Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ghost Town and Death Mask (Adventure - Part Two)

Yes, there is a ghost town and a death mask in this post.... so, keep reading!

Buckle up... here's the quick version of my adventure to find "the sign".

After driving 2 hours south to the ole home country, we were joined by our cousin. He became the Clayton Magical History Tour guide.

Venturing down some roads where we encountered not another soul... very remote!

This road led us to the forgotten and abandoned ghost town of:


And to this circa 1900 country store where my grandfather and his brothers would buy supplies during their hunting trips.

My cousin explained that deer season in the early days lasted only two weeks. The men would load up an entire boxcar full of food, gear, and horses, then they would unload everything at the Yancopin store.

Next stop: Arkansas City, once a thriving river town full of showboats and commerce, but now Main Street looks empty and sad... a shell of its former self.

This is the town where my mother grew up, where my great grandfather and grandfather were sheriffs. Although it is still the county seat, most every one and thing has moved away, including the river which was once the life blood of this little community.

They were the Arkansas City River Rats.

My brother in front of the volunteer fire department's (hand-cranker) fire truck. Is it any wonder that half the town burned down in the 50's?

The little church where my mother was married in 1952.

And the beautiful baptistry font where my mother was baptized in 1929.

Next, I asked for the town museum's key where I found my grandfather's picture sporting his 1936 G-Man look.

My grandfather was personal friends with J.Edgar Hoover because he was the country's first sheriff to be trained at Quantico's FBI school (1936). My grandfather brought back to Arkansas all the modern crime-solving techniques of the day... fingerprinting and plaster cast-making.

By making plaster casts of a criminal's crime- scene- shoe prints, the Sheriff solved a local crime shortly after his training. Very early C.S.I. stuff.

In the town's museum I saw the actual shoes and casts related to that crime. Along with...

the criminal's death mask.

This mask used to hang on Sheriff Clayton's office wall, death masks being in vogue in the 30's. John Dillinger's death mask can be found at the FBI building in Washington.

Futhermore, lest, you think this was yet another Southern story of small towns, good ole boys and racism, my grandfather snuck (not a real word, but I love it too much to not use it.) this accused man out of the county jail under night's cover, avoiding an angry lynch mob.

My grandfather had a reputation among all types of people for being a fair, honest, trustworthy man. He made sure that this man had a fair trial.

But... the death mask became a warning to all potential criminals: No crimes in this county... not on Sheriff Clayton's watch!

The Desha County Courthouse
where both my grandfather and great-grandfather worked as Sheriffs and Collectors. My grandfather once kept his new bull in the pasture behind this building, and it was a unique day when the bull escaped running wildly through this building.

Ye Ole Drunk Tank

Don't ya think spending the night in this cell, with the only ventilation being this small window, would cure all drinking problems?

Next: Old church in the nearby Selma town.

Town? Well, actually just a wide place in the road.The Claytons had settled in Selma in the 1820's, but when the railroad was built, all the families moved toward the railroad and away from the mosquitoes.

Needing some TLC.

Doors were nailed shut. I peeked through the crack.

The earliest Arkansas-born Clayton (1831).

This Selma Cemetery headstone was of my great great grandfather, Chesley C. Clayton.

Chesley's father (James S. Clayton) had been a river boat captain and land speculator from South Carolina, arriving in Arkansas in 1828. He captained a steamboat route from Arkansas Post to New Orleans.

Sadly, at a young 29 years, James died in a New Orleans cholera epidemic. Hoping to find him at this spot, I did not.

Neither did I find his wife. So a mystery still surrounds those two.

I will be working on that.

Brother, Cousin, and Mom in front of the courthouse.

I didn't find "the sign", but I think I discovered a whole lot more.
I brought back a lot! Memories of a day spent with my 82 year-old-mom, big brother, and
second cousin Clayton (whom I never get to see) along with a better knowledge of family history.

Also... I brought back some really cool pictures taken with my new Canon EOS Rebel T2icamera... purchased totally with more proceeds from selling my clutter!


  1. Oh Bev, this was an AMAZING post! I hardly know what to comment on first!

    To know as much family history as you do is impressive and mind boggling! How wonderful to have such a sense of self as a member of a family, and to appreciate the ancestors that came before you!

    Your new camera is awesome! And I must say, your photos are so artistic and turned out beautiful! To take a road trip like this AND document it: priceless!

    I loved all the stories that went along with your pics. I was particularly touched to see the church where your mother was married - how special :) The pics and stories of your grandfather the sheriff were just fascinating! And I loved your county courthouse pic - especially after I heard about the bull escaping! LOL!

    Sorry my comments were so long-winded... but this was truly a wonderful adventure! Thank you ever so much for taking us along with you! xoxo

  2. Thanks for taking us along on your tour of your family history. Very interesting. :)

  3. Wow, a time with family, some never seen enough, and history – that bit about your grandpa was awesome – he was a G-man - wow - and a jailhouse, and the little church, and that death mask, thank you for this trip – thank you for taking on the pictures – I've never been deeper into the "South" then Nashville – but I read so many Southern bloggers I get a taste of it sometimes. Just like you gave me today. Thank you. (Smiles) and God bless and keep you and each and every one of yours.

  4. books – press the button too soon – didn't put in my blog URL – I'm Craig– from Deep into Scripture :)

  5. Wow.

    I have started comments 12 dozen times since you posted this and have been interrupted every time!

    This is such a wonderful post! I so enjoyed the photos (awesome camera, BTW!) and stories that described them! I've never heard the death mask story (that I can remember), and the detail on the riverboat captain ancestors is priceless.

    I haven't seen Chuck in a hundred years -- he looks just the same as he did in high school. I don't suppose I've seen Clayton since one of the funerals. Your mom lookled great! What a treat -- to spend a day with family, in search of roots.

    Thank you so much for sharing this piece of our common history. I hope you are able to follow up on your ideas! I sent a link to Daddy and my girls.

  6. Bev, thank you SO much for sharingthis! I LOVE reading about our family! Can't wait to see what you dig up next. ;)

  7. Loved going with you through all of this! Wonderful! God bless you and your family and your next adventure!