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« Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Four: Confronting the Abhorrent Truth | Main | "Sin is a demon crouching at the door" (Gen 4:7, REB) »
Wednesday
Jun202012

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Three: Grief Upon Grief

I originally intended only three parts to this series with the last focusing on reflections of the previous two. However, in the time since I've written part two, new information has come to light which I've included here. Part four will contain my promised reflections upon these branches of my family tree. 

If you haven't read them already, before reading this post, read

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part One: The Grandfather I Never Knew

Skeletons in the Family Closet, Part Two: A Shooting in Phillips County

William Mansfield and his family moved to Helena, Arkansas, in search of work. They saw Helena as a place of opportunity, especially with jobs from the Solomon-Moore Land Company, which even offered its own company housing. And yet, Helena proved to be a place of great loss as well. My great grandfather William was not the only Mansfield to die in Helena in the early part of the 20th century. In 1915, five years before my great grandfather died in a gunfight with Lester Yeager, his older brother John T. Mansfield would die an untimely death—also at the wrong end of a gun.

Jonesboro Evening Sun, June 17, 1915John T. Mansfield and his son-in-law, L. L. Blaylock (no relation to the famous Texas sheriff from what I can tell) were drinking together on Sunday, June 13, 1915, when an old argument arose between them. Going home to sleep it off wasn’t enough for John T. He grabbed his gun and headed over to his daughter’s house to have a second, more serious round with his son-in-law. Supposedly, John T. opened fire on Blaylock, wounding him, but not critically. Blaylock wrestled the gun away from his father-in-law and shot him dead.

I had come across this story by accident and initially was not certain that John T. Mansfield was related to my great grandfather William or not. However, sending away for John T.’s death certificate confirmed that they had the same parents. Moreover, the personal information on John T. Mansfield’s death certificate was filled out by William himself—an irony considering William would die in similar circumstances five years later. Some people refuse to learn from the mistakes of others.

There were actually three Mansfield brothers. Thomas Mansfield was the eldest and the only one of the three who would die a non-violent death in 1940 in New Orleans. The three families had been in Boyle, Mississippi, together and had moved to Helena together in search of a better life. It was Thomas who would fill out the personal information on William’s death certificate in 1920. I can only imagine what kind of grief he experienced as he saw the violent deaths of two of his brothers in a span of five years. According to a cousin of mine, Thomas Mansfield was a serious moonshiner. Did his own product contribute to the death of his brother? I don’t know if my great grandfather, William, was drinking the night he showed up at Lester Yeager’s door, gun in hand, but it would not surprise me. Of course, for all I know, they may have all been moonshiners.

I’m still trying to find out what happened to Blaylock after shooting his father-in-law. A trial was set for the next Friday after the shooting, but I’ve yet to find anything detailing the outcome of the trial. But even if it was found that he killed John T. Mansfield in self-defense, he still had to go home to his wife, who would always know that her husband killed her father. This does not make for happy family memories. 

And I wonder what my grandfather, John Richard Mansfield, felt when at the age of seven, he saw his uncle John T.—the man he had been named after—die; and then at the age of twelve, saw his own father die. Grief upon grief, only to be compounded by the awkwardness of his mother—my great grandmother Daisy—marrying Lester Yeager, the man who had shot her husband. And you thought your family was dysfunctional?

This past Sunday at church, I taught from Joshua 7, which to me is one of the most difficult chapters in the Bible for modern people to connect to their circumstances and sentiments. In this story, the disobedience of one Israelite man—Achan—lead to the death of 36 Israelite soldiers and ultimately the deaths of himself and his entire family. Rather than focusing too much on the unsettling parts of the story, I reminded those in our study that our sins never affect us alone. Sin is like a contagion—it spreads. Its consequences affect those around us, and sadly, those who look up to us often end up making the same mistakes at a later date.

History has a long line of foolish men (and women, for that matter) who thought that packing a gun would make them sit a bit higher in the saddle or somehow earn them greater respect. I remember years ago considering getting a concealed carry permit for the .38 special I own. About this time, I saw on the local news that a man had pulled a gun on another man after getting into an argument over a parking incident in a grocery store parking lot. The second man also had a gun, so he reached for his and quickly killed his would-be attacker. Loss of life—over a parking lot argument! I remember thinking to myself at the time, “There’s a reason I’ve never been in a gunfight: I don’t carry a gun.” I realize that some people have legitimate reasons for doing so, but I don’t, and I won’t. 

More to come--stay tuned. 

 

Your thoughts, comments, questions and rebuttals are welcome in the comments below.

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Reader Comments (3)

Thanks Rick

July 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterF LaVerne Gillespie

Thanks for the interesting articles. I am a pastor in California, but was born and raised in Helena. I am sure my grandparents and great grandparents knew of your family.
Sadly, Helena, West Helena, and surrounding area (Lexa) is not anything like it was when I grew up there...much drugs and violence.
My mom, sister, and many cousins still live there.
Randy

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRandy Burk

Randy, thanks for reaching out. If you haven't found it already, I wrote a fourth post in this series that is even more shocking than anything written here. See "Skeletons...Part 4: Confronting the Abhorrent Truth: at http://thislamp.com/posts/2012/7/14/skeletons-in-the-family-closet-part-four-confronting-the-abh.html

In that post, you'll read about my visit to Helena. Yes, the city certainly seems to be a shadow of its former self compared to the boomtown it was a hundred or so years ago. I still need to go back. Last summer we found out the truth about my great grandfather's murder (and it was indeed a murder), but now we need to go back and research the adoption records to see if we can discover what happened to child of Lester Yeager and my Aunt Beth.

If your family who still lives in the area knows any Yeagers who might be related to Lester Yeager, I'd appreciate any information I could get.

April 29, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterR. Mansfield

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