Baldwyn, Mississippi – December 4th, 1882. Having reached the crest of Town Hill now, where the dirt of Main and Front Streets intersect, the colonel looks first south to the depot, that beehive with cotton as honey, where he and Houston’s son Glen had pulled their pistols on the boy Thursday, and then north to Baldwyn’s engineering marvel, the railroad engine turntable. He believes – no, he knows – the entirety of his future lies here before him. Surely it does. He pivots on the leg, wincing only slightly, and moves north up Front towards his warehouse, past the still darkened doorway of McDonald & Co., the December wind in his face.
Seventeen years before today, twenty days after the Battle of Franklin, Col. William H.H. Tison was finally able to send word to his family that he was not dead in Tennessee as had been reported to them. Tison had survived, almost miraculously, the slaughter-pen that occurred November 30, 1864, where 6,000 of his fellow confederates died. He survived, but he was not unscathed. He sent word to Sarah and his children that he had indeed been injured, severely, and could not continue to fight. He would soon journey home, and he suspected he would not be alone. The war would be over within a few months if the bloodbath in Franklin was any indication, and it was. Col. Tison’s return to Baldwyn was not that of the conquering hero that had been imagined by he and so many others some four years previous. He limped into Baldwyn, his left leg, gashed by a broken shard of his own sword propelled by a Yankee mini-ball, not healed but functional, to find a buried child, his five year-old son Richard; a distraught wife; and destruction and hopelessness as far as the eye could see.
Today, his head high and his eyes forward as always, Tison can feel the December cold in every step as he turns north onto Front Street from Main, past McDonald & Co., and reaches the clapboard warehouse, just south of Phillips Supply, where he keeps the reserve stock of merchandise for his dry goods store. Crossing the porch and pushing through the double leaf front doors, he sees his whiskey in the dim light near the back wall, case after case. It had all been ready for distribution last week, before he was delayed, before he had to deal with the distraction of brother Houston’s daughter Ellen and that boy. More would be arriving on the southbound this afternoon, and the boys will need to clear some space. Tison barks orders at the two fresh-faced clerks in his employ there on Front Street, and they respond immediately, quickly beginning to load a wagon with crates to be shipped out to Campbellton through the large doorway on the north side of the building.
His orders heeded, Tison plucks up his railroad shipping papers from a barrelhead just inside the warehouse door and wheels back across the porch onto Front Street. He climbs the hill towards Main, on the way to the Mobile & Ohio depot, to discuss with the station agent the status of the shipments missed over the last three days. He had not seen the agent since the business last Thursday night, when he had backed him into his depot office, while Houston did his duty on that Sanders boy.
Though his Christian zeal, ignited once by a pious and convincing Methodist circuit-rider, was now dim and decades behind him, Tison still required high moral standards, at least publicly, from his family, if not for their own sake, at least to preserve reputation. The colonel never thought that he would have to save that reputation in the fashion required on the depot platform Thursday. Three days it has taken since to get Houston, his wife Sarah Ann, the four girls and the three little boys removed to Memphis. Glen, who also held a pistol that night to collect the debt owed his sister and father, will remain in Baldwyn and attend to Houston’s property and business until other arrangements can be made. A niece with child, out of wedlock, is simply not something the Speaker of the House of Mississippi can have in full view of constituents. The liquor is one thing, but immorality of this nature is not overcome in Mississippi politics in 1882.
“You,” a voice calls from the east-facing doorway of McDonald & Company, the street level business in the three-story whitewashed Cox Building. The Colonel turns toward the voice, over his right shoulder. In the doorway is the boy, Ed Sanders – the boy who Col. William Tison and his nephew Glen held at gunpoint on Thursday when he got off the train, the boy whose child Houston’s girl is carrying in Memphis, the boy Houston beat almost to death three days ago. Sander’s left eye is still swollen almost shut, his chin and forehead are scabbed over, unbandaged, and he wobbles slightly until he braces his left shoulder against the door frame. The fingers of his right hand press against the dual triggers of the double barrel shotgun he holds, leveled perfectly at the Colonel’s right side, not twenty feet away. The Colonel starts to speak, but there is no hesitation in Sanders, the boy who thinks he loves the girl of privilege, the girl who has been separated from him to Memphis, the girl who is carrying his child. His first blast strikes the colonel waist-high and drops him to his knees on Front Street fifteen yards north of the crest of Town Hill where Main and Front intersect. The shot instantly summons the populace to doorways and windows. Those on the street turn to the sudden sound that has shattered the normal Monday of a Mississippi railroad town to see the kneeling, bleeding colonel.
“Boy, don’t thi—“
The second shot catches the colonel in the throat removing most of it. Twice more the ex-Confederate Colonel William Henry Haywood Tison breathes the air of Baldwyn through extraordinary will or perhaps just habit, his body not yet knowing that this cause, too, is lost. Authorities descend on the abused animal, the boy Sanders, who drops the shotgun not having thought beyond this moment, his vengeance complete, and the blood of Col. William H.H. Tison – legislator, postmaster, merchant, newspaperman, farmer, husband, father, and maker of saddles in old Carrollville – descends into the hard-packed dirt of Front Street, fifteen yards north of the crest of Town Hill, the trajectory of his soul unknown.