In Memory of Mitchel Griffith
EDITOR'S NOTE – Information for this story provided by Mitchel Griffith’s nieces, Noria Landrum Griffith and Betty Landrum Sexton.
By Josetta Griffith FNB Chronicle Editor
|Mitchel Griffith went on "vacation" in 1947 and never came back|
It’s one of the most beautiful spots in Scott County . . . a narrow ridge near Hamby Gap on Brimstone. You can stand in one spot and see miles of mountain vistas in three directions. Mitchel Griffith was very familiar with all the roads and trails that criss-crossed the Brimstone and Emory mountains . . . Hamby Gap, in particular. In the 1940s, he commented to his sister and niece at the supper table, with a view of Hamby Gap out the window behind him, "If I knowed when it was my time to die, I'd go to that gap in the mountain and lay down and die."
After serving in World War I, Mitchel was living with his brother-in-law and sister, Lewis and Marlena Landrum, at Emory in Morgan County on property they shared. Mitchel had built a two-room house for himself but never lived in it. Instead, he stayed with his sister and her family. He pretty much single-handedly cleared the property into farmland and fenced it with wooden rails. His brother-in-law, Lewis Landrum, worked for Emory River Lumber Company, but Mitchel, being an unmarried man, was passed over for hiring in favor of men with families. This never set well with Mitchel. He even accused Lewis of preventing him from being hired by the lumber company so he would have to stay at home and work on the farm.
In early January 1947, after a particularly tiresome autumn, coupled with his mule named Jack dying, Mitchel announced that he was going "on vacation" for a couple of months. He was going to visit his mother's brothers, Fred, Isam and Dock Webb, in Scott County and while there he would probably buy a mule.
He caught the local bus just north of Wartburg and rode to Scott County. After a few days visit with his Uncle Fred, Mitchel came to Robbins to stay a day or two with his Uncle Dock and he bought a mule.
On January 17, 1947, Mitchel set out from Robbins riding the mule up the Brimstone Road so he could cross the Brimstone Mountains at Hamby Gap to get to Emory. Nightfall would come early on this overcast, winter day and as he passed houses up the Brimstone Road, he didn't tarry. He stopped at Odie and Kansas Griffith's house near the head of Brimstone and they strongly urged him to spend the night because it was 5:00 p.m. and already sleeting. Mitchel seemed pressed to get to Emory and continued on his way.
No one knows for sure what caused Mitchel to become disoriented. It could have been because timber cutting had changed the way the mountain trails looked or it could have been due to a white out of snow and fog that so often engulfs the mountain tops in winter. If this was the case, Mitchel could have easily taken a wrong turn causing him to miss Hamby Gap.
He may have decided to huddle on the ground to get warm and await a clearing of the weather.
Mitchel's family at Emory didn't know when to expect him home because when he left he said he might be gone two months. They didn't know he was on his way home. Several days passed before word spread up and down Emory and Brimstone that Mitchel was missing. Search parties formed and climbed the mountains from both sides. The ground was icy and snow covered when they found Mitchel's body, 17 days after he left Odie Griffith's. It was determined that there was no foul play because Mitchel had $800 in his pocket.
The mule was alive and was with the body of Mitchel who had died of hypothermia. To the old timers, he froze to death. The mule had endured a horrible 17 days. Hoof prints in the patchy snow and dirt indicated that the mule had paced several yards back and forth to Mitchel's body sometimes in the direction of the road off the mountain to Emory. This pacing had gone on for 17 days and all the mule ate was bark it was able to gnaw from the trees and shrubs. The only harm evident on the mule was mutilation to an ear presumed to have been inflicted by wild animals that it had to fight to protect itself and as if it might have tried to protect Mitchel.
Mitchel and his sister Marlena Landrum were the only children of Rufus and Phoebe Griffith. Marlena's children are Anderson, Henderson, Lewis, Lucy, Sarah, Betty, Noria, Noah, Lillie, Marie, Genevie and Love.
Mitchel is buried in the Lone Mountain Church Cemetery.
A concrete marker was placed in his memory at the site of his death by a family member. Mitchel's body was laying with arms crossed on a narrow ridge a little east of the Hamby Gap almost exactly where he had years earlier told his sister and niece that he would like to "lay down and die".
FOOTNOTE --- Clear cutting of timber on the former Brimstone Land Company property has left a worse condition than Mitchel Griffith encountered on his fateful trip. Tree tops, limbs and brush now make a tangle of most of the trails and old home places. It has dreadfully changed the once grand mountain vista toward the Brimstone side looking from the Hamby Gap.
Mitchel Griffith went on "vacation" in 1947 and never came back.
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 18, No. 3 – Summer 2007
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
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