yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Henderson Co.

From Auburn Powers, History of Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930. Reproduced with permission for personal use only. No further reproduction can be made without written consent of Andy E. Powers and Sherode B. Powers.


Chapter VIII

Before going further, it will be well to consider several facts not directly connected with any chapter, but which are of interest and value in the History of Henderson County. These events date from pioneer days to the present time. Among them are facts so common to many of us that they may seem out of place in a history, but to others and to our posterity they may not seem so.

Mills Darden, an early Henderson Countian, was one of the largest, if not the largest, man known to the civi1ized world. It is said that he grew in height and in weight from birth to death. His flesh became so enormous that he choked to death on account of it in 1857.

There is a legend connected with the birth and parentage of Mr. Darden. Whether it be true or false the author is unable to say. But the legend goes that he was a foundling, that an old negro woman discovered him when he was only a few days old and almost naked down by an old mill. When she found him, he began to cry; and she, in a soothing and coaxing way, exclaimed "Dar Den", meaning "there then". From that exclamation he has ever afterwards been known as "Darden". His Christian name was "Mills", and not "Miles" as has been incorrectly published and used. This name was derived from the circumstance under which he was discovered, down by the mill. (The author has seen his own signature.)

According to the legend, he never knew anything of his parentage, nor did he learn the secret of his birth until near his death. But whether this legend be true or false, Mr. Darden was of good character, and his posterity has shown him to be of good blood. He was held in esteem by the people who knew him, and it was in his honor that the town of Darden was so named.

Mills Darden was so sensitive about his size and so averse to newspaper publicity that he never consented to be weighed. It was only through a clever scheme of those who wished to know his weight t a even an estimate of it was obtained.

Mr. Darden was so large that he could not ride horseback or even in an ordinary light vehicle. He had a special cart built with heavy springs or his own use. When he went to town, he usually drove an ox to the cart. One day before he got out of his cart, some men managed to measure how far the springs were mashed down. Later they filled the cart with rock and scrap iron until the springs measured the same as they measured while he was in the cart. They then weighed the rock and iron and thereby obtained a fair estimate of Darden's weight. Reports vary slightly, but his weight must have been around 800 pounds or probably a little more.

He was so large that his clothes had to be made for him. His old-fashioned white hat resembled a bee hive in size; his shoes were homemade and on the style of moccasins; he could not pass through an ordinary door without stooping and turning sidewise, his height being approximately eight feet. Jim Pinkston and Major T. A. Smith of Lexington made him a suit of clothes. Mr. Pinkston and two other large men put on his coat, buttoned it around them, and walked down the street. It was a good fit for the three.

He was buried at Chapel Hill, and it is said that 500 feet of lumber were necessary to make his coffin and box, allowing for usual waste.

Soon after his death newspapers from all over the country and world, including one from Wilmington, North Carolina and one from London, England gave accounts of his death and huge proportions.

* * * * *

In contrast to Mills Darden of early days, we now have in the County a small man at Sardis and a little woman two miles east of Lexington on highway No. 20. Alton Tubbs, son of H. F. Tubbs, of Sardis is about twenty-three years old and weighs approximately eighty pounds. His head and face seem to be fully developed, but otherwise he is only a child. Miss "Hut" Smith, daughter of Jackie Smith of two miles east of Lexington is thirty-eight years old and about the size of a ten year old child. Her retarded growth was caused by a severe attack of typhoid fever.

* * * * *

About the first day of January 1892 Henry Armstrong, more commonly known as "Uncle Henry" in the Juno community, plodded his way up to the front gate of Dr. A. L. Waller. The weather was rough. A heavy snow and sleet had fallen. Henry was old and feeble, and no one wanted him. He asked Dr. Waller if he might stay there for a few days. Dr. Waller was very busy with his practice and had not the time to care for him. But Mrs. Waller, seeing that he was sick and knowing that no one else wanted him, took him in.

She gave him a bed in the front room of the house that she still lives in in Juno and built him a fire. When she did this, Henry looked into her eyes and prayed a most beautiful prayer. He told Mrs. Waller that stars were added to her crown in Heaven that day.

Mrs. Waller cared for him as best she could, and Dr. Waller gave him medical treatment. Henry was very particular about his clothes. He wore heavy black yarn socks in winter. He also detested being touched by human hands. One time when Mrs. Waller tucked the cover around his feet, she touched them, and he, even possibly unconscious of the fact, kicked with all his might. His habit of keeping man's hands off him had been built so strongly.

On January 6, 1892 Henry died. Men went into his room to dress him for burial, but returned without doing so. They reported it was the women's job--that Henry Armstrong was not a man but a woman.

Henry lived a man, had worn men's clothes, and had seemed to want to be a man so long that he was given men's clothes for burial. [Henry shall also be spoken of as "Him" in the remainder of this story.] He was buried about one mile west of Juno at the Sheard grave yard.

Just who Henry Armstrong was, where he came from, and why he lived such a life is unknown to this day. He came into the Juno community immediately after the Civil War and located on the Sheard place, now the Frank Fesmire place, and worked for different people, doing man's work and enduring hardships and exposure just as did the ordinary man.

Henry was a good old creature--not bad at all. He was a jolly fellow and would partake of the sports of the community. He would go with the boys to the swimming holes and would sit on the bank and slap his hands and laugh with the crowd. He seemed to enjoy it as much as any of the others. Of course, he did not go in swimming with them.

Mr. Will Gardner of the R. F. D. service and Mr. Charlie Gardner, his brother, slept with Henry many times, never knowing but what they were sleeping with a man. One mysterious thing about Henry was that he always slept with a big knife under his pillow. The knife must have been as a protection against anyone who might approach him.

Many suspicions have been advanced concerning the mystery of Henry's life. The one that seems most logical to the author is that Henry, while a young woman, entered the war as a brother to her husband or lover and that he was killed in the war and that she drifted into the Juno community. However, this legend may be untrue.

But regardless of the cause of Henry's disguised life, he must have been a person of self control, for he fooled the people of an entire community for some thirty years. He died with the secret still kept.

Dr. Waller asked him in the very last days if he had a secret to tell, but he had none. His secret was not to be told. He said, however, that he had well-to-do relations, but that they would not care to hear about his death. No investigation has ever been made concerning them.

* * * * *

Many new trees have been introduced into Henderson County since its occupancy by white people. Ccdar is the most common of these. Cedars were brought into this county from the bluffs on the Tennessee River about the year 1826. At first, they were a very delicate plant and would seldom live even with the best of treatment. They were used as shrubbery and considered sacred. Some people were so superstitious about this tree that they believed the person who set out one of them would die when it became large enough to shade his grave. As a consequence, many beautiful cedars were kept pruned back or even cut down. But they now grow on every hand, especially on gully banks.

* * * * *

Beech River, the largest river in the County, received its name from the enormous amount of beech timber that once shaded its valley and from the bounteous beech mast that fell from the trees and fattened the farmers' hogs. There was also much other timber of value along Beech River. About 1875 white oak timber was slayed without mercy or any consideration of the future value of it. It was cut into stave bolts and loaded on boats known as ‘‘stave boats'' and floated down River into the Ohio River, and down the Ohio into the Mississippi River which carried it to New Orleans where it was sold. Those who went with the rafts walked through the woods back home. It would often take a party six months to float the bolts to their destination, dispose of them, and make the journey back. The bolts were carried away in great quantities, and the County soon realized that its timber was depreciating very rapidly. Logs are sometimes marketed in such manner even now, but it is almost a thing of the past.

As was hinted in the p receding paragraph, the farmers' stock ran outside an ma e much of its own living. Beech River Bottom furnished an abundance of beech mast, acorns, and nuts. And once a farmer had a sow and bunch of pigs "ranging" in the bottom and bearing his "mark", he was pretty sure of having meat the following year. Often such a bunch of hogs would prosper, reproduce, and develop into a large drove. Some would go wild and seldom be seen. It was not infrequent for such a drove of semi-wild hogs to become infuriated and chase men from their range. Once a hog was hurt and made to squeal, all within ear shot of it would rush to its assistance with bristles raised and mouths chomping. Many. a hunter or fisherman has climbed a tree to escape the tearing tusk of the angry boar.

Every family had its own mark and knew its hogs by such marks, which were usually made by cutting "splits", "holes", "crops", etc., in the left or right ear and by cutting the tail off half way or close up or by leaving it long. Some' times a man would come home with a hog in his wagon or on his slide bearing no ears. The ears had been cut off to prevent the lawful owner from knowing his hog. The act of cutting a hog's ears off was considered an acknowledgement of stealing, and the person guilty of committing such an act was often punished by law.

* * * * *

It was mentioned in a preceding chapter that game was plentiful during the days of the early settlers of the County. Much of that game survived many years. About 1870 a deer was aroused from his lair to give chase to a pack of hounds. Just where the chase began or how long it lasted is unknown, but the deer became near spent and, when his laboring bounds ceased to place more distance between him and his hot pursuers, his chance seemed lost. The foremost dog ceased to bay and strained his lithe muscles to draw the chase to an end. The deer, seeing no other means of escape, plunged into Middletons Creek, about two and a half mites south of Reagon, for a last resort. Evidently he hoped to ward off his foes with his antlers, for the deer could stand on the bottom of the creek, while the dogs had to swim in order to reach him. In his new position he had an advantage. But alas, the cruel hand of fate played his trump card. Some women by the name of Hubs were washing near by and came to the contest. They brought with them their "battling sticks", which were used for beating the dirt from wet clothes, and killed the deer. The laboring and painful attempts of the quarry to lose his pursuers had been in vain and he paid the supreme price. The courage and breath of the staghounds had been rewarded by the loss of their well earned feed to an intruder.

About three years ago, as an attempt to reestablish deer as a game in Tennessee, the State let loose a few specimen. One drifted into this region and caused much excitement. People reported that a deer had been seen. Others made sport of the report. There arose much talk upon the subject, for no one believed it, yet truthful men had affirmed the report. D. McCollum of near Scotts Hill settled the confusion by killing the deer and distributing its flesh throughout the community. Some was carried to Brown School No.6, where many children bit off the same piece, merely for the sake of being able to say that they had eaten wild deer meat. The killing of the deer was in no way meant as a violation of the law. Mr. McCollum knew nothing of the State's placing them here, and, when the opportunity of a lifetime came to make a big kill, he took it.

Jim Story, the great-grand-father of the White Brothers in business at Lexington, had the good fortune of killing a deer at the present site of the Henderson County Court House in early days. Mr. John Wash Fesmire, one of the two survivors of the first Republican Convention held in Henderson County, (William Essary being the other), helped to lower Mr. Story into his earthen tomb.

About the year 1880, Tommie Owens, more commonly known as "Dred" Owens, was aroused from his contentment one night after supper. A black sheep had made its way into his house; and "Dred", with the light of only a flickering grease lamp, pronounced it a bear. He ordered the wife and children to climb into the loft, a very unwise act, for bears can climb also. Dred yelled for his neighbor's dogs and made the well known remark, "Skin will hang when Grice's dogs get here." The sheep was detected and Owens became the "goat" of the community.

Crawford Springs, in the west end of the County and owned by a party in Jackson, is the favorite fox hunting resort of the County and has been so for several years. People come from Jackson and elsewhere, bring their family and dogs with them, and spend days and often weeks camping and fox hunting. The chief range of hunting territory is on Wolf Ridge.

* * * * *

The winter of 1898 and 1899 was so severe that almost all the blue birds in the Country were killed. It has been during only the past few years that they have been seen in any considerable numbers, but they are rapidly regaining prominence. It was so cold that winter that horses and cattle froze to death, and houses popped.

* * * * *

An old man named Lee in 1899 attempted to pass a "four dollar bill" on his friend as a joke. The bill was struck in 1777 during the time that the United States lived under the Declaration of Independence. Judge Hammond made a "big-to-do" and offered Lee a fancy price for it, but Lee rejected the offer, considering the old money an emblem of loyalty and reverence to his ancestors and family. W. J. Long of Beacon, Tennessee was a witness to this act.

* * * * *

The most widely known dog that this county has produced was a little black fiest owned by Ben Jacobs, who kept a saloon at the site where Timberlake and Buckley now stands, and called "Jim". He afterwards received the name "Tack" because he had the ability to eat metal tacks, or ordinary carpet tacks, without injury in the least. So far as the author has been able to trace, no other dog has had such a remarkable stomach and intestines. This dog even liked tacks and would sometimes consume a whole box at one time. In his early tack eating career he was put on exhibition at Lexington on "First Monday", and a small fee was charged to see him eat tacks. Many people witnessed his super-dog performances. Mr. Jacobs carried the dog to New Orleans and put him on exhibition. Some doctors, wishing to kill the dog and examine his stomach, offered Jacobs a good price for him. But Mr. Jacobs learned their intentions and refused to sell Tack to them. There are yet several men in the County who remember this remarkable dog.

* * * * *

Possibly the most widely known man of the County in the past half century not to be of importance to the County was Chalk Lowery. He had a strong body but a weak mind, yet he pulled some clever jokes. He was fond of drink and would resort to different means of securing liquor. Once he bought a bottle of whiskey at a saloon in Lexington and asked that it be charged to his account. Of course, the bartender refused to credit Chalk, and demanded his whiskey back. Chalk, having already prepared himself for the scheme, handed the clerk a bottle filled with colored water. The clerk did not detect the difference. So Chalk drank to his hearts content and to the discomfort of those about him.

If my report is correct, Judge W. H. Lancaster, who yet resides in Lexington, was the victim of one of his jokes. A bunch of rowdy boys persuaded Chalk to make a political speech in support of the Democratic cause. He climbed to the platform and blundered away fiercely at the Republican party. Judge Lancaster, for the sake of making things still more lively, ask him a few stiff questions. Chalk paused for a moment, scratched his head, and remarked to Judge Lancaster that he had no time to fool away with such men as he and blundered away on his speech again. The crowd "ragged" Judge Lancaster a plenty.

* * * * *

Previous to the year 1908 an organization known as the "Farmers Union" sprang up and was very popular for a time. It was a secret order and afforded much fun in its initiations. The purpose of this order was to organize the farmers into unions and thereby be able to demand certain prices for farm products, and the like. But the organization soon died out, the union either being unsound or the farmers refusing to "stick".

In 1908, the report was spread that the products of those refusing to market them in accordance with certain rulings of the Farmers Union would be destroyed. The band proposing to destroy these products were called "Night Riders".

The people of the County became very much excited, and much comment was made upon the subject, but no damage was done by the so called night riders.

* * * * *

After the World War an attempt was made to restore the power of the Ku Klux Klan in Henderson County and in many other places. Quite a bit of enthusiasm and discussion arose. Many of the leading citizens and practically all of the preachers, took sides with the movement. Meetings were held at various times and places. The attempt of the Ku Klux Klan to restore itself caused much unrest for a spell, but it all faded away as silently as it had come.

* * * * *

The politics of Henderson County is and has always been rather remarkable. Surrounded by Democratic counties, it has almost always supported the Republican cause. It has, however, laid aside party lines on many occasions in the election of its county officials and supported the "Man".

Below is a list of the candidates for President from 1836 to 1928 and the vote of Henderson County in these elections. However, a few of the votes cannot well be found.

Van Buren (Dem), 87
Harrison (Whig), 831

Van Buren (Dern), 277
Harrison (Whig), 1318

Polk (Dem), 492
Clay (Whig), 1209

Cass (Dem), 460
Taylor (Whig), 1286

Pierce (Dem), 511
Scott (Whig), 1193

Buchanan (Dem), 805
Fillmore (Rep), 1313

Breckenridge (Dem), 611
Lincoln (Rep)
Bell (Rep), 1246
Douglas (Dem), 74

McClellan (Dem)
Lincoln (Rep)
This was during the time that Tennessee was not a part of the Union, consequently, no election was held in Henderson County.

Seymore (Dem), 105
Grant (Rep), 644

Greeley (Dem), 849
Grant (Rep), 768

Tilden (Dem), 1357
Hayes (Rep), 999

Hancock (Dem), 1274
Garfield (Rep), 1355

Cleveland (Dem), 1478
Blame (Rep), 1629

Harrison (Rep), Unknown
Cleveland (Dem), Unknown

McKinley (Rep), Unknown
Bryan (Dem), Unknown

Bryan (Dem), 1308
McKinley (Rep), 1925

Parker (Dem), 864
Roosevelt (Rep), 1313

Taft (Rep), 1148
Bryan (Dem), 900

Taft (Rep), 473
Wilson (Dem), 738
Roosevelt (Prog), 947

Wilson (Dem), 982
Hughes (Rep), 1387

Cox (Oem), 1217
Harding (Rep), 1318

Davis (Dem), 1009
Coolidge (Rep), 1616

Smith (Oem), 713
Hoover (Rep), 2005

 Members of the county court.
1. W. L. Coffman and T. D. Birchett.
2. J. W. Ballard and 0. A. Douglass.
3. J. A. Deere and W. F. Maness.
4. J. M. Wilkerson and A. T. Stewart.
5. J. W. Threadgill, F. J. Azbill, and C. W. Crook.
6. W. M. Goff and M. H. Tolley.
7. V. F. Grissom and J. N. Dyer.
Town of Lexington--Elmer Stewart.
Town of Scotts Hill--J. M. Patterson.

Henderson County has echoed to the tread of many great men of state and national fame. In spite of the fact that Henderson County was Whig by a large majority, the Democrats, by no means, abandoned it. In 1840, during the presidential campaign between Harrison and Van Buren, ex-president Andrew Jackson was drawn into the struggle for his old friend, Van Buren. Jackson, Governor Polk, and Adam Huntsman, who had defeated Crockett for congress, visited Lexington, Tennessee. When Jackson arose next morning, he saw near his window on the end of a liberty pole a Harrison and Tyler flag flying. This flag was put there during the night by the supporters of Harrison and Tyler. Jackson, it is said, remarked that one could never tell what the damned Whigs might do. Both Jackson and Polk made speeches in Lexington. that day. You will note that each of these gentlemen were, at one time or another, President of the United States.

Governor Brownlow passed through the County in a stage coach and ate dinner with Captain James W. Hanna of near Sardis.

David Crockett, a brave and adventurous frontiersman and hunter, a soldier, and a statesman, visited the early settlers and hunted with them. He spent nights with the parents of the Crook families now living about ten miles south of Lexington. It was always a treat to have him come.

Other men of note have visited our County. Many have been born and reared in it. We shall hear more about them in a later chapter.

  1. Tell the legend connected with the birth of Mills Darden.
  2. What was his weight and how was it found?
  3. Tell the story of Henry Armstrong.
  4. When and from where were cedars introduced into Henderson County?
  5. What did many people believe about cedars?
  6. How were stave bolts marketed?
  7. Tell of the hogs running in Beech Bottom.
  8. How were different people's hogs distinguished from one another?
  9. Tell of the deer that was killed in Middletons Creek.
  10. What did D. McCollum do?
  11. Who killed a deer near present site of Henderson County Court House?
  12. Who are still living that were in the 6rst Republican Convention in Henderson County?
  13. Tell the joke on Dred Owens.
  14. What happened in the winter of 1898-1899?
  15. Tell the story of "Tack".
  16. Who was Chalk Lowery and what did he do?
  17. What was the Farmers Union? When organized?
  18. What is remarkable about the politics of Henderson County?
  19. What men of fame have been in Henderson County and what joke was played on three of them?

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