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Family Bios


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CASTLEBERRY

 

 

This is a brief biographical sketch of my Castleberry grandparents Charles Rufus Castleberry (1878 – 1963) and Eliza King Castleberry

(1883 - 1959). They resided in Moorhead, Mississippi from 1922 until their deaths. Both are buried in Durant, Mississippi.

 

James K. Harrison

jkharrison2@comcast.net

jameskharrison.org

 


Chapter 13 - Charles Rufus Castleberry

(1878 - 1963)

 

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."

--- Mark Twain

 

 

            My maternal grandfather was Charles Rufus Castleberry  (24 Oct. 1878 - 21 July 1963).  He was a deacon in the Moorhead, Mississippi, Baptist Church although he never attended Sunday School since he thought of that as an activity for children.  In politics he was conservative however I suspect he voted for Franklin Roosevelt like just about everybody else.  He was a good businessman.  He loved to play practical jokes on his children and on us grandchildren.  Big Daddy, which we shortened to “Bick” was an early riser, never needing an alarm clock.  The morning light and the birds singing woke him, he would say.

            Charles Rufus Castleberry was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi, on 24 October 1878.  NOTE:  A birth date of 6 October 1878 is on his tombstone, however, his 1918 WWI draft record and his Social Security application, which he signed on 9 March 1937, both give his birth date as 24 October 1878.  I think the October 24 date is more likely correct.

In Pontotoc, Mississippi, the Castleberry clan belonged to the Pontotoc Baptist Church where Charles Rufus was baptized (Friday -- 23 June 1893) when he was 14 years old.1 His father, William Castleberry, who died in 1882 when Charles Rufus was only three years old, was a merchant in Pontotoc in business with his father-in-law, Daniel T. Coleman (1800 – 1873). 

            Charles Rufus had two brothers and two sisters, all older than him.  He never completed more than about six years of schooling.  After my Big Daddy’s father died, his mother, Annie Coleman Castleberry, with five young children ranging in age from 3 to 16 years old, continued to farm and run the family store for another fourteen years.   

           In 1896 (when my Big Daddy was 18 years old) Annie Castleberry sold the store and moved to Aberdeen, Mississippi. She probably moved there because her eldest daughter (Florence) had secured a teaching job in Smithville, a community near Aberdeen and too Aberdeen was a very bustling place around this time. From 1861 to 1891 Aberdeen was the largest town (population) in Mississippi.  In 1896 it was a place enjoying great prosperity and much commerce.  A 1900 street scene in Aberdeen that was surely familiar to Charles Rufus Castleberry and his family is shown below.

The deed to the Aberdeen boarding house the family lived in was not in Annie Castleberry’s name but rather in the name of two of her daughters, Florence and Mary. So, Annie Castleberry was running a boarding house on Washington Street in Aberdeen in 1900.

            During the last part of Bick’s growing up years (from age 18 to about age 24) he lived in Aberdeen, Mississippi.  According to the 1900 census, he was 22 years old, working in a grocery store in Aberdeen, and living at his mother’s boarding house on Washington Street with his siblings.

            Not long afterwards he went to work for the United States Post Office Department as a railway mail clerk on a run from Memphis to Vicksburg.  His home base was Memphis, Tennessee and when in Vicksburg, Mississippi  he sometimes spent the night in the old railroad depot, which was still standing in 2002 on Levee Street next to the sea wall that protects the city during periods of high water on the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.  Among Bick’s fondest memories and oft repeated stories were the ones about the times the train would have to stop until the bears could be chased off the track. His days as a railway mail clerk left him with a lifelong love for railroading.  I remember the times in the 1940’s when my brother (Tomberry) and I would listen to him talk in the most fascinating way about the speed and splendor of the crack passenger trains of the day like the Panama Limited (first run in 1942) and the City of New Orleans that passed through Mississippi on their way north and south between Chicago and New Orleans.  In his mind they were the quintessential example of the country’s progress in commerce and transportation. Like the steamboats in earlier days, the railroads captivated the spirit of adventure and romance in his mind.  My grandfather’s life coincided with this exciting railroad era. 

            Around 1903 Bick left the railroad and took a job as a post office clerk in Durant, Mississippi.  John W. Lockhart was the postmaster.  His future brother-in-law, John M. King, was probably another postal employee since John became the Durant postmaster in 1913. Very likely John introduced Charlie to his sister, Eliza. In any event while working at the post office Charlie (Bick) met and later married Eliza King.  Their wedding took place on a Wednesday, the 25th of January 1905, the coldest January day my grandmother ever knew -- so she often said.  After the wedding and the customary festivities the new bride and groom retired, each to their respective domiciles. They could not yet afford a place of their own, so Granny said.

            On 25 June 1907 Bick presented himself for membership at the Durant First Baptist Church (this was two and ½ years after his marriage to Eliza King in that church). His church letter arrived on 26 July 1907 probably from the Baptist Church in Aberdeen, Mississippi. [Rev Matt Brady e-Mail on 14 Aug ’06---Records of Durant First Baptist Church]

My Big Daddy left the postal service around 1907 and went into the coal and ice business in Durant.  He was in that business in 1910, according to the census.  My mother often talked about the pleasure she got from eating ice cream at her daddy’s ice plant when she was a small girl in Durant.

            My mother always said that Bick and Granny were given a house as a wedding present by Granny’s father (Tom King). But, according to the Federal census Bick and Granny were renting a house in Durant in 1910. However, ten years later (according to the 1920 census) they were owners of a house in Durant that was mortgage free.  Maybe Tom King’s generous gift did not occur until after 1910.

            In 1919, after his Durant coal and ice plant was destroyed by fire, Bick decided to move to Moorhead, Mississippi, where he established himself in the same business (in Moorhead his ice plant was located behind the Baptist church and near the railroad tracks). Temporarily leaving his family behind in Durant, he commuted on the railroad for a couple of years until his wife and three children joined him at the local hotel (The Phoenix) where they all lived for about a year (until about 1922) while the family home was being completed on the northwest corner of E. Cherry and Walnut Streets (the front faced south toward the Junior College).

            The records of the First Baptist Church of Durant, Mississippi, show that the Castleberry Family moved their membership in November 1922. The family members were: C. R. Castleberry, Mrs. C. R. Castleberry, C. K. Castleberry, and Annie F. Castleberry (my mother who was 13 years old at that time). [Rev Matt Brady e-Mail on 14 Aug ’06---Records of Durant First Baptist Church]

Another fire destroyed Bick’s ice and coal business in Moorhead several years later.  By 1930 (according to the Federal census) he was in the oil and gasoline business where he became the distributor in Moorhead for the Gulf Oil Company.  Later, around 1935, he became the distributor for the Lion Oil Company and was the owner of a Lion Oil Service Station (located on south side of W. Washington Street and the east bank of the Moorhead Bayou).

            Starting in 1925 and continuing through 1941 Bick served several times on the Moorhead Board of Alderman.2

             In 1951 at the age of seventy-three he went into the mercantile business (country store) in Blaine, Mississippi. He commuted from Moorhead each day about 20 miles round trip six days a week! This final venture ended in failure after about five years forcing Bick to retire.  He lived another seven years departing this world on 21 July 1963 at the age of eighty-four. Charles Rufus Castleberry is buried beside his wife in the Mizpah Cemetery in Durant, Mississippi.           

The children (seven generations after the German immigrant Henry Castleberry) of Charles Castleberry and Eliza King were:

 

a)      Charles King (1907 – 1986)

 

b)      Annie Frances, my mother (1909 – 1969)

 

c)      Thomas Coleman (1913 – 1989).

           

 

 

 

 

                             


       Chapter 14 - Eliza King Castleberry

(1883 - 1959)

 

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."----- Albert Einstein, 1879-1955

 

 

My grandmother (or Granny), Eliza King Castleberry, was born in Holmes County, Mississippi, on 24 May 1883 (at Blue Mountain College she gave her age in the June 1900 Federal census for Tippah County, Mississippi, as 17 making the 1882 date on her tombstone in error).  She was undoubtedly named after her father’s mother, Eliza Shipp King, who died in 1883. Eliza King Castleberry had two sisters and four brothers. Her two sisters, Annie and Ellen, I knew from frequent family visits.  I never knew her brothers.  According to a family story, one brother, I believe Thomas, killed a man during a dispute in a poker game and escaped to South America to avoid prosecution. Very little was ever said about this.  In fact not much was ever said about any of Granny’s brothers.  It was always regarded as too sensitive a subject for discussion. 

Granny’s mother, Annie Montgomery King, died in 1898 at age 39 leaving seven children ranging in age from four to twenty.  Granny was fifteen years old and the oldest daughter, therefore on her shoulders fell much of the burden of caring for the family.  She often said that she raised her younger brothers and sisters, her own three children, and two of her grandsons (me and Tomberry).

Granny’s father, Thomas Rhorea King, was born in 1850 in Holmes County, Mississippi, and died at the age of 85 on New Years Eve 1935.  He married Annie Montgomery in Holmes County, Mississippi, on 21 December 1876 (after she died in 1898 he was remarried to Elma Merritt in 1902). The King family home was outside Durant and was owned by the Howard family after my great-grandfather died.  It burned to the ground around 1970.   A local artist using photographs of the house did a portrait in 1989.

Granny was baptized in June 1899 at Durant’s First Baptist Church. She was 16 years old. Six years later she was married in the same church. [Rev Matt Brady e-Mail on 14 Aug ’06---Records of Durant First Baptist Church]

Granny attended Blue Mountain Female College in Blue Mountain, Mississippi, (Tippah County).  She was enrolled there in June 1900.1 She may have graduated in 1901. She was fond of recalling how when she went to college the students arrived on the train in the fall and remained there until Christmas vacation.  Then, on returning after the Christmas break, they remained until the school year was completed.

            Around 1904 Eliza King met Charlie Castleberry. He worked at the post office with Eliza’s older brother, John. Charlie and Eliza were married at the First Baptist Church in Durant on a Wednesday, the 25th of January 1905, the coldest January day my grandmother ever knew---so she often said. In South Africa on this date the worlds largest gem diamond, later named Cullinan (3106 carets), was found. I doubt that this discovery was of much interest to the newly weds. After the wedding and the customary festivities the new bride and groom retired, each to their respective domiciles. They could not yet afford a place of their own, so Granny said.

Granny was a strict disciplinarian and frugal to a degree that is scarcely conceivable today.  She would bleach the large cloth signs advertising Pennzoil motor oil (which she got from Bick’s service station) and make underwear for Tomberry (my brother) and me.  Tomberry laughingly told this story years later to a group of fellow students in a dormitory room one cold winter night at Mississippi Delta Community College adding that when he would turn his underpants inside-out the picture of oil cans could still be plainly seen!

            Granny’s moral habits were Victorian. She was an extremely domineering person and was fairly intolerant of those whose morals did not conform to a straight and honest pattern of living. 

            She always spoke of her ancestors in glowing terms, especially her father, Tom King. She had a tremendous amount of pride in her family heritage and generally thought that the flat landed Mississippi Delta where she lived the last 40 years of her life was a backwater region of the state compared to her beloved Holmes County in the Mississippi hill country.

            I never heard her utter a profane word or knew her to partake of any alcoholic beverages except once when on the advice of the Moorhead physician, Dr. Lynch, she drank a glass of beer nightly just before retiring to increase her weight and provide a more restful sleep.  This she did for several months quitting when the desired results did not occur.  She had several odd remedies for her medical problems. For example, she always slept with an old high heel shoe pushed against her side at night to prevent “gas pains.”  Many times I have seen her gag herself with her fingers to force herself to throw-up to get relief when she had an upset stomach.  She often used a muster plaster on her chest for exactly what ailment I don’t remember. She and Bick always took a pinch of senna leaves at night before retiring.

            She always referred to her husband and my grandfather (Bick) as “Mr. Castleberry”, even when speaking with him face to face.

            She was a staunch member of the Moorhead Baptist Church.  The Women’s Missionary Union was her special interest. She made a remark a few years before she died that I have always thought curious in view of her many years of devotion to church work.  Some one brought up the subject of the life hereafter.  To this Granny remarked that “she had done all that she could for the Lord and if that was not enough she guessed she would just have to go the bad place”.

            Granny had a very keen intellect.  She loved to read and received many hours of pleasure playing the card game solitaire.  She was an expert seamstress.  In my early years most of my clothes were made by her.  She had a Singer sewing machine that was powered with a foot petal.  She took a lot of pride in the fact that she not only raised three children of her own but two grandchildren (my brother, Tomberry and me) as well. The two of us lived with Granny and Bick from 1938 to 1946 (from the time she was 55 to 63 years old and I was 3 to 11 years old).

            Granny died in her sleep in November 1959 after suffering for several years from Parkinson disease. She is buried beside her husband in Durant, Mississippi, in the Mizpah Cemetery.

 


  


 
 
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