The inspiration for this story came from a single piece of paper. That sheet of paper with ink imprinted words placed there more than 150 years ago was thought to be so irreplaceable that it had been encased in glass and metal. My brother who lives one, well maybe now that I have aged into my late sixties, two stone throws from my house recently asked that I come to his home.
I find it extraordinarily strange that the most seemingly insignificant sight, sound or word can become the birth of great curiosity within my mind. My brother, Bill seems to understand what sparks my interest and his telephone call ignited that spark. “Hey, you need to walk over here and take a look at something I came across in an old box.” I could sense by the tone of his speech that he was excited as he spoke about the discovery of an old letter that would most assuredly be of interest to me. His words seemed to flow so quickly that they fell atop one another and I knew that I had to learn more about this prized discovery. “OK, I’ll be right over.”
As my eyes focused on a large cardboard box resting on the patio table’s glass top I, almost without thought, lowered myself onto a chair’s cushion. It seemed as though he wanted me to share in his enthusiasm but I calmly maintained my reserve as he pulled from that box a letter encased in metal and glass. “Here, take a look at this,” he said as he extended the hand that held the prized discovery.
I began to read the letter that was sandwiched between two slightly discolored pieces of old glass. Dated January 5th, 1864 and written in beautiful ink penned script It began, “Dear wife, iseat myself down to rit you those few lines to inform you of my health.” The writing continued from the front and onto the full length of the paper’s reverse side ending with the signature, “Levi Fine,” and the sentiment “fore this time to his wife and children.”
The author talked of his acceptable health; He asked about relatives Martha and Sarah Downing. “Tell Sarah Downing that James is getting better. He is talking about coming back to the company.” Levi gave some mention to a recent battle. In that engagement, his regiment had taken 115 prisoners and killed 35 enemy soldiers. He had emerged from the action unscathed.
After the passage of some moments I posed a question to my brother, “who is Levi Fine?” There was silence as my brother tried to compute the relationship details. “He was our grandfather’s grandfather. Yeah, that’s right, our father’s great-grandfather who served in a Union cavalry regiment during the Civil War.”
Well, I knew right then and there that I had to learn more about Levi Fine. Little did I realize the surprises that lay ahead as I began my research into the lives of my relatives, both recent and distant. The first unanticipated revelation came as I learned of the existence of Vinette Fine.
In 1775, and during the struggle to create this nation, Vinette Fine and his brother Peter served in the First Independent Company of Dunmore County, Virginia under the command of Captain Jacob Holeman. The brothers called Shenandoah County, Virginia home but only Peter would return to his family there.
In 1783 Peter, Vinet and several other men gave pursuit to a band of Indians who had stolen several horses. The search for the horse thieves led the group of men to Crystal Creek, North Carolina. There the two groups engaged in a fight that resulted in the recovery of the stolen animals but left Vinet fatally wounded. His body was left by the frozen waters with the intent to later retrieve the body, however, Vinette’s remains were never recovered. The creek was renamed Fine’s Creek as was the township that stands there even to this day.
Vinet fathered Abraham Fine and to Abraham a son, Abraham Melier Fine was born. The Fine family made their way west and found a home in Montgomery County Missouri. Another war came upon this country and Abraham’s son, Levi enlisted the union army’s 3rd Missouri Cavalry Regiment under the command of Colonel John Montgomery Glover.
George Marion Fine was the son of Levi Fine. Not much is known about this man, my great-grandfather. He was thought to be someone who professed to be a holistic healer. The husband of Martha Louise Johnson Fine, traveled between Benton County, Arkansas and McDonald County, Missouri offering for sale roots and herbs thought to cure those complaining of the grip or other maladies. George Marion is buried in McDonald County’s Petty Cemetery. Martha gave birth to Floyd Fine Sr.
My grandfather, Floyd Fine Sr., served one term as McDonald County Sheriff. From 1940 through 1944 he and one lone deputy kept the peace in the then sparsely populated hills and valleys of the county nestled deep within the Southwest Missouri Ozarks.
I recall hearing the story about the sheriff and three moonshiners. It came to my grandfather’s attention that three men were cooking illegal shine in a remote valley deep within the woods. Hearing about the three lawbreakers, my grandfather decided to shut the operation down and deal with the three lawbreakers.
As the story goes my grandfather drove down a rarely used country dirt road until the road came to end. From there he walked as quietly as possible through the woods until he came upon a man seated on the ground with his back resting against a tree. The man appeared to be asleep and, as luck would have it, neither the crunch of the leaves nor snap of the twigs beneath the soles of my grandfather’s shoes caused him to awaken. Possibly, he had been sampling some of his own mixture. Lying conspicuously across the napper’s lap was a double-barreled shotgun.
Without disturbing his sleep my grandfather came upon the man and with pistol drawn cautioned him against making a sound. The shotgun was removed from the man’s reach and the sheriff, using his one and only pair of handcuffs, secured the surprised man to the tree.
“I say by God, how many fellas are down there at that still?” Staring at the business end of that Smith and Wesson .38 revolver the man was quick to answer, “Two, just two, I swear that’s all.” “Well then, I’m gonna go on down there and see about those two shiners.” “Wait,” the man once again spoke. “What if something happens to you and I’m stuck here attached to this here tree.” Without hesitation, my grandfather answered, “Well by God, you’re gonna be in these here woods a long time.” Luckily for the restrained man, his two cohorts were captured without incident and the still was destroyed.
Not one to leave a perfectly good pair of handcuffs behind, my grandfather gathered up the man as he and his two friends walked out of the valley and to his car. Following his term as County Sheriff, my grandfather served eighteen terms as Noel’s City Marshall. Floyd and his wife Phoebe are buried in the Noel, Missouri Cemetery.
Floyd and his wife, Phoebe had one child, Floyd Jr. My father, Floyd Fine Jr. continues, at the ripe old age of 93, to be counted among the living and resides on the outskirts of Noel. My mother, Mary, left this world some years ago and rests quietly in the Noel Cemetery.
The women, the wives of these men played no small role in their lives and the character of those women also finds its way into my life. Those women were by no means passive bystanders. They did not stand behind their husbands, they stood alongside them.
Floyd senior’s wife Phoebe Cecil Hagerman Fine was a strong-willed outspoken and independent woman who owned her own business. Abraham Fine’s wife, Cynthia Harper Fine, moved from Kentucky to Missouri in 1810. She never tired of telling stories of the early development and growth of the “Show-me” state she came to love. She was the mother of twelve children and loved life to the fullest.
Mary Louise Barr Fine, my mother, was, to say the least, a unique person. She married early in life and bore three children, me being the middle one. She spent her childhood in Pineville, Missouri and times were hard; but then so was she. I recall a seemingly insignificant compliment once made about Mary Louise Fine; I was told she was a good swimmer. Maybe so, but I remember her as a good mother.
Levi Fine survived the bullets, cannonballs and December 1863 War Between the States battle at Jacksonport, Arkansas but he never returned to his Montgomery County, Missouri home and to the loving arms of his wife, Martha A. Watkins Fine. He died at a Kansas City, Missouri hospital on the eighth day of May in the year 1865. The cause of death was listed as “Rheumatic Carditis.” Levi is buried in the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas. There, a stone Civil War era marker identifies his resting place.
The title, “Discovering Who I Am,” was not the original name for this story. My first choice of names dealt with the idea that I learned more about my descendants than was previously known. However the more I learned the more I realized what I was really doing. I was finding out more about myself.
I am, by all means, the descendant of Vinette, Levi, George Marion, Floyd Sr. and Floyd Jr. but there is much more there than the sharing of blood. As I came to know these men I came to realize why I have come to be the person I now am. I found a better understanding of myself. I discovered who I really am.
Finding the irregular bits and pieces of the puzzle of one’s place in this world can be so very difficult but it’s best to begin by looking at the ones who came before you.