Monday, August 15, 2011

The evolution of manuscripts: How an alternate version of the Cane Creek Massacre survives

There are few different versions of the Cane Creek Massacre and how it went down. There were various newspaper accounts that came out in the first week after the shooting. Most were incomplete and slightly unreliable (see Betty Webb's account of the massacre). The most complete version was written about a week afterwards and was jointly written by two eyewitnesses with some missing details added from second hand sources. It was included as part of a petition to the Tennessee Governor and has agreed the most with my research. But it isn't the only one people quote today.

Of the versions from non-Mormon sources, one has had more lasting notoriety that the rest. It was written by W. L. Pinkerton in about 1905, and has been extensively quoted. His original work was published in while he worked for the Lewis County government, and again in serial form in 1909. All originals of his work have since been lost. But his words have been partially preserved in at least three places.

In 1938, as part of the Works Project Administration, local records were transcribed in order to preserve history. In Lewis County many family bibles and other local records were copied and archives under the program. One document describes, in part, then events surrounding the Cane Creek Massacre. The original was owned by Katie Cooper who lived 15 mile east of Hohenwald, TN. It was transcribed by Lillie L. Skelton. The transcribed copy was then typed up (by Josie Smith) and filed in the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I've held the original in my ungloved hands. It has been called the Cooper Skelton Manuscript. Sadly, somewhere in the process, before it was typed, one or more pages went missing. So the account is incomplete. While describing Elder Jones capture, it jumps to when Elder Roberts is retrieving the bodies. And it does this mid paragraph. The shooting itslef left out entirely.

In 1943, a newspaper editor for the Lewis County Herald in Hohenwald, re-ran the 1909 serial that Pinkerton ran. It was probably in the newspapers archives which today does not exist. The version is far more complete than the Cooper Skelton Manuscript. It includes a section on the shooting. Yet it too is missing some parts. Specifically it is missing some of the most egregious and offensive parts. Why? In this case we can trace the intent back to the editor from 1943. His name was W. W. Pollock. As chance would have it, the Pollock family purchased the newspaper from a local bank that had taken ownership through bankruptcy proceedings. But a few years earlier, the family was in the gravestone business. In fact, in 1934, they were the company that was commissioned by the Church to carve a marker for the two sons of Malinda Conder: John Riley Hudson, and William Martin Conder.

W. W. Pollock was the man who delivered the stone and was present for the dedication, which was presided over by Elder Callis. Pollock was favorably impressed with the Church and made several "additions" to the story based on his research and experience including an account of the dedication of the new gravestone.

The most recent version was in 1967. Marise Parish Lightfoot and Evelyn B. Shackelford took two copies of the Pinkerton document - the Cooper Skelton Manuscript and another unspecified copy of the 1909 serial - and combined them together trying to resolve some of the missing information. There were still some missing parts that were included in the 1943 version, that were still missing from the 1967 version. But exactly which parts were original to Pinkerton and which were created by Pollock in his re-write is difficult to determine. Even with the additions it is obvious that parts are still missing.

Copies of these documents circulate around on the internet. They sometimes get modified depending upon the personal slant of the transcriber. But they all share the same flaw. They are not original documents. Even when Pinkerton wrote it, it was 20 years afterwards. There are no sources, so there is no way to verify any of his assertions. And it disagrees on major points with first hand eyewitness testimonies of both Mormons and vigilantes.

[William Levi Pinkerton was born in1876 in Cow Hollow Branch, Hickman County, Tennessee. He married Annie Eliza Worley in 1900 and the two had only one child; a daughter born in about 1903 whom they named Lucile. He worked for the Lewis County government  in public education from 1905 to 1906. He founded the Lewis County Herald at about the same time. He published a history of Lewis County in around 1909, when he was a young lawyer working in Hohenwald. He shows up in the 1910 census as an editor for a weekly newspaper in Dickson County, and he was listed as the cashier for the Leipers Fork Bank in 1911. In fact he was instrumental in founding that bank though he made himself Cashier to keep an eye on it. The only biography I could find was written in 1913, at which time he had retired from "public" life. By the 1930 census he was a self employed Lawyer. And according to W. W. Pollock, a newspaper editor who republished his history of Lewis County, Pinkerton later became a judge in Hickman County.  It was in Centerville, the seat of Hickman County, that he passed away in 1948.]


Ardis said...

Great historiographical study, showing how documents have biographies as well as people do.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Ardis.

Too bad a blog is a poor format to compare the various versions of this narrative side by side. But then, with the its shortcomings, its primary value would be as a document biography, not really sheding more light on the massacre itself.

I'm sure someone trained to do this sort of thing would have specific points they would want to see. But for our purposes I can only desribe what interests me.