Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The First Golf Champion

Sunday, Aug. 2, 1970 was the biggest day ever at Seventy Six Falls Country Club in Albany, KY, wrote the Clinton County News on Aug. 6th that year. It was on that day that a champion was crowned in the country club's first ever club golf tournament.

So who was the first champion? It was Larry Conner, who posted a score of 161 in the 36-hole event. Ozro Pitman placed second with a score of 163, only two under the winner. Third place went to Gayron Wallen, who had tied with N. L. Morgan, Jr., with 165 each. The winner was decided by flipping a coin. Others in the first flight were Jackie Latham 172, Sidney Scott 171 and Gene Latham 176.

A large crowd and 36 golfers braved the 100 plus degree tempera­ture that Sunday. A.B. Gibson, Clinton County News editor, and one of the participants in the tournament, wrote in his "B.A. Nosbig" column that he heard one man say it was so hot that if the course hadn't been so pretty and the water, furnished by Richard Fryman and Eagle Pass Cheese Co., hadn't been so cold he would have thought he was playing in hell. The newspaper reported that the extremely high temperature was the only complaint heard.

At the conclusion of the tournament, directed by club manager, Harvey Aaron, another Clinton County golfer, Conner was presented a set of golf woods and a championship trophy. Pittman received a golf cart and Wallen and Morgan divided the third place prize of a dozen balls.

In the second flight, players qualifying 86 through 93, Louie Smith was the winner with 167, followed by Frankie Sewell with 173 and Carl McWhorter with 176. Others were Larry Jones 177, Mark Shearer 177, Eddie Owens 177, George Hancock 178, Bobby Hughes 178, Jimmy Logan 182 and Charlie Long 185.

In the third flight, J. O. Dicken surged forward in the final round with a 39 and won the flight with a total score of 179. Second place went to Bill Perdue, who posted a score of 184, followed by D. B. Robinson with a 187. Others were Ralph Groce 190, Ed Veazey 192, Ben Dyer 193, Joe Talbott 193, John B. Smith 195, A. B. Gibson 196, R. H. Burke 196, Hugh Groce 198, T. T. Rich 199, L. C. Conner, Jr. 203 and Ralph Keisling 207.

Fourth flight was a squeaker with Kelly Keisling becoming the winner after a two hole sudden death, which still ended in a tie with Horace Brown at 196 each. When it became too dark to play, the winner was de­cided by a flip of a coin. Ezra Neal was third with 197. Each received golf balls as prizes. Others were Tony Conner 210 and Hank Chilton 216.

Friday, December 24, 2021

The Night Before Christmas at Greg Dalton's House

'Twas the night before Christmas and all over the mountain the only creature a-stirring was ol' Greg Dalton.

The napkins were laid on the table with care in hopes that Majors Pizza would soon be there.

When suddenly what to his wondering eyes did appear, but Lamon Hubbs dressed up like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

His furry little paws were stretched out for the tip as the pizza box reeked wildly of pastorelli dip.

His antlers lay crooked at the top of his head, "Must be fake ones," someone said.

His breath smelled like onions, garlic and basil and when he spoke his voice was all gnarly and nasal.

Standing at the door Greg could do nothing but stare, but he was so hungry he did not care.

He paid the guy hurriedly and then closed the door, soon he would be wishing that he had ordered more.

Now nestled all comfy in his warm snuggly bed, Greg drifted off to sleep, but he didn't dream of the fat man in red.

Instead it was Dasher and Tom Guffey and Lester Beaty too, plus Donner and Blitzen, and me and Mike Dalton, just to name a few.

Now Greg is snoring and it's shaking the house, no one else can sleep for that noisy 'ol louse.

But it's December and Santa said to be of good cheer, so...

Merry CHRISTmas to Greg and everyone elfs!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Handel's Messiah

His father tried to discourage his musical interests, preferring that he enter the legal profession, but it was the organ, harpsichord, and violin that captured the heart of young George Frideric Handel.

Soon, this remarkable child, born on February 23, 1685, began composing operas, first in Italy then in London. By his 20’s, he was the talk of England and the best paid composer on earth. Londoners fought for seats at his every performance, and his fame soared around the world.

But all too soon the glory passed. Audiences dwindled. His music became outdated. One project after another failed, and Handel, now bankrupt, grew depressed. The stress brought on a case of paralysis that crippled some of his fingers.

“Handel's great days are over, his inspiration is exhausted, wrote Frederick the Great.

But his troubles also matured him, softened his sharp tongue, his temper mellowed, and his music became more heartfelt. One morning he received a manuscript form Charles Jennens, from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.It was a word for word collection of various Biblical texts about Christ. The opening words from Isaiah 40 moved Handel:

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…”

On August 22, 1741 he shut the door of his London home and started composing music for the words. Twenty-three days later "The Messiah" was born!

“Whether I was in the body or out of the body when I wrote it, I know not,” Handel later said.

The Messiah opened in London to enormous crowds on 23rd of March 1743, with Handel leading from his harpsichord. King George II surprised everyone leaping to his feet during the Hallelujah Chorus. The audience followed suit. Nobody knows why his majesty jumped to his feet. Some believe the king, being hard of hearing, might have thought it was the national anthem.

Whatever the case, from that day on audiences everywhere have stood in reverence during the words: “Hallelujah! For He shall reign forever and ever!”

Handel’s fame was rekindled, and even after he lost his eyesight, he continued playing the organ for performances of his oratorios until his death on April 14, 1759.

King of kings, forever and ever!
And Lord of lords, Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
And He shall reign forever and ever!

Saturday, December 18, 2021


My name is Beech. Uncle tells me I was called that because my dad went to the neighborhood store to get Beechnut tobacco when I was born. As far as the story goes, my dad went to the store and never came back. That was 14 years ago. My mom left too, as soon as she could convince my uncle to keep me for a day. Here I am with my uncle. Some days I wonder if I’d be better running off. But where would I go.

You might not understand why I think of running and running hard, so I’ll give you a story that is just a few minutes in a day with Uncle. And I’ve spent 14 years like this. Don’t forget that there’s 365 days in a year. Multiply this story by just over 5 thousand. Wouldn’t you think of running and running hard? Running anywhere, taking a chance, fighting for something beyond the end of the dirt road. Here it is, a glimpse:

Insides of my jaw sit raw and bloody from my uncle Dan’s last blow. I’m certain each one is designed to crush me, my rebellion, my spirit, my ... me.

Every time I feel his fist connect to some part of me, I can feel all the other parts of me say, “walk above the pain in that place you created. I struggle to understand him . My me-ness is the thing that’s most like him in the world –right down to the crooked smile. His rustic, "poor-man" bony hand forced my jaw and lips into my teeth. I taste that, oh so familiar, bloody metallic juice in my mouth. I swallow it because I'll die from blood swallowing before I show I bleed.

Ok. Three breaths I tell myself. I'm taking three breaths. When I exhale my third breath, I will force my anger, my shoulder, all my might into my fist and force his teeth inside his pmouth - like he does mine. I swallowed my blood, but it made me stronger; “he's going to swallow his teeth”, I tell myself. This thought gives me comfort, gives me strength.

Three breaths: One breath. two breaths. three breaths.

I feel the force of my anger, my strength concentrated in my fist as I pull my body up from the last blow. My fist, my shoulder, my strength are ready - ready to fight.

I am fierce.

A second seems like an hour, and my body is aligning to give him a taste of his teeth. Instantly, my eyes meet his. I see me. I see my eyes. I have cried out of those same glassy blue eyes. He gave his eyes to me. He handed them down to me, and I used them to see my first sunset, my first pond, my first dog (smokey), and I use them every day. In fact, I will use those glassy blue eyes to navigate beyond these days and nights and become the lawyer I know I'm going to be. With these eyes, I will see the world, and I will change it.

How can I become a lawyer and save the poor kids if I don't use these eyes he gave me.

I am taking three more breaths and a better road. I’m swallowing the next mouthful of blood and then standing up to take the next one. It ain't that bad. It really doesn't hurt. It's just that he doesn't know who I am.

Someday I’m going to be a lawyer. I’ll help kids. I’ll fight for them. They won’t live like this. The ones that start out living like this won’t for long. I’ll rescue them, all of them. No matter what it takes. No matter the consequences.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Cecil Pryor was my Idol

When I was a young boy my dad tried to teach me how to play guitar, but I told him I wanted to play piano like Cecil Pryor. The son of a 5 string banjo picker and grandson of a church songleader, Cecil started out playing guitar, but his chosen instrument would later become the piano, and in 1960, upon hearing Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date," he decided it was so pretty he just had to play it. That song set Cecil on a course that would last the rest of his life.

"Last Date" wasn't just another song for Cecil Pryor. To him, it was a work of art, as if Rembrandt himself had walked into RCA Victor Studio B and said "where do I sit up my easel?" When Cecil learned how to play the song, he also picked up on Cramer's slip note piano playing style. It was a marriage made in Heaven. "Last Date" became Cecil's signature song and the piano became Cecil's way of life. He played it so well, I had always told him that some guy named Cramer had recorded HIS song, but that Cramer's version was no where near as great as Cecil Pryor's version.

Cecil and my dad, and their drummer, JR Byers, made great records at Norm Atwell's studio at Lafayette Tennessee back in the 1970's. They performed live together in many different places for several years, from the Cow Palace at Chattanooga, fronting Mel Tillis, to the Somerset Holiday Inn, where when Mickey Gilley and his entourage walked in to the lounge one night, the band, taking the cue from Cecil, started playing "Don't The Girls All Get Prettier At Closing Time."

Cecil still holds the record for receiving the most encores at the Lincoln Jamboree in Hodgenville. He and others, including founder Joe Ray Sprowls, were honored during the Jamborees 4000th show on Dec. 4, 2021.

Cecil Pryor was my idol. He was on the air at my family's radio station, WANY in Albany KY, for nearly two decades as Art Pryor. Myself and Cecil's fellow broadcaster, Al Cross, were honored to speak at his funeral service, which also featured Grammy Award winner Mike Farris, gospel and blues artist EmiSunshine and country music singer, songwriter and renowned guitarist, Lee Roy Parnell.
(Cecil Pryor at the Lincoln Jamboree, 1966)

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Killing of Joseph Beck

Around 9:00 a.m. on or about August 27, 1862, Champ Ferguson and his men returned to the home of my third great-grandfather, Elisha Koger, whom they had brutally murdered almost thirteen weeks earlier, on June 1st. Ferguson called out from beyond the fence that surrounded the home. No doubt, hearing his voice terrified Elisha's widow, Nancy. After all, Ferguson and his men had shot her husband more than thirty times. His body was a bloody mess by the time the shooting stopped. He took his last breath lying in the arms of his daughter, Sarah, who was covered in his blood.

Nancy sent her sister, Jane, to the door. Ferguson wanted to know if any other armed men had passed by that way that morning. Jane replied she had seen no one. As he turned to leave, Ferguson told her he and his band had killed a man near there. "I don't know him myself, but some of the men say it is Joe Beck," he said. Ferguson told her that Beck's hat and coat were lying in a little drain beside the road and his body was lying about thirty yards from there. He also said he had taken a Colt rifle from Beck after his death. The location was about a mile from the Koger home in the Oak Grove Community of Clinton County, Ky near the top of Poplar Mountain. Nancy, Jane and a young man who was at the Koger home, Marion Purcell, walked up the road and found the body just as Ferguson had described. Nancy would soon deliver the news to his wife, Elizabeth.

During Ferguson's trial at the end of the Civil War, both Nancy and Jane recounted what they saw when they found Beck's body, but no one outside the victim, Ferguson and his men witnessed the event. Even after his conviction, in interviews with reporters where he gave details about all of his killings, reporters forgot to ask about the killing of Joseph Beck, and Ferguson did not offer any details.

In his book, "Cumberland Blood: Champ Ferguson's Civil War" (2008), Thomas D. Mays claims that Beck had been a daring Union soldier who had dogged Colonel John Hunt Morgan's command and showed no fear of Ferguson or his men, who were part of the forces under Morgan, but that his luck had run out when he was surprised on the road that day. I wonder about that because there is nothing known about his military stance or activities (at least I haven't seen anything), except that the army ruled that Joseph was killed in the line of duty, which qualified his widow, Elizabeth, for a pension. Beck, who was born in Wayne County in 1817, had enlisted at Camp Hoskins in Pulaski County on Oct. 15, 1861 and was assigned to Capt. Payne's company G, 12th regiment of the Kentucky Infantry.

Joseph Beck's brother-in-law, Jesse Rector, and his wife, Nancy, were the parents of Daniel Webster Clay Rector, whose wife, Laura, was the sister of my great grandmother, Hettie Huffaker Frost.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Jim Cumming and his Thievin' Deputies

In 1918, the United States Congress passed the temporary Wartime Prohibition Act, which banned the sale of alcoholic beverages having an alcohol content of greater than 2.75%. In 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act and established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor, as well as penalties for producing it. Though the act prohibited the alcohol sales, the federal government did little to enforce it. In 1920, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. It prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. In Appalachia, making moonshine and selling liquor was a way of life for many. My own great-grandfather was sheriff between 1926 and 1929. There is a photograph of him sitting in his office window at the courthouse. On the ground below are 24 moonshine stills he and his deputies confiscated during his term in office. Even though manufacturing and selling moonshine and liquor was prohibited, it was still a way of life. When he attempted to run for re-election he was threatened that if he won again he would be killed. Thankfully, he lost the next election. While Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed, it stimulated the proliferation of rampant illegal liquor sales.

While making moonshine whiskey was a thriving business throughout Appalachia, the federal government's decision to tax whiskey caused moonshiners to go underground to ply their trade by night, especially in the secret confines of mountainous areas with plentiful streams.

Most moonshiners were just plain ordinary citizens carrying on a family tradition and making a little money to supplement otherwise slight incomes. Others fought with revenuers, outsiders and amongst themselves, with some of those scraps ending in deaths. Many went on trial for moonshining and related offenses including murder. Some were acquitted while others went to jail. Local police were often caught up in the trade, accepting protection money to keep their noses out of the business. Some may have themselves profited off confiscated whiskey.

This is a story of how the sale of illegal liquor caused a bad relationship between one family and the sheriff's office in Clinton County, Kentucky, where I live. Sometime prior to March 1920, probably around the time that the 18th Amendment went into effect, Gilbert Gibson and his brother-in-law, Whiz Lee, were indicted on illegal liquor and moonshining charges, but in court they were acquitted. Afterwards, they tried to get some of the confisated whiskey back from Sheriff James Cumming's office, but it had disappeared. The Gibson family was highly upset. Gilbert's father, Steve, went as far as to compose a song that ridiculed the sheriff and his deputies. It was entitled, "Jim Cumming and his Thievin' Deputies." They sang the song in public on several occasions. Obviously, relations between the Gibson family and the sheriff's office became strained.

In the late afternoon hours of March 6, 1920, two members of the Gibson family, along with Lee, were seen purchasing a quantity of gun cartridges at a store on the public square in Albany. A short time later, Marion Gibson and his brother, George, started through the courthouse via the north entrance, they would later claim, for the purpose of going to a barger shop on the southside of the square. The brothers entered the courthouse just as it was closing for the day. Two south doors and one door on the north side were already locked, and as he left, County Clerk John Granville Sloan, closed or locked the remaining north door. As the doors were closed, one of the Gibson boys was heard to remark, "He has locked them up!" Several witnesses testified about hearing a shrill whistle and a peculiar yell and then seing Steve Gibson running around the courthouse trying first one door, then another, before finally entering through a door on the northside. As he did, Whiz Lee and Gilbert Gibson, who had been standing in front of a store across from the courthouse, started in a fast walk or trot in the direction of the courthouse and followed Steve Gibson into the hallway of the courthouse.

At the same time, Deputy Marvin Cumming and two companions were sitting in the sheriff's office. Marion Gibson, who allegedly said he was only walking through the courthouse to get to a barber shop on the south side of the square, stopped in the doorway of the sheriff's ofice and asked to speak to the deputy. Cumming left his companions sitting in the sheriff's office and went with Marion to the south end of the hallway. In just a few short minutes, witnesses heard the depuy say repeatedly, "Don't crowd me!" In the meantime, someone had been ratling the doors and people were heard running through the hallway. The two companions ran into the hallway where they found Deputy Cumming with his back to the balustrade and surrounded by the four Gibson's and Lee, still calling out not to crowd him. Steve Gibson struck at Cumming, who then drew his pistol from his overcoat pocket and struck back at Steve. Both blows fell short of their intended victims. One of the companions from the sheriff's office grabbed Marion Gilbert and the other held Cumming, just as the deputy ordered the Gibsons and Lee out of the courthouse. They turned and started toward the north end of the building, proceeded a short distance, then stopped, and according to one witness, "they seemed to be mixing it up with one another." At that moment, Cumming fired first at Steve Gibson, then at Marion. Because of the darkness and smoke from the two shots, witnesses said it was impossible to tell who was doing the shooting, but in the course of about half a minute, 20-odd shots were fired, eight of which struck the deputy sheriff killing him instantly.

The Gibson clan managed to get away from the courthouse before authorities arrived. The following day, a posse surrounded their home and Steve, Marion and George Gibson, and Whiz Lee eventually surrendered.

Gilbert Gibson managed to get away, but was captured on September 19th at Bakersville, North Carolina. He had been using the aliases, Smith and King. He admitted to being in Kentucky recently but denied any knowledge of the murder.

All were indicted on a charge of murder and were found guilty by Wayne County jury. All were sentenced to 18 years except George Gibson, who was sentenced to two years.

In spite of this incident, and a few others like it, the 18th amendment seemed to work, at least at first as liquor consumption dropped, arrests for drunkenness fell and the price for illegal alcohol rose higher than the average worker could afford. Alcohol consumption dropped by 30 percent and the United States Brewer's Association admitted that the consumption of hard liquor was off 50 percent during Prohibition. However, as time progressed, the statistics would change. Prohibition proved hard to enforce and ultimately failed to have the intended effect of eliminating crime and other social problems. Instead, it led to a rise in organized crime, as the bootlegging of alcohol became an evermore lucrative operation. In 1933, widespread public disillusionment led Congress to ratify the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition. In the over 200 years of the U.S. Constitution, the 18th Amendment remains the only Amendment to ever have been repealed.

Marvin Cumming's cousin, Odell Cumming, eventually ran for sheriff and was elected. He added the letter S to the end of Cumming to, according to family history, distance himself from others in the family which might prevent him from winning the election. His son, Johnny Cummings, would be elected sheriff twice.

The 18th amendment was repealed in 1932.

(Taken from Kentucky Court of Appeals papers reprinted in the Southwestern Reporter, Vol. 224, 1921.)

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Tecumseh's Great Earthquake Prediction

Prior to the War of 1812, white settlers were increasingly taking over Native American lands, cutting and clearing trees and building villages. The British capitalized on the resentment felt by many tribes. In an effort to get them to join their side, Shawnee leader, Chief Tecumseh, was given guns and ammo to fight the Americans. The chief then went a step further by travelling from tribe to tribe with his Tenskwatawa, known as 'The Prophet,' trying to unite the Indians into a fight against the white settlers.

He told the Red Stick Creeks that the Great Spirit was angry with their enemies. "He speaks in thunder, and the earth swallows up villages, and drinks up the Mississippi. The Great Spirit will sweep those who escape to the hills from the earth with his terrible breath, he said.”

Tecumseh said he would give them proof that the Great Spirit had sent him. "I leave Tuckabatchee (on the Tallapossa River in what is today Alabama) and shall go to Detroit. When I arrive there, I will stamp on the ground with my foot and shake down every house in Tuckabatchee.”

His message didn’t go over well. His audience was skeptical, but imagine their surprise when on December 16, 1811, exactly when he arrived in Detroit, that the first of three strong earthquakes shook the ground. The first one on December 16, 1811, produced a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter scale; the second on January 23, 1812, registered 7.8; and the third on February 7, 1812, registered an 8.8 magnitude.The epicenter was around what is today, New Madrid, Missouri and were felt as far away as Boston, Massachusetts, where it is said that church bells rang on their own. The earthquakes altered the landscape so severely, that the Mississippi River momentarily reversed its direction. Two thousand aftershocks occurred in the months following. The earthquakes, also known as the New Madrid earthquakes, were the biggest in American history.

The Red Sticks thought that this was Tecumseh’s signal to start war, to unite in resisting the white intruders intent on claiming their lands, but perhaps there had been a large number of mild or moderate tremors in the region leading up to the earthquakes and, since native peoples are more in tune with nature, that Tecumseh merely knew which natural signs to look for.

Was the Great Comet of 1812 part of Tecumseh’s prediction of a great fire, estimated to have been almost fifty percent larger than the sun, coming across the sky? The earthquakes arriving almost in conjunction with the fiery comet rushing across the horizon must have struck fear into many native peoples hearts.

It was in the fall of the year when the call for volunteers went out at the outbreak of the War of 1812. The soldiers would march to Lake Erie to assist General William H. Harrison in a fight with British troops and their Indian allies, including the great Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh. On October 5, 1813, American forces crossed over into Canada where they fought and won the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh was killed during the battle.

Friday, April 23, 2021

The Unseen Hand

In 2013, I went to see my cardiologist, Dr. Melissa Walton-Shirley, for a check up. When I arrived, I learned that she had to step away for an emergency. Filling in for her was her partner, Dr. Jim Whiteside. Since being diagnosed with CHF and Cardiomyopathy in 2003, I routinely had gone into the hospital every couple of years when the CHF would come back. That day, Dr. Whiteside did something that brought about a big change in my life. He convinced me that a pacemaker/defibrillator implant would cut down on my hospital stays, adding "That thing might not fire in 25 years and you'll say 'that blankety-blank Whiteside talked me into getting this thing and I didn't even need it, but there might come that one time that it will fire, and it will save your life." I made a decision that day to trust him and a few weeks later underwent a pacemaker/defibrillator implant.

I recalled his words soon after an incident that happened to me at approximately 5:32am on Saturday, April 21, 2018. As I stepped out onto the carport, everything within my vision started to spin really fast. The instant it happened, my device fired 30 cycles and I was slung backward, then forward, but I never did hit the ground, as I had always imagined I would. Zapped of all my strength, I managed to lean over and rest my body on the hood of my son's van, which was parked there. The instant I did that my device fired a second time, at 35 cycles, and it worked. My heart was back in rhythm. The entire episode lasted less than 10 seconds.

Later, I was transferred from our local hospital to Cookeville (TN) Regional Medical Center, where I met Dr. Mark Wathen, the former 20-year director of Arrhythmia at Vanderbilt University in Nashville who specializes in the study of heart rhythms. He is an expert in pacemakers, defibrillators and implanted monitors, has performed significant research in these devices and is recognized as a world leader in device treatment of fast and slow rhythms. The incident that happened to me on my carport is known as Ventricular Fibrillation, or as Dr. Wathen said, "(I) met sudden death face to face." 98% of those who experience V-Fib die. My implanted device had saved my life. I am so very thankful I listened to Dr. Whiteside.

My friend and singing partner at church, Kelly, did not know what had happened when she sent me a text a couple of hours later that Saturday morning in 2018, suggesting we work up a version of this 1930's hymn written by A.J. Sims and first made famous by The Singing Rambo's...

"There is an unseen hand to me
That leads through ways I can not see
While going through this world of woe
This hand still leads me as I go
I'm trusting to the unseen hand
That guides me through this weary land
And some sweet day I'll reach that strand
Still guided by the unseen hand"

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Dear Ancestor

Dear Ancestor
Your tombstone stands among the rest
Neglected and alone
The name and date are chiseled out
On polished marble stone
It reaches out to all who care
It is too late to mourn

You did not know that I exist
You died and I was born
Yet, each of us are cells of you
In flesh and blood and bone
Our blood contracts and beats a pulse
Entirely not our own

Dear ancestor, the place you filled one hundred years ago
Spreads out among the ones you left
Who would have loved you so
I wonder how you lived and loved
I wonder if you knew that someday I would find this spot
And come to visit you

(Walter Butler Palmer, 1906)

The photo is the grave marker of my 3rd great-grandfather, David Smith, who, along with his son Ahijah, were murdered by Confederate guerillas during the Civil War. The incident occured at their home in Fentress County, Tennessee.

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."

When I think back on my childhood, I am able to recall times I went to visit my grandmother. 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 release of Elvis' first movie, "Love Me Tender," he 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' movie at the Rialto Theater. That evening, at the armory, they saw the future king of Rock and Roll live and in person.

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.


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...