Letters Speak of "Boon Tree' Relics, Including Table with Bullet
Five letters written between May 31 and Sept. 2, 1921 capture priceless particulars of Boones Creek’s legendary “Boon Tree.” The writers were Samuel G. Heiskell (Tennessee historian from Knoxville), E.W. Hughes (employee of Wolfe Brothers Furniture Factory in Piney Flats) and Miss Myrtle Leonard (Boones Creek resident).
Heiskell’s stated interest in the tree was to acquire authentic facts about it for the State Archives in Nashville. Hughes first notified Heiskell that his factory had four fabricated gavels ready to send him. They were produced from lumber removed from the famed fallen tree that had been supplied by landowner Mr. Lafayette Isley. The full order was for a number of gavels, two small library tables and other unnamed products. One table containing a bullet sold for $100. Isley had previously sent the slab with the faded Boone inscription to Washington. No further details were given.
Hughes acquired numerous facts about the tree. To verify the accuracy of it, he conferred with several older Boones Creek residents who agreed with his findings. The factory worker walked through the area where the tree once stood and noted that it had changed very little in the 150 years since the trailblazer trekked through the area. It appeared to be essentially undisturbed with the only visible manmade object being a stone marker placed there by the Tennessee DAR.
Hughes wrote a second letter to the historian: “About ten miles north of Jonesboro … in Washington County, East Tennessee on the waters of Boone Creek, there stood, until a few years ago, a giant Beech tree that was the most famous tree in the State of Tennessee or probably in the United States. Thousands of people … journeyed to see the historical inscription that was carved on its smooth bark - ‘D Boon, Cilled A Bar In Year 1760.’
“The words were easy to read until about 18 years ago (1903), but since (then), visitors and curious people have obliterated the inscription. The tree stood in a magnificent beech and hickory forest. It was 29 inches across the stump and about 70 feet high. It leaned sharply to the west, probably 20 degrees, in which direction it fell in 1916.”
“It is a curious fact that in the operation of making these tables, a leaden bullet was sawn through its middle and each half adhered to its wood bed all through the operation and finished and shows in the table today. The bullet was about five inches in from the bark toward the heart.”
In a separate letter, Hughes sent Heiskell a photograph of a painting of the tree that was created by Boones Creek resident, Miss Myrtle Leonard. The historian contacted her for additional details. She responded with a letter: “The Boon Tree is on the old stage road leading from Jonesboro to Blountsville. It is about eight miles northeast of Jonesboro and nine miles from Johnson City.”
Myrtle recalled as a child playing beneath the tree, picnicking there and dreaming about Boone’s heroic “bar” killing and Indian ambush escape by hiding under a nearby waterfall. She said that even though the bark inscription had not been visible for as long as she could remember, the section where it had been was easily identifiable. Miss Leonard said nothing was dearer to her than the tree. She painted the tree scene while its image was still fresh in her mind, aided as well by an old photograph. She especially wanted to accurately portray the tree’s visible root system.
After the tree fell during a storm, it was removed. All that remained after the tree fell were the marker, a few crumbling roots and many lofty Beech trees surrounding it that bore the carved names of countless people who came to visit the “Boon Tree.”
Thanks to Ed Bowman, grandson of Miss Leonard and a member of the Boones Creek Historical Trust, for his input into this article.