I asked Daisy again about her mother’s escape from Harts Creek.
“Grandpaw and the oldest boy had to come on out and come down into Wayne County to save their lives,” she said.
This seeming abandonment of his family in such a dark time appeared to be a blemish on Cain’s otherwise “spotless record.” I thought about that and said, “Seems to me like the safest way to get everybody out was to get the menfolk out first. And also, too, the menfolk could have got out of there quicker without the womenfolk.”
Faye said, “Well, I remember Grandmaw saying the Brumfields said they’d kill everything from the housecat up. I guess that’s why Grandpaw left, but I still wonder why he left the womenfolk. I can’t help it if it is my great-grandpaw.”
Not long after Cain left Harts, Daisy’s grandmother, Mariah Adkins, killed twelve sheep and some hogs and stored the meat in barrels, then loaded the barrels and all of the other family possessions onto a rented push-boat.
“They couldn’t get nobody to row the boat,” Daisy said. “Grandmaw tried to hire a colored man and he said he would, but he said, ‘I know they’d kill me.’ So they had to do it all theirselves. And Mom and Sissy done the rowing.”
“It was a pretty big size boat cause they had all the stuff they had in their house and their barrels of meat all in there,” Daisy said. “But they couldn’t get nobody to row the boat. Grandmaw tried to hire a colored man and he said he would but he said, ‘I know they’d kill me.’ So they had to do it all theirselves. And Mom and Sissy done the rowing.”
Those on the boat were 46-year-old Mariah Adkins, 23-year-old Spicie McCoy, 18-year-old Mittie Adkins, 13-year-old Lena Adkins, 13-year-old Liza Adkins, nine-year-old Cain Adkins, Jr., and one-year-old Sherman McCoy. Daisy wasn’t sure if Aunt Angeline (aged 28) was on the boat with her six kids, including a newborn.
“I don’t know whether she was already down here or not,” she said. “She didn’t come on the boat with them, I don’t think. She come down and married Lee Adams and lived out on the Napier Ridge.”
Daisy gave a chilling account of the ride down-river.
“Mom was about four months along with my brother Green and she had that little baby. Sherman was about a year and a half old — and it was raining and cold. 8th day of January. They come down through there and the peach trees was in full bloom, she said. Had been kind of a warm spell and the peach trees bloomed out that year. Mom said she was cold; she was numb.”
As they crept out of Harts, little Sherman McCoy pulled a long hair pin from his mother’s hair and stuck it repeatedly in her breast. She was afraid to take it from him because he might cry and alert the Brumfields of their exodus.
“He’d take that straight pin and poke it in her breast and pull it out,” Daisy said. “She knowed she was gonna be drowned every minute, so she wouldn’t scold him for it. She said, ‘It didn’t hurt and he had fun at it.’ He was just a little fella.”
It was the beginning of a rough ride: Mariah almost tipped the boat twice before allowing her daughter Mittie to pilot it.
The Adkinses spent the night at Ranger where they stored their goods at a local home. The next day, they got off the boat at Branchland and crossed over a mountain to Laurel Creek in Wayne County.
“Then they got Bill Frazier from Stiltner to go back up there to Ranger in a wagon — he was a young man then — and haul whatever they had stored down there,” Daisy said. “By the time he got there, the hams and meat didn’t have much meat on them.”
This story about the Adkins family’s exodus constituted one of those unforgettable tales in our search. Hearing about the Brumfield threat to kill “everything from the housecat up” caused Brandon to feel horrible that his ancestors would’ve perhaps harmed innocent women and children. Things had apparently come to that in Harts. Women shot from ambush. Young widows. Orphans. The entire community seemed to be coming undone. Of course, the determination of the women and children to survive their horrible ordeal was both inspiring and awesome, especially considering they weren’t the strong, raw-boned mountaineer women which one imagines them to have been. (Spicie McCoy only weighed about 91 pounds.)