The Campbells, Part VI – The Children of William and Melinda Campbell

This is the final chapter of the Campbell Family History to be presented here. Subsequent family tree information can be found in my book, A Crime Unfit To Be Named: The Prosecution of John William Campbell. The ‘crime’ involved consensual sexual activity and sent a 72-year-old man to state prison.

John Randolph Campbell

John Randolph Campbell, holding a Bible, believed in his late 20s circa 1875-1880

Records of John Randolph’s birth name a birth year of 1853, although various other records show conflicting dates. A church record states that he was born December 24, 1853, in Independence County, Arkansas. In 1873 at age 19, he married Sarah “Sally” Elizabeth Prince at Sulphur Rock, Independence County, Arkansas. She was his second cousin once removed.

Miss Prince was born September 1849 in Tennessee, daughter of William Prince and Martha Lamberson.  This Lamberson is related to John’s mother’s family: Melinda was her first cousin once removed. William J. Prince was born 1813 in Georgia, and died during the Civil War in Independence County, Arkansas, as did his wife Martha Lamberson Prince, born 1825 in North Carolina. Sarah Sally’s siblings were William H., b 1842 TN (CSA AR 8th Inf. Co. E, enrolled August 6, 1862 at Sulphur Rock, AR, between Newark and Batesville); Mary A., born 1847 TN (married James Scott); Virginia b 1850 MS; James Ferdinand b 1852 AR; Martha Jane b 1857 AR (married George Hill 1872; David Bruton 1879);  John T. b 1858 AR; Tennessee “Babe” b 1860 (raised by Mary, married Riley Whaley).

Birth records for the couple’s sixth child, Benjamin, dated 1888, states that John age 38 was a farmer and preacher, born at Newark Arkansas, and that Sarah age 40 was born in Mississippi.

John Randolph Campbell and his new wife Sally produced the following children:

i. Emma Campbell b. 1874, Newton Co., AR, d. 1888 of rheumatic fever at age fourteen

ii. Mary Molly Campbell b 1876, m. Frank Pratt(s). Children were Mabel m. Fred Albert; Lizzie m. John Hilburn; Beulah; Pierce; Lennox; Urcil “Huck”; Margie; Nettie (died).

iii. John William Campbell, b 1878, m. Mary Jane Ellis. John William is the great-great grandfather of my three Campbell children.

iv. Jack O’Neil, b. Dec 25, 1882 at Newark, Indep. Co, AR, d. Apr 14, 1960, Newport, married July 19, 1903 to Emma Bell Hicks and produced Lennie Mae, Bertha, Commie O’Neal, Rutha Lee, and Opal Christine.  Jack then married Donnie Inness and produced another eight children: Edna Irene, Burl Nathaniel, Aubrey Evereett, Almeta Beatrice, Leeaun Utah, J. C., Alvin Newton, and Thelma Joyce.

v.  James Campbell b 1880, m. Mary Willis. Children were Dallas, Nanny, and another daughter.

vi. Clu Campbell, died at age 9 – not found in family birth records

vii. Benjamin Harvey Campbell, b June 14, 1888, Pleasant Plains, Indep. Co AR, d. Nov 19, 1966, Newport, Jackson Co, AR. married Willie Hicks, married Ocra Ellen Tibbs, and their children were Eva Jewell and Clemins Alvin. He then married Helen Carmen “Nell” Yancy, and produced Vesta Lola, Virginia Vivian, Mather Carnell, Veda Lee, Milous Harvey, and Benjamin Morris.

The 1880 Newton County Arkansas census for Jackson Township lists John Campbell age 26 with wife Sarah age 25, with children Emma age 6, Mary age 4, John age 2, and James six months. John’s occupation was farming.

John Randolph and Sarah Prince Campbell, circa 1900

The 1900 census for Fairview Township, Newton County (?) lists John R. Campbell age 46 as a mail carrier, land owner with a mortgage, married 27 years to Sarah, age 50, with seven children of which five were living.  Jackson, age 17, was a hack driver, and Harvey age 13 was a farm laborer. They housed a lodger named William Hicks. The 1920 census for Jackson County Arkansas, Richwoods Township, finds John R. Campbell age 67 and Sarah A. age 72 living in a rented home, with his occupation described as clergyman and evangelist.  The 1930 census for Amagon (Richwoods Twp) lists John R. age 80 and Sarah age 84 living in a rented home without occupation.

John Randolph was about five-nine at 185 pounds, although in older age he became “heavy set.” He worked as an itinerant preacher, following the Church of Christ denomination. “On September 29, 1895, John R. Campbell was authorized to work as an evangelist by the “Disciples of Christ, worshiping at Surrounded Hill Arkansas.” In 1889, he was ordained as a preacher by E. M Kilpatrick, and J. L. Kitridge, Clerk for Tex-Ark & Indian Territory: Credentials, page 32.

This poor quality image shows John Randolph in the process of baptizing a convert, date unknown.

According to one descendant, “John Randolph used to preach near Bradford [Arkansas] at least once a month; Aunt Nell [wife of Benjamin Harvey] remembers hearing him preach in 1914 near Swifton … said his name was Campbell and he was a Campbellite preacher. In 1917 he lived in the Pennington community and preached at different places. He received very little money as payment, mostly fresh vegetables, canned food, and some meats. Aunt Nell said she overheard some older women talking about the time he received a large handkerchief and two week’s board for holding a meeting. He preached some at Amagon and went to church barefoot … services were held in the schoolhouse.”

John Randolph and Sally, date and location unknown

He also rented farms to grow cotton and he traded horses and any other item of value. When his third child John William and family settled in Fayetteville after 1918, John Randolph and Sarah joined them, living first at John William’s store at the corner of Rock and Mill, then on Frisco Street and finally on the south side of Spring Street in the four hundred block before moving back to east Arkansas. His grandson John Carl later recollected that he drove an old Overland Blue Bird.

Overland Blue Bird

One descendant stated that “John R. Campbell was a preacher. He was really a corker. Pulled some pretty good stunts. Think he drank a lot.”  It was said by his grandson Zack that there were only two places that John Randolph would drink home brew, and that was “on this side of the Bible and on the other side.” His wife Sally dipped snuff, and sometimes smoked a cob pipe. Sally’s daughter-in-law (Mary Jane Ellis) stated that the Prince women were known to have “woods colts,” a euphemism for illegitimate children. In old age, Sally suffered a “dowager’s hump,” now known as osteoporosis. Sally and John Randolph both died in the Newport Arkansas area.

Mary Molly Campbell

Little is known about William and Melinda Campbell’s second child, Mary Molly. She is not listed in the 1860 census of Howell County Missouri. Later records show her spouse as John Willis Payne. Willis was born in 1854 in Kentucky, with both parents also born in Kentucky.

Willis and Mary Payne are found in the 1880 Newton County, Arkansas census, Jackson Township, at ages 25 and 26, respectively, evidence she was born in 1855 two years after John Randolph. Also in the household is her younger brother James, listed a ‘boarder.’

In a letter dated 1971 from Elizabeth Campbell Farmer, daughter of James “Jim” William Campbell, Elizabeth states: “Mary Payne is my papa’s (Jim Campbell) only sister. We called her Aunt Molly and she was married to Willis Payne.”

After 1880, Willis and Mary vanish from public records.

James William Campbell

James William Campbell with his first wife Nancy Jane Bell on his right and her half-sister and his second wife Eliza Lawson on his left, circa 1888. James holds a pistol in his hand.

At age 24, James married Nancy Jane Bell (age 19), daughter of William Levi and Nancy Busby Bell, September 18, 1882, in Newton County, Arkansas. This was two years after he was named as ‘boarder’ in the household of his sister Mary and brother-in-law Willis Payne. James and Nancy moved to Harrison (Boone County) Arkansas but in 1886 they moved back to Newton County where they settled in the Mt. Judea area (pronounced “Judy” by locals). There James dug wells and cisterns and built chimneys, as well as farming his land with cotton, corn, and small grains. He was a “great hand with a scythe and cradle and would get $1.00 per day for cutting wheat, a good wage for that time and more than most men were paid.” His son, Wesley A. Monroe, said they had “biscuits one to three times each day during the wheat harvest then cornbread three times a day for the rest of the year.”

He was elected Justice of the Peace in 1892 and remained in office for years. About the same time the family moved into a “box” house on land they homesteaded, a cause for celebration since most families lived in rough log cabins. In his capacity as JP, he married many couples and was said to shed tears during the ceremonies. He only went to school two days in his life, according to his descendants, but was a self-educated man. He taught school two summers – “Script” or conscript school. Each family paid one dollar for each child attending.

James and Nancy Jane Bell Campbell 1905, with children Dewey Floyd (between them) and Rosa on right

In the fall of the year, James would go away to pick cotton (probably in the river bottoms) and would take his wife’s handicapped half-sister Eliza Lawson as well as his older children. His wife Nancy Jane stayed home to care for the younger children and the homestead. It is said that James and Eliza lived as husband and wife during the cotton-picking trips.  Nancy spun thread and wove most the cloth used for their clothes, including coats. The pants and coats were made of half wool and half cotton, called “linsey-woolsey.” 

James also served in some capacity with the Spear Mining Company for their lead and zinc mine near Pendle. He was a school trustee for the board of education and helped to hire teachers. He was a “jack of all trades,” doctoring animals and people by setting broken limbs on splits that he whittled. He farmed and grew everything his family ate, including the livestock.

The eleven children of James and Nancy, as well as his child by Eliza Lawson and children by  Nancy Walls, his third wife, are not listed for sake of privacy.

Sarah E. Campbell

The 1860 census, taken July 19, gives Sarah’s age as one month. Thereafter, no record of her is found. Assumed she died in infancy.

~~~

And — as they say — so it goes.

Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West

The execution site perched on a low hill lying just east of the National Cemetery in south Fayetteville, about one mile from the county jail at the town square. Its position served well in accommodating large crowds of observers anxious to watch the hanging. The place later became known as Gallows Hill and remained in use for executions until the Civil War. After the war, in 1867, the site was taken over by the federal government and became part of the National Cemetery.

On a cold clear November day, the couple was brought by wagon to the wooden platform, a hood placed over their heads and then the noose, and last prayers uttered. It seemed the entire county’s population had turned out to witness the macabre event as the drop doors opened and Crawford and Lavinia fell into the arms of death.

Soon after the execution of his parents, John Burnett was arrested in southeast Missouri and brought back to Fayetteville. The testimony of Sharp quoted previously in this story was given by Sharp at John Burnett’s trial. On December 4, 1845, John Burnett was indicted and quickly sentenced to his fate. The same gallows awaited him. Despite his attorneys’ protestations of his innocence, of which they were fully convinced, thirty-four-year-old John Burnett was hung on the day after Christmas, December 26, 1845.

What unspeakable crime could have sent the Burnett family to their deaths?

Murder, it was alleged, planned by the aging parents and facilitated by their son John. Murder of an old man named Jonathan Selby, a recluse rumored to hoard wealth in his remote cabin, not an uncommon thread of gossip about someone who didn’t make himself known within social circles. His cash payment for his eighty acres contributed to this idea. He may have exhibited a degree of wealth by purchasing livestock or building materials for his home, outbuildings, or fences. Later court testimony revealed that he had made the mistake of allowing someone to see him place a quantity of money into his wallet.

Did the murderers find a money hoard? Did the Burnett’s daughter Minerva regret her role in her family’s execution? These are a few of the questions that linger after a crime like this, a crime that led to the first execution of a woman in the State of Arkansas.

~~~

Contrary to popular notion, Arkansas was part of the Old West along with Texas and the rest of those more familiar dusty southwestern places. Its western border joined up with the Indian Nations where many a weary marshal rode out with his bedroll and pistol carrying writs from the U. S. District Court at Fort Smith in a search for a steady stream of men rustling livestock, stealing horses, selling whiskey, or running from the law.

From its earliest days, Washington County, Arkansas, experienced some of the worst the Old West had to offer. At unexpected moments, county settlers faced their fellow man in acts of fatal violence. These murderous events not only ended hopeful lives but also forever changed those who survived them. Not to say that the murders in the county all stemmed from conflict along its western border—plenty of blood spilled within its communities and homesteads.

The fifty chapters of Murder in the County each focus on one violent incident. Through family histories, legal records, and newspaper accounts, the long-dead actors tell their shocking stories of rage, grief, retaliation, and despair. Now, for the first time, readers can discover the horrors and mysteries of those long lost days.

Available at Amazon.com

More Adventures of Denny Luke: City-Boy Plowing and other blasphemies

Following the success of his first book, South County: Bunyard Road and the Personal Adventures of Denny Luke, Denny Luke found himself remembering even more moments in his life that seemed worthy of recording.  Brief moments, some of them. Others spurred by a photograph here and there.

Always accommodating to his friends and family, Denny divulges various secrets and outrages that occurred at various points in his eighty years – so far.

Take what you will from his stories, he gives it all in good humor and humility. 

Here’s a taste:

Runaway

Age 12 or 13, I knew everything! Parents disagreed of course, so I plotted to run away. Living in Beloit, Wisconsin, where should I go? Having the entire world to choose from, decided on California, endless beaches, hot rods and beautiful weather and I could get there on my thumb.

Headed west, must change my name, I thought, to disguise myself, picked ‘Conrad Davis.’ Sounded right in case I hit Hollywood.

Somewhere in Iowa a fella picked me up in Chevy station wagon. Stated he’d just installed an anti-sway bar and watch this! He flew around curves, in the days before seat belts, had me white knuckling for my life.

Next, picked up by a guy attending an all-night meeting. He liked me, said I could sleep in the back of his car. Lit out at first light, back on the road.

Next evening was pondering what to do for the night…

Read all of it and much more in this slim but rich treasure trove of ‘Dennyspeak’! Available at Amazon

I Met a Goat on the Road and other stories of life on this hill

Rain

Let the rains come. Let it seal me inside my house, all gray and dark. I will turn on lamps, pools of yellow light that warm me, bring me to my favored place at the end of the couch. Books and magazines and yesterday’s newspaper beckon me with tidbits from the obituaries and the editorial columns. I will clean my nails and stare at the wall that needs painting.

The rain overcomes my senses, filling my nostrils with its unmistakable scent.

Let the rain pour. Sheets of rain, pounding on the roof, obscuring the profile of houses down the hill. Taking away my worries of the bills that are due, the tires that need replacing. Thankful I am home. The noise of the rain on the roof takes away the noise of the world.

Soup for dinner. Quiet, hot food, soft in my mouth, accompaniment to the cacophony of thoughts that clamor for my time, my attention. When the repairs to the bathroom tile? When the vet for the cat’s injured ear? When the time to wander in the yard, staring at moths and yellow-flowering weeds and the lighted distance through low tree limbs? To contemplate the sky, radiant blue, outlined in the mid-summer green of oak leaves?

Pour, rain. Let me sit in my robe on the side of my bed, cooled, moistened, lulled by the steady drone on the roof. Let me ignore the phone that rings shrilly in the far room, its third ring aborted by my pre-recorded voice, apologizing, placating. Go away, all of you. Can’t you see it’s raining?

I need to be alone. Time to consider the meaning of it all. Why the frantic awakenings and driving and worrying, this and that, meetings, advising, bank deposits, expectant friends. I need to step aside, look at the curve of the neck of my child, where the hair meets the skin of her neck and small new hair curls in the heat of the July afternoon, in the heat of her temper.

I need to contemplate the reasons I exist.

Thank you, rain. Thanks for the time you drowned out the world. Poured water across the ground in streams, in newfound passages of water across red clay dirt, across rocky, pebbly ground. Across pavement, steaming in the sun.

Let it rain.

~~~

This series of lyrical essays express the author’s love of nature and the wonders of life on an Ozark hilltop. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. Ask what is the role of human privilege over the fate of raccoon, opossum, reckless chickens, and random cats? Ponder the passage of time through a philosophical lens of wonder and delight. The seasons bring summer heat, winter snow, pouring rain, the power of fire. Lessons learned, questions posed–who has lived and died on this land? What is our responsibility to this place, its creatures, each other?

Come meet the goat on the road. Available at Amazon.com

The Scenic Route

Between Winslow and Mt. Gayler, across from Grandma’s Cafe

With the opening of Interstate 49, old Highway 71 through northwest Arkansas has lost most of its traffic. Formerly thriving businesses like the Smokehouse Restaurant near Mt. Gayler have folded up and slipped away in the night. Towns along this formerly packed thoroughfare have suffered losses as well, especially enterprises that depended on highway traffic as much as local customers to keep the black ink on their bottom lines.

Soon after the new four-lane highway opened with its easier grades, straighter curves, and swooping (terrifying) bridges high above the mere mortals below, state and regional officials began marketing the old highway as the “scenic” route. And it is, without doubt, scenic. Crossing the Boston Mountains with their sheer drop-offs and stunning vistas never fails to inspire.

Main Street, Winslow

Yet now more than ever, the underbelly of the Ozarks blossoms into view. Not so scenic are places where the property owners have lost the fight with their ‘stuff.’ Mounds of trash, some of it looking as though it was simply tossed out the door, litter their places of habitation. Old vehicles and various implements once used in the pursuit of livelihood sit haphazardly around the place. Cobbled-together homes make creative use of plastic sheeting and various and sundry bits of construction material.

Winslow across from new Dollar Store

These places have become a regular irritant to some locals, one of whom took these photos and sent them to me after I said I’d write a blog post about it. Locals like us have long since accepted the fact that some folks either can’t or won’t make the effort to present a respectable front to the world. There’s no shortage of such scenarios along just about any dirt road you might care to drive. But along the highway, a highway advertised as “scenic,” these places paint the entire region with a dismal color of decay and poverty.

Maybe the world expects to see evidence of destitution and apathy in the Ozarks. After all, ever since the publication of the “Arkansas Traveler” song in 1840, this region has suffered the disdain of many for its slovenly ways. Even now the more ‘civilized’ regions on either coast consider all of the hill states to suffer similar inability to come up to snuff–not that they don’t have their own ghettos.

Across from Silver Leaf campgrounds, Winslow

Unfortunately, time and again those stereotypes are borne out in real life. Homeowners barely scrape by, making do with what they’ve got, saving every scrap in case it might be needed. Or they’re renters unwilling and/or unable to improve on a place they’ll never own and whose owner can’t be bothered to make needed repairs. Or people whose lives have run over them with injuries or job loss or a litany of emotional defeats that leave them incapable of trying to make things better.

Brentwood

There are no zoning laws in Washington County that require people to clean up junk piles or dead vehicles or really much of anything. It wasn’t until the last couple of decades that an ordinance was passed requiring that electrical wiring standards be met in rural housing and that came about only after children died in a fire caused by poor wiring. Laws forbidding the surface disposal of sewage passed only a short time before that, and even now a properly-built outhouse remains legal despite the karst geology that allows pollutants to rush right through fractured layers of rock and loose soil to percolate into groundwater that surfaces as springs and streams. All of it, including discharge from septic tanks, ends up in Beaver Lake which supplies drinking water for the entire region.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that landfills were required to monitor discharge and place liners under the trash. Some efforts have resulted in the cleanup of junkyards where vehicles in various stages of decay leak oil, gasoline, and various other noxious fluids into the waterways. Other efforts attempt to stop residents from openly burning trash, a practice that releases toxic chemicals like dioxin, furans, and dangerous particulate into the air we all breathe.

But there’s a mindset lurking in the minds of our people, that this is their place and they can damn well do what they please.

And so they do.

Best Gift Ever

All around us, every day, the people and events of the past still echo. What is better than to meet those memories and share them with your loved ones?

From 1835 to the present day, the City of Fayetteville in Washington County, Arkansas, has enjoyed a vibrant and colorful history. Its reputation as a regional center for arts, culture, and education began early in its history. Frequently named one of the nation’s Top 10 cities, Fayetteville hosts the University of Arkansas and its famous Razorback athletic teams.

In Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past, history comes alive in stories of the town’s origins and development. The five articles contained in Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past focus on under-reported aspects of that history. Published initially by the county’s historical society, these intensively-researched works have been revised and expanded with illustrations, photographs, and maps.

“The History of Fayette Junction and Washington County’s Timber Boom” now include not only an in-depth review of Fayetteville’s first major industry but also three appendices which examine wagon production in Fayetteville, the name and tradition of Sligo, and the Fulbright mill.

“Quicktown” delves into the story behind this quirky short-lived suburb in south Fayetteville.

“546 West Center” tracks the development of a landmark Fayetteville property from its earliest use as a site for an ice factory in the 1880s.

“The Rise and Fall of Alcohol Prohibition” documents the use, production, and regulation of alcoholic drink in Washington County from before statehood through the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, and features indictment and other crime data.

“175 Years of Groceries” follows the transition from country store to supermarkets to big box stores and includes newspaper advertisements showing price changes over those decades.

Whether a reader is interested in learning more about the history of Fayetteville or simply enjoys the peculiar details of how time changes all things, Glimpses of Fayetteville’s Past will inform and entertain.

Amazon buy link

 

I Met a Goat on the Road

A visiting guinea? A ‘possum in the dining room? What strange and wondrous occurrences can one expect while living on an Ozark mountaintop for over forty years?

These lyrical adventure stories feature chickens, raccoons, bugs, dogs, cats, and natural critters of this woodland home. Throw in a few neighbors who shoot copperheads or remodel the dirt road. Ponder the passage of time through a philosophical lens of wonder and delight. The seasons bring summer heat, winter snow, pouring rain, the power of fire. Lessons learned, questions posed–who has lived and died on this land? What is our responsibility to this place, its creatures, each other?

Come meet the goat on the road.

Amazon buy link

The Old West

In the completion of my recent book, Murder in the County: 50 True Stories of the Old West, I discovered that three of the fifty murders profiled there were committed by members of the same family! Intrigued, I researched more about these folks and the result is now published under the title The Violent End of the Gilliland Boys. Fascinating and shocking, this story features more twists and turns than an Ozarks dirt road.

Christmas Day horse races 1872, Middle Fork Valley.  Young Bud Gilliland waits, eager for another chance at his neighbor Newton Jones. Only this time, after two years of sparring, Newton gallops up in a cloud of dust, aims his Spencer rifle, and sends Bud to a well-earned grave.

The death of Bud surely grieved his father. But before the curtains closed on these descendants of J. C. and Rebecca Gilliland in 1891, two other sons and a grandson would die a violent death while yet another grandson served hard time for murder.

What was it about the Gillilands?

This recounting of the family tracks their ancestry, their pioneer years on untamed land, and the hard work that made them one of the wealthiest families in Washington County, Arkansas. A fascinating tale of brash ego, brave gallantry, and plain old bad luck.

Paperback now available for only $9.95 at. Don’t miss it!

 

An Ozark Interlude

snake

Yesterday, the pesky doe had circled the fenced yard all day, causing the dogs to bark incessantly. Nerves shot, at around 5 p.m. I decided to fire off a few rounds to scare her away. I grabbed my .22 rifle and stood on the porch at the west end of the house, which is my daughter’s apartment, and looked for the doe. From there a person can look downhill toward the ponds and pasture, normal doe hangout. Nowhere to be seen.

I returned to my dinner preparations, fed the dogs, fed the cats, and fed the goldfish. One cat of the four—Esmeralda—didn’t show up. I thought, okay, she followed me to the apartment. So I went back there and looked for her, called, nothing. Usually she is front and center demanding food at that point, so this was highly unusual.

Then the barking started again. I grabbed the .22 and went to the gate. There stood that stubborn doe not a hundred feet from the house.

Now let me say that this has been an ongoing war for multiple deer generations. Before we got these two hounds, the deer jumped over our yard fence and helped themselves to whatever they pleased—hosta, flower beds right by the porch, any tomatoes or other veggies I tried to grow in the raised beds. But for the last five years with hounds running free in the yard, the deer have decided discretion is the better part of valor, hosta notwithstanding.

But this doe has become quite clever at avoiding the hounds by jumping the fence in the wee hours of morning when the hounds are sacked out in the house. Consequently my tomato plants have been topped multiple times and the peppers probably won’t come back. This is after a second planting. So I really don’t care that it’s not deer season or that my .22 bullet wouldn’t be a clean kill.

In the winter, I would have opened the gate and let the hounds chase her off. But it’s tick season. Worse, the last time we let both hounds go at the same time, the younger one—Weezie—didn’t come back until well after dark. She was shaking and terrified and smelled of tobacco smoke. Someone had penned her up. So now when we let Weezie out, it’s without her big sister Cu. She usually bounds around chasing squirrels in the adjacent woodland, living dog ecstasy for ten or fifteen minutes before she’s ready to come back in the yard. Cu, on the other hand, will stay out much longer, baying as she tracks scent clear back to the canyon.

So I’m standing at the gate with my rifle and the dogs are going nuts. The deer is being coy, facing me with several large trees between us. I can’t get a clear shot. Plus I’m having pangs of conscience. The .22 can’t deliver a kill shot. She might have a fawn around here. I’m thinking, well, if I let Weezie out, she’ll put a good scare in that bitch and I won’t have to shoot her.

I’m juggling the rifle and Annoying Emma the mongrel terrier is underfoot. The minute my hand touches the gate latch, Emma lunges, Weezie lunges, I nearly drop the rifle, and all three dogs are out the gate. Damn it.

dogs

Look, that deer is right out there. Can we go out, please please?

Okay, calling them is worthless. In two seconds, two brown streaks are hurtling through the underbrush down by the pond. The doe bounds east and then south toward the canyon, dogs in fast pursuit. I go inside, put the rifle away, and eat my cold dinner.

This is worse than it sounds because Cu is my daughter’s dog. She’s housesitting this week and swamped with coursework for the two graduate level summer school classes she’s taking. Plus she’s seriously attached to Weezie. If she knew the dogs were out there dashing through the late afternoon heat harvesting ticks by the bucket and bound not to return for hours, she would be worried sick. So I decide not to tell her. Dinner goes down hard.

Then I remember I have a missing cat! Why? I could understand if she was preoccupied with her last stealth moves on a mouse or mole, but it’s been an hour. Something is wrong. I go back outside and stand by the gate. Emma goes out too, because she’s way too smart (and too old and too fat) to try to run with the hounds. As she exits the gate, which I’ve left open for the hounds’ return, she briefly sniffs the bed of ivy growing along the fence. She immediately jumps back.

ivyWhat fresh hell is this? I lean forward toward the ivy before I hear the unmistakable rattle. I can see nothing—the ivy is a green mass about five feet wide and ten feet long and at least a foot deep. But the sound is familiar.

Snake.

I go back and grab the .22. I’m holding the gun listening. Can’t see a thing. Rattling continues. I shoo Emma back because of course if I told her to, she’d jump into the ivy.

I aim and fire at the sound. The first round cracks out of the gun and the rattle continues. I give it my Shaolin concentration and fire again. The rattle stops and the ivy starts to move. I fire a couple more rounds.

I set down the gun and grab the hoe from the other side of the porch. I start hacking at the ivy, trying to pull that tenacious vine apart so I can see what I’m up against. I don’t want a coiled snake to suddenly strike, so I’m working incrementally from the edge inward. Finally I see a flash of color, that familiar brown-rust pattern of a copperhead. It’s coiling and turning as I expose part of it to view.

I’ve learned that lots of snakes rattle their tails. Once I thought about it, I remembered that rattlesnake rattles are higher pitched, a hissing sound like air escaping a tire. This rattle was lower pitched, a tail hitting leaves. Either way, I’m always thankful for the rattle.

Hack, hack, I drive the hoe down on its body. As it moves toward me, I realize I’m only hacking at the last six inches. I chop more vine. Finally, there’s the wedge-shaped head. I slam the hoe down but it has moved. Toward me.

I’m sweating and cursing and keep telling Emma to get back damn it. I rip more vines and finally I can see the whole snake. I’ve done a fairly decent job of smashing a place six inches from its tail, and now I can see a bullet hole I managed to send straight through its middle. From that point to its head, it seems unable to fully move. Maybe the shot injured its spine.

That doesn’t mean it can’t bite and send its load of venom into my ankle. Or Emma’s face. So I land the hoe behind its head. The ground under all that ivy is super soft. I’m just burying the snake in dirt.

I hook the hoe under the snake’s midsection and lift it out of the ivy. Once I’ve tossed it onto the driveway, a swift blow behind its head finishes it off. Of course it’s still moving and Emma still wants in the middle of it, so I leave the hoe blade sitting on its neck and step back.

I’m thinking this explains the missing cat. This area here between the gate and my car is a place she frequents. If she spotted the snake, she might do what lots of cats do, which is chase the snake. I once had a cat that specialized in chasing snakes. She’d herd them right out of the yard and away from the house. That’s when the kids were little and I always thought she knew exactly what she was doing, protecting our babies.

Of course, I also once had a cat that got bit. Twice. Old Reece’s Pieces was a slow learner or had a contract with death, I never could figure out which. I’ve written about him before. Once he burst through the pet door and ran down the back hallway. I found him my daughter’s closet, cowering in the corner. His right eye was swollen shut and the area around it bloody and turning purple. Trip to vet. Fangs hit his forehead and eyelid, barely missing the eyeball. Vet thought he’d lose the eye but he didn’t.

A year or so later, Reece’s didn’t show up for dinner, just like Esmeralda hadn’t shown up. I remembered what happened then, how I searched around the house for two days before I found him lying in tall weeds. I talked to him, wondering why he didn’t get up and come to me. He was less than twenty feet from the house. How I missed him before I’ll never know.

But he didn’t get up, just meowed weakly. So I picked him up and the hand I put under his belly came back bloody. He’d been snake bit in the stomach. In the two days he’d been laid up, the bite wound had spread about six inches in diameter, the hair had fallen off, and the skin was black and rotten. He was too weak to move.

The vet shook his head, shot him full of antibiotics, and sent him home to die. I kept him in my bedroom where he crawled under my bed. He wouldn’t eat. The next day, I sat nearby eating cantaloupe and he sniffed the air. I gave him some. He couldn’t eat enough.

Who knew? For the next several days, Reece’s Pieces ate mashed cantaloupe. Then he started eating regular food. Slowly he got well.

Is this what happened to Esmeralda? Was she lying in the grass somewhere or in the woods, paralyzed by copperhead poison?

I began searching, again touring the house, under the beds, my daughter’s apartment. Then outside—the flower beds, under the porch, under my car. The weeds. The underbrush, hoe in hand, because one snake is never the whole story.

Meanwhile, every fifteen minutes or so, I’m calling the dogs. I can hear them way down in the woods. Then even further, like they were down in the canyon now. Paying absolutely no attention to my calls, my demands that they get in the yard right now. They’re tracking, hollering as they go.

Which is, of course, what hounds do.

What about snakes?! They could easily stumble across a big rattler—years back, a neighbor shot a timber rattler that was nine feet long. I killed a velvet tail coiled up right by my car door after I thought I was getting a flat. I shot two bigger ones about six feet long and traveling across my yard. I regret killing them. They were beautiful and if the stupid little Pekinese I had at the time had left them alone, I wouldn’t have needed to shoot them.

If those hounds got snake bit out there in that rugged country, I’d never find them. I’d have to wait for the buzzards to start circling. Oh, damn, this is not going well.

I don’t find the cat. Anywhere.

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Taco instructing Finnegan on cat rules.

I’ve never regretted killing a copperhead. I leave this one lying on the drive. Our old patriarch cat, Taco, comes by to sniff. Our two younger cats investigate, appropriately wary of the smell. There is a strong scent to poisonous snakes and cats have good instincts. Except the young male Finnegan, appropriately bold for a young king. He wants to pop it a couple of times. The snake is still writhing like they do after death. That thrills him. He stalks around it, hair standing up on his spine.

I try to watch television, springing up at every commercial to look again for Esmeralda. I imagine she’s dead or dying somewhere. I may never find her.

I call the dogs. It’s 7:30 p.m. I can’t hear them at all.

Light is fading. It’s 8:30. No dogs. No Esmeralda. I’m calling, calling. Go to the far end on my daughter’s porch and call some more.

Minutes tick by. I listen to the bullfrogs warming up at the pond. I hear lapping noises at the water bowl. I think it’s Emma. But it sounds like a big dog…

Yes! I step back inside her living room and there is Weezie lapping water like she’s dying of thirst and Cu spread out of the floor like she can’t move one more step. Both dogs panting as fast as they can.

I hurry through the house to close the yard gate before they decide to venture out again. They have no such intention. They’ve been running for three hours in this miserable heat. They follow me to the kitchen where they stretch out on the cool floor. Panting. Lots of panting.

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Esmeralda temporarily captive.

As I step back into the kitchen from closing the gate, there’s Esmeralda. What? Where did she come from? She’s all relaxed, doing her ballet stretches as I scold her. Then she’s all about her dinner.

The only thing I can figure out is that she was having a nap in the apartment and just wasn’t ready to respond when I was back there searching. Or whatever. She’s one of those Cats.

As for the dogs, they are too exhausted to move. Forty-five minutes elapsed before they stopped panting. Covered in ticks. Fortunately, their meds kills the ticks once they bite, so it wasn’t like they were going to be sucked dry. Still, I couldn’t stand it. I got about a dozen off each ear and that was all they’d let me look for. I’m so glad it’s not late July. That’s when the super tiny ticks start, the ones you can’t see that spread like dust by the thousands.

Today has been a vast improvement. The snake is in an old dishpan. It’s about two and a half feet long. Esmeralda is pursuing enigma. The dogs are napping. Once it cools off a little, I’ll walk down the driveway and toss the snake into the woods.

 

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Ray: One Man’s Life

with M79

 

“Harley was standing out on the skids and opened with his M-60 as we made the assault. That was extra fire they weren’t expecting. They usually try to take out door gunners, but they weren’t expecting somebody out front on the skids. It’s a bumpy ride, coming in to an assault. The copter comes in fast and then slows down fast, and I don’t know how Harley hung on. That last bump is when you have to jump because we’re under fire.

“Fire is getting heavier. We’re starting to realize there’s a lot more NVA there than we realized. The valley floor has tall grass and holes the size of basketballs where they’re hiding to shoot at us. That’s why the valley is so scary. We’re starting to realize they’re above us and below us. They waited for us to get in there… I’m three feet from this guy that’s hit. I’m trying to find a place to lay my rifle so I could get ahold of it with both hands in case we started taking fire. This guy is screaming…”

Ray Mooney’s biography, Ray: One Man’s Life, is a new release making its debut this coming Saturday June 11. Join us if you can for his appearance at a book signing, 1 pm to 3 pm at Nightbird Books, 205 W. Dickson, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“I’ve had my jaw broke three times, my nose broke five times to the point that the VA had to do the operation they do to boxers. My hand’s been broke and on fire once, enough that the skin was gone clear back to my wrist. I’ve fell off buildings, ladders, and mountains. Somehow I survived all that craziness.”

How Ray Mooney survived the incredible journey of his life is indeed a question for the ages. Polio, combat assault jumps from helicopters in Vietnam, and three children by three different wives didn’t kill him. Neither did the flagrant murder of his father by his father’s latest wife. But the traumas changed him, as they would change any man.

Told in his own words, Ray’s life story rushes from one shocking experience to the next and brings him to the last days as he faces end stage lung disease. Turkey killer, outlaw, entrepreneur, and disabled vet, this boy from the horse farms and tobacco fields of Kentucky relates his adventures with wry wit and breathtaking honesty.

 The paperback is available now through Amazon.