The Heritage of Daniel Haston


Legends & Stories of White County, TN
By Coral Williams
Chapter II     Indians and Early Settlers

            Legends and traditions concerning the small tribe of Indian residents in White County at the time the first settlers came into the new country have been forgotten, as have the hardships endured by these sturdy men and women who settled there. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the later generations went through just as great trials and adventures during the Civil War. These happenings were far more real to them than the facts related to them by their ancestors. Therefore, it was this reality that was handed down to their own descendants.

            Nothing is known of the life of the Indians in the county and only sketches now and then can be gleaned of the life of the pioneer. This chapter attempts to collect the remaining traditions of the Indians and their manner of life in the county, also, of the early pioneers. This is a very difficult task, for as will be shown, even the date of the first settlement is unknown.

            There were some settlers in White County as far back as 1800, or earlier, but it can not be definitely stated just when the first settlement was made nor by whom. Before 1796, North Carolina gave much land in what is now Tennessee to her Revolutionary War veterans as a reward for their services during that war. Part of White County was included in such grants.1 Two hundred and five land grants from White County were given while Tennessee was yet under North Carolina government. When Tennessee became a separate state she became responsible for her own land divisions. Four thousand thirty grants were then made from land in White County, the amount of each ranging from forty and one-half acres to five thousand. One man could receive only five thousand under his own name, but often a land shark would persuade men who had no intention of coming to White County to enter his claim and receive the land which in turn was sold to the former.2

            William Tyrell and John Donelson were given a joint grand of five thousand acres, which included the present site of Sparta with the exception of the west side of the river. William Glenn was given a five thousand acre grant extending from Sparta up to the Calf Killer for three or four miles, embracing land on either side of the river.

            Thomas Eastland and his son Thomas B. had in all forty-five separate grants. Thomas B. alone had forty. One grant of one thousand acres was given to Andrew Jackson and John Hutchings in 1808. This was designated as being in White County. The deed stated that the land was on both sides of Boiling Fork Elk River, and when the line was run was located in Franklin County.3

            The white settlers in coming into or passing through White County followed the Indian trails which doubtless had been used for generations. It is not possible now to know where all these trails were; it is certain that at least four of them crossed the Calf Killer valley. One of them came down the mountain through Bear Cove near where the highway now is and passed on across the river where the concrete bridge on Bridge Street is located, passing into Kentucky by what is now known as the Old Kentucky Road. A second came down the mountain into Blue Spring Cove, crossing the river about where the Gilliland Bridge is, and passing up the Cherry Creek Valley into Putnam County through the present towns of Algood, Livingston, and Byrdtown, and thence into Kentucky. A third trail came through Pass Cove, crossed the Calf Killer where the Townsend Bridge is, and then emerged into the mountain near the head of Calf Killer. The chief Calf Killer had established points of attack on the white travelers along these trails.

            Early settlers, also, came into White County by way of Geer Cove, England Dove, and Burgess Cove (later Terry Cove). It is not known whether these were, also, Indian trails, but they very probably were, since whites nearly always followed these Indian trails in traveling. There was a branch trail turning off from the Cherry Creek trail and passing over Golden Mountain through the Hickman Cove (Walker Cove) and on into what is now Cookeville. This trail was used by Spanish explorers as proved by the finding near the old trail, a few years ago, a large quantity of Spanish coins. There was another trail branching off from the old Kentucky Trail and going down the valley through Doyle and crossing Caney Fork at Rock Island. Doubtless other trails existed but no tradition of them has ever come down to our times.4

            In the field of C. D. Brown, where the river makes a great bend and opposite where Blue Spring Creek empties into the river, are the remains of an Indian village, said by tradition to have been the home of the chief called Calf Killer. It is now believed that he with his small tribe lived permanently on or near the present site of the town of Sparta and that he had only a hunting camp located at this spot. The locality is under cultivation, but even now arrowheads, flints, and other Indian relics are found at this spot, which corroborates the folklore that Calf Killer had his hunting lodge here.

            A treaty of peace was made with the Indians, and as the custom of the Indian was to smoke the pipe of peace on such occasions, the whites sealed the treaty with this conventionality. The original pipe is now a prized relic of Reverent Paul E. Doran.

            The Indians were always supplied with powder from a charcoal lead mine. Just where the powder came from was a deep mystery to the white settler. Finally, after careful vigilance they discovered that the red man was kept well stocked with this commodity by a half-breed. The whites, who knew the value of such a mine, were determined to find it. The half-breed was more closely watched; a guard followed him when he left the village, but his trail was always lost. On returning to camp, he displayed and sold the lead to the settlers but always refused any information as to the location of the mine.

            An old man who had accidentally learned the whereabouts of the mine promised to reveal the fact but was killed before the spot was located. The entry remains unknown; some think it is in England Cove, others in Dry Valley, and still others in Stone Hollow.5

            The early settlers had to protect their homes from the Indian while at the same time they had to provide sustenance for themselves and their families. Life in the new country was hard and the men were often compelled to be away from home. At such times the women would gather at one home to make soap. This was a warning to the Indian as well as a protection to the women. The Indians would never attack a home where soap was being made for fear of being scalded.

            Many of the early homes were not provided with doors and in such instances when the head of the house was away for a short time his wife sat in or near the door with a gun to watch the opening.6

            This incident is told as happening to one of those hardy pioneers who later settled in White County.

          Chancing to have business in Nashville he made the journey on horseback and alone, across the Cumberland Mountains, which was then a wild region inhabited by ferocious beasts and wandering tribes of Indians. An incident of the return trip shows his fearlessness, coolness and presence of mind in danger. Coming up with a party of Indians in the vicinity of Crab Orchard, and night having fallen, he thought he would be safer from the prowling of beasts to encamp with the Indians. They had been near enough to the white settlements to get a supply of "fire water" and all of them got drunk except one who was left to watch and guard against casualties. "Fire water" is and ever has been an excellent incentive to quarrels, and the drunken Indians were soon in a big row. One had his fellow down and was about to finish him when our traveler interfered by picking up the aggressor and pitching him bodily out of the tent! No sooner was it done than the big braves gathered around him making such ado that he began to think that his rash deed was going to bring vengeance on himself. But no! An Indian worships valor and they were only expressing their admiration for his bravery and thanking him for saving their comrade’s life.7

            It is not known just when the Indians left or where driven out of White County. The treaty8 concluded October 25, 1805, with the Indians and the United States Government gave this land to the whites. Many treaties had previously been made between the Indians and the whites, but neither side observed the terms of such treaties.

            Mrs. H. E. Randolph gives this story which happened to her father. The Indians, according to Mrs. Randolph, were grouped together and driven out of the county. Mr. Gibbons was then a young boy but he went with the men who escorted the Indians to their new home.

            Years later when the Civil War was in progress Mr. Gibbons, then an old man, ran a grist mill. One day an old Indian from the Union ranks walked into the mill, crossed his arms over this breast, and stood looking at Mr. Gibbons through half-closed eyes. At length he said, "I know you; when I was a child you helped to run us out of White County. Mr. Gibbons felt that the intruder had come back for vengeance but replied, "Yes, I was along with the bunch."

            The Indian dropped his arms to his side and said, "What side are you on?" with reference to the Civil Way. Mr. Gibbons answered that he not taken active part with either side, but that his sympathy was with the Union. The Indian’s face became wreathed in smiles and he replied, "That’s right – stay with us." He then sat down and talked of the early visits from the whites into their peaceful valley and of other common interests.

            The graves of the Indians have been located at different points over the county.

            John Haywood9 shows that the people of the county had discovered some interesting facts about the people who were inhabitants before and at the time the white man came.

          In the county of White, on Cane Creek, which runs into Caney Fork northwest from Sparta fourteen miles, or two and a quarter miles below the road from Sparta to Carthage, is a flat rock, running from the bank into the water, where is a small stream of salt water running into the creek, on the north side of which are impressed three tracks of a horse, which seems to have been made as he went down the rock to the creek. When he came to the rock, near the water, he turned to the left, and made other tracks, also impressed into it. The tracks of his hinder feet being on the lower rock, and those of his fore feet upon another rock a little higher, in going down the rock, his feet appeared to have slipped forward, and where he stood upon the lower rock, the track is so plain, that the impression made by the frog of his foot is as apparent as it would have been if made upon common clay. The tracks are so natural, that no one would take them for sculptured representations. The rock at the fore part of the tracks, seems to have been clay, raised by the clay as it slipped forward. The country in which this rock is, was ceded by the Indians in 1805, and first began to be settled by the whites in 1806. The Cherokees first had horses in 1700, or a little later. The French first settled Canada in 1608. Some of their hunters may have traveled on horseback through this country before 1700, otherwise it must be considered that this petrifaction took place within a few years past.

          Some petrified turkey eggs were found, the end of one of them being broken off yet the "white and yolk were plainly discernible as they were when the egg was in its primitive state."

            Haywood, by these and the following statements, tried to prove that the country was inhabited by Asiatic people before the time of the Indian, but the later authorities believe that these relics and mounds were only the remains of Indians. Haywood give an interesting story of the finding of massive bones in a large cave then located in White County, now Warren.

          In White County on the west side of the Cumberland mountain, in West Tennessee (middle), near the line of Warren County, and about eight miles south or southwest of the spot where were found the two human bodies, is a cave, in the spur of the mountain, having a small entry on one side, but on the other a mouth of much larger size. Half a mile from the small entry the bones of some large animals were found lying all together. Some of the teeth were taken up, and weighed seven or eight pounds. A horn of much larger size, it is said, than the horn of the largest buffalo, but resembling it in shape, was taken from amongst or near these large bones. In the cave, was a prodigious claw with very long nails, but it does not appear whether found with the bones above mentioned or not. Many bones also of smaller beasts, were found in the cave. The tooth had the form of a dog’s upper tooth, not at all in the shape of a grinder. This must have belonged to a carnivorous animal, of immense size, which preyed upon the buffalo, as well as animals of less bulk, and was probably of the feline genus. Another account of the same bones, has some particulars not stated in the former. It states, that the Big-bone and Arch caves are on the dividing line between White and Warren counties, and on the Cumberland mountain. They are six or eight hundred yards apart, or rather their mouths are, for they unite. They were discovered in eighteen hundred and six, and were sold out in shares, to forty or fifty persons for sixty thousand dollars. They are now owned by Colonel Randolph Ross, of Rickbridge county in Virginia. About twenty thousand pounds of salt petre were made from the smallest cave, called Arch cave. There are several branches to the Big-bone cave; from one of which, the dirt has been collected for upwards of half a mile. This branch of the cave has been explored upwards of half a mile. Three men were three days and three nights in the cave, and represented that they were in it to the distance of ten or twelve miles. The proprietors think they are mistaken as to the distance. The bones of the large animal were found when the Big-bone cave was discovered. The animal they belonged to was of the cat species. The ribs were placed on the back bone the lower end in the ground. Jacob Drake five feet nine inches high walked erect in the hollow. The width of the ribs was between four and five inches. The hollow of the back bone was between two and three inches in diameter. The socket of the bone, working in the shoulder blade, six inches. The tusk, between four and five inches in diameter, was similar to a dog’s. The claw twelve inches in the round, from point to point; straight, nine inches hollow, one inch in diameter; weight one pound and three quarters. There was also a scoop net made of bark thread; a mockasin (sic) made of the like materials; a mat of the same material enveloping human bones, was found in the salt petre dirt six feet below the surface. The net and other material mouldered on being exposed to the sun.11

            The mounds of the county, perhaps, furnish the most interesting study. Haywood gives many interesting accounts of the opening of these mounds and of the contents found there; he donates this:

          On Cherry Creek, in the county of White, in a northwest direction from Sparta, are the remains of a large town, in the field of Mr. Howard several mounds are from 12 to 14 ft. in height and higher, say 20 ft. above the ground before it was cultivated. These mounds in the inside are hollow. A horse in ploughing fell into one of them, and some of them have sunk into a basin since the clearing of the ground. In this field was found an image, or bust from the waist upwards. The head was well carved, with the mouth, nose, eyes, and other features, in perfect symmetrical proportion. The polish was very smooth. The substance of which it is made, is white on the inside, glittering, with specks, and the outside of a greyish color. There are also plates of the same substance, with Indian pots in the form of soup plates, carved on the edges, and sculptured. Half a male from this place, at the foot of the mountain, is a large cave full of human bones, perhaps several wagon loads; some of which are small and others very large. The under jaw of some of them, Mr. Howard could have put over his face and he is six feet high. He says, they must have been much larger than he is. These, I suspect, are the remains of those gigantic men of the north, who overran and depopulated Tennessee and Kentucky and partly expelled, and partly extirpated, the aborigines. **** What are here called mounds, are but the round houses in which the inhabitants lived, which in a fallen state are not more than two or three feet high.12

            In April of 1823, thirteen or fourteen miles from Sparta, Mr. Tilford dug into a mound and discovered about twelve inches under the surface some bones of a human skeleton. The status skeletons were six feet three or four inches in length and the bone were much thicker than bones of common man. As far as the enamel reached, the teeth were in a state of preservation, but the parts that entered the socket were in a state of decay. The skulls were larger and thinner than skulls usually are by "operation of time."

            On a high bluff rising from the river, Mr. Tilford discovered another grave in which he found a second skeleton. In this grave he unearthed a large number of beads of which he gook two hundred sixty. The beads were smooth, of a whitish color, inclining by a shade towards a pale yellow, and very much resembling ivory. "The materials of which they are composed, were probably not the product of Tennessee; though it is possible, they may have been taken from the tooth of the mammoth or of the alligator." The workmanship is rude.

            On a form of John Miller a number of small graves and, also, of large ones were discovered. The large bone appear to have belonged to a men seven feet high and upwards.

            About 1814 Mr. Lawrence found in a small room of Scarborough’s cave many human bones of monstrous size.

          He took a jaw bone and applied it to his own face, and when his chin touched the concave of the chin bone, the hinder ends of the jawbone did not touch his skin of his face on either side. He took a thigh bone and applied the upper end of it to his own hip joint, and the lower end reached four inches below the knee joint. Mr. Andrew Bryan saw a grave opened about four miles northwardly from Sparta on the Calf-killer fork. He took a high bone and raised up his knee; he applied the knee join of the bone to the extreme length of his own knee, and the upper end of the bone passed out behind him as far as the full width of his body. Mr. Lawrence is about 5 feet, 10 inches high, and Mr. Bryan about 5 feet 9. Mr. Sharp Whitney was in a cave near the place, where Mr. Bryan saw the graves opened. In it were many of these bones. The skulls lie plentifully in it, and all the other bones of the human body are in proportion, and of monstrous size.14

            About ten miles from Sparta a conical mound was opened in which was imbedded in the center a skeleton eight feet in length. Many stones were found in the mound and it seemed the occupant, in life, had set great value on them. The conjecture was that they were used in some game played upon the same principles as that called ninepins. Thus one stone was larger than its mates.

            In the Nashville Whig for June, 1820, there was an article on the Pigmies of White County. Several graves were examined at that time by Mr. Lane and this description of his findings appears in Haywood: "The grave as usual was about two feet in length and 14 inches broad, and 16 inches deep from the covering rock to the bottom as nearly as could be ascertained, for the bottom of the graves are never covered with rock." The body seemed to have been placed in a sitting posture with its back against the head rock of the tomb. The bones were so decayed they could not be removed. With the body were found several trinkets which differed from those usually found in such graves. This fact with the unusual largeness of grave and bones in the grave led the seekers to believe that this person was different from others found in the vicinity.

            On Saturday, July 29, 1820, Mr. Lane went to the home of Captain Simon Doyle to search for further discoveries. Here he opened two small graves which contained beads, vases, and other trinkets. The bones had to be examined in the grave where they lay for they fell to pieces when touched. On this farm was found a large and closely connected burying ground. Mr. Anderson and Captain Doyle had previously opened many and both said they believed hundreds might be found. There is no discernible rising on the surface, by reason of these graves; they are found by thrusting an iron tool into the ground so deep as to strike the covering rock.

            In August, 1820, Mr. Lane and his son, Jacob Lane, Esquire, opened another grave just twenty-two inches long. In this they found the skeleton and usual trinkets. The body measured as accurately as possible, was found to be two feet and ten inches.13

            At the present day, knowledge of the Indian life in White County is gained through the relics, arrowheads, and graves found there. Perhaps the Indian’s greatest contribution to civilized life in this section was the trails he left. It has been shown that there were four main trails of the Indian through the county which were used by the whites, and at least four minor trails, but that these usually emerged into one of the main roads. It has been established by the finding of Spanish money along one of these minor trails, that it was used by Spanish explorers.

            As has been set forth by this study, the white settlers and the Indians usually lived peacefully together, but various treaties were concluded between the two parties which neither would keep.

            Haywood has given a most interesting account of the bones and skeletons found in the caves, mounds, and graves of the county. There were four caves in which bones of monstrous size were found, three of which contained human bones, while in the fourth were bones of a huge animal. The three mounds opened by the early settlers of which Haywood gives an account showed skeletons of human beings of extraordinary size usually surrounded by trinkets of various types as beads, pots, stones and images. Many graves were opened near 1820 by various men and many of them revealed the large skeletons, but the remains of many Pigmies were unearthed. In four widely separated sections of the county this type of grave was discovered.

1. Goodspeed Publishing Co., History of
Tennessee, 799.

2. White County Records.

3. White County Records.

4. Paul E. Doran, Personal Conference, Sept., 1930.

5. Paul E. Doran, Personal Conference, Sept., 1930.

6. Mrs. H. E. Randolph, Personal Conversation, July, 1930.

7. Scrapbook, "History of the Sims Family".

8. J. W. Powell, Fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, 189.

9. John Haywood, Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee, 26, 27.

10. Ibid., 57, 59.

11. Ibid., 60-62.

12. Ibid., 153.

13. Ibid., 184-187.

14. Ibid., 193-196.

Thanks to Dona Terry for her work as the word processor on this project.  (November 2002)