Book Excerpt: ‘Black Blue Bloods’

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 25, 2014

Christopher E WilliamsPlease welcome guest author Christopher Emil Williams. Williams has recently published Black Blue Bloods — Legacy of an African American Plantation Owner, the true story of a freed South Carolina slave who at the age of 33 bought his own 700-acre plantation. “I wanted to be the first with a story like this, it is real and it’s my own family story,” said Williams, who already has a contract for a documentary movie. And if you’re near Spartanburg, SC today, join the Spartanburg County Historical Association from 12:30-1:30 pm as it hosts Williams in the west conference room at Chapman Cultural Center for a Lunch & Learn event. Williams will discuss his new book and the journey of discovery that led him to write it. Tickets will be available at the door: $5 for entrance to the event or $15 for the event and lunch. Visit to purchase in advance, or reserve at Spartanburg Regional History Museum in person or by phone at (864) 596-3501.


I was raised as a child in Fountain Inn, SC on my grandparents’ 100-acre farm. The farm is part of a village-like area of relatives, extended relatives and close friends called “The Mt. Carmel Community.” My family moved away when I was about age 4.

When I came back after finishing college, I continued to document my family history. In search of that sense of family and identity, I did extensive research based on oral history and actual courthouse documents that dated back to the late 1700’s.

Black Blue Bloods cover

Records show that the farm I lived on as a child was only five miles away from a 575 acre plantation my great-great grandfather owned. Believing my family was poor, it was a big surprise to me to learn that family members still owned some of this land today.

My great-great grandparents, Mack & Caroline Saxon [shown on the book cover], were some of the richest people, black or white, in this region at that time. Not only did they race horses, they owned over a dozen businesses including a fairground, built a Julius Rosenwald school and Mount Carmel AME Church, had sharecroppers and servants, and have a surprising connection to the Kennedy family. What was supposed to be a 25-50 page pamphlet to be given out at reunions about the family history, has become a historical account called Black Blue Bloods — Legacy of an African American Plantation Owner.


From Black Blue Bloods:

Some of the Saxons thought they owned Mount Carmel AME Church, like my great uncle Andrew. He was nicknamed Cap and his wife Lizzie was called Sis. Even though their home was farthest from the church, they often walked to Mount Carmel every Sunday.

Cap was one of the most head strong and opinionated of the Saxons and after service or any church event he would always have to give everyone his opinion. Cap and Lizzie lead the choir in singing all the hymnals. As Annie Saxon Williams said, “The piano player always sounded like she had a bunch of cats walking across the keys! The singing wasn’t much better either because Aunt Lizzie and Cap sang like two crows!” She said the ones that could sing the least always sang the loudest.

Cap always wanted to be the big boss. He always had to voice his opinion about what he did and didn’t know. In the AME church the bishop is over each state and the presiding elder controls each district in the state. Elder Robinson was the new presiding elder at the time and when you get a new presiding elder this person would visit the churches in his district.

Clyde and Maggie Fowler Saxon, the author’s grandparents. Photo courtesy the author.

Clyde and Maggie Fowler Saxon, the author’s grandparents. Photo courtesy the author.

During this visit the presiding elder came to what the church called quarterly conference and at the conference certain reports were given. Cap was like the boss of the church and he did not know Elder Robinson and Elder Robinson didn’t know him. One of the members was giving their quarterly report and when reports were given the presiding elder would say if the report was acceptable or if it needed to be amended.

The one instance while a report was being given and the elder was responding, Cap jumps up and starts arguing with the elder. In front of God and the church they argue back and forth for at least five minutes. The presiding elder sat there patiently but after a while he had enough of Cap. As Annie Saxon Williams would say, “It’s hard to remember all the words to the argument. But I do remember him saying to Cap, you might be the old barn yard rooster but Mr. Saxon if you mess with me I’ll pluck your feathers!”

That’s the first time in the history of Mount Carmel that the congregation saw Cap shut up and be at a loss for words. It kind of startled Cap in a way and everyone wanted to laugh. Cap had never been talked to that way before by anyone. Cap knew Elder Robinson didn’t take any stuff and he met his match.

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New documentary ‘Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West’ releases

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 24, 2014

Kent Masterson BrownPlease welcome guest author Kent Masterson Brown. Brown is the President of Witnessing History, LLC, a Lexington, Kentucky company that produces documentary films on American history for public and cable television. He has practiced law for more than forty years; he has written six award-winning books on the Civil War; and, since 2007, has produced, written, hosted and directed six award-winning documentary films. Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West is his seventh film.


Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West takes you back in time to the battleground that was the Kentucky frontier; it traces the life of Daniel Boone from his birth near Reading, Pennsylvania in 1734, through his years in Kentucky and to his death in St. Charles County, Missouri in 1820. Against the backdrop of the American Revolution, Daniel Boone explores an ordinary man living in extraordinary times who was destined to settle and defend the beautiful, but often fiercely unforgiving, wilderness of Kentucky that became known as “the dark and bloody ground.”

DB Cover 2

Born and raised in central Kentucky, I was introduced to Daniel Boone as a very young boy. That introduction grew into a keen interest as I grew older. When I first entered the film business in 2007, I resolved to produce a film on the life of Daniel Boone. I always wanted to write a biography of the famed frontiersman, but too many biographies of him were published in recent years. After producing six documentary films, mostly on aspects of the Civil War, I determined in 2011 to produce the next one on Daniel Boone.

I initially planned the production after actor/historian Scott New agreed to portray Daniel Boone and Billy Heck, the historian at Wilderness Road State Park in Ewing, Virginia, agreed to have the action scenes filmed at the park’s re-created Martin’s Station (the most authentic reconstruction of a frontier fortified station in America) and to provide much of the supporting cast. Daniel Boone was, from the beginning, planned as a two-hour production. I applied for and obtained an initial grant which financed the start of the production. It was sizeable, but it would not last long for a film the size of Daniel Boone.

As writer and producer, I took more than five months to research and compose the script, using a vast array of sources, including the papers of Daniel Boone collected by the Boone Society, Inc. An enormous number of Boone documents, portraiture and imagery were needed for use in the production. To obtain them, at least thirty manuscript repositories and art collections were singled out for imagery to illustrate the production.

A-The Whole Crew

Original Boone documents from the Filson Historical Society Collections, the Draper Manuscript Collections at the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Kentucky Historical Society and many held by private collectors were planned for inclusion throughout the production. Every known portrait of Boone, along with a vast number of paintings of Boone’s exploits, Cherokee and Shawnee warriors and frontier life were tapped for inclusion. At least thirty paintings from three of the most popular contemporary artists of frontier America – David Wright, Robert Griffing and John Buxton – were singled out for use in the production.

My production company, Witnessing History, LLC, had to license all of the documents and illustrations, a mammoth task given the number of images necessary for a two-hour production. After all, images must change on the screen every four to six seconds. It was an exhausting task that occupied my time from the beginning of the production in the summer of 2011 all the way through June 2014!

The filming of action scenes of Boone’s early explorations of Kentucky, his first attempt at settlement, the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals, the opening of the Wilderness Road, the Revolutionary War in Kentucky and the Ohio Valley (including the sieges of Boonesborough, Ruddle’s Station and Bryan’s Station and the disastrous Battle of Blue Licks), and Boone’s later life as a surveyor, tavern keeper and even a legislator in Virginia were planned.

More than 100 actors and actresses were specially contacted to appear. The production was designed to be studded with magnificent scenes filmed in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky and Missouri, as Boone would have seen them, the traces, caves, springs, rivers, creeks, hills, and even dwellings and cemeteries.

Kent 4

The planned re-enactment of the Siege of Boonesborough at Fort Boonesborough State Park in Kentucky on September 24, 2011 provided the first opportunity for filming. There, a sizeable group of living history enthusiasts who portrayed Shawnee warriors was in attendance, and Park Superintendent Bill Farmer made the arrangements for them to work with me. The day was beautiful. I brought two camera crews with me for the filming session. Four hours of battle scenes, using only Shawnee warriors, were filmed in the woodlands not far from the site of the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough.

What was filmed then would be used throughout the production; footage from that filming session is found in the scenes of the death of James Boone, the battle at Twitty’s Fort, the death of Edward Boone, stealth attacks in Kentucky in 1780, the 1782 invasion of Kentucky and the Battle of Blue Licks. I tried to envision each segment of the script where Native American Warriors were discussed and then film all that might be needed. That was taxing.

Some scenes were serendipitous. As we were leaving, we walked past a re-enactor who portrayed a settler. I called for him to lie down near a woodlot as though he were dead, and then grabbed one of the more vicious-looking warriors. Then and there we filmed the scene of the scalping of Edward Boone!

Scenes of the defenses of Boonesborough, Bryan’s Station and Ruddle’s Station, along with scenes of Boone’s first attempt at settlement in 1774 and the death of his son, James (portrayed by Ryan Teague), were filmed at and around the site of Martin’s Station in the Wilderness Road State Park near Ewing, Virginia on November 12, 2011. Billy Heck made all the arrangements and enlisted all of the actors and actresses.

Some came from as far as Colorado; others came from Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Kentucky. I arrived at Middlesboro, Kentucky with two camera crews the night before. Arising at 3:30 a.m. with breakfast at 4:00 a.m., scenes of Cumberland Gap and the Cumberland Mountains were filmed at 4:45 a.m., the break of dawn.

At Wilderness Road State Park, makeup was applied to the actors and actresses at 5:30 a.m. and the filming of action scenes began there at 6:30 a.m., after we arrived. I directed the scenes, aided at every step by Billy Heck, who oversaw the preparation of each set before I and the cameramen – and actors and actresses – assembled to begin filming. Because of Billy’s attention to detail, the filming proceeded like clockwork.

camera pics 173

It was at the November 2011 filming session, then, that Scott New first portrayed Daniel Boone in the production. Scott was perfect; he had Daniel Boone’s build and Boone’s hair color. He also wore his hair clubbed up as Boone did. Moreover, Scott had another attribute: he portrayed Boone professionally, and had an intimate knowledge of Boone’s life and even Boone’s means of expression.

Maggie Teague was selected to portray Rebecca Boone and Danny Hinton was tapped to portray John Finley that morning. Maggie Teague was a perfect Rebecca Boone. She had jet black hair like Rebecca did, and Maggie was knowledgeable of Rebecca Boone’s story.

She looked and acted like Rebecca. Maggie Teague also served as the makeup artist. Scenes of John Finley’s meeting with Boone in front of a fireplace and the first exploration of Kentucky by Boone’s and Finley’s party in 1769 were filmed, along with scenes of life in the frontier forts and stations during the early years of Kentucky’s settlement.

Battle scenes were filmed in Martin’s Station in November 2011 too. The footage of the fighting in the blockhouses of the fort is positively gripping; it is so life-like that the viewer believes he/she is witnessing the actual events as they unfolded. The scene where actor Chase Pipes is wounded while fighting in a blockhouse is stunning. There were sixteen actors and actresses in that blockhouse, firing, loading and passing unloaded rifles to the rear and loaded ones to those at the loopholes.

Smoke filled the room. When the filming of that scene ended, everyone was out of breath, so involved in the action were they. I told the cast that they would never experience a closer feeling of what it was like defending a fortified station on the frontier than what they had just done. Everyone was breathless.

The women walking to the spring to obtain water for the garrison at Bryan’s Station was filmed, as was the striking scene of the deaths of James Boone and Henry Russell. There were so many battle scenes that I walked around the site all day with not only the script and clipboard in my hands, but a vial of stage blood, the contents of which I remember applying liberally to numerous actors. It seemed as though everybody was bleeding! After more than thirteen hours of filming, my camera crews and I packed up and left for Lexington in the darkness.


Daniel Boone’s birthplace, his grandfather’s home and the Exeter Friends Meeting House attended by the Boones were filmed near Reading, Pennsylvania on January 12, 2013 using camera crews with whom I contracted in Reading, Pennsylvania. Filmed in mid-February 2012 were the homes of Nathan Boone (where Daniel Boone died) and Jemima Boone Callaway (where Rebecca Boone died) and Daniel and Rebecca Boone’s grave sites in St. Charles County, Missouri.

One of the delightful occurrences was the filming by the Video Department at Lindenwood University of those Boone sites in St. Charles County, Missouri. The students actually volunteered their time and services…and they did a magnificent job.

The task of raising capital continued. I obtained sponsorships from several convention and visitors’ bureaus. That helped, but much more would be needed. Back to the telephone I went. I had some luck, but the process of raising capital is always so difficult and, more often than not, discouraging.

Scenes of Scott New portraying Daniel Boone as a tavern keeper in Limestone, Kentucky and as a member of the Virginia Legislature were filmed at the restored eighteenth century tavern at Leslie Morris Park and at the Old State Capitol in Frankfort, Kentucky using two cameras in February 2012. The most memorable scene filmed that snowy day was Boone as a tavern keeper. I could only imagine how Boone felt being confined to a tavern and general store.

Scott New portrayed Boone as I believe he really must have been at that stage of his life, a man confined, and who yearned to wander. A week later, scenes were filmed of the Kentucky River palisades by me and one cameraman during a snowfall. Also filmed was the reconstructed Ford Harrod at Harrodsburg, the pioneer burial ground nearby and at the gravesites of Daniel and Rebecca Boone in Frankfort.

Kent 3

On March 31, 2012, we filmed the palisades of the Kentucky River between Madison and Jessamine Counties while aboard a pontoon boat, a twenty-mile journey. The crew reached the site of Tapp’s Cave, one of three caves believed to have been occupied by Boone during his solitary explorations in 1770 and 1771. It was my first visit to Tapp’s Cave, even though it is very near my home. To get there we had to travel on the river beneath one of the largest nesting areas of blue herons in America; it was absolutely breathtaking.

Hundreds of blue herons flew overhead as we drifted downstream. The cave was filmed, as were all the approaches to it. Filming continued on a pontoon boat three weeks later; we journeyed then from the mouth of Hickman Creek to the mouth of the Dix River, a thirty-mile journey. It was a spectacular trip, and the footage is remarkable.

Back to fundraising I went. It is almost impossible to put into words the effort. So many times appeals were rejected. Other times the prospective sponsor wanted to “think about it.” I had no time to waste. Only rarely did I find a person who had a keen interest. I inched along, day after day, on the telephone and using email, constantly trying to raise funds. My fundraising time was shared with the time spent scouring through images and obtaining licenses to use them.

I had to continue the production. Three camera crews accompanied me when I returned to Wilderness Road State Park near Ewing, Virginia on May 12, 2012. There, a major revolutionary war re-enactment was to take place. Joining us were Scott New and Danny Hinton.

Scenes of the British and Native American attacks upon Boonesborough, Bryan’s Station and Ruddle’s Station, as well as scenes of Boone with John Finley on Braddock’s expedition and being adopted by Chief Blackfish were filmed. Boone and his hunting party at what became known as Lulbegrud Creek and in the Kentucky cane breaks were also filmed there. Over 200 re-enactors were on hand.

Artist and good friend, David Wright, joined us for the filming of the Lulbegrud Creek scenes. Much of the laughter you hear on the soundtrack with the scene is Wright’s and my own. The whole scene was humorous, largely because Danny Hinton (portraying John Finley), who informs Boone that he killed two Brobdignabs at Lulbegrud, spoke with such a funny twang that everyone burst into laughter, including Danny!


Two camera crews accompanied me for the filming of scenes at the site of Bryan’s Station, Boone’s log cabin at Brushy Fork near Carlisle, Kentucky, the Buffalo Trace at Blue Licks, the Crossing of the Licking River at Blue Licks and Stony Creek on a very hot August 18, 2012.

Battle scenes were filmed that day at the reconstructed Tanner’s Station, and about thirty Native Americans, along with the recreated Butler’s Rangers, about twelve in number, led by Dr. Harold R. Raleigh who portrayed Captain William Caldwell, re-enacted for our cameras scenes of the Battle of Blue Licks. Dr. Raleigh is first class, and his recreated Butler’s Rangers are superb.

They came to Blue Licks that day so they could help in the filming. They did that…and more. Because the original Butler’s Rangers actually came from New York, we would have had a very difficult time finding a recreated unit of that command in Kentucky. Raleigh and his men, on their own, made it possible.

On September 30, 2012 two camera crews returned with me to Wilderness Road State Park in southwest Virginia for the third time to film some of the final scenes of Daniel Boone. Up very early, we drove from Lexington all the way to Ewing, Virginia, arriving there just after dawn. Nearly forty actors and actresses from all over the country were on hand, including Scott New, Danny Hinton, Maggie Teague, and Andy Thomas, who was selected that day to portray Daniel Boone in Missouri.

The Siege of Boonesborough, Daniel Boone’s treason trial (a masterpiece portrayal by Scott New), the treaty negotiations at Sycamore Shoals (with Billy Heck portraying Judge Richard Henderson), Boone and his hunting party at Pilot Knob, Boone being interviewed by John Filson (portrayed by Andrew Stern) and then by portrait painter Chester Harding (portrayed by Tracy Rollins), the death of Israel Boone at the Battle of Blue Licks and even scenes of Rebecca and Daniel Boone’s final years and deaths in Missouri were filmed.

When I arrived that day, I wondered how we were going to film Daniel Boone as an older man. We got the filming underway; it was performed like clockwork. I then noticed Andy Thomas. He had been working with us over the past two filming sessions at Wilderness Road State Park. I stopped him and took a long look at him. “You are an older version of Scott New!” I said. Why I hadn’t noticed him before, I don’t know, but, from there on, Andy played a terrific Daniel Boone in Missouri. After more than thirteen hours of filming, we packed up and returned to Lexington.

On December 1, 2012 two camera crews joined me to film scenes along the Kentucky River near the site of the reconstructed Fort Boonesborough of Daniel Boone’s explorations of Kentucky, cutting the Wilderness Road, the death of Edward Boone, Boone’s escape from the Shawnee in June 1778, Boone being found by Kasper Mansker singing alone in the woods, defending Twitty’s Fort, and naming Dreaming Creek, as well as Boone as a surveyor.

About ten living history actors joined Scott New and Danny Hinton, including Bill Farmer, the Park Superintendent. In fact, Bill helped put the cast together. One of the scenes filmed then was Boone receiving the message demanding the surrender of Fort Boonesborough. Scott New’s impromptu performance is as believable as it is memorable.

Finally, central Kentucky scenery that remains unchanged since Boone’s first explorations of the region – mostly springs, sinking creeks, cane breaks, and Bur Oak forests – were filmed at McConnell’s Spring near Lexington, Kentucky in October 2013 and in rural Bourbon County in January 2014. That ended the filming; it had taken from September 2011 to January 2014 to film Daniel Boone!

The editing of the production by my editor, Chris Yelton, began in October 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio and in Florence, Kentucky and proceeded until mid-June 2014. That required me journeying to Cincinnati or Florence every week, sometimes twice a week for nine months! Clark Cranfill, a music teacher and fine composer in Lexington, began composing the original score for the production in November 2013 and the sound design began at Neil Kesterson’s Dynamix Studios in Lexington in February 2014. Edited pieces of the film were periodically sent to Cranfill so he could get a “feel” for Daniel Boone and the production.

The stand-ups were filmed on February 22, 2014 using two cameramen, including Chris Yelton, and a teleprompter in the James Trabue Cabin in rural Bourbon County, Kentucky. Trabue, a survivor of the Siege of Ruddle’s Station in 1780, built the cabin around 1785. Meticulously restored, the cabin is one of the oldest structures standing in Kentucky.

It formed a stunning backdrop for the stand-ups. The cabin was restored and is owned by Bill and Dottie Spears of Paris, Kentucky. Dottie was there to open it up and she was in attendance all day long. She had lunch for the crew and, when the session ended late in the day, supper for all. What a fine lady – and great friend – is Dottie Spears!

In the midst of all the research, writing, planning, licensing of images, obtaining the necessary cast, and travel with film crews, I continued raising the capital. That was not easy. Some sponsors rallied to the cause. But there were long periods of time where no appreciable work was done on the production due to the need for capital. We were always on the brink! A film the size and complexity of Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West is very expensive to make.

Even during the editing and sound design my fundraising continued. No one proved to be more crucial to the completion of the production than Thomas P. Dupree, Sr. of Lexington. A very successful businessman and philanthropist, Tom has always had a vital interest in the arts, the scenic wonders of Kentucky, and Kentucky history. On more than one occasion he was called upon to help. Each time he responded with alacrity. Without Tom, there would be no film on the life of Daniel Boone!

Mad Anne Bailey

Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West was finally completed at the end of June 2014. It had been a three year effort. Although I had been involved in time-consuming and difficult things in the past, I had never faced a more complex endeavor than the production of Daniel Boone. There were so many moving parts: scriptwriting, fundraising, image selection and licensing, obtaining and using efficiently an entire cast of actors and actresses, cameramen, equipment, editors, sound designers and even a composer. All of the parts had to be orchestrated.

But, in the end, I was blessed. Everyone did their part; everyone contributed immensely to the end result, which is, I firmly believe, the most remarkable made-for-television production ever on the life and times of Daniel Boone. It has already been premiered before sell-out audiences in Louisville, Kentucky and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. Another premier is scheduled for Lexington in September. It has received rave reviews. Watch for it on television. Advance orders for DVDs are being accepted at WWW.WITNESSINGHISTORYONLINE.COM, or by calling 859-455-9330.

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She wrote 1500 hymns

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 23, 2014

She wrote about 1500 hymns in all, over a 37 year period. In her lifetime her songs were translated and sung in Africa, India, China, and Korea. Her best known songs, ‘Nearer, Still Nearer,’ and ‘Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart’ (both penned 1898), and another, ‘Sweet Will of God,’ (1900) can still be found in hymnals today.

Born in Pennsville, OH on April 15, 1862, Leila Naylor Morris grew up in Malta and McConnelsville, OH. She was quite young when her father died, so her mother started a millinery shop to support the five children. There young Leila learned to knit, sew, crochet and darn. When she started piano lessons she practiced at a neighbor’s house because the family could not afford an instrument.

Leila Naylor Morris“When I was ten years old I was led to give my heart to God. It was not a form of giving my heart to God. I knew then that I needed a Savior. Three different years I went forward to the altar and prayed and prayed, until a man came and laid his hand on my head and said ‘Why, little girl, God is here and ready to forgive your sins’.” Leila began playing the organ for prayer meetings when she was just 12 years old.

In 1881, Leila married Charles H. Morris. She transferred her membership to her husband’s church, the Methodist Episcopal Church. The Morrises actively supported their congregation. Leila served as a choir member and a leader in the Sunday school, the Epworth League, and the missionary society.

Until she was thirty Leila thought she’d be spending the rest of her life sitting behind a sewing machine making dresses for women in McConnellsville. But ten years after she got married she became interested in writing gospel songs. Her husband said that she always kept a pad of paper handy so that if she got the inspiration for another hymn she could write it down. She composed her work in the Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, where she’d learned to play the organ. This congregation was formally established in McConnelsville in 1826 and is that town’s oldest denomination.

Trinity Methodist Episcopal in McConnellsville OHMany well known hymns, including “Sweeter As the Years Go By,” “Nearer, Still Nearer,” and “Let Jesus Come Into Your Heart,” were composed in Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church by its organist, Mrs. Leila Morris.

Evangelists quickly began using Leila’s songs. Many would visit in her home when they were in Ohio. If Leila was attending a camp meeting or revival service, she often would be invited to sit on the platform. Leila relished the opportunity to be in these services because she frequently was inspired to write songs after returning home from the meetings.

In 1913, Leila’s eyesight began to fail. For awhile she used a twenty-eight foot black board that had the music staff lines on it that her son made for her. Within a year she was completely blind. Despite her lost sight she continued to write gospel songs with the help of devoted friends. She would simply remember the songs until her daughter Fanny came for an annual visit. Leila would dictate dozens of songs as her daughter wrote them down, both words and music.

Leila’s daughter Mary and her husband were missionaries to China. “A great many persons have said [Mary] should be at home with her blind mother. . . . I have been so happy to receive her letters in which she tells of being able to give a message for the first time to those darkened minds and hearts. I think you will agree with me that this is the best thing I have ever done.”

Leila Naylor Morris died on July 23, 1929.

The Complete Book of Hymns: Inspiring Stories about 600 Hymns and Praise, by William J. Petersen, Ardythe Petersen, 2006, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

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Malted Milk and madness in Huntsville

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 22, 2014

Today Dr. William Henry Burritt is remembered in Huntsville, AL as the man who left his mountaintop estate to the city in 1955, and in doing so, provided that city’s first public museum: the fourteen-room, “X” shaped, Burritt Museum and Historic Park on Round Top Mountain.

One of Dr. Burritt’s earliest charitable donations sounds like an odd thing to modern ears, and therein hangs a tale.

As both the son and grandson of two noted homeopathic physicians, it seems only natural that Burritt would have been interested in natural, non-pharmacological remedies from an early age.

Dr. William Henry BurrittThat, and the fact that his mother, two of his uncles, his sister, and his only nephew had all been committed due to mental instability, may help explain why Dr. Burritt and his first wife Pearl, wealthy new arrivals to Huntsville looking to make a good impression, felt committed to donate malted milk to the community’s recently opened (1895) City Infirmary.

Malted milk? The stuff of candies and soda shop concoctions? What has that got to do with mental health remedies?

Malted milk was originally created in 1887 as an easily digested infant’s food made from an extract of wheat and malted barley, combined with milk and made into a powder called “diastoid,” by James and William Horlick of Racine, WI. Horlick supposedly coined the name “malted milk,” but his formula resembled one already being marketed in England. He promoted his mixture of dried milk extracts of malted barley and wheat as a food supplement for infants and invalids (mental illness was broadly included in the latter category).

Horlick's Malted MilkWilliam Burritt graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1890, and immediately moved into post graduate study at the Pulte Medical College in Cincinnati and at the New York Lying-in Hospital. As a highly educated, well traveled man, it’s no surprise he’d learned of Horlick’s recent invention. And he may well have passed along his knowledge and experience with malted milk to another Huntsville family also plagued by mental illness.

Remember Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper? Two of his seven children had schizophrenia. One of those, daughter Mary Virginia, moved into Huntsville’s ‘Kildare’ mansion in 1900. Or more accurately, the trust fund established for the heiress purchased the home on her behalf and established her there, supported by a large staff under the guidance of one Grace Walker.

Dr. Burritt certainly would have encountered Mary Virginia McCormick in Huntsville society circles: he was by then a member of a Huntsville social group called the ‘Chimpanzee Club,’ formed for evenings of polite social conversation, dinner, chamber recitals, and theater productions; He was also a member of the Civitan Club, Kappa Sigma, Madison County Chapter of the Citizens Historical Assn., the Church of the Nativity, an Episcopal Church in Huntsville, and the Republican Party.

Mary Virginia McCormick in 1901Mary Virginia McCormick in 1901.

The historical record doesn’t tell us whether Mary Virginia took malted milk as a curative, but we do know her brother Stanley, who lived in Boston, did. By 1906, his episodes had increased to the extent that he was hospitalized at McLean Hospital for the Insane in that city. He was diagnosed with “dementia praecox of the catatonic type,” —schizophrenia— characterized by marked violent outbursts and gradual mental deterioration, punctuated by periods of relative clarity. His intake report noted the family history of mental illness: “All the family of nervous temperament, mother eccentric, sister insane.”

The same report noted that Stanley was fed eggnog, oyster stew, and malted milk.


One Response

  • Randy says:

    I recently acquired a Horlick’s box with the six bottles like the one in this article. I would very much appreciate any information on the purpose of box. Thanks.

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Book Excerpt: ‘Blood in West Virginia’

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 21, 2014

Brandon Ray KirkPlease welcome guest author Brandon Kirk. Kirk is a historian as well as a descendant of Lincoln County, WV feudists. The Lincoln County Feud (1881-1890) arose out of personal grievances between two prominent residents in a rough-and-tumble West Virginia timber town, and escalated into a struggle for supremacy between business competitors and political rivals. Kirk has spent the last twenty years researching the history of the once-famous vendetta. He has conducted numerous interviews with other feud descendants (most born prior to 1930) and collected many period newspaper articles and photographs. His newly published book Blood in West Virginia is the result; we’re pleased to present an excerpt from the first book-length account of this sensational dispute.


Al Brumfield made his way down Harts Creek toward home, his belly full of food and liquor. He sat at the head of his horse, his wife seated sidesaddle immediately behind him. Hollene’s brothers, Harve and Dave, rode on separate horses nearby. It was three o’clock in the afternoon.

At Thompson Branch, some two miles downstream from Henderson Dingess’s farm, the trail narrowed and took to the hill. Al, looking up toward the Hot Rock—a cluster of large rocks and brush—spotted two men hiding in a sinkhole. Instinctively, he slumped away from that direction.

Blood in WV cover

“Hollene…” he said.

Before Hollene had time to react, a single shot from a high-powered Winchester rifle exploded into the air. Al’s startled horse jumped and spun wildly.

Another shot. Hollene fell to the ground, her face torn to pieces, black from powder burn and smattered in blood.

Dave Dingess, riding nearly beside Al and Hollene, had also spotted the two men hiding among the rocks. He had put up his hand before the second shot, then felt it go numb. Feeling little pain, he had quickly turned his horse and slid over toward its side opposite the shooters, and clung to his saddle, keeping his arms around the horse’s neck, until he maneuvered to safety. He and Harve galloped back up the creek toward home and help. No shots came their way. But Dave’s hand was covered in blood.

Al, meanwhile, tried to regain control of his horse. He looked down at his wife, then up toward the rocks.

Another shot—this time finding its mark.

Al fell to the ground, rolling in the dust. He felt pain at his right elbow and all through his arm, then numbness. His arm was covered in blood—shot and broken—useless from the fall.

His horse sped away down the creek.

Al crawled toward Hollene, reaching under his jacket for a pistol. Then came another shot, this time grazing his breast and ripping the fabric of his vest. The pressure was intense.

Al followed his horse downstream to safety.

For a brief moment, the scene was completely quiet.

Two men wearing hats came off the hill to survey the damage.

“We made a mess of this,” one said to the other as they stood over Hollene. “They’s goin’ to be hell to pay.”

Al Brumfield, prominent merchant, whisky boat operator, and feud leader. Photo courtesy Lilly Brumfield Ray.

Al Brumfield, prominent merchant, whisky boat operator, and feud leader. Photo courtesy Lilly Brumfield Ray.

“We got to kill her now,” said the other. “She’s seen us.”

Hollene, barely conscious, could hear the men but not see them. Her eyes were filled with blood.

“Please don’t shoot me again,” she gurgled, trying to speak. “You’ve already killed me.”

About then, the men heard shots in the distance.

It was Al Brumfield, returning up the creek under cover with his pistol pointed in their direction. Due to his broken arm and the distance between them, his shots were errant; still, they caused the two attackers to scramble back up the hillside. Brumfield did not pursue them. Instead, he continued on toward his wife, hoping his assailants would not shoot him again.

By the time Al reached Hollene, his wife was in the arms of Mrs. Jane Adkins, a twenty-four-year-old midwife who lived nearby in a single-story log cabin with her husband and four children. Jane sat in the road, Hollene propped against her.

Al bent down toward his wife. It was a gruesome sight. The entire right portion of her face was torn open. Al could hardly look at her.

“So help me God!” he swore. “I’ll kill whoever it was did this. Did you see who it was, Jane?”

“No, Al,” Jane said, remaining calm. “I saw two men, but I couldn’t make out who they was.”

“Hollene,” he said loudly, taking her hand in his.

“She’s knocked plumb out,” Jane said. “But she’s still alive.”

“Oh God,” Al cried. “How can she possibly be alive?”

Al mostly kept his eye on Hollene, figuring she might die at any second, but also looked anxiously toward the mountain where, just a few moments earlier, his attackers had waited in ambush. For all he knew, the men still lurked up there, watching, ready to shoot again. He had never felt as helpless as he did at that moment, hunkered in the road with his mauled wife. He had no horse, no way to move Hollene, and no friends to help him should his attackers return to finish them all. He knew that his pistol was useless against Winchester rifles and that his ability to fire it was limited by the poor condition of his arm. All he could do was hold Hollene’s hand, feeling the faint pulse in her wrist, unsure if each passing breath would be her last.

At that moment, two horses thundered toward them from up the creek.

Al rose up, feebly clutching his pistol.

It was Dave and Harve Dingess.

“Are you and Hollene all right?” Harve asked, riding up to the scene, kicking up dust.

Green McCoy and Milt Haley: timber men, fiddlers, suspected murderers. Photo courtesy Nellie Richardson Thompson

Green McCoy and Milt Haley: timber men, fiddlers, suspected murderers. Photo courtesy Nellie Richardson Thompson

A bit closer, he could see for himself.

“Oh my God,” he said.

For a moment, everyone was quiet. The horror of the scene was complete.

“She’s still alive,” Jane said, trying to keep everyone calm. “She ain’t in no pain cause she’s knocked out. But we need to wrap somethin’ tight around her face or else she’ll bleed to death.”

Dave climbed down from his horse and took off his shirt, tearing it into pieces. His hand was bleeding.

“You get shot too, Dave?” Al asked.

“Just a nick here in my hand,” Dave said. “It ain’t nothin’.”

“Who in hell did this?” Harve asked, looking up toward the rocks.

“Hell if I know,” Al said. “I couldn’t see ‘em good.”

As Harve spoke with Al, Dave carefully wrapped his sister’s head in the tattered pieces of his shirt, following Jane’s instructions.

Harve noticed that Al’s arm was hurt.

“How’s your arm?” he asked.

“It’s broke,” Al said.

Al looked at his wife, the greater portion of her face disappearing under the remains of Dave’s shirt.

“Harve, you ride back up the creek and get help,” he said. “Find Burl or Charlie or Hugh. Get a wagon, too. We’ll need it to get Hollene back up Smokehouse. And tell your paw to send for a doctor.”

“All right, Al,” Harve said.

He turned his horse, looking again to the mountains, not sure if his sister would be alive or not when he returned.

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