Sunday, October 14, 2012

Chapter 2: On Fires and Fuel

             People say fire starts with the strike of a match. I say they are wrong. The match is only one part of building a fire. With our limited eyes, we seek to simplify complex processes by focusing on the most noticeable causes. And so we erroneously reason that because it is impossible to start a fire without a match, the match must be the beginning of fire. But how can a fire start without kindle to catch the flame or oxygen to breath it life or shelter to protect it from the elements? The striking of a match is only made significant by the fuel bed ready to ignite it into something more.  
            The match that lit the Tutt-Everett war was a bar fight. But the causes, the slow-building of tension that made the pile ripe for the match must not go unexplored. It is, after all, a question of origin so common to mankind. Without understanding beginning, the present loses significance. And just as a man living in the crossroads of life must find Father Adam or Mother Ape to find aim for his actions, so must the reader of this story understand the Genesis of the Tutt-Everett conflict to fully comprehend the violence.
As already explained, the primal cause was the land itself. But the Ozarks curse could never have come to fruition without willing actors, ready to push forward its cause. Those actors were none other than the Tutts and Everetts. The two families had divided Marion County almost from the moment of their settlement. Neither Hamp nor Bart had ever spoken to each other, but on that day when Bart stopped by to solicit a vote as Hamp was setting his saloon and general store, they both came away knowing they had an enemy.
Bart saw Hamp’s stocky build, dirty clothes, uncomely beard and surmised that the man was not of his class. But like any good politician, Bart ignored his reserves and succumbed to the temptation of gaining the additional vote. The conversation started cordially enough as Bart explained to Hamp the virtues of the Democratic party and urged the need for strong civic leaders to establish the newly formed county as a standard of patriotism and liberty. Who better to lead this county than Bart? After all, as he explained,
“I, my man, am a retired colonel with years of experience in civil service and am dedicated to making sure this county runs right.”
Hamp stayed quiet during the long pitch, his eyes steadily growing narrower with each passing minute. When Bart brought his discourse to a close, Hamp did not mince words.
            “I’d as soon fornicate with a goat before allowing a democrat son-of-a-bitch like you take office.”
            That was the start of politics in the County, and yet it was not really politics that made Hamp dislike Bart.  While the Tutts had generally not been in favor of Jackson and his supporters, they had never been active in promoting any party of their own. What was it that caused their enmity then? It was spiritual. Kindred spirits come together at first word, conflicting spirits grow grudges at first sight. When Hamp looked at Bart with his fine clothes and listened to his eloquent speech, he saw a threat and he knew that out here, in the wilderness of the Ozarks, he and Bart were meant to clash. 
But Hamp found it difficult to relate the divine origin of his hatred for Bart Everett. Even his own boys couldn’t quite understand it. They would listen and throw in the occasional supportive word, but he could tell they didn’t appreciate his grudge. They didn’t understand how some men aren’t meant to coexist. Better yet, they didn’t see that some men are meant to battle.
For days Hamp obsessed on how to rally supporters to his cause. He hated the way Bart talked and dressed and smelled and walked, he only needed some way help others understand why. The answer came as he recounted his experience to old man Bob King. Bob hung on Hamp’s every word in a way the others hadn’t. He nodding knowingly when Hamp complained of the pompousness of the self-appointed Democrat leader and his high and mighty doctrines. With this sympathetic ear, Hamp grew wild with excitement. Bob’s sagely nods emboldened him and gave him a renewed confidence in his justified hatred. His voice grew louder, his hands trembled, his body ached to find more to complain of. Just as Hamp was preparing to confide with the old man the divine root of this new hostility, Bob cut him off.
“Hamp, I never met a Whig more fiery than me until today. I tell you what, there are plenty of Whigs in town feeling the same way ‘bout those Democrat sons-of-bitches. They pushed us around with their damned policies but it stops here. We can’t let them vote us out.”
As soon as the words left Bob’s mouth, Hamp never again remembered the true origin of his grudge towards the Everetts. From that day on, he became a zealous promoter of the Whig platform and promptly ran for office. And so the war between the Tutts and the Everetts gained its footing in the political arena. The two families were driven by their strong-wills and prideful spirits. They initially set about forging alliances and corralling the most ardent supporters from the two institutions that hold the most sway over the hearts of man. For Hamp, it was his saloon and the liberal half-off drinks that rallied the Yellville Whigs and caused his constituency to swell. For Bart Everett, the democrats were found in the church meetinghouse, where a pious preacher religiously advocated the parish’s most prolific donator. 
            The 1838 election was tight. In the end it was Bart Everett who beat Hamp by a sliver of a margin (which Hamp of course claimed was due to fraud). But even with the loss, Hamp had enough successes that day to compensate when his eldest, Richard Tutt was elected Sheriff. Both families had now acquired footholds in county politics. Bart Everett immediately began to exercise his power. He enacted a law to uphold the Christian values of the community. Of course, the only noticeable change this law had on the town was to shut down Hamp’s saloon on not only the Sabbath, but also on Saturday nights. After all, as Bart explained to the approval of his religious supporters,
“Saturday nights were for men to come under the influence of the spirit in preparation for the holy day, not to come under the influence of the bottle.”
On Friday night of the next week, a fight broke out between the young King boys and some of Bart Everett’s closest supporters. The King boys came out on top, and to add insult to injury, the Everett supporters were arrested later that night for “disturbing the county peace.” Charges against the King boys were dropped.
            Thus were the sticks laid in preparation of conflagration. Supporters were gained in Marion county not by honesty and integrity, but by a loose spoils system. With your man in power, you had nothing to fear. There began to spread a simple adage to describe the town’s new political philosophy: “if you are voted into power that’s exactly what you get.” Leaders were not chosen for their virtues and integrity, but for the rewards they could provide to their supporters. Farmers voted for legislators who promised free land and voted against those who encouraged gold standards, church-goers favored those who supported additions to schools and disapproved of those lax on saloon restrictions, business owners elected those who lowered taxes and opposed those who encouraged Indian relations. The number of the town’s factions, in correlation with the diversity of their opinions, created a delicate web of support that would not allow any one family to gain a monopoly of political power.
            Perhaps in today’s political climate, such a system doesn’t seem so foreign. Staunch federalists might even argue that such a structure is a perfect reflection of Madison’s envisioned faction democracy.  But such an argument ignores the truth that Madison’s political sentiments were for federal level or state level at the least. To have such a system in place in a town of only 500 was dangerous.  This deadlock magnified the town’s contention more than if one side had managed to conquer. It was as if all of Yellville had entered into Dante’s fourth circle and the frustration from their endless dance made them desperate for a release from the political impasse.
A mixture of pride and ambition made the two families fight against the inevitability of the town’s unique political web. They refused to settle with the positions they had already acquired and instead bitterly battled to expand their power. The result of their struggle, however, was a yearly shuffling of positions without either side gaining the upper hand. In 1838, Bart Everett was mayor and Richard Tutt was sheriff. In 1842, Bart Everett was sheriff and Richard Tutt was mayor. These two highly sought for positions switched hands every election up until 1848 when the conflict boiled over. However, even smaller positions that normally go unnoticed in politics, such as county treasurer or county recorder, were the source of intense strife. In fact, the 1844 treasurer election prompted the first major act of violence between the two families. Upon hearing that Jeremiah Quinn had won the treasurer position,  Jesse, the youngest of the Everett brothers, promptly marched to Quinn’s house, called him out of the house, accused him of cheating, and shot him dead. Bart swore to the public that he would punish the crime, but somehow Jesse managed to escape into Texas.  
The 1844 murder was undoubtedly the most dramatic of political events, but up until 1844, the election of the Board of County Commissioners provided the most drama. After his initial defeat, Hamp settled on being one of these elected members, where he sat without serious competition up to the point of the conflict. Bart’s younger brother Sim also took up the one of the board positions; he too faced little political competition. The third chair, however, was in hot dispute. In 1838, it was held by Hamp’s good friend Cole Perkins. With the majority of the board, the two collaborated as best they could to undermine the laws and executive decisions of the mayor. In 1840, Cole lost his seat to Bart’s good friend Jackson Bigsby, who colluded with Sim to smoothly pass and implement the mayor’s wishes.  The position continued to switch each election, with each side more audacious in their attempts to push their personal agendas. This last chair produced enough disputes that by 1844, it almost toppled the county into war.
But then came the murder of Jeremiah Quinn. In a way, it saved the town. The fringe supporters of the families and the few remaining neutral town members, fearing the outbreak of lawlessness, banded together to peel back the political web that seemed destined to last forever. In the election of 1844, Jesse Mooney was elected to the Board of County Commissioners. His election must have been God and Man’s last effort against the lands curse. Jesse never intended to run for politics. He had married a beautiful woman with whom he had brought forth three healthy children, Tom the oldest, followed by Susan and Jeremiah. His family was his life. He had long since moved away from his father’s ferry on the White river and established himself a respectable ranch. But after the murder, his father paid him a long visit, and it was then that Jesse Mooney decided to leave the ranch and enter politics.
Jesse earned a reputation in town for being a hard-nosed law-man. He always gave his best effort to enforce the law, no matter what family currently owned the Sheriff’s post or the Mayor’s office. His displeasure with favoritism and his devotion to justice nearly got him impeached. I have no doubt he would have been impeached had everyone in town not held such reverence for the Mooney family name. Jacob Mooney was the only true neutral member of the county. No matter how hard the Everetts or Tutts tried to curry his favor, he obstinately chose to remain in no-man’s land. Others in town who had tried to mirror Jacob’s nonpartisan stance had been stamped out by intimidation, force, or irresistible temptations. But Jacob Mooney was above the squabbles of the current settlers. He had long lived in the Ozarks and knew how to navigate its traps. This long experience gave him a power that elicited tacit respect from all residents of the county.
As Jacob’s only son, Jesse inherited some of his father’s respect. And yet, at the same time, he also inherited enormous expectations. The town expected Jesse to be his father. To his credit, Jesse did have his father’s heart. He tried his best to steer clear of politics and made his family his jewel. But despite these strengths, Jesse lacked his father’s mysterious power and so was as susceptible to the land’s curse as the other citizens.
At the end of his two year term, Jesse’s father became ill with a terrible fever. As soon as the gravity of his sickness was known to the county-members, they rallied their support around the old man. He was praised for his bravery in settling the land and his dedication to the general well-being of its citizens. When he died a few weeks before the 1846 election, several propositions were made to deify the man by renaming prominent town-features. Main street became “Jacob Street,” the tallest mountain became “Jacob’s Peak,” and the picturesque pond at the edge of town was renamed “Jacob’s Pond.” And, as a final testament to the strength of his power, all the town, both Tutts and Everetts, rallied together to once again unbalance the delicate web and elect Jacob’s only boy as sheriff. The town was right to deify the man; his death was his sacrifice for the people, his one last endeavor to save the county from its inevitable destruction.
Before becoming sheriff, Jesse made a promise on his father’s name that he would be the champion of justice and that he would “serve all warrants.” He made good on his promise, ignoring family and political affiliations to make sure the law was honored. His zeal was a promising sign for the town; it seemed as if Jacob’s sacrifice had succeeded. But even a man as powerful as Jacob Mooney could not subvert the land’s curse. By the end of Jesse’s reign as Sheriff, the beyond-reproach Mooney name would become the most hated surname in all of Northern Arkansas.
 To be fair, Jesse had as much a chance of success in politics as J. Edgar Hoover. Jeremiah Quinn’s murder and Jacob Mooney’s death were but temporary roadblocks to the lands curse. Even with Jesse’s groundbreaking elections to the Sheriff’s office, the town was too far hemorrhaged to be saved. By 1848, the pride, ambition and desperation of the Tutt and Everett families had formed Marion County into the perfect kindle box. All that was needed was a spark. That spark, the proverbial match, came in August of 1848 when Cherokee Bob dismounted from his horse and entered Hamp’s saloon.

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