Sunday, March 29, 2015


"You Came A Long Way From St. Louis".....     

My 3rd Cousin Ray McKinley wasn't from St. Louis, but he's the featured vocalist on the original recording of that song along with an array of great boogie woogie classics like "Down the Road A Piece" and "Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar."  Take a listen  to the link below. 

Oh and did I mention Ray was one of the premiere drummers of the swing era fronting his own band as well as keeping the beat for The Dorsey Brothers and Glenn Miller's famous Army Air Force Band during World War II?  As a matter of fact I've found more than a few 78's that Ray recorded with swing giants including The Andrews Sisters, Benny Goodman and Django Reinhardt.

Ray McKinley was raised in my home town of Ft. Worth. He and my grandfather were first cousins but they could have easily been mistaken for brothers.  The self taught drummer followed his dream and left Texas while still in his teens playing with dance bands across the country.  By 1934 he had become drummer with The Dorsey Brothers playing along side bandmates Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Ray was even there the night of the famous "on stage" breakup between Tommy & Jimmy. 

Here's a clip from a 1938 movie short featuring Ray's amazing musicianship with The Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.

There are dozens of recordings of not only Ray's studio work but of the live WW2 radio broadcasts with Glenn Miller.  Of all of Ray's work, the broadcasts to the troops are some of my favorites. Many of them feature Ray's vocals as well as his fine skills as a drummer. They are made even more poignant when you listen to those final performances without Glenn, who's airplane was lost while flying over the English Channel on the eve of the war's end. 

The link below is taken from one of the many Army Air Corp radio shows "I Sustain the Wings" announcing the lineup which includes Ray McKinley and actor Broderick Crawford (shown in the above ad for CBS Radio.) This is one of the broadcasts from New York opening with a great rendition of "Caribbean Clipper " where Ray really lets loose on the drums! There are many recordings of entire shows available on Youtube as well as ITunes and Amazon.

 Glenn Miller's estate would eventually ask Ray to become the new leader of Glenn's band.  He spent the next few years touring the U.S. and the world bringing that big band sound to all those adoring fans as well as the next generation of music lovers. I've especially loved finding early 1960's television clips of The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Here's a great segment with Ray and Miller band singer Johnny Desmond. For you Broadway fans a little side note: Johnny Desmond finished up the original Broadway run of "Funny Girl"  as Nick Arnstein alongside Barbra Streisand.

I never had the chance to meet Ray McKinley but I love hearing the stories from my relatives of his wit, that twinkle in his eye and his amazing talent. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

HENRIETTA CLAY LIGON GORMAN, The Bohemian Lady of Ft. Worth

Although a native of Alabama, Henrietta Clay Ligon Gorman was a Texan at heart. Married and living in Ft. Worth by the 1880's, she was the self-appointed Fort Worth, Texas leader of all things artistic. She was also the sister of my Great Great Grandfather, W.L. Ligon.

In 1899, Henrietta began publishing a quarterly journal called The Bohemian. She also opened up her own home on East Belknap Street as an unofficial library before Ft. Worth had one of it's own. The Bohemian featured stories, literary critiques, poetry and many pictures of local residents and Ft. Worth surroundings. In the 1900 Federal Census, Henrietta proudly referred to her occupation as "author."

In 1904, Henri, as she was called, published an enormous 246 page edition of The Bohemian commemorating the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. It was the size of a coffee table book and printed on such fine paper that it still exists today. Texashistory.Unt.Edu is a fantastic website on Texas state history where all sorts of treasures await to be viewed including many pages of stories, photographs and illustrations from The Bohemian. Henri always featured her own writing in each edition along with a few cleverly placed illustrations of herself.  Note this "not so subtle" cover below as she keeps the arts and letters at a high standard indeed!

You have to give the lady credit. I've viewed a few of the original publications which are housed at the Ft. Worth Public Library. There are also some images housed at the Amon Carter Museum. The Bohemian is a lengthy and colorful reference guide to the era and the city of Ft Worth. Henrietta  was a tremendous supporter of the local arts community and staunch preservationist of it's heritage.  As she states on the cover of the 1904 World's Fair Edition, "The Fruit of My Pen Is My Offering." Henrietta Clay Ligon Gorman was most certainly an early  liberated woman of her time.

Sunday, February 15, 2015



My Great Great Great Grandfather Abraham Harris led an amazing life.  He was born in 1825 in Leicestershire, England and at the tender age of 5 settled in Montgomery County, New York with his family. He joined the U.S. Army in 1847, fought in the Mexican American War and was amongst the first soldiers to construct an army outpost in North Texas, a fort near the banks of the Trinity River which would be named Ft. Worth.  Abe later fought as a Confederate Soldier in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He died in 1915 and is buried in Pioneers Rest Cemetery only a short distance from the banks of the Trinity River where he had first settled in 1849.

One of the many battles where Abe saw action was The Battle of Stones River, also known as the Battle of Murfreesboro, as part of  Ector's Texas Brigade, 14th Texas Cavalry. I love the enthusiasm and personal touch that Park Ranger Jim Lewis brings to the story of this battle in the following video. 

To learn more about the many battles that these Texas Confederate troops were a part of  I suggest reading Ector's Texas Brigade and the Army of Tennessee, by David V. Stroud,  which can be found in many Texas libraries. My GGG Grandfather Abraham Harris is also mentioned in the book and there's a dandy picture as well! 

Colonel Abe Harris

Below is a report of the battle from Abe's commanding officer, Colonel J.L. Camp. Abe would later go on to take command of these troops after Camp was injured in a later battle.

Report of Col. J. L. Camp, Fourteenth Texas Cavalry (dismounted).
In obedience to Special Orders, No.--, the following report of the battle
of Murfreesborough is respectfully submitted:
On Tuesday, the 30th ultimo, our position were assigned us in line of
battle, subject to the fire of the enemy's batteries, the one directly in
front at a distance of some 600 yards; the other on our right, but in
range at a little greater distance. The batteries opened us in the evening
and continued for some half hour a heavy fire, but without injury to my
On the morning of the 31st, orders were transmitted to me indicating a
forward movement upon our part. Having hastily prepared to execute
the order, the final order "forward" was given at about 6 a.m. The
march was made in quick time, until the enemy's line appeared, and
their batteries in full view, when the command "charge" was given, and
faithfully, nobly, and gallantly executed, upon the part of both men and
officers, putting to fight the enemy and capturing the battery, horses,
&c., immediately in front of my regiment. My command suffered
greatly in this first charge, some of whom were killed, other wounded,
among whom was my sergeant-major (Johnson), who fell among the

foremost in the charge.
The enemy from thence retreated, and attempted to reform at a distance
of some 200 or 300 yards, but the charge first ordered was not in the
least checked, and they were again repulsed, with but little loss upon
our part. Then ensued a running fight for some distance, until the enemy
were driven out of sight before us. We continued our march in quick
time in the direction indicated, and, coming in sight of the enemy in
large force formed behind some woods, skirmishers were immediately
thrown out. My regiment, by exhaustion, wounded, and, killed, had
been reduced to about 120 men. Soon the skirmishers began a brisk fire,
and the order "charge" was given, and my regiment, in connection with
the regiment on my left, advanced into the woods under the most fearful
fire of infantry, which they repulsed, and continued the charge until they
advanced in range of the cross-fires of three of the enemy's batteries,
planted at a distance of some 300 or 40 yards from us. In this
precarious condition we kept the enemy--so vastly superior in numbers,
and aided, as they were, by artillery--in check, repulsing one charge
upon us, and kept up a continued fire until ordered to fall back, which
order was executed, and we formed at a distance of half a mile. At this

juncture men were never more exposed and suffered less. Each man
acted well his part; each commanding officer of companies, as well as
field, was at his post cheering his men, and each private conducting
himself with such heroism as to inspire all around with courage.
Too much cannot be said in commendation of men who suffered with
heroic patience the galling fire of the enemy in this last charge, when
their only help visible was the small regiment on my left, reduced in
like proportion to my own, in the face of an enemy ten times their
number, supported as they were, with the large batteries.
For a report* of the killed and wounded, I refer you to report previously
Col., Cmdg. Fourteenth Texas Cavalry Regt.
Gen. [M. D.] ECTOR,
Cmdg. First Brigade.
Source: Official Records

[Series I. Vol. 20. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 29.] Civil War Records, Provo, UT.