New About Search Data Military Links Query Home
 

COURT HOUSES AND JAILS

 

Although it was decided - by the committee appointed by the General Assembly in 1777 that the courthouse should be located where the Mulberry Field Meeting House stood it was not until about 1799 that the question was finally decided and a wooden courthouse built. From the formation of the county to that time, embracing a period of about 22 years, the regular courts were held at various places, some times in houses and some times out in the open air under the trees. It is said that many times the courts were held near Brown's Ford, and at other times over near Fairplains and on the hill where the late John Finley lived.

There was strong opposition to building the courthouse at the Mulberry Fields notwithstanding the State's committee had decided that it should be built there and Rachel Stokes and Rebecca Wellborn had deeded to the county fifty acres for the site. The people across the Blue Ridge contended that the county seat should be located nearer the center of the county. Hamilton Horton had secured a charter for a turnpike from Holman's Ford to New River and the road was built; a stage line was then put into operation from Guilford Courthouse to Knoxville, Tenn. Emigrants from the east came this way and many of them settled across the Blue Ridge about the Old Fields on New River, along the Watauga river and Beaver Dam creek. A considerable settlement had sprung up across the mountains which was protesting against building the courthouse at Mulberry Fields. The settlements across the mountains continued to grow and the agitation about the location of the courthouse was not ended until Ashe county was formed and all the territory across the Blue Ridge was given to the new county, embracing all of the present counties of Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga, and probably more.

There is some dispute as to when the first courthouse was built and where it was located, but I think it safe to say that it was built about the year 1799 and was located near where the Chronicle building now stands. The fifty acres of land - including the Mulberry Fields given to the county for a courthouse site by Rachel Stokes and Rebecca Wellborn was divided into lots and sold, with the exception of the courthouse plot and two public lots, one at the old North spring and the other at the old south spring. The money accruing from the sale of the lots was used to erect the courthouse. The house was made was of logs and fastened together with wooden pins. Part of the logs of the old courthouse were used in constructing Dr. W. C. Greens' residence which is still standing.

Between the years of 1820 and 1830, in order to accommodate the rapidly increasing population, it was necessary to build a larger courthouse. Then was the old brick building - 35 x 45 feet - with the stone foundation  built. Frank D. Hackett tells me that his father was appointed to superintend the construction of that house and he was placed under a bond of $10,000 for the faithful performance of his duty. It was one of the best court houses in the State at the time of its construction. This building was torn down this year, 1902, and the new house now being. constructed by L. W. Cooper & Co., of Charlotte will be completed by Nov. 1st, of this year.

There is much pathetic remembrance connected with the old court house that has just been torn down. Within its walls wives and mothers have heard the sentence of death passed their husbands and sons. Within its walls have been tried those who had taken the lives of father and child. The ablest jurists in the State - such as Col. Polk, Armfield, Linney, Pearson, Glenn, Bower and others - have made the old temple ring, with their pleadings for mercy and justice. And the politicians and statesmen - such as Settle, Linney, Pritchard, Ransome and Vance - have cheered the multitudes and fired the patriotism and ambition of thousands by their oratory. This volume is too small to give the history of this old building. Its walls have been pulled down but it will be many a day before it is forgotten.

Wilkes county's first jail was built immediately after the county was formed and was located on the southwest corner of the present courthouse lot. The stocks, whipping post and pillory were near the jail. The first jail was a wooden structure and it is said that Col. Cleveland kept Tory prisoners in it during the Revolutionary war. About the year 1828 this jail was sold and torn down and a part of the timber used in the building of the old Noah hotel. A new jail was built on the hill where Esq. R. M. Staley lives, and that jail remained until about 1860, when the present jail was completed.
 

HARRY HOLLAND

 

Who has not read the story of the Indian in the hog skin during the Revolutionary war? An Indian had been disguised in this way and had been deceiving the pickets of the patriots army and when they got within range of the fictitious hog he would shoot them down. Harry Holland being a soldier in the patriot army, was on picket duty and discovered what he thought was a large hog. After watching the supposed hog for a short time he noticed that it had actions peculiar for a hog, and instead of being frightened away was coming nearer him. Holland suspicioned that it might be a false hog and he shot and killed it, and lo, it proved to be an Indian in a hog skin with rifle cocked ready to shoot the patriot soldier.

Harry Holland was a native of Wilkes county; was born and raised near Millers Creek, and was buried on the W. B. Owings plantation. After the war was over and our independence was won, and the soldiers had returned home, Holland would take great delight in telling this story, and probably there are people yet alive who have heard him tell it.

 

Agricultural Possibilities

 

At this time agriculture is not regarded as a very profitable industry in Wilkes, but the fault is in the people and not in the natural resources. There is not a section in the world of equal area that surpasses Wilkes county in agricultural possibilities. And in a few years when the people shall have learned the truth of this statement Wilkes will be one of the finest agricultural counties in the State. Our climate is so diversified that we can grow the sugar beet in one end the county and cotton in the other. In fact almost anything grown in a temperate climate may be found in Wilkes.

The red clay soil so abundant in the county is the richest land to be found. There are thousands of acres of this kind of land that have been turned out as worthless. This land will all be reclaimed and make old Wilkes county rich. It is not the purpose of this book to tell how that can be done, but the State Department of Agriculture will cheerfully give any information you may desire along this line, other item discussed in this chapter.

Several years ago stock raising was an important industry in this county but it has been neglected until there is not a thousand dollars worth of stock exported in a whole year. Before the Civil War the stock raisers of Wilkes drove their cattle on foot to Philadelphia and other northern markets. Now a market is at the door, but the cattle are not here. This condition will not always exist. The broad valley of the Yadkin will one of these clays be the best stock regions in the world. This is rather premature history but I verily believe it is true, nevertheless.

One of the most important branches of agricultural industry is that of  fruit raising. Wilkes county is situated in what is known as the isothermal belt and is the best fruit-growing section in the world. The Blue Ridge on the north-west rising to the height of about 4,500 feet above sea level forms a wall to protect us from the cold north-west winds. On the south side are the Brushy Mountains about 2,000 feet above sea level. Many years ago it was discovered that orchards planted in the elevated coves and on the mountain sides along the Blue Ridge and Brushies were very seldom damaged by frost in the spring, and that the fruit was not subject to the attacks of harmful insects abounding in the valleys and that the fruit attained a perfection in shape, color and flavor not known in other localities. For the last few years  the quality of fruit raised in this section has attracted the attention of the whole country, and parties from New York and other markets have come to buy our fruit and investigate the orchards, and they have pronounced this the finest fruit growing section in the world.

It is not my purpose to establish a "scientific theory" in regard to this state of things but it is a fact, proven by scientific investigation and established by abundant testimony that, by reason of the nocturnal radiation of heat absorbed during the day, the stratum of air in the bottom of a valley after nightfall is colder than the air some distance above the surface. Here this condition is intensified by the greater amount of heated air and being surrounded by mountain walls leaving no avenue by which the heated air may escape, thus it gradually rises and escapes through the gaps of mountains. I quote the following paragraph from the Handbook of North Carolina, issued by the Department of Agriculture:

"The fact remains that within the limits of these frost belts fruit never fails, and at the height of 1500 to 2000 feet (hoar) frosts never falls.  Such localities are found... along the face of the Brushy Mountains in Caldwell, Alexander, and Wilkes. In the future this phenomenal section must become of inestimable value, for nowhere is there such certain assurance of the security and maturity of peaches and other tender fruit crops, or of the grape; to the successful cultivation of the grape the soil and the general conditions of the climate offer numerous inducements."

There is a large portion of soil in the county that is especially adapted to tobacco. At the World's Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia several years ago tobacco raised near Boomer, this county, was awarded the first prize. Tobacco raising could be made an important industry, and is an excellent crop to put in rotation with wheat, corn and clover.

Another industry that might be mentioned at this time is the cultivation of Genseng or Sang. The roots of  this plant sell for fabulous prices, as the plant has been almost extinguished. Wilkes is the natural home of this plant and it will grow luxuriantly if it can be protected from thieves. The United States Department of Agriculture has sent out a bulletin on Sang culture, and anyone contemplating trying to raise this plant should write to the Secretary of Agriculture, Washington, D. C., and ask for a copy. It's free.

Sheep raising could be made a profitable branch of agricultural industry. Before the stock law was enacted nearly every farmer had a herd of scrub sheep running "outside" on mountains and hills. These herds of scrub sheep paid better than anything else the farmer raised considering the cost and labor. The wool furnished the whole family in winter clothing and lots of wool to sell to the factory besides, and the sheep still left for mutton or market. When the stock law was enacted the people thought that since their sheep could not run at large their sheep raising industry was destroyed, so they sold their sheep and quit the business. That was a very foolish step indeed. Nearly every farm in the county has some land that is too rough to plow that would make excellent pasturage for a herd of sheep. Suppose you fence in such a scope of land, say 25 acres, and put in it 25 the best improved stock of sheep. Each year you can clip $75 worth of wool and you will have the increase of the herd besides. This is simple logic and the people won't be long in catching the idea.

When all the agricultural advantages of Wilkes county are considered it is hard to find a county that will compare with it. We can raise almost anything that is grown in a temperate climate, live "under our own vine and fig tree," and live sumptuously from the products of the plantation, and besides sell a surplus each year. We have the the purest free-stone water and the purest air in the world and the healthfulness of our climate is not surpassed. After considering the blessings the Creator has so lavishly spread over our county why will our young man leave the old "State of Wilkes" and seek better chances elsewhere? There can be but one answer to that question: they lack information about the resources of their own county.

 

FORT HAMBY

 

In the spring of 1865 about the time of the surrender of General Lee and immediately following, there was a band of desperadoes under the leadership of a man named Wade a deserter of the Yankee army who made headquarters at Fort Hamby. Fort Hamby was an old fashioned residence built of logs; there were two buildings, the larger one was two stories high and was the one used as the fort. The other building was about thirty feet from the main building, only one story high and was used as the kitchen.. Those buildings. were on the north side of the Yadkin river near the mouth of Lewis Fork, about eight miles west of Wilkesboro. They were situated on top of a hill looking the bottoms of the Yadkin river and Lewis Fork creek, and from the fort windows was an excellent view on either side. It was an ideal location for a fort and no doubt Wade and his gang of robbers felt secure inside the heavy log walls.

The gang consisted of Wade and Lockwood, two renegade Yankee deserters, and about 85 men from this and adjoining counties. They were a terror to the people round about and committed many depredations, robbing dwellings, smoke-houses, stores and anything else they could plunder and destroy, killing innocent women and men as well.

On one occasion a woman (the wife of Frank Triplett) was passing along the road on the opposite side of the creek several hundred yards away in a covered wagon when one of the robbers decided to try his rifle. He fired upon the wagon and the ball struck the woman and killed her.

The last raid of Wade and his gang of robbers was a raid into Alexander county. John Greene, father of Dr. W. C. Greene, was one of the most prosperous planters in Alexander county. He had learned that the robbers were marching in the direction of his home, and supposing that they would attempt to rob him he set about making preparations to resist them. He supplied all his negroes and laborers with arms and stationed them in the house. The negroes were stationed in the dining house and the old man Greene and son W. C. Greene, whom Wade's men had threatened to kill, took position in the front part of the house. About bed-time Wade's men surrounded the house and Wade and two others went to the front door and tried to deceive Mr. Greene by pretending to be Confederate soldiers returning from the war. Their story was not believed and while Wade and Greene were talking the robbers tried to force an entrance at a back window. Young Greene rushed to the window and began firing on the robbers who at once retreated. The robbers went up on the Brushies and stayed until about daylight and then made their way back to Fort Hamby. W. C. Greene at once set about to raise a company to pursue the robbers and capture them before they could reach Fort. Hamby, but they soon found that they could not overtake them.

The people were enraged at the conduct of these robbers and determined to drive them out of the country or capture them and destroy them. A company was soon made up - mostly of men from Alexander county which was prepared to make an attempt on Fort Hamby. The company came across the Brushy Mountain by Solomon Davis' who had been robbed by Wade's gang. Davis told the men that he was too old to attack, but he wanted to encourage them all he could. He had some four year old peach brandy to which he told the men to help themselves. They drank what they wanted and some of them filled their bottles and carried them with them. Jones Brown who had just returned from the army was in the company, and was riding a mule beside Parks Gwaltney.  When they were riding along the bank of the Yadkin river Brown was in a very solemn mood. Suddenly he drew his bottle of brandy from his pocket and tossed it over the river bank and said: "Parks, I never intend to touch that again."  Gwaltney, in relating the incident several years later said that "coming events seem to cast a shadow before them." But they marched on, and when they were near the fort a consultation was held and a plan of attack was agreed upon.

The company, which was composed of about 26 men, was divided into two squads - one under the command of Captain Evan Ellis, of Wilkes, the other under the command of Colonel Sharp of Alexander. One squad was to dash by and be ready to commence the attack on all sides simultaneously. When this was done the fort was surrounded and firing began. The robbers within the fort returned the fire and the battle was hotly contested. James Linney was shot and killed during the engagement. The robbers had all the advantages of the fight, as they were protected from the fire of the citizens by the thick log walls of the fort, the citizens were in open view of the robbers. After seeing that the attack could only result in disaster to the citizens they retreated under a heavy fire from the robbers. Parks Gwaltney said that he was marching back and forth firing into one of the windows of the fort where the robbers were constantly passing when he discovered that their comrades were retreating. He followed them and again happened to get with Jones Brown. They were riding side by side when they came to the ford of Lewis Fork creek. While they were in the ford the mule which Brown was riding became stubborn and would not go along. The balls from the fort wore flying thick and fast all around them. Gwaltney was aiding Brown in trying to get the stubborn mule along. While they were yet in the ford a ball struck Brown on the thigh and the blood spouted and the clear mountain stream flowed on toward the sea crimsoned with the blood of a Southern hero. When the ball struck Brown, he said, "Parks, take care of yourself, I'm killed." The blood was flowing in a stream from the wound and the bullets from the fort coming thicker and faster. By this time the mule had become manageable and the two comrades were riding along the road on the bank of the stream while the balls knocked up the sand all around them. Gwaltney was trying to hold his wounded comrade on the mule, but Brown was getting weaker every second from the loss of blood, and he again told Gwaltney to take care of himself as he was already killed. Brown fell from his mule upon the sand and died, and Gwaltney hurried on to get beyond the danger line.

A company of men from Caldwell county had previously attacked Fort Hamby, and has succeeded in getting to the fort but were unable to capture it. In the engagement the Caldwell crowd lost two men - Clark and Hensely - who were shot and killed by the robbers.

Although defeated in the first engagement, the people were more determined than over to burst up the gang of robbers congregated at Fort Hamby, and immediate preparation was made for a second attack. The first company was reinforced by men from Wilkes, Alexander and Caldwell counties, and about 3 days later they went more determined than ever to capture the robbers. The intention was to camp on the south side of the Yadkin and wait until just before day to surround the fort. When the citizens approached the placed where they intended they saw several lights and they supposed that Wade and his gang had started out on another raid and Sharp's men thought they would intercept them and give battle. They charged down on the men but to their surprise and delight instead of finding Wade's band found a company of about 75 men from Caldwell awaiting to attack Wade's gang.

The Caldwell men and the Alexander, Iredell and Wilkes men joined forces and awhile before day they surrounded the fort and began the attack. All that day and all that next night the firing was kept up but no man on either side was killed. Awhile before daylight the second night Wall Sharp slipped up to the kitchen under the cover of darkness of night and set it on fire. When Wade and his men discovered that the kitchen was burning they thought the fort would be certain to catch on fire and that they would either have to surrender or be cremated in the fort, so Wade asked what quarters would be given if they would come out and surrender. One of the men replied: "We'll give you a passport to h--l." But Wade thought it better to surrender than to remain and be burned up in the fort; so he announced that they would come out and surrender. But by some means, presumably by jumping from a window, Wade got out of the fort without being detected and instead of surrendering made a break for the river. He dashed through the citizens' line and was fired upon a number of times but without effect. Wade reached the river in safety. The others came out and surrendered.

The robbers under the leadership on Wade numbered 86, but during the siege all had escaped but four - Bill Beck, Bill Wood, Enock Wood and _____________ Lockwood. After these had surrendered the fort was searched and all the articles that had been stolen by the robbers that could be identified were returned to the proper owners. Then the fort itself was fired and the people who had been robbed and their friends stood by and watched Fort Hamby dissolve to ashes and smoke.

After the fort had burned to the ground a court martial was organized and the four robbers were tried and condemned to be shot at the stake. They were taken a few paces east of the burned fort and tied to stakes. Revs. William R. Gwaltney and Isaac Oxford, two Baptist ministers, were in the company of citizens, and they both offered prayer for the robbers about to be shot at the stake. Wells Linney asked to be allowed to shoot Beck, who confessed that he had shot James Linney in the engagement on the previous Sunday. The signal was given and the detailed men fired upon the four robbers tied to the stakes; their bodies riddled with bullets their souls went back to the God who gave them.

The citizens then searched along the river for Wade but failed to find him. Then they dispersed leaving the four robbers hanging to the stakes, and returned to their homes. Wade told some of his friends in the community that he sank himself under the water and got breath through a reed and stayed concealed that way until late in the evening;  he went up and looked at his comrades hanging to the stakes dead; immediately left this country; and has not been heard of since. 91

The bodies of the robbers were probably cut down in the evening after they were shot, then they lay about the ruins of Fort Hamby for three days and nights; finally the people of the community put in boxes and hauled them away and buried them.

 

SIMMONS GANG ROBBERS

 
There was another gang of robbers under the leadership of another renegade Yankee deserter named Simmons. They made headquarters out on the Brushy Mountains. They were as mean and daring in their deviltry as the Fort Hamby gang, and sometimes the two gangs would raid together. A number of innocent people wore wantonly murdered by this gang for no purpose what ever except to satisfy their hellish desire to kill. On one occasion a young man who was rather idiotic was captured by one of the gang who thought they would take him to camp and have all the fun they wanted out of him and then kill him. The young man was put in the road before the robber and made to march at his command. As they were marching through a dark hollow the robber was sighting at the back of the boy's head and the opportunity to commit murder was so tempting that he pulled the trigger and the innocent man fell dead.

About 20 years before the outbreak of the Civil war one morning there was a boy baby found lying on the courthouse steps. The child's parent could not be found so a Presbyterian Minister named Pervis, who lived on the lot east of the courthouse known as the Cowles place, adopted the child into his home and raised it. Since the boy was found at the courthouse he was named John Wilkes after the county. He grow up manhood and was a bright young man. He was wantonly killed by a member of the Simmons gang.

When the Stoneman's division of the Federal army marched through Wilkes the people hid their horses in the woods and mountains for fear they would be stolen, and it was several days that the people were afraid to venture out. About three days after the raid William Transou ventured up to Wilkesboro to hear the news. Simmons captured him on his way home and intended to kill him. He told him if he wanted to pray he would give him a moment. Transou fell to his knees and he too begging Simmons not to kill him. One of the Simmons' associates was touched by Transou's pleading and he too begged Simmons to spare him. Simmons finally consented to spare Transou if he would tell where his horses were at.

The Simmons gang committed some daring robberies mostly in Alexander and Iredell. After the Fort Hamby gang was broke up the band dissolved and Simmons left the country.

 

STONEMAN'S RAID

 
In April,1865, a detachment of the Federal army numbering about 25 thousand men marched through Wilkes county burning houses, barns, etc., robbing and plundering everything in sight leaving their trail almost a howling wilderness. They came to Wilkes by way of Boone where they burned the court house as well as much private property, thence by Patterson's Factory where they burned the woolen mills located there,  thence down the Yadkin into Wilkes.

They crossed the Yadkin at Holman's ford, and the river being swollen, it was with difficulty that they succeeded in crossing; but they crossed in safety to the men and horses but a wagon of ammunition and a cannon wore overturned and lost in the river. The cannon and a lot of the ammunition was found after the war was over. Here the army was divided into two sections; one section was put under the of General Palma while General Stoneman commanded the other section. Palma and his detachment went on the North side of the Yadkin, Stoneman's section on the South side.

When the wing of the army under Stoneman's command reached Cub Creek, it was too high to ford so he pitched his tent on the hill this side, just east of where W. N. Barber now lives, and camped there several days, during which time his soldiers were plundering and burning. One morning one of his men had entered and was preparing to set fire to the tithes the Confederates had collected here, which were stored in the old Hall store house just north of the courthouse. Just at that moment Calvin J. Cowles stepped in and persuaded the soldier not to burn the building. He argued that the provisions ought to be distributed among the poor women and children of the Union men in this county. The soldier told him he would wait until he could run to Stoneman's camp and see him. This Cowles did at the peril of his life and succeeded in saving the stores and the court house and jail and buildings as well.

Stoneman sent Cowles with a number of soldiers with a message to General Palma who was encamped on the opposite side of the river with the other wing of the army. Cowles urged Palma not to burn the factory at Elkin; this request was compiled with and the army soon left the county. They went down the river to Elkin, then to Mount Airy and then to Salisbury.

The people were left in a desolate condition. Many families were left entirely without provisions with their houses and barns burned; the men were nearly all in the army, robbers abundant in the county and it was with difficulty that starvation was averted.


2010 by  Nola Duffy, and/or individual contributors.  No portion of  any document appearing on this site is to be used for other than personal research.  Any republication or reposting is expressly forbidden without the written consent of the owner. Last updated 07/09/2013