Tag Archives: The Rockwood Times

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

The War of 1812 Plaque

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

Located on the Southside wall of the old courthouse is a plaque to the memory of the War of 1812 soldiers who enlisted here in Roane County. The following article about the dedication of the marker is from The Rockwood Times, Thursday, November 30, 1933:

Marker Honors Heroes of 1812. Speaker Heard, Tablet Is Unveiled At Kingston. Friday afternoon at 2:00 o’clock a bronze memorial tablet was placed on the south front to the courthouse in Kingston by the Tennessee Daughters of the War of 1812 and Roane county as a lasting and fitting tribute to the soldiers that served in that great war. The beautiful tablet bears the following inscription: “To the Glory of God and in loving memory of the American soldiers and sailors of the War of 1812 who enlisted here, this tablet is erected by the Tennessee National Society United States Daughters of 1812 and the Court of Roane County.”

Music for the program was furnished by the Rockwood Drum and Bugle Corps. The invocation was given by Rev. George S. Jarman, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Kingston, and Mrs. Margaret Ervin Ford gave the Pledge to the Flag. Following the pledge, Mrs. W.H. illaur (sic), ( Sic is a Latin word meaning “thus” or “just as”. It is used to show that the word (in this case, “illaur“) president of the Alexander Doran Chapter of Cleveland, presented the marker to the state president and Roane County. It was unveiled by Peggy Lillard and Margaret Smith. Major James F. Corn, of Cleveland, made the historical address and gave the vivid description of the battle of New Orleans. James F. Littleton accepted the marker in behalf of the county, and in an appropriate address giving the following account of how volunteers were enlisted in Kingston for this war.

Lieutenant Uriah Allison placed a drum in front of the courthouse on the head of which were placed new silver dollars, and as the marchers, headed by a 10-year-old fifer boy, marched around the drum, those who wanted to enlist took a dollar and were then enrolled. There were about fifty men enlisted to serve through the war, which they did, and afterward came back to Roane County. A large number of the leading families of the county are descendants of these heroes.

The War of 1812 Plaque

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

The Controversial Dike in Kingston

{Robert Bailey – Roane County Historian}

In 1939 – 1940, the Tennessee Valley Authority drew up plans to create a dike on Highway 70 at Kingston which would keep the waters of Watts Bar Dam from flooding the town of Kingston. This plan was supported by TVA and many of the citizens of Kingston and Roane County. The dike allowed traffic to travel directly on Highway 70 West from Knoxville, instead of the route which had for many decades required drivers to turn right onto Kentucky Street coming from Race Street and then turn left on Cumberland Street. The plan was controversial, in that there were people who were for the dike and those who opposed the building of it. Those for the plan pointed out the amount of land that it would take up and the amount of flooding that still would occur if the dike was not built. Plus the costs would have included Roane County having to replace Roane County High School. Still, there were some citizens who were opposed to it. However, many of these opponents would have ended up with lakefront property. But the plans continued as originally designed.

The following article appeared in The Rockwood Times, July 3, 1941, about the completion and the description of the dike.

“Work on Kingston Dike Against Lake Nears Completion. Roadway On Structure To Make Beautiful View Of Lake Area Available.” The much talk of the dike being erected by the TVA to keep the backwaters of Watts Bar dam from inundating the town of Kingston is now receiving the finishing touches. The main construction has been completed and the roadway on top of the dike has been aided with a temporary rock surface which will be later converted to concrete or asphalt. The main dike is tied into the hill just beyond the home of Hugh E. Wyatt and extends out through what was the Wilkey bottom through the Evans, Muecke and Oran lots coming to grade at the intersection of Cumberland Street and Harriman avenue where the dike and Highway 70 or Broadway of America come together. The highway has been raised too, so as to become a part of the dike on out to the old Clinch River Bridge. Most local travel will now go down Cumberland Street and go on the new highway where the dike and highway come together. The main travel through town will come down Race Street which has been raised to go onto the dike near the M.E. Church property. Highway 58 intersects with Race Street at the junction with Kentucky Street and the travel going over this highway will go into Race Street and on over the dike. The dike itself is approximately 35 feet high, 160 feet wide at the base and is 1550 feet long. The top is 40 feet wide with a roadway and sidewalk on the side. The north side of the dike is being sodded (sic) and the south or lakeside is being rip-rapped with a heavy stone. At the west end of the dike, a boat ramp and parking area is being erected. From the top of the dike is one of the best scenic views in all the TVA territory and thousands will stop and gaze upon the beauties of the lake extending down the Pellissippi (sic) to historic Southwest Point and the main lake of the Tennessee River. The boating and fishing of this immediate lake cannot be surpassed in all the country of the Tennessee Valley.— “Roane County Banner.”

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