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AUTHOR:  Dean Rathbone

The warm sunshine and the serene view beckoned me to my mother’s front porch this afternoon. As I rocked gently in a rocker, she slowly made her way, shuffling behind her walker, to join me. We sat there silently, enjoying the warmth and the peaceful view across the Fines Creek Valley. We hadn’t been sitting there long when we thought that we heard the soft sound of the church bells ringing. Hard of hearing, my 88 year old mother listened intently. “Can you make out what they are saying?” she softly asked me. Someone, not from the valley, would have thought the she was suffering from dementia, but I knew the story behind her words.

Before the Civil War, there was only one Methodist church in the Fines Creek Valley. The congregation was divided. Some families supported the North, and others supported the South, brother against brother. The congregation met and decided to split peacefully. They agreed never to harm each other, and to my knowledge they never did. The two churches developed a code by ringing the bell a certain way to warn of danger. If soldiers or bushwhackers entered the lower end of the valley, someone would ring out the message. The message would be passed on to the upper end of the valley. The church located at the upper end of the valley would do the same if danger entered from that direction. All the able bodied men were fighting on one side or the other. So, the women, children, and the old looked out for one another regardless of political views.

Over the years, the code of the bells has been lost. My mother is one of the few that still remembers parts of it. She has taught me what she remembers. Thankfully, I didn’t have to decipher a message this afternoon. My cousin appeared from the shadows, he had been repairing the metal entrance gate to his farm. The peace of the valley.
My family has attended Fines Creek United Methodist Church since the Civil War. This church was sympathetic to the South. There is a large field to the right of the church called the southern mustering ground. Men from the valley trained there before they went away to fight in the bloody war. The northern mustering grounds is located about 3 miles up the valley. I had ancestors training in both fields. Every Sunday, as I sit in this little church, it seems I can hear them whisper, “Tell our story so that it will not happen again.”

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