“It’s challenging for a woman in 1862 to achieve anything beyond motherhood … but not impossible.” The Yankee Tigress, Samantha Lee
This Yankee Tigress graphic ©2020 by Dakota Orlando and drawn by Nancy Niharika. Click her name to see her art.
Thursday Morning, June 12, 1862
The Honorable Judge Henry Wainwright stared at me. “I do believe this is your witness.”
Saint Lucifer! It’s arrived at last. I get to stand before the court gallery as they listen to my every word and watch my every move.
I glanced at Mr. Benjamin Talmadge Sage, Esquire. Don’t worry, mentor, I won’t let you down.
I rose from my seat beside Mr. Sage at the prosecution table, and, with slow, precise steps, strolled to the witness stand. Remember Mr. Lincoln’s advice … ‘Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other thing.’
Mr. Runnels, a most slovenly dressed man with large, yellow teeth, leaned far to one side, gnawing and sucking at the bulge in his cheek. He smacked his fleshy lips, revealing a plug of tobacco, which oozed a continuous flow of dark-brown juice from the corners of his mouth. Several stains marked the front of his button-up shirt.
“Well ….” Judge Wainwright’s voice penetrated my thoughts. “Have you decided on a staring contest as your mode of cross-examination?” Those in the gallery snickered.
Mr. Runnels snorted and looked at the judge. “You ain’t trying to pull my legs clean out of their sockets, are you?” He pointed at me. “A female lawyer? The courts ain’t been overrun by insane asylum escapees, has they?”
The judge banged his gavel. “You shall be civil whilst in my court, Mr. Runnels. Miss Samantha Lee has spent two years in training as an apprentice. How well she does today on her first complete cross-examination will determine whether or not she’ll stand before the bar Saturday next.”
“Saturday?” Mr. Runnels whisked his hand through his disheveled hair. “The court is open Saturdays?”
“This court is open every Saturday for all business except jury trials … and has been for years.”
Mr. Runnels laughed and pointed at me. “She’s gonna see you on Saturday, and you’re gonna give her a law license?” He shook his head. “You let a woman in the courts, and trials are gonna take twice as long.” He harrumphed. “Twice as long, I say.”
Judge Wainwright pointed his gavel at Mr. Runnels. “You hush now and answer her questions.” He raised the gavel. “Just humor me.”
“All right.” Mr. Runnels straightened. “But she better let me get a word in edgeways.” The gallery chuckled.
“Continue, Miss Lee.”
I tried to imagine how everyone would perceive me, gliding around in my green day dress and a frilly white blouse, my hair flashing like a bright-red lighthouse beacon. I stepped closer to the witness and smiled. A sneering face glowered back. I changed my demeanor abruptly by glaring and leaning towards him. “Mr. Runnels, where were you on April nineteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-one?”
“You know where I was.” He grunted. “Your first question,” he looked at the judge, “… and it’s a stupid one.” The gallery exploded with laughter.
The gavel banged, and I waved a hand towards Judge Wainwright. “It’s all right, Your Honor. I’ll happily explain it to him if there is no objection.”
I pointed to a man sitting at a small table to the left of the prosecutor’s table. “Do you see Mr. Styles?”
Mr. Styles looked up and lowered his pen.
I stepped towards him. “He is the official stenographer for this trial. He’s sitting there with his four-dollar, gold pen, a price inflated since the war started last year. He writes everything into the record.” I edged forwards and swung a hand towards Judge Wainwright, our table, the defense table, and the people in the gallery as I spoke. “I ask questions to which everyone, doubtless, knows the answers, so they can be entered into the official record.”
I lowered my hands and clasped them. “Now, if you will, please answer the question.”
Mr. Runnels shrugged and lifted one hand, palm up. “Well, you took so dad-blamed long that I forgot the dang question.” Mild laughter rolled through the gallery, and the gavel banged again.
“Do not encourage this witness in his rude behavior,” the judge snapped at the gallery.
I drew my hands to my waist. “Where were you on April nineteenth, eighteen hundred and sixty-one?”
Mr. Runnels wrapped his forefinger and thumb around his chin and rubbed. “Let’s see … that was over a year since.” He brightened and shoved the index finger into the air. “Ah, I was near Philadelphia Station watching them Union troops march through these here streets on their way to Washington.”
“Are you from Baltimore?”
“I sure as hell ain’t.”
“Arkansas. Fort Smith.”
“And what are you doing in Baltimore?”
I watched the rolls of fat on each side of his neck bulge alternately as he pressed his pudgy lips together and bounced his head from side to side. “Oh, I don’t know. It seemed like a nice place to visit.”
I stepped to the side and faced the jury. “Is it because Baltimore is a city awash in Southern dissent … or is it because you were disillusioned that Maryland did not secede from the Union?”
He leaned towards the judge and pointed at me. “Does she have to talk like a book?”
“Yes,” Judge Wainwright said. “I allow that she may very well receive her law license Saturday next. All lawyers ought to talk like books.”
Mr. Runnels sat back and snickered. “Funny, I ain’t never heared no book say the first word.” More laughter rose from the gallery.
The gavel banged again. “Mr. Runnels, do not make a mockery of my court, or you shall warm a jail bench for a few days.” He glared at the gallery. “And I’ll warn our visitors not to encourage the witness’s antics, or I’ll encourage you right out of this courtroom.”
After Mr. Runnels’s face sobered, I approached him. “Did you travel East to cause dissension?”
He narrowed his eyes. “Course not. I don’t care about no dad-blamed war.” He laughed. “I’m a man of peace, I am.”
I sauntered to the prosecution table, where Mr. Sage handed me two sheets of paper. I took one to Mr. Farmer’s defense table and the other to the judge. “Your Honor, please allow me to enter this document into the record. You hold in your hands an intercepted note concerning Mr. Runnels’s actual reason for being in Baltimore. You have the original note, sir.” I looked at Mr. Farmer. “And you, sir, have a transcribed copy.”
I edged towards the jury and looked from one set of eyes to another. “This note is from a Mr. Quarrels. It contains information on where Southern dissidents meet to plan harassment of Northern troops passing through on Baltimore’s railway system.”
I turned towards Mr. Runnels. “Anyone arriving at Philadelphia station, whose destination is south of Baltimore, must disembark and wait for the railroad cars to be disengaged. Horses then pull them along tracks to the Camden station. Usually, passing troops form up and wait nearby. They march up Lombard to Hanover Street, out Hanover to Camden, then to the train depot. This makes them susceptible to harassment along the way, does it not, Mr. Runnels?”
He looked away. “Susceptible?”
“Vulnerable,” I said.
“I suppose so.”
“And that is the real reason you came all the way from Arkansas to be in Baltimore, is it not?”
Mr. Runnels threw back his head. “It most certainly ain’t.”
“Did you bring a weapon with you from Fort Smith?”
He rocked his head from side to side. “Well … I always carry my Arkansas toothpick with me.” He thrust forwards. “But that ain’t no weapon.”
I stepped towards him. “No? A long-bladed Bowie knife … and you don’t consider that a weapon?”
“No. It’s simply a tool.”
“A formidable tool that can nearly plunge all the way through a man’s torso.”
“I ain’t never used it for that.”
“What then … to pick your teeth?”
Mr. Farmer jumped to his feet. “Your Honor, I must object.”
I turned to the judge. “I’ll withdraw the last question, Your Honor.”
The defense attorney leaned on his table with both hands. “I still object.”
“And what is the nature of your objection, Mr. Farmer?”
“Mr. Runnels is not on trial here. We are seeking to determine the guilt or innocence of Mr. Baines.” He pointed to his client seated next to the other defense attorney. “He is accused of throwing a few pebbles at some Massachusetts’ regiments.”
Mr. Sage rose. “Scarcely pebbles. Rocks, all of them … except for the half-brick that struck one soldier in the head.” He looked at the judge. “He was detained for weeks to recover from the vicious wound he sustained through this violent act.”
“Your Honor,” I approached the bench, “it goes to the intent of this witness … his possible lack of political impartiality.” I turned and stared at Mr. Farmer. “How can someone who comes here fraught with Confederate sentiment be impartial at an event where citizens attacked U.S. troops?” Furious jabbering erupted at the defense table.
The gavel banged. “I shall accept it into the record. Now, may we continue?” The lawyers sat as I approached Mr. Runnels again.
“Let’s remain on the task at hand, Mr. Runnels. Please tell us what you witnessed concerning the defendant.”
He pointed to the defense table. “Mr. Baines?” He jerked his hand onto his lap. “Right. I was watching the goings-on when I seen this man, the one that turned out to be Baines …. I seen him scurrying amongst the common people picking up stones and putting them in his pockets. Everyone else was shouting dirty words and insults … some throwing rocks. Bigguns, too!”
I folded my arms. “And what did Mr. Baines do with the rocks?”
Mr. Runnels lowered his head and furrowed his brow. “What do you mean? I just told you. He put them rocks in his pockets.” The gallery laughed.
I shook my head. “I meant, what did he do with the rocks once they were in his pockets?”
“He looked around a spell … then he broke from the crowd. I followed him, and some few streets away, he took them stones and pitched them in a ditch.”
“And where did he go after that?”
He flung a hand out to one side. “Away. He walked away from the ruckus. I figured he was done, so I just went on back to my hotel.”
“But you don’t know for certain that he returned to his home, do you?”
He squirmed. “I said, I figured he did.”
“Well, isn’t it true that figuring isn’t necessarily knowing?”
He drew his elbows in. “I don’t know the law. That’s for you pettifogging lawyers to know.”
I ambled towards Mr. Sage and raised my eyebrows. He nodded ever so slightly. I spun. “Mr. Runnels, do you know a Mrs. Strudelmeier?”
“Were you aware that she testified for the prosecution?”
“Course not. We ain’t allowed in the courtroom ’cept to testify. We dunno nothing about the case ’cept what we know.”
I glanced at the jury and stepped towards Mr. Runnels. “Please give me leave to restate that for you.” I stopped and turned to the jury. “Mr. Runnels, in fact, any witness, only knows what goes on in a courtroom during the brief time in which they testify. They do not have knowledge of the facts of the trial.” I turned towards the witness stand. “Mr. Runnels, you know naught about the trial except for what you witnessed here today, isn’t that right?”
His face contorted as he scrunched lower. “Guess so.”
I inched closer. “You appear to be in a bad way. Could you speak a little louder, sir?”
He stiffened. “That’s the way it is. It ain’t my fault.”
Mr. Farmer stood. “Accounts of trials are reported in the tabloids, isn’t that correct, Mr. Runnels?”
“Course they are.”
“Thank you.” Mr. Farmer sat again.
I directed my attention to Mr. Runnels. “Are you literate?”
He squinted, looked at the judge, then back at me. “What do you mean?”
I leaned on the rail in front of him. “Can you read?”
“Well,” he looked around, “never had no book learning, if that’s what you mean.”
Mr. Farmer stood. “I object, Your Honor.”
“State the nature of the objection.”
“Miss Lee is straying off-topic. She started by mentioning Mrs. Strudelmeier’s testimony.” He extended a hand to the jury. “A testimony that we all are familiar with, and then she drops the subject like a hot coal.”
Judge Wainwright raised a hand. “Let the coals tend to themselves. I’m curious as to where Miss Lee is endeavoring to go with this.” He looked at me. “Please. Do go on … and try to be brief. The moment I detect a lack of direction … you’re done.”
I nodded. “Yes, Your Honor.”
I turned to Mr. Runnels with my hands on my hips. “So, no book learning means you cannot read. Is that correct?”
He stared at his clenched hands. “S’pose so.”
“Then, you cannot know the circumstances of the trial … correct?”
He looked up and glared. “I heared tell.”
“I heared others talk of it.”
“And where were you when you heard people discussing the trial?”
“At the Horse.”
I snapped my head back. “The Horse? Baltimore’s most famous … or should I say … most infamous pub?” I spread my arms. “Oh, indeed. The Horse You Came in on bar in Fells Point. The leading establishment for gossip and slander.” I folded my arms and stepped away. “Scarcely a reliable source.” I lowered my arms. “And how many who spoke of the trial were drunk?”
“I object, Your Honor,” Mr. Farmer said without standing.
Judge Wainwright tapped the gavel once. “Hurry this along, Miss Lee. Let’s get to the point before dinner.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” I walked away from Mr. Runnels. “So, did you hear of Mrs. Strudelmeier’s testimony?”
“Of course not.”
I spun. “No?”
Mr. Runnels wavered unsteadily in his seat. “Oh, no, no, no.” He smiled. “Nope.”
Judge Wainwright sat back. “Are you intoxicated now, sir?”
“No, sir-ree bob!”
“You had better not be, or I’ll fine you five dollars for the ree and ten for the bob.” He winked at me.
I nodded and turned to the jury. “Mr. Runnels, Mrs. Strudelmeier testified yesterday that she helped Mr. Baines collect rocks and watched him throw them at the Massachusetts troops. What say you to that?”
Mr. Runnels shook his head. “It’s a lie. I saw no such thing.”
“Tell me, Mr. Runnels, did you come from The Horse before happening upon the riot?”
“Of course not.”
I moved closer. “You were drunk before you showed up to watch Mr. Baines, weren’t you?”
He shot his arms to his sides. “I was not drunk.”
I raised my hands and marched towards the jury. “You were drunk out of your mind and had no idea what was going on at the riot. Isn’t that right?”
His heavy-soled boot stomped the floor. “That ain’t true! You’re putting words in my mouth!”
I spun and faced Mr. Runnels. “You’re not interested in justice unless it can be found in a bottle, are you?”
He stabbed a finger at me and looked around the courtroom. “That’s a lie! You’re a liar!”
I treaded towards him. “You came along as drunk as Dionysus, witnessed the commotion, and went to investigate. Did you throw a few stones of your own?”
He smacked a hand on the rail before him. “I never done no such thing!”
Reaching him, I glared. “You came here to get information on how to disrupt just such a scene. You had an ax to grind, didn’t you?”
“Well … yes …. Uh, no. I ain’t got no ax to grind.”
“And isn’t that a strong indication of how much you hate Yankees?”
“Yeah, I hate Yankees, but I ain’t lying about Mr. Baines!”
“Yes, you are. You, doubtless, threw rocks along with him. Isn’t that the truth?”
“No, it’s not!”
I stepped to the rail. “You had rocks in your pockets, pulled them out, and threw them, didn’t you?”
“I did no such thing!”
I leaned over the rail. “You hated Yankees so much that you couldn’t stand seeing them on what you perceived to be Southern soil!”
He jumped to his feet. “You’re lying!”
I pounded on the rail. “Am I? There they were, visiting a state that ought to have seceded, and you couldn’t resist availing yourself of the opportunity, could you?”
“Yeah, they was in the South, and I wanted to get them Yankee scum out … but, as God is my witness, I didn’t throw nothing!”
“So, how much did Mr. Baines pay you to lie for him?”
“Ten dol …!” He whipped a hand to his mouth as his brows shot upward. He looked as if a horse had recently stepped on his foot.
I looked at Mr. Farmer, his head in his hands. Glancing at Mr. Runnels, I smiled. “Ten dollars. I see.” I walked towards the judge. “I have no more questions for this witness, Your Honor.”
Mr. Styles winked at me as I ambled back to the prosecution table. I winked back.
This Yankee Tigress graphic ©2020 by Dakota Orlando. Rebecca Howard drawn by Alexandra S. Click her name to see her art.
Judge Wainwright’s searching gaze settled on the defense attorney. “Any re-cross of Mr. Runnels?”
“No, Your Honor.” Mr. Farmer shook his head. “The defense rests.”
The judge looked at Mr. Sage. “And the prosecution has rested?”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
The judge raised his gavel. “Miss Lee and Mr. Sage, please approach the bench after the courtroom clears.” He looked at the gallery. “This court is adjourned for dinner. We shall reconvene at two p.m. for summations.” He banged the gavel once.
Amidst noisy chatter, the gallery rose and filed out.
“You seem to have created a great deal of vigor in this courtroom today.” Mr. Sage smiled.
I returned it. “Did I give a satisfactory performance?”
“For content, it couldn’t have gone better, but the vocabulary …?” He tilted his head and smirked. “If you admire Mr. Lincoln so much, speak the common man’s language. Do not endeavor to impress the judge.”
I nodded as we rose. Catching movement from the corner of my eye, I turned to discover my best friend among the departing throng. Wearing an exuberant grin, she waved her hands most vigorously.
Rebecca? I returned her wave. She pointed towards the exit and nodded. I returned her nod, and she left the courtroom.
“Is that Miss Howard? It’s nice to have your friend here to champion your cause.”
“I have not a clue that she would be here, but since she is, maybe the three of us could take dinner together?”
“I must have time to prepare. I’ll do the summation this afternoon, then I’ll see you bright and early Saturday morning next … ten a.m. for your oral law exam.”
“Saint Lucifer!” I clasped a hand to my bosom. “Do you really think that I am ready … that I am able … strong enough?”
“Let me refer you to that Shakespeare quote you and your friend like to bandy about, ‘O, tiger’s heart, wrapped in a woman’s hide.’”
“I’ll have the opportunity to take the orals, then?”
“I will recommend so to the judge. I strongly feel that he is of the same mind.”
“Do you think the verdict on Mr. Baines will be in before Saturday?”
“It ought to happen tomorrow sometime. You spend your time studying. Do you have Bouvier’s Law Dictionary memorized?”
“Not quite.” I sighed. “But I will by Saturday.”
The gavel banged. “Members of the prosecution …. let’s hurry. I am famished.”
I sauntered to the defense table and held out my hand. “You were simply splendid, Mr. Farmer. I learned an exceeding amount from your trial prowess.” We shook hands. Stepping back, I clutched mine to my chest. “You once told me, at the start of the trial, that I stuck out like an elephant at a train station. Well, Mr. Lincoln once said, ‘When you have got an elephant by the hind legs, and she is trying to run away, it’s best to let her run.’” His laugh allowed me to join him. He’s taking it in good spirit. “No hard feelings?”
He shook his head. “I wish you luck on Saturday. One word of advice, though … drop the ten-dollar words and speak to the people.”
I smiled. “I will.”
“Miss Lee,” Judge Wainwright said. “Mr. Sage and I are waiting.”
“Yes, Your Honor.” I approached them.
The judge raised his eyebrows. “Well, you, indeed, look happy with yourself, and you ought to be. That’s about the finest performance from an apprentice attorney I’ve ever seen.”
I grinned. “Thank you, Your Honor.”
“However, one would think, since you admire Mr. Lincoln’s courtroom style so much, that you would ease back on the fancy-pants words.”
“So I have been told.” I bit my lower lip. “Well, since I don’t wear pants, I suppose I’ll make my words less fancy.”
He laughed. “Are you ready to take the exam Saturday next?”
My eyebrows stretched towards my hairline. “I may take the orals?”
“Yes, you may. Ten a.m. sharp … for all the good it will do you. Only someone who has been adjudicated mentally incompetent will hire you. You will be the first woman in this country to have certification to practice law … and the only lawyer to have no clientele on whom to practice it.”
I nodded, then slowly smiled. “It’s challenging for a woman in 1862 to achieve anything beyond motherhood … but not impossible.”
He grinned. “You’re just stubborn enough.” Waving a hand, he shooed me away. “Now, go. Study hard, and I hope you pass. Not many apprentices do on the first attempt.”
Mr. Sage and I strolled towards the courtroom exit. “You know,” he said, “everyone’s been humoring you … even your father.”
“I know it, but it has gotten me to this point.”
“If he weren’t the owner of the most productive plantation in the State of Maryland, you would not be here.”
I nodded. “I count my lucky stars every night, sir.”
He shook his head. “The abolitionist daughter of the largest slaveholding plantation …. Now, that’s an oxymoron if ever I heard one.”
I turned and smiled. “Let’s keep it in the common man’s language, Mr. Sage. It’s a contradiction.”
He laughed as we breezed through the exit. “How did your father ever allow you to apprentice?”
“He thinks it’s a farce, but he knew it would keep me at bay for two years … and keep my mind off Mama’s passing.”
I looked ahead and watched Rebecca hurrying towards us.
She hugged me, then pulled away. “You were brilliant!” She turned to my mentor. “She’s such a tigress in the courtroom, isn’t she, Mr. Sage?”
“Sam has a real tiger’s heart, wrapped in a woman’s hide.”
Rebecca stared at me and grinned. “You told him our little Shakespearian secret … and how we used to act out the scenes?”
“Of course, I did,” I said. “I didn’t think you would mind.” I glanced at him. “We’ll make him one of the girls and allow him the privilege of acting out all the male roles.”
He raised a hand. “Me? Oh, no. I am horrid when it comes to the stage.”
Rebecca giggled and hugged me again. “Well, you are lucky that he agreed to take you as his apprentice because no one else would have you.”
As she pulled away, tears blurred my vision. “That’s true enough.” I turned to Mr. Sage. “I most assuredly thank you, sir. Without you, I could never have achieved such a lofty goal.”
Rebecca raised an eyebrow. “Will you hire this fearsome Yankee tigress, Mr. Sage?”
“It’s not up to me. As a prosecutor, I work for the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Baltimore City.”
I nodded. “And there’s no way the courts would allow a woman to represent them. No, I’ll hang out my own shingle.”
He smiled. “However, if you find you require a recommendation, I will pen you the finest.”
Mr. Sage wished us a good day and departed. Rebecca and I strode arm-in-arm along the boardwalk.
Rebecca swept a hand from left to right. “Sam Lee, Attorney-at-Law. That’s what you ought to use as your name. Not Samantha. Then, when clients show up, you can pretend to be Sam’s clerk. They’ll never know till you arrive for trial.” She laughed.
I smiled. “That would, indeed, be quite unethical.”
“It would only take one client. You’d be so brilliant in the courtroom … like today … and they would flock to you like robins returning in the spring.”
“Oh, but a dream for dreams’ sake.”
“Quoting Shakespeare again?”
“No.” I repeated her hand gesture, spelling out my name and title. “Sam Lee, Attorney-at-Law.”
Our laughter ceased most abruptly when someone grabbed my arm and swung me around.
“You lousy, skirt-wearing bitch!” Mr. Runnels said. “I got an ax to grind, I do.” He shoved a finger towards me. “With you! You tricked me in there! Now, I’m gonna have an ounce of your flesh!”
“Take care,” Rebecca said. “You just might get a pound of resistance.”
He gawked at her. “Shut your filthy hole!”
I stepped between them. “Now, wait a minute, Mr. Runnels. I won’t allow you to insult my best friend and neighbor in that manner.” Rebecca pressed close to my left side as I continued, “It was I who badgered you in court, and I might add that I did so to execute my duty as prosecuting attorney.”
He shoved Rebecca aside.
I stepped forwards and glared into his eyes. “Now, that was uncalled for!”
“Well, here’s another!” As he swung his left fist, I ducked and crouched into a pugilist’s stance. Before he could recover, I administered two heavy blows to his midsection, followed by an uppercut to the chin. He reeled backwards.
Stunned, he stared at me as two constables ran towards us and grabbed his arms.
“Wha … Wha … What?” Mr. Runnels glanced at them. “You rapscallions, leave me be!”
“You’re under arrest, Mr. Runnels,” one of them said.
“Taking a bribe and conspiring to obstruct justice.”
He contrived to escape, but the constables held him steady. Glaring at me through hate-filled eyes, he growled, “I’ll get you for this, miss. One day … I’m gonna get you!”
They escorted him towards the courthouse.
I turned to Rebecca. “Are you all right?”
She grasped my hands and examined my left one. “Are you?” She rubbed it most gently, and I flinched. “Sam, that will be sore.”
We strolled to the livery, climbed into my two-seater Victoria carriage, and drove to 34 West Pratt Street. Tying the horse to the hitching rail in front of the Fulton House, we approached the door in quietude. As we neared it, she stopped.
“It’s a good thing your younger brother George taught you to defend yourself.”
“Yes, but who would have thought I’d need it to be an attorney? It amazed me to see how instinctually I fell into the role of a pugilist.”
“That’s why you train. So, henceforward, you do it without thought. Remember that you defended yourself. You would never make a pass at anyone.”
“Hardly a physical attack. My modus operandi is to pass by wit of tongue.”
The door burst open, knocking me sideways. I landed on the boardwalk and rolled out of the way. A white man marched past, holding a negro by the scruff of his neck. He hurled his burden into the street.
END OF SAMPLE
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