The Odyssey of John Parks
By Dr. Harold Graham
When John Parks said goodbye to his wife Bettie (Meadors) Parks and their small children in his native Wilkes County, Georgia, to join Andrew Jackson’s forces in their march to New Orleans it is unlikely that he had any inkling that this journey was the beginning of an odyssey almost without end.
A bugler with the 1st Georgia Militia, his role was simple. He woke the troops up every morning and put them to bed at night. He rallied the troops into battle and led their celebration in time of victory. He would play a special role in rallying the troops and celebrating their moment of victory at the Battle of Chalmette Plantation. Then, as General Packenham’s body was pulled from the field and brought to the plantation house nearby, John Parks, with the deft hands of a musician, was one of three American soldiers charged with disinterring the body, much in the style, no doubt, that hunter’s use when they field dress a deer. The body organs were buried in the garden next to the plantation house and locals would claim that for many years thereafter the plants that grew in the garden would only produce red flowers. (Photo of Sir Edward Packenham to left)
The body shell of Packenham was placed in a barrel of rum so that it could be preserved for an official burial in London. Now at dock-side, in a moment of tribute to the late General, and with John Parks with bugle in hand, the British nation anthem was played. The trip home to England was not without incident, however, as one thirsty British soldier inadvertently uncorked the barrel containing the body of Packenham to take a drink and spilled much of the rum.
John Parks had seen much of the Mississippi Territory on his march to New Orleans. Now on his return trip he would see more. Here were pristine forests, game of all types, and open prairies waiting to be planted with all types of crops. He was enchanted and could not wait to relocate his family here.
We do not know what words passed between himself and his wife Bettie upon his return home, but we do know that Bettie chose to stay and that John chose to go.
By 1818 John Parks had settled in Covington County, Mississippi, and had taken a new wife, Nancy Cooksey, who would produce him thirteen children. When his father-in-law William Cooksey died in 1828, John and Nancy, along with her extended family, would first move to Rankin County, Mississippi, then later to Pinckney in Newton County where they would settle.
On a ridge near Pinckney mill pond he planted his crops of corn and wheat. But the day that his plough horse came up lame, however, he realized that he had lost much of his zest for farming. He fed Jack some corn nubbins, patted him on the rump, and sent him to pasture for the last time. The weeds now grew tall through the tines of the hay rake parked next to the barn.
Memories of the celebration after the American victory at Chalmette Plantation rushed through his mind. He took out his bugle and struggled with the notes, but his hands had grown stiff and his breath shallow and the notes would not come. For the last time he placed the bugle in a gunny sack that he kept under his bed.
Now he watched the daily comings and goings at the mill at Pinckney, or counted the wood ducks as they fished for loose grain that had spilled into the lake, or simply waded in the tailrace below the dam with his grandchildren. What better place to witness the progression of life? The promise of spring was always followed by the fruits of summer and by the frost of fall. Winter was coming on.
Here he died on the seventh day of the year 1857 in the land of his dreams, his odyssey ended. Little would he know that his grandchildren’s grandchildren would marvel at the blaze of leaves after the first frost, count the ducks as they skittered across the pond, and wade in the tailrace to escape summer’s heat. Some things are eternal, some things simply priceless.