Monday, March 9, 2009

Visit to Lewis County

I spent the afternoon visiting the area around Cane Creek Lewis County the other day, site of the Cane Creek Massacre. To be honest I didn't really know what to expect. I have seen photos; some recent and some not. I have heard descriptions by missionaries writing from 100 years ago. I have talked with those who had been there and seen the site of the massacre. Regardless I was unprepared for how it would affect me.

The geography was really very similar to that of where I live now. The high lands are surprisingly level; plenty of space for farms on gentle undulating hills. And there are wide valleys cut by creeks such as the one cut by the East Fork of Cane Creek. I had imagined mountain hollows like I had seen in eastern Tennessee, where there is little room for farming. Consequently, I was having a hard time figuring out where Brother Condor's 300 acre farm was going to be. But after seeing the wide valley, I could tell quickly there was plenty of room in the Cane Creek valley itself.

Our first stop was the Lewis County Library. I had talked with several people who had been there and one or two who lived there once. But I knew nobody well enough to drop in and say "Hi." So I introduced myself to the librarian and explained what I was doing. Anyone who has been reading here long knows my secret fear when it comes to libraries. This time was no different. But there was more to my anxiety this time.

Leonard Nimoy once said he didn't want to be known for his part in Star Trek. He would rather have been a poet. Of course, now he cannot undo the past. I think it is something like this with Lewis County. Several histories I have read about the county never bring up the massacre. There are several things for which they wish to be known. The Mormon Massacre is not one of them.

At the library I was directed to a history room. It is a small library; perhaps 1200-1500 square feet. [It is bigger than the library in my city.] But a 300 sq ft room has been set aside just for county history. The room is well appointed with a large expensive table and a wall of historic books, most of which are genealogy. I was shown two books in particular. One by William Whitridge Hatch, who has done a considerable amount of research of how Mormons and others were mistreated in the Southern States. He has written at least 4 books on the subject, each containing a chapter on the Cane Creek Massacre. This book had an inscription to the director of the library, and the people of Lewis County, thanking her for her assistance. The other book was a generic history of Lewis County with a chapter on the Massacre. The former I had not seen before and asked for a photocopy. The latter I already had. As the librarian made the copy I scanned the rest of the collection. I saw a few other books which I knew contained other details about the massacre, but I decided not to point them out to the librarian.

As I left, the librarian gave the names of a couple of other historians currently working on the Massacre. As I had not seen their work before I was grateful for this find most of all. Lastly she gave me the name of the current owner of the land on which the massacre occurred. I'm hoping to write a letter asking permission for a visit.

I left the library and took my kids to the park down the street. They had been very good in the car and in the library waiting for me. The park was a mixture of new and old playground equipment. The new stuff was similar to what you will find in most suburban playgrounds. The old was unique and imaginative, albeit showing its age. My boys preferred the old to the new. I guess they take a little after me.

We left the center of town for Cane Creek, about 4 miles north on Tennessee Route 48. I had heard the land where the Condor farm once stood, as well as the Condor Cemetery, is on private property and not open for visitors. So I didn't really expect to see the site. But I wanted my own photo of the historic marker and a photo of the Creek itself. I have included them here.

The marker is at the intersection of Cane Creek Road and TN route 48. It is on the south corner, facing northeast so it would be easy to miss if you were coming from Hohenwald. An older Mormon resident of Nashville told me the sign had been knocked down several times and had to be frequently replaced. Of course, I have no evidence of the sign being mistreated. I'll have to add that to my list of legends needing verification.

Afterwards we drove by the only remaining grave in Tennessee I could visit: The grave of David Hinson. The Hinson Cemetery is near the intersection of Arnold Road and Brushy Road, a few miles north in Hickman County.
The cemetery is small with about 2 dozen graves and I couldn't shake the feeling I was trespassing. A chain link fence separated it from the neighboring farm, and it had its own entrance from the road. David Hinson's grave is on the far side. His wife is there on the same marker, though she died some years later. Also there are his parents' and one of his children with his wife. The marker itself looks quite modern, compared to the other 19th century grave stones. It was adorned with a tattered confederate battle flag and some fabric flowers. I was touched by the devotion of ancestors who after 125 years still attend his grave.
We were there about 5 minutes. After we got back in the car and started to drive away we were set upon by two dogs who intentions, I'm guessing, were not friendly. One even ran into the side of the car. We drove quickly back the way we came. The dogs only chased the car a few hundred feet. They did nothing to alleviate my anxiety.

After a visit to the Meriwether Lewis National Monument, (Lewis County is named for him. He died there in 1809 under suspicious circumstances) we drove home. I come away a little sobered by the anxiety I felt, real or imagined, during my visit. I'll go back, hopefully soon. But next time I'll know what to expect.


Ardis Parshall said...

A librarian who will connect you with people and not just point to the catalog is a treasure -- nice to know you found that kind of help.

There's something about the way you describe your drive through the county and your visit to the Hinson grave ("Killed by Mormans"?!) sounds a little forlorn. It must have been an odd feeling, being so near the scene of events you have been studying.

Thanks for the report.

BruceCrow said...

The emotions were unexepected, but revealing. My wife also felt something "forlorn" during our visit. She doesn't want to go back.

Amy said...

Thank you. This is a beautiful post. I just read the chapter on the events at Cane Creek in The Life and Ministry of John Morgan (pages 375-393) and am now wondering if there is a published history of the Southern States Mission? I'm currently making my way through the google books copy of the Latter Day Saints Southern Star, which is very interesting, but assumes a lot of background knowledge of geography, among other things.

BruceCrow said...

Amy, I had not heard about, or read, the passage to which you refer. Does it say anything different than what I have?

As for a history of the Southern States, I think David F. Boone or David Buice (or both of them) is working on one right now.

Amy said...

I just spent quite a while reading through all your old Cane Creek posts. Bravo! Very fine job!

From your notes, it seems like the Morgan biography was probably using the B.H. Roberts or other second hand accounts of the murders. I recently made a short list of a number of sources relating to John Morgan and wrote a review of the biography. (Not very complimentary.) I don't know if you are interested in the chapter since it seems all second hand with no sources listed, but I would be happy to send you a copy if you would like it for your files.

These are the details that I see differing from your Cane Creek post:

* the killing of Elder Gibbs deliberate, not accidental
* a woman carrying a baby who foiled the attempt to kill Elder Thompson
* the identification of the stepson as "J.R. Hudson", and a shout of "I'll have revenge!" as Hudson [sic] was shot and died within an hour

BruceCrow said...

Thank you Amy. Most Mormon sources used only B. H. Roberts.

I have a several sources about the killing of Gibbs being either deliberate or accidental. They tend to split based on who is telling the story. At this point in my research I'm leaning toward deliberate. I believe David Hinson meant to kill John H. Gibbs, though the reason eludes me. I don't believe the other mobbers knew what he had planned.

Elder Thompson was saved twice from being shot, first by Elder Berry inside the house and second by a woman and her child getting in the way outside the house while he ran away.

I am interested in a copy of the piece in John Morgan's biography. You can contact me directly at bruce_crow at yahoo dot com. What people say (even second hand) is revealing. Is this the Richardson book from 1965?