Chapter 1 Clive County
All the images from the sleepless night whirled through her head as Vermell plodded along the shortcut to the little Clive County compound and the now-empty cabin where she was born.
There was fear, surely, and much sadness – while the clean cabin they had moved into certainly offered better living quarters, she nonetheless ached for the safety of the drift that had molded her past years. And dread of the current situation which rendered her so useless.
And there was certainly anger, savage anger at the man who may well be sleeping in the old cabin scheduled for destruction, an anger that had often led her to hope that he would be dead drunk, only to be demolished along with the cabin.
At a critical point, she almost veered toward that haunting nook, that small enclave in the woods where a perpetually dying tree looked over a scummy, smelly little pond. The tree usually bore ugly brown leaves, but for reasons that had always mystified her, pretty blooms sprouted at unpredictable times and obscured the ugly leaves.
In her imagination, the blooms only came when there was delight in her part of the universe.
How did Varmell come to be where she was and who she was in this particular hour? For even partial answers, some history is necessary, though Vermell knew little of it.
A thick virgin forest once divided the vertical parallelogram that eventually became sparsely populated Clive County. No Indian tribes lived in the forest, but bands of them often hid there.
Settlers who migrated to the ten-mile deep strip across the southern border in the Eighteenth Century found the soil unsuitable for cotton, so the emphasis was on slaughter cattle and hogs.
A settlement near the center of this strip, founded by Clive Johnson, had become Clive, the town. By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, a hard-surface road ran through the town parallel to an east-west rail line which led to a southbound terminal some forty miles to the west.
Dexter, the only other incorporated town in the county, was on the western edge of the county. For many years, it was little more than a collection of stores and cottages.
The quadrant north of the forest presented an entirely different picture, since the soil was ideal for cotton. By early in the Nineteenth Century it really amounted to two grand plantations, those of the Carters and the Fogles, each with stately mansions and miles of fertile cropland. No incorporated towns materialized. A wagon trail was cut through the forest to haul cotton to the gin and the railroad in Clive.
Bitterness between the north and south factions erupted during the Civil War. Those around Clive, even though there were very few slaves, sent a troop to fight with the Confederacy. Those in the upper section were totally without slaves and decided to remain adamantly neutral.
The town of Clive would become quite prosperous in the Post Reconstruction era when northern interests, set on harvesting hundreds of acres of timber in the middle of the county, made use of the town as a center for this project.
The larger middle section of the county was then the land left behind by the massive clear-cutting timber operation. Commonly called Briar Patch, it became a hodgepodge of small family cotton farms. The soil was poor and most of the farms barley eked out an existence, even as very few of the landowners managed to lure destitute live-in sharecroppers.
In the northern sector, the Fogle family was in decline - too many sons went elsewhere to seek fortunes, and too many daughters became Carter wives. And even the Fogle mansion had been razed. Only a small string of rental houses along the southeastern rim of the sector, called Fogle Lane, reminded of the once prominent family.
So by the last decades of the Nineteenth Century, this part of the county was simply called Carter. Even the few small, independent farms in the area were well under the Carter umbrella.
The Carter family, and even Elvira, their well-preserved antebellum mansion, survived Reconstruction intact. Later they added impressive homes for heirs, and a small white church for a select congregation.
Rather than let out farms on shares, the mode was that of hiring families to live in tenant houses on salaries that were small by national standards but tolerable in a zone where destitution was common.
Lanes wide enough to accommodate wagons connected the farms. A wider east-west road on the southern border of the section served as a state highway, an unpaved secondary route to Vicksburg. A narrow dirt road (not paved until decades later), locally called The Clive Road, ran due north from Clive through Briar Patch and then tended eastward, passing Elvira and reaching the county line.
In a show of benevolence, the Carters created a village on the Clive Road a few miles north of their southern boundary, with a general store and post office, a sawmill, a blacksmith shop and a two-roomed schoolhouse. In season, people from Briar Patch often gathered there hoping to be hired as day labor on Carter farms. And their children were allowed to attend the school.
Partly in enmity toward the county seat in Clive, which dated back to the Civil War and Reconstruction, and partly to avoid some county taxes, this village had never become an incorporated town, though the post office address was Carter