February 16, 1956
Transcribed by Janette West Grimes
* Cal's Column *
Sunday's heavy rainfall, which sent numerous creeks and small branches out of their stream beds brought to light a serious flood which struck Defeated in 1842.
Information on the flood was obtained from a scrapbook in the possession of Arthur D. [Pud] Kemp, of Denver, Colo., a former resident of Defeated.
The Defeated flood was known as the "Big Fresh." It came on the night of May 18, 1842. An article in the Carthage Democrat described the flood and the hair-raising plight of two men who were almost drowned after a store building they were in washed away.
James C. Williams owned and operated a mercantile store and was a tobacco freighter, taking tobacco by flatboat to New Orleans each year. When he left on this particular trip, he placed his son, L. F. Williams, who was then 19, and Dandridge A. Witt in charge of the store. The two young men slept in the upper floor of the building.
Mr. Williams, in recounting the incident, said rain began falling on the night of May 18 and continued to come in torrents all through the night. The store was built on a potato shaped hill near Defeated Creek. There was a large bottom just above and on either side of the store building.
At day break on May 19 young Williams and Witt awoke and when they looked out a window saw to their surprise that the bottoms were covered with water, and the rain was still falling. The creek was carrying drift of all kinds at a rapid pace.
The two men dressed as quickly as possible and went down stairs, where they found the bottom floor under 2 1/2 feet of water. They went to work at once removing all the goods on the floor to the tops of the counters. Meanwhile, the rain continued and the water kept rising. Soon they went back upstairs, and a few minutes later, to their horror, they felt the house rise from its foundation. Mr. Williams described the building as a very large and heavy one, constructed of poplar logs sawed by hand with a whipsaw.
When the house began moving downstream, Mr. Williams said a hope of escape was found when Witt broke out the window and saw that they were approaching a large beech tree. When the house got near the tree, they jumped from the window and lodged themselves in the topmost part of the beech, which was then in the middle of the raging creek.
The rain was still coming down in great gusts, and large logs and other drift struck and swirled around them, they all the while fearing that the trembling tree would be uprooted and washed away with them in its branches.
After about two hours the rain stopped, which gave them some relief. And they watched as the store building reached a mill dam about a quarter of a mile below their treetop. The house struck the mill and was broken and scattered to pieces. Mr. Williams described the creek as being wide as the Ohio river.
By the middle of the afternoon the creek banks were crowded with people who had come to witness the distress caused by the flood. Williams and Witt began calling to them, but their voices could not be heard above the roar of the surging water, not for a long time. Finally, just before sundown, the water had gone down a little. And a brave soul had a plan.
One man in the crowd, their friend, John Sneed, saddled up the best horse in the neighborhood and he swam the horse to their rescue. He made two trips to the tree, bringing off one of the men on each perilous mission.
The crowd, which had given up hope for their safety, rejoiced loudly when the last one was brought to high ground.
Two Negro women drowned when their homes washed away. Their bodies were recovered about two miles downstream on the place known as the Sampson and McClellan farm, now the Arlis Dillehay or Bill Anderson farm. They are buried there.
The above article is from the Carthage Courier, published at Carthage, the county seat of the adjoining county to the southeast of Macon County. Since Defeated Creek and Peyton's Creek have their origin in Macon County, we believe that the above article will be of interest to many of our readers. We give full credit to Sam Neal and Andy G. Reid, publishers of the Courier.
On Peyton's Creek, the "fresh" of 1842 did perhaps as much damage as it did on Defeated Creek. Since the article from the Courier deals altogether with Defeated Creek, we would like to give something of its effects on Peyton's Creek. The word used by many of our people in 1842 for the big rain, as given above and also in the other paper, was "fresh." They really meant freshet which is the correct word for such a rain as fell over much of the upper Cumberland that May day and night, now almost 114 years in the past.
The rain began the night of May 18th and poured down all night. The writer's great-grandfather, Lorenzo D. Ballou, lived then in the forks of Peyton's Creek, nearly a mile above the present Pleasant Shade. The Ballou home is said to have been the first weather boarded house ever constructed on Peyton's Creek. It was located not far from the present Kittrell's spring, which furnished water for the Ballou family. The house, judging from pieces of earthenware and crockery, stood perhaps about 75 yards from the spring, and much nearer "Big" Peyton's Creek than "Little" Peyton's Creek which flow together about 250 yards below where the old Ballou house stood.
In the raging flood of 1842 waters arose around the Ballou home until they entered the house. One thing connected with the escape of the family from the surrounded home, that is of a rather ludicrous nature, has come down to the writer. Some of the men of the family managed to get to the barn or stables and secure mules and horses on which to "evacuate" the women of the family, they being Mrs. Ballou, the former Miss Mary R. Kittrell, her daughter, Julia A. Ballou, who married Jack Kittrell, Margaret E. Ballou, one of the editor's grandmothers, who was a child then of less than two years of age, and one or two slave women, whose names we do not know. Men in the family were: Lorenzo Dow Ballou, head of the family, born Dec. 1, 1808 and was 26 months younger than the woman he later married: their sons as follows: William Alexander Ballou, James Ethelbert Ballou, Leonidas Ballou, Diogenes Ballou, Anthony S. Ballou, Albert Cullom Ballou and Rufus C. Ballou.
The "funny" incident that has come down through nearly six score years in our family is that Mrs. Ballou, when she had the opportunity to ride from the flooded home, rode astride a mule which was considered in that distant day and time as "unlady like." But that was a time when fine manners were forgotten and saving life was more important than any sort of fancy actions. The thing that has impressed the writer is that this little episode has lived down through more than a century of time, while others connected with the same occasion and of perhaps far more importance, have been forgotten.
The raging "Big" Peyton's Creek finally brought in a large log which landed against two trees, locust, we believe, a short distance above the Ballou home. This log divided the swift current, some of the water going to the west of the house and the larger part of the stream going to the east. Although water to the depth of 18 inches got into the house, it stood through the flood and for a number of years afterward. In fact there is no record of the water on Peyton's Creek having ever been so high as it was on May 19, 1842.
Another episode of the same flood occurred in the present town of Pleasant Shade. The combined "Big" Peyton's Creek and "Little" Peyton's Creek, and the combined Boston Branch, Sanderson's Branch and Sloan Branch join the main stream just below the town in Pleasant Shade. Most of the present Pleasant Shade had not then been built. However, there was one known dwelling house located in the forks of the creek on the site of the John Sloan home of recent years. In this pioneer home located on the site of the present home of John Sloan lived the Pleasant Massey family. He was then about 40 years of age and his wife, formerly a Miss Shaver, was of about the same age as her husband.
The flood waters of that May night of a long time ago arose about his home. The older children, one boy and two girls, are supposed to have (been) able to wade out from the Massey home. But the father had to carry two or three of the smaller children to higher ground. It is said that one of the children at least, being carried by the struggling father, would say continously while the perilous journey toward higher ground was being made, " Come on, Pap." The distance covered by the family was perhaps 125 yards, to the point of higher ground to the rear of the present Sloan Brothers and Company Store. It is not definitely known whether the Massey house washed away, but this is the tradition. Pleasant Massey and his wife, the former Eva Shaver, were the parents of Lon Massey, the father of C. B. Massey, who lives at present about 100 yards further down toward the junction of the two streams. He is now in his 90th year and still has a good memory and is quite active in spite of his extreme old age.
From the census of Smith County for 1840, we learn that Jacob Shaver lived at the fifth house either above or below Pleasant Massey. We would judge Jacob Shaver to have been a brother of Mrs. Massey as he was between 40 and 50 years of age in the year 1840; and Mrs. Massey was between 30 and 40 at the same time.
But to return to the flood of 1842. We heard our own grandfather, Stephen Calvin Gregory, who was born Oct. 30, 1827, say that we went down to see Peyton's Creek that May morning when the creek was so high. He went down Nickojack Branch to the creek, near where Nickojack Branch enters the creek. There our grandfather reported that Peyton's Creek extended from about where the Smith Store in Graveltown is to the hillsides near where Nickojack joins the main creek, and the driftwood was running at a tremendous rate, that some stray horse swam out into the raging waters of the creek and then turned back and swam to the bank.
But the only fatalities among the citizens of the Peyton's Creek section occurred about a mile further down the stream, at the mouth of what is now called the Nixon Hollow, just below the present home of Mrs. Jimmie Green. Here lived in that distant day Marshall Leftwich and his wife, the former Jane A. Garrett. They had one young negro slave, perhaps 12 years of age. He had heard the rain pouring down all night and had arisen at perhaps three o'clock in the morning and then went outside the house to investigate. He found the waters of the Nixon Hollow and those of Peyton's Creek all around the house to the depth of perhaps a foot, and rising steadily. He is reported to have returned to Mr. and Mrs. Leftwich and informed them they had better get out of the surrounded house at once. They refused the warning of the Negro slave who then left the house and went to the stables and opened the stable doors so that the livestock might escape. However, Mr. and Mrs. Leftwich did not heed the warning and awoke later to find their house surrounded by raging waters and the building about to float away.
The unfortunate pair managed to climb to the roof where they took refuge. A number of teir neighbors and relatives gathered on the steep hillside across from the log house about to be removed from its foundation. There was no chance of rescue and the house floated away from it foundation, carrying the occupants of the building away on the angry waters. It is said that the last words those watchers on the east hillside ever heard from the doomed couple were from Mrs. Leftwich, who cried out as the building started down the stream, "Farewell, Farewell!" It broke in pieces not far from its former location. Leftwich's body was soon recovered, but there seemed to be no trace of the missing woman. It was feared that she had been swept into Cumberland River and perhaps would not be found for weeks. But some days after the flood waters of the creek had gone down, on a gravel bar just above the present Monoville, someone walking on the bar detected a small piece of woven material in the gravel. Investigation revealed that it was the apron worn by Mrs. Leftwich when she was swept away to her death. By digging into the gravel, her entire body was soon uncovered.
Another event connected with the death of Mrs. Leftwich has come to us. It is said that those who watched the house float away, saw Mrs. Leftwich take off her apron and tie it about her head and shoulders. In a few moments more the house was carried by the swift waters under a swinging limb of a tree that stood on the bank of the creek. The watchers saw her grasp a limb to which she held for a short time with one hand, then they saw her grasp giving away. First one finger gave away. Then anothe and finally she hanged to the swinging limb for a short time by one finger which finally gave way and she went on down the creek to her death at the age of 30 years and a few days.
Mrs. Leftwich was the first born of her parents, William D. Garrett and Sally A. Garrett, who had ten other children. Jane Ann Garrett and Marshall Leftwich were married Dec. 11, 1839, and had lived together less than three years when they were swept to their deaths by the big "fresh" of 1842. Mrs. Leftwich was a sister of Mrs. Louisa D. Porter, who lived on Peyton's Creek at the present H. E. Porter farm. Our own mother knew her quite well. She married William K. Porter on July 25, 1855, and was the mother of a rather large family.