By Timothy J. O'Brien and David A. Ensminger 17 May 2013
ONE East Texas Cotton Picking Blues
The blues is born with you. When you born in this world, you were born with the blues. Lightnin’ Hopkins, 1967
Hopkins’s rural roots exposed him to what would become his lifelong hobby—fishing: “I was born down by the river, they call it Warren’s Bottom.” “I was born on the banks of the river, that’s the reason I’m a fisherman from my heart. I was born on the banks of the river that’s true, water flowing I guess… Cuz that was on the Red River.” Unfortunately for Sam Hopkins and his family, the calming and lazy flowing river through Leon County did nothing to soothe Abe Hopkins’s wild ways. After he fathered a family, Abe Hopkins continued drinking, gambling, and shooting guns. Sometimes the elder Hopkins’s gambling winnings were paid in cotton. Another time his winnings amounted to a mule and a wagon.
Sam Hopkins might have been old enough to notice friction between his mother and father due to his father’s carousing, because later he recorded a song called “Mama and Papa Hopkins”:
I wonder why my mama don’t love my papa no more
I guess my daddy been doing something wrong…
Oh yea caused my mom’s heart to ruin
In 1915, when Hopkins was about three years old, his father was murdered. Minus a breadwinner, the Hopkinses’ family life quickly became hardscrabble. His mother Frances kept the family mended and supported as best she could, but she soon came to understand the difficulty of feeding and clothing five children all by herself. In addition to the dangerous racial climate, Frances lived in a time when women suffered second-class citizenship. For example, a nearby newspaper, the Grapeland Messenger, carried an item on May 20, 1915, that read, “Hats off to Houston! She is the first city in Texas to start an organized movement against women’s suffrage.” Unfortunately, women like Frances were years away from benefiting from the freedoms promoted and pioneered by suffragettes.