Forty Acres and a MuleDarrel Bird / History & Fiction
Forty Acres And A Mule
By Darrel Bird
Copyright December 2017 by Darrel Bird
After the emancipation in 1863 and just following the end of the civil war, the government deeded Moses Bones, an ex slave, 40 acres and a wore out mule in the township of Becket, South Carolina. All ex slaves were promised 40 acres and a mule, but Moses was one of the lucky ones that actually got it.
Next to Moses Bones land stood 18 year old Josh Barnes 40 acres with another wore out Mule. The government did not deed Josh his land because he was of Irish decent. His father had owned 140 acres until the rebel appropriators set fire to the house, after his father refused to hand it all to them, they took the live stock and hay and only Josh was left alive after the killing was done.
After the war, a big land owner name of John Bertram claimed the Barnes land all but 40 acres which was mostly swamp anyway and the crooked courts upheld his claim. Now you might think, well at least 40 acres is 40 acres, but the problem was that all but five acres of each of those plots of land was covered with a black water swamp, and you can't raise anything on a black water swamp.
Now the only difference between being an poor ex slave and a poor white boy is the reflection a face makes in the black water, which wasn't much to Josh Barnes way of thinking. Josh had made up his mind to be thankful for what he had, just as the good book directed him.
Josh set out determined to make a go of it, and was able to trade for two shoat pigs, and in the spring of that year he met Moses Bones at the split rail fence between the properties, to talk a spell about planting, gardening and other such things. One of the pigs had taken to following Josh around the property and he was rooting around under the fence about 20 feet away.
“That sho is a fine shoat son.”
The morning sun gleamed around the deep crevices in Moses face as he mopped it with an old rag, The heat was coming up early this fine spring day, and would be heating the ground up nicely. That would germinate the new seeds early.
“Moses, do you have a pig to raise this year?”
“No, don't, can't afford one.”
“I want to give you that shoat so you'll have meat the winter.”
“Why I can't take yo shoat, wouldn't be right.”
“Whats wrong with it Moses? I don't need two whole hogs no how.”
“Tain't right, I is a black man and you knows it.”
“We both Gods children ain't we Moses?”
“Of course we is.”
“We both equal swamp poor ain't we?”
“Yes'um, I reckon we is.”
“Then you got to take that shoat so you can have meat same as me come the fall.”
“You a good boy son, I reckon I'll take the shoat, seein' as you so insistent on it.”
“Papa! Papa!” Moses 15 year old daughter came running across the field, and caught up to them all out of breath.
“Whats wrong child?”
“Papa, they is about the biggest cottonmouth I ever did see under the porch!”
Josh had never seen her up close, and when he got a look at her his heart gave a flip in his chest.
“I'll go help you fetch him out Moses. Come on.”
He sprung over the rail fence, and the three of them took off to Moses cabin. It was a ramshackle log shack with stretched hides nailed over the window holes that let in little light.
Josh went by the wood pile and scooped up two sticks about three feet long, and handed one to Moses. “Moses, you go round to that end of the porch, and I'll take this end. We'll flush him out the front.”
Josh looked under the porch and the huge snake was laying behind the porch step. He crawled under a bit and began beating the boards over head while Moses did the same on the other side. The noise got the snakes attention, and he coiled up and struck at the air a time or two. Soon the snake decided there were quieter places in the world than that porch, and began crawling for the swamp. The snake crawled out into the yard and Moses cut his head off with the ax.
“Gonna have me some snake for supper I reckon.” He lifted the fat snake high off the ground, and the snakes tail still drug the ground.
“Moses, I reckon thats the biggest Moccasin I done ever seen.” Josh remarked.
Moses wife and daughter came out of the house to stand on the porch, and stare at the snake, “Moses, if you eat that snake you gonna have to skin him and cut him up yo'self!” His wife declared.
Moses carried the snake off to the splitting stump, and deposited him on the ground. Josh looked at the girl on the porch, and was all of a sudden all thumbs, and turned around quickly, “I reckon I need to get on back to my place, and cook my own self some lunch.” And he trotted off quickly toward the split rail fence. As he climbed over the fence he tried to examine his feelings, but it seemed he was just all feelings going every which way. He blushed as he secretively glanced back toward Moses house, hoping to get another glimpse of the girl. His was a lonely life since his father, mother, and Aunt had all passed.
The next morning Josh was up early with the intention of breaking new ground for corn on two of the acres of tillable ground which lay over towards Moses land. He caught up the old mule easily enough in the barn lot, hooked the traces to the single tree on the turning plow and clucked at the mule. Leaning the plow over to the side so that it wouldn't dig in, he let the mule drag it to the edge of the intended field.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Moses doing the same thing, as they had just about equal tillable land for corn. Their places were as alike as two blacked eyed peas was Joshes thinking. They were both left destitute from a war that shouldn't have had to be fought. War was a product of the evils of men who insisted on ruling over, and robbing from one another, black or white.
When he got the plow to the edge of the field he set the plow up and it dug six inches into the unbroken soil and the faithful old mule leaned into the traces so hard Josh thought it was a miracle the mule didn't break both back legs. After about twenty feet the mule threw his head to the side and Josh saw the froth on his mouth. He pulled up on the reins, “Whoa Jack!” The mule stopped, and his sides heaved. Josh heard the crack of a whip, and saw Moses Mule as it struggled to pull the plow the same way.
Josh stood there thinking in the early morning sun, and then unhooked the plow and left it standing in the field as he took the mule back to the barn, “Sorry I even tried that old boy. It ain't in me to kill a good Mule.” He patted the Mule on the neck and gave him a little extra feed.
Joshes dug water well was a good one, lined with rock all the way to the bottom and the porch was built around it. He drew a bucket of water and after mopping his face, drank deeply of the cold water. He stood on the edge of the porch, and saw Moses heading for his barn with the Mule. Moses, being a kind man wasn't going to kill a Mule either, didn't look like. Josh stepped off the porch and headed for Moses house.
Moses was rubbing his Mule down with a piece of burlap sacking as Josh walked up to the barn lot. “I see you had about as much success in breaking ground as I did Moses.”
“I ain't got the heart to kill this old Mule, but if we can't plant corn we may have to eat him come winter.”
“We could put them two Mules together, and break that land.”
“It ain't done.” Moses said as he looked intently at Josh.
“What ain't done? A two Mule plow is bout the only way breaking is ever done on new ground. There's too many set bush roots in there to do it any other way.”
“A white man, and a black man working together ain't done, and I ain't giving up my freedom son.”
Josh was beginning to get exasperated. “Look here Moses, ain't we each left with 40 of the most worthless acres this side of the Mississippi? Ain't we both equally poor? Ain't we both got just one old mule to work it with?”
“I reckon that be about right.”
“Then what is the difference between us Moses? We being equally poor, can't we be equally smart and put them two mules together to get our ground broke? Them Mules sure won't mind.”
“No, look like they ain't much difference tween us, since you put it that way, have you got a swingle tree?”
“No, but I reckon we could whittle us out one, and I have a little flat iron. If you will go cut us a likely limb of Hickory, I'll go heat up the forge.”
Moses couldn't help himself, he looked around fearfully for an overseer that might beat him, but the overseer didn't materialize