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Cousin Gussie: fancy cars, diamonds – and vegetables

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Cousin Gussie created a self portrait for the newspaper in Troy out of vegetables. She made her living running a wholesale produce company on her farm in south Alabama. (Image courtesy Gordon Cotton)

Mother always said her cousin Gussie was a character — and that might be an understatement. Gussie was Mother’s favorite cousin. She was born, raised and lived in rural Pike County, Alabama, outside of Troy.

There was really no way for me to visualize her before we met for the first time when I was in college (that was about 65 years ago).

Gussie was tall — probably about 5 feet 10 — and she was big, at least 250 pounds, probably more. Some of her original red hair was mixed with gray by then, and she had on a dress that was fastened all the way up with a few buttons but mostly with safety pins. I’m guessing she was about 60.

I was told that Gussie had two weaknesses — fancy cars and diamonds. Diamonds hung from her pierced ears and were on most of her fingers. She smoked a small pipe that looked like ivory, and I’m sure there were some small diamonds embedded in the bowl.

Gussie was kin on the Richardson side of the family, and like most of them, she had red hair and was a Primitive Baptist. Her real name was Augusta, named for my great-grandfather Augustus. Her family farm was a few miles in the country near Banks, Alabama. She and her husband, Joiner — that was the only name I ever knew him by — had a daughter named Flake (that’s a family name) and also a son and two grandsons.

She was plain-spoken and quick. You didn’t need an interpreter to understand her, and in conversation she might occasionally throw in a damn or a hell for emphasis or to enjoy the looks of disapproval on the faces of the pious. Gussie wasn’t one to go to preachin’ very often, but she didn’t need to. I found out that she quietly took care of the financial needs of some who were destitute. Gussie lived her religion.

At our initial meeting, she sized up this skinny kid and told me I would be spending the weekend with her. I had passed muster — probably because I was Eva’s son.

Staying at Gussie’s began with breakfast as dawn was breaking. It was a full meal with steak and all the trimmings, just like supper. We ate in a building in the backyard that served as a kitchen and dining area. Beyond the kitchen was another small house, maybe like a bungalow. That’s where Joiner stayed when he and Gussie had enough of each other — or she might be the one to move out. But they always met for meals, and eventually moved back into the big house until once again there was too much togetherness.

All her life, Gussie ran some form of business. In the 1920s, she opened a general merchandise store called “Little Gussie’s Place.” Included in her stock was “country produce” and she stated that bills were due each Monday.

As the years went by, the business grew into a large wholesale vegetable company, and from her fields on Buckhorn Farm she supplied stores and restaurants in south Alabama with the best money could buy. An ad she ran in the Troy Messenger gives in rhyme a bit of her philosophy:

Up Buckhorn Creek where we come from
Life is so pleasant, peaceful and calm
A good life we could have it we could only stay
And see where we live by the light of the day.

I run like hell from 3:30 till.
I think it would be easier if we had a big still
I still can remember the first turnip we grew
That change over our diet from hog head to stew.

The creed I live by is for only a few
It takes guts and will power and the nerve to do.

Beware the deadly sitting habit
If you sit be like a rabbit
Who keepeth ever on the jump
By springs concealed beneath his rump.

A little ginger, ’neath the tail
Will for a lack of brains avail.
Eschew the full and slothful seat
And move about with willing feet.

Man was not made to sit in trance
And press and press and press his pants,
But rather with an open mind
To circulate among his kind.

And so, my friends, beware the snare,
That lurks within the cushioned chair.
To run like hell, it has been found,
Both feet must be upon the ground.

Her love of vegetables was not just selling them, but she was also a chef, a really great cook. She had a truly. artistic eye, and she loved to cut and slice vegetables and carefully arrange them in glass jars. They adorned the shelves in her kitchen. All her life she had wanted to own a restaurant, and finally she opened one. Soon it was attracting people from many miles away, a greater success than she had ever expected. But, alas, she began to lose her eyesight and had to close the business. She told me not to wait until late in life to fulfill my dream.

She’s been deceased for quite a few years, but folks in Troy still tell “Gussie stories.” My favorite — and I can prove it is true — is, about a new car. I guess it was in the early ’60s that General Motors came out with what they called a hard-topped convertible, two tones with wire-spoke wheels.

Gussie had someone drive her to Montgomery in a rattletrap pickup. They went to the Cadillac dealer, and when she walked into the showroom the salesman looked up from his newspaper but went back to reading. Gussie looked like the proverbial bag lady, but she soon got his attention. She went from car to car, opening doors and slamming them as hard as she could. She stopped at a black and white Cadillac, but the salesman rather condescendingly told her the price, which he assumed she could not afford. She reached into her bra, which held her sizable bosom, pulled out a wad of bills and paid cash for the car.

A few weeks later she drove into Troy and left the car at Joe’s Service Station to have it washed. She took her grandsons to a nearby burger joint and then went back to get the car.

Her grandsons told me the car was glistening and beautiful. Gussie leaned over and looked under the fender. She spotted some of that red Alabama clay, and she said, “Joe, you didn’t wash that.”

“Miss Gussie,” Joe said, “That don’t show.

She had a quick reply: “My ass don’t either, but I wash it.”

Mother told me she was a character.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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A piece of Vicksburg history is officially no more

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The former WQBC studio, (photo by Thomas Parker)

WQBC radio was believed to be the oldest radio station in the state of Mississippi. Operating on AM frequency 1420, the call letters were reportedly for the words “We Quote Better Cotton” from radio’s heyday when farm market prices were a staple of daily programming.

The station dates back to 1928 when it was first licensed to Utica. In 1931 the station was purchased by the Cashman family and moved to Vicksburg. FCC rules against cross ownership with a newspaper forced the family to sell the station.

Notable alumni include world renowned blues musician Willie Dixon, Adrian Cronauer, who was the inspiration for the movie “Good Morning Vietnam,” and Woodie Assaf, who cut his teeth in radio before becoming the nation’s longest serving weather man on WLBT.

On Sept. 28, 2020, the last owners, COSTAR Broadcasting, surrendered the license to the Federal Communications Commission.  

The station last operated from a studio and tower location on Porter’s Chapel Road. Those facilities have been torn down. With the license surrender, a piece of Vicksburg and Mississippi broadcasting history died along with it. 

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Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Vicksburg: ‘a scene to delight a boy’s heart’

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Buffalo Bill Cody in 1903 (Photo in the public domain)

As shots rang out just above the trees, the boys who were perched among the branches “came out of those trees like overripe pears falling,” wrote the late Vicksburg historian V. Blaine Russell .

The lads thought they had found the perfect — and free — vantage point to see the show at the fairgrounds. The man with the gun, who pretended he didn’t see the youngsters, was William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody who brought his Wild West Show to Vicksburg Nov. 17, 1908.

It was a typical performance, complete with a cast of hundreds. There were stagecoach holdups, Indians, cowboys and pretty girls and, of course, the star of the show, Buffalo Bill.

It wasn’t the first time he had brought his show to Vicksburg. His troupe had come to the River City Nov. 26, 1874, and had staged “The Indian Ball Play” featuring 30 Choctaws, but the show, including a dance afterward, wasn’t much of a success, according to John G. Cashman, editor of The Daily Vicksburger.

Despite the poor attendance, the troupe came back July 2, 1886, and put on “a grand Indian Ball Play and War Dance” according to the Vicksburg Herald. The paper also stated that “Sixty genuine scalp-taking Redmen” would parade downtown.

When the show returned to Vicksburg in 1908, it wasn’t just with dancing Indians but with a variety show. A writer for The Vicksburg Evening Post described it as “a thrilling piece of acting as the Indians ride like mad after the coach filled with terrified passengers. From the top of the swaying vehicle the fearless cowboys pour in a steady fire on the galloping redskins. The driver lashes the horses into a wild run. This is a scene to delight a boy’s heart and make one’s pulse beat a little faster.”

Cast of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in 1890. (Photo in the public domain)

The Buffalo Bill show included 550 horses, and the Post noted that “no bolder or better horsemen have ever been seen. … the fiercest bucking broncos were ridden with grace by the hardy cowboys and cowgirls. … Picking up handkerchiefs from the ground. while running their ponies at breakneck speed was something the girls did to elicit applause.”

There were a variety of other acts, too, including precision drills by a company of Zouaves, Indian war dances and a horse that “did the hoocheecoochee dance — quite remarkable.”

Another act was possibly the forerunner of donkey basketball popular in later years: It was a football game played on horseback. The horses wore breast plates, knee pads, shin guards, boots and nose pads. The riders didn’t touch the ball, but the horses pushed, shoved and kicked it.

The highlight of the show was not the dancing girls, Indians and horses but Buffalo Bill himself, “gray and old, still robust and active and quick of eye, who was tumultuously applauded …” He was noted for his ability to shoot, and he gave a demonstration as “from the back of a galloping horse the old scout and hero of a hundred Indian fights was able to crack every glass ball pitched into the air, no matter how fast or furious the tossing was done.”

The day before his Vicksburg performance, Buffalo Bill had set up a tipi at the Kleinston landing where admirers visited with him while his workers set up the props for the show.

The old man told a Post reporter that his show had been on the road for 30 years, and he had missed only two performances.

Buffalo Bill Cody in 1911. (Photo in the public domain)

He interrupted the conversation once, saying “Here, have a cigar. I have this kind made for me by thousands.” The reporter wrote that “the old scout puffed on a big black cigar and then there was good opportunity to watch those bright blue eyes in thought as he gazed alternately out of the tent and then at the curling smoke. His hair has turned snow white but he has plenty of it. He is six feet tall and straight as a young Indian.”

The newspaper said about 8,000 people had seen the two performances paying either 50 cents or a dollar for a glimpse of life as it used to be. “In this prosaic age of the trolley and pullman and the steamboat, it is hard for us to appreciate conditions that existed on the Western prairies …” The show was said to be “clean, moral and wholesome and provided lessons for the young and refreshes the memories of the old.”

Buffalo Bill had brought a taste of the Old West to the Old South.


Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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Today marks the 19th anniversary of 9/11

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The north face of Two World Trade Center (south tower) immediately after being struck by United Airlines Flight 175. (Photo by Robert on Flickr - This file has been extracted from another file: UA Flight 175 hits WTC south tower 9-11 edit.jpeg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17340779)

Today marks the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Hijackers connected with al-Qaida in the Middle East took control of four jets, using them as missiles to destroy and kill. Two of the jets crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center complex in Manhattan. A third was flown into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Passengers on the fourth plane, which was headed toward Washington, D.C., managed to thwart the hijacker’s plan. It crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

In all, 2,977 people died in what remains the deadliest terrorist attacks in the world. Another 25,000 were injured, either directly or through exposure to toxins at the crash sites, causing long-term consequences. The attacks also cost more than $10 billion in infrastructure and property damages.

The attacks precipitated wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the U.S. War on Terror, although none of the hijackers came from either of those countries. Of the 19 attackers, 15 were Saudi citizens, two were from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Lebanon and Egypt. Osama bin Laden, who planned the attacks, was also from Saudi Arabia. U.S. forces killed bin Laden in 2011 in Pakistan.

The war in Afghanistan, which began Oct. 7, 2001, to deny al-Qaida a place of refuge, is the longest U.S. war in its history.

Although the U.S. officially ended its war in Iraq after more than eight years in 2011, thousands of U.S. soldiers and contractors continue to be stationed there.

More than 2,300 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan and another 4,500 in Iraq.

Children born after the 9/11 attacks, who have never known a world without a War on Terror, have begun to enter voting booths.

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