The Ghost of Matagorda Plantation

This post is about the grandson of the famous Confederate General, John Bell Hood.

Matagorda in winter.

Matagorda in winter.

Farmer and former Confederate, David M. Russell, was a wealthy planter who owned a large plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi. In 1879, he adopted one of John Bell Hood’s orphans after both parents died in New Orleans of yellow fever. A call was put out by friends and this boy, John Jr., and nine other siblings (including three sets of twins) were adopted by families across the southern and northeastern United States.

John Bell Hood, Jr. was raised on Matagorda Plantation during the late 1800s by Colonel Russell. When the aging “Colonel” David Russell passed away in the late 1910s, John, Jr. married Russell’s second and much younger wife, Maggie. After John took over the plantation, it continued to prosper into the 1920s. For John and his once-stepmother/now-wife, they were living the American dream.

Maggie, Robin, John Jr and John III

Maggie, Robin, John Jr and John III

By the mid-1920s, the couple had two young boys, John Bell Hood III, and James – affectionately known as Robin (Hood). But tragedy struck the family during the 1930s. While playing near some farming equipment, the older boy John III, was mangled to death. He was less than ten years old. The family was devastated.

The boy’s mother, Maggie, was originally from Boston. She married Mr. Russell after first becoming his nurse, as he was suffering from an illness at the time. He died a few years later and left everything to John, Jr., who promptly married his adoptive father’s widow.

Maggie was a very religious woman – a devout Catholic, and she had one room in the Matagorda mansion made into a chapel. At this chapel, she encouraged young Robin to pray for his older brother for an hour each day.

At fourteen, Robin was sent away to boarding school in Arizona. It was a ranch school for boys where they would learn prep courses and also hands-on ranching ways and sports. At the start of World War II, the family and Robin changed his given name to that of his dead older brother, John Bell Hood III. And so when he volunteered for the draft and also on his Veteran grave marker, the name reads that of his deceased older brother:  John Bell Hood III.

Yearbook photo, 1930s. Fresnal Ranch School for Boys. Tucson, AZ.

Robin, 1930s (yearbook photo). Fresnal Ranch School for Boys. Tucson, AZ.

Robin had served with distinction during World War Two. After the war, the big Matagorda Plantation had prospered for a while, but the family’s fortunes had diminished. Robin’s father, John Jr., had died in 1947 at age 75. His mother, Maggie, was also gone. With just Robin left, the plantation and farm began its decline into the 1960s. And so did Robin’s mind. By the late 1960’s, his mental state had begun to decline. But even during the 1950’s, neighbors warned their boys to stay away from Matagorda because “Robin is crazy”. Rumors like these floated across the countryside of northwestern Mississippi near Clarksdale.

By Christmas of 1968, Robin had been fully committed to Whitfield State Insane Hospital as it was then called, near Jackson. It was and is a beautiful place. The one-hundred year-old oak trees that line Old Whitfield Road are symbolic of the peace and serenity which one would hope to receive at the equally beautiful hospital on its magnificent grounds with its colonial style buildings and rolling landscapes.

In 1975-6, Robin whether cured or not, was released by the hospital. He returned to his land, now just a house and about twenty acres – the family was flat broke. What had been sold off by administrators was to help pay taxes and debts.

Robin was often spotted wandering and shadowing the property into the 1980s. Robin aka John Bell Hood III, the grandson of the famous Confederate general, died at an old folks home in Mississippi in 1987 at age 60.

RIP Robin.

RIP Robin.