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by Frank Shortt
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Southwestern Appalachian justice in the twenties and thirties was usually swift and harsh.
If men held a grudge, and there were many, the best way to solve the matter was usually the trusty Smith and Wesson. Somehow the law
hadn't become a way of life at this time in Buchanan County, Virginia as was true of so many other communities in the area. By the
time the “law” showed up there was usually only a dead man to tell him the tale. Moonshining was rampant, gambling was prevalent.
Many men were ruled by their passions. This was the atmosphere in which my father and Grandfather were raised.
Grandpa was one of twelve children. His whole life was one of drudgery due to the large workload inflicted upon him. These brothers
were used as workhorses, in the literal sense. We have heard it said that my great-grandfather would actually hook the boys up to
a plow, wagon or sled and have them pull it. Grandpa wasn't a tall man, probably about five feet, five inches. His saving qualities,
if they could be called such, were that he was very handsome and very strong. He flaunted these qualities, much more so, after the
incident that left him bereft of sane thinking.
Every seventeen years in the Appalachians
there is a “locust year” which leaves many folks thinking differently after the noise ends. I can remember the one I encountered during
my teenage years and the awful constant noise it produced while we would try to hoe the corn or potatoes. Grandpa had a nervous breakdown
during the thirties when one of these locust years occurred. Before this, he was a most generous, hard-working father who cared deeply
for his wife and was well liked in the whole region where he was a raiser of cattle. He would return home from a cattle drive with
a bag full of money. Taking off his hat, he would lay it on the bed saying proudly,
Evie, take as much as you need. Buy yourself that new dress you've been a’ wantin' and get the young'uns some new duds!” This was
his way, until….
“Jeff'd fight a circle saw,” they said of the new Jeff Shortt. His powerful
arms were now used as weapons of assault instead of caring for his family. He'd come home at night, usually dead drunk, and start
yelling at Grandma as soon as he came in the door. “Make me some coffee, he'd demand, and be quick about it” If Grandma was a little
too slow he would splash the hot coffee in her direction. I've seen the scars that the boiling coffee left on her arms. She showed
them to me one time and said, “I still love Jeff to this day”. Another thing he would do, that was the worst of all, was to run the
whole family out of the house and, even in winter, make them sleep under a cliff not far from their home on Shack Ridge. Grandma would
grab whatever warm clothing or blankets that were handy to make sure the children wouldn't freeze to death during the chilling Virginia
Grandpa, because of his good looks, became a target for every young woman
that came along. If a girl gave him the time of day, he'd take that as an indication that he could take her out. This eventually led
to his demise. All the money that he earned, whether honestly or dishonestly, was spent on women and cheap booze, leaving grandma
to go it alone. This probably explains why grandma always had a tendency to hide her money and never ever let anyone know how much
she really had. This also necessitated others to “take up the slack”. Dad was the one who gave the most as he was the oldest son.
The story goes that Grandpa chose a young gal named Shelton for his last tryst. Her husband,
after sobering up, didn't take kindly to this, of course. So, following Grandpa home, he hid himself to await his chance to rid himself
of his rival. Grandpa went to his own home first, chasing Grandma and the children out to dad's place, and eventually following Grandma
to try and persuade her to come home. Shelton followed close behind hiding himself above our house to get a better shot at Grandpa.
When will you settle down?
Will it be while you're livin',
As Grandpa approached the house, Shelton shot him in the back before he got
there. Grandpa demanded to be let in to dad's home but he was refused admission. Dad thought he was totally inebriated. Grandpa went
to the chopping block and procured an ax with which he intended to chop down the door. The ironic thing, the door had not been secured
on the hinges as this was a new structure, so grandpa could have shoved his way in had he been a mind to. When Grandpa struck the
door, dad fired a shot through the wall to try and scare him off. Grandpa ran to an old beach tree above the house where he slumped
down commencing to bleed to death. He was rushed to the hospital in Richlands, but died a few hours later. His carousing came to a
tragic end, not only for him but for the remainder of his family. Grandma was left with five mouths to feed as well as her own.
The sheriff arrested dad and took him to the county jail. The hurried investigation showed that only one shot was fired. Uncle Andy
was arrested also as an accomplice. Nobody ever understood why, but that's how they did things in those days. I suppose it was because
he had been heard to say that if Ed didn't shoot Grandpa, he would. Dad, as well as Andy, served six months in the Richmond Prison
before enough evidence was gathered to clear them of any wrongdoing. Andy died soon thereafter of tuberculosis at twenty-one years
The shot that dad fired was not the fatal one, but the one they found in Grandpa's back. A full confession was made by Shelton
just before he died. Dad affirmed that Grandpa made things right before he died. He is before the Just One who is Judge of the quick
and the dead.
But not while you were living,
laid you in the ground.