The Night the Klan Ran, A Short Story
"An Indian on an Indian," the Sheriff of Lancaster County, SC said softly as Chief John Bear gunned the engine, switched the bike off and leaned it over on it's stand in back of the Sheriffs Office. It was an unseasonably mild afternoon in mid January 1958.
The Chief saw the Sheriff standing at the window and gave a mock salute. The Sheriff held his steaming cup of coffee up and the Chief nodded as he limped painfully away from his bike.
Sheriff Bob Gibson had a cup waiting for John Bear when he got to Bob’s office in the rear of the white concrete building. John pulled his faded old green Army Issue jacket off and threw it over a straight back wooden chair before sitting down and accepting the coffee. The stenciled name on the front was spelled “Bare” and he had caught the devil for it while he had been serving overseas.
"I hear you drove up to North Carolina yesterday, Sheriff." Chief Bear blew on the cup and sipped. "What did old Possum have to say?"
"I'm fine, John,” The Sheriff replied. “Thanks for asking. How's the leg?" He refilled his own cup from a thermos and sat down behind the oak desk.
"The shrapnel that your Uncle Sam says isn't there hurts like hell. What'd he say?" The Chief of the Catawba Indian Nation frowned as he swallowed the hot drink. "You white people sure can't make coffee worth a damn."
"He said he heard I needed some help getting my people under control."
" Your people, hmmm. And you said...."
"Told him the Klan was not wanted here, not welcome here and that I could not guarantee their safety if they had that rally this weekend." The Sheriff got up from behind his desk and came around to sit next to his friend.
"He also inferred that I was personally mongrelizing the white race. How's Diana?" The Sheriff asked.
"My sisters fine, be better if you'd make an honest woman out of her."
"You know better than that," The Sheriff said. "I’ve begged her, she won't listen."
"So what are you going to do ... about the rally, I mean."
"I guess I'll let you guys handle it," The Sheriff said."You know if any one gets hurt things will only get worse."
"You mean if any white people get hurt, don't you?" Chief Bear said.
"Can you control your guys?" The Sheriff ignored the previous question.
"Can't guarantee the Klans safety either," The Chief sipped a bit of his hot coffee. "but I will try to restrict our usual urge for scalp collecting."
"I'd sure appreciate it if you would."
They sat in comfortable silence until each man finished his drink. Chief Bear put his cup on the corner of the desk and got to his feet.
"Be seeing you," he said. The two shook hands and the Sheriff walked him out, stood back at the window and watched the Indian on the Indian pull away.
"No, you won't," the lawman said mostly to himself.
It was barey dusk dark in the field near Lansford Canal on the Catawba River that Friday evening. Paul "Possum" Carnes, Grand Dragon of the North Carolina Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and lay preacher at the Beacon Baptist Church in Fayetville, figured that they might as well get started. Most of the fifty or so men, women and children that were gathered in front of the kerosene soaked cross had made the trip with him in a car caravan. They had driven down route 74 and into South Carolina on the Monroe Highway. The low turn out only solidified Possum's opinion that the blacks and indians were controlling Lancaster County. Why else wouldn't hundreds of decent white folks have shown up?
"Let's round them up and get started, Sam," Possum said to his little brother. Sam Carnes had ridden down with Possum in the front seat, smoking Lucky Strikes and sipping something foul smelling out of a flask that he kept hidden in the inside of his jacket pocket. Possum's wife and two sons had been forced to sit in the back and they had whined about it most of the way.
Sam yelled for everyone to come over and Possum climbed on the back of a flat bed Ford truck. Most of the women and children (including Possum's own brood) took shelter from the frigid night air in their cars for the speech that was to come. Truth be told, they had heard it all before and weren't really all that interested in brother Possums ramblings. Some of the men donned their sheets, most left the hoods off as they gathered facing the truck.
Possum was just about to begin when he realized that everyone was looking beyond him at the woods surrounding the clearing near the entrance to the Lansford Canal. The full moon clearly illuminated a single indian standing at the edge of the clearing. Chief Bear was dressed in buckskin clothing, and the cheeks of his face were painted with deep red, bright white and dark blue stripes. He held a wooden staff decorated with wild turkey feathers.
"Dam, it's a injun'," Sam said.
No shit, thought Possum. Next he'll say something about John Wayne.
"Where's John Wayne when you need him." Sam burped after slurring that tiny witticism. Possum sighed and lit his torch with a match from his front pocket.
Sneering, Possum spit a huge wad of chewing tobacco off the back of the truck in the indian's general direction.Then with the torch in his left hand, Possum grabbed his megaphone in his right and began his speech facing the indian.
"The purity of the white race is in question here in Lancaster County," he began. "White men and women are fornicating with ..."
A blood chilling cry exploded from Chief Bear and everyone stared as first one then another man materialized out of the thick woods. A few were dressed in traditional Catawba Indian garb and roughly every third man carried some type of firearm. In seconds Chief Bear was joined by about a hundred and fifty warriors. They stood silently staring at the Klansman and waited on orders from their Chief.
Angrily, Possum threw the megaphone aside and reached for the shotgun nestled against a bale of hay near the cab of the truck.
From the wooded hillside three shots rang out.
The first one exploded the overhead light that had been rigged to provide illumination for the not so clandestine event.
The next round was a tracer and it flashed a red streak over the Klansman's head on the truck. The third one found and exploded the can of kerosene. Orange flames arced into the sky.
Chief Bear raised his staff and a hundred and fifty angry Indians rushed the Klansmen, screaming and firing their weapons into the air. Shocked, a handful of the Klansmen pointed revolvers in the general direction of the charging indians and fired a few rounds. No one was hit although Jason Newell, the barber from over in Lumberton, would never be able to hear piano music quite the same after Jimmy Johnson fired that .44 Special about three inches from his left ear.
Startled by the screaming and the shooting, Possum took three quick steps back, stumbled over the megaphone and fell off the truck losing his shotgun. He scrambled around on his knees looking for the gun. He stopped feeling around when instead of a gun his hand fell on the moccasins. He looked up and found himself surrounded by Chief Bear and three eerily quiet indians.
By then most of the Klansmen had scattered into the woods. The few that remained were getting their behinds whipped by men they had considered totally inferior about a minute before.
Terrified, Possum crawled quickly under the truck where he saw his brother lying with his hands over his ears.
"Make it quit," Sam cried. "Make it quit."
Brother Possum rolled on under the truck, then jumped up on the other side and ran into the woods, momentarily forgetting his wife and two small children that were left crying in his car.
With most of the Klan in the woods or nursing bumps and bruises, frivolity ensued. The KKK flag was torn down, the cross pushed over and then the State Police showed up with their blue lights lighting up the night scene. Order was restored and Chief Bear eased back into the woods.
Saturday morning the Sheriff sat behind his desk looking over some wanted posters from the FBI. Chief Bear walked in.
"You here to sign Possum's bail?" the Sheriff looked up and grinned.
"I'm amazed you even got a warrant," Chief Bear stuck his hands in his pockets and wandered over to a gun case on the other wall. "He'll never serve a day. What did you charge him with?"
"Inciting a riot. I heard he started it... That's right isn't it?"
"Sure," The Chief studied one of the long guns in the case.
"Sheriff Bob, what'd you do in the war?"
"Like you, pretty much whatever I was told," He got up from his desk and walked over to the cabinet, stood beside the Chief and saw their images reflected back in the spotless glass. The M1 Garand with the M84 Telescopic sight was nestled in it’s usual spot.
" You might want this," Chief Bear handed an empty .30-06 cartridge to the Sheriff. "I found it up on a hill overlooking Lansford Canal field."
"Keep it,” the sheriff handed it back. “ sort of a souvenir."
"Possum's last stand?" Chief Bear said.
The man who would not get re-elected sheriff and the man who would become his brother-in-law both laughed.
"The Night the Klan Ran" is a totally fictionalized story inspired by a real incident at Maxton Pond in Robeson County, North Carolina. In the first draft the story takes place there but I found myself unhappy with the finished project. I had researched the true story on the web, seen photographs of the people involved and felt that my version trivialized what happened that January night in 1958.
The story was stuck in my head (not to mention my ipad) and after a couple of weeks it dawned on me to switch the two Carolinas and to use a new photograph of the old Lancaster County Sheriff's Office after doctoring it up on my Mac. Then I replaced the Lumbee Indians with York's own Catawba Indians (York is about a ten minute drive from my house in Lancaster) and changed the villain from the real James"Catfish" Cole to Paul "Possum" Carnes.
Oh, THANKS TO ED FROM BOSTON FOR THE PHOTO OF THE INDIAN MOTORCYCLE.
REAL DEAL: Link to Life Magazine's Story & Pictures
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