Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Man, His Mule and John Barleycorn

Clinton County, Kentucky has had four courthouses in its nearly 200-year history. The first one was built in 1835-36, soon after the county was organized. It was burned by Confederate troops during the Civil War (1864). Construction of the second courthouse began in 1870 and was finished in 1873. The third Clinton County Courthouse was built in 1895. It burned on August 2, 1980, and the current courthouse was built shortly thereafter.

According to some who remembered it, soon after the third court­house was built in 1895, local resident Marion Gibbons, who coincidentally just happened to be the great-grandfather of the focus of my last story, Belknap Byers, Jr., loved his John Barleycorn. One day he consumed a little too much and rode his mule through courthouse from one end to the other. He was promptly arrested and taken before the judge, who fined him $10. Gibbons handed the judge a $20 bill. When the judge said he didn't have change, the man told him to keep the $20, that he enjoyed the ride through the courthouse so much he would just do it again. So, he hopped on his mule and back through the courthouse he went!

The late Eddie Lovelace, who was an eloquent speaker and always in demand at public events, loved to tell this story, and did so at many of his speaking engagements.

"From "Man Rides Mule Through Courthouse" (The New Era newspaper, 1952)

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Things a Father Will Do

From the age of 14, I played a lot of gigs, traveled a lot of miles and spent a lot of time hanging out with Belknap Byers, Jr. Of all the music photos of him, my favorite one doesn't involve me, but rather his son, Andrew, who, followed in his dads footsteps and became a drummer himself. Andrew and his band were playing a gig in Cookeville. During the performance, Andrew's bass drum wouldn't stop sliding and there was no time to stop and make an adjustment. So, as Andrew explained, JR did what any good dad would have done, he crawled under Andrew and held on to that drum. "As soon as we kicked off the first song, my bass drum flew away from my foot. I barely could even grab it. The next thing I knew my dad slid in underneath me, grabbed that drum, and held it the entire set. He later told me that I have the right foot of John Bonham. I said 'no I have the right foot of Jr Byers.'" Thankfully, someone standing on the side of the stage took a picture of it.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

The Homecoming

"I'll be home in seven more nights. Won't that be fine!" my grandfather wrote to his daughters, my aunt Betty and my mom, Glenda, on Sept. 20, 1944, three months after D-Day. He had been aboard the S.S. Samuel De Champlain during WWII, serving in the American, European and Asiatic theaters, and participating in the Normandy Invasion cleanup. "I will be glad to see your new sailor dresses and new shoes," he wrote. As you can see in the photo, aunt Betty and my mom were waiting by the gate when he arrived home. Oh how his heart must have leaped for joy at the sight of them in their new outfits. "Even prettier than I could have ever imagined," he might have said. What a reunion it must have been! Growing up, I was blessed to have witnessed a special bond my grandparents shared with their children. I was always in awe of that. It was because of God's perfect design that they were placed together into a family. Just as my aunt Betty and her siblings did, may we all seek to honor the father and mother who brought us into this world and influenced our lives for good.

In memory of Betty Marx
Nov. 22, 1940 - Mar. 8, 2021
(Mom's sister)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

A Civil War Massacre in Overton County

The Officer family lived in a rural community in Overton County called Sinking Cane. William Alexander Officer, who had married a Cynthia Holford in that community in 1836, operated a sizable farm with pastures, timberland and a large two-story house. Today, the location is about two miles off Highway 84 on Rock Springs Road, near the foot of Monterey Mountain. The couple produced seven children — four girls and three boys — and dealt primarily in livestock. He favored the Confederacy.

William spent a lot of time driving livestock further into the South. Everyone knew he was away from home a lot and also was successful and financially sound. Therefore, given the ongoing war, the Officer family was subject to harassment by federals who came to the Officer home place and took what they wanted — a common practice on both sides of the conflict.

One of the Officer sons, John, had been born in 1845 and was thus a young man when the Civil War broke out. He enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army. In March 1864, during a period in which Tennessee was seeing a flurry of wartime skirmishes and guerrilla activity in rural areas, John had been granted a leave from Company F, 13th (Dibrell’s) Tennessee Cavalry Regiment to go visit his family. With him had come a handful of fellow Confederate soldiers who had become separated from their command.

He was home with his companions on March 12, 1864. His mother rose early, and with daughter Frances, set to work to make an especially good Saturday breakfast for John and their visitors. The young men were happily eating what was probably the best meal they’d had in weeks when a big band of federal soldiers, some 200 of them, part of Col. William B. Stokes’ command, rode up to the house.

The federals had been sent out by Stokes to hunt down Confederate guerrillas, particularly Champ Ferguson. Upon their arrival, John Officer jumped up in a panic and fled into another room, where a slave of the family, named Abraham, but usually called Uncle Abe, helped him up into a loft or attic area to hide.

The guns of the family’s visitors were not far away, stacked on one another in a hallway, but the federal band was a big one and there appeared to be nothing to gain by dashing to get the weapons to make a hopeless stand. Union troops entered the house and things went bad fast. Shooting began, killing on the spot five of the young Confederates: John P. York, Oliver Shipp, Samuel Garrett, William Slaughter and William Lipscomb.

Slaughter served in Company C, 1st Regiment Texas Rangers. York, Shipp and Garrett were part of the 8th Texas Calvary and Lipscomb was in the 3rd Regiment, Alabama Cavalry. A sixth Confederate there was 2nd Lt. Robert S. Davis, also of the 8th Texas. Davis was wounded but did not die inside the house, as his companions had. The federals hustled the wounded man outside and put him against a gatepost, tying him in place. There he was executed by a hastily formed firing squad (That gatepost is on display in the Overton County Museum).

In 1922, Uncle Abe gave an eyewitness account of the incident before the Tennessee Historical Commission. According to his testimony, Davis spoke to his killers before they shot him, saying, “You ought not do this. I have never done anything but my sworn duty.” Abe also noted that Davis never flinched when the federal soldiers fired and took his life.

The six massacred soldiers are buried at Officer Cemetery, located near the home. This event is referred to locally as the Stokes Atrocity. A state historical marker, describing the event, is posted on the main street in Monterey.

*Written by Cameron Judd, The Greenville Sun (Mar 2, 2019): "A Civil War Massacre At A Place Called Sinking Cane."

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Making the List

My favorite memories of Niles Gayle Brown begin with the one and only season he played on the basketball team at CCHS. It was his senior year. Up until then he only played basketball on the FFA teams. Really, Niles loved to hunt more than anything, but he was also a fine baseball player. The one thing he did well on the basketball court was shoot free throws. For instance, the Mighty Bulldogs were entering the final week of January, 1973 recuperating from two losses they had suffered the week before to Cumberland County and Warren Central.

Three games were on the schedule this week, including the biennial road trip to Logan County to play Auburn and Lewisburg. But first, on Tuesday night, the 23rd, they faced what Clinton County News sportswriter Mike Reeves referred to as the "flying" Gamaliel Tigers, a tough opponent no matter where the the game was played. This game, played here at home, was a close one from start to finish. The Tigers had a two point lead going into the fourth quarter. With 19 seconds remaining, we were up by one when Niles Gayle was fouled. He stepped up to the free throw line and became the hero of the game by calmly cashing in on both attempts, ensuring a Bulldogs victory.

The next game, on Jan. 26th at Auburn, would be another close one. With 10 seconds to go, Clinton County led 75-to-73, but an Auburn player connected on a 50-foot bank shot at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. The extra period was intense. The Bulldogs were down by one with 30 seconds left, but Larry Hatfield's free throw sent the game into a second overtime period tied at 81-all. It was definitely a nail-biter. With five seconds left in the second overtime, and Clinton County leading 88-to-87, who would be fouled but Niles Gayle Brown and, just as he had done three nights earlier against Gamaliel, he once again made both free throws and became a hero for the second game in a row, as the Bulldogs defeated Auburn for the first time ever.

It was that last week of January 1973 that Niles Gayle and his teammates from that season were added to my list of all-time favorite CCHS basketball players. Other than Niles Gayle and Larry Hatfield, the '72-73 team consisted of Mike Tallent, Mark Shearer, Ronnie Neal, Doug Hatfield, Frank Alexander, Jeff Choate, Ricky Mercader, Darrell Butler, Floyd Mercer and Freddie Branham. They were coached by Jim DeForest, assisted by Bob Reneau.

Larry Hatfield had 38 rebounds in that Auburn game, which earned him a place in the KHSAA record book. He has been tied for 5th place with Russ Thompson of Fairview (vs. Louisa, 2-28-69) ever since.

By the way, in the third and final game that week, on the 27th, Clinton County wrapped up it's road trip to Logan County by beating the Lewisburg Rangers 61-to-48.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Grandma's Kitchen Table

Charles Spurgeon once said a holy life is rich in interest, full of wonders, checkered with many changes, yet as easily ordered by providence as the improvisor arranges the details of the story. "Our lives should be illustrations of heavenly goodness," he said, "parables of divine wisdom, poems of sacred thought, and records of infinite love; happy are we whose lives are such tales."

This is a memory I have of my grandmother.

When I think back on my childhood, I am able to recall times I went to visit her. The most vivid of all memories is of her kitchen table. Her Bible would almost always be lying there and most of the time she would be sitting there reading it, out loud if anyone was there to listen. I heard the stories of David and Goliath, the den of lions, Noah and the flood, and about how on the third day Jesus arose from the grave and what it was all about. Somedays there would even be a verse and chorus from one of her favorite old hymns.

I am thankful for this memory that provides strength and comfort to me as I travel along through life. God definitely had a plan when he placed my grandmother in my path. She lived the sort of Christian life we should all desire to live, and set an example for myself and others to follow. Of all the things I inherited from her, the mere recollection of her is more dearest to me.

Singer/songwriter Willie Nelson's inspiration when he wrote 'Family Bible' came from his childhood when his grandmother would sing 'Rock of Ages' and read from the Bible after supper...a story that echoes the same wonderful memories I have of my own grandmother.

"In memory of Dimple Speck"

"There's a family Bible on the table
Each page is torn and hard to read
But the family Bible on the table
Will ever be my key to memories"

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Whack the Barber

My great, great-grandfather, John Alex Craig, was born in 1853. He grew up and became one of the town's barbers. Appropriately, he was given the nickname, "Whack." If I had been the one to give him that nickname I would have included an exclamation point at the end of it...Whack! to give it more character, not that he needed it probably. It is believed that the barbershop Whack operated from was located inside or near Huff Hotel, which was located where Campbell New Funeral Home is today. The New Era newspaper, in 1955, reported that one of Whack's best customers for a shave was 'Uncle' Jim Vincent, who operated a local water-powered mill. Since he was such a good customer, who came in every day for a shave, Whack agreed to give him a special rate -- only 5¢ per session. The special rate for Vincent continued for years and years, until one day, instead of a nickel, Whack kept a dime out of the coin Uncle Jim had handed him.

"Say," said Uncle Jim, "I thought you agreed to only charge me a nickel for a shave!" "I did," replied Whack "but when I told you that I didn't expect you to live forever!"

John Alex's family were members of the same church I belong to today, which is Clear Fork Baptist Church. His daughter, Della, my great-grandmother, professed faith in Jesus Christ in 1896, at the age of 13, and became of the church. The photo I included here is of the church and it's congregation. It is from 1901, as the church approached it's 100th anniversary. John Alex, or Whack, is the first man you see standing to the far left. He died in 1927. Nearly all of his family are buried at Peolia Cemetery in Clinton County, Kentucky.

A Man, His Mule and John Barleycorn

Clinton County, Kentucky has had four courthouses in its nearly 200-year history. The first one was built in 1835-36, soon after the count...