Monday, August 27, 2012

A Sign of the Times

On Wednesday, January 4th, 1967, early in the morning, the state of Tennessee erected a historical marker near the site of the Cane Creek Massacre. The images I have are poor but you can see a few things. The crowd was small. Not really surprising. It was remote; far more so than today. The Cane Creek Massacre was not an event that was popular to discuss among the residents of Lewis County at the time.  The first photo I have is much fuzzy. In it I count perhaps a dozen people most of them women in knee length winter coats and heels. Only a couple are facing the camera. The photo caption had no names.

The second photo looks more posed. The cation read, left to right, Walter F. Hogan, Elder Robert Marcum, Mission President Raymond W. Eldredge, T.J. Green of the Tennessee Central District based in Nashville and [sadly the rest of the caption was cut off on my copy].

From other records I know the people present included Samuel Smith who was a representative from the Tennessee Historical Society, several members of "the Mormon Church and their wives from Nashville" and President Raymond W. Eldredge (1908-2005) from the Mission Presidency in Louisville, Kentucky. Beyond that, perhaps someone from the newspaper in which the report was printed was also there.

I can also tell where it was placed was different than where it was placed the last time I saw it. Based on my knowledge of the area, and clues fromvarious sources, I'm guessing it was just across the street,on the north west corner. There was an error in the first sign in the spelling of John H. Gibbs' name. It was spelled "Biggs".

About two and a half years later, this same mission president responded to a letter asking about the massacre and whether a marker had been place commemorating it. The letter was written by a US Navy Chaplain then serving in Millington, Tennessee (about 10 miles north of Memphis). I don'thave the letter, but I have a copy of the Mission President's response, which was CC'd to the Office of the Church Historian. I have not been able to determine if he is still living, but I have a lead.
According to President Eldredge, only a few weeks after the sign was put up, a truck rounding the corner lost control and ran over the sign, bending the pole at the base. The State mounted the sign - which was apparently undamaged - on a new pole, this time sinking it in cement. A few weeks later the sign was again hit by a truck that lost control rounding the corner.This time the cement foundation was uprooted from the ground. President Eldredge was not convinced of the truth of the explanation, believing that local sentiment was not in favor of having the sign in the first place. But he had no evidence proving it was malicoiusly damaged. Interestingly enough, there was a lumber mill about two miles down the road -on the site of the LDS church that was burned down in May 1884 - and logging trucks would have had to round that corner frequently. Without a stop sign from that direction, there would be no reason trucks could not try to take the corner at speed.

The sign itself was replaced in 1996, but the Tennessee Historical Commission (THC) has no records of replacing it more than that. The records don't even indicate it was replaced in 1967. If the sign was not damaged in either of the 1967 events, the THC would have no reason to actually replace it. WHile the THC provides the signs, the The Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) provides the pole and places it on the roadside. If the pole was damaged, TDOT would been the ones to replace the pole, leaving no records of their work on file at the THC. If this was the only time the sign itself was replaced, the spelling of Elder Gibbs name would have been corrected at that time.

The sign was eventually moved across the street, also probably in 1996. I went to see it myself for the first time in 2009. But even a new location did not prevent it from being damaged as it was in January of 2011.

This time the sign was damaged beyond repair. It has not yet been replaced.


Janice said...

I just discovered this site. I enjoy history where ever it takes place. It is important to know history. Thank you for the work and effort that you put into this site.

Alisha Linam said...

Hello Bruce! Interesting site! I am currently working on a graduate project about memorialization in middle Tennessee and would love to get a copy of the group standing around the sign. It would make a nice counterpoint to some of the more popular events I am covering. If you don't mind... where did you get it?

BruceCrow said...

email me directly at and we can discuss my source.