Thank you, Mr. Baxley

Henry Baxley, at the Cove, his mother’s family home, in 2013.

I was saddened to learn last week of the passing of Henry Baxley Jr. Mr. Baxley died at his home in the Marshall area of Fauquier County. He was 88. His funeral will be held this afternoon. His obituary, posted at Fauquier Now, is here.

I will always be grateful to Henry for the help he provided while I was working on The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. I first contacted him in 2011. He did not know me, yet he agreed to meet and talk. We ended up meeting several times, as he shared his memories, his knowledge of Fauquier and his family’s history. He had endless patience as he answered my many questions.
I remember traveling with him in his pickup throughout Fauquier to visit some of the sites critical to the story. He knew everyone, and was universally admired, so an introduction from him was invaluable. We drove to Little Africa Mountain, Rattlesnake Mountain and the Cove, his mother’s family home. One time we drove up unannounced at Edenhurst, his onetime family home and the site of Shedrick Thompson’s attack on his parents.  The current owner, Dorothy Showers, acted as if she had been expecting us. She gave us a tour of the upstairs bedrooms where the Baxleys were attacked.

“Did you know that (Thompson) dropped his gun here on the landing?” she asked Henry.

“No, I never heard that,” he replied.

“Your father told me that,” she said.

I called Henry again in 2015 to tell him that I had completed a draft of the story. I asked if I could meet with him again and double-check my facts. The call-back was a standard technique I used as a reporter because it often uncovered the small but important errors that could spoil a manuscript, things like a misspelled name or incorrect date.

Henry returned my call to say, no, he did not want to meet again. He said he was confident the book would be fine. He just didn’t want to deal with it, or with me, anymore. Yes, he added, I had his permission to use his family photos.

I was disappointed but understood. I had pestered him for a long time. I will be forever grateful for the kindnesses Henry showed me. I can’t begin to tell you how much better the book is because of him.

What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

Edenhurst, once the Baxley home, in Fauquier County, Va.
Edenhurst, once the Baxley home, in Fauquier County, Va.

It’s done. It’s gone. I sent my manuscript to the History Press on Friday.

With that delivery, I met the second of two February deadlines.  The first was for the photographs. This one was for the book itself. Actually the book is still just an email attachment, a Word document of 51 pages, 32,000 words, done in 10-point, Times New Roman type, single-spaced. With luck, it will be a real book this summer.

Today I think back to December 2001, when I sent an email to Henry Baxley Jr. of Warrenton. Baxley and his parents were key characters in the story I wanted to tell, and I asked if he would talk with me. He agreed, and we met in a restaurant in Marshall. Later we drove to Africa Mountain and then to Edenhurst in Markham, where he lived as a baby. It was at Edenhurst that a farmhand employed by his family snuck into the house in the middle of the night and attacked his parents. Henry Jr. was not harmed and has no memory of the event. The current owner of the house, Dorothy Showers, was kind enough to show us the upstairs bedroom where the attack occurred. Showers also told us a story that Henry’s grandfather told her, how the attacker left behind a pistol on the landing.

That visit was the beginning of my work on this book, and the attack became its opening scene. The story has been my companion for more than 14 years. So now what do I do? Or as Merle Haggard sings, “I can smoke and I can drink. I’ll probably be alright ’till morning. But what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”