It Was The Fall Of 1941, ‘Lust In The Dust’, Led to Three Generations Of Lies. Becoming LaChaumette, A Journal #becominglachaumette

It was the Fall of 1941. My paternal grandfather, James Earl Shumate , his wife and 2 small children, were living with his inlaws, his wifes parents, above the dry goods/general astore her parents owned. The store, was near the migrant cotton camps, near friendly Corners, outside of Eloy, Arizona.

It was cotton harvesting time, and earl was working in the cotton industry, making, what at the time, was pretty good seasonal money. Indeed, he may have been working directly for one of the farmers, doing maintenance or something, rather than picking cotton. It will take more research to determine if he was doing anything other than picking, but we know he was there working in the industry at least.

So he and his little family, are cramped into the upstairs of a mercantile, during the cotton harvest in Eloy, Arizona, in 1941.

Little note on Eloy, Arizona, back in 1941. It was a Boomtown of sorts, at least seasonally. Cotton was big business, and people flocked from all over the United States, and Mexico, to take part in the financial bounty that was the Cotton Harvest in Eloy, Arizona.

Boomtown. In 1941, Eloy was considered the last of the Wild West towns. There were duels on the Main Thoroughfare, which was populated mostly by brothels and saloons. A Sheriff, who required ‘licenses of Health”, or some such rigamarol, of all of the ladies in the employ of the saloons and guest houses. In other words, a license to prostitute, in effect, cutting out the middle man, the pimps and madams, if they weren’t cooperative as well.

Last Of The Wild West Towns

There were lynchings, and mob violence. There were live bands and rodeos. Cowboys stampeded the streets, and brawls spilled out into them, on the regular. Friday, when the workers got their pay for the week, Downtown Eloy erupted into a raucous street party, that lasted til you had to go to work on Monday, or you ran out of money… so generally, Sunday morning.

This, was Eloy. Now my Grandfather Earl, was far from a Saint. He was a heavy drinker, a womanizer, and an abusive individual, at the very least, when he had been drinking. He was a hard worker, and seemingly, well regarded for his work ethic… but it was generally followed by lament for his drinking.

So, my grandfather was probably knee deep in the worst of Eloy, when, the day before Halloween, 1941, a dusty caravan approached the Farm Securities Administration(F.S.A.) Migrant Worker Camp at Friendly Corners, Arizona…. a spot on the map, just a couple miles South of Eloy. It really was just a camp in the middle of cotton fields.

This dusty caravan of 8-10 cars, maybe more, contained four generations of family, great grandparents on down to babies. They were stuffed into these trucks and jalopies, Fleeing Oklahoma and Texas, fleeing farms that were no longer productive, or that the family had outgrown, That grampa’s farm wasn’t enough to support three generations, much less four. think “Grapes Of Wrath’, you’ll get the picture.

They were two self destructive tornados, wreaking havoc across the the countryside, and about to collide….

So they had packed up, all the kids, the aunts, the uncles, the cousins, and maybe a neighbor kid or two, and headed West to make thet ‘Big Money’ picking Arizona Gold, Pima Cotton. Knowing my family, yes, this too is my family, this isn’t just about Grampa, it’s about gramma too, they probably pulled in just before dark. They checked in, got around to their assigned spaces, in this dusty, hot valley full of money. my paternal grandmother and her family were in. This group consisted of, her family, her kids along with her cousins, aunts and uncles from her mother’s Benge relations. The one person she was NOT traveling with, was her husband, Wilton Hamilton Madden. They were legally separated.

Given this was a Federal Camp, there were packets of paperwork to fil out, before you signed on to work, Social Security being a new thing then. But gramma filled her paperwork out, with a PO Box in Eloy as the address, on October 31st, 1941. Meaning, she was there to work the harvest. So My Paternal Grandmother, and my Paternal Grandfather, were about to meet, for what is most likely the first time.

Halloween, 1941 in Eloy, Arizona…. I can imagine that might have been quite an event. I Imagine, the residents already in the Camp had something planned for all the children in the camp, I imagine it was a fun, perhaps rowdy night. I also figure, Eloy, after dark, might have been quite the party for the adults as well.

Now I do not know that they met on Halloween, indeed, I don’t know how they met at all. I do know, based on when my father was born, that did indeed meet, in the ensuing weeks following halloween, so some time in Early to mid November. yes, my father’s birthday, and my grandmothers SSI application, dovetailed to show me where gramma and grampa met, long before I had a clue who grampa was.

As I said, I don’t know that they met on Halloween, indeed I rather doubt it. But still, it would make for a great story if it were. No, there is a much likelier scenario. You see, the Mercantile My Grandfather Earl’s in-laws owned, was literally in walking distance to the Migrant Camp. This was a much likelier possibility, meeting at the store.

Making this even more likely, is that though my grandmother was staying in the camp for migrant workers, she wasn’t really working. I can find no record of her paying any tax, and more importantly, no company paid ssi taxes on her behalf for any of 1941. This lends creedence to the family story, that she staid in camp, watching the chilfdren of her extended family memebers, while they went out and picked, with the children old enough to be counted on to help.

As she had a four year old in my Uncle, my dads half brother, it seems she was tasked to stay back and mind the children and the elderly. Remember, great gramma and grampa may well have been on this trip. So she would have ample opportunity to go to the market, indeed, it would be part of hr responsibilities to provide for the upkeep, feeding and laundry of her family in the camp. Not alone of course, this group was easily better than 50 strong, so other cousins stayed back to help.

This would provide the most likely scenario, some flirting in the general store, with the tall handsome man… who could get her discounts too… I can totally see my vixen of a grandmother, getting her claws into him, and him being more than eager to get at her skirts.

They were two self destructive tornados, wreaking havoc across the the countryside, and about to collide….

Now their affair didn’t last too long. no, in fact it had a very abrupt ending. You see, my grandmothers extended family caught her, and my grampa earl, in the midst of their indiscretions, right there in a tent in the camp. Now, my grandmother, a married woman, albeit separated, maybe even legally, from her husband, being caught with another man, ironically, who is also married, caused quite a hubub in camp. such a hubub in fact, that i heard numerous first person accounts as a child, albeit in hushed secretive tones lest my grandmother hear, of what gramma’s family did to my grampa earl, and some motivations other than the honor of my grandmother.

i had always wondered why a man, that was not staying in the camps, ended up getting caught with my gramma there. Since I have learned his identity, and the fact that he was married, and living with his in-laws….. makes much more sense that he would have his affair elsewhere. Can’t quite pull off side nookie under the watchful eyes of your in-laws, or the inquisitive ones of your children.

Now I don’t know what time of day they got caught, only that it was in all liklehood daytime, given the number of children that were up and about to see what occurred, and thus be able to recount the events later. Had their little dose of, “Lust In The Dust”, been the middle of the night, these kids might have heard a ruckus going, on, but they wouldn’t have had the graphic details to share. Hell, they might not have got caught. No, this was at the latest twilight, more likely middle of the day.

“Lust In The Dust”

The pair of them were caught and separated, with family members dragging my grandmother off kicking and fighting, howling about she was a grown woman and all. There is a good chance she had been drinking, not that she needed drink to be ornery, far from it. She was a bonifide piece of work let me tell you.

Grampa Earl, however, was corralled by an ever increasing number of Gramma’s male relatives, and primary among them was an Uncle Overton. He was my grandmother’s uncle, married to her mother’s older sister, and he was a strawboss, as well as a pretty damn large individual.

As a straw boss, he was pretty much in charge, the heavy. Straw bosses were a sort of labor contractor, bringing laborers across country to harvest crops, for a fee from the farmer, and, presumably, the worker as well. Overton, having married into such a big damn family, didn’t have to look too far to get laborers, that is why such a big damn gang of them descended on Eloy in the first place. Overton could provide 50, maybe a hundred workrs, just by writing letters to his family!

As the strory goes, Overton beat this man, now known to me as my grampa earl, to with in an inch of his life. Others told it a little more truthfully, that Overton, and a gang of cousins, uncles and in-laws, put the boots to him enmasse, once Uncle Overton knocked him down. Either way, both versions agreed that they hoisted Grampa earls semi concsious body up, and carried him off to a nearby canal, and through him in it.

Noew this seems pretty extreme… but there is more to the story. more, that might explain some of the menfolks anger, and desire to hurt my grampa earl.

You see, grammma wasn’t the only one. turns out grampa was quite the cassanova, when he want ed to be. And apparently, women in Gramm’s family had a hankering for what Grampa Earl was offering. Gramma wasn’t alone, there were at least 2, by most accounts 3 other women from the extended family group, that were, or had been involved with grampa earl.

MMmHmMm… you read that right…. Benge women had it bad for Uncle earl. so much so that not only were multiple women sneaking around to see him, at least two of them knew of each other, and played it off!!

So I suppose, this man cuckolding multiple men in the same family might just get them riled up, get thim into a damn near killing mood. Indeed, but grampa earl, he wasn’t done insulting their family sensibilities, it turns out.

because during the beating, one of those other women Grampa earl had been carrying on with, let be known with her carrying on that she too had been messing around with him, and was begging Unckle Overton to stop. Problem was, she was only 16 years old at the time! As you can imagine, her pleas did NOT have the effect she had hoped for, and indeed may have been the reason they opted to throw him in the canal in hopes that he would drown.

So I suppose, this man cuckolding multiple men in the same family might just get them riled up

indeed, now that i write about it, knowing both sides, I wonder if maybe Gramma’s family’s silence about the identity of my grandfather might have been more about protecting the 16 year olds honor than my grandmother’s. Lord knows, there were no real illusions about my grandmothers virtue, as far as I could ascertain. Hell, at least two men in Texas, were killed by her brother, at least two, for having sex with with my grandmother, while being the wrong color!

The norms of the times, didn’t necessarily preclude a 16 year old from being sexually active, or indeed married, and her reaction seems to make it clear that it wasa voluntary, but till. She was 16, he was lmarried with children, AND messing around with other women at the same time, that were her relations. Yeah, wrong though, as criminal as the beating was, I get it… I do. Don’t condone it, but hey, I totoally get where it came from, can’t say i wouldn’t do exactly the same thing.

Now i know, this is tender information, a rumor best not repeated that Grampa earl may have been with a teenager when he was 24. But events later in life, his marrying a 15 year old he had got pregnant, when he was close to 40, shows that 16 year olds certainly weren’t off of his menu at 40, why would we assume they they couldn’t be on it at 24?

so they through him in the canal, the irrigation canal that fed on to the cotton fields. And, contrary to the possibility that I lived with all my life, grampa Earl did NOT die. Remember, until last August, so one year ago, I had no idea who grampa earl was, or whether he had survived the attack. All those years of searching had me looking for a murder victim, or a missing person.

Presumably, Earl made his way back to the Mercantile, and as far as I can tell, packed up his family and left, presumably heading for whatever was harvesting next, West in California. This may have been the incident that led to the disolution of Grampa earls marriage, I cannot be sure. I do know he never knew of my father’s birth or existence, so his wifes family couldn’t have known either. However, taking that kind of beating, and explainig it to your in laws, may have been a grueling event doomed to failure. He wouldn’t have really needed the threats made by gramma’s family that he better never show his face agan, which was said repeatedly during the boot party. Wouldn’t have needed their encouragement at all. I am sure his in-laws were more than persuasive.

It wasn’t until a few months later, that gramma realized she had picked up a passenger in Eloy, as it were.

My grandmother,on the other hand, had to be dragged AWAY from the camp! They literally bundled her up, her shit, and her kids, in a car, and sent them on ahed to family already established in california, in the San Jauquin Valley. It wasn’t until a few months later, that gramma realized she had picked up a passenger in Eloy, as it were.

The rest of the family seems to have have split up, and bugged out. I really think they thought they had killed the man, or at the very least might be facing police scrutiny, and thought so for the rest of their lives. That was the most often repeated explanation for why the truth about my grandfather couldn’t come out, even after my grandmother’s death. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

Some of the family continued following crops west into Southern California, then eventually up into the Bay area of California. Others, including my grandmothers immediate family, went back to texas, by way of New Mexico. Obviously, gramma didn’t go with them, because Dad was born in Los banos/dos Palos, california, on August 11th, 1942.

It was obvious that he wasn’t her husband’s son. For one, they had been separated for more than a year. Wilton Madden had been working on Power transmission, or telephone lines across the West, traveling constantly, so he knew it couldn’t be his. Didn’t help that eye color, blood type didn’t jive either. They reached some agreement to avoid scandal, and Wilton signed my father’s birth certificate, in return for a really quick, no fault divorce. he was killed a few years later, by his second wife, axe in the chest!. Gramma sure knew how to pick em.

grateful he was man enough, to raise into to a man, a young boy, who’s father wasn’t there.

So that is the illustrious beginning, of this quest. My father was born, without a father. Never knowing his true father, and having the father that denied him, dead while he was still a child. Thank whomever for my step grampa, Ted Brodehl. Really great guy, great step dad… awesome grampa…truly love him…. grateful he was man enough, to raiseinto to a man, a young boy, who’s father wasn’t there.

this, this week, maybe even single day, of indiscretions, and the lifetime of lies that followed them, had a devastating effect on three generations. Three generations struggling with identity, with place, with value. Three generations, without an adequate explanation of their ethnicity, to defend themselves from the xenophobes and bigots of the world.

Three generations,

trying to explain,

their olive skin tone,

Their roman nose,

and their Irish name.

75 years to solve this mystery. 75 years to be able to tell the whole story. 3 generations have missed out on the stories, the heritage and their family name. No more. No more. Now, with both sides of the story, and DNA testing as the clincher, we know.

We are Shumate. We are DeLaChaumette, or Chaumette, or LaChaumette, whatever… We finally belong.


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