SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - You Shall Cross The Barren Desert, Be Not Afraid Becky 'Coy

By Bob Weaver 2000

"Death, the king of terrors." - Job

"It was a day like this my mother died," said my grandfather John Ira McCoy, staring across Rowel's Run toward the Village of Hur, trees laden with snow and the temperature stuck well below freezing.

The five McCoy children were orphaned when Rebecca Burdette McCoy died of consumption in 1880, living in a tiny log cabin near the George Washington Hardman, Jr. manor house on Barnes Run, not far from the Village of Hur.

A writer once wrote that children do not "grow up" or come of age until both parents have passed.

Grandpa John grew up early.

He was only six when his mother died, his father being killed in a sawmill accident six years earlier in Roane County.

The children were scattered to the wind, to be raised by different families.

He lamented about not having her picture, no cameras back then in the Calhoun hills, but he could remember how she looked, describing her face.

The circumstances of my grandpa's life is a childhood memory shared with me by the aging man, as he spent most of his latter years sitting in his front porch rocker, quiet in his thoughts. He died in 1950 at the age of 78 when I was only 10.

Becky McCoy's sister, Diana Burdette Hardman, rescued Becky and her floundering family, bringing them from Roane County to their Calhoun` estate after husband Abraham McCoy's tragic death.

Becky had started courting Abraham during the Civil War, after he joined one of the local brigades. She married the nineteen-year-old Reedyville, Roane County farmer when she was seventeen.

He was only twenty-eight when they carried him up to the Thomasson Cemetery, on land donated by her grandfather John Poindexter Thomasson. She was pregnant with my grandfather the day of his funeral.

Reedyville was a thriving community by 1840 with general stores, a grist mill, a blacksmith shop, a shoemaker and two boarding houses, all to fade into memory by 1870 to the Town of Reedy, which became the center of commerce.

When the hard times came after Abraham's death, her Calhoun sister had considerable means at her disposal, having married George Washington Hardman, Jr. in 1867, a prominent Calhoun landowner, stock man, politician and one-time candidate for Congress.

Hardman's father, George Sr., had fought in the Mexican War and was taken prisoner by the Yankees during the Civil War while working on his large farm below Grantsville. He was transported to Pennsylvania, but was shortly released after it was discovered he fought in the Mexican conflict.

Diana and young George built their stately mansion house on Barnes Run after the Civil War, a structure which is still standing. Nearby, she had the field hands build Becky a small cabin for her family.

Illness came upon Becky and the Hardman's hired girls came to the tiny cabin to sit with her, doing what they could to treat her consumption.

The Hardman's sent to Richardson for a doctor, eight miles by horseback out the Husk Ridge. He was sick himself, but sent medicine back to the ailing woman.

Her oldest child, Florence, 14, took care of her siblings, Everett, Clarmont, Anna and little John.

As Becky's fever worsened, Grandpa John recalled them reading from Joshua - "Be not afraid. I go before you always, be not afraid." He quoted from the chapter often in his old age.

Nine days into the illness she died on December 5, 1880.

The Hardman's came with a team of horses and a sled, placing her body in a wooden box for the journey back to Roane County, to be buried next to her husband.

The children went in different directions, but John Ira was informally adopted by George Washington and Diana Hardman, to grow to manhood with their only son Allie.

He viewed the "adoption" as a stroke of luck.

He left the Hardman's care in 1895 at age 21 to wed Mary Virginia Riggs, and to have nine children of their own. Here in the Village of Hur they would live their lives, rarely leaving the farm.

John Ira's brother, Everett, returned to Hur to establish the village's first store in 1895 - McCoy and McCoy. That store stayed in business for the next 100 years.

Becky McCoy's cabin vanished by 1900. Old-timers who named every gully, turn, hill and holler, identified her tiny place in the world as "Becky 'Coy Holler."

Years later, in the McCoy family Bible, written in longhand on yellow tablet paper, I found the "Be Not Afraid" scripture, later used to compose the popular hymn:

"You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst. You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way. You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand. You shall see the face of God and live."

"If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown. If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed. If you stand before the pow'r of hell and death is at your side, know that I am with you through it all."

"Blessed are your poor, for the kingdom shall be theirs. Blest are you that weep and mourn, for one day you shall laugh. And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me, blessed, blessed are you!"

Be not afraid. I go before you always; Come follow me, and I will give you rest. - Joshua 1:9