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Re:Aunt Jenny Brooks

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  • Mike Vanderboegh
    The Story of Aunt Jenny Brooks 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 25, 2003
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      The Story of Aunt Jenny Brooks
      "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 army.
      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 in 1863.
      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' blue eyes."
      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 found.
      The story of Aunt Jenny certainly proves Trotter's dictum:
      "It was this kind of war in the mountains:  The killers had names, their victims had kin, and everybody owned a gun." 
      Mike Vanderboegh
      Pinson, AL
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