Footprints From The Past

Source

The Beginning of the Quest

I believe part of the growing up process involves learning about one's ancestors, or at least those who are remembered fondly by their children and grandchildren's progeny. But sometimes we are also affected by those relatives who aren't recalled in such a loving manner. This was one of those occasions.

My great-grandmother was born deep in the Okefenokee Swamp. She lived in a house on the banks of the Suwanee River with her other siblings in the late 1800's. She was a mere child when her father, who was a deputy, and his brother, her uncle, who was sheriff at the time, were murdered by a band of outlaws seeking revenge for a family member the lawmen had arrested a few days before.

The outlaws caused so much terror among the remaining families of the lawmen that all of them decided to return back to where they originally came from in Middle Georgia. All but one of my great grandmother's cousins, that is. “I wonder what ever happened to Ike” my great-grandmother said while we were sitting on the front porch at my grand parent's house one late afternoon.

“We never heard from him again after we fled thuh swamp. I wisht you boys would go on down there sometime, and see if y'all could get any word of 'em. I'd like to know what become of Ike afore I pass on.”

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The Journey to the Swamp

But she died before learning of Ike's life, of how and where he ended up. So it was that my two uncles and I decided to visit the swamp again to see if we could grant my great-grandmother's ghost—or spirit if you will-- a bit of peace of mind about her cousin.

It was the winter of 1964 with me being only 14 years of age at the time, and I looked at the quest as an adventure of sorts. Feeling lucky to be able to accompany my two uncles to the great swamp, I never considered it would be anything but a fun and enlightening experience for me. The innocence of children.....

We lived only an hour or so from the swamp so it was no long trip by car, although the scenery along the route made it seem much further because of the monotony of the endless pine forests and arrow straight roads on this not-too-distant past ocean floor.

No hills to speak of, and not many vehicles traveled this way, unless you counted the occasional log truck you could see coming miles before it passed by going in the opposite direction. Except the buzzards feasting on roadkill,l and the occasional herd of wild hogs browsing along the roadside, we seemed to be the only livings things out that day

It was one of the first really cold days we'd had here in the deep south this winter, one of the reasons we could get out of farm work for a bit. My uncles also farmed and they too seemed excited about the quest we were on.

We first checked at the Clinch County courthouse to see if we could get some sort of starting point to consider. We did indeed find where Ike had paid taxes on on piece of land in 18--, but nothing more was found concerning his whereabouts after that date.

Every small town in the Deep South has its own Dead Dick Corner.
Every small town in the Deep South has its own Dead Dick Corner. | Source

Rituals of Country Living

It seemed every small town in southern Georgia had its own “Dead Dick Corner” back then, and if the truth be told, many still do today. Sure enough,we soon sighted a hardware store with several old men out front enjoying what little bit of warmth they could absorb from the sun.

After passing the time of day with them for a few minutes—it would be considered rude to merely blurt out a question without showing them we were also good southern folk—one of the old men wearing a faded pair of overalls, a red plaid flannel shirt, and a battered gray felt hat, ventured an opinion.

“Ole man Jim McKay is the one you want ta talk to,” he said “ he knew all the old timers and their families too.” After getting directions to Mr. McKay's place near the swamp itself, we proceeded with our gallant quest, and after another half hour of driving some isolated sandy roads we finally found the McKay homestead.

There were several trucks parked in he yard and around it leaving us to pull our car into a side lane. Only then did we find out this was the day Ole Jim was killing hogs.

Lucky for us Ole Jim's grown children—including a brood of grand-young 'uns, running around like a covey of baby quail—had started well before day and were finishing stuffing the last of the sausages as we drove up. I could see the many hams, shoulders, and sides of bacon arranged on fresh palmetto fronds and completely covered in salt.

The smokehouse was already showing wisps of smoke redolent of pecan and peach wood. The link sausage would begin curing today but the salt meat would need a few days before it too would do time on the smoking racks.



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Old Jim

One of the little red headed hen's in the covey kindly pointed out her “Granpa” when we asked for Ole Jim, took her thumb out of her mouth an aimed her hand just like a pistol, with the forefinger making no mistake as to who was the intended target. Mr. James McKay was enjoying the sun, his old chair--barely bothered by his solid weight—was propped up against the outside wall of his weathered house.

Mr. James looked like many old men his age. It seemed to me—and I was 14 years old you remember-- like you could take an old man and slap a pair of faded jeans or overalls on him, add a light colored shirt and suspenders to his attire, and top it off with a with an equally faded 'go-to-hell' hat, and you'd come out with some version of Mr. James.

Obviously, the old dwelling had never known a paintbrush on its sun bleached surface, and it seemed to be fitting for some reason or other. Even here in the sun it was still cold, though it was around noon by now. I was hungry, cold, and ready to get to the heart of the matter. So we all were pleased when Ole Jim invited us to share lunch with him and his brood.


Meeting Mr. Jim

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Asking of Ike

After a fine meal of pancakes covered with cane syrup and a slab of butter, scrambled eggs, fresh pan sausage, bacon and biscuits, and of course grits with red eye gravy, all of this downed by plenty of hot coffee, we finally got down to the heart of the matter.

Both of my uncles were a bit on the shy side, disliked talking to strangers for some reason. I strongly suspect this was the main reason I was invited along on this adventure. Yes, they knew I would ask plenty of questions as I was known for my curiosity in the family.

“Mr. Jim” I began, “we shore appreciate the fine food you provided, it really was good on this cold day. I hope we haven't hindered y'all as we didn't mean to interrupt your hog killin'. We're just on a gallivant, looking for a lost relative who most certainly is dead by now. His name was Ike Brady.”

When I uttered Ike's name, Mr. James snapped his head up quickly and whispered, “Ike Brady.” And by the expression on his face, and the way he stared at my uncles and I, I could tell he cared little for Ike. I only hoped he didn't carry a grudge like some of the swamp people are wont to do.

But He relaxed after a moment and apologized for his reaction saying, “I'm sorry boys, it's just thet name brangs back memories I'd just as soon forgit, were buried I thought, but sometimes memories are harder to kill than them who fill 'em.”

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Acts Of So-Called Honor

It seems Mr. James was about my age when he first met Ike on Billy's Island in 1905. This piece of high ground in the very midst of the Okefenokee Swamp became a small town filled with lumberjacks of all races of men. It was as rough an environment as one can imagine at the time, was a place where men toiled in the great swamp for their livelihood, and often fought for their lives doing so.

The vast cypress and pine forests of the Okefenokee were sold after the Civil War ended when the carpetbaggers moved in for the kill. Ancient cypress trees thousands of years old were put to the ax and saw for the pennies per acre the land cost.

There was a big sawmill on Billy's Island, connected to the outside world by a railroad mounted on pilings driven deep into the peat of the swamp. And Ike was part of the devastation posed to the men who worked in this watery hell.

“He wuz a bully” Mr. James remembered, “wuz always pickin' at my Pa, a-tryin' tuh get a rise out ov 'em. He wuz right tall, with long arms, while my Pa was short and stocky. Pa wasn't scared, not at all, but he didn't like tuh fight like some o' thuh men did. But when Ike slapped me down in front 'o my Ma, Pa thought he had no choice but tuh stand up tuh 'em.”

On Billy's Island

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Being A Man

“The logging company frowned on the men fightin', but they so did all the same.” Mr. James had started his memories and they wouldn't be denied. “Thar wuz a small clearin' 'bout a mile from town, a circle cut clear fer jest sech a purpose. I remember Pa rubbin' his body with hog lard tuh make it harder fer Ike to get a grip on 'im."

"He also coated thuh palms of his hands an' thuh soles of his feet with pine tar so he could hold Ike better. I also 'member Ma beggin' 'im tuh back out of thuh fight, cryin' her heart out tuh no avail. But I knew Pa would go, he had no real choice in thuh matter, not if he was tuh call hisself a man.”

“I had tuh go, o' course, if nuthin' else tuh show 'em I was a man too.” Mr. James looked his age now, the telling of the past seemed to put years on his old frame, made him more ancient to the eye. I suppose bad memories have a power of their own, can often wield that power when it's least expected. I witnessed the truth of this effect that cold Georgia day.


The Circle

They “went at it like wild hawgs a-fightin.” said the old man. “I never seed sech a savage brawl afore, an' ain't never seen one sincet.” He tilted his back and seemed to be picturing the long ago event as if watching a movie reel in his mind. And perhaps it was just as clear to him.

I've heard blind people develop their other senses to make up for their loss of vision. Old Jim seemed to possess such a power today as he said, “Ike Brady wuz one o' thuh meanest people I ever knowed, wuz allus lookin' fer somebody tuh torment,but my pa finally had his fill of it."

"There were quite a few men waitin' in the circle when we arrived. Ike was already in attendance, talkin' his talk as usual. There was to be no bitin' nor gougin' of eyeballs as there was in the past. It was to be a civilized brawl."

“ Some said they fought for over an hour, but it seemed much longer to me at the time. Sometimes they would get out of the cleared circle and end up amongst the palmettoes and scrub oaks. Pa held his own till finally, Ike threw him headlong into a small pine tree and knocked Pa unconscious."

"With a blood curdling scream of victory, Ike launched himself into the air and landed with both feet on pa's chest. Pa never regained consciousness. The doctor said a broken rib punctured his heart.”

Source

Aftermath

“I can still see him laid out at thuh ole house with my mother cleaning his body up for thuh funeral," Old Jim said. "You could clearly see thuh footprints Ike left on Pa's chest with his last victory stomp.” After a reflective pause Mr. James said “I cain't tell ye fer sure what happened tuh Ike after thet boys."

Then Mr. James looked us all straight in the eyes and said " I heard he went a-missin' in thuh swamp a few weeks later. In fact, I feel right shore he died in thet swamp.” With that he smiled for the first time since he began his story.

I suppose some things are better left unknown and untold. On the long ride back home we decided what we'd discovered in the swamps fell into that category. It's true you know, you cannot choose your kin...

Author's Note

True stories are often harder to tell than those of fiction. This tale is an example of such. These events happened much as I related them, with the exception of using real names of course. Also. I was not along for the ride to the swamps. Creative license and all that..........

Randy Godwin

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44 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 4 weeks ago from California Gold Country

What a beautiful, evocative and chilling piece of writing, Randy. It didn't need photos, it made pictures in the mind. Really one of the best pieces I've read on HP.... should be in a book.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you Rochelle! I wrote this one merely to get the tale on record for my future kin. I love history, especially that of my own ancestors, heroes or villains. The latter is harder to write about though. Thanks again for your time. :)


Becky Katz profile image

Becky Katz 4 weeks ago from Hereford, AZ

Beautifully written story. I could see the fight in my mind's eye. I think your kin is lucky to have such a talented writer getting the stories on the record. I have some like that too. I have had several cousins and second cousins find me on line and ask me if I was related, by the stories I wrote. I think you may find a few stray relatives also.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hey Becky! Where have you been, girl? I've grown accustomed to your being among the first to comment on my yarns and I always look forward to your input.

Getting my family's history written down was my goal on this one. The old man told my uncles about the footprints on his father's chest and I could clearly see it in my mind. Even the bad family members leave a lesson of life long after they are gone.

Thanks again, Beck! :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Oh, and I've already found some relatives from comments left on my Murder in the Okefenokee Hub. Cool stuff!


DreamerMeg profile image

DreamerMeg 4 weeks ago from Northern Ireland

Great telling of an old story. We cannot choose our relatives but their actions can still affect us.


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 weeks ago from UK and Mexico

Hi Randy: Got some tough ol' genes there, fella! I thought it was a fictional tale at first, as good as some of Will's. Ike finally got his comeuppance...rough justice.

I still remember fondly your part of the world...I also owned a house for a short time in Atlanta and, as I mentioned to you, lived for a while on St George Island...

Truth is stranger than fiction as they say.

Regards Bob


Jodah profile image

Jodah 4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

When you know a story is true it adds a different dimension to it, Randy. This was no exception, and it is a wonderful record for your future kin. Excellent.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

DreamerMeg, I appreciate your taking the time to read this rather lengthy tale and for your nice input on it.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Diogenes--Hey Bob, yes I remember your telling me a bit about your time on St. George Island. I've always thought it was a beautiful to live. Rough times back then, rough people too. Had to be tough to live in the great swamp, especially on Billy's Island during the logging days. Glad to hear from you, Bob. Thanks again for the nice words.


norlawrence profile image

norlawrence 4 weeks ago from California

This is a fabulous story. It is so well written and held my interest from beginning to end. The pictures were also great. Thanks as I really enjoyed it.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

@Jodah--Thanks for taking the time to read this long story, John. I hope my future ancestors appreciate my putting these tales for them. I'm afraid some of these fact based stories are soon to be forgotten if I don't put them down in writing. Thanks again to a fine writer. :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

norlawrence--Thanks for the kind words re my writing ability, Nora. When I get such input it makes the research worthwhile. True tales are difficult for me to write , especially when my kinsmen are such villains. Hope you have a nice Saturday!


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 weeks ago from southern USA

Randy, I love reading your true tales of kin and the Okefenokee Swamp. I grew up in Georgia and so I can relate to the scenery and all.

You are one of the best writers here on HP no doubt.

It's good to record the tales of the past for future generations. It is true ...real life is stranger than fiction!

Enjoyed reading.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 weeks ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Randy.....??? back then, people really did take matters (& the law) into their own hands, I see. I'm just as stunned as I can be! Such a fascinating story!~especially being a true story. Killing a man in a brawl, jumping full force on his chest? Scuse me, but that's a tad bit more than "being a bully!" Good grief. Apparently his trial was held in the swamp.?....Yikes.

Your story-telling style is phenomenal....reads like a best-selling novel, Randy. You are enviably talented!

Yes, I agree with you about getting these true tales written for the generations to come. Villains or whatever our ancestors are remembered as, we all need to know! Some of us seriously regret not getting vital family history related to us before most everyone died off! This is great, Randy, really great!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Faith Reaper--This one will probably end up in a book along with other Tales of the South. I think we need reminding of a life so much more difficult than we have now.

I didn't know you were a "Georgia Peach," Theresa. Thanks for the nice compliment on my writing style and for the time you took to read and comment. Very much appreciated. :)


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 weeks ago from southern USA

Yes, I am certainly a "Georgia Peach." I grew up around the Chattahoochee River in Muscogee County.

"Tales of the South" would be an amazing book no doubt! I would buy it.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Paula, sorry to be so late responding but I've been over at Habbe's for a cookout. Always good grub at her house.

Yes, Billy's Island had all sorts of men and women in the small town. A rough place for some tough people at the time they were deforesting the great swamp. Some of the tree were thousands of years old when they felled them.

And extra thanks for the nice compliments you've sent my way. They are much appreciated as always.


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 weeks ago from Somewhere in the universe

This tale sounds like it could have come straight out of East Texas. We have our swampland too.

Sometimes it isn't always a good thing to look too deeply into one's past and kin. But it's better than making things up.

Fine story, I really enjoyed reading it. If ever men stop their fighting, I'll be the happiest person on earth.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yo Lela, I suppose the tougher the environment, the rougher the people who live there It does indeed take something out of a writer to learn about his own villainous ancestors

And you're correct Lela, true tales are indeed often stranger than fiction. Thanks for the great input!


diogenes profile image

diogenes 4 weeks ago from UK and Mexico

Hey, Lela, scuse me butting in; that ain't swampland in East Texas, it's where them good ol' boys are chucking up their beer after a night in the bars!

Well...Bob x Great story of Randy's eh?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Sounds like you have some personal experience to me. Bob. :P


4 weeks ago

What a haunting and beautiful story. Well done.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you J, I'm pleased you enjoyed it. :)


shanmarie profile image

shanmarie 4 weeks ago from Texas

You had me hanging on from beginning to end with this one, especially when you mentioned that it's based on a true story.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you so very much, Shannon. Yes, a lot of true details are in this tale. Sad to say. :)


johnmariow profile image

johnmariow 4 weeks ago from Connecticut

Excellent story telling. Great imagery. The dialogue was excellent. I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

I'm glad you like the dialogue, John. Sometimes I wonder if it's worth it to write as a southerner spoke during the time period of my tale. I do feel it adds a feeling of the time and place in the story.

Thanks very much for your time reading and the very nice comments on my writing style. That is enough reward for a simple southern boy. :)


Phyllis Doyle Burns 4 weeks ago

Mr. Godwin, Sir, you really ought to get started on that book - you have a wealth of tales from your ancestors. That Ike was a real bad ass. I am thinking he met his due. Great tale, no one can tell them better.

Luv ya, my friend,

Phyllis


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

This in in your wheelhouse. You are a storyteller of the first order, that guy sitting around the campfire, teaching lessons through the medium of story. This country needs mores storytellers like you.


Lady Guinevere profile image

Lady Guinevere 4 weeks ago from West Virginia

Wow, what a great story. It kept me on the edge on my seat. I bet you had a time of it with the spelling pog lice when you wrote in that southern drawl. hehe.

You story is much like what doing genealogy is and findng missing persons. Sometimes they just drop off the face of the earth never to be known what happened to them.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 weeks ago

Randy, I need to be outside cutting the ever growing grass but, once I started reading this, I couldn't stop.

Reading this brings back memories (good ones) of my Grandpa when he came into the room where a man was sitting on the side of the bed, where my cousin and I were huddled together, to scared to move, and without so much as a single word lifted the man by his shirt collar and took him away (The Last Hoedown)

Pampa did not fight much, but when someone wants to mess with his granddaughters there is no stopping him.

Awesome and interesting story.

Blessings my friend.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hey Phyllis old friend, I am slowly adding to my book but tales like these are often hard to get the correct feeling into. It's different when the villain is an ancestor. Thanks as always for your nice input on my stories and my writing style. Luv ya too! :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thanks for stopping by, Bill. I often think my storytelling came from ancestors, one who was considered a 'Cat O' The Whip--a traveling repairman and storyteller-- in the Old country. At least I like to think so. LOL!

Thanks for your time and I'm enjoying reading the stories from your latest challenge. Four photo prompts are a challenge but I see many have met the challenge well.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Lady G--Hey Deb, yes it is quite difficult to recreate the southern accent from this time period. Some swamp crackers used Elizibethan English well into the 20th century. And you are correct in your statement about searching for on'e ancestors. Some have simply vanished from all records.

Thanks again for your time and input. :)


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Shyron, so sorry you had to delay your grass mowing. :P I wish I had to mow mine, but with a continuing drought here--less than 2 inches for the last few months--the grass is practically dead.

There were a lot of men like your grandpa, slow to anger but when they did get mad, watch out!! The old timers operated under a different code than we do today. The times often called for it.

Thank you for letting the grass grow a bit longer and reading this story, Shyron. The comments were great also. :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is a powerful tale, Randy. All of your stories that I've read are excellent. As others have said, you're a fine storyteller.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you for your kind words, Alicia. Input such as this makes creating my stories well worthwhile. I really appreciate your time on this rather lengthy tale. :)


cam8510 profile image

cam8510 3 weeks ago from Columbus, Georgia until the end of November 2016.

Richly told, Randy, as only you could do. I've wanted to visit the Okefenokee Swamp ever since I wrote one of my first flash fiction stories about it . I knew nothing about that place. Still don't, but you have brought it back to my attention. I've got a few days off work right now. I was supposed to head down to the Florida panhandle for some fishing, but the storm has changed those plans. Maybe a visit to the swamp would be nice. I'll do some googling right now to see if there is a way to see the swamp these days.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

I remember your tale about the swamp, Chris. You can visit it at two locations these days. One near Fargo and the other at Folkston as you already know.

Thanks for the read on this tale and the nice comments as always.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 weeks ago from Central Florida

Randy, I always look forward to your stories because I know they're real. And I love the dialect you use in the printed word.

It's never easy to learn some members of the family tree were less than desirable. My mom told me I had a great, great uncle who was wanted for murder in one town of Missouri and elected sheriff in the next. Guess the town felt safe being protected by an ornery soul.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hey Shauna, thanks for checking out this rather sad tale. It wasn't meant to entertain as many of my attempts are, but I wanted to get the story down anyway. Yes, there's always some villains in one's family tree. :)


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 3 weeks ago from Central Florida

Most of us have a colorful past, Randy. Some colors are bright, some are dark. But the end result is a mixture of both. I wouldn't have it any other way, would you?


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 weeks ago from Southern Georgia Author

No indeed, Shauna! That's what gives life its zest in some cases, knowing about our kin--good and bad--that is.

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