The Man From Little Cedar Lick

10 Jul

I have been reading Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne. As you can tell by its title, historians like long titles, and it is about the Comanche.

It is a great book filled with information that I already knew and a lot of information that I had never read before. There are names of interesting people on both sides of the struggle between the Comanche and those encroaching on their territory. These are people who fought for what they thought was right and may have been well-known in their day. However, many of them have faded from history.

I am far from finished with the book, but one name has already stood out. John Coffee Hays is described as the greatest of all Texas Rangers. In fact, he is the one who taught the rest how to do their jobs. His exploits provide great reading, but a tidbit about his early life is what intrigued me.John Coffee Hays

Hays was born in Little Cedar Lick, Tennessee. When I read about his birthplace, a small memory crept to the front of my mind. Several years ago, I was speaking at Rotary about Tennesseans who became famous in the American West. I mentioned the obvious ones like Sam Houston and David Crockett. However, I also talked about John Chisum, Clay Allison and Peter Burnett.

When the presentation ended, a man in the back asked if I knew anything about the guy from Wilson County who became a Texas Ranger. At the time, I did not know anything about him, but this book may have made the introduction.

Like all great investigators, I did a Google search and discovered that John Coffee Hays was born in Wilson County. I also discovered that all of the sites that have information about Hays must have been copied from the same source. Almost all of them were word for word duplicates. The only differences were about his relationship with Andrew Jackson.

I read that his grandfather sold Jackson the land that would become the Hermitage. There was also the story of Jackson being John’s uncle. Also, his father fought with Jackson during the War of 1812. Oh yeah, another said that John spent many days at the Hermitage.

All of that may be true, but, around here, everyone wants to be connected to Jackson. If your ancestors lived in this area while Jackson was alive, then they were best friends. If your name is Jackson, then you are descended from him, which would be difficult since he did not have children.

I will have to ask my colleague, who has a great blog called Jacksonian America and who is one of the leading experts on Andrew Jackson.

Then, I remembered that I know someone named Hays. I sent a text to Nick Hays, who is running for County Trustee, and asked if he was related to John Coffee Hays. He replied that he was, but the family did not have much information on him. He learned most about him from Monty Pope. On the first day he walked into Monty’s class, he asked Nick if he knew about the Hays who became a Texas Ranger.

By the way, if you live in Wilson County be sure to vote for Nick.

As I read about Hays, I began to wonder about the place where he was born. I have lived here all of my life and have heard many stories about its history, but I have never heard of Little Cedar Lick. I thought about asking the folks at the Wilson County Archives, but I do not have much faith in them these days.

Instead, I went to good old Google. Man, that thing is as handy as a pocket on a shirt. All I found was Little Cedar Lick Church. With nothing else to go on, I drove to the location. It was on a road that I had never been on, and I had no idea what to expect. The picture in my mind was of a little country church.

Instead, I found this.image-3

I have no idea if this is the same area where John Coffee Hays was born. I only know that he was born in Wilson County and made his name as a Texas Ranger. Then, he moved to California and became the sheriff of San Francisco before being one of the founders of Oakland.

Throughout all of that, Hays may have looked back and remembered Little Cedar Lick, but I am afraid that place may have disappeared through the ages.


31 Responses to “The Man From Little Cedar Lick”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong July 10, 2014 at 22:08 #

    That’s the thing about scholarship. Sometimes, it turns out all sources are really one paragraph from one very old book. But if it appears in three other books, then you can cite it three times! Yay!

    Little tiny towns can hide big secrets 😉

    • Rick July 11, 2014 at 00:17 #

      Right on both counts. Part of the historian job is weeding through the mistakes of earlier historians.

  2. satanicpanic July 11, 2014 at 01:04 #

    I chuckled at this: “If your name is Jackson, then you are descended from him, which would be difficult since he did not have children.”

    I saw that book in the book store and considered getting it, but I’m up to my ears in history right now, I’ll have to add it to my list though.

    • Rick July 11, 2014 at 01:31 #

      If you get the chance, then you should read it. There is one group of Jackson “descendants” who name themselves after him. I think they are on Andrew Jackson V now. Actually, they are descendants of his adopted son.

      • Mark R. Cheathem July 11, 2014 at 14:11 #

        The Jackson descendants come from Andrew Jackson, Jr., the nephew that the Jacksons “adopted.” The male line stops at Andrew Jackson VI, a federal judge in Knoxville. He has two daughters, neither of whom are named Andrew Jackson. 🙂

        As for Jack Hays, he isn’t related to Jackson, but the stories about his father fighting with Jackson and naming his son after fellow soldier John Coffee seem entirely plausible.

      • Rick July 11, 2014 at 14:53 #

        Thanks for the info. His father probably fought with Jackson, but there is one place that says Jackson was his uncle. That is something that I doubt.

      • Mark R. Cheathem July 11, 2014 at 16:34 #

        I have an extensive Jackson genealogy database, and he’s not in it. This genealogist also doubts the claim:

      • Rick July 11, 2014 at 20:49 #

        I thought that might be the case. I can’t remember which website had that, but it claims to be a historical one.

      • April 23, 2015 at 22:40 #

        Howdy, I am Jack Hays’ grandson Grant Porter Hays. We are from Oakland California and I am the only direct son left. Anyhow, wanted to clear up the Andrew Jackson mystery. Jack was related to Rachel Donelson his wife. Andrew was his great Uncle by marriage. So he is related and was raised around the Hermitage spending much time with the president from Tennessee. Empire of the Summer Moon was very well written. I am working on my own projects to bring light to the most understated hidden western hero in American History. Thanks for all the support and interest. Well done on this website sir you are an excellent historian and writer.

        – G.P. Hays

  3. Mark R. Cheathem July 11, 2014 at 01:17 #

    If I were a betting man, I would lay money on Harmon Hays serving under Jackson and naming his son after John Coffee being true and the rest of it being false. Jack Hays isn’t in my Jackson genealogy database. It’s fairly extensive and has many Hays and Coffee relatives in it, which leads me to believe that Jack Hays being related to Jackson and living at the Hermitage is not true.

    This genealogist seems to have it figured out:

    • Rick July 11, 2014 at 20:52 #

      I can see his father serving under Jackson and having a strong enough relationship with Coffee to name his son after him. I found out that Little Cedar Lick may not be where I went. Some people say that Leeville used to be known as Little Cedar Lick. If that is the case, then he was born around where Highway 109 is now.

      • Eric Nelson May 17, 2018 at 19:32 #

        Hi Rick – I grew up in Piedmont, California, very near where Col. Hays’ Oakland homestead. I’m interested in Oakland/Piedmont history, so I often look through old newspaper archives just for fun….I don’t know if this helps, but I found an 1884 biographical article on Col. Hays in the ‘Daily Alta California’ newspaper…..according to the author of the article (who only vaguely describes the source), Col. Hays was born “on Little Cedar Creek, Wilson County, Tennessee, in 1817”. Could “Lick” and “Creek” have been mixed up over time? Here is a link to the issue via the California Digital Newspaper Collection:——-en–20-DAC-1–txt-txIN-jack+hays——-1 -Eric Nelson

      • Rick May 21, 2018 at 01:04 #


        Thanks for the information. I really appreciate it. There is a Cedar Creek in Wilson County near where I took that picture. I have wondered if there was a correlation between the two. This is a great article. Colonel Hays definitely lived an interesting life along the way from here to there.

  4. Cliff April 4, 2015 at 14:41 #

    When I was about 14 (now 51), I lived in an antebellum house at the junction of Riverview, Davis Corner, and Burton Rd, near Hwy 109 in Wilson County, Tn. My Dad always told me a creek very close by was Little Cedar Lick, and that he thought Jack Hays was born nearby and probably knew the residents of the house we lived in. I remember finding a cemetery on adjacent property that had been bulldozed, with tombstones dating to the 1700’s laying on the ground (birthdates I assume). The property owner of that adjacent tract is very wary of trespassers and didn’t answer the door when I knocked a few years ago. The property is now heavily marked with ‘no trespassing’ signs. Though he had nothing to do with the bulldozing, I think he knows this old cemetery is there, and I know he knows about a smaller one that dates to the mid or late 1800’s, because it is still there. Both belonged to the antebellum house I lived in before the plantation was split up and sold.

    My memory has faded, but I noticed a ‘Harmon Hays’ and a ‘Harmon Bass’ both referenced in my searches for Little Cedar Lick’, and I could swear that ‘Bass’ was the name on those bulldozed tombstones. I would love the opportunity to search on that property for those bulldozed tombstones, a terrible injustice was done when that happened. Any recommendations on a way to approach this, or any info on a link between Jack Hays, Harmon Hays and Theophilus or Harmon Bass would be greatly appreciated. Maybe ‘Harmon’ was a common name back then, but I find it an odd coincidence in an area so small. I think this property has historical significance and I would love to see it researched further.

    • Rick April 4, 2015 at 15:10 #

      Thank you for the information. I know exactly where you are talking about. It shouldn’t be too hard to find out who owns the property and call them. Perhaps that would make them more agreeable. It would also be a good idea to contact the Wilson County Archives. They have a ton of information and are easy to work with. On top of all that, there are Hays descendants still around. One of them ran for office last year. They may have some information, as well.

  5. April 23, 2015 at 22:50 #

    Andrew didn’t have children with Rachel but it is plausible he may have had African American children. I say that with the utmost respect for Andrew. As well as my grandfather Jack Hays may have had Native American children as a Texas Ranger. I suspect of one that I am investigating. It is amazing to learn about Jack and the Texas Rangers who have been depicted incorrectly by film and book. Jack and his brother Harry T were brilliant writers and very respectable with a high degree of honor. The letters they wrote display humility , bravery, and generosity. The Rangers and Confederates viewed these two as role models thus the Southerners were much more gracious and intellectual then perceived by media. Bless y’all.

    – Grant Porter Hays

    • Rick April 23, 2015 at 22:56 #

      Thank you for taking time to read my post. Jack Hays was an interesting person and more needs to be known about him. I know people around here know very little. Have you talked to the Hays’ that remain in Wilson County? I am sure they would like to know more about him. Also, have you visited this area?

      A few days ago, I was telling some people about his story. When I talk about it, people are amazed that he was from here and made such an impact.

      Again, thank you for reading and thank you for the compliments. I am looking for to reading the information that you discover.

  6. April 23, 2015 at 22:53 #

  7. David Howell December 23, 2017 at 20:41 #


    I just came across this discussion of Jack Hays and his origins at “Little Cedar Lick”, Wilson County, TN. I can add some facts to the discussion as well as add some confusion.

    First, facts on the location of Little Cedar Lick. There were two licks, Big and Little. Big Cedar Lick is near Leeville- the original name of the Mt. Olivet Baptist Church in Leeville (founded 1801) was Big Cedar Lick Baptist Church. Little Cedar Lick , the actual salt lick, is located in the southwest corner of Benders Ferry Road and Liberty Chapel Road about 1 1/2 miles north of US 70. The location is noted on several early deeds for Wilson County. Also my father identified the site to me when I was a youngster and I am 74 now.

    Second, the country church building you have the picture of was first constructed by Joshua Tipton about 1810 and was called Tipton’s Meeting House. Tipton, a farmer, blacksmith, and preacher went to New Orleans with Jackson, fought in the Battle of New Orleans, but did not make it home to TN. The Meeting House was then used by the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, as Liberty Chapel, hence the name of the road it is on, until 1825 when the building was taken over solely by the Baptists and it became known as Little Cedar Lick Baptist Church. The Church was closed in the early 1960s and the building was bought by my father and is in my possession now.

    Third, Jack Hays was the son of Harmon Hays and the grandson of John Hays. John Hays had several tracts of land in this area around 1800 near both Big and Little Cedar Licks. The tracts near Big Cedar Lick (Leeville) however were sold off before the birth of Jack Hays.There was another tract about a mile and a quarter north north east of the “Little Cedar Lick” that was likely were John lived with his family. I have no evidence the Harmon and his family was living with John, but at this time Harmon did not show as a property owner in Wilson County. Shortly after the death of John Hays, William Cage of Sumner County became the owner of the tract formally owned by John Hays. William Cage is the father of Harmon Hays’ wife so I suspect some connection. Later Harmon did buy land near the Cumberland River close to present day HW 109.

    Fourth, some information about creek names in the area. The large creek in the area flows north to the Cumberland River. It was first called Big Cedar Lick Creek. It starts Near the present I-40 and HW 109, flows west then north, Later it was called Big Cedar Creek and then finally just Cedar Creek. About a mile from the mouth at the Cumberland, Cedar Creek was joined by a smaller creek from the east side, not much more than a branch, at first called Little Cedar Lick Creek. Again through time the name changed to first Little Cedar Creek and then Little Creek. This creek when it was known as Little Cedar Lick Creek ran through the John Hays property.

    The above land information was generally obtained from deeds, copies of which were examined in the Wilson County Archives. The Hays family information is from Hays records in the Mt. Juliet Library Genealogical section.

    The Hays were Presbyterian back then and the Meeting House served a Presbyterian group from about 1812 to 1825. So Jack Hays and his parents may have worshiped there on occasion. I can’t prove it.

    Misc. info–Harmon Hays was in charge of the 1830 Census for Wilson County and his signature is on each page of the Census.

    As far as I know, I am not kin to Jack Hays. Or Andrew Jackson. I am kin to Rachel Jackson through the Donelsons. Very didtant kin.

    David Howell

    • Rick December 23, 2017 at 21:10 #

      Thank you for all of this information. People have told me that Little Cedar Lick was in Leeville. Now, I know that my initial thought is closer to the actual location. Ken Beck, who writes for the Wilson Post, has done some research on Jack Hays. I will pass along the information to him.

      As a historian of the West, I believe that Jack’s story is one that is not told enough. He played an important role in Texas and northern California.

      • David Howell December 23, 2017 at 23:40 #


        I worked with Ken when he did his piece on Jack Hays. I think he has all that I have given here. He was really hoping that I could prove a definite connection to the Meeting House and Jack as that would be the only physical connection between Jack and Wilson County. I can’t prove it but think it might be possible.

        Have you looked at the information on Jack Hays in the Mt. Juliet Library? The Madeline Smith file on Jack has some really good stuff. She did some great research in the days before the internet. Some good details on Harmon Hays relations with the Jacksons. Harmon did accompany Rachel to New Orleans to visit Andrew.

        Jack’s total life story is rather amazing and needs to be told more. Boy from Wilson County that made good.

        And most amazing, he basically died in his bed from old age.

        David Howell

    • Cliff December 24, 2017 at 00:10 #

      Thank you for that info David, that is more information than I have ever seen anywhere on this subject/area. I’m fascinated by the history of this area, I really enjoyed living in the old house close by when I was about 14 or so, and the area has several old homes and there was even a one room schoolhouse intact when I was a kid – at Riverview Rd/Benders Ferry Rd (since torn down). I’m not very good with Google Maps, so I can’t figure out how to share a map with the location of our old house marked, but the coordinates are: 36.286842,-86.486083

      Here is a link to some photos that I took of the Hamilton family cemetery located adjacent to the old house (on neighbor’s property). I’m putting this here in case it might help anyone researching the Hamilton family who might come across this. This is not the older bulldozed cemetery that I referenced in my previous post, but it is on the same neighbor’s property. I believe the original cemetery was for the Bass family, but can’t swear to it: There is a Harmon Bass

      There are also 2 photos of a set of slave chains that a subsequent property owner found near the house. Very interesting place, though with a pretty dark past. The Hamiltons lost a child due to being finned by a catfish from the nearby Cumberland River, and then another older child within months of the first one. One of our older neighbors told me this tale when I was a youth, and then I found the graves (in the photos). He also told me there was originally an older house behind our house at this location that burned, and there were slave quarters that the TVA bulldozed when they put their towers in on the rear of the property. Argh! So much history lost.

      The old house we lived in is pretty close “as the crow flies” to the Little Cedar Lick Church, and may even fit your description of being “about a mile and a quarter north north east of the “Little Cedar Lick” that was likely were John lived with his family”. If you have the time and can find the exact coordinates of the Little Cedar Lick (the actual salt lick) on a map, I’d really like to know them. This has been a source of confusion for me and many others for a long time. Sorry for the information not related to Jack Hays, but the entire area if full of history that needs to be recorded and saved. I have little doubt in my mind that the owners of our old house very likely knew the Hays family at the least.

      • David Howell December 24, 2017 at 05:53 #


        I can’t tell you within twenty feet where Little Cedar Lick was located, but it was just west of Bender’s Ferry Road and just south of Liberty Chapel Road, both dimensions being less than 200 feet. The area is sort of boggy/marshy now, but now the water table in our area is much lower than it was in the times before extensive pumping of groundwater.

        On a map go east on Mays Chapel Road about a half mile from Benders Ferry to Polecat Road (I’m not kidding, it’s really named that) which runs to the north and dead ends. At the end of the road you would be in the John Hays property.From memory I think John Hays had about 270 acres at this location.

        My Grandmother, Essie Jennings Howell went to school some at Riverview School around 1900. She would stay with some Taylor cousins that lived up that way during the week and come home for week ends. Essie grew up here on Liberty Chapel Road and lived most of her life here.

        I have done a good bit of study of the early land ownership in this area, both the first land grants and then later divisions of those grants. Little Cedar Lick was in a grant to William Sexton of 640 acres. Sexton never lived on the grant and sold it off fairly soon. I have the details on most of the owners in the grant area for the next 100 years or so. I have done some work on the land north of the Sexton grant up to about the former Easter Seal camp. Do you know who built the house you lived in when you were 14?

        David Howell

    • Thomas Drew Carey January 26, 2019 at 16:49 #

      This is all so interesting as Ranger John’s Grandmother was Rebecca Maxwell Hays, my GGGG Grandmother. Her first husband was Captain Thomas Maxwell who was killed at Battle of Tug River/Maxwell’s Gap. She then married John “Hermitage”Hays, friend of Jackson. Their child was Harmon A. Hays, Dad of Ranger John. Rebecca and Thomas had daughter Sarah Maxwell who married Newett/Newitt James Drew. Newett and Moore Stevenson started the Baptist Church at Little Cedar Creek. Records show that. My brother now deceased, told me he found the church c. 1995. Drew and family sold their land 1816 and moved south to Overton Louisiana( Their 2nd son was Thomas Stevenson Drew, name for Moore Stevenson. Thomas was Governor of Arkansas 1845-49.

      • Rick January 28, 2019 at 02:29 #

        Thank you for sharing such great information about your family. I have been looking for what happened after Little Cedar Lick and did not think about what happened before.

  8. Frank Young May 30, 2019 at 19:53 #

    I have been reading Empire of the Summer Moon and though being a 5th generation Texan, knew little about this era of Texas history. I moved to Wilson County 34 years ago from Galveston County TX, and being recently retired I just now am furthering my research on both states.

    I live not far from the areas described. One of the locations listed for Little Cedar Lick Church is less than a mile from me, at the North end of South Greenhill Rd. Google maps shows the location previously noted on Liberty Chapel Rd.

    Anecdote: I lived in San Marcos TX (Hays County) in college, and the son of another notable Texas Ranger, Frank Hamer; lived behind me, he was a game warden. I have a funny story about the first time we met, email me and I’ll tell you about it.

    Thank you all for the very interesting information!


    • Rick May 31, 2019 at 01:04 #

      Wow, you made the opposite move that Jack Hays made. That’s really interesting. I will definitely send an email to find out more about the Rangers.

    • Drew Carey May 31, 2019 at 13:27 #

      Thank you for the reply on my cousin Jack Coffee Hays. He was the grandson of my GGGG Grandmother Rebecca Harman Maxwell Hays. Their history is like that of many from those difficult times: amazing.

  9. Marc September 8, 2020 at 20:18 #

    8 members of Little Cedar Lick Church left the church in 1900 and formed at my church at Green Hill Church in Mt Juliet, TN. Celebrating 120 yrs this month.

    • Rick September 10, 2020 at 15:06 #

      Thank you for sharing that information. I did not know the churches were connected.


  1. A Small Post While Preparing for an Upcoming Large Post | Surrounded By Imbeciles - July 11, 2014

    […] I wrote about Little Cedar Lick. Today, I found out that it may not have been where I thought it was. It could have been a […]

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