Deep in the Heart of Texas
The Passage of Time
A Gone to Texas Saga
Time has no divisions to mark its passage, there
"Time and tide wait for no man." Geoffrey Chaucer
Jedediah Taylor Simpson was a proud man, the only son of a middle class Central Alabama family from just west of Greensboro. Jed, as everyone called him, had followed in his father's footsteps, joining the Greensboro Guard in the fall of 1859 at the age of twenty-one. "The Guard," as his father referred to them, had been formed many years before, and his father had served in "The Mexican War" in the Independent Company of Alabama Mounted Volunteers under the leadership of Captain James McGee from June 1847 to July 1848 as a part of "The Guard." So it was only natural that a young man of Jed's standing would join them as well.
The one hundred eighty acres of land his father owned was mostly good cropland with some large pockets of trees dotted around the property, leaving just a hundred ten acres of farmable land, sixty acres of that dedicated to pasture to hold their milk cows, mules and prize horses. The remaining ten acres contained the houses, barn and stock pens along with a chicken coop. To help with the farming and care of the livestock, the Simpson's had two black families, both of whom were treated so well that they requested to be allowed to use the Simpson name. The permissions were gladly granted by the senior Simpson, Jed's grandfather, and in 1859 both families were given their freedom as a reward for their faithful service to the family. His grandfather, Taylor Aristotle Simpson, unexpectedly passed away three days later while working inside the barn.
Both families stayed on as neither wanted to risk going north, and both wives just happened to be pregnant at the time. "Big Jim," a six foot six inch, two hundred seventy-five pound man, his wife Millie, and their four children, Taylor (after Jed's grandfather), Martha (after Jed's mother), Sally and "Little Jim" handled all the farming chores, Millie carrying the baby, Ira, on her hip. George, a six foot four inch, two hundred twenty pound man, his wife, Lizzie, and their three children, "Little George", or Georgie, William (after Jed's father), and Bedalia, all handled the livestock and poultry, again with Lizzie carrying her baby, Isaac, on her hip.
If help were needed in the fields, George and his family would pitch in wherever needed. As would "Big Jim" and his family if help were needed around the property. The Simpson's worked right alongside the two families, whether it was plowing, hoeing, picking cotton, or gathering eggs or butchering hogs, chickens, turkeys or beef. They all shared equally in all work, and all rewards, though the two families only received half of the annual profits from the farm split equally between them.
George was an excellent man with both horses and mules, and spent a great deal of time breaking and training the family's prize horse herd, even though it was small at a dozen head. "Big Jim" was a masterful planner when it came to deciding what plants needed to be planted on which part of the acreage, and was given a free hand in all the planning and planting.
Jed had managed to become betrothed to the prettiest girl in six counties, Miss Emily Hackett of Tuscaloosa, a year after joining "The Guard," and the wedding was set for June of the following year, 1861. Then came the word on January the eleventh that Alabama had seceded, and all militias were being called up, including the Volunteers of the Greensboro Guard.
Upon hearing this news, Emily immediately sent word that the engagement and wedding were off, and for a time Jed was heartbroken. But it only lasted a short time as he was inducted into the 1st Regiment of the Alabama Volunteer Cavalry and ordered to Montgomery, assigned to Colonel William W. Allen, in the summer of 1861. The 1st Alabama Volunteer Cavalry was officially raised in November of 1861, and Jed's life would never be the same again.
The 1st Alabama Cavalry, ordered to join the Army of Mississippi in Tennessee, was engaged at the Battle of Shiloh with light loss in the spring of 1862. Jed was wounded slightly, taking a grazing musket ball across his left thigh. It turned out to be no more than a flesh would, and he was on the mend in no time.
Then came the order to move on to Booneville, Mississippi, on July 1, 1862, where they suffering severely. Jed caught a musket ball in the left elbow while his mount caught a volley that sent the horse into a death knell. As Jed struggled to get up after being thrown when his horse had been hit, another musket ball hit him squarely in the right knee. He was not only out of the fight; Jed was out of the war and fighting for his life.
The surgeons didn't hesitate to remove the arm at the elbow, and the leg at the knee in quick succession. Had they not, he would have died on the spot, but even then the shock and loss of blood nearly killed him. When he was finally released from medical care at Catoosa Springs, south of Chattanooga, on the day after Christmas of 1862, he was lost and discouraged, and still barely alive. He had lost forty pounds from an already fairly thin frame, and still hadn't mastered walking with a crutch. But he was determined to make it home, or die trying. What he didn't know is that the journey would take over six months, and would have many twists and turns of fate.
The journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step." Lao Tzu
Although it was against his principles, the only way for Jed to survive was to beg, an act that humbled him nearly to the point of breaking. Finally, after four months of struggling to even walk, just outside of Gadsden a man from Birmingham stopped to help him. At the moment, he was lying flat on the ground, unable to rise, and it was starting to rain. Years later he would reflect on that moment, as he had decided to just lie there and die, suspending his desire to return home.
The big man grabbed Jed up off the wet ground, and placed him on the right side of the seat. "Reckon ya kin stay a settin' 'ere? 'R do I needs ta tie ya on?"
"I'll hang on, as long as I can hang onto the seat rail."
"We only needs ta get about three, maybe fo' more mile an' I'll get us some food an' a place ta spen' the night. I always lays up in Gadsden fer the night. Now min' ya it ain' no fancy place, but I don't reckon they'd let a pair like us in no fancy place!" the man finished with a laugh.
True to his word, Roscoe Sartain found a place for them to eat and sleep. The older matron asked Jed what outfit he had been in and where he had been injured, and after telling her she nearly cried, telling him that her only son had been lost in that same battle. Jed didn't recognize the name she gave him but that wasn't all that unusual, as he hadn't bothered to learn many names outside of those he immediately served with.
She kept the food coming until Jed couldn't hold another morsel, which had been more than he thought he had eaten in his entire time on the road. He nearly vomited he was so full, but that soon subsided and he managed a few more bites before the feeling returned and he decided he had better not push it any further. The food had been excellent, or so it seemed to the starving man, but nonetheless he was very grateful both to Mrs. Lemons and to Mr. Sartain.
The two men sat sipping coffee and chatting about Sartain's freight wagon and his business. He made quarterly trips from Birmingham to Chattanooga for all sorts of supplies, but business had gotten very hard due to the war. Few had the money to buy anything, let alone pay the freight, so he had cut his trips to quarterly from monthly to try to hang on until after the war.
Their conversation was interrupted by Mrs. Lemons, with another surprise for Jed. "Young man, it don' look like you been clean in some time now, so 'fore you get into one of my beds you're going to have to take a bath. I've got the water ready an' waitin' on you. C'mon, I'll he'p you get into the kitchen where the tub is."
Jed could only imagine what he must smell like, and accepted the offer graciously. Once in the kitchen, Mrs. Lemons sat him down on a chair and told him to strip and she'd help him into the water.
"You heard me, young man. There ain' nothin' you got I ain' seen before, but I jus' don' believe I have ever smelled a man that stunk so bad."
Rather than argue, as a bath would feel great, Jed started pulling off his ragged uniform. Mrs. Lemons finally helped him get out of what he could no longer manage, and easily picked him up and sat him gently into the tub. "Oh, sonny, you don' weigh nothin' at all. Why, you ain' nothin' but skin an' bone," she said, clucking her tongue. "Now, you jus' lay there an' soak. I'll be in after a bit an' scrub your back and wash that hair. I got another pot of water on the stove heatin' up jus' for that purpose." With a flurry, she was gone.
Jed had always liked smelly soap, and the Lavender soap Mrs. Lemons had placed on the chair was perfect at the moment, though it was considered a woman's soap and fragrance. He just didn't care; figuring smelling like a flower was far better than smelling like a pigsty any day. He soaked, then scrubbed everything he could reach, and then soaked some more.
Mrs. Lemons came in laughing, still somewhat flushed, carrying a nightshirt. "That Roscoe, he is somethin', for sho'. He always manages to embarrass me, jus' like my Bob did when he was alive. He's a widower, an' I'm a widow, an' he keeps wantin' ta marry me. But I don' guess I'll ever marry agin. Not at my age. Now, let's get you all finished up, an' I'll he'p you get into that nightshirt an' off ta bed."
She scrubbed his back, and then washed and rinsed his hair, repeating the latter until she was satisfied that Jed wasn't going to get any cleaner. She helped him stand, then lifted him out of the tub and started toweling him off, much to his embarrassment. Not even his mother had done anything like this once he passed the age of seven, yet she didn't seem bothered, so he didn't either.
Finished drying, she slipped the nightshirt over his head and sat him down while she combed his hair. "In the mornin', before you leave, I'm goin' ta give you a shave, Jed. You ain' leavin' here 'til you look respectable, like it 'r not. Now let's get you off ta bed, shall we?"
Leaning on her and hopping along, she led Jed to a small bedroom off the main area, and helped him get into the bed and covered up. "This is a nice, warm room. Used to be Bobby's room, my son's room." Suddenly, tears burst from her eyes as she leaned over to kiss Jed on the forehead, and then sprinted out of the room leaving the door slightly ajar.
"The belly rules the mind." Spanish Proverb
It had been well over a year since Jed had slept so hard, or felt so safe. Wrapped up in a heavy quilt and sunk into the softness of a featherbed, he was barely aware of the sun peeking through a window. If it hadn't been right in his face, he could have continued sleeping for who knows how long. But the smell of fresh coffee wafted across his nostrils, and his stomach started growling.
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