JESSE JAMES GOOCH
My mother, Mava Opal Gooch, told many stories about her father, Jesse James Gooch, when I was a boy growing up. I never knew him, as he died in 1935, over 11 years before I was born. In the stories, my mother seemed to show that she had a "love-hate" relationship with her father. In those stories, he was consistently depicted as a hardboiled, strongwilled and powerful man. He was sometimes depicted as being overly harsh - controlling, overbearing and sometimes cruel. On occasion my mother seemed to embellish both his good and bad qualities. In one story he would be a hero, in another story he would be a villain. I was fascinated by the stories she told and I am still mystified, in trying to sort out who Jesse James Gooch really was.
WHAT I KNOW
Jesse James Gooch was born January 17 or 18, 1874. I know he lived in Mullin, Mills County, Texas from about 1915 until sometime after 1925. He appears in the census records for Mills County, Texas in 1920. In that record his place of birth is listed as Arkansas and his age was listed as 45. His occupation was listed as blacksmith. He moved to the nearby town of Brownwood, Brown County, Texas sometime after 1925. The family lived in a home a few blocks from the old jail house in downtown Brownwood. The blacksmith shop was on the lot adjoining where the house stood. Jesse James Gooch died January 31, 1935 in Brownwood, Brown County, Texas. The cause of death listed on the death certificate was cancer. He was buried in the White Point Cemetery in Comanche County, Texas.
THE STORIES AND FOLKLORE
My mother told many stories that she said her father told her as a girl. He talked about being raised on a farm somewhere in the south. It may have been in Texas, but I had the impression that it was in one of the old states of the Deep South.
|I have learned that Jess Gooch probably spent most of his boyhood years in Crockett County, Tennessee.|
He talked about Negro share-croppers living with their families in little cabins on his father's land. He talked about his father being named "Lige". He talked about his father riding a big horse as he made rounds to check on the work the Negroes were doing. His father carried a whip they called a "rider's quirt". Even though the Civil War had abolished slavery by then, his father seemed to see the Negroes as his slaves. He would sometimes strike the Negroes with the quirt he carried. He talked about spending time at one of the Negro share-croppers cabins as a small boy. There was a Negro boy about his age and he would go there to play. His father had ordered him not to there, as he did not want his son to associate with "the darkies". Jesse went there anyway. It was a happy place to be. There were several children living in the cabin. His friend's mother was a fat lady and she would often sing as she worked at washing clothes or doing other work around the cabin. When Jesse was visiting, she would always keep an eye out for "Mr. Lige". If she saw Lige Gooch riding his horse down the trail toward the cabin, she would bring Jesse inside the cabin and have him hide under the kitchen table, which was always covered with a cloth that dragged the floor. With Jesse safely hidden, she would go outside and wait near the front of the cabin for Lige Gooch to arrive. Lige Gooch would sit there on his big horse, looking down on her. If he asked if she had seen his son, she would always say "no". It was better to lie than to make "Mr. Lige" angry.
|I have found nothing to show that Lige Gooch owned land when Jess Gooch was a boy. It is more likely that he worked as an over-see'er for a wealthy land owner in Tennessee and supervised the work of the Negro sharecroppers there. It was after the Civil War and slavery had been abolished by then but many of the land owners still treated the Negroes like they were slaves.|
HE ADORED HIS MOTHER
Jesse James Gooch left his father's home when he was 16 years old. In his stories, his mother was named "Mary" or "Elizabeth". He seemed to adore his mother. She had been sick for sometime, probably suffering from pneumonia or "the consumption", as tuberculosis was called back then. She was so sick and weak that she spent most of the time in bed. In the stories passed down - on the day she died, she seemed to be feeling better. She had called Jess into her bedroom to sit beside her bed and talk with her. It was a bright and sunny day and she asked him to open the curtains to let the light in. She then asked him to help her sit up so she could look out of the window. He had lifted her up into a sitting position and was propping a pillow behind her back when she gasped for air and collapsed. Her lungs must have ruptured and she died that day in his arms. He would later say that his father had neglected her and caused her death, saying that he was more concerned about running his farm and making money than he was with caring for his sick wife. By the stories passed down - Jesse left home immediately after his mother died, which would have been around 1890.
|We now know that his mother did not die when he was sixteen years old, as records show that she was still alive in 1900, living in Paris, Lamar County, Texas. By records - her names Sarah Elizabeth Jane Davis and she married William Elijah Gooch in 1972 in Lee County, Mississippi.|
YEARS OF MYSTERY
I know nothing about the life of Jesse James Gooch from 1890 until about 1914. I believe he was close to a Gooch family line that lived in northeastern Mississippi in the 1800's. This was the family of William Martin Gooch. Many of the people in that family migrated to Texas in the 1880's and 1890's. Most of them first settled around Hunt County, but some of them moved on to live in other areas of Texas, after spending a few years there. I believe that Jesse James Gooch may have came to Texas with some of these people.
I found a record of a Jessie Gooch marrying Bessie Fannin in Lamar County, Texas on December 27, 1901. There is a record of Bessie Ann Gooch dying in Lamar County, Texas on Auguest 3, 1903. She was buried beside the grave of an infant, marked "Infant Son Gooch, died July 12, 1903". I have no proof that this involved Jesse James Gooch but it is possible.
Jesse James Gooch may have been a widower when he met and married my mother's mother. My mother never knew her natural mother. She was living with a family somewhere in Oklahoma when she was 5 years old and her father came to get her. She did not know the name of the family but they were kind to her and she was happy living there. There were several other children in their home. My mother talked about Lawton, Ada and Snyder in Oklahoma. The only lead I have found is a Nicholas Gooch family that lived in Muskogee, Oklahoma in 1910. By the census records, that household had a female child named "Opal" who was 1 year old in 1910. There were also several other children in the household. My mother believed her natural mother's surname was "Scarborough" or a variable spelling of it. She thought her mother was a musician or some kind of entertainer that traveled around the country with an Opera Company in those days, putting on shows. Her mother's maiden name may have been "Ira" or "Eleanor" Scarborough.
Jesse James Gooch brought my mother to the town of Mullin, Mills County, Texas in 1914, when she was 5 years old. Mother told many happy stories about her early childhood. It seems that Jesse was a doting father and he spoiled her when she was a small child. There is an old photograph (now lost) that shows my mother as a child of six sitting on a sofa with a huge stuffed bear. My mother talked about her father being jovial and fun to be with wihen she was a little girl. She talked about him taking her to fairs and carnivals. Jesse James Gooch married a widow lady named Sally Waters around 1917. Sarah had three daughters, Laura, Nellie and Ada. Laura and Nellie had both married and moved out of the household by 1920. Ada remained in the household until about 1924, when she married Elmer Curtis and moved away to lve in Kountze, Texas. My mother and Ada were very close as girls growing up.
I believe the marriage of Jesse Gooch and Sally Waters was an arrangement of convenience for both of them. Jesse needed a care-giver for his daughter and Sally needed a provider. There did not seem to be any real love between them. My mother always called Sally "Momma" in her stories. Sally was a good woman but she seemed to be very reserved and did not easliy show affection, even to her own daughters. My mother and Ada grew up in a very regimented environment. There was little laughter or joy in the household. Her father was a creature of habit. He came home from work every day at the same time. He expected his wife to have the wash basin ready and clean clothes laid out for him. He would wash up and come to the table for his supper. He expected the meal to be ready and the table to be set when he got there. He insisted on a formal table setting. He did not like to have idle chit-chat at the table. When they finsihed eating, the girls would clear the table and wash the dishes. On Saturdays, the girls worked in the yard and garden.
Jesse James Gooch seemed to become more sullen and hard after he married Sally Waters. He was very strict with the girls in the household and he was sometimes overbearing. His drinking binges also seemed to increase in frequency. Sally was an old fashioned woman and she believed "the man ruled the house".
My mother seemed to crave love and affection as a pre-adolescent (after age 7 or 8) and teenager. I believe she was deprived of that love and affection and it effected her for the rest of her life, especially in her relationships with the men in her life. She always seemed to measure the men in her life against her father. They could never be as strong as he was and their faults and shortcomings were sometimes amplified in her mind.
A DRINKING MAN
Jesse James Gooch was known to be a drinking man. It would not be fair to call him a drunk because he did not let his drinking interfere with his schedule. He was always a good provider for his family. But he would usually close his shop up early on Saturday afternoons and go drinking. When he drank, he drank to get drunk. My mother told stories about him coming home so drunk that he could not walk. In those cases, his wife, Sarah, and one or more of the girls would drag him from the street, where a car usually dropped him off, into the house and put him to bed. A worse situation was when he would come home drunk but still mobile. He was often verbally abusive with his wife and the girls when he had been drinking. On a few occasions, he was physically abusive with his wife, Sally. He did strange things when he was drinking that embarrassed tha family. My mother told stories about him going out in their back yard and preaching. There would not be anyone there to hear him, but he would preach in the "fire and brimstone" manner of a Pentacostal Baptist preacher, quoting scriptures from the Bible from memory. My mother thought that was very strange, as he never went to church and he never talked about religion when he was sober.
SYMPATHY FOR THE NEGROES
Jesse James Gooch seemed to have a strange sympathy for the Negroes in a time when most whites throughout the south, including Texas, despised them. My mother told stories about an old black man that came to their house for dinner almost every Sunday when she was a girl. The old man was feeble and he had snow white hair. My mother never knew how her father met him or what he meant to him. But her father would have a table prepared on their front porch every Sunday, complete with a table cloth and a full table setting, so the old man could sit there and eat his dinner. Jesse would sit there at the table on the porch with the old man, while he ate.
Jesse James Gooch hated the Ku Klux Klan. He called them cowards who wore dresses and hid their faces behind hoods. During the World War One years, there was another group that operated in central Texas in the Night Rider tradition to persecute the German Americans that lived there. Jesse James Gooch also took a stand against these men and called them cowards. As a result he was labeled as a "German lover". In 1917 or 1918, he was badly beaten and left to die in a ditch beside an isolated country road. A passer-by found him there and took him to town for medical treatment. He was laid up for several days as a result of the beating he took. Jesse James Gooch was drunk when these men attacked him and he could not remember who any of them were. He said if he ever found out who they were, he would kill them. No one ever stepped forward to take credit for being a party in it.
A LOVE OF ANIMALS
Jesse James Gooch seemed to love animals, especially dogs and horses. My mother told stories about him always having a favorite dog that he would take with him when he went squirrel hunting. She talked about one day when he came home with tears in his eyes because he had accidently shot and killed his dog. He had a special way with horses. He would not tolerate seeing a horse abused by a human being. As a blacksmith, he often had to shoe horses. My mother talked about how he would speak softly to the horse as he went about his business. He seemed to have a knack for calming even the most excited or agitated horse. Other men watching were often in awe of his courage and skills in dealing with these difficult animals. My mother said she sometimes thought her father cared more about horses than he did most people.
HIS FAMILY HERITAGE
In summary, I believe Jesse James Gooch was a man with a past that he was not proud of. It seems that he intentionally isolated himself from his family and others that knew him in earlier times. I believe he was a good man but he was haunted by memories from his past.
I believe that Jesse James Gooch was somehow linked to the family of William Martin Gooch, who lived in northeastern Mississippi in the 1800's. If that is the case, his ancestry can be traced back to William W. Gooch, who was a wealthy planter in Virginia and North Carolina in the 1700's. From the 1600's until the Civil War, the Gooch families were slaveholders. Not may of them were of the true Aristocratic class of the Old South. Most of them were simple farmers. Still, many of them owned Negro slaves. A few of them are documented in history as being unusually cruel to the slaves they owned.
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