Paoli, Indian Territory
Port Gower was a friendly man although he had a stern look about him from squinting so much in the sun. His beard gave him a somewhat sinister, hard look. But once he knew you, he was talkative and affable. He loved to tell stories about his days in the Civil War, how hard the times were, and what Life meant to him.
After stories had been exchanged about the adventure of coming to Paoli, and stories about the farm they had begun in Paoli, Port began to wax nostalgic, especially after the fine dinner that Sarah Catherine had prepared for the entire brood. The Mead boys had wrestled around with Tom and Luther Gower, Port and Sarah's boys who were about ten and eight. Billy and Port lit their pipes and everyone laid back to hear a story. It was their way then; their only entertainment.
The smoke curled about Port's head and its cloud seemed to set the stage for that poignant moment when a story was about to unfold. The boys had gotten quiet and lay on the floor next to the stove; they knew a story was coming. The women had cleared the table and could be heard chatting quietly in the kitchen. Billy leaned back in his chair and dragged on his pipe.
Port began. "I 'member the war back in Tennessee . It was a terrible thang. Old General Polk had got us into a peck of trouble near Shelbyville. Our regiment was shot all to pieces because of the position he put us in. Men were dead layin' all around me. That's when I got this bullet in my leg.
Creight sat up quickly. "Could we see it?" The other boys sat up too in anticipation of seeing the terrible hole in Port's leg. Port pulled up his pant leg and there it was; a dark, ugly round scar that sank into the calf of his leg. You could put your finger in it. The boys scooted close to see the wound and touch it. Their eyes grew big in wonder. Worth brought them back to the story. "What happened?"
Port dragged on his pipe again and the smoke swirled into a cloud about his face and head. "I'se with the 12th Tennessee Infantry under Captain Williamson. Then after about a year, they transferred me to the 22nd Regiment Volunteers under Captain Williams. We were just sittin' around doin' nothin'—waitin' for the Yankees to come, I guess. It was spring plantin' time and I decided to go home to help put in the spring crop, so I did. Captain Williams was kinda sore at me after I got back but he understood where my priorities was.
"After that we got into some pretty bad shootin' at Shelbyville and that's when I got this bullet in my leg. Polk was a good for nothin' general by then. I think he had been in one too many battles and his mind was fogged up. All the officers was upset with him. Welp, the Yankees come at us with all they had and it was powerful. We were fallin' back and men were goin' down all around me.
"I felt a terrible pain in my leg and it just folded up under me—and down I went!" The boys were hanging on Port's every word. "Fellas were fallin' on top o' me and moanin' or just plain dead." Clarence gasped at this. Port continued. "I'se hurtin' in my leg pretty bad but I couldn't do much about it 'cause there were so many arms and legs all over me. I guess I just passed out for awhile 'cause when I woke up, the shootin' had stopped and it was quiet except for someone moanin' off in the distance." Creight looked at Clarence in amazement.
"I opened my eyes and seen a couple of Yankees pilfering through the dead bodies, lookin' for somethin', I guess. I quick shut my eyes and played dead. I figured if they found me alive, they'd take me off to some prison some place and I wasn't goin' to get in that situation if I could help it. So I just played possum while all them Yankees was walkin' through the dead.
"Finally, it got dark and real quiet. I decided it might be okay to get up but I'se real careful not to make too much noise. It was pitch dark and I couldn't see much. My leg hurt powerful bad when I moved it but I knew I had to get up. I finally got all them arms and legs off me and crawled out from under. My pals lay dead all around me and they wasn't goin' no place ever agin. I got up as quiet as possible and made my way back home to Dyer. It was a long walk on that bum leg, but I made it back to my family.
My first wife, Mary Ann, Mattie's mother was powerful glad to see me. So was Mattie and her sister, Tinnie. They treated me like royalty 'til I could get up on that leg again." He paused. "I will never forget all that shootin' and all them fine young fellers dyin' that day at Shelbyville. I'se lucky to get out alive." He didn't say anything more for a long time.
"I guess I would a' stayed right there at Dyer if it hadn't been for Mary Ann a dyin'. I just couldn't stay there any longer after she passed. That's when I come on out to Texas with Mattie and Tinnie and that's when I met Sarah Catherine. She has been the sweetest little thang and she give me a son here—Tom." He patted Tom on the head whose face began to turn red. "Then Luther, then little Albert, and just this spring, a little sweet gal, Rosa Ella. I couldn't a' been more blessed with such a wonderful family."
The boys could see that the conversation was going to turn to talk about women and kids and they weren't too interested in that just yet. They drifted off with Tom and Luther to their room and began making pallets for the night.
After the boys left, Billy and Port began talking about their plans for another farm nearby. Billy's family could stay with the Gower family for awhile but it would crowd everyone, so it was best to look for land that Billy could claim.
The news wasn't good. Billy had checked at the claims office and all the land around Paoli had been claimed. Even as far away as Noble, the land was pretty much gone. Billy brought the news back to the family to decide what they should do next.
"Should we head back to the family down in—what was the name of that place, Mattie? Paucanla? Yes, Paucanla, where we left everyone to come up here." Billy scratched his head and looked at Mattie. Mattie looked at her father who was thinking hard about the news.
Port began. "It would be another long trek again during the hard months of the winter. I think it would be wise to stay here at least 'til spring. Maybe somethin' will open up. Folks is always movin' on or changin' their minds about stayin' in a place.
"But what about where we will stay, Papa?' Mattie asked. "We can't take advantage of you and Catherine's hospitality that long with all these boys!" she added. "Of course, you can," Sarah Catherine added to the conversation as she walked into the room. "We can build some extra bunks for the boys. Let's see. Allie and Worth need a bunk each to themselves because they're older. We could put Creight and Clarence together in a bunk, and my boys, Tom and Luther could bunk up together. Little Albert and Rosa Ella are still in the nursery with Port and me. We can set up beds at night for you and Billy and little Owen in the living room here."
She thought a moment and brightened with a new idea. "Port! Why couldn't we start that other part of the house we talked about this fall? We could just add on to this house and have plenty of room for everyone!"
Mattie objected. "Why, we couldn't ask you to do that! It would be a terrible expense!" Port looked at Catherine and then Mattie. "Nonsense! We been plannin' this for awhile and we been wantin' a bigger place. With your help and the neighbors, we can throw up another part to the house in no time at all. Why, our neighbors had us up a house in a few days right after we moved here!"
Billy had listened to all the palaver. He was quietly thinking about land, not farm houses. If they moved into a freshly built house by Port, there still wouldn't be any land for him, and land is what he wanted. Still, it would get them through the cold months of the winter. By spring, they might consider moving back down to Paucanla again.
Enthusiasm was building for the new addition to the house. It seemed to be a done deal in a few minutes. Port went outside to look at the house and to make plans for the addition. Billy followed him but said nothing.
"See, we wanted a big room for canning and for separating the milk," Port said as he gestured toward the space where the house would go. "We got enough milk cows now that neighbors are wanting to buy from us. We need a separator and a cool room to store milk overnight. Now that our cotton is in, there isn't much to do this winter. I could start building the house now." He thought for awhile. "It would be small; a large separator room that you could use for a kitchen for now. We could build a loft to sleep the boys and a bedroom below for you and Mattie. We could have this up in no time and you could stay in it until some more land opens up here or until you decide to find something else."
Billy lit his pipe and thought. "I guess I could help you build it and help you around the farm for now. There's not much to do until spring, as you say."
"Then it's settled," Port answered with a smile. "We can go in tomorrow and see what kind of wood they've got in Noble. They have a saw mill there." In the meantime, Mattie wrote a long letter to the Meads in Paucanla about their adventurous trip to Paoli and their intentions to stay—at least until spring. She mailed it to Ardmore, hoping they would get it before spring!
[Author's Note] Worth Mead’s account in the OU Pioneer Project stated that the William Samuel Mead family went to see their grandfather in Paoli, Indian Territory. Elisha Porter Gower’s Confederate Army record shows that he served with the Tennessee units described and that he was absent without leave for a short period of time. Family accounts state that he was thought to have been wounded.