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Monday, October 4, 2010

Places In The Heart -The Real Story

Even if they didn't see the movie, folks who lived in Ellis County in the early 1980's probably remember hearing about a movie being made by a Waxahachie's own, director Robert Benton. The town of Rockett was all a buzz when such actors like Sally Fields ( won the Oscar for her performance), Danny Glover, John Malkovich(nominated for Oscar), and Ed Harris were filming down FM 813 at the old Gibbon place. It all came to being by the inspiration of Waxahachie History involving Robert Benton's great grandparents.

Robert Douglas Benton was born September 2, 1932 in Waxahachie, Texas. Mr. Benton's mother, Dorothy (Spalding) Benton, has deep family history in Ellis County. Dorothy's great grandfather William W. Parks was District Clerk of Ellis County circa 1861 and became captain of the first company of confederate soldiers to go fight. Captain William Woodruff Parks died near Little Rock Arkansas December, 1862. It is Dorothy's grandfather, J. H. Spalding, for whom Royce Spalding is based. Places In The Heart was written and directed by Mr. Benton. It is also is a shadow of his ancestry. The story Mr Benton created takes place in the 30's while his great grandfather's real story took place in the 1880's. There was no intention of hiding the connection.
The 1880 Federal Census has John H. Spalding living in Waxahachie, Texas at age 44. He is head of household, and his occupation is City Marshal. John is shown to have been born in Missouri. John's parents are recorded to be both from Kentucky. John's wife is named Laura at age 31 and is listed as a homemaker born in Tennesse as was her parents. Their son Willis is age 10, son Clint is age 9, daughter Kate is age 7 and son Frank is age 2. All children born in Texas. Also, there is a visitor named Barbay Hammond age 60 from Alabama in their home at the time of the census. Little did the family know that two years later their life would be turned upside down on a December evening. In a Ellis County History book a section about Waxahachie written by Judge A. R. Stout and Edna D. Hawkins states that the founding families of Waxahachie were "E.W. Rogers, J.D. Templeton, W.H. Getzendaner,B.F. Hawkins, Nicholas Oldham, N. B. Langsford, J. B. Meredith, C. D. Puckett, Levin Dixon, R. A. Davis, N. P. Sims, J. P. Kennedy, Peyton Nowlin, M. T. Patrick, Silas H. Kilough, and J. H. SPALDING"

It was a Sunday December 17, 1882 in Waxahachie, Texas when an intoxicated Chas Smith would resist the arrest of a deputy marshall L. K. Allen. Chas Smith was a black man from Freedman town east of downtown Waxahchie. He worked for E. A. Dubose at his drug store. (Dubose was the six Mayor of Waxahachie serving from 1882 to 1888)Chas also did odd jobs around town. But it was Sunday and Chas was not working but was able to acquire alcohol and was apparently a mean drunk. Chas apparently arguing with another blackman probably on the corner of main and College st. The Deputy tried to arrest Chas when he decided to make a run for it. Chas ran north up college street from downtown. The Deputy fired a warning shot as Chas crossed a bridge which would have been near where the present day college street pub sits. The intoxicated Smith believing he was being shot at returned fire from his .45 pistol. I don't think the deputy thought Chas was armed and figured he would have just stopped after firing the warning shot. Chas was taunting the deputy and firing back. A gun fight ensued and the deputy and another citizen pinned Chas in the cotton platforms that would have been on the north side of the tracks east of college street where the parking lot for C. A. Wilson is currently . The deputy ran out of bullets and now he was pinned.

Whether or not Marshall Spalding was eating his Sunday dinner when the shoot out started is unknown. It would have been 6:30 pm. John and Laura Spalding's house on the corner of Jefferson and Hawkins street was maybe half a mile from where the shoot out started. This made it very possible that the Spaldings could have heard the shootout start from their house. The eyewitness accounts say that Marshall Spalding came onto the scene on horseback and firing at Chas Smith. Chas Smith went on the run and headed east towards a lumber yard that was near the tracks. It's possible that Marshall Spalding wounded Chas Smith. The Marshall overtook Smith at a bridge north of the tracks. I think that the Marshall believed he had injured Chas Smith and that he would comply to surrender. At the same time the Marshall dismounted his horse he started to grab Chas Smith. In response Chas Smith unexpectedly slung his pistol into the temple of Marshall Spalding and fired the .45 caliber pistol. Marshall Spalding instantly perished. Chas ran into Freedman town heading towards his home. He passed the black folks baptist church which is still on main street today. Not sure if it is the same building but believe it is same location. A large group of citizens hunted Chas down and found him resting under a peach tree. Chas was flushed out and took refuge in an outhouse. Chas refused to come out and a black man named Charlie Woodard involved in the chase busted the door down. It is said that the posse ordered Chas to surrender but he pulled out two pistols. The posse responded by riddling Chas Smith's body with bullets and shotgun fire before he could even take aim. I was informed that abuse of Chas Smith's corpse did happen similar to character in the movie by dragging him through the streets. The difference in reality and the movie was that Chas Smith's body was dragged by horses not a car. The enraged posse dragged the body to Jefferson and Hawkins street to show Mrs Spalding that in their they way to show her they took care of the matter. Probably their way to send a message to the black community also. There seems to be no mention of race tension. I could imagine emotions ran high in the community and not having the town Marshall to calm things down were stressful on the community.

The town was in shock and papers around Texas and other states reported the story. The Waxahachie paper had an article that claimed who ever sold the alcohol to Chas Smith on Sunday was the one to blame. The devil had entered Chas Smith by letting his guard down with alcohol. There wasnt any race arguments used in the article. There were no signs that the community blammed Chas Smith's race. It was illegal to sale liquor on Sunday in this time period. This and other violent incidents spurred on the Waxahachie's temperance movement of the time.

In the movie John Malkovich plays a blind man they call Mr. Will who was wounded in WWI. Through email correspondence with Robert Benton's secretary, I was informed that Mr. Will is based on Mr. Benton's grandmother's brother who was blind from childhood named Uncle Bud. The name "Mr. Will" probably came from a relative W A Spalding who was known to be called Mr. Will.

Laura Spalding did not physically run the farm like Edna Spalding but she was a strong woman. She owned a farm near Maypearl.  She did successfully manage the farm.  Laura with her older sister raised her three younger sisters after their Dad, Captain William Parks, died in the Civil War and her mother passed not long after. She was given recognition as a school teacher and much respected in the community. It appears she never remarried.
Some other interesting facts about Places In the Heart.. The were scenes not used in the movie. If you notice at the dance/party there are guys getting alcohol I believe from the back of a vehicle. Well, according to Director Robert Benton's through his assistant there was a draft of the movie with bootleggers that were to be based off the Director's father's two brothers. It's also said the Ellery Benton,Robert Benton's father, attended both Bonnie and Clyde's separate funerals. Wayne and Margaret's daughter, Rosalie, is said to have gotten the name Mr. Benton's wife. The Shooting of Royce Spalding in the movie takes place on the railroad tracks. In the background is the viaduct. The viaduct was officially opened for traffic by Mr Benton's great Uncle, W A Spalding Sr who was an engineer, on December 12, 1931. In the movie, the mean old Banker that turns down Sally Field for the loan (the Rogers Hotel was used as the bank)is W A Spalding Jr. At the end of the movie W A Spalding Jr and his wife are in the church. W A Spalding's wife is in many of the dance scenes. Other possibilities of family connections are the youngest son of John Henry Spalding was named Frank Evermont Spalding his first wife's name was Edna. Probably where those character's names came from. Also the scene references Sally Field's character had come into town to sell 5 lbs of potatoes to Mrs Parks. Parks is the real Laura Spalding's maiden name.

Director Robert Benton's ancestry
John Henry Spalding (April 29,1835)
married Dec 30th 1868
Laura Jane Parks (December 22, 1848)


Clinton Thomas Spalding (Feb 8th 1871)
married June 28th 1900
Willie Strong Spalding (April 19th 1875)


Dorothy Spalding (July 17, 1901)
married Oct 8th 1921
Ellery Douglas Benton (Jan 3, 1895)


Robert Douglas Benton (Sep 29, 1932)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Strickland House

Overhead doors for front room in Strickland house

Hidden Door in the Strickland House