Thursday, February 13, 2014

Day 13 - Murder

The dirt road snaked through the rolling hills and it was only when it made a bend that the house showed itself. If wasn’t that it was hard to find, it was the trees sheltering it from view. Upstairs on the balcony, the view of the river was always changing. It was a comfort to hear the rushing water unless it was raining. That was when the river became the adversary. It was a long ranging war, the river and the Rhea’s.  Built long ago, the house had earned its place on the dusty road. Floods had tried to take it but it stubbornly refused to move. The rocks that supported it would not give and the house remained firmly in place.

These were happy years. The kids grew and more arrived. The land had been cleared and the tobacco and corn crops thrived. The family raised hogs for meat and the garden provided an abundance of vegetables. The house they built was large enough to accommodate the growing family.

The leaves on the trees were turning along the Clinch River. It was September 21, 1884 and there was a definite chill in the air promising an early winter. Martha worked slower than usual. Seven months pregnant with her ninth child, she was grateful that the older children had stepped in to help. 

The little ones needed tending. Leoni and Laura had taken on the task of getting Victor and William up and dressed. Della and Lavena spent more time in the kitchen learning how to cook. Martha had a chance to sit back and guide them as they made a mess with the flour. Children learned skills early in those days. Everyone helped. Floyd were out early with his father, storing corn for the winter. They were all in a hurry to be done with the days chores. John Brewer was coming with the deed to the land bordering their house and the river.

John was excited about gaining access to the land. It had sometimes been a bone of contention between the Rhea’s and the Brewer’s. The Rhea farm had many acres but this one small piece would give them more room for river planting. They could extend their crops all the way to the bend in the river. With all the mouths to feed, this was a blessing.  The Brewer land wasn’t well marked and occasionally, the Rhea crops would encroach on their land. The Brewer’s usually waited until the corn was high and then harvested the errant corn as their own. It wasn’t that the Rhea’s were trying to steal excess land. Every year, they marked the boundaries but somehow the rocks would move or disappear on their own. It wasn’t healthy to complain so they pretty much let it slide.  When Brewer suggested that they make a trade, John was happy. It would not only give them more planting space, it would end the constant battle over the boundary.

Using the bend in the river as a border was even better. The river didn’t change its boundary all by itself. Only the floods did that.  Brewer wanted John’s best rifle. The Hawken was almost as good as the more expensive Springfield’s and it was the weapon of choice for the Confederate soldiers. Handmade in St. Louis, John had purchased the rifle during his time in the war. The Hawkins was more accurate than some of the other mussel loading rifles out there. It was a much better rifle than any Brewer owned. 

Dinner was done and cleaned up when they heard Brewer arrive. Martha heaved herself out of the chair and followed John out of the door. Instead of taking the stairs, she decided to wait on the porch. John, Andrew, and Floyd walked out to meet Brewer. The girls and younger children waited with their mother. 

The two men shook hands. Martha couldn't hear the conversation over the sound of the river but it looked like it was going well. Brewer walked back to his horse and retrieved the deed from the satchel. Walking back to John, he handed him the deed as John relinquished the rifle. He wasn’t sad about giving it up; he had saved up for the much-prized Springfield. 

John turned to look at Martha, a big smile on his face. Turning back to Brewer, the men shook hands and John started to walk away flanked by Floyd.  As he reached the little tree, a shot rang out. Shocked, Martha looked to see who was shooting and saw John crumble to the ground. They all watched Brewer run to his horse and gallop away.

Martha raced to John’s side but he was already gone.

“Stay on the porch”, she told the kids.

“Floyd”, she yelled, “Go get Uncle Sterling.” Sterling lived about a mile away. 

She sat on the ground, not feeling the chill in the air. She wondered what would become of them and then put all those thoughts away.

“Leoni, go get the quilt off the chair and bring it to me.” Leoni came back with the quilt her dad had used in the war.

Jane slowly got up, straightened her back as best she could, and covered John gently before climbing the steps to the porch. 

She surveyed the faces of her children. Not one of them had made a sound. Putting her arms around as many of them as she could, she hustled them into the house. 

“We will wait for Uncle Sterling,” she told them, “He will know what to do” 

John Brewer killed John Carter Rhea on September 21, 1884. He shot his with his own rifle. The story goes that he fled to New Mexico to avoid prosecution but in fact, my 2nd cousin, Bill Rhea, has the original arrest warrant for John Brewer in Texas. John Brewer was never apprehended.  

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