Transcribed by Timothy R. Meador, Jr.
* CAL’S COLUMN *
After months of time have elapsed, we are striving to revive our “Colyum” once more. We have been as busy as were at any time we can recall in the 57 years since we were born at the foot of Mace’s Hill at sunrise, one hot July Morning. Wednesday morning, July 8, 1891, to be exact. On account of so much to do and being so hard pressed for time, we have let this kind of writing go by. But we have had call after call for its revival and so here goes again.
Recently in company with our friend and pastor, Elder F. W. Lambert, we set out from Lafayette southeastward to go to Carthage and other places beyond. As we left Lafayette, we took the road that leads to the Mima Gregory Hill which road leads from Lafayette for about seven miles, in many places exactly on the divide between the waters that flow north to the Ohio and those that flow south to the Cumberland. In fact there are places wheres the rain that falls on one side of this road goes north and on the other side south. Along this winding, crooked divide, there are buildings whose roof sheds water to both river systems. This line is perhaps 1,500 miles long, extending all the way from the first point of land rises between the Cumberland and Ohio just above where the Cumberland empties into the Ohio in Kentucky. This line passes through the south side of Lafayette, the writer’s back yard shedding water to two river systems. There are thousands of persons who live on or near this divide who perhaps have never thought of the parting of the waters into the two river systems. Here the break is so definite, so sharp that is but little trouble to find the divide anywhere. But in our own West such a divide is extremely hard to find in most places and may be so gradual that one is not aware of crossing from one river system to another.
Not far from Lafayette on the road above mentioned is Brown’s School house, perhaps named for Uncle John Brown or his father. Uncle John once lived near the present school, his big spring furnishing water for the pupils. One thing that entered our little mind as we passed the school house that morning several weeks ago and then came to the Billy McDonald graveyard. Just a few hundred yards to the east was the story of the first burial in that resting place of the dead. The story is that many, many years ago a traveler, with his wife and children, on their way from Virginia to Missouri, and traveling in a covered wagon, spent the night in the old school house, which was located then in a heavily wooden section. During the night, the wife of the traveler died unexpectedly and with perhaps none present except her husband little children. The matter of what to do with the body of his wife became a question of great importance to this traveler in a wagon. To take her back to Virginia and bury her with her departed relatives was out of the question, for this would take days, if not weeks. It was equally impossible to take her on to Missouri, their new home. So he asked Mr. McDonald, who lived nearby, so the story goes, if he might bury his wife in the woods across from the old McDonald house perhaps a hundred yards to the north. This permission was granted and the wife of the traveler was the first to be laid to rest here. He marked her grave with an odd native stone, which was still standing the last time we visited this burial ground. We have the name of this family somewhere, but we do not have time to hunt it up at this time. Perhaps in our imagination we can picture that lonely husband and his motherless children as they took leave of all that was mortal of the wife and mother, and pursued their toilsome and slow way over the hills, through the valleys, across the rivers to their new home in the Missouri territory. Whether any of the family ever returned to the last resting place of the poor wife and mother, who had left her Virginia home perhaps with high hopes of finding a good home in a new land, and who fell by the wayside, who died in the midst of a strange land, we have never learned. However, she did not long remain alone in the grave in the woods beside the road, but in time the McDonald family made their own burial ground and today perhaps half a hundred persons lie buried in the cemetery which is across the road from the home of Gleaner W. Tuck.
Pursing our course eastward two of three hundred yards, we reached the vicinity of the home of E. E. Massey. About 150 yards west of his home, so we learned years ago, the last deer killed in this part of Macon County was shot in the woods just off the road and on the slope that leads down to the waters of the Brooks Hollow, which flows into Dry Fork, which empties into Goose Creek, a tributary of the Cumberland. Just who told us of the deer being killed at this spot, we cannot recall, for it has been perhaps 35 years, since we obtained this information. However, deer have been killed since in the county in other sections. Only a few months ago, a large deer was shot in the extreme north side of the county. A deer was seen a short time ago by Jesse Browner and John Arnold some few miles north of Lafayette. Our own son, Charles, came running into our home about six years ago, with eyes almost bulging our of his head, with reports that some kind of an animal with wide, spreading horns, had leaped over our own pasture fence and that some hounds soon came along on the track of the fleeing animal. We are almost certain that this was a deer. Two or three years ago, hounds “jumped” a deer on the upper part of the Parker Branch in the extreme southern part of this county and trailed it into Smith County. During the past few months a deer has been seen by various parties in the Pleasant Shade section. On this subject we might mention the fact that the late George W. Jenkins is believed to have the last deer shot on the upper part of Peyton Creek, which rises in part only about a mile and a half from the place we mentioned in the first part of this “deer story.” Uncle George, as some called him, was the a young man, comparatively speaking. He had been hunting and was on his way toward home, which was then on the east bank of Peyton’s Creek just below the present Sycamore Valley church house. He spied something lying down in the leafy timbers on the hill just above where H. M Kemp now lives. With the keen eyes of a hunter, he watched until he saw the animal turn its head and he knew it was not a calf as he had first though it might be. He took careful aim, perhaps not without a “buck ague,” and fired his rifle. The animal sprang up, but was mortally wounded and did not get far, the hunter being able to locate and carry home his prize, which he once told the writer, must have weighed 150 pounds.
Leaving the scene of the shooting of the last deer on the Ridge in this vicinity, we went on east, coming to the Mima Gregory Hill, a steep declivity that marks the southern point on the highland Rim in that section and the beginning of the valleys of Peyton’s Creek, which empties into the Cumberland near Riddleton, some 15 to 18 miles form its very head. On top of the Mima Gregory Hill is the place where John Hesson was killed one dark night shortly after the Civil War. He and others had been to Lafayette and were riding home on horseback, following a sort of trail through the heavy woods on top of this hill. Some of the party noted that Hesson’s horse was riderless, and they retraced their course for a short distance and found Hesson lying under a tree that leaned over the road, his head having struck the tree as his horse passed perhaps swiftly by. According to all the information we have, he was dead when found. He was the husband of Nancy Kemp, a daughter of Solomon Kemp, and a sister of Aulsey, Wylie, Jim and Jack Kemp. We have only one son of this man in our incomplete records and that son’s name was Peter Hesson. John was the son of Andy Hesson and had a brother, Bill Hesson, who married a sister to the wife of the dead man. Numerous descendants of this John Hesson are still living.
The Mima Gregory Hill takes its name from Jemima Willis Gregory, the wife of Ambrose Gregory, the son of Bry Gregory, our ancestor and our great-great-grandfather. Ambrose evidently married Jerima about 1812 and died rather young in 1827, leaving his widow with a large number of children, nearly all of whom were too small to do much toward making a living. She resided in the hollow just south of the hill, striving in a determined manner to make a living for her children. The writer once found at Carthage a record of the sale of the personal property of her late husband. In that day and time, laws exempting certain property from the claims of creditors were unknown, and we were once told how that on the day of sale, Aunt Mima was sick and in bed. The pillow under the head of this sick widow and mother of a large number of children was put up and sold at auction. However, she managed to hold the farm lands and also managed to make a living for herself and children, rearing a large family to manhood and womanhood. On one occasion in February perhaps 115 years ago, she had “tapped” a number of maple trees or as they are commonly called, sugar trees, and had troughs, dug out of wood, under the place chipped in the trunk of the trees. On one warm night, she knew that the trees would be “running” that is, the sap would be flowing and would be lost if she did not get to the grove in them to gather it up as it flowed into the troughs. Wolves were common then and lanterns were unknown. So Aunt Mima gathered the numerous offspring with her and set out for the grove of sugar trees, about a quarter of a mile from the home. She then built a big fire, placed the children about the fire and admonished them not to leave it. She took a took a torch, made of strips of scaly, hickory bark, tied it together, lighted it and set out to visit the running trees, gathering up the water in perhaps a piggin or some other sort of rude pail. The gleaming eyes of the many wolves that then infested that section could be seen in nearly every direction, but they were afraid of the flames and would not approach this brave, pioneer woman, who never heard of federal relief. By and by with her pail of the sweet water, she would return to the fire where her children were, deposit the sap gathered from the dripping trees, in an iron kettle and then leave her children again to visit the troughs and gather up the sweet liquid that later would be boiled down and made into a delicious syrup or even into a tasty kind of sugar. The howls of wolves filled the air, but Aunt Mima had to have food for her children and buying sugar in that distant day and time was virtually out of the question. This grove then covered the long, narrow field just above the present home of H. M. Kemp and the writer seldom passes by this place without thinking of the bravery, the tremendous self-sacrifice of pioneer women and of the honor and credit due them for establishing homes in a wilderness, of being really and truly helpmeets, of the many, many hardships that they faced without a murmur and without selfpity. The women of today have not perhaps a hundredth part of the hard times those poor women had. Aunt Mima’s husband, as we have also stated, was Ambrose Gregory. Ambrose Gregory was the son of Bry Gregory, a Revolutionary soldier who came to Smith County, Tennessee, in 1791, from Chatham County, North Carolina, with his wife and children. He was the father of Mila, Ambrose, Ansil and perhaps other sons. He had several daughers. Among them being Lain, or perhaps Elaine, married John McKinnis; Thenie, married Neal McDuffie; Bettie, our own ancestor, married her cousin, Big Tom Gregory; Brina, or perhaps Sabrina, married a Dycus; Polly, married Malachi Shoulders, the ancestor of the numerous Shoulders in this section, and of the two Doctor Shoulders in Nashville; Sina marreied Neal Goad; and Nannie married a Bishop. Ambrose and Mima’s children were: Guy or Gion, married his own cousin, Amanda Gregory; Rias, married a Willis; John, married Eliza Moore; Joe Red, married a Brawner. Betsy, married a Witcher; Sallie, married George Thomason; Ann, Married Sheridan Willis; and Nancy married Joe Brown. We expect to leave off in our next article so much of family history and to follow down Peyton’s Creek, giving events that occurred in that section in the long, long ago.