July 22, 2014 - 17:31
Calling All Old Timers!
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By Marian Bailey Presswood, Polk County Historian

Are there any old timers left, or is it just me and Pat Gregory?  What I need is someone who lived down on the Old Federal Road around Sloan Gap that remembers hearing old family lore about a little boy being shot during the War Between the States, I assume by Union Soldiers passing through the county, but not sure. Gerrell Fowler has told me about it a couple of times, and I keep forgetting to ask if anyone else ever heard it. What he remembers hearing is that two soldiers stopped by this house and asked for a drink of water. A ‘little boy’, not known how old, complied and brought them water from a nearby spring - and for some unknown reason they shot him!  His family buried him in a little grave right in their yard - which is where the yellow brick house now stands.  

The story says some of the family members went in hot pursuit of the perpetrators of this evil act, caught one of them and hung him from the big old oak tree that stood there for years. Area children having to walk that route to school tried their best to avoid the path around the tree, and ran through as fast as they could.  Whether the murderer’s body was buried in the nearby cemetery, taken down and removed to his hometown for burial, or what is not known.

I haven’t tracked it any further back than what Gerrell remembers, but he said the Pete Darnells lived there for a long time, sold the place to the Watsons, who sold it to the current owner, with perhaps some other transactions in between.   He well remembers the little grave with rocks all around it, looking almost like a flower bed, and that it had a native stone for the head and footstone, but no inscriptions that he recalls. He can describe in detail where an old store building stood, and practically the spot where the grave was. It was apparently graded over when the current house was built.   

At least one other person who probably qualifies as an old timer (we were classmates) is Bob Lea, who has heard this part of the story, too. However, like the rest he doesn’t ever remember hearing a name being mentioned of the family whose son was shot.  

Back in 2003 when PCHGS did our Resting Place Cemetery Inscriptions of Polk County, I thought we had tracked down every burial we ever heard of, 23,000 of them, and included them in our book, but apparently this one escaped us. I also heard from a News reader of some slaves being buried behind the old Swan house that I wrote about back when I did the ‘Hundred Year Old House’ series a year or so ago. The lady said her mother told her about visiting Finnell relatives who lived in the house when she was a child, and that she remembers seeing markers there. Do any of you remember them?     Dr. Ben Harris McClary wrote that the owner of the Swan Plantation was charged with killing some of his slaves in January 1859, so that must be who is interred there. So sad that all trace of that cemetery is lost.  

And there’s a lonely little grave just off the road on the Earl Thomas road down in the barnlot. The marker does have an inscription, “Mary Williams, born May 10, 1935, died September 30, 1938, The lovely flower has faded.” And as best I could ever determine, that was the name of an African American family, Albert and Ethel Williams, who were tenant farmers from Alabama living around there back in the early 1930s.

We also know about the poor Orr brothers, Hiram ‘Jack’ and Sion, who were considered deserters and hung by the ‘Harbison gang’, while out working in their field.  The original markers had the inscription “Hiram J. Orr and Sion C. Orr, absentee Confederate soldiers from Co. E., 5th  Tennessee Cavalry, hung here in August 1863 by William ‘Bill’ L. Harbison and his squad of Confederate soldiers from Company D. 3rd Tennessee Infantry.”

The best I can tell, these gangs had no authority from either side of the conflict, but just formed groups and were the self appointed vigilantes. They tracked down those who had taken unofficial leave from the Confederate or Union Army, and had gone home to take care of family or their crops, or for whatever reason. Some may even had good intentions of returning to their command as soon as they could - who knows.

The Orr graves are on Oak Grove Road just across from the old Gravel Hill/Campbellite Cemetery on property that is now owned by a local farmer. The markers have been broken by farm machinery several times over the years, and were last replaced by the generosity and thoughtfulness of our PCHGS member, Dennis Stewart.  I know it must be considered a nuisance by those who have to work around those old grave markers, which are located on farms all over the county. But please, fellows, try to be considerate and respectful of those old burial sites and do your best to help preserve them. Aren’t there some things more important than a few feet of dirt to grow a handful of soybeans or a bale of hay?

Let’s all not only Preserve OUR Heritage, but as much of our historic county and its people as we possibly can. It definitely is not a one-man/woman job, it takes us all working together.




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