Tennessee Mountain Stories

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.

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.

 

Grandpa Smith – Part 2 from Callie Melton’s ‘Pon My Honor

Following is an excerpt from ‘Pon my Honor by Callie Melton:

 

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Since I’m dedicating this book to Grandpa Smith, I think I should tell you a little more about him other than his name and dates… names and dates don’t tell much about a person really, but they are important just the same.  Grandpa was known far and wide as Uncle Alex… and I don’t guess he ever saw a stranger in his whole life… he probably met a lot of people that he’d never seen before, but to him they were simply friends he’s just met.

Grandpa was a typical Tennessee Mountaineer… kind, gently, easy-going, free-hearted, not too work brickle, and with a marvelous sense of humor.  No matter what the situation, he could find something funning in it… like the story he’d tell of the old woman whose husband was being buried that day.  Everything was ready to go from the house to the graveyard for the funeral, but the neighbor man who was going to haul the old man to the graveyard was late getting there.  Since idleness was a cardinal sin in the pioneer existence, the old woman set for a few minutes after she’d put on her bonnet.  Then she got up and got her work, turned to the rest of the women and said, “They’s no use to waste time.  We kin jest knit while we air a-waitin’ fer the wagin.”

Grandpa couldn’t read or write, but that didn’t mean he was ignorant.  He knew more about the things around him than anyone I have ever known.  The weeds, the herbs, the trees, the birds… you just name it and Grandpa could tell you something interesting about it.  We had few books when we were growing up, so if we wanted to know about something we had to ask Grandpa.  He would tell us about the weather… the dominecker clouds, the mare’s tail clouds, the sunsets, the sunrises, the cricket’s chirrup, the train at Algood climbing the Brotherton Mountain… and what each thing told him about what kind of weather was in store for us.

He was a born fisherman, and when he’d take us fishing he’d always tell us the do’s and don’ts to obvserve if we wanted to catch any fish.  He’d tell us of the big mud turkles [sic] that lurked in the dep pools, and how they’d hang on till it thundered if they got their teeth in one of our toes.  He’d tell us about the seven different kinds of meat in a turkle’s body, and how good turkle meat was if you cooked it right.

He’d tell us about the time of the Big Snow and Freeze that had happened long before any of us young’uns were born, and how it got so cold that the chickens froze to death and fell off the roost… and down on Martin’s Creek even some people froze to death, too.  Then there’b be the story of the time of the total eclipse of the sun, when it got so dark at mid-day that the cows come up to the gap to be milked and the chickens flew up to roost, and how many people thought it was the end of Time and were just about scared to death…things like that were going to happen for there was nothing, not even an almanac, in the way of weather forecasting.

We would be afraid to go to sleep after he’d told us about Big and Little Harp, and the awful things they’d done… slitting babies’ throats and knocking little boys’ brains out, as well as killing about any grown person they run into.  He’d tell us about Tinker Dave Beaty, the notorious Yankee bushwhacker, and the people he’d killed and the man things he’d done… and how he was even meaner than the Harps for he’d had a good raising and maybe they hadn’t.

Grandpas’ speech was as full of tang and color as the leaves on Clark Mountain in the fall, or a glass of hard cider fresh from the springhouse.  He never lacked for a word or an expression to give us his exact meaning… but he talked just like everybody else did who lived in his time and place.  He never cared for material things… just enough food to keep him from being hungry, enough clothing to keep him warm in cold weather, and a place to shelter him from the elements.  He wasn’t a leading light in the Church, but I never heard him swear or use a dirty word in my life… nor did I ever know him to do a mean or under-handed thing… I don’t believe he had a mean bone in his whole body.

Grandpa lived a long and a full life… from pioneer days through the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, and into the horrors of World War II.  He loved everything and everybody… but he loved us young’uns better than anything else.  He died praying to live only until his grandsons got home from Across the Waters so he could see them once more.

Grandpa enriched our lives greatly.  He was the hub around which our world turned while we were growing up.  He did not leave us anything in a material way, but he left us something infinitely more valuable than gold or silver.  We miss him still, but we do not think of him with sorrow.  And that is the way he would have it be… that we remember with joy the days he lived among us.  He would have us be the kind of young’uns that would do him proud… good, kind, generous, and above all, full of the joy of living no matter what our lot.

Plans for Emma: The Period

 

We’ve been exploring the ‘who, what, when where and how’ of Plans for Emma over the past few weeks.  Now we’ve arrived at the when and it’s one of my favorite parts.

It may well be the greatest part of being an author to choose just when your characters live.   I’ve seen stories from the Bible set in modern times – Francine Rivers wrote Hosea set in the old west and I couldn’t put it down.  There’s a new book out that juxtaposes a sovereign Jewish nation with 1930 and 1940’s Europe – just how would Hitler have faced that people with a standing army? 

While this may change in future stories, I can scarcely imagine writing outside the period of 1850 – 1920.  Maybe that’s because most of the best stories from the mountain are set then.  Maybe it’s because there was no real settlement on our plateau until around 1830.

Plans for Emma opens about 1905 which was a dynamic era for our area.

Sunbright, TN Train Depot

Sunbright, TN Train Depot

The Tennessee Central Railroad arrived in Monterey in around 1890 and began an era of prosperity as produce from local farms was given a sales outlet and men were provided new work opportunities.  Mines were also expanded as the coal could now be sold beyond the plateau and of course the timber that the mountain had in abundance was both necessary for track-beds and transported further down the line.

Sunbright had enjoyed rail transport since 1879 and this was the more logical railhead for the cross ties that character Preston Langford hewed in The Flat Woods. 

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It may be hard for us to imagine today when we can hop in our automobile and zip between any of these little towns.  But in 1900 the railroad was the only reasonable means of travel for long distances and certainly the only way to move heavy loads like logs.  Roads in that day were muddy paths.  In fact, it’s hard to map where roads actually lay because as one route became impassable with mud and deep ruts the people would simply cut a new road.  If you can find an undisturbed path of woods today you can still see the scars of these old roads.  Of course with smaller trees – and a smaller forest canopy – as well as the absence of free range stock the woods quickly become obstructed.  However, at the turn of the century a wagon could easily drive among the old-growth timber where briars and brambles could not penetrate and take root. 

We’ve talked here before about the movement of post offices and they were certainly a critical part of any community.   Mail delivery could come to a boom-town for a year, or a community might enjoy their own post office for decades.  Of course no one ran to check the mail every single day – unless maybe you lived right in town.  Instead, correspondence would be collected whenever you could make it to town or when other necessities drew you to the store.  Of course without email or telephone getting a letter was a coveted event.  It was the closest thing to visiting with a loved one who you often would be unable to visit for years at a time.

The whole world was changing at the turn of the twentieth century and there was turmoil everywhere.  Queen Victoria died and ended the Victoria era.  US President McKinley was assassinated in 1901 ushering in the first Roosevelt presidency.  We were just starting to play baseball on a major scale and the first world series was held in 1903.  Just like today there were hurricanes and earthquakes.  Galveston, Texas’ 1900 hurricane killed 8,000 people.  In 1908 Henry Ford began production of his Model T car.  And of course all through the first decade of the century a political cauldron bubbled in Europe that would overflow in 1914 when Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand Franz was murdered andsparks World War I.

While many American men would be drafted to serve in the war and every state and community was touched by it, life in the rural communities of Appalachia continued as they had for generations.  And that’s the picture we see of this time period in Plans for Emma

 

Plans for Emma is available from Amazon.com or locally at Halls Family Pharmacy.  If you’ve read it, please be sure to leave a review on Amazon.

The Country Store

Peter's Store was the primary Country Store in Clarkrange

Peter's Store was the primary Country Store in Clarkrange

It goes without saying that some subjects can be covered with a quick article while others require volumes.  The Country Store is certainly a voluminous topic. 

I ran upon an article in a 1980’s era copy of The Monterey Dispatch written by Mary Robbins that got me thinking I ought to spend some time – someday – detailing events at the area’s country stores.  I want to share parts of her article verbatim with a promise to further explore this topic at a later date.

At one time, every small community in the rural South had its own small grocery store.  The store was the center of community activity for six days of the week, relinquishing that honor to the church only on Sunday and during revival meeting time.

Although the store was usually very modest in appearance, it was the product, not the package, that mattered for folks who lived anywhere from five to twenty miles from the nearest town of any size. 

Most folks who bought gas, as well as groceries, had it put on their “ticket”.  Having money to spend during the week was a luxury belonging to those who were able to go into town, anyway.  Every small store, dependent upon its “ticket” customers for survival, kept a record of purchases made during the week and took payment on Saturday.  For those customers who received their wages only once a month, the tickets were usually carried till “the first”.

Since the owner of the store and the customer were almost always neighbors or friends, each realizing the extent to which one was dependent upon the other, the arrangement worked well.  Payment was made on time, with few exceptions.  If there was sickness, or accident, or a spell of bad weather when the customer couldn’t work, he was given extension of payment until things got better.  There were exceptions, of course, on both sides.  If a customer did run up a bill and, for no apparent reason, wouldn’t pay, his credit was “cut off” and he would stop going by the store.   This meant he would have to wait till Saturday or the first of the month to go into town for groceries.

In addition to providing an excellent public forum, the country store offered other enticements to grown ups and children alike.  One of these was the cold drink cooler.  Usually somewhat battered, its once white enamel yellowed with age and use, it occupied a place of prominence beside the counter.  Not only did it hold within its cool, dime depths those wonderfully icy, deliciously “stingy” Coca-Colas and Pepsis that were always referred to generically as “pop”, but ice cream, also… brown cows, popsicles in a rainbow array of colors and flavors… grape, orange, banana, lime.  After a hard day’s work in the field or the log woods, stopping by the country store for a pop or an ice cream (or both!) was a treat that few could decline.

The country store offered a variety of items other than food, however.  Along its walls were shelves (sometimes rough planks laid on concrete blocks) filled with the staples so necessary to rural families… Mason jars and lids, flashlights, batteries, turpentine, liniment, matches, shoe polish and occasionally, delightful surprises such as comic books (Red Ryder, The Lone Ranger, Bat Man), a picture puzzle, and near Christmas, perhaps even a toy or two.  At Christmas, too, the store would receive fresh fruit, such as oranges, tangerines, big red and yellow apples, bananas.  And the kind of candy that was a rarity during the rest of the year… chocolate covered cherries, pastel coconut bon-bons.  The smell of the place, always interesting, was made almost unbearably fascinating and tantalizing when the fragrances of the fruit and candy mingled with that of the weathered walls and the ever-present barrel of kerosene.

The country store is almost a thing of the past.  Replaced by giant supermarkets with gourmet food sections and computerized check-out counters, the small grocery down the road a ways is fast disappearing… along with the two-room school and Fifth Sunday singings. 

Just once, I would like to walk down that dusty country road again, to satisfy my thirst with a Coke from that old cooler and listen to the ebb and flow of conversation above my head...”If we don’t get some rain, soon, why the gardens are goin’ to all dry up.”  “Folks over at the county seat are sayin’ Jim don’t have a chance against that lawyer fella in the County Judge’s race…”  “Times sure ain’t what they used to be…”

 

I’d love to hear your memories of the country store!  Please click on comments below and share.