The Exploits of ‘Mista Cholley’

Despite physical challenges, Charlie Montgomery was an all-star in every way.

Rob Ullman

OLDEN TIMES—75 YEARS AGO:

Lunenburg County was proud of the prowess native son Robert “Monty” Montgomery displayed on the diamond, but the Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch didn’t let sibling rivalry prevent it from showcasing Monty’s brother Charlie, even though he had flown the Southside coop and moved to Richmond. Neither Montgomery’s age is divulged, although they are not thought to have been spring chickens. The paper says Robert has been playing baseball for so many years he’s stopped counting, and that he can “hold his own with any of the younger players.”

Ah, but Charlie. The Dispatch quotes a story from the Richmond News Leader about “Mista Cholly,” as the “young fellow” was known. It sounds like he had a few strikes agin ’im. He had but one arm and one eye. But what he lacked didn’t hold him back. This half of the heroic couplet ran a general store in Powhatan County, one of the increasingly rare stores in 1911 that still gave due bills. An alumnus of William and Mary, Hampden-Sydney (where he played baseball and basketball and ran track “around 1922”) and Davidson, Charlie was chief fire warden of Powhatan, a milkman (hauling local milk to Richmond every day at 4 a.m.), a chicken farmer, vice president of the Powhatan Citizens’ Co-Operative Club and “chief errand-runner for every man, woman and child in the neighborhood….” Beyond all that, he managed the Huguenot baseball team, played center field and was top hitter in the league.

Charlie’s arm went at age 16 when he was hunting and “got in the way of a load of shot.” Still, people said he could do “anything with that right hand that you can do with both of yours.” He amazed onlookers as he would “pick up a hot ground ball with his gloved hand, toss it deftly into the air, and, after shedding the glove with a flip, catch it again and peg that old apple in to nab a runner at the plate.”

Charlie was born in Georgia, but, the article states, “you could never guess the place of his birth if you believe those hookworm stories of the deep South.” The Southern hookworm plague might not ring a bell with Virginians today, but the infection rate in 1900 in some regions was estimated at 40 percent. The problem didn’t do much for the region’s image. Southerners’ “aversion to water, their scorn for footwear and their contempt for toilets or privies” made rural residents the perfect target for a number of maladies, hookworm being the worst, wrote Alan I. Marcus in the journal American Studies in 1989. Hookworms were even suggested as the cause of “Southern deviance,” signs of which included “inimitable drawling speech” and laziness.

The Rockefeller Sanitary Commission—created by John D. Rockefeller in 1909—targeted the hookworm, sanitation improved and the problem was eventually conquered. And however he might have escaped it, Charlie Montgomery evidently didn’t have a lazy bone in his body, though he had several fewer bones than his brother. What kind of candle could Robert possibly have held to him?

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