Something a little different from me today. A fiction piece titled “Impending War” for an event that paired writers and artists for State of the Ozarks magazine in 2018. I was paired with artist Curtis Copeland, some of you may remember that Curtis and I worked together on a story about the existence of Black Panthers in Missouri.
Cotton was not king in the Ozarks but hard work was. The soil was not suited for farming. If it had been the planters would have bought it up and brought their slaves with them.
Planting was done in small clearings. It was no easy task and the crops grown in the rocky soil were done so for subsistence, not cash.
Some of the corn was used to feed the cattle and some was ground into meal for the family.
News was slow to travel to the Ozarks but when it did arrive it brought word of the impending war.
My father doubted the war would make it to our isolated homestead.
Leaning against a split rail fence he stated, “There is barely enough for us to survive on, much less enough to fight over.”
He was in deep thought. He shifted the rocky soil back and forth with his foot and it was not clear whether he was trying to convince me or himself. With pipe in hand , he pointed at the barn and said, “Harness the mule son. We’ve got a crop to put in”.
From time to time a neighbor would bring news on the current state of affairs. Jim Sutton stopped by one day and stated the Governor had met with Captain Lyon in St. Louis to negotiate a peace and that the meeting had ended with Captain Lyon declaring war on the Governor, the State and every man, woman and child who lived there.
News traveled “through the grapevine” in the mountains, from neighbor to neighbor. Newspapers were a rarity. Partly because of isolation and partly because more than a few settlers could not read and had very little time for such luxuries even if they could. Despite the rumors of war, there was always work to be done. Wood needed to be chopped, livestock fed and fences repaired.
Most of our neighbors were of Scots-Irish who had immigrated from the neighboring states of Kentucky and Tennessee. They were Southerners of a different social class. A working class who placed more emphasis on necessary labor and taking care of their families and neighbors than the politics of the day.
August brought news of a great battle in the Western portion of the state and another visit from Jim Sutton.
I had just finished my chores for the day and had drew a bucket of water from the well. I dipped the ladle into the bucket and was taking a sip of the cool water when I saw Mr. Sutton ride up on his horse.
“Howdy Elijah”, he said with a smile, “Is John around?”
“Daddy’s in the barn Mr. Sutton” , I said.
My father walked out of the barn and said, “Howdy Jim. What brings you around?”
Jim Sutton climbed off of his horse and shook Daddy’s hand. “Can I talk to ya?”
They went to the barn but I could still make out part of the conversation. Mr. Sutton was trying to convince Daddy to join the Confederate forces and Daddy countered with, “Who’s going to take care of this farm and this family? This is no war for us besides you said Lyon was dead. There might not even be a threat to us now.”
“I’m going John”, Mr. Sutton said. “Lyon being killed isn’t going to stop what’s comin’, if anything, those Yankees are going to want vengeance and don’t go thinkin’ we’re gonna be safe here. Mark my words. They’re going to swarm over the whole state like a plague of locusts.”
“I wish you luck Jim”, Daddy said.
“You too John”, replied Mr.Sutton as he mounted his horse and turned it toward the road. Before riding off he stopped and added, “John. There are a lot of families headed down to Green County, across the state line. If the war visits your place take what you can and get down there.”