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Memories of Battle Creek
Excerpted from the Book “Life & Views of J. L. Rollings”
By J. L. Rollings

A bit about J. L. Rollings and his book:
This book was written in 1956 and contains no copyright or publication information. I obtained a copy from a family member who lives in Altamont, TN. J. L. Rollings was a County Judge in Altamont, Tennessee. He attended Johnson Bible College and graduated from there in 1902. He also attended the University of Tennessee and the University of Chattanooga, where he studied public speaking under Senator Estes Kefauver. He held the position of County Superintendent of Public Instruction for Grundy County for many years. He was married twice. His first wife was Pearl Cox of Pelham, TN and they were married on September 15, 1904 and they had 6 children together. Pearl Cox Rollings died on March 14, 1917.

A quick note about the Rawlings/Rollings surname: Early records in Marion Co. show that the original spelling of the name was Rawlings, but some time later we see it changed to Rollings. I’ve seen other variations of it as well, including Rollins. I think that it has a lot to do with the phonetic pronunciation of the name, which, in my father’s family, has always been “Rollins”, but spelled “Rawlings”. Also, anything shown in red are notations I added to make the narrative a little clearer. I believe that there may be some discrepancy on the dates of birth shown here, but I’ll leave that to each individual researcher to determine. -– Donna O’Brien

I was born on July 3, 1879 near the headwaters of Battle Creek, a half mile above the spot where Martin Springs now stands. There were eight of our family. My father (Benjamin Franklin Rawlings), grandmother (Mary Hargis Rawlings), my aunt and uncle, my brother Jack, and my sister Lydia. This grandmother was my father’s mother, born in 1810, the daughter of Abraham Hargis, who was born in 1780, and Rebecca Floyd, born in 1784. My Great grandparents were the two above mentioned; and Benjamin Rollings, born in 1780 who married Martha Powell, born 1785. On my mother’s side John K. Tate, born 1792, who married Rachel Carmichael, born 1796, and my grandmother Tate’s father and mother, Washington Speegle, who married Priscilla Reed. The place where my grandfather Tate lived at the head of Battle Creek was ceded by the Indian Chief, Cromocker, to the white people, about the year 1790. Battle Creek is a narrow valley between two ranges of the Cumberlands, and had quite a famous history during the pioneer days, and was so named from the fact that it was on the famous Nickojack Trail, from the Indian settlements near Nashville to the Indian town above Chattanooga. The Indians had fought a battle here, hence the name Battle Creek. The first recorded mention of Battle Creek in history was in 1794, when Joseph Brown led the white settlers from the headwaters of the Elk in what is now Burroughs Cove, by a secret way to the aforementioned Indian towns near Chattanooga. This was known as Major Orr’s Expedition. The old Nikojack Trail led up the mountain by the way of what is now Monteagle, then known as Poplar Springs, and down Battle Creek to the Indian town of Chattanooga.

My mother (Louisa A. Tate Rawlings) died May 24, 1880, when I was a little more than ten months old. My father’s sister, the aunt above mentioned, took me from the graveyard to where her mother lived on the Clepper place, about three miles away. My memory opens here about the year 1882. My first political recollection is the song being sung, “Rise Up Hawkins as High as a Kite for in November You are Bound to Light.” This was when Alvin G. Hawkins was a candidate for Governor. In the year of 1884, my father moved back to the place of my birth near Martin Springs. My grandmother, aunt, and my uncle all went with us, and made their home with us.

On the Christmas of 1885, we had a big dance at our house. All of the furniture was removed from the rooms and a big supper for over a hundred people was provided in the house we used as a dwelling. This was really an old fashioned breakdown, and more or less liquor was consumed by the guests but no trouble ensued as people respected and loved one another in those days more than they do now. Ben Tharp, a neighbor, courted his future wife, Caroline Hargis, on this occasion and they afterwards married. At this time, my father made a custom of buying liquor for the Christmas celebration, and I drank more or less, but was never intoxicated. At this dance, I made my first acquaintance with the beverage known as lemonade. When I found it in a water bucket, I thought it was one of the finest drinks I ever tasted, and I have never changed my mind about it.

I attended my first school in 1886 at Oak Grove to Samantha Aiken as teacher. This school was taught in the same stick and dirt house that my father attended as his first school in 1844. I learned my letters from the Holmes Speller and my first textbook was Webster’s Blue-Back Speller. My brother went nearly five miles to the first graded school in our valley. He had to write compositions for his class work. I decided to write a composition myself, and did so, on the subject of tobacco. I traced it from the sowing of the beds in the spring to the harvesting and twisting of the tobacco in the fall. I had seen my father do this and knew all about it. My brother, who was seven years my senior, was very much impressed with this composition and said it was as good or better than he could have done. This was great encouragement, as I knew it was genuine praise, as he would have been more inclined to have made fun of me or laugh at me if I had made a failure.

I got knowledge of language by hearing my sister Lydia read. She read the Bible to me and I learned about God in this way. I began to pray when I was seven years old. I slept with my father and each night knelt at the side of the bed to pray. No one in our home prayed at this time, and one night my father asked me what I was doing down at the side of the bed. This was a hard test on me, as I did not know how he would react to this, but he said, “That is what you ought to do; we all ought to pray.” Pretty soon after this, he and my sister joined the Methodist Church, which was the only active church in our community at this time.

My father was very strict on school attendance for his children and did not keep us out of school for work or any other reason, unless we were sick, which was rarely in my case. The schools were only three months long.

In the spring of 1892 my father sold his farm and moved to South Pittsburgh where I attended school to my Uncle Dan Tate who was a County Superintendent of School, and a very superior teacher.

Here the first great trial of my life occurred. My sister (Lydia) who was our housekeeper at this time (my aunt having wed), contracted TB and died on November 23, 1892. I was in a decline myself and was expected to die of the same disease. I only weighed 72 pounds at thirteen years of age. My father had been compelled to hire inexperienced cooks and we drank river water from the Tennessee River. It was a very bleak prospect for me indeed. When my sister died, she was carried up near our old home on Battle Creek for burial (Lydia is buried in what is now known as Martin Springs Cemetery #2). In this bleak and unhappy time, with the snow falling down in my sister’s open grave, another sister of my father, who had married a blacksmith, Uncle Sam Thompson, took me away from the graveyard to her home. This was twice I had been taken away from the graveyard in a dying condition. I remember the first meal, which was supper, that I ate at Uncle Sam Thompson’s. They had tenderloin pork and I thought it was the sweetest meal I had ever tasted.

I must tell about some very dear people whom it has been my very great fortune to have known. Every personality we meet leaves an imprint on our lives. Among all the people I knew in my childhood, one man stands forth on the list as one of the most lovable men. Uncle Sam Thompson who married my father’s oldest sister (Nancy Rawlings) was a soldier under General Bragg in the Civil War, in 61-65. He was almost entirely self-taught as he only went to school three weeks in life. He was a blacksmith, and one of the most entirely lovable characters I have ever met. Why did I love Uncle Sam? Because from him I never received anything but kindness, and words of praise and encouragement. From my very earliest recollection he was always doing something kind and thoughtful for me, and the best part of it was that he did it without any ostentation. Uncle Sam was always telling stories of hunting and adventure. If these stories were highly embellished, it made them all the more interesting and effective. Uncle Sam used what might be called “literary license” in his stories. He made toys for me in his workshop and foundry as he was a skilled craftsman, and was never too busy to take time off from his busy life to go hunting or fishing with me, or to make toys or playthings for me. Oh the conversations we had on these trips! I spent more than a year at his home when my sister died and he and wife (my father’s sister), nourished me in my weakened condition. There was never a harsh word from either of them, but only kindness and encouragement and pride in my achievements.

At this time, I had studied high school subjects and had become like my sister, an oral reader. A great delight of Uncle Sam’s was to hold the kerosene light for me to read some interesting story or book to him after a hard day’s work was done. He would get up at 4:00 o’clock the year around. No matter how exacting the labors of the day, or how much his Herculean strength had been taxed, he would never nod or let his eyelids droop even to the small hours of the night. His great delight was to listen to Robinson Crusoe’s adventures in an original edition he possessed. He fixed a chair for me in his forge and on winter days, I would read to him while he worked at the anvil, and the sparks from the glowing metal would fairly envelop me. My sister, of whom I spoke before, was his first reader. He was as brave as a lion and as tender as a child. Once, when he and my father lived in the same house, and Lydia was very small (about four or five), my father’s family had quit coffee. They lived in opposite ends of a log house with a hallway between. My sister had gone into Uncle Sam’s end of the house to get sweetened coffee (she called him “Pappy Sam”). My father followed up to whip her, but Uncle Sam told him that if he laid his hand on that child, he would whip him on less ground than it took to stand on. Uncle Sam was a giant in strength and weighed over 200 pounds.

I can shut my eyes and reconstruct or make a mental picture of every article in their house or surroundings. The old family clock on the fireboard, the picture of all the old Confederate Generals on the wall (I have never seen another), the rack on which hung Uncle Sam’s double-barreled shotgun, the large gourd, in which my aunt kept a half bushel of salt, and many other things too numerous to mention.

My Aunt Beck (Rebecca Rawlings), who raised me, also married a Confederate soldier. T. W. Clepper, who was Quartermaster of the 4th Tennessee Reg. C.S.A. (this later became the 34th Tenn. Infantry). He was quite a different character from Uncle Sam and had a fair education and had served as County Court Clerk of the county and held other positions. He lived in the finest house in the valley. The house had separate rooms for all five of his children. Mr. Clepper never said an unkind word to me in his life.

I must tell of another character that I loved as a father. My father had a brother named Abner who fell in the fire when he was a baby, and as a result of this, had a clubfoot. This affliction impaired his mental facilities to the extent that he had the mind of a child even to old age. His mother (Mary Hargis Rawlings) called him “Duck”, and by this name he was known all his life. He lived in our home all his life of 70 years, except for a brief period when he was married, but he and his wife separated and he came back to our home to live the rest of his life. Uncle Duck was beloved by all children, especially by me.

There were many sturdy characters in our valley, with whom I came in contact, and who helped to mold my character. Uncle Lish Tate, a brother of my grandfather, a Confederate soldier, was a giant in stature and one of the strongest men I ever knew. Uncle Dunk Tate, his twin brother, was a Union soldier and one of the most industrious men I have ever known. He became a preacher in later years. Uncle Sam Tate was a licensed preacher in the Northern Methodist Conference. Uncle John Tate accumulated a fortune by hard work. These brothers of my grandfather, as well as himself were all Republicans in politics, except Uncle Lish who voted Democratic.

Uncle Lewis Thorpe, though no relation, was a great friend and neighbor and great pal of my father. As was Uncle Balis Ladd. These also were Confederate soldiers. Uncle Henry Jones and Uncle Billy Smith (William Howard Smith) were also sturdy and respected men in our community. Uncle Abner Hargis, a brother of my grandmother, for whom Uncle Duck was named, was one of the most remarkable men I have ever known. He had a phenomenal memory. He was a county officer and served papers although he could not read a word. He would have someone read the papers to him and he would memorize the contents, and thus would be able to serve in this capacity. Uncle Dave Hargis, his brother, was the Justice of Peace for many years and it is said never had any of his cases reversed by a higher court.

Other notes from throughout the book:

Benjamin Rollings born 1780 met and married Martha Powell born 1785.

Abraham Hargis born 1780 in the Territory of Tennessee married Rebecca Floyd born 1784 in North Carolina.

John K. Tate born 1792 met and married Rachel Carmichael born 1796.

---John K. Tate was the son of a Revolutionary soldier and was himself a soldier of the War of 1812.

Washington Speegle met and married Priscilla Reed.

One other note by Donna O’Brien:
Uncle Sam Thompson referred to in the narrative was my 3rd great-grandfather. He is buried in City Cemetery. He was married twice: first to Nancy Rawlings and then later to Mary Payne, a widow. He was the son of William Howard Thompson and Carrie O’Rouark. “Uncle Sam” as many knew him, served in the 4th Tennessee / 34th Tenn. Infantry CSA under Captain Joseph Bostick.


Page provided by Donna O'Brien


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November 6, 2004