When Robert Frost wrote the line, "Good fences make good neighbors," in his poem Mending Wall in 1914, a character in the exchange was concerned about keeping cows in their proper place.
What's less well-known is that a Columbia County livestock dispute provided the inspiration for Frost's poem, and for a modern celebration that will be held Sunday.
The year was 1774. Two gentlemen farmers, in an area not too far from what we now know as Patriots Park, were engaged in a not-so-neighborly argument about a fence.
Thomas Brown, who founded the now-defunct Columbia County town of Browns-borough, wasn't doing a very good job of keeping his pigs penned. William Few, who later became a signer of the U.S. Constitution, had grown exasperated with chasing the foraging pigs out of his corn crop.
Finally, Few could take it no more. On a warm July afternoon, after herding all but one of the errant pigs through Brown's porous fence, Few sent one of his workers to demand Brown come out to the gate.
As Brown strolled to the edge of his property to respond to the summons, he was startled to see Few, with shirt-sleeves rolled to his elbows, holding the front and back legs of a young piglet.
"Hey there, William, what are you doing with my shoat?" Brown reportedly shouted. "I'm returning 'im to you, Tom," said Few. He then swung the young pig by the legs and tossed the squealing critter, which struck Brown in the chest.
The pig wasn't hurt, nor was Brown. But no fence would make good neighbors out of the two men after that day. Few soon signed on to fight the British, and Brown sympathized with the Crown.
History holds that Brown eventually came out the loser. While he survived the war, he was exiled to the Bahamas; Few's family inherited Brownsborough as the spoils of war.
To commemorate the "squeal heard 'round the county," Columbia County Recreation Department officials inaugurated the Pig Throw at the 2003 July 4th celebration at Patriots Park. Contestants again Sunday will gather for competitive pig-hurling.
And some people just aren't happy about it.
"Assuming this contest includes live pigs," huffs Pamela Muraca of Aiken in a scalding e-mail to local officials and the district attorney. "I am notifying you in writing that this violates animal cruelty laws and that the contest must be cancelled."
Well, "assuming" Ms. Muraca is really interested, she'll perhaps be enlightened to know that Co-lumbia County's "pig-tossing" contest uses rubber pigs. And it doesn't commemorate anything, because I made up most of the above story.
It took a few minutes and a little research to do so. Few and Brown are real characters, you see, and much of the information in this tale is true. But there never was, as far as we know, any dispute between the two of them over livestock.
If Ms. Muraca had spent even less time, she could have picked up a phone and found that no live animals are used in the Patriots Park event. Then, perhaps, we would have avoided her hyperventilating threat to call in the cops, animal welfare agencies, the national media and (gasp!) lawyers to shut down Columbia County's July 4th festivities.
But then, that "assumes" Ms. Muraca and similar spoilsport busybodies would be interested in finding out the truth instead of looking for reasons to get their activist pork rinds in a wad.
Perhaps the day will come when such people will take careful aim before jumping to conclusions and firing off such complaints, especially when the results could make them look absurdly silly.
Yeah, that'll happen. When pigs fly.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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