1893 – He was believed to have been born in Couchman, Texas, near Wortham, Texas. It was long believed by most that he was born in 1897 (although some accounts varied the date by up to ten years) but research a century later revealed a census record that listed his birth record as September of this year.
1912 – He began performing at picnics and parties. He also became a street musician, playing in East Texas towns.
1917 – He had moved to Dallas, where he is reputed to have met and played with Lead Belly, as well as gotten married.
1926 – He was taken to Chicago, Illinois, to record his first tracks. His first two recordings were gospel songs ("I Want to be like Jesus in my Heart", and "All I Want is that Pure Religion"), released under the name Deacon L. J. Bates. He recorded about 100 tracks between this year and 1929.
1927 – He recorded another of his now classic songs, the haunting "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean".
1928 – It became such a big hit that it was re-recorded and re-released.
1929 – He died penniless in Chicago in December 1929. The cause of death is unknown, rumors swirled that a jealous lover poisoned his coffee, but a more likely scenario is that he died due to a heart attack after being disoriented during a snowstorm.