Cash Up Front

We visit the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess Arkansas

3 September 2016 Dyess Arkansas

The stay-over at Marion Arkansas  (only 15 minutes by car north-west of Memphis) was refreshing. A late checkout and a coffee stop at nearby Funkee’s Cafe.

I was determined not to repeat the errors of last night where my GPS had me travelling on a gravel road seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  However, there appeared to not be an alternative route on the GPS.  But I did find another way to get there on my phone app, slightly longer but worth a try.  Unfortunately, the phone lost reception quickly (I should have written plan B down) and so I found the same gravel road that I wearily discovered last evening.  Ah well, so be it.

The gravel road seemed to be very long, but I am sure my slow speed had a lot to do with it.  I made my dusty way for quite a while – in the middle of flat rice fields with no signs of life other than the herons that I was disturbing from their midday bathing in the man-made irrigation channels.

Certainly no signs of a town or tourist destination.  In fact no signs of any kind.  The GPS was still on the job, so onward.

Eventually the gravel road gave way to a paved one and soon enough I saw the Dyess (pronounced ‘Dice’) town sign – population of 401.  I made it to a central area which included the Town Hall and, alongside, what appeared to be a renovated period cinema.  Still no mention of Johnny, but there were people milling about.

I walked into the ‘cinema’ and all things Johnny appeared.  The newly-constructed Johnny Cash Boyhood Home Visitor Centre has a screening room with a rolling short video, signed instruments and plenty of merchandise.  Admission was $10.

Next door in a wing of the Town Hall was a terrific set of exhibits about life for Johnny on his parent’s forty-acre farm, the history of Dyess Colony and the great floods of 1927 (reflected in his famous song ‘Five Feet High and Rising’) and the subsequent drought.  There were videos, sound bites and, given the fact that I was the only one in that facility, a wonderful way to explore what was within, in-depth.

It was time for me to assemble with a handful of others for the bus trip to Johnny’s Boyhood Home.

But first, a little history.  The Dyess Colony was created as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal to aid the nation’s recovery from the Great Depression.  This included farm re-settlements for approved out-of-work families.  This swampy and forested land was cut into forty-acre lots, with a house and outbuildings on each, with the re-settlers expected to pay back to the Government after clearing and then farming their lots.  So it was that the Cash family lived there from 1935 to 1953.

Now, as we drove along a gravel road, the cotton pastures are now rice fields and the original lots and attached houses are largely gone.  As luck would have it, the Cash home survived, being passed through different owners until it was acquired, supported by Government grants and locals, together with an annual Johnny Cash music festival.  The whole site is now managed by the University of Arkansas and the restoration of the house was based on the recollections of family members.

The bus motored on the opposite way to my entry in, turned onto a gravel road and drove for about fifteen minutes, and pulled up and there it was – in the middle of acres of flat surrounds, like a miracle of survival.


It is a five-room home (the out buildings have not survived) and it housed Ray and Carrie Cash and their five children whose ages when they moved in were Roy (13), Louise (11), Jack (5), J.R (Johnny) (3) and Reba (1).  Interesting to note that the piano takes pride of place near the front door.  As Johnny himself said:

Back in Arkansas, a way of life produced a certain kind of music

On the way back, our driver mentioned that the road he had taken was the only sealed way into the town but that all GPSs go straight for the long, gravel road from the South.

And that’s the truth.

I left Dyess (via the sealed road to the north!) and headed towards my another music experience.

Next, another country legend.


For more info about The Johnny Cash Boyhood Home, go here.


We visit the boyhood home of Johnny Cash in Dyess Arkansas


(Visited 61 times, 1 visits today)

Author: Rob Dickens

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  1. Great read. Hope you get over your gravel road phobia. ?

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