April 2013

(Note: The subject of this article is controversal and will likely be rewritten to address some response that came in after it appeared in the Johnson City Press. Some people maintain that it is accurate as written, while others believe it was Robert Young who owned Sweetlips and brought down the British leader Patrick Ferguson at the Revolutionary War Battle of King's Mountain. Check back later for updates and comments. If you have information on this subject and would like to post a blog at the end of the article, e-mail me at boblcox@bcyesteyear.com.)  

The bold headline from an unidentified and undated newspaper article reads, “Famous Old Gun Found, Used at Kings Mountain.” The date is likely from the early 1900s.

In early October 1780, a spirited congregation of patriots, known as the Overmountain Men, originating from Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton, Tennessee joined forces with similar groups of frontiersmen from nearby Tennessee and North Carolina. Their mission was to travel to Kings Mountain, SC (near the North Carolina border) to do battle with the British under the leadership of their commander, Major Patrick Ferguson.

General Wilder and a Map Showing the Overmountain Men's Route

Although three or four bold mountaineers were called upon on October 7 to bring down the British officer who was observed coming down the hill, Darling Jones was credited with firing the fatal shot that ended the leader’s life. He accomplished the feat using a long, flintlock rifle that he christened “Sweetlips.”

The article made a profound statement: “When “Sweetlip’s metallic lips so spoke on that day of patriotic struggle, its voice was heard throughout the entire British armies and turned the tide of the revolution.”

Over time, interested parties began to wonder what happened to the now famed rifle, but its whereabouts were unknown. Eugene F. Ware, Commissioner of Pensions in the nation’s capital, turned to someone whom he believed could locate it. He contacted John T. Wilder (1830-1917), a noted industrialist, who served as a Civil War Union officer and became a chief developer of natural resources in Tennessee.

Wilder further promoted the construction of the Charleston, Cincinnati & Chicago (3Cs) Railroad and became a driving force in the development of the booming industrial suburb of Carnegie along the east side of Johnson City. The magnate next constructed the popular 166-room Cloudland Hotel near the summit of Roan Mountain to serve tourists via the scenic narrow gauge “Tweetsie” railway line. In 1887, the tycoon organized the Roan Iron Works and built and operated two blast furnaces at Rockwood, Tennessee.

Gen. Wilder believed that the gun likely resided in Washington County since Darling Jones was from that location. Some years prior, he tried to learn its whereabouts from Jones’s widow, Nancy, but neither she nor her son knew had knowledge of it. She died in 1902.

Wilder, in an effort to locate the well-authenticated gun for Mr. Ware, journeyed to Johnson City about 1905, visiting a city that he was very familiar with because he previously resided there from 1884 until 1992.

Wilder entered the establishment of Summers, Barton and Parrott’s hardware store in the downtown district. Seeing some firearms for sale prompted him to ask if anyone knew the whereabouts of Darling Jones’ gun. Frank Mountcastle, a prominent farmer and merchant who lived near Johnson City was in the store and heard Wilder. He spoke up and said that he owned the prized gun and began to relate its history. Wilder, excited over the news, offered him the best gun in the store in exchange for the old relic. Mr. Mountcastle accepted his proposal and agreed to ship the gun directly to the commissioner’s home in Washington.

The gun was described as being an old, long-barreled, flintlock rifle used by the pioneers for killing game. The stock was broken but the lock and barrel were in good condition. The firearm was fabricated by a man named Deckard of Pennsylvania and was given by Darling Jones to his son-in-law, James Dunkin. The name “Dunkin” was cut in the barrel and helped to establish its identity.

Dunkin was foreman on the farm of Mr. Montcastle’s grandfather for years and died in that capacity, leaving the gun as a relic to the Mountcastle family. It remained in the attic of the old home place for many years. Only Mr. Frank Mountcastle knew its presence.

Does anyone know where “Sweetlips” resides today? 

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In the late 1940s, Mom and I shopped for my clothing needs at Parks-Belk under the able guidance of Morris Thompson. As I grew older I started patronizing Kings Department Store where funnyman Ed Bateman helped guide me through selections (while continually reminding me that I needed to get married).

(Note: The three photos of Hannah's would not load. Check back later for them.)

On occasion, I shopped at Hannah’s at 213 E. Main. I was always impressed with the vast selection of (slightly higher priced) clothing they offered, the neatness of the place and their always-helpful attendants.

Hannah’s defined the scope of its business by its logo: “Hannah’s Incorporated – Dependable Wear for Men and Boys.” Another slogan was “Hannah’s is not merely a word but is that personal, individual interest in each customer that means guaranteed satisfaction on every purchase.

George S. Hannah established the George S. Hannah Co. in 1912.  Prior to that, he was a traveling salesman residing at 117 E. Watauga. His management team included Ferrell B. Hannah and H.A. Smith. He and his wife, Margaret, later lived in the beautiful Westover Manor (subject of a previous column) on Walnut Street Extension. In 1924, George withdrew from the business causing the formation of a corporation, Hannah’s, Inc. The incorporators were Harry A. Smith, Ferrell R. Hannah and Kyle Slaughter.

The George S. Hannah Co. covered a complete line for men, women and children’s wearing apparel. However, Hannah’s Inc. narrowed its business focus to only men and boys. It featured such nationally known product lines as “Kuppenheimer and Griffon Clothiers, Nettleton and Nunn-Buss Shoes, Dobbs and Style Park Hats, Interwoven Hosiery, Manhattan and Arrow Shirts, Manhattan and Vasser Underwear and Pajamas, Resilio and Beau Brummel Neckwear, Knit-Tex Top Coats, Lilly Baggage and Bradley Sweaters.” 

It its ads, Hannah’s Inc. singled out several brands to promote why they stocked them at their establishment:

Griffon Clothers (“Established in 1862, L. Grief & Brothers, Inc.”), Endicott Johnson Shoes (“For men and boys at popular prices in Hannah’s Annex. We carry a full line of these well known shoes and recommend them for service and satisfaction to the thriftiest buyer.”), Dutchess Trousers, (10 cents a button, $1.00 a rip. Free from loose buttons, seams and belt loops that rip, inaccurate size markings and other common annoyances.), Tom Sawyer Shirts. For real boys at Hannah’s, no boy’s shirt is more favorably known in Johnson City mothers than Tom Sawyer.), …

Nunn Bush & Weldon Shoe Co. (men’s fine footwear of nationally known merit.), The Middishade Co. (fireproof, Middlishad blue serge suits.), Manhattan Shirts (“The Best Known-Known as the Best.”), Duckhead (overalls made for men and boys. An overall should give you these three things: perfect fit, good appearance and long wear.), Stylepark Hats (something entirely news in the field of modern prices. $5.00 at Hannah’s.) Amdur Clothing Co., Inc. (AAA guaranteed sun proof, Service Surge hand tailored.), …

The Excelsior Shoe Company (We feature the Grant Flexated and Excelsior fine shoe for men.), Morris Asinof & Sons, Inc. (Boy’s Students’ and Young men’s Clothing of Merit.) and Resilio Cravats (“In motor cars, it is Speed. In tobacco, it is taste. In cravats, it is resilience that counts. Why? Because a tie is discarded when it lost its freshness, its smart lines. A Resilio cravat always had that “just out of the box” newness. A patented hand-tailored construction is the secret. Look for the loose stand of silk thread in the lining. 

To those of us who grew up in Johnson City, today’s column takes us on yet another pleasurable remembrance journey to the often crowded and festive downtown area that we loved so much and visited often.  

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On October 29, 1909, the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio (CC&O) Railway completed track from Dante, Virginia to Spartanburg, SC. Festive celebrations were observed in both Johnson City and Spartanburg that year. I wrote a column about it in September 2011.

The Johnson City one took place at Hotel Carnegie on E. Fairview with the presidents of Johnson City's three railroads attending. Congressman Walter P. Brownlow served as master of ceremonies with speeches, toasts, a banquet meal and the smoking of fine cigars by the men. 

In Spartanburg, thousands of people attended the event with over 1,500 persons treated to a barbecue celebrating the first train to arrive in the city on the CC&O Railway.

A July 20, 1910 advertisement in the Spartanburg Herald urged folks to make reservations early for a second train excursion to Johnson City, with several additional stops. The date chosen for the trip was July 26-28. The round trip cost, which included nine meals in the diners and berths on the Pullman tourist cars, was only $17 for adults and $10 for children. The ad further urged interested parties to make early reservations.

On the day of departure, a large crowd of Spartanburg residents was on hand to see the train depart. It left Spartanburg at 8:30 a.m. pulling 12 Pullman coaches and four dining cars. Provisions were made to carry nearly 400 people with each car having a double berth. The vehicle carried streamers with the words, “Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce,” printed on them and featured the most modern equipment and fixtures available.

For convenience, the Pullmans were placed in the Spartanburg yards on the evening of the 25thfor early boarding of passengers. Breakfast was conveniently served in the dining cars on the morning of the 26th. The railroad’s assistant to the general manager, the traveling passenger agent and the division passenger agent went on the trip with the paid riders.

A great deal of interest was manifested in the Chamber of Commerce excursion over the CC&O and all cities and towns in the State with organized commercial bodies expressed a strong desire to participate in the great trip over the new road. This included such cities as Columbia, Greenville, Laurens, Newberry, Charleston, Anderson and other places. Columbia made reservations for 100 persons and other cities had sizable delegations.

The much-anticipated journey was finally underway. The first stop was Ridge, NC and a view taken of Mt. Mitchell, Table Rock, Hawk's Bill and other well-known peaks in the vicinity.

A stopover of one hour was made at picturesque Unaka Springs near Erwin in Unicoi County, Tennessee. The evening of the 26th was pleasantly spent at Johnson City where the party was escorted to Soldiers' Home for a band concert and a “moving picture show” on the military premises.

The train left Johnson City at 1:11 a.m. on the 27th, heading for Spears' Ferry. From there, it made a side trip to Natural Tunnel, Virginia, after which it returned to Spears' Ferry for the night. The train then continued to Dante, Virginia, where ample time was allowed to view the mines. The party remained at Dante until midnight to allow the passengers to enjoy dancing and other entertainment.

Just after midnight, the train returned to Johnson City. At 10 a.m. the following morning, it departed and made a second stop at Unaka Springs. At Alt Pass, North Carolina, the train paused for three hours, allowing passengers to engage in mountain climbing. The railroad concluded its mission in Spartanburg at 7:30 on the evening of July 28.

The scenic trip became so popular that it became an annual event for several years. I previously wrote about a special outing for 631 school children that occurred in 1915. Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time and take that trip? 

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Johnson City was once recognized as one of the outstanding burley tobacco centers of the Appalachian region. It contained approximately 40 million pounds of the product stored in seven spacious tobacco warehouses with combined floor space of 450 thousand square feet. Sadly, all seven structures have vanished into yesteryear. I recall two of them went up in smoke, while others were razed.

In 1887, at the request of many tobacco planters, J.H. Winston, a Bristol businessman, submitted an article in the local newspaper that addressed the subject of the proper handling of tobacco for market in order to secure a good price for it. I found his comments very interesting.

“Supposing that your tobacco is cured,” he said, “let it hang in the barn until after a hard freeze. It may then he taken down and put into bulk. It should be bulked with the tails lapped, the stalk end out. Then cover it with straw, sides and top, so as to preserve the order and prevent it from drying.”

Winston said it could at that point be stripped at leisure regardless of weather conditions. If stripped before a freeze, it should either be marketed immediately or replaced on the sticks and hung up until it is subjected to a spell of cold weather. It is always a safe practice to hang tobacco as fast as it is stripped in a closed house and then hung there as long as may be necessary. Many planters favor this plan.

The businessman further advised during the stripping phase to let one person do all the sorting. The sorter had to be a good judge of tobacco, both as to quality and color. Leaves of the same color, size, and quality were to be placed together. However, all racked and worm-eaten loaves were to go with the lugs. The hands of leaf tobacco should contain from six to eight leaves. Lug bundles may be a little larger. All must be neatly tied up.

“The small leaves that grow at the end of the rows and especially next to the woods make the best bands,” he said. “In every hand, let all the leaves be about the same length. Wrap to about one and a half inches from the head, but don't cover the top of the head with the band. The ends of the stems must always be visible.”

J.H. further advised that when marketing tobacco, it would sell better loose than if tightly pressed together. Therefore when possible, it was best to haul tobacco to market neatly packed in a wagon bed. If this was not feasible, he further advised to force it in large packages but not so hard as to bruise the leaves and cause them to stick together. Fine yellow tobacco should be put in large metal drums and handled as delicately as a silk dress. Every bundle was to be spread out smooth and straight, being subjected to no more pressure than the weight of one’s hand.

The tobacco man advised that when stripping tobacco to grade it accordingly: lugs, short leaf and long leaf. It was again subdivided into dark, bright, red, mahogany and yellow, with the different shades of each color. He noted that all of these grades and colors were not usually found in the same crop. As to its uses, tobacco was divided into manufacturing, shipping and non-descript. 

Tobacco that was not distinctively manufacturing and shipping, was deemed non-descript, being a less desirable sort and always sold at lower prices in comparison with other grades. Unfortunately for our region of the country, a large portion of the tobacco raised was of the nondescript character. The owners of such tobacco crops were always disappointed in the price they received.

Winston concluded by saying, “Tobacco carefully handled will always sell for more than the same tobacco roughly handled. It is hard to say whether the early or the late market will be best. Last season, the early market was the best. However, we are inclined to believe that there will not be much change in prices for some time.”

The businessman was cautious in formulating an opinion as to the quality of the crop of 1877. He invited inquiries from tobacco growers. 

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A circus visited Johnson City on Wednesday, June 16, 1909 carrying the name, The Mighty Haag Railroad Shows. It came by rail for a two-show, one-day only event. Ernest Haag formed his entertainment business in 1895 as the Mighty Haag Shows, then renamed it The Mighty Haag Railroad Shows from 1909 until 1915 when it became The Mighty Haag Circus. It wintered first in Shreveport, Louisiana and later in Marianna, Florida.

Until the depression days, Haag’s shows was said to be as popular in the smaller towns of America as Lydia Pinkham's medicine. The owner offered clean family entertainment – no dancing girls, no gambling and no practical jokes. Haag was a modest man with a unique vocabulary that was not listed in any dictionary. He never laughed at his jokes.

In the spring of 1909, Ernest Haag put his show on rails using the very best railroad equipment that could be obtained. He purchased elaborate hand carved tableau wagons, cages and chariots with the traditional sunburst wheels and massive elegant bandwagons. These were all in place when the railroad show pulled out of Shreveport in the early spring of 1909 for the long summer tour.

Mr. Haag’s frequently offered the youngsters attending the afternoon performance a free ride on the ponies at the conclusion of the performance, emphasizing that careful attendants always supervised the rides.

The show featured the only orchestrainia in the country. This unidentified device was originally brought to this country by the German Government to feature in the German exhibit at the Jamestown Exposition, but it arrived too late for opening of the event and was never used. Mr. Haag made several attempts to acquire it, but the owner would not sell it. However, he was fortunate enough to lease it for one season, after which it returned to Wittenberg, Germany. 

The Mighty Haag Railroad Shows had the only elephant in existence that was capable of performing a complete somersault without the aid of man or machine. The elephant doing this unique trick was named “Major” and the only thing the trainer needed to do was say to the animal, “Major over.”

The shows were reported to have the most unique trained animal acts ever produced, composed of bears, ponies and blue-faced monkeys. The latter displayed remarkable acts of intelligence.

The Haag shows once possessed the youngest living baby camel in captivity, having been born in the winter quarters at Shreveport prior to the shows departing there for a new season. The youngster was described as being the finest specimen of Siberian camel that could be found in America.

To substantiate the idea that whatever is novel, thrilling, bewildering, educating and interesting was important to his circus, Mr. Haag secured at enormous expense the celebrated king of the air, Mons, Di’Fauhlam and his world famous aeroplane “Meteor.” The entertainer had all of France at his feet since his successful flights with the “Meteor.” He became the only undisputed equal of the celebrated Wright Brothers. The Frenchman performed his act at The Mighty Haag Shows.

Mr. Haag’s show did not participant in the entertainment show trust. Several inducements were made to encourage Mr. Haag to join it, but he vehemently refused all offers and continued to offer the public the same high-class shows that he had in the past. He became so successful that he enlarged the operation of every department in the show and even switched to his own special trains of cars. He further increased his street pageantry from one to two miles with abundant music, pretty ladies, fine horses, funny clowns and massive open cages of animals. All of this was done at no cost to spectators who showed up on the streets.

The Haag circus closed its doors in 1938 after an impressive 43-year run, this was three years after the death of Mr. Haag, the man who made it all happen.




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