Sunday, May 8, 2016

Singleton shares the story of Monsieur Chillon and his donkey sidekick

George Buster Singleton
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Pack mules make strange bedfellows in the bayou” was originally published in the May 14, 1992 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)

Many strange and fascinating stories come from the faded pages of history of the Civil War. Many are sad and heartbreaking, while others tend to play on the humorous side.

Many hours of merriment and laughter abounded around the campfires on both sides during this terrible conflict. These stories were told and retold many times, perhaps each time changed a little to make them more enjoyable and funny, hoping to ease the mind of the war’s horrors and suffering.

Monsieur Chillon was a French army veteran who migrated to this country in 1860. As he set foot on the soil of his new homeland in California, the drums of war had already begun.

For reasons known only to him, Monsieur Chillon decided to journey forth and cast his lot with the Army of the Confederacy. This meant that he had to make his way across many miles of hostile Indian territory and find himself a suitable Rebel unit in which he could enlist.

Monsieur Chillon’s only travel companion was his donkey, Jason. Jason furnished the means for the transportation of the worldly belongings of Monsieur Chillon. As this strange pair slowly made their way across the hostile Indian territory, a strange and fascinating story preceded them to the small settlements and camps along the way.

As the pair made their way across the lonely and hostile land, it is believed that their strange habit of sharing the same tent many times saved their lives. As the day ended and nightfall came upon them, many curious and non-believing Indians would suddenly show up to see for themselves these strange bedfellows sharing the same tent. The story goes that the Indians would mount their horses, slapping their sides with laughter and ride off into the night. Never once did they give any indication of harming the sleeping pair.

By the time Monsieur Chillon and Jason reached the bayous of Louisiana, the dreaded War Between the States was underway. His ability to speak fluent French and being well-trained as a soldier, he was most welcomed by the French-speaking members of the 4th Louisiana Regiment. To add to his abilities, he also brought with him his own pack mule, Jason.

Due to his prior military training, Monsieur Chillon did quite well for himself, there in the 4th Louisiana Regiment. As the days passed into weeks, and the weeks into months, he shared with his fellow comrades his knowledge of military tactics and battlefield experience. But, regardless of how hard he tried, he was never able to live down the strange fact that Jason would always show up at his tent at bedtime to sleep for the night.

So, regardless how firm and serious he was with the training of the recruits of the 4th Louisiana Regiment, there was always the joke floating around about his bed partner being a mule.

The year 1861 and early 1862 passed slowly as the dreadful war took its toll on the 4th Louisiana. The list of dead and wounded got longer and longer as the conflicts grew greater and more savage. But, through it all, Monsieur Chillon and Jason survived the deadly fighting.

The cost of war had begun to take its toll on this strange pair. Jason began to show signs of memory loss and began to forget to show up at the tent of Monsieur Chillon when darkness fell. To make matters worse, the commander of the 4th Louisiana fell in battle. He was replaced by a Frenchman whom many of the troops said was the spitting image of Monsieur Chillon.

As the dark hours of night settled across the bivouac area of the 4th Louisiana Regiment, Jason would become confused and go to the tent of the commander and go inside. There, he would lay down and stretch out, trying to curl up next to the officer, as he had done many times in the past with his owner and companion, Monsieur Chillon.

As the foul words and dirty language burst forth from the commander’s tent, the joyous yelping of the troops could be heard in the surrounding darkness. Jason would be led away as the low giggling and laughter faded into the night.

But all funny stories do not end with laughter. As the 4th Louisiana made its way toward the area of Shiloh, Tenn., things were about to change for this strange pair. As the battle lines of the Confederate forces opened and closed across such places as the Peach Orchard, the Sunken Road and the Hornet’s Nest on that fateful day of April 7, 1862, Monsieur Chillon was seriously wounded.

Not much is known about the happenings of this strange pair as the Confederate Army slowly began its retreat back toward the railroad yards at Corinth, Miss.

Word has it that Monsieur Chillon requested that he be lifted up and placed on the back of his dear friend and longtime companion, Jason. As the Rebel army slowly began its southward swing toward Corinth, Monsieur Chillon and Jason faded from view into the evening sunset.

They were never heard from again. Some say they made it to Texas, but others say a battered Rebel soldier and a small, starved donkey were buried in an unmarked grave somewhere near Stony Lonesome.

(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, moved to Monroe County in 1961 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)

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