ROCKFORD — The Battle of Rockford and 150th anniversary of the Bond School House Shootout took place yesterday, and will continue today in Rockford, in the area surrounding Rockford General Store.
Reenactors from the 7th, 12th, 13th, 21st, 28th, and 63rd N.C. Calvary groups took part, as well as the 24th Virginia Calvary.
Snow began to fall as the reenactors prepared to portray the militia and deserters who were involved in a shoot out on Feb. 12, 1863, in Yadkin County.
The lightly falling snow would normally discourage those who are involved in outdoor activities, but the men, women and children in Rockford were enlivened by the winter weather.
The reason for this excitement was the real-life events behind the historical dramatization: 150 years ago, light snow was falling in the hours before the Bond School House shooting in Yadkin County.
“It was snow-covered ground when this took place, so it couldn’t get better than this,” Dave James from Concord said, as he prepared to join the dramatization as a member of the militia.
James said he has been involved in reenactments for “around 50 years” and became interested because of his fascination with history.
Dave James’ wife Judy became involved with the reenactments when she met her husband. She said she loves the “big family atmosphere” that is a part of the 63rd Calvary group. “It doesn’t matter the rank, everyone pitches in to make this a great experience.” She said she is the cook for the 63rd N.C. Calvary. On the menu for breakfast was bacon, eggs, and sausage with a stew planned for supper, all prepared over an open campfire.
Kevin Cooper of East Bend traveled to Rockford because of his love of history. He became involved around nine years ago, after he attended a reenactment with friends and enjoyed the experience. Cooper is playing the part of one of the men who were hiding in the Bond School House, as well as participating in the Battle of Rockford yesterday and today.
More than 100 people gathered outside of the Rockford General Store to watch the historical dramatization and reenactment of the Bond School House Shooting that occurred between local militia and men hiding in the building near Deep Creek Friends Church.
Brad Craver of Winston-Salem attended with his two sons, one of whom is part of a group of filmmakers, Front Yard Films, who were filming the event. Craver said he has been part of reenactments for 12 years and enjoys attending with his sons. He served as an announcer and coordinator, helping Greg Cheek with the dramatization.
Cheek compiled the script for the first performance of the events, as well as coordinated the scenes. Cheek also served as a narrator for the reenactment. He explained the history behind the events and told the crowd it would not have been possible without books written by the late Frances Casstevens, who passed away in 2009 before she could see her dream fulfilled — she always wanted the story to be told through a dramatic presentation.
The Yadkin County Bond House School Shooting of 1863
The Bond House School Shooting began when Jesse Dobbins, his brother William, and around a dozen men, some of whom were pacifist Quakers, took shelter in the Bond School. The men were evading the conscription laws of the Confederate army, which stated men who lived in North Carolina could be drafted since the state seceded from the United States and joined the Confederacy.
William Dobbins had escaped from the Yadkin County jail, where he was imprisoned after being arrested for “draft dodging.” The group planned to escape the state through the mountains and planned to head west.
A passerby saw the men enter the school and reported the incident to Capt. James West, who was justice of the peace in Yadkinville. West gathered a group of men (numbers range from 15 to as many as 50) in the local militia and headed toward the school, stopping first at the home of Daniel Vestal, a local Quaker.
The reenactors acted out the scenes as Cheek read the narration, pausing for lines from those portraying the individuals who were involved.
While resting at the home of the Vestals, Mrs. Vestal told West that he would be shot if he tried to arrest the men, and said the men were harmless and he should let them go. Despite the warning, West and the militia headed to the school.
When West and the militia arrived, one of the men inside the school fired his gun and killed West instantly after West knocked on the store and demanded the men surrender. A shoot out followed and John Williams also was killed, as well as Eck Allgood, who was the first man to run from the school. Several men from both sides were wounded.
The first person on the scene after the shooting was Jesse Dobbins’ wife, portrayed by Judy James, who discovered John Williams dead near the school.
According to Cheek, local tradition stated that the “Willard boys did most of the shooting, with one member of the militia supposedly reporting that he saw Benjamin Willard shoot Captain West.”
Those who escaped faced indictments and Jesse Dobbins was accused of shooting West. Several surrendered, but Jesse and his brother William escaped to Kentucky and joined an artillery unit. After William died, Jesse returned to Yadkin County after the end of the Civil War, where he faced judgement by many people who still believed he shot West.
All charges were dropped and Dobbins settled down and started a farm and a mill, but he was found dead in his mill in 1883. Cheek said that many local people believed he was murdered by those who still believed he killed West, but this was never proven to be true.
Cheek said many questions remain about the shoot out, but he is proud he could fulfill Casstevens’ dream for a dramatization of the events that took place in Yadkin County. “It was her dream and that was in my heart and I hope we did it justice.”
The first time the dramatization was practiced was Saturday morning, and Cheek said he was impressed by the skills of the reenactors who were involved. “All we did was share the scenario and the reenactors did the great job of really taking on the roles. Plus, we had a good crowd today and it was really encouraging to us — it couldn’t have worked out any better. We had no idea where to do this, then we realized Rockford was the perfect place…it really worked out for us.”
Several descendants of some of the men involved in the shoot out were in the audience and they were recognized at the end of the dramatization.
One descendant was the great-great-grandson of John Williams and another man was descended from a brother of Benjamin Willard, who was in the militia.
Robert West, from Winston-Salem, grew up in Yadkin County and said he had no idea he was descended from Capt. James West until he was 51 years old. West said he was at the Yadkin County Library, researching his family history, when Frances Casstevens approached him and told him she had something she wanted him to read.
“Frances went and found a Yadkin County Heritage book and in it was a picture of him (Captain West). I checked back and I found the link — I was descended from his son, James. Later, I was fortunate enough to go out and see the stepping stone from the old school house where it happened. It was at the edge of a cornfield and as I was standing there I got chills. These guys who did this [reenactment] today walked in the footsteps of history, it was living history.”
Events continue in Rockford today, with a 10:30 a.m. church service in the amphitheater behind the Rockford General Store and the Battle of Rockford, Part 2 at 2 p.m., as well as living history exhibits and military camps that are open to the public. All events are free and family-friendly.
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1933.