By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. Over the years some people have commented that I rarely write about the dark side of our heritage, but I’ve related the sorry history of the cotton mill and the Wagner and Ed Gammons murders to name a few. I’ve tried to be careful and consider the possibility that descendants of some of these people might still be alive and in many cases I don’t mention names but instead use a partial designation.
In the 1930s if you had driven north from Water Valley on old Hwy. 7 about two miles past the county line you would have come to the Springdale settlement.. On the left was a small store with a gas pump in front and living quarters in the rear. It was run by Mr. Watts, who originally came from near Pontotoc. He had a wife and two boys and the oldest, Reuben, assisted in the business, which was largely the sale of moonshine whiskey.
He would drive up to Ensley bottoms near Memphis and load his car from the still that operated there. He and his helper would drive down to an isolated farm house – known as the Ashford house – that adjoined Papa Badley’s farm. When I was a small child I would ride behind Papa’s saddle on Bessie, his saddle mare. Once we came upon Reuben and his friend opening a gate that led to that house.
Papa knew both of them and they carried on a friendly conversation and then we went on our way. Papa never mentioned what they did but I’m sure he knew what they were doing. He was strictly a law and order person but he also adopted a live and let live philosophy and those guys knew they had nothing to fear from him.
I had also been with Papa when he would stop at the Watts’ store to buy cheese and crackers for our lunch and Mr. Watts was friendly and outgoing and seemed to know he had nothing to fear from Papa.
A side bar here: many years later Mr. Watts had a small store with a gas pump out front on Hwy. 6 outside Oxford across from Kiami’s drive-in. He remembered me and we had some long conversations about old times. He commented about re-membering me riding be-hind Papa on old Bessie.
In the mid 1930s there was a murder at Watts store. There was a large group of men around and nobody was ever charged. I’m sure Mr. Watts knew the culprit but he never divulged his name. He finally was arrested by a revenue agent for selling moonshine and served 18 months in the federal prison in Atlanta.
When he was released he said,” I may keep drinking, but I’ll never sell it again.” He apparently kept his word.
Closer to home, on Hwy. 7 south in front of where Larson’s Piggly Wiggly is now, was a small beer joint called the Circle Inn. Some high school girls started hanging out there and one night a senior, Corita Carr, was shot under mysterious circumstances. She was taken to the hospital where she later died.
Although she gave a statement that it was an accident, some indictments were handed down and a trial held. My old friend, the late Jim Oakley, said he was in high school and they cut classes to watch some of the proceedings. He told me that there was no clear-cut evidence that it was anything but an accident and no one was ever convicted.
There you have two walks on Water Valley’s dark side and next week we can go back to more pleasant things.
My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.