Held prisoner on the mountain? A new wrinkle to the story

Rattlesnake Mountain in Fauquier County.

Of all the comments that I received after last week’s story in The Washington Post, the most interesting was from a man who lives at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain. The man sent an email to say he heard an interesting story about Shedrick Thompson’s death, and he offered to share it with me.  I called, and we talked for maybe 45 minutes. The man gave permission to use his story in this blog. For many reasons, he asked that I not use his name. I agreed.

The story is similar to many of the other stories I heard while researching The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. It is hearsay and impossible to verify. But it is also vivid and plausible, at least parts of it, and for that reason it has survived in memory for many years.

This is what the man said:

The man has owned a 250-acre farm in northern Fauquier County near Hume for many years. At one point, he rented his land to a neighbor who ran cattle there. The cattleman loved to talk and tell stories, the landowner said. But one day the cattleman became serious and shared what he said was one of Fauquier’s darkest secrets: the death of Shedrick Thompson in 1932.

Born in 1920, the cattleman was 11 when Thompson attacked Henry and Mamie Baxley and fled west toward Buck Mountain. Hundreds of people took to the mountains to look for the fugitive, and the cattleman recalled being present when the lynch mob met to plan their search. These men caught Thompson on the second day after the attack, the cattleman said, and rather than deliver him to the authorities, they took him to a mountain cabin, where they tortured him. Finally, after two weeks, the posse lynched Thompson, the cattleman said. Thompson’s body was discovered two months later hanging from an apple tree on the Borden farm at the foot of Rattlesnake Mountain.

Much of what the cattleman told the landowner confirmed what others had told me: how the searchers gathered at places like Alex Green’s store in Markham, their hunt for Thompson in the mountains, his quick capture and torture, and finally his hanging. The cattleman’s story also dismisses the official version of Thompson’s death–suicide–as part of a cynical cover-up.

What was new was the possibility that the captors held Thompson prisoner for two weeks. That detail seems unlikely. Did the posse keep Thompson under a 24-hour watch? But if true, their actions spread a new layer of evil on an already sordid tale. As the landowner told me, “It’s a terrible, terrible story.”


Let’s pause now for a short intermission

Pic. 012
The Cash and Carry, a general store operated by Alex Green in Markham, played a key role in the Shedrick Thompson story.

I started this blog in January with the goal of describing what it was like to write this book and get it published. One question that I faced immediately was how often to post. I hoped to develop interest in the book before publication, but I didn’t want to turn off potential readers with too much horn-tooting. After about a month, I found a rhythm of once a week that I was comfortable with. Today marks 17 Tuesdays in a row that I have written about some aspect of this book. But the string ends today.

My decision follows the news from History Press that publication will occur on Monday, Sept. 12, instead of July, as I originally thought. That means that the arrival of the book is still four months away. As my editor said, “We are basically in a quiet period.”

My guess is that The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia resides on someone’s computer at History Press headquarters in Charleston, S.C., awaiting transfer to its presses. So, as doctors tell prostate cancer patients, this is a period of “watchful waiting.”

I’ll resume this blog closer to press time, probably in late August. That’s when History Press expects to “set up author events, create press releases, send out review copies and provide promotional material,” according to one of their marketing staff. So, please, stay tuned.