John Carter Cash explores father's Delta roots

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Town Crier News Staff

John Carter Cash, 37, son of musical artist Johnny and June Carter Cash, was given a historical tour of Delta country life as he picked cotton near his father's boyhood home in Dyess and chased the illusive Buffalo fish from the banks of the Tyronza River.

Cash has been in Northeast Arkansas since Tuesday, doing research for a personal venture concerning his father and the town that the Cash family called home--Dyess, Arkansas.

"My father talked about living in Dyess," Cash said. "He had a lot of fond memories of this place. I visited here once, when I was 13, and wanted to return. I have a lot of questions as an adult that I didn't have as a teenager."

Willie Stegall is the current owner of the former Dyess Colony home of Johnny Cash's parents, Ray and Carrie Rivers Cash, near Dyess. Stegall gave John Carter Cash a tour of the home.

"He was interested in walking through the house and stopped to ask questions along the way," Stegall said. "He was especially interested in his father's room. Before he left he took a pod of okra and a brick from the back yard. He said he planned to plant the okra in his garden in Hendersonville, Tenn."

"My father talked about the cotton farm, and the flood, many times," Cash said. "He not only talked about, it inspired him to write about it as well. His Arkansas roots were always a part of who he was, and he was proud of that. When I visit the places he walked and played, it brings to life many stories he told me about living here."

Mayor Larry Sims planned several stops for Cash when he was in Dyess.

"He stopped by city hall and looked at his father's 1950 Dyess High School graduation composite," Sims said. "He jokingly asked some of Johnny's high school friends about his father's old girlfriends, Louise Nichols and Evelyn Shaddox. He also took time to read some of the old Dyess Colony newspapers, that have been preserved by Everett Henson. Johnny Cash's high school friends, A.J. Henson and James Huff, were on hand to share many humorous memories from the late 1940s.

"He wanted to see the Cash home place, his father's fishing spot on the Tyronza River, a cotton field, and his uncle Jack Cash's grave in Bassett," Sims said. "We tried to do it all in a short time. He was very gracious and appreciative of our interest in him and his father's family. We are working to establish a Dyess-Johnny Cash Memorial in the old Dyess Colony Administration Building, on the circle downtown. He offered to help us in our efforts, by encouraging family members to give concerts and to donate personal items of Johnny Cash to our museum."

"I wanted to go fishing in the Tyronza River near where Dad lived," Cash said. "He and my mother loved to fish and they taught me to love it also. I brought my casting rod with me but I don't think the Buffalo were interested. I saw some big fish, but the water was too low and the temperature too hot for them to be interested enough to take the bait. Just being at the water's edge did take me back to Dad's stories about those long summer days sitting on the bank fishing."

Billy Sims provided Cash with a long pick sack to try his hand at picking cotton on the Dick Wilson farm near Joiner.

"I was pretty slow in picking cotton, although Mayor Sims and Mr. Stegall tried their hardest to show me how," Cash said. "I put on the pick sack and threw it out behind me and began picking with one hand and holding the top of the sack with my other hand. They were quick to tell me that it wasn't done like that. Mrs. Stegall told me the sack was pulled to the back and you picked cotton with both hands and pushed it backwards into the sack. I was only in the field a short time, but I sure got hot fast. I can only imagine what it was like for my father and his family to pick all day, day after day, until the harvest was over.

"I plan to take my cotton home with me and make a pillow out of it, seeds and all, I even pulled up some cotton stalks to take with me."

Cash visited the Bassett Cemetery where his uncle Jack Cash was buried. Jack was memorialized in the 2006 movie "Walk the Line." Jack died about two weeks after falling into a radial saw, without a guard on it, at the Dyess High School shop. Johnny was fishing at the river when Jack fell into the saw and revealed that he was burdened all his life about the death of his brother in that terrible accident.

The John Carter Cash website list him as an author, fisherman, adventurer, father, husband, snow skier, gold panner, hiker, outdoorsman, early riser, and hunter. He and his wife Laura live in Hendersonville, Tenn. He has three children, which include Joseph John, 11, Anna Maybelle, 6, and Jack Ezra, 18 months.

Cash is very interested in preserving his family legacy of music and writing. His greatest passion is working as a music producer. He was executive producer of "Walk the Line," with Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Whitherspoon portraying John and June Carter Cash. Scenes from the movie were filmed in Dyess.

"I am pleased that the city is working so hard to make this a unique spot to visit," Cash said. "I think the memorial museum is a good idea, and I plan to help any way I can. I have become more and more fascinated with the area and its history, each time I hear new stories about it. I have a healthy hunger for this place. I found myself surrounded by people who have a wealth and knowledge about the area. I have been blessed truly by what my parents handed down to me about their lives.

"When the memorial is open for business, it will put Dyess on the map," Cash said. "Dad would be proud of that."

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