Dear Director: I want to approach you about a peculiarly Oklahoman project, one that needs the enthusiastic support of the director. I am planning a book that answers the question, “What is a Depression Okie?” Its title is ORNERY PEOPLE. My ancestry must be representative of that of many hundreds or thousands of Oklahomans. Statistically I find that I am kin not merely to many thousands of Americans but the low millions, for all of my white ancestors came in the 17th and 18th centuries (the last in 1750, the Costners) and had enormous families and those children had enormous families on down into the early 20th century. One of my Mississippi double cousins (found on the Internet this year, a Costner and a Bell) says that all Southerners are connected, even if they are not kin. I find that to be true as I see so many familiar and family names recurring in genealogies. I am truly a representative Oklahoman, and a surviving Depression Okie. I would not be so vainglorious as to call ORNERY PEOPLE a prequel to GRAPES OF WRATH (although I cannot take that book seriously as a portrait of eastern Oklahoma). Still, without too much hyperbole ORNERY PEOPLE could be marketed as the story which shows how American Southerners got to the point where Steinbeck took up the fictional Joads. Please let me try to interest you.
On paper I look like a regular sort of academic. I am H. Fletcher Brown Professor at the University of Delaware, Professor Emeritus since my retirement in 1998. I am a Pulitzer finalist for the first volume of my biography of Herman Melville (1997) and the winner of the highest award in biography from the Association of American Publishers for each of the two volumes of my biography of Melville, in 1997 and 2003. I’ve held a Guggenheim Fellowship and have published books with Johns Hopkins, LSU, Cambridge, G. K. Hall, Michigan, and other presses, but most commonly with Northwestern University Press. I taught at Illinois, Northwestern, the University of Southern California, and Delaware. My work has been in textual scholarship, aesthetics, and biography. I have in fact gone against the grain of the dominant New Criticism and later the New Historicism, not out of pure orneriness, I trust, but simply from an inclination to work with manuscript evidence and other original documents whenever possible. You could check me (Hershel Parker, no “c” in my first name) in Wikipedia or Bookfinder or Google Books or Amazon.
I was born near Comanche, Oklahoma, in 1935, son of a woman born in Guymon, Oklahoma Territory, and a father born in Wister, Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory. My first years were in an oil field near the Rio Grande until my father lost his job and had bad trouble finding another. The first winter of the war we lived in a tent (outdoor toilet, spigot for water outside the tent), in sight of the new DuPont Powder Plant near Pryor, Oklahoma, until the well-remembered cyclone destroyed the school. (Ironically my chair at Delaware [1979-1998] was endowed by a DuPont in-law.) My parents worked in ship yards in Portland, Oregon, then moved to a farm in LeFlore County, Oklahoma, outside Wister. In 1952 I left high school after the 11th grade so I could help support the family, at first working as an apprentice telegrapher at Red Rock, Oklahoma, where hooks still held tickets on which towns were identified not as in Oklahoma but as in IT or OT. I had seven years seniority as a railroad telegrapher on the Kansas City Southern when I quit in 1959 to go to Northwestern on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. During that time I was sick for two years with tuberculosis but accumulated college credits by correspondence from the Universities of Oklahoma, California, and Texas, and finished at Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont (“with highest honors”) after two years of working 8 at night till 4 in the morning on the KCS Railway in Port Arthur and going to school in the day. After getting my BA from Lamar in 1959 I took the MA in 1960 and PhD in 1963, both from Northwestern.
Late in 2002, three years after my mother, Martha Costner Parker, died at 92, I realized that I knew only two bits about any of any of my great grandparents. Mother’s grandfather Bell had enjoyed saying, in northern Mississippi, “I’m Scotch-Irish and Damn Yankee!” He was a Scot whose ancestors were from Ireland, all right, but not a Yankee. One of his brothers was in the Confederacy, and survived a Yankee prison. My Great Grandfather Bell must have been ornery indeed, for that to be his favorite phrase. The other story I knew was that my father’s Parker grandfather had been so poor that as a child of six or seven he ran deadfalls in the winter snow in northern Mississippi barefoot, carrying a heated rock in a tow sack. He would drop the sack and warm his feet while he reset the trap, then run on to the next until the rock was cold. I understood this only when I learned his birth year, 1860, and learned that his father had disappeared before the 1870 census, and that half the men and boys in Fulton Township were dead or had disappeared by the end of the war. I knew nothing else, not one other anecdote, and assumed that there would be no written record of people so impoverished for so long.
Late in 2002 I decided to stop working on Melville for two months to see what I could find on the Internet about my family. I was astonished at how many written documents I found, right away, about many of my American ancestors. Merely by searching on the Internet, accumulating books, and corresponding with Internet cousins, I have over the last several years amassed such a great deal of evidence that I am at the brink of the writing stage rather than the accumulation stage. I call the book ORNERY PEOPLE because I am recalling and celebrating such a tough bunch. A few years ago I wrote what could be the first chapter, my experiences as an Okie up to the point I decided to find out what a Depression Okie really was. I think that’s in readable shape now. Some of the ancestors, I discovered, were wealthy landowners in Maryland: one of them seems to have passed on much of Silver Springs in his will. Recently I learned that from some of those Maryland ancestors I am 6th cousin to the wife of my chairman at USC all through the 1970s and that we are, to our chagrin, akin to the Warfields, even Wallis Warfield Simpson. We never knew we were related! There are other startling well-documented connections to English families (who would not want Jane Austen for a cousin?), but my focus is all American. Within one or two generations such people as the prosperous Marylanders and Virginians were frontiersmen and women, often illiterate.
One GGGGG Grandfather was a North Carolina Regulator in the months before the Battle of Alamance. About a dozen of my ancestors, mainly Scots and Germans, were in the Revolution, including a son of the Regulator. How proud I would have been in youth and all my life, had I known! Another GGGGG Grandfather (well, they were Scots, so doubly a GGGGG Grandfather), who had daringly been on a North Carolina Committee of Safety, led his clan at King’s Mountain, that “turning point of the war in the South” Three anecdotes survive online of this GGGGG Grandfather’s sister’s riding 12 miles on an unruly stallion through Tory territory the next day, a Sunday, afraid that her husband and son were dead, only to find all her Presbyterian menfolk playing cards and passing a jug around. She stayed to nurse other men who were wounded.
Many of my ancestors are listed as the first whites in an area (even to the point of being “intruders” more than once). One family is well documented as the “Sims [or Simms] Intruders” who took flatboats down the Elk River into Alabama before it was opened to whites, only to be burned out twice by soldiers from Fort Hampton, Tennessee, despite, the second time, their letter (in the National Archives) begging President “Maddison” not to send the soldiers again. After their cabins were burned and their crops chopped down, they went over the Tennessee line and survived the winter in shelters made from bark of old growth trees, so that the place was called Barksville. A centennial history writer remembered seeing the shelters, and gave a sense of what living inside them was like.
The Coker family is extensively documented online by the Silas C. Turnbo papers in the Springfield-Greene County Library, Springfield, Missouri. My GGGGG Grandfather William (Buck) Coker arrived there (they learned months later) on the day of the Battle of New Orleans, so his arrival date passed down in the family. Sons had been there earlier, as was usual, preparing the way. Turnbo records stories of panthers, bears (Aunt Kate and children under the puncheon floor as the bear pawed at it), snakes, and very rough people. I had known Henry Rowe Schoolcraft’s book on his travels as a source for Longfellow, but had not known to make anything of the fact that one of his hosts is “Mr. Coker,” who has bear skins strung on rods all around his house, inside and out, and who has not a single vegetable in his diet. I knew from dark great aunts of their grievance at being left of the Choctaw rolls. One of them lived in three centuries, but not very long in two of them, dying in 2001. Their white father recited the Lord’s Prayer in Choctaw before every meal. I remember this man, who was born in 1861. Until I began looking on the Internet I had no idea that the Glenn-Tucker case was notorious, the Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce of the Indian Territory. A history published just after statehood jibes at it. I have printed out the long, intricate decision on “GLENN-TUCKER, et al., v. CLAYTON, Judge. / Court of Appeals of Indian Territory, Sept. 25, 1902” from the Southwestern Reporter, Volume 70--an example of what riches is available for free on the Internet. The story of how the Glenn-Tucker family was cheated of their Indian rights (in this case, Cherokee rights) is a true story of Ornery People. They stopped along the way to give birth, harvest a crop, and, worst, did not know that the Arkansas line had been moved west. Their history is documented not only with legal records but also by affidavits my cousins gave in the 1880s before the Dawes Commission about events in the 1830s and earlier. There is even a WPA oral interview with a Glenn-Tucker cousin! And it is documented in even my memory, for in 1990 at an aunt’s 90th birthday another aunt lamented her exclusion from the rolls.
I am a Glenn two ways and a Tucker one way. One Coker girl (part Glenn and Tucker), having escaped with another child from a bushwacking in northern Arkansas, made her way to a much older Mexican War veteran cousin in Dade Co., Missouri, John B. E. Glenn, newly a widower, who said she could stay if she married him. He had proved his orneriness by volunteering for a year in the Union army even though Abraham Lincoln had received only a handful of votes in Dade County. In 1942 and after the Second World War in Wister I knew a son of this Mexican War soldier. The soldier was described on his discharge paper as 6 ft 5 inches, Scot and Cherokee. (I have followed his service through newspaper archives I have access to through Delaware.) Uncle Johnny (my great granduncle) must also have been that tall, and topped himself with a black stovepipe hat as he brought early spring vegetables to help feed us after the Pryor cyclone, my father having gone ahead to Oregon. Uncle Johnny was very dark indeed, with Choctaw blood as well as Cherokee blood from the northern Arkansas Cokers who took up with Cherokees. There’s a good story about Cherokees chasing Uncle Joe because he had one too many wives, the story of how Poor Joe Hill got its name. My Parker grandmother was very dark, although she was more than half white. One of her daughters was always called Blanket. I was middle-aged before I learned that she came out so dark that they decided they should wrap her in a blanket and drop her off at a Reservation. Okie humor.
One group of 150 Richardsons and in-laws left Moore Co., North Carolina, in ox-drawn wagons, carrying everything including livestock—over the mountains, and by Knoxville, where the patriarch died and was buried on the roadside. Their arrival in Lauderdale Co. Alabama, around 1820 is recorded in a long letter written in the 1870s. One healthy lad who gloried in the excitement of the months-long trip died in an Alton prison in the Civil War because he would not take a loyalty oath while his sons were in the CSA. Aunt Kate Stutts Richardson rode a horse all the way from Moore County, and in her great age (the family swears) she killed a Yankee with a stick of firewood when he leaned into her apple barrel. In 2007 I saw in several of the family cemeteries tombs of grandsons of the 1820 troop slain in the war. The brevity of time between the Revolution and the Civil War is never so clear as when you see so many graves of grandchildren of Revolutionary patriots slain in another war. And now, of course, there are stark new graves with the Iraq dead, some with the family names.
Many of my mother’s people were German, Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Costners, the last-comers, most of whom went down the Great Wagon Road to North Carolina very soon. Two brothers, sons of a Confederate private who survived Gettysburg (others did not), went out to Guymon, OT, my grandfather and Mother’s Uncle Mode (Moses Amariah), great grandfather of the actor, Kevin Costner. In 2007 when we knocked on a door in Dallas, North Carolina, to ask directions to a Costner cemetery the man who opened the door was Clyde Costner, on land that had been in the family more than two centuries. Most of us moved west fast. Thomas W. Bell, a grandson of two of the King’s Mountain men, got to the Republic of Texas in time to be “captured in the cause of Texas” and to write a book (1845), A NARRATIVE OF THE CAPTURE AND SUBSEQUENT SUFFERINGS OF THE MIER PRISONERS IN MEXICO. An author in the family, my first cousin four times removed!
I am using Revolutionary pension records to reconstruct significant bits of military history from the ground up, comparing my long-lived ancestors’ stories with those of others who had served in the same companies. (One of my GGGG grandfathers applied for his pension when he was over 90, and received it.) The book will trace migration patterns; treatment of slaves (there’s a horrific pre-Revolution “William Zan[t]zinger” record of a Pottenger uncle’s killing a young male slave and being questioned but not punished); the reasons for shifts in religious affiliations (some Boyd cousins were famous South Carolina Methodist preachers, a Hill ancestor was a circuit rider in Alabama and Mississippi); the immediate and long-term effects of the Civil War; the descent into poverty that ran from the Civil War on through the Dust Bowl (my parents were in Spearman, Texas, during the worst of it) and the Depression, which I remember. (I remember the horrors of joblessness in 1939.)
I will write about using Internet resources wisely, as in the strategies by which I learned that my grand aunt had been wrong in 1990 when she said her father was “a full-blooded Irishman who didn’t talk plain.” I assumed she meant he was fresh off the boat, there, inexplicably, in Indian Territory. In fact, he was Scottish, Scotch-Irish, born in Arkansas of parents born in Tennessee, just as you would expect if you did not believe everything an aunt said. How I tracked his family back will make a good paragraph or two. He was illiterate, and may not have talked as plain as my eastern Oklahoma aunt, but he was not a full-blooded Irishman.
I will take issue with points in some standard histories of periods and movements, for I find that American history is still written mainly by Northerners for Northerners, who know there was a Boston Massacre but know nothing of Battle of Alamance and hangings that followed. ORNERY PEOPLE will recount the dispersal of families and, oddly, it will celebrate the reconnecting of families through the Internet. This year I saw for the first time a photograph of my Henderson great grandparents: that’s an example of the Internet reuniting families. Another example: on email with an Internet Cockerham cousin I was identifying a mutual ancestor when he asked my other names and when I listed some he instantly said, “Well, we are certainly both Schlemps!” And it turns out that I envy one of the Schlemps, for while he was in Coolidge’s cabinet he got to meet John Buchan, one of my favorite writers.)
In ORNERY PEOPLE I will celebrate the serious historical work of many amateur genealogists whose respect for the rules of evidence puts many academics to shame. All my academic life I worked in the archives, transcribing manuscripts myself; now I perforce rely on others for much of the research, but the odd thing is that more and more manuscript material is showing up online, such as letters from men in my Great Grandfather Costner’s Mississippi regiment. I write fast, as a professional. I wrote the 400-page MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE (now in press at Northwestern) between May 2009 and May 2010, had to let it rest to push on other projects, then finished it between May 2011 and the end of September 2011. I expect to write ORNERY PEOPLE in a year or so once I start, perhaps two, allowing for interruptions on other projects. As I said, I am recognizing the tension which means “Enough accumulating: time to look hard and start writing.” Normally I blaze away writing what I want to write, but I would like to write ORNERY PEOPLE with a press in mind so as to adapt it to best fit the needs of the press. I can publish it outside Oklahoma, even in these hard times. Northwestern published one of my books, THE POWELL PAPERS, in July 2011, and the still more ambitious MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE is set for 2012 and can now be preordered on Amazon.
I have other commercial projects in the works, as you can see from the appended list of what I have published after retiring in 1998. I have no scruples, now, about self-publishing or publishing on Kindle: everything has changed, you know better than I do, and in many ways for the good, I believe. Nevertheless, I want Oklahoma presses to have first refusal of ORNERY PEOPLE because it is quintessentially an Oklahoma book. It would mean a great deal to me to have it published and promoted in Oklahoma.
Sincerely, Hershel Parker email@example.com 2900 Juniper Avenue Morro Bay, CA 93442
This will not be a grim book. There will be many anecdotes such as this one: Cousin L. M. Hoffman tells this story about Cousin Cephas Bell, a Confederate soldier in the 28th North Carolina Regiment, a grandson of the King’s Mountain hero Thomas Costner: “His comrades say of him that he was not unusually bright but that he was unusually brave. On one occasion his command was ordered to charge the enemy entrenched on a hill. The Federals scattered in confusion and Bell leading in the rush did not notice that his command had halted in the enemy’s abandoned position but went on after an officer in the rear of the rout. He overtook his man and ordered him to surrender. The officer said he couldn’t surrender except to an officer. Bell swore at him and said he’d blow out his d----d brains if he didn’t surrender quick . . . . He took his prisoner back and meeting some officers as he approached headquarters they told him they’d take the prisoner. He said, ‘No you won’t; if you want to go get you one, there’s plenty of them over there [pointing in the direction the enemy had gone]. You shall not have mine.’”
Since my retirement in 1998 I have continued to publish:
The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 5th Edition (1998). This is the most thoroughly revised edition yet. For it I wrote new author headnotes and selection headnotes and footnotes for Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Caroline Stansbury Kirkland, Fanny Fern, Louisa May Alcott, and Harriet Prescott Spofford. I wrote new footnotes for additional selections by Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and other authors already represented in earlier editions of NAAL. I also updated the bibliographies for the period and made many other changes.
"Herman Melville," in American National Biography, Vol. 15 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999 [check date), pp. 277-283. "Ahab's Wife Doesn't Belong on Same Shelf as Moby-Dick," San Francisco Chronicle (24 October 1999), 10.
The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY¬DICK, Second Edition, eds. Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), pp. xvii and 726. "Melville's Reading and Moby-Dick: An Overview and a Bibliography," in The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY¬DICK, Second Edition (2001), 431-437. "Before Moby-Dick: International Controversy over Melville," in The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK, Second Edition (2001), 465-470.
"Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius," in The Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK, Second Edition (2001), 713-726. Revised and reprinted in Living with a Writer, ed. Dale Salwak (London and New York: Palgrave/Macmillan and St. Martin's Press, 2004), 202-222.
"Foreword," in the Sesquicentennial paperback issue of the Northwestern-Newberry Moby-Dick (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2001), pp. xiii-xvi.
"Melville and Hawthorne in the Berkshires," in Aspects of Melville, ed. David Scribner (Pittsfield: Berkshire County Historical Society at Arrowhead, 2001), 21-27.
"The Masterpiece That Ended a Career: Melville's Moby-Dick," Sea Letter 61 (Winter 2001), 10-13.
Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002). Xvii and 997. Winner in "Biography and Autobiography," Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division Annual Award; listed as an "Outstanding Academic Title" in the January 2004 issue of Choice Magazine.
Norton Anthology of American Literature, 6th Edition (2002). Contains only a few new authors with new headnotes but a greatly rewritten general introduction.
Robin Grey and Douglas Robillard in consultation with Hershel Parker, "Melville's Milton: The Marginalia in The Poetical Works of John Milton: A Transcription of Melville's Annotation in His Copy of Milton," Leviathan, 4 (March and October 2002), 117-204. Reprinted in Melville and Milton: An Edition and Analysis of Melville's Annotations on Milton, ed. Robin Grey (Pittsburgh: DuQuesne University Press, 2004), 115-203.
Editor and contributor, “Harrison Hayford (1916-2001): His Students Recollect,” Leviathan 5.11 (March 2003), 71-85.
"Foreword," in Harrison Hayford, Melville's Prisoners (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2003), vii-xi.
"What Hawthorne Meant to Melville," Harrison Hayford, introduced by Hershel Parker, Hawthorne Revisited: Honoring the Bicentennial of the Author's Birth, eds. Gordon Hyatt and David Scribner (Lenox: Lenox Library Association, 2004), 75-82.
"Chronologie," in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, No. 433, Herman Melville, Oeuvres, 2 ("Redburn" and "Vareuse-Blanche"), ed. Philippe Jaworski, with Michel Imbert, Hershel Parker, and Joseph Urbas (Paris: Gallimard, 2004), xiii-xviii. (A new chronology for 1849-1850, the period of this volume.)
“Damned by Dollars,” revised, in Living with a Writer, Dale Salwak, ed. (Houndsmill, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 2004), 202-222.
With Mark Niemeyer, the Second Norton Critical Edition of The Confidence-Man (New York: W. W. Norton, 2006). This contains reprinted essays and (besides the Preface) three substantial new essays by Parker: "The Confidence Man's Masquerade," "Delusions of a 'Terrestrial Paradise,'" and "The Politics of Allegorizing Indian Hating."
"Chronologie," in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, No. 433, Herman Melville, Oeuvres, 3 ("Moby-Dick; Pierre ou les Ambiguités"]), ed. Philippe Jaworski, with Michel Imbert, Hershel Parker, and Joseph Urbas (Paris: Gallimard, 2006), xxxiii-xl. (A new chronology for 1850-1853, the period of this volume.)
Reading Melville's "Pierre; or, The Ambiguities", by Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
"The Isle of the Cross and Poems: Lost Melville Books and the Indefinite Afterlife of Error," Nineteenth-Century Literature 62 (June 2007), 29-47.
Melville: The Making of the Poet (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008); available late November 2007 but dated 2008.
"James B. Meriwether: An Encounter," Mississippi Quarterly, 59:3-4 (Summer-Fall 2006), 391-393. [Written before Meriwether's death on 18 March 2007.] "Foreword," in Herman Melville's Clarel (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2008), xiii-xxvii.
Published Poems, Vol. 11 in The Writings of Herman Melville, ed. Hershel Parker, G. Thomas Tanselle, and Alma MacDougall Reising (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2009.
"Chronologie," in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Herman Melville, Oeuvres, 4 ("Bartleby le scribe; Billy Budd, marin; et autres romans), ed. Philippe Jaworski, with David Lapoujade and Hershel Parker (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), xxi-xlii. (A new chronology for 1852-1891, the period of this volume.)
"The 'New Scholarship': Textual Evidence and Its Implications for Criticism, Literary Theory, and Aesthetics," Studies in American Fiction, 9 (Autumn 1981), pp. 18l¬97. Reprinted in Ecdotica 6 (University of Bologna, 2009), in Anglo-American Scholarly Editing, 1980-2005 (Bulogna: University of Bulogna, 2010), 30-46.
Billy Budd: Lesen & Verstehen (Düsselforf: Düsseldorf University Press, 2010), translated by Ernst A. Chantelau. This is a German edition of my Reading “Billy Budd” (1990).
“The Talented Ripley Hitchcock,” American Literary Realism, 43 (Winter 2011), pp. 175-182. [Largely about Hitchcock’s censorship of Zane Grey.] The Powell Papers: A Confidence Man Amok Among the Anglo-American Literati (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2011), xiv, 345.
“Chronologie,” pp. 603-618, a condensed 1810-1891 version, in the Folio Classique edition of Melville’s Mardi, ed. Dominique Marçais, Mark Niemeyer, Joseph Urbas, préface nouvelle de Philippe Jaworski, Chronologie de Hershel Parker, traduction de Rose Celli, revue par Philippe Jaworski (Paris: Gallimard, 2011)
“The Unemployable Herman Melville: ‘Nothing Else To Do’ But Sign on a Whaleship,” Historic Nantucket 62.2 (Spring 2012), 4-10.
“Walter E. Bezanson: A Memorial,” Leviathan 37 (Spring 2012), 37-42.
Forthcoming: Forthcoming: Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative now in press (copy-edited, index in preparation) at Northwestern University Press for 2012 publication.
In progress: The three-volume third edition of The New Melville Log, Hershel Parker and Jay Leyda (New York: Gordian Press) and perhaps an electronic version of the entire 9,000 page archive. This functions as my private archive of archives. We are at work on a 3-volume print edition. On 24 June 2010 Robert Sandberg agreed to do the coding and layout; in April 2011 I passed onto him all the first volume, August 1819 to June 1849.
Next project, "Things Incomplete and Purposes Betrayed" (working title, from Wordsworth)—my part of the Historical Note for BILLY BUDD, SAILOR and Other Uncompleted Writings, the final Northwestern-Newberry volume. I am General Editor.