Battle to fight disease riding into Vicksburg

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 26, 2003

Phil Thomas sports a Davy Crockett-style raccoon hat while in Vicksburg Tuesday.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[6/25/03]Phil Thomas of Linden, Tenn., called his visit to Vicksburg Tuesday a Battle of Vicksburg.

But his battle is not like the one in 1863 that ended with Union forces marching into the city on July 4. Rather his battle is for local help with organizing what he calls the Davy Crockett Charity Ride that will take place in November and December.

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On that ride, the songwriter and storyteller plans a series of 20-mile trail rides for horses, bicycles, walkers and others in communities in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas from Lawrenceburg, Tenn., at Davy Crockett State Park to the Alamo in San Antonio. The purpose of the 51-day journey across four states is to raise money for and raise awareness of Down Syndrome, the disorder that afflicts his grandson, an eighth-generation Texan and resident of Austin.

“Last Fourth of July, I went to Austin to visit my grandson, Van Warden,” said Thomas, a former Mississippi State football quarterback.

While on that visit, he and his grandson visited the Alamo where Crockett and 189 other defenders gave their lives in the cause of Texas independence against an army of Mexicans.

“I felt I had a calling to do this,” he said.

As now conceived, the charity ride will consist of a series of 20-mile loop trail rides in 31 communities along the trail Crockett and his Tennessee volunteers may have taken in 1835 from his home near Lawrenceburg to the abandoned Mexican misson-turned-fort where the defenders died in 1836.

In each of the communities, Thomas said he needs a place for the trail riders to park their horse trailers and tow vehicles and use as a base. At that site, or maybe one close by, he plans to have music performed by local groups and any of his friends from the national music business that he can convince to participate.

And Thomas has many friends in the business. Following a career in coaching high school football in Memphis, Thomas moved his family to Linden and got into the business of writing songs. One of his first efforts was “Colorado Cool-Aid” which was the flip side of Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It.” He went on to write songs for other notables, including George Travis, Randy Travis, Barbara Mandrell and Alabama.

Although the charity ride will not be in Vicksburg until Nov. 21, Thomas said he needs a local coordinator and a trail boss to help organize the events here. The two local helpers will also help recruit local talent for entertainment and to recruit members of local riding clubs to participate in the 20-mile ride.

He said the money for Down Syndrome research is to be raised from the $20 entry fees charged the riders or their sponsors who would be asked to pay $1 per mile to sponsor a rider.

“I know it’s during deer season,” Thomas said. “I’m a deer hunter myself.

Although he’s giving up 51 days of his life, all he’s asking riders to do is give up one day.

“When you have Down Syndrome, you wake up with it every day,” he said.

Besides, his grandson said, “Granddad, I’ll be at the Alamo waiting for you.”

“You can’t turn that down,” Thomas said.