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


  1. And your basis for labeling Tom Lollis a bastard is......

    - DNA testing
    - Always reliable
    - first hand observation
    - fabrication
    - that's what somebody said

    1. Dear Reader:

      The identification of Noah Burns as the father of Andrew Thomas "Tom" Lollis is by family tradition/genealogical records only. There are no extant "official" records (such as his death certificate or a bastardy bond) that identify him as the biological father. As this has generated concern, I have added caveating language stating that Noah Burns was believed to have fathered Tom Lollis.

      Kind regards,
      Wendy Meyers

  2. And the kids keep protesting this genealogy stuff is "boring" (Well, mine does, anyway). Ha! Fascinating stuff, thanks for sharing!

    1. If only they knew all the sordid tales that each of us has in our family's history! Thanks for reading.