BIG DISTRESS CHALLENGES IN THE EASTERN NORTH CAROLINA NIGHT [HUNTER BEAR APRIL 7 2005] AND THEN, ". . .THE DEVIL HIMSELF, COME RIDING DOWN THE DRAW " [A MAGNOLIA TALE] HUNTER GRAY 4/10/05
What an impressive story!
David [McReynolds] 4/7/05
Good Morning, Hunter,
Thank you for your emails, especially your last about rescuing your friends beautiful daughter.
Alice Hatfield Azure 4/8/05
Last night I was doing my just-before-bed
fiddling with my computer when the
name of a young woman friend -- Black -- of myself and Eldri from
far-gone days crossed my mind for the first time in a good while. She had
known Baby Maria and just-born Beba. I remembered her as extremely
attractive. I did a quick computer search. And there I learned that she had
died just this past March 15th. Kidney complications. [As I am prone to
say, there are for Indians no coincidences in the universe.]
She had been, I was not surprised to learn, consistently involved as always
in civil rights. After we had known her, she had gotten a couple of
college/university degrees and devoted her life to grassroots teaching,
often prison work. Reading her long obit, I was not surprised at her very
well lived life, only that it had been cut 'way short. I looked out into
our dark Idaho night.
And I remembered another dark night. A Southern night in a little town.
It was at a time when the Movement, still pervasively vital, was on the
edges of the relative success which was to take it into its late afternoon.
On one of the infrequent occasions that I was actually able to be at our
home at Raleigh -- located deeply in an otherwise all-Black housing area,
highly protective of us -- this young woman's father reached me by phone
late one day from his home in a nearby city. I was Field Organizer for the
rather radical Southern Conference Educational Fund. A prominent civil
rights leader in another and much larger organization, and much older than
I, he was also an attorney who had, on occasion, traveled local distance to
get me out of jail. Since we were riding different organizational horses,
there was invariably a sense of implicit rivalry -- but actually and
personally we got along well in a context where there was plenty of hard
work for everyone. I had always appreciated the hilarious tale he had told
me of his trip to his extended family's reunion in the North Carolina
mountains. Three ethnic rivers, all related in his case -- Black, Cherokee,
and Scots-Irish -- showed up for the first time together in known family
And actually, after a bit of ice-breaking, he and I got on well.
But now his voice on the phone early that summer evening was deadly serious.
"John!," he said. "Thank God I've reached you." He paused and then, in a
departure from his usual flow of logical lucidity, blurted out, "I need
I did not hesitate. "Name it," said I.
And, with some understandable awkwardness, he did. His daughter had been
involved with a young man we all knew -- a somewhat older out-of-stater from
the Northern Midwest -- who was seeking some involvement in the Movement.
We were somewhat wary of him, and not comfortable with his interest in the
quite young daughter of my friend. It developed that she had gone off with
him to one of the remote and tough Klan-dominated towns in North Carolina's
Northeastern Black Belt where I was directing a large scale multi-county
civil rights project.
"I have my contacts," the distraught father told me. "They ran a background
check on this man. It isn't good."
And it wasn't. Not at all.
"Bring her home to me," he asked. "Can you do that?"
And I said, "I can and I will. I will have her home by dawn."
I left immediately, my .38 Special Smith and Wesson revolver tucked, as
always, inside my light coat jacket. The region between Raleigh and the
small Klan town was, in every sense, Klan Country. Signs, big signs, were
plastered frequently about: "Join the Klan, Be A Man -- Knights of the Ku
Klux Klan --United Klans of America, Inc." A depiction of a white-masked and
white-sheeted figure with a lance on a big white horse completed the offer.
It was a long way to the little town. When I got there, it was very deeply
into the warm night and I slipped in on back streets. I had a good hunch
where, on Dixie Street, the guy and our young friend were located. And I
was right. His car was parked and the interior of the small house was dark.
Quietly, I tried the door. It was locked. I took out my revolver and with
one huge kick broke the door open. Inside, the bed was occupied.
I called out the young woman's name. "I'm here at your daddy's request and
I've come to take you to him. Get your gear into my car." To the guy, I
said, "Stay right where you are."
She immediately left the bed and, coming to me, whispered, "Thank God you've
It took only minutes for her to load her dresses and two suit cases while I,
still holding my revolver, kept an eye on the guy. He didn't move a muscle.
And then she and I were off and fast -- into and through the dark little
streets and out to the major highway that cut through the town. We could not
remain on it for long and would soon have to turn off in the direction of
far-away Raleigh and her small city. Initially clad in little, she wrapped
something around herself. Noting the almost empty gas gauge, and having no
intention of stopping in any of the nefarious little towns along the dark
way, I drove slowly past the "very bad" larger town of Rocky Mount,
checking out the few gas stations still open on its edge. When I saw one
that was manned only by an Anglo kid in his latter teens, I pulled in.
He came over, smiling hospitably. And then he saw the young Black woman.
He was a conventional and orthodox young Southerner and he was visibly
shocked, through and through.
"Fill it up," said I. He just stood and looked at me, obviously not Black,
my lightly clad friend, the half-opened suitcases in the back seat, the
dresses. God only knew what he was thinking specifically -- but his general
focus, if way off the mark, was only too clear.
This was Exactly What they had all been warned about. One of The Ultimate
I gritted my teeth and my voice was icy. "Fill it up," said I again. And,
ashen faced, he did.
Fortunately, no one else -- especially an Anglo -- pulled in during those
very, very few moments. No cops came by. I didn't have exact change but I
didn't want him inside the station, while we waited. Handing him several
dollar bills, I said, "Keep the change." He just stood there, money in hand
as we drove off -- down the highway. Fast, Real Fast.
Soon thereafter, I turned off on dark little roads, west/southwest. The Klan
signs loomed regularly in my headlights. And, just as the Sun came up, I
stopped in front of my young friend's attractive home in a Black suburb.
She took the suitcases and the dresses and then, turning to me, said again:
"Thank God, John, that you came."
I watched her walk to her front door. When her father opened it, I waved
quickly and drove slowly away, back to Raleigh and my own little family.
Soon after that, the young woman went off to Atlanta to college. We never
saw her again. The father and I saw one another many times but never
mentioned the incident. Once, in '69, I was able to get him as a major
speaker during my one [and very pleasant] year at Coe College at Cedar
Rapids, Iowa -- just before I and my still small family went on to several
years of Chicago Southside grassroots organizing . [Peter/Mack arrived at
Chicago later that year and then, a decade after that, Josie hatched at
Gallup.] He gave me a very nicely inscribed copy of his just out book on the
U.S. Constitution and civil rights. It's a prized possession.
In time, he and his wife both passed -- national news in his case. And now
our once young and I am sure always-attractive friend has joined her
And the dark Idaho night has its own challenges.
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Micmac /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
". . .THE DEVIL HIMSELF, COME RIDING DOWN THE DRAW " [A MAGNOLIA TALE] HUNTER GRAY 4/10/05
Every now and then, as I did this morning, I
catch pieces of the fine
Mississippi film, A Time to Kill, based on the John Grisham novel. I saw it
when it initially appeared in 1996, intrigued by the fact that it was filmed
on location at Canton, Madison County -- a small city just north of
Jackson -- and one of the worst racist settings of them all in the Bad Old
Days. I have many Canton stories, some as early as '61.
I am not known for admitting mistakes, but . . . here is a big one that
directly involved me and Eldri.
On June 18, 1963, at Jackson, in the heat of our Movement, I was lethally
targeted via a rigged car wreck. I was seriously injured, almost killed as
was a friend riding with me. My vehicle, a '61 Rambler, was totaled.
Healing fast, I was functionally out of the hospital in a matter of days [my
friend was there much longer.] A few days before the wreck, I had sent
Eldri and Baby Maria out of state via airplane to her parents in Minnesota
because of constant threats -- especially bomb threats. She had not wanted
to go but I forced it. [There is a very poignant scene in A Time to Kill in
which the young liberal lawyer, defending a Black man in Canton, does the
very same thing with his wife and child -- in relatively contemporary times.
Can't help but wonder if Grisham read my book!]
Anyway, Eldri returned via air as soon as she learned of the wreck and our
profound injuries. Maria remained with her grandparents. We had no car.
Very soon after I was back at Tougaloo, still obviously quite physically
damaged, the car salesman from McKay Motors in Jackson arrived driving a
brand-new Rambler. He was accompanied by a colleague in another car [to
drive him back, obviously], and he came into our on-campus house with a
handful of papers. [McKay Motors was one of the few white firms that we all
were not boycotting. Medgar Evers, who knew the scene intricately, had
indicated they had repeatedly declined to contribute to white Citizens
"I have a car for you," our salesman said cheerfully. "And I have all the
papers right here for your signature. All worked out with CIT [credit.]"
I didn't even go out to look at the new car. I signed and, when I had
finished, our man added, "You understand, of course, that, under the
circumstances, I can't give you the CIT life insurance policy that normally
goes along with this kind of arrangement."
"I understand perfectly," said I -- and then pointed to the old Winchester
'73 44/40 that Medgar had loaned me some weeks before. "That's my life
insurance policy," I added.
He and his friend nodded in understanding fashion, then left. [I had other
firearms as well -- and also a life insurance policy from Phoenix Local 1010
of AFT to which I belonged on an at-large basis. That had been arranged by
Bill Karnes, its president and a national AFT vice-president.]
We now had a car which we drove around with its temporary license sticker.
But we needed a regular plate. About one half of Tougaloo College and
grounds are in Hinds County [Jackson] and the other half -- the one in which
we lived -- is in Madison County [Canton, of course.] One quiet, hot
afternoon, that early July, Eldri and I decided to just drive up to Canton
in leisurely fashion and get it.
In an extraordinary omission, we told no one where we were going. When we
got to Canton, we went to the old white courthouse [same one that's in the
film] and I parked adjacent to the nice green lawn. Leaving Eldri, I went
into the building and down, as I recall, to its rather dim lower level.
Seeing the sign for license plates, I wandered over. The little lady at the
window, dressed in Western style and smoking a cigarette, [could have come
out of my home county in Arizona], smiled cordially as I gave her my vehicle
papers. She gave me something to fill out personal info-wise and, as I did,
I saw two men behind her -- wearing widebrimmed hats -- seated at a table,
their backs to me. They were working on papers.] Completing the form she
had given me, I plunked down the cash, turned and walked a very few feet
down the corridor to glance momentarily at a bulletin board, then returned
for my plate.
But much had changed in that moment. My little lady was truly ashen-faced,
frozen save for badly trembling hands. The two men had turned around and,
mouths open, were staring at me. One was Sheriff Billy Noble, one of the
worst racist officials in the state, and the other was his Chief Deputy,
Jack Cauthen. Cauthen, a month earlier, had come with a bevy of heavily
armed deputies to Tougaloo to serve me and others with the sweeping
anti-Movement injunction issued by the Hinds County Chancery Court: City of
Jackson vs. John R Salter, Jr et al. I had gone outside to them, struck by
the fact that it was truly an Old West scene or at least something out of
Salt of the Earth. Cauthen had smirked as he gave me the sheaf of papers
which he obviously saw as Holy Writ and had, pro forma, shaken hands. The
others had looked on coldly.
We defied the injunction, of course.
And now here we were. I was deep in their bailiwick -- if not in their
hearts. There they were. And sweet Eldri was sitting in the new car
And then, through my mind, came a few lines from the old Arizona cowboy
ballad, The Sirey Peaks [a big range in the north central part of the
state]: "And who should they see but the Devil Himself come riding down the
There was an extremely long moment, during which I realized the fool thing I
had done to come by ourselves under these circumstances.
But I remained expressionless, didn't blink an eye nor move. Slit-eyed and
And then suddenly the Sheriff and the Chief Deputy abruptly turned their
chairs and returned to their paper work.
And the little lady, still shaking, hastily pushed the metal license plate
out to me.
"Thank you, Ma'am," said I in my very best homegrown Northern Arizona twangy
drawl. She did not acknowledge.
I left the courthouse very casually and Eldri and I returned to Tougaloo.
Then and only then, did I tell her the events inside the big old white
She is not comfortable watching A Time to Kill.
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR/JOHN R SALTER JR] Micmac /St. Francis
Abenaki/St. Regis Mohawk
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
Check out Surprise Tribute:
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings. Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunter Bear]