"SONG OF A JAILBIRD"

WRITTEN BY A GREENE COUNTY RASCAL NAMED CONROY

Transcribed by Tina Easley

Thank You Bettye !

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The following ode was copied from John F. Rainey's Greene County Citizen published Thursday Feb. 9, 1939.

Mr. Rainey reported that the poem was brought into his office by John W. Pillow of Route 5, Paragould. Pillow obtained the copy from his friend J. Sam Thompson, County Clerk, who had it in his files.

The story dates back to 1875, when citizens had to contend with a serious drought and high prices.

John and Nancy Newberry had lived in Greene county since 1854. They settled on rich low land south of Gainesville along Locust Creek. John joined the Confederacy at the outbreak of the war and was killed in 1862, leaving Nancy to raise five boys and one girl.

James F., John's oldest son, was wounded at Murfreesboro on Dec. 31, 1862. He became a POW Nov 10, 1863, returning home after the war.

Because of their losses and sacrifices, and their zeal for work, the Newberry's were beloved by everyone. If a harm came to a Newberry, it was considered an act against the entire county.

Nancy Newberry was a very strong woman, both physically and mentally. She continued to farm the property along with her sons until they left home. Then she used hired help.

Mrs. Newberry produced a bumper corn crop in 1874. She stored it in the bins of two barns. Because of the drought of 1875, she was able to get a dollar a bushel. Word got around that she had stashed her money in the cracks of her log home. There were no banks in the county then.

A man named CONROY got a job working as a "farmhand" for Mrs. Newberry. He had heard about her "corn money." While he was working in a field with several other "hands," he slipped away, went to the widow's home and robbed the sixty-nine year old woman of her money. He shot her and left her for dead.

Sheriff "Stape" White, who had been appointed sheriff on J.A. Owens death in January, formed a possee and took out after Conroy.

The group of men included ex-sheriffs Memory Gramling and J.P. Willkockson, John N. Johnson, Jim Jackson, Verni Luney, Lon Stedman, "Ruff" and Jim Cole, and John Wright. Doctors Wyse, Thorn and Wall rode along to administer emergency treatment in case anyone was wounded.

The following lyric was written by Conroy after he was apprehended by Sheriff White's possee and put in the Gainesville hoosegow.

 


CONROY'S "SONG OF A JAILBID'

Come all good people,
come listen to me.
"Tis my own adventures
that I will tell thee.

I'm lying in this county jail
waiting the course of the law;
For a crime I've committed
in the State of Arkansas.

"Twas on a trip to Crowley's Ridge,
this story I will tell;
And for a couple of weeks or so,
succeeded very well.

I intended to rob some folks,
get rid of the law.
You see they have me
in the Gainesville Jail,
Greene County, Arkansas,

There was one thing I didn't like
but still it did take place.
For shooting a woman, boys,
brands coward on my face.

May she live to forgive me, boys,
of the deed against the law,
The deed I commited, boys,
in the State of Arkansas.

Whileriding along I saw a horse
belonging to Sheriff White;
I thought I'd goand buy that horse,
but I knew I'd have to fight.

I gave the captain a wide berth,
he had been through the war;
And left the horse at Freeman's store
in the State of Arkansas.

I rode almost to Chalk Bluff
in a couple of hours , or so.
Then turning my face quite westward,
to the Cache River I did go.

My clothing was wet and frozen stiff,
no fire the frost to thaw;
I left the boys to hunt for me
in the State of Arkansas.

I rode over hills and valleys,
I rode thrucreeks and sloughs,
My clothing was thin, yes, very thin;
And holes were in my shoes.

I slapped my spurs to the sorrel horse,
and made him scratch and claw;
And carry me like the devil, boys,
from this part of Arkansas.

The men that followed after me
made up a fearful gang.
Each one himself a-hoping
to see this devil hang.

But, ah, I thought quite different, boys,
and soon they plainly saw,
For I left the boys to hunt for me
in the swamps of Arkansas.

After my capture at De LaPlains,
I would have killed the crowd,
if it had not been for my shackles and chains,
that rattled so awlful loud.

They seized me and disarmed me,
and told me to shut my jaw.
They'd soon have me in the Gainesville Jail,
Greene County, Arkansas.

Well, here I am, all shackled and chained,
lying in their county jail;
Without a friend in this whole world,
that sure would go my bail.

And here I'll wait 'til Circuit Court
goes thru the course of law.
I'll take a trip to Little Rock
on the River of Arkansas.

There is one thing I must not forget,
in speaking of my case;
I'm sure it was that little sorrell horse,
that stood me in such a race.

May he be taken care of,
his bed made of straw,
and live a ripe old age
in the State of Arkansas.

Oh, if I had the money boys,
and was out of this here scrape,
I'd purchase that little sorrell horse,
that stood me in such a race.

I'd tie a ribbon around his neck,
place him upon the cars;
He'd never be seen on Crowley's Ridge,
Greene County, Arkansas.

Come all good hearted people,
come all you jolly lads,
Oh, if you get in trouble, boys,
be sure you have the scads.

If you have the money, boys,
You sure can beat the law;
There's not locks enough to hold you in
The prisions of Arkansas.

Here goes now boys,
For a finishing touch,
I think I've said enough;
You see my present condition, boys,
I think it rather tough.

 

CONROY was a poor shot. Hit in the hip, the widow Newberry recovered and lived to be seventy-six. She died in 1883.