Maroon Friday


Happy Maroon Friday, everyone!

We Ring True. Go MSU! Source: Mississippi State University

We Ring True. Click the image for the video. Go MSU! Source: Mississippi State University

College football season starts tomorrow; my beloved Mississippi State Bulldogs aren’t even RANKED this week. Huh.

I seem to remember a certain team that also entered the first week of college football season unranked in 2014, only to climb to the top of college football rankings in the U.S. and remain there for five weeks?

I wonder.

Hail State!

Hail State!



Correct Spelling; Homage to Robert Frost


You know I love my students. I love teaching writing to my students.

So, you have to know that this person was never one of my students…

The spell check program wouldn't have caught that. Source:

The spell check program wouldn’t have caught that. Source:

…else, she’d know how to spell her curse words correctly.

This reminds me of a message I received from a student almost two years ago who was not satisfied with a grade, and proceeded to call me a ‘birch’ in the message. I don’t know if the student realized what she did, but my dean thought it was interesting.


Speaking of ‘birches’, I am reminded of a class I took long ago, in the early 1980s, at Mississippi State University. It was an advanced English composition class of 12 students, hand-picked for this particular professor. I loved this class. We had an assignment one week to take a piece of classical writing or poetry, and reinterpret it however we liked. The sky was the limit.

I picked Robert Frost’s poem, “Birches.”

I reinterpreted the poem, and retitled it, “Bitches.”

I received an A and a very humorous note back from the professor. He told me he’d never be able to read Robert Frost in the same way again.

I wish I could find it. If I do, I’ll share it.


The Illinois Experiment


Back in the mid-1980’s, when I was a year or so out of journalism school with some experience writing for daily newspapers under my belt, I got the itch to move on to a bigger newspaper market, with a more interesting beat, and more exciting stories to write. Columbus, Mississippi was a nice place to live, and the newspaper, The Commercial Dispatch, was a great paper to hone my skills right out of college, but once I had been exposed to big-city journalism (as I had my senior year at MSU as an intern at the Memphis Commercial Appeal), the small-town reporting routine got tedious.

The Commercial Dispatch. Same building for decades. Source:

The Commercial Dispatch. Same building for decades. Source:

I was impatient to do bigger, more interesting stories. I asked my editor for more important assignments. She told me that I needed more experience, and some patience to boot. I thanked her for the advice, then started shopping around for another job.

I thought I knew better.

I moved on to a larger paper, but I quickly realized that the ‘bigger, more interesting’ stories often went to reporters with many years of small-town, beat reporting experience. I wound up making some errors that indicated professional immaturity. Clearly, I had a lot of growing up to do in my writing career, and that was only going to happen with time and work.

Even now, I realize that writing is a lifelong skill. A true writer is always learning and sharpening his or her craft, even with 20 or 30 years experience.

I share this because I think this is the lesson Emmett learned too, in 1906, when he was also about a year and a half out of law school, and with some legal experience under his belt. He wanted to be a big shot like his brother: Successful. Rich. Powerful. He was impatient, though, and made a move that slowed his progress up the West Florida political ladder.

Different profession, different century, but it is the same old story. Here’s the scoop.

I came across the following item from the 1905 edition of The Chipley Banner:

Source: The Chipley Banner, 1905

Source: The Chipley Banner, 1905

This surprised me. In tracking Emmett’s career from 1904-06, there was no indication that the Wilson & Wilson law firm of Marianna had clients from Illinois, or had legal business outside of the state … except there was an item in the Pensacola paper in October, 1905, that said Emmett was headed to Illinois for a trip, and would pass through Chicago on his way home. There was no other information about that trip available.

I remembered seeing an item I found over a year ago from the Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat for August, 1906, that said Emmett Wilson, of Illinois, was visiting his friend JTG Crawford. Initially, I thought this was a factual error (or perhaps another man named Emmett Wilson). I’m glad I kept the news item. The timing is excellent: I haven’t been able to account for Emmett for the first six months of 1906, and now, I can.

Initially, I thought this was wrong. Source: Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906

Initially, I thought this was wrong. Source: Weekly True Democrat, August 24, 1906

This not only opens up a whole new set of sources to check for information on Emmett’s life, but it also raises more questions:

  • If Emmett’s family’s political/legal/judicial power base is in Jackson/Escambia Counties, why move 1800 miles away from it?
  • If Emmett’s family was strongly Democratic (and important players in the Democratic party), why move to a heavily Republican state to start your career over completely, as a virtual unknown, in a community where you have no family or close friends?
  • Was the work uninteresting, or, was Emmett not given that much responsibility on big, important cases? Were the locals more used to Cephas handling the important cases, and bypassing Emmett altogether?
  • What was in Sterling, Illinois, a small town not much larger than Marianna and at least a day’s travel from Chicago, that would make Emmett pull up roots?

Was it a woman? I strongly doubt it. The local papers were quite gossipy, and into everyone’s business. If he was seeing someone, it would have been mentioned. There wasn’t anyone serious. He was seeing someone in college, but that relationship ended when he graduated.

Would Emmett uproot his entire career for a woman back in the day? Maybe, but it seems to me that, in general, it was the woman who moved to where the man (the breadwinner) lived, not the other way around. Emmett’s career was just getting started. He had little money saved, he didn’t own a house or property. He was in no position to support a wife at this point.

To answer the last question first: What was in Sterling, Illinois?

Source: Robinson Constitution, November 20, 1905

Source: Robinson Constitution, November 20, 1905

Nicholas Van Sant.

I mentioned him in an earlier blog post: Wealthy, older, self-made man who went back to school because he wanted to fulfill a childhood dream, and graduated with Emmett from Stetson in 1904. Van Sant was 56 years old, and lived in Sterling, Illinois.

According to this news report, he also had just been admitted to the Illinois bar in October, 1905. Emmett and Nick were friends in college; they stayed in contact with each other. Nick told Emmett he wanted to start his own law firm. He knew Emmett was smart, he probably also knew Emmett was bored and/or wanted to get out from under Cephas’ shadow, and start over.

Emmett knew that an affiliation with Van Sant was good; he’d be allowed to practice law without the shadow of his successful big brother hanging over him. Also, Van Sant was a successful, well respected businessman, who brought himself up from nothing — he understood Emmett’s struggle to make something of himself. Finally, the political connections, albeit Republican, were not something to discount. Nick’s big brother was the governor of Minnesota.

Win-win, right?

I think it could have worked out well for Emmett if he could have stuck it out. Six months after he had moved to Sterling, this article appeared in the 1906 Chipley Banner:

Source: The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906.

Source: The Chipley Banner, July 26, 1906.

Emmett’s visit in Chipley lasted longer than one month: He was back in Florida permanently. By mid-September, Emmett moved to Pensacola, where J. Walter Kehoe took him under his wing, and the whole mentorship-with-a-mature-professional routine started over again. This time, with Kehoe, it sticks.

From what I’ve learned, Nicholas Van Sant was an excellent choice as a mentor and/or business colleague. I’m curious about why Emmett lasted only six months with him. Perhaps Emmett was unable to pass the Illinois bar. Perhaps Van Sant was a worse taskmaster and/or business partner than Cephas. Perhaps Emmett was simply homesick for Florida, friends and family.

I think the issue was that Emmett was simply not seasoned enough a lawyer to go into practice with a mature businessman like Van Sant. Here’s a clip from an interview Van Sant gave about his first year as a lawyer (and this is when Emmett would have been working with him in Sterling):

Source: Stand By Magazine, December 12, 1936.

Source: Stand By Magazine, December 12, 1936.

I get the impression that the first year was tough, even though Van Sant was, basically, a millionaire and a business success story. I wonder if Emmett had anything to do with the low earnings that first year. Maybe some mistakes were made, and Van Sant had to cover them.

You can read the entire interview with Van Sant here. It is a great story.


I’ll order the Sterling, Illinois newspaper microfilm in a few days to track what was going on with Emmett’s career while in Illinois, and perhaps, we’ll find out what happened between Emmett and Van Sant.


Gratias Ago Tibi, Fr. Brock


The excellent Angela the Archivist over at Stetson has this to share with us today:

A 1936 Bachelor of Arts diploma from Stetson University -- in LATIN! Typical college diploma? Source:

A 1936 Bachelor of Arts diploma from Stetson University — in LATIN! Source:

I had mentioned to Angela that I suspected Emmett’s diploma was in Latin, but because I didn’t have anything on hand from 1904 (when he graduated), I wasn’t sure. Nowadays, of course, most U.S. universities provide diplomas are in English.

She’s checking with the law school to see if they have anything in their archive from Emmett’s time — but — and this is cool — she said that she saw a diploma from 1916, which looked much like this version from 1936, and it, too, was in Latin. (I love her email signature line: At the bottom, it says, “Go Hatters! Go Archives!”)

The diploma makes me curious about Emmett and Latin. Latin was offered in some high schools, but I doubt it was offered in the Chipley public schools in 1900.

A good source for information on public school in Florida. Source: Google Books

A good source for information on public schools in Florida. Source: Google Books

Reports about Washington County public education during the years Emmett was enrolled indicated that, on average, the schools operated only four months out of the year. Many county residents were upset about this; the problem was then (as it is today) about funding and staffing. Public school teachers (mostly single women) around 1900 were paid $25 a month. The average income for an adult (male) was about $400 a year. It was hard to attract good teachers when the state didn’t have enough money to pay a faculty member for a full year’s instruction.

Knowing this reinforces the idea (to me, anyway) that Latin would not have been a instructional priority, but mathematics, reading, English, science — absolutely.

I don’t think the county public school teachers during Emmett’s day were against teaching the classics, but we are talking about a community where a practical education would have to come first, especially if you know you have only a four-month ‘school year’ in which to instruct students.

Notice Greek AND Latin were required for FRESHMEN.  Source: FSU archives

Notice Greek AND Latin were required for FRESHMEN. Source: FSU archives

Thinking about how much I had to struggle with Latin reminds me of my high school Latin teacher: He was an ultra-serious Catholic priest named Fr. John Brock who took crapus magnus from no one. He was one of the two teachers I actually feared when I was at St. Joseph High School — the other was my typing teacher, a nun named Sr. Clarissa, a Sister of Mercy who was only 4’11”, but had no problem twisting the ear of a 6′ football player and dragging his ass down to the principal’s office if you were anything marginally disrespectful in her class.

Fr. Brock died about four years ago. I wish I'd thanked him while he was still around. Image source: SJHS

Fr. Brock died about four years ago. I wish I’d thanked him while he was still around. Image source: SJHS

Good times, my friends. Good times.

I say all this because everything I learned from both of these teachers has stuck with me all these years. Fr. Brock expected nothing but the absolute best our his students at all times. The subject was challenging, and Fr. Brock was challenging — and none of it was boring.

I wonder who was Emmett’s most memorable teacher, and if Emmett liked Latin. It is too bad his grade reports aren’t around anymore. I’d like to have known if his Latin grades were as bad — or better — than mine.

I Found This Amusing…

Note the team spellings. Source:


A friend who knows my anal retentivity about proofreading sent it to me. I had forgotten about this. Let’s hope someone in sports ticket production ran this year’s text through a spell check program that was not developed or produced in Alabama.



Image source:

In Emmett’s book news: It has been a busy three days. I’m almost through with Disunion (a thought provoking set of essays on the Civil War written by a variety of scholars). I’ve reorganized my notes on Pensacola and Reconstruction (I have a lot of new data in for one of the chapters). I’m halfway through grading a set of terrible papers from my students. I’m dying to get a rubber stamp that says, “Did you proofread this?” because I’m tired of writing it OVER and OVER.

And — wait for it — I’ve written 65 pages of Emmett’s book. Rough draft quality, definitely, but progress, and that is a satisfying feeling.

This whole experience writing a book reminds me of when I was expecting my first child — I wasn’t very big — but I knew there was a baby in there. I was puking and uncomfortable the whole time, but looking forward to the end result.

Not that Emmett’s book writing makes me puke, but you get the general idea.

I’ll have more updates on the research later.

Go Bulldogs! Roll Tears Roll!



Like the Spanish Inquisition…



Source: USA

Source: USA


…you have to admit, no one expected my Alma Mater to sit atop Emmett’s Alma Mater for this long, either.

But we’ll take it.

The Dreaded Rack. Image Source:

The Dreaded Rack. Image Source:

Next week, MSU faces Alabama. Here’s hoping we can put them on the rack, too!

Enjoy your weekend! Let’s Go Bulldogs!


Game On!


A busy day at research central today:

— Added about 100 new items into the Emmett Wilson database. Tedious, but part of the process.

— Wrote three pages of the rough draft for chapter two. Going very slowly; driving me nuts because I’ve had to stop and start so much (several new questions have popped up during the writing process — nothing big, just speedbumps).

The historian who wrote the introduction to this book complained about the historic inaccuracies. The writing isn't so hot, either.

The historian who wrote the introduction to this book complained about the historic inaccuracies. The writing isn’t so hot, either. (Through Some Eventful Years, by Susan Bradford Eppes, 1926. University of Florida Press)

— Read two-thirds of Susan Bradford Eppes’ memoir of life in Civil War-era Florida. The inconsistencies and self-serving first-person style in the text are making me cuss under my breath as I read it. However, it is considered an accurate insight into the experiences Emmett’s mother would have had as a teenager in the Civil War, as she was Eppes’ peer. OMG. It isn’t quite like enduring a root canal, but it is close.

And now, it is 7:15 pm. I must set dear Emmett aside for the next three hours.

Bully Bell ready to go! MSU vs. Arkansas, at MSU!

Because it’s football time! Bully Bell ready to go! MSU vs. Arkansas, at MSU!

You better believe that if the Bulldogs make it to the playoffs, I will have Emmett in full Bulldog regalia, cowbell, and all.

See you after the game!