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Letter from Gordon Kimbrough
to Edna May

The following excerpts are from a letter dated 1963 found in the papers of William Walker May (1908-1983). The person being addressed by letter writer Gordon Kimbrough is Edna May, daughter of Dr. Julius Pinckney May and Dora Butler May of Aspen Hill. Edna was William May's half-sister. The letter includes references to Gordon and Edna's relatives and classmates in turn of the century Aspen Hill as well as an account of a local murder.


Now if you don't mind I will give you a bit of historical data. Some you may recall, but some I am sure that you will not.

My mother was the daughter of John I. Butler and Edith Biles Butler, and she had five brothers and two sisters. Uncle William Butler was married to Aunt Rabe, whose maiden name was Beasley. Aunt Tenny was married to Tom Browning, and they were the parents of Gladys Young and Edith Hunter and five other girls.

My mother's first husband was Joe Browning. This made Earl and Daisy Browning double first cousins of Uncle Tom and Aunt Tenny's seven girls.

My father's first wife was Susan Howard, the sister of Bill Howard, John David Howard, and Pete Howard who was the husband of Mother's sister, Fay Butler Howard. They lived near Cedar Grove.

Mother and Father were living at the old Butler place, just across the road from where your grandfather Butler lived[Dr, Jerome Pillow Butler].Your Uncle John and Wessie were living there when I last saw them. I was born there Nov. 19, 1885, with your grandfather officiating.

Two years later on the very same day of the month of November, your Uncle George came across the road with his magic bag and left Carley.

Then my grandmother died, and the place was sold to Uncle Tom Browning, and we moved to a cottage on the lot where Iva Simpson lives in a two story house built by her father Will Butler when he married Iva Butler, daughter of Uncle William and Aunt Rabe.

When I was four years and two months old, your Uncle Todd, while cleaning out his office, came across an extra baby and asked his father and brother what to do with it. Your grandfather said, "Oh, put it in your bag and take it up to Kimbrough's." So he did just that, and there was Arlene. You can believe it or not, but that's the story they handed me. I was young, but I remember the affair very well. Seems like your grandfather and his sons had some kind of grudge against the Kimbroughs because every time they had a baby left over, they took it to the Kimbroughs!

Your father [Dr. Julius Pinckney May] has certainly packed a lot of 'em around in his bag. I can see him now astride Old Simon, the gray horse, sometimes just jogging along and other times being tickled with the spur, Old Simon going in high. Maybe to beat the stork or some other emergency. He was noted for his treatment of typhoid fever which was rampant in those days. Your father-not Simon.

...When I started to school in 1891, Lula King, Eunice Ragsdale, Minnie Hazlewood, Daisy Beasley, Daisy Browning-my half-sister-Helen Anthony, Pearl Dunnivant, Sammie Abernathy, and Ann Eubanks were among the older girls at school at that time. Overlooked Dady Rivers and Bett Butler.

Prof Roy Collins was the teacher, and his son Clifford, who is now a pharmacist at Reeves Drug in Pulaski, and I started to school at the same time. In 1960 when we were over there, we talked with Clifford and laughed when I told him about his father giving Julius [Edna's brother Julius Pinckney May, Jr.] and myself a switching when he caught us throwing balls of paper across the room at each other during "office hours."

When I started to school, among the young men attending were: Logan and Fred Beasley, John and Mark Anthony, Marvin Dunnivant, Robin Abernathy-Peck came along later-your brothers Elmo and Roy [May], Jerry and Gray Ragsdale, Charley Petty-son of John and Grace Petty (the other Pettys came later), Oliver King, Ezra Fudge, Ike Tarpley and Harry Nelson. They were all older than myself. And later came a host of others too numerous to mention.

Miss Sammie Bayless was the assistant teacher, and on my first day, she gave me a slate and pencil and had me making what she called little bird eggs. When I had a slate full of misshapen bird eggs, she said, "Now we will put a little hook on them and have an "A." And my first school book was printed on linen cloth. We had to buy our own books in those days and Henry Grigsby, the druggist in Pulaski, sold them.

Prof Luna was probably your first teacher?

My mother always spoke of your grandfather as "Cousin Jerry." I don't know what the relationship, if any, there was between John I. Butler, Dr. J.P. Butler, and Sheriff John Butler, the father of Will Butler who lived across Richland Creek near Harwells station, but I have heard that Munnican Butler who migrated from North Carolina was the great great granddaddy of them all. Perhaps you have something on that?

...The old Butler place was the original Aspen Hill, and before the railroad was built, there was a stage line through that section (That was before the Civil War.) The stages would stop there overnight, and they kept a number of horses there and changed teams. My mother said they had rooms and meals for the passengers and drivers, also the post office. When the railroad was built, Aspen Hill was moved to its present site. Uncle William, as you know, was agent there for years, and Mr. King was the postmaster. Walter Fogg was the last P.M. that I remember.

Your stepmother Dezzie Walker and her brother Herbert were relatives of ours. Their grandmother and my father's mother were sisters. Their maiden name was White.

...Mrs. Bill Hammonds and Mrs. Bob Mitchell, the grandmother of Mitchell Abernathy, were my father's aunts. Bill Hammonds had previously shot and killed the father of Bob Mitchell, so there was not much love lost between those families. Then when Hammonds killed Uncle Tom Browning, our family was caught in the middle with aunts and uncles on both sides of the house.

There was an incident at Aspen Hill before the turn of the century that you may remember.

A white man from Prophettstown, Illinois, came to the Hill and organized a negro band. The negroes had bought pipes, horns, and drums, and he was teaching them. It developed he was teaching a lot of other things too. He had them buying guns and making "big talk." The white people and the old darkies had become alarmed at the course that things were moving. He was living in a cabin about 100 yards north of Walter Fogg's store and residence.

One day a letter came for him, and Mr. King said after he handed it to him, that he opened and read it and told Mr.King, "I suppose you know the contents of this letter." Mr. King told him that he did not know anything about it. Then he handed it to Mr. King to read. It was postmarked Pulaski and told the bandmaster that he had been there long enough, and it might be better if he moved on, and immediately. Mr. King said that the man continued to claim that Mr. King knew about it before reading it.

He did not go and announced his intentions of remaining.

A couple of weeks later, about 1 a.m., a battle broke out at his cabin. Daylight revealed that the bandmaster was "hors de combat." He had died with his gun in his hand with four exploded shells in it.

Your grandfather, who was Justice of the Peace, convened a coroners jury who decided that the bandmaster came to his death at the hands of parties unknown-which was correct, for with 15 or 20 men shooting into the cabin, no one could tell who had killed him. Every man at the Hill was home that night. Bennett and Ragsdale, morticians at Pulaski took the body and shipped it back to Prophettstown.

The band hired a negro bandmaster.

Some 15 years later I asked Dad who killed the bandmaster. His reply was: "I am not going to tell you, but no one close around here did the job. The men who did it rode in here horseback from places 15 to 20 miles away."

Submitted by: Patricia May Touw