The Mitcham War of Clarke County, Alabama: A Native Son's Perspective
Harvey H. Jackson III
Mention the Mitcham War of Clarke County to another Alabam...moreThe Mitcham War of Clarke County, Alabama: A Native Son's Perspective
Harvey H. Jackson III
Mention the Mitcham War of Clarke County to another Alabaman, most likely you'll get a blank stare. Mention the Mitcham War in Clarke County and the residents of that County know exactly what you're talking about. You might also be asked "Why do you want to know," or "Which side were your people on?"
Readers of Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin know about the Mitcham War, but that is fiction, although it's classified as Historical Fiction. But readers overwhelmed by the violence in Franklin's novel would be surprised to learn that the war occurred and the violence depicted by Franklin so graphically did occur.
Interestingly enough, Franklin used a number of actual names of persons involved in the events which occurred during 1892-1893. That's something that has stepped on some Clarke County toes, the descendants of poor cotton farmers who lived in Mitcham Beat, and persons purportedly on the side of law and order who stepped over the line, taking lives and laws in their own hands.
Jackson has a unique connection to this history. The sheriff, William Waters Waites of Clarke County was his great grandfather.
This is a unique historical document. It was published by the Grove Hill Democrat in 1988 for the people of Clarke County. For, as Jackson has written, the Mitcham War has divided the County for generations. Jackson wrote the history in collaboration with Joyce White Burrage, a descendant of a Mitcham Beat resident and James A. Cox, the publisher and editor of the Clarke County Democrat. Cox, in particular wanted the story written because the very fact of the war had become a taboo story around which myths and legends had grown up, obscuring the true incidents of an integral part of the County's history.
In 1892 times were especially hard for cotton farmers, although they worked some of the richest land in the state known as the black belt. However, farmers barely managed to provide for their families from year to year. Most farmers went to merchants and got their seed and supplies from merchants who took mortgages out on the farmers' land against the upcoming season's harvest. Typically supplies might be bought on the current futures price of eight cents a pound. By harvest time, the cotton price controlled by the NY market dropped the price to five cents a pound. Some merchants stringently enforced their mortgages, foreclosing on families, driving them from their land.
During this period of time the Farmers' Alliance was formed. It was a populist movement, opposed by the "Bourbon" Democrats. Bourbon? I'm sure they consumed a great deal of it. However, the reference is to the Bourbon French who wanted to undo the results of the French Revolution. The Bourbon Democrats' agenda was to undo the effects of reconstruction following the civil war. Their goal was to invent a "New South" seeking Northern industry and increasing profits. The Democratic Party was rigid, conservative, and sought to disenfranchise black republicans and the white poor.
The Mitcham War ostensibly began when Rafe Bedsole sought a seat in the State House of Representatives. Following a stump speech against his opponent, a Dr. Love, a town physician, Love insisted on giving Rafe something to help his head. Rafe was later found dead on the road. Love disappeared from the county. Although there was no proof, Rafe's supporters suspected he had been poisoned.
Following Rafe's death, The Hell at the Breech Gang was formed, either by Rafe's father Edward, or Edward's nephew Tooch Bedsole. The gang would set things right by striking out at the merchant class. Members provided one another alibis for any crime for which they might be suspected.
Hell at the Breech demanded loyalty oaths to be signed by Mitcham Beat residents. Joseph Anderson refused any involvement. He was ambushed and murdered.
Kirk James, a cotton farmer, received his seed and supplies on credit from merchant Ernest McCorquodale. James claimed he paid McCorquodale on the due date, but that McCorquodale told him he'd already locked the store for the night and he would give him the receipt for his payment the following day. Instead, McCorquodale foreclosed. In court James told McCorquodale he might have his verdict, but he would never enjoy it.
On Christmas night, 1892, McCorquodale and his wife answered a knock at the door. A shotgun blast killed McCorquodale and wounded his wife Elrica.
Kirk James was immediately suspected. However, when James was taken by more than a hundred men from towns surrounding Clarke County, James confessed he had paid his brother Lev James $50.00 to do the job. By this time the town riders were known as the mob by Beat residents. James was shot to pieces by over a hundred men armed with rifles and shotguns.
Lev James was ambushed by four townsmen, including McCorquodale's son, Carlos. Four were enough for Lev James.
The townsmen suspected Tooch Bedsole of being involved in Hell at the Breech. A search was conducted of his house. A young boy found a list of names signed in blood. The mob found Tooch, tied him between two trees and executed him. Bedsole's body was riddled with over 120 shots, with six through the tobacco in his shirt pocket. There were even bullet holes in the bottom of his feet.
Tooch Bedsole, guilty or innocent?
For the merchants, it was justice. No one was ever charged in any of the murders. Two brothers, William and Mack Burke fled to Louisiana and never returned. Jim Jordan, another member of Hell at the Breech returned to Clarke County several years later, asking the Sheriff and Probate Judge if he could return as he had done no wrong doing. He was told yes. Shortly after returning, he was shot from ambush and killed.
In 1894, Pink Pinkerton, a detective hired by the McCorquodale family to find the murderer of the merchant, was shot and killed from ambush after he settled in Clarke County. He should have moved on. But the war was over.
Jackson's book is an enthralling read. It is filled with photographs of participants, locations, genealogies, and maps pinpointing major events during the war. Most convincing is the transcription of an interview with D.C. Matthews recorded in 1976. Matthews was ninety years old when his son persuaded him to tell the story of the Mitcham War.
"And the children of Mitcham Beat were warned if they ever heard the whinny of horses and the squeak of good leather, they had better run and hide."--As told to Harvey Jackson, III by his father, Harvey Jackson, II.
My sincere thanks to Dr. Jackson for allowing a copy be provided to me. I sincerely hope that this book will be reprinted.
For further material on The Mitcham War see: Jackson, Hardy. "The Middle-Class Democracy Victorious: The Mitcham War of Clarke County, Alabama, 1893." Journal of Southern History 57 (August 1991): 453-78.(less)
My sincere thanks for friend Josh Webber's recommendation of this work to me. This is an example of how valuable goodreads is to readers, offering eac...moreMy sincere thanks for friend Josh Webber's recommendation of this work to me. This is an example of how valuable goodreads is to readers, offering each of us to put books in the hands of those whom we believe will enjoy them. (less)
The appearance of this review marks something very new for me. That happens to be an acknowledgement that I have and do read poetry, though none of you who believe they know me would have ever thought it and those who do not know me should ever care one whit.
I believe that as a species we are frequently filled with pride. Because of that pride, one of our greatest fears, and I will claim that fear as my own, is that we are terribly concerned that we might reveal our ignorance at any given time.
Take poetry, for instance. It can be an obtuse thing at times. I have gone through life never having had an idea of what a poet meant in a work I found impenetrable. For me I believe it began with the great English poets. If we will admit it, the English have a far longer literary history than Americans do. Consequently the English, I've always believed, are capable of explicating their poetry without a glance through The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918
I first became impatient with Poetry in high school. That classic English poetry was filled with literary allusion that some of my teachers could not or would not for belief that poetry exists as a matter of magical form, caused my eyes to glaze over, the words beginning to blur into one another in a manner I would never be able to untangle.
Should you be among that group, as I have, who have avoided poetry out of sheer terror, let me advise you to take a deep breath, sigh if you must, and give poetry a chance. With sincere apologies to John Lennon, all I'm asking is give poetry a chance. You might find yourself surprised. Perhaps you might even find yourself being amazed. Damn. There's that Beatles hook again.
If I were able to persuade ONE reader to pick up and read One book of poetry, it would be Delights and Shadows by Ted Kooser. I've returned to it four times and found a beauty of life, a delight in life, and the indomitable nature of people, many of whom we not only wonder if we've passed them without seeing them, or if honest, actually ignored them as we passed by on our own business more important to ourselves.
Ted Kooser has served as America's Poet Laureate for two hitches. This small volume of poetry was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2005.
Ted Kooser, born April, 25, 1939, Ames, Iowa
That's the face of a man you want to know. Once you've read him, you know he's the man you'd like to share a cup of coffee with, or a cold morning walk.
Critics, whom I will not detail here, almost uniformly describe Kooser as a master of metaphor. He also captures details of life in images so precise it is enough to make anyone instantly aware that most of us do not have that remarkable ability.
As metaphor, this entire little book brims with it. Some of it is not easily accepted. At its most basic premise, for this reader, we are all born with one foot in the grave. None of us is ever going to make it out of this alive. However, Kooser finds the delights among the very valley of the shadow of death into which we all descend, illustrating the dignity and courage of the human spirit.
Following are a few examples.
At the Cancer Clinic
She is being helped toward the open door that leads to the examining rooms by two young women I take to be her sisters. Each bends to the weight of an arm and steps with the straight, tough bearing of courage. At what must seem to be a great distance, a nurse holds the door, smiling and calling encouragement. How patient she is in the crisp white sails of her clothes. The sick woman peers from under her funny knit cap to watch each foot swing scuffing forward and take its turn under her weight. There is no restlessness or impatience or anger anywhere in sight. Grace fills the clean mold of this moment and all the shuffling magazines grow still.
In the Waiting Room
Consider that courage in the face of adversity.
You find them at flea markets and yard sales, old South Bends and Pfluegers, with fancy engraving, knurled knobs and pearl handles, spooled with the fraying line of long stories snarled into silence, not just exaggerated tales of walleyes, bass, and catfish, but of hardworking men who on Saturdays sought out the solace of lakes, who on weekdays at desks, or standing on ladders, or next to clattering machines played out their youth and strength waiting to set the hook, and then, in their sixties, felt the line go slack and reeled the years back empty. They are the ones that got away...
Vintage Casting Reels
Consider this reward for the lives of toil we live.
And, finally, though there is so much more to be found, pearl after pearl, jewel after jewel...
by Ted Kooser
Spinning up dust and cornshucks as it crossed the chalky, exhausted fields, it sucked up into its heart hot work, cold work, lunch buckets, good horses, bad horses, their names and the names of mules that were better or worse than the horses, then rattled the dented tin sides of the threshing machine, shook the manure spreader, cranked the tractor’s crank that broke the uncle’s arm, then swept on through the windbreak, taking the treehouse and dirty magazines, turning its fury on the barn where cows kicked over buckets and the gray cat sat for a squirt of thick milk in its whiskers, crossed the chicken pen, undid the hook, plucked a warm brown egg from the meanest hen, then turned toward the house, where threshers were having dinner, peeled back the roof and the kitchen ceiling, reached down and snatched up uncles and cousins, grandma, grandpa, parents and children one by one, held them like dolls, looked long and longingly into their faces, then set them back in their chairs with blue and white platters of chicken and ham and mashed potatoes still steaming before them, with boats of gravy and bowls of peas and three kinds of pie, and suddenly, with a sound like a sigh, drew up its crowded, roaring, dusty funnel, and there at its tip was the nib of a pen.
The nib of a pen
Consider how we could hold onto all those we have loved, and lost, those who have entered the valley of the shadow without the blessing of memory.
For some critics and some readers, the word accessible when attached to the name of a poet and the poet's work is a nasty word. It is anathema. If one must scratch one's head and not be befuddled upon finishing a poem, why, you're just not reading good poetry. So I've been told. For the elite, they have permission to leave the room and construct conundrums for however long they may live. I pity them the delights they will miss along the way.
So I wish for each of you who may come upon this review, perhaps this essay, the desire for poetry. There are miles and miles to go before you sleep.
This review is for a relatively new goodreads friend, Harper Curtis who "reads all kinds of books, especially poetry." My friend, you caused me to put up a poetry shelf in my goodreads library and are responsible for the review. I can hear you saying, "Gawd, I hope he got it right." To the music of language.(less)
We are about to embark on a great quest. That is to explore a world at war.
Of course we speak of World War I, which would come to be known as World War I. It is not only that we seek to explore that world and war, but to attempt to understand why it happened, what brought it about.
Not only should we seek to understand what brought it about we must be aware that we seek to do all these things regarding a world that existed one hundred years ago that went to war in 1914 and did not return to a state of uneasy peace until 1918. And in attempting to understand what surprised the world as the greatest conflagration the world to that point had ever witnessed, it becomes necessary to know what the world was like.
Who were the people who lived there. How did they live, what did they do. Nor can we begin to understand the hellish waterspout that sucked so many nations into the depths of seas tinged with blood without understanding that it was not merely a world of politics or property but a world of art, music, dance, and philosophy.
These are the conflicting aspects of culture that are inconsistent with the idea of war. The attempt to put these seemingly impossible inconsistencies together can bring about a great distubance of the human spirit that a world capable of music as beautiful as "The Rites of Spring," clashing with the quivering chords rising into a crescendo of horns that might sound the trumpets of doom, based on the writings of a man who died, mad, in an asylum, but whose philosophy was adopted by a nation as its theme, acknowledging the right, the need of exerting its power over whole nations out of a sense of nationalist fervor.
Such things are of the type that enter our dreams and become our nightmares as we sense the end of one world and the beginning of another. It is as though we are walking as somnambulists in a world unknown to us. For it is unknown to us. We must be capable of forgetting, unlearning the modern world of which we consider ourselves to be a part.
This is a journey that requires a guide. Just as Aligheri required a guide into the Inferno we must have our own Virgil. It is highly likely that we will find the need of a Beatrice for the war we will eventually explore was not a paradise, but a Hell as fiery as the first book of The Human Comedy.
As we speak of Virgil we must think of a world of epic stature, that grew as great as Rome and fell just as surely as Rome. In one way we are traveling through a world as ancient to us as we would consider a symbol of its literature, the Aeneid. In his journeys from the sacked city of Troy, Aeneas met and fell in love with the Queen of the Carthaginians, Dido. And Virgil commented that a nation should be ruled by a woman to be so foreign to his people he had to document "Dux femina facti" which means the leader of the thing was a woman.
So our guide is no Virgil. Our guide is a woman, Barbara Tuchman. And as it once was, once again "Dux femina facit."
To be continued...January 30, 2014.
Barbara Tuchman was born Barbara Wertheimer, January 30, 1912, the daughter of prominent banker Maurice Wertheimer. Well that didn't take long. Interrupted. 2/5/2014
William Kent Krueger has created a good man Cork O'Corcoran, half Irish and half Ashinuabinni Indian. A former police officer in Chicago, Cork moved b...moreWilliam Kent Krueger has created a good man Cork O'Corcoran, half Irish and half Ashinuabinni Indian. A former police officer in Chicago, Cork moved back to his home in Tamarack County. He was the Sheriff, married to a beautiful intelligent woman, and proud father of three children.
But things go terribly wrong when the Native Americans determine to exercise their fishing rights to the whole of Iron Lake. The lake is lined with resorts. Sport fishing is a huge draw to the resorts. O'Corcoran's objective is to see "The People" get to their boats safely and exercise their rights to fish the lake. However, the owner of a resort, terrified he will be put out of business, draws a gun as the Shinnobs make their way to their fishing boats. A shot is fired. A Shinnob Elder is killed. O'Corcoran takes out the resort owner, emptying his revolver into the assailant.
O'Corcoran's qualifications are called into question. A recall election is held. O'Corcoran is no longer Sheriff of Tamarack County. Depression follows. His wife Jo, rather than support him, wants a divorce. O'Corcoran takes up lodging in his dead Shinnob's quonset hut on the shore of Iron Lake.
Although he's no longer law enforcement, Darla Labeau calls O'Corcoran to report her 18 year old son hasn't returned from delivering the papers on his route. O'Corcoran follows the young man's route. It ends at the house of former Judge Parrant. At first blush it seems the Judge has taken off the top of his head with a shotgun. Son, Sandy, the newly elected Senator for their jurisdiction provides the reason for suicide. His father was riddled with cancer and had six months to live.
Local law enforcement accepts the easy answer, but O'Corcoran's not sure. What follows is a swirl of problems with a radical militia group, problems with accounting at the Reservation's Casino, and a crusty night time photographer who has taken enough photographs of the town's citizens engaging in activity they wouldn't want known to anyone. Those photographs reveal Cork's wife Jo having a hot time in the hot tub with Senator Sandy Parrant.
Of course, the photographer also has pictures of Cork dashing naked from the sauna to splash into the cold water of Iron Lake with Molly Nurmi, a pretty redhead. Although Cork has been headed for a divorce, there's a lot of Lutherans in Tamarack County that wouldn't care that Cork was separated.
Top everything off with an old man's Native belief that there's an ancient monster known as the Windigo who is apparently knocking bodies off left and right.
The plotting is tight. The dialog's just right. Some of the mystery is readily foreseeable. Some isn't.
Will Cork get back together with Jo? Will he restore his reputation? Will he get his job back? All these questions hang in the balance of Cork putting the pieces together.
Altogether this is a very satisfying debut of a likeable character. Don't be surprised if you're reminded of Craig Johnston's Longmire novels. That's not a bad recommendation.
Unlike some debut novels in a series, Krueger gets his story right with a fully put together character in a setting with a good sense of place. This one won't be my last Krueger read. (less)