J. K. Polk Harriss


©2009 by Steve Green

Son of East Texas Pioneer Is Dead

Longview Morning News
Friday, June 19, 1925

Longview, Texas, June 18 – J. K. Polk Harris, 79 years old, and whose father was also famous in local history, died Wednesday and was buried beside his father Thursday.  His widow survives him.  “Uncle Tommy” Harris, the father, stopped the engineers as they started to survey the Texas and Pacific railroad through his property two miles west of here, ordering them to run around his land and emphasizing the demand with a loaded shotgun.  The survey was run around and the curve in the track is a mute witness to the affair to this day.

With the same gun he ordered a young man to stop coming to visit his daughter and when the young man walked boldly into the yard he was killed instantly.  The Harris farm was settled long before the Civil War and surrounded with a stone fence, whence the owner got the name of “Stonewall” Harris.

The photo below of Mr. and Mrs. J. K. Polk Harriss was sent to me by Glenda Wood of Longview, Texas, a descendant of Harriss.


J. K. P. HARRIS

compiled by by Steve Green (November, 2000)

*****
The legendary Texas fiddler, Eck Robertson, was impressed by the skill of another fiddler from an earlier generation, Polk Harris.  When telling interviewers in the 1960s about "arranging" traditional fiddle tunes, Robertson explained that he meant adding position playing. "They generally just played it straight, they didn't use positions much when I was a kid.  But some of the fiddlers did, like old Polk Harris, he used quite alot of position playin'.  And I learned alot of that from him."  [County LP "Eck Robertson: Cowboy Fiddler"]

*****
James Knox Polk Harris— sometimes spelled "Harriss"— was born October 2, 1846 in Alabama.  It's not known exactly when his family came to Texas but it's likely that he arrived sometime in the 1850s.  Note that Hood County was not created until 1866.

*****
During the Civil War, Harris served in the 15th Texas Cavalry, Company C.  While I have not at the time of writing traced Harris' Confederate service records, here is a brief synopsis of activities for the 15th Texas Cavalry.  I've not yet determined what year Harris enlisted, but it should be noted that the cavalry unit was dismounted early in the war and was soon after captured and sent to a Union prison camp in Ohio (Camp Chase I think).  Harris may have been among those captured and sent to Ohio.  But the unit was divided at various points during the war so it may be hard to determine with certainty the nature of Harris' war service.

Texas 15th Cavalry Regiment
Also known as : 32nd Cavalry Regiment

Organization : Organized at McKinney in early 1862. Dismounted in April 1862.
Surrendered at Arkansas Post on 11 January 1863; Exchanged in April 1863. Field consolidation with the 6th and 10th infantry regiments from July 1863 to 09 April 1865.The 10th Infantry Regiment was detached from this field consolidation between January to April 1864. Consolidated with the 6th, 7th and 10th Infantry Regiments and the 17th,18th,24th and 25th Cavalry Regiments (Dismounted) and designated as the 1st Infantry Regiment Consolidated at Smithfield, North Carolina on 09 April 1865.

First Commander : Colonel George H. Sweet

Field Officers
Major. William H. Cathey
Lt. Colonel. William K. Masten
Major,[ Lt.Col ] George B. Pickett
Major. Valerius P. Sanders

 Assignments
1. Rust's - Parson's Cavalry Brigade, Trans Mississippi District, Department #2. ( March - May 1862 )
2. Trans Mississippi Department ( June - August 1862.)
3. District of Arkansas, Trans Mississippi Department ( August - September 1862 )
4. Sweets Brigade, Nelsons Division; District of Arkansas, Trans Mississippi Department. ( September 1862 )
5. Nelson's - Deshler's Brigade, Nelson's Churchills Division, 2nd Corps; Trans      Mississippi Department ( September - December 1862 )
6. Deshler's Brigade, Churchill's Division; District of Arkansas, Trans Mississippi Department ( December 1862 - January 1863 )
7. Churchill's - Deshler's - Smith's Brigade, Cleburne Division, 2nd Corps; Army of           Tennessee ( July - November 1863)
8. Smith's - Granbury's Brigade, Cleburnes Division, 1st Corps, Army of Tennessee
            (November 1863 - April 1865 )

Battles
Arkansas Post, 04-11 January 1863
Chickamauga, 19-20 September 1863
Chattanooga Seige, September - November 1863
Chattanooga, 23-25 November 1863
Atlanta Campaign, May - September 1864
Picketts Mill, 27 May 1864
New Hope Church, 27 June 1864
Atlanta Seige, July - September 1864
Jonesborro, 31 August - 01 September 1864
Franklin, 30 November 1864
Nashville, 15 - 16 December 1864 Carolinas Campaign , February - April 1865
Bentonville, 19-21 March 1865

Source : "Compendium of the Confederate Armies, Texas," Stewart Sifakis, 1995 Facts on File Books.

*****
And here is a brief history from the Web:

A Brief History of the 15th Texas Cavalry
by Justin M. Sanders

The 15th Texas Cavalry was organized in Dallas on 10 Mar 1862, was reorganized on 20 Mar 1862, and spent that spring training near Clarksville, TX.  Counties where some of the companies were raised were: Co A (Capt. M.L. Harper) Dallas; Co B (Capt. G.B. Pickett) Wise; Co C (Capt. William K. Mastin) Kaufman and Collin; Co D (Capt. Frizzell) Collin; Co E (Capt. M.D. Kennedy) Tarrant; Co G (Capt. A. Faulkner) Denton; Co H (Capt. English) Hunt Co; Co K (Capt. W.H. Cathey) Johnson Co.  By May 1862, the regiment was in Little Rock, AR where it was brigaded with the 12th, 14th, 16th, 17th, and 18th Texas Cavalry Regiments.  The first fighting experience for the 15th came in a skirmish on 8 July 1862 near Batesville, AR on the Black River.
           In the fall of 1862, the regiment was dismounted and served the remainder of the war as infantry.  The infantry brigade containing the 15th Texas Dismounted Cavalry was assigned to Ft. Hindman (Arkansas Post).  The fort fell to the Union on 11 Jan 1863 and most of its troop were captured.  When the captured Confederates were parolled in April, 1863, most remained east of the Mississippi, and eventually the men of the 15th Texas Cavalry were consolidated with those of the 6th and 10th Texas Infantry to form a single regiment.  This consolidated regiment saw action as a part of Granbury's Brigade at the Battles of Chickamauga, GA 19 & 20 Sep 1863 and Chattanooga (Missionary Ridge) TN 25 Nov 1863, in the Atlanta Campaign in May through September 1864, and in the Battles of Franklin, TN 30 Nov 1864 and Nashville, TN 15 & 16 Dec 1864.  The regiment was disbanded upon the surrender of the Army of Tennessee on 26 April 1865 at Greensboro, NC.  For more details on this portion of the regiment, the most complete history is McCaffrey's book listed below.
           A second portion of the 15th Texas Cavalry, who were not captured at Arkansas Post or who returned to Texas after being released from prison, remained in the Trans-Mississippi Department.  This portion of the regiment did some work in rounding up deserters in Texas.  It also served guard duty at Camp Ford, a prison camp near Tyler.

REFERENCES:
Service Records of 15th Texas Cavalry on National Archives Microfilm Publication M363

James M. McCaffrey, "This Band of Heroes: Granbury's Texas Brigade, C.S.A."

*****
Justin Sanders, who wrote the summary of the 15th Cavalry above, also wrote a summary for Company C. Apparently most of the men were from Kaufman County, and many of them enlisted in Dallas in 1862. In his roster of men in Company C, Sanders did not list a J. K. P. Harris, but he did list

Harris, P. S. (pvt) recruit at Camp Ford, TX, Nov 64

From this entry, it's possible that it is Polk Harris although the "S" casts doubt on it.  If so, and he enlisted in November 1864, then he would have seen only about six months duty since most units surrendered in April or May, 1865.

*****
The following entries have not been investigated at the time of writing:

HOOD COUNTY, TX. DISTRICT COURT MINUTES,
2 Aug 1875 - 24 Jun 1875 Book "B

Transcribed by: Society Members
Compiled by: Mary Hayden

Description of Source: Book 8 x 12.5 inches, no column headings. Titled " HOOD COUNTY, TX. DISTRICT COURT MINUTES, 2 Aug 1875 - 24 Jun 1875, Book "B""

Harris, J.K.P.                          406       149 
Harris, James                          177 
Harris, P.                                 116

*****
J. K. P. ("Polk") Harris married Amanda A. Turner on January 6, 1876.  Amanda Turner was born Amanda Edwards, daughter of John "Jack" Edwards.  She first married Dr. D. K. Turner [Jr.?] but after Turner's death, she married James K. P. Harris.

"H" GROOMS, Hood County Marriages

HARRIS,   J.K.P.       Turner, Amanda A.      6Jan.1876 A/062       (020)

*****
In the 1880 Census for Hood County, we find the following entry:

HARRIS, James         32 m    Ala      NC      SC       Stock-raiser (J.K.P. HARRIS)
" wife       Amanda      30 f      Ga       Ga       Tenn    Amanda A. (EDWARDS) (TURNER)

Note that according to this entry, Harris would have been born in 1848.  However, his grave marker gives the precise date in 1846.  Also, a newspaper clipping for a fiddle contest in 1901 gave Harris' age as 55, which supports the 1846 birthdate.

*****
Apparently, Harris registered some stock brands in Hood Co.  I have not seen the entry cited below.

HOOD COUNTY, TX. MARKS AND BRANDS   1876 - 1884

Harris, J. K. P.                   90

*****
In the Hood County Texas Genealogical Society / State Docket, County Court 1876 - 1889, Harris' name is included in the index, with two entries cited.  I have not seen the entries and do not know what they refer to to.  The entries are on pages 1 and 21.  One might surmise that if the Docket book begins in 1876 and Harris is on page one, there is probably a reference to his marriage, since that was January 6, 1876.

Harris, J. K. P.                   1, 21

*****
Hood County Jury Certificate, County Court, May 1882 - June 1891

Description of Source:
Book, 2 x 16 inches.    Titled "JURY CERTIFICATES, COUNTY COURT,
HOOD COUNTY" This is a book containing the "stubs" of  certificate given for pay for jury service.  The information on the stub includes: $ Amount, Term (date) of Court term, Name of Person certificate issued to,  Name of Person receiving Certificate. This index includes names of both the person certificate issued to and person receiving certificate.

Harris, J.K.P.                     78

*****
Harris is included a number of times on a list of Hood County Tax Payers for 1889.  The entries indicate that he owned considerable acreage.  The entries (9 of them) are not transcribed here, but the total acreage amounts to 1924 acres with a total value of $3,164.  The lots appear to have been in Granbury.  Some lots were valued at only $1.00 per acre while others were higher.

A similar list exists for 1891, and Harris' holdings shifted only a little in both acreage and value.

*****
Harris' name appears briefly, as does his wife's, in Ewell's 1895 History of Hood Co.  No real information is given, he is simply included in a long list of Hood County's steadfast citizens.

HOOD COUNTY HISTORY
by T. T. Ewell
Published in 1895

Harris, Mrs. J.K.                    7
Harris, Polk                         155

*****
The next reference I have for Polk Harris is in The Cattleman magazine for August, 1916 (p10) where he is mentioned in the caption of a picture showing M. J. Bonner and Jesse Roberts at a fiddle contest in Midland.  The caption includes the following:

"J. K. P. Harris of Maryneal, who is said to have more gold medals won in fiddling contests than a band leader in the moving pictures, was second.  He escaped before this picture was made.  Messrs. Bonner, Roberts, and Harris are all old Confederate soldiers.  Take a tip from me and the next time you have a fiddler's contest be sure to have this trio on hand."

*****
DEATH RECORD INDEX

Polk Harris died June 17, 1925 in Longview, Gregg County, Texas.  He is buried in Section 2, Harris Plot, White Oak Cemetery between Longview and Gladewater.  His death certificate number is 21992, but I have not seen a copy of that.

*****
Probably the most extensive comentary on Harris was provided by J. B. Cranfill in 1926 newspaper clippings from the Dallas newspapers.  Here are some excerpts from Cranfill's writings in which he talks about J. K. P. Harris.

"One of the dearest friends I ever had was Judge F. M. Etheridge, who passed away in Dallas last January.  He knew how greatly I loved the old fiddle music and he, who loved it as well as I, often brought fiddlers to Dallas.  Among those he invited as his guests was Polk Harris and we spent an evening hearing Harris play.  He was then 75 years old and died last year at Longview at the age of 79.  Hee was a marvelous performer— one of the best I ever heard.  He was a wizard with the fiddle bow and his repertoire was limitless.  As we sat there I would ask him from time to time, "Mr. Harris, can you play this tune?" and "Mr. Harris, can you play that tune?"  And finally, he turned to me with a smile and said: "Doctor, I can play them all.  Just give me time."  [NOTE: the latter remark was also quoted by J. Olcutt Sanders in his article "Honor the Fiddler!" (Texian Stomping Grounds, Austin, 1941).]

"Eck Robertson is still a yound man being now only 33 so he did not play with Polk Harris until the latter had become rather an old man.  Eck is lavish in his praise of Mr. Harris.  It is a fact, however, that once in an old fiddlers' contest, in which both Polk Harris and Bob Pyron particpated, Bob took the highest honors.  In a letter to me concerning this contest Bob says: "I won the prize once in Sweetwater. There were 21 of us old fiddlers.  Polk Harris was running me neck and neck.  Somehow, I got off in the final finish and played 'Picking the Devil's Eyes Out' and 'Forked Deer' and 'Hell Among the Yearlings,' and caught the judges and won first prize.  I always felt bad about it as I think Polk Harris was the best that ever lived and one of the noblest men too."

"When Polk Harris was on his deathbed he gave his wonderful violin to Mrs. Franklin Martin of Longview, who is herself not only a fiddler of note but is also an artist in the classical violin music.  She is withal a most charming and highly cultured woman."

"The following from a Longview paper gives an interesting story concerning this gift:

'What sweeter sentiment could there be than that which prompts an old musician to leave his cherished instrument to the daughter of a life-long friend and fellow musician with whom he has played his lovely music for a long number of years and what rarer gift could one imagine than a mellow-toned violin whose history dates back more than 100 years and is traced across the peaceful blue waters of the Mediterranean and there is lost-- perhaps in a famous old studio of Genoa or in some quiet cote nestled on the side of the towering Alps? Such is the gift recently received by Mrs. Franklin Martin of this city from J. K. Polk Harris, champion fiddler and life-long friend of Mrs. Martin's father, the late L. G. Gal.'"

"Two monuments are in prospect, one to the Texas trail drivers and the other to the pioneer women.  I suggest a third--  this one to the oldtime fiddlers.  If I was called upon to choose the name of this monument I would ... a photograph of Polk Harris, who died a year ago at [Long]view, at 79, and who was in ... respects the king of the old-time fiddlers."

 

*****

These were footnotes—I accidentally deleted the reference numbers from the text excepts above.

from Gregg Co. Genealogical Society. Gregg Co. Texas Cemeteries with western Upshur Co.  Vol. 5  Shreveport, LA:  J. & W. Enterprises, 1997.

Hood County Marriages 1875 - 1900.  Hood Co. Genealogical Society, 1983, p. 15.

Date of death from Death Record Index.