Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Day the Bull Got Stoned

If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten. - Exodus 21:28

I remember a charming little town called Oakboro, North Carolina, a few miles from where I was born and raised. Recently, I came across a report of an 1875 incident that occurred just south of Oakboro, among the rolling hills that rise from the banks of the Rocky River. During my years in Stanly County, I never heard the tale, but it certainly strikes a familiar note. The account reprinted below first appeared in the January 23, 1898 edition of the Asheville Gazette.

Frankly, I don’t know why the writer gets his shorts in a wad over the actions of my Stanly County ancestors. Considering the context of the times, I understand their reasoning. But these were “my people” after all. So that could explain why they don’t seem like such beastly brutes to me, just ordinary folks responding to an extraordinary situation. In learning more about them, I learn more about myself, and recognize how their zealous sense of justice is a legacy that lives on in me. In fact, after reading this story, I’ve gone back through the Old Testament to find the appropriate punishment for avaricious golf-course developers.

And let me tell you, it’s not pretty.

But that's another story for another day. Now, the 1898 newspaper account of the day the bull got stoned:

Queer Story from Stanly

A traveler going from the old Drew Morgan mill on Rocky River in Stanly county, east by the Honey and Wine public road will see a curious pile of stones by the roadside. The stones are of all colors, yet on most of them there are dark clouds which contrast sickeningly with the flinty whiteness of the surface. Close examination will reveal the fact that these cloudy spots are stains and then a horrible sensation takes hold of the stranger as he becomes convinced that the stains were made by blood. The pile of stones has a strange, shocking history.

Two dozen years ago there lived near this place two neighbors, King Brooks and William Hinson. Hinson was the owner of a fine bull whose viciousness was known only to himself. Brooks wanted to buy the animal and Hinson told him to take it along home with him and see how he liked it, knowing that Brooks would likely have some trouble before he got home. It was one of those senseless jokes with lots of cruelty, which some people sometimes play on others.

Brooks started home leading the bull. He reached in safety his plantation fence, but before he could lay down the rails in order to cross the vicious bull made a murderous plunge at Brooks and drove him through the fence with his cruel horns literally through the man’s body. Brooks died in great agony.

The people heard of the tragedy and threatened to lynch Hinson. Finally their frenzy reached fanaticism and they believed it to be their duty from a scriptural standpoint to stone the bull to death. The decision was unanimous.

A few men were put to hauling rocks for the execution while others went to Hinson’s cow barn for the condemned brute. Hinson remonstrated, but being told if he bothered them they would tie him to the same stake with the bull, he took things easy. The bull seemed to know his fate and it was impossible to tie him in any ordinary way. One man was sent up in the loft to get a vantage ground from which he might fasten a chain in the bull’s horns. As he attempted this, the animal made a last death dealing lick, and with his horn ripped the skin on the man’s head from his forehead to his crown. At last the animal was chained, and wet with perspiration, conscious of his fate, was led to the place of execution. He was tied securely to a tree and then the stoning began.

The news spread over the country, and hundreds of the children of the hills were present – men, women, old and young, in wagons and buggies, walking and on horseback. A large number of people participated in the rocking, and after hours of torture the animal, with a ghost-like groan of misery, fell dead at his stake.

He was left tied to the stake, from which the buzzards tore him in their vulturous hunger and the stones were left, crimsoned and blackened, as witnesses to the terrible deed.

The witchcraft in New England, and the merciless persecutions of Baptists in Virginia show how people can go back into an estate worse than their first. The story of death on the Latin cross pictures the cold cruelty of unfeeling hearts steeped in fanaticism and sin; the story of the death of this bull at the stake shows how long it requires for the race to grow out of its slavish beastliness.

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