THE WIND IN THE TREES
The Story of a New Mexico Family
It had been six months since Dorothy Alice’s fifth birthday and she was in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her mother, Rose. She wasn’t sure what was happening; she only knew that Uncle Elliott had come to Farmington and brought them here to Uncle Charlie’s house. Daddy wasn’t at home when Uncle Elliott arrived and she didn’t know where he was; they had never before come to Santa Fe without him. Uncle Omar, Uncle Elliott, and some other people she didn’t know had come by earlier and talked in quiet voices, drunk some coffee, then suddenly they all left.
Dorothy Alice was a bright girl for her age; she showed a good deal of interest in everything around her. She was always asking questions, and she laughed at every opportunity. She loved the evenings when Daddy came home from work and they played horse in the living room. He would be “Fandango” and Dorothy Alice would ride him all around the house. Last week he didn’t come home.
Rose, left with the other adults, and now Dorothy Alice was staying with her cousin Roy. Roy was Uncle Elliot’s son and he was quite a bit older than Dorothy Alice, but he was kind and gentle and she really liked him. Roy’s sisters Florence and Dorothy Lois were there, too. There were two young girls in the Barker families named Dorothy and they were only a couple of years apart. In order to keep them straight, the family had taken to calling them Dorothy Lois and Dorothy Alice. Dorothy Lois was older than Dorothy Alice but they looked a great deal alike and their young voices sounded the same. These similarities weren’t surprising; their mothers were sisters and their fathers were brothers.
After several hours, the adults came back to Uncle Charlie’s house. It was a hot August day, yet they were all dressed in their Sunday clothes—heavy wool dresses for the women, wool jackets and pants for the men. Dorothy Alice ran to her mother as she came in the door. Her mother had a blank, distant look on her face and she had been crying. Everybody else had been crying, too, even the men. Dorothy Alice had never seen men crying before. Grandpa Squire wasn’t crying, but he did have his big black Bible with him. Dorothy Alice had never seen him with his Bible unless he was preaching on Sunday.
She looked outside for him, but Daddy still wasn’t there.
1862 South West Virginia
Squire Leander Barker had turned 15 near the mouth of the Cumberland Gap. He was the 13th of 14 children born to Charles Chiles Barker and Eliza Ann Claymore. His father was 50 when Squire was born, but his mother still hadn’t turned 40. She was just 17 when her first child, a daughter, was born, and she’d given birth every two or three years for the next 24 years. It was a hard life for a woman on the farms of Virginia, and having so many children didn’t make it any easier. The only benefit was that as the children grew, they were able to help with the farm work.
The Barker farm had been successful for many years. The ground was fertile, the rains were plentiful, and the crops of corn and vegetables sold well. They had an array of farm animals including horses and mules for work, a few cows mostly for milk, hogs and chickens. Since the start of the war, the Army had taken most of their crops and all of the livestock that could be found. It didn’t really matter which Army, the Union and Confederate Armies frequently swept through areas looking for supplies. It was called requisitioning, but the farmers were only given promises of payment and the payment was hard to collect. Even when they could collect, there was nothing to buy; everything useful had been requisitioned from the town also. They hid some of their livestock in the woods, but it wasn’t enough to see the family through the winter.
Four of the Barker sons were fighting: three were with the Yankees, and one for the Confederates. There hadn’t been any news from any of them for over a year. The times were hard, and the stress and strain had nearly broken the family.
Squire talked about joining the army, especially when he was around his friends at school. He wasn’t sure which side he wanted to fight on, but he told everyone that he’d be a good Rebel! Just give him a shot at them Yanks, and he’d show them what for! But deep down inside he didn’t want to fight. He had already seen many veterans come home with missing limbs and other terrible injuries. What scared him the most were those who returned without visible injuries, but who just looked off into the distance. He never could tell what they were looking at, and they would never say. Pa wouldn’t allow him to join up anyway. He said the family had given too much to the war already. Deep down Squire really was pleased that Pa wanted him to stay home. He wasn’t a coward, he’d have gone if he’d been called, but he could stay home and still hold his head up now and blame Pa.
There was a lot more work around the farm for Squire now that four of his brothers were gone. But no matter how hard they worked, they gained little for their efforts. The better they did with the farm, the sooner someone came and took away whatever they’d raised. Recently the Federal Army had taken control of the Shenandoah Valley to the north. Most of the Confederate troops were in eastern Virginia protecting Richmond. Maybe this next year they’d get a good crop.
A few days before Christmas, Squire headed out early one morning to shoot some squirrels for Christmas dinner. He had developed into a good hunter. He was a calm and careful young man and he really paid attention to what went on around him. He knew these woods better than anyone else in the county. He was raised here, and the woods were his playground, his retreat, his friend, and his solace. It was cold as he headed out. He didn’t have any idea what the temperature was, and it really didn’t matter. He measured the cold in his own way. There was fresh snow on the ground, and when he walked it squeaked underfoot. This told him it was probably too cold for squirrels. It was also a little late in the year; they should be holed up in their nests for the winter by now. Maybe he could catch a few stragglers that were trying to gather their last few nuts. Squirrels provided deep-colored, rich meat, and they would have plenty of fat stored up to get them through until spring. Squirrel was really good eating this time of year. The Barkers didn’t have much else for Christmas, and some squirrels for dinner would really make Ma happy.
Squire headed to the northeast up into the foothills. By heading away from the other farms, he hoped to get into an area where there was still some game. It was harder to find any now that the war was going on. Most of the farmers in the area had to resort to hunting when their livestock had been driven off to feed the armies. There were army deserters that hunted the woods as well. Maybe in the foothills something would turn up.
As he headed deeper into the woods, it seemed to get colder. His breath created great clouds in front of him and his sparse whiskers were quickly coated with frost. If he looked hard into the trees for too long, his eyes would start watering and it felt like the tears would freeze on his cheeks. Some of the tears would stay in his eyes and everything would get blurry. He was right in thinking it was too late for squirrels. He hadn’t seen any. There wasn’t even any sign that they had been about recently. By mid-morning he was just hoping to find something to shoot so he wouldn’t go home empty handed. Christmas dinner of salt pork was too depressing to think about—he had to get some fresh meat. This Christmas was going to be too hard without it.
The sun was working its way into the trees, but it didn’t provide any warmth. The bright sun reflecting off the snow just made his eyes water more. With the cushion of snow covering everything, the woods were deathly quiet. The only sounds to be heard were Squire’s boots trudging slowly to the north.
The Yankee patrol had been out since early in the morning. There were only six men, and they were unhappy. They had drawn patrol duty again. It was the third time this week. The colder-than-expected winter and the shortage of food and shelter had left so many men sick that there weren’t enough able bodies to rotate the duty among more than a few men. Sergeant Rose was leading the patrol, and he was as anxious as everyone else to return to camp. The Sergeant suddenly stopped. He signaled to the rest of the squad. They all stopped and studied the woods ahead of them. A signal was given to the patrol to move around the area to see if there was anyone else, or if this was a lone Reb. “Probably a deserter,” he thought.
As still and quiet as the woods were, Squire was startled when they walked up. He thought he had caught a glimpse of a squirrel to his right and he was intent on examining all of the branches of the trees to find it. When he turned back around, the Yankees had walked right up to him. It was plain bad luck.
It was clear that he was just a boy out hunting. His gun wasn’t suited for military use and his clothes and supplies didn’t give any hint that he was a Confederate trooper, but the Union squad had other problems on their minds. They were all cold and tired. Now that they had a prisoner, they could return to camp, get something to eat and try and warm up in their small tents. Squire’s luck had gone from bad to worse. Eliza now had a fifth son lost somewhere in the war.
When they arrived in the Union camp, the squad was allowed to call it a day. It wasn’t so easy for Squire. He was led off to an old stone barn. The doors and windows were covered up and the roof, what was left of it, was made of old hand-cut shingles. He was thrown in with about 20 Confederate soldiers and deserters who had been captured over the past few days. The sight of the soldiers gave Squire no comfort. Most of the men were pretty rough looking. Squire had no idea how long they had been captives, but they all were dirty, run down, and looked like they hadn’t eaten well in months. They didn’t find any reason to befriend him, either. He was an outsider, he clearly wasn’t a soldier, and they wouldn’t have anything to do with him. It was cold in the barn. There was no fire, and the roof did little to keep in what heat they had. That first night as a prisoner was hell for Squire.
Questioning the next day determined that Squire was of no value to the Union Army. After much discussion, it was decided that even though he wasn’t a soldier, he might eventually enlist with the Confederates if they turned him loose. Therefore he was to be treated just like any other prisoner of war. Squire was sent to Camp Chase, a Yankee POW camp in Columbus, Ohio.
Squire arrived at the camp on a Sunday morning. By the time he had been processed, it was late in the afternoon. The Yankee clerk told him there would be some Sunday services in the yard shortly if he was inclined to attend. Squire had always attended Sunday services back home—it was the one day of the week that there was a break from all of the work on the farm, and he had always looked forward to the physical as well as the mental relief it provided. If there was ever a time when he needed something familiar and comforting, it was now.
The preacher was also a prisoner of war. He had been captured the past summer, and the Yankee guards allowed him to hold these services every Sunday. Squire sat with about 30 other men and listened intently to what the preacher had to say. The sermon was on forgiveness and maintaining faith in God. These were two subjects that were difficult to sell to this audience. After the service the prisoners headed back to their bunks. Squire didn’t know a soul in the place, so he went to talk to the preacher.
Squire couldn’t understand how the preacher could preach forgiveness and faith in a place like this. They sat down in the chill to discuss their circumstances and their faith. It became clear to Squire that the sign of a true Christian was to be able to forgive an enemy that has wronged you and the greater the adversity was the greater the test of your faith. This gave Squire a great deal to think about.
Squire continued to attend services every Sunday, and he chose to seek out the preacher every chance he got. They held many discussions on God, faith, and Christian living. These discussions had a deep impact on Squire, and they were the few things that helped him survive in the prison.
The camp was filthy. The latrines were always overflowing and the stench was unbearable. As could be expected in such conditions, disease was a constant threat. Over 2,000 prisoners died and were buried at Camp Chase; a few died from lingering wounds received in battle and some died from disagreements with the guards or other prisoners, but most died from disease.
Disease touched Squire’s life one cold afternoon in mid winter. The deeply rutted mud was frozen solid. At least the cold kept the stench from the latrines down. The sun was out and the sky was a brilliant blue. It wasn’t unusual for the clouds to be gone this time of year, but it wasn’t common either. The breeze that was blowing through made it so cold that no one even noticed the sun.
The preacher was working in the sick house trying to comfort some of the rebels who were suffering the most from the latest bug making its way through camp. Squire was helping out. They had a small stove in the corner, one little concession the guards had made for the sick, but there wasn’t enough fuel to warm the place up. When Squire went to warm his hands at the stove, the preacher came over told him that some of the patients in the bug house had small pox. Squire slipped out before the guards were informed.
Squire quickly passed the filthy latrines and slipped back into the building where he slept. As he found his bunk and sat down, there was a great commotion in the yard. He heard a guard shout, “We got the pox in the bughouse! Go get the Doc!”
The camp doctor arrived. After a quick examination of the bughouse, he confirmed the diagnosis of smallpox. He ordered the building quarantined. No one was allowed in, no one was allowed out without his approval. The preacher was still inside.
A watch was now placed on the entire camp. Anyone with any symptoms was quickly moved to a quarantine area. Anyone that bunked anywhere near a man who had the pox was quarantined as well. When one of the men in the bunk near Squire’s became ill, Squire was sent with him to the quarantined bughouse. When he got there, he found that the preacher had come down with it as well. Within a couple of days, the preacher died. The only friend Squire had in the camp was gone.
Squire never caught the pox. Either he had a naturally immunity, he was just plain lucky, or more likely he had been exposed to a mild case as a child. He did, however, make a new friend: Dick Anderson from Texas.
Dick had been a prisoner a few weeks longer than Squire. He was old enough to be Squire’s father. He had a severe case of smallpox, and Squire spent a good deal of time taking care of him. As devastating as smallpox was, it wasn’t 100% fatal, and in Dick’s case he came through fine, although he had a fine set of scars that would last him the rest of his life.
After a month in quarantine many of the prisoners were allowed back into the camp if they didn’t show any new symptoms. Dick and Squire were released the same day.
Dick was appreciative of the help that Squire had provided him, and he invited him to come to Texas when the war was over. Squire thought of the lessons he had learned here about faith and felt that Dick’s recovery had been in God’s hands and he had been placed there to help out.
After four months in the camp, Squire was released as part of a prisoner exchange. This was common early in the war. There were several hundred Confederate soldiers released at the same time. A similar number of Union troops were released from the Rebel prisons. Dick wasn’t in the same release group as Squire, and Squire wondered if he’d ever get out. Dick did tell Squire to think about Texas if he ever got tired of Virginia.
Squire wasted no time heading home. He’d had enough of the war, and the thought of joining up never occurred to him again. The joy of Squire’s return was quickly tempered by the reality of life back on the farm. Without Squire’s help with the spring planting, there were few crops in the field, but the growing season was good. The rain came when it was needed, the crops grew well, and the harvest was brought in. They were even able to hide some of it away before the army returned and requisitioned what was left, and they survived another year.