One dark, chilly November night it happened...
The story I am going to tell is one that I had heard many times during my childhood.
It seems the 'bushwhackers' were very bitter toward deserters from the Confederate Army. They, of course, raomed the countryside, spying, stealing horses and plundering around the farm homes of law-abiding persons.
Just the name 'bushwhacker' was enough to fill the heart of any man or woman with dread in those days: For then, any cruel deed could be accomplished with no one to interfere.
On this day, as night became to shroud the countryside, the evening meal was being eaten in the Dickson homestead. Later, Mrs. Dickson settled down with her knitting and her husband puffed meditatively on his pipe - and there was no hint that disaster was about to strike.
The slaves, too, had gone to their quarters, and occasionally little snatches of the song could be heard as they completed their evening chores. All prosperous farmers owned slaves and the Dicksons were more than prosperous. But the master was a good and kind man, and when freedom was given to all his slaves refused to leave him.
Betty Scott Dickson was playing with her two small children, Doris and Annie. Since the death of her young husband, John Dickson, she had made her home with his parents.
Her brother, a soldier with the Confederate army, was not yet seventeen. She had not seen him since he enlisted; but on this night the front door opened softly and there he stood.
Tired and worn he held out his arms and smiled. With a glad cry she flew into them. "Billy, Billy," she sobbed. "I'm so glad to see you."
The boy's tears mingled with hers as he said brokenly "I was so homesick, I just had to see you, Sis. So I slipped off; but I can stay only a very short time. I don't want them to miss me, but I must rest a little while, for I've walked miles."
Mrs. Dickson brought him a glass of milk and some doughnuts, while all of the family gathered around him. They knew he had risked his life in coming.
"I was so lonesome," he continued, "and I just couldn't wait any longer." Looking around the familiar surroundings, he went on: "It's so warm and comfortable here - I wish I could stay."
Just then John Farmer, a young man who lived in the neighborhood, entered the room from the kitchen door. He too was a soldier and had come to see Betty Dickens, to whom he later was married.
Upon Seeing Billy he said, "Better get outside and hide, son. I heard horses coming on the road just now. They'll steal our horses and there's no telling what they'll do to you if they find you." He bid farewell and kissed his siter goodby. As he started to leave, the sounds of galloping horses and shouting men halted him in his tracks. Before he could move the front door burst open and a gang of rough, burly men entered.
"Where's the deserter?" one of them shouted, and upon spying Billy they grabbed him by the arms.
His siter screamed and clung to Billy, begging the men not to take him. "He was going back," she told . "He just came to see us for a short time. Please, He's just a boy - an orphan - I'm his sister and all he has. Don't hurt him."
The leader assured her that the boy wouldn't be harmed. "But he has to come with us - right now!"
As the door closed behind them, Dickson said bitterly, "I know one of those men. He stayed in the back and kept his hat pulled low. But I know him." then he called his name.
All were surprised for the man he named was a neighbor who knew all of them.
No one slept at the homestead that night, and as soon as it was light the entire family was astir and preparations were made to follow the tracks of their night time visitors.
Dickson and a group of slaves hurried toward a patch of timber where the tracks led. There they found Billy swinging from a limb, cold and stiff. Even his boots were gone - the bushwhackers had stolen them.
The man Dickson had recognized with the group lived his entire life in the community; but his part in the heinous crime was never forgotten.
And in the days of my childhood, when we were driving across from Rocky Branch Church, toward the George Dickson farm, the conversation always turned to the foul deed that had taken place during the war. "There's the tree where the bushwhackers hanged Billy Scott," they would say.
The tree became a symbol of dread for me. I could never look at it without fear and quickened heart beat, even though the gruesome deed had taken place on a horrible night long before I was born.