The winner is Jeanne Mathewson
Additional Bowden Comments
Happy New Year trivia lovers!
The correct answer to the end of year Trivia Question was #1.
Bill Monroe’s dad James Buchanan “Buck” Monroe was an enterprising country business man, with extractive operations from his 600 acre empire in the ridges above Horton and Rosine KY. He had a small surface coal mine, selling by the wagonload and bagful. He ran a large hay farm operation. His “big” business was cutting timber — apparently the railroad was a big customer for cross ties. All of this was of course horse-powered. Bill, the youngest son, did his part, being trained to handle and drive horses and mules. He has mentioned many a time driving wagon loads of cross ties down the ridge to the railroad. So Bill was something of a “muleskinner” himself! He certainly was “firm” with horses and mules — there’s a famous story told by Blue Grass Boy Billy Joe Foster about Bill’s surprising strength and determination to get a recalcitrant mule to obey. The mule obeyed! Many of Bill’s early publicity photos showed him astride his great horse “King Wilkie”, in full Western gear. Del McCoury tells about a 1963 trip to Bill’s old abandoned home place, and finding his father’s trunk left behind in the barn when the older brothers sold the place. Bill opened the trunk and found many of his dad’s old business ledgers, and was very disgusted at this disrespect shown to the paterfamilias. I got a look at Buck’s ledger from 1923 (in the hands of a collector). It lists every purchase and expenditure for each day of the year, including the wages paid to many employees (one of whom was “Uncle Pen”).
#2: They were FAR from dirt poor sharecroppers! They were PROSPEROUS.
#3: Nope, not mountain coal miners digging their own graves. Western Kentucky is mostly surface (strip) mining, not going down in the ground in elevators and coal cars. The area around Horton (the unincorporated township where the Monroe property was located) has now been almost completely “reclaimed”. And looking rather nice, to be honest. When I first visited there in the 1990s, the only sign that there had been strip mining was the BEHEMOTH electric powered coal shovels dotting the countryside. They were so big there was no way to remove them unless they were disassembled. Each shovel had its own mammoth high-voltage transmission line.
#4: The Monroes were in much better condition than subsistence family farming.
#5: Bill wasn’t huddling in poverty with a widowed mother Malissa. Actually his mother predeceased her husband by 7 years. Bill’s two sisters and he lived with his dad through that period. Some of Bill’s brothers and uncles fought in WWI, but not his dad.
#6: Little Bill (he was known as Willie around home) wasn’t sickly, although he was the youngest son, and the “pet” of his sisters. He was considered “backward” — painfully shy, and cross-eyed until about age 10 when he got corrective surgery. (There are some biographers who suppose that Bill might have been subject to birth defects and slight retardation because of his mother’s advanced age at his birth.) Because of poor eyesight he had only a few months of formal schooling (couldn’t see the blackboard). He had his appendix out, but that was fairly common in the 1920s.. Once Bill’s mother died, he wanted to pitch in and do his manly part around the Monroe place, emulating his dad. He trained himself to be brutally strong, and his older brothers taught him to fight (box and wrestle).
#7: Bill never had to take work to support his mother and father. His boyhood “work” was for his father, handling timber, lumber and horses/mules.
#8: I threw in the Lusitania business for my own entertainment. Bill’s parents died at home in 1921 and 1928, during Bill’s teens. It is true that after Buck Monroe died and the older brothers inherited the property, Bill chose to (or was told to?) move in with his bachelor (actually divorced) Uncle Pen Vandiver who lived a bit closer to Rosine village. Bill was never “close” to his older brothers Harry, John and Speed (yes, Speed). He formed a musical partnership with brothers Birch and Charlie who were closer to his age. He remained close to his sisters Bertha and Maude. Bertha used to attend Bill’s concerts. There’s a nice old tape of Carter Stanley dedicating a song to “Berthy darling” at a show.