Reminiscences of Pioneer Days in Scott County by the Cumberland Chronicle, in Spring of 1904
(EDITOR’S NOTE — The following article was first published in the Cumberland Chronicle in 1904. This is the first of a two-part series of articles obtained from the Scott County Historical Society relating the tales of native born and early Huntsville settler Jehu Phillips, who has many descendants still living in Scott County. Phillips was a Civil War soldier and later served for six years as Scott. County Trustee. At the time this article was published, Phillips was 86 years old and one of the oldest residents of the county.)Believing that many of our readers would be interested in the manners and customs of our forefathers who first settled in this part of East Tennessee, we have interviewed Uncle JEHU PHILLIPS who is now 86 years old and one of the oldest citizens in this county. "Uncle Jehu" as he is now familiarly called, was when young and active, one of the leading and most influential citizens in this county. Without attempting to use his exact language, here is what he had to say.
About the year 1803 TOMMIE PHILLIPS, us brother JOSEPH PHILLIPS and his son JONATHAN PHILLIPS and JOSHUA GOAD all moved from what is now Scott County, Virginia and settled about two miles south of Huntsville on what is now known as the Vanderpool place. There was no town here then and but very few people in this country. Joseph and Jonathan were mere boys about 15 years of age. They all cleared some land and raised crops three years before they split a rail. There were no hogs here in those days. These early pioneers brought seed corn and meal with them from Virginia, and when the meal gave out they could not get any more until they raised the corn bed from which to make the meal. They had to live on venison and other wild meats and milk until they raised some corn. They had brought two or three milk cows with them and the cattle would graze on the wild grass where the town of Huntsville now stands. In those days one could see deer by the gangs, and there were plenty of bears, wolves, wild cats, foxes and turkeys and a few panther.
My father, JOSEPH PHILLIPS, was born in what is now Scott County, Virginia in the year 1788. When about 17 years old he married MILLIE LAWSON who lived where JOHN B. JEFFERS now has his water grist mill near the mouth of Paint Rock. I was the third child and was born where by brother JERRY PHILLIPS now lives on Bull Creek near New River. My parents told me I was the first child born in that vicinity.
Huntsville was the first town built in what is now Scott County and it was established and made the county seat of this county in 1850.
The people had spinning wheels and looms with which they made linsey and jeans out of which they made clothing. They did not wear shoes but had moccasins which were made of deer skin or other soft leather and the uppers and soles were made of the same piece. The men and boys as a rule, wore caps made of fox or coon skins and the tail was usually attached so as to hand down behind. They also made their own soap. So you see the people in those days lived independent and didn’t have much business in a town. When they did have any business in a town or wanted to go to a store they would have to go to Jacksboro or Kingston.
I can remember seeing Indians in this country. There were two families living up New River near the mouth of Bull Creek and one family lived near where the town of New River now stands. There was an old Indian trail leading by where the town of New River now stands and on up the river. The Indians wore, both summer and winter, caps made of fox skins, with tail hanging down behind and they also wore moccasins. I have talked with Indians in this county who said that they had never eaten bread made from corn ground on a water mill. The Indians had what was called a sweep pole with which to beat the corn. They also had sifters made out of a hide and would split the crushed corn through these and then crush again.
I suppose the first school house in what is now Scott County, was built about the year 1826 at the mouth of Buffalo Creek. It was a one room log house. The first teacher was a man named BRAWHILL who came here from Virginia. I never went to school a day in my life and yet was elected the first Trustee of Scott County after the Civil War of 1861-65. I held this office six years.
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Uncle JEHU PHILLIPS, who is furnishing these reminiscences, had the following to say:
I saw the first train which ran into Knoxville. I was married about the year 1842 and I saw the train before I was married. A day was set on which the train was to run into Knoxville and on that day hundreds and perhaps thousands of people went there from the surrounding counties. I went with my father, brothers and several neighbors from this county and we all went on horse back. We reached Knoxville and were standing near the railroad track holding our horses. Finally we heard the train toot and soon she pulled up by us and I tell you every hair stood straight on my head. I will never forget that day. The train tooted again as she came rushing up and every horse jerked loose and ran away.
When I was a boy there were no doctors in this country, and I never saw a doctor until I was grown. There were no preachers living here then. Occasionally a few preachers would come from Powell’s Valley and stay three or four days. I remember going to meeting in a log house which did not have the cracks stopped and which had no floor or door, I have been to many a meeting where the seats were just split logs which did not even have legs in them In those days the preachers were all Baptist. I suppose the first preacher raised in this county was a man named Cutbearth Webb who lived on Brimstone Creek.
[Line missing . . . salt had to be brought from Goose Creek in Kentucky. It was carried about 120 miles and carried on horse back. Salt then was worth about $5 per bushel and was made in kettles. In those days the people here did not drink coffee except on Sunday morning. Coffee was scarce and such a thing as store ten was never heard of here.
Perhaps the first store in the county was put up by a man named JIM WILLIAMS. When I was a boy he had a store on Buffalo Creek near where ALEC CHAMBERS now lives. When I was about 10 years old I went with father to this store and WILLIAMS had a few men’s shoes (but no boy’s shoes) some calico and a few other dry goods. I believe JOHN L. SMITH was the first merchant in Huntsville. About the year 1852 or 1853 he put up a store where DAN CHAMBERS now lives. He only had a few dry goods and shoes and bought them from a retail merchant at Jacksboro. He bought and sold home made jeans and linsey.
The people here did not have much tin ware nor earthenware in those days. Plates were worth about $3 per set and tin cups were worth about 15 cents each.
When I was a boy, lead was brought from Virginia to Jacksboro and the people here had to go to Jacksboro to get lead. At that time lead was worth about 25 cents per pound and gunpowder was worth $2 per pound. The people used to make powder by hand. When I was a boy we never saw such a thing as a cap lock gun. Everybody had flint lock guns. There were no revolvers then.
There used to be just plenty of fish in the streams in this county. Father had a trap in New River just below the mouth of Bull Creek and we got all the fish we wanted. There were so many fish in those days that when people went to their fish traps they would throw small and medium sized fish back into the water and only keep the largest fish. People never thought of selling fish then, you could just go up to a neighbor who had a trap and he would give you all the fish you wanted. We used to dry fish in those days — a thing you never see done now. When I was a boy there was in New River a fish which you never see here now. It was a red mouthed fish called a buffalo. The buffalo got as large as 22 pounds and the average weight was about 10 or 12 pounds. These fish did not have so many bones in them as the suckers and red horse.
Before the Civil War the people in this county had many interesting and exciting horse races. There used to be a race track where ALLEN McDONALD now lives about two miles south of Huntsville and another track where ROB SEXTON now lives near Brimstone. The tracks were straight and about one-fourth of a mile long. Only two horses could run at the same time. The horses used in the races were a breed of small horses called Brenens. You never see that kind of horse here now. The women attended the races as well as the men. The men could often bet saddles, bridles, hats and clothing as well as money on their favorite horse and often the races were very exciting.
When I was a young man, it was the custom to have log rollings, house raisings and corn shuckings. These would always be followed at night by a frolic and I tell you the people used to have some good old times in those days. At the frolics there was always one or more fiddles. The fiddles were home made but I tell you they were good ones.
Let a fiddle start and I tell you somebody was out dancing. I never saw a banjo until I was grown. I never saw a drunk rowdy man at a frolic or log rolling. People always had peach brandy which was home made and it was fine.
It is curious how times have changed since I was a young man. Why, the people don’t even dress like they used to in this county. I remember that on several occasions I went courting and wore leather breeches, moccasins and a hunting shirt with a cape. What would girls think to have a young man come sparking dressed as I was then?
(To Be Continued in the Winter, 1991 edition of the FNB Chronicle, scheduled for publication the first week in January, 1991)
See Part 2
FNB Chronicle, Vol. 2 No. 1 – Fall 1990
First National Bank
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