On a cold February day in 2014, my darling sister Gwen in New Mexico called me up to tell me she had a Facebook friend request from a Joaquim in Brazil. I asked her if she was going to accept it and she replied, “That’s why I’m calling you.” I responded, “Why are you asking me?” She said, “Because he is one of your friends.” Then it hit me just who she was talking about.
I had received a friend request from him at one time and usually just deleted them except this guy was wearing a Confederate officer’s uniform. It was not a cheap knockoff costume. I saw he had photos of himself in western attire as well. Looking further I saw he was an accountant and financial advisor. There was too much on his page for him to be a scammer, so I accepted his request.
Some of these Brazilians built a Western town and held gunfights while filming them. In one, Joaquim was the sheriff taking on the outlaws. Since it is illegal to own firearms in Brazil, they had wooden guns and had added the sound of gunfire to the film.
Gwen said she was not going to accept his friend request and that was that. She evidently had a change of heart and friended him. Another friend of mine and Joaquim, Edivaldo had also “friended” up with her. He is into American cowboy culture big time. At some point she “friended” up with Roberto Cullen. Roberto’s ancestor Robert Cullen was in Greeneville with Morgan.
Several months passed and Gwen called me up wanting to know if I had ever heard of the “Confederadoes of Brazil?” I told her yes, I had. She seemed surprised wanting to know just how I knew about them. I told her that in 1993, while living outside of Charleston, South Carolina, I happened upon a book in local shop titled, “The Lost Colony of the Confederacy” by Eugene Harter. I must confess, just what possessed me to purchase and read that book I cannot say. I found it fascinating, even harboring a dream of visiting the places in the book one day. I never dared think that I actually ever could.
I told her I knew they have an annual celebration that is one of the largest in Brazil and they have the largest Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp outside the U.S. She said the Brazilians had invited her and Rex to the festival. I asked if she was going and she said, “no.” As we talked in the coming weeks, she brought up Brazil and going to the festival. After a few months, they were seriously thinking about going.
Finally, they were going! Roberto offered for them to stay in his high-rise apartment in Americana and he would stay at his ancestor’s farm which is still in the family. Gwen said she had always wanted to visit Machu Picchu in Peru and they were going there first, then on to Brazil.
When I started publishing the Civil War magazines my darling sister subscribed but it was Rex who read them. Not only did it spark an interest in the Civil War but in working on his genealogy. Rex found he had a Confederate ancestor who had died in the Union’s POW camp at Point Lookout, Maryland. He decided to visit the SCV Camp in Amarillo, Texas. There he became part of a great group of people, some who were reenactors with a light artillery gun crew. They invited Rex along for a weekend and he was hooked. He also developed a Western persona and looked a lot like Woodrow Call in Lonesome Dove.
Rex was a founding member of a gunfighting group and before long he was showing up on calendars and in advertising for New Mexico tourism. He and Gwen started appearing as extras in westerns being filmed in New Mexico. The Brazilians were not only getting another Confederate, but they were also getting a real American cowboy.
Gwen and Rex made the trip to Brazil in 2015. They were treated like royalty by the Brazilians. They were wined and dined, hosted and toasted, civic clubs honored them, they were on TV and in newspapers. They were on the stage at the festival. It was just a lifetime event to be honored in such a large way by so large an assembly of people. A large group had met them at the airport, and a caravan escorted them back to leave. A lot of tears were shed as they parted with their new Brazilian family. The Brazilians told Gwen, “Please come back next year, but bring Tim Massey.”
Gwen told me as soon as they arrived home that they were going back the next year, and I was too. I didn’t have any say so in the matter, I was going. I had a few hoops to jump through over the course of the year — passport, apply for a visa, learn some Portuguese.
I had three books on the Confederados by that time in my library, so in the year leading up to the trip, I reread them. I researched the families that had made the 5,000 mile move after the war. I looked up military, census, and other records. I copied newspaper articles about them from 1865 up through 2015. I even found death notices and articles in Confederate Veteran Magazines. Since I was already friends with some of the descendants through social media, I felt a bond because I knew their family histories. Three of these men had been in Greeneville with Morgan and others served in East Tennessee with Longstreet. They were here! The bonds grew tighter.
The year quickly few by and I drove out to Gwen and Rex’s to be there for Rawhide Days in Tucumcari and so we could fly out together. We arrived in the wee hours at the Amarillo, Texas airport for our flight to Houston, Fort Lauderdale and on to Brazil. It was the day of the 2016 flooding in Houston and we were delayed again and again. Finally, we were routed to Denver, to San Francisco, then Fort Lauderdale. This was a 13-hour delay on the ground and in the air. We finally arrived in Brazil in the late evening instead of the early morning. It was a relief to finally be off the plane. The only good thing about this misadventure was Azul Airlines upgraded our fight accommodations to first class.
We spent a few days touring in Brazil before going to the cemetery where the oft pictured monument is located and the festival is held. The festival was on Sunday and we were there on Saturday to help prepare for the coming activities. I let Gwen and Rex help while I explored and took a ton of pictures. Words fail to come when describing the stage area or the backdrop going up with the U.S. and Brazilian flags. I was at a loss seeing the monument for the first time. Seeing something in pictures and seeing it in person are two vastly different effects. I remember feeling a deep reverence as I approached the obelisk with all the surnames of the American immigrants. I spent some time reading the names. These were not just individuals, these were families, with strong ties both in Brazil and the U.S.
I could see the nearby chapel and the cemetery beyond. I felt a deep sense of awe, of peace and serenity as I approached the chapel. Walking into the cemetery, members of the family organization that oversee the cemetery and festival were busy placing Confederate flags on every grave. As I looked up at the palm trees, I noticed intermixed between them those Southern pines. It is truly a patch of paradise on earth.
As I walked through the cemetery, I realized I knew these people, Norris, Whitaker, Cullen, the Pyles brothers, and their families were here. I knew their family stories, their war record, and their descendants. It was as if I had been here before, as if they were my ancestors. I would recognize a surname and then start looking for the immigrants, those who chose to come here 150 years ago. In the two days at the cemetery, I was repeatedly drawn back into the rows of sleeping Southerners. I read the stones and walked, photographed and filmed. It is a place like no other and words cannot describe the feeling. As I noted last week, Jimmy Carter visited here in 1972 and was quoted as saying with tears in his eyes, “These are our people.” I couldn’t say it any better.
Sunday morning, we arrived at the cemetery hours before the gates opened. I again walked in the cemetery and filmed those preparing for the busy day. I was asked to represent the United States in the opening ceremonies and to raise the U.S. flag. Other dignitaries including the mayor and governor raised the local and state flags. It was a long ceremony which featured the Brazilian national anthem just before the flags were hoisted.
The Brazilians call the festival “the party” and for sure it is a party from beginning to end. It is a high octane roller coaster that honors the memory of their ancestors that left their homes in the states and settled here. Let there be no doubt, they are proud of and honor their Confederate ancestors! They are proud of that Rebel blood that courses through their veins and it shows. There is no racism in Brazil.
As the southern culture theme flowed for the day, music was in English with country music big here. Dixie was the theme of the day. Dancers wore hoop skirts and men wore Confederate uniforms. Others danced the Texas two-step to country music by Johnny Voxx. All the Southern states were honored and recognized with a soldier in uniform carrying the state flag. Young ladies in yellow hoop skirts with each Southern U.S. state bird and flower embroidered on it accompanied the soldier with that state’s flag.
Southern fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, corn on the cob, and watermelon were the foods of choice. In the center, a tent sold Confederate flag and U.S. flag themed items at a brisk clip all day. The food or other items could only be purchased with Confederate money. Yes, you had to exchange your cash for Confederate currency as you entered the gate. The only notes the vendors would accept were the Confederate ones.
Another fun memory for me was singing on stage with Johnny Voxx. Johnny is the most popular Country Music artist in Brazil. He and Gwen became friends the prior year, and I told him I would like to sing with him. He told me we would sing “Proud Mary” together which he dedicated to my sister. He let me sing lead, and to be honest, I always shied away from singing out loud in public, so as they say, I just let it rip. I was dressed in western attire for the singing gig as my Brazilian friends love the Cowboy look.
Another treat was meeting Noemia Cullen, the Queen mother of the Confederados! When the Queen Mother kisses you on the cheek you know you are family. She descends from two of Morgan’s men, Robert Cullen and Zeke Pyles. I approached the young lady wearing the Tennessee dress with our state bird and flower embroidered on it. She did not speak English so I pulled out my drivers license to show her I was from Tennessee.
She was excited to meet a real Tennessean! She and her friends started making selfies with me and we were soon Facebook friends. On my next trip, as word spread I was coming back, she messaged me to tell me that she would be “wearing your state’s dress.” Her name is Laiza Crisp and her ancestor Confederate veteran Richard Crisp (1844-1905) and his father John Hancock Crisp (1799-1888) are buried in the cemetery and moved to Brazil from Tennessee.
It was a long day in the Brazilian heat (April is their August) but a day to long be remembered and one to hopefully repeat. The younger generation doesn’t seem inclined to forget or be ashamed of their history like our youngsters here in the States. It was refreshing to see people of all ages and ethnicities relish in the delight of honoring and celebrating their heritage. It was uplifting to see youngsters participating in the programs and wearing Confederate-themed items. We may be losing our heritage to political correctness here in the States but in Brazil, being a Rebel is a birthright!