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   Chapter 7 A MAN AGAINST A REGIMENT.

Unfettered By Sutton E. Griggs Characters: 9767

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Stephen Dalton, whose conservatism was proverbial; who had been from time immemorial the assuager of race animosities; who had so successfully mediated between the whites and the Negroes at every previous crisis, was at last thoroughly aroused to action. The ills of which the Negroes had complained, and concerning which he had always counseled moderation, were now brought home to his own door. As a result of the race feeling his son had been wounded, his house burned, the friendly relations of a lifetime destroyed, and his daughter, the pride of his heart, murdered while at home unprotected. With his gun on his shoulder he tramped from house to house for miles around exhorting the Negroes to repair to a designated spot where they would march in unison to attack the whites.

The Negroes felt that the time for action had assuredly come if "cool headed" Stephen, as he was called, was aroused to the point of action. Their long pent-up feelings of resentment now became rampant and they gathered in force at the point selected by Stephen. They came armed with such weapons as they could buy, borrow or steal.

The white people of the settlement became thoroughly alarmed; for, though the Negro was regarded as a normally peaceful being, they felt that there was a latent sanguinary nature and a sort of reckless dare-devil bravery that burst forth upon occasion and was dangerous. They telephoned to all nearby stores, requesting that firearms and munitions of war be denied to all would-be Negro purchasers. Word was sent to neighboring settlements to guard the crossroads and prevent other Negroes from different sections coming to the assistance of those already in arms.

The telegraph and telephone stations were put under strict censorship, and all newspaper reporters were warned to send out no accounts of the trouble that would create the least vestige of a doubt as to the entire justice of all the proceedings of the whites.

Messages were sent to the governor that a race riot was imminent, and an urgent plea was made for several companies of State troops. These were forthwith dispatched.

The whites who had armed themselves, now joined the ranks of the State troops to assist in quelling the uprising of the Negroes. There was no desire among the whites for bloodshed, and, being fully prepared for war, now cast about for a means of bringing about peace.

The usual mediator, Stephen Dalton, being the leader of the Negroes, they had to search for another. They decided to impress into their service for that task the Negro public school teacher.

The Negro school teacher has perhaps been the greatest conservator of peace in the South, laboring for the Negroes by the appointment of the whites, being thus placed in a position where it was to his interest to keep on good terms with both races. Thus the whites on this occasion sent the school teacher to confer with the Negroes.

Arriving at the Negro assemblage the teacher approached Stephen Dalton.

"Good evening, sir," said he to Stephen.

"Good evenin'," was Stephen's gruff response.

By this time a number of Stephen's lieutenants had clustered around the two, eagerly looking from the teacher to Stephen and from Stephen to the teacher, bent on catching whatever might pass between them. They made no attempt to conceal their feeling of curiosity, which was as manifest as in the case of children.

"May I be allowed to address this gathering?" asked the teacher of Stephen.

"Whar is you frum?" queried Stephen, grumly.

"I have just come from the white people's rendezvous," he replied.

"Thought so. Bettah go back dar, I 'specks," said Stephen, turning his back and walking away.

The teacher now turned to the others who had crowded about him. "Men," said he, "I have something to say that concerns you all. Uncle Stephen is interested in this whole affair in too personal a manner for you men to commit your interests blindly to him. In times like these you need a man who is in such a frame of mind that he can weigh everything. Now, you all know that Uncle Stephen has had enough to unbalance anybody, and, I tell you, men, unbalanced minds are not safe guides in such times as these."

The men gathered about the teacher now looked in the direction of Stephen. He, seeing that the teacher was engaging the attention of the crowd, decided to return and order him away.

"I is cummander in chief, heah, sur, and you mus' leave dis groun' at once, sur," said Stephen to the teacher.

The teacher now lifted his voice and said in tones that many could hear.

"In former times when other people's oxen were gored, Uncle Stephen was not driven away when he came to see you. Uncle Stephen is a good man, but I don't think he is that much better than the rest of you. If your matters could be talked of, it seems to be that his might be talked of, too."

This blow was well aimed. There seems to be a feeling in the Negro race to keep all upon a level and to resent anything that savors of superiority of one Negro over another. No man who attempts to lead them can have any measure of success unless he is thoroughly democratic in his behavior, tastes and manner of approach. The teacher knew of this feeling, and his remark was an adroit bid for its support.

The Negroes now felt a little sullen toward Stephen Dalton, their commander, because he desired to prevent free speech on this occasion when he had availed himself of it so often in times of threatened trouble.

"Uncle Stephen is in a mighty heap of trouble, an' ain't 'zactly at hisself. Go er head, teacher, we'll hear you," said one.

A murmur of approval went through the crowd, which had now swelled to large proportions.

Seeing that he had gained audience the teacher began. In his speech he set forth that the killing of Beulah was not indicative of the feelings of the best white people toward the Negroes, nor of the real feelings of the worse elements of whites. He said that liquor was at the root of the murder, and that in a measure the colored people were responsible, because it was their vote that kept liquor from being voted out of the county at a local option election held a short while previous. To this the Negroes nodded assent, for they knew it to be true. The teacher asked why, as sensible people, they were going to have all the folks of the community, good and bad, white and colored, killed for an act that liquor was mainly responsible for, they being responsible for the liquor.

Then the teacher recited the facts as to the superior training, numbers, equipment, transportation facilities, means of inter-communication of the whites. He dwelt upon the fact that the Negroes were practically cut off from all other Negroes, and the battle would really be between that little handful of Negroes and the whole body of white people of the South. The teacher spoke earnestly, and impressed the throng that he was doing them a service in calling their attention to their hopeless plight.

When the teacher was through his hearers were won over to his way of thinking.

Stephen Dalton had foreseen what would be the outcome, knowing from experience how susceptible the Negroes were to argument at such times. Before the teacher had concluded he dropped his gun and ammunition and walked away quite rapidly. Arriving at the place where the white soldiers were stationed, he pulled off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, clenched his fists, stepped forward and spoke as follows, his eyes gleaming with rage:

"Gentlemens, the man whut you done sent up yonder will turn them people, an' I reckin it's best. Dare aint no use'n er whole lots er folks dyin' fur me one. Now I wants to make a fair propursition ter you."

Stephen's voice grew loud and strident.

"My house is burned, my boy is shot, my gal is killed, an' me all broke up at dis age. Gentlemens, justis' comes in som'ers. Uv course nairy one man uv you could stan er show befo' me, fair fist an' skull fight. Pick out any two men an' sen um to me an' I'll lick um. Gentlemens, on dat plan I'll take the whole regurment uv you. Now, gentlemens, I ax yer in de name uv justis, consider my propursition. Ef you think that ain't fair, I'll take any three uv yer fair fist and skull."

Stephen now awaited an answer.

The whites, who at heart sympathized with Stephen in his grief, regarded him as unbalanced by trouble. No one replied, and there was no thought of harming him.

"Ah! Gentlemens, you kill er pore gal when her daddy wuz erway, but you won't fight him, I see. Gentlemens, dare uster be bettah blood dan dat. I was in de war wid my marster, an' he showd good blood to de Yankees. Is it all gone, dat three uv you won't fight ur 'nigger,' ez you call him?"

By this time the teacher had arrived, accompanied by two friends of Stephen. They came to report that the Negroes had disbanded and would give no more trouble. Stephen's two friends now approached him and stationing themselves on either side, begged him to leave.

The old man's head drooped upon his bosom. He had at last collapsed, having been so long under a severe mental strain. His two friends supported him between them and bore him from the spot, Stephen repeating over and over in a broken voice: "Boys, dey don't fight fair. Dey don't fight fair, boys. Beulah! Beulah! your daddy can't do nuthin'. He would if he could. Boys, dey won't fight fair."

The Negroes en masse now gathered up their few belongings and removed to the city of R-- with all of its aggregation of vice, of temptation, of hardships, of alluring promises, of elusive hopes.

As they enter this typical American city, we fain would follow them, but cannot just now. May the fates deal kindly with them.

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