The steady drumming of a horse's hooves on the hard-packed earth of the old dirt trail signaled the hurried approach of a lone rider skillfully maneuvering her mount along the winding traces of the old Indian trail as it traversed through the forested gloom. Evening shadows were already beginning to fall and the chirping chorus of katydids that greeted her as she entered the dark woods seemed deafening with their insistent chant.
Her eyes quickly scanned the surrounding woodland for any signs of danger, her senses alert to every nuance of sound or movement, honed from years of living on the frontier in the border country of what would later become East Tennessee. This young girl was only 11 years old when she made this ride alone through miles and miles of dark woods rife with wild animals, lawless bands of banditti and marauding warriors, thus her ride was especially significant and just as important as the ride of Paul Revere, for her message was a vital one, and many lives were at stake in this summer of 1794. The Indians were going on the warpath and she must carry the message to her father and warn the settlements of the impending attack. This brave young girl was General John Sevier's daughter, Ruth Sevier, who certainly proved that she was her father's (and her mother's) daughter on this day, with her courageous ride!
Ruth Sevier was born at her parents' home on Limestone Creek in Washington County, TN, in 1783, the daughter of General John Sevier and his second wife, Catharine (Bonny Kate) Sherrill Sevier. She grew up, however, on the banks of the Nolichucky River at the Plum Grove plantation home of her parents, surrounded by a large and loving family of 17 brothers and sisters. Her father had 10 children by his first wife, Sarah, and he and Bonny Kate went on to have eight children of their own. Ruth was their third child and was quite the little tomboy, as evidenced by her heroic bareback ride on what was reputed to be a one-eyed horse, with only a rope for a bridle. She had a unique and interesting childhood. Once her father had taken 30 Native American prisoners and, having nowhere else to take them, brought them home with him and allowed them to live on his plantation, where they stayed for years. They became quite fond of Ruth, calling her "Chucka's (or Chucky's) Rutha,” Rutha being the pet name that the General called his daughter, and Nolichucky Jack being the name the Indians had given him, condensing it to the shortened version of "Chucka (Chucky) Jack.” As a result of this close association with the native tribe that lived on their farm, little Ruth became quite adept at learning several Native American dialects, which made her valuable to her father (and others) later on, as an interpreter.
As a child, she showed interest in the Native American’s customs and they seemed to especially adore her for it. They called her a princess and predicted that she would marry a chief someday. In a way, this actually came true.
She went on to marry a young man who had been kidnapped by the Shawnees when he was just four years old, adopted into the tribe, and raised by the family of Tecumseh who, along with his brother The Prophet, became his childhood playmates. He was ransomed at age 16 and General Sevier took him into his family and found him to be a valuable source of knowledge concerning the Native Americans. General Sevier obtained an appointment for him in the U.S. Army and he went on to eventually marry Ruth who had taken a great interest in him, being the only one who could initially communicate with him. She went on to teach him to read and write and the young man whose Native American name was Shawtunte went on to become Colonel Richard Sparks who served at U.S. posts in Mississippi and Louisiana, with Ruth lovingly by his side, supporting him all the way.
Colonel Sparks died in 1815 and Ruth went on to marry a second time — a wealthy planter from Mississippi named Daniel Vertner. She never had any children of her own, but she had many namesakes through the descendants of her brothers and sisters. Ruth Sevier Sparks Vertner died July 10, 1834, while visiting relatives, or friends, in Maysville, KY.
However, this was all very far in the future on this sultry summer night of 1794 when little Ruth was an 11-year-old messenger riding at breakneck speed to warn the frontier settlements of an impending attack by Native American forces!
One version of the story indicates Ruth rode from her home on the Nolichucky to one of the area forts to sound the warning after she and her Indian playmates were alerted to the presence of approaching warriors and their Tory compatriots as they stealthily approached the shaded glen where the girls were bathing in the river. One of the Indian girls alerted Ruth to their approach and she hastened to her home only to find no one there. Her mother had gone to visit a neighbor, and her father and brothers were away with the militia. All the were horses gone, too, except for a lone, one-eyed, sore-backed horse left standing in the corral. Ruth didn't lose any time in quickly mounting the horse, using only a rope for a bridle, and began her hurried dash through the forest to warn her frontier neighbors and friends of the impending attack.
Historians have since pointed out that the Revolutionary War was long since over in 1794, thus the timing is wrong for a Tory menace. However, the British were still stirring up hostilities between the settlers and the native tribes (as evidenced by the subsequent War of 1812). Loyalist settlers could still have been present in the more remote sections of the frontier and causing problems, thus the subsequent "Tory" labeling, perhaps?
Another version says Ruth had accompanied her older brother Joseph to one of the Native American villages where he had gone on a trading mission and was taken hostage. Joseph somehow got word to Ruth (who had not been perceived as a threat and was allowed to continue playing with the other children) to ride for help, go get their father and to sound the warning of the impending attack on the settlements, which she hastened to do, riding many miles through dangerous woods, to gain help for her captive brother and sound the alarm.
We may not ever know the full details of the story of "The Ride of Ruth Sevier,” but there is a strong family tradition that it took place and I have discovered much supporting documentation that proves Ruth Sevier was quite a girl and certainly capable of accomplishing this daring feat. It was said that she could load a musket and shoot well and could ride a horse with the accomplished skill and grace of a seasoned rider born for the saddle of these perilous, frontier times in old Tennessee. She had an uncommon amount of education for a girl of her day, with mother, Bonny Kate, educating her at home, as was the usual tradition of that time and place. Ruth was obviously an apt pupil, as evidenced by her subsequent tutoring of the young man who would later become her husband. Additionally, my research has revealed that the details for the story “The Ride of Ruth Sevier” as related in the book "Grandmother Stories from the Land of Used-To-Be by Howard Meriwether Lovett was actually based on information that the author obtained from Leila Raines Smythe who, I discovered, was John and Bonny Kate's great-granddaughter via their daughter Eliza Conway Sevier McClellan. Eliza's daughter was Mary Jane McClellan Raines, wife of Brigadier General Gabriel J. Gaines (whose records evidently supplied some of the information for this account), with their daughter being the above-mentioned Leila. Subsequently, these are some pretty impressive credentials in support of the veracity of this exciting family story!
Consequently, Ruth Sevier ranks pretty high in my book as an unsung frontier heroine and her story resonates resoundingly down through the years to regale us with yet another spellbinding glimpse into the pioneer annals of our own Tennessee frontier! (A very special thank you to Bonny Kate author Mark Strength for sharing this inspirational story with our group on our trek to Jonesborough, TN, and for supplying additional details needed for its retelling here.)
Winter Weather Prediction
Well hello folks! It's time once again to turn our attention to the upcoming winter weather prediction using the signs of nature as my mother and the families of yesteryear used to do. They obviously couldn't turn on the news and get the weather report like we all do now, so they learned to watch the natural signs around them for clues as to what they could expect in the winter months ahead.
Back in Grandma and Grandpa's day, they spent most of their time outdoors, working their farms and feeding their stock, so they were keen observers of nature much more so than we all are today. They learned to watch the birds and animals of the forest, and the other signs of nature that surrounded them for clues as to what they could expect during the ensuing winter. Their very lives depended on it for, if a snowstorm threatened, they couldn't make a rush on the grocery store at the last minute for bread, milk and other staples, such as we do now; thus, early preparation was essential to make sure they were ready for a whole winter of such snows, for the winters were much harsher then than they are now today.
While outside working their farms, or fishing in the streams, or working with their stock, or gathering honey from the bee tree, our country kin were constantly observing their surroundings and nature was a great teacher, teaching them much in her classroom 'neath the oaks, under azure skies, with the forested mountains looming in the distance. Nature signs that included such things as the early morning fogs in August, with each fog signifying a snow for winter; or the lowly woolly worms that crawl in Autumn, their markings also an indicator of the winter ahead; heavy dense foliage on the trees; thick husks on the corn; a heavy mast crop (acorns, hickory nuts, black walnuts, etc.); thick hulls on the hickory nuts; myriad spider webs — "the morning dew will reveal them"; hornets nests — high in the trees meant a mild winter, low to the ground meant a bad winter; pigs carrying sticks and building nests for their babies meant a snow was coming; scampering squirrels hurriedly gathering their cache of nuts for the winter signaled a sign of bad weather on the way; flocks of birds hurriedly feeding likewise offered clues that a snow was coming; the early departure of the Monarch butterflies and/or the geese heading south indicated winter was near; low-lying clouds hovering over the mountains during winter constituted what my Mom called a "snow bank" and she would hurry us to carry in coal and wood and water for "it's going to snow!" Thus, with these fond memories, and her words of wisdom echoing down through the years, I'd like to offer my own observations as to the upcoming winter ahead.
Folks, I counted five early morning fogs in August with three of them being heavy, thus, that counts for five measurable snows for the winter, with three of them being heavier than the others.
The woolly worms have been crawling, too, although I haven't seen many of them, but the majority of them have been black on both ends and brown in the middle, signifying the beginning and ending of winter will be harsh, with a mild spell in the middle. Several people have told me that they have also seen solid black ones in their area, too, so we had better be prepared!
The mast crop is heavy, as well, and the squirrels have been scurrying at my house for weeks now gathering their precious bounty. Too, I've noticed that the hickory nut shells this year are very thick (more so than last year), which is also a harsh winter indicator.
I’ve had several reports of hornets’ nests that were built right on the ground which also signifies a bad winter. The foliage on the trees this year is also thick, although the recent drought that we've experienced has caused some to wither and fall prematurely.
Too, with winter being right around the corner, I wanted to mention that while doing research on General John Sevier for this article, I noticed an interesting entry from his journal of 1794. General Sevier recorded that were was a "hard frost" on Oct. 8, 9, 10, and 11. Four days in a row of hard frosts! How exciting to receive this weather report from 225 years ago — proof indeed that their killing frosts came much earlier back then in jolly old Tennessee than they do today.
So friends, in summary, and based on these signs of nature as taught to us by our forefathers, it's looking like it's stacking up to be a cold winter with five snows (three of them heavier than the others), with a harsh beginning and ending to winter and a "lull", or mild spell, in between. So, folks, better get your woodpiles stacked high and your longhandles ready for old man winter is right at the door a’knockin’! Stay warm and dry and happy fall, y’all!