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Marples: Considering Dixie — as song, lodge and place

I wish I was in ...

Sheet music for the song commonly known as “Dixie,” or “I Wish I Was in Dixie.”

I’ve read many articles in the News-Journal about the happy and tragic moments of history in Longview and nearby areas.

Longview had its vibrant Ossamus Hitch Methvin Sr. deeding 100 acres of land to the railroad for just $1. Then he deeded an additional 100 acres to the railroad for $500 in gold, believing the incentive would pay off with future development. It did. Railroads helped carry people, cotton and other goods further west and has generated much commerce. Even today, freight such as automobiles, other cargo and Amtrak passengers are carried along the same rail path. O.H. Methvin’s action started just five years after the end of the Civil War.

Longview’s official status came in 1870, but I like to hear history even further back, especially of little-known facts about what happened during the war between the states. As a native Kansan, but now a Texan for over 15 years, I somewhat hesitate to refer to it as “The War of Northern Aggression.” Both sides suffered and I had relatives who served both North and South.

One of my favorite songs growing up in Kansas was “I Wish I Was In Dixie.” Some weeks ago, I had the pleasant opportunity to be in the nearby town of Troup. I got to visit a regular meeting of Dixie Masonic Lodge No. 272. I learned it was chartered June 15, 1863.

There was a town just south of there called Griffin. It had a hotel, churches and businesses. All the men who belonged to the Masonic Lodge in that locality perished in the Civil War. That devastating loss, plus the railroad bypassing Griffin, caused the town to cease to exist. Practically everything moved to Troup due to those earthshaking events, and started fresh. I find it even more of a compelling story because I was born exactly a century later, in 1963.

I introduced myself to the presiding officer of Dixie Masonic Lodge. He is a nice young gentleman, a policeman. He presided in full police uniform. His knowledge of history was awesome and impeccable. He said while doing patrols by the bank and other nearby buildings, he discovered mason’s marks carved into the stone or brick, close to the foundation level. They were carved by the original building owners, many of whom were Freemasons in Dixie Lodge (part of the fraternal order) as well as operative stonemasons who constructed buildings. He noted that it is no secret that in York Rite Masonry there is a degree called “Mark Master Mason.”

Both he and I are members, it turns out. Every member creates his own unique logo, letter or symbol, which was used back in the days when many pioneers were illiterate. One Mark Mason could tell another Mark Mason simply by that mark. In a way, it is similar to cattle brands, as far as ease of identification.

Even though this whole region is part of Dixie, I felt a unique sense of Southern history that’s in peaceful harmony with the 21st century. Both the United States flag and Texas flag were displayed and saluted, as is the norm in all Texas Masonic Lodges. I saw a unique cornerstone about 12 inches square from a previous Lodge Hall, which embodied tangible history.

I silently thought of my own positive altered lyrics of the famous song to myself: “I’m glad I came to Dixie. The Land of Oil and Cotton, where special times are not soon forgotten. I’ll take my stand to meet new friends in Dixie. Hooray, Hooray, Dixie Land.”

I was amazed at the similarities between Longview and Troup. Last year, I attended a wedding just outside of Troup. New homes, new businesses and new families are springing up there, as in Longview.

It is a lot of history spanning Dixie Masonic Lodge’s chartering in 1863 to present-day 2019.

The origin of the word “Dixie” is cultural, with two major (conjectured) definitions. The surveyor of the Mason-Dixon line was Jeremiah Dixon. The other theory: The Citizens State Bank in the French Quarter of New Orleans had the word “DIX” (French for “ten”) on the reverse of Ten Dollar Notes. They were known as “Dixies” and the name extended across the Southern U.S.

The famous song “Dixie” can be much more positive and inspiring than we think.

— James A. Marples, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum.

Today's Bible verse

“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Psalms 63:1

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