Friday, January 30, 2009

The Sparing

The date was Tuesday, March 19, 1963. 16-year-old Peggy Pickens was not at school that day. It was an unseasonably warm afternoon and it looked like it might rain. A dark cloud loomed on the horizon. Sure enough, along about two o'clock, a strong wind arose, accompanied by much hail and a torrential rainfall. Three-fourths of an inch of rain fell within five minutes. And then, the worst happened. Two tornadoes struck minutes apart. The first one hit West Albany, ripping the front off Ted Mills' Service Station on the Burkesville Road. Across the street, it brought down the Albany Drive-In Theatre screen. Several other businesses in or near West Albany were damaged, including Luther Harlan's Filling Station, Phillips Auto Sales and Wisdom Filling Station. Ferguson Feed Mill near Albany Cemetery was heavily damaged. A second tornado struck about the same time in the Static, Beaty and Duvall Valley communities. The Maupin United Methodist Church building was knocked six feet off its foundation. The home of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Beard was damaged. Mrs. Beard was knocked unconscious but was not badly injured. Back in town, several homes reported damage. The worst damage occurred at a residence at the end of Hopkins Street...601 Hopkins Street to be exact, two blocks south of Ted Mills' Service Station. In that apartment, which was above a garage, a grandmother, who was baby-sitting, had sought safety underneath the kitchen table. In one arm was her three-month-old grandson. In the other arm was his two brothers, ages 3 and 4, and sister, age 2.

I was the three-year-old.

There had been almost no advance notice. My grandmother would later say she looked out the window just in time to see a huge black cloud coming straight at us. There wasn't enough time to run downstairs and then over to the basement in her home. We were stuck there and my grandmother knew it. Seconds after climbing under the small kitchen table, she realized that with her arms busy holding her grandchildren, she had no way of holding onto the table. She shouted for my older brother and me to run to our parents' bedroom and get under the bed. But, just as quickly as we got there, we realized we were alone in a dark room, and for a couple of 3 and 4-year-old boys, it was too much to handle, so we went running back to my grandmother.

Knowing the tornado was headed straight for us, it must have been horrifying for her to see us come running back to the table. She only had time to put her arm around us when the tornado hit. I remember a noise that was so loud. The tornado was right on top of us. Only a small kitchen table separated us from possible injury or worse. With four children tucked away under her arms, my grandmother leaned forward enough so that we were sitting in a crouched position with our faces almost directly on the floor. Later, she would recall the haunting sound of hundreds of nails being ripped out of the wood as the roof came off. What a brave woman she was that day.

The roar of the tornado was defeaning. It was followed by an eerie calm, almost in slow motion, as we peeked out from under the table. Where the ceiling used to be, there was only the sky. Suddenly, it began to rain.

As we began to crawl out from under the table, the front door to the apartment burst open and in walked a strange girl. Her name, I would later discover, was Peggy Pickens. As fate would have it on that day, Peggy and a friend, who had skipped school with Peggy that day, were walking along Hopkins Street, near our home, when the tornado hit. 22-year-old Weldon Gibson's family lived behind our home. He ran to our home just seconds after the storm had passed. The stairway leading up to the apartment had been pulled loose from the side of the building and were badly beaten up by the storm. There was a big open space between the platform at the top and the door leading to the apartment. While Peggy's friend waited below, Peggy and Weldon cautiously, and courageously, began climbing up the loosened stairway. Step by step they climbed, higher and higher, until they finally reached the door to our apartment, and then, one by one, they carried us to safety below. The storm was over, and so was the nightmare it had brought to us, especially to my poor grandmother.

I do not know if there was ever any public acknowledgement of the brave rescue made by Peggy Pickens and Weldon Gibson that day, but I do know that my family has never forgotten it. To us, they will always remain our heroes.

Weldon Gibson is 73 years of age as of this writing (2015).

Peggy Jean Pickens Winningham passed away in 2009 at the age of 62. She was the daughter of Jonathan and Gleah Wright Pickens and wife of State Representative Leslie Winningham.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Phenomenal Billy Powell

Billy Powell died today at his home in Florida. Around the age of eight, his mother signed him up for piano lessons, but his piano teacher said he did not need her. In high school, Billy met Leon Wilkerson, future bassist for Lynyrd Skynyrd. Powell was first hired as a roadie for the band. One day, in 1972, as the band was sitting up to play a school prom, after his duties were finished, Powell sat down at a piano in the corner of the stage and began playing his own version of Free Bird. Immediately, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant was impressed and invited Powell to join the group at its new keyboard player. The rest was history.

Three days after the release of its later release, Street Survivors, an airplane Lynyrd Skynyrd had chartered crashed into a forest near McComb, Mississippi. The crash killed Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, his sister and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines and assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick. Powell walked away from the crash with severe facial lacerations, almost completely losing his nose, but was otherwise relatively uninjured. He was the only member able to attend the funerals of his fallen bandmates.

During the time between the plane crash and the Lynyrd Skynyrd reunion in 1987, Powell briefly joined a Christian rock band named Vision. His keyboard playing was often spotlighted in Vision concerts. Powell also spoke during the concerts about his newly found faith in Jesus Christ. Lynyrd Skynyrd reunited in 1987. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Just before 1:00 a.m. this morning, Billy Powell dialed 911 from his condo in Orange Park, Florida, complaining of difficulty in breathing. Paramedics found him unresponsive in his bedroom still holding the phone. He was pronounced dead at 1:52 a.m. The official cause was listed as a heart attack. Powell had a history of heart trouble.

Billy Powell was unduplicable. As a piano player myself, I drooled at his playing. In my mind, he was THE best! Skynyrd was known for its triple guitars, horns and female background singers, but Billy Powell was the icing on the cake. He caused Lynyrd Skynyrd to be 'Honky Tonk," because he was all that and more! His phenominal playing breathed an endless life into those songs that will remain forever etched in the hearts of southern rock lovers.

Fly Free as Bird Billy Powell! You earned your wings!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Goat Did It!

This just in. Police in Nigeria are holding a goat on suspicion of attempted armed robbery.

Vigilantes took the black and white beast to the police saying it was an armed robber who had used black magic to transform himself into a goat to escape arrest after trying to steal a Mazda 323.

"The group of vigilante men came to report that while they were on patrol they saw some hoodlums attempting to rob a car. They pursued them. However one of them escaped while the other turned into a goat," Kwara state police spokesman Tunde Mohammed told Reuters by telephone.

"We cannot confirm the story, but the goat is in our custody. We cannot base our information on something mystical. It is something that has to be proved scientifically, that a human being turned into a goat," he said.

(This was in the news recently)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Basketball Blowout

The coach of a Texas high school basketball team that beat another team 100-0 was fired Sunday, the same day he sent an e-mail to a newspaper saying he will not apologize for a wide-margin victory when his girls played with honor and integrity. Administrators at Covenant School in Dallas Morning called the blowout against Dallas Academy shameful. A parent who attended the game said Covenant continued to make 3-pointers, even in the fourth quarter. She said spectators and an assistant coach were cheering wildly as their team edged closer to 100 points. A private christian school, Dallas Academy has eight girls on its varsity team and about 20 girls in its high school and is winless over the last four seasons. The academy specializes in teaching students struggling with learning differences.

This reminds me of an incident that happened many years ago, when girls basketball was just getting started in Kentucky and Clinton County defeated Pine Knot 102 to 6 at Albany. The teams were scheduled to play later in the season at Pine Knot. As the date for that game drew near, WANY received a letter from the Pine Knot principal, who refused to allow the radio station to broadcast the game unless it paid a fee, saying more or less, she would not allow her school and the team to be humiliated without a price. This infuriated the Voice of the Bulldogs, Sid Scott, who issued a response saying he 'would not pay to humiliate anyone.'

Dallas Girls School Coach Fired After Team Beats Another School 100 to 0

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sad Road To Appleton (Remembering Feb. 3, 1959)

As the small caravan of vehicles departed the Iron County maintenance garage in Hurley, the sheriff’s deputies leading the rescue must have wondered if they would find any survivors at all. A trucker had notified the sheriff’s department that a group of men -- without hats, gloves or heavy winter coats -- was standing outside a stranded bus about 15 miles south of town. Any person exposed to Artic cold without proper clothes or shelter would be in serious trouble -- life-threatening trouble. Every minute that passed made it more likely that the people stuck out on Highway 51 were dying or dead of exposure.

It was the dead of night, February 1, 1959.

One mile north of Pine Lake, the sheriff’s deputies found the darkened bus on the roadside. Stepping inside with their flashlights, the deputies were greeted by a group of pale and weak young men, some of whom had been huddled together under blankets. One person couldn’t stand up. Maybe the only thing that kept the group alive was the fact that they had no idea how close they were to dying. They were musicians – rock-n-rollers – on their way to Appleton, Wisconsin after a show in Duluth, Minnesota. A number of the young men hailed from Texas, another was from southern California. None had ever experienced weather like this.

The deputies heard of one of the singers. His name was Buddy Holly.

Buddy Holly had rocketed up the music charts in 1957 with songs like "That'll Be The Day and Oh Boy!" He had spent 1958 touring non-stop, yet by the end of the year, thanks to bad management, he was broke. With Buddy and his new wife, Maria Elena, expecting a baby and with Holly desperately wanting to create his own record company and recording studio, Buddy reluctantly agreed to headline the Winter Dance Party of 1959 because it offered quick cash. But, the tour schedule was absurd. Tour organizer, General Artists Corporation, accepted any offer that came along and filled the dates regardless of the distance involved. The group had to endure daily bus travels back and forth across Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Buddy ignored the premonitions that both he and Maria Elena had had. He would never know that his friend, Peggy Sue, had also had the same premonition.

Wisconsin was experiencing the deadliest winter in decades. Fourteen weather-related fatalities occurred in January alone. Temperatures had plunged with the start of 1959 and remained below zero for more than three weeks straight when a winter storm dumped 13 inches of snow on the region.

6,000 young people showed up at George Devine’s Million Dollar Ballroom in Milwaukee on the tours first stop on the 23rd to hear Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Big Bopper, Dion and the Belmonts and Richie Valens. To those who came to see the show, it all seemed so perfect. The headline in Milwaukee read, "If You Haven't Heard Them, You Haven’t Lived, Man!" But, away from the stage, for the singers and the musicians, things were about to go from bad to worse. GAC had accepted the lowest bid for the bus service and there were constant problems. “Such lousy old buses,” Holly’s guitarist Tommy Allsup would bitterly recall decades later. “They weren’t really buses. They were jokes.”

Traveling on two-lane roads covered with ice and snow drifts, the tour plunged into the initial leg of its schedule: Kenosha’s Eagles Ballroom to Mankato, Minn., 350 miles; Mankato to Eau Claire’s Fournier Ballroom, 170 miles; Eau Claire to Montevideo in western Minnesota, 230 miles. Drummer Carl Bunch’s toes began to tingle. In Eau Claire temperatures dropped to minus 25. At first, the musicians endured the uncomfortable bus conditions. Within days, however, the group’s discomfort began to deteriorate to treacherous levels. Carl Bunch began losing the feeling his feet. The tour trudged on to St. Paul, Minn., and Davenport and Fort Dodge, Iowa. The bus heater rarely worked. Bunch began having trouble coordinating his feet. From Fort Dodge it was 370 miles north to Duluth, Minn. That night at the Duluth armory, a young Robert Zimmerman angled close to the stage as he could possibly get. He was mesmerized by Buddy Holly. Zimmerman, who is known to the world as Bob Dylan, would later say he stood three feet from Buddy Holly that night and that once Buddy looked right at him, and it was if something passed between them.

After Duluth, the group started the 340-mile trip to Appleton. Wind chills were estimated at minus 40 or worse. Turning south on U.S. 51 shortly after midnight, Feb. 1, disaster struck 15 miles south of Hurley. The bus died. Ill-prepared and sickly, members of the tour party were trapped in the worst possible predicament. The temperature inside the bus was roughly the same as outdoors, with pounding winds sending drafts through the windows. Frozen tree limbs were snapping like twigs in the wind, crashing to the ground in the forest surrounding the group. The group began burning newspapers in the aisle for heat, which provided only a few fleeting moments of relief. Carl Bunch was succumbing, now unable to move his legs at all. Some of the musicians stepped outside hoping to flag down a vehicle. To their horror, not a soul was traveling. The group was in serious danger. With no other option, the men grabbed their instruments and began a jam session in the bus to stay active. Carl Bunch prayed for deliverance. After an hour, the group saw the headlights of a semi-truck approaching through the darkness. They hurried off the bus and into the middle of the road. The trucker slowed enough to maneuver around the men but never stopped. Dejected, the musicians filed back on the bus. After two hours on the roadside, the Iron County deputies arrived. The trucker had notified the police when he reached town. The group was taken to Hurley’s Club Carnival Café, where they were fed breakfast. Carl Bunch was rushed to Grand View Hospital in Ironwood, Michigan.

Despite the ordeal, the group was instructed to fulfill the Green Bay performance that night. Afterwards, they were desperately looking forward to a scheduled day off to recuperate from their harrowing experience, but were told by GAC that another show had been added in Clear Lake, Iowa.....357 miles away. To their dismay, after the show, they walked outside to leave and there in front of them....the same bus that broke down in Hurley had been delivered to Green Bay, supposedly repaired. It sputtered down U.S. 41 and 151 until it finally died, again, somewhere in Iowa the next day. The group abandoned it on the side of the road.

After the evening’s performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, the tour was scheduled for another ten-hour ride to Moorhead, Minn. CAG had arranged for a school bus to get them there. But, Buddy Holly had had enough. He chartered a small plane to reach Moorhead. That would leave time to recuperate in a warm hotel room and get his filthy laundry done. Richie Valens and the Big Bopper, who was sick with the flu, asked to fly along.

The wreckage of their plane was found early the next morning along a fence row on Albert Juhl's farm just outside of Clear Lake. There were no survivors.

The Ghost of Champ Ferguson

One night as I walked home from work
Up 'Rube Sloan Hollow' past Clear Fork Church
I stopped at the spring at the end of the draw
And my heart froze at what I saw
The moon shone bright on the Eastern hill
And there in the shadows deathly still
Stood a towering form in an old grey suit
A grey flopped hat and brogan boots
Long bones hung down from braided sleeves
And an eerie skull where the face should be
'Twas a Captain's uniform he wore
He'd served the South in the Civil War
I wanted to run but couldn't move
'Twas then I heard the roaring hooves
Of a dozen horses as they came
And stood around me at the spring
The men dismounted and sat down
They placed their rifles on the ground
Took off their caps then I could see
These men were Southern Calvary
They hadn't stopped when peace was signed
Their cause still burned within their minds
These men had waged a private war
They'd killed and wounded dozens more
Now they weren't strangers to this place
A hundred nights they'd turned their face
To this one spot where they were safe
When the Army or the Law gave chase
But a hundred years had passed in flight
And these dead men came back tonight
And there around the Clear Fork Spring
They met their leader once again
When I realized what was taking place
Instead of a skull, I saw a face
A handsome face that matched his size
With coal black hair and dark brown eyes
Six feet three and straight as an oak
He looked at me but he never spoke
The distant cry of a Whipporwill
A passing breeze that left a chill
The bat of an eye and they were gone
And I stood there at the spring alone
All night I stood there on that ground
Unable to move or to make a sound
But then I knew with the breaking dawn
I'd seen the Ghost of Champ Ferguson

- Morris Gaskins (1973)

The original drawing had a notation that read, "When viewed from a distance of eight feet or more, the drawing above by Morris Gaskins, shows a sad face with closed eyes and drawn lips. When viewed at close range, the face of a skull appears."

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Oneida & Western Railroad

I remember when my friend, Steve Lawson, first showed me his dad's massive train collection. If you measured it like a map (one inch equals one mile), it stretched from New York to California. It was so big that it took up almost half of the full-size basement at his parents' home. Jim's facination with trains began as a child, when his father worked for a railroad company at Pineville. Jim rode the trains frequently and was always hanging out in the railyard.

In his basement, Jim had two four foot by eight foot layouts. They were connected by bridges. It had working railroad crossings, lighted buildings, trees, tunnels and about a million wires underneath that only he knew where they went. His pride and joy was his Louisville-Nashville train, which looked like the ones he saw as a child.

It was Steve who reminded me of the 'almost-local' Oneida & Western Railroad. What's that you ask? Well, in the early 1900's, a railroad was supposed to be built from Onieda, Tennessee to my town of Albany, Kentucky. Its intentions were to spur the development of coal and lumber properties in the region. But, the Oneida & Western disappointed its supporters by never reaching Albany. Instead, the Oneida & Western became a short line railway, stretching only 25 miles from Oneida to East Jamestown. At Oneida, the short line connected with the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway.

Incorporated on September 18, 1913, the railroad line opened the rugged gorge through which the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River flowed to natural resources extraction. Much of the lands in the region, collectively known as "the Big Survey," were owned by Stearns Coal & Lumber Co. Scott County prospered during the era, but the Great Depression took its toll on the railroad, and as natural resources in the region played out, the Oneida & Western was no longer needed. A court eventually granted a request for the railroad to be abandoned, and the last train traveled on the rails in 1954.

The Oneida & Western Railroad ordered its Locomotive No. 20 (shown here) from the Baldwin Locomotive Works. Delivered in June 1916 when the Oneida & Western was but three years old, the trim little Consolidation worked faithfully in the hills of Tennessee for 21 years.

Steamtown NHS: Special History Study

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Boppin' with Onie

In 1953, Onie Wheeler and his group, The Ozark Cowboys, signed with Columbia Records. There was not much success so in 1957, at the age of 36, Wheeler signed as a solo artist with Sun Records and went on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis, George Jones, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. His time with Elvis began on May 1, 1955, when Elvis began a new three-week tour as a "Special Added Attraction" on Hank Snow's All-Star Jamboree, with Faron Young, the Wilburn Brothers, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters, Skeeter Davis and others. In the early 1970s, Onie was living next door to Johnny Cash, when one day Johnny came over and told Onie to write a song about him. The result was Onie's 1973 hit, "John's Been Shucking My Corn." It was the biggest song of his career. Over one million copies of the record were sold.

It was the week of October 22, 1973. Red Sovine had been scheduled to perform at the Town & Country Music Hall in nearby Burkesville on Sunday the 28th, but forced to cancel due to a sudden illness. Thankfully, the music hall was able to book another act at the last minute. He was - Onie Wheeler. The only problem was Onie did not have a band, so, with five days until the show date, if Onie was to come, the music hall would have to find a back-up band. The music hall called my dad and asked him if he could put a band together on such short notice.

I don't recall exactly who the other musicians were, but I couldn't believe my ears when dad asked me if I wanted to be the piano player for the show. I was only 14. With dad a master guitarist, I should have followed my brothers and had dad to teach me guitar, too, but I was mesmerized with the piano. I had grown up around piano player and singer, Cecil Pryor, a WANY disc jockey, and I loved his Jerry Lee Lewis-style of playing. I took enough lessons to learn the notes and the chords, but I played by ear, and I found out real quick how to play using the Nashville Number System, and quickly realized that I could play a lot of songs using those two systems; my ear and the numbers. So, when dad asked me if I wanted to back up Onie Wheeler, I immediately said yes.

The only thing I knew about Onie Wheeler was that he was the guy who sang that hit song, "John's Been Shucking My Corn" on the radio. Performing on stage with him that Sunday afternoon was special. It was way too much fun for me to be having, and I loved it! After the show, Onie paid me $50. I couldn't believe I actually got paid! On the way out of town, dad pulled into a diner, where I ordered a hamburger steak dinner, and paid for it out of my own money. A pretty good days work for a 13-year-old boy!

So, there you have it -- my first professional gig was with Grand Ole Opry star Onie Wheeler! The last big gig I ever played before retiring from the music business, was with Motown legend Percy Sledge. To you, it may seem like a million miles between the Grand Ole Opry to Motown. But, for me, it wasn't at all. It was just music. Now that I think about it, it's odd how both those performers had a connection to Elvis; with Onie performing with him in 1955, and Percy living across town from him in Memphis. Plus, in the middle there was that Elvis impersonator I used to perform with, which is a whole other story for a later time. Weird!

On May 26, 1984, Onie Wheeler collapsed and died of a heart attack while performing on stage at the Grand Ole Opry. A few years ago, I met his daughter, Karen, who was a major country music star from the mid 1970's to the mid 1980's. I told her the story of the time I got to perform with Onie Wheeler, who sang 'John's Been Shucking My Corn.'


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Elijah To The Rescue!

You know how it is growing up with sibilings. Most of the time you get along with one another, but there are those moments when you are no longer are rivalries. It's those times when brotherly or sisterly love goes out the window, and all you can think about is beating the living daylights out of each other. You know what I'm talking about But, normally sibilings will go the distance for each other. In the end, sibilings will do whatever it takes for one another. And, that reminds me of a story.

Elijah was 14 months old, and since they are ten-and-a-half months apart, that means J.D. had just turned two. Both had contracted a virus that was going around, and both were in hospitalized -- in the same room. J.D was in a regular hospital bed, while Elijah was in a baby bed. Now, J.D. hated IV's. I learned that after he contracted whooping cough when he was 6 weeks old, and they had to stick him so many times it wasn't even funny. It was war each time they went to put an IV in him.

So, anyway, by this time J.D. is much older, and here they are in the hospital, in the same room and a couple of nurses come in and announce they have come to insert an IV into J.D. They tried to insert it and he went ballistic on them. After a couple of other failed attempts, one of the nurses pushes the intercom and requests backup. More nurses come and grab J.D. trying to keep him still long enough for the IV to be inserted. Poor J.D., he was totally surrounded. He was wayyyyyyyy outnumbered.

The whole time, Elijah was standing up in his baby bed with a bottle of juice in his mouth and his eye on the proceedings across the room. J.D was screaming LOUD! His face was blood red. He did not want that IV in him! I look over at Elijah for a second or two and his eyes are going back and forth from J.D. to the nurse, who is trying to stick that IV in him. J.D. is screaming NO! NO! NO! As I turned back to look at J.D., suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw a bottle of juice flying through the air in speedy line drive fashion - from Elijah's bed straight to the forehead of the nurse who was trying to insert that IV into J.D.'s arm. BAM! He beaned her big time with his bottle! Right smack dab in the middle of her forehead! I turned to look at Elijah and he was standing there in the corner of his baby bed with his arm outstretched and his finger pointed directly at those nurses, and he was screaming a line of jibberish like you never heard! I have no way of knowing what he was saying, but he knew and he was dead on serious. I honestly believe that if he had been able, he would have climbed up on the corner of that baby bed, just like Macho Man Randy Savage, and came flying off the top rope with a drop kick on that nurse. And then, amid all the laughter, my eyes veered over toward J.D.'s bed and there he lay stunned, with mouth wide open and eyes big as half dollars, watching Elijah kick butt. He had forgotten about screaming. He had forgotten about tears. The struggle had left him. He didn't even notice as the nurse grabbed the IV and calmly, and easily, inserted it into his arm. As soon as the nurses had all left the room, I went over to Elijah to give him his bottle back, and to do a bit of celebrating. You know, "Way to go tough guy!" That sort of thing. He just took the bottle from my hand, put it in his mouth, and went about his business like nothing had happened. All in a day's work, I guess!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Welcome to Boatland

This photo was taken around 1912 and is of Porter Woods' Store at Boatland in Fentress County, Tennessee.

John Clemens owned land at Boatland from 1826 to 1832.

Later, his son, Samuel, also known as Mark Twain, wrote "You would not know that Obedstown stood on the top of a mountain, for there was nothing about the landscape to indicate it--but it did: a mountain that stretched abroad over whole counties, and rose very gradually. The district was called the "Knobs of East Tennessee," and had a reputation like Nazareth, as far as turning out any good thing was concerned." The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873).

'Obedstown' is a reference to Jamestown, the seat of Fentress County. Boatland is located off Highway 52, a two-lane road that winds from Livingston to Jamestown, Tennessee. It's about 35 minutes from me. The place was called Boatland because of the flat boats that came up the Obed River to pick up tar, turpentine, and other products of the area to take to Nashville and other markets on the river waterways. John Clemens had also owned property one block from where the Jamestown square is today. His land was adjacent to a spring, which was a source of water for the early settlers. Today, it is known as Mark Twain Spring Park. Mark Twain was not born in Fentress County, but he was conceived there. He was born five months after his parents moved to Missouri.

As far as that line which Twain wrote about turning out any good thing, Boatland sure has had its share of celebrities. John Clemens is not the only person with a connection to fame to live at Boatland. Davy Crockett spent the winter of 1817 in a hunting cabin there. Records of his possessions and improvements are in several old deeds. Another famous resident of Boatland was Tinker Dave Beaty, who formed "Beaty's Independent Scouts," during the Civil War to protect residents and their properties from thieves and thugs like Champ Ferguson and his band of bushwackers.

And, then there's the story of Old Man Stout, who lived a reclusive life. It is said that Stout did not attend church, and sat up late at night reading strange books. He was accused in 1835 of being a witch and of bewitching a neighbor girl. Stout was arrested by a large posse armed with guns loaded with silver bullets and taken before Justice of the Peace Joshua Owens. At his arraignment, witnesses testified that they had seen Stout 'escape from dwelling houses through the keyhold in the doors' and that he had 'thrown people and animals into strange spells by his influence when they were miles away from him.' The testimony caused Stout to be held for the grand jury. But, Judge Abraham Caruthers and attorney general Joseph B. McCormick refused to indict Stout, which almost precipitated a riot in the courtroom. Old man Stout sued the officers and posse for damages. The people's defense was that Stout was a criminal under a statue of Henry VIII and James I that made witchcraft a felony. And, even though this was 1835, they claimed this particular statute had never been repealed in Tennessee. But, the Judge said the statute had never been in effect in Tennessee. Thus, the trial ended with the conviction of the people who made the initial arrest.

Portions of this story was based on these works: Touring The East Tennessee Backroads by Carolyn Sakowski and Boatland by Ruth Clark and Willie M. Gernt.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Human Statue of Liberty

18,000 soldiers of the 163rd Depot Brigade at Camp Dodge, Iowa formed the silhouette of the Statue of Liberty for this renowned photograph shot by Chicago photographers Arthur Mole and John Thomas on August 22, 1918. Beginning at 1:00 p.m. companies were assembled and by 2:30 the proper formation was completed and the photograph taken. From the goddess’ feet to the tip of the torch the symbolical statue measured 499 yards. The picture was taken from a tower forty feet high, constructed for the occasion. On account of the mass formation and the 94 degree heat, twelve men fainted and were carried from the field.

The photograph was taken with an 11" x 14" view camera following several day’s worth of work by the photographers to set up the image on the ground using thousands of yards of white tape. In addition, substantial coordination was required to ensure the various folds of the gown, the bible, the left hand, and the crown was properly outlined by soldiers wearing white shirts. The design for the living picture was laid out on the drill ground at Camp Dodge, west of current building S 34 and Maintenance Road. The photograph was on sale for $1 at all the exchanges in the camp. Many soldiers sent the photo home to their families.

The layout at the reported 499 yards was nearly 5 times the length of the actual Statue of Liberty and the viewer will note that the correct perspective is maintained. The number of men in the various parts include: Flame of Torch – 12,000 men, Torch – 2,800, Right Arm – 1,200 men, Body, Head and balance of figure – 2,000 men.

"Human Statue of Liberty" was one of a series of group photographs taken by Mole and Thomas during and immediately after World War I at U.S. military training camps. Each took up to a week to compose and shoot using an 11" x 14" view camera perched atop an 80-foot tower. According to photography historian Louis Kaplan, these so-called "living sculptures" served as "rallying points to support American involvement in the war and to ward off isolationist tendencies."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Arthur Robinson Frogge, Frontiersman

When Kentucky's 7th Mounted Volunteer Regiment was organized for the Thames campaign during the War of 1812, William Wood was named Captain of Company Three. His Lieutenant was my ancestor, Arthur Robinson Frogge.

The United States had declared War on England for its continual blockade of American ports and aggression on the seas. The act of war was signed by President James Madison, Arthur's second cousin and Arthur enlisted right away. In 1795, he and three of his brothers had been among the first settlers to migrate west, and due to his expedition experience, Arthur was given the rank of Lieutenant. At Lake Erie, the Kentucky troops formed a large percentage of the American forces that would fight the Battle of the Thames. Arthur suffered an ankle injury during the battle, which the U.S. forces won.

When he was 19 years old, Arthur fought in the French and Indian War. Afterwards, he and his brothers, and their families, packed up their belongings and moved west to the Three Forks of Wolf River, which would later be named Pall Mall, Tennessee. The place were Arthur and his family first settled became known later as Frogge Mountain (see the photo above).

The very first settler along Wolf River was a fellow by the name of Conrad Pile, the great-great-grandfather of Sgt. Alvin C. York. According to legend, Conrad, also known as Coonrod, was all alone in the Three Forks of Wolf River. He found a place that was to his liking. It had a spring of flowing water that was cool and clear. And just above the spring was his temporary home...a cave. Coonrod knew that others would be along soon and he kept a fire burning in front of the entrance to a cave, so that anyone coming his way would see it. It wasn't long until other travelers saw the smoke from his fire, and came and settled in the valley. Among the very first to come after Coonrod was Arthur Robinson Frogge and his brothers. The funny thing is....Coonrod thought that he had settled in Kentucky. He had missed it by about ten miles. And, I don't know if Coonrod told Arthur that or not, but soon Arthur left Coonrod and others who had migrated to the Three Forks of Wolf River and settled in Kentucky. He was among the first to settle in this area, purchasing land north of Stockton's Valley on Indian Creek. After the War of 1812, he purchased land west of Stockton's Valley on Ill Will Creek, not too far from where I live today.

There are no stories around to tell us the kind of life that Arthur or Coonrod, or any of the others who first settled at Pall Mall, might have lived. I'm sure they had enough adventures to fill several books. There are no stories about Arthur and William Wood and how they survived the awful cold in the Great Lakes region as they fought side by side against the great indian chief, Tecumseh. What is known, though, is that Arthur, like most early settlers, was not afraid to fight for his country, and for the new territory he had been among the first to settle in. Arthur and others sacrificed plenty in their westward journey. They fought bravely to establish the freedoms we enjoy today, and I am proud to have inherited those freedoms they fought for and sacrificed for.

To explain a little more about who Arthur Frogge was....if you read my story, The Killing of Elijah Koger, Arthur was the grandfather of Elijah's wife, Nancy. They were the grandparents of Nannie Koger Boles. Nannie was my great-grandmother.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Where Memories Go

"I read one time the ancient Greeks believed that so long as a person's name was remembered, they were immortal. It's a certain sure thing we hope we're not forgotten after whatever time we have on earth is done. And a few people live the sort of life such that others are still talking about them decades after they're gone. Mostly that's because they did noteworthy or noble things, or they were a special sort of person all their lives. All their long lives, as a general thing."

Bob Sloan of Morehead, wrote the above words, along with this very special reminder:

"Not so long ago I got a gentle reminder some folks don't have to live long lives in order to be remembered."

That made me think of my brother, Ronnie, who was killed when he was just 18-years-old. I was with my dad and my older brother when we found him just five-tenths of a mile from our home almost 28 years ago. He had only just begun to live. He loved music. It was his world. He sang and played bass and sometimes guitar in the band we had. Ronnie did not live long enough to really do anything noteworthy or noble, but he sure was that special sort of person as Mr. Sloan mentioned. He did not have any enemies as far as I remember. Everyone liked him. He was friendly and outgoing and not the least bit shy. I never really questioned God as to why He chose to take Ronnie home early. I figure I'll find out the reason one of these days. The hardest thing I have had to face so far is the part where not a day went by that I would not think of him. Back then, I remember wondering how I was going to deal with that day after day afer day afer day, until one day I realized I had unknowlingly found a place to put his memory, and slowly....I began to live again. That was the hardest part of all. I guess it is true what they say about time healing all wounds. Not that mine was ever totally healed. I just learned how to deal with it. I learned where to put it.

I read obituaries for a living. I did the math and I can easily say that over the past 34 years, I have read over 6,000 obituaries. When the obit is read for the last time, and as I go to store it in a file, I can't help but think that not only am I putting their obit in a file, I'm also putting their life in there, too. Sad. A few times, I have actually caught myself shaking my head in disgust. I mean, I know this life isn't all there is. I have that promise. I know who holds tomorrow, and I know what lies ahead. Still, I can't help but be saddened.

"Some folks don't have to live long lives in order to be remembered."


The only thing I know about Bob Sloan is that he is a really great writer with a great sense of humor, and a wonderful delivery. Please allow me to insist that you read his story, The Lost Brother, or visit: Bob Sloan's Blog.

Thanks for your words, Mr. Sloan. They have brought me great comfort today.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Peace To Die For: The Killing of Elijah Koger

By the spring of 1862, only two real Civil War battles had been fought in Kentucky, but everyone was nervous and no one could be trusted. To make matters worse, Confederate guerilla Champ Ferguson was on the loose wrecking havoc everywhere he went. He had already killed ten people, and the war was barely begun. Men, afraid of being singled out for taking sides, had to hide both day and night.

Not everyone was into the war, but most everyone had something to fear because of it. Murderers and thieves took advantage of the men folk being away at war and went into homes and businesses, taking whatever they wanted, or killing whomever they wanted. Arson, theft and murder had also begun to run rampant in other areas along the border of Kentucky and Tennessee.

So it was that sometime in late March of 1862, a meeting was held at Monroe, Tennessee beween a group of citizens from Overton County, Tennessee, representing the Southern element of the war, and a group of citizens from Fentress County, Tennessee, and Clinton County, Kentucky, representing the Northern element. The purpose of the meeting had been to reach a compromise whereby raiders would stop wrecking havoc in those three counties. The meeting had been a success. The parties agreed not to raid into any of the adjoining counties, but it would soon be evident that not everyone who attended the meeting wanted peace.

This is the true story of my great-great-great-grandfather, Elisha or "Elijah" Koger. Elisha had headed up a group of home guardsmen who kept watch over Clinton County. One of their jobs was to keep up with the whereabouts of Ferguson. His role in the home guardsmen would explain why Elisha Koger was one of the men chosen to work out the peace agreement at Monroe. Because he was one of the men responsible for most of the raids and most of the deaths, Ferguson was also at the meeting. Even though a compromise was reached, it became apparent that Champ Ferguson did not want his reign of terror to end. After leaving Monroe, he and his men killed four people. The peace agreement had ended before it could be realized. Four people were dead. What Elisha and the other Union representatives who attended the Monroe Compromise did not know was that Ferguson hated the Union side so much that just their presence at the peace agreement was enough for Champ to want to kill them. They would soon pay for trying to bring peace to the community.

On the morning of Sunday, June 1, 1862, Elisha or "Elijah" Koger arose from his bed and headed out to the spring with his wife, Nancy, beside him. Shots rang out as a band of men appeared suddenly out of nowhere. Nancy screamed fo Elijah to run. As he tried to flee, Ferguson overtook him and shot him. Koger threw up his arms and said something, but Nancy could not make out his words because the couple's children were screaming. Shots continued to ring out as Elijah ran toward a fence some fifty yards from the home in the Oak Grove community. With Ferguson and nine other men following him, Elijah reached the fence and when he tried to cross it, Ferguson rode up close to him and shot him one more time. By the time Nancy reached the fence, the couple's 11-year-old daughter, Sarah, was holding her daddy in her arms. She was covered in blood. When Nancy reached Elisha, he gasped once, but never spoke. He had been shot more than 30 times. Nancy knelt beside her slain husband's body as Ferguson and his outlaw gang ransacked the Koger home.

Elisha Koger had successfully helped to arrange a peace agreement that would have stopped the senseless acts of violence in Clinton, Fentress and Overton counties and was violently killed for his efforts. Three other Union representatives who attended the Monroe Compromise were also killed.

On October 20, 1865, Champ Ferguson was hanged for the crimes he had committed during the civil war, including the brutal murders of Elisha Koger and 52 others. Nancy Koger was one of those who testified at his trial.

Elisha or "Elijah" Koger was the grandfather of my great-grandmother, Nannie Koger Boles.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Marina's Rosie

Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the six million women who entered the workforce for the first time during World War II, many of whom worked in the manufacturing plants that produced munitions and material. These women took the places of the male workers who were absent fighting in the Pacific and European theaters. The character is now considered a feminist icon in the US, and a herald of women's economic power to come.

Rosie the Riveter was most closely associated with a real woman, Rose Will Monroe, who was born in 1920 in nearby Somerset, Kentucky, and moved to Michigan during World War II. She worked as a riveter at the Willow Run Aircraft Factory in Ypsilanti, building B-29 and B-24 bombers for the U.S. Army Air Forces. Monroe was asked to star in a promotional film about the war effort at home, and was featured in a poster campaign. Rosie went on to become perhaps the most widely recognized icon of that era. The films and posters she appeared in were used by the U.S. government to encourage women to go to work in support of the war effort.

Rose Will Monroe died May 31, 1997 at the age of 77. On October 14, 2000, the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park was opened in Richmond, California, site of four Kaiser shipyards, where thousands of "Rosies" from around the country worked. A portion of Kentucky 1247 in Pulaski County has been renamed in her honor and an historical marker shows the location of her family home.

My daughter, Marina, age 15, did an outstanding job on her recently-completed charcoal drawing of Rosie the Riveter (shown above). I am so proud of Marina. She is not only beautiful and smart, but very talented, as you can easily tell. Way to go Marina! I love you!

Long may our Land be Bright with Freedom's Holy Light

Officially, the Continental Congress declared its freedom from Great Britain on July 2, 1776, but after voting to approve it, a draft do...