Travels through Linden, Alabama, with a local desperado.

Linden, the seat of Marengo County, was founded in 1823 by French settlers who came to Alabama after the fall of Napoleon. It’s name was orginally Hohenlinden, commemorating the French victory over the Austrians in 1880. Civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy hailed from Linden, but its current attractions are for those who appreciate beauty muted by age.

It is a small town of the sort that would horrify boosters and lead New Jerseyites to mutter a stream of epithets about “dying” and “rural decay”. For all intensive purposes, Linden has been buried by the decline of agriculture and the rise of the smokestack towns.

The inviting road behind First Missionary Baptist Church.

So it is fitting that we stopped to stretch our legs and explore Linden’s history in a charming cemetery where trees embroidered with Spanish moss remained unmoved by local winds.

Like all Coryell family discoveries, this, too, was an accident. We stopped in the parking lot of a nondescript First Missionary Baptist Church because Milla’s fire ant bites required immediate attention and the din from the backseat had reached undrive-able proportions.

Max wandered around the gravestones and decided that he would take it upon himself to right all the fallen vases stuffed with colorful plastic Chinese flowers- his tribute to the deceased and their families.

I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that watching his growing hands tenderly reset the a dozen vases moved me somehow.

A gravestone from an early Linden dweller who was born in 1848.

Some of the names leaned German or Dutch rather than French.

Patrick shared a story from our beloved The WPA Guide to 1930’s Alabama– a book that should be somewhere in every Alabama household or vehicle ready to spark imaginations. As the kids sat playing with blades of grass between tombs and gravestones, he read the story of Rube Burrow:

“Widespread attention was centered on the town in 1880 when Rube Burrow, one of the South’s most notorious desperadoes, was killed here while attempting an escape. He had been captured the previous day and brought to Linden for safekeeping. At the county jail, when his captors found that the sheriff was out of town and that there were no keys to the cell blocks, Burrow was handcuffed, placed in a chair, and bound securely with a stout rope. Several members of the posse then went in search of the sheriff, leaving the prisoner in the custody of two armed guards. Until after midnight, Burrow joked with the guards and recounted his exploits. As dawn approached, he asked the guards to hand him some cakes from his knapsack. Satisfied that the bag contained only food, they passed it to Burrow, who asked that his handcuffs be removed. When this was done, he opened the knapsack, took out some corn cakes, and ate silently for several minutes. He reached into the sack again, but this time brought out two .45 caliber pistols, and forced the guards to release him. But on the main street he was met by one of the possemen who shot and killed him.”

It is said that African-American folk songs from this area still include endless verses about that “bad Rube Burrow”. You can learn more from the Alabama Folklife Association’s journals.

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