Tennessee Mountain Stories

When God and The Devil Divided up the Dead

 

In ‘Pon my Honor, Carrie Melton attributes this story to the Knoxville News-Sentinel but gives no further citation.  I tried to search their website for it without success.

As I said in last week’s post I’m not prone to telling stories of haints but your response to The Logston Tide was overwhelming so I thought I’d share another of Mrs. Melton’s stories from the section “I Wouldn’t A-Believed Hit if I Hadn’t Seen Hit Myself”

Once there was this here old man who was all crippled up with rheumatism.  Fact is, he hadn’t hardly walked a step in years, and the only way he had of getting around was having his boy carry him.  The boy wasn’t grown yet, but he could get his pa up on his back and tote him around the place anywhere the old man wanted to go.  The old man was an ornery old cuss, just as cross and crabby with his old woman and the young’uns as he could be.  His old woman would get so put out with him sometimes that she’s just out and tell him that he was so mean that when he died God wouldn’t have him and the devil wouldn’t want him even if he did have to take him.

Come one fall and it was powerful hot weather…hot and dry.  The old man got mighty tired of just setting in his chair all day long, doing nothing but sweating and cussing the flies and the heat.  So, he got in the habit of having his boy tote him to different places around about in the cool of the evening.

Now, not far from where he lived there was a graveyard.  It was off down in the woods like, and a lonesome place even in broad daylight.  The boy didn’t much fancy taking his pa there after dark, but for pure devilment on these hot, dry days the old man would make the boy tote him down to the graveyard might nigh ever evening.

It was powerful hot one day…much hotter than usual.  The old man could hardly wait for dusky-dark to come and the air to cool off.  It did seem like the graveyard was the coolest place to be found in such weather.  And, too, it did pleasure the old man a sight to go set among the graves of his friends and kinfolks and to watch the starts and the lightning bugs come out.  So, this time as soon as the old woman got supper on the table, the old man rushed the boy through eating so he could pack his pappy out to the graveyard.  Much against his wishes, the boy got his pappy on his back and started off down the road to the graveyard.  They had to go down the big road a-piece, then off to the right in the scope of woods.

It just happened that two of the neighbor boys had been pawpaw hunting that evening, and had stayed out later than they meant to, so dark had caught them on the way home.  They decided to set down and divide their pawpaws there at the graveyard, for the road forked just beyond, and one went one way and the other went the other way.

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As they went in the graveyard one boy was carrying the sack of pawpaws and the other one had his pockets full.  Just to be a-doin’, the boy with his pockets full stopped and laid a pawpaw on each gate post as he went in.  Then the two boys walked on down in the graveyard a-piece and set down by two headstones that were close together.  Then they started to divide up the pawpaws.

Now, the boy had toted his pa down to the graveyard gate, and since it was a right smart piece and the boy was tired, they stopped to rest.  The boy set the old man down by one gate post while he leaned up against the other one.  It was while they were resting that they heard talking coming from the graveyard.  They were all ears, and this is what they heard.

“You take this ‘un, and I’ll take that ‘un.  You take this ‘un, and I’ll that that ‘un.”  Then another voice said out loud and as plain as day, “Yes, and there’s two down by the gate posts.  You take one, and I’ll take the othern.”

At this the boy started over to pick up his pa and get out of there quick, but the old man beat him to it.  He jumped up, shoved the boy out of his way and said, “Iffen you can’t run, move over and let somebody run that can.”  And with that he took off down the road so fast that his shirt-tail fairly stood out in the wind behind him.  He beat the boy home by a long shot, and purt night scared his old woman to death.  She hadn’t seen her old man walk a step in years, let alone run!

“Lord-a-mercy! What’s the matter?” she yelled, thinking that the world was coming to an end.

“Hide me! Hide me quick, old woman,” begged the old man.  “We’ve just been down to the graveyard, and we heard God and the devil down there dividing up the dead.  I plain as day heard the devil say that there was two down by the gate posts, and that he’d take one and God could have the othern.  And, old woman, you know…good and well which one the devil was atter!”

The Logston Tide

The mountain is replete with stories of haints and ghosts.  Despite very deep Christian faith we tend to be a superstitious people.  Now this is something I don’t want to perpetuate so you won’t usually find ghost stories among my Tennessee Mountain Stories.  However, Callie Melton has included several in “Pon My Honor” and I want to share this particular one because of the history I found behind it. Here you can read a series of old newspaper clippings that detail the crime and trial of young Logston.  The difficult execution is also detailed as well as nearly 2,000 witnesses.  That would be a crowd in Jamestown today, can you even imagine all those people gathering in 1872 when they had to walk or ride a horse? 

This story is the one that Grandpa Smith always told us about the time that Wolf River got so high just after the Logston hanging.  This flood has always been called the Logston Tide.  Whether there was any connection between the two, or it was a mere coincidence, I leave entirely up to you.  But this flood did occur in April of 1872, a few days after Calvin Logston was hung at Jimtown in Fentress Country.

 Wolf River at York Mill in Pall Mall, TN

Wolf River at York Mill in Pall Mall, TN

Way back yonder when Grandpa and Grandma Smith were first married, they moved down on Wolf River.  They hadn’t been living there long until Grandma’s mother, Caroline Parsons, and her grandmother Elizabeth Young, had come to live with them.  Grandma’s pa was dead and her brothers were all married, so it just seemed fitten that the two old women should come and live with them.

Now about this time this here man named Logston was accused of killing two women and a child over around Forbus, in what is now Fentress County, not too far from Jimtown.  He finally got caught over in Kaintuck and was brought back to Tennessee to stand trial.  Grandpa didn’t recollect much about the trials, but he did know that the man had fit his case in all the courts and had lost ever time.  So the day set for the hanging had finally come around.  He’d clean light forgot the date, too, but he did know that it was early in the spring.

 Cal Logston

Cal Logston

On the day set for the hanging, Grandpa said that he’d got up and left home bright and early that morning for it was a good little piece over to Jimtown where the hanging was to be.  Now since this was the first legal hanging ever to be helt in Fentress County, and because of the crime that the man had committed, a might log of excitement had been stirred up.  When he got to Jimtown it seemed like everbody in the whole country had come and fetched his dog.  For never before or since in his life had Grandpa seen such crowd at one place.

Before the hanging there was a long funeral sermon with all the folks crying and taking on, and the prisoner having to set there on his box with his hands tied hind him.  Then after the sermon all his friends had come up to tell the condemned man good-by.  Everbody sure was mighty worked up by the time they was ready to hang him.

Now when they went to hang him, the first time the trap was sprung the rope broke right off.  Then another rope was fixed, and it, too, broke just like the first one had done when the trap was sprung.  While they was fixing the rope for the third try, Logston spoke a few words.  He said that they was hanging an innocent man and that all this proved it.  He also said that if they went ahead and hung him that God would give them a sign that he was telling them the truth, for after he was dead it would come the biggest rain ever seen in them parts.

All this talk of his made no difference to the Law, for when the third rope was fixed they hung him again.  The rope didn’t break this time.  And when the doctor said he was dead, they cut him down and put him in his box.  Then everbody went home.

It was about dark when Grandpa got home that night.  He had to hurry to get his night-work done up.  Grandma had already milked, so he went to feed his hogs.  He had fixed him up a rail pen on the other side of the river from his house, so he walked across to the hog pen on the rocks down at the crossing place just below the house like he had always done.  The family hadn’t much more than got done eating supper, till it begin to rain.  And that was the hardest rain Grandpa said that he’d ever seen or heard in all his life.  There wasn’t much thunder or lightning, it was just rain.  It looked like the sky had opened up, and the rain was coming down by bucketsful.  It rained like that all night, too.

It rained so hard that by daylight the next morning Wolf River was already climbing out of her banks.  And by the time that Granma had got breakfast ready and they had all eat, the water was might nigh up to the house.

The womenfolks got scared when they saw this, and to tell the truth, Grandpa said he wasn’t feeling any too good hisself.  “I recollected only too well what the condemned man had said a-fore they hung him the last time.  He did say that God would send a flood to prove that he was a-tellin’ the truth when he said he hadn’t done hit.   And now hit shore looked like hit,” he said.  So they started putting things up high on the rafters.  They worked as fast as they could, but by the time they was all ready to leave the water was lapping at the doorstep.

Now being that Grandmother Young was the oldest, Grandpa carried her out first.  When he stepped off the doorstep with her, the water hit him up around the ankles.  He carried her up the hill a short piece and set her down, then hurried back to get Grandmother Parsons.  By the time he got back and got her out the door, the water was might night up to his hips.  He took her up to high ground and set her down with her mother, then he went back for Grandma.  By the time he got Grandma Smith out, the water was up to his waist.  It had come in the house and was still rising.  When he’d got them all out, they stayed and watched the river for awhile.  Then they all went over to a neighbor’s house who lived further away from the river.

Well, the river did get higher than it ever had before.  It washed away a lot of houses and a lot of stock was lost.  Only a few people got drownded, though, for most of them had took off to high ground when it begin to rain.  They all recollected what Logston had said at his hanging.

In a few days the water begin to go down, but it was nigh on to a week before Grandpa and his family could go back home.  It had done a sight of damage, and that summer it was so dry that not much crops was raised.  Now Grandpa lived on Wolf River for years and years after that, and he lived in these parts until his death in 1944.  “And ‘pon my honor, never has that river been as big a-fore or since,” so many times I’ve heard the old man say.

Caroline and the Yankees

This story out of Callie Myers Meltons’ “Pon my Honor” originated with the Nashville Tennessean although neither date nor issue is given.

My Great-grandma, Caroline Young Parson, had been left a widow in 1860 for her old man, Great-grandpa John C. Parsons had died of typhoid fever when the four children was just young’uns  With four young’uns and no pa or brothers to help her, Caroline, like all the women of her time and place, had to stand on her own two feet.  Living alone in such perilous times and under such circumstances would have broke most people, but not Caroline.  She not only tended the crops, and hunted the woods for wild game, she spun and wove and worked as a tailor to keep the body and soul of her family together.  But many of a night she set up all night with a loaded gun across her lap to protect what was hers from the bushwhackers from both sides who constantly raided back and forth across the Tennessee-Kentucky border.

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But finally the War come to an end.  The soldiers from both sides started to straggle back home through the area.  After the long years of the War, there wasn’t much for the Johnny Rebs to come home to, nor was there much for the Yanks and the carpet-baggers to crow over…

One evening Caroline went down to the spring for a bucket of water.  Just as she turned around from dipping up the water, three Yankee soldiers stepped out of the bushes and blocked her path 

With a smirk on his bearded face and a broad wink to his two companions, one of the men swept off his ragged old blue cap, bowed low to the scared woman and said, “Ma’am, how far is it from here to where I’m going?”

Caroline looked the three up and down.  They were indeed as motly a three as she had ever laid her two eyes on.  But one thing the war had taught her that she couldn’t forget…the women of the South could fight as well as the men  So armed only the gourd dipper which she had been using to dip up the water to fill her bucket, Caroline pulled herself to her full five feet and two inches and said, “Three lengths of a fool, Sir.  And iffen you don’t believe hit, jest lay down and measure hit.”

Amid the guffaws of his two companions, the Yankee soldier put his old cap back on his head, saluted the small southern woman who had just won the skirmish.  Then without even one backwards look, the  three tired soldiers shouldered their rifles and headed on up toward the Kentucky Line and point further North.

 

 

Too Much To Swaller

From 'Pon my Honor by Callie Myers Melton

One time there was this here preacher holding a meetin’ down in the Modock Bottom.  He was sure some preacher, and everbody from far and near was going to hear him preach.

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Back in them days the men and women never set together at meetin’.  The men would always set on the left side facing the preacher, and the women would set on the right.  Up in the corner on the men’s side was called tha A-Men Corner.  This was where the old men and the leading lights in the church would always set, then when the preacher would say something that they agreedwith him on, they’d say “A-MEN!” real loud.  The more they believed, the louder would be the A-men.

This time the meetin’ house was full, and the A-men Corner as well.  And Uncle Bill Sidwell, who was might nigh deaf, was setting on the very front seat.  He was plumb feeble now, and had to walk with two walking sticks.  But he was a mighty religious old man, and as crippled up as he was, he come to meetin’ ever time.

Now this time the preacher really got wound up, and he done some old timey preaching.  Being a Hard-Shelled Baptist, he hollered and he yelled, and he pounded the pulpit and he stomped his feet to drive home his points.  But this was just the kind of preaching the folks was hungering and thirsting to hear, for it was the kind of preaching they had been brung up on.  They were plumb enjoying it, for the more noise he made the better they liked it.

Now Uncle Bill set there on the front seat with both eyes on ever move the preacher made, and his hand cupped up behind his ear so as not to miss a single word.

“Brothers and Sister, ah!” the preacher thundered, “I’m a-preachin’ the pure gospel to you’ens, ah! And iffen I throw out anything, ah! That you’ens, ah! Can’t swaller, ah! Jest hand it back to me, ah!”

“A-MEN! A-MEN!” Uncle Bill said.

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Now the preacher was plumb bad to chew tobacco, and he’d clean forgot and got up to preach with a big cud of it in his mouth.  Then when he got in such a big way preaching, that wad of tobacco got in his way, so he just up and spit it out.  It landed in front of the pulpit and rolled right down to Uncle Bill’s feet, and there it layed.  Uncle Bill never could abide the weed in any form, so he set there a minute and looked at it.  Then he got up and took his walking stick and rolled that cud of tobacco right up to the edge of the pulpit.

“Here, Preacher,” he said waving his stick in front of the preacher to get his attention.  “Here’s one thing that you throwed out that I shore can’t swaller!”

Who Stold the Corn?

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When Grandpa Smith lived up on the Head of Wolf River he said that one of the men in the settlement had raised him a fine crop of corn one year.  He stored it in his crib, waiting till he could raft it down to Nashville and sell it.  But before long somebody stold most of it.  The other people in the settlement begin to have their own corn stold, too.  This was very uncommon, since everbody knowed everbody else, and nobody locked anything up.  Fact is, to lock your door or your corn crib was just the same as saying that you didn’t trust your neighbors.

This stealing went on till might night spring.  Then one day Milt Parsons was having a log rolling.  Ever man in the whole settlement was there, and ever time the men’d stop to get a drink or to rest awhile that’s all they’d talk about, the corn stealing that was going on.  Nobody could figger out who would do such a thing.

Old man Titterow didn’t get about too much, but he had come out that day.  Not that he could do any work, but he just wanted to see his neighbors and do a little visiting.  Now when he heard what was going on, he told Milt that he could catch the thief if he wanted him to.  Milt was might pleased at that and said that he’d sure be plumb much obliged if he would. 

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Old man Titterow went to the house before anybody else did for dinner.  So when everbody was done eating, Milt told the men that if they’d all go down to the barn, he had something to show them.

Well, when they all got down to the barn, old man Titterow was standing by Miz. Parsons’ big old black was kettle.  He said that he’d been hearing about all the trouble everbody had been having, and that he knowed just how to catch the thief.

He said that he’d put Milt’s old rooster under the wash kettle, and that everbody was to go up and rub his right hand on the bottom of the kettle, and when the guilty man rubbed, the rooster would crow so they’d know who it was.  Everbody agreed, so old man Titterow was the first one to go up and rub his hand on the kettle.  Not a single word was spoke as all the men walked up one at a time and rubbed their hand around and around on the bottom of the kettle.  Then as ever man rubbed, he walked over and stood in line by the old man.  The rooster never crowed a single time.  Then after the last man had rubbed, the old man stepped out of the line and told everbody to hold out his right hand, pan down.  Then he started at one end of the line and took ever man’s hand and turned it up to look at the pan.  Everbody’s hand was as black as the pot bottom till he got to Silas Pardue.

When he saw that Silas’ hand wasn’t black, he said, “Here’s your man, Milt.”

Now everbody was mighty surprised at Silas, but they hahd hi dead to rights so he just owned up to it.  He said that he had done it because he wanted to buy him a little piece of land for his own, so he stold the corn, made it up in likker and sold it ‘way over in Kaintuck where nobody knowed him.

Since everbody in the whole settlement was there, everboyd come the the agreement with Milt that if Silas would just pick up his family and move off, nobody would ever even mention the corn stealing again. 

So it wasn’t but a little spell till Silas come back from a trip to his people over around Jimtown and said that he was moving over there.  Nobody but the men who was at Milt’s barn that day ever knowed a thing about what went on, and just as sudden as it had started, the corn stealing stopped.  Everbody breated easy again, for it sure was a bad feeling when you had to lock up your corn crib against  your neighbors.