Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse: Squatlow and the Cuban Missile Crisis

  Fall is my favorite time of year, and October is my favorite month. The pristine air, glorious foliage, and football season are enthralling. Every October, I think of a traumatic experience for our nation. It was 62 years ago this month that the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. I remember it like it was yesterday. It appeared imminent that we were headed for a nuclear holocaust.

  It was October of 1962. The Russians had secretly planted a nuclear arsenal in Cuba, and the warheads were aimed in our direction only 90 miles from our border. John Kennedy was a youthful president who had been in office for less than 20 months. The young president showed what he was made of. He told the Russians to take their nuclear weapons out of the Western Hemisphere and gave them a short deadline to dismantle those and go home.

  It was a very tense time. I remember vividly a clear beautiful October afternoon during the 10-day standoff. I was 10 years old and was practicing with my peewee football team for our biggest game. But even as 10-year-olds, it was hard for us to concentrate. Jets were flying over our field constantly. They were headed south to Florida. Our coach was getting ready to be called into battle at any time. It appeared that our little-boy world would soon come to an end. We were scared that our days as children were over. We did not know what the results of a nuclear war would bring to the world.

  On this same October afternoon, another story took place in rural south Alabama. Bill Baxley was a young district attorney for Houston and Henry Counties. His father, Keener Baxley, was the circuit judge for the same circuit. Houston is a fairly large county. Dothan is the county seat. Houston has about 90% of the people in the circuit with Henry County being the home to about 10% of the people in the circuit. Henry is a very sparsely populated Wiregrass county. It is very rural and one of the least populated counties in the state. The two largest towns are Abbeville and Headland. These two communities only have about 2,000 folks in each enclave.

  Baxley had graduated from Dothan High School at 16 and had finished law school at the University of Alabama at 22, and he was the youngest district attorney in state history. He became Attorney General of Alabama while he was still in his 20s.

  Baxley loved to tell the story of an old guy named Squatlow. Squatlow was one of the leading citizens of Tumbleton. This hamlet is a fork in the road exactly halfway between Abbeville and Headland. Tumbleton is made up of a general store and about 40 people. This general store also served as a gas station, and Squatlow was the mechanic. Squatlow was nicknamed that because he would squat down close to the ground whenever he would talk with folks. Old Squatlow would hunker down with a chew of tobacco in his mouth and gossip and swap stories all day. Baxley, like most politicians, would stop at this Tumbleton country store on his way to court, drink a Coke, and visit.

  Henry County and Tumbleton may be isolated, but they were aware of the ominous cloud over our country with the Cuban Missile Crisis, so that was the obvious topic of conversation on this fall day. Squatlow was not much of a world traveler. In fact, he had never been out of his native Henry County, yet he was in rare form prophesying that day.

  Old Squatlow was worried and seemed a bit more nervous than usual. He was actually scared to death like most people in the United States. Squatlow sauntered down into his lowest squatting position, shook his head, and said, "You know, I’ve been thinking about it all night, and I just know those damn Russians are going to drop a bomb on Abbeville." Baxley said, "There ain’t a place in Alabama that would even be on the Russians' radar to bomb, maybe Huntsville because of the Redstone Arsenal, Squatlow. Why in the world would the Russians drop a bomb on Abbeville, Alabama?" Squatlow looked at Baxley like he was the most stupid person he had ever seen. He shook his head at how ignorant this young lawyer from Dothan was and said, "Baxley, don’t you know nothin’? Boy, don’t you know that Abbeville is the county seat of Henry County?"

  Fortunately, Kennedy’s standoff with Khrushchev and the Russians saved Abbeville.

  Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Capital City Free Press on October 15, 2013.

  About the author: Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the Alabama Legislature. Steve may be reached at He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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