One Life (from Gandy Dancer to Farmer)

Cover of "The Civil War (American Heritag...
Cover of The Civil War (American Heritage Books)


Hugh wasn’t
sure if he was mostly Irish or mostly Choctaw,

But at the
age of eleven there was a determined set to his jaw,

From a
hard-working family, he was but one of ten,

reliable, and able to outwork any two men,

Respectful of
his father but tired of being knocked about,

He knew if
he remained at home, his future was in doubt,

One night
when all were exhausted and fast asleep,

He gathered
a few things along with his rifle to keep,

Slung over
his shoulder were his food and rifle reloads,

He hurried
along until he found the tracks of the railroad,

the rails for hours and then hiding outside town,

He hopped
the first train that was westward bound,

Hugh met up
with the foreman of a rough work crew,

The foreman
smiled, “Just exactly what can you do?”

Hugh wasn’t
ready to prove he could outwork two men,

So he said
boldly, “I can supply your crew with meat now and then,”

The foreman
laughed, “You’re young but I admire your spunk,”

I’ll see what you can do, now let’s find you a bunk,”

Before long
the crew was enjoying the fruits of his skill,

The foreman
noticed Hugh didn’t waste shots or kill for the thrill,

One day on a
hunting expedition Hugh heard a gruff voice,

“Give me
that rifle, boy, you ain’t got no choice,”

Now Hugh had
learned to treat others with respect,

They should
return the favor, something he would expect,

“I don’t
bother anything of others is my bottom line,

What’s yours
is yours and what’s mine is mine,”

“Hand over
that rifle, boy, and you’d better make it quick,”

Otherwise I’ll just take it, after I give your
rear a kick,”

The rifle
was Hugh’s, and to make a point he fired one round,

The man
cursed loudly and made a hissing sound,

“I think you
might be old enough to be digging ditches,

But to
challenge me you’re getting too big for your britches,”

“If you’re
going to test a man, then you’ll die like a man,

Because I
can shoot faster than any man can,”

The bully
grabbed his gun and swung it around,

One bullet
was fired and then he hit the ground,

The shocked
look on his face, one of complete surprise,

His life was
over, shot squarely between the eyes,

The sheriff
came by but after a look at the evidence,

Hugh was innocent, “Clearly self-defense!”

With one man
missing from the railroad crew,

The foreman
asked Hugh to fill in there too,

“We’re one man short I won’t take no for an

You’ll still
bring in meat, and you’ll be a gandy dancer,”

Not only was
he able to pull his own weight,

He stopped a
train robbery and sealed one bandit’s fate,

The robber
was bold to walk down the aisles,

But that was
the bandit’s last day to smile,

roving bands of disgruntled men roamed the west,

Many were
not eager to confront and decided it best,

To just watch
and wait to see which train Hugh rode,

They worked
it out with a secret code,

Hugh settled
down and married the daughter of a judge,

The judge
wanted a southern man, but he didn’t carry a grudge,

The War had long been over and Hugh never
claimed a side,

The judge, a
Confederate officer, still talked of the war with pride,

But the
agreement between Hugh, and Emma, his wife,

Was to love
each other totally, and not talk about strife,

Hugh’s compassion and truth were known round

several years had gone by, his name carried clout,

He and Emma
had nine children who were active and loud,

They were
all industrious, which made Hugh proud,

The children
had multiple chores to do around the farm,

Laughing as
they worked, they did nobody harm,

But their
chickens didn’t stay on the right side of the fence,

according to Hugh, they didn’t have “a lick of sense”,

His neighbor
shouted, “Keep those chickens off my land!”

“I don’t
like Union chickens, I’m sure you understand,”

swallowed his pride and let the insult slide,

If it wasn’t
for the children he’d had the man’s hide,

A few days
later one of his kids went under the fence,

She grabbed
her pet chicken in the chicken’s defense,

One bullet
whizzed by and stirred up some dirt,

Another wild
shot but nobody was hurt,

One of the
others screamed for their dad,

All the
commotion told Hugh it was bad,

Hugh grabbed
his rifle and headed out the door,

He heard his
neighbor yelling, “I can’t take it anymore!”

“Your union
children were trespassing on my land,

If you had
gotten an education, then you’d understand,”

Hugh tried
to keep calm, he’d promised his wife,

But no one
should ever threaten his child’s life,

“If you ever
shoot this way again you’ll catch lead,

This time
you’re lucky, I’ll just warn you instead,”

The neighbor
laughed. “You’re just a farmer man,

I was raised
in the South as a cultured gentleman,”

“I don’t
take threats lightly, especially from a union man,”

He turned
quickly and fired the pistol in his hand,

Hugh was a
fraction behind but his rifle was steady,

He fired
once before his neighbor’s second was ready,

bullet tore the pistol from the man’s grasp,

There was
silence and smoke before he began to gasp,

bullet had hit the gun and ricocheted into the man’s chest,

Hugh had killed the man, and the sheriff
showed up for his arrest,

Hugh went
quietly, sure it was self-defense,

But the
charges filed against him led to some suspense.

The Trial

The civil
war had been over for forty years,

Yet there
were those who were still shedding tears,

And fighting
their hated enemy in mental battles,

about town as if their sabres still rattled,

prosecutor was a man who liked to build his case,

reenactment of the Civil War was his base,

Hugh was
portrayed as a Union man with a grudge,

Which didn’t
sit well with the Confederate judge,

men, townsfolk, neighbors called on Hugh’s behalf,

Claimed he
was a honest hardworking man who liked to laugh,

But most
admitted they were afraid to misbehave,

believed that anyone who challenged him would lie in a grave,

Things did
not go well for Hugh at the trial,

Rumors said
he’d dance on the gallows or be jailed for awhile,

Before the
trial ended, his luck suddenly changed,

His wife
approached the judge with a plan arranged,

The judge
called for a recess and they met in another room,

“Judge,” she
said quietly, “before you announce Hugh’s doom,

I want you
to consider the cards I might deal,

Hugh might
go to jail but your fate will be sealed,”

“My dad was
a general and respected as well,

He was a
proud gentleman but he knew war was hell,

He would
have preferred that I marry someone from the south,

But he
admired Hugh’s character and the words from his mouth,

He also said
that the nation could only be healed,

If justice
was fair and the truth revealed,”

“You know
that Hugh is telling nothing but the truth,

But if you
need more testimony, I’ll enter the booth,

If you dare
dismiss my testimony or even imply,

That the
daughter of a respected officer would lie,”

“You might
upset a few of Dad’s former friends,

Who would
take it as his reputation you’ll offend,

If you
should sentence Hugh based on other issues,

Then I’d
sure hate to be in your shoes,”

The judge
didn’t move as she swished through the door,

His eyes
were staring blankly at the floor,

He had
promised his friends that Hugh had to pay,

Now he had
to be creative and find another way,

His friends
wanted retaliation for losing the war,

They wanted
Hugh to hang and nothing more,

The judge
was caught between a rock and a hard place,

But he could
still redeem himself without losing face,

“All rise,”
the sheriff intoned as the judge entered, “Now take your seats,”

The crowd
was quiet, it didn’t want to miss a beat,

prosecutor was smiling and expecting a win,

There were
those in the audience expressing chagrin,

raising his eyes the judge said,

nation’s wounds have too long bled,

All the brokenness we have to repair,

That can
only happen if justice is fair,”

“The preponderance
of evidence is plain to me,

That the
accused is innocent in every degree,

If there is
nothing more then I’ll insist,

This trial
is over, Case Dismissed!

There were
those who were in shock,

The ones
expecting a conviction, the southern flock,

From the
union supporters there was a flurry of tears,

And then realizing
victory, a chorus of cheers,

The judge
rose and went out the back door,

He wasn’t
sure he could please anybody anymore,

He liked his
job but maybe it was time,

To move
along to another clime,

For the rest
of his life Hugh lived down on the farm,

children and animals and doing no harm,

Of course
Emma and Hugh grew old together,

Loving each
other and talking about the weather.

2 thoughts on “One Life (from Gandy Dancer to Farmer)

  1. I so enjoyed this Dan, following Hughs life from his hard start in life, punished by his father, to standing up for himself and gaining happiness through living a straight and true life. So many lose their way, and blame their start in life for their troubles, not so I say, look deep inside yourself and find the truth of how you should live to find your own happiness. xPenx

    1. That was one version of my grandfather’s life. I left off a couple of details but they might show up in another story or two.

      May the sun be on your face and the wind at your back as the Lord blesses you throughout the day. Carpe diem!

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