April 2015

In March 1987, Tom Hodge greeted George Devault to his office to view a priceless deed. The Devault Bridge and the Norton Arney Farm had been front and center in the news that year. The bridge was being widened with two additional lanes to accommodate the new four-lane Bristol-to-Johnson City highway. Furthermore, the Arney Farm had been acquired by the city with plans for it to be made into a park.

Hodge was covering the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville when W.W. Faw, then Washington County's representative, got a resolution passed which named the bridge after the Devault family.

George had a copy of the original Sept. 30, 1797 handwritten deed to the property lying on both sides of the Watauga River. The property was conveyed from John Bean of Washington County to Henry Devault of York County and State of Pennsylvania for 950 pounds of Virginia money. The tract totaled 537 acres.

The deed identified the land as adjoining Benjamin Cobb's property, along with that of Robert Alison and the Massengills. William Bean was noted for being the first permanent white settler in the area. He built a cabin on Boones Creek near its junction with the Watauga River. According to Devault, the cabin was moved to a spot behind the Devault home and was used both for storage and as a smokehouse.

The old structure was still in decent shape, except for a spot where meat had been on a table next to a wall, causing damage to a couple of logs. George extended an invitation to Tom to visit the cabin.

The Cobb, Alison and Massengill names are quite recognizable to that area. Some years back, a furor occurred over a parcel of land known as Alison Woods, considered one of the finest strands of hardwoods in the Eastern United States.

The subject next turned to the Massengill Monument, which was then located at the intersection of the Bristol and Kingsport highways. Tom commented that it was surprising how many people passed by the memorial every day without taking time to stop and read the text on it.

The deed refers to the Watauga River, although the river through that area became part of the Boone Lake impoundment.

Vintage Norton Arney Motor Co. Ad When the Business Resided on Wilson Avenue

Devault addressed the question, “How did the Arney Farm come into being?” It seems that a descendant who owned that portion of the Devault farm sold the property because it was not adequate for farming. Norton Arney, a long-time automobile dealer in Johnson City acquired it. According to George, some of the original land covered in the 190-year-old deed resided in the Devault family.

Tom noted that one of the more interesting aspects of old deeds like this one was that boundaries to the property were often marked by such objects as trees. For example, a description might start out as “beginning at a hickory tree on the bank of the river and ending at a double walnut tree some 100 yards to the north.”

Tom surmised that in the 190 years that had passed at that time, the trees were likely long gone, having fallen victim to old age or a woodsman's ax.

Hodge concluded by saying, “Anyway, the deed allows us to slip back in time, a long way back when Tennessee had just been a state two years. And if you crossed the Watauga River, you did it by fording because there was no Devault Bridge there.”

Tom doubted that Henry Devault, in his wildest imagination, could foresee a time when some of his property would be used for soccer, softball and other recreational sport.

Read more

Today's feature is a continuation of my mid-march Daniel Boone tree column, which contained paraphrased news briefs taken from a variety of newspapers. Today's feature is a continuation of that theme spanning 1897-16. 


News from Bristol, TN indicated that a farmer found an old battered brass kettle, which was removed from the ground on a farm near Bluff City. On the side of the kettle near the rim were the letters,: “D. Boon, 1760.” The kettle was allegedly used by the noted pioneer-hunter.


Daniel Boone Beech Tree That Once Resided in Boones Creek with Inscription and Grafitti

The Washington County Historical Society met at the famous Boone tree for the purpose of organizing a historical society there. A platform was erected at the foot of the famous Boone tree, where Judge S.J. Kirkpatrick, president of the Society, presided. The exercises were opened with singing and prayer. After that, the chairman stated that the meeting was to organize the new society, which was to act in connection with the county society in locating and marking the site of Bean's cabin. An effort was also made to have a nice marble slab placed to mark the spot where Bean's cabin stood.

Judge Newton Hacker was introduced and delivered a speech tingling with patriotism. It was scholarly, instructive and well-received by the vast audience present. At 1:30 p.m., an old fashioned East Tennessee dinner was served on the grounds, perhaps on the very spot where Boone dined on some of his “bar” meat many years prior.

In the afternoon, there were additional speeches from historians, all of which were said to be well-timed and replete with patriotic utterances and historic information, much of which could not be found in books. All this was captured and treasured by the historical society before it was lost to the ages.

Several months before the gathering, a largo limb was blown from the Boone tree, which was promptly retrieved and made into pleasant looking pipes by the owner of the land, a Mr. Maupin. He sold about a 100 of the prized relics for 10 cents each. 

The road from Jonesboro to the Boone tree was the same one that Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson, used to travel more than 60 years ago. Along the way, many of the farm houses were decorated in honor of that Thursday. One large brick house, the home of William Deakins, had streamers and national colors displayed in great profusion. The word “Liberty” in large letters was suspended between two trees.

The name of “Washington” was on the front door step. Under the mail box was a picture of the Honorable Walter P. Brownlow, surrounded by a wreath of flowers, while on the other side of the gate was a magnificent portrait of President McKinley, enclosed by a wreath comprised of the national colors.

Afterward, the meeting was dismissed and the participants went merrily on their way.


In olden times, our brave pioneer ancestors wore buckskin clothes trimmed with long fringe or fur. They carried long rifles with barrels made of imported horseshoe nails, wooden stock trimmed with brass and ornamented with eagles, raccoon, deer and other objects cut from shells and set into the wood. These hearty souls also carried long hunting knives and buckskin or leather bullet pouches, often beautifully decorated with patterns of colored porcupine quills and glass beads or made of some expensive fur. Their powder was carried in cow-horn powder flasks scraped smooth with pieces of broken glass and with the surface engraved in rude designs of suns, moons, stars and figures of big game.

In their leather belt, which encircled the waists and belted in the wamus (a warm work jacket made usually in a belted cardigan style and of sturdy knitted or woven fabric), they carried trusty tomahawks. Many of the picturesque old fellows were expert in the use of little camp-axes as weapons.

Daniel Boone carried an ax of this kind and the trees he blazed with his tomahawk to mark the boundaries of land became known as “Boone trees.” In later years, lawsuits were decided by the identification of blazed boundaries that came from the unmistakable stroke of Boone's tomahawk. 


Portrait of Daniel Boone Taken in 1819 Just Prior to the Pioneers Passing at Age 86

Misfortune struck during a severe windstorm that visited the Boone's Creek and surrounding areas on a Saturday afternoon. The famous historical Boone Tree was blown to the ground, causing it to separate at a most unfortunate section – the part of the tree containing the famous inscription. The disheartening discovery of the fallen tree was made the following day, bringing a sizable procession of mourners to witness the unfortunate incident. Most who saw it spread the news that it needed to be immediately removed from the land and sent to some qualified society for preservation.

The John Sevier Chapter of the DAR took instant action, seeking first to purchase from Lafayette Isley, identified as the owner of the land where the tree stood, the part of the tree containing the carved words. The chapter was convinced that the section could be preserved as a historical relic. They further believed that time was of essence to accomplish this noble effort. The DAR was making plans to preserve the tree at the time the tree lost its footing. Their well-meaning campaign was not yet in place when the windstorm felled it.


A few weeks later, another newspaper commented on the demise of the popular Boone tree. It noted that the site that had linked the history of 156 years ago with the present time was no more. Admittedly, the letters on the tree were dimmed with age but could still be identified. The DAR acquired the lettered section and had it sent off for preservation. My information does not reveal what happened to the relic. The tree had stood as proof that Boone penetrated through the eastern chain of mountains from his log cabin on the Yadkin River in North Carolina in 1760, although contemporaneous historians place his entrance into the wilderness, as the western country was then called, several years later.

Historian J.G.M. Ramsey, who wrote “The Annals of Tennessee,” published in 1853, was the first to document the inscription and he credits his information to a person named N. Gammon. Other historians, notably Theodore Roosevelt, in his “The Winning of the West,” followed Mr. Ramsey in not questioning the authenticity of the inscription. 

Read more

According to the late T.C. Karns, University of Tennessee professor and a turn of the century writer of Tennessee history, had this to say about Catherine Sherrill (1755-1836) in 1904. “She, a daughter of one of the first settlers on the Watauga, was tall and slender with dark eyes and hair, clear skin and a neck that was said to be like that of a swan. She was strikingly beautiful as well as being one of the greatest and bravest girls in the settlement.”

The patriotic woman faithfully provided horses, wagons, provisions, and supplies for the army. According to a DAR linage book, she was born in North Carolina and died in Russellville, Alabama.

The wild ways of this new country seemed to suit her because she enjoyed the open life of the forest, even with its ever-present spice of danger from Indians and wild animals. Proof of her athletic abilities was that she could run like a deer and easily spring over a six-rail high fence by thrusting herself off the top one.

In 1776 when Catherine was about 20 years old, a party of Cherokee Indians attacked Fort Watauga in Carter County. Prior to this, Nancy Ward sent scouts to inform her friends that the Indians were coming. This prompted almost all of the settlers to gather inside the fort for safety.

However, early one morning, several women boldly left the security of the fort to milk some cows. Among them was Catherine Sherrill. All at once, the war whoop sounded and the women ran with all their might toward the fort. Catherine happened to be the furthest away and, although she darted forward with the speed of the wind, she noticed that the Indians had gotten precariously between her and the gate. 

Catherine Sherrill's Escape from the Indians with Aid from Future Husband, John Sevier

John Sevier was in the fort and, seeing Catherine in great peril, rushed out of the gate with several other men to attempt to beat the Indians back and rescue their ladies. Knowing that Sevier could do nothing against 300 savages, his friends urged him back and began firing at the Indians from atop the fort wall.

It was a race for life and Catherine, seeing no other chance to make good her escape, turned and made her way to the other side of the fort. The wooden wall of the stockade was eight feet high, but with one mighty spring, Catherine reached the top and fell over into the arms of John Sevier. The other women also returned safely. The Indians, not prone to accept defeat, prolonged their attack for 20 additional days.

The settlers were safe behind their strong walls, but numerous of the Indians perished in the melee. Bullets rattled against the fort like hailstones but did no harm. Finally the Indians departed and returned to their homes on the Tellico River.

Four years later in 1780 and after Sevier's first wife had died, Catherine Sherrill became his second wife. The wedding took place at Sevier's new home on the Nolichucky River.

Throughout a long life, she was his faithful companion and helpmeet. But she and John never forgot the thrilling moment when she fell into his arms from the top of the fort and he called her for the first time his “Bonnie Kate.”

Mrs. Sevier often boasted that the first work she did after marriage was to spin, weave and make suits of clothes, which her husband and his three sons wore in the memorable battle of King's Mountain. She became the mother of eight children, three sons and five daughters.

John Sevier, hero of the American Revolution, whose life was one of romance, later died in Alabama. His remains were buried there for 73 years without a memorial stone to mark the place of his repose or an enclosure to guard against unhallowed intrusion. 

In 1888, Sevier's body was removed by the State of Tennessee and laid to rest beneath the sod of the state he had loved and served so faithfully. He was buried in Knoxville, along with a stately monument as a memorial of the state's everlasting though tardy gratitude to her honored son. Later, Catherine's remains were appropriately displaced next to her husband.

Read more

Listed below are five Daniel Boone tree paraphrased news briefs taken from a variety of newspapers between 1874-97. The famous tree was popular with area history buffs throughout the years. It all started when the rugged pioneer paused at a beech tree in Boon's (Boones) Creek, likely rested his rifle against a tree and carved in it indelible characters documenting the highlight of his day's work: “D. Boon cilled a bar on the tree in year 1760.”

Painting of Daniel Boone Tree / One of the Gavels Taken from the Fallen Tree 

Gavel Courtesy of Alan Bridwell


The famous Boone tree, containing the earliest record of civilization in Tennessee, stood on the northwestern slope of a hill near the Blountville and Jonesboro stage road. The hill was thickly populated with beech, maple and oak trees. The land surrounding it was also ramified with gnarled roots, which covered the surface like an inextricable mat. The dense woods, the call of the little creek as it leaped in cascades over the tilted limestone and the deep gloominess of the forest provided wildness to the surrounding area.

At that point in time, the brave pioneer was 26 years of age and probable more than 100 miles from human habitation, relying upon his brave heart, strong arm and trusty rifle for existence. The tree was just two feet in diameter and leaned about three degrees (other sources suggest otherwise) from perpendicularity. It had been greatly defaced by visitors who inscribed their names for a distance of about 10 feet above the ground.

The large number of mounds with corresponding depressions that stretched from around the tree and several hundred yards to the southwest, were believed by some folks to have been an Indian mining camp. Others were convinced that they were the result of uprooted trees whose decaying roots left cherty (silica) beds high above the surrounding surface.


The Tennessee Historical Society held a meeting in Nashville on that date. One agenda item was an 1800 display by W.S. Mathes of Jonesboro, containing a speech by General Jackson and two different views from S.W. Keen, also of Jonesboro. It dealt with the celebrated Daniel Boone tree on the waters of Boones Creek, which is about eight miles south of Jonesboro. A third Jonesboro resident, Prof. H. Presnell, was represented in one of the pictures. The tree was prominently mentioned in J.G.M Ramsey's noted book, The Annals of Tennessee.


A large bear was spotted in Boones Creek near the Daniel Boone tree where the backwoodsman brought down a bear. When word traveled throughout the community, several sportsmen grabbed their hunting rifles and were anxious to locate and turn the usually omnivorous mammal into meat. It was believed that the deep snow in the mountains drove the bruin down in quest of a meal. The critter met with success when he feasted on chickens from the nearby farms of Jackson and Boyd. Many waited with eager anticipation when the animal would be taken down, permitting local residents to feast on bear steak for several weeks. No mention was made of the creature's demise.


A worrisome report circulated the community that some nameless individual or group was making plans to cut the Boone tree down and send it to the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in Nashville. The statement created a great deal of talk spiced with a heavy dose of indignation for anyone guilty of attempting such a dastardly deed. After local resident, Captain Deaderick protested against the action, he received a telegram from Exposition officers stating that they had nothing to do with the rumor and would not accept the famed relic even if it were sent to them. 


The state agent of the Tennessee Centennial Exposition, recently went to Boones Creek to further investigate the threat of someone removing the tree. After examining the tree site, he firmly stated that this should not be done, expressing his belief that the tree was strong enough to stand a century longer by being still in a fair state of preservation, including the inscription cut in its bark by Daniel Boone almost a century and a half earlier.

Look for six additional Daniel Boone tree news items in a future heritage page feature story that includes the date the famed tree fell.

Read more