The Rockbridge County Gazette, June 28, 1904 PAINTER, THE IRISH CREEK DESPERADO, ARRAIGNED by Reese Prescott
—Lexington: After two hours of deliberation, a panel of magistrates today in the circuit court of Rockbridge turned in an indictment in the rape and murder case of Brodie Painter, the so-called Irish Creek Desperado. The crime, which raised a significant stir hereabouts, involved felonious assault on a fourteen-year-old girl named Ina Grove, and the prosecutor, Captain Stansfield, now has plans to petition Judge Armbruster for the gallows in light of both the harm done the girl and the savagery with which her uncle Leaf Pogue was stabbed to his death.
According to testimony, Painter, a robust man of 35 years and uncertain race, has scaped the ministrations of the law on several previous occasions. Something more than a year ago he killed a neighbor, Cash, in a fracas on the headwaters of Pedlar Creek and eluded punishment when arraigned at Amherst Courthouse, due to a dearth of witnesses. His latest crime was committed in South Mountain on Irish Creek in the county. He had been acknowledged a desperate miscreant and was for some time variously reported either to have fled to territories unknown or to be at large in the dense recesses of South Mountain. Commonwealth’s Attorney Moore entreated Governor Montague to levy a reward for Painter’s capture, and Richmond offered up a replevin of $100.
This turn of events was kept in camera that Sheriff B. R. Sherburne might initiate proceedings without raising general alarm or alerting the fugitive to the actions of his pursuers. Local enforcement had previously been frustrated on learning that Painter had left the settlement, probably by way of the Norfolk and Western Railroad, his one-time employer. To run his man to ground, the sheriff enlisted the services of Constable John Pink of Buffalo District, a man known in these quarters for his taste for the dangerous.
Pink was himself reared in the Blue Ridge on the Amherst side, often called “The Free State” for its hospitality to fugitives, and is familiar with the locals and all the paths through Pedlar River Country. It was Pink who cast a quiet net and finally located Painter in the environs of his brother Darl, and upon his intelligence Sheriff Sherburne convened his posse comitatus and despite wet weather took the White’s Gap Road up into the Blue Ridge.
In what will no doubt be acclaimed the model of corpus juris efficiency, the trap was laid and sprung. The lawmen and their deputies rode through rough mountains. After two days traveling against heavy impairment of weather, they reached an abandoned farm in the precincts of the Painter homestead and there without leave or license secreted their horses in the empty stable. After miles of difficult travel through mud and dense brush, the officers spied the brother and several womenfolk of the Painter clan moving about the place and so deployed sentries. The sheriff kept vigil behind the house, while his subordinates took to the laurel and rocks on foot. All caution was exercised with weapons at the ready, as Painter is a veteran of the Spanish war and numerous violent scrapes and disturbances in the region. Shortly, Police Chief Hazelwood of the party surprised Darl Painter, who had surmised the presence of the lawmen, climbing out a window with intentions of signaling his brother.
It was then felt that the house must at once be searched, and though none of the runagate’s kit was discovered, it was determined that Pink’s intelligence had been essentially correct, so the posse mounted a hushed ambush about the Painter house. Approaching sunset, according to Sheriff Sherburne, Brodie Painter appeared with a Colt Navy dangling from his hand, at which time Hazelwood showed his shotgun, and as the sheriff reported, the arrest was effected without further incident. The party quickly retraced their steps to their concealed horses and obtained some supper at a house in the mountains before making their way back to Lexington.
Throughout the hearing, attorney Spencer argued that his client had been treated with malice and hard measures, but the examiners pressed vigorously for the facts in the case. The prisoner promptly admitted to the likelihood that his blow had killed Leaf Pogue, albeit in defense of his own life and limb, but he contended in unpopular testimony that no rape had taken place.
Before the bench the accused was shouted down until Judge Armbruster ordered the courtroom cleared of all but the principals. Reading of an affidavit submitted by the alleged victim quickly gave the lie to Painter’s desperate strategy. Although not present herself, Miss Grove recorded under licit seal that her uncle, who had acted as her guardian since her father’s demise, her mother having died in childbirth, was about to serve supper when a man scarcely known to them burst through the door waving a butcher knife. Her account described the accused in many particulars, including the dark hue of his skin and the blue serpent tattoo on his arm, and outlined a bloody scuffle, followed by reference to unspeakable acts. Injured and in shock, the unfortunate received assistance from a passerby, the widow Kate Fell, the next morning, but it is feared she will be forever damaged by the atrocity.
The sitting panel, including one veteran of the Confederacy and others known to be distinguished citizens of our community, indicted Painter on charges of rape and capital murder, and as many of his other actions came to light during the testimony, his conviction is expected, which many surmise will produce a calm on Irish Creek in the aftermath of his little reign of terror.
The trial, which is expected to draw extensive public interest due to long-standing disputes over property rights and livestock among the denizens of Irish Creek, has been scheduled for August tenth. Although no trouble from the Painter kin is expected, Jailer Lisha Jackson says a double guard will be kept posted around the clock, and no chances will be taken with the outlaw.
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Sheriff Blaine Sherburne, His Log, Excerpted: 1904 April 13
A chilly evening and still raining. I have been struck with the Arkansas travels and could scarce stir from the office this day, but legal business will not desist on sole account of my bowels’ inconvenience. This morning I was informed by Bill Brewster of another killing up on Irish Creek. They are a rough bunch up there and prone to scrap, which I understand is common to such woodloafers and rullions as dwell thereabouts, but I wish those bravos would fashion their own law, however perverse, and stick by it. This new instance is dire, as there is rape of a young girl involved, and I am somewhat acquainted with the supposed killer, one Brodie Painter, who slew his neighbor Sink Cash last autumn but was not testified against and walked scot-free. Tomorrow I will be obliged to ride out beyond the pale and snoop into it, as this rash of misdeed must be stomped out.
The events appear to have unfolded yesterday or the day before, and the victims Ina Grove and her uncle Leaf Pogue have little kin up that way, so at least the lynch talk, according to Brewster, is but a whisper so far. I knew Painter in the Spanish war, and he has ever proved to be a blacksnake who could not keep his hands in his own pockets or his Jemison in his trousers. Of late, by what I hear, he has taken to quarrel and plunder whenever he inclines, showing blade or barrel if opposed. As the region is rife with Ramps, Melungeons, and of recent a swarm of Mormon Saints, reports from the place read like news from the cockpit.
This will be the fourth time already I have had to seek copias on one of those Irish Creek rabbit twisters, and I am inclining to fall in with that faction of the Gentleman’s Club that says they should be rousted and shot like so many mad dogs, their sorry cabins blazed, and the whole of South Mountain and Whetstone Ridge sowed with salt. It grows more difficult being the officiary voice in light of such widespread evidence of devilment. With each page of the calendar Adair’s father’s entreaty that I serve out only my current term and relinquish the star to share his livery concern grows more alluring, though to work daily with a man who incessantly recites from Mrs. Browning is not my aim in life, and I suspect his desire for a grandchild is fueling his offer.
If this rain will let off, we will likely get some warming and I will pack angling gear and strive to at least turn the junket into a couple of trout. Now the wick is raising more smudge in the lamp flute than glow, so I will risk another swallow of Tut’s Pellets and try not to wake my sweet Adair when I slip into the covers. I must not propose to excurse to Irish Creek without the pump gun and must never think to foray to such treacherous haunts without full vigilance. For the time, God save the Commonwealth of Virginia, and so good night.
Granny Kate Fell brought the unfortunate orphan by the house this morning when she delivered our butter. We had talked two days previous, at which time she put forth that the child would be less skittish if we could conduct the interview in a sitting parlor, instead of my office. Adair with her usual breakfast radiance poured us coffee and repaired to her sewing nook. The first thing I noticed was that Ina Grove is hardly a girl, though she claims she will not even reach fourteen till August. Her make is full womanly, and she has the sort of green cat’s eyes that follow you without moving and hair of raven silk like mourning clothes, though she does comport herself in bashful manner and is slow to answer even the simplest questions. Probably a sense of shame influences this manner, and I briefly feared that she was as well somewhat slow as a result of the in-turning bedlam mating up there on the thicket slopes, but later I came to appreciate that her shyness is not without device.
In the matter of her testimony, told in the minor key voice common to her stripe, she is consistent with what Granny Kate had previously conveyed. The man known as Brodie Painter, whom she had seen on various occasions but never truly met nor heard named, had on the day in question surprised herself and Pogue as they sat to a meal. Miss Grove steadfastly maintains that the accused rushed through the open door with not a word and knocked her uncle to the floor, then slit him twice with a big knife while she sat frozen and voiceless. Once the uncle was disabled, though still breathing and moaning, the intruder threw her onto the floor, raised her skirts, and ripped her undergarment. When I inquired if she did scream, she reckoned not and said she felt as one seeing actions unfold from outside her natural body. This could result, I suppose, from deep shock. What she remembered was Painter’s muddy eyes and a blue or green snake drawn onto his dark arm.
This was, she said, her scandalous despoilment and had made her dirty, and she kept staring at a red knot in the floor, scuffing it with her brogan as if she might shove it aside could she only approach it in some yet-undiscovered fashion. I did not press her hard on any details but the man’s build (which she puts at over six feet), his clothes and aspect, as well as the tattoo. On various occasions in our conversation, which filled only just more than a quarter of an hour, Miss Grove did interject that the man’s skin was unusual in its color, and sometimes when she shut her eyes she saw him blue. Granny Fell then took her away, confiding that she prayed this child would not be called upon to appear in open court.
Though I would not agree that this girl is so much lacking in art nor such a wilder flower as others might perceive her, there is something of the deeply wounded in her look and the quaver of her voice. Her account having no inconsistencies nor inaccuracies according to my eventual search of the scene of those lamentable events, I find her a credible witness and am ready to sue for warrant, despite Adair’s conviction the girl has something of the hussy in her comport.
Whether Painter will be susceptible to surprise or not is yet to be uncovered, but I remain suspicious that this situation will not resolve itself without extensive attention and no small expense. An owner of pasture, paddocks, hauling stock, and Surrey carriages would be at liberty to turn a blind eye to such considerations and enjoy an afternoon glass of Goldbrau to the tune of the overzealous weather. In my position, however, no ostrich logic will suffice.
Adair wishes us to attend a performance of Lovey Mary at the Buena Vista Opera House tonight, but I am resolved to plead paperwork concerning the recent embezzlement by Mr. Monroe of Jordan’s Point, as some theatrical matters are best left unexplored.
I would like to boast it is time to soak the rope and stitch a new hood, but we are as far from snagging Brodie Painter as from catching a bingbuffer. I would as lief chase the latter, as its nonfactual nature would excuse my empty-handedness, while Painter is as slippery as the painter cat that shares his name. He was ever known to be an able man in the wild, which is why we never hoped to collar him in casual patrol when he was no more than a fractious misdemeanor up there in the Free State stilling splo, playing the cunny hound and eye-gouging with his ilk. Now all evidence signifies him as the culprit in this dastardly affair of Leaf Pogue and the girl, and he must be delivered before the gavel. Nor will Cash’s intimates in the township let that old matter rest.
Warrants aplenty today for nonpayment, assault, and petty pilfery, but they are the reason deputies are born and sworn. This morning’s mail brought a sealed dispatch from the capital that reward will be paid out for leads to Painter’s arrest. My own fear is that he has absquatulated, feeling things too hot in my bailiwick for his pleasure, but I will follow the creek again and discover what Nettle Mountain and Yankee Horse Ridge have yet to reveal. Last time I ventured up there to the catamount kingdom was pure snipe hunt, all the shiftless hill hawks mouthing out false information on everything from where the creek forks to if Painter did ever abide in the old bark mill said to be anent his brother’s freehold. Although I know those people have been left scathed in the wake of the timber boom and bottom-out of the saltpeter wells, you’ve got to plant the seeds you’re given and grind the corn they grow; whereas, these Cashes and Painters, Eisenhowers and Griffins turned to mischief natural and quick as a roused hornet stings. What I require to sweep this arena is a company of Rough Riders.
The sullen nature of the whole district not being enough, I was fair skunked under the lee of the crest and nearly thrown by Sylvester, whose nose took as much offense from the polecat as mine. You might expect the predictable showers to provide some relief from the insult, but that reasoning suffers defects, and back at the office Lish Jackson found it all a great rusty and howled till he near choked. I am now riled personally on this matter of the renegade and will balk at nothing to fetch him before the bar and thus to the gallows, God willing. If I come back empty this time, it will not be before I am assured of his exile to some place not on the charts.
Responsibility being a many-sleeved jacket, I must now ready myself for Preacher Rose and his pullet wife, who come to take a cold bite with us this evening. Adair has been redding up the house all day, and I must make my manners and pretend interest in questions of new pews and robes for the choir. Will we dispatch a mission to the China, and who will mow the glebe? These are matters meant to keep us of sound mind and not over-trained on the Manchurian war and other major key troubles of the world, so I will endure as well another hour about the pianola, which Adair plays with great enthusiasm and virtue but little glory. It is her armor against tidings I bring home from the courthouse and cell block. Bless her knack for conjuring such foils.
John Pink sauntered in today. A tanner by trade, he has been of use on occasion as a scout and knows the factions up on Irish Creek, where they call him “Constable Pink” in ridicule. Pink is a rough sort but of good and pliant purpose, and I am comforted to think him on the side of order. His tall size and beard shape him just like another tush hog from that neck of the woods, but he has even judgment, a flair for moderation, and eyes the blue of cue chalk. I have come to abide him well, and he is a crack shot and not a man to chew his tobacco twice before moving.
We drank a full pot of coffee just slightly softened from the flask and scanned the survey map, touching on crossroads and granges where we can trust to what gossip he might assemble. I then walked him down to my father-in-law’s stable and rented a good horse, a bay belonging to D. D. Moore himself. So many of our highborn neighbors trust their movements to haggard nags and intractable spavins, I was afforded pleasure to see him thus served. Pink has his own lever rifle, but I gave him a sack of cartridges and my good wishes, plus a dollar for grub. He will be up there mixing with the drovers and their feuds longer than I could stomach, but I trust he is the man for it.
Nothing much more to report but an afternoon on a stern courthouse chair giving testimony on civil matters, for which I again give thanks. Drone and drone. The tedious will weary you, but will not shoot from cover.
All morning at my paperwork, but crows continue to alight and debate on the backhouse roof. Up close they look as silk, but otherwise live in the sky, which on days like this occasions envy. A telephone message relayed from Pink asserts he has found one reliable spy amid the forked tongues. By general assent Painter is moving among his confederates, broguing it back and forth like a lostling, but never too far from a jug of busthead and a wench. It puts me in mind of Cuba again when we led Colonel Monocle, feather in his cap and pistol popping off to no particular effect, up San Juan Hill. It was a botched job with little of the tactical in it, nothing of the gallant, more blood than design. That such action put the subsidy of “soldier” on a no-count like Brodie Painter taints the whole Maine affair further, and what do we want from Cuba anyway, as we raise our own effective cigar burley right here on Commonwealth soil?
This black mood is no doubt come of my knowing I will soon have to jaunt back to Irish Creek and drag the grapple for our prey. It is no wonder legends and ballads rise up from that purlieu. The feel of rot and fester is general, the close-breeding mix little aided by the influx of tin miners and other roughs. Knowing that Jackson came to these surrounds as a mine man and Pink as a hide hunter doesn’t abridge the stench of bark mills and tanneries, and I have twice heard hushy mention of a second version of the Leaf murder which I am loath to entertain. Either way, Leaf is dead and Painter is the killer, so I had best cease pollyfoxing and gird myself for a campaign. Daily some well-wisher like Turner or Dr. Cravits stops by the office to wish me luck in the matter, but I can read between the words.
Was ever a man less inclined to keep oiling a Webley and waxing the draw leather than me? The star I collect payment for sporting emits little light in such times. But the vote on which joiner will receive commission on the church pews looms heavy this week. Settle for that distraction and hope for the best. May the daily torrent at least rinse something clean. Now to split some nightwood and turn in. God bless and keep and so on.
Pouring-down rain, pouring-down rain. The Maury is at flood again and little chance to move about with dispatch. This wilderness business sits heavy on me. Today I have the chivaree of Bob Dove as accompaniment, as I was roused last night to attend his pranks at the Star Diner and subsequently had to take him into custody. He is most often an affable and harmless drunk, but something was stuck in his craw last night concerning the jibes of some cadets from the Institute, and he was busting glass and spreading threats like broadcasting so much wheat seed, though today his sole crime is that tuneless caterwauling.
I must plot this campaign anew, as the Irish Creek inmates seem little inclined to step forward for the reward, and Pink’s agent, whom I know of only as Cratis, has turned in a blank book where details of the fugitive’s habits and dens might be concerned. If you believe hearsay, the creature is at once everywhere and none, reeling at a party in Brownsburg and pistol-whipping a barber in Amherst ten minutes later. Pink further reports that Painter has posted in one tawing shop a notice of two dollars reward for the governor’s own noble pelt. If there is comedy in this, it is too rustic for my appetite.
I cannot strike from my mind today the first visit I made to the Pogue homestead last month. Granny Fell had already taken the assailed under her roof, and I expected to find the place empty but instead came up a draw on the morningside of the mountain, then over the ditch which resembles nothing so much as a siege moat, only to find myself facing a sallow girl sprite perched on the slanted porch of the shotgun house and plucking a white chicken in lazy and distracted fashion. The house was shabby with loose chinking, bullet scars, and scorch marks where somebody had done mischief. It was just touching twilight, and though the ash and dogwood, the judas and earliest blackberries were showing bloom, the big rose oaks were limb-empty and clutching at the sky with many claws. The first night noises were tuning up. The rain djinns were resting a spell.
I tied Vester to a shrub and approached the urchin when she leveled at me the most unnatural and lifeless pink eyes and commenced to sing softly in a nonsense jargon. She was clad in a coarse sacking, and her one hand began to snatch at the feathers with vim, tossing them aside almost in rhythm with her crude lullaby. It is Bob Dove’s infernal serenade that puts me in mind of the scene again, and when I made effort to speak to her as one would gentle a jumpy filly, she slung the corpse over her shoulder, sprang up and dashed through the gap and into the north room, the hen’s red-combed head bouncing on her back as she ran, its dead eye squamous.
When I mounted the scaffold steps and entered, the room was near empty, most likely already plundered by those who knew the place uninhabited. Beside the cookstove a plank table was tossed aside and a rent patch quilt on the floor, the windows glassless but for the front one, the place a general shambles. A few bent speckleware cups and pans about, empty cans and windblown woods-debris, a chipped slop bucket. A whet strop hung nailed to the wall with pellets of scuttling creatures here and there, the whole affair shoddy. Seeing no sign of the child and aware I was soaked to the skin, I paused to surmise the unfolding of the drama—the two victims settling toward dinner, early moon hanging, the alleged felon charging in from the rain with a blade in his hand. Here the two men tangled and fell, there the girl sat shaking. Then the girl grabbed by her garment and thrown, mounted, and trod. I turned aside from it and walked through the open door.
The south room was smaller and more peculiar, as it had instead of door a curtain of loose-threaded feathers from various birds stitched to a hide. Two broken bedsteads with shuck sacking and a rocking chair not much bigger than a grown buck’s rack were all the appointments, but the one wall where internal pine paneling had been raised was all scarred and painted in goggle-eye faces which appeared to predate the vacant state of the house. Now as I think back, I am sure there are many instances in which you can see what’s not there as plain as Jacob’s potatoes. Perhaps that was one such, and I have not thought to ask Granny Fell or Pink about the etchings, which no longer carry a stable shape in my mind.
Outside, an equally empty pig sty and backhouse, but no child, no sign or sound of company other than the poor-wills warming up, though I could see on the far peaks opposite thunderheads were mustering for storm. It was clear from first report that the remote location of the house would eliminate any opportunity to glean corroborations from the scene, and it seemed I could not now even keep hold of the one fleeting soul who had appeared and might be able to answer questions on the practices of the deceased. I shouted out a bold how-do to the general surround and raised no answer but the shadow of my own voice and wondered were the portraits inside a child’s rendering of shoats and the old brindle boss Pogue was said to have owned. I had no doubt those beasts would be forever forfeit, melted away like spring ice.
Though there was no time to descend the mountain before full dark and hovering rain, I was disinclined to pass the night on the murder grounds, and as the cutthroat was intimate with the place, I preferred we might stumble upon one another under different circumstances and thus stirred with dispatch toward a homestead known to me just under the ridge, where I was offered a good bait of supper and pallet, along with a gill of other refreshment and fine-strand tobacco for my briar. Sleep came easily but brought vexing dreams of the glimpsed child and the queer drawings, and I wished for the warmth of Adair’s flank and the comfort of her steady breath. It is tempting enough to remember that another brand of life might proffer more explicit pleasures than quiet affection and trust, but in suchlike haunts and on such occasions, only a fool would fix merit on anything trimmed with risk or steeped in shadows.
My dark reverie, if that be the wordage for it, was brushed aside by the sound of Lish Jackson’s voice declaiming an urgent message, which turned out to be no more than reminder from Adair of our invitation to a garden party at the manse. The commotion was enough to stir Bob’s voice to new verses.
The fresh editor of the Rockbridge County Gazette is eager to announce the reward, so I must supply my consent. Before we are waded deep into June I hope to put this Brodie case behind me, if I have to posse up and send him and all the moonmen up there to Ujinctum. For the present, it is pressing to attire myself for the soiree. Therefore the thinking day is ended and finds me in dry clothes. For that much, thanks be.
Today as I loafed by the door of Brown’s Forge, I saw the Irish Creek girl passing by, slogging through the mud gum, evidently toting milk for Granny Fell. She stopped full still before McCrum Drug on Nelson Street and gave me a hard look with those bitter eyes. I reckoned she was using jimson weed to darken her stare and berries on her mouth. The only sound discernible to me was Muse Brown’s hammer ringing the iron for Vester’s left hind shoe, and when she caught my gaze, Miss Grove resumed her stroll, swinging the rack of milk bottles till the sound of glass rattling liked to wash out the racket of metal. As she sashayed down the street, I saw the afternoon sky was gone to quicksilver and doubt not we’ll see the resumption of the judgment rain that has baptised us all season. Ofttimes, I almost sense connection between her disturbing aspect and the disrupted sky.
Queries from the citizenry persist. I must soon move to tighten the snare about Painter, who we now learn has not been in the county at all but shammicking down in Roanoke, where the spindle side of his clan was once known to squat. As soon as I can trust a sighting in this district, I will convene a committee of riders and make a sweep. No more stealth and half-measures in this, no more doodle-bug-come-out and hard wishing at prayer meeting. If I am to continue boring with a big auger in this town, results must swiftly unfold.
The train wreck toward Fairfield has brought news from a brakeman well known to Painter that the wanted man is surely now in the area, tidings that must not lie unemployed. An illusion master said to be able to glean thoughts from the air and to snake-shed his own skin unveils in Buena Vista tonight, and would that I could trust such wonders enough to query him about the slippery outlaw.
On the journey back from Fairfield, I yearned for time to pause by the old church at Gethsemane, where Mother and Father lie at rest, but the current urgencies allowed only a glance from the road. At least the field is well scythed, and the yews shadow the slope with a feeling of peace. I must return with Adair on Decoration Day to set fresh flowers and clear the stones.
After several days of sog and commotion I am at last able to report the capture of the outlaw Painter, which went not so smoothly as we had hoped, but as he is the most public catch between Roanoke and Staunton, my relief is not paltry.
Word came the fugitive had phantomed in and out of our jurisdiction at will in the guise of a woman but was now bold enough to call on his brother Darl and move among other kindred, though always by stealth and moonlight, so I gathered a squad of willing men and headed for the steeps with a provisioned jack in tow. John Pink and his cousin Suttock on the latter’s apt-named Mud were there, also Drennin, who is claimed able to track at a gallop, and two others. We met Chief Hazelwood aboard a dapple I do not know on the White’s Gap and swept watchfully in a long arc toward the Painter place. As per usual, the rain was our constant companion.
We assayed first the Blood Tavern, where the accused is wont to linger, and not finding him there put out word among the local hog rangers we would retire to Lexington in defeat, then feinted southwest before double-tracking. The first night found us in Turkey Hollow, confident in our ruse, but we kept a cold camp and slept in a tight of laurel to prevent detection, though our tenting provided inadequate comfort. Of all the wildcats I have pursued, this man cat was among the cagiest prey, and with all South Mountain’s caves and hells offering refuge, we were far from assured of success.
Next noon found us circling slowly—Dark Hollow and Big Dark, easing in on the base of Nettle Mountain, where we were bound. The woods are lively there, glossy, and more than a few rudducks would break from cover flashing their red wings. This in full sunshine, to our amazement. Twice we spied scheming bell-tails coiled snug behind conchy logs, but we gave them wide berth. I can easily see how those briar hoppers escape accounting and rusticate while running laurel farms and bobcat herds, as the tales have it. This is not yet a tamed tract. Goat’s beard and hellebore were common amid the itch ivy, and the footing treacherous over declines of slate waste. Though it was good to be in the saddle, not a soul we rousted could inform us of any events beyond their immediate sight. If the local denizens harbor any respect for the law, they are sworn to secrecy on the matter.
Vester issued his protest nicker and slung his mane about more than once in the hard going, and I hated to push him through such terrain, as he is no hog pony nor slink hound but a good horse for the chase. Still, there was nothing else for it, as we wished to close in on Painter’s trail before he might again flee.
Being apprised of the partisan nature of the neighborhood, we were always on alert for bushwhackers, and the nervous result brought Suttock and Richard Travers near to blows over a trifle on one occasion. Not a little wind was spent on the rascality of Painter, his invisible nature and deep schemes, and I again remarked how he seemed a four-legged painter more than human. Not one man-jack among us doubted his culpability, so we moved through briar and blowdown with resolve, always single file, often leading our mounts over scabby ground. We also found that region much tangled in suckle vine, and despite the blossom waft, the Irish Creek area had about it some odor of decay and abandon throughout the ivy slick. The ceiling dropped low and threatening again, and the much-washed earth had sprung up every species of noxious toadstools as recompense. In one beat-down I took for bear wallow a great razorback tushed by and startled the entire party to snatch for weapons. The whole district exhales the hospitality of a grave.
There being no real path in the final mile along the bluff, we were obliged to conceal our horses in a barn and pioneer through dense green to achieve a vantage over what Pink claimed to be the seat of the clan. It was slow going, and the day a sweat bath with further showers impending, but we shuckled as best we could and just before dusk found our target. You could see the frames of drying pelts and a lot full of sorry-looking cull hogs. Critter traps, some bee gums, punky cordwood, and divers trash cluttered the demesne, and from various trees hung a kind of bonechime—jaws, ribs, back knuckles, and skulls still slick with gore, whether to lure ghosts or repel angels no man could have ventured. A slight worm of blue smoke rose from the flag chimney, but no soul moving, so we took to the rocks and laurels, deploying in skirmish fashion, waiting for life signs. Last daylight was a rouged edge through the foliage, but I found little of beauty in it. I checked my watch and my revolver over and again, reminding the Lord to keep a sharp eye, as I was entering danger, though ostensibly clothed in the power of the law.
Before twenty minutes had passed, the jar-flies humming up in their seven-year chirr, I could see a window opened in its sheath at the back of the dark house, and a dim figure appeared—Darl, who having somehow surmised the besiegement of the house intended to make for the tree line and apprise his kin.
That was not allowed, as Chief Hazelwood surprised the brother with a Spencer rifle at the level, as he rounded a strawstack. As Haze marched him around to the front, Darl, who has much of the scarecrow about him, made to jackrabbit, and for his efforts received a blow from the gunstock behind his knees.
Sam Watts of our party then rushed into the house, where the distaff kin huddled, and purported he would kill every man, woman, and child if they issued a sound. He was snarling like a coon dog and they wolving back when I entered the fray and found a quartet of females, all with hacked hair and wearing frocks sewn from the same bolt. All were sparrow-eyed and snaggley, the least a mere imp and the eldest a crone of rawky voice, dugs scarce covered by her cloth, and her steady sneer evidenced she bore no respect for my badge or rabbit-eared two-barrel. Everything in the single-room cabin was ashed and scutty with a stink of fish and rancid lard, and I would have been much pleased to be in any other of the world’s sculleries but that one. Soon our party were both in the reeking house and beyond it, a picket line of our deputies to let the fugitive pass through, and with lanterns lit inside, we impressed the women to make supper motions and stir the fire.
Before long, the object of our search emerged from a stand of scrub pine, his expression that of a preacher on a spree, an old Colt Navy dangling from his hand but his gait a carefree lope. Although he was much altered since his soldier days, I knew him at once. He is the blackest of the Painters, likely issued from different loins than Darl, and in that twilight one could indeed describe him as damson. At his approach Pink shouted his name, as in turn did we all to announce the full surround. The women, knowing Painter’s indisposition to surrender and seeing so many firearms brandished, commenced to plead and keen for their beloved relative’s life, and he raised his hands as if to come in peaceably, bringing me to a sigh of relief. Catching his face holding back all feeling, I had to think for one moment he was but little different from myself—worn out and edgy—and hoped he would yield easy.
But that was not to be. Haze strode forth with the irons in his hand, and just at that pass, Painter abandoned his ruse, roostered his hammer, and dropped to his knee to fire a ball at the Chief. We can only assume that the chamber was null or wet, as the sole sound was a dry snap, and by then Suttock feathered into the man with his Winchester, swatting as if he had an axe handle. Even stunned and bleeding from the temple, Painter, who is both stout and tall, was loath to be manacled or handled roughly, and he thrashed about. I finally had to put on the quietus with a blow to his nape from my belt stick. Peeling back the sleeve of his dustcoat and shirt, I saw the viper drawn into his skin, though hardly visible against his own dark surface. He had affected a handlebar moustache and bore scars unknown to me, but this was surely our culprit.
Even after the man was cuffed and revived and I had served the papers, he was no more cooperative than a mad fox, snarling curses at us and kicking till I decided to hobble him as I would a headstrong colt. When he spat my name and called me a pussle-gutted son of Nick, I had heard enough and swatted him out again. All along Sam Watts held his weapon trained on the rest of the family, taunting them as they reined still enough to satisfy any portrait photographer. Darl was so flinchy-eyed I felt certain he was scouting for some edged tool to make an unwise demonstration, so I judged it best to cuff him as well.
Coming to all bound up, Painter heard Hazelwood to say we should best shoot him on the spot and sling him down the shaft of an old tin mine to save the county money and the poor victim much discomfort and trauma. This was laughed off by some of us, though Pink alleged as this was far the best suggestion of the campaign. For my part, I am sorry to say, the proposal seemed not without merit, but I registered at once we were too many eyes and tongues to keep such a course concealed. The banter seemed to have a sobering effect on the accused, however, who was thereafter compliant except on the matter of his army hat, which he insisted in vain we fetch from his camp among the hemlocks. Watching in lantern light his coiled hair as he sat the jack on our descent, I could not but think this was all a tainted business, neither clean nor worthy of our charge.
After the prisoner was delivered to Lexington the next day in sheveled and humbled state, the posse was dismissed, and the cost of this chapter of the manhunt to the county has been in excess of thirty dollars, including rations, grain for the horses, and three dollars bounty for each volunteer. The distance covered in the hunt, much of it through rough mountain, could scarce be less than a hundred miles, though the map reckoning from Lexington to the headwaters of the Pedlar and back is but forty-two miles. I must continue to implore the county to ordain a constable to take jurisdiction in the Irish Creek region, as upheavals there are frequent and the labor and cost of enforcement from town prohibitive. Though yet a somewhat hale specimen, I do not possess the resources for many more such misadventures, and I relish them not at all.
Tonight I will cap my pen with some small satisfaction and truckle off to bed somewhat less burdened. If the trial unfolds as I foresee, I can either stay my current course or option for the stabling enterprise in the autumn with assurance of widespread support, not to mention Adair’s delight, which is nearly enough to put the heart back in me.
Final Testament of Brodie Painter, September 7, 1906
She said he would not be about, would be down in the levels to fetch a spool of wire and a rabbet saw. That is the story I opened to lawyer Spencer, but he allowed as how it would not wash in court. There was a prejudice against me among the hatefuls, and I’d have to make shift for myself. This being my last shot to spill the whole tale with noose-day just around the bend, Mr. Prescott, please be kindly to mark it all down, spike to scut.
As I was saying, Ina and me was no strangers one to the other. There’s many a time we had spoke previous, and she had showed me her sweetmeats when I first chanced on her up in the orchard. We had enjoyed full congress every occasion afterwards, as I honed for her steady. Though I am an old hand at scamping about, swiving and giving moustache rides to loose gals from here to Christmas, she was the sort that put your sense away from you, made you give up all other donies and train your heart on her. I thought she seen it that way too, and when we twined, I law, it was like a fire on fire. She made my blood to sing.
I had been paying her that fashion of courtship for two months and had already gave her patent slippers and a red frock when Pogue discovered the pretties and wrenched the matter out of her, and what she pleaded to me was he was agreeable to my repeating so long as he reaped a full dollar each time I called, on account of her age. He would make hisself scarce off with the hogs or out after squirrel, except I could oftener hear him blowing that French harp up in the brush. Spook music is what he made, and it was no aid to love dealing and rankled me somewhat. Still and all, we had some merry times, and when I debouched, I would leave my dollar on the keghead.
That was the bargain, and it suited me well enough till she commenced to whisper that himself was rutting at her too, which was by my reckoning full tilt unnatural. A Pogue will do that, you know, will jape even his mother when in a needful state, and there’s slathers of them down in southside who show the nasty fruit of it. She asked would I spirit her off, as she knowed the whereabouts of his money poke and had some kin over to Kentucky we might veil with and farm moon till Pogue turned over a new leaf, which gave her the giggles. You know, his name. Though I had done struck my bargain with him and spit over it, that was in ignorance, and I won’t suffer nobody cutting my territory like that, won’t tolerate it.
So that afternoon I come up the wash expecting nothing but a couple of gills from the jug and needling her to the bone, which I done fine and fancy. She has all the buck and moan of a Cuban washwoman, you know. It was a mighty tussle. Later, whilst we was laying up in the shucks listening to the quillerees high in the oak woods, she was snuggling while I stroked her slow along the moosey. As she is honey-voiced, she commenced to croon a little infare, and then we fashioned out our plan to make tracks off for blue grass in just a week, when Pogue would be off trading his angel’s teat whiskey. I knowed well my brother Darl would help smuggle us out in a freight wagon, then onto a slow train, and no man be the wiser where she was gone. It was a sweet thought, and whilst I savored it, my heed was down. I was a mooncalf in full daze.
I know you have cause to judge me on further accounts, the killing of Cash and more trifling matters. If ever a man needed a view window in him, Cash was it. He had cleaned my brother’s plow twice over the matter of one sorry salt lick, and had once slandered my mama to boot, so his calendar was out of pages. He gloried in everybody’s miseries. I admit to plugging him with my daddy’s pitted old 32.20, but don’t be forgetting he had a rifle gun hisself.
There’s always those who put the stain on ridgers like me just to even things. I can shoot sharp and ride like a demon and cipher faster than a storm bolt. My whiskey is always silver bead, and I can ringer a horseshoe most every time. I can shear muttons, skin and stalk and witch wells. I have always been a step ahead of others, and the snake-faced bastards didn’t savor it.
Much accused meanness I am lamb-innocent of, but I have drawn slurs like a gutted cur draws flies. It is no doubt the Melungeon in my blood that makes me the blame goat for so much, and even in the Spanish war I found charges heaped against me before ever I could kick off the blanket of a morning. If I am guilty of half what they have laid to my door, let my spirit take flame in hell’s hottest stall. I have stilled and scrapped and raised my voice against the heel of lily-white men who wish to scoundrelize us of color. I have thumped those who come up against me and swapped rich people’s cattle for binge money, but I never raped at that girl or any other, nor needed to, and what Pogue got he requisitioned on his own account. He will be little missed, especially among those who relish real music.
He come stomping up the porch afore I knew he was on the mountain a-tall, and he called out her name like a he-bear roaring. Ina run out the room with the quilt wrapping her while I snatched my trousers up and legged in. He was storming at her, and when the smack of his hand on her face sounded, I run out the feather curtain and into the kitchen room with my boots in my hand. He saw me then, mister, and slung her aside like a poppet. I could see his face was the hue of lean meat, and he shouted out, Painter of the painter cats, you have brought your prides out into the open in my house onct too often. That was when he snapped the twine round his neck and drew the straight razor from his shirt front. I could see it was a nicked and ugly thing, rusty and long unused for shaving, as Pogue’s whiskers were end-of-winter.
He started circling and me circling backwards till I spied the meat knife amongst the dishes, so I seized it up and took a crouch to fend him off. He jumped and I jumped, and it was arms and legs a-tangle for a minute there, me not sure where he left off and myself started, but for his teeth in my neck. Then in a quick jab I drew blood from his belly, and when he staggered back, I went slashing random-like and got the throat, I reckon. I was right drunk, but I am not a man to mess with. If you have seen a pig cut, you have seen that much spray, but if not, you can’t even speculate, so I must of got him. He went to knees, then face forward, and the girl was screaming like a wildcat till something over her head seemed to catch her voice and bandy it back down. That was when she went dark and dropped to a heap on the floor.
The boards was loose fitted, and I could see young shoots prying green underneath and thought I might be sniffing the tang of new-sprouted mint. When I leant over to stir Ina that we might scape the place together, I slicked on what must have been his blood leak and fell on my backsides hard, for which there was nothing but to laugh it. All the bouts and skirmish I had been through, and never before ripped a man’s life out of him, excepting Cuba and also Cash, but the court quit me on the Cash matter. It takes a part out of you, killing a man. It sucks you down like a water whirl. Now here I was over a crow-haired, scarce-hipped girl-child all trussed up in the kind of trouble that won’t rub off with neither words nor worry, and here I am now about to climb my last stairs.
Laying there, she was blue in the face as a possum’s cods, and tossing dung and dogwood on the coals in the stove box, I kettled water and thrashed about for some mixings. I was still blurred in my sight with the whiskey and having some trouble sorting things. What I found was a honey jar with a mouse drowned under the comb, but I poured off the top and tippled a dad of blockade in to stiffen it. That and the cooked water I brought to her lips with honest regard, but once I roused her, she right off started to take Pogue’s part, weeping and carrying on like I was the varlet, and I couldn’t wedge in so much as a word but what she would scrowl out again. I never known the beat of it, and seeing no hope of our traveling plan coming to bloom at that point, I reckoned such as me had best be scarce when the world come to know whatever story she was fixing to tell. Couldn’t no good come of it for me, that was a sure fact. It was a red business all around.
Riddle me how you would of acted in such a mangle. I could figure the law would be on me like ducks on a crippled june bug, so I rifled and skeltered the place till I found the wall board warped out from prizing. Back there was the money poke, sure as ramps root neigh creek, and I took half the eagles, thinking Ina would need some her own self. Then I lit out, not giving a back glance.
What come strange to my ears in the court was all these other tales spun concerning my rangering about in the weeks following. What I really done was leg it down to Vesuvius and wait under Orion and the bears on a steep where the train would stop to take on water for steaming up the grade. Once on, I rode all about, hopping off for provender and some loft sleep, but high-tracking it from Green Cove to Damascus, Bansock to Luray, Lithia back up to Second Pigeon, steering clear of Lexington and its ward. I rode the Norfolk and Western back and fro all over the mountains, breathing in the smoke whilst it shadowed laundry on the line by daylight, laying on my back to watch it silvering against black night. All my running mates from the N & W I would surprise at their lunch pails or when they were frying up corn dodgers at railside. They credited the story I have rendered you and gave me forage, but I will not raise their names in this matter, as I know the law’s grudges do not die off easy.
This is my honest story of how a misfortunate man come to be painted as desperado. They come after me in their black coats like corpse birds and sneaked up on me asleep by my fire. They beat me and gave me the boot, called me nigger and spat in my face. They shoved and cuffed my whole family, too.
This is how a man with no evidence against him got hunted down by a pack of bounty hounds. Scribe this down right, mister, and you can show it to whosomever might have an eye for justice, ’cause the public needs knowing even too late to save my neck what manner of rascals run their statutes and how a man can suffer evil though he swore on the preacher book and let only unscutched truth cross his red tongue. I’ll sing the devil this same tune tomorrow in his crowded coal hole, Mr. Prescott. A man in the derbies and the scaffold’s shadow has no call to throw the lie.
Oral History, Staunton, Virginia: Ina Grove Fell, 1964
When I came to a woman was screaming through the rain. That’s what I thought. I didn’t rightly understand where I was, the room blurry with a funny smell, but I could hear her voice, all fury. A light was coming through the apple tree and then the window, a green light, and I thought it was going to sift through me like some loose flour. Thirst was what I felt, almost that only. I thought the scream was going to shake me back to darkness, and I was shivering. Then I knew the woman was that blue jay nesting in the north haw. I smelled the hard smell and saw a rough face moving between me and the green light, and then I felt sore all over, a slow ache that went sharp in my fork. My knickers were gone entirely, and all my clothes. I was twisted in a robe like a Bible wife, but it was a quilt. Things started to remember. The face was moving, and something rusty was dried on my legs, and something else. This feeling had been upon me before, but never so severe. I thought I would die and I wanted to die. I wanted that jay woman to cease screaming, but I was crying to match her, and I thought another bird like some sparrow with purling notes should light in the apple tree any minute and trill out so its song might lift me or duck me under for good. I might just drink it and be drunk by it and rise up invisible as a ghost and shed all my troubles. Woe be.
That was a long time back, and I was only a girl who saw blackbirds in her mirror and eyes of a cat. Some things you misremember, and others shimmer and divide up. I think my daddy used to say we tell stories to forget what we need to get behind us, but I have never told this one, since I was spared most of court. What I swore then was what I thought, and though I had been something of a wild girl, nobody had the right to do me like that and go free. Since Uncle Leaf was dead, it was best to forgive him any trespass or unseemly reaching and move on. I did. I moved on. I know that Painter pushed at me before and pushed till I gave in listening to the yellow jackets drilling windfalls, a red color like off the ripe fruit overhead. When he was done I felt different with a hard rank smell on my clothes and salt in my eyes, but he gave no gentleness, saying all woman folk are born with the round heels. Then he galloused up and said he’d see me again, not even looking back. I hoped he’d never.
When I saw Uncle Leaf sprawled in the blood, his eyes were open and baleful, glaring fierce, and I did not know if he was alive or dead. Stop hexing me, I shouted, and the other face was still moving around me, about the house, its voice saying calming things, but I was not calmed.
Some times you don’t want to say a thing as it will loose a whole waterspill of words you can’t bear to hear, the rushing of every fear you’ve ever had burning as it crossed your tongue. I was wracked and damaged, and my only close kin looked dead, no matter how angry his eyes, no matter how little pity he’d showed in his life. The other thing in the room was gone then, but I could taste honey. The watchbird had screamed itself from blue to red, and then it fell off. I went swoony again and slid into the dark.
That night the Io moth came to my window like a mask, its buckeye eyes boring into me. I had been often accused of making flirtation and primping, but this was a new thing, and I did not take pleasure from any of it at all.
Those years I worked for Granny Kate with the stain on my name, most people showed kindness, and I learned the ways of her milk cows and how to churn. Flies would light in the cow pies and then on the bucket rim. People drank it anyway. They didn’t see. She gave me Chichester’s English Pennywort concoction with a paste of her own devising, and what made me swell seeped out one night, but not without pain of the damned. Granny taught me her potions and poisons and how to gather makings off in the forest. Also to read. Four years after the misdeeds I climbed up after a Christmas snow shower with a jug of coal oil and splashed it about inside the rubble of the old place. I set the match and stood back, shivering under a rind moon, watching the boards smoke and catch and blossom. It was time to sear the ghosts out, time to send my girlish wall etchings back to whence they came, though they had once been my only true friends. I knew the hive in the walls was still and the bees sleeping in their wax wouldn’t feel a thing.
Only the spy apple tree by the window caught the fire, its limbs spidery against the winter air and then glowing. The house shouted and crashed, black clouds coaxing night to hurry on, and when the roof caved, something inside me lifted, delivered me, and I was no longer so lost.
I became a woodsweed girl with pestle and mill and steam kettles, a whole cellar of concoctions, but when Granny Fell foxed out that my mama had passed over birthing me, she said I could be a thrush witch, named after the bush bird, and that was my main call, blowing the sick color from the throat of a child. I cut bloodroot and pulled sang. I gathered galax. I was a cat keeper and nightwalker, a tender of gold bees, and I could sew and bantle, nurse and drive a nail straight to the heart. I was alone. I got by.
I won’t say there was no other. In the doughboy times I slipped off some and had no regrets, but I had already shut my heart and shot the bolt. It was just a letting go here and there, then back to my pets, my own cow barn by then with peafowl strutting. I would lie under the rhododendrons and stare a lady slipper in the eye. I was comrade to orchids and a friend to owls.
It was the year that rain was raining all the time, and I recall Granny wet and cold when she found me, me cold and wet too by then, because the roof was not tight. It was the year the ferro beetles showed up for their seven-year courtship, and what I heard them saying, even in town, was spoiled, spoiled, spoiled. It was a question why my uncle and another with skin so blue he was a dark flower at first would pitch into killing rage over me, as not one seemed to want much to do with me most days. That is the limitation of a man.
It was a hard tramp down South Mountain to a road, but she propped me and kept shushing when I tried to say what all I reckoned had transpired. She named birds in the trees and flower bells by the pathway, keeping my mind from drifting back to that blood scene. It wasn’t till I’d had a night sleep and bowls of broth and some dittany tea with hard brandy that she said, let’s tell it now, and the whole swirling tussle came back before me, the blades in frailing light, some rutting and laughter, the red tide and apples, jay scream through green light, and the hint of honey. Before long the pieces in my heart had commenced to come together like a puzzle, while the rain was drumming again, shaking me back to that day with its whirlwind and bloodshed, and then I knew what I knew.
The Account of a Baffling Spirit Appearance as Reported by Sister Sura Sawyer in the Roanoke Alternative Magazine, April 7, 1965
As I was about to release my familiar, Prince Akira, at the conclusion of a successful séance, a voice unknown to me interceded and delivered a mysterious report which bore on none of the present circle but which seemed not of negligible import. As follows is my best recollection of the monologue spoken by a beard-faced essence hovering above the table but never fully in focus, as tormented spirits are wont to appear:
When my sister Sheila passed in childbirth, I swore to help her lawful husband hold the child precious, as the Irish Creek was rife with copperheads of both the crawling and walking kinds. Poor sister, who was smitten hard with Anders Grove and never recovered from lovewit before she met her end. She was fool for a fiddle, and he bowed string music all along the Pedlar at play parties and stump speeches, moving widows, wives, and maids alike to sashay and smile. I took a shine to himself and pleasured at playing reel music to his devil’s box. It’s true enough he doted on her, but he had more eyes than the one, and they traveled, so even before Sheila was spent, I had concerns for her and the baby that he mightn’t stay and provide. When Anders was done in by a broke shaft timber, I knowed the child would get her best raising from me alone. I might be prone to poach and loath to till, but I had my own ways of bringing the specie in.
Why I come back to speak with the white tongue is to say I done her wrong, swapping care for neglect whilst I milked the worm and horsed barrels of apple pomace about when it was too wet for the wheeling barrow. Good shine kept a roof over us and vittles on the table, but she much growed up her own creature till something ugly in me started taking low notice.
In close quarters like ours, you can’t miss seeing, and she bloomed like the may apple all creamy and soft. Seems one day she was a doll child herself scolding the rag baby. Next day I was chewing sweetgum sap to cure my breath for her and sprucing my hair, as she was a little woman with fair flesh to taunt the hungry. I was hungry. I partook.
To even talk moonlight with such close kin is a misdeed, I know, and I would wish for a hard brush to curry myself after we cuddled. I would speak to God to stop me before hard harm grew to habit. I said, Lord, I would not wish to tread her, but I do, and nothing ever smote me.
There’s another verse to that song. Ina was rambunctious and would always hide where I could find her. We kept up the tease game for a year, never fording the stream, but then Painter commenced skulking and watching. At first, I took him for a still spy and found relief on him ogling the house from out in the rain. I figured him for a half-breed the John Laws kept in corn to scout us, knowing that’d peg him as lazy. He’d be all vine and no taters, and nobody’s idle spy will find where I shift my mash nor cut my faggots on Whetstone. By dark, in case he was peering from some windbreak, I’d have Ina strike the wick of a grease lamp and venture out to the crib or muck house. Anybody taking notice would follow her, and I’d slip over the casement and to my works.
But then I seen he had other notions. She come back from the slope orchard with an ill smile and said, when I asked after the lurker, that she’d seen nothing but two yanks nesting in a white oak and a checkervest hammering his mattock after tree beetles. It was yet too airish for the birds to be stirring so, just Easter or thereabouts, and she had that grin like a doll’s face stitched on. Jealousy is as bad to shake you as the preachers say, and if that Injun was to have zip on his stackcakes, it would not come from my ambry.
One morning I claimed to her I’d be off a whole day decanting my usquebaugh but circled back to catch them in the beast act, and sure enough they was raw and blushed when I come in, Eve and Adam, but him dark as the devil. It was rage, all I saw, and after I slapped her a strong one, I pulled the razor, so we went round, thrashing and panting like we was red-tails mating, but he got lucky and cut my breadbasket, which leached much of the fight out of me. Still I had the advantage, as I’d slung Ina about in my temper, and he went to tend her, then started heating up a pot of water, like he was to care for her, and I had forfeit all his attention on account of my weakness.
That was when I reached for my boot gun, as I should of done at the outset. I knowed it was closing in, the deep moment, and what I was fighting for might fall to me forever mine or never, so I stuck my hand down toward the pistol butt. Then it closed over me, something floating dark and silky as night wind, and I felt my throat tearing like a lamb’s, the fountain flowing scarlet. The spray of my own life toward a sway of darkness was the last thing I could ever see, and I am signed to tell it whenever a listener heeds.
The News-Gazette, March 4, 1968 IRISH CREEK PROPERTY SOLD TO O’MALLEY LUMBER
—The property previously known as the Pogue Homestead on Irish Creek has been sold by the County of Rockbridge to the O’Malley Lumber Company of Fairfield. The twenty-four acres of prime hardwoods had been held in trust by the county for three years against unpaid property taxes, and the commission voted last Tuesday night to approve the sale to Michael O’Malley.
The transaction would have proceeded with little notice but for Felton Newday’s insistence that a brief history of the property be read into the record, as the Pogue place was the site of a vicious murder and rape of a young girl sixty-four years ago. It was also the known haunt of brigands and poachers, and the murdered Leaf Pogue himself was long a recognized trafficker in illegal whiskies. The taxes were for a time paid sub rosa by a Ms. Fell every spring from 1954 until 1976 on the supposed anniversary of the crime, for which one Brodie Painter was convicted and hanged. The felon had put the old Pogue home to the torch after the crimes, but the outbuildings persisted as ramshackle reminders until the late fifties, and excursionists and hunters often used them as shelter. Many local residents will also recollect childhood legends of a spectral hen girl haunting the region.
Mr. O’Malley plans to harvest the timber and eventually offer parcels of the land as multiple homesites in a division to be called Kissing Ridge. The area harbors some of the most majestic white oaks, locusts, and hickories in proximity to Lexington, and it will be a shame to see them laid waste, but the council decided unanimously that continued suspension of taxes would be a burden upon the community budget, and as Chair Wheeler Sherburne remarked, “The time of outlaws like Painter and Pogue has passed, and it would be a relief to see a commercial venture usher the infamous Irish Creek region into the twentieth century.’