Stories of White County, TN
In a list of articles some years ago, Mr. Joe V. Williams2 gave some outstanding features of the Sparta bar. When Andrew Jackson presided over the Supreme Court at Sparta, many legal contests occurred there. In those days lawyers depended more on their oratorical powers than they did on legal knowledge. Some of the early attorneys were George W. Gibbs, John Catron, Nathaniel Haggard, Richard Nelson, David Aimes, Alexander Lane, Sam Turney, John Anderson, and Hopkins L. Turney. Many of them were men of special ability.
Major Evans3, a noted soldier and a close personal friend and favorite of General John Sevier, was one of the early pioneers in this county. He was one of those heroic figures who turned the tide at Kings Mountain. He commanded Evans Battalion and he was placed with his battalion to defend the line between Nashville and North Carolina. John Sevier was captured by the British and Major Evans and Doctor Cosby took him from their clutches by memorable strategy and bravery.
Evans was elected commander of the battalion in 1785. Evans received large grants of land in the new territory, White County, for his services during the Revolutionary War. He is buried at Pleasant Hill Cemetery, in the first district of the County.
One of the early pioneers of White County was Thomas Eastland4 who lived at "Clefty" and established the hotel, Old Eastland Stand, twelve miles east of Sparta. He was a soldier in the War of 1812 and rose to the rank of colonel. As a reward for his service in that war he received large grants of land in White County. He built a large inn on the great highway to Washington City which became one of the leading stage station on that route. He was a great friend of Andrew Jackson and many other note characters who always stopped at "Clefty" on their journeys to and from Washington.
After Thomas Eastlandís death his son lived here many years. H e, also, was a large land owner in White County and owned many slaves before the Civil War. He spent much of his time in Nashville and New Orleans, and operated steamboats on the Mississippi River. He became a major in the Mexican War, under General Zachary Taylor. He moved to California in 1863.
[See more information about Nicholas Gillentine]
Nicholas "Nich" Gillentine5, one of the early pioneers of White County, as a great bear hunter. He often went out alone and returned with a huge bear slung across his horse. On one occasion a bear took a hatchet away from him.
One morning, a Mr. Steakley went with him and they crawled into a cave where a bear was hibernating for the winder. In going in they had crawled through close quarters; at one place, they were forced to crawl; at another the walls were very narrow and they had some difficulty in passing. When they came into the presence of the bear, he objected to their presence and they were forced to retreat. Mr. Steakley had gone in last, therefore he was in the lead as they came out. He stuck fast when he reached the narrow walls, and the flight was halted. The bear was pressing closely to Nich; he turned, placed his feet on the bear, his shoulders against the man and gave one tremendous heave. Mr. Steakley went through and they made their escape in safety.
John Catron6 was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States by Andrew Jackson; he died while in office. When he came to Sparta to practice law, he was very poor, bringing with him only a worse and his wife. He was reared in a very poor home, hence his education was limited. He practiced law for several years in Sparta, but being ambitious he soon desired a wider field for his marked ability and moved to Nashville. In a short time he was elected to the Supreme Bench of the state. It was said of him that he was as "simple minded and as simple mannered as a child." But with all of his simplicity his mind was active and vigorous and "his decisions are noted for their sharp and original expositions of the law."
Thomas K. Harris was a soldier under General Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812, and was one of the earliest figures from White County to become noted. He served several years as State Senator and was the first Representative in Congress from the third Congressional District. He and General John Simpson were candidates for brigadier general, and General Harris, who was successful, was commissioned on January 8, 1815. General Simpson then claimed that he had been defeated because General Harris had withdrawn from the race, and had it not been for this report, Simpson would have been chosen. Bitter feelings arose between the two, and when they met on the Public Square in Sparta, General Simpson struck General Harris with a heavy cane. At the time the generals were separated, Harris swore he would kill Simpson. After this experience, they met for the first time at a ford in Caney Fork River, near Rock Island; both were prepared for the meeting.
The pistol with which Simpson killed Harris was, in 1902, a possession of Dr. Charles Simpson, his grandson, of Waxahachie, Texas.
Williams gives this interesting account of one of the noted lawyers from Sparta8:
Mr. Williams gives a comical description of another lawyer of that time in this manner:
JUDGE F. L. GARDENHIRE
Again Judge F. L. Gardenhire10 is described by Mr. Williams thus:
Many years ago there lived in Sparta a prominent character by the name of Rogers.11 John R. Rogers and Abraham Lincoln were born and reared in the same locality in Kentucky. They grew up as warm personal friends, and after having reached maturity, they separated; Lincoln remained in the North and Rogers came South and located at Sparta, Tennessee. He remained there for several years and then disposed of his business and built a hotel on the mountain at Bon Air. There was a fine Chalybeate spring at that place and a magnificent view of the town and country toward the west. His hotel was largely patronized as a summer resort especially by visitors from the Southern states.
When the war began in 1860, large bodies of troops began to pass over this road and by reason of their annoyance, Rogers closed his tavern and moved to Rock Island a a few miles southward. B. H. Helm, a brother-in-law of Lincoln, commanded an "Orphans Brigade" of Kentuckians and when in the South made his headquarters part of the time at the home of John R. Rogers at Rock Island. Rogers had been a suitor for the hand of Elodie Todd, a sister of Mary Todd, and of Emilie Todd, the wife of Helm.
After confederate forces fell back to Chattanooga a brigade of Federal troops was stationed in Sparta and scouted the country in that locality. This was in the days of Ferguson and Beattyís border warfare, and Rogers was killed. Each party charged it upon the other. The body was brought to Bon Air for burial.
Soon afterwards a number of citizens of Sparta and White County were arrested and sent North as prisoners. Among the number was a man by the name of Overman. He was a stone cutter by trade; he was conservative politically and had never taken part in military affairs. For this and other reasons many citizens sent a petition to President Lincoln asking for his release. Overman was brought before the President and questioned. He had been arrested without cause and charged with the commission of no offense. He told Lincoln frankly that his sympathies were with the South, but he had committed no act warranting his arrest. The President said, "I am informed by this petition that you are a stone cutter by trade. I had a friend by the name of John R. Rogers who was buried at Bon Air in a cemetery near your town. If, when you get home, you will cut and erect a suitable stone at his grave I will pardon you." Overman replied, "I cannot accept liberty upon your terms. A pardon implies that I had committed some crime. I will remain in prison until all charges are removed."
The President answered, "Your position is well taken and I will change the terms. If you will place a marble slab over the grave I will order your release."
"I would be glad to be released and would comply with your request that there is no present transportation by which a slab can be obtained. A sand-stone can be had if that would be satisfactory."
To this the President agreed and ordered an unconditional release. He also wrote with a pencil upon a card the legend which he wanted cut upon the stone. This was done and a neatly cut stone, four feet wide and six feet long was placed over the grave bearing this inscription: "Here lies John Rogers, the friend of Abraham Lincoln."
Ladies planted a border of flowers around it, but it is now so covered with vining honeysuckles, that the vines have to be pulled back to read the legend dictated by President Lincoln.
The card is still in the possession of Captain McElwee, but from much handling the pencil marks on the card are undistinguishable.
Many years ago there lived in White County a very peculiar old man, and many curious happenings center around Uncle Steve and his family. He married a woman by the name of Rebecca, but she was known to the surrounding country as Aunt ĎBecky.í They reared a family of two boys, Ben and John, and four girls, Susie, Nancy, Betsy, and Rainey.
The log house in which they lived had only one large room; in this room the family lived, cooked, ate, and slept. In the back center of the room was kept a large box in which were placed young lambs and other animals which they felt needed care. The bottom covering of the room was made of split logs placed side by side and called puncheon floors. The beds were made with only one upright post, the remaining three were driven into the wall. There was no stove in the room, therefore, all the cooking was done on the fire place which was sunk far below the level of the floor and the members of the family often sat on the floor while their feet rested on the hearth below. They used a large gourd dipper in the water bucket; they had very few dishes; never used a table cloth and always stood up to eat.
All animals around them became great pets and each was given a name. The most famous in this group was Buggy, an old dog that followed Betsy and Rainey faithfully.12
Uncle Steveís clothing13 caused much comment and excitement. He bought large boots, and cut the tops off and the lower parts into slits. He then cut the top into strings and wove and tied them into knots in the lower part of the shoe in such a manner that he had, as a result of his labors, a whanged mass not in the shape of a shoe at all. Two of his shoes were stolen by Vance Broyles and John Wilhite. One was sent to Nashville where it was exhibited at the Centennial; the other was taken to Glasgow, Kentucky, where it was placed in the window of a bank building. The shoes weighed ten pounds each and it was hard to convince people that the knotted mass had ever been used for a shoe.
Uncle Steve was always cutting up Aunt ĎBeckyísí shoes so that he might get more leather to weave into his boots. Some one told him to go to the tannery below Sparta and Mr. Stroud would give him all of the string he wanted. He walked several miles to reach the tannery, but when he told Mr. Stroud his mission, Mr. Stroud nearly weighted him down with strings and strips of leather. Uncle Steve twisted, turned around several times, and finally got started. Soon however, Mr. Stroud was surprised by the return of Uncle Steve. "Well, Mr. Hickman, what is the matter?" he asked.
Uncle Steve swallowed a time or two and replied, "Mr. Stroud would you mind to give me another string to tie up my bunch of strings?"
Jessie Hickman14, a brother of Uncle Steve, was a Presbyterian preacher and quite noted through the Upper Cumberland section. He was mortified at Uncle Steveís personal appearance. One day he gave Uncle Steve a brand new pair of boots, which were very stylish at the time, and told him never to come to his house again wearing "those old shoes." Uncle Steve went off well pleased with his burden. The next time he came, he was wearing old whanged shoes. Jessie was quite provoked and said, "Steve, I thought I told you not to come here again wearing those old shoes."
Uncle Steve replied, "Rally-by-Ned, Brother Jessie, these are the very shoes you gave me."
The brother was furious and pointing to the gate, said, "Go to my gate, put yourself through my gate and donít you ever come here again in that plight."
Uncle Steve answered with just as much anger, "Rally-by-Ned, Iíll not go through your gate, Brother Jess, but Iíll climb the fence right by the gate."
At another time Jess gave Steve a new suit, shoes, hat, and razor and told him to go home, shave, and dress up before to church on Sunday. On Sunday Uncle Steve appeared in all his finery but had not shaved. After church Uncle Jess asked Steve why he had not shaved. Steve replied, "Wall Iíll just tell you, Bother Jessie, I left my razor up in a stalk of corn where I was cutting corn for the hogs last night and the girls wouldnít wait for me to go and get my razor so that I would shave."
Uncle Steve15 always felt that his people were not helping him as they should and he often became vexed and out of humor with them. One day, when he felt that he had taken an over amount of insults from his family, he said to his wife, "Becky Iím just gonna cuss our kinfolks."
She answered, "Ah! Stephen, I wouldnít do that."
He replied, "Yas, Becky, Iím just gonnaí cuss our kinfolks. Damn our kinfolks, Becky."
Uncle Steve16 said, "Brother Jessie sang a song, ĎGive me Jesus and you can have all the world,í but as soon as Pap died, Brother Jessie wanted all the land and everything else."
Uncle Steve17 and his boys were good workers and as they had only one mare they often did much of the work to save her. They made harness out of bark and harnessed themselves to the plow and other implements used on the farm. They gathered their corn in the fall in large bread trays and took time about harnessing themselves to the load.
One fall Uncle Jessie sent his steers and a wagon to his brother in order that he might gather his crops; also, sent word that it seemed to him that he could gather his crop much faster with a wagon. Uncle Steve immediately returned the team and wagon with this greeting, "Yah! Yah! Brother Jessie, and it seems to me your steers would eat up a lot of my corn."
Uncle Steve18 had a splendid peach and apple orchard of which he was unduly proud. A very cold wave hit the section late in the spring and he was afraid the trees would be killed, but he thought of a plan to save his orchard. He carried out nearly all the quilts to cover the trees and nearly froze his family and himself. There was a large snag in the middle of his orchard so he decided to set that on fire.
The next morning he found that many of his trees were ruined by the fire and that the burning snag had fallen on the best cow he owned and killed her.
One day Uncle Steve was passing the home of Frank Coatney and stopped to chat with Mrs. Coatney. In the course of the conversation he made this remark, "Iíll tell you, Aunt Clem, I was near deathís door last week." Mrs. Coatney asked how the accident occurred. This was his startling answer, "Last week I felt a tickling in the bottom of my boot and I just stomped and stomped before it stopped. I pulled off my boot this morning and I found a little dead snake in the bottom of my shoe. Iíll tell you, Aunt Clem, I didnít know I was so near deathís door."
This quaint old man had the habit of going each Sunday morning to the home of Billy Simpson for breakfast; and this grew rather monotonous to the family. Just after the breakfast was finished, one Sunday morning, Mr. Simpson turned to Uncle Steve and said, "Now letís see, Uncle Steve, our account has been standing for some time, I guess we had better settle up before it grows too big."
The eyes of the older man opened in surprise and he sputtered, "BÖbut you donít charge a fellow for eating breakfast with you?"
Mr. Simpson replied, "No, not for two or three meals but when he just keeps coming I do."
Uncle Steve turned pale, reached over on the bed for his hat, and stammered, "Yah, yah and I guess Iíd better be a-wenting."19
Uncle Steve never knew when he had eaten enough; he is best remembered today, perhaps, because of this fact. It is next to impossible to believe that a human stomach could hold what Uncle Steve forced his stomach to take. He was always present at every public dinner and people far and wide would come to see him eat. Death was directly brought on him as a result of one of these feasts.
The people of the county hold a celebration in honor of General George Dibrell who had been elected Representative from the county. As usual, the old man appeared bright and early. Many of the boys decided to give him all he could eat that day. Therefore, they devoted themselves to him for that purpose. The mischief makers made it part of their duty to see that Uncle Steve had something at hand to eat every moment. He ate and ate until everyone was startled. After he had eaten all the meat, cake and other foods that he could they brought him a large jar of candy; he sat flat on the ground with the jar between his legs and ate every piece of the candy. When he was making preparations to leave, the boys brought him a boiled ham and three loaves of bread. He crammed the bread in the bosom of his short and carried the ham as a fiddle in his left hand, with the butt end of the ham resting on his shoulder; then with the right hand he cut off bites of meat and broke off chunks of the bread. In this manner he left eating, but became ill on the way home and lived only three days after he was taken home.
When war broke out between the states, John Bradley, then a young man, became a member of Fergusonís bushwhacking band. He went on many raids with the leader through the Southern States but, in addition to these, he made many robbing expeditions of his own and even committed outrageous murders. At one time he met a man traveling alone an attempted to rob him. He discovered the man had only one dollar; he put the dollar back in the manís pocket and shot him because he did not have more money.20
Bradley21 led his men into Sequatchie Valley for an invasion. They went to the home of a Federal sympathizer, a Mr. Param, who had sent sons into the Union army. They killed Mr. Param, stole jewelry from the girls and broke their fingers in taking the rings, rode Mrs. Param on a rail, and mistreated the family very, very badly. After committing these dastardly acts, they put a candle in the mouth of the murdered father and played cards on his body. The mother held a young child in her arms and told Bradley the child would grow up to kill him. He laughed in her face at the absurd idea.
At the close of the war, Bradley with other bushwhackers went West to escape just punishment. In the meantime the Param boy grew to manhood and declared vengeance on Bradley as he was the only member of the party recognized and remembered. Two of the Param boys who had been at home during the unwelcome visit from Bradley, made it their lifeís work to find him and bring to him his just dues. One of the boys would furnish the money for the search; the other would devote his life to the search.
When Bradley left White County, he traveled under the name of Johnson, his motherís maiden name. Another legend says that he was under arrest for killing a negro and while he was on trial two negroes disputed his word and he killed them in the courtroom. He fled, again becoming a fugitive from the law. According to this tradition, it was then his name was changed.22
Bradley23 remained in the West twelve or fifteen years (some say thirty), until his cousin, then attorney-general, wrote him it would be safe for him to come home to see his mother and friends. He came but was only presented to his closest friends.
Flinn, a revenue officer from Sequatchie was at the home of Frank Coatney making preparation for a trip to Nashville, when Bill Wilhite came in and calmly stated the fact that John Bradley was at home, for he had seen him. Flinn, whom Wilhite had not seen, got up, gave his papers to Coatney, and told him that it was necessary that he go home immediately. It was later believed Flinn carried the news of Bradleyís return to the boys.
The Param boys come with five or seven sheriffs from Sequatchie and surrounded the Bradley home early one morning. At daybreak they sent two of their men, one of the Param boys and Flinn, to the front door to ask for breakfast. The mother told the daughter who answered the door to show them into the room where John was, as breakfast was not ready. As soon as they entered the room, John got up, put on his clothes and suddenly grabbed Flinn around the neck. He was attempting to shoot the office when the Param boy grabbed and held the arm which was holding Flinn. The sheriff wrenched himself free and placed his pistol just under Brandleyís left arm and fired; Bradley fell dead without an utterance.
The mother and daughter ran into the room from the kitchen. The daughter brought the rolling pin and began to beat Param over the head. She followed him to the porch with this treatment where he kicked her from the porch. The group left at once for their homes, but on the way they met one of the boys who had been mistreated by Bradley, and he was angry because he not been allowed to come. Some of Bradleyís relative and friends started after the Param boys but were advised to come back for the boys had stayed within the law for they had brought a warrant for his arrest and the seven sheriffs.
The Param boys sent word to the Attorney-General that they would be ready for trial whenever called. The time for the trial arrived and a small army came from Sequatchie, traveling in covered wagons, and camped just outside the city limits. All the men came heavily armed. Flinn was cleared on self protection, and the trial lasted only two days. It was said to have been the shortest murder trial in the history of the county.
The Param boy returned from the West on the same train with Bradley, but as he was traveling under an assumed name did not discover the fact until after the killing. Some people say that he had a grown daughter who believed her name to be Johnson. Others say that he married under his own name and that his family knew the circumstance under which his name was changed.
Any study of White County would be incomplete without a special reference to General George Gibbs Dibrell Ė a foremost in its history Ė political, moral, and military life. He was born in White County, Tennessee, on May 6, 1888. He was the son of Anthony Dibrell, a Virginian, who was a pioneer in this section. At the age of twenty-four he married Mary E. Leftwich, a daughter of Wayman Leftwich, a prominent citizen and successful merchant of Sparta.
General Dibrellís business career was very successful. He was punctual in small things as well as in the larger affairs which engrossed his attention. At the age of eighteen he was clerk of thus branch Bank of Tennessee at Sparta. He served three terms Clerk of the County Court of White County, voluntarily retired in 1860. He continued his mercantile business and farming until the breaking out of the Civil War. In 1861 he was a candidate for the State Convention, representing the Union side, and was elected by a large majority. He was always outspoken in his adherence to the cause of the South but did not believe that secession was a solution of the difficulty. When the war became inevitable, however, he was the first to come to the defense of his section, and on many battle fields to come to the defense of his section, and on many battle fields he defended the Southís standard, carving with the sword an imperishable name in the annals of the war. In 1861 he was elected to the Legislature, receiving all but one vote of the votes cast. He assisted in the organization of the Twenty-fifth Regiment, Tennessee Infantry, and on August 10, 1861, was elected lieutenant-colonel. This regiment was assigned to General Zollicofferís Brigade. At Mill Springs, Kentucky, he was given control of all the outposts, and pickets, and cavalry officers of equal and superior rank were ordered to report to him. His first hard-fought battle was at Fishing Creek, Virginia. When Colonel Stanton was wounded early in the engagement he assumed command of the regiment. At Corinth, Mississippi, on May 7, 1862, he commanded the outposts that had an engagement with General Popeís advance. Pope had telegraphed that he had routed the rebels and captured four thousand prisoners, when Dibrell had only two hundred men engaged. His loss as a result of this battle was only forty-one killed, wounded or captured. He returned home to enter the cavalry service, with letters from General Marmaduke and General Hardie, who had witnessed his fight with Popeís advance. He then went to Richmond to obtain authority to raise his cavalry regiment. He raised the Eight Tennessee Cavalry Regiment within the lines of the enemy, and was assigned to the brigade of the great cavalry leader, General N. B. Forrest. He was engaged in several battles around Nashville, Franklin, and in West Tennessee, at Parkerís Cross Roads, Spring Hill, and Triune. On the retreat from Tullahoma, he assisted in the command of General Forrestís old brigade, after the wounding of Colonel Starnes, and commanded that brigade until the close of the war. He was in two battles in White County, and began the celebrated battle of Chickamauga on September 18, 1863. He was, also, at Cleveland, Sweetwater, and Philadelphia. He took part in many engagements under General Wheeler at Dalton and Atlanta, George; he was under General Longstreet in East Tennessee; he was with the General Wheeler at Dalton and Atlanta, Georgia; he was under General Longstreet in East Tennessee; he was with General Wheeler and General Hampton in the campaigns through Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
At the close of the war he was ordered from Raleigh, North Carolina, to report to President Davis at Greensboro, North Carolina, after the fall of Richmond. He made this eighty-five mile march in two nights and one day, an escorted President Davis, with all the archives, to Washington, Georgia, where the surrender was made and were the soldiers were paroled on May 19, 1865.
When he returned with his men to White County, he found much devastation of his home and the entire county. Most of his property had been swept away, and he found himself heavily involved in debt, largely security debts, and damage suits aggregating $75,000. These suits were brought against him by unprincipled loyalists, but he never shirked his talk, and was never sued for a debt in his life. By his rare business tact he soon became prosperous again. In 1869 he was elected to the Constitutional Convention which framed our present Constitution, and was the author of many of the most beneficent clauses in that instrument.
General Dibrell was largely responsible for getting the railroad extended to Sparta, and spent many years organizing and getting capital interested in the Bon Air Coal and Coke Company, and the extension of the road from Sparta to that point. He was the architect of this great property, now the finest coal property in the South.
In 1874, General Dibrell was elected to represent the Third District in the state Legislature by a majority of 4,600, or more than two to one, over Captain Drake, the Republican. He served 10 years, voluntarily retiring in 1884. His record in Congress was like his record in war, honorable and brilliant. He was very punctual in serving his constituents. Though a Democrat, he was as eagerly serve a political enemy as a follower. He answered all letters in his own handwriting, and his capacity for business was phenomenal. He was a very close friend of Samuel J. Randall.
In 1886 he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, and was only narrowly defeated by Governor Robert L. Taylor. Two years later, while the State Democratic Convention was in session, news came of General Dibrellís death at Sparta. The news threw a pall over the great body of Democrats, and the business of the convention was, at the time, forgotten. Speeches were made by a number of eminent men, and a committee was appointed to draft suitable resolutions, which were unanimously adopted. General Dibrellís nomination at this time would have been quite probable, had he lived.
As a citizen, soldier, and statesman, General Dibrell was without a peer even in a sectional remarkable for its strong manhood and brilliant acquisition. He died leaving a character more valuable than estates, high in love and esteem of his countrymen.24
Dave Beatty, known as Tinker Dave, was a Union guerrilla who came from Fentress County into White County during the war. His career was as lawless as Fergusonís, and the two, though they hunted each over, never met. Beatty was a terror to the people of Southern sympathy in Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee; however, there was not so many stories illustrative of Beattyís personal courage as of Fergusonís. Beattyís life did not end like Fergusonís because the side with which he was in sympathy triumphed.
Previous to hostilities Judge J. D. Goodpasture had defended Beatty at Jamestown on a indictment for a grave offense. This circumstance gained Goodpasture immunity from the bloody raids of the guerrillaís men. Near the close of the war he met Beatty for the first time since the great struggle, and after passing the compliments of the day asked if Tinker Dave had any news.
"Nothing new," he replied, but after a moment he added pleasantly, "Well I believe our men did kill a lot of the Hammock gang this morning."
Hale gives us this story in Beattyís life after the war:
He afterwards said to Judge Temple at the hotel, "Judge, you are right; there cannot be two captains for one company."
In the South and in the border states where war was actively waged, the bushwhackers roved the surrounding country and made life uncertain for all inhabitants. The mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee were full of such soldiers and they took part in the war as their politics inclined them. These bushwhackers25 were capable of making themselves exceedingly disagreeable. Large districts of country were sometimes so infested by them that only strong bodies or troops could pass with security. It was certain death to an enemy, or even a man whom they suspected of being an enemy, to fall into their hands. Champ Ferguson became more widely known than any of them.
The Ferguson was a typical mountaineer. He was rude and untrained in the refinements of moral life but he entertained that idea of right that belongs to the mountain character. The times in which he lived called forth physical energy, egged on by passion, and nature had installed into him a burning fire for vengeance against wrong. Ferguson could hardly be called a bushwhacker, although in his methods he much resembled them. He had a company of very daring men who, although not enlisted in the Confederate service, were intensely attached to Ferguson, and swore to aid the Southern cause by some sort of obligation which they apparently deemed as binding and inviolable as any oath of military allegiance.
Ferguson was a citizen at his home in Clinton County, Kentucky, and had made some preparation to enter the Confederate army with a company of his own when war became certain between the states. Many of Fergusonís neighbors were Union advocates and resented Fergusonís taking up the Southern cause. It was told in camp that Fergusonís little three-year-old child26 appeared on the front porch waving a Confederate flag at a group of Union men who were passing. One of the men in blue shot and killed the child. The father went made and in a moment of frenzy swore the death of his baby would cost the blue coats a hundred lives. He became an outlaw for four years and his war upon the Yankees was unrelenting and his vengeance never appeased. It increased with raging torrent when his wife and daughter were whipped and maltreated at the hands of a group of Union men. Mr. M. C. Lewis says that these men went to the home, forced the women to undress, cook a meal before them in this manner, and after the meal were driven down the public road in a state nudity. Ferguson was furious when he learned of this visit, and swore that he would kill every one of the men with his own hands. Tradition asserts that the accomplished this deed of blood, and that the last of the eleven was killed while he lay wounded in a Southern hospital.27 Tradition adds further that Champ went at once to the southern authorities, told what he had done, and why he had set himself at this task. Ferguson was praised by many for his stand.
Duke28 tells us that Ferguson undertook many expeditions on his private account and acknowledged no obedience to the Confederate orders generally, but often with Confederate Cavalry commands, particularly Morganís, he did good service and strictly obeyed commands. Duke gives this account of his first meeting with Ferguson.
General Duke gave a full description of Ferguson in this manner: He was a rough-looking man but of striking and rather prepossessing appearance, more than six feet in height and powerfully built. His complexion was florid and his hair jet black, crowning his head with thick curls. "He had one peculiarity of feature," adds Duke, "which I remember to have seen in only two or three other men, and each of them was, like himself, a man of despotic will and fearless and ferocious temper. The pupil and iris of the eye were merely of the same color, and seemed perfectly blended."
Ferguson29 came into White County in 1862 and bought two-hundred and fifty acres on Calf Killer River from J. C. Miller.
Mrs. Mary Jane Officer, a neighbor, says that he was a large man, but that he always appeared extremely neat in his clothes and that he was always courteous to those with whom he came in contact as friends and neighbors. He entertained a strong affection for his wife and daughter. The wife so Aunt Mary Jane says was a "plain old thing" and had very little to say. She tells this story about Champ and his wife; Champ had been wounded in the hip and was not able to go on duty for a few days. He would not remain at home during his rest but lay hidden in a large cave far up a hollow above his home. Mrs. Ferguson always went to him at night while he remained there. One morning the Federal soldiers who were searching for him met Mrs. Ferguson as she was returning home in the morning. They asked her where Champ was. She answered that she did not know. To theire question, "Did you spend the night with him?" she answered that she had, but she could not be forced by their threats to reveal his hiding place.
"The Union30 people of the state have been severe in their denunciation of Ferguson and his men. But had they lived in the mountain sections and undergone the experiences of its population, they might have considered many of his deeds justifiable. We judge things from our own viewpoint. There were in the Confederate armies twenty-six distinguished generators who were born in the North. Eighty distinguished Confederate officers were born north of Mason and Dixonís line and were graduates of West Point."
General George G. Dibrell gives some reasons for the desperate attitude toward Union soldiers of some of the guerrillas. He says the soldiers of some of the guerrillas. He says the soldiers of his regiment who returned to their homes occasionally were hunted down ruthlessly and some of them killed. His men, he says, "had become desperate at seeing how they and the people of the country had been imposed upon, abused, and in every way insulted and degraded," by the Federals stationed there.
Many desperate crimes and murders were said to have been committed by Champ Ferguson and his band during the four years of the bloody war.
Most of Fregusonís crimes were committed in Kentucky, his old home. On one of his raids into that state he went to the home of a Union man who was sick and in bed. He attempted to sever his head with a large hunting knife; as he made the stroke he struck a young child and ripped its stomach open.31
Ferguson32 was merciless and cruel. He owned a faithful slave who had served him for years. Champ heard him make a hasty remark that he wished he were dead. He stood the old darky against the wall and shot him.
Hale tells of Fergusonís killing of Huddleston33, chief of a noted gang of bushwhackers.
"His personal adventures, combats and encounters were innumerable. Some of his escapes, when assailed by great odds, were almost incredible and could be explained only by his great bodily strength, activity, adroitness in the use of his weapons and savage energy." One of his bitterest enemies was Elam Huddleston, chief of a noted gang of Federal Bushwhackers. He and Ferguson sought each other with undying hatred. Finally on a raid into Kentucky, Ferguson learned where Huddleston was making his headquarters, and immediately departed with two or three of his most determined followers.
They reached the house about midnight and were fired at by Huddlestonís guard; Fergusonís men returned the fire while their leader sprang quickly, and savagely against the door and burst it open. Huddleston and one of his men had been asleep before the fire and were just rising from their beds when Ferguson entered the room. He threw himself upon them and after a short but desperate fight slew both of them.
B. L. Ridley gives this version of the killing34. When Ferguson came near the house Huddleston was shooting out of a window upstairs. He was told he would be given quarter if he would come down stairs. He answered that he was true blue and would not come down. Huddleston was shot and fell between the joists to the floor; he was bought out and Captain Ferguson shot him. There was a sick man in the house and Ferguson killed him. The bank then went to a house three or four miles away where two of Fergusonís bitter enemies were in bed. He killed one with a knife and shot the other as he ran out the door.
The Federal35 authorities had heard that Ferguson was at home and they sent a band of men to take him. They stopped at the Little home to eat, where they were persuaded not to go in search of Champ that night as it was certain that he would not be at home. The Littles knew that Champ was at home mending shoes that night and they would be certain to capture him if they went to the home.
Champís home was burned by Yankee troops while he was away and his wife and daughter were forced to take refuge in other houses.
In 1864 Ferguson36 went with twelve or fifteen of his men to the General Hospital at Emory and Henry College, forced their way up to the stairs and into the large room where three hundred fifty beds containing wounded soldiers were. Ferguson rushed into the room and went directly to the bed where Smith was suffering with a severe fever. He held the gun before Smith and said, "Smith do you see this? Well, Iím going to kill you." He placed the gun at Smithís head, fired, and sent a minnie ball through Smithís head instantly killing him. The men rode off shouting, "We have killed the man that killed Hamilton." Lieutenant Smith was on of the men who made Fergusonís wife and daughter parade before the soldiers in a nude state.
All the bloody deeds and horrible crimes committed by Ferguson during that brief four years cannot be related here; the length of this study does not permit this, but the acts here related are typical. Champ would never go to the home of a Confederate soldier for such outrages unless the soldier had made a personal enemy of him.
When peace was declared all Confederate soldiers were commanded to bring their arms and "stack" them. In the upper part of the county the Bradley house was selected for this gathering of arms. There was a large tree in the yard and the guns were placed upright around the roots of this tree. Everyone waited Fergusonís appearance, but he did not come. Word was sent to him that he would receive the same terms that were granted to other men if he would come and give up. A meeting place was arranged at a big gate near his home, and as soon as Champ was unarmed he was caught, his hands securely fastened behind him, and his legs tied underneath his horse37.
He was sent to prison at once in Nashville. On the way a number of men tried to take him away from the guards to kill him for crimes he was guilty of during the war. Ferguson told his guard that if he would give him a pistol he would stay with him until the last; the pistol was refused.
Fergusonís trial took place in Nashville and it became of nation-wide interest.
The Nashville Daily Press and Times on September 19, 1865, gives this account of Fergusonís trial:
Ferguson stated that when war was declared two parties were formed in his home town. At the election he, himself, voted for the Union and only two votes were cast for the South. He adds that he finally became Southern in sentiment and that he "joined Bledsoeís company and stayed with it until 1862. It was made up for twelve months. Then I got permission from the Confederate War Department to raise a company, which I did."
Champís full confession was made to the local editor of the Nashville Dispatch. Champ was charged with twenty-three separate murders and he was asked personally about each charge. Some he admitted that he did, others that he was not guilty and that he had been "lied on" about them. One of the charges was the killing of twelve men at Saltville. This he denied; he stated that the men were killed in battle. Another charge was the killing of Crabtree of which he says, "I killed John Crabtree. I went to Pileís house in the night and stabbed him and did another good job when I killed him. He was a murderous villain, and had gone to menís houses and shot them to get their money." of the killing of Affey Williams he stated, "I killed Affey Williams, a negro man in the mountains. I shot and stabbed him. They were scouting after my command and they found the head of its." Again he answered, "I did not kill Elam. I was along, however. I think Ab Hildreth shot him. I know that Elam shot at me and the bullet grazed my clothes." His confession contains similar to this throughout the list of twenty-three.
On October 21, 1865, the Nashville Daily Press and Times bears an account of the hanging of Champ Ferguson.
The charges were read by Colonel Shafter which occupied about twenty-three minutes. Ferguson was impatient as if he thought the proceedings unnecessary. At the close of the reading Shafter remarked to the prisoner, "In accordance with this sentence, I am now going to have you executed." Ferguson bowed his head and rejoined, "Very well." After prayer by Reverend Bunting, Ferguson thanked him with a profound bow.
When asked if he had anything to say, he answered, "No, I donít think I have." The noose was placed around his neck and for the first time he showed signs of emotion; his face flushed to a deep scarlet, perspiration broke forth profusely from his face and his lips closed with a convulsive quiver. Colonel Shafter wiped the sweat away. He was opposed to having anything placed over his eyes. He made this statement, "I donít know some things in those specifications but I donít deny anything I ever done." For a moment he seemed to be repressing an impulse to make fuller remarks. After a brief pause he added, "I want to be sent to my family; I donít want to be buried on this soil. After another brief pause, he continued in an excited tone, "Donít give me to the doctors, I donít want to be cut up here. I want to be sent to White County, the good old Confederate soil, where I can have my friends around me; my last request is to be sent away to my wife." His last words were, "Lord, have mercy on my soul I pray thee." As the last word died away, the rope was severed. He was then given a medical examination. The neck was not broken by the fall, but the rope had completely imbedded itself in the front part of the neck.
The wife and daughter had been with him constantly for the last few days. Mrs. Ferguson is a spare delicate woman, and appeared deeply affected, all the time. His daughter was calm, until just before the final parting, but evidently felt the horrors of her situation. She, too, is delicate and is seventeen years of age. Her exclamation was when told of her fatherís death, "Well, I hope they are satisfied now."
In a study of this type only a small number of the leaders from the county can be mentioned, but they are typical of the early residents of the county. Through the lives of the leading characters, the customs, manners, amusements and professions of the times are revealed. It was shown in Chapter II that the courts were the first institution to receive fame outside the county limits. Among people, the lawyers and judges were the first to bring recognition to the county.
A glance at the characters studied in this chapter will show that White County produced leaders in many professions. Among these there are one early pioneer, one hunter, two judges, two lawyers, two businessmen, three generals, one stone cutter, one quaint old mountain character, and three bushwhackers. Some of the above characters might be classified under more than one group, but they are discussed here with the class by which they are best known. The greater number of legends centers chiefly around the most noted and most widely known characters, as Dibrell, Ferguson and Beatty.
It has been shown that Jackson numbered many of the leaders of White County among his personal and political friends. The two Eastlands, father and son, General Harris, General Simpson and Judge Catron were in this group. Judge Catron was appointed judge of the Supreme Court by Jackson. Major Evans, an early pioneer, was a close personal friend of John Sevier, an aided in rescuing him from the British. Sam Turney and Ad Fisk received state-wide recognition for their remarkable ability as lawyers. The two demonstrate the fact that at that time the ability of the lawyer lay in his power as an orator, and power to sway the judges. Turney was an uncle of Governor Peter Turney. John R. Rogers was a boyhood friend of Lincolnís whom Lincoln honored after he became President by having a tombstone placed at his grave. White County received political and military fame throughout the state and nation by means of the found general, George G. Dibrell. He was a trusted Confederate general during the Civil War, and was sent to escort President Davis to Washington, Georgia, where the surrender was made.
Ferguson and Beatty brought unjust criticism on the county as a result of their border warfare. Both men came into the county after the way and many of the bloody deeds were committed by men who were not native of the county and had no special interest in her welfare.
Thanks to Dona Terry for her work as the word
processor on this project. (November 2002)