Saturday, February 23, 2013

“BLACK JACK” JESSE NUNLEY: Warrior of the Hidden Cherokee

BLACK JACK” JESSE NUNLEY: Warrior of the Hidden Cherokee[1]

Cherokee, Chickamauga, Chickamaka
Nunley, Hobbs, Stoner, Northcutt, Smartt, Miller, Wilson, & White
Nunley Mountain; Nunley Caverns; Nunley Cove; Northcutt Cove; Stoner Mountain; Grundy County; Warren County; Beersheba Springs; McMinnville, Tennessee; Bailey, Texas; Haslam, Texas; Logansport, Louisiana; and Deadwood, Texas; Stanley, Louisiana.

The newspaper in McMinnville, TN. called him “Black Jack” Nunley in their reports of his skirmishes with agents of the U.S. Government (more commonly known as Revenuers).  While the stories were always politically correct, the tone suggested that the editor (and possibly the readers) enjoyed the exploits of “Black Jack” and applauded his successes in frustrating the federal tax collectors.

According to their personal perspectives, the people of Warren and Grundy Counties considered Jesse Claiborne Nunley an “Outlaw Injun” or an heroic warrior in a 100 year war between his people and the US government.  However, Jesse’s “war” with the “Revenuers” was more an economic than an historic enterprise.  The Nunleys of Nunley Mountain and Nunley Cove, and their close relatives -- the Stoners (Stoner Mountain), Northcutts (Northcutt Cove), Hobbs, Smartts, Millers, Whites, and Wilsons – planted and maintained extensive apple orchards on the slops of the mountains of Grundy and Warren Counties in Eastern Central Tennessee.  But, in the closing decades of the 19th Century, (as in the preceding century), there was no practical means of transporting their apples to available markets.  However, as their ancestors had learned, wagons of apples can be reduced to barrels of apple cider, and barrels of apple cider can be distilled into jugs of “Apple Jack Brandy.”  Unlike apples, brandy had a long “shelf-life,” was easily transported to distant markets, and always brought a good price.

As his nickname indicated, “Black Jack” Nunley was expert at “jacking[2] (distilling applejack brandy from apple cider).  Jesse employed both freeze distillation (jacking) and evaporation distillation in creating fine applejack brandy.[3]  By the year of 1889, Jesse’s relatives had been producing and selling applejack brandy for at least three generations.   It remained their principle “cash” crop, and they had no intentions of sharing their meager profits with their traditional enemy, the United State government.  It also seems that Jesse could, when the crops warranted, transmute corn into white lightening.  However, applejack was his principle product.

In Oct.,1898 (the date of Jesse’s final shoot-out) his family had lived in the isolated Tennessee mountains and valleys for almost a hundred years.  They were among the earliest settlers, and gave their names to the principle landmarks -- mountains, valleys (coves), and cave systems.  Only 50 years earlier (1838), Jesse’s parents and grandparents had successfully hidden here while their relatives were rounded up by government agents, held in a concentration camp at nearby Cleveland, TN, and force-marched to Oklahoma on the trek that came to be called the “Trail of Tears.”  The lands, homes, and even the personal belongings of their departed relatives were given to white settlers by lottery.  “Orphan” Cherokee children, left by their captured parents, were adopted by their Cherokee relatives, and hidden in the hills and caves.   

The Nunleys and their racially mixed allied Cherokee families had practiced survival duplicity since the American Revolution.  To avoid confiscation of their land and deportation to "reservations," the "Indian-looking" family members were kept hidden, while those who could pass as European whites conducted business and held title to the family lands.  The extensive Nunley cave system accessible from Nunley Mountain and Nunley Cove provided protective shelter when enemies searched the hills.  From the late 18th Century until the middle 20th Century personal, economic, and social survival required that these families deny, disguise, and hide their Cherokee and Native American heritage.  The related families stayed close, intermarrying and supporting each other in difficult times.

 While Jesse had been a wild youth, with a string of escapades and close calls, his marriage to Laura Ann Hobbs in May of 1884, and the births of their first four children -- Lucy (1885), James “Jim” Lafayette (1886), Ada Ann (1888), and William “Will” Henry (1889) -- had introduced new responsibilities and restraint.  But Jesse (at age 37) remained a prime target of Revenuers, eager to avenge past defeats.  The story of the final encounter has been handed down through their descendants.  It seems that the Revenuers cornered Jesse and some of his brothers and cousins.  A shoot-out ensued, as Jesse and his crew held off the law officers while members of the group slipped away into the hollows.  One of Jesse’s brothers or nephews (possibly Jonah James, born 1858) was crippled (according to our story by a club foot).  Jesse had always taken special care to protect this brother, and when a shot from one of the Revenuers hit him, an enraged Jesse took aim and shot the officer. 

As the story has been passed down, no one knows the fate of either of the victims (crippled brother or federal agent).  Whether they lived or died, one thing was certain – Jesse Nunley couldn’t stay in Tennessee.  According to tradition, Jesse and Laura and the four babies were boarded on a train that very night, with tickets for Bonham, Texas.   Like so many Cherokee warriors before him, Jesse won his battle with the US government, but was forced to cede his land and resettle in the west.

Located in Northeast Texas just south of the Oklahoma border, Bonham was chosen as their destination because of family ties.  Laura’s widowed Mother, Evelina Hobbs Hobbs (she was born or adopted a Hobbs and married a Hobbs), her younger brother Dock, and two sisters, Sue and Edith had moved to Bailey, near Bonham to join Cherokee relatives who had settled there in the aftermath of the Civil War.  On that long train ride, Jesse and Laura retraced the travels of their Cherokee kin, crossing the mountains, and entering the Great Plains.  When their train arrived in Bonham, the wide-open spaces greeted them; the Big Sky stretched from horizon to horizon.  The Texas relatives had sent letters back to Tennessee extoling the virtues of flat-land farming, telling tales of cotton fields with six-foot high plants, and corn “as high as an elephant’s eye.”  But on arrival, all Jesse saw was a flat, dry, brown-grey land without mountains or even trees.  According to the legend, he was inconsolable.  He bought a jug of white lightening, and sat beneath the only tree he could find, and got rip-roaring drunk.

Jesse and Laura remained in Baily for one or two years.  Their son Charles “Charlie” was born there in 1891.  There are two differing stories of why Jesse and Laura and the children left Bailey and settled in the Deadwood community near Logansport, LA.  The first explanation is that they fled Bailey because of the long arm of the law.  Inquiries in Tennessee apparently directed attention toward Texas and the kinfolks in Bailey.  Jesse and Laura sought a new home where the law would have difficulty finding Jesse.  Deadwood, located on the border of Louisiana and Texas, allowed residents to move easily from one state jurisdiction to another.

The second story is simply that Jesse hated the open plains of North Texas.  He worked long enough to buy train fare to start the long journey back east to Tennessee.  Reserving enough money to get started in a new location, he bought train tickets for his little brood.  They got as far as Logansport, Louisiana (on the Sabine River, just across the Texas border).  North of Logansport, Jesse found a sharecropping opportunity.  While Deadwood was short of mountains, there were plenty of trees, and rich farmland.  Jesse made a crop that year, and when fall came the couple had a new baby, Luther, (born in Nov. 1894 on the Texas side of the border).  Jesse and Laura decided to wait another year before continuing the trip back to Tennessee.  As each year passed, and each new baby was born, their roots reached deeper into the soil of the Texas/Louisiana borderlands.  Cordie Ann was born in Jan., 1898 in Louisiana; Johah was born in May 1901 in Texas; Mary was born in 1902 in Louisiana; and Johnny was born in May, 1904 in Texas.

Mary died as an infant, and Johnny was a sickly child who lived less than 5 years.  Both children were buried in the Cemetery at Mt. Olive Baptist Church in Oak Grove (now Stanley, LA.).   Jesse and Laura had two more daughters, born after Johnny’s death.  Britt Annie “Shug” was born in 1910 and Minnie Ola in 1911 (both in Louisiana where the family had finally settled).  By then the older children had begun to marry, and establish their own families.  When Laura died in 1922, the dreams of returning to Tennessee were long forgotten.   Laura was buried beside the babies.

The widowed Jesse lived with his two youngest daughters, Britt Annie and Minnie Ola.  Several of the older children and their families lived nearby.  The Nunley families were highly respected, church-going people.  They were steady members of local Baptist and Pentecostal Churches.   

Jesse survived Laura by 7 years, dying in Aug., 1929 of injuries suffered in a car accident.  On a Saturday, Jesse, as was the custom among farmers, came into Logansport to visit and shop.  Finishing early, he decided to visit his daughter Britt Annie and see his youngest grandchild, Billy Ray Freeman.  He found a friend on his way to Haslam (across the Sabine River), and jumped onto the running board.  When he approached his destination, Jesse misjudged, and jumped off the running board before the car stopped.  He took a bad fall that led to his death.  

The stories of young Jesse’s alcohol-producing enterprises were closely held within the family.   The legend of the shoot-out and escape from Tennessee was passed by whispers within the family, lest scandal blight the family’s reputation.  The family was so successful in suppressing the stories that I truly do not know if Jesse ever practiced his knowledge of distillation in Louisiana or Texas.  I have never heard any rumors suggesting that he was a bootlegger, or that he drank.  His children, mostly teetotalers and all deceased, would be scandalized to know that I have publicly shared this story. 

The only potential traces of his past are buried in the stories of Jesse’s birthday celebrations.  Jesse was born on the 4th of July, and thus given a perfect opportunity for big birthday bashes.  Every year, on the 4th, the Nunley family hosted a big community party with barbeque, watermelons, and some say “strong liquor” of exceedingly high quality (secretly shared by the men).  The 4th of July birthday tradition (minus the “strong liquor”) has been kept alive by Jesse and Laura’s descendants, unto the 5th and 6th generations.  This year, on July 4, 2013, they will celebrate the 160th anniversary of “Black Jack” Jesse Claiborne Nunley’s birth.

Jesse and Laura had 12 children and approximately 60 grandchildren.  At this time, it is estimated that their descendants, who now include six generations, exceed 400.  Among their descendants are a dozen preachers of at least four denominations – Baptist, Pentecostal, Methodist, and Assembly of God.  They also include many talented musicians.  While these descendants know that Jesse and Laura had Cherokee ancestry, the extent and implications of their Cherokee bloodlines have only recently been revealed.

The story of Jesse and Laura’s Cherokee Ancestry and of the HIDDEN CHEROKEES is told in the following blog.

[1] I’m telling this story as I know it, in sincere hopes that others with additional information will contribute, so a more accurate version can be created. The secrets were so closely kept for so long, by so many that the truth is difficult to discern.
[2] There were two methods for distilling applejack brandy from apple cider – the traditional evaporation method, and freeze distillation, commonly called “Jacking.”  In freeze distillation, the cider is allowed to “freeze.”  The less alcoholic water freezes at higher temperatures than concentrated alcohol.  When the frozen “water” is removed from the liquid cider, the residual is more highly concentrated. 
[3] There is currently only one legal producer of applejack brandy in the U.S.  However, applejack brandy was the favorite drink of colonial America, and remained popular through the 17th, 18th, and 19th Centuries.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013


The History of Our Church 1876-1997

One Hundred and Twenty One Years of Methodism in Joaquin
Richard Wharton

            The Joaquin Methodist Church has had a continuous history since 1876, although it has not always been located at it’s present site.  This makes it the oldest church in Joaquin.

            The beginning of Methodism in our area was the organization of the Brookland Church.  It was located near the northeast corner of the Brookland Cemetery.  The land for the church was donated by the Brooks family.  The lumber for this church was contributed by Aunt Mary Brooks.

            At that time, the area was so thinly populated that the little church had difficulty making a go, both financially and in numbers.  The official board of the church decided to relocate nearer a center of population.  So the church building was moved to the southeast part of the county near the forks of a road.  One fork led to Shelbyville, the other to East Hamilton.  The church was called Harmony Methodist Church.

            In 1884, the church was moved back to the old Brookland site due to an increase in the population of that area.  That same year, the railroad was built from Shreveport to Houston, and a depot was established in what is now the town of Joaquin.  It was obvious that Joaquin was to be the new population center.

            In 1885, the official board purchased a plot in front of the present church building.  A church building was erected.  A row of cedars was planted along the walk leading to the entrance.  Some of the charter members of this church were:  Mr. and Mrs. Bob Crawford, Mr. and Mrs. Dick Brook, Mr. and Mrs. Cat Roger, Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Wade, and Mr. and Mrs. Tom Henry.  One of the first social events to take place in the church was the wedding of Dr. W. A. Ramsey and Miss Clara Short in 1885

            Because of a large increase in membership, the board decided to build a new building in 1904.  A site was purchased on the north side of the road.  This is the site where the present church now stands.  The road, which now runs in front of the church, was, at that time, the main road to Logansport.

            This new church was quite an improvement.  It ha two fronts, a peaked roof over one entrance and a steeple over the other.  The steeple housed the new church bell.  This bell rang out the good news of the Armistice at the end of World War I.  The historic bell is now mounted on a stand beside the Church.

            The 1904 building was weakened by a windstorm in 1921.  In that year, the second building on this site was erected.  In January, 1922, the Rev. John E. Green of Houston held the housewarming revival.  In spite of the weather, the house was filled each night and crowds overflowed into the aisles and along the walls.  Every available space, including the choir was filled.  The building was heated by wood heaters, and was quite comfortable.  Often though, the sermon would be interrupted by parishioners stoking the fire.  The pastor at that time was R. C Goens.

            The present church is the fourth in Joaquin, and the third on this site.  It was erected in 1951, and dedicated in 1961.  Methodist discipline requires that a church be totally free of debt before it can be dedicated.  This is not to be confused with consecration, which must be done before a worship service is held in the church. 

            The Joaquin Methodist Church became a full-time church in 1945.  Prior to that time, preaching was held every other Sunday.  The same system was in effect in the Joaquin Baptist Church.  As a result, the preaching dates were staggered so that there would be a service at one of the churches each Sunday.  There used to be a road on the north side of the railroad track from the depot to the Baptist Church.  After Sunday School, there would be a line of people going from one church to the other for preaching.

            When first organized, the Joaquin Methodist Church was known as, “The Methodist Episcopal Church, South.”  The original Methodist Church in America split over the question of slavery  In 1939, the three main branches of the Methodist Church throughout the United States united into, “The Methodist Church.”  This organization continued until 1962 when a union was formed with the Church of the Brethren and the Evangelical Church (two branches of Methodism which had remained separate due to language barriers).  The Brethren Church originally spoke German, and the Evangelical Church spoke Dutch.  The new organization was called the “United Methodist Church.”

            When a church has served a community for over 100 years, it becomes impossible to list all of its achievements.  A few of these however, should be recorded because of their importance to the larger community.

            First, each year the women of the Church hold a bazaar, offering to the public craft works, baked goods, and other useful articles.  The income from this bazaar is used for community and church projects not covered by the church budget.

            Second, in 1979, the church started, on a very small scale, a project which was intended to help needy travelers who came through Joaquin.  This meant supplying gas, food, and on occasion, lodging.  Gradually this work developed into an established, year-round program called “Christian Services.”  Eventually other churches in the community joined in this effort.  Gayle Samford has served as chairperson since its beginning.  She now has a yearly budget of about $3,000.  A good portion of this money is contributed by those who attend the annual community Thanksgiving Service held in the local high school auditorium.  The program is presented by the combined workers of the local churches.

            Just before Christmas, baskets of food, toys, school supplies, and other useful gifts are made up to be distributed to the needy of the community.  Workers from other churches join the workers at UMC to prepare and deliver these baskets.  In 1996, 54 baskets were distributed.

            The program still helps those in need who pass through our community.  In addition, throughout the year this program helps families with their utilities and children with clothes and school supplies.  It also pays for prescription medicines.  This work has helped the needy, and served as a catalyst to draw the local churches together.

            Third, the Joaquin Church joins the Paxton UMC each year for an Easter Sunrise Service.  This too has grown into a community-wide effort.  Judge and Mrs. Floyd Watson, members of the Paxton UMC, allow the Easter Worshipers to use their large gazebo and their home for this occasion.    

            Fourth, each month on the third Thursday, the Joaquin UMC has a birthday party at the Pine Grove Nursing Home (located near Center, TX, about 14 miles away).  The party honors the residents who celebrate their birthdays that month.  Those with birthdays are presented with a bag of assorted gifts, and everyone is served refreshments.  After a worship service of devotions, hymn singing, and prayer, the party closes by singing one stanza of “Bless Be the Tie that Binds.”

            Last year, when the church became aware that the Pine Grove Nursing Home did not have a public address system, it purchased one and presented it to the home.  Since there are many in the home who are hearing impaired, this system makes it possible for them to enjoy all the programs of the home.

            Finally, the Church is currently engaged in raising money to support a Church Scholarship Fund to aid deserving students in financing higher education.

            We know that God has guided us through these One Hundred and Twenty-one years, and we look forward to his continued guidance in years to come.

Written and Updated by
Richard Wharton
April 27, 1997