Victor Brown of Denison placed on Facebook this week a story that I think will ring a bell with a lot of Denison and Bryan County people. Victor thinks the article was written about 1983. He said he didn’t know where he got it, but thought it came from a book about Colbert.
Well, this sent me on a book search and I found it, “Colbert, 1845-1982”, where on page 232 I found the article about Samuel A. Flagg that Vic had been keeping because he said he “love old Sam and loved his food.” Lots of other people did too and Vic gave his own title to the piece, “Samuel A. Flagg (Po Sam), the Legend.” The article was written before Sam died in 1985, but the author is not named in the book.
I wouldn’t try to improve on the article and I don’t think the Colbert Historical Society, who published the book in 1982 would mind sharing the information.
Samuel Flagg came to Colbert in 1950 and started to work at the Log Cabin as a chef cook. He started his own business in 1952.
Walking with a slight limp, his hands flapping disjointed-like from his large arms, Samuel Alexander Flagg is a “workin man” who claims to be “still tryin’ hard to make it.” If the name doesn’t ring a bell, try Po Sam. If that doesn’t, then you don’t live anywhere near this small, integrated southern Bryan county town.
Po Sam and his one-of-a-kind barbecue, prepared in a deep pit longer than most folks’ living rooms, have been synonymous around these parts for better than three decades. And, with the years, more than a few tales have been spun relating that Sam has always monetarily made it.
“I wish I had as much as they thought I do,” said Sam, pursing his lips. “Talkin’ about money, huh? Well, I’m havin’ to spend it as fast as I make it now.”
Sam spoke from his rambling but comfortable home, crammed with glassware, souvenirs and including weathered pictures of the Rev. Martin Luther King and President John F. Kennedy.
Outside, laundry was hanging from the clothesline a few steps from where a green Cadillac sedan and black-over-white Lincoln Continental coupe were parked in the open-ended garage.
The story goes that the coupe was paid for in cash from a paper sack. Sam says it’s not so. “I don’t carry my money in no paper sack,” he smiled. “Use a brown satchel with a zipper. Always have.” The barbeque king says he no longer carried much money around – hasn’t since the old cooking headquarters burned to the ground some years ago, taking just about all the cash he had. Even so, the brown satchel doesn’t go unprotected. Sam carries a pearl-handled .44 caliber pistol when he feels the need, and there’s another one close by, too.
If it sounds ganglandish, it’s not. But down here on the old highway south of Colbert are the party spots of the county. Things, quite frankly can get out of hand, especially on a weekend. “I’ll tell you,” said Sam, “drunks scare the snot out of me. I just tell myself to leave them be.
Born on Jan. 10, 1909, in Vicksburg, Miss, Sam was reared by a “good Methodist mother.” The lone surviving member of the family, he daily reads the Bible. “I believe in the Man,” said Sam “Where would I be if I didn’t?”
Exact dates are now somewhat vague for the 73-year-old, who had run barbeque places near schools at Paris and Honey Grove, Texas, before settling here. “I was drivin’ through one Sunday on my day off and I saw that there wasn’t a barbeque stand around, so one day I came back and set up. That was back in the early ‘50s. It wasn’t unusual to turn out $1,400 worth of barbeque in a single day then as traffic poured into the small shack-like building at the south edge of town. “That’s where I made my money,” recalled Sam, who later moved the operation into a concrete block building farther south on the old highway and finally into the long rambling structure a stone’s throw from his home.
Sam says he used an old Chevy truck “in the beginnin’.” He built a pit, secured it to the truck bed and began making a looping route that carried the travelling barbeque expert to the Lake Texoma area, down through Denison and finally back home. A stick was propped against the floor shift lever to keep the rig from popping out of high gear.
Tales relating to what Sam uses in the fixings are about as common as those involving his money. Finnicky folks who have bothered to check find that the pork and beef come from Southeastern Packing, the chicken from Brooks Produce and ribs from Potter Sausage, all in Durant.
“Times have changed, at least business-wise, since the main highway travel began “bypassing Po Sam’s barbeque a few hundred yards to the west on US 69 years ago. When they moved the highway, that did it,” said Sam. “Talk about hurt. That killed me. Cut my business in half.”
Literally hundreds of his customers from preachers to the kinfolks who help run the place argue that sigh on Po Sam’s barbeque van is the most incorrect and at least immodest. The lettering states that the produce is “not the best, but hard to beat.”
“Now that’s just a slogan,” winked Sam, reminding his “gal” Willa Mae Chester to lock up the house as he left for another day’s work that, for him, lasts some 15 hours.
The true, down home salesman coming out in him in the interview closed, Sam quickly poked in “my deepest thanks to the good Lord, loyal customers and good friend.”
Vic Brown was correct when he dubbed Samuel “Po Sam” Flagg “The Legend.” He certainly was in the Southern Oklahoma and North Texas area. Some of Vic’s friends commented to the article as Vic had placed it on Facebook saying, “I ate there many times and it was the best barbecue. In my younger days, I ate there many times myself.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.