Cousin Garth

by Donald D. Erwin



Troyal Garth Brooks, our "Cousin Garth," was born February 7, 1962, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In order to have a better picture of his "roots," however, it is necessary that we go back several generations.

Thomas Johnston Erwin, a grandson of Joseph Erwin, Sr. and Catherine Nancy Cowan , with wife Nancy Caroline Mathis, moved by covered wagon from Henry County, Tennessee to Carroll County, Arkansas about 1848. Daughter Elizabeth Rebecca Erwin, born in 1846, and son James Erwin, born in 1847, made the trip also.

Thomas and Nancy later homesteaded near the little community of Denver. They had six more children in Carroll County. They were: Margaret Mary, born 1849, Laura Alice, born 1856, Joseph Johnson "Joe," born 1858, Harriett Avarilla "Hattie," born 1860, William Coleman "Cole," born 1862, and Michael Roy "Mike" Erwin, who was born in 1867.

Elizabeth Rebecca Erwin married Josephus Epley. A brief description of their life was included in The Epley Family of Carroll County, Arkansas piece in the last issue of our newsletter. At this point nothing is known of James, the second-born. It is possible that he "died young" as so often happened in early-day pioneer families.

Joseph Johnston Erwin remained in Carroll County, and eventually became owner of the original Erwin homestead Today the property is part of a large farm owned by descendant Glenna Trigg Combs and her husband Gene Combs.

William Coleman "Cole" Erwin, an ancestor of many of our cousins in Washington, Oregon, California  and Alaska, left Carroll County also, and eventually ended up in the Cherokee Strip where he and wife India - as well as India's parents - are buried. Michael Roy Erwin, my grandfather, moved his family by covered wagon to southeastern Kansas in 1898.

Margaret Mary Erwin married an unknown Epley, but he soon died and she then married William Lonner Capps. Laura Alice Erwin married Stephen Parker Dickens, and Harriet "Hattie" Erwin married John Rains Hargis, an ancestor of the Boatright family in Oklahoma. All three of these families moved west into the Oklahoma Indian Territory during the late1890s, probably about 1897, and settled in or near Tahlequah in what is now Cherokee County, Oklahoma.

Laura Alice Erwin and Stephen Parker Dickens had three children. They were: William Lillard Dickens, born 1874, Ozenia Olive Dickens, born 1876, and Gladys V. Dickens who was born in 1892. Stephen Dickens died in 1897, and she then married James McClure Dickens.

William Lillard Dickens married Della Adelaide Capps. They had four children. They were: Velma Glee Dickens, born 1901, Phynis Rea Dickens, born 1903, Troy Ray Dickens, born 1907, and Cleburne Blaine Dickens, born in 1912.

Velma Glee Dickens married Troyal Raymond Brooks August 28, 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. They had four children: The name of their first-born is not known; Ona Marcellette Brooks was born in 1928, Troyal Raymond Brooks, Jr. was born in 1931, and Glenda Sue Brooks was born in 1940.

Troyal Raymond Brooks, Jr. married first about 1950 and fathered one child: Michael Brooks was born in 1951. Troyal then married Colleen Carroll McElroy in 1957. This union produced two more children. They were: Kelly Brooks, born September 28, 1960, and Troyal Garth Brooks, born February 7, 1962. The world knows him as Garth Brooks.

"Music is a gift from God," Garth said recently in an interview with Dotson Rader of Parade Magazine. "It just comes naturally. It's easy, and I love it." That's an obvious understatement, because at age forty Garth Brooks is one of the world's most successful singers. He has sold more records than Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Elvis Presley, Elton John, or any other solo act in history, and he has accomplished this feat in about thirteen years. His 1989 debut gave him his first number one song. It was "If Tomorrow Never Comes," and his thirteen major albums have sold over 1one hundred and two million copies. In addition, throughout the 1990s, Garth set records for ticket revenues and concert performance attendances.

"What I wanted to do is communicate with the world," Garth said, "and music was how I tried to do it. I can't read or write music, but it's what I knew, and when people respond to your music, you've got to look in the mirror and ask, 'Is this what God put me here to do?"'

Garth's father, who prefers to be known as just Raymond, is now in his seventies and retired. He worked for thirty-five years as a draftsman for an Oklahoma oil company. His mother, Colleen Carroll Brooks, was a prominent country singer in the Southwest. She recorded for Capital Records in the 1950s, but retired while her career was still on the upswing, preferring to be a full time wife and mother. She died about two years ago after a long struggle with cancer.

Garth was raised in Yukon, Oklahoma, a small town just west of Oklahoma City on Interstate-40. He went to public schools there, and it is reported that he "studied dutifully, excelled at dating, and was a superb athlete in three sports." In 1980 he won an athletic scholarship in track to Oklahoma State University at Stillwater. He majored in advertising, and earned a Bachelor's Degree in 1984.

While going to college Garth took odd jobs to make ends meet. At one point he was working as a bouncer at the Tumbleweeds, a local night club. Garth recalled, in the Parade interview, how he met his wife there. It seems that one night he found it necessary to go into the ladies room to break up a brawl. He found Sandy Mahl, a blonde freshman from rural Oklahoma, with her hand caught in a wooden stall partition after a tipsy fight over a former boyfriend. "She was cute," Garth said. "I walked her out of the place and offered her a ride home. She lived across from the dorm. I told her my roommate was gone for the weekend if she wanted to come up. She told me to drop dead. Two months later we started dating, and two years later we were married."

Garth loved music from an early age. He was first influenced by his mother's musical background, but as he grew older he became a fan of James Taylor, country singers George Jones, Merle Haggard and George Strait, and the rock groups Kiss, Queen and Journey. In later years he would meld all of these influences into his own personal style. He was involved in various musical activities during high school and college, and after graduating from college he began to be noticed at local night clubs as a hot singer with his own part time band, which was known as Santa Fe. By 1986, however, Santa Fe was playing six nights a week, and music had become a full time job for Garth.

In 1987, about a year after Garth and Sandy were married, the Brooks family and Santa Fe moved to Nashville. The first few months Garth had to sing advertising jingles to put bread on the table, but in less than a year he had hooked up with Bob Doyle, a manager who would help guide his career to greatness, and he was recording his first album for Capitol Records, his mother's old label. His early hits include "If Tomorrow Never Comes," and "The Dance." Sales of his first album, Garth Brooks, were strong, but it was only the beginning. Later albums included No Fences, Ropin' in the Wind, Garth Brooks Double Live and Scarecrow. All were a huge success.

Garth Brooks' professional success, however, came at a personal cost. His marriage was strained as a result of constant touring, and at the end of 2000 Garth announced his intention to retire. Garth was absent from the spotlight for a while, but shortly afterward he announced that he and Sandy would divorce. Apparently, however, an informal separation was eventually agreed on instead, and Garth returned to a limited touring and promotional schedule.

Garth now spends most of his non-touring time on a two thousand-acre ranch that he shares with his estranged wife, Sandy, and their daughters, Taylor Mayne Pearl, August Anna, and Allie Colleen. The ranch is located at Collinsville, Oklahoma, which is near Tulsa. Garth and Sandy have separate houses on the property, where the children sleep on alternate nights. Garth also owns a seven thousand-square-foot mansion at 1025 16th Avenue South in Nashville, as well as an office property there.

Even though Garth Brooks is obviously a country western music icon, and has struck a cord with millions of fans, much of his success has been as a result of touring, public appearances and promotional activities. The old adage, "out of sight, out of mind," is undoubtedly in the back of his mind. All of this, plus his admitted gratification in being the center of attention, is making it very difficult for him to stay close to home. In his interview with Parade he described how he feels in front of an audience. "All of a sudden, you hear the crowd, and suddenly your body takes a different posture your stomach is in, your shoulders are back-and, oh my God! Boom! It starts."

Even in the face of all this, however, Garth seems determined not to do the national tours, and to cut back on all activities that would take him away from his home and his children. "It was a tough decision," he told Parade, but my children are my top priority now. I started in the music business without children, but when I brought them into the world I committed myself. I can't tour anymore and be a father. It's about doing for them what my parents did for me." These are good sentiments of course, but even though he is undoubtedly comfortable financially it is a rare individual that says that he "has enough," and rarer still for a public figure used to adoration. He still has to make a living, and making a living in his chosen business entails being in the public eye. Those of us who are fans, however, and especially those of us who are fans as well as "cousins," wish him continued success in his career, and happiness in his personal life.