Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Stories of Stones - Oscar Shuler (1906 - 1917)

Indian Creek is likely my favorite spot in the park, and I am either hiking or riding my bike on it at least once a week. Prior to its acquisition by the National Park Service in the late 1920's, the creek once had (according to one of its oldest residents) approximately 30 families living on it at one time. It had its own church and school and at least one mill (written about in this article) and was a small but thriving community. However, Indian Creek, like everywhere else in these mountains, saw its fair share of tragedy and loss, and today I visited the Queen/Styles Cemetery on the creek to pay my respects to a young boy buried there.
Oscar Shuler's stone
Source: (Mike Gourley, 2011)

Queen/Styles Cemetery
Photo by Wendy Meyers (December 25, 2019)
Oscar Shuler was born (likely on Indian Creek) on May 19, 1906, the second documented child of James and Nora (nee' Laney) Shuler. We know almost nothing of his brief life. He is captured in the 1910 census at the age of 4 along with his parents, sister Eva, and brother Robert, with his parents recorded as being subsistence farmers (as were most others living on the creek in the early 1900's). Life was hard for these families, and like all children of the mountains, Oscar would have been expected to contribute heavily to the day-to-day activities required to run the household year round - gardening, cutting firewood, helping with the livestock, and so on. 

His parents were both literate and he does appear to have gone to school for at least a time, as his death certificate records his being a "schoolboy". He lived on the upper end of Indian Creek so his walk to and from school would have likely been around two miles each way. He also likely attended the Indian Creek Church on Sundays. Beyond that, Oscar's life is an enigma. I do not even have a picture of him.

Robert Shuler family in the 1910 Census, Charleston Township
Tragically, Oscar's life came to an end at the tender age of 11 on November 26, 1917, after a devastating 3-day illness. His death certificate records that no doctor attended him, but that per the history given by the parents, it was believed by Dr. James DeHart that he had died of meningitis. With an extant mortality rate for untreated meningitis approaching 70% in the modern day, poor little Oscar stood virtually no chance of surviving this illness over 100 years ago. It is absolutely heartbreaking to imagine the horror faced by Nora and Jim Shuler as they sat watching helplessly as their son succumbed to his illness.
Oscar Shuler's death certificate
As tragic as the circumstances of his death were, they were the grist for the creation of one of the most poignant headstones to be found in the entire park. For Nora, in her grief, decided to handcraft a stone for her son rather than place a simple (unmarked) fieldstone. She is said to have carved an inscription in wood; a framework was then created and concrete poured and allowed to cure to create the stone. The end result is a headstone whose inscription is backwards; however, it matters not, for the love with which it was created resonates in every single letter and number. Turned around, the stone reads as follows (I have not corrected the spelling):

Osker Shuler
Sun if Nora Shuter
Wos Borned May 19 196
Died Nove 20 1917
At Rest

Oscar Shuler's stone - photo is reversed for readability
Photo by Wendy Meyers (2012)
All of Oscar's Indian Creek kin left the area in the late 1920's and early 30's after their land was acquired for the creation of the Park. He has lain quietly for eternity for 102 years now, visited only by the rare curious hiker and by the families that come once a year for Decoration Day on Memorial Day weekend. Time and weather have prevailed and his stone now lies broken on the ground, oddly symbolic of the incomplete life it represents. 

And yet, if you place a hand on the stone and allow your fingers to trace the markings, you can still feel the love and sadness embodied in the hand of the grieving mother who sought to memorialize her child in the only way she could. Through Nora's simple tribute, Oscar's life will always be remembered.....a beautiful and powerful reminder of the tenuous nature of life and death a century ago in these mountains we call home.
Oscar Shuler's broken stone
Photo by Wendy Meyers (December 25, 2019)

For those interested in visiting the Queen/Styles Cemetery, here are the directions:
From the gate at the main Deep Creek trailhead, hike approximately 0.8 miles up the Deep Creek Trail to the intersection with Indian Creek. Turn right on Indian Creek and hike approximately 2.5 miles until you come to the third bridge on Indian Creek itself. Just before you cross the bridge, there is an old road on the right - take this road and hike approximately a quarter of a mile up the road; the road will terminate at the cemetery. The round-trip hike is just over 7 miles.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park archives

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Stories of Stones - U.S. Marshal Noah Hezekiah Burns (1840 - 1874)

Just down the hill from the Swain Memorial Park, on a short ridge behind an abandoned dog lot lies a sad, neglected little cemetery known as the Burns Cemetery. There are nine known burials here; all those lying in eternal repose are believed to be members of the Uriah Charles and Sarah Louise 'Sally' (nee' Burchfield) Burns family (three graves are marked only by fieldstones and therefore the identity of those buried in them is forever lost). What is remarkable about this cemetery, however, is that two of those buried here - Uriah Burns and his son Noah Hezekiah H. Burns - were both murdered. Today's blog will focus on the death of Noah; I may write one in the future on the death of his father Uriah. 
Headstone of Noah Hezekiah H. Burns, Burns Cemetery (Deep Creek Area)
Source: photo by Wendy Meyers
In bringing this story to you, I would like to acknowledge the partnership of my good friend and fellow genealogical researcher, Carol Cochran, who has done extensive and impeccable research on the Burns family. Thanks are also in order to Shirley Crisp, another Burns descendant and avid historian.

Noah Burns was born July 20, 1840, the second documented child of at least 13 born to Uriah and Sally Burns.  He volunteered for service in the Confederate Army at the age of 20, and was mustered as a private into Company A of the 16th regiment of the N.C. Infantry (the famed Thomas' Legion) on April 27, 1861 at Webster. In November 1862 , he was mustered out of the 16th and mustered into Company K of the 39th N.C. Infantry. His service records on show that he was wounded in the Battles of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks (Virginia) (see the bottom of this article for a personal note on this battle), Jackson (Mississippi), and Chickamauga (Georgia). He also was briefly a prisoner of war when his regiment was surrendered at Citronelle, Alabama in May 1865; they were paroled one week later in Meridian, Mississippi. 

Noah Burns Military Record while he was in the 16th regiment of the N.C. Infantry
Noah Burns Roll of Honor Record
While on furlough or leave during the war, he is believed to have fathered a child, Andrew Thomas Lollis, with Elizabeth (nee' Weeks) Lollis, whom he did not marry. After his permanent return home from the war, he married Mary Angeline Cline and they had one child, a daughter they named Mary. At some point, Noah became a Deputy U.S. Marshal during the "Moonshine Wars" (1872 - 1913), a very dangerous time for lawmen in the rural mountains of Appalachia that claimed the lives of at least 21 U.S. Marshals. Sadly, Noah Burns is counted among them.
Illicit Distilling Operation, year and location unknown
In March 1874, the following was reported in a Raleigh newspaper:

"On the 10th  (note to the reader: this was February 10th), instr. Deputy Marshall Burns, in company with Mr. W.P. Allman, left Burns' house in Swain County to execute several warrants and capiases which he had in his hands upon parties living in Graham, and that portion of Swain County which borders upon Graham. They went to Cheoah, in Graham County and found an illicit distillery in full blast, and a lot (of) illicit whisky. While at the still-house they were surrounded by a lot of illicit distillers, and were compelled to remain in the house during the night. An Indian came to the still-house for some whisky, which he violently attempted to carry away, but was knocked down by Burns and prevented from taking the whisky. Burns then told him that if he did not go and tell Ross, an Indian chief with whom Burns was on intimate terms, to come with his Indians and relieve him, he would kill him.

The Indian went to Ross as directed and about daylight Ross and his Indians came and took Burns and Allman out of the way of the threatening mob. After Burns was relieved from the place we have mentioned, he discovered that he had left some important official papers in Swain, and leaving Allman in a safe place he set out home, which he reached in safety, secured his papers and was on his return to Cheoah, where he left Allman.

On Sunday the 15th, as he was traveling on the road 12 miles from Charleston on the Tennessee River, he was shot through the heart and killed instantly by Wm. R. Dills (note to the reader - after consulting with one of his descendants, I feel confident that this was William Rutherford "Black Billy" Dills). The shooting was done with a rifle-gun, and at such close quarters that the patching of the bullet was found in the hole where the ball penetrated the body. There were two men in company with Dills, and the three were removing a cask of illicit whisky. When they discovered these men, Walls and Freeman, pursued their course. They stated that after they had gone about one hundred yards, they heard a gun fire, whereupon they turned to go back where they had left Dills, but met him in a very high state of excitement, moving toward them. He told them not to attempt to go back in that direction or he would kill them, and began reloading his gun.

The above facts in connection with other circumstances appearing at the coroner's inquest. Dills was immediately arrested and taken to Webster, in Jackson County, where he was lodged in jail, and is now held in close confinement."
The Weekly Era (Raleigh, NC)
March 12, 1874

William Rutherford "Black Billy" Dills
Photo provided by my old friend and classmate Tommy Dills
and his brother, Billy. "Black Billy" was their GG grandfather.
The Burns murder case went to trial in October 1874 in Jackson County and Dills was ably represented by 4 attorneys: Allen Turner Davidson and his son Theodore Fulton Davidson (later the North Carolina State Attorney General), W.L. Love, and Kope Elias. After a 3-day trial described as "tedious" by one area newspaper, he was acquitted. On what the basis the acquittal was made, the papers are silent. In May 1875,  Dills pleaded guilty to armed conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice and was sentenced to a year to be served in the federal Albany Penitentiary (in Albany, New York).
Theodore Fulton Davidson, later NC State Attorney General
In a sad postscript to this story, on the night of November 2nd, only weeks after Dills' acquittal for the murder of her husband, Noah's wife Angeline was dragged from her bed and whipped repeatedly with hickory switches. Such was the intensity of her pain and fear that she begged her attackers to kill her but to spare the life of her daughter, Mary, and to raise her. The identity of two of her assailants? Her brothers-in-law Taylor and M.M. Burns. Their motive? To drive her off land that she had an interest in and occupied; Noah had been trying to settle the matter with his brothers at the time of his assassination.  

A personal note: As detailed above, Noah H. H. Burns was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks in Virginia. My 4th great-uncle, Corporal Caroden S. Burge, who was fighting for the Union in Company K of the 2nd Michigan Infantry, was killed in that same battle on May 31, 1862. Click this link to be taken to a picture of him as well as some fascinating letters he wrote during his Civil War service. 

Carol Cochran, Shirley Crisp, Tommy and Billy Dills 
The Asheville Weekly Citizen, October 22, 1874
The Asheville Weekly Citizen, May 20, 1875
The Daily Journal (Wilmington, NC), November 11, 1874
The Weekly Era (Raleigh, NC), March 12, 1874
Wilmington Morning Star, May 20, 1875

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Witcher's Chapel - Easter Morning (April 21, 1889)

This Easter morning service exactly 130 years ago was nothing akin to the type of Easter service typically held at churches in the modern day. However, it also seems entirely appropriate to celebrate the homegoing of a clearly beloved community member on the day of the Resurrection. Best wishes to all my readers for a blessed Easter!
Interior of Palmer Chapel at Cataloochee
"Rev. P.P. McLean held a memorial service in memory of Eli Collins at Witchers Chapel Sunday April 21st 1889.
The morning broke in full splendor, solemn quietude pervaded the land. Before 9 o’clock the stillness was broken by the call to Sabbath school. At 10:15 we repaired to the place appointed where the men of God should stand forth and speak in memory of a sainted brother. The services were opened by appropriate singing after which the minister arose and said, “We might, as one of old, ask what it is that has caused this large assembly to come to the house of God this beautiful Sabbath morning. We presume it is because a servant of God has been called home to rest.”
A very appropriate hymn was then announced which was followed by scriptural reading suitable to the occasion. Then was read the life incidents of the deceased brother, followed by another hymn sung by the minister. He then announced the text and proceeded to its discussion which was clear, able, and forcible, making vivid to the minds of his hearers things that have been passed far down the vale of time.
The audience was large and attentive. A collection amounting to $3 was taken for foreign missions. Reception of members into the church, three. The services were concluded by appropriate singing and prayer.
Witcher’s Chapel was located in close proximity to the area which later became Judson and was named for William Witcher of Macon County.

The Witcher’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South was located on the south bank of Alarka Creek and on the former Parch Corn Flower/Flour reservation (which Thomas Wentworth Pledge Poindexter purchased prior to the Cherokee removal) – which later became part of Judson. In September 1858, Elizabeth Poindexter, widow of T.W.P. Poindexter sold, for $1, a half-acre parcel to the trustees of the Witcher’s Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South (consisting of Joel Sawyer, Edward DeLozier [her son-in-law], John Anderson, and James Ingram) for the purposes of constructing a church house for both school and church purposes. The building served for several decades as a church, school, and meeting-house for the community. 

Newspaper announcement of service times - Witcher's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church South
Source: Swain County Herald, 24 January 1889

The name “Witcher’s Chapel” disappears from the written record (in the records that I have been able to access) after 1891. It is possible that it later became the Judson Methodist Episopal Church.

Eli Collins (ca. 1807 – 1889) was originally interred in the Judson Public Cemetery. At the time of Fontana Lake’s impoundment, his grave was identified (though was apparently only marked by a fieldstone). No discernible remains were found, therefore, it is likely that a symbolic shovelful of dark earth was dug and placed in a new container, and reinterred in Lauada Cemetery.

Judson, NC (1938). Thanks to Don Casada for identification of the church and cemetery.
Source: NARA Southeast

Sources:, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Cemetery Removal Records
Macon County, NC Register of Deeds
National Archives and Records Administration, Southeast – TVA Records
Swain County Herald, 25 April 1889