Tag Archives: East Tennessee

Flash forward, Ft. Sanders edition

Here’s some more virtual time travel.  This is Fort Sanders on the western outskirts of Knoxville, TN.  It was the site of a failed Confederate attack in November 1863, but I think the photo is from 1864.

Library of Congress (LC-B811- 4008)

Now the site of the fort is well within the city.  Here’s the same view, give or take a block or two.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Civil War, Tennessee History

Lots of Americans had Civil War stories

…but not many had stories like this guy’s.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Civil War, Tennessee History

Pachyderm pays ultimate penalty

The University of Virginia is about to mount a theatrical production about an East Tennessee hanging that took place in September 1916, which wouldn’t really be all that interesting, except the individual who got hanged was a five-ton circus elephant belonging to Sparks World Famous Shows.

The show was traveling through the Southeast that fall when the regular elephant trainer had to leave the tour in St. Paul, VA, forcing the owner to take on an extra hand.  On Sept. 10th or 11th, the circus hired a young man named Walter Eldridge, who had been working as a janitor at a local hotel.

Just think—one day you’re mopping up after tourists, and the next you’re responsible for a herd of multi-ton animals.  Who says there’s no such thing as the American Dream?

Eldridge’s second day on the job turned out to be his last.  On Sept. 12th, the circus arrived in Kingsport, TN, where the janitor-turned-pachyderm-handler was responsible for escorting the elephants to and from their watering break.  Accounts of what happened next vary a little, but here’s the way one eyewitness remembered it:

There was a big ditch at that time, run up through Center Street, …And they’d sent these boys to ride the elephants… There was, oh, I don’t know now, seven or eight elephants… and they went down to water them and on the way back each boy had a little stick-like, that was a spear or a hook in the end of it… And this big old elephant reach over to get her a watermelon rind, about half a watermelon somebody eat and just laid it down there; ‘n he did, the boy give him a jerk. He pulled him away from ‘em, and he just blowed real big, and when he did, he took him right around the waist… and throwed him against the side of the drink stand and he just knocked the whole side out of it. I guess it killed him, but when he hit the ground the elephant just walked over and set his foot on his head… and blood and brains and stuff just squirted all over the street.

Not exactly the kind of thing you can walk off.

In actuality, the circus had five elephants rather than seven or eight, and the elephant that killed Eldridge was a she, not a he.  Her name was Mary, and she’d been with the circus for twenty years.  That wasn’t enough to get her off the hook for Eldridge’s death.  The crowd who saw the whole thing happen started calling for blood, and in any case a rampaging elephant was bad for business, so the circus owner decided that Mary had to be put down.

But imposing the death penalty on an elephant is one thing, carrying it out quite another.  Guns proved ineffective, and the idea of smashing Mary between two railroad engines seemed a little grotesque, so the circus decided to try hanging.  The nearby town of Erwin had a large rail yard, where about 2,500 people turned out to see Mary hoisted by the neck from a derrick.  Hoisted twice, actually, since the chain broke on the first attempt.

That’s admittedly pretty horrible, but the good news is that somebody had the presence of mind to take a photo.

This sordid episode has enjoyed quite a bit of notoriety on the Interwebs, and is also the subject of a short book.  If you’re curious about the play, copies of the script are available on Amazon.  Believe it or not, this is only one of two plays about this incident; another one premiered in 2009.


Filed under Appalachian History, Tennessee History

Volunteer votes

The always-readable Jack Neely unravels the long, often ironic history of Tennessee’s presidential voting patterns.  This state hasn’t always been red, although here in the eastern section Republicans have always been popular.  Check it out.

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Filed under Tennessee History

More missing markers

This is turning out to be a distressingly common problem here in the Volunteer State.  Guys, next time you have to take down a historical marker for road work, put the darn thing back where you found it.

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Filed under Tennessee History

Know somebody who’s made a worthwhile contribution to East Tennessee history?

If so, consider nominating them for one of the East Tennessee Historical Society’s Awards of Excellence.  They’ll be accepting applications until April 19.  Click here for more details.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Tennessee History

The Farragut Folklife Museum is back in business

…with updated exhibits.  If you’re interested in learning more about the community that Admiral David G. Farragut called home—site of the infamous disappearing monument—then stop by and pay the museum a visit.  Admission is free.

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Filed under Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History

Bad dude, small world

The Knoxville News Sentinel has been celebrating its birthday with a retrospective of notable stories from its century-and-a-quarter-long run.  A recent article highlights one of the more colorful episodes in Knoxville history.

On the night of Dec. 13, 1901 two police officers tried to break up a brawl in one of the city’s less reputable establishments and ended up getting shot by one of the participants, who managed to flee the scene despite being beaten over the head withe the officers’ clubs.  The shooter was later arrested and subsequently identified as Harvey Logan, alias Kid Curry—one of the most notorious members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch gang.  He had been traveling throughout the country passing off notes taken in a Montana train holdup before his pool hall fight landed him in a Tennessee jail.

Logan’s trial turned into one of the twentieth century’s first legal media circuses, and ended in the summer of 1903 when he managed to snag a jail guard’s neck with a wire and make off with the sheriff’s horse.  You can read the full story in the book Harvey Logan in Knoxville by Sylvia Lynch, who happens to be my mom.

The Sentinel article notes that Logan refused to have his picture taken, so the newspaper recruited an East Tennessee artist to visit the jail and produce a sketch to run on the front page.  The artist was Lloyd Branson.  Loyal readers of this blog might recall that Branson’s name has appeared here before.  He painted the famous picture of the Sycamore Shoals muster preceding the Battle of King’s Mountain that now hangs in the Tennessee State Museum and adorns the banner at the top of this site, and he also depicted the battle itself in a painting which burned in a Knoxville hotel fire.

I told my mom about this, and she mentioned that she’d discussed Branson’s sketch of Logan in her book.  I pulled a copy off the shelf, and sure enough, there was a picture of Lloyd Branson working on a self-portrait.  So when I was a teenager, before I had any inkling that I’d study history, my mom wrote a book about an outlaw who got his picture drawn by Lloyd Branson, and then years later I wrote my thesis about a Revolutionary War campaign which was the subject of two paintings by Lloyd Branson.  I then realized that Lloyd Branson stands at the nexus of all that is.

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Filed under Appalachian History, Tennessee History

Farragut marker may get a new spot

We may be arriving at a satisfactory solution to the Case of the Disappearing Admiral Farragut Monument.  The folks in Knox County are working on an agreement that will hopefully make it possible for the marker to be set up somewhere near Farragut’s birthplace.


Filed under Civil War, History and Memory, Tennessee History

Artifacts stolen from Battles for Chattanooga Museum

Security cameras got the whole thing on video.  Have a look and see if you recognize this creep.  There’s a reward offered for information.  We’ve seen far too many examples of this sort of thing in the past year, and potential thieves need to learn that they can’t steal from museums and archives and expect to get away with it.

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Filed under Civil War, Museums and Historic Sites, Tennessee History