‘Bloody Madison’ Is Now Cleaned Up And Looking Good

Published 9:43 am Thursday, February 9, 2017

MARSHALL — This little town, population 879, looks like a picture out of the 1950s. There are four focal points: The French Broad River, mountains rising sharply on both sides of the river, the railroad tracks and the big Madison County courthouse, freshly painted with a newly installed Lady Justice atop the dome.

Unlike others, this Lady Justice wears no blindfold. That was not accidental, a helpful lady told us as we took pictures on Saturday, acting like tourists. In this storied county, often called “Bloody Madison,” justice has often been hard to find. By reputation, the citizens don’t care much for Flatlanders, Yankees and federal government employees, especially revenuers. We didn’t stay long.

A “mixed marriage” here is defined as spouses who are Republican and Democrat.

The “bloody” adjective was applied during the Civil War when all the males — even a boy — of the Shelton clan were rounded up and killed by a militia when the family didn’t pay proper allegiance to the Confederacy.

The legacy of the late Zeno Ponder’s political skills has long been what most people know of Madison County. He was chairman of the elections board. His brother was sheriff. And he had an amazing way of controlling the ballot boxes. In the 1964 election, the ballots cast in Madison County out-numbered the voters registered. Oops.

Talk about voter fraud …

Things have settled down here as this remote northwest corner of North Carolina has been civilized.

Nothing except memories evoked the old times.

There’s a sizeable island in the French Broad where the county built a school. It’s now an art gallery, and the remaining island is a park.

The brick storefronts must look very similar to the way they looked three generations ago. The local newspaper, the News-Record & Sentinel, operates from an office made of two box cars pushed together by the railroad tracks. No windows. Must be mighty hot in summer.

We had drifted over to Marshall because we were two hours early for a high school choral festival at nearby Mars Hill University. The guest conductor was a former conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. With a choir of 325 students, the performance was excellent.

The choir closed with a stirring “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The director recited  the history of the song and said those old patriotic numbers just aren’t performed enough these days.

I had to agree.

Of course, it’s not often that you can squeeze that many singers onto a stage. They received a long and lusty standing ovation.

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On Sunday afternoon driving on N.C. 801 by Bermuda Run’s gate house, we saw six deer wander out. In no hurry. Just ambling along.

– Dwight Sparks