Behind the scene of a jaw-dropping 21st century inheritance, Charles Hebert has unraveled stories of immense wealth, prestige, tragedy and love. After his intense, in-depth research of a family named Snowden, Charles is now convinced; truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. 

“You couldn’t make a story like this up,” says the La Grange, Texas, author/historian.

Would you believe?

As Charles signed volumes one and two of his new books entitled Snowden, he explained his wild and crazy, multi-year research mission was akin to having a tiger by the tail. The adventure started tamely enough with a phone call from an old friend. 

Jim, who lives in Kemah, asked Charles, who was heavily engaged in Civil War research, if he had come across the name of Lt. Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden. At the time, Charles was putting the finishing touches on Butternut and Gray, his Civil War saga told from a Texas perspective. Charles didn’t recognize the Snowden name, so the conversation drifted off to other subjects.

However, Jim was persistent. He knew that once he got Charles’ attention, he would want to get to know all about Lt. Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden.   

An Inheritance Dreams Are Made Of

During a subsequent phone call with Charles, Jim explained that his nephew, Michael, had encountered some unbelievably good luck. Michael had inherited an old two-story, three-car garage house in a legendary Houston neighborhood from a mere acquaintance. This gracious old home, crammed with Snowden family relics, was handed to Michael with no strings attached.

At first, Michael found the news about this windfall inheritance hard to believe. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in real life, or does it?

It never occurred to Michael when he retired after a long career with the Texas Department of Corrections that selling his futon would change his life. He advertised the couch with no arms, and a guy named J.T. drove his truck over to pick up the used piece of furniture for a friend. 

When Michael and J.T. started talking, they realized they shared common experiences.

Both had served in the military. Both played the guitar. Yet, they didn’t become big buddies. At least, Michael didn’t think they had, but who leaves their estate to a guy he meets while picking up a couch?

J.T., who had been the caregiver of John, a descendent of the wealthy, prominent Memphis, Tennessee, clan of Lt. Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden, inherited the house. J.T., in turn, willed it to Michael. 

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Charles was all in when Jim told him the house was packed with good old stuff and a lot of stuff that wasn’t good. Michael’s inherited home in the historic Eastwood neighborhood not far from downtown Houston may have appeared normal from the street. 

It just goes to prove that looks can be deceiving. In fact, the last owners, J.T. and John, his employer, were hoarders. Perhaps John’s parents had been hoarders, too.

“It stunk,” Charles says. “Cats had gotten in and made it their home. So had rats. Only one light socket worked, so we had to string extension cords to see what was there. There were only narrow trails going from room to room. On either side of those narrow paths was trash. Underneath the trash were the valuable collections of antiques and collectibles amassed by generations of the wealthy Tennessee Snowden clan.”

old house
Amid the piles of trash were possessions 
that would dazzle high-end antique dealers 
and knowledgeable collectors. 

But the less than ideal conditions in the house didn’t deter Charles. Recognizing he’d hit the motherlode, this historical researcher rolled up his sleeves and launched his search for Lt. Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden. He found the Civil War veteran and much more amid the debris. 

Snowden
Jim identified the photo of this Civil War officer as Lt. Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden.

Unlocking the Stories

Charles combed through suitcases stuffed with photos, most of which were unidentified, and read stacks of letters, diaries, notes, books, magazines and memorabilia. It took months of determined effort to assemble the pieces of the Snowden puzzle. It would take more than one book to tell this Snowden story.

At the book signing, an off-duty police officer kept an eye on the Snowden family treasures on display.

On the other side of the room, samples of photos, books and letters were laid out for guests to view. 

In his two-volume saga entitled Snowden, Charles takes readers back in time to Tennessee to meet generations of the Snowden clan, examine how they lived and what they believed in. 

As for Michael, he is rethinking his retirement plans. A jam-packed old Houston home that a seasoned antique dealer called ‘the find of a lifetime’ demands his full attention. 

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Here are some other stories featuring buildings that intrigue me:

Elaine Thomas
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