Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Life and Tragic Death of Ben Enloe

Today, September 8th, 2016, marks 100 years since the death of Benjamin F. Enloe, a member of one of the most prominent families in Swain County during the 1800's and early- to mid- 1900's.
Ben Enloe, circa late 1890s/early 1900s
Source: Laura Taylor

Frequent readers here know of my fondness for the Judson area, because I grew up about a mile from there. One of the most wealthy families in Judson was headed by William Aesoph  'Ace' Enloe. Readers are likely familiar with the Abram Enloe family as being among the early settlers of the Oconalufty Valley, relocating there from Puzzle Creek in Rutherford County sometime after 1810. Ace, one of Abram's grandsons, was born in the Oconalufty area in 1847 and likely lived in that greater area until sometime in the 1890's. He married Margaret Clarinda Conner, with whom (according to the 1910 census), he had 12 children.

William Aesoph 'Ace' and Clarinda (Conner) Enloe
Source: Laura Taylor

Ben, one of the 'middle' children, was born on June 9th, 1879. During his childhood, Ben would have been expected to contribute heavily to the family's day-to-day work: helping in the garden, gathering firewood, hauling water from the spring, feeding the livestock, and similar activities. His responsibilities would have increased as he grew older. The census records note that he was literate so he almost certainly attended school; an 1890 newspaper article noted that the Oconalufty school ran for 5 months out of the year. The Enloes probably also attended church at either the Oconalufty Baptist Church or at the Hughes Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church. Sometime in the late 1890's, Ace moved his family to the Judson area, purchasing the Amos Ashe property and mill. Ben probably had a role in running the mill prior to his departure from the area.

The Enloe Mill in Judson, circa 1910
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park archives

The Enloe Mill in Judson, circa 1909
Source: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ben had left Swain County by 1900, as the census that year showed him working as a coal miner in one of the 8 coal mines near Big Stone Gap, Wise County, Virginia. By 1910, Ben had left the coal mines and moved much closer to home, living in Asheville and working for the Southern Railway as a fireman. Also called a stoker, the fireman's job was to shovel the coal that powered the steam engines. The job required close coordination with the engineer in order to ensure that the engine was adequately powered for all operations, stoking the fire higher when more power was needed, and making sure that the train didn't explode. Often firemen worked as apprentices to the engineers and were sometimes allowed to operate the powerful locomotives under their supervision.

Engineer and Fireman/Stoker on a tourist steam locomotive in Colorado
Source: The Durango Herald
By the time he was 37 in September of 1916, Ben was an engineer for the railroad, responsible for managing the very complex steam boiler and controlling the speed of the train, a massive vehicle that could weigh thousands of tons when considering the engine and cars. The engineer had to know the location of signals, curves, crossings, and changes in uphill or downhill grade along his route in order to safely control the train. The job was a good one, earning Ben, a lifelong bachelor with no family to support, a comfortable salary.

A Southern Railway freight train near Black Mountain, circa early 1900s
On the night of September 8th, 1916, Ben was backing a work train in toward the Biltmore train station, likely getting ready to head to his home. Unbeknownst to him, freight train #172, pulling several loaded coal cars, was having difficulty ascending Buena Vista hill 3.5 miles distant from Biltmore. The engineer of the freight train realized that it was not sufficiently powered to make the full ascent and attempted to avert derailment by pulling the engine itself just off the track, leaving the coal cars on the track with their brakes set.  Unfortunately, the brakes did not hold and the train began to hurtle backwards toward Asheville, picking up a great degree of speed along the way despite the valiant attempts of brakeman N.G. McGalliard to reset the brakes.

Coming into view of Ben Enloe's work train, which was situated on a small bridge at the Fairview rail crossing, McGalliard realized that disaster was imminent and jumped clear in the nick of time. Unfortunately though, Ben and his flagman Erwin Pitts did not escape in time and were instantly killed upon the collision of the trains. Pitts' body, buried under tons of coal, was found rather quickly. However, Ben's badly scalded and mangled body, found buried underneath both the work train's engine and the coal, was not recovered until the following afternoon despite what were described as frantic efforts to find him. The wreckage of the trains was spread over a good distance along the track, and the work engine was said to be torn up such that it looked as if it was made of cardboard.

A coal train wreck, circa early 1900s
Source: Norfolk and Western Historical Society

Ben Enloe's death certificate
Some of Ben's family arrived in Asheville on September 9th in order to accompany his body back to Swain County, where funeral services were held the next day. A cemetery committee chaired by D.K. Collins provided a burial plot for him in the Bryson City cemetery. Two days later, Ace purchased the plot and additional space for other family members to be buried in as they passed away.
Probate records indicate that Ben had $500 (almost $11,000 in today's currency) to his name at the time of his death. His father, Ace, was the recipient of Ben's entire estate.

Signature of Ace Enloe on Ben Enloe's Probate Record
Over the years, Ace and Clarinda, along with some of Ben's brothers and nephews, joined their brother and son in eternal repose in the family plot, a peaceful place with a beautiful view of the mountains. For those interested in visiting, the plot lies a short distance behind the cemetery's angel and in line with the Everett family graves. And if you do choose to visit, spare a moment to reflect on the young man buried here, cut down in the prime of his life in such a tragic manner.

Tombstone of Ben Enloe in the Bryson City Cemetery
Source: Don Casada

I would like to recognize the significant contributions of Laura Taylor to this blog. Laura, a great-niece of Ben Enloe, has contributed significant family history and numerous photographs of the Enloe family that bring this blog entry, and especially Ben Enloe, to life.
Don Casada
Laura Taylor
The Asheville Citizen-Times, September 9, 1916
The Charlotte Observer, September 11, 1916
The Durango Herald
The High Point Enterprise, September 11, 1916
The Tennessean, September 1, 1890
Western Carolina University Special Collections

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Back to School in Swain County

Swain County Schoolbuses, circa 1927
Source: Asheville Citizen Times, February 6, 1927

It's that time of year! The children of Swain County (including my own) have returned to school to start the 2016-2017 term. In lieu of a lengthy blog post this week, I'm sharing a few old pictures and notes/stories about the schools in Swain County in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Please note that 1) the pictures are not necessarily related to the text; and 2) some of the pictures are not of the highest quality, as they were pulled from old newspapers and old books.


Hightower School/Church on Needmore Road (still standing as the Hightower Church)
Photo provided by Linda Banwarth (with many thanks for this priceless piece of history).

What follows is an account of 'Bill Hamilton's'  first day of school.'Bill' appears to have lived in the greater Japan/Almond/Judson area and wrote about those communities for the Bryson City papers in the late 1800s.  As I cannot place a Bill or William Hamilton in Swain or Graham counties in the appropriate time period via the census records, it is possible that 'Bill Hamilton' was a pen name.  He was a very articulate man, and therefore it should be noted that his story below is strictly written 'tongue in cheek'. I have copied it verbatim from the newspaper in which it appeared.

"....My father, seein that I needed some schoolen, started me ter school, my first time in life so a week or so before hit was ter commence my good old mother, who was taken, hit seamed a relarm in amount of interest in her 'dear sun' learned me the A.B.C's and by good management and acasional use of the rod of kerection, succeeded in learnin me the alphabet, so on the morning school commenced. She fixed me dinner, consisten of a corn dodger, a piece of meat, and a quart bottle full of Butter milk and off I put ter the school house four miles distant.

In due time I arrived on the spot, quietly deposited me dinner under the door steps of the old log school house, and in I went, thinking I was a lucky boy, and one god had endowed with extra ordinary mental ability as soon as matters of that kind are ever done. I tooked a seat and that teacher told me to 'off with hat' which I did with rapidity, and flutter bation of mind. Then turning to me lesson (The Alfabet' and axed me what tha first letter was, I studied a little looking first at teacher then tha letter, and ter save me from Halifax I couldent annountit for him. Now said he 'You get this letter in your mind so you can tell me what it is by dinner time,' and left me ter work out on me own edecation with fear en trimlen , so I ruminated and spelt, quirked, twisted and choked and spelt at the tarnel old letter and never did make hit out. For I hade clean forgotten the name of hit, when dinner was announced I was one of the fust ter leave my seat. Fur I was a gitten tarnations hungry, an made for me dinner basket under the door steps, where I had place hit that morning, and lo and behold the tarnations free goer Hogs, had done wound that matter up. Havin clearned up every speck of dinner septen that big bottle of milk, which was found atter some sarchin.

Durin play time I axed a boy what the name of the fust letter was, and I kept sayin it over til the teacher hollered 'Books' and in we all went, me with the balance, still sayin over that letter. Dreekly that 'teacher' cum ter me, says 'Bill ye got that letter yet.' An I looked and every body in the house was looking right at me, I got excited, could feel me heart a beaten in me years, occasionally turnin blind, last I made out to get me mouth off and say 'A' very well said the teacher what is the next. Here I stalled again, Last he said 'what is it that stings boys sometimes' 'Yellow Jackets' said I. 'Oh you num skull you Bees' don't you know, so that is 'B'.

Now it is of no use ter say, that I said no more lessons that afternoon, and went home that evenin, proud ter say that I had at least gone to school one day in life....."
Bill Hamilton's Letter, The Bryson City Times
August 7, 1896

Fairview School, 1938
Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Georgia

First Almond School circa 1926/1927 (A newer school would be built shortly after this picture was taken, prior to the impounding of Fontana Lake; the new school sat on the current site of the Almond Boat Dock. The newest Almond School, where my brothers and I went to elementary school and where my parents worked, is now the site of Southwestern Community College's Swain County Campus).
Source: Asheville Citizen Times, February 6, 1927

Here's a description of a typical school day at the Cherokee Training School:

'.....The weekday program of exercises fitly illustrates the excellence of the superintendent's management, and explains the high order among schools which the Cherokee training school has attained. It is as follows; morning bell, 5 o'clock; breakfast, 5:30; industrial work, 6 to 9; school exercises, 9 to 11:15; dinner, 12 n; industrial work, 12:30 p.m.; school exercises, 1:30 to 4; industrial work, 4 to 6; supper, 6; recreation, 6:30 to 7; evening study, 7; evening prayers, 8; retiring bell, 8:30.'
Donaldson, Thomas. Indians, Eastern Band of Cherokees of North Carolina. 1892

Cherokee Training School and Students, circa 1889/1890
Source: Report on Indians, Taxed and not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska), 11th US Census, 1890

The Old Soco Schoolhouse near the Macedonia Mission
Source: Report on Indians, Taxed and not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska), 11th US Census, 1890

Here is a snippet regarding very early schooling in Swain County in an article written about John Sadoc Smiley, Swain County Schools' first superintendent:

  ".....In 1871......there were 15 primary schools, with teachers doing work through the seventh grade. It wasn't until Lucian Holmes, a college graduate, came here to teach the Bryson City school that it went higher. Mr. Smiley received his education in the little one room schools, going to his first school in 1854 in Macon County; his second on Little Alarka and in 1856 was in school at Cold Springs, these three being the free schools of Macon County at that time. (The reader is reminded that though these locations are known to be in Swain County today, they were in Macon County at the time - Swain County was not formed until 1871)  Mr. Smiley....taught the first school in Bryson in 1871-1872 that had a four months term. In those days the teachers were examined by a County Board of Examiners. In 1881 the office of County Superintendent of Public Education was created and the place given to Mr. Smiley which he held for nine years. His opinion was that he wasn't 'literary enough, but that he went ahead and did the best that he could but was criticized anyway'. He worked for uniformity of textbooks; for a higher standard of teaching and for a longer term. Mr. Smiley says that folks hadn't been used to schools and (he) thought that they ought to be as long as a working day, from sun-up to sun-down. The first schools opened at 8:45 and closed at four. In speaking of the work of some of the pioneer teachers, he said, 'their work was noble'."

Article on John Sadoc Smiley, written by Anne D. Bryson
Asheville Citizen-Times, May 6, 1928

Reverend John Sadoc Smiley, circa 1928
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times, May 6, 1928

Source: North Shore Historical Association newsletter, 1990

Asheville Citizen Times, 1927 and 1928
Linda Banwarth
National Archives and Records Administration, Atlanta
North Shore Historical Association newsletter, 1990
Report on Indians, Taxed and not Taxed in the United States (Except Alaska), 11th US Census, 1890