The Robert Johnson Burial

Taken Largely From Ms. Rosie Estridge’s Last Interview – Robert Johnson’s Final Moments.

Some of us – well, most of us, have heard the story.

Thanks in large part to the research and dedication of Steve LaVere, we know that Robert Johnson is buried in that little church graveyard outside Greenwood on Money Road.  We know he was buried beneath the old pecan tree.  We know that Tom Estridge was hired to dig the grave, and that his wife, Rosie, brought him water on that hot August day.  But is that all there is of the story?  Where are all the details?  Turns out there is more.

For one, there is still some dispute as to where Robert Johnson died.  Yes, I know, he was poisoned…blah blah blah.  But where?  I heard the tales – he died in so-and-so’s arms, he was howling like a dog, the devil got a hold of him… but where idd he die?  It all depends on who you ask.  One of the more commonly accepted answers is in Baptist Town.  Of course, this is a black neighborhood in Greenwood, and according to HoneyBoy Edwards, he died here at 109 Young Street.  This house has been torn down, and a new one is built in its place.  However, I have trouble with Mr. Edwards recollection.

I believe Johnson – despite the huge sign now erected in Baptist town in his honor – did not die on Young Street.  The Bar –

Map of 109 Young Street Baptist Town

Three Forks, where Robert was allegedly poisoned – was where Route 82 intersects with 49E.  From there to Baptist Town in a long haul.  However, Money Road is right up the street – as is the Star of the West Plantation.  According to other witnesses all tied on to the Rosie Estridge interview, Johnson died in a house due south on the cemetery church yard he was buried in.  In fact, if you stand at his grave and look south, you will see a cotton gin right off of Wade Plantation Road.  Of course, Luther Wade was the owner of the Star of the West Plantation.  Witnesses say houses once stood near that cotton gin – and it was in one of these houses that Johnson died in.

According to Ms. Estridge, he was carried to Tush Hog’s house where he was laid down.  Tush Hog saw to Robert Johnson, because Johnson had been romantically involved with Tush’s daughter (“little girl” as Ms. Estridge puts it).   There is speculation that this was the “jealous bar owner” that poisoned RJ, but that is not the case.  A “Tush Hog” has various meanings and origins; in modern times, it refers to a kind of lower income guy who likes to fight and cause problems.  Back in the 20’s and 30’s, the term had more to do with a man who had a kind of moral authority, and could back it up by his physical size.  In other words, a type of daily bouncer.  When Johnson finally died, “J.P.” the truck driver was told by Luther Wade to go get a county coffin from the county barn – which was very close to the plantation at the time.  Tom Estridge was then instructed to dig the grave where RJ would be laid to rest.

Here’s some more details often left out.  Ms. Estridge had been married to Tom only about a week when he was hired to dig the grave (i use “hired” loosely here – he was more or less told).  Rosie, 21 at the time – along with two other women – took water to Tom while he was digging, because it was a hot August day. The grave that was dug for Robert was a standard grave, in that it was at least 6 feet deep.  There has been speculation he was buried in a shallow grave, but that is not the case – the grave was at least 6 -7 feet in depth.  Ms. Estridge also “refused” to let the coffin be put in the ground without a preacher there to emit the body to the ground.  Ms. Estridge went and got Jack Star, or as she calls him, “Jack Leg Preacher”, to come and emit Robert’s body to the ground.  A song – a Hymn most likely – was definitely sung, and some words were said before Robert was laid to rest.

Just more details in the old Robert Johnson mystery!  Enjoy!

5 Comments to “The Robert Johnson Burial”

  • Great stuff. The “poisoned” story seems increasingly unlikely. Now that you’ve established the burial and death site, the note on the back of the death certificate isn’t so far-fetched. I’d trust the comments of a county worker over the mythology created by Honeyboy Edwards, which doesn’t hold up.

    Did Estridge work on the plantation?

  • […] still unsolved circumstances at the young age of 27. There has been a widely accepted but hotly contested theory that the musical legend was poisoned by a jealous husband and spent days dying. With likely […]

  • me thinks robert johnson unfortunately drank some bad whiskey
    and suffered for days.not poisoned as what may sell books.
    johnson&allthose early day phonographed recorders were dirt poor
    pioneers of the songs of black folks,invented,created by
    black folks as away to vent their sorrows cuz they were
    legaly mistreated like cattle.the pressures of life squeezed those gutbucket
    blues from their dime-a dozen souls like pus.yes,isuppose,all ethnic groups have suffered&adjusted in some way under the boot of history&power.but these blues were
    invented,created&barely developed&never knew its power of work song memories ,lyrics,sensuality,struggles,gamblingon striving as a race
    its secret guitar-harmonica,chickenwire-diary now opened like 7-eleven.
    and yes every ethnic grouphas its god productive people and every race
    has its low-life morons to not feel sorry for.from atleast the 14th century(some12-15million died in slavery)as
    blacks moaned the its a commercial delight that blacks have abandoned&other ethnic groups have picked up&run with it.
    ist it ashame?yes,but thats how evolution rolls.
    long live theblues&its precious memories&pioneers.
    a blues black guy from hazelhurst,mississippi,

  • the blues
    a priceless collection of
    black history&art

  • Rosie Eskridge told me and Ace Atkins the same story in 2001 as she told Lavere. It all fits. and matches the backside of the death certificate I found in 1996.. Jim Moore was a real resident of Wade’s plantation, Rosie said, and he was the informant for the death certificate in the front side. Rosie said RJ came to the plantation with one of Tush Hog’s daughters and he came in from Tunica County with her, where Robinsonville was located and RJ’s mother lived..Moore was chosen apparently by Tush Hog who had been on the plantation when Rosie moved there in 1932 to be the go-between with him and Mr. Wade in telling Wade RJ had died at this home that morning.. When Carrie Harris, RJ’s half sister asked for an investigation by the state,. Ms Jordan, the county registrfar, went to Wade’s and talked to him and interviewed a Negro woman, apparently Tush Hog’s wife for information on RJ. Tush Hoig’s daughter and probably Tush Hog brough RJ from Baptist Town the night before he died to the Wade plantation and their house as he was critically ill and he died there the next morning.. Rosie said he was brought there the night before he died.. Tush Hog only sharecropped one year on wade’s and then moved. Noone knew his last name..But Honeyboy was wrong when he said in the 1991 movie on RJ that he died in Baptist town in Greenwood. The dc said he died “outside Grfeenwood.” Rosie said Jim Moore moved off the plantation in the 1970s or a few years later and had died, she had heard. .gdw

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