Northwest Indiana loves the grit of folks who go against the grain.
If I've learned nothing else in my 11 years living in Northwest Indiana, I at least know the premium many region inhabitants place on rugged individualism.
Some of that is no doubt because of non-native ancestors who settled here when Northwest Indiana was still a part of the rugged frontier West. I was reminded of this earlier this month when I met some folks on Facebook, who now live in Utah, who are descendants of Gethro Wood, one of Northwest Indiana's original rebels.
Wood, who settled in Hammond sometime in the late 1800s, brought a streak of rugged individualism to the region born in his native deep South more than 150 years ago.
I learned of Wood's story a few years ago when I began visiting local grave sites and researching the stories of region men who fought in the Civil War.
I found Wood's headstone at Hammond's Oak Hill Cemetery and immediately was perplexed. His grave was marked with a government-issue headstone reserved specifically for soldiers of the Union Army.
However, Wood's marker noted he served in the 1st Alabama Cavalry. So what was a soldier from a Southern cavalry unit doing with a federal Army headstone — and how did he end up buried in the northern reaches of Hammond?
Through research materialized the against-the-grain story of a private whose nickname was General — who defied his Southern neighbors in a vehement cause that fed the birth of the Confederacy and the very spark that led to America's bloodiest war.
In 1863, while most of his able-bodied fellow Alabamians already were enlisted in various rebel regiments of the Confederate Army, Wood became a true rebel.
It turns out, the 1st Alabama Cavalry reference on Wood's headstone is an abbreviated designation of the 1st Tennessee and Alabama Independent Vidette Cavalry. The independent cavalry was a group of Southern men who volunteered to fight for the Northern, pro-Union, cause.
In other words, Wood adopted a stance during the war — and put his own life in harm's way — to fight against his neighbors in an effort to preserve and defend our country. He put the nation's greater good ahead of the popular parochial view of his native Southern states.
This would have taken exceptional courage. The passions leading to secession of the Southern states spawned some of the most brutal warfare our nation ever witnessed and claimed upward of 700,000 lives — more than any of our country's other wars combined.
We all owe thanks to men like Wood, who no doubt moved north after the war because his neighbors weren't terribly hospitable to a Yankee supporter in their midst.
When the stakes were highest, Wood took his own path, even in the face of these great local passions moving like a tidal wave in the opposite direction.
This is the kind of courage we all should demand of our leaders and ourselves.
Wood's life is a resounding example that popular sentiment of the moment isn't always the best guide for our future.