Its been fifty years since the Country song artist Bobbie Gentry wrote the song “Ode to Billy Joe” .. Many of us can still hear the southern music and lyrics playing in our head, June 3rd marked the anniversary of the songs release, the first verse of the song brings back many haunting images ;
It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day
I was out choppin’ cotton, and my brother was balin’ hay
And at dinner time we stopped and walked back to the house to eat
And mama hollered out the back door, y’all, remember to wipe your feet
And then she said, I got some news this mornin’ from Choctaw Ridge
Today, Billy Joe MacAllister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge..
Gentry lived as a young girl in Chickasaw county Mississippi, between the Yazoo and Tallahatchie rivers. It was there they she learned of the death of a close friend Billy Joe McAllister. The death of the young Billy Joe sent shock waves through Chickasaw County. Young McAllister was the son of a local farmer who owned a large cotton plantation on the Yazoo river deep in delta country, and she was also the nephew of a Mississippi state Senator Isaiah Luther McAllister.
When the song “Ode to Billy” hit the charts in 1967, it took peoples imaginations by storm. And conversations erupted around water coolers throughout the nation. Everyone wanted to know what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge in Mississippi. Gentry’s song held bits and piece of a puzzle and everyone knew it. In the fourth verse of the song says;
And mama said to me, child, what’s happened to your appetite?
I’ve been cookin’ all morning, and you haven’t touched a single bite
That nice young preacher, Brother Taylor, dropped by today
Said he’d be pleased to have dinner on Sunday, oh, by the way
He said he saw a girl that looked a lot like you up on Choctaw Ridge
And she and Billy Joe was throwing somethin’ off the Tallahatchie Bridge
Many people have speculated over the last fifty years, who Billy Joe McAllister really was and why the enigmatic character the Gentry talks about, who accompanied Billy Joe out onto the Tallahatchie Bridge. The entire incident was completely forgotten to fifty years of history and nearly washed away and buried in the muddy slow moving Tallahatchie River. In 1976 a movie was released based on the song “Ode to Billy Joe”.. Then somewhere out on the internet, an anonymous writer tells us more of the story.. This clue was found on the IMDB website without a writers name.
At last, we’re given the answers to the questions raised by the haunting 1967 Bobbie Gentry song of the same title. Eighteen- year-old Billy Joe McAllister is in love with Bobbie Lee, but her father refuses to allow her to receive gentlemen callers before she’s sixteen. In the Mississippi Delta, in a time before the boondocks had seen television and indoor plumbing, a young man’s fancy turns constantly to thoughts of love. Billy Joe is no different in this regard and his persistence is making it difficult for Bobbie Lee to maintain her virtue (the dog-earred issues of “Torrid Romance” don’t help either). Perhaps an indictment of the artificial conventions of society, the film demonstrates the tragic consequences of a young couple’s first awkward grapplings with love and sex. As Bobbie Lee says shortly after Billy Joe’s lifeless body is dragged from the Tallahatchie River, “What do I know of love… I’m only a child.” Yet, there seems little doubt that what she feels for the dead boy..
On June 03rd 2018, early in the morning, exactly fifty one years to the day. A young man, probably about the same age as young Billy Joe prior to his death stepped upon the banks of the Tallahatchie river with his fishing pole in search of catfish. He casted his hook deep into the muddy river, and immediately hooked a heavy object. As he reeled it into shore, he realized that weight on the end of his line was not a cat fish, or any other fish for that matter. What he reeled in, was an old leather case. A case, which had probably been preserved under the mud of the Tallahatchie. Recent heavy rains may have uncovered the case. Suspecting that the leather case may have contained some unknown treasure, maybe gold, or old money, the young man took the case home with him. As he washed it off he could see the initials BJM etched in the side of the case deep into the leather. News got around quickly that the case probably once belong to Billy Joe McAllister. It was at this point that the Chickasaw County Sheriffs Department became involved, and the leather case was turned over to the Sheriff’s department for closer examination.
Certain unnamed members of the Sheriffs Department had parents and grand parents who recalled the haunting Tallahatchie incident, and many suspected that foul play was to blame for the death of Billy Joe. One senior member of the Chickasaw Sheriff’s department recalled talking to the one time Pastor of the Chickasaw Baptist Community church Joe Shelby, who Gentry described as the “young Preacher Brother Taylor” in her song Ode to Billy Joe, who said many years after; “I always knew that something deeply disturbing had occurred on the Tallahatchie Bridge, up on Choctaw Ridge in 67, but I could never prove it. Pastor Shelby then stated, ” I knew that Bobbie Lee Hartley had something to do with it”. The leather case is now in the hands of the Mississippi state crime lab. The Sheriffs department is keeping tight wraps on the case and Bobby Gentry could not be reached for comment.
The above story is fiction….