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."

My 78 RPM Disks (1905-1924)

1. Albert Campbell - Dreaming (3701). Steve Porter - Flanagan At The Vocal Teacher's (3705). Standard Talking Machine Company 1907. 2. ...