WHY?

Bill Murphy ©2021

After Mommy and Daddy, one of the first words a child learns to say is WHY?  It’s a word that parents will hear countless times!  Even our Heavenly Father is asked this question!  We’ve made WHY a very important part of our vocabulary.  Don’t get me wrong: It’s most often a good thing to ask why!  We learn things when we ask why… things we might have missed had we not asked.

My father illustrated this principle with one of the most powerful lessons he ever taught me.  He did this in a story he told during the late 1940s.  I was perhaps only in 1st or 2nd grade. 

Our family was traveling from our home in Jackson, MS to Delhi, LA to visit his sister and family.  This was in pre-interstate days, and much of our route was along two-lane US Highway 80.  

Before reaching Vicksburg, where we’d cross the mighty Mississippi River, we crossed numerous smaller bridges spanning other rivers and creeks.  As we approached one particular bridge (one that Dad referred to as the ‘new’ bridge) he told me the following story.

Years before, he said, there’d been a terrible storm with extremely heavy rains.  The rain came down in torrents, making it difficult to see ahead.  Rivers and creeks suddenly flooded and overflowed.  And the bridge ahead (of us) suddenly washed away!  One by one, because they could not see ahead clearly, drivers failed to stop in time and drove off and into the raging water below, to be swept away.

But one old black man, was driving slowly, and cautiously.  He saw the danger ahead… and stopped!  Then, he ran back down the highway, and frantically tried to warn approaching vehicles of the danger ahead.

But this was 1940s Mississippi.  Ours was a land peopled by two separate and separated races… races divided by more than simply skin color.  Sadly, then we were separated by trust, or rather, a lack of trust.  Needlessly, irrational false-fear kept others from seeing the warning… and from failing to ask ‘why?’  They swerved around their potential savior and proceed on, into their watery deaths.  

Thankfully, someone using their brain (and heart) stopped… and then another.  Finally the ‘lemming-march’ was halted.

Although It was a quick lesson, told while driving across a simple bridge along an old asphalt highway, that story had a tremendous impact on me.  The amazing thing is, it taught me a multitude of life-lessons, lessons which have stood with me for a life-time!  It taught me far more than that it’s ok to ask why?

As he told it, Dad probably had no idea of the lasting impact it would have upon my life.  He told it as if it were 100% true, and I’m certain that it is!  My Dad was not one to make up stories… unless he admitted to the fiction.  But try as I might, I’ve never been able to verify this event… as sad as it was.  That old fellow who risked life and limb to save others, should be honored, should be remembered!  

I hope that somehow, somewhere, that old fellow knows that the story of what he did meant a lot to me when I heard about it… and that it still does today! 

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FAIRCHILD FAMILY HISTORY

Yours truly with my older cousin Mack Fairchild and Grandpa Pat Fairchild

   The Fairchild’s of my family descended from five Fairchild brother’s who came to Mississippi in the early 1800s from the Carolinas.

    We’re all a blending of two families.  In my case, that’s Murphy and Fairchild.  My mother was born to Patrick Henry and Emma Fairchild

   One of those brothers was Robert Fairchild, and the first record of him being in MS comes from land records dated 1820.  After moving around in the state for a bit, they mostly settled in the Jones County area.  One of Robert Fairchild’s children was William H. Fairchild, (1810-1864).  The date of his death is significant.

    William had a son, James Amous Fairchild (12/14/1850 to 8/23/1913).  He was an interesting fellow.  He was successful, and was at one time the mayor of Moselle, MS in Jones County.  His ‘quirk’ in life was that he took (shall we say) family to the extreme!  

     His young wife had a sister, and the sister-in-law’s husband was tragically killed.  James had built a ‘dog-trot’ for he and his wife and their growing family.  A dog-trot was like one huge long rectangular floor, with two rectangular ‘living areas’ with an open breezeway/walk-through in the middle, and all covered by one large roof.  The idea was that one side could be the messy family area, and the other the cleaner and cooler entertaining area.  The sister-in law moved in with them after William had converted one side for her.  The 3 lived there until the day they all died… and William raised 7 children with his wife… and 3 with his wife’s sister, all happily under one roof!  No, they weren’t Mormon, but Southern Baptist. One of the seven was Patrick Henry Fairchild, my mother’s railroading father!  As a small child, I was taken to see this original homestead while it was still standing.   

   If that were not interesting enough, let’s go back to the son of one of the 5 ‘original’ Fairchild’s… William H., the one who I said his date of death was significant.  It was during the years of the Civil War.

   All of this happened in Jones County, MS., and Jones County is noted as being a fairly singular ‘hotbed’ of RESISTANCE to the Southern Confederacy.  A large portion of the county, mainly due to economic reasons, rebelled against the new Confederate authority.  Most of this rebellion came from the poor working class, who were heavily, and unfairly taxed by the Confederate authorities.  The state had passed what was known as the ‘Twenty Rule,’ meaning that for every 20 slaves a land owner had, one member of his family was exempt from military service.  The poor had a saying for this, “It’s a rich man’s war, but a poor man’s battle.”  

   A fellow by the name of Newton Knight rose up in open rebellion against the Confederacy.

He organized a rag-tag bunch of poor farmers and Confederate deserters, and waged all out war on the southern troops.  In 1916 a movie was released about this unique piece of Mississippi history, entitled THE FREE STATE OF JONES, starring Matthew McConaughey. See photo above.  It bombed at the box-office, only making back 1/2 of the production costs.

    Now, back to my ancestor’s.  William H. was appointed by the Confederates as a dreaded tax-collector.  Recorded show that on the same date in 1864, not only was he murdered, but also the Sheriff of Jones County.  We don’t know if they were together at the time, but it makes sense to think that they must have been.  It’s also assumed that Newton Knight was behind it.

   So there.  That’s my newly discovered little piece of family history that you probably never saw in the movie or read in the book!  

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