We Just Wanted to be Left Alone

Park Ranger Sherry Fritschi portrays Lizzy Waters in this Civil War skit of Big South Fork area stories.
Meet Lizzy Waters, a fictitious lady who lived in Big South Fork country during the Civil War. She has "stories that will make your skin crawl because they are the truth as best I can recall." This program commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, which began in 2011. It covered events that actually took place on or near the land that became Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

The purpose of this skit is to show how the Civil War affected many people's lives, not just folks living in the vicinity of the large battlefields. Skirmishes and guerrilla warfare happened in remote areas and devastated families and their property.

Moon-shining was a common means of making money from corn. The skills involved in distilling were often passed down from father to son. Because it was a part of the culture and folklore on the Cumberland Plateau, I thought it was important to include information about it in the dialogue.

This skit can be specifically adapted for a particular location. With research, local stories and events can be "plugged in" to create a program about your town, community or park.

Park Ranger Sherry Fritschi presents her program at Storytelling Festival September 17, 2011.
By Sherry Fritschi

Hey, you're not from around here, are you?

Have you come a fair piece? Don't mind if you set a spell on my porch. My name is Lizzy Waters. I don't get much company down in this holler. On days when I can smell the mash cooking, some fellas will pass by on their way to my brother's hidey hole to buy some corn squeezins. It's over yonder inside a cave in the cliff. Shhh! Don't you tell nobody. Since 1909, it's been against the law to make alcohol in Tennessee, but you don't look like you're heading that way anyhow. Too bad, it's good for whatever ails you.

This used to be a busy place. Back then, most people lived here on farms and grew their own corn, beans and potatoes. Womenfolk made homespun clothes. About the only things you had to buy was salt, sugar, coffee and gunpowder. Why, there was even a gristmill where you could catch up on the news while your corn was being ground. But it's gone, all gone.

Did you happen to travel through Jamestown, Tn. on your way here? It's got some lovely new stone buildings but during the war, you know, the war between the states, it was a dismal, ramshackle place. Now I know you've heard tell about that peculiar man John Muir who walked a thousand miles through the wilderness, but did you know that he passed right through Jamestown, TN, after the war in '67? He called it an incredibly dreary place with many empty houses whose owners had been killed or driven away during the war.

That war changed everything forever. Boys and men was killed for nothing. Them that are buried around here, their graves are marked with fieldstones. Already the trees and vines are taking over. Livestock was stolen, crops destroyed and houses burned. The lucky folks escaped with their lives and the clothes on their back. Oh my, it's been over 50 years ago, yet it seems like yesterday. I seen and heard things I ain't never gonna forget, no matter how hard I try. And we just wanted to be left alone.

Most folks around here sided with the Union. Now I know you youngins are all excited about them new fangled flying machines and their brave pilots. Well, did you know that some men from here abouts was called pilots during the war? They guided men through the mountains to Kentucky to join up with the Union.

Other folks sided with the rebels. There was neighbor against neighbor, and families all torn apart because their men was sitting on opposite sides of the fence. They all went off to fight the war, leaving behind women, children and old folks to defend their homes. No telling when some Confederate guerrillas might attack a Union sympathizer's family or Union bushwackers go after a rebel's kin. A girl or boy was sometimes used as a lookout. Poor child would hide and watch for strangers approaching, then whoop out a warning, and hi-tail it home before getting caught.

I can tell you stories, stories that will make your skin crawl because every word's the gospel truth as best I can recall.

Take the Tackett boys who lived with an old woman in a cabin near the head of Station Camp Creek. One day the old woman saw rebels a coming through the woods. She had to think real fast because she knew them rebels would take them half grown boys away and make soldiers out of them. She done the best she knew how. She had them boys lie under the feather tick. Then she laid down on top of them. She took to bed, pretending to be too sick to move. It must have seemed like forever waiting for them rebels to leave, but finally they was gone. She leaped up and threw back the covers…… It was too late. Them boys had smothered to death under the feather mattress. Guess they should have gone for soldiers. At least they would have had a fighting chance!

Now let me introduce you to my cousin Miss Julia Marcum. I keep her picture close by as a constant reminder to be kind to people cause you never know what hell they've been through. Here, pass it among you and have a closer look. You ain't seeing things. Oh, the badge on her dress is a GAR badge. That stands for Grand Army of the Republic, an organization you can only join if you fought on the Union side during the war. She's real proud to have her story told. It all happened when Julia was sixteen years old. At 2:00 in the morning, Confederates surrounded her house and threatened to burn it down with the family inside, all because they sided with the Union. The rebels didn't know that Mr. Marcum was hiding in the barn. Julia grabbed an ax on her way upstairs to get a candle. Good thing she done that because as soon as she turned her back, a rebel come inside and followed her up the stairs. Julia was fighting mad by now and used all her might to hack away at his face with the ax. The soldier screamed, "Don't chop me no more." Then he struck her in the forehead and eye with his bayonet and shot a finger off her hand. When her daddy heard the commotion, he stormed into the house and shot the soldier. He fell down the stairs and died in a pool of blood. Being the good folks they was, the Marcums let the rebels come get their fallen comrade, but only after promising to leave the family alone. And they did, for awhile. You see, the Marcums moved out of the house and a cousin moved in. Two years later, confederates came back, killed the cousin and burned down the house. So much for promises.

After the war, Julia taught school for twelve years, but the war wounds was festering so bad, she had to quit teaching. She sent a petition to Congress asking them to grant her a pension since she couldn't work no more. In 1884, through a special act of congress, Julia became the only woman to receive a US pension for civil war service -- $35 a month! I guess you could say good things come to them who wait, but what a price to pay.

Lot of folks around here was just minded their own business when the war broke out. Take the Burks for example. They was an old couple who lived below the mouth of Parched Corn Creek. One afternoon, confederate guerrillas kicked in the door of their cabin and made Mrs. Burk cook dinner for them. You see, they was planning on spending the night and hanging a prisoner from an apple tree in her yard in the morning. The rebels didn't know they was being watched by a group later known as the Scott County Home Guard, led by none other than Hutt Burk, a relative of the family. He told his men, "You can shoot through the windows and shoot through the doors, but don't you hurt my relatives." The Burks was nearly scared to death but somehow managed to survive. The rebels wasn't so lucky. One managed to escape home, but seven of them was killed. They're buried together in one big grave at the Burk farm. Their captain drowned in the river by that Big Island.

You might be wondering what happened to the prisoner they was going to hang. He was shot and killed during the skirmish. That might have been a faster, kinder way to die than by hanging. Besides, an apple tree's far too lovely a thing of nature to be blemished by such a senseless act. You know darn well, the mommas of that pack of sorry men taught them boys better.

I can't talk about the war without mentioning that some of General Burnside's Union troops marched right through No Business on their way to Knoxville, in the summer of 1863. That old dusty road never saw such action. It was a sight to behold! For two days the soldiers kept coming, hauling wagons and cannon. All the horses were in matched pairs of browns, blacks, and blazed faces. People stood along the road waving flags and cheering. Woman handed them food and water, farmers said "pitch your tents in my fields." I guess you older folks recall how things turned out, but you youngins might not know that General Burnside's men took Knoxville without firing a shot! Now mind you, that was in 1863. The war wasn't near over. And the raiding parties through the Big South Fork communities continued a while longer. It finally diminished and faded away like the mist in the mountains on a cool spring morning.

Ah heck, isn't life funny? Way back then, we just wanted to be left alone to live in peace and quiet. Now from what I hear, there's a war raging across the ocean that's getting the whole world involved. I guess nobody is truly alone anymore. Who knows what the future holds but I'll be watching and listening from right here on my front porch. Nothing can be as bad as the war I remember. I'm sorry, didn't mean to keep you so long. Surely you have something better to do than listen to an old woman reminisce about the war. Now you mosey on down the road. Say, if you happen upon a tall thin bearded man walking with a cane made from a twisty vine, that's my brother Ben. Could you kindly let him know my jug's getting low? Sometimes a little nip chases away demons and helps a body sleep at night. I've truly enjoyed our visit. Y'all can stop by anytime. Lord willing, I'll be sitting here on my porch awhile longer.

You take care now.

Last updated: February 23, 2016

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