The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Autry (Ewart A.) Typescript
Mississippi author Ewart A. Autry was born January 15, 1900 in Hickory Flat (Benton County), Mississippi to James Arthur and Mary Hudspeth Autry. After graduating from Mississippi Heights Academy, he attended the University of Mississippi in 1918, Mississippi College in 1919, and Blue Mountain College in 1920. Autry was a school teacher and a superintendent in the Hickory Flat school system from 1918-1928, and following in the tradition of his father became a Baptist minister in 1921. He was a pastor for 53 years in both urban and rural settings: He ministered to Central Avenue Baptist Church in Memphis from 1928-1941, Pine Grove Baptist Church in Benton County from 1941-1974, and Bay Springs Church in Lafayette County from 1944 to 1967. In 1954, Autry received an award presented by Emory University and The Progressive Farmer recognizing him as Mississippi's Rural Minister of the Year. He was a member of the Mississippi Baptist Convention Board and Moderator of the Benton County Baptist Association.
As an author, Ewart Autry wrote two books, Ghost Hound of Thunder Valley which received the Dodd-Mead Librarian and Teacher Award in 1964 while it was still in manuscript form, and Don't Look Back Mamma (1975). He co-authored several books among which are In Prison-And Visited Me (with Roy Beasley 1952) and Bible Puppet Plays (with Lola Autry 1972). Short Stories written by Autry include "Tales of Whippoorwill Valley" (1950-2), "The Crossing" (1964), and "Park Your Sinuses" (1964). The bulk of Autry's writing was comprised of short stories, articles, and essays which were published in journals, magazines, and anthologies such as the Progressive Farmer, Parents, Home Life, Christian Herald, Farm Journal, Reader's Digest, Elks, The Lion, Sports Afield, Field and Stream, Guideposts, Travel, Audubon, Kiwanis, Teen-Age Tales (1958, 1962), The Guideposts Trilogy (1962), Light From Above (1968), and Human Listening (1972).
Autry lived in Whippoorwill Valley, which was a "heavily wooded section of North Mississippi, ten miles from the nearest town", Hickory Flat. He was the first president of the Hickory Flat P.T.A., served as the first president of the Benton County Sportsman Club, and was also president of the Whippoorwill Valley Men's Club. It was the "abundant Nature that surround[ed]" him, from which Ewart Autry drew his literary inspiration. This author was interested in young people, forms of nature, outdoor life, and conservation. Autry believed that the public was "not, basically, a generation of smut consumers", and that "clean" fiction would be read--especially in the outdoor field.
Ewart Autry died at the age of 81 on September 16, 1981, and is interred at the Pine Grove Baptist Church. He was survived by his wife, Lola Mae Linberry Autry of Memphis, his daughter Martha Lynn Crawford of Blue Mountain, and his sons Lanny Autry of New Albany, Mississippi, James Autry of Des Moines, and Ronald Autry of Atlanta.
This collection consists of three original typed manuscripts of parable-like tales written by Rev. Ewart A. Autry, which appeared in Christian Herald, Readers Digest, and Better Homes and Gardens. Although it is unclear when these stories were written (as they may have originally been sermons), they were all published in 1964.
These stories were written in an effort to produce "clean" literature for the reading public, and reflect Autry's interest in young people, nature conservation, and traditional American social and familial values.
The three documents comprising this collection are separated into four folders. The first two folders contain the short stories "The Crossing" and "Park Your Sinuses", while the third and fourth folders hold the typescript of the book, Ghost Hound of Thunder Valley.
Folder 1 contains two versions of "The Crossing", which appeared in Better Homes and Gardens. The original version is typed on the back of the weekly church bulletin, "Table Around the World". The rewritten version is more standard in format, and both versions are consistent in plot. This five-page first person narrative centers around a bonding experience between a man and his youngest son as they venture towards the "roaring river" and across rocks in order to fish and enjoy the sunset. Themes of strength, pride, love, and courageous living pervade this story, as the father, Jeff, crosses a log, which is representative of overcoming the loss of his first son, Randy. The youngest son, Dan, is initiated into his father's world as he learns about manhood, love, kinship, a respect for nature, and the conquering of fears. The woman's voice, as heard by the narrator, is that of a strong, wise, yet soft-spoken wife.
Folder 2 contains an original typescript which was initially titled "Off with the Shrouds", then later changed for publication to "Park Your Sinuses", published in Christian Herald and Readers Digest. This anecdotal first person narrative emphasizes the power of positive thinking and selfless behavior, as it tells of a reverend and his wife who have resolved to cease complaining about their sufferings in their competitive battles with each other for sympathy. It is the pastor's wife who subtly diffuses the tense situation by shifting the emphasis away from her husband's "frustrat[ion] at not being the center of attention...of the universe", and towards their combined responsibility to create the right atmosphere for the children. Their united effort exchanges self-pity for "laughter and song", and they live in such a manner for the next decade.
Folders 3 and 4 consist of the original 120 page typescript of Ghost Hound of Thunder Valley. The first nine chapters are contained in Folder 3, and chapters 10-18 are in folder 4. Included in Folder 3 is a separate list of character descriptions.
Ghost Hound of Thunder Valley is a tale about how Johnny, a recently orphaned fourteen year-old boy, learns to be a southern gentleman through his experiences in Thunder Valley (the guidance of his neighbor, the wise and gentle Mr. Baker, serves to balance the thwarting efforts of Johnny's legal guardian, the greedy and witless Uncle Clint). While the characters struggle for land ownership and fox-hunting championships, the story also incorporates another tale about a puppy named Ghost who escapes drowning by Clint. The puppy is raised by foxes who lost their pups in a dynamite explosion, but soon grows too large and clumsy to survive without the help of his "foster parents", who have fled the hounds. Ghost soon yearns to follow the call of the hunting horn. The growing and hungry pup is adopted by Johnny and goes on to become a champion fox hound.
The theme of good versus evil permeates nearly every facet of this tale, establishing clear-cut borders between the two forces throughout the story. There are clear definitions of chivalrous manhood as depicted through the wealthy landowner, Mr. Baker, as well as ideals of womanhood and motherhood which appear in the characters of the mother fox and Baker's granddaughter, Teena. Also, the author reinforces messages about man's connection with nature, rather than his destruction of it. In his rewrite of chapters 15 and 18, Autry changes the fate of Ghost's foster-parent foxes from that of death at the jaws of hunting dogs to that of escape on a log down the river. Another theme that manifests itself in both Ghost's and Johnny's experiences throughout the tale is the idea of animal instinct versus cultural training.
The stories in this collection may be of interest to students of literature, religion, sociology, and anthropology, in that they provide anecdotal tales associated with traditional values, which reflect the ideas held by a southern, white, educated, minister writing about his perceptions of life in rural northern Mississippi from the early 1900's through the 1970's.
A copy of Ewart A. Autry's book Ghost Hound of Thunder Valley, illustrated by Sam Savitt (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1965), is available in the McCain Library, call number PZ7.A927 Gh 1965.