John Y. Estes, whose photo we believe is shown above, started out years ago with a question, one that is probably answered now, but every time we think we answer one question about him, another dozen take its place.
Let’s start from the beginning. When I first saw John’s name, I immediately noticed the Y. Two things occurred to me…first, that’s someone’s last name and second, that’s shouldn’t be too difficult to find. Y is not like S that would include something like Smith and takes up 10% of the alphabet. Famous last words, or first thoughts, because assuredly, that second thought was NOT true.
Now don’t laugh, but one time I was at one of those fortune telling places. The fortune teller asked me if I had any more questions. I said yes, and asked her about John Y. Estes’s middle name. She said something like Yarborough or maybe Yancy. She wasn’t right about anything else either.
Nope, never let it be said that genealogists are a desperate group!
John Y. Estes was born on December 29, 1818, in Halifax County, Virginia to John R. Estes and his wife, Nancy Ann Moore. Hmmmm, that middle initial R. might be someone’s last name….never mind….
We know that John R. Estes and his wife, Nancy Ann Moore, along with five if not six children made the long wagon journey from Halifax County, Virginia to Claiborne County, TN. sometime between 1818 and 1826 when John R. Estes had a land survey in Claiborne County. The 1820 census doesn’t exist for Claiborne County and John appears to be gone from Halifax by then, so we’re out of luck knowing where John R. was in 1820.
In the 1830 census, John R. Estes was living in Claiborne County in the vicinity of Estes Holler, shown below.
How do I know that? Because these families have all become very familiar to me over my 30+ years of research. John is living beside William Cunningham, who, in 1871 signed as a character witness for John R. Estes. And six houses away we find John Campbell, the grandfather of Ruthy Dodson who likely raised her after her mother, Elizabeth Campbell died. Rutha Dodson was the future wife of John Y. Estes. And next door to John Campbell lived Mercurious Cook whose son’s widow John R. Estes would marry in another 40 years – but that is a story for a different day.
In the early 1830s, John R. Estes took his family to live in Grainger County for a short time. Nancy Ann Moore’s two uncles, Rice and Mackness Moore lived there, Rice being a Methodist minister. John R. Estes’s daughter, Lucy, married in Grainger County in 1833. By 1835, John was back in Claiborne County when Temperance married Adam Clouse, so they didn’t stay long in Grainger County.
For the most part, John Y. Estes grew up in or near Estes Holler, below, from the cemetery, which, of course, is why it’s called Estes Holler today.
By 1840, John Y. was probably courting the lovely Ruthy Dodson, likely at her grandfather’s house. John Campbell had died in 1838, but his widow Jenny Dobkins Campbell didn’t die until between 1850 and 1860, so she would have still been living on the old home place, on Little Sycamore Road, below, when young John Y. Estes came to call.
We don’t find John R. Estes in the 1840 census, but by 1841, John R. Estes had to be living someplace in the vicinity because both his sons Jechonias and John Y. Estes married local gals.
On March 1, 1841, John Y. Estes married Ruthy Dodson, just a couple months after his 23rd birthday.
Ruthy Dodson’s mother, Elizabeth Campbell died before Elizabeth’s father, John Campbell, did in 1838. After John’s death, a guardian was appointed for Elizabeth’s children to function on behalf of their financial interests in his estate.
In the 1830 census, the John Campbell household has small children, so it’s very likely that the grandparents, John and Jenny Dobkins Campbell were raising Elizabeth Campbell’s children she had with her husband, Lazarus Dodson.
On September 5th, 1842, John Y. Estes signed a receipt for receiving part of Ruthy’s inheritance. This seems to have been paid yearly, at least until the children reached the age of majority.
“John Y. Estes rect. dated 5th Sept. 1842, $54.35. Ditto rents for the year 1841, $1.50. Ditto order for what ballence may be in my hands as guardean, amt. $56.61.”
By 1850, we find John Y. Estes living in Estes Holler along with the rest of the Estes clan. John is listed as a laborer, age 30, Ruthy as age 25 and Lazarus as age 2.
Given that John and Ruthy were married in 1841 and their oldest child in 1850 is only 2, this suggests that John and Ruthy had already buried several children. If they had one child per year and the child died at or shortly after birth, they could have buried as many as six children in this time. The Upper Estes cemetery, as well as the Venable Cemetery at the end of the road have many, many unmarked graves. The Upper Estes Cemetery was within view of the John Y. Estes home place.
Furthermore, we know that John Y. Estes was living on this land, even though we find very few records of John Y. Estes in official county documents.
This land was originally granted to William Devenport and would eventually, in part, become the property of Rutha Estes, John Y.’s wife – but that wouldn’t happen for another 30 years.
William Devenport, April 17, 1850 – James McNeil trustee to William S. McVey, Districts 6 and 8, 475 acres, Buzzard’s Rock Knob – corner of grant to James M. Patterson, from Devenport’s spring, grant to Drewry Gibson, 50 acres #14072, line of Drewry Gibson, crossing Gibson’s branch, S with John Dobkins grant owned at present by Leander and Greenberry Cloud near N.S. McNeil’s line crossing Gibson’s branch on top of Middle Ridge, Planks fence of old Wier place, John Mason’s corner and line, Cunningham’s line, Devenport-Lanham’s corner, Weatherman’s spring, middle ridge – all of above contained in grant 16628 from the St. of Tennessee to William Devenport.
Second tract – 130 acres of land on the S. Side of Wallen’ ridge, corner of D. Gibson’s 50 acres tract #14072, Houston’s line, NW of Devenport’s line, Harkins corner, large rock on top of knob called Buzzard’s Rock, Harkins corner, Abel Lanham’s corner, Henderson’s line, 100 acre tract of WH Jennings, Bise’s corner, top of Wallen Ridge at Bise’s stake corner of Hardy tract, Henderson’s corner, the above contained in grant 27438 St. of Tn. to Devenport.
Also a 25 acre tract known as the Weatherman place.
1851 – William Devenport tax sale to William McVey – bid July 7, 1851 at courthouse, land in the 8th district, but due to a change in the lines now in the 6th district living near the lines of the 6th and 8th, sold for the taxes of 1845 and 1846, $16.77, 200 acres.
Tract 1 – S side Wallen Ridge near Little Sycamore adjacent lands of William Houston, Mordica Cunningham on the South, Samuel Harkins on the North, on NE Cunningham, William Houston’s, the land commonly known as the Weatherman place where William Devenport and John Estes now live. Census records show that this is John Y. Estes, not John R. Estes that lives beside William Devenport.
So, in 1851, William Devenport is losing his land and apparently, neither he nor John Estes can do anything about it. John is not bidding on the land. William S. McVey purchased this land and in 1852, William McVey also purchased a very large tract of land granted to William Estes, John’s brother, which John Y. Estes witnessed.
By 1876, this same land is being conveyed by Henry Sharp to W.H. Cunningham. How do we know this is the same land that is where John Y. Estes lived? Metes and bounds are included, it states that is was William Devenport’s and it says that is where David A. King lived when he died. The Reverend David A. King, a Methodist minister fought for the Union in the Civil War, died in 1873 and is buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery. His daughter, Elizabeth married the son of John Y. Estes, George Buchanan Estes, in 1878. I wonder if the old Reverend rolled over in his grave to have his daughter marry the son of a Confederate. Yes, the secret is out, John Y. Estes was a Confederate.
1876, Mar 30 – Henry Sharp of Campbell Co., TN to W.H. Cunningham of Claiborne for $400, 2 tracts of land in Claiborne on the waters of Little Sycamore Creek on the South side of Wallen’s Ridge adj the land of William Houston, decd and constitute the farm on which David A. King lived at the time of his death, one part is an entry made by William Devenport and bounded as follows: Beginning at a hickory stump on a red bank in Houston’s line thence north 9 deg west with Hentins? Line 94 poles to the Buzzard Rock on the top of Wallen’s Ridge thence with the top of Wallen’s ridge 240 poles to a chestnut oak and when redused to a strait line is south 60 deg west 234 poles then south 75? Deg east on Houston’s line 34 poles to a stake in the other line of Houston’s then with the same north 70 deg east 93.75 poles to a double chestnut and gum on a spur at Houston’s corner thence with lines of Houston’s land south 390 deg east 43 poles to a maple at the branch then east 62 poles to a hickory stump then with lines of Houston’s land south 30 east 43 poles to a maple at a branch then east 62 poles to a hickory stump then north 62 poles to a large white oak corner then east 9 poles to the beginning containing 90 acres more or less.
This land would eventually be owned by Rutha Estes, the wife of John Y. Estes.
The second parcel bounded by…Houston’s line, Devenport’s grant line, 25 acres. Witness JW Bois, WW Greer.
This was a very, very indirect “round the mountain” way to track John Y. Estes, but it worked. However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s go back before the Civil War.
On March 8, 1856, in the court records, we show that John Y. Estes had an account in the estate of Thomas Baker – in other words, he owed Thomas money.
In the 1860 census, John and Rutha have four more children, although with a gap of 4 years between Lazarus and Elizabeth, it looks like they lost at least one more child.
Interestingly, John Y. Estes is a shoemaker. John is shown as owning no land, but he does have a personal estate of $173, which isn’t exactly trivial.
I think in 1860 that John Y. Estes is not living in Estes Holler. He is living beside carpenters, stage drivers, a wagon maker, a wagoner and a carriage maker who was quite wealthy. That sounds suspiciously like he was living in town which would have been Tazewell.
The Civil War
Shortly after 1860, life would change dramatically for the Estes family. Tensions were escalating towards the Civil War, and in 1861, they erupted when initially 4, then 7, then 11 states seceded from the Union, forming the Confederacy. Tennessee did secede, but not initially. Claiborne County was badly torn between the North and South, the blue and grey – and families were torn apart as different brothers and sons joined opposite sides. Loyalties were divided and family members fought against one another.
In 1862, at the height of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied Tazewell as part of the greater struggle for the strategic Cumberland Gap. When the Confederates evacuated the town in November of that year, a fire followed, destroying much of Tazewell. In essence, anyone who could leave, did, because Tazewell was a target of continuous raids for food and supplies.
We know by 1870, positively, from the census, that the John Y. Estes family is back in Estes Holler. We also know from family stories about the Civil War that they spent the majority of the War in Estes Holler.
But what we didn’t know was something far, far more important.
Aunt Margaret told me that while the war was over, it was really never resolved in Claiborne County. The Crazy Aunts used to tell stories of the men in Claiborne County wearing their Civil War uniforms once again, on Memorial Day, and head for town to “refight” the war, as long as there were any veterans left to do so. I suspect that most of the fighting was verbal and in the form of relived memories, but assuredly, not all, especially if region’s notorious moonshine was involved….and you know it was!
The aunts, Margaret and Minnie, lived in Estes Holler as a child, and while I knew none of my direct Estes ancestors had served in the Civil War, obviously some people from that area had. Just a couple years ago, I decided to look for Estes men in Claiborne County, TN to see if any of them had fought in the Civil War at www.fold3.com. Was I ever in for the surprise of my life.
My great-great-grandfather, John Y. Estes served in the Civil War – but for which side?
Look what that says. Confederate.
John’s service records are confusing, to say the least. There are documents in his file from both sides, it seems. How can that be? Let’s start with the basics.
The Civil War began in earnest in April, 1861 when confederate forces bombarded the Union controlled Fort Sumter, SC in Charleston Harbor.
Many people who lived in Claiborne County fought for the North and joined the Union troops, but not all. The Civil War was a source of dissention within and between families in Claiborne County. Few people there held slaves, so slavery was not a driving force. By searching for his unit, I confirmed that John Y. Estes had joined the Confederate Army, but I was stunned. All of my other family members in my various lines fought for the Union – including the families from that area.
The history of Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry Regiment F, formed in Claiborne County shows that it was formed on August 10, 1862 by Captain R. Frank Fulkerson who lived near John Y. Estes in the 1860 census. There is no existing muster roll, although I recreated one as best I could from the various men’s service records in his unit. Reading John’s record, along with the other men’s records in his unit, (along with regimental and other histories,) is also how I reconstructed where that unit was, when, and what they were doing.
We don’t know when John enlisted, although it was likely when the unit was formed, nor do we know if he ever applied for a pension. John would have been 44 years old in 1862, so no spring chicken. His daughter, Nancy Jane has been born in November of 1861. He had a wife and 6 children at home ranging in age from Lazarus born in 1848, so 13, to newborn. His wife probably wanted to kill him for enlisting and save the Union Forces the trouble.
What we do know is that on March 20, 1865, in Louisville, KY, John Y. Estes signed the following allegiance document. I later discovered that he had been captured and this was one way men obtained their freedom. This document tells us that he had dark skin, dark hair and dark eyes and was 5 feet 7 inches tall, just slightly taller than me. Information I didn’t have before. If you look closely at John’s picture at the beginning of this article, he may have been mixed-race.
And look, we also have his signature.
So, how did John Y. Estes get to Louisville, KY in 1865 from Claiborne County? To answer that question, I tracked the activities of his unit. That was much easier said than done.
Here’s what we know about the activities of Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry Regiment.
Prior to the organization of the regiment, the battalion had been operating in the neighborhood of Cumberland Gap and Big Creek Gaps, at present day LaFollette, TN, about 33 miles distant from each other, along the line of the railroad.
When the regiment was organized it was assigned to Brigadier General John Pegram’s Cavalry Brigade in Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith’s Department. This brigade was composed of Howard’s Alabama Regiment, 2nd (Ashby’s), 4th (Starnes’), I. E. Carter’s Tennessee Cavalry Regiment, and Marshall’s Battery.
Prior to the Battle of Murfreesboro, on December 29, 1862, Carter’s Regiment joined Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler’s Brigade, and participated in his raid around the Federal Army from Jefferson Springs to LaVergue, to Nolensville, to Murfreesboro, TN. The unit was engaged on December 31 along the Murfreesboro Pike.
Following this battle, the regiment returned to Pegram’s Brigade, in the Department of East Tennessee under Brigadier General D. S. Donelson.
With Pegram’s Brigade, the regiment took part in operations in Lincoln, Boyle and Garrard Counties of Kentucky, and was engaged March 30, 1863 at the junction of the Stanford and Crab Orchard Roads where it was under the command of Colonel Scott, of the 1st Louisiana Regiment. General Pegram’s comment on this operation is interesting: “For Colonel Scott’s operations, I refer you to the accompanying report. Touching this curious document I have only to say that I cannot but admire the ingenuity with which Colonel Scott has attempted to account for disobedience of orders and dilatoriness of action which it is my sincere belief lost us the fight.” Colonel Carter reported five officers and 32 men as casualties in this operation.
It was not a good day to be a Confederate soldier. John saw his comrades die. It probably wasn’t the first time, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.
On April 25, 1863, Colonel J. I. Morrison was reported in command of the brigade, now listed as composed of 1st Georgia, 1st and 2nd Tennessee Regiments, 12th and 16th Cavalry Battalions, and Huwald’s Battery. The brigade was at Albany, Kentucky on May 1; at Travisville, Fentress County, Kentucky on May 2.
On July 23, the Chief of Staff, at Knoxville, ordered Colonel Scott, then commanding the brigade, to send 300 horses of 1st (Carter’s) Regiment to Loudon, Tennessee.
On July 31, Pegram’s Brigade, consisting of 1st and 6th Georgia Regiments, 7th North Carolina Battalion, 1st Tennessee Regiment, Rucker’s Legion, and Huwald’s Battery was reported at Ebenezer.
From December of 1862 to August of 1863, John Y. Estes’s unit covered over 1000 miles and marched from East Tennessee, near the Cumberland Gap to central Tennessee to Kentucky, back to central Tennessee and then back to the Cumberland Gap.
On August 15, Carter’s Regiment was reported as operating near Clinton and participated in the fighting around Cumberland Gap. This fighting occurred on the land previously owned by John Y. Estes’s wife’s father, Lazarus Dodson. The photo below is on Tipprell Road, on Lazarus’s land, looking North towards Cumberland Gap.
This is where Lazarus Dodson’s father, Lazarus Dodson’s Revolutionary War marker stands today, in the Cottrell Cemetery, below, now on land owned by Lincoln Memorial University. This photo is standing in the cemetery, looking North towards the mountains and Cumberland Gap.
This map shows LMU complex, the location of the cemetery with the upper red arrow and the location of the Dodson homestead with the lower arrow. You can see the now abandoned road that used to connect the homestead with the cemetery.
The map below shows the larger area. It’s probably a mile between the Dodson homestead and the LMU campus across the back way and maybe two and a half miles to Cumberland Gap, up Tipprell Road from the Dodson home.
This Civil War map shows where the troops camped, at Camp Cottrell, at Butcher Springs. Lazarus Dodson had sold this land in 1861 to David Cottrell whose residence is marked on the map. That was the old Lazarus Dodson homestead. The main road, now called Tipprell Road, was called Gap Creek Road at the time. It connects the valley, passes Butcher Springs and continues up to Cumberland Gap along the creek and now the railroad as well. The road heading to the right above the Cottrell homestead used to go up to the cemetery, but is no longer a road today.
This photo shows that area today. It’s flat, so perfect for camping. Butcher Springs is to the right in this photo, below, just out of sight.
This is me standing in the Cottrell Cemetery.
Butcher springs would be behind me in the valley to the right. On the Civil War map, Patterson’s Smith shop would be the cluster of buildings where you can see the church, to the left in the picture, in the distance, across the road.
Cumberland Gap was captured by the Federal troops on September 9, 1863, but the Confederate regiment had escaped up the valley before the surrender, and on September 11, Colonel Carter was reported in command of the brigade near Lee Courthouse. Lee Courthouse is present day Jonesville, VA, about 35 miles from Cumberland Gap. I’ve added Estes Holler here for context.
On September 18, Carter’s Regiment was driven from the ford above Kingsport, TN after a severe fight. This fight was only 7 days later and Kingsport was another 45 miles distant over rough, mountainous terrain.
Somewhere about this time, the regiment was assigned to Brigadier General John S. Williams’ Cavalry Brigade, composed of the 16th Georgia Battalion, 4th Kentucky Regiment, 10th Kentucky Battalion, May’s Kentucky Regiment, 1st Tennessee and 64th Virginia Regiments, which on October 31, 1863 was reported at Saltville, Virginia, 60 miles northeast of Kingsport, TN.
The unit received orders to proceed to Dalton, GA, but despite these orders, Carter’s Regiment was reported near Rogersville on November 1, in Williams’ Brigade, with Colonel H. L. Gutner commanding.
Rogersville was back, through Kingsport, about 90 miles “down the valley,” so to speak.
In the meantime, Captain Van Dyke’s Company “C” had returned from Mississippi, and on November 24, 1863 was at Charleston, Tennessee with Colonel John C. Carter’s 38th Tennessee Infantry Regiment. Charleston was 145 miles from Rogersville.
Colonel Carter highly commended Captain Van Dyke and his 44 men for the part they played in helping his forces to evacuate Charleston without being captured. On April 16, 1864, the regiment was transferred to Vaughn’s Brigade, of Brigadier General J. C. Vaughn’s Division, and reported 248 men present. It remained in this brigade until the end of the war.
By May of 1864, the majority of the fighting had shifted to Virginia. Between mid-April and May, John Y. Estes’s unit traveled almost 400 miles, from Charleston, TN to the Lynchburg, VA region.
The Civil War was becoming a series of constant battles which were referenced as the Campaign in the Valley of Virginia which lasted from May-July of 1864 as shown on this map by Hal Jespersen.
As part of Vaughn’s Brigade, the regiment moved into Virginia in early 1864, fought at the Battle of Piedmont, New Hope Church, and in the subsequent campaign in the Valley of Virginia under General Early.
This drawing from Harper’s Weekly shows the troops crossing at Germanna Ford during the Battle of New Hope Church, also called the Mine Run Campaign.
This drawing shows the “Army of the Potomac at Mine-Run, General Warren’s Troops attacking.”
This is the location, today, of the Battle of Piedmont. This battlefield looked very different when John Y. Estes stood here on June 5th, 1864. There were men, horses and blood all over this battlefield. After severe fighting, the Confederates lost, badly.
It was this point, nearing the end of this chapter of the war, that John Y. Estes entered the hospital on June 12th. But, that doesn’t mean he was done…the worst, perhaps, was yet to follow. What happened next? There has to be more.
Hmmm, let’s check the 1890 Civil War veterans census. Nope, nothing there.
Well, let’s look under Eastice. His folder says that name was used as well.
Well, Glory Be, look what we’ve found. His index packet, indeed, under Eastice.
This regimental return of October 1864 says that he was an absent enlisted man accounted for, “Without Cane Valley of Va. Aug. 28.” That’s odd phrasing. Does it mean “without leave?” But it says he is accounted for?
Uh-oh, this doesn’t look good. Now he’s on the list of deserters as of March 18, 1865. It says he was released north of the Ohio River. That goes along with the “Oath of Allegiance” document that he signed on March the 20th.
Wikipedia says that during the Civil War, prisoners of War were often released upon taking at “oath of allegiance.” General Sherman was known to ship people to Louisville and those who signed were freed, north of the Ohio, and those who didn’t remained in prison.
This documents John Y’s oath of allegiance, and the faint writing says that his name also appears as John Y. Estus. How many ways can you spell Estes? I checked and there are no additional records under Estus – at least none that are indexed yet.
This document says that he was a Prisoner of War, but this kind of Prisoner of War was a Rebel Deserter. He was apparently “caught” on March 6th, 1865, send to Chattanooga, then to Louisville apparently in late March where he was taken across the Ohio River. I’m thinking John Y. considered this a very bad month.
This page gives us a little more info. Apparently he deserted at Staunton, Va. on June 30 of 1864, just days after his hospitalization and release. Where was he between June 30, 1864 and March 6 of 1865? And where was he captured? The first document says that in October of 1864, he was accounted for which I would interpret to mean that they knew where he was and whatever the situation, was OK. Nothing confusing about these records….
Well here is at least part of the answer. On June the 12, 1864 he was hospitalized and had a partial anchyloses of his knee. On June the 19th he was sent to a convalescent camp. The 30th of the same month, he was reported as having deserted at Staunton.
What they don’t say here is that Staunton was devastated by the Union in June of 1864 – everything was burned including shops, factories mills and miles of railroad tracks were destroyed. If that is where he was convalescing, it’s no wonder he deserted, or simply left.
He was accounted for in October, but sometime between then and March 1865, he apparently deserted for real, or he already had in October. I wonder if he simply went home, or attempted to go home. Where was he when he was caught, or deserted? If you are a Confederate deserter, and the Union forces “catch” you, do they still hold you prisoner? Maybe the Confederates only thought he deserted and he was in fact captured? But the Union paperwork indicates he was listed as a Rebel deserter. So many questions.
Ankylosis or anchylosis is a stiffness of a joint due to abnormal adhesion and rigidity of the bones of the joint, which may be the result of injury or disease, sometimes resulting from malnutrition. The rigidity may be complete or partial and may be due to inflammation of the tendons or muscular structures outside the joint or of the tissues of the joint itself. Sometimes the bones fuse together. This disease is considered a severe functional limitation.
So here is what we know about John Y. Estes and the Civil War. He probably joined when the regiment was formed on August 10, 1862, although he may have been participating in the unofficial unit since 1861. The Fulkerson’s in Tazewell, his near neighbors, were instrumental in raising Confederate volunteers in Claiborne County. John Y. Estes fought and served until he was either injured or a previous condition became so serious in 1864 that he could not function, although he participated in some of the worst fighting and most brutal battles of the war. John is reported to have been admitted to the hospital in Charlottesville, VA on June the 12th, transferred to a convalescent camp on June 19th, and deserted at Staunton, Va. on June the 30th. In October, 1864 records say he was accounted for, but absent. By March 6th of 1865, he was in prison, captured as a deserter, transferred to Chattanooga, signed the allegiance oath and by the end of March, had been taken to Louisville before being deposited on the north side of the Ohio River, having agreed to stay there for the duration of the war.
He didn’t have long to wait. General Lee surrendered at the Battle of Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865. But then John probably had to walk home on that injured leg.
That leg apparently didn’t slow him down much. John Y. Estes eventually walked to Texas, not once, but twice, according to the family, which means he walked back to Tennessee once too. The family said one leg was shorter than the other and he walked with a cane or walking stick. It’s about 950 miles from Estes Holler in Claiborne County, Tennessee to Montague County, Texas. I surely want to know why he walked back from Texas to Tennessee. After making the initial journey, on foot, taking months, what could be that important in Tennessee? Was he hoping to convince his wife to relocate with him? Even then, land and other legal transactions could be handled from afar, so it must have been an intensely personal reason. Maybe he only decided to return to Texas, forever, after he had returned to Tennessee.
I have to wonder how John’s Civil War allegiance and subsequent desertion, if that is actually what it was, affected John himself and the way that the people in Claiborne County viewed him. He went back home and lived for several years. His neighbor in Estes Holler, David King, fought for the North. So did his sister’s husbands and children. I’m betting holidays were tough and there was no small talk at the table. Maybe there were no family gatherings because of these polarized allegiances. They would have been extremely awkward and difficult. Maybe John was quietly ostracized. Maybe that’s part of why he eventually left for Texas.
On October 5, 1865, just six months after being released on the north side of the Ohio River, John Y. Estes did a very unusual thing. He deeded his property, mostly kitchen items and livestock, to his son Lazarus who was about 17 years old and lived in the family home.
Transcribed from book Y, pages 286 and 287, Claiborne County, Tennessee, by Roberta Estes.
Deed of Gift From John Eastis to Lazarus Eastis :
State of Tennessee, Claiborne County. Personally appeared before me J. I. Hollingsworth, clerk of the county court of the said county, J. R. Eastis and Sallie Bartlett, with whom I am personally aquainted, and after being duly sworn depose and say that they heard John Y. Eastis acknowledge the written deed of conveyance, for the purpose therein contained upon the day it being dated. Given under my hand at office in Taswell this 9th day of October, 1865. J. I. Hollingsworth, clerk. Know all men by these presents that I, John Eastis of the County of Claiborne, State of Tennessee in consideration of the natural love and affection which I feel for, my son, Lazarus and also for divers good cause and consideration, I the said John Eastis, hereunto moving, have given, granted and confirmed by these presents, do give, grant and confirm unto said Lazarus Eastis all and singularly, the six head of sheep, one horse, fourteen head of hogs, one cow and calf, two yearlings, the crop of corn that is on hand, and all the fodder, and all the household and kitchen furniture, to have and to hold and enjoy the same to the only proper use, benefit and behoof of the said Lazarus Eastis, his heirs and assigns, forever and I the said John Eastis for myself and my heirs, executors, and administrators all and singular the said goods unto the said Lazarus Eastis, his heirs and assigns, against myself and against all and every person, or persons, whatever shall and will warrant and forever defend by these presents in witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and seal this 5th day of October 1865. John Y. Eastis.
ATTEST: John R. Eastis, Sallie Bartlett. I certify this deed of gift was filed in my office, October 9, 1865 at 12:00 and registered the 10th day of the same month. E. Goin, register for Claiborne County. [ stamped on page 58 ].
John R. Estes is the father of John Y. Estes who would have been close to 80 years old at that time.
Is this somehow in conjunction with or a result of the Civil War? Did it take him that long to find his way back to Claiborne County? Was he angry with his wife? Lazarus was only a teenager and didn’t live in his own home, and wouldn’t for another 18 months.
The verbiage in this transaction, “hereunto moving” does not mean that John was literally moving, but refers to what motivated him or moved him to make this transaction. So, in this context, love and affection for his son “moved” John to convey this property. Of course, this begs the question, “what about your wife?” Rutha would be the person to use all of that kitchen gear to prepare meals for the entire family. What about Rutha?
In the 1870 census, John is shown with his wife and family, with another baby, Rutha, named after his wife, born in 1867. John and his wife, Ruthy Dodson, would have one more child, John Ragan (or Reagan or Regan) Estes, born in March of 1871.
We know that in 1879, John Y. Estes was in Claiborne County, but whether he was “back” from Texas or whether he had not yet left, we don’t know. On June 20, 1879, John Y. Estes signs an agreement granting James Bolton and William Parks permission to make a road across his land in order to enable Bolton and Parks to have access to their own land that they had just purchased from Lazarus Estes, John Y’s son. This is the last document that John Y. signs in Tennessee. And actually, it’s the only deed, ever.
Deed records show no evidence of John Y. Estes ever owning land or a conveyance to or from John Y. Estes. My suspicion is that John was buying this land “on time” and when he failed to pay, the transaction was simply null and void and the deed never filed. It’s still odd that he would sign to grant access on land he did not officially own. This is very likely the same land that Rutha would eventually own in her own name. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
We know that by June of 1880 when the census was taken, John Y. Estes is living in Texas and his wife Rutha, is shown in Claiborne County as divorced, although no divorce papers have been found. Maybe divorce was less formal then. Given the distance involved, about 900 miles, and give that John could probably not walk more than 8 or 10 miles a day, the walk to Texas likely took someplace between 95 and 120 days, or 3 to 4 months, if he walked consistently every day and didn’t hitch rides. So John likely left Claiborne County not long after the signing of the 1879 deed. In fact, that might have been the last bit of business he took care of before departing.
The family in Texas tells the story that John Y. was wounded in the leg as a young man, although they don’t say how, and that one leg was shorter than the other. He walked with a stick. It causes me to wonder if the injury was truly when he was a child or if it was a result of his time in the Civil War, or maybe some of each. It’s a wonder they would have accepted him as a soldier if he was disabled and his military battle history certainly doesn’t suggest a disability. Maybe they were desperate or maybe the old injury got much worse during his military service – or maybe the injury occurred during one of the Civil War battles. John was hospitalized and I find it difficult to believe he would have been hospitalized for an old injury.
During John’s absence, Claiborne County was not immune to the effects of the war. In fact, they were right in the middle of the war, time and time again, and without a man in the household, Rutha and the family weref even more vulnerable.
During the Civil War, soldiers from both sides came through Estes Holler and took everything they could find: food, animals, anything of value. They didn’t hurt anyone that we know about, but the people hid as best they could. Adults and children both were frightened, as renegade troops were very dangerous. Elizabeth Estes, born in 1851, was the second oldest (living) child of John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson. After the soldiers took all the family had, the 4 smaller children were hungry and crying. The baby had no milk. Elizabeth was angry, not only at what they had done, but the way they had been humiliated. She was a strong and determined young woman, about age 14 or 15, and she knew the soldiers were camping up on the hillside. She snuck into the camp of the soldiers that night, past the sentries, and stole their milk cow back. She took the cow’s bell off and the cow just followed her home. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but another story adds that she went back the second night and took their one horse back too. That one horse was all the family had to plow and earn their living.
Today, not one family member knew that John Y. Estes had served in the Civil War, not even the Crazy Aunts. Given the way his service ended, it’s probably not something he talked about. He would have been considered a traitor by both sides. He didn’t claim his service on the 1890 veterans census either. It seems a shame to have served for most of the war, in many battles, and survived, only to have had something go wrong in the end that seems to be medically related. The term “deserter” is so harsh, and while I’m sure it technically applies, I have to wonder at the circumstances. During the Revolutionary War, men “deserted” regularly to go home and tend the fields for a bit, showing back up a month or two later. No one seemed to think much of it then. That’s very likely what happened to John when he supposedly deserted in June of 1864, right after his injury. He probably just left and went home.
I’m sure there is more to this story, much more, and we’ll never know those missing pieces. And it’s a chapter, a very important chapter in the life of John Y. Estes and who he was. It’s very ironic that none of his descendants alive today knew about his Civil War Service.
The Walk to Texas
Initially, I had no idea John Y. Estes ever left Claiborne County.
When I first visited Claiborne County, I did what all genealogists do – I went to the library. I had called the library and the librarians seemed friendly enough, and they told me they had these wonderful things called “vertical files.” I didn’t know what that was, so the nice lady sighed and said, “family files.” Now, that I understood.
The first day I arrived in town, I went straight to the library. I looked through the books and the family histories that had been contributed. Most of those were for the “upstanding families” whose members had been judges and public officials. That would not be my family. In fact, there was very little for my family. I was sorely disappointed. Those promising vertical files either held little or there were none for my surnames.
I had packed up and was leaving, walking past the shelves that held so much disappointment, when one of the files literally fell off the shelf and about three feet onto the floor. I was no place close to it, so it was prepared to fall with no help from a human, but the librarians looked up at me, and then down at the file on the floor, with great disdain and disgust. They, obviously, felt I was careless and had knocked the file onto the floor.
I had no problem picking the file up, but I wished they hadn’t been so put out with me. The file hit sideways and all of the papers fanned across the floor. Most of them weren’t stapled together, so I was trying to make sure that I put them back in the file in order that they had come out, without mixing things up. I have no idea the surname on the file. I had already checked all of mine. But as I was gathering those papers back into the file, a familiar name crossed my vision, Vannoy, then another, and then Estes. I stopped and actually looked at the papers in the file.
I was holding a story about John Y. Estes, written by a Vannoy who had moved to Texas. I put my bag and purse down, and sat down – on the floor – in the aisle way – oblivious to the librarians and their stares, now glares. I read all three pages of the story and sat in stunned disbelief. This had to be the wrong man. It was in the wrong family file. Otherwise, someone would have told me….wouldn’t they?
My family didn’t go to Texas. Did they?
This story says John Y. Estes walked to Texas, not once, but twice. This man injured his leg somehow as a child and walked with a limp, one leg being shorter than the other. He walked with a cane or a stick, and still, he walked to Texas, twice, and back to Tennessee once. This man had tenacity. Of course, when I was reading this, I didn’t realize he had also fought through the Civil War with this lifelong challenge. I wouldn’t know that piece of the puzzle for another 30 years. I hesitate to call it a disability, because John Y. apparently didn’t treat it as such. In fact, it just might have saved his life in the Civil War.
Fannie Ann Estes, John’s grand-daughter, said that John Y. brought a skin cancer medicine from Tennessee and sold it in Texas. He traveled throughout north Texas selling his remedy and established a relationship with William Boren, a merchant that sold goods on both sides of the Red River throughout the Red River Valley. This was also the location where the Chisolm Trail crossed from Texas into Oklahoma, so comparatively speaking, it received a lot of traffic.
So John Y. Estes was either a snake-oil salesman or a genius on top of being a shoemaker, according to the census, a Civil War veteran and a former Prisoner of War. This man was certainly full of surprises. What a great plot for a book!
His grandchildren said that as an old man, they remember him being short and fat. Hardly a fitting legacy. Thankfully, one person remembered more and wrote it down.
To the onlooker, it appears that John Y. Estes basically left his family in Claiborne County, TN and absconded to Texas. But looking at what happened next, his children apparently did not seem to hold a grudge against him for leaving their mother….in fact, John Y. Estes seemed to be more leading the way than abandoning the family.
It’s clear from Rutha’s 1880 census designation as divorced that she viewed the relationship as over. She never intended to leave Claiborne County, nor did she. But that didn’t stop her relatives from going to Texas – and they all settled together, including her husband. Many are buried in the same cemetery.
William Campbell, Ruthy’s uncle, and his family were in Texas by 1870. Barney J. Jennings married Emily Estes, daughter of Jechonias Estes, and they went to Montague Co., TX, as well.
Many of John Y’s children, in fact all of them except Lazarus, eventually moved to Texas, including brave Elizabeth who married William George Vannoy. She left with William Buchanan Estes and Elizabeth King in 1893, in a wagon train.
The following children were born to John Y. and Ruthy Dodson Estes:
- Lazarus Estes, born in May 1848 in Claiborne Co., died in July of 1918 in Claiborne Co., married Elizabeth Ann Vannoy. Both buried in the Pleasant View Cemetery.
- Elizabeth Ann Estes, born July 11, 1851 in Claiborne Co., died July 7, 1946 at Nocona, Montague Co., Texas. On September 11, 1870, she married William George Vannoy, brother to Lazarus’s wife and son of Joel Vannoy and Phebe Crumley. They settled in Belcherville, TX in 1893 and her husband was buried in the Boren Cemetery in Nocona on Sept. 12, 1895, only seven days before her father died and was buried in the same cemetery. I wonder what killed both men. This must have been a devastating week for Elizabeth. She spent most of her life in Texas as a widow – more than 50 years.
Elizabeth Estes Vannoy’s 95th birthday. She liked to sit on an old seat out under a tree. Elizabeth is buried in the Nocona Cemetery, not with her husband.
- Margaret Melvina Estes, born July 19, 1854 in Claiborne Co., died April 7, 1888 in Claiborne Co., buried in Pleasant View Cemetery. Never married and no children.
- George Buchanan Estes, born December 17, 1855 in Claiborne Co., died July 1, 1948 at Nocona, Texas, buried at Temple, Cotton Co., Oklahoma. In 1878 he married Elizabeth King, daughter of David King, in Claiborne Co. She died in 1920 and is buried at Temple, Oklahoma.
George Buchanan Estes and granddaughter Wanda Hibdon Russell in 1945.
- Martha Geneva J. Estes, born October 6, 1859 in Claiborne Co., died April 9, 1888, buried in Cook Cemetery on Estes Road. She married Thomas Daniel Ausban in Claiborne Co. April 17, 1884. It’s not believed that she had any surviving children.
- Nancy J. Estes, born November 1861 in Claiborne Co., died at Terral, Jefferson County, Oklahoma in 1951, married a Montgomery. Buried in the Terral cemetery. No children.
- Rutha Estes, born January 7, 1868 in Claiborne Co., died at Terral, Jefferson Co., Oklahoma in 1957. She married Thomas Vannoy in 1902 in Claiborne County, or at least she took the license to marry him. They may have never actually married, as she never used the Vannoy surname, nor is she ever found living with him. She married William H. Sweatman after 1920 in Texas or Oklahoma and is buried in the Terral Cemetery. No children.
- John Reagan Estes, born March 25, 1871 in Claiborne Co., died July 8, 1960 in Jefferson Co., Oklahoma. On April 10, 1891 he married Docia Neil Johnson, daughter of William Johnson and Jinsey Nervesta King in Claiborne Co., She was born November 7, 1872 in Claiborne Co. and died August 30, 1957 in Jefferson Co. John and Docia are both buried at Terral, Oklahoma.
The Texas family provides this information about John Regan Estes.
John Regan Estes grew to manhood in Claiborne Co. Tennessee, he received his schooling on the old split log seats and was taught to the “tune of a hickory stick”. On April 9, 1891 he married Docia Neil Johnson in Tazewell, with Rev. Bill Cook, the old family preacher, reading the vows. John and Docia were wed on horseback. A daughter, Fannie Ann, was born to them on May 4, 1892 at Tazewell.
In 1893, John Regan Estes had the ambition to go west. On the first day of November 1893, he stepped off the train at Belcherville, Texas. He was accompanied by his brother, George Buchanan Estes and family, Clabe Bartlett, and Lewis Taylor Nunn. He worked on the Silverstein ranch until January 1894.
He saved his money and sent it back to Docia and on February 9, 1894, Docia and Fannie, aged 20 months, arrived at the train station in Belcherville. At this time, they went to Oscar, Indian Territory. He located on a farm in the Oscar area and lived there until moving to the Fleetwood community in 1901. John’s farm was located on the Red River across from Red River Crossing where the Chisholm Trail crossed into Oklahoma. He had a shop near his barn and shod horses, sharpened plows, and did other metal work for the community.
Cousin Gib’s grandmother, granddaughter of John Y. Estes through John Reagan Estes told of life in Texas when they first arrived:
Fannie wrote about the Estes family living conditions at the time that Lula was born. She said that they lived in an old log house at the end of Ketchum Bluff, this is the area where the road going south from Oscar, Oklahoma makes a turn along a high rock formation an goes to where, at a later time, there was a toll bridge built going into Texas.
Courtesy Butch Bridges
Note that the old trestle of the toll bridge can still be seen on the shore of Ketchum Bluff in the aerial photo, below, about one fourth of the way from the right hand side, directly across from the sand bar. The bend in the river at the turn is in the lower left hand corner of the photo. The bluff, of course, lies along the river.
Courtesy Butch Bridges
Lula was born January 29, 1899 and Fannie said that it was extremely cold and they had snow on the ground for about six weeks. The sun would come out about noon each day for a little while and then it would cloud up again and snow all night. She said that their father would cut wood all day and carry it into the house. He did not have any gloves and his hands would crack open and bleed and hurt so bad that at night he would sit by the fire and cry from the pain.
In 1901, John got the farm a little farther west of here, just east of Fleetwood, and that is where Lula grew up.
The Estes family had moved to Indian Territory in 1894 and Oklahoma did not become a state until 1907. During this time it was pretty much every man for himself and gunfights were common. John Reagan worked as a farmer, blacksmith, farrier and lawman. The family remembers him wearing a gun.
Once, a man named Joe Barnes sent word to John that he was coming to kill him. John only had a black powder shotgun and he told Barnes to stop and to not come any closer. Barnes kept coming and John blew him full of birdshot. John had a bullet hole in his stomach and would tell the grandchildren that he had two navels.
John Reagan Estes about 1905.
John Reagan Estes and family in 1905.
John Reagan Estes in 1943.
Uncle George said that John R. Estes came to visit in the 1940s in Claiborne County Tennessee and that he was extremely tall and had very long eyebrows.
The Texas family members, tell another secret too, that John Y. Estes had another family in Texas, but a search of marriage records produced nothing. However, when I visited, I realized that the location where John lived was on the Choctaw land. Perhaps he did have a second family without benefit of a legal marriage. Laws and customs on Indian lands on the Texas/Oklahoma border were quite different than back in “civilized, orderly” Tennessee. Furthermore, Indian tribes were considered sovereign Nations. We will probably never know the details unless another family member steps forward.
John Y. Estes died on September 19, 1895 and is buried in the Boren cemetery, northeast of Ringgold, Texas.
Old Time Texas
In 2005, I visited my cousin, Gib, in Texas. Gib had come back to Claiborne County, TN the year before and had visited Estes Holler. Now, I was visiting Texas to retrace the steps of my great-grandfather, John Y. Estes.
Gib gave me a great piece of advice before I set out on my great adventure to Texas.
We went to see the movie “Open Range” starring Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall. The setting for the movie is 1882 and they are “free grazing” a herd of cattle on the open range as they are moving toward market. They pass through a little town, cross a river, and are tending their herd.
John Y. Estes was in Montague County Texas in 1880. The Chisholm Cattle trail came right through the little town of Red River Station which was two miles south of the Red River. From the information that I have, the movie town was exactly like what Red River Station was like in 1882. I really got intrigued with the movie by imagining John Y. being in a place just like that. This was where he would have been at that time because Nocona and Belcherville were not founded until 1887 when the MKT railroad came through going from east to west. Ringgold was not founded until 1892 when the Rock Island railroad was built going south to north and crossed the MKT at the site of Ringgold.
Of course no good western movie would be worth the price of admission without a good gun battle. They had one and people were killed. The next thing that grabbed me was the burial scene. They dug graves out on top of a hill and hauled the wooden caskets out in a wagon. This setting was just like what I found at Boren cemetery.
Another thing that caught my attention was the heavy rain storm that they experienced at the little town. Red River Station was pretty much wiped out by a Tornado in the late 1880’s and all the business moved to Belcherville and Nocona.
Anyway, go see the movie and imagine John Y. being one of the residents of the little town and then visualize all of our relatives crossing the Red River on horseback as they did in the movie. The River depth shown is also accurate of Red River. Later, John Reagan Estes owned the land on the Oklahoma side and the Campbells and Vannoys owned ranches on the Texas side.
Go see where John Y. lived in 1882, let your imagination run wild and enjoy it.
I agree 100% with Gib’s recommendation.
The Chisolm Trail
The Chisolm Trail cut through the Estes land.
Not far from Ryan is one of the cuts in a creek bank worn by the pounding of thousands of hoofs when the Chisholm Trail was noted for its cattle drives from Texas to Wichita, Kansas.
This map shows Ryan and Terral, OK, and the ghost location of Fleetwood. All that is left today is a store full of bullet holes and a cemetery.
According to Gib, that cut is still visible on the Estes property. Although highway U.S. 81 mostly follows the route of the old Chisolm Trail, at times Engineers had to diverge from the trail itself in the interest of safety, mileage and economy. The original route crosses a cow lot owned by a man who probably knows more about that trail than anyone in this area. ( Note: the worn cattle trail rut up the hill was just west of the Estes cow lot. ) The location is about three miles east of Fleetwood.
The Chisolm Trail crossed the Red River at Red River Station. On the Oklahoma side, or Indian Territory at that time, this was at Fleetwood and a marker has been placed today. On the map below, you can see the balloon of the marker at Fleetwood and below the Red River, Red River Station Road.
Turning on the satellite image, here’s that part of the Red River near Station Road where the cattle would have crossed into Oklahoma. Apparently, this is the area where the Estes land was located. I thought sure I’d still be able to see the Chisolm trail today, but I can’t.
There was a large dugout in the side of the hill where the Estes family lived while their house was being built.
You really have to want to visit the Boren Cemetery. It’s nearly impossible to find, to begin with, and after you to locate it, getting to it through 3 or 4 farm gates is another problem entirely. And then there’s the issue of wild hogs – and they are not friendly. In fact, they’re pretty testy – and they aren’t looking to you to feed them, but are looking at you as food. I fully understand why people here carry guns – plural.
The Boren Cemetery
The Boren cemetery isn’t far from the Chisolm Trail and not far from where the Estes land was located. On the map below, you can see the cemetery, marked by the red balloon, and you can also see the Red River Station Road to the right and Fleetwood on the Oklahoma side of the border.
The Boren Cemetery is located in rolling Texas hill country – and sometimes those rolls are a bit steep.
Gib says to me, “It’s over there somewhere.”
Ok, Texas is a mighty big place and I don’t SEE anything that looks like a cemetery.
Gib had obtained directions and he and his wife had come out once already and scouted the area. His wife opted not to come a second time. That should have been a clue.
Gib had called the local farmer, so he had the lock combinations to the several gates we encountered.
Eventually, we entered a field and started driving across the field, then up the hill, then Gib’s 4 wheel drive vehicle bottomed out. We were on foot from here on.
Gib forgot to mention about the snakes to me. Those would be rattlesnakes. Now, I have snake-boots at home, but those boots at home weren’t helping me one bit here. I was not to be deterred. Gib was wearing cowboy boots and walked in front of me.
We found the path that led up to the cemetery,
We had to crawl under the barbed wire fence, or climb over it – because there was no gate. By now, I could feel the rivulets of sweat running down my back. Gib, the consummate Texas cowboy, was entirely unphased. They make ’em tough down there – I’m telling ya!
And if the barbed wire doesn’t get you, the cactus will. Yes, that’s a bone. I don’t know is the answer to your next question. Just don’t ask.
It’s kind of rough country here, with the stones scattered in no order, graves dug where there were no rocks to interfere with the shovels. At home on the Indiana farm where I grew up, we would have called this scrub, scratch or hard-scrabble. Here, it is normal. But that’s why they need a lot of it to make a living.
This stone in front is the marker for John Y. Estes. It’s beside a Campbell and Vannoy marker, in fact, John’s son-in-law who was buried just a week before John was. Did John stand at his son-in-law’s grave just a week before he would be buried beside him? John’s marker is actually very unique, as gravestones go – and the only one here like it. In fact, it’s the only one I’ve ever seen like it.
John’s stone was cast in concrete and then the information was drawn in the wet concrete with some kind of object – freestyle. This tickled Gib a great deal because he had spent many years of his life working in the concrete business – so this somehow seemed fitting.
Tracking John Y. Without GPS
So now we’ve followed John Y. Estes across half of the United States. While his son, Lazarus likely never ranged further than Knoxville, John Y. Estes not only was very widely traveled, the biggest part was on foot – at least the Tennessee to Texas to Tennessee to Texas part – and probably much of the Civil War part too.
Let’s look at where John Y. Estes was and when. I can’t keep track.
|Halifax Co., VA
||1818 – birth location
|Claiborne Co., TN
|Grainger Co., TN
|Tazewell, Claiborne Co., TN
|Claiborne County, TN
||Aug. 10, 1862 – Confederate Unit Formed
||Dec. 29, 1862 – Civil War battle
|Murfeesboro Pike, TN
||Dec 31, 1862 – Civil War battle
|Stanford and Crab Orchard Road, KY
||March 30, 1863 – Civil War battle
||May 1, 1863 – Civil War battle
|Travisville, Fentress Co., KY
||May 2, 1863 – Civil War battle
||July 31, 1863 – Civil War activity
||August 15, 1863 – Civil War activity
|Cumberland Gap, TN
||August 15, 1863 – Sept. 1863 – Civil War activity
|Lee County, VA Courthouse
||Sept. 18, 1863 – the North took the Gap – Civil War battle
||Sept. 18, 1863 – Civil War battle
||Oct. 31, 1863 – Civil War battle
||Nov. 1, 1863 – Civil War battle
||Nov. 24, 1863 – Civil War battle
|Battle of New Hope Church, Orange Co., VA
||Nov 27 – Dec. 2, 1863
|Valley of Virginia Campaigns, Shenandoah Valley, VA
|Battle of Piedmont, Augusta Co., VA
||June 5, 1864
||June 12, 1864 – hospital
||June 30, 1864 – deserted
||March 6, 1865 – POW
||March 20, 1865 – POW signed oath of allegiance – released north of the Ohio
|Claiborne Co., TN
I would have loved to sit for a day and talk to this man. What stories he had to tell.
The John Y. Part of Me
I have to tell you, this man had hootspa. He was tenacious. He walked to Texas, twice, using a cane or stick to walk, more than 900 miles each way, when he was 61 years of age. And it didn’t kill him. I can’t even begin to imagine this trip, once, let alone once there, walking back to Tennessee and then back to Texas, again. In essence, just one of those trips took 3-4 months. Three of them probably took more than year of his life.
The concept of that just baffles me. What could be that alluring about Texas? And why go back to Tennessee once you had arrived in Texas?
But then again, I’m not so terribly different in some ways. And sometimes things I do baffle others.
In the 1980s, I decided to retrace the Trail of Tears, in honor of my Native American ancestors and in protest of the atrocities that befell them. I walked part of the trail, but that’s a lot easier said than done for various reasons – not the least of which is that the trail isn’t (or wasn’t then) marked and segments are lost or missing in many places. In the 1980s and 1990s, I had completed the segment through Tennessee and Kentucky, into Illinois. In 2005, I completed the section between southern Illinois and Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the home of the western Cherokee nation today, where the Cherokee settled. Altogether, this trek took me over 20 years because I had to make it in segments. In 2005, I picked up where I had left off in Illinois and within a couple days, found myself at the location where the Native people crossed the Mississippi..
I walked part of that as well, on both sides of the river, but given that I was traveling alone, I had to walk back to my car and then drive to the next segment to walk. Take my word for it, the state of Missouri goes on forever!
I was a lot younger then that John Y. was when he walked to Texas, and he walked the entire distance, not just a few miles or a day here and there.
One of the most unforgetable stops on that journey was the Trail of Tears State Park in Missouri, just across the border from Illinois where the Cherokee spent a horrific winter, starving and freezing to death, and waiting for the ice to melt so they could cross the Mississippi. It took eleven weeks to cover 60 miles and the Native people suffered terribly, horrifically – the local people refusing to help them with food. Within days, there was no wildlife left to hunt.
This is on the Missouri side of the River, looking across the river at the land where more than 15,000 Native people camped, and waited, with no food and only light blankets in one of the worst winters recorded. Weakened from starvation, people froze to death nightly. The dead couldn’t even be buried, their bodies left in the snow. There were no reports of cannibalism, but that level of desperation would not have surprised me.
The Trail of Tears as a whole, but in particular, this segment was a unfathomable act of inhumane genocide – torture, hour by hour, day by day, as you watched those you love starve and freeze, as you were doing so yourself. One can feel their aching spirts as you stand on the land, even yet today. Some were so devastated that they never spoke again in their lifetimes. Their torture and grief is unfathomable and the depth of that black hole remains both tangible and palpable today. There simply are no words.
My final destination in 2005, 125 years after John Y. Estes walked to Texas? Texas. Why? To find John Y. Estes’s grave. I never, at that time, realized the parallels. But then, I didn’t really know the rest of the story. Today, I find the parallels mind-boggling.
What of John Y. Estes do I have in me? Do I carry his tenacity? My mother would assuredly have voted in the affirmative, and she would not have meant that as a compliment! I, on the other hand, am quite proud of that trait.
Sometimes it’s difficult to answer these kinds of questions – meaning how much of one particular ancestor’s DNA you carry. One reason is that generational DNA is often measure in couples. By this, I mean that if I compare myself to another individual who descends from John Y. Estes, like cousin Buster for example, the DNA that Buster and I share will not be just the DNA of John Y., but also the DNA of John Y’s wife, Rutha Dodson.
The only way to avoid this “spousal contamination,” and I mean that only in the nicest of ways, is by comparing the DNA of descendants of John Y. to someone who only descends from the Estes side, not the Dodson side. What this really means is that the comparison has to be against someone who descended from John R. Estes, the father of John Y. Estes (or another Estes whose ancestor is upstream of John Y. Estes and who doesn’t share other family lines.) Unfortunately, this means that it pushes the relationship back another generation, which means that less DNA will be shared between the cousins.
The cousins I have to work with are as follows, at least at Family Tree DNA.
In order for the closest descendants of John Y. Estes to be compared to a descendant of John R. Estes, I utilized the chromosome browser at Family Tree DNA. Garmon is descended from John R. Estes, so carries none of Rutha’s DNA. Therefore, any DNA that John Y’s descendants share with Garmon had to come from the Estes side of the house.
The chromosome browser graphic below shows the chromosome of Garmon, with the following individuals with matching DNA displayed as follows:
- Me – Orange
- Iona – Blue
- David – Green
- Buster – Magenta
On chromosome 1, Buster and Iona match Garmon, but I don’t and neither does David. This is clearly John Y. Estes’s DNA, but I don’t carry it.
On chromosome 7 there is a small segment shared by everyone except David.
On chromosome 10, there is another small segment shared by me, David and Garmon.
Part of chromosome 13 is shared by Garmon, Iona and David.
To me, the most interesting part of this equation is that chromosome 19 holds a fairly large segment shared by everyone except Buster.
So, let’s answer the question of how much of John Y’s DNA I carry. I downloaded the segment chart that accompanies the chromosome browser and used that information to triangulate my matches – meaning that I noted when I matched two other cousins. Not all matches are triangulated, proving a common Estes ancestor, but some are. I then checked those cousin’s accounts to be sure they did, indeed, match each other on those segments – which is the criteria for triangulation.
This chart shows all of my matches to Garmon, which, precluding a second line or matches by chance, would all be John Y.’s DNA.
As we know, the only way to actually prove that these segments descend from John Y. is through triangulation but how can I triangulate more DNA to John Y. Estes?
The answer is the Lazarus tool at GedMatch, a tool built to reassemble or recreate our ancestors from their descendants – to reassemble their scattered DNA.
First, Lazarus allows you to enter up to 10 direct descendants and up to 100 “other relatives,” which means brothers, cousins, descendants of those people, but not someone who descends from the same spouse as John Y. Estes’s wife, Rutha Dodson. If he had two wives and you were comparing children from both spouses against each other, then the criteria would be a bit different.
In other words, we’re only utilizing direct Estes line descendants, upstream of John Y. Estes.
I selected 4cM and 300 SNPs as my match criteria.
I have a total of 7 descendants and 4 other relatives, not all of whom have tested at Family Tree DNA.
I was pleased to note after running Lazarus at GedMatch that we had a total of 513.9 cM of John Y. Estes’s DNA reconstructed through his descendants and his other relatives. In essence, that’s approximately 7.6% of John’s DNA that we’ve recovered. Not bad for someone who was born 197 years ago.
The Lazarus tool matched my DNA with other Estes relatives, but NOT descendants of John Y. Estes. I inherited the following segments directly from John Y. Estes. Several of these segments were triangulated with 2 or more relatives.
Of these, only two, on chromosomes 9 and 19, are partial matches to the original list from Family Tree DNA. While, at first glance this looks unusual, it isn’t. Both of the matches at Family Tree DNA over the threshold selected at GedMatch are included. The lower segment matches were not “seen” at Gedmatch. This is one reason why I utilize both tools when possible. GedMatch allows you to utilize people’s results who tested at a different company, and Family Tree DNA allows you to easily pick up those common small segments.
If all of these segments are from John (and not from a secondary unknown shared line or identical by chance,) then I carry 156.6 cM of John Y. Estes’ DNA that I can map. Given that John is my great-great-grandfather, I would be expected to carry about 6.25% of his DNA. Of that amount, I’ve been able to tentatively identify about 2.3%, so if the right people were to test, I should be able to identify about another 3.95%. So, in rough numbers, I’ve identified around one third of the DNA that I inherited from John Y. Estes utilizing 7 descendants and 4 other relatives.
So, now if I could just figure out which one of these genes is the “walk to Texas” and wanderlust gene, we’d be all set. If I received that from any ancestor, it’s very likely to be from John Y. Estes, the only man I’ve ever know who walked to Texas, even once.
Aerial view of the Red River, Texas on the right, Oklahoma on the left.
Acknowledgements: A special thank you to cousin Gib, who supplied most of the Texas information and a lot of camaraderie over the years.