Tales Of The Old South : Came A Carpetbagger

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Making Money From Misery

It didn’t take long for the Carpetbaggers to show up, even down here in the southernmost parts of Georgia. The vast forests of yellow pine were ripe for the taking, as were the even more coveted swamps teeming with ancient bald cypress.

The victorious rich of the north looked for ways of getting even wealthier from the bad decisions suffered by the sons of the south. And that was the way it was.

My father came back from the war. I felt fortunate because there were many children of my age who could not say the same. Yes he was wounded badly, and at first we thought he would surely die. My mother though, she never gave up on him, never would she allow us to suggest otherwise than he would heal as good as new.

It was almost as if she’d given some of her own wonderful life to him, lent him a few of her later years, as it were. She would give anyone her help without asking for it, anyone at all. And for her family she would do anything.

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Mother Always Knew Best

At any rate, it seemed to have worked. My father slowly recovered his health as my brother Pete and I tried to keep our small farm going as best we could. When Pa first left for the war my mother--Eleanor Gates--was left with the chore of making a living as best she knew how.

“Billy Gates,” she said to me after my father had left “you an’ Pete are gonna have tuh do thuh farm cho-ahs now, I’ll hep yuh when I can.” She did too, not only doing her own chores but spelling us with the plowing and hoeing too.

If not for her we wouldn’t still have our mule Jonah, or the cows and chickens either. When the Yankees came through scavenging everything they could find, she had Pete and I take turns hiding Jonah and the other livestock deep in Collier’s Bay. The Yankees were so afraid of quicksand and alligators it was a sure bet they wouldn’t venture too far into any of the local swamps.

Of course, a few well placed tales within earshot of the soldiers didn’t hurt much either. The old men around town made sure of that.

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Felling the Giants

Now this was the least of our problems as the Carpetbaggers were planning to cut the forests around our 100 acre farm. Not our trees, of course. Mother would have fought them herself had this been the case, but still she didn’t like the thought of a horizon littered by the broken limbs and jagged tree stumps of this primeval forest.

For tens of thousands of years it had been home to man. No, not all of them good men, but for the most part they had simply lived their lives as they saw fit, and then died without changing the landscape much at all.

But not these men of wealth and power. They cared not for the land in this loser’s country, only looked at it as the spoils of war. Nothing new in this, merely a new land to repeat this time honored tradition of “to the victor go the spoils.”

Often though, the owners never laid eyes on the very living things making them rich. They would simply read the letters and see the figures on paper representing the great trees, never hearing them fall with their last groans of death. My mother hated this and decided to at least save a few of the living giants.

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Of Beauty and Virtue

Did I tell you my mother was beautiful? She had a certain effect on most men, and some boys too if the truth were known Unlike most other ladies in the area, she had only given birth to Pete and myself and managed to keep her trim figure.

With her wonderful cornflower blue eyes and auburn hair she could charm any man she happened to meet. My father--Will Gates as he was known--found the whole thing amusing as he watched her bewitch the men folk roundabouts.

Just as soon as we got word of the timber cutting commencing she hitched Jonah up to the wagon and drove over to the other side of the vast timbered plot to see what was going on. She was very charming to the manager, a Mr. Darby Allen his name was. She developed a friendship with him which she filled my father in on.

“Those poah convicts are bein’ worked half to death ovah theah, a sawin’ and a draggin' them heavy logs all day. It’s a wondah they can git outta bed thuh next day. But I jest act like I don’t see nuthin’ wrong and keep on smilin’ my silly little smile.”

The sawmill
The sawmill | Source

Only A Job

Since Pa had fully recovered from his wartime injuries and we didn't need my mother in the fields any longer, she volunteered her services as a nurse to the poor convicts who operated the sawmill. Mr.Allen was a nice man and tried to make it easier on the work crews, and they in turn worked hard for him, but especially they admired my mother. She treated their injuries and illnesses as if they were as good as anyone, and to her they were.

Mr. Allen rode over often to eat meals with us, mainly just to look at mother I think, but then, she was a heck of good cook in the bargain. He talked of other places, of other forests he would soon cut down and ship up north, but he didn't seem too happy about it at the time. It was a job he said, just a job.

It took over two years to cut the plot completely, two years of Mother painstakingly tendering to the convict's hurts, and their heartbreaks too, if I know her like I do. She never feared being amongst them, never was afraid they would harm her at all. Everyone seemed to love her.

On the last day when the timber cutters were due to leave, a parade of scraggly ill-dressed convicts came marching past our little house. Unlike similar gangs seen around the country, this group was smiling and waving to us--to my mother especially--and she couldn't help but rush out and wish them all well. And her eyes told them much.


The turpentine still
The turpentine still | Source

A Secret Not Known

You might think my father would be the jealous sort, as most men would, but he knew mother was playing a game she was very good at. Getting her way. After all, that’s how she got my father in the first place, and he wasn’t adverse to her using her wiles to better their life, and especially in such an innocent manner.

When the saw teams finally cleared out, moving on to the next plot, a thin strip of giant pines still filled in the horizon all around us. My mother had convinced Mr. Allen it would be best to leave these few old trees as a favor to her. Did I tell you she was beautiful?

I mentioned Pete and I being the only two offspring in our family, and there was certainly a reason why. I was 12 and Pete only 9 years of age at the time Mother became pregnant again. My father was furious--even though it did take two I suppose--but Mother was certainly radiant and seemingly full of joy in expectation of increasing our small family's number.

A Chance For Another Lifetime

“You know what Doc said ‘bout it,” Pa ranted “you may not make it this time.” It was then we heard about how she'd almost died when Pete was born, had almost bled to death afterwards, and now we were scared too.

“Oh pshaw,” she said “that wuz a long time ago, I’m stronger now n’ I ever wuz. Y'all jest worried 'bout nuthin'!” But she wasn’t as strong as she claimed. She died right there in that old farmhouse. Died while my father held her hand gently, while he dripped salty tears onto her beautiful face, while he told her he loved her more than anything else, while she smiled at him with her cornflower eyes.

Her death almost finished my father off, and for Pete and I it was almost as bad. Much of the joy of life left with her, most of the sunshine remaining now dimmed a bit. Laughter never sounded so pure and happy again as once from those lips.

Yes, I am an old man now. An old man who remembers some things clearly from long ago. My mother is one of those things I remember best, and clearest if the truth be told. Yes, she gave too many of her young years away, gave them gladly I'd wager.

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Comments 22 comments

Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 3 years ago from Hereford, AZ

This was a wonderful story. I enjoyed it immensely. I love these little historical type tales.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

Great story and look at history. Well done, Randy!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad you enjoyed it, Becky. I was inspired by some research I've recently finished for an article for another venue. As usual, I wrote it for my own enjoyment also. Thank you as always for your time and comments.

Randy


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I do so love history, Bill! I suppose I have my own particular way of looking at it sometimes, though. lol! Thanks for your input as well as your time, Bill.

--RG


diogenes profile image

diogenes 3 years ago from UK and Mexico

One of your best, Randy. Willstar will have to look to his laurels.

We don't hear enough about the devastation we wreak upon our great trees. England was once all forest, with mighty oaks 30 feet around. hardly a tree left the length and breadth of the country. They took a 1000 years to grow so there's no replacing them. It hadn't occured to me that the Union continued to hold the South to acount after hostilities ceased.

Bob


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you so much for pointing out this little known part of the post-Civil War era, Bob. The South's wonderful primeval woodlands came under the saws of the victorious Northern industrialist when the landowners could not pay for, either the taxes on the property, or for the labor to make it profitable.

Millions of acres of virgin timber was sold to Yankee cohorts for just pennies per acre. After chipping the giant pines for turpentine--then an important ingredient in many pre-petroleum times--they would then clear cut the vast forests and sell the land for agricultural use.

There are many towns around here founded by such entrepreneurs built solely on the profits of carpetbaggers. And the great forests are no more. We had such a convict operated sawmill on our property at one time in the past and I can still see the raised roadbeds used for the steam powered trams used to haul the logs to the sawmill. I suppose this inspired this tale in a a way.

Sorry for the long reply Bob, but as I said, there is little real history discussing this subject as I've been searching the archives for more info about it.

Thanks for caring about the great trees and there are a few of them left on my property which I guard zealously. I appreciate your time and input as well, Bob!

Randy


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 3 years ago from North Carolina

Bravo Randy. What an excellent subject to put in one of your historical fiction writes. A lot of folks don't realize the South kept on suffering after the war by those from the North who came down to take advantage of the situation. And in a big way quite often. I am just reading now how the big properties in the sea islands off S.C. were for the most part not given to the new freed people who had worked them for generations but sold at knock-down prices to northern robber barons who hired the black folk to work them at what amounted to slave wages. Yes my friend, you've created some more memorable characters here with a story that causes the eye to well up a bit. Great photos of yours and this story may well be my favorite.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

So pleased you found this tale enjoyable, Alastar. Once again I endeavor to meld fact and fancy together to make my message understood and I hope it came out clear as to my objective.

Yes, our states suffered the indignity of being parceled out to the already wealthy instead of to those more deserving of a better life after the terrible conflict. It seems we merely postponed the inevitable with the war and still got what we were fighting against despite slavery ending as it should. But some of us know slavery wasn't the real point of the war anyway.

Thanks for taking the time to read this story and for your always welcome comments, old friend! :)


Jane Holmes 3 years ago

Another great hub on the wonderful south. Thank goodness we were able to move beyond horrors of the Civil War and become one nation under God once more! Your hubs are historical, educational and a joy to read.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello again, Jane. Yes, I love the history and mystery of the deep south. They say a writer should write what they know about, and this is what I know best. I'm so pleased you found this short story educational, as well as enjoyable. I try to keep them as historically accurate as possible.

I see you are a fiction writer and a new member of HubPages. Perhaps you may be interested in this short story contest:

http://hubpages.com/literature/Habees-Writing-Cont...


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 years ago from Central Florida

Randy, you are such a good writer! I love this story and the way you bring the reader in, as if seeing on screen. That's the sign of a good writer, my friend!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Your praise means so much to me, bravewarrior. I never know where these tales will end up when I begin writing them. I write about what piques my own interest in hopes others will enjoy the subject also. But I have nothing to lose if I enjoy the process of creating such a story.

Thanks so much for your time and input. :)


ThelmaC profile image

ThelmaC 3 years ago from Blue Ridge Mountains, USA

Randy I am so glad you suggested that I read this hub. It is wonderful and it brought tears to my eyes. Both you and Alastar Packer are true gentlemen of the south.

I really like the picture of the dirt road and the railroad crossing ... a common scene in my childhood in the south. I think I see a river or lake in the background. What town is that near?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Thelma. just published this one and liked creating it. And to be compared with my friend Alastar is really such a nice compliment. He is a great guy and a very good writer to boot.

All but two of the photos in this tale are from the Georgia Agrirama located in Tifton, Georgia. It is a circa 1890's town composed of actual farm houses and farm buildings from that time period. Almost a small town, it has many photo ops and is peopled by volunteers on weekends.

I highly recommend it as it isn't very commercial in nature and has some beautiful old houses and barns to be seen. I had a hub about it but I don't know if it is still published. I'll have to check.

Thanks so much for your time and input, Thelma! :)


mary615 profile image

mary615 3 years ago from Florida

I enjoyed this read a lot. As a Southerner, I can identify with a lot of what you write. There was a mill near the house I grew up in that was powered by water that ran over a huge wheel. The mill ground corn and made corn meal and also use that water power to saw logs. I swear, that saw mill in your photo looks exactly like the one I remember. And the house in your second photo looks just like the houses I grew up with. I grew up in the country in S.C. then later moved to Georgia. I know exactly where Tifton, Ga. is.

Thanks for the memories. Great story, Randy.

Voted UP, and shared.


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Your text and photos are simply awesome. Damn Yankees. They burned Atlanta to the ground, but today it is a thriving, modern city with the world's busiest airport. The crossroad of the nation.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I know what you mean, Mary. I too caught the last vestiges of the Old South and remember seeing the occasional mule and wagon in a nearby town with a huge turpentine barrel in the back of it. Usually piloted by an old black man, his clothes and hands coated with a sheen of tar, he still seemed to have a certain kind of dignity.

I highly recommend visiting the Agrirama, Mary. Some great photo ops and wonderful old houses too. Thanks you again for your time and great comments. :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yo, Rebecca! Yep they pretty much razed old "Terminus" but like the Phoenix, it arose from the ashes. Thanks for stopping by, and good to hear from another southern belle! :) Pleased you enjoyed the tale.

Randy


torrilynn profile image

torrilynn 3 years ago

Hi Randy,

i really liked the information and the pictures

that you used in your hub. the way that you go into

great detail and still remain to give us an accurate

depiction of what happened is amazing. thanks.

voted up.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hi, torrilynn! So nice of you to let me know you enjoyed this short tale and that the photos enhanced it also. I do try and keep these stories historically accurate to the times. Thanks again for your time and nice comments.

Randy


Mary McShane profile image

Mary McShane 2 years ago from Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Randy, I loved this one too, and your pictures only brought the story more to life. I write Civil War era and hope to publish a few pieces soon. I have found a kindred spirit in you! Great stories. I know it's been 12 months since your last comment here, but I'm going to share this story. We need more good stuff like this to be shared so people can know what good fiction is instead of some of the garbage that is being panned out there. Voted up and shared.

Mary


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 2 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I'm so pleased to meet another Civil War writer, whether you pen historical fiction or non-fiction. I've removed a few of my CW era efforts to another site operated by fellow hubbers.

You may find this site interesting:

http://alastarpacker.weebly.com/once-upon-a-histor...

Thanks again for your time!

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    Randy Godwin1,197 Followers
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    Randy Godwin is a true southern male who enjoys writing about the past in his part of the world. I hope you enjoy my Tales of the South.



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