There’s Money In Swine

By William J. Watkins, Jr.

Cweburtis Chastain’s insides turned a summersault as he stepped off the witness stand. Judge William Atlee had admonished Curtis three times to slow down and to speak up. Each time Curtis got more discombobulated. By the time his testimony was complete, Curtis felt as if he’d been struck by a bolt of lightning hurled from Mount Olympus by Zeus himself. Curtis tried to replay the testimony in his head. Had he told everything just like it was? If he did, could the judge understand it all? What had he left out?

His memory of that June morning was clear as a bell. Even in the courtroom, Curtis could smell the honeysuckle and could see the bumblebees dance among the wildflowers as he and the others approached the old Calloway place. The three of them stood in awe at the green kudzu huts that had been formed over several dwarf cherry trees that Mr. Calloway had on the property. One could cut an opening, Curtis thought, and have a ready-made shelter impervious to rain.

Curtis’ job that day was to locate the kudzu root crowns and dig them out with the mattock. At breakfast it had sounded like an easy job; however, a short spell of work taught him that the larger roots seemed to have the property of rubber. The blunt end of the mattock head often bounced off the roots without doing any visible damage. If he turned the mattock to use the spiked end, then it would become lodged in the root. About an hour into the labor Curtis had succeeded in dislodging only about a dozen of the roots. His hands were already aching. He shuttered to think how many swings per root it had taken him to conquer each one.

The sun was rising fast in the sky as he paused to remove a clod of red clay from the end of his mattock. As he snuck a quick breath, he heard the din of the crickets increase as if they were protesting his momentary respite. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Amos Skelton wield the sling blade to cut into the running kudzu vines. Both of Amos’ hands gripped the hickory handle and swung the triangular-framed tool back and forth. After about three passes into the vines, the sling blade inevitably found a woody knot of vines that it could not penetrate. Stopped in his tracks, Amos would re-grip the handle and jerk the sling blade back and forth. After extricating the blade, Amos continued with his short-lived cutting rhythm.

He remembered Buck Marcengill, the owner and superintendent of Hampton Falls’ poor farm, complaining that it had only been two years since a team from the Civilian Conservation Corps had planted the kudzu off Pump House Road as an erosion control measure. The kudzu had certainly stopped the erosion, but had also traveled 50 yards onto what everyone still called the Calloway place. Buck had acquired a swath of the Calloway land in 1932—the year that Old Man Calloway passed. Mr. Calloway’s boys Marvin and Oscar didn’t have the stomach for farming and sold 45 acres to Buck at a very favorable price. The boys occasionally came back to Hampton Falls to check on their tenant who tended the remaining land, but for the most part they worked odd jobs for the mills over in Slaterville.

At breakfast, Curtis guffawed when Buck and Amos claimed that under the kudzu vines there had once been a fine vegetable garden with terraces and fruit trees. Amos also recalled that there had been a pen it that area where Mr. Calloway kept some hogs. Buck said that at one time the Calloways cured the best hams in the valley. To Curtis, the kudzu jungle was just a natural part of the landscape; he could not imagine it in a different form.

Just as he decided to take another swing at the root, he heard Buck’s familiar shout. “Curtis! You must be on a diet. You know the rules: good faith work yields a good helpin’ for dinner. As of right now, you ain’t hardly qualified for Poke salat.”

Curtis didn’t look up. Moving toward the area where Amos had cleared off the top layer of vines, he found what he hoped would be a more manageable root and began swinging the mattock.

“That old man’s got a bee in his bonnet for me,” the boy grumbled to Amos.

“You do what he say and you won’t have no trouble,” Amos replied. “You and your momma done been here a month now and you still ain’t learned. Mista Buck been easy on you knowin’ it been hard since your daddy died. But now he spects you to act like a man.”

Amos Skelton’s rebuke stung Curtis. “I am a man,” Curtis retorted.

“Well, start provin’ it by keepin’ yo mouth shut and swingin’ until Mista Buck tells you to stop.”

Curtis shot Amos the dirtiest look a 12-year-old could muster and then went back to work. As he gazed down at the brownish kudzu roots he imagined the houses, out buildings, and barns of the Hampton Falls poor farm. As he made contact with the root, he envisioned houses splintering apart and crops uprooted from the earth. He had not asked to come here. Just a few short months ago he had been living with his mother and father above the Chastain Shoe Shop on Depot Street. His father was a master cobbler and had made or repaired the shoes of almost everyone in Hampton Falls. If he were honest with himself, Curtis would have to admit to feeling a sense of superiority that his family lived in town—even though some of the schoolboys called him Curtis Trashtain. Hampton Falls hardly qualified for the exalted moniker of township, but it did have a train station, dry goods store, hotel, and a few other businesses. From the upstairs window of his father’s building, Curtis could watch the goings-on at the train station and be the first one to know of any imported excitement that was about to burst forth.

All that changed in February 1937 when his father took to his bed with a fever. Within one week he was gone. Curtis had just turned 12 and had been less than diligent in learning the cobbling trade. Truth be known, he spent most of his time upstairs surveying the streets rather than downstairs among the shoes. With the Depression, his youth, and lack of skills, there was no way he and his mother could keep the shop. The bank foreclosed and the poor farm was their only option.

Buck and Ida Marcengill welcomed Curtis and his mother. When they arrived, the Marcengills were providing for over two dozen men, women, and children. Ida arranged for them to have a room in the main house, which Curtis learned was a coveted spot. The second house out back typically harbored the farm’s cripples and short-term residents who were biding their time before moving on.

It was a difficult adjustment for both of them. Curtis had never done farm work and was not used to the commotion that always surrounded the main house. When folks asked Buck and Ida how the Chastains were coming along, they usually responded that it was a work in progress.

On that fateful June morning the task was much slower going than Curtis had expected. Not even Buck realized just how deep the roots grew and the number of them there would be. Now vexed with both Buck and Amos, Curtis heaved the mattock into the air and brought it down with all the force that he could muster. This time a metallic clank resonated from the ground. Using his mattock like a hoe, Curtis dug around the root and eventually unearthed what appeared to be an old watering can. The red clay and rust gave the can a cinnamon color. Curtis estimated that the can could hold eight or ten quarts. The can’s spout began at the base and extended out and upward at an angle. On top of the can, Curtis could see perforations where a handle had at one time been attached.

Packed with red clay, the can was heavy and difficult to move. Grabbing the spout with both hands, Curtis slung the can toward a patch that he and Amos had successfully cleared. The can bounced once and then came to a stop. Curtis could see a strip of dirty cloth protruding from the opening at the top of the can. He ran over and began to pull on the cloth and to dig the clay out of the container.

Buck and Amos, hearing all the clatter, walked to where the boy was feverishly clawing.

“Mista Buck, young Curtis done found hisself some pirate treasure,” Amos laughed.

“No doubt that Blackbeard must have traveled all the way from Beaufort to hide his greatest prize in the hills of Chauga Valley,” Buck replied. “Son, that could be Aladdin’s magic watering can all the way from Babylon. Rub it and see if you can wake the genie up.”

For a moment, Curtis thought he had the genie by the tail when he yanked on the cloth and out came a carefully wrapped bundle. Once he found the end of the bundle, Curtis rolled the bundle out until its contents spilled forth. Coins of various sizes came to rest at their feet. The gold and silver hues were unmistakable in the late morning light.

“I’ll be doggoned,” Buck said as his jaw dropped, “Curtis sure has found something.” He squatted down and picked up one of the coins to examine it. On one side was the profile of a lady with stars circling her head. The other side was stamped in the very center with “1 Dollar 1854.” A laurel wreath surrounded this inscription and was itself surrounded by the words “United States of America.”

“The Calloways prolly hid dis for fear a de Yankees,” Amos speculated. “Maybe dey hid it so good dey couldn’t even find it.”

“The Calloways farmed this area for close to a hundred years before Marvin and Oscar took off for the city,” Buck averred. “And the dates on these coins precede the War. You might be right.”

“Well, Mista Buck, it’s yo lucky day. Them’s yours. This been yo land for goin’ on five years.”

Curtis jumped to his feet in astonishment. “Oh hell no,” the boy growled. Curtis stood as tall as his five-foot frame allowed and did his best to bow up as he stuck his chest out and formed his hands into fists.

“You lil’ banty rooster, you best step back an recover yo senses.”

“Hold on—both of you,” Buck warned. “None of us are sure who these belong to, where they came from, or why they are here. Let’s bring these back to the house, call the law, and let Sheriff Crenshaw hold onto to these until a proper determination is made. If it turns out that their mine by virtue of me owning this here dirt, then I’ll make sure that Curtis gets a good-sized reward. After all, it was him who found them. Or, if it’s a finders-keepers situation, then Curtis can have the lot of them. Of course, if the law says that these belong to the Calloways, then well make sure Marvin and Oscar have their property returned to them.”

Curtis didn’t like the idea, but knew there wasn’t much he could do to stop Buck. By dinner time, Sheriff Crenshaw had arrived and took possession of the four dozen or so coins. He promised to keep them in the safe at his office until somebody could sort out the ownership issue. Curtis did not know whether it was Buck or the Sheriff who contacted the Calloway boys, but it did not take them long to hitch a ride and find their way back to Hampton Falls.

Curtis walked through the swinging gates separating the gallery of the courtroom from the area reserved for lawyers and court staff. He took a seat on the bench by his mother. He glanced over at the Calloways as they sat on the bench directly to his right. Curtis remembered the first time he had met Marvin and Oscar. It was less than a week after he had found the watering can. Sheriff Crenshaw arrived at the main house with the Calloways in tow. They all sat on the porch after supper and Buck recounted the clearing of the kudzu patch and the uncovering of the can.

“Granddaddy always said that where there’s swine there’s money,” Marvin declared. “I assumed he meant the raising of hogs, but in his peculiar way, he was telling us where to find our inheritance. From the location you and the boy described, that was just about where the pen was. Ain’t no doubt what he meant.”

“Sure nuff,” Oscar said. “Where there’s swine, there’s money. If I heard that once from him, I’ve heard it a hundred times.”

Sheriff Crenshaw explained that Judge Atlee was none too keen on having to expend judicial resources on the rightful ownership of the contents of the can and that he preferred that everyone involved come to some mutual agreement. “The Judge said that hard cases make bad law,” Sheriff Crenshaw recollected. “He thinks there are some novel issues in this case that might be best left alone.”

Playing the part of diplomat, Buck proposed dividing the coins into roughly equal shares. This idea got no traction with the Calloways. “We preciate the sentiment of the offer,” Marvin said, “but we feel strongly about our claim to the property. Our granddaddy meant for us to have those coins—all of ‘em.” Curtis felt relieved that the Calloways had stood firm on their claim and he did not blame them. Their obstinacy also served his interests. It had not taken him long to realize that neither Buck nor the Calloways were going to turn over to a mere boy what was rightly his. He was the one doing the digging; he was the one who unearthed he can; and he was the one who should have the contents of the bundle. But he needed someone in authority to make that pronouncement.

Curtis understood that he was the last witness to testify. Judge Atlee had heard evidence from the Calloway boys that their family had owned the kudzu-covered parcel since 1836. Buck explained to the judge about the sale to him in 1932 and submitted his deed for examination. Sheriff Crenshaw testified about receiving the watering can and coins from Buck at the poor farm and the process of putting legal notices in the newspapers and thus inviting any putative owner of the coins to come forward.

Judge Atlee rocked back and forth in his chair apparently contemplating the testimony and evidence. The courtroom was silent but for the squeak of his chair. As the judge rocked, Curtis thought of the coins and how his mother said that they would have enough to move back into town if they wanted. They could buy back their old building from the bank and rent out the work space to a craftsman. Curtis imagined ascending the outside staircase and once again enjoying the comforts of their very own apartment. He visualized himself sitting by the window and watching the trains pull into the station with goods and passengers from parts unknown.

Curtis again eyed the Calloway brothers. He didn’t know for sure what they would do with the coins, but he had heard Amos prophesy that most of the money would be in the hands of bootleggers, card players, and harlots before the year was out. Curtis pictured Marvin and Oscar in a shiny new motor car with women wearing lipstick lounging in the back seats. He saw whiskey bottles being passed around the car as it sped for Atlanta or maybe Charleston.

Before the car got too far down the road, Judge Atlee spoke and brought Curtis back to reality. “Will all the claimants please rise.”

Curtis, the Calloway boys, and Buck stood in unison at the judge’s command. Judge Atlee took a deep breath and then addressed them. “The Court, having gathered sufficient information to apply the facts to the law, is prepared to render a decision. However, since you are the only three claimants present after proper notice being given, and were you to come to an agreement among yourselves on this disposition of the objects found, then it would not be incumbent upon the Court to enter an order. The matter would be moot. Let me say that you have an absolute right to a decision from the Court. But I caution you that some or all of you might not be pleased with my judgment in this case. There is still time for you to resolve this matter among yourselves. Would you gentlemen like additional time to discuss this?”

Buck was the first to address the judge. “Your Honor, I have previously suggested to my friends here that we each take a third. I’m still willing to do that today or to consider any other reasonable proposal.”

The judge then fixed his gaze upon the Calloway brothers. Marvin spoke for them. “Judge, we respect Mr. Marcengill’s gesture, but the location of the coins and the manner of their concealment show that those were Calloway property. Our granddaddy didn’t hide the money from Sherman’s dragoons for us to simply give them away to Mr. Marcengill or this boy. Those coins are Calloway capital that we intend to put to use.”

“What say you, Master Chastain?”

Curtis gulped, looked at his mother, and wondered what a dragoon was. He felt perspiration break out on his forehead. He then stammered forth his answer. “Sir, I found ‘em and think I should have ‘em.” Curtis’ mother gave him a strong nod of approval.

“Very well. Seeing that the matter remains in controversy, the Court will make its ruling. In this case, I shall apply the common law principles of treasure trove. Under English case law, treasure trove includes gold coins, silver coins, bullion and paper money that have ‘the thought of antiquity.’ The subject res qualifies inasmuch as it consists of gold and silver coins that from all appearances have been in the earth for several decades. American courts that have addressed the doctrine of treasure trove have generally applied the rule that the res goes to the finder.”

Curtis squeezed his mother’s hand. He was the finder. Even Buck had testified and agreed to that. Life in town was once again within reach. He imagined the shiny motor car that he knew the Calloways coveted pulling into the poor farm—but bereft of the harlots—and carrying him and his mother to more civilized environs. His life wielding a mattock and hoe would be history.

“These state courts grappling with this issue have all been outside of the original thirteen colonies and thus have not dealt with statutory or constitutional provisions adopting the English common law. Just a few months after this state ratified its first constitution in March 1776, the General Assembly decreed in an act of August 5, 1776, that ‘the common law of England, so far as it is applicable and of a general nature, and all statutes of the British Parliament in aid of or to supply the defects of the common law made prior to independence, and not inconsistent with our form of government, shall be the rule of decision in this state unless altered or repealed by the General Assembly of this state.’

“Under the common law of England as it existed at the time of our Revolution, the monarch—as the tenant-in-chief of all English lands—had full right to treasure trove discovered in that island nation. This common law rule has not been abridged by any law passed by the General Assembly. Of course, as a commonwealth or republic, South Carolina recognizes no sovereign prince. Instead, the people of this state, in their collective capacity, are sovereign. Thus, the people of this state stand in the shoes of the English monarch regarding treasure trove. Therefore, applying the common law of England to this case in a manner not inconsistent with our form of government, it is the decision of this Court that the treasure trove found by Curtis Chastain on the land owned by Mister Marcengill, which was formerly the property of the Calloway family, now belongs to the state of South Carolina. Within ten days of this order, the chief law enforcement officer of this jurisdiction shall deliver the coins found on the said property to the state treasurer in Columbia. It is so ordered.”

After making his ruling, Judge Atlee abruptly rose and returned to his chambers. It was several minutes before anyone moved. Tears began to well up in Curtis’ eyes as he digested the full import of the judge’s decision. He would not be returning to town anytime soon.

Buck was the first stand up and to face the others. “Curtis, wipe your eyes and let’s get going back to the farm. We’ve got chores to do before evening and your ma needs to help Miss Ida with supper.”

Buck then addressed the Calloways. “Boys, I sure am sorry for you that things didn’t work out to your liking. But, your granddaddy was right about there being money in swine. He just forgot to tell you that it’s the pigs who get fed and the hogs who get slaughtered.”

___

William J. Watkins, Jr., is a writer and attorney living in Greenville, South Carolina.  His articles have appeared in various publications including The Washington TimesForbes, and USA Today.  He is the author of Reclaiming the American Revolution:  The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Their Legacy (Palgrave 2004). 


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