In Part I, we met Elmo Huggins, a young man digging up rocks in Hooter's north pasture. He'd convinced a skeptical Hooter that it might be the site of Confederate gold, captured at Fort Craig in 1862 and buried by his great granddaddy and a handful of others trying to get it to General Lee.
Elmo's dad never put any store in the family legend, so he'd never mentioned it to Elmo until a few years ago when Elmo happened to be around as the old man retrieved the contents of a busted trunk. Among the litter were the century-old documents relating the sensational story.
A letter and a map, supposedly penned by Elmo's great granddaddy at Shiloh, described how it was that Elmo's great granddaddy had fought at the Battle of Valverde, then at the ill-fated Battle of Glorietta Pass in New Mexico Territory. Rather than retreat south with the rest of the Texans assembled by General Henry Hopkins Sibley, Elmo's kin and a handful of other Rebels were ordered to break off from the group and head east with a wagonload of captured Union gold.
With Union pursuers closing in, the letter explained the Rebel band had to bury the gold. Before they could get help to return for it, though, all the men were mustered on to Shiloh where the men were killed, but not before Elmo's great granddaddy penned the documents explaining the situation. He'd secured the promise of a young boy to deliver them to Elmo's family.
When we last left them, Hooter had coaxed Elmo to take a break from his digging for some sweet tea.
“How long you figure to keep digging before you raise the white flag?”
Elmo had drained his first thermos cup in a single gulp. “Long as it
“Yeah, I get that,” said Hooter. “What I'm getting at is at what point
do you figure whether or not your chasing the wrong rabbit, diggin' and scratchin'
for something that either doesn't exist or something that doesn't happen
to exist here?”
“I'll know,” growled Elmo, then he drained his second cup.
Elmo had been at it 10 days already, dark to dark. Hooter's pals couldn't believe Hooter put up with it for so long, or to begin with.
Fact was, though Hooter had his doubts about Elmo's ultimate success
he couldn't resist the story, nor could he keep from secretly rooting for
the young man and his mission…
Bit By Bit
“Saying you do find it,” wondered Hooter, taking the thermos back from Elmo. “What then? You give it to the government, hide it somewhere else, what?”
Elmo looked like he'd just been stomped. “Give it back to the government? Mr. McCormick, it was never this government's money to begin with the way I see it!”
“Don't go getting your cumber bun in a bustle, I'm on your side.”
Elmo looked a little embarrassed. “I'm sorry, it's just that…Never mind. Since the confederate government doesn't exist anymore, and since it doesn't belong to the U.S. government, I figure the best place for it is with those who earned it to begin with.”
“Notch that cinch a little tighter for me, will ya.”
“Great granddaddy said it was for General Lee, meaning it was for the Confederate cause. That's the way it'll be. There's still lots of misunderstanding about why that war was fought. The way I figure it, this money could go toward trying to help straighten things out, which would honor those who did the fighting.”
Hooter nodded, impressed. “Nothing wrong with that notion.” He gathered up a pinch of Copenhagen. “What about those that rode with your granddaddy? Ever figure out who they were or where there families are?”
“No sir. There's no way to tell, far as I can see. There was no mention of them in the note. And, they could have been any of them in Sibley's brigade, even if the tally sheets say they died at Valverde or Glorietta. You know, dog tags weren't standard issue back then. Supposedly some of the soldiers would fashion something like them out of wood or bark, and tie them around their necks with cloth or twine. But I'm guessing, all things considered, those records weren't the most reliable.”
“I'll grant you that,” said Hooter.
“There is one thing I could never quite figure,” said Elmo, pausing for a moment. “In those papers left by great granddaddy, there were a couple of places that made reference to the fact that if the family had any trouble or questions, Aunt Sophie could help them out. Far back as we can see on both sides of the family tree, there aren't any relatives by that name or anything close to it.”
Aunt Sophie. Hooter's heart quickened. It had been a while, but Hooter had heard that very name bandied about his own family for years. Aunt Sophie. That changed everything.
Circles in the Dust
“Best as I can tell, he may have been referring to a lady who lived on a plantation north of the river, who the history books say spied for the Confederacy, but it's just a theory,” said Elmo getting ready to jump back into the rocky hole he was slowly carving out. “I haven't been able to make a direct connection between her and the letter, though.”
Hooter grabbed Elmo's arm and pulled him back toward the tailgate. “It's more than a theory, boy. Aunt Sophie is my family's kin.”
Sophia Porter. Before that she was Sophia Butts, married to Major George Butts who was killed in 1863. Before that, she was married to Holland Coffee, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, who died in 1846, but not before he and Sophia had built the town of Preston and what became known as Glen Eden Plantation in Grayson County.
Legend and Hooter's own family's lore had it that Sophia was indeed a spy for the confederacy. She extended the hospitality of her plantation to Union troops passing through, gathered what information she could and passed it along. At one point, she'd even helped the Confederates capture some Union troops.
“She's your kin?” said Elmo with a rising tone of excitement. “Why didn't you tell me?”
Hooter was knitting his brows in concentration. “Hmm? Why would I tell you? Lots of us have lots of kin and connections to that war. I didn't think there was any connection until you mentioned her.” Seeing Elmo's growing excitement and trying to hide his own, Hooter added, “Possible connection, only possible.”
Hooter reached for another dip of Copenhagen. “There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, but all of this might could fit together.” Finally, without trying to look too hopeful, he said, “You know in all this time you've been telling me your great granddaddy's story, I don't believe you ever mentioned what his name was.”
“Alphonso,” said Elmo. “Alphonso Aluicious Huggins.”
Hooter couldn't help but feel a pang of disappointment. It wasn't the name he was looking for. “That's quite a sobriquet,” he managed. “I thought it might be a bit more common sounding.”
Elmo could sense the disappointment. He reached for his gloves again. “Well, that's what his name was, Alphonso Aluicious. I'm not sure what name he went by, exactly, everybody in our family always refers to him as Stubby. Guess he wasn't very tall.”
“Uncle Stubs!” shouted Hooter. “That's it, that's the name!”
The Wait of History
Between hopefulness and excitement, Hooter hadn't seen the boiling cloud of dust or even heard Izzie's pickup until it slid to a stop by them.
“Hot enough for you?” wondered Izzie Franklin, who was doing a poor job of hiding the fact that he was trying to look past Hooter and Elmo to see what he might of the excavation.
“Lord, Izzie, what you want to go sneaking up on me like that for?” said Hooter, grumpy at the interruption
“Sneaking up!” laughed Izzie. “You can spy a jack rabbit from a mile up here, cross-eyed. You boys must be on to something if you didn't hear me and my old rattletrap.” The last was more question than not.
“Nothing that would concern you,” grouched Hooter. Hooter hadn't told Izzie and the gang anything about Elmo's endeavor, but when Elmo was first trying to track down Hooter, they'd caught wind of what Elmo was up to. They'd gooned Hooter about it ever since, calling him the Pirate of Apache Flats, and so on, and so on.
“So, have you found China yet?”
Hooter saw Elmo clinch his jaw and felt him lift off the tailgate.
“No sight of rice fields yet,” said Hooter, giving Elmo a wink. “But young Elmo here has found the bottom of a hole big enough to bury an Izzie.”
“Hey, I was only kidding. No offense. We were just curious is all. We hadn't seen you in a while and I told the boys I'd stop by and check on you.”
“Stop by and snoop is more like it,” growled Hooter. “When we hit chopsticks we'll let you know.”
A few more minutes of such niceties, and Izzie was finally on his way. When he was out of sight, Hooter motioned to Elmo. “Get in.”
“Where we going?”
“To find Aunt Pinkie. Over the years she's told stories about Aunt Sophie and references in her papers to Uncle Stubs. We never knew who Uncle Stubs was, but we're fixing to.”
to be continued…