Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Home

Where: The Oaks (Tuskegee, AL)

Who: The Whole Clan

When: February 15, 2014

For my money, there are few individuals in American history more impressive than Booker T. Washington.

Born into slavery in Virginia in 1856, he worked in the coal mines in West Virginia after emancipation. He managed to acquire a formal education at Wayland Seminary and the future Hampton University. In 1881 Hampton’s president recommended him to head the new Tuskegee Institute, established for the training of teachers. He moved to Tuskegee and remained there until his death in 1915.

At Tuskegee, Washington became one of the foremost black leaders in the United States. He urged a program of education and economic development for his people and helped prepare hundreds of them to be teachers. His autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), is an inspiring read.

Today, Washington’s home in Tuskegee, called The Oaks, is owned by the National Parks Service. It stands on the edge of the Tuskegee University campus and is open to the public for free tours. We took it in as part of a day trip to Tuskegee from Montgomery.

Sons #1-5 outside The Oaks in Tuskegee

Sons #1-5 outside The Oaks in Tuskegee

This National Historic Site apparently is in a rough patch. In addition to The Oaks, it includes the George Washington Carver Museum, which we were very interested in seeing. In fact, we had sat the kids down the previous evening and showed them a documentary about Carver to get them interested in the place we were about to visit. I had known that the museum had been closed for renovations in 2013, but I was told by the staff when I called in October that the museum would reopen on November 15. I foolishly neglected to call back to confirm the reopening, and wouldn’t you know it, when we showed up it was still closed.

It was pretty cold that morning, as you can see from the kids’ attire. We arrived at The Oaks just before 9:00 a.m., the scheduled time for the day’s first tour. Minutes passed, but the doors did not open, and no one arrived to start the tour. I called the phone number posted on the sign outside the house and reached someone in the NPS office a couple of blocks away. She sounded surprised that someone was standing outside the house waiting for a tour! (We later learned that there was a major event across town that day that was attracting the usual tourists, but that’s a subject for another post.)

We had to wait a few more minutes for the guide to walk over from her office, but she finally let us into the house. It was built in the late 1890s in a Victorian style. The downstairs included rooms for entertaining guests, and the tour guide told us that the Washingtons frequently hosted dinner parties for Tuskegee faculty and students alike. Upstairs were the bedrooms for the Washingtons and children (Washington had three children by his first two wives, both of whom predeceased him. By the time The Oaks was built, he had married a third time.) The second floor also had a splendid office where I took at least four or five pictures.

Washington's second-floor corner office at The Oaks

Washington’s second-floor corner office at The Oaks

All in all, we probably spent about twenty or thirty minutes in the house. I came away with a greater appreciation for the man who dedicated his life to helping his people and who eventually won respect from the nation for his hard work on their behalf.

Did I mention that visiting The Oaks is free? You should definitely pay a visit if you ever find yourself in southeast Alabama.

Back in the Saddle!

It has been far too long since we’ve updated this blog!

The last post here was in mid-September. Shortly after that, our blog maintenance got derailed by several things. Jason had a perfect storm of projects at work, including the development of two new courses. He also had surgery in October. Then he had to spend a lot of time contributing to a book project for a major academic publisher. But the biggest thing that diverted our energies from this blog was the birth of Son #6.

Son #6 at four days old

Son #6 at four days old

New babies always disrupt routines, but this one seemed to do so more than the others. We’re only just now starting to get back in control of our schedules once again.

Our traveling didn’t stop over the last five months, even with the new baby. Since September, we’ve made the following excursions:

1. Nashville, TN, for Thanksgiving with family

2. Destin, FL, (dragging just one kid) for five days right after the fall semester ended

3. Searcy, AR, for Christmas with Jason’s parents and siblings

4. Texarkana, TX, for New Year’s with Vickie’s parents and siblings

5. Albuquerque, NM, (dragging just one kid) for a conference

After returning home in early January, we settled in for several weeks to get the spring semester under control. Now, though, we’re gearing up for some new travels, and it’s time to get this site working again. Check back regularly for more material!

The Kids’ View: Forts and Casinos

[Today Sons #1 (10) and #2 (8) give their reactions to our recent weekend trip to Atmore and Fort Mims. It’s remarkable how much they prove willing to write when doing so gets them a day off from their regular writing homework!]

Son #1:

We had a fun trip to Fort Mims.

We stayed in a hotel close to a casino in Atmore. We got to go there and eat the Surf and Turf buffet. I don’t usually use exclamation points, but it was big!! It had several parts including seafood, soups, salad, and over a dozen desserts. William and I got some strawberries and dipped them in the big chocolate fountain. It was yummy! Of course, Daddy didn’t bring any money for the game machines.

When we got to Fort Mims, we had to park a long way away thus giving us a 15-minute walk to the entrance. When we arrived at the entrance, they gave us some fans (the kind that you wave in front of your face, not a mechanical one) that really helped us to cope with the heat. It was 95 degrees out there! After that, we explored a little. There was a tent where a woman was playing an Indian flute, and another where a blacksmith was making a cross. We then watched the reenactment of the battle before Fort Mims. The guns were really loud! It sounded like there were a million tiny bombs going off, and it smelled like everyone there was smoking.The Indians eventually won after a long battle.

We walked around the fort and came to a place where they sold food. We bought some chicken and dumplings. It was good. We decided it was too hot and walked back to the van. William, however, decided to hop on one of the many horse-drawn carriages with Mommy. After we got in the car we stopped at the grave of one of the men who fought at Fort Mims. We stopped to eat at a café and I had shrimp.

It was a fun trip going to the 200th anniversary of Fort Mims. I hope that we can go somewhere else exciting soon. Bye!


Son #2:

This time we went to a hotel next to a casino. We got to have supper at the casino, and BOY! what a supper! I got to discover how good crab legs are. We had a very, very big supper. But even better, there were dozens of desserts to choose from! Before we went to sleep, we got to watch The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Also, before we ate breakfast, we got to watch Curious George. We ate a lot for breakfast, just like we did the night before. I had a waffle with syrup and apple juice, and Son #5 ate a lot of yogurt.

At Fort Mims, we got to watch a live-action show about settlers and Indians fighting. At first, the settlers drove the Indians back, but then the Indians returned and drove the settlers away. Also, we had chicken and dumplings for lunch, and we really liked them. We saw enormous birdhouses that were very expensive. One was $60! Wow! There were fans that you could, if you got hot, use to fan yourself. It was VERY HOT that day. It felt like we were in the desert. Luckily, I had one of the fans. We stopped at a table and listened to a band. We liked the music. We also bought some soda cans. Also, it was the 200th anniversary of the battle! On the way back, my mom and and I rode on a horse-drawn carriage to our van, but everyone else walked.

We stopped at a café to eat, after we went to a famous person’s grave. With this person there was his mother’s grave. In the van that day, I read the book Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. We had a fun, hot day. I hope you have a fun day when you go to Fort Mims! Have lots of fun! I hope you will have a very fun day!

I like to read in crazy ways.

I like to read in crazy ways.

A Blistering Bicentennial at Fort Mims

Where: Fort Mims (Tensaw, AL)

Who: The Whole Clan

When: August 31, 2013


You think I don’t understand what you’ve told me–what you’ve been through? Well, I understand very well. When I was about your age I was in the Creek uprising, right after the Fort Mims massacre—yes.  Grandma Fontaine to Scarlett, Gone with the Wind

Burnt Corn ReenactmentOn August 30, 1813, Red Stick Indians attacked a fortified plantation in southwest Alabama and killed an estimated 500 settlers, militia, slaves and their Lower Creek allies. Many were scalped. Many others burned to death when the Red Sticks set fire to the building where they were taking shelter.

The raid was in retaliation for a skirmish that had taken place the month before. At the so-called Battle of Burnt Corn, Mississippi militiamen and their Indian allies ambushed a band of Red Sticks who were transporting a large supply of ammunition back to their territory from Florida. The attackers were certain that the Red Sticks were planning to use the ammunition against them because Red Sticks had already committed violent acts against both whites and Lower Creeks in the preceding months.

The attack on Fort Mims led to an enormous public outcry in the rest of the United States and an organized military campaign against the Red Sticks. (You can read more about the results of that campaign in our post on Horseshoe Bend.)

Today Fort Mims is on the National Register of Historic Places. The site, which is maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission, has replicas of the stockade and buildings that were there in 1813. And at the end of August each year, local volunteers reenact both the Battle of Burnt Corn and the attack on the fort itself.

This year the Commission and the locals pulled out all the stops because it was the 200th anniversary of the attack. The commemoration featured not only the reenactments, but also lots of “living history” demonstrations, and food and craft vendors, and talks presenting the perspectives of the different groups involved in the events of 1813.

Kracker DanWe arrived in Tensaw around 9:30 to find what looked like the entire population of Baldwin County at the fort. Everyone enjoyed looking at all the vendors and the reenactors in their costumes. An old-time music ensemble kept us entertained while we ate chicken and dumplings cooked over an open fire.

The reenactment of the Battle of Burnt Corn was more impressive than I expected it would be. Several dozen reenactors took part in it, and we spectators had a close-up view of most of the action.

The big downside of the day was that it was REALLY hot. The temperature was in the mid-90s, and the humidity put the heat index up over 100 degrees. There was some shade at the fort, but not enough. After about three hours, we felt like we were melting, and we decided to forego the rest of the festivities and head off to a couple of other local sites. So we missed the reenactment of the actual attack on the fort, unfortunately.

About ten miles north of Tensaw we found the grave of William Weatherford, the Red Stick chief who led the attack on Fort Mims. Weatherford, also known as Red Eagle, was an interesting character. The son of a Creek princess and a Scottish trader, he owned a plantation in Upper Creek territory. When conflict began among the Red Sticks and settlers, he sided with the Red Sticks and assumed a position of leadership.

After the attack on Fort Mims, Weatherford also led the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend and ultimately surrendered to Andrew Jackson at Fort Jackson. Jackson was so impressed by Weatherford’s bearing and dignity that he let him leave unhindered after the surrender. Weatherford resumed his career as a planter, this time in Monroe County. He died in 1824.

Today Weatherford is buried next to his mother, the Creek princess Sehoy III. The graves are designated as a Baldwin County historical site. I snapped a picture of Son #3 standing between them.

William Weatherford's Grave

There seems to be an unwritten rule in the South that popular catfish restaurants must be located near water in the most rundown buildings possible (preferably trailers). Our final stop of the afternoon, the Dixie Landing Café, certainly met these qualifications. It sits two miles from Weatherford’s grave at the top of a boat ramp on an inlet of the Alabama River in the most ramshackle commercial building I’ve ever seen in my life. The catfish was OK, but the desserts were fantastic. Even the kids left there feeling satisfied.

On a final note, I want to commend the staff of the Hampton Inn-Atmore, where we stayed the previous night. I realized after we made it all the way to Tensaw that I had left a bag in my room! Fortunately, the hotel was on our way back home from the day’s events, and they kept the bag for us at the front desk. No harm done!

The Legend of Railroad Bill

On March 7, 1896, a famous outlaw was shot dead while eating crackers and cheese in a general store in Atmore, Alabama.

The outlaw, Morris Slater, was better known as “Railroad Bill.” He was an African-American train robber who had murdered two men, including the sheriff of Escambia County. Authorities had been hunting him since the spring of 1896 and had offered a reward of $1,250 for his capture. (In 1896, $1,250 was real money!)

However, this wasn’t a simple manhunt. Railroad Bill had achieved fame among the African-American population of south Alabama as a sort of Robin Hood character who left crates of groceries on the porches of poor families. For a time he became a larger-than-life figure in the region.

As Railroad Bill continued to elude capture, wild stories were told about him: He was a hoodoo man, a sorcerer; he caught bullets in his hands and shot holes through dimes; he transformed himself into a bloodhound and ran with the pack that was hunting him; only silver bullets could kill him.

Perhaps in an effort to dispel these rumors, the authorities put Slater’s body on public display in Brewton, Pensacola, and Montgomery. Thousands of people showed up to take a look. But the stories didn’t die:

Railroad Bill’s white enemies had stuffed his corpse’s mouth with butterweed and later dropped dead under mysterious circumstances. Railroad Bill was not dead at all, but still out there in the swamps, helping the poor, terrorizing the railroad men, and guarding his vast hoard of loot that no one would ever find.

Railroad Bill's body on display. His killer, Constable J.L. McGowan, stands over him.

Railroad Bill’s body on display. His killer, Constable J.L. McGowan, stands over him.

Railroad Bill inspired a folk song that has been recorded by everyone from Etta James to Bob Dylan to Taj Mahal. I listened to quite a few of these renditions, and several of them are instrumental only. For the versions with actual lyrics, the one I like best is by Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Give it a listen.

(By the way, the above quotations are from a delightful book we bought just after returning from Atmore. Alabama Curiosities by Andy Duncan contains all sorts of funny stories and information about Alabama. I recommend it to anyone who is planning to spend any amount of time in the Deep South. I’m sure we’ll be referring to it many times as we continue our travels.)

An Independent Nation Inside Alabama

Where: Atmore, AL

Who: The Whole Clan

When: August 30-31, 2013

Not every group of American Indians in Alabama was forced to walk the Trail of Tears in the 1830s. One tribe was allowed to remain in its ancestral home on a reservation to this day.

The Poarch Creek Indians are the only federally recognized Indian nation in Alabama. Their reservation lies a few miles northwest of Atmore, which is almost on the state line with Florida and about 50 miles northeast of Mobile. The Poarch Creeks are descended from the Lower Creeks who allied with the United States against the Red Sticks during the 1813-1814 war. (For more on the Red Stick War, see our post from Horseshoe Bend.) In part because of their loyalty to the U.S., the Poarch Creeks were allowed to remain in Alabama at a time when most of the other Indians in the Southeast were forcibly relocated to Oklahoma.

The Wind Creek Casino outside Atmore, AL.

The Wind Creek Casino and hotel outside Atmore, AL.

Today, the Poarch Creeks seem to be doing pretty well. They operate three casinos in south Alabama: one in Montgomery, one in Wetumpka (just north of Montgomery), and one on the reservation outside Atmore. We visited this last casino during an overnight stay in Atmore last weekend.

To be honest, we were a little uneasy taking all five of the kids into a casino. In addition to the concern that one or more of them might get hypnotized by all the flashing lights and wander off, we had never seriously talked to them about the nature of gambling–“gaming,” if you prefer–and its ethical implications. But we couldn’t resist the lure of the surf and turf buffet the casino’s website advertised for Friday evenings. And when I saw that kids under four years old ate free, I figured the place had to be somewhat family-friendly.

Fortunately, the casino wasn’t very large, and we found the restaurant pretty quickly. The meal lived up to its billing; there was no lobster, but we had plenty of crab legs. The kids all found food they liked–this is no small thing–and the dessert section was quite impressive, chocolate fountain and all. As you can see, Sons #2-4 were enjoying themselves immensely. Total price for the seven of us: $119 (including tip).

Wind Creek buffet

We stayed the night comfortably at a Hampton Inn right next to the casino. I hit the treadmill as soon as we got back there in the hopes of working off some of the chocolate-covered strawberries, but I’m still trying to work that meal off a week after the fact!

Packing Race: Son #3 vs. Son #4

Sons #3-4 were feeling left out of things here on the blog after Sons #1-2 wrote a post recently, so we wanted to give them a chance to shine. Here they are competing for the title of House Packing Champion before our recent overnight trip to Fort Mims.


I don’t know if it was because of the race, but both of these boys ended up forgetting to pack something they needed or wanted. Next time we’ll use a checklist.

This is the first video we have ever uploaded to YouTube or edited with iMovie. As you can see, we have a learning curve ahead of us, not only with software but also with controlling the conditions of the shoot. You can see Son #5 (age 1) trying to interrupt the proceedings about halfway through and voicing his displeasure when Daddy removed him from the scene. But maybe someday we’ll be real videographers.

Do You Budget Extra When There’s a Casino on Your Route?

Piles Of Money by Talia Felix

Piles Of Money by Talia Felix

It’s not often that you get to witness observances for the bicentennial of an important event, but this weekend we have an opportunity to do just that at Fort Mims, AL, where on August 30, 1813, Red Stick Indians killed 250 settlers, kicking off the Red Stick War. We decided to take an overnight trip for this event on less than one week’s notice; in fact, we didn’t even know about it until four days ago. So now I need to figure out what sort of damage our household finances will sustain.

One day before we leave, here’s my best guess:

Lodging: $250
Gasoline: $75
Food: $150
Attractions: $0

We’ve already made hotel reservations, which are always pricy when your family is large enough to require two rooms. The food line is much higher than it normally would be for such a short trip, but I’m expecting a supper tab tomorrow of over $100 at the casino restaurant we’re considering. (In my defense, it’s a “surf and turf” buffet. Also, notice that I did not include a “gaming” line in the plan.) The saving grace of this budget is that the events at Fort Mims are free, although I’m sure we’ll probably end up dropping a few dollars on concessions.

Now that I look at it, $475 doesn’t seem too bad for a total bill. We spent a little more than that on an overnight trip to Mobile two or three years ago when there were fewer of us. So I press forward with salved conscience, ready for a great family outing this weekend!

A Weekend in Downtown Music City

Where: Nashville, TN

Who: Jason and Vickie

When: August 22-24, 2013

I don’t suppose many people get treated to a weekend getaway by their insurance agent, but that’s essentially what happened to us last weekend. Thanks to the generosity of Rebecca Rice, we enjoyed great food and greater conversation over three days in Nashville.

Our first treat was dinner at the Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel on Thursday evening with Rebecca and about 25 other clients of hers. I sat next to a pediatric urologist at dinner; honestly, I had no idea such a profession existed. But he, his wife, and all the other people we met there were very sociable and interesting. One member of the dinner party was the brother-in-law of the Green Bay Packers’ head coach!

On Friday evening we stayed in the Sheraton Hotel downtown. The room was very comfortable, and the view was fantastic. Check it out:

View of the TN state capitol from the 10th floor of the Sheraton hotel.

View of the TN state capitol from the 10th floor of the Sheraton hotel.

The occasion of our trip was the annual Night of Clarity event, which tries to educate people about an unusual (but perfectly legal) financial strategy based on R. Nelson Nash’s book Becoming Your Own Banker. The basic idea is that people can avoid taking out loans from commercial banks for major purchases like cars, homes, and tuition if they accumulate cash value in a whole life insurance policy and then borrow against that. A knowledgeable insurance agent can help you set up a policy that is designed specifically to pursue this strategy. I know, it probably doesn’t sound very exciting, but the conference was actually a lot of fun because the speakers were all very engaging.

We attended sessions from early Friday afternoon until late Saturday afternoon and had a couple of great meals as part of the registration fee (which we didn’t have to pay). The Friday sessions included several nationally known speakers like Tom Woods, Bob Murphy, and Larry Reed who talked about “big picture” issues in the American monetary system. The keynote speaker on Friday evening was Dr. Ron Paul, former congressman from Texas. After his speech we were able to attend a reception for him and the other speakers. We managed to get this picture taken:

1308-clarity-0361One of the best parts of the trip was that we were able to leave all the kids at my sister’s house in Nashville on Friday and Saturday, so we could actually pay attention to what was going on at the conference!

The Kids’ View: Horseshoe Bend

[Today we introduce the Kids Corner category of our website. Here you will find our children’s observations on our travels, their homeschool activities, and life in general. In this post, Son #1 (age 10) and Son #2 (age 8) share their recollections of last weekend’s trip to Horseshoe Bend. Please note that although the posts below are brief, they are the product of much painful cogitation and editing on the part of Sons #1-2, for whom writing does not come naturally. Enjoy!]

Son #1: I really liked this trip.

We had a picnic lunch before we went to the visitor center. While we were eating lunch, Daddy read to us about the battle. The Creeks built a wall of dirt and logs that was 8 feet high. Jackson bombarded it for two hours without success.

Sons #1-3 take charge of a cannon at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.At the visitor center,there was a big, blue cannon. We went around it, and I almost shot Daddy! Of course, the cannon was blocked up so nobody could fire it. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here to write this post!

William, Richard, and I all got to do Junior Ranger Programs. There were lots of activities in the little booklet they gave us. My favorite was Battlefield Bingo. You would go down the tour road and read the signs. They would give you information to fill in on the Bingo spaces. When you got five in a row, you won. When we got back to the station and showed the ranger our finished booklets,we got Junior Ranger Badges. Daddy even got us all national park passports.We got to cancel them by putting a stamp that had the name of the park we were visiting and the date of the visit. It was a fun trip. Bye for now.


Son #2: I really liked this trip, too. Edward, Richard, and I got to do Junior Ranger Programs!

There were two cannons. One was on Gun Hill, and the other one was next to the Visitors Center. The park is named after the curve in the river, making it look like a horseshoe.

Horseshoe Bend MarkerWow! The Indian barricade was 8 feet tall! Isn’t that tall? I think so, too. Did you know Andrew Jackson and his men bombarded the Indian barricade for 2 hours without any success? We were excited when we walked up the hill to the overlook. I accidentally fell down and hurt myself, leaving scabs on my back and a scrape on my arm. The barricade is no longer there, but in its place are white, small poles. From one end to the other, it was long.  It would go from the start to the end of the horseshoe! Of course they didn’t put enough poles to do that. They only did a small area.

There was a video that was 23 minutes long that told you about the battle. At one of the stops, there was a field where a village stood. At the other side was the river. Also, there was an island in the middle of the curve.

We had a fun day there. I hope that you will have a fun day to when you go there! Goodbye!