Monday, March 7, 2011

Joe Cain the man that revived Mardi Gras in Mobile after the Civil War

Joe Cain in Mobile ca. 1866 as "Slacabamorinico"

Yesterday in Mobile was Joe Cain Day named after Joseph Stillwell Cain, Jr. (Joe Cain) (October 10, 1832 – April 17, 1904) Cain is credited with the rebirth of Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile, Alabama, stopped due to the Civil War. In 1867, following the American Civil War and while Mobile was still under Union occupation, Joe Cain paraded through the streets of Mobile, dressed in improvised costume depicting a fictional Chickasaw chief named Slacabamorinico. The choice was a backhanded insult to the Union forces in that the Chickasaw tribe had never been defeated in war. Joe was joined by six other Confederate veterans, parading in a decorated coal wagon, playing drums and horns, and the group became the "L. C. Minstrel Band", now commonly referred to as the "Lost Cause Minstrels" of Mobile.

Joseph Stillwell Cain, Jr. was born on October 10, 1832, along Dauphin Street in Mobile, Alabama. He was a son of Joseph Cain, Sr. (1799-1856) and Julia Ann Turner (1795-1877). Joe Cain (junior) married Elizabeth Alabama Rabby (1835-1907). He helped to organize the T.D.S. (Tea Drinker’s Society), one of Mobile's mystic societies, in 1846; however, their banquets were part of Mobile's New Year's Eve celebrations, rather than being held on Mardi Gras day. Other groups had developed Mardi Gras parades, but the Civil War had brought them to a halt. Joe Cain knew however, that to openly voice any opposition to the occupation of Mobile by the Union troops would be viewed technically, as treason. The mental drain, however, had to be stopped, and the spirit and pride of the Mobilians has to be restored.

It was against this back drop that Cain, in 1866, decided the best way to accomplish this renaissance of the spirit, was to revitalize the Kraft parade, the celebration of Mardi Gras in Mobile, which had been halted during the conflict. One night, he led a group of revelers in a parade through the city, using a "borrowed" coal wagon and dressed in improvised costumes depicting a Chickasaw Indian chief from the local Wragg Swamp, he called himself Chief Slacabamorinico.The next year 1867 He conceived the fictional character of Chief Slacabamorinico this time in New Orleans as he had done in Mobile years before ("slaka-BAM orin-ah-CO") while he was working as a clerk at the city market: he planned to make him a mighty Chickasaw, a tribe never defeated by Federal forces.

The chief, as Cain in costume with a native skirt and feathered headdress, paraded through the city streets on Mardi Gras day in 1866, irreverently celebrating the day in front of the occupying Union Army troops.

The following year (1867), a band of fellow Confederate Rebel veterans (including Thomas Burke, Rutledge Parham, John Payne, John Bohanan, Barney O'Rourke, and John Maguire) accompanied Joe Cain as "Old Slac" riding through town on a decorated coal wagon, playing horns and drums, parading and celebrating. The group became known as the "Lost Cause Minstrels" in Mobile.

The parade was the origin of the Order of Myths (OOM) parade, the final parade each year, on Fat Tuesday in Mobile. Joe Cain founded many of the mystic societies, and he built a tradition of Mobile's Mardi Gras parades.

Joe Cain, who had played Old Slac until 1879, died in 1904 and was buried in the fishing village of Bayou La Batre (Alabama) made famous by the 1994 film Forrest Gump. Julian Lee "Judy" Rayford arranged to have Joe Cain reburied in Mobile's Church Street Graveyard in 1966, and he established Joe Cain Day in 1967 by walking at the head of a jazz funeral down Government Street to the cemetery.

Joseph Stillwell Cain was a store clerk in Mobile, Alabama in 1865

Joe Cain's wife, Elizabeth Alabama Rabby Cain, died 3 years later, in 1907 at Bayou La Batre, and she is also re-buried, beside him.

Joe Cain is buried in the Historic Church Street Graveyard in downtown Mobile, Alabama. His gravestone carries the inscription:

Here lies old Joe Cain

The heart and soul of Mardi Gras in Mobile

Joseph Stillwell Cain

Slacabamorinico - Old Slac

1832 - 1904

In 1866 (sic.), Joe Cain dressed as a mythical Chickasaw Chief, and might have seemed comic - but certain perceptive ones realized he represented the epitome of victory - for the Chickasaws were never defeated in all their history. So Joe Cain, with his masquerade, lifted this region from despair and revived the ancient French observance of Boeuf Gras - now known in Mobile as Mardi Gras - thus inaugurating the dispute as to who had Mardi Gras first - Mobile or New Orleans?

Mobile had it first, but New Orleans was the first to call its carnival Mardi Gras...

The Boeuf Gras Society was already 150 years old in 1861, when it disbanded because of the war...

According to tradition - Joe Cain was the first folly to chase the devil round a stump...

Joe Cain founded the Tea Drinkers in 1846...

Here lies, also, Joe Cain's beloved Wife

Elizabeth Rabby Cain

1835 - 1907

Joe Cain's gravestone in the Church Street Cemetery, Mobile, AL

The Sunday before Fat Tuesday, Joe Cain Day is celebrated as part of the scheduled Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile, with its center being the Joe Cain Procession (never called a parade). This has been called “The People’s Parade” because it is performed by citizens without being run by a specific Mardi Gras krewe. Originally, anybody who showed up at the parade start on Sunday morning could join in with whatever makeshift float they could cobble together. Eventually, the sheer size and the city's desire to have all the Carnival parades conform to the same set of rules forced the organizers to limit the participants to a preset limit. The parade is preceded with the visit of the “Cain's Merry Widows” to the gravesite of their “departed husband” (described below). And then, following their traditional toast the "Here's to Joe" the red-clad Mistresses of Joe Cain follow close behind his coal wagon moaning, "He loved us best!"

Julian Lee “Judy” Rayford established Joe Cain Day in 1967 by walking at the head of a jazz funeral, along with his beloved dog Rosie (the only dog to ever lead a Mardi Gras parade in Mobile) down Government Street to the Church Street Graveyard, where he had arranged to have Joe Cain and his wife reburied in 1966. When Joe Cain was disinterred from Bayou La Batre, Julian brought Joe Cain's skull back to Mobile in the pocket of his coat, and that is considered to be the first “passing of the feathers” to the next person to wear the headdress in Mardi Gras, as Slacabamorinico, chief of the Chickasaw.

The feathers were passed in 1970 to Fireman J.B. "Red" Foster who, attired in Plains Indian fashion, led the procession for 16 years. He then passed the feathers, tomahawk and peace pipe to author, historian, public relations, marketing professional and pastor, Bennett Wayne Dean Sr. in 1985. Old Slac IV "hisself" marked his 25th anniversary under the feathers during Joe Cain Day in 2010.

Joe Cain in Mobile ca. 1866 as "Slacabamorinico"

The impression that the celebration had on a couple of visitors from California resulted in Joe Cain Days being officially recognized, in 1993, as a sister celebration by the Joe Cain Society of California in Nevada City, California each Mardi Gras.

The Mardi Gras mystic society of "Cain’s Merry Widows" (a women's mystic society) was founded in 1974 in Mobile, Alabama. Each Mardi Gras, on Joe Cain Day (the Sunday before Fat Tuesday), members of this society dress in funereal black with veils, lay a wreath at Cain’s burial site in Church Street Graveyard to wail over their “departed husband’s” grave, then travel to Joe Cain’s house on Augusta Street to offer a toast and eulogy to their “beloved Joe,“ continuously arguing over which widow was his favorite.

Joe Cain as Slackabamarinico & one of his Merry Widows at the Mardi Gras Museum in Mobile, AL

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