Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Living History of Nitta Yuma - April 2017

The Living History of Nitta Yuma 

One family with deep roots (and deeper quirks) wants to turn their hometown into a Southern tourist destination 
By Billy Watkins - April 2017

Henry Vick Phelps III walks one of the few roads left in Nitta Yuma, which has a population of around 20. 

More than 6,000 eyes and not a blink or a wink. It is one of the largest doll collections in the state. More than 3,000 fill the sizable building that served as a general store in the 19th century. That is just one of the oddities of Nitta Yuma, a Delta community near the banks of Deer Creek in Sharkey County, 40 miles north of Rolling Fork and 35 miles south of Leland. Its story is like many others throughout Mississippi. Once a boom-ing cotton community with a population approaching 600, Nitta Yuma is now home to about 20 souls who wouldn't consider living elsewhere. 

But itty bitty Nitta Yuma also is unique. It had electricity before Vicksburg or most cities in the United States. 

A Sept. 23, 1896, story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal carried the headline "Nitta Yuma Is Up To Date." The story said Nitta Yuma was "entitled to distinction as the most remarkable town on earth, in point of enterprise and metropolitan progress." It went on to say, "Nitta Yuma's single street is illuminated by electricity" thanks to the "enterprise and liberality of Henry Phelps, the proprietor of one of the stores." It described Phelps as an "accomplished electrician."

Family members whose roots are 200 years deep in this fertile soil want to share Nitta Yuma with the world, and they have plenty to look at — including nine buildings constructed before the Civil War. "A lot of people preserve their home place, the house they grew up in," says 60-year-old Henry Vick Phelps III, who grew up on this property and still lives here, as does his sister, Carolyn May, and his 28-year-old son, Vick. "But we went a little further and kept the other buildings, too." 

Phelps credits his grandparents, Henry and Dorothy Phelps, for having the good sense to let the structures be. "We'd like to have a coffee shop, a place where people can stop and relax and then go through the buildings," Phelps says. "We want to reconstruct the houses back to their original form. We'd like to work with the Delta and serve as an ambassador for the South and for tourism. It's not going to hap-pen overnight, but it's something we can do steady along. "I think our audience would be anyone with a passion for old houses and the South and architecture." 

Bear tracks and buried dolls 

Nitta Yuma means "bear track" or "trail of the bear" in the Choctaw language. 

It was settled in 1768, with an original population of 25. In 1805, Burwell Vick purchased the land with jewels from the Choctaws.

The land eventually became a plantation owned by Vick's son, W.H. Vick, who developed what's called the 100 cotton seed in 1843, a seed that that helped planters maximize pounds of cotton per acre and was eventually sold commercially. 

In 1901, when the nearly 6,000 acres was divided among the four children, Henry Phelps became owner of the family homestead. It's now in the hands of his grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

And while some of the buildings still need to be renovated, others are ready for viewing. Among them: The general store/doll house and its thousands of occupants. The dolls were owned by Dorothy Cole Phelps, mother of Henry III and Carolyn May.

"Her father and uncle owned a funeral home," May explains. "She and her friends used to act like they were having funerals. They would bury dolls and say a prayer over them. "Later on in life, the memory of burying those dolls bothered her.

She started collecting them when she was 35. She died in 2011 when she was 99. What you see here are the dolls she collected over the course of 60 years." They sit side by side on rows of shelves. Others stare out of glass cases that were part of the store. Many look the same. But then there is the Planter's Peanut Man, smiling at you like an old friend. There, too, are Bozo, Popeye, the Jolly Green Giant and Howdy Doody. One glass counter holds only Barbies. This is the Delta, after all, and society status matters. "Whenever people come in here, they'll say, `Oh, I had a doll just like that one,' and point," Phelps says. "It really hits home with women of all ages."

Sprinkled among the dolls are musical instruments: A miniature piano. A snare drum. An accordion. A French horn, trumpet and trom-bone. A rusty harpsichord. I ask Phelps if he is sure the dolls don't talk and play music when darkness comes and humans are out of sight. "You never know," he says and smiles. Other Nitta Yuma buildings ready to visit include: »A furnished antebellum home built around 1855.

It was moved here from the Cameta Plantation, about two miles away. "My daddy gave this to my mother as a wedding present," Phelps says. 

The home where Phelps grew up and still lives. The original family home burned in 1901. Phelps' grandfather re-modeled the family's carriage house, which was built around 1760, and made it their main residence. »A late 18th-century log cabin, which was restored to its original look and moved to Nitta Yuma by Henry II. »A chapel built in 1988 to replace the one lost in a 1901 fire. It includes a plantation bell made of silver dollars hanging from the ceiling. A couple from Belgium is scheduled to have the first wedding there sometime in the fall.

No place like home 

"This place is a lot of work," Vick Phelps says. "Just keeping the grass cut is a project." But he loves it here and appreciates his family's history. He proves it whenever his dad wants to check a family fact. "Alfred the Great (former ruler of England) is my 35th great-grandfather," he says. "Remember Lewis and Clark, the explorers? 

Clark's brother, John, is my fifth great-grandfather. "It's pretty cool going back and learning this stuff, knowing your roots. It definitely helps you realize where you want to be." Contact 

Watch: Video tour of Nitta Yuma.

Billy Watkins at 601-961-7282 or bwat-kins@jackson.gannett. coin. Follow @BillyWat-kinsil on Twitter.
July 29, 2017 - 5:00 p.m.
The Headstone Dedication and Celebration of Bo Carter
Nitta Yuma Cemetery
Nitta Yuma Plantation - Sharkey County, Mississippi

Join us for the headstone dedication and celebration featuring the original fiddle used by Alonzo Chatmon, the actual National Style N guitar once owned by Bo Carter and all of the amazing musicians who plan to perform at the event in Nitta Yuma, MS on July 29, 2017, such as....

- Ron Bombardi (who like Armenter Chatmon, or Bo Carter, adopted a new name as a musician, "Jersey Slim" Hawkins) is a professor and philosopher with dextrous mental abilities, which he readily transfers through his body so he can walk around town, talk to people, and even write a few simple words every now and again in the academic journals and monographs. The longtime fiddle player for the Stompers, in fact, models his playing style after the Mississippi Sheiks most-accomplished fiddle player, Lonnie Chatmon, the brother of Bo Carter (The two brothers stand to the left of Walter Vinson in the below photo). It is very fitting then that his hero's fiddle will be available for his use in Nitta Yuma.  Lonnie Chatmon's fiddle may be heard once again with the steel-bodied National Style N guitar of Bo Carter.

Bill Steber is the photographer who got the good shots of the most recent group of the blues legends, whose work you may have seen at the local university or in Oxford American magazine, but he doubles as one of the potent musical forces behind the Murfreesboro, TN-based Jake Leg Stompers.
- Blues musician Andy Cohen's amazing career has spanned decades so I have prepared a collection of content for your reading and viewing pleasure HERE or you can visit his website HERE

- Blues traveller and musician Steve Cheseborough's admiration and enthusiasm for the music of Bo Carter is all but limitless. He has informed the owner of the National Style N guitar of Bo Carter!!!! And he is Nitta Yuma bound and down!!! Click HERE to read Cheseborough's epic quest for his own personal Holy Grail of the Blues!

- Moses Crouch is a hill country musician of the most committed order who is often heard cooking up his liniments and draining out special orders of snake oil juice with the Memphissippi Medicine. Despite being the youngest musician to confirm thusfar, his repertoire includes plenty of music with an old soul...

Miles Floyd, the grandson of Armenter Chatmon, will be on hand at the event. So will the original instruments owned and played by the Chatmon family.

Henry Phelps, the landowner of the small hamlet, plans to have a large celebration and reception with food and refreshments following the dedication. He has done many excellent renovations of the historic buildings in Nitta Yuma, and the commemoration of Bo Carter's headstone offers everyone a chance to experience this jewel of the mid-Delta through the lens of a unique celebration.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

How Claud Johnson won the Royalties of Robert Johnson's Estate

How Claud Johnson won 
Royalties of Robert Johnson Estate
By Ellen Barry for the Los Angeles Times - 2004


Inside the pink brick estate he built with a blues fortune, 72- year-old Claud Johnson cannot shake the habits he formed when he was a poor man.

Three years after moving in, he still has more rooms than he has furniture. Creamy wall-to-wall stretches across the second floor, which is mostly empty. To tell the truth, he's not sure if his wife, Miss Ernestine, has ever gone up there.

He keeps his finicky 25-year-old Mack gravel truck parked nearby, where he can keep an eye on it through the living room window. He drove the truck, by his own estimate, one and a quarter million miles. Even as plants poke up around its chassis, it seems the truck — not the blues or the house — is the thing that matters to him.

After Claud won his court battle in 1998 and was recognized as the son of blues music legend Robert Johnson, his lawyer handed him a six-figure cashier's check and begged him to quit hauling gravel. Claud kept hauling gravel for five months.

"After 29 years, it just gets in your blood," said Claud, whose smile reveals glinting gold dental work. "I wake up some mornings, I want to get on that truck."

Late in life, surrounded by the wealth of a stranger, Claud has begun to consider a parent he never knew.

Robert Johnson was a blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. Disgusted with fieldwork, he left his sharecropping family around 1930 and took to the highway, re-cording, in his unearthly voice, 29 songs.

Johnson's music was so good, other men said, that his talent could not be natural: Delta leg-end has it that one day at a back-country crossroad, Johnson waited for the devil to come by. After that, Johnson could play any song he wanted, but he had surrendered his soul.

Johnson was just 27 when he died in August 1938 — poisoned, most people believe, by a jealous husband in a Greenwood, Miss., juke joint. He was so poor and unloved, it is said, that his body was dumped into the ground without a coffin, and to this day, no one is entirely sure where he's buried. But the brooding songs he wrote and recorded have been discovered and rediscovered by the generations that came after him.

People in Greenwood have become accustomed to the Japanese tourists who come looking for Johnson's grave. Just this year, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Eric Clapton released "Me and Mr. Johnson," a CD devoted entirely to Johnson's blues.

In the midst of all this celebrity is Claud Johnson, who did not know until he was almost 40 that his father had recorded mu-sic.

Claud is that rare thing, said blues historian Gayle Dean Wardlow: an ordinary man who was drawn into a legend.

"He's just a little old country boy from Crystal Springs, Miss.," said Wardlow. "It's almost like, I guess, one of those Shakespearean things. He got pulled into it, totally."

Since 1974, Robert Johnson's songbook had been in the hands of a California record producer and blues archivist, Stephen LaVere, who sought out the musician's half-sister, Carrie Thompson, and promised to split the profits evenly.

Over the next decade, that bargain dissolved into a catfight. LaVere was pressuring bands like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones to pay to use the music. Thompson, meanwhile, had turned against LaVere, and attempted to sever the contract.

Then, in 1990, Sony put out a boxed set of Johnson's music, expecting it to appeal to a narrow audience of blues connoisseurs. It won a Grammy and sold more than 500,000 copies.

When word got out that Robert Johnson's estate could be worth millions, putative heirs appeared by the dozen.

Willis Brumfield, the estate's executor, began getting calls at odd hours from people who claimed they were Johnson's long-lost twin brother or daughter, he said.

"They had some idea it was a fortune of money," Brumfield said, "and it was."

Out of this cacophony emerged Claud Johnson.

A few people already knew who he was. In 1970, a Texas cultural historian named Mack McCormick had traveled to Crystal Springs to search for Robert Johnson's relatives, and found himself face to face with a twinkly old woman, who, he recalls, "just burbled over. She said, 'My boy is his baby.' "Blues buffs passed the information among themselves — a son! But Claud continued with his quiet life.

The estate eventually grew to $1.3 million. But Robert Johnson's executors found that they had no clearly established heir. Thompson, the half-sister, had died in 1983, and her half-sister and son were still wrangling with LaVere over the licensing rights. LaVere recalled mentioning Claud to the executors.

Not long after that, Claud received a summons in the heir-ship case. "I didn't know what to do with the letter," Claud said. He decided to hire a lawyer.

When Claud retained the services of Jim Kitchens, a prominent Jackson trial lawyer and former district attorney, they were already friends of 30 years' standing, from the days when Claud dropped off deliveries for Kitchens' family store in Crystal Springs. Kitchens bought barbecue at Claud's pit, and Miss Ernestine treated him, Kitchens said, "like one of her own kids."

In Kitchens' office, an over-head fan revolves lazily and a picture of Elvis Presley is propped against an upright piano.

"He [Claud] walked in one day and said, 'Jim, do you know who Robert Johnson was?'

"I said, 'Sure I do,' " Kitchens recalled.

"He said, 'How do you know that?'

"I said, 'I listen to public radio.'

"He said, 'That was my daddy."

"I said, 'What?'

He said, 'That was my daddy.'

"I said, 'Who else knows this?'

"He said, 'Well, there's my momma.
Among the dirt farms of southern Mississippi, where Claud was raised, there were two kinds of people: those who listened to the blues and those who did not. Claud knew early in life that he was the second kind. Born out of wedlock to 17-year-old Virgie Mae Smith, he was mostly raised by Virgie Mae's father, a preacher and sharecropper, in a house where music was slapped back like the creeping fingertips of the devil.

If the blues came on the radio, a hand flew to the radio and switched it off. Once, Claud's uncle bought him a guitar, but his grandfather told him to put it down immediately. His grandparents told him his father was Robert Johnson, a blues singer. Robert Johnson had given Virgie Mae a small amount of money after learning of Claud's birth — $20 or $30 —but showed little interest in the boy after that. Around his fifth birthday, Claud watched from the doorway of his grandparents' house as they talked to a grown man in a light-colored shirt and black pants.

"They stood on the porch. They made him stand in the yard," he said. "They talked to him a few minutes and then he went away." Pulled out of school every year to work in the fields, Claud dropped out for good in the sixth grade and found satisfaction in work, long hours of it, sometimes at two or three jobs. He sold barbecue from a pit beside his house, worked at gas stations and a car dealership; his wife waited tables at a local diner.

Claud saved enough to buy his own gravel truck — a ma-chine so crotchety that he carried a tangle of cables and four extra batteries in order to start it, Kitchens remembers. Often Claud drove it for 18 hours a day. In this way, he and Ernestine put five children through college.

His grandparents' stern influence had served him as a rudder, steadying him throughout his life, he said. "It learned me something about life, growing up that way," he said.

Then, in his 60s, the heirship case opened a view into a second Mississippi: a place where, in moments of glamour, young people ducked the narrow rules of sharecropping life.

In testimony, Claud's 79-year-old mother and her friends would describe the dark clubs where the field workers gathered, laughing, in the half-light of evening.

They described his father: a man known for slipping out with-out saying goodbye, for traveling under aliases, for sleeping in boxcars and emerging with pants that looked like they had just been steam-ironed.

They described performances where Robert Johnson sat alone with a guitar and held them all still. They described what happened when he met up with 17-year-old Virgie Mae Smith on her way to school. In the end, the crucial testimony came from Virgie Mae's closest friend, Eula Mae Williams, an 80-year-old midwife with pure white hair, who recalled an evening walk she took with her fiance and Virgie Mae and Robert Johnson.

To the shock of the assembled lawyers, who had to pause during questioning because they were laughing so hard, she de-scribed how both couples made love standing up in the pine for-est, watching each other the whole time.

She was questioned by Victor McTeer, an attorney from Greenville who was representing Carrie Thompson's relatives as they contested Claud's claim to the estate.

Q: Well, let me, let me share something with you, because I'm really curious about this. Maybe I have a more limited experience. But you're saying to me that you were watching them make love?
A: M-hm.
Q: While you were making love?
A: M-hm.
Q: You don't think that's at all odd?
A: Say what?
Q: Have you ever done that before or since?
A: Yes.
Q: Watch other people make love?
A: Yes, I have done it before. Yes, I've done it after I married. Yes.
Q: You watched other people make love?
A: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.
Q: Other than…other than Mr. Johnson and Virgie Cain [her married name].
A: Right.
Q: Really?
A: You haven't?
Q: No. Really haven't.
A: I'm sorry for you.

Today, in the working-class neighborhood where he raised his children, Claud lives in a grand house on 47 acres of property, with a long, curving drive-way. His victory stands out in the annals of Mississippi probate law.

For an illegitimate child to prove the paternity of a long-dead man is a daunting legal challenge. It took 10 years, two trips to the Mississippi Supreme Court and two trips to the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the question. Claud's mother died in 1998, months before he received the money. In a way, the most remark-able thing is that anyone in Mississippi is holding Robert John-son's wealth at all.

The first two or three generations of blues musicians saw their music diffuse into American culture, but most of them died without securing rights to their composition. If their relatives received anything later, it was tiny. The strip of Mississippi that gave rise to the blues re-mains one of the poorest places in America. "If it's not unique, it's close to unique," said Thomas Freeland, a Mississippi attorney and blues historian. 

When the San Francisco-based band the Grateful Dead recorded songs by the North Carolina blues musician Elizabeth Cotten, Freeland said, "the story is, [she] bought a dish-washer with the royalties." Inside the pink brick gates to their land, the Johnsons live somewhat awkwardly with the wealth they inherited. On a re-cent afternoon, Miss Ernestine was sitting in the garage, listening to a religious program on the car radio. Claud looked critically at his vast lawn, irritated by the task of mowing it.

Inside, a small decorative Bible sat on a coffee table, resting on a lacy pillow. A large framed poster of Robert Johnson hung on the wall. Claud listens to his father's blues recordings some-times now, although he prefers gospel. He doesn't have much to say about the windfall he received —money, he said, does not mean too much to him.

"I was excited when I found out there was going to be a little bit of money in it," he said. "I was a little excited. And then that went away." What remains is a quiet resentment toward Robert John-son's other relatives, whose lawyers for years argued that he was not the musician's son. Claud has never met any of them, but the challenge, he says, has of-fended him.

"I've always known all my life who I was and whose son I was," he said. "Never got angry over it. Like I said, my grandparents they always told me Robert Johnson was my father." Already, he was a solitary, careful man. Claud, a church deacon, has had such a lifelong fear of poisoning he did not eat at his mother-in-law's house for two years after his wedding.

Even at home, if he gets up from a meal leaving a half-drunk glass of water, he will not touch it on his return. "I'm just curious that way," he said, with a slow smile. "It just sticks in the back of my mind what happened to him." With all these people talking to him about Robert Johnson's music, too, he's had occasion to wonder about a few things.

He remembers the guitar being lifted from his hands that time long ago. He says that he has a nice singing voice. One after another, people from outside Mississippi have come to Claud to tell him the effect Robert Johnson had on their lives: Magical, haunting, almost godlike. He wonders what it would have been like if his father had stuck around.

And he wonders, from time to time, if, in that alternate version of his life, he would have played the blues.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017


Gary Davis
By Kenneth Goldstein for The Record Changer  14:8

In the course of editing several albums for the Riverside Folklore Series I was faced with the pleasant task of finding material for an American Street Songs album to supplement the English, Irish and Scots material which had previously been recorded for use in the series. American street songs, however, are part of a tradition totally different from that of the British Isles. In England, Ireland and Scotland, street songs were almost exclusively secular. In America, street songs were as frequently religious as they were of a worldly nature. The traditions were also quite distinct and separate in their functioning. Rarely will a singer of religious material cross the line to sing secular material, and primarily secular street singers will rarely know more than the one or two religious songs with which they soften up their audiences.

The problem defined itself clearly into the necessity of finding two to represent the secular tradition and a second to represent the religious tradition. Finding the secular street singer was no problem. Riverside had in its recorded archives some 10 or 12 numbers performed by a Carolina street singer, Pink Anderson. which had been recorded by Paul Clayton in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 1950. Where would we find a religious street singer to match with him?

Here, too, the solution was quite simple. In 1954, I had the opportunity to attend a recording session of the Reverend Gary Davis, by Stinson Records. One thing stood out clearly at that session. Sonny Terry, the fabulous folk harmonicist, supported the Reverend's singing and playing on his "mouth-harp." The engineering job was a pretty bad one, and the wonderful sounds of the harmonica completely drowned out the equally wonderful guitar playing of the Reverend Davis. I thought at that time that someday Davis would have to be recorded by himself, with a very careful and proper balance set up between his voice and his exciting guitar playing. Here then was the solution to my search for a religious street singer.

With the help of John Gibbon and "Tiny" Singh (a niece of the late Huddie Ledbetter), I contacted the Reverend and a recording session was scheduled for the evening of January 29 of this year. Also present at the recording session were John Gibbon and the photographer Lawrence Shustak whose superb shots taken during that session are seen on this page as well as on the cover of this issue of the Record Changer. As soon as the recording started everyone in the room came to the immediate realization that this was going to be a great session. Gary was at his best, without a doubt. Of the nine songs recorded in a little over two hours, only two had to be re-recorded. I have often followed the principle that good artists, folk or otherwise, are their own best critics. They know what they want to say and therefore are the best ones to decide whether or not they ended up saying it the way they intended. As soon as we played back the first recording, Gary broke into a huge grin. There was no doubt about it. He was listening to himself the way he wanted it to sound.

The music Gary Davis performs is more than just religious material. It is jazz—plain and simple. Daniel G. Hoffman has termed his performance "Holy Blues"...and that it is. The guitar breaks between stanzas. the intricate runs, the blues stanzas, the slurred vocal and instrumental lines, the frequent exchanges between voice and guitar...all are integral parts of jazz. His performances are an exciting combination of the deep religious intensity of earlier Negro spirituals. the subjective identification of the blues, the drive and movement of jazz, and the directed objective of the sermon.

Davis was born in 1896 in Lawrence County, South Carolina, the son of a poor farmer. He took to instruments naturally and could play the mouth harp by the time he was five, could pick a few songs out on the banjo by six, and played the guitar with facility at the age of seven. He remembers playing for a short time in a string band in Greenville, South Carolina, when he was still a young man, and this seems to have been his only group experience as an instrumentalist.

He refuses to talk about how he became blind, or when, but it must have been in his blues singing days as a young man. In any case, the occurrence which caused his blindness probably contributed to his decision to give up his rowdy blues singing ways and to turn to religion. He was ordained a minister in Washington, North Carolina, in 1933, and has since refused to sing anything but religious music (according to his own story). Examples of his blues singing have been preserved, however, though they are available only through discriminating collectors of rare jazz recordings. In recording sessions held in New York City on July 23, 24, 25 and 26, in 1935, he recorded 14 sides for the now long-defunct Perfect label. Of these, he was somehow induced by the Per-fect company to record two sides of blues, together with 12 sides of religious material. (For a complete listing of these recordings, see the Gary Davis discography at the end of this article.)

For the past 16 years he has been living in New York City, during which time he has recorded material for two long-playing records and has appeared, not infrequently, on radio and in folk music concerts. He has more to offer, however, than the average street singer, and he can be seen not only on the streets of Harlem or catering to the religious needs of storefront congregations, but also at small folksong gatherings where his audiences are made up of aspiring young guitarists and singers who hope to pick up one or another of the many instrumental tricks which contribute to his unique style. If readers of this article who own some of the early Perfect recordings of Gary Davis will contact me I should like to arrange to obtain copies made for the purpose of analysis, and I will then, in some future issue, analyze the changes which have taken place in his performance and songs in the more than 20 years since he made his first recordings.


For a complete discography of Rev. Davis, there is a carefully sorted one by William Lee 'Bill' Ellis in his doctoral dissertation, "I Belong to the Band." He was able to match up all the borrowings and re-borrowings that the Rev's recordings went through, one compilation to another over the years.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

130 Year Old Blues Man Buried Near Charley Patton at Holly Ridge Cemetery


In December 1994, the residents of Holly Ridge buried Bill Jones, believed to have been the oldest Mississippian at 130 years old, in Holly Ridge Cemetery—the gravesite of Charley Patton.

Jones took with him memories of two floods, the notorious gangster Jesse James, and Indians living in tents near the Delta plantation on which he was born.

Although there was no official documentation, Jones is believed to have been born on Dec. 13, 1863 as the son of a slave at Swain Station, now Longswitch, west of Holly Ridge. Two years ago, Gov. Kirk Fordice honored him as the oldest person in Mississippi.

In an interview around that time, Jones offered this reason for having lived such a long life: "I ate a little, smoked a little, and drank a little, but I left wild women alone.''

Jones described himself as "always working.'' From an early age, he worked on farms and railroads, and he helped build up the Mississippi River levee.

"He worked the levee when it broke in 1908 up at Scott, and in 1927 when it broke in Greenville,'' said Frank McWilliams, an Indianola attorney whose family had been close to Jones for years.

As a young man Jones saw Jesse James kill a man at what is now called James Crossing, 15 miles south of Greenville on Mississippi 1.

Later he lived in Greenville and worked in Dunlieth, where he was a member of Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. A farmer, he had his own horse team and played the blues on his banjo.

Jones became an "infamous'' member of the Dunleith-Longswitch community, McWilliams said. Even Columbus and Greenville Railway trains would stop at his house to visit.

"The engineers used to get off and visit with him, and bring him whiskey,'' McWilliams said. "He wasn't but 110 then.''

In 1985, friends persuaded the 121-year-old man to move to Heritage Manor.

Always independent, Jones insisted on doing things for himself.

He participated in ball games, fishing trips, and even visited the casinos in Greenville.

Jones had certain routines he loved -- a cigarette after breakfast, four ``toddies'' a day. He was proud of his collection of caps, which he hung on the branches of a tree in his room when he wasn't wearing them.

Jones was so active and involved, Grissom said, that ``we thought we had him forever.''