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?


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. 


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.


How Work Brickle are You?

A Work Brickle Generation:  My Grandfather, Henry Livesay at the center  in the late 1940's.

A Work Brickle Generation:  My Grandfather, Henry Livesay at the center  in the late 1940's.

When we think about other people it’s easy to kind of categorize them – this one is brilliant in math, that one can talk a blue streak while another is kind of quiet but always ready to help a neighbor.  But  have you ever heard tell that they’re “work brickle”?

Now in my on-going education of our mountain vernacular, you know I often ask people if they know this word or that term.  I haven’t found anyone off the mountain that is familiar with the term “work brickle”.  I was about to decide it was just something my own family made up – then I Googled it!

Imagine my surprise when I found several references to the term – albeit all as Southern Appalachian terminology.   The Word Dectective defines it in the opposite of the way we use it – describing what a lazy person isn’t Another blogger hailing from Louisiana and Texas documented the term as a familiar colloquialism – so it ranges far from the Appalachians.  Even the New York Times included the term among a list from Volume V of the Dictionary of American Regional English.  And finally, Jamestown, Tennessee author, Carl R. Cooper documented work brickle  in his Upper Cumberland “Jargon” (Jimtown Publications, 2013) between wore out  and wore to a frazzle.

However, Etymologyonline.com did not include it and that’s my best source for dating terminology so I still don’t know how long it’s been in use.

Lester and Mary Key working in the fields.  It's not hard to find examples of work-brickle among this generation.

Lester and Mary Key working in the fields.  It's not hard to find examples of work-brickle among this generation.

I began to think about this term when I asked my children to help carry in firewood.  I commented that my little boy wasn’t exactly work brickle – and my husband said I just made that word up.  Ha! Someone made it up long before me.


1871 Murder

Isaac Wood 1833 - 1871

Isaac Wood 1833 - 1871

As we look back on history it may seem easy to align yourself with one side or another, with one ideology or political agenda.  However, when I read about the struggles of our people during The American Civil War I recognize that the choices were not so cut and dried.  The Cumberland Plateau lay smack in the middle of two worlds.  Without large plantations, a need for slave labor or money to support it, the question of slavery hardly touched the people of the mountains but a fierce independence and memory of persecution in Ireland no doubt drove many to Confederate sympathies.  On the other hand, a deep spiritual conviction that no man should be owned by another and strong patriotism no doubt caused others to lean toward the Union.

Champ Ferguson and some of his company

Champ Ferguson and some of his company

Much has been written about the splits among families and communities as folks allied themselves with North or South.  But do we ever think about the back side of the war?  What about those who did manage to return from battle?  How did they live among neighbors who chose differently?  How did communities reunite after men went different directions with many husbands and sons never returning at all?

Tinker Dave Beaty

Tinker Dave Beaty

Two rather famous guerillas from our region were Tinker Dave Beaty and Champ Ferguson.   Beaty was from Fentress County, Tennessee and Ferguson hailed from Clinton County, Kentucky – less than 30 miles north.  It’s not hard to imagine the men of their companies overlapped in origin significantly.  While Beaty may not have been the hero that Grant or Hayes was he had chosen the winning side of the war while Ferguson was hanged as a war criminal – one of only two men who would be tried and executed following the war. 

I happened upon a story about Isaac Woods who rode with Tinker Dave Beaty and returned to Jamestown, Tennessee following the war.  In 1871 he was gunned down in the street in Jamestown and the family legend says the murderer was one of Ferguson’s men.  A September 1871 article in The Nashville Union and American cites a proclamation by then-Governor Senter offering $250 reward for the capture of Stephen Bannon in connection with the crime. I wasn’t able to ascertain whether Bannon was ever tried, but I understand that some of Mr. Woods’ descendants have done extensive research on this story and when that work is publicly available, I’ll certainly pass the information along to you.

As with any story, much is known and reported about the officers and leaders of Civil War units.  However, the common man’s story is often lost and I find those to be the most fascinating.  While letters and journals have been collected that give hints into the everyday life and thoughts of soldiers, little is written about their struggles in the post-war era.



Country Cadillac


I'll be super-brief today as I prepare to say a LOT over the next few weeks.

I found this great picture in the collection of Monterey Dispatch papers from the 1980's.  There's an article to accompany it and I promise to share that with you one day soon.

In the meantime, I wonder how many of you remember wagons being on the road regularly.  My daddy remembers wagons tied at the Decoration.  He remembers folks eating their dinner on the tailgate.  And best of all he remembers going to the store with his Grandpa in a wagon!

Now I have always loved horses and always wanted a team and wagon.  But I really can't imagine using them as everyday transportation.  Still, in our 70-mile-per-hour world something in me longs for the steady plodding for four-foot drive.

Please click "comments" below and share your horse-and-wagon memories.