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 Richard Venable Michaux
(March 3, 1881-August 25, 1945)

The following story was told by Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr. and excerpts are reprinted with permission from the Burke County Historical Society and the publication "The Heritage of Burke County", copyright 1981.
 
 
Richard Venable Michaux, a son of William Macon Michaux and his wife, Martha Henderson, was born in Burke County on March 3, 1881, and received his education in the public and private schools of the area.
 
Dick Michaux, as he was usually called, was six feet, four inches in height, possessed enormous physical strength, and had an enchanting wit and a captivating sense of humor which made him a delightful companion and endeared him to all who were privileged to know him.
 
As a young man, he engaged in the construction of roads as a private contractor. An ardent Democrat in politics, he was elected Sheriff of Burke County in 1922 and reelected to that office in 1924. Since I was the Democratic candidate for the North Carolina House of Representatives at these times, Dick and I campaigned together throughout Burke County, and formed a close and enduring friendship.
 
On one occasion in 1922, we spoke to an audience from the porch of Joseph L. Mull's store near three county corner in the South Mountains. Although I was six feet, one and a half inches tall, I was called "Little Sam Ervin" to distinguish me from my father and for whom I was named, and Dick was called "Little Dick Michaux" to distinguish him from his uncle for whom he was named. After Joe Mull had introduced us to the audience as "Little Sam Ervin" and "Little Dick Michaux", somebody in the audience yelled, "Joe, if you've got any big Democrats trot them out and let us see them."
 
After he left the Sheriff's office, Dick Michaux resumed the construction of roads as a private contractor. He served for many years as Chairman of the Burke County Democratic Executive Committee, and his unexcelled capacity for friendship and leadership made his efforts in this activity highly successful.
 
The uncanny confidence which men reposed in Dick Michaux's capacity for leadership was well illustrated in June, 1927. At that time Broadus Miller, a black itinerant construction worker from the deep South, brutally murdered Gladys Kincaid, a young white girl in the Morganton neighborhood. He forthwith fled the scene and was tracked to the mountains above the Globe in Caldwell County. The largest manhunt in western North Carolina's history ensued. Hundreds of armed men from Burke, Caldwell, Watauga, and adjoining counties, who were accompanied by their sheriffs and other law enforcement officers, assembled in the Globe area to search for Broadus Miller. I participated in the search with Julius J. Hallyburton, Sheriff of Burke County.
 
By common consent, the sheriffs and other law enforcement officers, who had implicit confidence in Dick's capacity, asked him to take overall command of the searchers. Dick assumed the task in a brief and forthright talk to the assembled multitude. He told them that Broadus Miller must be caught and delivered to the courts for their judgment. To this end, he instructed his hearers to employ no violence against Broadus Miller beyond that necessary to subdue him or to protect themselves against injury at his hands.
 
Dick Michaux directed the search, and for several days the searchers in strict obedience to his commands explored every nook and cranny in the mountains. No military commander ever had a better disciplined force. Broadus Miller burglarized a farm house and stole a shotgun and ammunition. On the third day of the search, he was overtaken by one of the searchers, Commodore Burleson, of Morganton, as he was descending the mountain above Ashford in McDowell County. As Broadus Miller raised his stolen shotgun to shoot him, Commodore Burleson shot and killed him, and the search ended.
 
In 1931, Dick Michaux accepted employment with the State Highway Commission as highway supervisor for Burke County. As such, he supervised the maintenance and repair of public roads in Burke, and for a time in the adjoining County of McDowell. Those who worked under his supervision held him in the highest esteem, and he refused to accept promotions by the State Highway Commission which would have necessitated his leaving Morganton and Burke County.
 
Dick Michaux's solicitude for his friends was unlimited. The Judge of the Burke County Criminal Court tried cases without a jury. When I held this office, an automobile driven by one of Dick's teenage sons collided with an automobile operated by another teenager. No personal injury occurred, and the damages to the automobiles was inconsequential. An overzealous constable procured a warrant charging the two boys with reckless driving, and the justice who issued the warrant made it returnable before the Burke County Criminal Court.
 
Before the trial Dick Michaux came to see me. He said: "I know I ought not to approach you out-of-court in this fashion, but I have a request to make of you. When you try this case, please convict my son and acquit the other boy, and tax my son with the court costs and the damage to the other car. I will pay the costs and the damage."
 
I asked: "Dick, why do you make this peculiar request of me?" He replied: "Everybody knows we are mighty good friends. If you should find my son not guilty, some people might think you did it on account of our friendship, and criticize you for it. I don't want that to happen."
 
I said: "Dick, I wouldn't be worthy of your friendship if I did an injustice to your son or to you to avoid criticism of myself. If I felt that my decision in the case would be influenced by our friendship or any consideration other than the law and the facts, I would disqualify myself. As it is, I know of no reason why I cannot try the case impartially and do what the law and the evidence require."
 
The evidence at the trial demonstrated that the collision was a simple accident and did not involve any reckless conduct on the part of either driver. As a consequence, I found both of them not guilty.
 
On November 7, 1907, Dick Michaux was happily married to Lucy Lynn, a daughter of Lewis Lynn and his wife, Harriet Whisenant. Lewis Lynn was a highly respected farmer who served many years as Register of Elections in Little Quaker Meadows precinct. Dick and Lucy had four sons, Richard Venable Michaux, Jr., William Macon Michaux, Robert Todd Michaux, and Frank Wilson Michaux, and three daughters, Mary Macon Michaux, Martha Lynn Michaux, and Lucy Venable Michaux.
 
Like the other members of his family, Dick Michaux held membership in Grace Episcopal Church at Morganton. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at Morganton on August 25, 1945. His wife survived him by many years and died January 20, 1978. Their graves are in Forest Hill Cemetery.
 
Dick Michaux's remarkable personality was portrayed with accuracy in this contemporary News-Herald editorial:
 
"To young and old, rich and poor, high and low, he was 'Dick' Michaux-a name perhaps better known throughout Burke County, with all classes and conditions of people than any other of his generation. He knew and loved every cove and hilltop in the county, and any job of honor that would have taken him from his native heath and his 'own' folks in Burke had absolutely no appeal. It was here that he preferred to work-it was here that he died, as no doubt he would have wished, Monday night."
 
"The suddenness of his passing has left his family and friends unbelieving that so vital and forceful a personality is no more. 'Surely not Dick Michaux?' we ask ourselves and each other, not able to associate thoughts of death with such apparent strength and still youthful physique as he possessed even at 64 years of age."
 
"'Dick' was a big man not only in physical size, but his heart was bigger than his body, his loyalties and capacity for friendship limitless. On occasion he could be as 'hard as nails,' if dealing with meanness or littleness, but he had a wealth of tenderness and gentleness in his make-up, and his own way of showing deep feeling and affection. Whereever there was trouble or grief in a Burke home, Dick was more than apt to put in appearance, and perhaps no preacher in the county could match his record of visits to the old, the sick and the distressed. 'He had probably attended more funerals than any other person in the county,' a man who attended his funeral Wednesday afternoon remarked."
 
"Next to his family, for whom if necessary he would have gladly sacrificed his life, Dick's most intense loyalty was to the Democratic party. To him politics was not a personal interest, for a campaign or a limited time, but week in and week out, month in and month out, his thoughts and conversation were perhaps more frequently about party affairs than on any other subject. Republicans knew him as a fair fighter and many of them were his close friends-except in politics. As zealous as he always was for party success, when the election 'battle' was over, he was always either a generous winner or a good loser."
 
"His democracy, as represented in party allegiance, was rivaled only by his true democracy of spirit and manner. Though born of distinguished lineage, it probably never occurred to him that he had any right to consider his 'blood' better than the average run of folks. 'High-hat' was foreign to his nature. To few people is given the happy faculty of being able to mix and mingle with all classes and kinds and to make all feel that in him they had a true friend. That, perhaps, more than anything else was the secret of the political power and influence he had long been acknowledged to hold in Burke County."
 
"To his closest friends it was known that the greatest and best influence in his life has been that of his wife, a noble woman who has stood by him through 'thick and thin,' and whose counsel and devotion were always his strong anchor. Though other members of his family and friends will miss him inexpressibly the days for her will be dark indeed without him."
 
"Truly Burke County has lost a valuable citizen, the Democratic party a stalwart leader and his friends a friend 'beyond compare."'
 
In closing, I cannot forbear quoting Fitz-Greene Halleck's beautiful lines:
 
Green be the turf above thee
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee but to praise.
 
Sources: Morganton News Herald; personal recollections; and information supplied by William Macon Michaux, of Lincoln County, N.C.
 
-Sam J. Ervin, Jr.