Please welcome guest author Gary Greene. Greene is a storyteller, singer, songwriter and historian who is currently a part-time clerk at Etowah Indian Mounds in Cartersville, GA. He has performed from North Carolina to Texas, and in between. The Rome [GA] News Tribune has called him ‘a walking history book of Appalachian and Cherokee lore.’ Greene has a great love and respect for the culture of Appalachia and the history of the Cherokee.
My father, Isaac, was born in the mountains of East Tennessee. He didn’t talk about his father except to tell me that he died, too young, from sleeping sickness in the nineteen thirties. Dad was born Isaac Allen Green on February 14, 1914 to John and Hannah Shultz Green. He never spoke of his grandfather. Now, at 61 years of age, I may have finally figured out why.
A few weeks ago, a Facebook page from Sevierville, TN helped me put together my family puzzle by providing me with the missing pieces. I won’t mention their names because I am not sure they want to be named in this article. It has been over a hundred years, yet today it remains a very sensitive issue. The subject still brings fear and loathing to so many different families around the mountains of Sevierville.
My great-great grandfather was Newton (Newt) Green. Along with his cousin, West Hendricks, they murdered their uncle Aaron McMahan. Aaron was married to the sister of James Green, who was Newt’s father, and who was also the sister of West Hendricks’ mother.
Aaron McMahan’s daughter had been accused of adultery. During the middle of the night, she was taken out of her bed in her bedclothes by a group of masked vigilantes called the White Caps. Aaron had expressed how cowardly it was for a group of grown men to beat a defenseless woman. This news reached the White Caps, of which Green and Hendricks were members.
More than likely they were the ones who had beaten his daughter. I don’t know if they were chosen to deal with the situation or they just did it on their own. In Wear’s Valley, along Little Cove, they ambushed McMahan, his son, and his son-in law. All were wounded but McMahan, receiving the worst of it, died in agony ten days later, vowing it was his nephews Newt and West who had done the deed. I was shocked to realize I had finally found the proverbial genealogy skeleton in my closet.
I had heard tell about my Dad making and running moonshine during the Depression. It did not set well with the Worthington’s (my mother’s family, who were poor sharecroppers from Cassville, GA). But my Dad admitted to being an alcoholic. He quit drinking in 1950, the year my parents were married. But I still remember the summer visits when my uncle Will would bring a quart of shine to ask my dad if it was as good as they made during the 30’s. Dad screwed off the lid to smell it. He replaced the lid tight, turned it upside down and counted the bubbles. He related to my uncle Will that it was such and such proof and that it was real good shine. There is an art to making moonshine I learned that day.
My dad Isaac was in the CCC in the late 30’s, early 40’s. He helped pave the road from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, as well as the famous loop around beautiful Cades Cove. He fought in WWII. He spent four years in the Army plus an additional four years in the Army Air Corp (later to become the Air Force). I am sure he killed Germans. He was a cook and he worked in field artillery.
He would talk about them leading the aim of the cannon way ahead of the German airplanes, and watch the planes as they would crash into the shells. He would then grow silent. He did not enjoy the memories of the war. My dad was a hero to me. Silent and stoic, he used words sparingly so as not to give too much away. It is hard to believe his grandfather was an out & out murderous real outlaw. A member of the criminal vigilantes called the White Caps.
I posted the photo of Newt and West in handcuffs. I mentioned to my son that he favored him. My son James (Jamie) was not amused. He told me he really had a problem finding out that he and I had a relative that was a murderer. It is hard for us to accept. We have always been peaceful people. It is a just a fact of life in genealogy: you may unearth family skeletons.
Be forewarned, I am not proud of parts of my family history. American history is filled with family feuds. The most notable, I think, would be the Hatfields and the McCoys. I may have my own opinion on vigilante justice, which would not be approved by some of my ancestors, I am sure.
I bought a book called The White Caps : A History Of The Organization In Sevier County, by E.W. Crozier. Page 114 describes the arrest of great-great grandfather Newton (Newt) Green. Deputy Sheriff Tom Davis followed the boys and ultimately they were surrounded in a cotton gin in Texas along the Red River. Newt was the first arrested. The deputy sheriff Lynch told him he was wanted in Texarkana. Newt hung his head a moment and said, “Hell, I’ve heard that tale before but we ain’t done nothing at Texarkana. I guess, by God, Tom Davis wants us in Tennessee. He glanced over at the other 2 officers and said “Hello Tom, by God you got your mustached blacked, but I know you. “
After being handcuffed together and headed back to New Boston, TX, Newt and West started singing “Take me back to Tennessee ; there let me live and die.” It had taken Deputy Sheriff Tom Davis 8 months to track them down. In the book, they were referred to as “wily offenders” and “ slick ducks.” The pair had avoided many traps before they were finally captured.
I accept my family history, as I have had to do with so many other things in history. Sometimes you just don’t agree with it, but yet it happened. If I don’t report it someone else will. I know everyone says if you search deep, long and wide, you’re gonna find out things you never really wanted to know. And they are right in this case.
Diligence is a way of life for the ladies who have helped me uncover this branch of my family history. I would not be writing this article if not for their help. So, many thanks to Donna Moncy Allen, Doris Noland Parton, and Sherry Whaley. During this search, we actually found out that we were related. It was really great finding more relatives still in the Sevierville area. I hope to return to the genealogy department soon to learn more about the lives and stories of my Smoky Mountain ancestors.