MARGARET MOTTER WRITING: Around 1865 in this Country

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel

[4 typewritten pages, images 07008 through 07011]

Margaret Motter recorded this story by an unnamed author who tells of the atrocities committed by Rebels and local people during the American Civil War. They were told to him by his grandfather Nolan, and Billy Shell. The narrative covers the following subjects:

Billy Shell ; P.M. Shell ; 1865 ; 1866 ; Virginia settlers ; Laurel Creek ; Greasy Creek ; Divide ; William Creech ; Nolan family ; early settlers ; land acquisition ; land speculation ; Bill Branch ; Middlesborough, KY ; Straight Creek ; corn ; meat ; bread baking ; food ways ; killing livestock ; revenge killings ; starvation ; Derm Hollow ; Civil War ; War Between the States ; Rebels ; guns ; Home Guard ; salt trace ; Jim Nolan ; Rob Nolan ; “Meat Rock” ; oxen ; wars ; guns ; camps ; torture ; Rebel raiders ; Winchester rifles ; prisoners ; war prisoners ; revenge ; horses ; hell hole ;



NOTE: The text has been slightly edited for readability.

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Around 1865 in This Country

[handwritten notation at top of page: “Billy Shell, Brother P.M., Nolan grandson”]

In 1865 there were very few people in this country. They were the first people to settle around here. They come from Virginia. No one own this land at that time so the first man came became the owner of as much land as he wanted. If I get it right Mr. Creech own most of the land around the school and next person was my grandfather who was a Nolan. His line started at the Divide at the head of Greese [sic] creek, covered both sides of the valley down Laurel to the mouth of Bill branch which is about 10 miles from Divide. There Shell’s line started and went on to mouth of Laurel and down Grease. So there was only three families own land. But as time went on, people come in and bought and settle down.

The people live fine at that time, nothing to bother them. They had to go to Middlesborough to get their sugar and things like that, but salt they could get it on salt trace on Straight creek to get salt 75 miles away.

The Rebels come through here on their way to Virginia. They come through about three times year. They didn’t care for the people or how they treated them. The people didn’t know they [were] coming through, but they had to be on the look out all the time. When it got dark they would stop at any one home for the night. They turn their horses in corn field all night. They take all the meat a person had. Maybe different groups would stop at different homes and ever’ thing that was useful to them they take it. Some times they kill a cow for one meal. They make women bake bread all night so they take it along the next day.

If they thought a man was their enemy they would kill all his live stock and take him or kill him. I’ll tell about that later.

The people decided they have to do something or they going to starve to death. They depended on meat mostly so they knew where a clift up a little hollow call Derm Hollow about 5½ miles from here. Here they took all their meat so it would be safe. Everyone around close took their meat there. They had it locked in so nothing could get in. This was the pot of gold because the Rebels had taken all guns and goods that the people had to live on.

One night a bunch of oxens was roaming around feeding in the mountain and they come up where the meat was. Because of salt being so very little in the country, people didn’t give their animals salt. They smelt the salt and broke through into the meat. There were 25 head of big steers and all the meat was pulled down to the ground. When all the steers go in and destroyed the meat and full of salt they wanted to get out so they pushed the little box out from under the clift. When Jim Nolan went for meat he saw what had happen so ever since the clift is called the “meat rock”.

My grandfather told me the nearest to death was during the Rebels time.

He said he sitting in house when he heard some one call. He started to the door and look out and saw a line of Rebels coming down the mountain. He call his father because he was old and they wouldn’t shoot him or take him along with them if they thought he wouldn’t against them. They told him to bring them water up and then to drink. My grandfather thought they might come down and look through the house so he goes out the back to get away. He got about 200 yards away from house when one saw him and shot at him.

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He kept going. Five started after to capture but he outrun them. He run as long as he could and decided to climb up in an old hollow tree trunk that had been broken off about 20 feet above the ground. He though it would be a safe place to be. He been there half hour and began to think they wouldn’t follow. Then he hear [them] say, he gone this way, less go little piece farther. They come up to the stub and sit down. They began to talk. One said, if we could only find him we make the last of him. They talk for [an] hour and then decided to go back to their party and go on. They said if we ever get a chance we kill him. My grandfather stayed in his hole till the night then he went to one of his uncle[s]. His father wondered about him, he didn’t know what had happen to him. He thought he was kill. He come home in [a] week and his father and mother was glad to see him.

His father told him if he hadn’t run they never known about him. He said they didn’t any come in but he had to carry water for two hours from them to [drink].

Most all men had to stay out in the woods to be safe. I was talking to Old Billy Shell. He said they had tooken his grandfather from home and started to take him with them and decided not to so they stop on top of the mountain to kill him some way. Some said to shoot him and other to choke him to death. Some said cut off pieces and let him die by degrees. The Leader said, “I know, cut a lot of those green brars and I’ll how you how to make away with this dam raskel who is against us.” They got the brars about a feet long. They pull off his clothing and one man hold of both arm and leg. Then they put the brars between his legs and began to pull back and forward. How he hollowed and went on but no help could he get. They got tired but he was almost gone. They laid him down and began to cut off pieces here and there. They said he hollowed too much so one cut off his tongue. His crying was over but how the punishment did hurt. He give it up and they build a big fire around him and left it burning.

Billy went up after they left and found what had happen. He put out the fire and brought his grandfather home all most to pieces. Billy said then he get some of them some day.

Billy and his brother was camping out in the woods. They got out of supply and Bill went to the house to get some. He rode the best horse and took no gun. He didn’t think about see[ing] them at this time. He had his load on the horse and starting back to their camp. He look down [the] road and seen the Rebels coming. They hollowed at him but he know it was death any way so he jump [on] his horse and started for his camp. As his horse being fast he got there before they did. His brother heard him coming and got their guns and met him. Bill said, they coming down there, less go.

They had to leave their fine horse and go on fast. Bill and his friends had got to back side of the fence when they come in sight. But they seen them and some took after them. Billy had a .38 Winchester and his brother had a .32 Winchester, both new guns and plenty of shells. Bill and his brother run for miles and stop to rest.

P.M., Bill’s brother, went on one ridge and Bill on the other. They didn’t want to be together when they met the Rebels because it was better for one to get kill than two. They left each other about [an] hour when Bill met them. Instead [of] Bill trying to get away he went back to look for them. He was a good shot and didn’t care for dying because they had kill his grandfather. Bill…

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…was waiting for them to get up closer to him and away from any big trees. He could see all of them just fine. What was there to do but do his best. He took good aim and fired down, fell two. He got the other three down. The last one he kill was the leader who kill his grandfather on the mountain. Bill wanted to go up and finish them then, but afraid to, because others might come when they heard the shooting. He waited but no one come to see about the shooting. He could hear them going on saying they was dying.

Bill took his gun in his hand and started toward them. They heard him but couldn’t raise up to do him any harm. He went up to all of them and took their gun. Then he began to decide what to do. They was begging to him to let them go, not kill them.

Billy look at the leader and said, you are the man who kill my grandfather on the mountain with green brars. The man said, no, no, but Bill said, you are and now you see where you are in my hands to finish you as I please. Bill began to think of his grandfather then he forgot he was living. He began to get up big pile of wood. He pull all the men up in pile, put the leader under the bottom so he couldn’t get out. One had died and he was to go on top of the pile. All in pile, Bill began to put the wood around, making ready to start the fire. They would hollow, beg, pray, but Billy keep on. He set the wood on fire, their clothes burned off of them. Then their flesh began to burn. One died at [a] time. The fire was burning too slow. Bill began to make the fire burn faster and put [a] lot of dry wood on and said, I’ll come back to see what has happen to you some time.

Bill took their guns and what they had and started for his camp. It was getting late. He [looked] down upon the camp and look to see if he could see any one but only one was in sight. He hid the guns he captured and ease down to the house.

Nothing was left. They had taken everything and left a bare house. He got his gun in his hand ready to shoot if any one was in the house. He went in and no one was there. The only thing he hated was the fine horse they had got.

He was afraid to spend the night so he thought about going down to his brother’s house and find out what had happen. He going down the road watching every step and expect to be kill any minute. All at once he heard a horse feet [sic] coming. He step behind a tree. The horse come up and stop beside the tree and Bill saw it was his horse who make its get away same as he had.

Both please to see each other again. Now what should Bill do? His horse here and he wanted to go down to the house. He was afraid to ride because of the noise the horse would make. He told the horse to go on up to the house and he did what he was told. Bill started on toward the house.

Before he got to the house he saw a light in the living room. It was ten o’clock in the night and he didn’t know what had happen at the house but he took his chance. He ease up to the window and looked in. There he seen his brother’s wife sitting on the bed getting ready for bed. He want to call and was afraid to. It happen she saw him and come to the window and told him they had gone. He went in and told her the story. She ask about her man. Bill told her he hadn’t seen him since that morning.

Bill ask what did they do about their men that never returned? Well, they said they get them if they ever come back through. She said, Bill, you know your horse run over three of the men and hurt them very bad. I thought they was kill but they took them along with them. They even shoot at the horse but he got away. Bill said, yes, I met him up there by hell hole and he went on to the camp.

Billy got some food and went back to the camp and his brother was there. They eat some and went out in the hills and went to sleep for they had a…

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…big day.

Next morning Billy wanted to go back where he had done his work. They started and in [an] hour they was there and Billy’s brother said, there they are, let them roast. That’s what all of them need and if we can, we get them all. Billy said, I’ve got five guns they had. Less get men and follow after them. They decided it would be a good thing to do. They rush back to camp to get ready. Billy went out and got some of his friend to take the guns he had captured.

Bill and his party was almost ready when a man come up in run [sic] he didn’t speak but said, the Rebels are here and killing about ever one. Bill ask, who [are you?] and he said, Rob Nolan, and they almost got me and I got away and here a hole through my ear where they shot at me. Bill said, less go back and look for them. Rob said, I have no gun. Bill said, here’s one and be sure you use it.

Billy call the captain; in front, of twenty brave men started. They rode six miles. What did they see. A man with his face to an old apple tree and rope around him from head to feet. Billy and his men rode up and got off their horse and looked at Nolan. He was full of holes from head to feet. They took him down and took him to his home. Everyone gone and house turn up side down. They put the riddled body on the floor and left a note and P.M. has it now.

Bill and his men went on to get the men who had done such a crime but they never did get up with them and that was the last time any Rebel traveled through here.