The Story of Aunt Jenny
"A little dried-up ol' woman but she had
talkin' blue eyes."
Let me share with y'all a true story of the civil
war in north Alabama. I can't tell it with all of the eloquence and
plain-spoken force with which I first heard it from the proud descendant of Aunt
Jenny, but I'll do my best.
At the outbreak of the war, Jenny and her husband
Henry lived in the mountainous portion of Lawrence County, Alabama, just south
of the Tennessee River valley. The yoeman farmers of north Alabama had
overwhelmingly opposed secession, and after the war broke out many of them vowed
to stay in their hills and mind their own business rather than go to "a rich
man's war" for slaves. But the war would not let them be. After the
Confederate congress passed the conscription and tax-in-kind laws, Confederate
Home Guards came up into the hills looking for draftees and food for the
Henry Brooks refused to run away, resisted the Home
Guard and was killed for his trouble. There were nine men in that Home
Guard party. After they left, Jenny gathered her four sons around
their father's body, and placing their hands in his blood one by one, made them
swear an oath, a "blood oath" they call it in the hills, that they would
not rest until they had killed every one of her husband's
murderers. As the family tells the story, the oldest son was no more
than 12 at the time, the youngest might have been two. The time was early
The family kept count with notches on a hickory
stick. Jenny put three of them on herself. She and her oldest son
bushwhacked the leader of the of the Home Guard as he was riding alone down a
road not far from his home. They took the body, cut off its head, and
Jenny boiled it until it was just a clean skull minus the jaw. She
used it as a soap dish for the rest of her life.
The last shots in the feud that began with that
blood oath in 1863 were fired in McCurtain County, Oklahoma in 1904.
All nine men had been dispatched along with a least a baker's dozen of
their sons, relatives and friends. Jenny lost three of her sons in
the forty years, but she lived on long after they were gone.
After that, folks around there started calling her
"Aunt Jenny", an honorific title. In one description of Aunt Jenny written
in 1934, she was said to be "a little dried-up ol' woman but she had talkin'
On her deathbed, she called for the soapdish to
wash her hands one last time in the skull of her husband's murderer, and she
died, by all reports, "a happy Christian woman."
The family members I interviewed didn't know
what happened to the "soapdish". One thought a particularly reverent
descendant of Aunt Jenny may have "burried it" in a fit of religious
embarrassment. The hickory stick still exists, I was told, but when I
sought to see it (some 15 years ago now) it could not be immediately
The story of Aunt Jenny certainly proves Trotter's
"It was this kind of war in the
mountains: The killers had names, their victims had kin, and everybody
owned a gun."