"FOR GOD'S SAKE, 'LIGE,
TO THE MOUNTAINS!
[The following facts were given
to me by my friend and neighbor, Mrs. Jennie Badgley, wife of
Mr. Alfred S. Badgley, the well-known lawyer of Montclair, N.
J. Mrs. Badgley is the oldest daughter of the late Elijah Simerley,
of East Tennessee, who played so important a part in the incidents
East Tennessee is one of the most picturesque
and romantic regions in the world. It well deserves the name of
the Switzerland of America. The Appalachian range separates the
State from North Carolina and is there known as the Unaka or Smoky
Mountains. Mount Guyot, the loftiest peak, rises 6,636 feet above
the sea level. West of these mountains and including the Cumberland
Plateau stretches the beautiful and salubrious valley of East
Tennessee. Numerous rivers and streams of sparkling water frolic
through the mountainous region and give the section a wondrous
attractiveness that makes it the dream of the artist and tourist.
The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina
Railroad, popularly known as the Cranberry line, winds through
one of the most delightful regions in our country. The first ten
miles, connecting Johnson City and Elizabethton, crosses the fertile
portion of the lower Wautaga. It was in that section that Andrew
Johnson, though a native of North Carolina, began the remarkable
political career which finally carried him into the White House.
There was born and reared the great jurist Thomas A. R. Nelson.
In the same Colonels Shelby and Sevier gathered the unerring riflemen
with whom they won the victory at King's Mountain, in the autumn
of 1780. William Gannaway Brownlow, the "fighting parson,"
preached and ran a forge and a casting furnace on the Doe River.
Near at hand Andrew Jackson held the first Supreme Court ever
convened in Tennessee. Almost within stone's throw of the spot,
the Taylor brothers, Alf and Bob, lived and were rival candidates
for governor in 1886. It was Bob who said he meant to retire,
when through with politics, to East Tennessee, there to lie on
his back in the fragrant grass, look up into the blue sky and
tickle the toes of the angels.
To paraphrase a declaration of Parson Brownlow,
the nearest point to bell ever attained by our beloved country
was reached in this same East Tennessee during the crimson years
of the Civil War. This was especially true in the early months
of the mighty struggle.
Those who lived in the distinctively Northern
or States can from only a faint idea of the terrifying conditions
in the border States, where the sentiment was divided. War is
the curse of mankind, and always brings the most vicious side
of human nature. The Hon. Champ Clark, referring to Missouri,
"The war was waged with unspeakable
bitterness, sometimes with inhuman cruelty. It was fought by men
in single combat, in squads, in companies, in regiments, in the
fields, in fortified towns and in ambush under the Stars and Stripes,
under the Stars and Bars, and under the black flag. The arch fiend
himself seems to have been on the field in person, inspiring,
This description fitted East Tennessee exactly.
There the majority of the people were Union, as was the case in
western North Carolina, which touched Tennessee. The mountaineers
of those sections raised no cotton and felt no sympathy with slavery.
As one moved westward, however, the secession sentiment deepened,
and finally became dominant in middle and western Tennessee.
An overwhelming majority in middle and western
Tennessee voted for secession, but in East Tennessee there was
a surplus of twenty thousand votes cast against it. On June 24th
Governor Harris issued a proclamation, dissolving the relations
of Tennessee with the Federal Government. To show the mixed state
of affairs, in August following Thomas A. R. Nelson, Horace Maynard,
and G. W. Bridges were elected as representatives to the United
States Congress, while others were chosen at the same time as
members of the Confederate Congress. Judge Nelson was captured
on his way to Washington and sent as a political prisoner to Richmond,
but was soon after paroled and released.
Amid this wrangling, turmoil and strife,
East Tennessee stood like a rock for the Union. She would not
have dared to do so but for the pledge of support made by the
Federal Government. It was this promise that, as has been already
said, gave the bridge burners the heart to do their dangerous
work. The stress of war postponed the fulfillment of the Government's
promise for many weary months. Then it was that East Tennessee
entered upon that existence which justified the words of Parson
Carter and Johnson form the extreme eastern
counties of Tennessee. Colonel N. G. Taylor after the close of
the war began an investigation into the tragedies that had occurred
in that section. He did not complete his work, but advanced far
enough to learn that there had been more than two hundred of them
in the two counties named. It is not well to dwell upon or to
recall these dreadful occurrences. Let us seek rather to show
the better side of human nature, as it was shown many a time and
oft during those days of sorrow, suffering and strife.
The most famous scout and guide developed
by those years was Captain Daniel Ellis, a native of Carter County.
He was not quite thirty-four years old when the war broke out.
He had served against Mexico, and was a wonderful hunter and woodsman.
The signs and mute language of the woods were an open book to
him, and no man had a more intimate knowledge of that wild section.
In the course of the war he piloted more than four thousand persons
from East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia and western North Carolina
into the Union lines. The most vivid imagination can picture no
more thrilling adventures than those of this remarkable man. He
entered the military service toward the close of the war, and
displayed the same nerve, coolness and daring that he had shown
from the first and in all circumstances. Captain Daniel Ellis
died at his home, Hampton, Tennessee, January 6, 1908. One of
his sons is a practicing physician there and another is a member
of the County Court.
Few people suspect the beneficent part played
by Free Masonry during those horrifying days in East Tennessee
(and in all parts of the country as well). Among the numerous
instances, I recall that of Albert D. Richardson, correspondent
of the New York Tribune. In the month of May, 1863, he and several
others, while trying to float past the Vicksburg batteries, were
captured by the Confederates. After spending twenty months in
different prisons, he succeeded in escaping from that at Salisbury,
N. C., and started on his long and dangerous tramp in the depth
of winter to the Union lines. With the help of Dan Ellis and others
he managed to reach East Tennessee. He never could have gotten
any farther but for the aid of brother Masons, some of whom were
Southern sympathizers. In his narrative, Richardson rendered grateful
tribute to the colored people who gave him assistance, not forgetting
the generous-minded Confederates, but probably a question of taste
led him to keep silent regarding Free Masons. It is a fact, none
the less, that his membership of that order saved his life in
more than one instance.
Elijah Simerley lived at Doe River Cove
(now Hampton), Carter County, East Tenn. His family consisted
of his wife - living in 1907 - and thirteen children. His funeral
in 1901 was attended by five of his sons and five of his daughters.
His wife was Mary Hampton, a distant relative of General Wade
Simerley was a man of marked ability and
many noble qualities, which endeared him to his friends. He owned
a large tract of land, a comfortable home, and was in good circumstances
at the breaking out of the war, though impoverished at its close.
His business was that of dealing in cattle, and he often purchased
and sold droves of hundreds of the animals. From a rich iron ore
mine on his property he manufactured large quantities of hammered
iron, which during those trying days passed as currency in that
As evidence of the character of Simerley,
it may be said that he was a member of the State Senate before
the outbreak of war, he served as high sheriff of Carter County,
was collector of United States revenue during the Presidency of
Andrew Johnson, and he secured the charter for the first railway
(The East Tennessee and West North Carolina.) through the mountains
from Johnson City to Cranberry, N. C., and was its first president.
Simerley was a pronounced Union man from
the beginning. He was a well-known Free Mason and was one of those
who helped Albert D. Richardson and other brethren to escape when
they were shut in by peril on every hand. It would make a story
of surpassing interest, if we were at liberty to tell some of
the numerous incidents, but we must confine ourselves to two only,
in each of which Simerley figured.
Colonel Robert E. Love was a member of the
same Masonic lodge with Simerley, and was the leader of the East
Tennessee Bar. He lived on his fine farm about eight miles from
the home of Simerley, and the two were warm friends. Colonel Love
was a strong secessionist and gave his fine talents to the advancement
of the cause that was so dear to his heart. None the less, on
two different occasions, he saved the life of Simerley.
The first instance was when the Federal
commander, Colonel Kirk, entered East Tennessee from North Carolina,
with his regiment. A few days before, Simerley had bought several
hundred cattle from Colonel Love. Colonel Kirk's command were
in great need of food and Simerley turned the beeves over to the
Federal officer. Soon thereafter, Colonel Kirk was compelled to
withdraw from the section, and Carter County was taken possession
of by the Confederates.
The transaction between the colonel and
Simerley was known to everybody and placed the latter in a perilous
situation. When the Union troops were out of the way, a council
of the leading secessionists was held to decide what should be
done with Simerley. Colonel Love was a member of this council,
which was really a court to determine the degree of punishment
to be dealt out to the accused. In those times, about the only
degree of punishment in fashion was that of death: nothing less
When the other members of the council had
expressed their sentiments in favor of shooting or hanging Simerley,
Colonel Love, with the pleasing smile and winning manner so familiar
to those who remember him, said:
"There can be no question of what ought
to be done with a man who~ gives aid and comfort to the enemy.
Tennessee is a member of the Southern Confederacy, and all who
are not the friends of the Confederacy are its enemies. But you
have made one mistake, gentlemen."
His friends looked wonderingly at the lawyer.
"Those cattle taken away by Colonel
Kirk were mine; I can assure you that it is no small loss I have
suffered, but it is not as great as hundreds of other good men
have undergone. It would be hardly fair to punish Simerley because
the Federal invaders stole a lot of my cattle."
This put another face on the matter. It
is well that the other members of the court accepted the word
of Colonel Love unquestioningly, and made no further investigation,
but the fib told by Colonel Love saved the life of the daring
Unionist of the time.
In my "Ten Years Later" I said
that Wilkins, who escaped death through the friendship of the
Confederate Secretary of War, was not a bridge burner. He assured
me that this statement was the strict truth, and there was no
reason why he should try to deceive me. In the case of Simerley,
however, he, like Dan Ellis, was one of the most active bridge
burners in East Tennessee. He had a hand in the destruction of
several of the valuable structures. This so crippled the transfer
of troops and supplies for the Confederacy, that it is easy to
understand why the authorities showed scant mercy to the men who
were proved guilty of the incendiarism. Simerley knew he would
receive short shrift if the officers could lay hands on him.
It was necessary therefore, to be always
on the alert. Many an hour did the present Mrs. Badgley, who was
then a young girl, sit on top of the high gate post, shading her
eyes with one hand, while her keen eyes peered up and down the
highway in quest of that which she dreaded to see. Alas, she or
her little brothers or sisters did catch sight of those forms
more than once, and were quick to give the alarm. Instantly the
father skurried to the mountains, whither it would have taken
a bloodhound to trail him. He returned only when the coast was
clear. Night after night, he dared not sleep under his own roof.
As it was, some of the men who worked with him grew careless and
their lives paid the forfeit.
Carter's Depot was near the bridge across
the Watauga River, and was the site of a large camp of Confederates.
Elizabethton was nearly half way between the camp and the home
of Simerley, the whole distance being over twelve miles. From
Elizabethton to Doe River Cove, where Simerley lived, was seven
miles by what was known as the Gap Creek road.
One day Colonel Love saw four Confederate
cavalrymen and a captain gallop into Elizabethton. Love approached
"May I ask, captain, your business
in this little town?"
"Certainly, colonel," replied
the officer, returning the salute. He knew Love well, as did every
one in that section; "I have orders to bring in 'Lige Simerley
dead or alive, and I'm going to do it."
"But, captain, where is your force?"
"There," replied the officer with
a smile, indicating his four cavalrymen.
Colonel Love recoiled a step and threw up
"Great heavens! do you expect to capture
'Lige Simerley with only four troopers?"
The colonel pointed up the Gap, which was
deeply wooded on both sides.
"You see those woods; they are full
of bushwhackers; if you venture to ride through the Gap every
saddle will be emptied within a mile of where we are standing;
it is inexcusable folly for you to make the attempt."
The captain was impressed. He know Colonel
Love too well to doubt his words. He hesitated.
"I have my orders, colonel."
"But given under a misapprehension."
"What do you advise me to do?"
"Go back to camp at once and report
what I have said to you."
"How large a company should I take
"Twenty men at least; see that they
are well mounted; of course they will be armed; and make up your
mind to have a sharp fight before you make 'Lige Simerley a prisoner."
"Thank you, colonel," replied
the captain, with a military salute, as he turned and gave the
order to his men to ride back to camp.
Colonel Love watched the galloping troopers
till they passed out of sight at the lower end of the town. Then
he looked around and saw Larry O'Brien on the opposite side of
the street, chatting with some friends. He had ridden into town
a short time before, and was exchanging gossip with a number of
No old resident of that section can ever
forget Larry O'Brien. Despite his name, he was a native Tennessean,
short of stature, brawny, with a full beard and the jolliest wag
of the county. He was a bachelor in middle life, and had the reputation
of having kissed more young ladies in the neighborhood than any
other man in that respect, he ran a close second to General Sherman.
At the picnics, as every-where else, he was, a favorite, for there
was no resisting his good nature and big heart. Old, middle-aged
men and women, and even the children were fond of him. After the
close of the war Larry was employed for a number of years in the
folding room of the House of Representatives in Washington. Let
it be remembered, too, that Larry was a Free Mason.
Colonel Love took out his note-book and
hastily wrote in pencil:
"For God's sake, 'Lige, flee to the
mountains. They are after you."
Crossing the street the colonel nodded to
Larry, and motioned him to draw aside. When they were beyond earshot
of the other members of the group, the colonel handed the folded
slip of paper to Larry.
"The captain who has just ridden away
with his squad has orders to bring in 'Lige Simerley dead or alive.
Will you carry this note to him?"
"If my horse doesn't drop dead I'll
put it into his hands sooner than any other mortal can do it."
"You can add the few words of explanation
necessary; you haven't a minute to spare."
Larry shoved the bit of paper into his trousers'
pocket, strode to where his horse was tied to a hitching post,
hastily unfastened him and swung into the saddle. It was seven
miles by the Gap road to the home of Simerley and five miles to
the Confederate camp. The cavalry were certain to be well mounted,
for they knew the need of haste. Colonel Love watched Larry as
he rode at an easy pace out of town.
The shrewd fellow did not wish to draw attention
to himself, for it might awaken suspicion and make things unpleasant
for Colonel Love. When he had disappeared the colonel sauntered
away as if the matter was of little or no importance. If his act
of friendship became known to the Confederate authorities, even
his prominent place in the community and his well known southern
sympathies might not save him from the gravest consequences. His
only anxiety, however, was lest the faithful messenger should
not reach the home of Elijah Simerley in time to save his life.
Note the situation: Colonel Love, a Free
Mason and a Secessionist, was sending a message to another Mason,
an obnoxious Unionist and bridge burner, who could expect no mercy
at the hands of the Confederate authorities; and the bearer of
the warning was a Free Mason.
As soon as Larry O'Brien had shaken himself
free of the little town he loosened the reins of his nag, struck
his flanks with his spurs and spoke sharply. The beast instantly
changed from a canter to a dead run. With neck outstretched and
with tail streaming in the wind created by his own motion, he
ran at the very highest speed of which he was capable. Although
Colonel Love had said that the wooded mountains that rose on either
hand were swarming with bushwhackers, he exaggerated the truth,
yet beyond question a number of those undesirable persons were
lurking there. They might take a shot at the flying horseman and
tumble him from his saddle, but Larry felt slight misgivings on
that score. He was too well known to fear the Unionists, and they
were the only ones that were likely to note his terrific dash
over the Gap road.
No; Larry's only dread was that of failure
to reach the Simerley home in time. It would seem that this ought
to be easy, since he had but seven miles to travel, while the
troopers were obliged to go much farther - that is, in riding
their camp and in returning. But suppose Larry's nag should cast
a shoe and go lame; the highway was rough, and traveling at such
a tremendous pace the animal was liable to suffer some injury
that would compel him to withdraw from task. If so, Larry would
continue the desperate run on foot, but with slight hope of distancing
his pursuers, who would be thundering on his heels.
I do not know how long Larry took to cover
the seven mi between Elizabethton and the home of Elijah Simerley,
nor is it important to know. Suffice it to say he didn't loiter
the way; and of all the hard rides, and they were many, taken
by the messenger, that seven miles were the hardest. Doubtless
some of the prowling bushwhackers peered through t foliage at
the hurrying horseman, and made ready to shoot him from his saddle,
but if so, that broad, dumpy figure slouch hat, with head bent
forward and loose rein, while he urged his steed to do his best,
was recognized, and deadly bullet whistled from the coverts on
either side the road.
"It's Larry O'Brien; God go with him,"
must have be the thought of all such persons.
They were always on the lookout at the Simerley
home, and the approaching horseman was seen riding like mad, a'
evidently bringing momentous news. As he reined up his panting
animal, whose flanks were heaving, and who w covered with foamy
sweat, Simerley himself, his wife and several children were awaiting
him. O'Brien was identified while some distance away, and received
the cordial welcome that awaited him at almost every home for
scores of mil around.
"What is it, Larry?" asked Simerley,
hurrying to the side of the messenger.
O'Brien handed him the slip of paper, which
Simerley opened and quickly read. He turned to his anxious family
and repeated its words. Larry added a few sentences that told
everything. Simerley thanked him and invited him to dismount.
He shook his head.
"It won't do, 'Lige, thank you, and
I daren't go back by the Gap road; I should meet the troopers
that are after you; I must take a roundabout course to Elizabethton;
you mustn't wait, Simerley."
"I don't intend to wait," was
the reply; "I know what that warning from Colonel Love means."
Simerley bade his family a hasty good-by
and plunged into the wooded slope at the rear of his home. It
seemed to the family as if he and O'Brien had been gone only a
few minutes when the cavalrymen arrived. They had certainly ridden
hard and the captain was resolute to obey his orders to take back
Elijah Simerley dead or alive.
The declaration of the wife that the head
was not at home carried no weight with them. They dismounted and
searched the house from attic to cellar, and examined all the
outbuildings so minutely that a cat could not have escaped their
But they didn't find Elijah Simerley.
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