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.

Monday, February 1, 2021

I Need Thee Every Hour

Annie Sherwood Hawks began displaying a gift for writing verses at the early age of 14, contributing poems on a regular basis to a variety of newspapers. One morning in June of 1872, while doing her regular household tasks, she suddenly became filled with the sense of a nearness to God. Wondering how one could live without Him, either in joy or pain, these words were ushered into her mind:

"I need Thee every hour
most gracious Lord
no tender voice like Thine
can peace afford"

Annie was a member of Hanson Place Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Dr. Robert Lowry, a prominent writer of gospel songs, was her pastor. Having been encouraged at the gift he saw in her poetry, Hawks showed her verses to him. Lowry added a refrain as he wrote the music for the hymn.

"I need Thee, O I need Thee
every hour I need Thee
O bless me now, my Savior
I come to Thee"

When it was first published in 1873, this Bible verse was included underneath the title: “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Each of the first four stanzas dwells on a different facet of our dependence on God:

Verse one: Our need for His peace "I need Thee every hour most gracious Lord, No tender voice like Thine can peace afford."

Verse two: Our inability to resist temptation alone "I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby, Temptations lose their pow’r when Thou art nigh."

Verse three: Our need to find true meaning in life "I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain, Come quickly and abide, or life is vain."

and, verse four: Our desire to see God's promise "I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will, And Thy rich promises in me fulfill."

The fifth stanza is an intense plea for God's presence "I need Thee every hour, most Holy One, Oh make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son."

Monday, January 18, 2021

Life is Hard, but God is Able

The fence posts in this photo remind me of a team huddle on a football field. Notice, though, that one post stands alone. It reminds me of the times in my life when i have felt like its me against the world. Perhaps you have felt like that, too. Here is my thought. In those times, if we will just hold on, and trust in God, we will see that all is not lost. Read on.

"Life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters, and if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.
(Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his "Eulogy of the Martyred Children," sermon, Sept. 18, 1963.

You don't have to face your struggles alone, if you believe what the bible says in Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." I hope you do!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Loving Elvis

My cousin, Johnnie, loved Elvis Presley. Her adoration for him started brewing in 1954 after Sun Records released the songs "I Love You Because," "That's Alright (Mama)," and "Blue Moon." It went to a whole new level on March 3, 1956 when his new record label, RCA, released “Heartbreak Hotel.” As the song raced up the Billboard Top 100 singles chart, out came his RCA debut album. It contained songs like “Blue Suede Shoes" and “Blue Moon.” The magazine announced, “A Red Hot Star is Born on RCA Victor Records!”

At the beginning of 1956, Elvis, having just recently signed with RCA Records, was still just a regional sensation, best known in the South. By the end of the year, he would become the labels best-selling artist.

So, what was the phenomenon surrounding Elvis in 1956? Some might say it was his landmark and controversial national TV appearances on Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Milton Berle. Others might say it was his new songs (all certified gold) "Heartbreak Hotel," "Hound Dog," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Love Me Tender," which had received more than a million advance orders after Elvis performed it on Sullivan on Sept. 9th.

For Presley's female fans, the phenomenon surrounding Elvis was based largely on something else: his deep, rich and incredibly sexy voice, his thick hair and his dreamy eyes, all combined with the way he performed on stage. It was a sentiment echoed by girl fans all across America and around the world...and even here at home.

On Nov. 25, 1956, just ten days after the movie release, Elvis appeared for two shows at the Louisville, Kentucky armory (see photo). With him was his backup band - Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black on upright bass and DJ Fontana on drums, and his backup singers, The Jordanaires. The afternoon matinee drew a sellout crowd of 8,500 people. The evening show at 8pm, with more of an adult crowd in attendance, and slightly more sedate, drew just under that. Elvis, though, was livelier. He wore a satiny gold jacket that evening.

Four members of my family hired taxi cab driver Earl Pierce to take them to Louisville that morning. On the way, whenever an Elvis song came on the radio Earl said the girls would scream and carry on. It was the same reaction anytime they saw a picture of Elvis on a billboard. That afternoon in Louisville, Johnnie and her sisters, Betty and Fay, their cousin, (and my aunt) Patsy, and a friend, Neta, attended a viewing of Elvis' first movie, "Love Me Tender," at the Rialto Theater. That evening, at the armory, they saw the future king of Rock and Roll.

The following week, our local newspaper ran a story about the girls seeing Elvis in concert. He had sang all of his hits, they said. His rendition of "Peace in the Valley" even seemed to 'win over' some of the skeptical adults at the evening show. "It was the most thrilling show of our lives. We will never forget it as long as we live," they reported to the newspaper. The girls took photos of Elvis on stage that evening. Some were of him standing beside his Cadillac. They would remain Elvis fans the rest of their lives, the biggest by far being Johnnie Means. A visit to her home easily told you that.

I will spend my whole life through
Loving you, loving you
Winter, summer, springtime too
Loving you, loving you
Makes no difference
Where I go or what I do
You know that I'll always be loving you

Elvis Presley at the Louisville Armory

(For Johnnie Mack)

Friday, January 8, 2021

In Memory of Ed Bruce

One of my all-time favorite singer/songwriters has died. Arkansas native Ed Bruce, who co-wrote the 1978 hit, “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys,” for Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, died of natural causes today (Jan. 8, 2021) in Clarksville, TN. He was 81.

In 1979, Tanya Tucker scored a major hit with his song, “Texas (When I Die).”

Bruce's deep, yet tender voice is what caught my eye (and ear) many years ago. He was an obvious choice to do radio and TV commercials, which he did to supplement his income.

In 1981, his own recording of “You’re the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had” went #1 and was his biggest success as a singer.

Bruce was also an actor. His biggest role was on the TV series, "Bret Maverick," starring James Garner, which ran on NBC-TV during the 1981-82 season.

For a while Bruce lived just outside of Monterey, Tennessee, prior to moving to Clarksville.

My favorite Ed Bruce song is "I Know."

I said God, I hurt
God said, I know
God, I’m so depressed at times
He said, that’s why I gave you sunshine
I said, God my loved one died
God said, so did mine
Oh, God, mine was such a loss
He said they nailed mine to a cross
He said I know
did I not make you
A covenant that’s sealed
I’ll not forsake you
You’re not alone, I’m all around you
My glory is revealed
my love surrounds you
I know
I said but God, your loved one lives
God said so does yours
I asked him where they are tonight
He said be at peace
they are in my life


I said, God I hurt
God said my child I know

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Paul Denney had a Fighting Spirit, full of Courage and Guts

In this week's Clinton County News, Al Gibson reports the passing of Paul Denney, who played basketball for the Clinton County Bulldogs and was a member of the 1961-62 team that was, as Al put it, "perhaps the best team that Coach Lindle Castle put together back in that time period."

Here's why he said that. The team, which consisted of starters Kenneth Conner, Jackie Sewell, Tom Neathery Sherman York and David McFarland, won 30 games and lost only four games. Two losses occured during the regular season, to Adair County and Campbellsville Durham, and two in post-season play, to Metcalfe County in the district tournament championship game and to Allen County in the region semi-finals. The two losses during the regular season occured when Sewell was out due to sickness.

The Bulldogs won their first 21 games that season, and according to Litkenhous Ratings were ranked 9th in the state going into the district tournament. The season-ending loss to Allen County in the region semi-finals, 53-to-47, has always been called a very questionably officiated game, especially down the stretch. By the way, the remaining roster that season included Kay Flowers, Wayne Cook, Babe Weaver, A.V. Conner, W.L. Sawyers, U.S. Reneau, Whiz Latham, Don McWhorter, Jim Thrasher, John Hay and Bill McDonald.

It was Clinton County's fourth straight trip to the regional tournament, a tournament we had won two years earlier. As great as that team was, this 1961-62 team was phenomenal. "It has been one of the best seasons ever witnessed by a Clinton County team and fans," wrote Clinton County News sports writer, Jimmy Huccaby.

Paul Denney was one of five seniors on that team. "He was the sixth man, who could have easily been a starter," said teammate Sherman York the day after Paul passed away. "He proved it when he went on to star at the two-year Walker Junior College in Jasper, Alabama, where family members say he led the individual scoring both years." McFarland was also played at Walker with Denney. According to York, after his second and final season there, Paul had intentions of finishing college and playing basketball at Tennessee Wesleyan, but instead wound up in Vietnam. He moved to Monticello following Army life and years later he and his wife and her brother operated Monticello Machine Shop after the original owner, Bill Crawford, retired.

Prof Robinson said, "Paul Denney is a mighty good defensive weapon with a fighting spirit, full of courage and guts. As the first player off the bench, Coach Castle used him wisely at appropriate times."

Both York and Sewell had nothing but high praise for Denney, not just as a player, but as a person, too. His funeral service will be held this Saturday at 2pm eastern time at Hicks-Vaughn Funeral Home in Monticello, with visitation beginning at 10am that morning.


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...