I was born and raised in West Tennessee, the western division of the great state of Tennessee, the region lying between the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers. West Tennessee is part of the purchase of land from the Chickasaw orchestrated on behalf of the United States by Tennessean Andrew Jackson and Kentuckian Isaac Shelby in 1818. The northern part of the purchase became part of Kentucky and is now referred to as “The Purchase” while the rest became part of Tennessee and became West Tennessee. After the purchase, the land was opened up for settlement and settlers – including my ancestors – began coming in from the Carolinas and elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee. The rich bottomlands along the Forked Deer, Hatchie, Obion and Mississippi Rivers were settled largely by slave owners who established large cotton farms while the higher ground to the east was settled by mostly livestock farmers who owned few, if any slaves. Consequently, the region had divided loyalties when Tennessee seceded from the Union – my home county, Carroll, was one of several West Tennessee counties that voted to remain. Large numbers of West Tennesseans fought in both armies and the region, which the Union initially captured but abandoned, saw warfare between irregular Southern guerrillas and Unionist “bushwhackers.”
After the war, West Tennessee remained in turmoil as some of the guerrilla and bushwhacker bands continued fighting both with each other and together as outlaws. Most of the history of that period has been obscured and by the time I was born right after World War II, no one knew what had happened during those terrible times. However, one thing remained – the Democratic Party dominated Tennessee, and West Tennessee Democrats, many of them at least, were so devoted to the party that they’d vote for Satan if he ran on the Democratic ticket. I know; my grandmother was one such Democrat.
My mother never talked about her family much and it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I found out why. She once told me that her grandfather was “a bad man” and went on to say that he was “a grand dragon” in the KKK. I still don’t know much about him and never knew him because he died as a result of injuries suffered when he was hit by a car when I was ten months old. (I do have a memory – my earliest of all memories – of looking down on him in his coffin and my mother’s teenage cousins crying.) I still don’t know much about him other than that he wasn’t born until after the Civil War and that his father apparently was not a soldier but I do know that he was a staunch Democrat. I also know that while he probably was not a “grand dragon,” he was definitely a member of a group of night-riders who went out at night as an enforcer. I haven’t found anything to indicate they ever lynched anyone but the Madison County night riders were real. My aunt tells me that they went after people who ran afoul of the mores of the time.
My grandmother was like so many of her time – and since. She was a staunch Democrat who, although she never voiced hatred for Republicans, at least not in my presence, never voted for a Republican. Neither did my grandfather, whose grandfather evidently was a Confederate cavalryman who rode the legendary Nathan Bedford Forrest – until he apparently deserted and went home. They had three daughters, one of whom, my mother, came to her senses and became a Republican after she met my father, one who was as staunch a Democrat as my grandmother and one who recently left the Democrats, or so I’m told although I’m not certain she has.
Democrats like my grandmother are like those in the Piney Woods of East Texas who are called “Yellow Dog Democrats” because they’d vote for a yellow dog if it was on the Democratic ticket. I’ll take it a step further – such Democrats would vote for Satan if he was on the ticket. In fact, I heard a black Hillary supporter say on TV recently that she’d vote for Hillary even if Jesus Christ Himself endorsed Donald Trump. There’s no doubt that such voters would vote for Satan. This time, they are.