Tuesday, December 20, 1955
"Old King Pharoah Was Stoned For Goring Man"
"Bull Was Given Trial by Farmers"
by Fred T. Morgan
(included in Brooks Family Documents)
A few of the older people in Stanly county remember when a bull was stoned to death.
He was brutally tortured and tormented and beaten and battered into the dust of the earth by stones hurled by a hundred men.
The bull had killed a man by goring him to death.
So the people of the community mobbed the bull, tried him, sentenced him to be stoned to death, then carried out their sentence.
Was that justice?
Did the bull know why he was being tortured?
Why did his human captors impose such sadistic treatment on the dumb beast?
Never in the history and tradition of Stanly county has there been such an unusual case as that of Pharoah the Bull, which was stoned to death.
Also, the ecclesiastical trial which preceded the stoning was a thing of unprecedented uniqueness for Stanly county.
The time was wintertime and the year was about 1880. The place was in southwestern Stanly county on a hill up from Rocky river. Action begins at the pole fence corral near the log barn of the old Sampson Hinson homeplace, located about two miles south of the present Mineral Springs Baptist church. Bill, or "Billy" Hinson, descendant of Samp. lived there at the time.
Not long past the noon hour on the cold and clear winter day, King D. Brooks (BCBNOTE: King David Brooks, b.1836, son of David and Mary Brooks of Stanly Co, NC), 50-year old farmer and prominent man in the community, walked up to the barn lot to borrow old King Pharoah, the Hinson bull. He intended to take Pharoah back to his farm and turn him loose with several of his cows, since the bull was a noted breeding animal.
Everyone borrowed King Pharoah. He was a "gentleman" bull, docile and meek as you could ask for. Children played around him. Adults petted and favored him. He was an all-around fine animal. Despite his vicious-looking horns and his rough countenance, he had never been known to deliberately harm anyone. His owner even worked him to the plow. In fact, just that morning, one of the Hinson women had used old Pharoah to plow under some oats in a new ground.
People on both sides of the river borrowed Pharoah for breeding purposes, for plowing, and to hitch to their wagons to pull grain to the river mill and logs from the woods.
|Cartoon accompanying article.|
This particular morning, only an hour or two before, Brooks had killed and dressed several hogs at his home and now as he approached the Hinson barn he and his clothing smelled strongly of raw blood and fresh meat, which is often offensive to domesticated animals.
Didn't Have A Chance
Brooks, a wiry outdoor man, had entered the pole fence and fastened a lead rope to the bull's halter and turned to lead him to the gate when Pharoah charged. Taken wholly by surprise, Brooks didn't have a chance. The bull slammed into his back, knocked him against the fence, and the wicked horns jabbed through his body again and again, long after all life had left it.
The commotion attracted the folks at the nearby Hinson home and they came running, although too late to help Brooks. They found his mangled body impaled on the fence.
News of the goring spread rapidly throughout the community.
Hard working devout farm people left their wood cutting and their grain sowing and ran to the Hinson place to view the bloody sickening thing that had once been a man. Unmasked hatred glittered in their eyes as they glanced at the snorting, panicked, wild-eyed bull which had backed into a corner at the barn entrance and now stood glowering and tossing its head. The crowd swelled and dark mutterings were heard as more baleful stares were thrown at the wild King Pharoah. Threats were heard. Nor did the kin of Brooks take it lightly.
Brooks was scraped off the fence and later buried in the Brooks family plot, located a few miles upriver at the present Shuford Burris plantation. Today, two giant cedar trees, bigger than most, soar toward the heavens above his neglected grave.
Farmers all up and down the river hills left their work and walked to and fro from house to house discussing the goring of King Brooks by Pharoah the bull. It took a day or two for sentiment in the community to reach the action stage. Then it came furiously. The people populating these hills were of a very religious sect, descendants of pioneers in North Carolina and Virginia. They had grown up guided by the teachings of the Bible and taught to find sanction in the Scriptures for their actions.
Here, they were faced with a situation in which a bull with a previous clean record, had brutally and without cause, gored to death one of their fellowmen. What did the Scriptures say about it? They were not long in finding it in the Mosaic law of the Old Testament.
The 21st chapter of Exodus, beginning at the 28th verse, describes at some length what action to take in case an ox gores a person to death. The first two verses read as follows:
"If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die, then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.
"But if the ox were wont to push with his horns in time past and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death."
Mob Gets Bull
A group of indignant men, including some of the church elders and leaders, gathered and demanded of Hinson that he release the bull to them for punishment. One version of the tale says that Hinson refused even after the mob offered to pay him for the animal. Thereupon, they ignored Hinson and, like a determined lynching party, they took possession of Old King Pharoah by main force.
Another version of the tale says that Hinson agreed to turn the bull over to the mob, although he wouldn't have done so had he known how they were going to treat the animal.
"He would have taken the bull off and shot him himself if he had known what the mob intended doing with him," a descendant of the Hinson clan said.
At any rate, the mob, probably numbering half a hundred men or more, subdued the raging bull with heavy chains and shackles. They tied him away from his pole fence enclosure. He resisted every inch of the way despite the straining mules which dragged his protesting 1800 pounds over the rough wagon road and the men behind who prodded him with pitchforks and sharp tools.
Finally, after hectic struggles and clever maneuvering, they secured him in a stout stable in the almost impregnable log barn of Arch Hinson, nearly a mile away.
Then, they gathered to hold counsel, with the most prominent religious men of the day dominating the discussions.
"We must give him a trial," one pious oldster declared, his white mustache puffing out under his firey eyes as he spoke. "We must do better than the scriptures. We must give him a trial, the we'll know we're right."
And so, while the maddened bull threatened to reduce the nearby barn to shambles, they held a trial. And what a trial!
First, a judge was named, he being one of the most revered Christians of the community. The judge named a jury. Then he appointed a prosecutor and then named a man to defend the bull. All the appointees, the judge included were ignorant and untutored in their duties. But it made no difference. None of the men in the group had any knowledge of the laws of the land anyway.
"What say ye?" the judge said to the prosecutor.
"Why, I say the bull's guilty and that he ought to be kilt," the brawny, jacket-clad farmer-prosecutor said. He was definitely a Brooks man. "The bull kilt a man. Everybody knows it. Let's kill him. The Bible says an eye for an eye, don't it?"
Then it was the defense lawyer's turn.
"I object," he yelled, "on the grounds that the bull is a bull and not an ox like it says in the Scriptures."
The judge overruled it, "A bull or an ox, or an ox or a bull, makes no difference," he said.
It is possible that Hinson, seeing a way of saving his bull after all, put bugs in the ear of the acting defense lawyer and connived with him to save the animal, because, after all, the fees he received for loaning old Pharoah for breeding purposes were not inconsequential.
Some people hold to the belief that there was indeed a trial and that the arguments waxed long and loud and consumed the better part of a day.
The jury members were solidly opinionated.
"Guilty," the jury spokesman said. "We recommend that the bull be put to death according to the law of the Scriptures."
There was a chorus of approving yells from the crowd.
The judge held up his hands and his white beard and his coat collar hunched up on either side of his neck giving him a buzzard-like appearance. "Order, order," he commanded.
"I will now pronounce the sentence," he announced when the uproar subsided. He held an open Bible in his hands. He read from Exodus the passage about he ox: "Then the ox shall be surely stoned…"
"I sentence Pharoah, the bull, to be stoned until he is dead," the little judge shouted, "Tomorrow at noon."
Appealing the decision of the judge was an unknown instrument of the law in those days.
"Heck, no sense protesting," was the attitude of the losers, "let's get in on the fun."
Pharoah was placed under a guard the night through. "Guard him with your lives," the judge instructed the volunteer guards, "He must be ready for execution tomorrow."
The crowd dispersed. Many men struck out for remote farms to spread the news and invite everyone to the stoning.
Next morning, men arrived from everywhere. Farmers came from miles up and down both sides of the river.
The spot chosen for the stoning was a big oak tree on a rocky hillside beside the public road from Big Lick to Coble's mill on Rocky river. A detail of men had been assigned to assemble a huge pile of stones to be used in the stoning and they were in readiness.
The bull, now a raging, violent, terrorized monster, threatened to wreck the barn when they went to get him shortly before noon. Men had to climb up in the loft over the stable and lower a heavy log chain over his neck and draw his head up close to the loft before they could control him. Then, old Alec, a "white folks" Negro, went in the stable to shackle the bull's feet. Alec got too close and a powerful twist of the bull's head opened a painful scalp wound on the black man's head. The wicked tip of the bull's horn dripped blood. Had Alec been a mite closer, the horn would have gouged him squarely in the face and undoubtedly killed him.
Alec jumped back cursing, his black eyes blazing. "I'll get even with you for that big boy," he vowed.
His head chained down between his forelegs, his legs shackled so closely that only very short steps were possible, and with a dozen men manning guide chains on either side of his head in case he did try to break away, Pharoah was dragged by the stout wagon and six mules up to the big oak beside the public road. There he was tied firmly and closely.
"Shall be Stoned"
Sharply at noon, the little judge read again the Mosaic law from his open Bible… "And he shall be surely stoned…"
Baseball-size stones battered the bull from every direction, striking him again and again with the full power of the throwers on every part of his body. His leathery hide, toughened by years under the work whip, could stand a lot of punishment, however.
A hundred men bounced stones off his hide for an hour and Pharoah was still on his feet. Boys, too, hurled stones with puny effort as if they were playing an important part in the destruction of the great animal. Women and children watched from far off.
By mid-afternoon, the bull had weakened and dropped to his knees. But his bellow still rang out defiantly and his enormous roar could be heard for miles up and down the river hills. Some of the men were tiring of the sport.
Tired of Sport
"Read the Scriptures again, Judge, and see if it don't say to use something besides stone," someone suggested.
"It'll take to dark to kill'im like this," another muttered.
"Look at'im," a sweat-streaked overalled farmer said. "His ears are knocked off, his eyes are blinded, his face is ground into sausage meat, and his hide is jelly. But, he's still bellering at us and mocking us."
It was more than they had bargained for. It was work. It was an ordeal. Some of the men left. Others with weak stomachs were vomiting their heads off at the sight of the bloody bull. The sun was sinking lower toward the trees.
"I'm leaving," the white-bearded judge said. "If you want to use anything besides stones on him, go to it, but remember, the Lord might not approve."
When the judge got out of sight, the men brought out their pitchforks, spears and sharp blacksmith tools and plunged thim into the bull's sides, his back and rear. Other men kept pounding his head with stones
Gradually, the bloody unrecognizable head of the gallant animal sank lower and lower. His great body shuddered. Nowhere was his hide unbroken. His knees collapsed slowly like a giant balloon deflating, and he sprawled on his side with a loud sigh. The men closed in.
But old King Pharoah had not given up. The battle was not over. His voice came again, loud and long, resounding over the river hills, mocking his tormentors. But his strident voice was the only life left in him now. His great strength had been beaten out of him.
Alec, the black man, called a lull in the stoning. "Let me at 'im a minute," he said.
Armed with a handspike, he went to the bull's now immobile head and knocked off the long horns, one of which had inflicted his scalp wound.
"Now I'm even with you, you big devil," he growled.
But his lust for additional revenge surged again and grabbed along, dagger-sharp butchering knife and began carving hunks of flesh out of the side of the mutilated animal. Alec tossed the raw meat to a pack of hound dogs nearby and the dogs had a feast.
While the bull bellowed more fiercely than ever, Alec carved and carved, his black face a frozen mass of vindictiveness.
And nobody had a mind to stop him.
Down late, when the western sky was streaked with the rosy glow of a clear, clean sunset, householders, mostly women, for miles around, while going about their evening chores, could still hear the pitiful and weakened bellowing of tormented old King Pharoah.
When the crowd, dwindled now to a dozen men, could stand it no longer, they stopped Alec, and someone took a muzzleloader and mercifully put a ball through the bull's brain.
Silence came like a welcome blanket to the people thereabouts. They heard the shot and knew what it meant.
The men had just time enough before darkness to drag the gruesome carcass and dump it into a gulley in a field at the edge of the woods and topple off an embankment of earth over it.
In a lot of homes, sleep was evasive and troubled that night.
Uneasiness was apparent in the community for days afterward. There was talk that the treatment of the bull had been too cruel, too unjust, too unrighteous. There seems to be some faint recollection of criticism of the act from some court official of the land. There are other recollections, too , that some of the Hinson clan tried unsuccessfully to "law" some of the men who had played a big part in stoning the bull.
Though there is nothing to substantiate it, tradition says that many of the men who took an active part in the stoning and torturing of the bull met with bad luck and calamities later in their lives.
In succeeding months and years, never was there a hotter topic of discussion and argument in the river country than the case of the bull stoning. Some sanctioned it; others hotly condemned it.
Until in recent years, there stood on the now abandoned Coble mill road, a huge oak referred to as the "Bull Tree", marking the spot where the stoning occurred.
Also, there was a mound of stones, solid, jagged, and round, which people said had been used on the bull. The stones had been piled up as a sort of monument to the valiant animal.
All Signs Gone
But, the oak is gone now and the stones have long since been scattered in the fields. The gulley, too, is now under cultivation. And a mile away, where the bull first saw the light of day, the old pole fence which was his province, has crumbled long ago. The old Hinson homeplace is still occupied, however.
Only a very few people remain today who were alive and remember when the stoning of the bull took place.
One of them is Adam N. Springer, of Albemarle, who remembers hearing his mother tell him, when he was a five- or six- year old child, how she heard the bull bellow so pitifully late in the afternoon of the day they stoned him.
Another is Mrs. Teal Brooks, who lives on route 1, Mt. Pleasant. Now 91 years of age, she was a girl of about 15 when the stoning happened. As was true of Mr. Springer, she lived within easy hearing distance of the stoning grounds.
Each night for weeks after the stoning, she said the cows and other cattle, which ran loose in the community, would gather at the spot where the bull was stoned and join in a mournful chorus of almost human-like wailing and moaning and calling.
"It was enough to make the hair rise on your head," Mrs. Brooks said, "to hear all them cows up there grieving so for old King Pharoah, the bull that was stoned to death."