Monday, April 25, 2011

The Tale of Henry Clay

Henry Clay Sisk

By Elizabeth Whisenant Towery.

Daniel Sisk married Lucinda Frazier. They had children. Daniel was married a second time to Melinda E. Killien and they had children. One son was named Henry Clay Sisk.

He was born 12 DEC 1866, in Burke County, North Carolina. He died. 3 JULY 1945. Shelby, Cleveland County, North Carolina. (Sisk sister Amanda married William Butler.) 

Henry Clay married, Sarah Ellen Rominda Watts, 13 FEB 1887 in Golden Valley,

Early in their married life Henry Clay and Sarah Ellen made their home on Black Mountain Road. (The people called it Black Mountain Road. I have found documented as C.C. Road) .Henry Clay was born in Burke County but the old Sisk home place was not far from Fellowship Baptist Church and the people called it Black Mountain Church. He was a Baptist minister. He went from house to house preaching the word of God. He also preached in churches in Rutherford and Burke Counties and in the surrounding areas. He walked and would preach wherever the people called him to. In the 1940's he preached in the home of Austin Blankenship and at some point in time he preached at the Zeno Gamble home. He also preached at/in many other homes in Golden Valley. 

Henry Clay preached about the wickedness of the world and the wickedness he saw around his home in the mountains. The Rev. Henry Clay preached against the oldest profession in history, prostitution and children born out of wedlock and if you participated in homosexuality ‘You would split hell wide open.’ 

Then there were the bootleggers. Yes! The bootleggers gave Henry Clay all the ’fodder’ (Talk), he needed to preach with. Yeah! They made Henry’s day! They kept him ’hopping.’ (Busy). Every home Henry preached in he mentioned the bootleggers. The bootleggers must turn from their wicked ways and cast their eyes toward heaven for one day the Lord would come, and they ‘shore’ (Sure) didn’t want to be in ’no’ still with a barrel of mash running off jugs of that ‘pure vile’ when the Lord returned. It seems apparent that Henry Clay must put names on the faces of his neighbors that were in the bootlegging business. I use the word apparent because of the story that was told. 

It wasn't just Henry Clay but about everyone in the Valley knew the Roper men made liquor in a big way. To make a long tale short the’ revenuers ‘were hot on the Ropers ‘tail.’ ………Not trail, I was definitely told ’tail.’ (I assume … you know…posterior). 

They had stopped at quite a few homes in the Valley and ask, do you know a certain man named Roper? Everyone knew whom the revenuers spoke of but no one had seen him. …absolutely no one…...I mean almost ….like never.

The ‘revenuers’ didn't expect any help from the country folk, but they would ask anyways. And oft times they would ask if they minded if they parked near their home to watch for one of the Roper’s or anyone else they might catch with a carload of ‘moonshine’ (Whiskey). Of course the revenuers were looking for the cars with the ‘back end’ of their vehicles heavily loaded. For the most part the folks would rather not have a revenuer seen parked at their house but there wasn’t much else to be said …or done.

One of the Roper’s drove a 1940 Ford Coup. His wife drove a 1937 Ford Coup….. New Cars. The wife was the blockader. It was ‘wifey’s ’ job to go in front of the husband and when she saw a Federal Agent she was to deter him. Need I say wifey knew her job and did it ‘notoriously ‘well. The name of the game was don’t ask how ‘just do it.’ It had been working as the man had a very fast car and he knew the back roads and paths into the woods like the ‘palm of his hand.’ He could quickly lose the revenuers and I might add he had been getting plenty of practice. The law had been after him for a very long time. The wife had gained the name of a notorious driver and had a car as fast if not faster than her husbands.

Roper had built a special compartment in the floorboard of his car to put half gallon (may have been quart) ‘fruit ’ jars of liquor in. He had gotten away with it for a long time. The Fed's as the Federal Agents, were often referred to be, were not greatly respected. Some rural folk had always believed that it was no more for them to make and sell whisky than for the Federal Government to make and sell whiskey. The rural folk would tell you that.The eighteenth amendment to the constitution adopted in the 1920‘s banning the sale of Liquor, wine and beer was a ‘deception.’ The law was designed to let the government have all the money from the sale of the ‘spirits’ instead of letting the little starving rural man feed his family on the profits of the ‘white lighting’ made almost in his back yard and while at no cost or bother to anyone. Nope! He didn’t bother a sole. Not his neighbors… and not the law (Lawmen).

These…. were the same people who thought if you were going to drink liquor you might as well accommodate them… as to accommodate the government, because the government would blow every ‘red’ penny they ever ‘got a holt (Hold) of ‘. They would say after the government paid’ themselves’ there was little left for anybody else.

No sir- re- bob- there ain’t nary one of them govern--ment o-fficial gonna butter ‘yore’ biscuit, you must do ‘yore’ on buttering! If you failed to listen to what they ‘tolt ye’ that was ‘yore falt not thern.’ (Theirs).

My friend the Rev. Henry Clay Sisk had a different motive. He preached against the use of liquor regardless of whether it was government made or bootlegged.’ Hit’ (It) broke up homes, took the food ‘right out of the youngeuns ‘ mouths and was not what God wanted man to’ precipitate’ in whatsoever. ‘Now God didn’t say he minded ye’all using a dab fur your sicknesses but that’s as fur as he went. He preached much more. So much …..I failed to remember. The Rev. spared no one from the wrath of God in the messages that he preached …..Absolutely no one if they made liquor …or drunk it. It seems as though the Rev. made his way from house to house trying to get people not to engage themselves in the drink of the grain or the fruit of the vine‘. Further more not to associate with or accommodate the likes of the Roper men. They were wicked people living in wicked ways, that would lead them to an eternal Hell‘ far’ (fire).

All of these people that lived on the Black Mountain Road now (MeltonR oad)and in the Valley would have you believe they were fine Christian folk and that leads to the following sentence. Just as many good Christians do… some couldn't wait to git (get) word back to the Roper men as to what the likes of Henry Clay Sisk was ‘uh ‘saying about bootlegging and who was being named in his sermons. The first names he’ spit out’ was the Roper’s.

The next part of the tale seems to indicate that every word has been told correctly told thus far. Next thing I hear the Ropers are telling Henry Clay… his tongue is like a doubleedged axe it cuts while swinging both ways. And he better ‘mind’ (Attend) his ways. My informer said , I myself must say the biggest difference between a man and his best friend isn't that the dog has four legs, but that the dog wags his tail where man wags his tongue.  

NOW we see the Rev. being made to carry those mason jars filled with the‘ vile’

The REV. has been preaching of… to the ‘great running Ford’ automobile and having to load the ‘back end floorboard ‘for the mastermind of the still all by‘ hisself. ’The Roper ’ boys’ job was only to watch the Rev. as he toted all those heavy boxes and placed them in the back of the Roper vehicle. Each box’ helt’ (Held) four one gallon jars …quart‘s? Roper’s woman was nearby! She’ seed the whole thang.’  

Come the next Sabbath Day, while Rev. Henry Clay was visiting in a home and having his morning coffee …a neighbor rushes into the kitchen and says,‘ Henry Clay you better have ‘yore’ (Your) self a good breakfast fur the Roper’s are ‘acuming (Coming) to hang ye.’ They have gathered in Roper Holler (Hollow) and are a ‘fixing to head this uh away.’ Henry Clay's informer didn't say if he was going to be helping the Ropers or if he came only to warn the Rev. He merely made his statement and ‘high tailed it out of sight’ 

Now if you are still with me, I do hate to leave you hanging but that is the way I was left. Hanging! Yes! ……….Hanging. . No one seems to know the rest of the tale except to say Rev. Henry Clay Sisk was not hanged. He lived a number of years and diednaturally. (And I’m sure without being told that Henry looked ‘natural ‘when he died because everyone that died in Golden Valley in older days looked natural). Had Henry Clay lived another six months he would have rounded out his years to eighty. That was nearly ten years past the three score and ten that some people believe to have been promised from the same God that sent Henry Clay to irritate the bootleggers of his day. 

Source: Conley and Mary Hudson. Talmadge Towery and my input and study of the Sisk family history. Several of the older people told the story. It is written the way it was first told to me.

They added to the tale that Roper and his woman are deceased and are buried in the SilverCreek Church Cemetery in Burke County. 

Written December 22, 2003. 

Note: In trying to verify this tale I happen to mention it to Conley Hudson and his wife Mary Melton Hudson. Neither could give me the reason Henry Clay was not hanged on that Sabbath of long ago. But both had heard the tale.

Note 2: this story is in Short Tales From Golden Valley. Volume 12 pf 49

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