HUR HERALDS BEAR FORK TALES - Old-timer Sam Lawson Recalls Hidden Money, Panthers, Rattlesnakes


John and Sam Lawson

(Photo Courtesy of Ann Parks Newell)

Samuel Lawson recalled his life at age 83 in 1934, much of it he spent in the back woods of Bear Fork. He was the son of a cattle buyer, Joseph Lawson.

Lawson is one who told the tale about a bag of money being stashed in a secret hiding place in the Bear Fork wilderness, which has never been found.

Lawson composed this article while confined to bed, passing away about a year later.

RECOLLECTIONS: "Gone To School A Half-Day In My Life"

My native county is Calhoun. I was born near where the Cedar Creek bridge at Cedarville now is, in the year 1850. The old apple tree that stood in the yard of my birth still stands there bearing her fruit.

My father was drowned when I was two months old and when I was a year old, we moved to Calhoun County. I have lived here ever since, except for a short time before the Civil War when my new stepfather, Ned Parsons, moved us back to Gilmer.

I remember well when the war broke out in 1861. It seemed to be the ambition of everyone to kill and destroy. My first recollection of the war was a gang of soldiers burning our house to the ground.

While the house was burning they went into the field and shot my stepfather through the head. After the two dastardly deeds were done, they calmly rode away with the horse my stepfather had been using while plowing.

We always thought the reason we were treated so cruelly was because I had two outlaw uncles who helped to rob a rich Dutchman over in Gilmer County. His name was Michael Gerwig. My uncles stole money from him, burying it near our house on the edge of Gilmer County.

So far as I know, that money has not been found yet. Both these uncles were killed later while serving in the Confederate Army, but we were innocent relations and suffered much for their crime.

Soon after this event we moved back to Calhoun County to a little shack on Barnes Run near the mouth of Hoop Hole. My mother worked among the neighborhood women to help support her little family of four children.

She was handy with wool, and spun and wove for nearly everyone in the vicinity. In spite of all this, we lived lots of the time on parched corn, our food stores all being burned when the house was fired.

I remember once we didn't have so much corn and we became so hungry that I started out to find something to eat. I met a man with some nice yellow corn and asked him for an ear. How pleased I was when he gave me a half bushel, and what a feast we had when I returned home.

It was March and we were all out of food again. I had no shoes, but I told my sister to get me up early so that I could try and get something for mother and the children to eat.

There was a light skiff of snow on the ground, but I walked four miles to the home of Mr. Bailey. He lived where Guy Fleming now lives.

He told me he would take my brothers and sisters something to eat, which he did the next morning. Soon after this, Bailey had to give up his rented farm and move to Arnoldsburg. He took me along.

The government appointed John Haymaker postmaster at Arnoldsburg about the close of the war. Haymaker sold out two mail routes which Mr. Bailey bought.

One route was from Arnoldsburg to the mouth of Dog Creek below Newton and the other from Arnoldsburg to what is now Walton in Roane County. I carried the mail on both routes for a while as 'twas not a daily route on either.

There were very poor roads, almost no houses, and lots of the time wild animals stared at me from behind trees and rocks as I rode along. I was not afraid because I was used to this way of living.

I carried the mail about one year. Becoming tired of it decided I wanted to become a hunter. Old Bill Carpenter who lives on Bear Fork of Steer Creek had the name of being the best hunter in the county, so I went to him for my lessons, and soon learned to bring down the deer at full speed and to out cunning the sly fox.

One day my favorite buddy and I were hunting deer along a stream of water when I looked across the stream and saw three deer coming down for water.

I made a sign to my companion and we both cocked our guns and shot at the same time, bringing down two of the deer. The third made a dive for me across the stream for we had killed his mate. Just before he reached us I shot again and he fell dead.

We carried two of them home that evening and hung the other one in a tree for safe keeping. I and the old man went back and carried it in.

I remember going up on Nicut with my wife one hot day the summer after we were married to watch a lick near the old Bob Hall farm, where Dewey Hall now lives.

Someone had built a blind near this lick. A blind was constructed of brush, bark, and logs piled up to hide behind so the deer couldn't see you as you waited. I sat down behind a big stump to watch and just then a fine deer came in sight at the lick.

I heard a scratching noise inside the stump by which I was sitting and I jumped away. A big rattlesnake came crawling out. I shot him first, reloading to kill the deer, which I killed too.

You can see that there were many dangers connected with hunting in those days that you don't have now.

I remember another time I was in danger too, and didn't know it. My wife and I were coming in with a deer we had skinned on Laurel of Bear Fork.

We heard a noise behind us, and thinking it was the mate of a deer I was carrying, I began bleating, hoping to coax it near home so I could kill it also. Near where John Lawson's new home is now being built, my wife who was behind, began screaming and begging for me to hurry faster.

As I was doing my best, I let her scream. Suddenly we heard a terrific noise and looking around at what was suppose to be a deer, there was a panther.

For some reason unknown to us, the panther lad leaped into a tree and was hanging about 15 feet above the ground. I wanted to try and kill it but my wife forced me to go on home. I took the dogs back and tried to track it down, but they would not follow the scent.

Yes, I remember there were no houses on Frozen, Bear Run, or Left Hand where Peter Schoolcraft lives, one where Bill Nicholas now lives and two on Bear Run. The roads were mere paths and neighbors were scarce.

I have only gone to school one-half day in my life. I got a whipping that day for throwing the drinking cup away. Mother never let me go back. Becky Ann Conrad was the teacher that whipped me. I just picked up what little I know about reading and writing where I could, a little at a time. - SAMUEL LAWSON (1934)