Tag Archives: Peter Burnett

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.

 

History is Local – Tennessee Style

30 Apr

Another academic year is coming to a close, and, over the past few days, I have been reflecting upon it. Things have gone decently, but this is the first year that I have wondered if anyone is listening. As usual, there have been some engaged students and some who would probably rather be somewhere else. However, I have gotten more frustrated this time than ever before.

At our university, all students are required to take two semesters of History, and I realize that most of them are taking it because they have to take it. They are not planning on being historians, museum curators, lawyers or any other of the great professions you can get with a History degree. Still, it would be nice if they did not stare out of the windows or sneakily play with their phones. Heck, it would be even nice if some of them brought paper and pencil to class.

Honestly, it gets frustrating. I may not get them to love the subject, but I want them to get something out of it. To accomplish this, I sprinkle some local history in with the American history. They may not be interested in the millworks of New England, but they may be interested in the millworks of our town. Simply, not all history takes place far away. Some of it takes place right around the corner in places they pass everyday.

That is why I throw as much Tennessee history into the mix as I can. This might perk them up, and it might help them realize that this state has played an important role in our nation’s past.Tennessee Flag

We cover the three Tennessee presidents – Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and Andrew Johnson – because presidents are important. Did you know that Polk is the president that brought California into the United States? Yep, a guy from Columbia, Tennessee did that.

However, I like to go deeper than that and talk about people who they may have never heard of.

Peter Burnett, a Tennessee native, was the first governor of California.

Grantland Rice, perhaps the greatest sportswriter to sit behind a typewriter, was from Murfreesboro. He wrote about the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame and a line that goes like this:

For when the One Great Scorer comes

To mark against your name,

He writes – not that you won or lost –

But how you played the game.

Cordell Hull, a graduate of Cumberland University (where I work), was known as the “Father of the United Nations” and won a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on that organization.

David Crockett, defender of the Alamo and hero to millions of kids in the 1950s, was a Tennessean.

Sam Houston, who led the rebel forces in the fight for Texas independence, had his first law office here in Lebanon.

W.E.B. DuBois graduated from Fisk University and taught school in Wilson County before going on to create the NAACP.

George Rappelyea thought of a publicity stunt to draw attention to his town of Dayton. They arrested John Scopes for teaching the theory of evolution and hosted the Scopes Monkey Trial, one of the many “Trials of the Century.” It sparked a debate that continues to this day.

John Butler, the legislator who sponsored the anti-evolution bill, represented the neighboring counties of Sumner, Trousdale and Macon.

Oak Ridge is a small town that came to prominence as one of the sites of the Manhattan Project, which brought us into the atomic age.

In 1920, legislative leaders met at the Hermitage Hotel to discuss voting for or against the 19th Amendment. It is a long story, but they eventually approved it. That made Tennessee the decisive state in women getting the right to vote.

John Chisum was born in Tennessee but gained notoriety as the “King of the Pecos”, one of the most successful cattlemen in the West.

I could name others, but these are a few that I can think of. I really think mentioning local people helps students learn a little more about American history. At least, I hope it does.

The Honeymooners – An Offer We Couldn’t Refuse

20 Jul

Day 4 of the honeymoon was supposed to be a day of rest. I promised Necole that we would have some pool time, and this seemed like the right place. The weather was warm and the pool chairs looked comfortable. However, plans changed when one of Necole’s friends suggested a winery for us to visit. Luckily, we were able to get a midday tour and tasting.

We drove to the Inglenook Chateau, owned by Francis Ford Coppola, and it was what one would imagine when they think about a winery. Of course, our idea of a California winery comes from Falcon Crest, the old television series. Walking up, I expected to see Jane Wyman at any moment.Honeymoon 017

The tour guide took us through the wine making process at Inglenook. He also took us through its history as one of the area’s great vineyards until it fell into decay under corporate ownership. Coppola saved it with money from The Godfather and has spent decades bringing the estate and wine to its former glory.

After the tour, we tasted fantastic wines and spent a few dollars shipping some of it home. The tour and tasting whetted our appetites, and the guide suggested the Rutherford Grill, which sat across the street. When Necole and I sat down, we both commented that the restaurant reminded us of Houston’s, a place that used to be in Nashville.

Later, I found out that the Rutherford Grill and a lot of other restaurants in California are owned by the Houston’s corporation. It began and was headquartered in Nashville until the owners decided that they were too good for us. They would probably find it interesting that Nashville has one of the nation’s best food scenes and has dozens of restaurants better than the ones they own.

Anyway, I am getting off track. We returned to the hotel and made it to the pool. I got under a cabana and took a nap while Necole got some sun. It was late in the afternoon, and we learned from experience that the Sonoma temperature changed quickly as the sun goes down.

Soon, it was time to eat again. As you can tell, we did a lot of eating on this honeymoon. This time we wanted some casual and laid back, so we went to Mary’s Pizza Shack on the plaza. It was as good as any other pizza, but my focus wasn’t on the food. My mind kept going over the history that was around me.

I had read that this plaza was an important part of the Bear Flag Rebellion, when California declared its independence from Mexico and asked to become part of the United States. That’s the simple version. Like all things, reality is a bit more complicated. I won’t use this post to provide a history lesson because that’s not what I was thinking about while eating pizza.

I was thinking that President James K. Polk, from Columbia, Tennessee, wanted to bring California into the fold and used every means necessary to get that done. I was also thinking about Peter Burnett, native Tennessean and California’s first governor. I was wondering if the people of California realize the role Tennesseans played in the history of their state.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel and found ourselves wanting more. With this in mind, we went to Carneros, a place that was recommended by one of my Twitter friends. We sat at the chef’s bar and watched them work in the open kitchen. Necole had an awesome creme brulee, and I had a so-so cookie concoction.

The day was great, and I realized that the Tennessee guys who moved Houston’s could not have gone to California if some other Tennessee guys had not gotten it in the first place.

A California Governor Not Named Ahnold

28 Feb

Did you know the first governor of California was from Tennessee? Born in Nashville in 1807, Peter Burnett established a lifelong pattern of wandering as he constantly quit jobs and moved west. Following a series of occupations, he owned a store in Missouri and practice law in Oregon, where he was a member of the Supreme Court.

In 1848, Burnett joined the California Gold Rush and, finding no gold, made a living selling lots in the new city of Sacramento. The following year, he entered politics and became the state’s first governor. During his time in office, Burnett proposed several unpopular policies, including imposing the death penalty for robbery. In 1851, he faced mounting criticism from the legislature and the press and resigned from office. Despite this apparent failure, Burnett later served on the California Supreme Court and died a wealthy man in 1895.