Boy Hero of the Confederacy

The rope was new and therefore it stretched, the condemned was slight in stature, and the distance from the bed of the wagon to the ground wasn't far enough. Instead of breaking his neck and a quick, merciful death, the condemned's tiptoes touched the dirt and he slowly strangled, struggling and jerking for almost 5 minutes. Women observers and a few men became sick and at least one battle-hardened soldier fainted. Finally, two of the enemy soldiers took pity, or maybe they just couldn't stand to watch the spectacle any more themselves, and each grabbed one of the hanging legs and pulled down, adding weight to hasten his death. It was a freezing, overcast day on January 8, 1864 and David Owen Dodd had just been executed as a Southern spy. He was 17 years old.

David Dodd's grave in Mount Holly Cemetery
David was born in Lavaca County, Texas on November 10, 1846 to a well-to-do family who owned several business ventures. The Dodd family had moved to Little Rock, Arkansas a few years after David was born and were living there when the Civil War broke out. David's father became a sutler, selling provisions to the Southern army. David, being too young to be drafted into the war, became a cadet at St. John's College. In September, 1863, he took a break from his studies to accompany his father on a buying trip to Mississippi, but while they were gone, the Federals captured Little Rock.

David, due to his age, was obviously not a combatant so his father thought it was safer for him to return to Little Rock to escort his mother and 2 sisters to Mississippi where his father had found a place to live. With the proper passes in hand, he was able to find passage for them on a boat heading south, but it was crowded with Yankee soldiers who amused themselves with abusive language toward the ladies so they got off of the boat before it got underway and went back home.

The senior Dodd soon sent word that he was in the process of getting the proper paperwork which would allow him to fetch his family himself. While waiting for Dad to come get them, David earned money for the family by clerking in stores selling provisions to the Union soldiers. In one of the ironies of this war, for a short time, the father was selling provisions to the southern army while the son sold provisions to the northern army. Eventually, after a harrowing trip in a buckboard wagon, all members of the Dodd family made it to what they considered the safety of Mississippi.

Being ever the business man and looking for an opportunity to make a profit, the elder Dodd concocted a plan to buy a large amount of tobacco. With the northern troops burning the southern crops, tobacco was becoming a rare commodity so the plan was to buy as much tobacco as possible, store it for a while and then sell it at the higher price as it became ever more scarce. Mr. Dodds was a little short of the needed funds so he decided to call on his associates back in Little Rock to get them to join the venture and pool their money. David was once again dispatched to Union controlled Little Rock.

While getting a pass which would get David safely through the Southern territory, General Fagan, as he was signing his approval of the document, said, "I expect a full report when you return." Whether he said this in jest, as he professed for the rest of his life, or if it was a veiled order which David took seriously, has always been up for debate.

David made it back to the Union lines and with the business documents and Southern pass along with his birth certificate showing he was underage and therefore considered neutral, he acquired an approved pass through the Northern controlled territory. He arrived in Little Rock a few days before Christmas and by all accounts, concluded his business and also attended several holiday parties. He spent considerable time in the company of a very fetching young lady, 16-year-old Mary Dodge who was an ardent southern supporter. Her father, a native of Vermont, was a supporter of the north and had become friends with several of the high-ranking Yankee officers. These officers often spent time in Mr. Dodge's home where his daughter, no doubt, overheard their conversations as they sat in the home's parlor damaging the area's stock of alcoholic beverages.

On December 29th, David, riding a mule, reluctantly left the company of Mary for his journey back to Mississippi. As he crossed out of the Union-controlled territory, the last Yankee guard took his Union pass and tore it up since he would no longer be needing it. David took a road which led to Hot Springs to spend the night with an uncle. Early the next morning, he left his uncle and took a shortcut back to the road to Benton. Unknown to him, this shortcut curved back into Union occupied land for a short way. Just before making it around a curve which would have placed him back into what was considered Southern controlled territory, a small Yankee patrol seized him for questioning. Now without a Union pass, he was brought back to regimental headquarters to be interrogated. While there, David handed over a small leather book. Upon inspection, the book was found to contain a series of dots and dashes which were quickly identified as Morse code. The deciphered message pinpointed the precise location and strength of Union forces in the Little Rock area. David was immediately arrested.

With questioning, it was apparent David did not know Morse code very well. It also became apparent he was not able to compile so much detailed information in the short time he had been in Little Rock, plus, he was very naive about military jargon, much of which was contained within the message. The authorities knew they had captured the messenger, but the spy was still out there. Within days, he was tried and convicted of being a spy and, as was the custom, sentenced to death. The Union general in charge of Little Rock, Frederick Steele, offered Dodd his freedom in exchange for the names of those who supplied him with the dispositions of Union forces. David responded, “I can give my life for my country but I cannot betray a friend.”

A quick investigation led to the loose-tongued Union officers drinking at the Dodge home. David's affection for Mary was well known, as was her Southern support. It didn't take much to ascertain where David had gotten his information about the Union forces. General Steele, the Union Commander of the forces in Little Rock was reluctant to execute a boy of 17 much less a girl of 16 so the investigation closed almost as quickly as it had opened. Within 3 days, Mr. Dodge and young Mary had left Little Rock under an armed guard, boarded a Union gunboat on the Arkansas River and waited out the rest of the war in Vermont.

There was ice on the ground the morning of January 8th, just ten days after he had first been arrested. David put on the suit in which he was to be buried. He rode in an open wagon under close guard out of the gates of the military prison, straddling his own coffin, passing not far from his own grave. The wagon halted in front of St. John's Masonic College, where David had been a cadet not that long ago. Witnesses reported that he was a bit drawn and pale, but calm and resolute.

The tailgate of the wagon was propped horizontal. David stood on it under a yoke which had been built for the occasion. The hangman (a man with the unfortunate name, given his profession, of DeKay) took David's coat. DeKay noticed he had forgotten to bring a blindfold. David mentioned there was a handkerchief in his coat. The blindfold was fastened. David's hands and feet were tied. The rope was fixed around David's neck and the prop knocked from under the tailgate.

Buried in Little Rock's Mount Holly Cemetery not far from where he was so gruesomely hung, David Dodd is today considered a Southern hero and is referred to as “The Boy Martyr of the Confederacy.” The truth of the code in his little leather book has never been uncovered. Mary Dodge passed from history and nothing more is known of her. The talkative officers who frequented the Dodge house were transferred to distant posts and they too passed from history. That left David, the only other person who knew for sure, and he took it to his grave.

Luckiest or Unluckiest?

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, 29, was on a business trip for his employer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. After three long months away from his wife and children, he was finally heading home on that warm summer Monday morning. He and two co-workers arrived at the train station early that morning and were waiting when Yamaguchi discovered he had left in the office his hanko, an official stamp used in place of his signature on business documents. Fortunately, there was still enough time to make a quick trip back into the city to retrieve this important tool. He was stepping off of a tram when an unimaginably bright light went off. The date was August 6, 1945, and an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, had just dropped a 13-kiloton uranium atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Yamaguchi was less than 2 miles from the explosion.

Hiroshima after the bomb

The bomb temporarily blinded him, destroyed his eardrums, and left him with serious burns on the left side of his body. It had killed more than 70,000 other people. Several hours later, in spite of his wounds, Yamaguchi walked back to the station where his two co-workers had also survived. They managed to find a bomb shelter which they spent the night in. The next day, with Yamaguchi swaddled in bandages, they began their journey home. It took two days.

After arriving back home, a doctor put a salve on his wounds and changed the bandages which covered the upper part of his body. The next day, Yamaguchi reported to work. He was in the office explaining what had happened in Hiroshima to his boss when once again, a bright light hit just like before. The U.S. B-29 bomber Bock’s Car had dropped the atomic bomb “Fat Man” on Yamaguchi’s home city of Nagasaki. Just as before, he was less than 2 miles from the epicenter.

Amazingly, Yamaguchi survived once again. His bandages were mostly blown off and his wounds were covered in dirt, but he suffered no additional bodily trauma. He was unable to get his wounds properly cleaned and re-bandaged and for over a week he suffered from a high fever due to infections. It would take several years for him to recover enough that he no longer had to wear bandages, but he had survived. The bombing of Nagasaki had killed over 73,800 others.

After the war, Yamaguchi served as a translator for the American forces and then became a school teacher before eventually going back to work for Mitsubishi. For twice surviving an atomic bomb, he was given a small monthly compensation from the Japanese government, free medical checkups and a free funeral. In the final years of his life, he wrote a memoir and appeared in the 2006 documentary “Twice Bombed, Twice Survived: The Doubly Atomic Bombed of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

More than 144,000 people died from the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the only person officially recognized by the Japanese government as surviving both explosions, passed away on January 4, 2010, over 64 years later.

Dido and Townes Van Zandt

At the north end of Eagle Mountain Lake west of Ft. Worth lies a town that’s mostly forgotten, but not exactly dead. Founded about 1848, Dido (pronounced with a long “i”) was at one time a thriving community. The land for a church, school and cemetery was donated by Isaac Van Zandt, a co-writer of the Texas Constitution, one of the founders of Fort Worth, and the man for whom Van Zandt county Texas is named after. His son, Dr. Isaac L. Van Zandt, a well respected doctor built a home in Dido. Named after the mythological queen of Carthage, by the 1880′s it had several stores, a post office, a Methodist church, a school with 36 students and a large cemetery. The town was growing and the future was bright.

Cherubs and flowers in the Dido Cemetery.
In the 1890′s, a railroad being built through the area bypassed Dido and, like hundreds of other small towns who suffered the same misfortune, residents began moving to towns along the railway and Dido soon lost its post office, its school, and most of its citizens. The Methodist church managed to hang on and is now the oldest Methodist church in Tarrant county.

In the late 1970′s, Dido found itself in the news for a short time due to a rumor. The infamous Cullen Davis, at one time one of the richest men in the world, after being acquitted of the murder of his 12-year-old daughter Andrea, the murder of his ex-wife’s lover, Stan Farr, and the attempted murders of his ex-wife Priscilla and Gus “Bubba” Gavrel, Jr, announced he was turning over his life to Jesus and smashed over 1 million dollars worth of jade, ivory, and gold objects because he said they honored false gods. The persistent rumor was that Cullen, with the help of a Dallas evangelist, dumped the smashed remains into Indian Creek from the bridge in Dido. The water was high and the creek empties into Eagle Mountain Lake, but for a few years, treasure hunters combed the creek looking for valuable pieces of these false gods.

A small, dark little bar still serves the few people who live in the area, but Dido is now largely a very quiet, almost forgotten bedroom community between Ft. Worth and Alliance Airport. The Dido cemetery however, attracts visitors as it is the resting place of over 1,000 residents, many of them important pioneers who died during the late 1800′s. The oldest marked grave is the 1879 plot for Amanda Thurmond, the 1-year-old daughter of Dave Thurmond who, along with his wife, first settled the area. It is also the final resting place for 1/2 of the ashes of a noted Texas musician who is little known by the mainstream of America.

John was born on March 7, 1944 in Ft. Worth, the son of Harris Van Zandt and Dorothy Townes. Harris Van Zandt, a direct descendant of the Van Zandt’s who founded Ft. Worth, was wealthy and his wife was just as rich. The law school building at the University of Texas in Austin, Townes Hall, bears her family name. John had a life of privilege as a child, attended a prestigious private school in Minnesota and then the University of Colorado, but instead of going into the family oil business, he chose a life as a wandering singer and song writer.

The Van Zandt family headstone in
Dido cemetery.
John had a number of problems, both psychological and with drugs and alcohol. Once, while sitting on the railing of his 4th floor condo during a party, he announced to those with him that he wanted to know what falling felt like. He then slowly leaned back until he dropped. Amazingly, due evidently to some bushes and ground softened by recent rains, he survived, but his parents submitted him to a mental hospital. The doctors diagnosed him as a schizophrenic-reactionary manic depressive and gave him insulin shock treatments. The treatments erased all of his childhood memories and left him without any attachment to his past.

A creative genius with self-destructive habits, John was eventually cut off from his family’s wealth and for the rest of his life, he didn’t have money to speak of. Even when he did make some, he either gave it away to others who were down on their luck or spent it feeding his demons. Despite these challenges, John, who started going by his middle name, Townes, eventually earned the labels of “poet laureate of Texas,” “premier poet of the time,” “the James Joyce of Texas songwriting,” and “best writer in the country genre.”

At the age of 15, after seeing Elvis on the Edd Sullivan show, Townes purchased a cheap guitar and taught himself to play. He was influenced by diverse performers like Elvis, Sam “Lightning” Hopkins, Woodie Guthrie, Hank Williams, Muddy Waters, Van Cliburn, Mozart, Jefferson Airplane, and the early songs of Bob Dylan.

Here lies 1/2 of Townes Van Zandt.
The songs Townes wrote and the man himself profoundly influenced other more well-known performers like Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Emmy Lou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle, Don Harris, Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. Townes much preferred to play in small venues like coffee shops and small clubs and perhaps partly because of this, he never achieved wide acclaim, but his songs were hits for many other performers. Perhaps his best known song was a number 1 hit for Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, Poncho and Lefty - youtube link. Emmy Lou Harris and Don Williams sang his song, If I Needed You which it went to number 3 on the charts – youtube link. Townes took part in the 1981 outlaw country documentary ”Heartworn Highways” youtube link in which he sings the first song he wrote, Waiting Around To Die.

After many battles against his drug addiction, depression, and alcoholism, John Townes Van Zandt suffered a heart attack and passed away on January 1, 1997. He was cremated and his ashes divided with 1/2 going to his last ex-wife and their children and the other half buried in the Van Zandt family plot in Dido Cemetery.

Good-by to all my friends, it's time to go again
Just think about the poetry and the pickin' down the line
I'll miss the system here, the bottom's low and the treble's clear
But it don't pay to think too much on the things you leave behind

Oh I may be gone, But it won't be long
I'll be a bringing back the melodies
And the rhythms that I found

We all got holes to fill & them holes are all that's real
Some fall on you like a storm, sometimes you dig your own
The choice is yours to make, time is yours to take
Some dive into the sea, some toil upon the stone

To Live Is To Fly Both low and high
So shake the dust off of your broken wings
And the sleep out of you eyes
Shake the dust off of your wings
And the tears out of your eyes.

"Waiting Around To Die" by Townes Van Zandt

The Final Dance

I have an attraction to cemeteries. Now don't go jumping to conclusions. It's not because I have an unnatural fascination with death or dying or anything else macabre which most "normal" people would find strange or weird. Much to the contrary. I have a fascination with living, especially since I have already visited the other side and made it back (Not Dead & Maybe A Bit Wiser).

Evergreen Cemetery; Paris, TX.
Death is the one thing we all have in common. The final frontier isn't space or the deepest ocean; it's death. To boldly go where everyone has gone before. I've come to the conclusion that graveyards are not really for the dead, but for the living. It's where the ones still living come to commune with their loved ones who have passed. It's where the living come to mourn. It's where the living come to pay their respects to the dead. It's where the living show their love by erecting monuments. Rural graveyards are even places of social events for the living.

When I was young and spent a portion of my summers on my relative's very rural farm in East Texas, I remember "decoration day," a day when the community would come together at the local graveyard wearing gloves and work clothes, carrying hoes and picnic baskets. Weeds would be eliminated, grass scraped off the graves, trash picked up, headstones righted and repaired, fences mended and everyone talked and told amusing "remember when" stories about the lives of the dead. When it came lunch time, everyone brought out their food for a community pot-luck with plenty of fresh vegetables, potato salad, beans, pies and tea. After lunch, the men would sit in groups on the cool grass under shade trees, smoking their cigarettes while the women and girls cleaned and divided up the left-overs and the young boys would toss around a football in the dirt road. Eventually, almost by tradition and no matter how hot it already was, one of the men would say, "It's getting hot. We better finish up" and everyone would go back to hoeing and scraping and cleaning and repairing and telling more stories. By mid-afternoon, everyone would judge the place to be in fine shape and as people left, individuals would stop by a headstone or two or three, they would rest their hand on it and, with head down, say a few whispered words to their loved one who lay below. The connection to the community of the living would be reaffirmed and the connection to the dead would be maintained.

Grave of a child marked by a statue of an angel.
That annual ritual I experienced throughout my youth is most probably the root of my affinity for cemetery tramping. Every cemetery is a story itself and every cemetery tells a story about the place where it is located. And every person buried in that cemetery has a story to tell. At some point in their existence, everyone meant something to someone. There are over 46,000 known cemeteries in Texas alone and no one knows how many more have been lost to history through time, weather, neglect, the building of roads and shopping centers and sub-divisions and simply because the people who knew about one have all passed on themselves and been laid to rest somewhere else. Weeds and brush have reclaimed a lot of the land where our ancestors still lie.

Sleeping child in a sea shell.
And so, I often find myself during my travels being a tombstone tourist. I look for the art and the history and the stories. Sometimes I find huge, ostentatious statutes the rich have erected to themselves; sometimes I find simple headstones with words inscribed which bring tears to my eyes even though I don't know the people. I've seen humor and I've seen things that make no sense at all except to the people who know the story. I've seen crude, hand-made crosses of fence pickets with names and dates hand-painted by someone with little education, but they cared. I've seen many graves marked by a square block of cement, name and dates written with a nail before the cement dried. I've found cemeteries with fascinating stories to them even though no famous person is buried within and I've found famous people buried in little known, discreet, out-of-the-way corners. I've seen, much like the Vietnam Memorial Wall, numerous items like coins, bottles, pictures, candles, white rocks, shells and other personally meaningful objects left on graves and headstones to indicate someone stopped by, someone cared.

Sharing Christmas with the dearly departed.
I believe every cemetery is worth visiting and the people in them are worth remembering. They are our history. It will be us there one of these days.

In Search of The Boggy Creek Monster

Fouke, AR water tower
Late the night of May 1, 1971, just south of the little town of Fouke, Arkansas, something attacked the home of Bobby and Elizabeth Ford. According to Elizabeth, the creature, which she initially thought was a bear, broke and reached through a screen window while she was sleeping on a couch. Her husband and his brother Don just happened to be returning from a hunting trip at that time, heard Elizabeth's screams, and chased off the monster, firing several shots as it fled into the dense surrounding woods. The creature returned after midnight the next night and grabbed Bobby across the shoulders as he stood on the porch having a smoke, throwing him to the ground. Bobby managed to crawl free and made it inside the house where he retrieved his gun. He was later treated in St. Michael Hospital, Texarkana, for scratches across his back and mild shock.

The Fords believed they had hit the monster with shots from their rifles, but no traces of blood were found. An extensive search of the area did not locate the creature, but found three-toed footprints close to the house, scratch marks on the porch, and some damage to a window and the house's siding. The Fords said they had heard noises outside the small house several nights before, but they had never seen the monster previously as they had only lived in the house for one week.

Boggy Creek, near where the Ford Family lived.
On May 23, three people, D. Woods, Wilma Woods, and Mrs. Sedgass reported to the police they had seen an ape-like creature crossing Highway 71 south of Fouke near the Sulphur River. They reported the creature was about 7 - 8 feet tall, was covered in thick long hair, weighed about 300 pounds and ran upright, Numerous more sightings were reported over the next few months by both residents and tourists and several large 3-toed footprints were found along the banks of Boggy Creek and in a soybean field which belonged to Scott Keith, a local gas station owner. They were investigated by game warden Carl Galyon who indicated he had never seen anything like them.

The dense woods around Boggy Creek.
Not long after word got out about the Ford's experience, the Little Rock radio station KAAY offered a $1,009 reward for the creature, dead or alive. Numerous attempts were made trying to track the creature with dogs, but they were unable to track its scent except once. Just before sundown one day, several hunters with 3 hunting dogs were in the woods south of Fouke between the Sulphur and Red Rivers when the dogs indicated they had the scent and began running through the underbrush. A few yards in though, all 3 dogs began whimpering and refused to go any further. The hunters said they didn't see anything, but felt like they were being watched and when they smelled something foul, they decided with the daylight fading, it would be best to get out of those woods before darkness fully descended.

At the Red River at the exact spot where the
monster was seen.
Soon enough, public interest in what had become known as the Boggy Creek Monster waned. Then in 1973, a documentary-style horror movie based on the creature was released. Costing only $160,000 to make, the film became a cult hit and grossed over $22 million.

By late 1974, interest had again waned with the lack of public sightings or any further evidence. But in 1978, the same 3-toed tracks were found by two brothers who were out prospecting. Several ranchers reported missing cattle and the body of a dog was found in the woods. Some people blamed the monster, but definitive proof of the creature's guilt was never found.

Since the 1970's, there have been sporadic reports of the monster. In 1997, there were 40 sightings reported to the police. In 1998, almost 20 more sightings were reported with the last one of the year being in a dry creek bed 5 miles south of Fouke. The last two sightings were in 1999 with one stating the monster was seen jumping off the Highway 71 bridge over the Sulphur River and the last was reported by four boaters who stated they saw it at sundown standing on the boat landing just down from where the Sulphur River joins the Red River.

The Hwy 60 bridge where the Sulphur and
Red Rivers merge.

The Momma-woman and Youngest-daughter recently joined me for a weekend of Boggy Creek monster hunting. Located just a couple of hours from where we live, no way could I go for long without investigating with my own little eyes. Just because I didn't get to shake the monster's hand doesn't mean it's not out there somewhere. We found and walked around the edge of the woods where it was reportedly seen and I can tell you, those woods are dense and very creepy. At the place of the last sighting, it was lonesome, eerie and the only noise was the occasional car crossing over the Highway 60 bridge in the distance. I could definitely understand how something that's not supposed to be there could in fact be there and not be found. We stayed in that spot for a while, exploring along the edge of the river and peering into the woods. But when the sun began to go down and there were no other people around, the spookiness factor began to rise and we got ourselves out of there.

The Monster Mart
We stopped in at the Monster Mart in Fouke (pronounced like "folk" with a silent "L"), visited the little corner of the store where they have posted on the wall a bunch of old yellowed newspaper clippings reporting on the monster and had a nice long chat with Sonya, the grand-daughter of the original owner, Denny Roberts. She said she had never seen the creature, but she's sure her grandfather did. However, he would never admit it as he was afraid of people thinking he was crazy. We purchased a handful of Boggy Creek Monster souvenir postcards along with some road trip health food - chips, candy, soda's and enough Double Bubble gum to enable Youngest-daughter to showcase her talent for blowing really big bubbles during the drive back home.

Mural inside the Monster Mart, right next to the
monster t-shirts, caps and coffee cups for sale.
I like to think the Boggy Creek Monster is really out there, maybe with a momma monster and a couple of young monsters, happily living out their lives in the deep dark woods where humans don't go. I like to believe there are still unknowns here among us, that the earth still holds secrets not just in the deepest oceans, but right next door. I like to believe the earth is indeed stranger than fiction. With all of our vaunted knowledge, I think we've only just begun to scratch the surface. There is so much more. Things that will astound us. Things that will make us exclaim, "Holy cow!" Things of such beauty that the poets will be speechless. Things that will make us sit with our mouths open in stunned silence. In the long ago, when men thought the earth was flat, they would draw maps and clearly mark the boundaries of the lands they knew. Beyond those boundaries, at the far edge of the known, they wrote, "Beware! Here there be monsters!" I believe it's still so.