BURIAL PLANS MADE JOHN WILSON A LEGEND
By Clyde Lee Jenkins
"Thus placing confidence in the honesty and ability of the said Daniel Cummings and Silas Capps, executors and administrators of this my last will and testament, and in the friendship of my fellow citizens generally, I take my final leave of them and the World. I have lived a life of honesty and usefulness to my fellow men. My time has been spent in doing good, and I await with perfect composure and resignation the will of my Creator God.
Signed in the presence of Champ Smith and Joseph B. Challes this 19th day of October 1854."
So stated John Wilson, who died on Aug. 22, 1856; born in Virginia in 1755.
According to tradition, when the Revolutionary War commenced, John Wilson, having just reached his maturity, fled from Virginia over the mountains into the wilderness of Kentucky. He was not inclined against fighting, just unwilling to take up arms against his friends. However, his friendship for the Tories was destroyed when their emissaries excited the western Indians to a concerted attack upon the frontier. Immediately, he answered the call to arms, and with other backwoodsmen from the settlements, engaged the aboriginal lords of the wilderness in a cruel sort of warfare. The many sanguinary encounters which followed eventually gave to Kentucky the sobriquet of "dark and bloody ground".
John rejoiced when Kentucky was admitted to the Union, as the 15th State, on the first of June, 1792, but the flood of emigration which followed aggrieved him much. Bening a hunter, he was obliged to flee ever westward, ahead of the on-rushing tide of humanity, often hunting with a band of friendly Shawnee Indians, having learned their language. By 1809, he was situated in what is now Hopkins County, Kentucky, but even in this far western area of the Blue Grass State, the hunting grounds were gone, the settlements multiplying and growing apace.
Anxious to hunt again, unmolested, in virgin forests, he departed in the spring of 1810 for the wilderness west of the Mississippi River. He was only a few years married, having three small sons, but in the 55th year of his lifetime, he was as gay and spirited as a youth in his teens.
With his wife and children, he crossed the Mississippi River at St. Louis, a small settlement consisting of various buildings alongside three or four streets paralleling the river. The last street adjacent to the out-lots, fields, and commons extending further west, appropriately enough, was called Barn St.; the inhabitants of the village having erected cow sheds, barns, and stables beside it. Horses, cattle, poultry, and swine could be seen everywhere.
Departing from St. Louis, a supply of salt in his backpack, he moved south, passing through M. Delor's village, then moving due west toward the Meramec River, kept following the Indian trails westerly and southerly into the Gasconade River country of central Missouri. By early autumn of 1810, he was in the Big Richwoods of Miller County today. He liked the place, and commenced searching for a home site. Before the first snow fell, he was situated in a cave by the Barren Fork of the Big Tavern Creek, living among the Indians.
The Osage Indians treated John, his wife, and children with respect and were good neighbors, while the Shawnee adored the old man of wonderful energy and vivacity, since he was able to speak their language.
During the first winter the Wilsons were in their cave home by the Barren Fork they received considerable help from the Indians. Maize, beans, pumpkins, and apples harvested from the Indian orchards, and buried, were carried to them, which supplemented their daily fare of wild meat and acorns fried in bear grease. Also, from these gifts, seeds were obtained, and saved, for the planting of crops. Little pigs were carried to them, captured by the Indians from the wild, hazel-splitter sows in the Dog Creek hills, which gave John a start in swine raising.
After two winters and two summers in their cave home, John raised a log cabin, and the Wilson family moved into more comfortable quarters. In the same year he carried a bundle of beaver skins to St. Louis, and traded them to a merchant there for a yoke of oxen, one cow, and an axe. Back at home, he commenced clearing a large field in the Tavern Creek valley, and with the coming of spring, stirred the soil with a pole-plow pulled by the oxen, planting several acres of Indian corn. Rows of beans and hills of pumpkin were also covered. A bountiful harvest the following autumn made the Wilsons a wealthy wilderness family.
From the moment of their arrival by the Barren Fork Creek, the Wilsons gathered tan bark, which was crushed and placed in half-log troughs filled with water. When enough of the water had evaporated, the tannin was drawn off, and green deer skins, placed in the liquid with other treatment, were made into leather. For several years the Wilsons were clothed in buckskin, and this included every item of apparel-hats, shoes, leggings, gloves, pants, and jackets.
In 1814, John Wilson returned to Kentucky, taking his wife and sons, to visit relatives. While there he gathered a sack of peach seeds, having a profound fondness for peach brandy. When near the Barren Fork on their homeward journey, Indian runners passed by, carrying information into the Ozark hills that old Andy Jackson was on the warpath for New Orleans, preparing to meet the British head-on.
John Wilson did not sit upon reaching home. He grabbed his Kentucky long rifle, powder, and shot, and with a half-dozen Osage warriors beside him, put into the waters of the Big Tavern Creek, and in Indian canoes, took off. Upon reaching the mouth of the Tavern watercourse, they hastened down the Osage, Missouri, and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, fighting with General Jackson in the battle of Jan. 8, 1815. This encounter was immediately immortalized in song, and made famous by Ozark Mountain fiddlers, and before his death, the "Eight of January" was John Wilson's favorite fiddle tune.
John returned to his wife and children from New Orleans, in the spring of 1815, but his private Garden of Eden would soon be interrupted. In early autumn, Daniel Brumley settled in the valley of the Big Tavern Creek, four miles away. A few years later, further upstream, Isaac Bilyeu and his young Indian bride settled nine miles distant.
Of course this was too much company, but John Wilson was now too advanced in years to look for new hunting grounds. Besides he had become strangely attached to his old cave home, so he would just stay, and live contented among white neighbors. And stay he did!
John Wilson and his wife, Nellie Ray, were the parents of three sons, Alexander, William, and Willis. They had other children who died in infancy, no doubt unable to stand the harshness of wilderness living. They lie sleeping in the soil of that little knoll, in unmarked graves, situated between the Barren and Brushy Fork creeks, near the point where the rippling waters of the two streams flow together.
John Wilson, his wife, and sons, made a number of trips back to Kentucky. They would return with salt and other items necessary for their existence in the wilderness.
Of John's and Nellie's children, Alexander was married to Tabitha Pogue, a widow, and mother of daughters Margaret Pogue, who was married to Charles A. Martin, and Martha Ann Pogue, who was married to P.C. Brumley, a son of Daniel.
Alexander and Tabitha were the parents of Elizabeth, born in 1833, who married a Burton; John born Oct. 6, 1836; Ellender who was married to John F. Barr on Nov. 16, 1856; William; Madison Ray, who was married to Huldy Jane Glesom on Nov. 25, 1866; Robert; and Alexander H.
Alexander Wilson died in February, 1850. His entire estate was appraised at $219. He owned seven hogs, 12 sheep, a yoke of oxen, one horse, saddle mare, log chain, froe, auger, three plows, a grindstone, an axe, a rifle gun, and saddle. The widow, Tabitha, was allowed personal property in an amount of $200 as her right of dower. The remaining property was sold on April 22, 1850, for a sum of $46.55. The widow, Tabitha, died in November 1863.
After Alexander's death, son John, 14 years of age, on his own free will, and in obedience to an order of the Miller County Court, bound himself to Hugh Snelling to learn the trade of farming, and with him to dwell and serve until 21 years of age on Oct. 6, 1857. He further agreed to keep his master's secrets, obey his lawful commands, not waste his goods, nor play at cards or dice, haunt or frequent taverns and tippling houses, places of gaming or of ill fame; nor contract matrimony during his term of apprenticeship.
Madison Ray Wilson, after his marriage, moved to Oklahoma.
William Wilson, son of John and Nellie, died in January, 1852. His heirs included, widow, Martha A. and children, Sicily, who married William Carroll Brumley on Nov. 29, 1855; Alexander, who married Polly Ann Martin on March 15, 1866; William E., who married Eliza A. Golden on Jan. 14, 1864; Owen C. who married Matilda C. Ramsey on March 2, 1879 and after her death married Nancy Snellings; and Perry W.
William's estate was appraised by John Brumley, Daniel Cummings, and Metheldred Bass on March 11, 1853, and besides his real estate, consisting among other items, of three beds and bedding, a trundle bed, 50 bed quilts, bureau, a looking glass, cooking vessels and shelf ware, spinning wheel, man's saddle, side saddle, three trunks, six plows, three beef hides, six horses, wagon, yoke of oxen, one bull, four cows, three calves, a lot of hogs, a number of sheep, a lot of corn, meat and potatoes..
Willis Wilson, son of John and Nellie was married to a woman named Ilgeretta. Until 1839, they lived three miles northeast of the Wilson Cave, then sold out to John Millhollen and moved three miles southeast of present day Brumley, settling near Brumley Creek. In 1846, they sold this property to Simon Peter Bilyeu, and left Miller County.
With son Willis gone, sons Alexander and William dead, John Wilson and Nellie Ray were left alone at their home by the cave. They Nellie died, and John was left alone.
John Wilson, who arrived in central Missouri with his family, poorly clad, and half-starved, was an eccentric, who loved freedom. He would help anyone whom he found in want, and this included his first neighbors, the Indians. He was of a kind and genial disposition, but his gentler traits were joined to an unconquerable spirit of daring and endurance which made him the idol of all who knew him. He was independently religious, but tolerated toward those who did not agree with him. He was fond of strong drink, especially peach brandy, believing that happiness was the key to longevity.
For some reason unknown even to himself the cave kept strangely beckoning him home until finally, the burial of himself and Nellie in an opening above its entrance was proposed. With feelings almost violent, Nellie opposed this, wanting her body interred across the creek beside her own children, and the West baby, which was done. Soon afterwards, the century mark in living before him, John Wilson distributed, by will, his 400 acres of land and personal property to son, Willis, and his grandchildren, and thus, having dispensed of his worldly goods, commenced making preparations for his own funeral and burial which would make him a legend.
He informed Silas Capps and Daniel Cummings his passing be not mourned by his friends and neighbors. Instead, they should meet and be happy. Have a feast prepared and served them, with peach brandy consumed from his barrels, until everyone was filled. Instead of funeral music, have fiddlers play, with dancing by those who enjoyed it…his funeral procession to be led by fiddlers playing the "Eighth of January".
Further, upon his death, he requested they have his body opened, the entrails removed, the corpse placed in a coffin made by his own hands, then packed in salt and carried to the cave, placing it in an opening above the entrance. With seven demijohns of peach brandy beside the coffin, have the opening walled-up and sealed.
John Wilson then requested his friends and neighbors once more come together after seven years, his tomb opened, the demijohns removed, and in his memory, feast, have dancing and the brandy consumed to everyone's enjoyment. His body, now petrified, was to be removed, viewed, packed in lime, and returned to the tomb.
Capps and Cummings shook the old man's hand. They agreed his wishes would be fulfilled.
Silas Capps said, "I stood looking at one of the greater curiosities ever seen in Miller County. Having been in Virginia when the Revolutionary War commenced, Uncle Jack Fled over the mountains into the wilderness, not being willing to take up arms against his friends.
"When I married Julyann Brumley in 1838,: Silas continued, "Uncle Jack was there, and even though past 80 years of age, he was the life of the party at my wedding dance. He often told others he was 20 years younger than he actually was, especially the girls. He enjoyed living. Here, with the flush of 99 years upon his face, he stood with many peculiarities about him, but the one which most attracted my attention, was the hardness of his skin. More like sole leather than anything else I could compare with."
Early the morning of August 22, 1856, John Brumley, who lived by a large spring, one and one-fourth mile down the Big Tavern watercourse from the Wilson Cave, was awakened by someone gently tapping upon his door. He arose, and having lifted the latch, upon swinging the door wide, was greeted by his neighbor, John Wilson, who inquired of him, "Might nye I come in to be with thee when I die?" Taken by then hand, the old man was led to a bed, and when comfortably situated upon it, fell almost immediately into that deep sleep from which no mortal has ever returned. Silas Capps, Daniel Cummings, Dr. A.P. Nixdorf, and Dr. John Brockman were immediately sent for. What followed may best be told by others.
Dr. A.P. Nixdorf, before his death, stated, "I conducted the post-mortem examination with Dr. John Brockman in the noted Jack Wilson case, where, after the intestines had been removed, the body was filled with salt, sewed up and placed in a coffin, which was then deposited in a small cave high above the entrance to the famous Wilson Cave, and securely walled-up."
J.R. Burks before his death many years ago, said, "I was born in Tennessee on Nov. 25, 1836, and moved to Missouri with my parents in the fall of 1839. We located near Iberia. When we came here there were plenty of deer, wolves, wild turkeys, and occasionally, a panther. We moved from Iberia to the Barren Fork of the Tavern, and have lived here ever since, in sight of the Wilson Cave. I saw Jack Wilson's entrails taken out, the cavity filled with salt, the body sewed up and placed in the cave. His entrails were placed in a goods box, and taken about a mile or more and buried in the graveyard."
Agnes Bell Davidson, who married John Clark, Sr., said, "I was at the funeral of John Wilson. He had made two coffins himself, and he was put in the second one made by him. We went to Brumley's house, and all the neighbors and many friends were there. We eated a big meal, and there were fiddlers playing music, for Uncle Jack wanted everyone to be happy, and some were happy, with some not so happy. The box with the body was placed on the poles between the horses, and we lined up side by side behind them, and when the fiddlers, on the horses commenced playing, we marched out for the cave, and the sun was shining. We were following Uncle Jack to his first home, rather peculiar I would think, but who would deny a man his wishes when having lived 101 years."
John Wilson, affectionately known as Uncle Jack by his friends and neighbors, died in the first year of his second century of living. Dr. John Brockman and Dr. A.P. Nixdorf prepared his body according to his wishes, and each was allowed $55 for his services. At the house of John Brumley, a funeral feast with plenty of brandy to wash down the food was served everyone willing to partake of the fare, while fiddlers played Uncle Jack's favorite tunes.
After the festivities, poles were laid across the backs of two horses standing side by side, the coffin placed upon the poles between them. Friends and neighbors then lined up behind the animals, and when the fiddlers, on horseback, three on a side, ahead of the bearers, commenced playing the "Eighth of January," everyone moved up the Tavern Creek valley.
At the cave, the coffin was removed, and carried around the hill to the top of the bluff, directly above the cave. With strong ropes and leather lines over a tree limb extending past the bluff's edge, John Brumley, Calvin Berry, Isaac Horton, John Clark Sr., E. Golden, Wm. C. Brumley, Metheldred Bass, Silas Capps, Hiram Jones, Levi Albertson, Wm. L. Crane Sr., Calvin Grady Robert Clark, Wm. Airhart, Rial Murcersmith, Mansury Gerbe, Emmanuel Goodlove, Champion Smith, Daniel Cummings and others, lifted the coffin and lowered it alongside the face of the bluff until in front of the opening above and to the right of the entrance.
At this point, men on pole ladders and scaffolding shoved the coffin into the grave. Demijohns of brandy were then lifted up, and when properly situated by the coffin, the opening was sealed by Jonathan Allen, who was allowed $20 for his services.
John Wilson's personal property was sold by the administrators of his estate on Dec. 12, 1956. Items included rifle gun and pouch, lot of shot, trundle bedstead, and bedding, razor and strop, hatchet, two churns, honey stand, coffee mill, three augers, chisel, hand saw, drawing knife, froe, three steel traps, three ox bells, steelyards, hat, cap, and cane, rye in sacks, 300 bushels of rent corn in field, 20 bushels of wheat, bull, two cows, lot of out-hogs, one lot of chickens, two chairs, sieve, tray and table, Bible, and one book, Tom Payne's "Age of Reason".
Did John Wilson's friends gather seven years later in his memory? No, John Wilson was forgotten. A Civil War was being fought, and his friends were scattered. Too, the tomb had been opened by vandals; the peach brandy removed and consumed.
Find more information at http://www.rootsweb.com/~momiller/wilson_i_cemetery.html
Demijohn information http://hometown.aol.com/pristis/index.html