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.

 

 

 

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