Saturday, April 11, 2015


By Randy Reynolds

31 years before the Civil War, former Georgia Governor George Troup and the state’s aristocratic landowners were pushing hard for secession. They were opposed by former Governor John Clark and his backers, who were mostly tradesmen and small farmers including 29 year old Sharp Spencer Reynolds of Hall County (my g-g-g-grandfather.) When young Reynolds expressed his views in a letter to the editor of the Statesman & Patriot, the editor of a rival paper, the Athenian, ridiculed him. Sharp Reynolds responded in a second letter to the Statesman & Patriot, June 19, 1830. (He writes like an educated man, though there is no record of where he may have gotten that education.)

“I had no thought of exciting the ire of that most renowned and potent knight of the quill, the editor of the Athenian… But inasmuch as he has thought fit to pause a moment in the career of his glory, and honor my humble effusion with his ‘right wittie and conceited’ remarks, I have been driven to the necessity of fleshing my maiden pen, by entering the lists against this gigantic opponent, and joining battle with him and his auxiliary.”

(If this reads like something plagiarized from Mark Twain, please note that this was five years before Mark Twain was born to Sharp Reynolds’ cousin.)

Sharp wasn’t afraid to take on the power structure, because he felt truth was on his side: “We are informed, by sacred history, that a certain little son of Jesse, David by name, armed only with a sling and smooth pebble from a brook, encountered and slew the mighty Goliath… and the cause of his success is stated in the same authority to have been the armour of truth in which he stood invulnerably clothed. Now although there may exist the same disproportion between my assailant of the Athenian & myself, intellectually speaking…I feel that the mantle which protected David, had descended upon my shoulders…”
In other words, Me David. You Goliath.

Sharp Reynolds tried to show that Troupites weren’t practicing what they preached: “The government of Hall county stands in the same relation to the Government of the State, as the latter does to the Government of the United States. …A party of the State wishes forcibly to resist the right of the United States’ Government to interfere with its regulations… That same party is busying itself with endeavoring to control the conditions of every county in the State…”

“…the Athenian—printed in Clark county—stoutly objects (to what is going on in Hall county) and with a long string of jibes, and jeers, and reproaches, seeks to (interfere)…”

The newspaper was also practicing what today would be called “false equivalency” –they treated Sharp as if he—not the armed insurrectionists—was stirring up all the trouble. He responded:

“The Athenian raises so great a lure and cry, as if like Troup, I had talked of guns, swords, & pistols…. Its extreme sensibility upon this point, is a sufficient commentary upon the enormity of its own doctrines in regard to the relation of the State, to the United States—so much for the gratuity of its interference; let us proceed to dissect the carcass before us.”

Sharp must have gotten some laughs with lines like “Let us proceed to dissect the carcass before us” but it was a serious issue. George Troup, while governor, had signed a treaty with his cousin, a half-Indian named William McIntosh, giving the State of Georgia title to all remaining Creek Indian lands. McIntosh had no authority to do this—and the Creeks murdered him for it. President John Quincy Adams called the treaty illegal and overturned it. This enraged former Governor Troup and the plantation owners, and they began agitating for secession. Former Governor Clark’s followers, including Sharp Reynolds, favored a more reasoned approach: they stayed in the Union and took the Creek Indian lands “legally.”

Sharp writes that it was the “…height of imprudence to take possession of the Indian lands under a title which was not only voidable, but actually void; when by pursuing a different course, with a little patience, it could be had (and was) with title sound and indefeasible.”

Even after the state reclaimed the Creek land, the Troupites continued to demonize the Clarkites for not being willing to secede. Sharp said the Clarkites were only doing the patriotic thing:
“We refuse to enter into the disunion schemes of Troup, and there lies our sin. Because we will not contribute to strengthen the arm that is raised to cut up root and branch the tree of our liberty, planted by Washington, Jefferson, and their illustrious compeers…

"Because we are not willing to erect the standard of civil war... we are subjected to the abuse of the Athenian, and all others who would plunge us into civil war…”

When Sharp Reynolds wrote that letter at the age of 29, the issue was “States Rights”--the state’s right to secede over how to take land away from the Creek Nation.

When he was 60 and the plantation owners finally got the Civil War they had wanted for so long, the issue was still (supposedly) “States Rights”—the state’s right to secede from the Union. But after seceding, they formed their own nation—the Confederate States of Americathat denied the right of states to secede!

So what “States Rights” were they really seceding for?
It was, of course, the right to maintain legal human bondage.

Though even today defenders of the Confederacy use the “States Rights” talking point, the actions of the Confederacy itself, in denying States Rights, serves as a testament to the emptiness of this claim. So, too, do the words of Sharp Spencer Reynolds in that letter to the editor he wrote 31 years before the war: 

“…there is no Ignorance so Impenetrable as the willful—no misrepresentation too shameless for the purposes of deception.”

Friday, March 27, 2015


by Randy Reynolds 

This is how family history gets passed down…

I found out about the murderer in our family, Grady Reynolds, 75 years after it happened. 

I recall that it was one of those lazy Sunday afternoons in the 1970s that I spent in Great-grandmother Chesty Reynolds’ front room where her bed was.  My grandfather Bonnell Reynolds and I were on the naugahyde sofa, my great-uncle Kermit was straddling a canebacked chair backward and “Grandmother” was in her bed just inside the front door.  A farmer’s wife accustomed to small quarters, she had always used the front room for her bedroom.  She would live to a robust 96 years of age, but at the time that she and these two sons of hers told me this story she was still in her eighties, a picture of health, propped up against several pillows, chenille spread pulled tight beneath her, a pretty quilt neatly folded over her legs.

That was 43 years ago, and the events I learned about that day happened in 1897, so this story has been in the family for 118 years.  My dad Gene Reynolds, who is 84, had never heard it despite spending countless hours with his grandpa Allen Reynolds on the front porch out at the farm in late-night talks about family history.  Even though Allen was the murderer’s first cousin, Gene didn’t remember him ever mentioning Grady going to the gallows.

“I never even heard the name,” said Gene.

“And you didn’t know you had a third cousin that killed a storekeeper and pretended he bought the store?” I asked.

 “How do you know all this?” he asked.

“Papa Bonnell and Kermit and Grandmother told me about it back in the ‘70s,” I said. 

“Are you sure?”

“Sure I’m sure.  I got the name wrong.  I remembered it as Gary, but I found out today it was Grady—Reuben Grady Reynolds, and I just thought you could give me some details.”

“Well, I never heard of any Reuben Grady Reynolds,” said Gene.

After finishing Sunday “dinner” at my Papa Bonnell’s house that day in the early 1970s, I moved over to the couch to watch a football game on TV with Uncle Bob, who didn’t much enjoy the games, but always watched the halftime scores to see if the teams he had bet on were covering the point spread.

Uncle Strick was sitting in the armchair nearest the TV but had no interest whatsoever in the game.  He was holding my infant daughter Kristi, rubbing the top of her head, saying, “Ain’t the top of their heads soft?”

My young wife Sherry was helping Mama Maude and Aunt Willeen clear the table while my radical Aunt Katrina sat there at the table, pretty as you please, as if she had the same rights as a man to sit there and not do dishes, but nobody begrudged her the usurpation because she kept a conversation going from the table to the couch to the kitchen. She also kept a cigarette going, as did her husband Bob, from his end of the couch, and Strick near the TV.  The room was a haze of after-dinner smoke that bothered no one because it was always like that when the family got together.

Papa finished his meal by sopping the remainder of the brown gravy from his plate with a piece of chocolate cake (his favorite flavor combination) and then put a big dip of CC Snuff beneath his bottom lip before settling into his plush green swivel chair.

When the halftime recap was over Uncle Bob rounded up Katrina and Kim, and they said their goodbyes and headed home to the Sardis community.

Once everything was spic and span in the kitchen, Willeen told Strick to give the baby back to Sherry, and they collected their kids Sharon and Phil, and took off for their little home on a hill near River Bend.

Sherry took our two little girls into Papa's back yard where we lived in the “Little House” which was sort like a shotgun house in the slums, only smaller.  But we loved it because it was close to Mama Maude and Papa’s and put us in the orbit of all those uncles and aunts.

At this time, maybe an hour after “dinner,” Papa made his move.  He spit into the can beside his chair and rearranged the snuff beneath his bottom lip and said, “You know, I wouldn’t mind riding out to Mom’s this afternoon. If I put a little juice in your car, do you think you could ride me out there? That is, if you don't have anything else to do which I don't mind if you do. I don’t want to put you out any.”

“Sure,” I said.  “But keep your money.”

“No, no, I insist,” he said.

There was many a day back then when my pockets were as empty as the tank of my powder blue 1968 Mustang, so after an appropriate amount of back and forth, I took his dollar. 

Visiting the Great-Grandmother that I had always known as simply “Grandmother,” was not my favorite way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  It was nice to see her and Kermit, the son who lived with her the last 30 years of her life, but I really didn’t care all that much about the back and forth between them and my Papa Bonnell over Who married Whom and  in what year; Who died when;  did you hear about Cousin Whomever or Aunt Whoozitz; or where is So-and-So buried?  It was all I could do to keep my eyes open.

Somehow Uncle Baylous Reynolds’ name came up and they started talking about how great it was that his son, our cousin Grady, got religion before he went to the gallows and I perked up.

Grandmother was just a young girl and not a Reynolds yet when Grady was hanged over in Jefferson, Georgia, just a few miles from The Glade, but she remembered it well.  “We knew all about it. People came from far and near.”

Papa Bonnell, who wasn’t even born till 1907, obviously knew the story. “It was a double hanging.  Him and Bud Brooks.”

Kermit, born in 1924, seemed to know as much as either of them.  “They built a 16 foot fence around the gallows so that nobody could see the actual hanging.”

“Just Grady and Bud’s families and the sheriff and a few others,” said Grandmother.  “Everybody else was there just to watch them walk from the courthouse to the fence.”

“What always got me,” said Papa Bonnell, “Was how come they bought each of them a new suit to be hanged in?  Why waste all that money?”

“Well, but I bet they looked nice at their funeral,” said Grandmother.

Kermit said gently, “Mama, do you know what happens to the human body when a person is hanged?”

Papa frowned.  “Uh, let’s not get into that.”

Grandmother showed her displeasure by uttering her strongest epithet:  “Well, I never!”

Kermit said, “They buried ‘em side by side over at the Reynolds-Barton Cemetery in Lula.”

“I ain’t been to that cemetery in years,” said Papa. “I need to ride over there and have a look one of these days.”

“Ain’t got no name or date on their headstone,” said Kermit.  “All it says is something like “Hanged, buried side by side…They robbed a grocery store and…a man was killed.”

“They was cousins,” said Grandmother.   “Grady’s mother was a Brooks and it was her nephew Bud Brooks that helped Grady with the murder.”

“Now, let’s get the story straight,” said Bonnell.  “Bud didn’t help with the murder.  He just helped split open the body after Grady shot the man.”

“I think it was Grady that split him open with the ax,” said Kermit.  “Right down the center of his back. All Bud did was help take out some of his insides and  fill up the corpse with rocks and bind it up so he’d sink when they threw him in the Oconee River.”

“That was after Grady shot him in the back of the head,” said Bonnell.

“Well, I don’t know if we need to talk about all that,” said Grandmother, briefly focusing her watery blue eyes on me.

My newsman’s instinct felt the story ending too soon, so I piped up:  “Why’d they kill him?”

“He was a wealthy store owner, just a young man, really, without any family hereabouts,” said Grandmother.  “And they heard he kept a lot of money hid in his store.  Didn’t trust the banks.”

“Grady was dirt poor,” said Kermit.  “Cuttin’ railroad ties for a living, bootlegging on the side, him and Bud both.”

Papa liked to keep a story on track.  “They had a contract to make railroad ties in the woods over near Bellton, when they come up with this scheme to kill the storekeeper.”

Kermit said, “Grady’s the one that made him an offer on the store and  lured him out of town by saying they needed to go get the money at Harmony Grove Bank.  And, oh yeah, they could do some bird-hunting the next morning.   The storekeep was an avid bird hunter.”

Papa added, “Bud wadn’t even there, I don’t think, when Grady shot the man in the back of the head.”

Kermit continued, “After they threw the corpse in the river, they went back to the store and tried to find the hidden money, but didn’t find any.  So they kept the store open, told folks that they had bought it.”

“Made a little money selling merchandise,” said Papa.

“Now, what I heard,” said Grandmother, “Was that Grady also let his family come in there and take foodstuff off the shelves.  Gave ‘em everything they could eat or carry off.  He was done divorced at that time, left his wife when he became a drunk, but he fed ‘em well for a few days there.”

“He got arrested because he didn’t know about the horse,” said Papa.  “Seems like the storekeep, I think his name was Hunt, had a stud horse that he kept in his stable on some property he owned about a mile away from the store.  This horse was his pride and joy and he talked about it a lot.  Then somebody went in there one day and saw the horse hadn’t been fed or cared for in days, no provisions had been made for it,  and that’s when everybody got suspicious that there must have been foul play.”

“Grady got arrested first and they made him talk,” said Kermit.  “He told them where to look to find the body weighted down in the river and it was still there, right where he said.  He blamed the killing on Bud and said he only helped move the body.”

“My, my, my,” said Grandmother, as if thinking about it for the first time.

“They caught Bud a few days later up in South Carolina somewhere and brought him back on the train,” said Papa.  

“A lynch mob gathered at the train station when they come back, but the leader said they was gonna let Bud and Grady go to trial. Wadn’t go’n do nothing that night,” said Grandmother.

“Grady got religion while he was in jail and he confessed everything and they was both sentenced to hang,” said Kermit. “Then Bud demanded a new trial because he said liquor made him do it, and he wasn’t accountable.  That was in March. They hanged ‘em that December.”

“It was in all the papers, Jackson County and Hall County both,” said Grandmother.  “Grady grew up here in The Glade, you know.”

“What they did was pure evil,” said Papa.  “But they got prayed through there at the end.”

Grandmother said, “Grady’s wife, her name was Martha—they called her Mattie—didn’t go see him in jail till the very last day.”

Kermit added, “But his mama and sisters kept a vigil with him at the jailhouse for over a week before the big day.  Wore their selves out praying, singing and reading the Bible with him.”

“He got religion,” Grandmother said.  “He was ready to meet his maker and made a right nice little speech for his last words.  The paper said he urged people not to drink and told them they should read the Bible and pray and go to church and they wouldn’t end up where he was, but now he was content to pay for his crime because he knew for sure he was saved.”

Papa Bonnell, who believed most of the Bible and some of the Book of Mormon, added the type of thought that he seemed to constantly be toying with:  “The killers had a chance to get right with God and confess Jesus Christ as their savior, so I believe they went to heaven.  But what about the victim, Mr. Hunt?  Nobody gave him no time to pray. He was shot in the back of the head and then split open with an ax.  What if he wadn’t already in good shape with the Lord?  Are we supposed to think the killers went to heaven and the victim went to Hell?”

The fire in the space heater hissed.  The clock on the wall ticked.  And we avoided each other’s gaze for a while, each of us lost in our own thoughts.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


by Randy Reynolds

Pvt. Levi Broom, CSA, was a descendent of an English knight (the Earl of Anjou) who changed his name to Broom in honor of the humble sprig of Broome that he carried with him in the Holy Land during the Crusades.  Before Levi, an illiterate third-generation American, went off to fight his own crusade against the Yankees, he wasn’t thinking of symbols of humility.  He was what might be called a “positive thinker,” boasting loudly,  “Ain’t no cannonball ever been made that could kill Levi Broom.” 

Levi fought with the Glade Guard Volunteer Rifles (Company I, 24th Georgia Infantry) through about 50 of their engagements, including The Seven Days, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spottsylvania, Cold Harbor, Saylor’s Creek and Deep Bottom.  He was captured at the Second Battle of Deep Bottom, Virginia, on August 16, 1864, and spent the rest of the war, and three months afterward, in a prison camp in Elmira, New York.  When he got home to Hall County, Georgia, he often repeated his boast that the cannonball hadn’t been made that could kill him.

After the war, Levi farmed for a living on the hillsides of Hall County, Georgia.  In his latter years, he suffered from Alzheimer’s (or some similar condition) that caused him to wander away from home frequently.  According to his grandson Allen Reynolds, Levi was often found roaming deep in the woods, talking to the trees and yelling, “Ain’t no cannonball ever been made that could kill Levi Broom.”  He lived until the age of 90.

(Levi Broom is my 3g-GreatGrandfather, husband of Melinda Broom, father of Mary Margaret Reynolds.  I’ve heard stories about him all my life. Today, for the first time, I saw a picture of him on the Internet, hence the inspiration to tell a little of his story. There'll be more of it in my upcoming book on his Great-great-grandson Gene Reynolds.)  

Friday, January 23, 2015


by Randy Reynolds

Gene Reynolds’ nerves could interrupt the rhythm of his breathing when he drank strong coffee, and Sister Effie’s coffee was strong even by South Louisiana standards.  He cleared his throat and took a long, slow sip of the powerful brew, more to hide his smile than anything else.

“E.J., I know you did it, you might as well confess,” said Bobby Jarrell.

“Sister Effie, you’d have been proud of your son,” said Gene, his pale blue eyes twinkling over the rim of the coffee cup.  “Just picture it:  the giant  auditorium packed to the rafters.   Church of God people from all over the world waiting to hear the final tally of the vote for General Overseer.  Charles W. Conn got so many votes—it was in the hundreds.  Ray Hughes—he got even more. And Reverend Robert Jarrell—one.”

“Everybody laughed at me. They thought I voted for myself,” said Bobby.

Sister Effie laughed.  "Makes a mother proud." 

“You’ll have to come out to the debate in Folsom, Sister Effie.  Your son’s going to be the moderator.”

“What debate?”

“E.J. here got challenged by the Jesus Only’s," said Bobby.   “They’re bringing in their top gun, the number one man in the whole United Pentecostal Church, J.L. Welch.

Gene said, “They think they’re gonna kill a gnat with a cannon.  He’s got a wall full of degrees and all I’ve got is a high school equivalency.  But I’ve been memorizing scripture since I was eight years old and I don’t mean to brag but I can handle myself on doctrines of the church with anybody.  I’m going to pour the scripture on them.”

Gene's nerves were humming. “They see me being just a young guy out here pastoring a church in the country and they think their top debater is going to come in here like Babe Ruth and hit a home run.”

 Fast Forward 50 years to Jan. 2015:  

From: Bobby Joe Jarrell


I'll be more than happy to share what I remember.  I'm honored that you asked. 

There was a Oneness Preacher in Covington by the Name of Lamb. Bro. Lamb had a radio program on Sunday afternoon. He challenged anyone under the sound of his voice who believed in The Trinity to a debate. Lamb said he had a place secured that was big enough to hold the crowd, the Debate Agreement drawn-up, and that he was ready.

 Now, although The Reverend E.J. Reynolds had a Sunday Morning Broadcast, he chose to call Mr. Lamb instead of using the AirWaves to accept the challenge.  

When they met-up Lamb decided that he had rather them hold hands and pray that which ever one was wrong that God would strike dead. 

The Reverend Reynolds told Lamb that the only way he would be willing to do so is if Lamb could show him where that was ever done in the New Testament. Lamb not being able to produce the Scripture, went around town telling that Reynolds refused to debate him.

Several days later Lamb had the misfortune of running into The Little Pot-Stirring Reverend Robert Jarrell. After a brief handshake The Reverend asked, "how does it feel for a Church of God Preacher to tell you what you can & can't preach on your own radio program"?

Lamb said,  "I didn't want to preach about that anymore."

 E.J. kept plugging The Trinity Doctrine on his Radio Program, but not to the point of being overbearing. He was always a man of class.

Well, the Oneness had a HotShot debater named J.L. Welch from Georgia. They called him the "GeorgiaBullDog." So they got in touch with J.L. He & E.J. came to terms and set a date. 

Probably one of the things I'm most proud of about The Reverend Robert was that The Reverend Reynolds chose him as his Moderator for The Debate.

All of The Oneness said, "after J.L.'s first 30 minute segment of the Debate that Reynolds was going to jump in his car and go home." 

The first night of the Debate, E.J. passed out a pamphlet listing 2000 Undeniable Scriptures proving The Trinity. 

Through-out the Debate the Oneness done everything physically possible to shut Reverend Reynolds down. They would clap their hands as fast & loud as they could in order to drown-out the Voice of Brother Reynolds. They also removed his BlackBoard from the stage.

It's my understanding that E.J. & J.L. gained a mutual respect for each other during the debate, became friends and stayed in touch with each other.

And Brother Lamb learned the art of SelfControl. 

-Bobby Joe Jarrell

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Thursday, January 22, 2015


by Randy Reynolds

For a few glorious weeks in the summer of 1960 Ronda Jean Reynolds had her own bedroom.   Her three sisters shared a room together.  Her two brothers shared a room.  But she, for the first time ever, had a room of her own, a little tiny afterthought at the back of the Shepherd’s Fold parsonage, flimsier than the rest of the structure, but it was hers. True, the TV set was in there, but she knew as well as anyone that a preacher couldn’t be caught with a TV in his front room so it had to be hidden. In Bainbridge, this same little Philco with a coat hangar for rabbit ears and tin foil on the coat hangar to boost reception, was in the boys’ bedroom, so it was only fair that it be in her room this time. She could share her space for an hour each night because when her dad unplugged the TV at 8 o’clock and told everybody to hit the sack, they all scattered to other parts of the house and it became her room and hers alone once more.

It was the first room to burn when Ranger started the fire.  Flames shot through the back window above the tiny bed, and the room filled with smoke but Ronda didn’t know because she was out cold.

Her daddy had smothering spells sometimes, usually when he was keyed up about something such as watching Mr. Kennedy make his acceptance speech in Los Angeles on July the 15th.  She knew Kennedy was a Catholic and she was afraid of Catholics because she had heard preachers at the district meeting—though not her daddy—say that people shouldn’t vote for a Catholic because he would let the pope run the country.  She didn’t know what a pope was but he sounded scarier than Morgus the Magnificent on Channel 4, so she was hoping Kennedy wouldn’t win. 

Her daddy got up in the middle of the night and sat at the kitchen table.  Sometimes he just prayed his four-word prayer “I plead the blood.”  He’d say it over and over real loud.  She didn’t know what it meant, but she knew he could say it forty-six times in a row before thinking of something else to say because one time she counted and he would have probably kept going but he stopped when she came into the kitchen.

“Hello, girl, you’re supposed to be in bed.”

“You woke me up,” she said, going to him for a hug.

“Well, since you’re up, we may as well make some cocoa.”

The cocoa always calmed him down and he’d quit smothering till the next time. 

Ricky said that Ranger was a mean horse, but Ronda felt sorry for him.  (For Ranger, not Ricky.)  The poor horse had only one good eye and when things moved or made a noise on his blind side it spooked him.  He was old and not very good looking, even for a horse. He was so skinny she could count his ribs so it was no wonder that he was always trying to break into the shed to get at the bale of hay that was stored there.  The shed wasn’t big enough for the horse and the washing machine both, but he could push open the door with his nose and get his head and neck and front feet in there.  Her daddy shut the shed door tight and sometimes Ranger pushed at it with his head and woke her up.  She yelled at him through her back window before, but when Ranger wanted to do something a little yelling didn’t have much effect on him. 

Her daddy said it was dangerous for Ranger to stick his head in the shed because there was a hot water heater in there and if the horse pushed any hay against that flame the shed could catch fire.  Whether that’s what happened the night the shed caught fire and that fire caught the house on fire, she didn’t know.   But she didn’t know much of anything that night.

One moment she was asleep in her very own room for the very last time ever.  The next thing she knew her daddy was screaming her name and grabbing her hard and jerking her out of her bed which was almost but not quite twin-sized. Gripping her in one arm and his shotgun in the other, he whirled around and took a giant step toward the kitchen as the back wall caved in behind them. Her daddy told her this later because she didn’t remember it detail for detail.

The shed was fully engulfed in flames and the back of the house was burning when Mr. Willie Taylor turned from Bush-Folsom Road onto Lee Road on his way to work.  He drove into the yard and ran up on the porch yelling at the top of his lungs.  He didn’t say anything about a fire—just banged on the door and yelled “Wake up! Wake up!  Wake up!”

Gene was the first one that heard him and he thought a crazy man was trying to break in so he loaded his .410 shotgun and was going to shoot through the door but then he smelled the smoke.  

Still holding his shotgun he yelled, “Wake up, Violet!  The house is on fire!”

He ran to Ronda’s room and Violet ran to the boys’ room and grabbed each of them by an arm. “Get out of here!  Now! Fast!  The house is on fire!”

Randy picked up the new jeans she'd bought for him the day before at Bill’s Dollar Store in Bogalusa, but she jerked them out of his hands and said, “We don’t have time for that.  Run!  Run!  Get out!”

So Randy and Ricky, wearing only their jockey shorts scrambled for the front door as Violet rescued the three youngest girls.

Once outside, all they could do was stand and cry and watch it burn.  

Gene held on to Ronda.

“You need to move your car before it catches on fire,” said Mr. Taylor.

Gene felt in his pants pockets but couldn’t find his keys.

“Maybe we can push it away from the house,” said Mr. Taylor.

But Gene wouldn’t let go of Ronda.

Men materialized out of the dark—some of them headed to work, others who had gotten phone calls from Uncle Barney who lived up the road.  Sister Jessie, Uncle Barney’s wife, showed up with their teenaged daughter Cheryl. Randy and Ricky stood before them in nothing but underwear, trembling with embarrassment.

The Reynolds family would never know who all the heroes were because it was dark and there was a lot of confusion, but one they knew for sure was Floyd Jenkins.  He was the first man into the burning house, followed by several others.   They couldn’t put out the fire but they would save what they could.  They grabbed dresser drawers and boxes and clothes, anything they could get their hands on, and threw it into the yard. 

Violet was forever grateful that Floyd saved the family photos.

Randy and Ricky were forever grateful that Cheryl and Sister Jessie rushed home and got some bed clothes to wrap the children in. Randy and Ricky wrapped themselves in a single sheet and stood out of the way.  Eventually the volunteer fire department got there but it was too late for them to do anything.

As the sun rose, Ranger went running by.

  • Desiree Waguespack Maestri  Wonderful story. I have tears in my eyes on this one. You need to write a book.
        1 hr · · 2

  •    Cheryl Clem     A night I will never forget.............Good writing, Randy...Good writing.
  •        40 mins · 3

    Jeff Salter  I see other comments posted at the site, but I still can't find a box or a button.
      Anyhow, fantastic story. Got my heart rate up as I read. Wow. I can smell the smoke!
      10 mins · Like

    Brittany Richard  All I can say is wow. And you really should write a book Mr. Randy.
      13 mins · Like

  Sharon Crow Brown Wonderful story and very well written!
     12 hrs · Unlike · 1


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by Randy Reynolds

Brother Alex Jenkins brought Mac over to the parsonage on the Reynolds’ second day there.   Spot got his first whiff of horse odor, looked up to see what was blocking out the sunlight and not recognizing the beast, rushed forward barking for all he was worth.  Randy and Ricky bounded off the porch and not knowing any better, ran to the sorrel gelding and started stroking his nose and lips and hugging his front legs.

“Great day in the morning!”  said Gene.

“Your boy said he wanted a horse,” said Brother Alex.

“He’s too big,” said Violet from the living room, locking the screen door as if that would keep her and her daughters safe.

Brother Alex said, “He’s big, but he’s real gentle.  They could walk under his belly and he wouldn’t do anything.  Go ahead, walk under him, boys.”

Randy walked under the horse’s belly. Ricky followed. 

“See, he don’t kick!” said Randy.

“Can we keep him, can we keep him, please?” said Ricky.

“We can’t afford a horse right now,” said Gene.

“Oh, Mac’s not for sale. But y’all can keep him as long as you want, huh?”  said Brother Alex.

“No, Gene. The boys will break their necks,” said Violet.

Brother Alex said, “Take the roosts out of that chicken coop in the back yard and it’ll be a good stall, but he don’t much need one.  Just graze him in the backyard after you get some kind of gate on it.  For now you can just tie a rope to his halter and stake him out.”

Gene said, “I’ve been around mules all my life, but I’ve never saddled a horse.”

“Here, let me show you,” said Brother Alex.

The next morning, Randy and Ricky got up at dawn and went out back where Mac was staked out with Brother Alex's rope and a length of chain Gene had found in the little shed immediately behind the parsonage. Mac opened his mouth for the bit and Randy put the bridle on him.  No sense trying the saddle since the horse was taller than Randy, so the boys took a five-gallon paint can out of the shed and climbed, with some effort, from there onto Mac's broad back. 

Randy kicked the horse lightly in the ribs to get him going.

“Don’t kick him!”  said Ricky.

Mac accelerated into a fast but smooth gait.

“Don’t make him run,” said Ricky.

“This ain’t running.  This is single-footing,” said Randy.

“Well, don’t make him single-foot too fast."

They crossed Bush-Folsom Road into a forest that used to be a tree farm. The trees had been planted in rows and thinned out many times and now there were wide avenues of flat ground with a carpet of pine straw. Despite clusters of undergrowth and a rotting stump here and there it was an ideal place to ride.

It was also an ideal place for the Church of God to build their Campground, a meeting place for their annual statewide convention and revival. It was centrally located across the road from Shepherd’s Fold and not far from the Churches of God known as Sharp’s Chapel, Wardline, Savannah Branch, Covington, Bogalusa, Sun, Bedico and Robert; Baton Rouge and New Orleans were both less than an hour away. 

When the State Overseer in faraway Monroe made it known that he was looking at the site, an astute businessman at Shepherd’s Fold, Earl Core would buy the property at a bargain and flip it to the church at many multiples of his purchase price. The deal would be approved by the Overseer after seven members of Shepherd’s Fold, including Earl himself, pledged a thousand dollars each.  But that was a year in the future.  On this idyllic morning it was just a forest of forty-year-old pine trees, two little cowboys and a horse.

The Reynolds boys believed in prayer. They prayed at church. They prayed at meals.  They prayed at bedtime.  But they had never prayed before like they prayed for Mac when he got his foot caught in the chain.  The flesh of his right rear fetlock was a bloody mess, scraped down to the bone.

Brother Alex came over with a horse trailer.   “He must have got tangled up early and kicked all night.”

“Listen, I’ll pay the vet bill,” said Gene.

“No need for that.  I’ll take him home and put some ointment on it to keep the flies away.  It’ll probably heal in a few weeks."

“We’ve been praying for him,” said Randy. 

Brother Alex patted Randy’s crew-cut scalp with his three-fingered hand.  “The Lord answers prayers.”

“Amen,” said Gene.

A few days later, Brother Alex took Gene to the Thursday livestock auction in Bogalusa to buy the boys a horse. 

“I really can’t afford it,” Gene said.

Brother Alex said, “It’s on me. These boys trusted the Lord for a horse, and the Good Lord told me to buy them one.”

Brother Alex paid $37.50 for a blind-in-one-eye bay gelding with a personality that was the opposite of Mac’s.  No child would ever run under this horse’s belly.  The brothers would never ride double on him, and  Randy would seldom ride him in the woods without getting thrown one or more times.     

Gene, who liked R’s, named him Ranger.  

Ricky lost interest in being a cowboy after Ranger swept him out of the saddle by running under the clothesline. So Ranger became Randy’s horse.

Ranger was shorter than Mac, so Randy had no problem putting the saddle on him.  Or so he thought.   Ranger took a deep breath and held it.   Randy tightened the cinch then mounted up.  Ranger let out his breath.

Not yet feeling the looseness of the saddle, Randy urged Ranger into a run.  The horse got the bit in his teeth and ran straight toward a fence.

Randy yelled, “Whoa!  Whoa!  Stop, horse!”

But it was not until Ranger, at full speed, happened to jerk his head in such a way that, for a fraction of a second, his one good eye noticed and transmitted to his pea-brain the fact that a fence was coming up that he stiffened his front legs and slid to a stop, causing the saddle to slide to his side, then completely beneath his belly. Randy hit the ground hard and rolled over to see the crazed horse kicking at the dangling saddle with his rear hooves as he bucked across the yard, onto the pavement of Bush-Folsom Highway and disappeared toward Bogalusa.

The man who caught him two miles away happened to know whose horse it was.  He'd noticed just such a horse several times lately at the church he passed on his route to work.  He walked Ranger back to Shepherd's Fold and warned Gene that it was a dangerous animal and he ought to get rid of it.

Randy took all the blame for the incident and was allowed to keep the horse.  The saddle was destroyed but Uncle Barney King—the “Uncle” being a mark of respect, not an indicator of relationship—got one from somebody who owed him a favor and loaned it to the preacher's son. 

Uncle Barney’s estate, that he would later name Pine Knoll and turn into a private golf course, was just south of the church on Lee Road.  His house was where the survivors would go the night the horse from hell burned the parsonage down. 

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