Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Truth: Lost Forever/ The Book: Written

I couldn’t have been more than ten when I heard the first “scenario” of the story about how my great-grandfather killed his stepfather. It came from my grandmother who, I assume got it from her mother-in-law. As stories go, it was straightforward enough.

Story One
He woke up one morning and heard his mother screaming because the stepfather had come home drunk and was trying to put her in a pot of boiling washwater in the hard. When he (the son) couldn’t getanyone to help him, he ran into the house, got a gun, came back out and shot the stepfather. He ran off, but when the law caught up with him they said, “Come on back. The man needed killing.”

Well! You can see how the story would have fascinated an imaginative child. But when that child became an adult and began to research her family history, she heard yet another story. It was short, sweet, and to the point.

Story Two
He (the stepfather)  wasn’t good to ________ (the sister).

Doesn’t that one paint a picture in your mind?

Finally, I heard a third story from the daughter of my great-grandfather’s younger brother who (supposedly) witnessed the killing.

Story Three
He (the stepfather) loved fine blooded horses. One morning he rode into the yard on one, and ______ (the son, my great-grandfather) stepped out on the porch and shot him. 

The daughter also added the information that her father said the man was so mean he’d send the 3 brothers out on horseback to herd cattle in weather so cold they’d be frozen to their saddles when they got back. And, she said, the date of the “killing” was July 4th, and her father would always become upset on that date and say, “This is the day __________ killed _______.”

The third story, of course, being almost an eye-witness account, was the one I decided to accept until. . .I found these two newspaper accounts:

Copied from microfilmed issue of the July 12, 1876, issue of XXXX:

A Sad Affair
XXXX Shot and Killed

   Our citizens were shocked on Monday morning last when it was made known that a terrible tragedy had taken place during the previous night in Caney Township. XXXX, on that night, in his own house, while abed, no one present excepting a young woman—a stepdaughter of Mr. XXXX--- was shot and instantly killed by XXXX, a stepson of the deceased. This young man keeps a saloon at Oil Trough some miles distant from the scene of the unfortunate affair.
   Mrs. XXXX, wife of the deceased, was absent for the night at a neighbor’s house. As for the cause of this terrible tragedy, it is surmised that it has its origin in domestic trouble, at least no other is intimated. The young man had disappeared and has not yet been arrested.

My note, supported by police detective son’s analysis of the situation:  XXXX did NOT load up five children and proceed down a dark wagon road on the mountain to a neighbor’s house, leaving behind a 19-year-old daughter with the stepfather. (We heard stories from people in XXXX about a floor so badly stained with blood that it never came clean. The house has fallen into ruin, though we did bring back bricks and other artifacts from the site in 2002.)

Copied from the July 26 issue of XXXX:

It is rumored that the case of XXXX (charged with the killing of his stepfather XXXX, a short time since), has been considered by our Grand Jury and no bill found.

My note: My son and I have been through the well-kept Grand Jury minutes in the basement of the courthouse multiple times. There is NO RECORD of a grand jury considering this case. We even checked to see if a page might have been torn out of the book for that time period, but the dates are consistent throughout.

So what really happened?
So, when I began to write Four Summer Days, I incorporated all three of the verbal stories into the book. Which one was true? Who knows? Was the newspaper account correct? Was a “spin” put on it to protect someone? My son, a career law enforcement officer with training and experience in the investigative side of police work, took the newspaper account apart line by line and pronounced it inaccurate. His arguments made sense.
We’ll never know what happened up on that mountain. I’m not sure it really matters. Lives were changed forever, and that’s the point I made in the book. 

Available Nov. 15
Coming 2016

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