Ms. Margaret of Cassville
Family stories passed from one generation to another are sometimes the only way that one generation of a family becomes real and tangible to succeeding generations. In our family, the prime storyteller was my grandfather. He would always respond to the request, "Tell me a story." To my child’s mind, he told great stories, stories I in turn, many years later, told my children. Sometimes they listened , mostly they filed the information away into some mental file called "momma’s stories." One day when my daughter was in sixth grade….."momma’s stories" became real. She came flying in from school with a question…….
"Did my grandmother really shoot up a Ku Klux Klan meeting?"
"Where did you hear that?"
"From Liz (a kid on the next street whose family came from my home town in the Big Sandy Valley)."
"No, my mother did not shoot up a Klan meeting.."
"Liz’s mother said her mother told her….."
"Her mother has the story a little mixed up but that’s probably not her fault….
The Old ones came out of Virginia after the end of the Civil War……probably around 1869. My great-grandfather’s father had taken him out for a walk one day to talk seriously about the future. The older man was worried. He was growing older…in his middle sixties….and his creeping age concerned him greatly.
"You and your family need to head west. You have to keep my grandchildren safe. If I die tomorrow…you lose your home and everything you have worked for….the others will never let you keep the farm or anything else…because you are a black man. ..
William Henry (according to his son) was outfitted with a wagon, a team, and the basic tools he would need to work a farm and enough funds to help buy property. The family packed their basic belongings in the wagon and prepared to head across the mountains.
The farm that they settled was in a small town once called Cassville. The family managed to buy enough acreage to support everyone as long as everyone was willing to work. (Almost a century and half later…part of that small farm is still family owned.) Cassville was and is the setting for this story……
A time arrived when William Henry and his sons had to be away from the farm for two to three days. Miss Margaret would be at home with the women and children of the family. The women could and would see to the farm chores with the help of the older children. Before he left, William Henry loaded the two ancient shotguns with bird shot and put them in a safe place not accessible to children. The men of the family then left to take care of their business. The team pulled the wagon down the holler, through the town and on to the main road and away the menfolk went.
Certain men of the town watched the family’s men leave. It was obvious that they would not be returning before dark so the men of the town decided that after dark would be a good time to sneak up on the pasture field hill under three huge walnut trees to build a bonfire and drink white lightning otherwise known as moonshine. To cover up their activities, town men passed the word that there would be a Ku Klux Klan meeting that night at the head of "Nigger Holler."
The women of the town were not fools and there was no Klan in the town. By barefoot grapevine..someone’s children were sent from house to house with a message to be passed on to Miss Margaret. When the message got to the family farm..Miss Margaret hatched her own plan. The women would finish all the chores and give the appearance of closing up the house for the night. Miss Margaret and one of her daughters-in-law would take advantage of a clear moonlit night and climb the pasture field hill through the woods. They planned to hide under the hard shell hickory tree on the ridge slightly above the three black walnut trees.
Their vantage point gave them a clear view of the happenings below. The town men gathered , lit their fire and passed the whiskey jugs around. Miss Margaret and her daughter in law watched,listened and waited until the moon began to make its appearance and the town men were very drunk. She then propped the first gun against a tree branch and aimed for the center of the fire. KABOOM….she fired…the burning cinders exploded out from the fire. The drunks were caught by surprise and ran around knocking cinders off each other. Miss Margaret took the second gun and aimed into the middle of the gathering. KABOOM! The drunk men bolted down the hill toward town…screaming…yelling…and cursing.
The next day, Miss Margaret took her basket of eggs and butter to sell in town. As she walked through town…women came out of their houses to make purchases and someone whispered that the women were forming a Women’s Christian Temperance Union that very week and had she heard…..some of the men had gotten drunk last night, shot each other up and were over at Dr. York’s house getting birdshot picked out of their skin? Would she have more butter and eggs to sell next week?
The WCTU was formed at the Methodist Church, the Klan never appeared in Cassville again and Miss Margaret sold a lot of butter and eggs.