued them many years ago and wanted a safe place for them. I didn’t work the next day but I told him I had a volunteer keeping the doors open. He left the papers with her.
Thursday morning as I walked by my mail box at work and pick up a large envelope from Virginia. I set the envelope down on top of my desk. I pull out the papers the anonymous donor had left the day before. It was the military discharge of Les Gray. I read the document with a real feeling of desire to renew my research for him. I had no visual of the hermit who had lived a mile and a half from my home so many years ago. I passed my hand over the document and wished I could see his face. With that wish I folded up the paper and put it aside.
I spot the large envelope the lady from Virginia sent which I had placed on my desk and I opened it. I pulled out the pictures of John and Sarah, Tula, Charlie, Porter, Bessie, Les, Lonnie and Clyde Gray. I sat there for a moment to soak up what was going on. I emptied out the rest of the big envelope and found Clyde’s WWI discharge papers, more pictures and a few cards including a valentine and Christmas cards sent from the theater of war in 1918.
I decided to have a little chat with Les and Clyde and I promised them that in between my several commitments this weekend I would spend time researching their family.
The Stubbs family had been acquainted with the Gray family since the 1920s. One of the donors had never heard of the Gray family. The other donor had heard of Les but did not know him well. I had heard of him but never met him. This week we seem to have all been used by them to bring the family documents together again, have their family record completed and saved.
The Gray family story is not a fascinating or captivating one but one of a simple family with a simple life from old Zion’s Rest.
Les Gray you were such a dapper young man! This is for you sir, with a warm appreciation for your and Clyde’s military service and the friendly chats from back in the day… and today.
Lest we forget.
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