Category Archives: Historian

Was Lillie Cox Ladd the Roane County Sheriff?

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

It has been claimed that Lillie Cox Ladd, the grandmother of the late Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr., was the first woman sheriff in Roane County and Tennessee. This has been told in many different forms and versions. (Senator Howard Baker, Jr.) Pictured to the right. However, most of this information has been proven wrong by using primary documents. Criss J. Ladd (1876-1927) had been elected Roane County sheriff in September 1926.

However, he was sick most of his term. In April 1927, Criss J. Ladd and his wife, Lillie, went to a hospital in Effingham, Illinois for treatment. After leaving Criss there, Lillie returned to Roane County. On her way back, she received word that 12 prisoners had escaped from the Roane County jail. In the newspaper article, John Hendricks was listed as the acting sheriff. When she returned, she went unarmed with a prisoner, Herman Edwards, in search of the prisoners. She found two of them and convinced Leonard and Willis Edwards, who were related to Herman Edwards, to surrender and return to jail. Criss J. Ladd died June 24, 1927, in Roane County.

In Tennessee, when a sheriff died or resigned, the coroner automatically becomes acting sheriff. In this case, it was Thomas Elmer Goodwin who became sheriff. It was the second time that Mr. Goodwin had to assume the acting position as sheriff. At the July 4th, 1927 meeting of the Roane County Court, Criss’s brother, Frank L. Ladd was selected as sheriff to finish out his brother’s term. Lillie may have been “acting as sheriff,” but she never held the position of official sheriff as had been told.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, June 2018.

The Murder of Lucinda McNew

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Lucinda McNew was born August 20, 1854, and was murdered June 7, 1902, in Roane County. She had been married first to P.N. Swicegood. Swicegood divorced her in 1891 and on August 6, 1893, in Roane County she married Jack C. Bailey, which turned out to be a big mistake.

Jack Bailey, her husband, hired George Roberts to murder her in exchange for a white mule. Roberts took a hame (a wooden or metal piece of a harness that forms a collar around an animal) and hit her on the head five times. He thought she was dead. However, later when Jack Bailey returned home, he discovered she was still alive. Jack then took the dog irons of the fireplace and crushed her skull killing her. Jack Bailey and George Roberts were put on trial for murder.

Originally Jack Bailey’s brother Arthur was also charged, but he was acquitted. Jack Bailey was given a 99-year sentence. He was released early because of illness and died on October 15, 1930, and is buried in the Swan Pond Methodist Church Cemetery where Lucinda is also buried. George Roberts was given a sentence of a term of his natural life.

Her son, Mat Swicegood, who was also murdered is buried beside her. It is not known why Jack Bailey murdered his wife. He charged her with adultery with John Taylor. So the true reason for the murder is left up to speculation.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, May and September 2018.

Kingston Ferryman Murder

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Shortly after the turn of the century, a strange, and somewhat incomprehensible set of circumstances took place in Roane County, several surrounding counties and even another state. One nefarious deed was a brutal murder of a ferry operator at Southwest Point in Kingston on September 28, 1908. His name was John King, and he was found bludgeoned to death by at least six blows with a skiff oar. George Cook was arrested for King’s murder, and he was implicated in the crime by testimony given during a coroner’s jury. King was last seen ferrying Cook across the river at about 7pm on the night of the killing. The two men were alone on the ferry. W.M. Brown, the owner of the ferry, had leased it to King for two years. Brown found the body early in the morning after the murder. Brown testified that he had heard a ‘cry of distress’ early in the evening of the preceding day, but did not investigate. It is known that King and his family were leaving Kingston for North Carolina and his wife stated that he had a large sum of money in his possession.

The coroner’s jury returned a verdict of assassination for the purpose of robbery. When Cook, a native of Chattanooga, was arrested for the crime, he was also under indictment on two charges of disturbing public worship and one for carrying weapons in Roane County. A few weeks before the murder of King, a young man by the name of Will Plemmons was found dead on the riverbank in Chattanooga. Plemmons was shot once behind the ear, execution style. Cook was also accused of this heinous crime, but no evidence worthy of conviction was heard against him, and he was released from custody in Hamilton County. He was then arrested and jailed in Kingston for the murder of King.

Late one evening shortly after Cook’s incarceration in Kingston, a group of about 20 men knocked loudly at the door of the jail, where Sheriff J.L. Johnson resided with his wife and family. The sheriff called down from an upstairs window asking who was there. He was told that Chris Miller was there with a prisoner in custody to be jailed. The sheriff, who was suspicious that the speaker was someone other than Chris Miller, asked him to strike a match so that he could see him but was told that the man had no matches. Johnson went downstairs and opened the door, only to find a mob of men, all masked except two, whom he did not know. The men pushed their way into the room and demanded that he open the door to the cell of George Cook. Sheriff Johnson refused and argued with the men for some time when the mob became more and more threatening, his wife appeared at the top of the stairs and also pleaded with the men. Seeing none of their combined words were having any effect whatsoever on the unruly group of men, she drew a revolver and threatened to shoot the first man who entered the door where Cook was confined. Whereupon, the leader of the mob, drew three sticks of dynamite from his pocket and threw them onto the floor, vowing to blow up the jail if the prisoner was not immediately turned over to them. He said, “If we can’t get him one way, we will get him another.” Mrs. Johnson then asked if they would really blow up the jail, killing her children and everyone else in the building. She was assured that they would do so. Jerked about and jabbed with pistols, the sheriff reluctantly handed over the keys to Cook’s cell. The mob surged forward and were met by Cook who unsuccessfully held the cell door shut from the inside and cried out, “You’ll not take me out alive.” He wielded a razor, which he had apparently secreted on his person, and fought for his life. He slashed one man threw his hat across the head before the lights went out and several shots rang out. Cook fell dead. The sheriff, his wife, his wife’s sister and his daughter all saw the two unmasked men and paid close attention to their appearance so that they could identify them later.

Mrs. Johnson remarked to the men on the night of the killing, “I shall be sure to know you if I ever see you again.” About 30 days later, Sheriff Johnson was in Sweetwater and recognized a man coming out of a church as one of the unmasked men who was present at the jail when Cook was killed. He was James Plemmons, father of the young man who had been murdered in Chattanooga. Plemmons was arrested and charged with being the leader of the mob who entered the jail and murdered Cook. He was given a preliminary trial and released on a $3,000 bond. It is presumed that Plemmons allegedly led the gang to the jail where Cook was killed in retaliation for the death of his son some weeks, earlier. Later, Joe Blanton, Plemmon’s son-in-law, was implicated in the slaying. Some months later, after having sent out a description of Blanton to law enforcement offices across the state, Sheriff Johnson received word from the Memphis Police Department that the man had been arrested in Memphis.

Blanton had left his home in Sweetwater shortly after the killing of Cook and made his way to Arkansas, where two of his brothers resided. He made no secret that he was wanted in Tennessee, but was reportedly not arrested in Arkansas because of a close friendship between his brother and the sheriff. According to a local newspaper, he went on a drinking spree while in Memphis and while inebriated, went to the closest police department and admitted that he was a wanted man. Sheriff Johnson and a deputy left by train as quickly as possible to take custody of Blanton because of information that his brother was on his way to Memphis to secure the release of the prisoner through a writ of habeas corpus. The Roane County officers were successful in arriving ahead of Blanton’s brother, who was reported to be, interestingly enough, a whiskey dealer in Arkansas and a man of some wealth and influence. Blanton was delivered to Kingston, given a preliminary hearing and bound over to the court without bond. Shortly thereafter the sheriff took the prisoner to Knoxville, fearing that Blanton’s friends in the area might attempt to break into the jail and release him if he were allowed to remain in Kingston. During the trial of the two men, held in the historic courthouse in Kingston, the state attempted to prove that Blanton and Plemmons were the leaders of the mob that murdered Cook and that Blanton was wounded in the head by Cook during the fracas. Lawyers for the defense, however, brought forth many witnesses, who testified that both men were seen in Sweetwater at or near the time of the crime. While Blanton did have a scar on his head, he vowed, and testimony was given by a number of men that he received the wound in a bar fight in Marked Tree, Arkansas on Christmas Eve night, 1908. The jury acquitted both men. However, many questions are left unanswered.

Eyewitnesses testimony from Sheriff Johnson, Mrs. Johnson, her sister, Miss Nannie Nicely, and the sheriff’s daughter, Nannie Johnson, all place the two men at the jail the night of the lynching, and both were identified in court. Much was made of a surrey (a horse or mule-drawn carriage) which was rented by Blanton on the afternoon before the crime, and a bloody black hat, which was found the morning after the murder of Cook on the main road leading back to Sweetwater. The hat was identified as the hat Blanton was wearing on the night of the crime. However, many witnesses swore that he had no wound on his head after the night in question and none at all until he returned from Arkansas. In addition, many defense witnesses placed him at the home of his father at about 9 p.m. on the night in question, which was between 20 to 25 miles from Kingston. In those days, it took approximately six hours in a surrey with good mules to travel that distance, making it impossible for him to have been there by 11:30 p.m. These and other discrepancies unquestionably caused reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors, but if not Plemmons and Blanton, who did kill George Cook?

Who told the truth and who lied? The answers to these and other questions have slipped through a crack in time. No one else was ever accused of the lynching. Was George Cook guilty of any crime at all? He was arrested and questioned, but released in the case of Plemmons son’s death due to lack of evidence. Evidence of his part in the killing of Ferryman King was circumstantial, no one witnessed the crime, and he did not live to stand trial. Therefore, nothing was ever proven against him. Did two guilty men go free and an innocent man die for crimes he did not commit?

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, April 2018.

The Last Execution in Roane County

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

The last execution that took place in Roane County was the hanging of Isaac Fain in the courtyard of the historic courthouse in November 1884. Fain had been tried and convicted of murdering Thomas Curren. The case was a spectacular one and was well covered in newspapers of the day, (often with conflicting information), but the salient facts seem to be as follows: Fain worked as a section hand on the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. He was a small black man about 21 years old with a violent temper.

On March 29, 1884, while working near Emory Gap, he had an altercation with his section boss, Thomas Curren. Sharp words exchanged between the two men, and Fain was fired. He hung around the work site most of the day, muttering threats against Curren, then left in the late afternoon and returned with a double-barreled shotgun. He stayed out of sight until he had a clear shot at Curren, cursed him and emptied the gun into his victim’s back, killing him instantly. Fain threw down his gun and fled to the mountains.

A large party of men scoured the countryside for about a week until he was captured near Loudon. He was jailed at Kingston but moved to Loudon for safekeeping because of word that a large lynching party was on the way. He was later returned to Kingston, charged and tried for first-degree murder in the historic courthouse. After about 40 minutes of deliberation, the jury brought in a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to death. Although his case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the death sentence was upheld.

Fain spent the last months of his life studying the Bible and praying while a gallows was being built on the south lawn of the historic courthouse. The scaffold was walled with boards on three sides, and canvas covering on the east (Third Street) side. On the fateful day of his execution in November 1884, he was led to the gallows by the sheriff, securely shackled. After he climbed the steps to the platform, the canvas was thrown back, and Fain faced a crowd of 3,000 to 4,000 people who had come to town to witness his execution. The doomed man then preached a sermon, confessing his crime and urging his audience to turn aside from sin and accept God. He stated he was ready to go to Jesus, saying, “It is much better that I die today and go to glory than to live out my sinful life and go to hell.” As he stood with the rope around his neck, he uttered his last words: “I ain’t scared one bit, hanging ain’t anything. Tell Aunt Julia I’m going home on the evening train.”

After he was hanged and pronounced dead, Ellen Curren, the 16-year-old sister of Thomas Curren, entered the enclosure and stared at the body, leaving with an expression of pity on her face and tears in her eyes. The Chattanooga Daily Times stated: “The last legal hanging in Roane County previous to this occurred in 1860 when Joseph Jones . . . was executed for outraging his mistress.”

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, December 2016 and March 2018.

The Killer Poet

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

The hands of justice sometimes moved slowly in the history of Roane County. One of the best examples is the killing of Thomas Galbreath in September 1884. It took 25 years before anyone was tried for the killing, in spite of the fact that the murder took place in broad daylight in front of several witnesses. Willis Maberry was Tom Galbreath’s brother-in-law and according to the records found in the Historic Roane County Courthouse archives, including a transcript of the trial in 1909, the shooting took place in Old Oakdale in Roane County (now renamed Elverton) located between Harriman and Oliver Springs.

Testimony reveals that Thomas Galbreath was in the front yard of his brother’s home with two other men when Willis shot him with a shotgun hitting him in the left side, on the arm, the back of the neck and through the leg. Lucy Galbreath was sitting inside the house peeling apples when the shot rang out. She rushed to the door, saw Maberry with a gun in his hand pointed at Tom and called him not to shoot any more since he had already killed her pig. Maberry offered to pay Lucy for the pig and did not shoot again. The pig died instantly and Tom died about 24 hours later. Some of the shots also went through a fence and Lucy’s feather beds which were drying on the fence. Witnesses testified that Maberry shot from an ambush under porch steps of the house across the street. The musket was found near the steps and had recently been fired.

Another witness, John Staples, testified that Maberry had told him some months previous to the shooting that he was going to kill Galbreath “if powder will burn for cutting (stabbing) him”. Other witnesses said the two men were close friends, but deputy Sheriff, W.C. Lyles, testified that Maberry told him he had been “cut” by Galbreath and was angry about it. Maberry took the stand on his own behalf and denied everything. He did admit that he left Roane County soon after the killing “but not until after the funeral” and traveled extensively for about 25 years, working in places in St. Louis, MO., Baltimore, MD., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Nebraska.

According to relatives, Maberry came back to Roane County in 1909, after the death of his father to claim part of the family’s property and was arrested for the Galbreath killing. He was convicted for the crime in the historic courthouse in Kingston, and sentenced to life imprisonment. The case was appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and upheld. He was sent to the state prison in Nashville but the story doesn’t end here.

While still being held in jail in Kingston, (pictured at the left) he began writing a poignant poem which was entitled “Roane County Prisoner.” He later finished the poem, it was set to music and became quite popular after the turn of the century under the title, “The Hills of Roane County.” Many Roane County residents remember hearing it played on the radio in the 1930s and 40s. The words to the song vary slightly, but the following is believed to be the first rendition:

In the beautiful hills, in the midst of Roane County,
There’s where I have roamed,
for many long years;
There’s where my poor heart’s been tending most ever,
There’s where my first steps of misfortune I made.
I was thirty years old when I courted and married,
Amanda Galbreath was then called my wife.
Her brother stabbed me for some unknown reason;
Just three months later, I’d taken Tom’s life.
For twenty years this old world I rambled;
I went to old England,
I was captured and tried in the village of Kingston.
Not a man in that county would speak a kind word.
When the jury came in with the verdict next morning,
A lifetime of prison were the words that I heard.
The train it pulled out; poor Mother stood weeping.
And sister, she sat all alone with a sigh.
The last words I heard were:
Willie, God bless you;
Willie, God bless you,
God bless you; goodbye.
The train left the shed at about eleven thirty;
The chains they did rattle,
The handcuffs were tight When Sonny Gibson took the throttle
The engine one-thirty was soon out of sight.
In the scorching hot sun I’ve been toiling;
Just working and worrying my poor life away.
You can measure my grave on the banks of old Cumberland
After I’ve finished the rest of my days.
No matter what happened to me in Roane County;
No matter how long my sentence may be,
I love my old home way back in Roane County,
Way back in the hills of East Tennessee.

Maberry became ill while in prison, Was released and returned to his home in the hills of Roane County. Exactly when he was released is not known, but apparently, he suffered from poor health for the rest of his life. He lived alone and his Galbreath kin folks made sure he had care and enough to eat. He died on October 30, 1925, in Knox County, TN and was buried in the County Cemetery. Sources for this article are: “The Rockwood Times”, newspaper, September 9, 1909; The State vs. Willis Maberry Loose Papers, Historic Roane County Archives; Oral history taken by Mrs. Andy Harvey from Richard Louis Galbreath, Tom Galbreath, Jr. (son of Tom Galbreath), and Frankie Galbreath Eskridge; Loose Papers, Historic Roane County Archives.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, February 2018.

The Hills of Roane County

Rules for Teachers in 1872

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

One can see that the job for a teacher in the 1800s involved many things besides teaching by this list of “Rules for Teachers” which was dated 1872. If a woman got married, then she had to quit being a teacher. It is not known when this policy stopped. One can also see the different ways that female teachers were treated as opposed to male teachers. The rules were: Paint Rock School below

1) Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.

2) Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s session.

3) Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.

4) Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.

5) After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining evening time reading the Bible or other good books.

6) Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.

7) Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.

8) Any teacher who smokes uses liquor in any form frequents pool or public halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his intention, integrity, and honesty.

9) The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in his pay providing the Board of Education approves.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, January 2018.

Aunt Lize Whittenburg

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Aunt Lize Whittenburg was born a slave on the farm of Jesse Roddy of Rhea County and took the Whittenburg name when Roddy’s daughter married a Whittenburg. According to her obituary, she moved to Rockwood about 1869 and “was the first cook at the Roane Iron Company’s negro boarding house.” She died in 1926 in Rockwood. In 1955, an article written about her stated ” ‘Aunt Lize’ was very popular, well known and much loved by the entire citizenship of Rockwood. She is fondly remembered for her colorful dress and the fact that she never knew a stranger.” She was known to have worn three skirts at the same time and marched in every parade in Rockwood. She is the only known person to appear in a commercial postcard in Roane County.

Aunt Lize Whittenburg

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, December 2017.

The Lost Churches of Oak Ridge

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

One of the major loses that took place in the creation of Oak Ridge were the closing of churches in that area. There were several active churches when those properties were acquired by the federal government. Three active churches were located in the Wheat Community. Those were the George Jones Baptist Church, the Crawford Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and the Wheat Methodist Church. The George Jones Baptist Church (the original name was Mount Zion Baptist Church) was started about 1852. The current structure, which is still standing, was built in 1901. The Crawford Cumberland Presbyterian Church was established in 1891, and the building that was there had been constructed in 1901. The Wheat Methodist Church was started about 1873. There were three other known churches, located in different parts, which were the New Bethel Baptist Church, the Friendship Baptist Church, and the East Fork Baptist Church. The New Bethel Baptist church, which is still standing, was started in 1852. The Friendship Baptist Church, which was located near the New Bethel Baptist Church, was started by people who were removed by the creating of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. Both churches were located in the X-10 (ORNL) reservation. The East Fork Baptist Church, was established about 1801, was located near the Roane and Anderson County line and a little distance from the location of the original guard houses on Highway 58 (Oak Ridge Turnpike). The church building that was standing in 1942 had been built in 1901. A cemetery is still located there. The George Jones Church and the New Bethel Church structures were kept because they were used for storage during the building of Oak Ridge. All of the other churches were torn down.

George Jones Baptist Church AKA Mount Zion Baptist Church

Crawford Cumberland Presbyterian Church

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, November 2017.


{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

There have been several planned towns or cities that no longer exist. One of those was Bushtown, a town developed for former slaves in Kingston. During the Civil War, many of the farms in Roane County became in disarray, and there were very few jobs left on the farms. Many former slaves moved to the cities. Several moved to Kingston, and a separate town on the outskirts of Kingston was created. This became known as Bushtown. It is not known how the name came to be. Streets were laid out, and lots were sold. One lot was set aside for a church, which may be Braxton Chapel AME Church today. The original plat shows that it was made in August 1866. It is not known when Bushtown ceased as a town, but the name still exists in deeds in that area.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, October 2017.

Roane Iron Company Mine Explosions

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Working in a coal mine was and still is a dangerous job. In the 1920s there were several mine explosions that occurred in the Roane Iron Company mines in Rockwood that cost many lives. On April 29, 1926, two men lost their lives. A major explosion occurred on July 16, 1925. In that explosion, ten men lost their lives. Those men were;

  1. Claude Tindell,
  2. Raymond Watkins,
  3. Sam R. Doughty,
  4. Thos. G. Green,
  5. John W. Green,
  6. Sam L. Givens,
  7. Roy Limburg,
  8. Wm. J. Snow,
  9. Jas. Wilson,
  10. Thos. J. Sullivan.

However, the worst disaster happened on October 4, 1926. In that explosion, 27 miners lost their lives. Those who died, with the family left by each, were as follows:

  1. Will Rodgers, married, 5 children;
  2. H.M. Griffis, married, 4 children;
  3. A.J. Griffis, single;
  4. Ben Gibson, single;
  5. Sam Taylor, married, 3 children;
  6. Lee Jolly, married, several children;
  7. Ira Nelson, single;
  8. Van Kirby, married, 4 children;
  9. P.C. Craven, married, 2 grown children;
  10. S.P. Whittier, married, 6 children;
  11. Harry Lingo, married;
  12. Will Teague, married, 7 children;
  13. Arthur Teague, married, 5 children;
  14. W.C. Elliott, single;
  15. C.B. Davis, married, 1 child;
  16. Philip Galyon, married;
  17. Jess Dale, married;
  18. Walter Cunningham, married, 2 children;
  19. E.G. Smith, married, 1 child (is son-in-law of Will Rodgers);
  20. Clyde Teague, single, son of Will Teague;
  21. Will Armour, single;
  22. Frank Boles, single;
  23. Hector Smith, single;
  24. J.A. Freels, married, 4 children;
  25. G.C. McCoy, married;
  26. Frank Hinds, married, 3 children;
  27. Dave Brummett, married, 6 children;
  28. George Riddle, married, 6 children.

The cause of this disaster was given as the ignition of gas in one of the rooms.

Originally written for the Roane County Newsletter to the Community, September 2017.