Saturday, July 8, 2017

Singleton tells of a day spent exploring the old town of Claiborne, Alabama

(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Vagabond blood leads to Claiborne’s historic pathways” was originally published in the July 6, 1995 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Many people go many places to visit and to be entertained. There are those who go to the coast, and there are those who might go elsewhere. Don’t think it’s strange, but there are those who find entertainment right here at our doorsteps. Travel in any direction from the Hub City, and within a few minutes, places and things of historical interest dot the landscape.

Tuesday, the 27th of June, found me with nothing to do, so to speak. This is strange, because I usually stay a week or so behind on my schedule. The reason for this is that there isn’t enough time in the day for me to go to all the places that I need to go. There are so many places that I need to visit until I have a very hard time trying to get around to each of these places. Each time I hear someone say that they can’t find anything to keep them busy, I look at them in total amazement; most always, I depart their company feeling sorry for them.

Throughout the years, I have never really come to terms with myself and sometimes trying to understand my actions. Please don’t think me weird, but many times I feel as though I am two different people. On one hand, I’m telling myself that I need to do something that needs immediate attention. On the other hand, I feel that I must go at all costs to various places that beckon in the distance.

As I have mentioned in various other articles, I refer to these feelings as my vagabond blood getting out of hand. This past Tuesday was one of those days. So not being able to withstand the pressure any longer, I mounted my iron horse and headed west toward the Alabama River and the old town of Claiborne.

As I descended the long hill from Perdue Hill, I found myself wondering where I would begin this afternoon in Claiborne. If I had told anyone that I was going to spend the afternoon touring the old town by the river, they would have probably thought that I could crawl on my hands and knees around the place and still have plenty of time left over. After all, to an outsider, there isn’t much to see of the old town speeding up or down Highway 84.

Turning off the highway just prior to going on the river bridge, I found myself wondering if it was possible to go back in time on a day such as today and be among the happenings that took place here many years go. As I rode my motorcycle up the steep embankment overlooking the new bridge and the vast river and bottom lands below me, I felt that perhaps today this just might be possible.

Looking downriver, I thought of that day, the 12th of October 1540, and the river crossing of DeSoto and his army. In the quietness of the afternoon I could almost see the masses as they struggled with the crude rafts and restless animals as they made their way to the east side of the river. I looked at the steep bluff where the watchtower had stood when Fort Claiborne rested atop the high bank in the early 1800s.

I thought of the many hours of watching for attackers that might charge the walls of the fort at any time. I thought of the dead that had fallen in battle there who now slept in the old burial crypts nearby. No record remains of who they were or from where they came.

Continuing to look downriver, I looked at the high bluff known as Lovers’ Leap. I felt the agony of the two lovers who chose to end their lives by leaping into the swift waters below rather than be separated. I could almost see them standing atop the high cliff as they embraced for the final time. Then holding hands, they stepped off the high bluff into the endless depth of eternity.

Looking down on the narrow road that led down to the old ferry landing, I wondered just how many people had this path down to the great river. Here, they would cross the river on the old ferry and disappear from view for distant unknown places far to the west.

I thought of the small children in the wagons, not knowing what tomorrow would bring. I thought of the hardships and death that awaited many along the trails that turned and twisted into the distant sunsets. If I listened closely, I felt I could almost hear the wagon wheels on the rocky narrow road below.

Starting the engine to my motorcycle, I slowly descended the high embankment and made my way down this narrow road so rich in history to the old ferry landing at the bottom of the steep hill.

I would almost feel the activity as the wagons jockeyed in position to load on the crude ferry and the trip across the great river. I could almost hear the shouts and the commands as the ferry operators struggled and pushed to get the laden ferry boat away from the muddy bank and out into the river current.

I could picture in my mind the nervous horses and mules being made to pull the heavy wagons up on the large flat-bottomed ferry boat. And I thought of wet and stormy weather as those who waiting had to postpone their crossing because of thunderstorms and dangerous winds that swept down the river.

I could almost see the campfires that flickered in the darkness. Each encircled by those trying to keep warm until the morning came and their time to load on the ferry for the river crossing and a journey to place unknown far into the sunset.

Slowly making my way back up the narrow road to the highway, I found myself feeling guilty, traveling along with so little effort when so much suffering had taken place here so long ago. Turning my iron horse into the old North Gorge cemetery, I knew that here in itself was a page in history, now fading from neglect when it should have been so carefully preserved.

Making my way to the far end of the old burial ground, I knew that much tragedy had befallen many of those who slept here. I stopped at the grave of the Brokenhearted Stranger. He, too, had departed this life, here on the high banks overlooking the mighty river. His search for his loved one had ended here; he, too, a victim of the dreaded yellow fever that took such a heavy toll in the town by the river.

The creeping shadows of the tall pines there in the old cemetery reminded me that time awaits for no man. The golden sun in the western sky told me that this day, like many others, had not been long enough. Oh, well, that’s the story of my life.

I had come here today, and I had been a part of Claiborne’s yesterdays. I knew I had made the right decision by coming. Strange as it may seem, there were several places that time did not permit me to visit here in the old town by the river. Perhaps, another time, another day, and I will return to the old town by the river.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, lived for a time among Apache Indians, moved to Monroe County on June 28, 1964 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. Some of his earlier columns also appeared under the heading of “Monroe County History: Did You Know?” He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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