Our occupation goes back for years beyond the beginning of business by Fred and Carmack Robertson in 1952, and the construction of the original Trading Post on South Church Street in the wake of the 1953 Tornado that pretty well demolished the north side of our little town. To take an arbitrary point of beginning, the War Between the States. A few of our ancestors had moderate amounts of acreage, but most had just patches and homesteads in the hill country. None of ours made it to owning bottomland back then. Mostly fiercely independent homesteaders, then, but with loyalty to different ones of the more powerful landowners. One set, Lewises and Garners, were from Northeastern McNairy County, Tennessee, and they were Unionists. Moonshining was common among them until their Scottish faith made the transition from Presbyterian loyalty to loyalty to the Church of Christ. Another set, Cherrys, Robertsons, and Austins, were Confederates. Moonshining was common among them as well, in addition to other forms of defiance of an urbanizing United States, until Methodist Holiness culture became envigorated with the Fires of Pentecost. The classic rural Southern dichotomy, then, either straight-laced tee-totalers or hell raising hard drinkers, remained visible until the 1980s. By World War One, our immediate ancestors, one generation back of our little business’s founders’ generation, proudly shed their gray uniform preferences and wore the Brown of the Doughboys and the Blue of the U.S. Navy.
In the 1920s, with a brief infusion of capital into rural West Tennessee and Memphis, the previous generation tried their already experienced bartering skills at commercial mule and horse trading, and even restaurants. Our founders’ father, Luther Robertson, had tried his hand working and living in Memphis, but continued cooking ‘shine in the woods until his violent death in a conflict with a competitor ‘shiner in 1926. An abundance of cars in Memphis proved easy pickings for one of our founders, and he began going the wrong way on that count.
The famous 1930s gangsters were just the top of the surface. With an extremely violent and untamed rural environment, it was easy for almost any of these young men to choose a life of crime. Our late Proprietor Emeritus did just that in the 1930s, and served time in Parchman, Mississippi, at the Tennessee State Prison in Nashville, and the Eastham Unit of the Huntsville, Texas, prison. While one of our founders served honorably in the Signal Corps during World War II, the other one was incarcerated in Texas. We have an 80 page autobiography by our later Proprietor Emeritus with details on these years.
With massive amounts of prayer and political maneuvering by Pentecostal Saints and Ministers, Fred Robertson was released from Eastham in 1944, and received Governors’ pardons from all three States – Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. With both brothers married and raising families, they alternated working in Illinois and Indiana and running what they called Robertson Brothers Trading Post, housed in the little building on South Church beginning in 1953. There was a sufficient amount of capital that folk had spending money and antiques to sell, more people were aware of and interested in collectability of antiques, coins, and even antique guns by the time our founders got the business in operation. In 1957, one of the brothers was involved in a homicide, with strong elements of what some might call aggravated circumstances in the legal field, or Honor Culture in anthropology. There were two separate operations after that, one in Corinth, Mississippi from 1958 until 1968, and the other in our original premises that continued in operation until the early 1990s.
During the 1950s and 1960s, there were plenty of surplus military firearms to trade on. Government 1911s went for $15 to $25 apiece. At the same time, the Marshall-Plan restored industries in Germany were cranking out cheap handguns that went for $10 - $12 apiece. All this in addition to the genuine antiques that could be found in the rural areas, and that would sell for premiums at shows our founder attended with the likes of Vince Shiel, founder of Dayton Gun Headquarters, ancestor company to Jerry’s Sports Center and AcuSport; Mr. George Hoferkamp of Louisville, Kentucky; and Mr. Turner Kirkland, founder of Dixie Gun Works. Perhaps the most important association during those years was with Mr. Saul and Mrs. Lois Eig, founders of Eig Cutlery in Miami, later F.I.E. Corporation, immediate corporate ancestor to European American Armory. There is a discernible shift in 1959 in our advertisements from antiques to straight firearms sales. That exact period saw a drastic increase in white and black civilians arming themselves in Mississippi and also the election of Governor Ross Barnett, whose ambition appeared to be, at one important level, to turn the State of Mississippi into a rogue nuclear state. That happened also to be the same year that our Proprietor Emeritus experienced surrender and salvation, and was baptized by Rev. A.D. Gurley, the very minister who had been so instrumental in procuring the three gubernatorial pardons for him. It has been demonstrated by professional historians that Southern Evangelical white leaders and lay people prevented folk who were most vulnerable to incitement to violence from becoming violent people. A. D. Gurley and most of his Pentecostal colleagues in the South directly confronted the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Councils in their communities and from the pulpits. We can never stress how important this was in maintaining a sane and responsible set of gun dealers before there was a Federal Gun Control Act. And no example we know of supports this more than the life of our deceased Proprietor Emeritus, Fred Robertson.
By the end of 1968, the Gun Control Act was law. Carmack Robertson was simply not a record keeper of any note, and that lack of skill put the Church Street Trading Post out of the Gun Business, By May of 1969, we had completed the new building on Front Street, and the BATF gave Carmack Robertson a choice of having his firearms seized by the federal government, or transferring them all to Fred Robertson. Ironically, Fred Robertson’s meticulous attention to record keeping, and those skills he applied to firearm records began in the Texas State Prison, as he details in his autobiography. We have a few records from 1958, and fairly comprehensive records, such as they are, from 1960 on. We have on many occasions assisted law enforcement in traces and criminal prosecutions with transactions completed before the 1968 Gun Control Act was law. We are always willing and ready to assist law enforcement, especially the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, in their work of assisting gun crime prosecution and generally in keeping bad people from getting guns.
By 1975, Fred Robertson turned more attention to his farm in Finger, Tennessee, back in Northeast McNairy County, ancestral home area to his wife. The elder son, Wayne Robertson, ran the business from 1975 until 1985, when he enrolled in the Humphreys School of Law at the University of Memphis. A considerable amount of credit during those years goes to our Aunt Lorene Lewis Latham, one of two women in our family who serviced in the Women’s Army Corps honorably during World War II. Wayne Robertson was the first in our extended family to practice law, which he did until his untimely death in 1995. We still recall Aunt Lorene holding forth in her lectures to us about the proper ways to enter firearms in our record books, ways to avoid slop, and the correct way to style an invoice and label a package so that (1) it won’t get stolen, and (2) it complies with the law and with carrier regulations.
Our present proprietor has run this business since late 1984. The Good Lord has helped us preserve the business through the deaths of three of its principals, through three divorces, and through three 4-alarm fires of neighboring buildings on Front Street. Our present proprietor is glad to be alive, glad to be happily unmarried, and happy that we have fire-resistant buildings on Front Street now. We are grateful to the men and women of the Henderson Police Department, Chester County Sheriff’s Department, and Henderson Fire Department for their vigilance and tireless service to us and our fellow citizens.Our present proprietor has run this business since late 1984. The Good Lord has helped us preserve the business through the deaths of three of its principals, through three divorces, and through three 4-alarm fires of neighboring buildings on Front Street. Our present proprietor is glad to be alive, glad to be happily married, and happy that we have fire-resistant buildings on Front Street now. We are grateful to the men and women of the Henderson Police Department, Chester County Sheriff’s Department, and Henderson Fire Department for their vigilance and tireless service to us and our fellow citizens.
A word of thanks and commendation is in order to Jason Henry who managed our store well from 1993 until his departure in 2006. Jason continues to serve us and our fellow West Tennesseans as, appropriately, a burglar and fire alarm technician.
At present, we have the best staff we’ve ever had at one time.
We are grateful for our clientele. We have long recognized that gun people – people who use, enjoy, and collect guns – are on the whole as credible a group of people as you will find anywhere in the world. The same is true with coin people. Sadly, we cannot extend that compliment to jewelers.
We are grateful to have honorable and credible competitors. We still grieve the loss of Mr. Marcus “Wink” Winberry of Jackson, Tennessee, and Mr. Don Harville of Corinth, Misssissippi, proprietors of Wink’s Old Time Sporting Goods and Don’s Pawn Shop, respectively. We believe they were the best two among all of us, some 150 dealers in Northeast Mississippi and Southwest Tennessee, and they both were tragically killed in the line of duty – just waiting on customers and going about their business, by the scourge of our nation, young gang members, in Spring of 1996, each of them less than a month apart. These two deaths are the reason that all of us stay armed at all times on our premises. If the best two among us can be killed with impunity, those of us who are of lesser stature than Don and Wink have to be especially careful.
We lament the loss of many of our good old country traders and colleagues over the past few decades. Mr. Dewey Barnes, Mr. Robert and Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, and Mr. Dave Lloyd, all of Corinth, Mississippi, who were all so profoundly and positively influential upon our present proprietor. Mr. Raymond and Mrs. Lorraine Davis, who helped raise us from infants and taught us the virtues of good citizenship. Mr. Buddy Matthews of Sadie Lou Sport Shop, the only storekeeper we know where the burglars called the police under attack from the shop owner who apprehended them on the scene. Mr. Joe Thurman, Mr. Harry Keeton, and Mr. Joe Gallien, all from Middle Tennessee who taught us the art of trading, sometimes at considerable expense to us. Mr. Ross Parker of Lexington, Tennessee, who taught us about knives and people when we were too young and dumb to be very teachable. Mr. Hugh Witherspoon, who told me once when he got the best of me on a knife trade, “son, you’ll outgrow it.” Mr. Henderson Lott, Mr. Monroe Connor, and all the old traders around the Court House in Henderson and Corinth. Mr. Finley Gillham and Mr. Tom Cook from Clifton, Tennessee, who could beat you a little on a trade but still make you like it, and like them, despite them being die-hard yellow dog Democrats. Mr. C.B. Keathley and Mr. Ralph Keathley of Dyer, Tennessee, who taught us on the fine points of old Winchesters. Mr. Jim Clements of Savannah, Tennessee, who taught us the potential of the .32 Caliber Revolver long before anyone conceived of a .32 H&R Magnum or a .327.
We are indebted to Mr. Grant Dunaway of Bemis, Tennessee, long time metal worker and expert rifleman, who taught us, among many other things, the fine points of accuracy and the importance of cleaning a rifle. Mr. James Hollis Glover of Baldwyn, Mississippi, who taught us to strike when the iron is hot on a good buy and to stay calm and keep our sense of humor. Mr. Bud Grissom of the Mississippi Tax Commission who would line us out and make us like it. Judge Howard Bailey from Jacks Creek, Tennessee, who helped keep us straight when we were young. Mr. John Sloan of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation who taught us years ago that regulatory people have a sense of humor. Sheriff Buford Pusser for doing business with us on so many occasions, and for warning us about the State Line criminal element in the 1960s.
We lost our proprietor Emeritus, Fred Robertson, on June 16, 2009. He was 98 years old, still sharp to the last. More than anyone else, he modeled fairness and honesty for us. He taught us early on, among other things, what a fine bunch of people we get to deal with. He taught us to avoid junk. “Junk is junk, son,” he told me once, “I don’t care if it’s a Cadillac, it’s still junk when it’s worn out.” And that how fast something sells, how much it is in demand, is just as crucial as its value. If you trade something of yours that’s worth $200.00, and your $200 item is something that 50 people out of 100 who shop with you would buy, and you trade even for something that’s worth $250, but out of 100 people who come through the door, only 1 or 2 of them even know what it is, you’ve made a bad trade. He taught us that you had better not take advantage of a widow woman. He lived and breathed the King James Old Testament. Some of his interpretations were skewed on our thinking, but not many.
Most important, Fred Robertson very naturally taught us that nobody owes us anything. We are not entitled to anything. He knew that, of course, from his own life. He was only here, out here free, trading on firearms of all things, because, as one of our Roman Catholic teachers once said, we serve a Jewish God who has a sense of humor. First and foremost, what we owe our customers is truthfulness. The customer, by the way, isn’t always right. He taught us that, too. We are not salesmen. We are buyers and traders. The merchandise sells itself. It is what it is, and we do our level best to let buyers and consumers know precisely what they are getting. And we do our best to let them know exactly what is going on with their orders and purchases. I always tell employees, “these people may not know us. We have their money. We owe them to let them know what is going on.”
With all the positive influences, we are thankful to the Good Lord that He has helped us keep a lid on negative tendencies and vices. There is a cumulative effect where the Lord has used Pentecostal and Church of Christ Preachers on the one hand, and law enforcement on the other hand, to put the Fear of God into us. With the blessings that all the influential customers, colleagues, and regulatory people have been to us, we feel grateful and honored to be in this business, and we have only named a few who’ve helped us in the past. While we don’t hit the ground running as much as we probably ought to with our religious beliefs, we believe this is important when people consider doing business with us: We believe that there really is a Hell, and we don’t want to go there. Especially over a gun or coin deal.
John P. Robertson