At Eventide

on August 3, 2012 in Southern Charm
Rad and Sallie

Radford Gunn Story 1858-1904

Seventeen year old Horace “Lawton” Story stood frozen with tension allowing the cold December air to hit his face as he stood outside the McDuffie County Jail. It was early in the morning just two days after Christmas. Yes, waiting in Thomson, Georgia, a city that’s been called by many names: Frog Pond, Hickory Level, the Camellia City of the South, and oddly enough, Slashes. Lawton would wait until 10:30 A.M. for the jailhouse church service to be over. The boy and the gallows waited for the two men being prayed for this cold morning. Yes, thought young Lawton, today it ends.

Young Lawton Story was a lanky young man of six five, just like his father, Rad Story. Rad’s only son last saw him on December 1, 1904. It was after dinner when Rad left home to handle a problem at one of his farms near the community of Thomson. The problem being cotton was going missing. Rad had a plan. Inspect the farm, then double back when not expected. Take a different route as to not be recognized from a distance on his white stallion. And that is what he did, and it was the last time anyone ever saw Rad Story alive.

As young Lawton Story waited for the jailhouse door to open, he thought about what a difference a day made, a day he could never forget, a day that rocked his world in this sleepy East Georgia countryside.

When Rad went missing, the boy prayed for a different ending, anything but this. His mind thought of a million reasons why “Papa” could go missing. After all the family owned ten thousand acres. Anything could have happened. But no, Rad’s body was found thrown in a canebrake. How could he live without his beloved father? Lawton’s life would never be the same.

Radford Gunn Story was properly buried at the Arimathea Methodist Church just a short distance from his home. In a blink of an eye, a family of six children was without a father, a loving wife without a husband, thirteen brothers – now twelve.

“Rad Story was a highly respected gentleman.”

And this highly respected gentleman was well known on sight by the white stallion he rode. At eventide, December 1, 1904, his stallion returned home without his faithful rider. His wife, Sallie Gunby-Story did not have to wait on a search party to find her husband, she knew some terrible fate had befallen him.

According to the Augusta Chronicle:

“Mr. R. G. Story, one of the best known and most respected citizens of the county, had a plantation two miles from Thomson. There he went on the 1st of December to see after the work on the place. In passing through some woods, he caught two men in the act of stealing cotton. By their own voluntary confessions, made before and after arrest, he said to them: ‘Boys is this the way you treat me when you think I’m gone? How often have you done this?’ They replied that they had done it only once. Mr. Story then said, ‘Well, come with me.’ As he turned to go, (one man) shot at him three times, one bullet striking him in the side of the face. Both of his assailants then ran, and Mr. Story staggered down the road towards home. Then (one) declared, ‘Well, we are in for it now, let’s finish it.’ (The man) then started after Mr. Story with an axe, but (the one) having no axe, outran him and overtook Mr. Story, whom he held until the other came with the axe, struck Mr. Story in the head. Then (the man) holding down Mr. Story took the axe and struck him. His corpse showed four mortal wounds to the head. The two men then dragged his body off the road and threw it into a canebrake.”

A search party formed, and on December 2, his body was found.

“Rad Story’s body was found by his father, Henry Allen Story and (half) brother, Claude Story who were amongst the search party. On December 3, there was a tremendous gathering in Thomson. Judge Hammond in Augusta was wired and he took the next train to Thomson. The hearts of the people were deadly stirred, the most deadly passions were aroused. But good judgement and good morals stayed the hand of vengeance.”

But good judgement and good morals were getting hard to come by with the people pouring into Thomson. They came from all over the county and state. A special meeting was called at the courthouse, a meeting of resolution. An expedient course of action had to be taken if the city was to be saved from destruction and violence. Five more judges hurried into Thomson, the Honorable: West, Farmer, Ellington, Callaway and Sturgis. A resolution was adopted and the trial was scheduled. The docket was cleared and trial set within the week.

The Honorable Judge Henry C.Hammond quoted Proverbs to calm the mass of people: “He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city.” Rad Story’s own father pleaded for peace and order, to allow the law to take it’s own course and that punishment be meted out by the courts.

One of the two men arrested had confided in a girl. “I had a fuss with my boss, Mr. Story, and I shot him.” She went to the authorities with the information.

The man’s home was searched and a bloody axe with hair on it was found under his mother’s bed. Both men pled “guilty.” The two men were asked to withdraw their guilty pleas and attorneys were appointed to represent them. They were tried and sentenced by a grand jury. They were found guilty and would hang by the neck until dead.

Seventeen year old Lawton Story was as distraught as his mother was stricken with grief. His little sisters cried themselves to sleep every night calling out for “Papa.” Lawton could not help but want the killers of his dear father dead. He counted the days until December 27. It was a private hanging with only a few were in attendance, young Lawton was there. Nothing could bring back his Papa, but he would finish it by seeing the execution through.

It was a cold day in Georgia when Rad’s son waited to face the men who swung an axe that day on Thomson Road. Judge Hammond had already resolved the issue with this statement: “Though a sad, yet yesterday was a great day for the city of Thomson, and the county of McDuffie. And the trial held there reflected credit upon the south and its civilization. May this wonderful example of self-control and high regard for law be followed throughout the land. At late hour last night all was peace and quiet in Thomson, and there was not the slightest apprehension of trouble.”

But it would not be resolved for young Lawton until he stood before the gallows. Now justice would be done. With a pounding heart, Lawton’s senses were sharpened as he took it all in. He would see this and remember it all the days of his life. And that is true, he did remember it all the days of his life, but not in the way that he thought he would.

Finally, the moment came and the two convicted men were marched onto the gallows together. According to the Augusta Chronicle, both were cool and composed and said they were ready to die. One was serious over the matter, while the other man smiled and announced, “I’m ready to skin the cat.” And according to eye witness, young Lawton, that man also said, “Let ‘er rip!” At that, the death cap was placed on them, they hanged.

Young Lawton stood there in shock. He wanted to close his eyes, but they were frozen open. When he was able to move, young Lawton left the jailhouse and rode his horse hard; hard until he had an asthma attack. He choked about the time his horse spooked and he was thrown. His uneasy horse left him all alone on Thomson Road with his misery.

Lawton struggled to regain his breath. He fought with everything he had, but succumbed to exaggerated breathing, choking, and hot tears of despair. If only his father was here now, the gentle giant of a man would cradle his son’s head and shoulders in his arms like a new born baby. His soft reassuring voice would stabilize his son’s heart rate. His gentle hand on his brow would slow Lawton’s breathing. Rad knew what to do. Lawton knew he was safe in the care of “Papa.” Without his father, what would he do? Lawton knew the answer to that question; he would surely die.

Overwhelmed with grief, he could not rise just yet. He lay there staring at the cloud formation wishing he could turn back time and be with his father, just one more day. Lawton finally stood and realized how sore and weak he was from the asthma attack and fall from his horse. He slowly made his way down the road back to his Clay Hill Lincolnton home, all the while, wishing he could run away and forget.

As Lawton walked, he recalled another time when he wanted to leave Lincolnton. As a child, it was the worst day of his life, the only time his father laid a hand on him. He was so distraught from the swipe across the backside, the boy decided to run away from home. He set out for the Thomson Train Station – walking. He spent all of his money on candy while in the station. He had no money left for a train ticket. Not knowing what to do, he sat there in the train station until “eventide.” That’s when Rad Story showed up on his white stallion. Little Lawton slept lying against his father’s chest all the way home.

How could his world change so much in such a short period of time? Just a few weeks ago, he and his father went hunting together. The Radford Story family shared Thanksgiving together. It was a happy time. Soon after, the family discussed how they would celebrate the birth of Christ. There were verses in the Bible to recite and songs to be practiced. There was a lot going on within the family, a time of joy.

Life had made a staggering turn. Lawton wanted to run away, forget everything.

Mother was making preparations to move the family to Uncle Ed’s home in the city of Thomson. The Rad Story home-place was about to say goodbye to sisters: Maude,Theodosia, Eddy, Reesie, and three year old, Ruth Radford Story. Lawton’s world was truly turned upside down in a matter of days. His mother never remarried. She eventually wound up in Decatur, Georgia, where she is buried in the (old) Decatur Cemetery along side her brother, Professor Charlie Gunby and her daughter, Theodosia.

But that December day in 1904, the family exploded. Lawton saw the handwriting on the wall as he walked. If he stayed, he was about to be the only one left at home, the home his father built, the home where just a few weeks ago his father said grace over their Thanksgiving dinner.

Seventeen year old Lawton would remember that prayer forever, but it was what happened just after the “Amen” that Lawton would replay in his mind. When Rad Story said “Amen,” he raised his head and looked into the eyes of his son and said, “Now girls, remember to thank your brother for the turkey. He’s a straight shoot.”

“He’s a straight shoot,” replayed in the mind of this grieving son as he slowly walked home. He remembered the lingering look from his father that day at the table. It was the last time he recalled looking into his father’s eyes.

Yes, Lawton wanted to leave and never come back. But who would take care of Papa’s horse? Who would put in the crops this spring? And who would put flowers on Papa’s grave?

This was a heavy burden for a seventeen year old, not yet a man, but no longer a boy. As he approached his Lincolnton home, he looked out across the land and then allowed his eyes to set on the mourning door draped in black.

Would he go, or would he stay? He faced his future and made the decision right then and there. There was never really a question in his mind about leaving Lincolnton. It was too late. Lawton would stay. He was already in love with the Bentley girl, Nancy. If he could have looked past that door, he would have seen himself there with his Nancy. He would have known that eight of his nine children would be born there, one being my father, Tom Story.

Lawton “Papa Story” with Diane, Barbara and Patricia Story at Christmastime

As the eighteenth granddaughter of Lawton Story, I sat on my parent’s front porch on Morgan Road in Tucker, Georgia, and heard this story told many times by my grandfather. Yes, my grandfather was the seventeen year old boy who lost his father that cold December in 1904.

After dinner, my grandfather, my Papa Story, walked to our front porch and sat down. When the sun set, we knew to be still. We sensed it, because Papa Story became very quiet during eventide. His demeanor changed. And then when the darkness enveloped us, his voice seemed to deepen and he spoke to us in a quiet grave tone.

This made my mother, Helen Story, uneasy and she always whispered to my father, “Tom, the girls will have nightmares.”

My father ignored her and looked intently toward his father, as we three little girls did. Mama sat back and remained tense. She wore her thoughts on her sleeve, “How far will Mr. Story go this time?”

One night Papa Story looked at my mother and ever so gently said, “Helen, this is important. The girls must hear this.”

And then he continued with his “important” story.

“Papa did not come home. His horse returned without him – at eventide. Even unto this day – at eventide,” Lawton paused to take a deep breath trying to stave off an asthma attack. Eventually his throaty whisper found our ears through the darkness of night, “I can hear the sound of my father’s horse running to the barn. I feel uneasiness in my stomach – knowing something’s wrong. I hear the distress bell – Mother rang. I sense fear stirring in my little sisters. I was with my grandfather when my father was found in that canebrake. When Grandpa (Henry Allen Story) saw Papa lying there, he hit the ground like a mighty fell oak. He was never the same. Soon thereafter, it was chaos. There was a call to order – Thomson was about to explode, folks wanted to tear it down, starting with the jail. My grandfather pleaded for peace. He did not want to lose another son.” Lawton paused to reach into his sweater pocket. He pulled out a small handheld respirator and blew into it. When he had recovered, he went on. “And – – – –  at eventide – – – – I see the faces of those two men standing on the gallows.”

And then as always, my grandfather sat still and very quiet. We all sat frozen with suspense, though we knew exactly what he would say next.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

When my grandfather looked back on that day, he was at peace with the fact that the men were brought to justice for the murder of his father, though he regretted wanting them to hang.

One night on the front porch after my grandfather told the story about Rad’s death, my sister, Patricia asked, “Why didn’t Rad pull his gun out on those guys and shoot ’em?” Which made my mother almost swallow her tongue, although silently my father nodded his head in agreement to the question. And Papa Story answered, “Rad Story never carried a gun unless he was hunting. He didn’t need a gun. My father was a big man and he not afraid of anything.”

After reading the newspaper articles about my great-grandfather’s death on Thomson Road, I now realize that Lawton Story told his little granddaughters this tragic story with great delicacy. It breaks my heart to think about how painful this must have been for him to dredge it up and relive it. I wish it was possible to go to my grandfather and give him a big hug and tell him how much I love him. But I cannot, so I will remember the stories he told and how he made sure we heard these words:

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.” And, “He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city.”

According to my Papa Story, they were words to live by. And by the way, Papa Story gave credit to King Solomon and never mentioned anything about a judge  when it came to the quote about ruling the spirit. I found out about that in the Augusta Chronicle.

And I will remember Christmas; a time that has always been a season of great celebration in the Lawton Story family. My grandfather went through the motions, but he could be singled out easily in our large family. He was the quiet one with the faraway look in his eyes.

Though the newspapers identified the men responsible for my great-grandfather’s death, I chose to omit their names. Nor could I force my hands to write a complete description of the condition of his body.

May Radford Gunn Story rest in peace.

Author’s Note:

Radford Gunn Story was born October 1858, died December 1, 1904. His grave was moved to the William Aurelius Gunby family plot at Dunn’s Chapel when Arimathea Methodist became a part of Clarks Hill Lake. The Augusta Chronicle stated Rad G. Story was forty-seven years of age in December 1904.

“Thomson, Ga, Dec 2. The body of Rad Story was found this morning by his brother Claude H. Story and his father H. A. Story who where among the party searching for him in a cane swamp about two miles north of Thomson…” – Augusta Chronicle

Headline quotes from Augusta Chronicle December 3, 1904: “Mr. Rad G. Story Foully Murdered Near Thomson  Well know Resident of McDuffie Attacked From Behind  Head Crushed In”

Other quotes and headlines: Story Slayers Hanged at Thomson, Speedy Justice Stops Lynching at Thomson

Most of the details (quotes) about the crime came from the Augusta Chronicle, some information from the Wilmington Morning Star. Knowledge of the newspaper articles came from Patricia Moss, granddaughter of Ruth Radford Story.

Rad Story was the third son of Rachel Ann Montgomery and Henry Allen (Buck) Story. They had five other sons: Samuel (Fox Huntin’ Sam), James, Henry David, Benjamin and Columbus (Lum). When Rachel died, Henry Allen Story married Susan McDaniel and had seven more sons and four daughters. Radford Gunn Story was named after Reverend Radford Gunn of Little Brier Creek Baptist in Warrenton, Georgia.

Proverbs 16:32 He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

Christmas photo 1956: Every time a granddaughter was born, Papa Story (Lawton) wanted her named Sallie after his mother. No one took his advice. Christmas 1956 we visited him to show off our Christmas dolls, whereupon my little sister, Barbara, held up her doll and said, “Her name is Sallie, and she has blue eyes and blonde hair just like your Sallie.” With tears in his eyes he put Barbara on his lap along with “Sallie” an requested a photo. He loved us all, but was especially fond of Barbara.

REWRITE 2019:

I Am a Scot. I do not need your approval, your opinion, your attitude, or even your notice of me. I do, however, need you to step aside and get out of my way. Great things are in my immediate future, watch me do exactly what you said I could not. ~Author Unknown

At Eventide

1904

Chronos, an imaginary god who represents chronological order. The ancient Greeks called him “Father Time.” The man cloaked in darkness carrying a sickle, imagined or not, marks all rich or poor, weak or strong. A mark that divides the then and the now. The moment whispered about. If only we could go back, but time is unforgiving. No appeal possible. If ever such a blow marked a man it’s this one. His moment to endure at the tender age of seventeen. His great sorrow.

He was born a Story in 1886 in East Georgia. His Scottish roots lend meaning to the name and the man. Stor meant big and strong while rie meant large body of water.

His philosophical grandfather called him Horace, which meant keeper of time. His formidable grandfather rejected the versifier notion. He called the boy, Lawton, a good honest farm name. Hlaw – meant hill or mound, while tun meant fenced settlement. Thus a strong man destined to become a storytelling farmer, life impacted by a big body of water.

Big? He was six-five, strong as an ox, but helpless to stop the flood of events that rocked his world, including the submergence of his Lincoln County farm. He’d lose then as he lost now. Winter of 1904 rammed death in his face, not one man, but three.

A December sunrise found Horace Lawton Story pacing the red bricks of Journal Street with Mother’s words echoing in his head.

“Don’t go.”

Lawton stood firm. No choice. Rad Story’s only son, oldest child. Pacing Journal, he waited to be summoned. Waited in Thomson, a city that’s been called by many names: Frog Pond, Hickory Level, the Camellia City of the South, and oddly enough, Slashes. The boy and the gallows waited for two men being prayed over; 10:30 A.M. was Amen time.

“Today it ends,” were his thoughts.

It started on December 1, when Lawton’s father left home to investigate a problem at one of the big farms. Cotton going missing. Rad had a plan. Inspect the farm early, then double back unexpected. That was the last time anyone saw Rad Story alive.

Next day a search party found the body. Radford Gunn Story was buried at Arimathea Methodist, a place known as the White Rocks, land adjacent his home in Lincoln County. In a blink of an eye, six children without a father. Sallie Story, a widow. “The Thirteen” (brothers) now twelve. That missing spoke in the wheel created turmoil throughout the State of Georgia.

Rad Story was known by the white saddleback stallion he rode. At eventide, December 1, 1904, that horse returned without him, marking his disappearance. It was the Augusta Chronicle that recorded the sickle swing of Chronos. It was to become the Evolution of Horace Lawton Story.

Augusta Chronicle Dec. 2: Rad G. Story, a highly respected gentleman residing one mile from Thomson, was brutally murdered two miles north of this place yesterday evening. Mr. Story had been bothered for some time by having parties steal cotton from some of his tenants, and he left his home shortly after dinner yesterday evening and went over to investigate the matter and it is thought that a fuss arose between him and the parties who were accused of the stealing. While returning home he was waylaid and knocked on the head with an axe three terrible wounds having been made on the back of the head, crushing in the skull and causing the brains to ooze out. After the murderer or murderers had killed Mr. Story they took his body and threw it in a canebrake about 20 feet from where the crime took place. Mr. Story failing to return home on last night, his wife became uneasy and gave the alarms. A searching party was organized and after a diligent search of several hours his body was found by his father, Mr. H. A. (Buck) Story and his (half) brother, Mr. Claude H. Story, this morning about 11:00. Suspicion at once rested on John and Guy Reid and John Butler, the strongest suspicion being on John Butler, as an old axe was found under his bed that had blood stains on it. The coroner summoned a jury and went out to where the crime was committed, and began an investigation. The evidence so far seems to be very damaging to John Butler, as one girl had testified that John told her that he and his boss, Mr. Story had had a fuss and that he, John, had shot him. So far the body does not show any gunshot or pistol shot wounds, but a more thorough examination will be made in the morning. Mr. Story, the deceased, was 47 years of age, and leaves a wife and several children to mourn his sad death.

Upon further examination it was confirmed that Mr. Story had a gunshot wound to the side of his face. Three men arrested, one released.

Augusta Chronicle, Thomson, Ga. … On December 3, there was a tremendous gathering in Thomson. Judge Hammond in Augusta was wired and he took the next train to Thomson. The hearts of the people were deadly stirred, the most deadly passions were aroused. But good judgement and good morals stayed the hand of vengeance.

But good judgement and good morals were getting hard to come by with the anger pouring into Thomson. They came from all over by every means imaginable. A special meeting was called at the courthouse. An expedient course of action needed if the city was to be saved. Five more judges rushed into Thomson, the Honorable: West, Farmer, Ellington, Callaway and Sturgis. A resolution was adopted and the trial scheduled. The docket cleared and trial set within the week.

The Honorable Judge Henry C. Hammond quoted Proverbs to calm the mass of people: “He that ruleth his spirit is greater than he that taketh a city.”

Rad’s father pleaded for peace and order, to allow the law to take its own course and that punishment be meted out by the courts.

Upon further investigation:

Augusta Chronicle Dec. 6: Mr. R. G. Story, one of the best known and most respected citizens of the county, had a plantation two miles from Thomson. There he went on the 1st of December to see after the work on the place. In passing through some woods, he caught two men in the act of stealing cotton. By their own voluntary confessions, made before and after arrest, he said to them: ‘Boys is this the way you treat me when you think I’m gone? How often have you done this?’ They replied that they had done it only once. Mr. Story then said, ‘Well, come with me.’ As he turned to go, John Butler shot at him three times, one bullet striking him in the side of the face. Both of his assailants then ran, and Mr. Story staggered down the road towards home. Then John Butler declared, ‘Well, we are in for it now, let’s finish it.’ John Butler then started after Mr. Story with an axe, but Guy Reid having no axe, outran Butler and overtook Mr. Story, whom he held until Butler came with the axe, struck Mr. Story in the head. Then Reid took the axe and struck him. His corpse showed four mortal wounds to the head. The two men then dragged his body off the road and threw it into a canebrake.

Augusta Chronicle Headlines Dec.6: A Record for Law and Order of Which the Good People of McDuffie Feel Proud – GUILT CLEARLY ESTABLISHED – They Were Sentenced to be Hanged on Tuesday, December 27. Perfect Order and Respect for Court Prevailed at the Trial – Will Remain in Thomson Jail

Hanging day couldn’t come soon enough for young Lawton. His little sisters cried themselves to sleep, home overrun with armed guards. He counted the days. It’d be a private hanging with few in attendance. Nothing could bring back Rad Story, but his son would face the men who swung the axe.

Judge Hammond resolved the issue with this statement:

Augusta Chronicle Dec.6, Thomson, Ga. Special: Though bowed in grief over the tragic death of one of their worthiest and most beloved citizens, the people of McDuffie County are relieved and delighted that the law has been upheld and vindicated. The history of this crime, and the trial and conviction of its perpetrators, are worthy of record, for it demonstrated that in a highly civilized and progressive community, no matter how dreadful the murder or how wretched the murderers, the law will be allowed to take its course, and the present and consequential horrors of lynching avoided. Mr. R. G. Story was one of the best known and respected citizens of the county, had a plantation two miles from Thomson.

Though a sad, yet yesterday was a great day for the City of Thomson, and the County of McDuffie. And the trial held there reflected credit upon the south and its civilization. May this wonderful example of self-control and high regard for law be followed throughout the land. At late hour last night all was peace and quiet in Thomson, and there was not the slightest apprehension of trouble.

No resolution for young Lawton. While pacing Journal Street he caught a glimpse of the Thomson Train Station through the alley. He recalled the day a ten year old runaway sat in that depot. His thoughts interrupted when the door opened. They called his name. He entered.

Two convicted men walked onto the gallows. Both composed and said they were ready to die. Reid was serious over the matter, while Butler smiled and said, “I’m ready to skin the cat. Let ‘er rip!”

With death cap in place, it was over within minutes.

Lawton left without a word. Rode his horse hard. Had an asthma attack. Horse spooked, threw him, leaving him on Thomson Road choking on hot tears of despair. Overwhelmed with grief, he stared at cloud formations wishing to turn back time. What he’d give for another day with Papa. He walked toward home in Lincoln County. Thoughts swirled. Wanted to run away. He wept like a broken hearted child, just like the day his father hit him.

Yes, that was the day the ten year old took his money to the Thomson Train Station for a ticket to ride. Anywhere but here. But the candy jars beckoned. Lawton partook until no money for a ticket. Eventide brought a reconciliation with Papa as they rode home on the white stallion.

On December 28, 1904, seventeen year old Lawton Story stared at the horizon looking for the white horse. His mind said, he’s not coming, while his heart cried out, look for him!

Last article found of 1904 slaying:

Augusta Chronicle Headlines Dec. 28, STORY SLAYERS HANGED AT THOMSON, Murderers Butler and Reed Pay Penalty of Their Crime Same Month It Was Committed, DIED IN EIGHT MINUTES. Necks of Both Were Broken.

The details of the crime are still fresh in the public mind, for it was committed less than a month ago. Their apprehension, conviction and execution makes a new record for dealing out quick justice in Georgia. Only twenty-seven days elapsed between the murder of Mr. Story and the expiation of the crime of his murder by the two on the gallows … The two men were sentenced to be hung, being given just one day over the misdemeanor time allowed by law. Had they been given only the minimum they would have been hanged Monday, the day that was observed as Christmas Day.

The crime was a heinous one, and the people of McDuffie County deserve congratulations for upholding the law and order under the trying circumstances. The prompt action of the court officials is also worthy of commendation, as it had much to do with preventing violence.

Coping with Great Sorrow

The world changed in just a few weeks. No need for armed guards in the house then. A gun was for hunting, not protection. His little sisters, Maude, Theo, Eddy, Reesie and Ruthie asked their go-to-person one question.

“Why, Buster?”

How could Lawton explain what he did not understand? That’s not all. Mother was making preparations to move the girls to Uncle Ed’s home in the City of Thomson (thereafter from place to place).

Young Lawton saw the handwriting on the wall. Home alone, home where Papa said grace at Thanksgiving just a month ago. A moment he’d never forget. After the “Amen,” Rad raised his head and looked into the eyes of his son, “Now girls, remember to thank your brother for the turkey. He’s a straight shoot.”

“He’s a straight shoot.” The voice, the words, the lingering look, the only time he recalled looking deep into his father’s eyes. Too painful to sit at that table again. Too painful to look at Papa’s empty chair. He had to go. But who would care for Papa’s horse? Tend the farm? Place flowers on the grave? A heavy burden for a seventeen year old, not yet a man, no longer a boy. As he approached home, he looked across land allowing his eyes to set on the door draped in black.

Would he go or would he stay? He faced the future then and there. Never a real question about leaving Lincoln County. Too late. He was in love with the Bentley girl, Nancy. If he could have seen the future through that mourning door, he’d seen himself with Nancy along with nine children, one being my father, Tom Story.

Tucker Georgia, 1950s

As a child I heard this story many times. My grandfather was the seventeen year old who found his father in a canebrake. After supper the old gentleman headed for the screened-in front porch, the time he called eventide. His voice changed as darkness crept in. The firefly dance signaled the jailhouse story. The groaning of the swing’s chain supernaturally dwarfed his words – raising the hair. All of which forced my mother to speak, though a mere whisper.

“Tom, the girls will have nightmares.”

My father ignored her, perhaps didn’t hear. Tom Story was mesmerized by details of the grandfather never met. Mama’s thoughts easily read, “How far will Mr. Story go this time?”

One night Papa Story said ever so gently, “Helen, this is important. My grandchildren must hear this. My father did not come home . . .”

Tension mounted as throaty whispers found little ears. Our silent anguish cried out with the groaning of the swing.

“His horse returned – alone. Even to this day at eventide, I hear Papa’s horse running to the barn. I hear the distress bell. I feel the fear in my little sisters. When Grandpa Buck saw him . . . he hit the ground like a mighty fell oak.”

He breathed deeply. We honored his moment of silence, but not so the swing. It moaned and groaned despite all.

“Then came chaos. There was a call to order – Thomson was about to explode. Tear it down! Is what they shouted. Judges flooded the city. Deputies sworn in by the dozen. To clear the docket, court convened day and night. Deputies knocked on doors twenty-four-seven telling witness and defendant – you’re next, let’s go.”

Rubbing his face, Lawton dried his eyes.

“Grandpa Buck spoke to the mob. Pleaded for peace. Couldn’t bear to lose another son.”

Paused a moment as he reached into his sweater pocket for his asthma whistle. We froze with suspense, though we knew exactly what he’d say. Because he said it every time, words he wanted his grandchildren to hear.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Lawton Story was at peace with the men being brought to justice, but much regretted wanting them dead. My sister, Patricia once asked, “Why didn’t Rad pull his gun out and shoot ’em?” Which made our mother almost swallow her tongue, although our father nodded in agreement.

“Well Petunia, Rad Story never carried a gun unless he was huntin.’ Didn’t need a gun. My father was a big man, could handle anything. He was Buck Story’s son. No one would ever mess with a son of Buck Story, not The Thirteen.”

I was fourteen when my grandfather, Lawton Story, passed away in 1963. His legacy was Storytelling of East Georgia: McDuffie, Columbia, Wilkes, Warren, and Lincoln County. Often I think of that teenage boy living alone on 155 acres, a farm located on a dirt road off Salem Church Road in Lincoln County. December 1, a bustling household of eight. By month end, alone. September 26, 1906, he married Nancy Bentley. She moved in with her piano. They had nine children.

Christmas after 1904

Lawton Story honored Christmas-time by going through the motions, but was easily spotted. He was the quiet man with a faraway look in his eyes. It was the day Tom Story whispered to his daughters, “Make sure you tell him that you love him.”

“I did, Daddy.”

“Tell him again. Do it for me.”

Lawton longed for a granddaughter named, Sallie to honor his mother, Sallie Gunby Story. Never happened. One Christmas we visited to show off our new dolls. My little sister, Barbara, held up her doll and said, “Her name is Sallie. She has blue eyes and blonde hair just like your Sallie.” With tears in his eyes he placed Barbara on his lap along with “Sallie” and requested a photo. He loved all twenty-six grandchildren, but was especially fond of Barbara Gail Story.

Arimathea Methodist and Dunn’s Chapel

On the left past Salem Church (on Salem Church Road) is a dirt road Arimathea, unmarked except on detailed maps. That abandoned road dead-ends into the lake. There under water once stood Arimathea Methodist where Rad Story was buried. His tombstone and scoop of dirt was transferred to Dunn’s Chapel when Arimathea Methodist was flooded in lake expansion. Rad’s remains probably in Arimathea grave under water. To the right of the church stood the house that Rad built for Sallie.

May Rad and Sallie Gunby Story Rest in Peace, for in life they were separated by violence, time, distance and a big body of water.

Radford Gunn Story (1858-1904) was named after Reverend Radford Gunn of Little Brier Creek Baptist in Warrenton, Georgia. His parents were Henry Allen “Buck” Story and Rachel Ann Montgomery. Buck and Rachel’s children: Sam, James, Rad, David, Ben and Lum Story.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.