old man in the dirty linen duster walked slowly down the dirt road
from his dilapidated two-story house on the hill toward the abandoned
Presbyterian church. Inside, he made his way up the aisle toward
the worn front pew.
As he had done so many times before, he sat with his gaze fixed
on the area of replaced wooden flooring in front of the pulpit.
Beneath that spot lay his dear mother's grave. Sitting there, he
reflected on his soon-to-be-concluded life and wondered how it might
have turned out differently if certain things had not happened.
Not all ghosts are dead. In his peculiar way, Davis Hendricks haunted
Hill, the predecessor of the Cass
County community of Avinger.
But memories of the past haunted him.
A male version of an old maid school teacher, since leaving the
classroom for good he spent most of his time shut up in the old
home place, a once impressive house. Now, chickens roosted on the
ornate staircase, and goats stunk up the hall. Penetrable only by
a network of narrow trails, in every room, stacks of old newspapers,
empty bottles, rags, worn out furniture and the assorted accumulations
of decades stood man-high.
No one feared him, but seeing him as he made his periodic walks
to the empty church to visit his mother's grave made people uncomfortable.
Still, children and their parents knew him only as an eccentric
local character. But the old-timers knew his story.
His well-regarded parents had been among the area's earliest settlers.
They had raised two boys, George C. Hendricks and Davis. A Civil
War veteran, George had eventually moved to Hunt
County, where he died at 66 in 1900. Now only Davis, never married,
Years before, when his mother died, that part of East
Texas had been in the midst of a particularly rainy spring.
The ground was saturated, way too wet for the digging of a grave
in the cemetery adjacent to the church. In the days before embalming,
the only solution anyone could think of was to pull up some of the
flooring and bury her under the sanctuary. It may have been considered
a temporary measure, but there her remains had stayed.
Whether Davis had fought for the Confederacy has
not been determined, but while serving as Hickory
Hill's postmaster he got caught up in the turmoil of Reconstruction.
Federal troops had occupied Texas shortly after the war, and antipathy
continued between both sides. Those strong feelings led to further
Hearing that several Yankee soldiers stationed at Jefferson
had mistreated some women in Mount
Pleasant, a group of ex-Confederates went on their trail. Finding
three of the suspects in the process of burying a comrade at the
Hickory Hill Cemetery, the unreconstructed rebels opened fire. One
bluecoat dropped dead, the other escaped on horseback and the third,
feigning death, toppled into the open grave on top of the soldier
about to be buried. Wanting to make sure he was really dead, the
Confederates closed in and shot and wounded him. Again, he pretended
to be dead and this time the self-appointed avengers fell for the
ruse and galloped off.
Hill men had been assisting in the burial but Hendricks was
under the mistaken impression they had taken part in the shooting.
While the men placed the other dead soldier on top of his friend
and closed the grave, Hendricks hurried to Jefferson
to report the incident to federal officials. Soldiers rushed to
Hill and arrested the four well-liked locals. Taken back to
the Marion County
riverboat town and thrown into the wooden stockade the military
used for a jail, the innocent men faced a speedy trial and likely
At that proceeding, at least according to local legend, the wounded
soldier -- his conscience overriding his difference to rank and
military protocol -- burst into the courtroom and said he had something
to say. Allowed to testify, he said that the defendants had actually
been in the process of a kind deed, not a felony.
The military court acquitted the four, but the good people of Hickory
Hill did not like that Hendricks had taken it upon himself to
become an informant for the feds. Branding him a "meddlesome scalawag,"
they armed themselves with shotguns and set out to pay him a visit.
Hearing of their intent, he had tried to hide, but the vigilante's
dogs tracked him down. With due respect to his family's standing
in the community, the men merely peppered him with birdshot and
told him, in essence, to go and sin no more.
Whether Hendricks had acted out of moral conviction, or merely had
a tattletale nature is unknowable today. His life had been spared,
but his reputation had suffered irreparably. While Hendricks may
have been ready to move on with his life, the damage had been done.
incident -- it is not clear if it happened before or after the cemetery
shooting -- is what kept him a life-long bachelor. He had been sweet
on a local girl and asked her to marry him, but her family did not
want Hendricks a part of theirs. Still, he pressed his courtship.
Finally, the girl said yes. She suggested a remote nighttime meeting
place, and from there they would elope. But it was a set up. When
Hendricks showed up in his buggy, his beloved turned out to be one
of the girl's brothers wearing one of her dresses. When Hendricks
figured that out, the other brothers and various co-conspirators
started shouting and shooting. That, as intended, scared Hendricks'
horses and they ran off in wild fear until the buggy overturned.
Hendricks suffered only cuts and bruises, but he was through with
died, the remnants of a once sizable estate were sold for back taxes.
By the 1940s, the ante bellum house had collapsed and only the stone
chimney remained. The church, too, had long since been razed, the
grave of his mother never marked.
As for Hendricks, he lies in the old Hickory Hill Cemetery with
his mother, the two dead Yankees and others, finally at peace in
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" September
15, 2016 column
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