Dewey Horne: Remembering the Grandfather I Never Met

This entry is part of the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks series.  This week’s prompt is I’D LIKE TO MEET.  To see other posts in this series, view my 52 Ancestors in 2019 index


dewey horne at wedding
Dewey Horne, July 1970, at his son’s wedding, Boeuf River Baptist Church, Liddieville

If given an opportunity to meet any ancestor, I wouldn’t choose an immigrant who took a perilous journey.  I wouldn’t choose someone who lived hundreds of years ago whose life was so different without modern conveniences.  I wouldn’t even choose someone who participated in an important military battle.

I’d choose my grandfather Dewey Horne.

Dewey died eight years before I was born, and I’m the only one of his 11 grandchildren he didn’t meet.  Because I never knew him, I don’t have a “grandpa name” for him.  A few of my cousins call him Papa, and my dad sometimes refers to him as my Papaw Horne.  I’m still unsure what to call him, but I’d like to imagine — being his youngest grandchild and the one who would have lived closest — I’d have created a unique name he would have embraced.

William George Dewey Horne was born December 11, 1899¹, in Belzoni, Sunflower (now Humphreys) County, Mississippi.²  When I was young, it seemed so wild that my grandfather was born in a whole different century than me.  His life seemed distinct — foreign, even.  Now that I’m older and know more about history, I can appreciate the monumental changes Dewey experienced.  He was just a child when the Wright Brothers’ airplane flew at Kitty Hawk, but he also watched as man took his first steps on the moon.  He observed significant wars in our country’s history: World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.  He grew up in a time before radio, but — by the end of his life — watched the news on television every evening.  He plowed his cotton fields with two mules, but saw tractors and mechanized cotton pickers replace manual labor.

Dewey appears on the 1900 census in Sunflower County, Mississippi, with his parents John Thomas Horne and Georgia F. Smart.³  Also in the household were his older brother John Thomas, Jr., his father’s maternal grandmother Malinda McCauley Johnston, and his father’s cousin Charley Rials.⁴  They worked a rented farm near the Sunflower River,⁵ likely growing cotton.

Dewey’s early life was turbulent.  According to family stories, his father John Thomas — a product of a broken, fatherless home — was abusive to Dewey’s mother Georgia and beat her while she was pregnant.⁶  It was after one of these beatings that John Thomas was allegedly murdered by his step-father.⁷  Georgia moved her sons to Arkansas, and Dewey’s younger brother Charlie was born there in 1902 or 1903.⁸  Georgia and her three boys appear in the 1910 census in Veasey Township, Drew County, Arkansas, living near Charley Rials and his family.⁹  Georgia is listed as a farmer, a difficult occupation for a single mother but perhaps the only way she could provide for her family.  It was shortly after this census that Dewey’s older brother died, and his mother passed soon after — leaving Dewey and Charlie orphaned.¹⁰

It is unclear where Dewey’s brother and mother died, but Dewey and Charlie ended up in Franklin Parish, Louisiana.  My aunts remember Dewey telling them he quit school after his mother’s death when he was about ten years old.  He earned money by keeping house and doing chores for a man by the name of Barfield.¹¹  Dewey may have also worked for and lived with the Jesse Eley family in Chase, Franklin Parish, Louisiana, during this period.¹²  While still a boy himself, Dewey provided for his younger brother Charlie so he could stay in school and obtain an education.

My next peek at Dewey’s life comes with his World War I draft registration card.  Dewey, age 18, registered with the Franklin Parish Draft Board on September 12, 1918.¹³  He listed his address as Mason, Louisiana — the area south of Liddieville in Franklin Parish.¹⁴  He reported his occupation as a self-employed farmer, and his next of kin as his brother Charlie, living in Chase.¹⁵  Dewey’s physical description says he was of medium height and build with brown hair and brown eyes.¹⁶

Dewey married twice in the 1920s, both to widows with children.  His first marriage ended in divorce after two years; his second marriage lasted eight years until his wife’s death.  Witnessing his mother’s struggles firsthand and being an orphan himself, Dewey had a deep understanding of — and perhaps affection for — people without family.  Maybe he looked to build his own family with others who needed a provider.  This theme continued on to his third marriage to my grandmother.

Dewey married Ethel McMurry, also an orphan, on November 10, 1933.¹⁷  They were married by L.W. Tarver, Justice of the Peace of Ward 8, Franklin Parish.¹⁸  They made their home in Liddieville, tending a family farm near Boeuf River.  The location of their home was near the intersection of present-day Newt Williams Road and Clifton Russell Road.

Dewey and Ethel had four children: Lillian Horne, Georgia Lou Horne, Mary Ann Horne, and John Dewey Horne (my father).

dewey_georgia_lillian_john_mary_about 1949
Dewey Horne and Children, about 1948 (L to R): Georgia, Lillian, John (in lap), Mary

Dewey continued farming throughout my aunts’ childhoods.  He worked the farm with two mules, and my aunts tell stories of hoeing and picking cotton by hand.  By the time my father was old enough to help, Dewey’s health made it difficult to continue with this occupation.  My grandmother Ethel had also experienced health concerns; she spent a year in a tuberculosis hospital in Ruston, Louisiana.  With only my father left at home, Dewey and Ethel decided to follow two of their daughters to California.

Dewey and Ethel sold their land, disposed of most possessions, and boarded a bus with my father in the summer of 1957.  They arrived in Kerman, Fresno County, California, where my Aunt Lillian lived with her growing family; my Aunt Mary had joined them the year prior to finish high school.  My dad remembers attending fifth grade in Kerman, but the move did not last long.  A few months later, Dewey and Ethel decided to return to Louisiana, likely because of lack of income but perhaps a little homesickness, too.  They and my father made the trip back to Liddieville and found a rental house.  Family members gave them back much of the furniture they had left behind.  (Two of these prized possessions — Dewey and Ethel’s rocking chairs from the 1930s — are currently with my Aunt Mary.)

dewey&ethel_about1963
Dewey Horne and Ethel McMurry Horne, about 1963, in Liddieville
dewey_ethel_jul1970
Dewey Horne and Ethel McMurry Horne, July 1970, at their daughter Mary Brown’s home in Monroe, Louisiana

Dewey remained a retired farmer in Liddieville until his death.  He died after a brief illness on November 17, 1972, a week following his and Ethel’s 39th wedding anniversary.¹⁹  Dewey’s funeral was held at Boeuf River Baptist Church, and he was buried at Ogden Cemetery.

Because I never knew my grandfather personally, I cherish anything my father and aunts tell me about him.  They have shared a few memories over the years, giving me some impression of the man my grandfather was.  Even though Dewey left school at a young age, he loved learning.  He would read his children’s schoolbooks cover to cover, especially history texts.  His brother Charlie served on the Franklin Parish School Board for several years, and — as an elected official — received bound volumes of the Congressional Record.  My father says Dewey would read these books at his brother’s store before they were relegated to the outhouse for their next best purpose.  My aunts and father also tell me how Dewey disliked his children playing roughly or doing anything remotely dangerous, even the typical mischief kids so often find.  He drove slowly and carefully, sometimes stopping along the way to let the car rest or turning back home to be sure the stove was turned off.  Maybe his extreme caution was because he had personally experienced great loss and understood too well the fragility of life; he did not want to see pain or harm come to any of his loved ones.

Discussing this post on the phone one evening, my dad said, “Oh, he would have spoiled you.”  He had unknowingly answered one of my biggest questions — what my grandfather might have thought of me.  Even though we share an interest in history and current events, I would have been too young to appreciate that about him if our lives overlapped.  But what I can be grateful for is how he loved my grandmother, my father, and my aunts, and how he broke the cycle of absent fathers in our family.


All photographs are digital images made in 2013, privately held by John Dewey Horne, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE], Winnsboro, Louisiana.  Photos originally belonged to Ethel McMurry Horne and were among her personal items at the time of her death; originals possessed by her son John Dewey Horne since 2002.

¹Birthdate calculated from draft registration cards and gravestone:
U.S. World War I Draft Cards, Young Men, 1917-1918, Franklin Parish, LA Registration Card for Dewey Horne, serial number 1989, order number A1978; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6482/005152033_02195/33954369 : accessed 24 Jan 2019); citing Records of the Selective Service System, NARA microfilm roll 1684674.
U.S. World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947, Franklin Parish, LA Registration Card for Dewey Horne, serial number 1304, order number 10347; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2238/004829524_01495/4831734 : accessed 24 Jan 2019); citing Records of the Selective Service System, NARA record group 147.
Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/12950824 : accessed 24 Jan 2019), memorial 12950824, Dewey Horne (1899-1972), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana; gravestone photograph by Ron Manley.

²Birthplace supported by family stories and location at time of 1900 census:
1900 U.S. Census, Sunflower County, MS, population schedule, Beat 1, enumeration district (ED) 48, p. 997 (penned), dwelling 239, family 244; William G Horn in John T Horn household; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7602/4120349_00098/36072954 : accessed 17 Aug 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 31077_4120349.

³1900 U.S. census, Sunflower Co., MS, pop. sch., p. 997 (penned), dwell. 239, fam. 244, John T Horn household.

Ibid.

Ibid.

⁶Agnes McWeeny Johnston. The Johnston Family Tree (Green Valley, Arizona: Mrs. Roy Johnston [378 Calle de Las Flores, Green Valley, AZ, 85614], 1992).

Ibid.

⁸Two possible birthdates for Charlie appear in his World War II draft registration card and gravestone:
Birthdate for Charlie Horne calculated from his World War II draft registration:
U.S. World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947, Franklin Parish, LA Registration Card for James Charlie Horne, serial number 1066, order number 11291; digital image, Ancestry.com(https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/2238/004829524_01507/4831746 : accessed 18 Aug 2018); citing Records of the Selective Service System, NARA record group 147.
Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/13491799 : accessed 24 Jan 2019), memorial 13491799, James C. “Charlie” Horne (1903-1979), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana; gravestone photograph by Ron Manley.

⁹1910 U.S. Census, Drew County, AR, population schedule, Veasey Township, enumeration district (ED) 55, p. 2A (penned and stamped), dwelling 34, family 24, Georgia Horn household; digital image, Ancestry.com(https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/7884/31111_4327239-00796/181039048 : accessed 17 Aug 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 49.

¹⁰Lillian Horne Killen, Georgia Horne Lofton, and Mary Horne Brown, daughters of William George Dewey Horne (ADDRESSES REDACTED FOR PRIVACY), interview by Jessica Horne Collins, 20 November 2018; audio recording privately held by interviewer, Houston, Texas, 2018.

¹¹Ibid.

¹²Ibid.

¹³U.S. World War I Draft Cards, Young Men, 1917-1918, Franklin Parish, LA Registration Card for Dewey Horne, serial number 1989, order number A1978; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6482/005152033_02195/33954369 : accessed 24 Jan 2019); citing Records of the Selective Service System, NARA microfilm roll 1684674.

¹⁴Ibid.

¹⁵Ibid.

¹⁶Ibid.

¹⁷Franklin Parish, Louisiana, marriage certificate, unnumbered (1933), Dewey Horn and Miss Ethel McMurry; Franklin Parish Clerk of Court, Winnsboro, Louisiana.

¹⁸Ibid.

¹⁹Ancestry, Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/12950824 : accessed 24 Jan 2019), memorial 12950824, Dewey Horne (1899-1972), Ogden Cemetery, Liddieville, Franklin Parish, Louisiana; gravestone photograph by Ron Manley.

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