Tales From the Lick: The Crook & Matthew’s Hollow
By W. Clay Crook
There are vague lights in the woods, and sometimes a faint groaning in the air. The old timers say hunting around the old Ike Parrish place for buried civil war gold always raised a storm. As you follow the road past the site of pioneer Carroll Beaver’s place heading south through the old route to Clarks Creek, the road dims to an old trail, and the trees gather over head like a tunnel. You start believing the old tale of the hanging during “The Brother’s War.” The Crook & Matthews’ Hollow transforms from just a child hood ghost story to a full grown nightmare. Every lump on the ground turns into the blood soaked shoes of Elijah Matthews, and every twig turns into the pocket knife found near Jacob Crook. Every vine’s a rope, and every sound’s a shriek, and it doesn’t have to be dark to believe that lights do wander in these woods…lights of Crook and Matthews, souls doomed to wander where they died.
As a child I found the tale chilling and mystifying. Family records were oddly silent on Uncle Jacob, whom some historians had passed over as ‘slow’ and only reported his death as sometime during the Civil War. There is no marker. Some Madison County records pinpoint the day as May 3, 1863. Testimony gives it two hours before dawn, and local legend pinpoints it not far from my home, a place where strange lights in days gone by move through the darkness in pairs. Have I seen them? No…and some part of me says I don’t want to. Some things are too real, and too close to home.
The event must have embarrassed my grandsire, Jacob’s brother, greatly, as he joined the Confederate Cavalry only one week later. After the War, Ms. Matthews brought accusations to bear against neighbors for the murder of her husband and his friend.
There are many hills and hollows in this area where those in sympathy with the South had been caught and hung by Federal partisans, one at the foot of the hill below my church, and another towards Rhodestown. There were pillagings and burnings, to include Jackson, by Fielding Hurst and his famed 6th Tennessee Union Cavalry, and the brutal murder of Lt. J.W. Dodds (CSA) interred at my church cemetery. It’s not hard for me to believe, as fire eating and unreconstructed Rebs as my father’s sire’s were, that one of their number would be hung by his cousins for Union sympathies. But, yet, in a way, hard to imagine
The rope tugged taut at Jacob, briefly seizing his breath. Matthews dangled close enough to brush him, his face dark and swollen in the rising dawn. No birds sang in the cool morning and the grass was dark and thick with a lingering dew. “Damn you,” a figure spat. “We’ll show you how to starve women and children to death.”
Several of the horses were uneasy, tossing their heads and stamping their feet. The creak of leather should have been from old man Beaver’s plow mules, not from the newly gathered Reb cavalry of Andy Wilson. Wilson hadn’t been re-elected to his Major’s rank in April and had come home to recruit for that Forrest fellow. Jacob knew that other than his brother and the Arnolds, that none of his neighbors were large slave owners; but they were all a democratic bunch. “Votin’ for a new country, and then votin’ for sergeants and officers, that is pretty democratic.” he thought. The rope caught tighter and his wind grew less. “I guess they voted on this too. When we hanged ole Ben Trice for killin’ his master back in ’59, we all voted on that.” It crossed his mind that maybe votin’ on something didn’t always make it fair.
Folks had figured that they were giving information to the Yankees, or to Fielding Hurst from Nation. One of his friends, Jonas Meadows, had left the “Lick” to join them. Families hurt badly when the foraging around Lizzard Lick, Middle Fork, Jacks Creek, Clarks Creek, and Mifflin had gotten out of hand. The Yankees gave him money for telling them which of the boys were away fighting, and Elijah said they needed to tell to save their Country from being broken apart.
Neighbors like Elijah and Tom argued about countries a lot. Jacob told ‘lijah that “Tom says we have a new country now. Our granddaddy died fighting the British to make us free from a tyrant and parliament, and now we needed to fight to be free from a tyrant and congress.”
Neighbors and family gave him dark looks and so he took to staying with Matthews and his family nearer to Mifflin. Jacob was strong in his views too, but calm, and he never argued with his brother. Some thought his quiet ways and calmness meant that he was a half-wit. He’d never married, never dated, living most of his life with one of his brothers. His thoughts were rambling now. His brother Tom owned a Cherokee gal. She had a boy named Henry Clay that might be his, or might be his brother Tom’s… He was fifty now, his old pipe was good company, and so was a drink when he could get one. Ms. Matthews was pretty, and always nice to him. He had asked her for his pipe as he and Elijah were being led away, but someone told her that he “wouldn’t be needin’ his pipe anymore.’
From a lonely porch stoop, with three young children around her skirts, Elizabeth Matthews heard shots ushering in the dawn. She waved the children inside and took a step towards the woods in the west…
Every vine’s a rope, and every sound’s a shriek, and it doesn’t have to be dark to believe that lights do wander in these woods…lights of Crook and Matthews, souls doomed to wander where they died.