D. W. "Slim" Blackwell was on the way home late that night. He had just dropped off his girlfriend at her parents' home near the Will Love place, out east of the Cheaney Community. Slim was smiling, knowing that someday he would marry that DeShazo girl and they would make a happy home together.
Slim lived on the west side of Cheaney, out near the old Tom Jones place. It would be a ten minute ride home, but give him time to relive their evening courting in his mind. As Slim neared the center of town, he rode around the sprawling giant oak tree that sat in the middle of the crossroads in front of the Blackwell family store. His road home passed within mere feet of the old wood store's west side. A single hand-operated gas pump stood in front on the south side, its glass globe high atop showing how much fuel had been pumped.
Slim had been in that store on the intersection's northeast corner many times. 'Gotten iced-down bottles of pop out of the red Coca-Cola box just inside the door. Even at noontime, his eyes always had to adjust to the dark interior, being only two small windows for light. Slim had walked the store's squeaky plank floors passing shelves stocked with the day-to-day groceries these farming families might need.
That night, something caught Slim's eye. He saw the back door on the west side open just a crack. Was it good eyesight or was there light sneaking through the opening? We don't know. Times were hard in the 1930s, but stealing from Slim's family wasn't going to be tolerated.
The young man hightailed it to Jesse Blackwell's place to raise the alarm - awakening father Jesse, his son J. B. and young Bud, who all grabbed shotguns. On the way back they grabbed Joe Blackwell from his place just up the road, then Charlie Boswell who lived across the gravel path from the now endangered store.
Scouting around as quietly as they could, the men found the getaway car hidden just north up the road a piece. The night was dark, but the posse was able to see enough to move into position. The bad guy would not get away.
They didn't know if there was one man inside, or two or more. Finding only one car, they knew that at worst it was going to be an even fight. They would at least have the element of surprise. It might be enough.
These were the days before electricity and telephones had reached the Cheaney Community. They could not call for more men. They could not call the sheriff.
The men decided that the miscreant was not going to get away. Like today, there were three roads leading away for escape. They decided to split up into three groups of two and hide up each road a ways for interception. Quietly they moved into position. The trap was set.
As luck would have it, Joe Blackwell and young Bud Blackwell got the station to the south, on the road through Alameda toward Gorman. Large oak trees flanked the dirt road on both sides. Their neighbors' along this dark gravel path had gone to bed many hours before. This late at night, complete silence hung in the air.
A dark figure finally came out of the store, his arms full of plunder. Stepping into the cool night, he had no idea what lay ahead. He walked north up to the trees and got into the car. It sputtered to life. Rather than continue north toward the most obvious ambush, he turned the rattling car around and headed south, right toward Joe and Bud. On a quiet night like that, they had to hear the poppin' engine coming. Straight for them.
Gaining speed, the man roared south down toward the Calvert place - toward Gorman, Desdemona, Alameda - the men didn't know. Stealing from the community's store, he couldn't be from around here. Manning the southern trap, away from where the car had been parked, Bud and Joe could not have known that they'd be fighting a single opponent. They steeled for whatever fight the Ford carried toward them.
We don't know if his headlights were on or if he drove under cover of darkness. Still, the old Ford's engine would have announced the approach. The two men stepped into the roadway, blocking his path. Waving loaded shotguns, they flagged the car down.
The escaping Ford rolled to a stop. The man knew that he had been caught. Full of adrenalin the men must surely have been relieved to be facing only one opponent. Joe and Bud checked in the back of the car and found his loot - groceries and other staples stolen from the store. The sheepish man could not know what would happen next.
Young Bud wanted to go hard on him. No one was going to steal from his dad Jesse and get away with it. "Let him go," Joe Blackwell probably said. "Times are hard and he is just stealin' to feed his family." While stealing wasn't to be condoned, the man was obviously desperate. Probably even embarrassed. He might have been forced to the deed by a houseful of hungry children. It wasn't right, but at least it could be understood. They should go easy on him, Joe said.
Joe appeared to have talked Bud into a little tolerance as they dug some more around the back of the man's car, shotguns still at the ready. Finally, as they neared the floorboards they discovered that the man had also stolen the wash off Joe's wife's clothesline. Joe found his own blue overalls in the back of the man's car. Pulling his overalls out of the car, Joe looked right at the man, anger growing across his face. The man's prayer for leniency would not be answered.
The men from the other two blockades converged on the man's car. After a spirited discussion to decide this man's fate, one of the men was elected to go for the sheriff. The night ended with the loot recovered and the man in the hands of the law. It was a sensation at the time, and a testimony to hard times and to rural justice. That store was founded by the Cheaney family, for whom the community was named. It served its neighbors faithfully for many years. That store would later close, the victim of Jesse Blackwell's generosity and a difficult economic time for families all around. But that night, in Cheaney, Texas - the community's store was saved.
Jeff Clark - Jdclark3312@aol.com
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