Friday, September 26, 2008

Mick’s Barn, A Terrible Blaze

A working barn is filled with a variety of combustible materials, and a barn fire is an impressive thing.
[This is a generic photo of a barn fire]

by David Parmer

A Death Bed Confession

Confession on her death bed made,
An act of long ago.
Death looms and as her life force fades
She seeks kind Heaven’s glow.

Mick’s barn—it was a hot, hot blaze
Three horses trapped inside.
A frightful noise, the horses’ craze
The din with her abides.

An accident, and no intent
To hurt the beasts in there.
As God well knows, no malice meant
At last the truth she bares.

To feed her stock she needed corn
At home, her bins held none.
She knew by six each early morn
The barn man would be gone.

A mere handful of grain she sought
A pittance was her need.
Instead, a guilty conscience was bought
By her long hidden deed. . . .

Claud Mick, Rural Mail Carrier
As a rural mail carrier in Orlando, Claud Mick knew the value of a good horse. The mail routes out of Orlando were long and tiring on both man and beast. A mail carrier knew that at least two reliable horses were vital for the arduous mail routes and that his four-footed companions needed good care and pampering.

When he first became a rural mail carrier, Claud rented barn space for his horses. It was important to give rest to the tired horse and recuperation to the horse which might be down in his oats. Claud had rented stables from both Mike Moran and Sandy Tulley but soon decided that he needed a barn of his own.
A New Barn
Around 1926, Claud arranged for the construction of a barn near the western foot of the Orlando hill, near the Matthews home. According to his son Chick, his dad hauled rough-cut lumber to the planing mill in Burnsville by horse and wagon to be planed and used in the barn construction. The barn, approximately twenty four feet wide and thirty feet long, with an added lean-to for a cow, was of two story construction with a haymow on the second floor. The barn had three fifteen foot stalls. There was also room in the barn for a corn crib which had been rat-proofed by tightly woven wire. The barn was well-roofed with tin sheeting. Of course, since there was not yet any electricity in Orlando, oil lanterns were used for lighting. The barn had two doors on the roadside front and two doors at the hillside rear. After the barn was finished, Claud found the barn to very commodious and satisfactory for his horses. He felt well-served with the barn while he was the rural mail carrier.

Claud Becomes Postmaster
In 1927, Claud was appointed as the new postmaster in Orlando. The days of riding the long and grueling mail route were days of the past for Claud and his horses were granted a reprieve from the monotonous mail route. There was still however plenty of work for a self-respecting horse. Although automobiles were starting to appear with more regularity, their reliability was mostly limited to dry weather months, and even then, roads were so rutted by the spring usage, the horseless carriage had its limits. Horses still were needed for plowing, mowing, hauling and other jobs requiring brute force, such as timber skidding.

The Winter of 1940-1941
The winter of 1940-1941 was once again a cold winter, as had been the winters for four decades. Dale Barnett recalls Claud Mick’s barn as a well-built barn and comfortable for the animals it housed. The corn crib was full of corn and the upstairs mow was full of a new load of hay. During this winter Claud had two horses and Cecil Skinner boarded a horse of his own in the barn. Cecil was a teamster and worked with horses each day. He also took care of feeding and tending to Claud’s horses, which, from time to time, Cecil used on jobs. During the winter of 1940-1941, Cecil was skidding logs off the hill for Lee Blake who had his saw mill set up on the farm of Duck Bee, below Orlando. It was Cecil’s routine to go to the barn early each morning prior to his own breakfast to feed and tend to Claud’s horses and cow which was housed in the lean-to of the barn. After taking care of the stock, Cecil would then go home, eat breakfast and return to the barn to get the horses ready for work. This routine was well-known to most Orlando residents. Although it was also the routine for Cecil to lock the roadside doors, it was also common knowledge that the doors to the barn at the rear were left unlocked.

A Fire
Cecil returned home for breakfast. A short time later, fourteen year old Junior Hurst, who lived on the hill above with his parents, Worthington and Jenette Hurst, glanced out of his bedroom window toward the bottom of the hill toward his uncle Claud Mick's barn. Smoke was rolling out from under the tin roof of the barn. Recognizing immediately that the barn was on fire, Junior dressed quickly and ran to

his Uncle Claud's to report the fire. Chick Mick recalls that his father hurriedly put on a pair of house slippers and ran down the hill toward the barn, losing both house slippers en route. As he ran down the hill, Claud could hear the screaming horses kicking the stalls trying to escape the flames. The cow was bellowing and the barn was fully in flame. Claud reached the front of the
barn but found the doors padlocked. Looking through the crack of the door, Claud could see the white horse which was frantically kicking the stall, its back already burned black from the fire. As
Claud ran around the barn to go in the back way to rescue the animals, the roof of the barn collapsed onto the animals, killing them, if they were not already dead. Nothing more could be done.

The fire continued to burn after the collapse of the roof. All the stock was dead. The corn in the crib was destroyed as was the newly delivered load of hay. The harness and a cowboy saddle were now ashes. The carcasses of the animals had not been consumed by the flames and lay like ashen monuments amid the rubble.

Right: Worthington "Junior "Hurst, Jr. See Junior Hurst's story in the Mar '07 entry Worthington Hurst Jr., Fallen Soldier

The Aftermath
As the insurance man wrote a check on the spot for two hundred dollars which was the full value of the policy, he gave his sympathies to Claud and Cecil for their respective losses which far exceeded the amount of the policy. The men discussed the location of the lantern in the burned debris which lay in the area of the corn crib instead of where it had been left by Cecil when he left the barn earlier. Obviously, the lantern had been moved, but for what cause the men pondered. There were no witnesses and no amount of conjecture could replace the barn or restore life to the animals.

The winter was a cold one and the ground was frozen. The carcasses of the animals were now open to the elements and had to be disposed of. No hole large enough could be dug in the frozen earth to bury them. Slabs from Lee Blake’s sawmill operation were hauled to the barn site and the unfortunate beasts were moved to a common pile and covered with slabs creating a funeral-like pyre. Slabs were burned for two days until nothing was left of the animals except skeletal remains.

It was a grisly scene. Passersby stopped and asked who could do such a thing to defenseless animals and that the perpetrator should burn in hell. No one was brought to justice for this senseless, or perhaps merely a careless act.
It would be many years before the mystery would be solved; the solution came in a deathbed confession. Time heals many things but perhaps not a guilty conscience. The few who know of her confession keep the penitent woman's secret to this day.

. . . It was a lantern that she brushed
Which fell into the hay;
Flames spread so fast and out she rushed
Home, at the break of day.

Smoke she saw and smell of death
Lay heavy on her brow
And for years purloined her breath,
With corn and memory foul.

Long years passed by and green grass grows
O’er ashes of the barn,
Seasons change but truth endures even ‘neath the snow,
And time her heart can’t darn.

Now life has run its course at last;
The sand is running low;
Grace now she seeks for a dark sin past
In search of Heaven’s glow.


  1. To his dying day my grandfather grieved the loss of his horses. He passed in 1986 and never knew what had really happened. I hope he has found peace in these words.
    Claud M Mick III aka Mickey

  2. Claud M Mick 111 aka Mickey I am trying to locate some of my kin folks who was born in orlando Burnsville area. My fsther was Dewey Fred Mick (his father was James A Mick and mother was Dora Bird)