By Ray Knapp
The last remaining store to stay open in Flag Pond, Tennessee, shuffled from owner to a new owner for 70 or 80 years and even had my name on it at one time, when I convinced the owner (Frank Braswell) to let me try it.
The store had everyday staples for the dining table, dog and livestock feed and some hardware. Meat scales from an unprofitable dabble in deli meat still sat atop a cooler I used for ready-made sandwiches; it came in handy for weighing ginseng that local boys grubbed from the hillsides. Not that they didn’t trust the dealers they sold this root to, (prized by Asians as a cure-all) but they didn’t trust their scales.
Though I didn’t make any money in this venture of running the store, I enjoyed getting to know most of the people that lived in and around Flag Pond. I especially enjoyed listening to the tales – some true; some maybe embellished a little, by the loafers that would sit at a table, near the coffee pot, for an hour or two.
There was one man, born in Madison County, North Carolina, who invariably said, Madison, Bloody Madison, whenever someone spoke of that county in North Carolina, which borders Unicoi County. I asked him if Madison County had a family feud, like the Hatfield and McCoys going on. He filled me in on the reason for that name. “There’s a marker out there on Hwy 212 that tells about it back during the Civil War. Five of them that got shot have the same last name as me, ‘Shelton’; I’ve heard some of them were my direct relatives, and some that were shot were just young’uns.”
On a rare day off, my wife and I drove over to Hot Springs. On the way, I spotted the historical marker about the massacre. It read, “Confederate soldiers killed 13 men and boys suspected of Unionism.” I can see why they called it a massacre, there was no proof whether they were Union sympathizers, or not.
According to the “Old Timers” people in the mountains of western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee, were for the most part poor, eking out a living on hardscrabble farms, and didn’t own slaves. They wanted no part of the war, but the Confederates started conscripting men, and they rebelled in any way they could.
One of the Old Timers, Ralph Sams, had ancestors that moved here about 1800. He was 94 when I last saw him in the late 1990s. He said his great grandpa did own a few slaves that helped work his farm up Sams’ Creek, about a mile south of Flag Pond. When the war was over, he told them, they were free to go. He was a little surprised when every one of them left, and not one came back. “After all,” Ralph continued, “They had lived here all their life. …”
I guess my recalling all of this was due to a graveside service in the Upper Higgins Creek Cemetery, Flag Pond, earlier this month where I talked with several friends that I hadn’t seen in years.
At the upper part of the cemetery, sitting some distance from the other graves is a headstone of native rock. Used to, my wife and I visited the cemetery occasionally, as she knew many people buried there. When we went, she would pick some flowers from our yard and put at this grave. “It looks so lonely, all by its self,” she explained.
Mentioning this at the store, Charles Harris, told her – according to his Dad, it was the grave of a Black girl. Just why she was buried there instead of at the Sams’ cemetery with other slaves, he didn’t know. Knowing this rather drew my wife closer to this gravesite, and now, she generally has tears in her eyes when she places flowers there.
Tears for the dearly departed are still shed at funerals. However, at country services, the churchwomen bring their specialty dish and following the committal, a scrumptious buffet served in the fellowship hall makes it more like a family reunion filled with many memories from days gone by.