But wait a minute! This is not the France of Louis XIV! This is America, during the so called "Jacksonian age", when liberty was at its highest. Although most Americans were not allowed to vote, those white men who were allowed to vote did so enthusiastically. So how could a feudal landlord rule over the lives of 300,000 farmers?
Well, history ain't just a series of facts and dates. Just because we proclaimed ourselves a democracy on July 4, 1776, did not mean that all men were suddenly equal. Poor whites, all blacks, and all women all had to fight for their right to participate in our democracy.
The sheriff, after receiving a threatening letter from a tenant farmer, decided to send the deputy in his place to collect rent. Most farmers had no money to pay, so either their grain was taken or their livestock sold. That day, the deputy's job was to sell the cow and pigs belonging to Moses Earle.
The deputy, gun at his side, rides his horse up the lane towards the Earle farm. In a thicket to the side of the road, the deputy thinks he spies an Indian staring at him through the bush. But that would be impossible! Indians had disappeared from these parts over a century earlier.
"Bum-badah-deee!" The tinny blaring of a horn goes off in the thicket.
The echoing sound of the horn is met by another horn tooting in the distance. In less than a minute, the whole valley is squealing with the noise of tin horns trumpeting. This makes the deputy nervous, but he has to do his job. He cannot come back empty handed.
The deputy arrives on at the Earle house to find Moses sitting with his wife and kids on the porch. They look like a ragged bunch, clothes in tatters, mud on the kids' cheeks. It almost hurts to take the animals away from people who are doing so badly already. Will taking their cow away help them in the long run?
The deputy remembers that it was not his job to ask questions, and so he proceeds to the front porch.
"You Moses Earle?" the deputy asks.
"Yessir," a thin, wiry man with a bushy mustache responds, "I am Moses and this here's my family."
The wife offers a smile that is painful to look at. The kids, all nine of them, are too awestruck by the visiting deputy to do anything other than look up with wide eyes.
"I am the deputy-Sheriff from Rensselaer county." the deputy says, "Is your barn out back?"
Without waiting for a reply the deputy walks right past the house and towards the old, dilapidated barn house. Inside, Bessie is chewing her cud. She's not much of a cow, her ribs stand out at the sides and she barely gives enough milk to feed the kids. Still, she keeps the kids chubby, and that is important in the cold northeastern winters.
"I'll be back momentarily to take the pigs," the deputy says as he leads Bessie past the lean farming family.
"Oh no you won't," says a deep voice from out of the wood.
The deputy stops in his tracks and turns to see an Indian with a tin horn around his neck holding a musket.
"You're not going anywhere with this man's cow," the man dressed as an Indian says evenly, "you had better make yourself scarce."
The deputy knows that he cannot return empty handed to the Sheriff. He also believes that he can fire his gun faster than any backcountry hillbilly. He grips his pistol, getting ready to fire at the Indian.
Threats are exchanged. More pretend Indians pop out of the bush. Suddenly, a shot rings out, and then another. When the smoke clears, the deputy is lying dead with his hand sill tightly holding the rope to the cow.
Whoops! Somebody is going to get in trouble for this!
These were some exciting times! It was like Robin Hood comes to America. Sheriffs, deputies, and rent-collectors came back from their outings naked, tarred & feathered, and sometimes dead. The poor were striking back against the rich. It was a time of lawlessness and revenge, and a doctor who traveled by horse was leading it all.
"I could not stand idle," he wrote, "and see thousands deprived of their natural and, as I conceived, social and legal rights."
He would talk to patients around the countryside about the importance of true democracy. He gave many speeches in meetinghouses and taverns. During those speeches, he would explain the advantages of standing up to their oppressor together. He was such an exhilarating speaker that he was given the Indian name, Big Thunder.
But is the fight really over?
Is it time for a new Robin Hood, a new Big Thunder to take the scene?
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