A Brief Portrait: The Youngest Baker Boy
This is part of the So Far Appalachia book project. If you enjoy what you read, please vist my Kickstarter page (and pass this along to any friends who you think might find this interesting).
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The days after the Clay County War were difficult on my branch of the Baker family. Robert Baker moved his family — his wife and 9 children — to southern Indiana, where he purchased a small family farm.
A few years later, he would be killed when he returned to Clay County, reportedly the last person killed in the Clay County War. Some say he was ambushed when he came back to finalize his affairs, and others say the Whites were upset that he’d been having affair with one of the White daughters.
What we do know is Robert Baker, the son of “Bad” Tom Baker, was shot and killed as he drove his car into Manchester.
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My father told me I needed to meet Robert Lee, the youngest of the Baker boys. A colorful character throughout his life, he lived his last years in a small trailer in Beaumont, California.
In between, there were stories.
My favorite involves Robert Lee moving to Florida in the late 1970s, buying a boat, and either running a fishing business or smuggling drugs into the country, depending upon who you ask.
The only thing I know for sure (because Robert Lee told me): one night his boat burned, and without packing anything, he and his family left Florida and never went back.
One policeman came down when I lived in Florida, telling me I can’t leave. There was some legal problems. I had a friend who was a cop, Bucky, and he told me that if I wanted to leave, I could. So I left.
But he lived most of his life running filling stations, or working in small factories back in a time when it was simpler to find manual labor.
While he was always a bit unruly (I’m told by my father that I’m a little bit like him), he was never dangerously mean. Things changed for him after an accident at the filling station he owned in San Bernardino. He was doing some work on a car, and a pressurized water tank shot an iron cap into his face. He spent the next several days unconscious in the hospital.
When he came to, he’d lost one of his eyes. But I’m told he also changed. He became a little less colorful, and a little more angry. He was quick o temper.
I’ve heard stories that he had a few run-ins with the Hell’s Angels, and he was quick to point of that he rarely left the house without his gun just in case.
I never used my gun, but I’d threatened to use them several times. Usually when I was drunk. I’d wake up in the morning and kick myself about it.
Mostly, though, he stayed off the grid, and lived amongst the kinds of people who do that type of thing. Many were hard-working, blue collar types, and a few were troublemakers who hoped to stay one step ahead of the law.
But in some of those stories, I’ve seen the fallout of life after the frontier.