Lazarus Estes (1848-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59


I’ve always loved that name.  It’s just so interesting and different – and thankfully, not another John or William.  I have so many of those names that I can’t keep them straight.  But Lazarus is much more unique and he turned out to be a very unique individual as well, as I came to know him through various tidbits of his life.

Lazarus holds a special place in my heart.  Lazarus was my first official “find” in genealogy, you see.  Well, his marriage record anyway.

One evening, many, MANY years ago, I took advantage of a free seminar the Mormon Church was offering on searching for your ancestors.  They said to bring what records you did have, so I gathered up my family group sheets, all half a dozen of them, and off I went.  I was a bit nervous, as I knew nothing about the Mormons, except they “did genealogy,” and I was, you know, raised Baptist.

Was lightning going to strike me as I stepped into the Mormon church???  And if so, was the bolt from the Mormons or the Baptists, or both?  Or worse yet, was someone going to try to convert or recruit me??

I decided to risk it.  I later learned that my concerns were entirely unfounded.

After their little talk, they had several volunteers available to help.  One very nice lady sat down with me and looked at what I had brought along, and then suggested that we look on the “reader” for “something.”  Ok.

She did, and said, “hey, look at this.”  Now, genealogists among us know those as the Fatal Words of Addiction.

And this is what we saw…..

Elizabeth Vannoy Lazarus Estes marriage crop

Oh my gosh – it was THEM – reaching out from more than 100 years ago and touching me…my heart just stopped.

Sure enough, she had found an index entry for the marriage record of Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy, in Claiborne County, Tennessee.  And yes, I was hooked, hopelessly hooked.  We ordered the film, and then another film, and another film….and the rest, as they say, is history.  I developed tendonitis in my right arm associated with cranking microfilm machines.  All “old” genealogists are now laughing…and remembering.

Lazarus Estes was born in May 1848 in Claiborne County, TN, to John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson.  They lived in a place known as Estes Holler, right off of Little Sycamore Road, just past Pleasant View Church (below), where they probably attended, then past a couple of cemeteries, and across Little Sycamore Creek which they would have forded at the time, because there was no bridge then.

Pleasant View Church 2

Lazarus was born where two generations of Estes’s had lived before him and several would live after.  Estes families still live in Estes Holler today, and it’s still called Estes Holler – right across the ridge from Vannoy Holler.

estes holler map

Some years later, I went to visit and meet Uncle George, Lazarus’s grandson, in person.  I wanted to see Estes Holler for myself and visit Lazarus’s grave.  Uncle George and his wife, Edith, who is also my cousin on two different lines, were the most gracious hosts.

George and Edith Estes

George took me in his truck “up the mountain.”  Here we are, in the back of George’s truck, in the livestock pen.  The livestock pen?   If I said, “don’t ask,”  would that do?  Let’s just say trucks are sometimes a bit rough there.

Uncle George and Me

Uncle George, who is really my cousin, but “honored” as an uncle, remembered when Lazarus was buried, standing by his grave as a child during the funeral.  George would take me to visit the same cemetery, to stand by the same grave, some 70 years later.

When I got to Claiborne County, Uncle George had a little surprise for me.

Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy

This is a picture of Lazarus Estes and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes, my great-grandparents.

I remember being utterly mesmerized by this picture – staring into the eyes of my ancestor.  It’s hard to see Elizabeth’s eyes, but Lazarus is looking right at me, across the years, almost 100 years after his death – piercingly.

In the family history center, before I went to Claiborne County, I eventually found Lazarus on a census roll.  I ordered the roll and then waited for 2 weeks for it to arrive.  Today, we just sign on to and look.

Estes 1850 census

John Y. Estes and Rutha Dodson hadn’t been married long, and Lazarus was their first child, named for Rutha’s father, Lazarus Dodson.  Lazarus is shown here as 2 years old, born in 1848, and I’m inclined to think this this is more correct than the 1900 census which shows that he was born in 1845.  By 1900, when Lazarus is more than 50, age can be misremembered or approximated, but pretty much everyone is going to know if their only child is 2 or not.  Furthermore, this census was taken in September, and if his birthday was in May, he would have just turned 2.  His mother was likely pregnant with her next child.  As icing on the cake, cousin Debbie found a Bible that we think belonged to his daughter after a death in the family a few years ago, and Lazarus’s birth year is given as 1848, so 1848 it is!!!

By 1860, Lazarus has 4 siblings and was 12 years old.

After that, life in Claiborne County got complicated – and downright ugly.  The Civil War erupted in January 1861 when 7 southern states seceded from the Union.  Claiborne County found itself in the middle of the conflict.  The first shots were fired in April, and although Tennessee wasn’t one of the first states to secede, they did after April, 1861, aligning themselves with the South, along with their neighbor state, Virginia. However, Kentucky, their other neighbor to the north permitted slavery but did not secede.  This created a dividing line between the states which just happened to be at the Cumberland Gap, not far from Estes Holler.

Cumberland Gap was just a few miles up the Old Kentucky Road and the Gap was a critical and strategic location to control the entrance to the north from the south and vice versa. In 1863, slaves were freed via the Emancipation Proclamation, but the war didn’t end until 1865.  No one in Estes Holler owned slaves.

The war was brutal on both sides, and fighting took place in and around Estes Holler.  People in that region were still digging cannon balls out of their land in the 1980s.

One of the houses in Estes Holler, still standing, was used as a Union hospital.  The locals know which house and where the bodies are buried too.  The area looks a lot more cheerful today!

Estes holler garden

The soldiers scavenged the countryside for food, constantly, since the thousands of men stationed at Cumberland Gap, whether from the Union or Confederacy, depending on who was holding the Gap at the time, never had enough food.

Lazarus would have been 13 when the war broke out.  He would have been 17 when it ended.  Those four years were living hell for the Estes family, their land constantly embattled and the sounds of cannon and gunfire echoing in the holler a regular occurrence.

Lazarus’s father, John Y. Estes fought for the south, as did neighbors, Sterling and John Nunn.  I was dumbstruck when I discovered this fact, especially since no one in Estes Holler owned slaves.  John Y. Estes was eventually captured and served time in a northern prison camp, being paroled at the end of the war.

Did the family know John had been captured?  Did they think he was dead?  How were they notified, if they were notified?  Sometimes, POW camps, on both sides were a fate worse than death, often followed by death.

The family, back in Claiborne County, had all they could do not to starve to death – and Lazarus, as the oldest male child, a teenager, was likely in charge.

The soldiers took the family’s one cow.  The baby of the family needed milk to drink.  Lazarus’s younger sister, Elizabeth, then 12 or 13, had been taking care of the cow as one of her chores, and she decided that she was simply going to go and get the cow.  As soon as it got dark, she slipped through the woods to where she knew the soldiers were camped.  The cow knew her voice and scent, and as soon as she found the cow, she simply slipped the bell off the cow and led the cow home, under cover of darkness.  She was the family hero and the family told that story in Tennessee and where Elizabeth eventually lived in Texas –  for the next 150 years.  Her descendants told me that story when I visited Texas in 2005!  It’s a family legend.  Another version of the story says it was the family horse that she recovered, and a third story says she did both!  In one version when she retook the horse, she snuck through enemy lines.

Her grandchildren tell of how Elizabeth, in the photo below, would regale them for hours with stories of life in a remote place called Tennessee during the Civil War when Rebel soldiers would come into their house and take everything.  She told about how the family hid, afraid they would be harmed.  She shared stories about the hardships on the trail in the covered wagon as they came to Texas and about the wagon rush when they opened up Indian Territory to homesteaders.  Maybe land is why all of Lazarus’s siblings wound up living in Texas.  In the end, only Lazarus remained in Tennessee.

Elizabeth Estes Vannoy

This is Lazarus’s sister Elizabeth Estes who married George Vannoy, the brother of Elizabeth Vannoy that Lazarus married, celebrating her 95th birthday in Nocona, Texas.  I think she looks a lot like her brother, Lazarus.

Lazarus is lucky that he was not captured and conscripted, on either side, during the Civil War.  Rutha probably depended heavily on Lazarus, as her next oldest boy wasn’t born until 1855.

John Y. Estes was finally discharged and released as a POW on March 20, 1865.  He probably walked home, begging food along the way, like so many other bedraggled soldiers, probably fearful of what he would find at home when he arrived.  Would there even be a home left?  Was his family alive?  All of them?  Part of them? Which part?

Shortly after arriving home, on October 9, 1865, John Y. Estes stated that he was moving and gave six head of sheep, one horse, fourteen head of hogs, one cow and calf, two yearlings, the corn crop, all the fodder, and all the household and kitchen furniture to his son Lazarus.  But John didn’t move.  Lazarus would only have been 17 or 18 at that time.  What precipitated this unusual transaction to an underage, unmarried boy with no household of his own?

Lazarus Estes married Elizabeth Vannoy sixteen months later, on February 6, 1867.

The 1870 census shows us a nuclear family, the way families worked in Tennessee.  Newlyweds just built a cabin by their parents.  In this case, Lazarus and Elizabeth lived beside both his and her parents.

Estes 1870 census

Now, the census can be deceptive, because the Esteses and Vannoys actually lived across the holler from each other, but that tells us that there was only one unoccupied house between them so the holler didn’t have as many people living there that it does today.

Still, they lived very close.

Lazarus lived on this V where Nunn Road and Vannoy Road leaves Estes Road.

Lazarus Estes homesite

You can see where a house used to be and a little cemetery – but that is NOT where Lazarus is buried. It is where some of his adult children are buried….and no, I do not know why.

Lazarus Estes land 2

In this picture, taken from across the road, you can see the location of the cemetery on Lazarus land, just about dead center, with a man inside and a truck to the right behind a big cedar tree.  Lazarus’s house sat to the left of the cemetery probably just inside or just outside of the picture.

There is an untold story involving the cemeteries in Estes Holler that I suspect involves a family feud of some sort.  In part, I think this because even in the 1970s, the two families living on opposite sides of the only road in Estes Holler would claim they “weren’t kin” to each other, when they clearly were.  They did not WANT to be kin to each other….so they weren’t…end of subject.  Although both families were very nice to me.  Feuds in Appalachia outlive the fueders and the descendants don’t even know WHY they are feuding, just that they are.

The “Upper Estes Cemetery” which is likely on the original John R. Estes land, eventually owned by son Jechonias, was not used by Lazarus who descended from Jechonias’s brother, John Y. Estes.  Furthermore, while Lazarus had a cemetery on his own land that included a grave for the unknown school teacher that Lazarus buried, he himself was buried in Pleasant View, then known as the Venable Cemetery, as was his wife and mother and his children that died in his lifetime.  Pleasant View is the cemetery at the end of Estes Holler, past the Cook cemetery, beside Pleasant View Church, although Lazarus was never reported to be terribly religious.  To me, being buried away from Estes land almost sounds like a protest of some sort.  I’m clearly missing some piece of the puzzle and I doubt anyone living has that piece.

We know there was some kind of problem and although the chancery court records tell us tantalizingly little – they do tell us something.

In 1888, George Estes, son of John Y. Estes, filed suit against his uncle Jechonias Estes regarding the boundaries of some land that Jechonias had sold to George in 1887.  Lazarus was the security for George, his brother, so his allegiance is clear.  From the May 1893 chancery docket, we know that Jechonias cross-filed and the court found that no one was entitled to anything from anyone, except the lawyers who put a lien on the property for payment of their fees. Jechonias had died in 1888, is buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery, and George Buchanan Estes along with his younger brother, John Reagan Estes, subsequently left for Texas where their father, John Y. Estes, was already settled.  However, at least three of George Buchanan Estes’s children are buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery.

John Y Estes clearing

This is actually the land behind Lazarus’s house, or where his house stood, but the ridge between Estes Holler and Vannoy Holler looked much the same.  I think that John Y. Estes lived in that clearing on the hillside.  The old Upper Estes Cemetery would be to the right about 3 or 4 photo-lengths, also on the hillside.  Of course, in Estes Holler, everything is on a hillside.  You can see the Upper Estes Cemetery, below in the clearing.

Upper Estes Cemetery clearing

Uncle George took me up the mountainside in his truck so that I could see the holler.  It’s a beautiful place, often bathed in the blue/grey mists that give the Smokey Mountains their name.

Estes holler mists

There is a steep wagon path, or put in modern terms, a 2 track Jeep path, over the ridge between the hollers at the end because it’s a mile or two to the front where you can go around – and then of course a mile or two back on the other side.

estes holler pano

The people who live there know every nook and cranny well – but to outsiders, it’s a confusing labyrinth of intertwined mountains, paths and valleys and very, VERY easy to become disoriented and lost.

This is the land where Lazarus was born, lived his entire life, and died.  He probably never went further than Knoxville, about 50 miles away.

This photo is labeled as Lazarus, but I’m not entirely convinced – although the woman does look something like Elizabeth.

Estes possibly Lazarus and Elizabeth

In this photo, Lazarus and Elizabeth look to be maybe 35 or 40, so this would have been taken in about the 1880s.  Lazarus, if this is him, has full facial hair, so he doesn’t even look like himself, compared to the other photos.  Furthermore, it looks like a caterpillar is crawling up one side of his nose.  I have my doubts if this is Lazarus, and I actually think it may be a photo of his father, John Y. Estes.

Update: Two subscribers offered expertise, for which I’m very grateful.

Therese overlayed the photo of the middle-aged couple onto the photo of Lazarus and Elizabeth as seniors in Photoshop and says:  “I’m sure they’re the same couple, you can take it to the bank. 😉 Even accounting for the different head angles and posture, their features lined up really well. Lazarus still had the same light-colored, slightly downturned eyes, straight brows, and the same mole or scar on the left cheek, which had grown some by his later years (Along with his ear lobes!! Too bad the ears and nose never stop growing.) The “caterpillar” appears to be some discoloration of the photo itself. The wrinkle between his brows also lines up well, although it became more pronounced with age. His shoulders appear to have atrophied some, which is to be expected. The hairlines and marionette lines for both Lazarus and Elizabeth in the two photos are also perfect matches. He even kept the same part in his hair. Elizabeth’s deep set eyes, thin lips, and square chin were little changed through the years.”

Jan says, “The sleeve of her black-striped jacket did not come into fashion until 1890. The pouf at the upper arm area grew to outrageous proportions over the next 7-8 years. With that in mind, I believe the photograph was likely take in 1890-93. It was certainly taken after 1890, making Lazarus at least 51-52.

By 1880 things had changed a bit in Estes Holler, to put it mildly.

I don’t think things were ever “right” after the Civil War.  John Y. probably witnessed the unspeakable and many men in this area fought for the Union, so he may not have been well accepted back in Estes Holler.  That deed he signed just a few months after his release tells us that something was amiss.  Perhaps his wife told him that his son, Lazarus, had taken care of all of the “man things” on the farm for the past several years while John Y. was gone.  We’ll never know.

On June 20, 1879, John Y. Estes signed papers 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 lands. That same day, Lazarus and Elizabeth sold the men acreage and obviously, John’s land stood between that acreage and the road.  As long as the land was within family, access to the road didn’t matter, but now being sold, it did.

In the 1880 census, a year later, Ruthy is shown in Claiborne Co. with children Nancy, Rutha and John Reagan Estes, as divorced. Back then, no one ever got divorced – it was rare as chicken’s teeth.  Not to mention, this couple was 60 years old.  They had already tolerated each other most of their adult lives.  What precipitated a divorce?

John Y. Estes is shown in Montague Co., Texas, living with the S. C. Clark family as a lodger.

The Texas Estes family tells the story that John Y. Estes walked to Texas, twice – implying of course that he walked back to Tennessee once.

John Y’s last child was born in 1871, so I’m wondering if he didn’t go to Texas and return home, sign that deed, and go back to Texas by the 1880 census.  To the best of my knowledge, he never returned to Claiborne County.

And once again, Lazarus was left to take care of things.  His mother had children from the ages of 9 to 22 at home and the only son was the youngest, John.  Someone had to plow and farm and put food on the table.

The 1880 census showed Lazarus and Elizabeth with 4 living children and his occupation was a huckster.

Now that’s a very interesting occupation.  I asked cousin George about it, and he knew exactly what that meant.

Lazarus became an entrepreneur, of sorts, although not the same kind of “entrepreneur” his son, William George Estes would become.  Lazarus had a wagon and once a month he would hitch up his oxen and go to Knoxville.  It took him two days to get there and then he would sell whatever people from Little Sycamore in Claiborne had to sell or trade.  Then, he would load the wagon up with supplies and come back home.

We don’t know that this was Lazarus’s wagon, but it was in the Estes pictures and although we don’t know who is sitting in the wagon, we do know that the ox’s name is Jim Bow.

Estes wagon

In the field just across Little Sycamore creek, at the end of Estes Holler, Lazarus would park his wagon and everyone could come and visit to pick up their order or just to see what he had.  I guess he was a peddler of sorts.

Lazarus huckster field

Today, this homemade bridge is the entrance into Estes Holler, crossing Little Sycamore Creek.  There was no bridge then.

Bridge over Little Sycamore Creek

You can see, across the bridge and to the left that there is an open field.  Lazarus would pull the wagon into that field and set up shop, so to speak, according to Uncle George.

Lazarus huckster field 2

You know that word traveled like wildfire up and down the holler that Lazarus was back, and everyone wanted to see what he had brought, what was available, how much their goods sold for….and maybe more importantly, the news….what was the news.

Lazarus huckster field 3

I can see his wagon parked here, can’t you?  Is that his old wagon wheel?

However, this family had another little problem that no one probably discussed – at least not out loud.

Imagine my surprise to find this in the court records:

On Oct. 4, 1886, Lazarus Estes was granted $26 by the court for “conveying Joel Vannoy to the hospital for the insane.”  Joel Vannoy was Lazarus’s father-in-law.

That hospital was opened in Knoxville in May of that year.  You know, right about now, I’m tempted to say something like, “Well, that explains a lot.”  However, that’s probably inappropriate, because this really is very sad for everyone in the holler.  Lazarus was the one to take care of things, probably the same way he did for his mother during the Civil War.  Lazarus always seemed to be the one to “take care of things.”

So, in addition to his own mother, Lazarus now was taking care of his mother-in-law as well who had older children and grandchildren living with her.

Lazarus was one busy man.

In this photo, Lazarus looks to be about age 40-50, which would have been about 1890.  I cannot imagine wearing those long dresses in the Tennessee summer heat, but they did.

Lazarus and Elizabeth Estes 2

The 1890 census is missing, of course, so we don’t see Lazarus again until 1900.

In 1900, Lazarus and Elizabeth are living in-between Lazarus’s mother Ruthy and his son, William George Estes who married Ollie Bolton in 1894.

Estes 1900 census

William George has been out of work for 6 months.  I’m guessing Lazarus is once again, “taking care of things.”

Uncle George and the Texas family both tell us that Lazarus’s mother, Ruthy was bedfast for years, 22 years to be exact, with arthritis.  That means she would have been afflicted from about 1881, or about the time John Y. left for Texas.  Uncle George told me that Lazarus and some other family members had to go “up the mountain” and carry Ruthy “down the mountain” on a litter.  Lazarus and Elizabeth took care of her from that time forward.

The 1900 census also tells us that Rutha had 8 children and 6 were living.  Two of Ruthy’s adult daughters had died 2 days apart in 1888.  The family story says that there was smallpox in the holler and no one would bury the bodies, except Lazarus, so he buried all that died, alone.

Lazarus was no stranger to the cemetery.  The census tells us that he and Elizabeth had 10 children and 5 were living.  That wasn’t quite right.  They had 11 children, but one birth was twins who both either died the same day or were stillborn.

Lazarus and Elizabeth visited the cemetery far too often to bury children; in 1872 to bury twins, in 1873 to bury three year old Ruthy, in 1884 to bury 17 year old Phoebe, and in 1875 to bury 9 year old Thaddeus.  Of course, they buried Lazarus’s sisters 2 days apart in 1888 and his uncle as well.  Lazarus’s grandfather John R. Estes died in 1885, nearly 100 years old.  It’s hard to grieve that passing – more like a celebration of an amazingly long life.

So, you see, there was one more thing that Lazarus did, that he took care of for the family.  He hand carved gravestones.

Elihu and David Estes stone

This one was for twins, Elihu and David.

Lazarus Estes infant stone

And this one for his namesake.

These stones were for his brother, George Buchanan Estes’s children, buried in the Upper Estes Cemetery, where the land dispute would split the family in the 1880s and 1890s.  Maybe it was because the children were buried here that there was such a connection to this land.  George Buchanan Estes’s father in law, Rev. David King is also buried in this cemetery.  The Upper Estes Cemetery was located on Jechonias’ land, the original Estes land in Estes Holler.  This is probably where John R. Estes and his wife, the original Estes settlers in Claiborne County, are buried as well.

Upper Estes Cemetery

Lazarus and Elizabeth would bury yet one more child, Martha, in 1911, in Pleasant View cemetery before their four remaining children would bury them.

In 1902, William Norris, who had married Lazarus’s daughter Martha a couple of years earlier bought land from Lazarus.  I wonder if William and Martha Norris bought Rutha Estes’s old house.

In 1903, the family would bury Lazarus’s mother, Rutha, in Pleasant View Cemetery (then called Venable Cemetery), beside the church where Lazarus and Elizabeth would be buried next to her just a few years later.

Rutha Estes stone

Lazarus hand carved her stone too.  The photo below shows the area where Rutha, Lazarus and Elizabeth all rest together.

Estes area in Venable cemetery

The last census where Lazarus was enumerated was in 1910.  He is still farming.  His two youngest sons are living with him and his sister Rutha, age 50 is also living in the household, probably since his mother, Rutha’s, death. The census tells us Lazarus and Elizabeth have been married 45 years.  They’ve surely seen a lot together, especially given that they also knew each other as children.

They live one house from William Norris and Martha Estes, their daughter, who would die the following year, probably in childbirth.

In about 1915, there was a “small family issue” with William George Estes, Lazarus’s son.  William George and Ollie Bolton Estes, his wife, had left Estes Holler sometime after the 1910 census to live in Fowler, Indiana.  It seems that Ollie’s cousin, 20 years her junior, visited in Indiana, and Ollie came home and found William George “in the act” with her cousin.  As you might imagine, all hell broke loose, and they could probably hear the ensuing ruckus all the way to Estes Holler in Tennessee.  Ollie reportedly horsewhipped William George, nearly killing him.

Ollie was reportedly pregnant at that time, and the situation caused her to go into labor and lose the baby, or twins, the stories vary.  Long story short, Ollie and William split.  Their two sons, William Sterling (my father) and Joseph “Dode” somehow got lost or abandoned in the shuffle and not knowing what else to do, wound up hopping a freight train, at about ages 10-13, and making their way back to their grandparents in Estes Holler – arriving hungry, dirty and full of tales about their parents.  Lazarus was furious.

Shortly thereafter, William George reportedly also showed up back in Estes Holler, not with Ollie, the wife he left with, but with her young cousin instead, whom he would eventually marry.  The family story tells us that Lazarus was having none of that behavior, and he threw William George, along with the young cousin, out of Estes Holler, “for doing Ollie wrong” and told him if he came back, he’s shoot him.  To my knowledge, William George Estes holds the distinct honor of being the only person ever thrown out of Estes Holler – and that’s saying something!

Part of this story I know to be true, but I can’t vouch for all of it.  I do know that William George Estes was not entirely disowned, meaning he did have some inheritance, and he went back to visit his sister, Cornie, in the 1940s and 1950s, long after his parents were gone.

Apparently Lazarus knew his time on earth was limited and did not want to leave the fate of his land and possessions to chance, or to an executor, especially given the extenuating circumstances, so he took care of things himself before he passed over.

Lazarus Elizabeth 1915 deed

Lazarus created this deed leaving his land to daughter Cornie Epperson, but instructing Cornie and Worth, her husband, to pay Lazarus’s other heirs, William George and the heirs of his daughter, Martha, who had died in 1911, although William George received less.  On the second page, Lazarus reserved a life estate for he and his wife of half an acre and also states the condition that Cornie and Worth allow him to pasture a cow and horse on the property as well.

You don’t think of having problems finding death dates in the 1900s, but we had fits establishing in which year Lazarus died.  Cousin Debbie has a Bible that says he died in 1916.  His wife, Elizabeth died in October 1918 and is listed as a widow.  Cousin George, Lazarus’s grandson, who was at his funeral said he died in 1918.  Normally I’d say that the Bible is probably the most reliable, but in this case, we have a deed signed by Lazarus on March the 7th, 1918 – and as far as I know, the dead can’t sign deeds.  The death date we have, however, and it was on July 7th.  So, by process of elimination, Lazarus died on July 7, 1918.

As fate would have it, I’m not at all sure that Lazarus didn’t carve his own headstone, or at least part of it – the name.  I know that sounds morose, but for the man in the family that took care of everything, it’s somehow fitting.

Lazarus Estes original stone

Elizabeth’s stone, next to his, has no carving, at least none that remains today.

In the 1980s, George Estes and I bought new stones for both Lazarus and Elizabeth, because you could barely read Lazarus’s stone at all, in the 1980s.

Lazarus Estes new stone

The old stones were left in place, and the new stones put at the foot of the graves, shown below.

Venable cemetery new Estes stones

Lazarus and Elizabeth Vannoy Estes had the following children:

  • Phebe Ann born December 21, 1867, died August 21, 1884, not even a month after her younger brother Thaddeus died. I wonder if he was ill and she was caring of him. Phebe and Thaddeus’s are the only markers in this family that are not hand carved.

Phebe Ann Estes stone

  • Ruthy Jane born January 11, 1870, died Sept. 4, 1873
  • David born and died April 6, 1872
  • Alexander born and died April 6, 1872

Ruthy Jane, David and Alexander have hand-carved stones in the Venable Cemetery, but they are no longer readable.

  • William George Estes born March 30, 1873, died November 29, 1971, Harlan County, KY, married Ollie Bolton, Joice Hatfield and Crocie Brewer. Children who lived past childhood were Charles Estel, William Sterling, Joseph “Dode”, Margaret LeJean, Minnie May, by wife Ollie, then Virginia by wife Joice, then Evelyn and Josephine by wife Crocie.

William George Estes

  • Thaddeous Estes born Sept. 22, 1875, died July 28, 1884

Thaddeous Estes stone

  • Cornie Estes born June 22, 1878, died February, 14, 1958, married Worth Epperson and had children Edna, Bill, Edith, Catherine “Katy”, Kermit, Lucy Mae, William “Bill”, Everett and James “Bert”. In the photo below, Cornie and worth are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.

Cornie and Worth Epperson

Cornie and Worth were buried in the lower Estes Cemetery, on Lazarus old land, which was, of course, their land.

Cornie Estes Epperson stone

  • Martha A. was born Oct. 25, 1880 and died January 10, 1911, married William I. Norris and had children Jesse, Otis, Etta, Glen and Mae.

Martha Estes and William Norris family

Martha’s stone was hand carved too.  I had to dig part of it out.

Martha Estes Norris stone

  • James Columbus “Lum” Estes born March 25, 1883, died Nov. 15, 1924, married Creola “Thole” Greer and had children Myrtle, Heady “Hettie”, Charlie, Molly and Clarence. Lum and his brother, Charlie, married Greer sisters. James lived his entire life in Estes Holler and is buried in the Lower Estes Cemetery, on Lazarus’s land. He died of peritonitis because he “ruptured himself” picking apples and did not “get it taken care of.” The death certificate says he had medical attention for 3 days, but by that time, the damage was done. His death from peritonitis must have been awful.

James Columbus Estes

James Columbus Estes stone

  • Charlie Tomas (sic) born December 9, 1885, died October 2, 1927, married Nannie Greer and had children George Lazarus, Grace, Jessie, Lyde Waylen, Robert Tipton and Betty Louise. Charlie and Nannie obtained their marriage license in Claiborne County, not realizing they would not be able to marry in Hancock County. So, they married at the county line, in the road. She stood on a horse step. Charlie died of typhoid fever when he was 42. His death certificate says there was no doctor in attendance, which is not unusual in that region, although typhoid typically takes about 4 weeks to either kill the person or for them to begin to recover. George said that two of his sisters contracted typhoid too at that time, but they both recovered. His father died. Uncle George would have been 16 and Buster would have been 7. Charlie bought the farm in Hancock County, very close to the Lee County line that was still in the family when I visited Uncle Buster, his last living son, in 2005. Buster was living in the house his father had built with his own hands.

Charlie Tomas and James Columbus Estes

I particularly like this picture above of the two boys, Charlie and Lum (James Columbus) Estes, taken sometime in the 1890s.  I love their homespun shirts and pants.  You know these were their “good” clothes, yet they are barefoot.  I don’t think most of the children had shoes, and what shoes there were, were shared among family members in case someone had to go outside in the particularly cold winter months.  Of course, outhouses were all outside, so I’m guessing several trips a day were made.

Charlie, below, as an adult with Nannie Greer.

Charlie Tomas Estes and Nannie Greer

Charlie was Uncle George’s father.  Uncle George took me to see the house that Charlie built the family, in Estes Holler.  It’s where George lived until he was 10 years old, when they moved back to Hancock County where Charlie’s wife’s “people were from.”Estes house build by Charlie Tomas Estes

The land in Estes Holler, however, was sold to Charlie’s brother, Lum, when they moved to Hancock County, as reflected in the deeds, for $1.  These brothers were close their entire life.  Charlie was brought back and buried in the Lower Estes cemetery, on Lazarus’ land, near his brother, the day after he died.

Charlie Tomas Estes stone

Estes DNA and the Cousin Wedding

Estes is my maiden name.  I have always been an Estes.  I always will be.  I probably identify with my surname like most men do.  It’s mine, I own it, it owns me – and I’m very attached to my lineage.

You can understand, then, why I very much….one might say desperately….wanted to prove the Claiborne County Estes lineage to the proven ancestral Estes lineage from Kent, England.  And I don’t mean I wanted to prove it from someone 5 or 6 generations back – I mean I wanted to prove it from the current Estes family members.

Now, not that I’m saying that I had any specific reason to suspect that there might be a “problem.”  I’m not saying that at all.  Just because I’ve got a moonshiner between me and thee, Abraham Estes, immigrant, and a few other colorful characters too, is not reason to think that maybe, just maybe, “something” might have happened along the way.  Just saying, of course.  And of course, it also has nothing to do with the fact that I’ve spent more than 30 years working on Estes genealogy.  Nope, nothing to do with that either.

Unfortunately, by the time DNA testing has come upon the scene, Uncle George had passed on to the place where genealogists have all the answers.  He had no children, so that possibility was gone.  However, his younger brother, Uncle Buster was still living.  I always loved visiting with Buster.  He always came and joined in the party when I went to visit Uncle George.  He had a very dry wit, was always joking with someone and loved, just loved, a good prank.  Sometimes, it was difficult to tell when he was kidding and when he was serious.

Buster was also deaf as a post – so it’s not like you could call him up and ask him a question.  Nor was he a letter writer.  So, you just had to get in the car and go and visit Buster – 500 miles and 3 or 4 states away, depending on how you count that last winding 2 miles up the mountain on the Tennessee/Virginia border.

Now, I wish, just desperately wish, I had taken a picture from WITHIN the car when I pulled in Buster’s driveway during my last visit.  Buster was in his 90s.  He lived high up in the mountains, on the old home place, where you had to cross the state line once or twice on a twisty two-track road to get to his house.  You couldn’t see his house till you had missed it and had to turn around, but he could see you coming for 2 miles.  And that was long enough to get his gun and have it loaded, ready and leveled.  After all, no one had any business up there in “them mountains” that didn’t live there or wasn’t the postal service.  He just knew you were up to no-good – and most of the time he would have been right.  Buster was absolutely no nonsense, and everyone knew it.  I doubt he ever had to use that gun, because everyone knew unquestionably that he would.

That day, I pulled into the path to his house and pulled up, stopping maybe 20 or 30 feet before getting to his house.  He was sitting on the porch, the shotgun already on his lap and leveled.  There were only 2 things to do.

One – back the hell up and leave, or two, get out of the car, start walking toward him, smiling and waving.  Buster understands friendly gestures.  And I hadn’t come that far to turn around and leave, at least not without getting shot at, at least once.  Most people give warning shots.

My cousin, on the other hand, riding shotgun, pardon the pun, started muttering things about this not being such a good idea.  She slid down behind the dash as I got out of the car and started my friendly advance towards Buster.  About half way to the house, he lowered the gun, put it down and got up and walked out and gave me a huge hug.  I went back and got my cousin, and we went in and had a lovely visit with Uncle Buster, his Beagles and Chihuahua, Baby.  I still regret not bringing one of his puppies home.

Now, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m going to anyway.  Uncle Buster was one of the handsomest men I’ve ever met.  Even into his 90s, that man was not just handsome on the outside, but a lovely person inside too – and fun – such fun to be with.  Here’s Buster at about age 85.

Robert (Buster) Estes crop

That’s Buster’s “official” picture, but I like the candid shots better – not to mention he didn’t look like himself without a hat.

Buster Estes cowboy hat

Now Uncle Buster gave me an unexpected gift during that visit.  And no, I’m not talking about DNA – although he willingly gave that too.  He got a box of photos out from the bottom of a cupboard and in that box, we found photos that I never knew existed of John Y. Estes, our ancestor.  Buster thought Uncle George had already given them to me.  I don’t think George, his brother, had them, or he would have.

So Buster and my cousin and I spent a lovely afternoon at his kitchen table going through old photos and scanning them.  Here’s one of Buster on a plow in his younger years.  No tractors back then.

Buster Estes on plow

Buster told me stories that George hadn’t.  Stories about the family, about who did what to whom, and when, and why.  Stories about when his only son died in the Air Force and about his wife, before she passed over too.  And little tidbits here and there, like he thinks he recalls being told that my great-great-grandmother, Rutha, had red hair.  Buster’s parents knew Rutha, of course.  She may have had red hair, but according to 23andMe, I don’t carry the red hair gene.

As the morning wore on, the neighbors started spontaneously arriving, some on foot, some by car.  They saw my Jeep on the road too, and they knew it was a “strange vehicle” and with out-of-state plates, so it didn’t take long for their curiosity to get the best of them.  Buster wound up having a homecoming party and he didn’t even know he was expecting company.  Finally, we decided to go into town for lunch, so Buster could introduce me and my cousin to the rest of the “folk” at the one restaurant in all of Hancock County.  Buster was clearly tickled to have company.

I looked at Buster and Uncle George both and I saw my father, or the ghost of my father.  I just wanted to be positive.  I had to know – for sure.  I learned a long time ago, you can look at someone and see anything you want to see.

After we got past the shotgun on the porch incident, getting a DNA sample was a piece of cake.  I really struggled with how I was going to explain DNA for genealogy and why I needed it, to Buster.  It was, of course, complicated by his hearing loss.  I was all prepared with the best explanation I could come up with, along with drawings – and I finally decided to bag the explanation altogether and just to ask him to DNA test as a favor to me because I needed to prove I was really an Estes.  Sometimes, that’s the most effective approach.

He was perfectly willing.  However, he wanted something in return.  He wanted to go and visit his sister together.  Now, I had never met his sister, in all those years I visited Uncle George.  She was busy with her family and not interested in genealogy or meeting distant family, so I was a bit hesitant, but I could tell Buster really wanted to go and visit with her, so off we went.

Buster’s wife had passed away in 1991 and Buster had always had a “girlfriend,” never anyone he was terribly serious about, but someone to go and have lunch or dinner with and to visit with from time to time.  In fact, I think Buster might have had several girlfriends.  He certainly could have.  A man in his 70s and 80s who has enough money, a farm, can drive, has a (relatively) new truck and doesn’t want anyone to take care of him is a hot commodity anyplace!  And he was good looking and a respectful gentleman to boot!

We arrived at Buster’s sister’s house.  I was a bit hesitant, but Buster walked right in, put his arm around me, and told her that he wanted to introduce her to his new wife.

Ummm….I was not prepared for this.

You could have knocked me over with a feather.  You could have knocked her over with a feather too.  I’ll never forget the look on her face.  Buster was in hog heaven. She was not amused.  I was in shock, but recovered before she did.  Let’s just say that visit did not go well, as far as I was concerned.  Buster thought it went swimmingly!  My cousin was mortified.

Here’s how it all went down.

Buster – “I want you to meet someone.”

Sister – “I heard you were in town with someone for lunch.”

Buster – “Yep, I was.  We went to the courthouse.”

Sister – “What were you doing at the courthouse?”

Buster  – Long pause, deep breath, big smile….

Buster – “Gettin’ married.”

Sister – Shocked, horrified look, mouth falls open.

Buster – “Yep, we just got hitched.  What do you think of my new bride?  Ain’t she beautiful?”  Kisses me on the cheek.

Sister – trying to recover….immediately looks at my hand and sees a wedding ring …talking to Buster, ignoring me, like I’m not there…

Sister – “I heard she was from out of town.”

Buster – “Yep.”

Sister – now looking at me…”So what brings you here?”

Nothing like being direct.

Buster – “She came here to marry me.

Sister – hands on hips, getting agitated

Sister – “Well, how do you two know each other?”

Buster – “This is Bobbi, our cousin.  Don’t you remember her???”

Sister – “WHAT????  YOU MARRIED A COUSIN???”

Buster – looking at me… “Well, we ain’t gonna have any more kids, I don’t think, are we?”

Me – shyly… “Well, I was kinda countin on it.”

Sister’s mouth fell open again….

I finally started laughing, uncontrollably, so hard I couldn’t talk.  The more I tried to stop, the worse it got.  So did Buster.  We left.  I told him he was bad for doing that, in between guffaws, when I could speak.  Tears were streaming down my face I was laughing so hard  I could barely get my breath.  Buster shook his head yes, said he knew, and kept right on laughing too.  I bet she never forgave him – or me.  My cousin was even more mortified, having been the honorary maid of honor at the mythical wedding.  Thankfully, by this time, she was laughing too.

I laugh to this day thinking about that entire bizarre situation.  Buster’s sister was NOT amused – and I heard tell that Buster’s girlfriends weren’t either. His sister called them right up and tattled on him.  So had the girls at the restaurant in town.  You can’t do anything there without everyone knowing about it.  He probably “paid” for that little trick for years!  But knowing Buster, he probably thought it was well worth it and was right proud of himself!

However, at the end of the day, my cousin and I returned to Middlesboro with a DNA kit complete with Buster’s DNA (and signature), scanned photos, including many I had never seen, and another chapter is a set of stories that never seems to end in the Estes family.  We had a lovely day, my Jeep was undamaged, which is not always the case in these remote locations, and we had not been shot at.  And amazingly, my cousin still travels with me.

I couldn’t have been more grateful – for the DNA and the wonderful memories, old and new.  And my cousins, I love my cousins – the amused, the unamused and the co-conspirators.  My life would be so diminished without them.  There is nothing in this world as uplifting and bonding as laughing so hard you cry with your cousins.

And Buster, bless his heart, God love his soul, as they say down south, may he Rest in Peace – at least till his sister catches up with him.

Buster and Baby



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43 thoughts on “Lazarus Estes (1848-1918), Huckster and Gravestone Carver, 52 Ancestors #59

  1. Excellent article, seems we all have been bitten by the “GENIE Bug” and are still scratching. The name Rutha stands out since I have found it in our PHILLIPS line and have found to pay attention to first names that are unusual since this can open a new door in looking for children. Thanks for sharing. You have traveled a long way in gaining experience with Genealogy and I for one say thank you for sharing your information since it has helped me many times. Always looking forward to your new hints for solving difficult road blocks.

  2. I love your stories about the Estes family! My Thomas, Widener, Roush, families were in Cumberland Gap, Lee and Washington counties so when you are describing the life for your Estes family, I see my families too! Thank you!

  3. Thanks. Delightful, informative and delightful again!! I read the whole thing and I do think that younger picture is Lazarus.

    Take care and keep ‘em coming!

    Ann Neel


  4. I see your Rutha Dodson is related to me back at Charles Dodson Of Richmond County Virginia. Thanks for your articles. Edward Dotson

  5. What a wonderful journey you’ve been on. I loved every word and enjoyed the photos. Such fun to learn the stories behind family lore.

  6. Loved reading your story about the whole family and especially about Buster. I sent you an email yesterday about a definite dna match with my sister and a nephew of ours with a Buster Estes.

  7. Roberta, I loved this whole story, especially the bits about the shotgun incident, and the “wedding.”,
    I have a letter, the original, that my great grandfather Brown wrote to his father when he was a soldier in the Union Army stationed at the military hospital in Nashville. They were from Iowa, but with roots in the southeastern US.
    Oh, about that animal that I think you called an ox, It sure looks to me like a buffalo, but I never saw a buffalo hitched to a wagon. My Grandfather Rogers had mules, Kate & Queen, to pull the wagon.
    It’s wonderful that you were able to find your cousins and hear all those wonderful stories!
    Thank you for sharing them with us all.

  8. You know, there must indeed be something in the genes that connects all of us with Appalachian heritage. The more I find in my own research the more familiar your stories sound. By the way, is that really an ox? It looks more like a bison, but I can’t imagine the difficulty yoking up bison to a wagon. Where would anyone find one in Tennessee anyway? I guess I’m just not country if I can’t tell an ox from a buffalo. Or the shoe polish they leave behind.

  9. This is plum wonderful. What a great story. My Parkers were from? Then Montgomery and Franklin county NC then to Lee County Va then Claiborne county, and Harlan county, crossing back and forth state lines around the Gap making my life H-E double toothpicks. You have unraveled your story beautifully, I hope to do the same. How did the DNA turn out?

    • The DNA showed that we are definitely family. I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Before he swabbed, Uncle Buster gave me a big hug and told me I was family – that he could just “tell.” 🙂

  10. Great story, I was in USMC with Estes in 1950’s or later can’t remember. He was from Bristol or near there. Maybe you know him, find the Estes that was in USMC. I think I have a picture, he favors, Buster.

  11. I had the same reaction to your ox-it definitely looks like a buffalo. Look at the hump behind the head and the thick coat. Wow!
    You have encouraged me to visit the old homesteads of my own family. It takes effort and planning but as you show, it uncovers amazing treasures.
    By the way, I always refer to my surname as my “original” name since “maiden” name seems so sexist(?). Like you said, it is my name and always will connect with my people.
    Thanks for your great articles.
    Nancy Thomas

  12. Love this story Roberta. Just a note: Ref. the photo of Lazarus and Elizabeth just above the following paragraph….
    “In this photo, Lazarus and Elizabeth look to be maybe 35 or 40, so this would have been taken in about the 1880s. Lazarus, if this is him, has full facial hair, so he doesn’t even look like himself, compared to the other photos. Furthermore, it looks like a caterpillar is crawling up one side of his nose. I have my doubts if this is Lazarus, and I actually think it may be a photo of his father, John Y. Estes.”

    The sleeve of her black-striped jacket did not come into fashion until 1890. The pouf at the upper arm area grew to outrageous proportions over the next 7-8 years. With that in mind, I believe the photograph was likely take in 1890-93. It was certainly taken after 1890, making Lazarus at least 51-52.

    Keep up the search.
    Jan Thomas – Colorado

  13. Wonderful post and photos, as always! My curiosity got the best of me, so I overlayed the photo of the middle-aged couple onto the photo of Lazarus and Elizabeth as seniors in Photoshop. I’m sure they’re the same couple, you can take it to the bank. 😉 Even accounting for the different head angles and posture, their features lined up really well. Lazarus still had the same light-colored, slightly downturned eyes, straight brows, and the same mole or scar on the left cheek, which had grown some by his later years (Along with his ear lobes!! Too bad the ears and nose never stop growing.) The “caterpillar” appears to be some discoloration of the photo itself. The wrinkle between his brows also lines up well, although it became more pronounced with age. His shoulders appear to have atrophied some, which is to be expected. The hairlines and marionette lines for both Lazarus and Elizabeth in the two photos are also perfect matches. He even kept the same part in his hair. Elizabeth’s deep set eyes, thin lips, and square chin were little changed through the years.

    I agree with the other commenters that Jim Bow was either a bison or beefalo. So many interesting stories are lost to time…

    • Than you for doing his. I was just thinking to myself that I wish there was a way to do exactly that, not realizing that there was.

      So, we’ve solved that mystery. I have a photo of a man we think is his father, John Y. and in my next article I was going to compare the two photos side by side. Hmmm, maybe I should rethink.

      You know, the problem is that we’re not positive that the other photo is John Y. It was labeled granddaddy Estes.

  14. Loved the Estes story and your sense of humor. My husband’s father, John R. Rutledge, was the son of William Rutledge and Nancy Estes of Claiborne County TN. John R died very young from a heart attack and his mother’s parents are unknown to us. William Rutledge and Nancy Estes Rutledge were listed in the 1840 Census records in the 15-20 age column. They had two children: Nelson and John R. Rutledge, the latter was a union soldier in the Civil War. But I know nothing about Nancy Estes, who was between the ages of 15-20 in 1840. Do you know anything about the parent’s of this Nancy Estes born in Virginia, migrated to Claiborne County, TN? Nancy’s second marriage was to Nathanial (Wilbourne) Hopper (Hooper). They are listed in the 1850 Census with Nancy’s two children, Nelson and John R. from her marriage to William Rutl;edge.

    • Hi Helen,

      I believe that Nancy was the daughter of John R. Estes and Nancy Ann Moore. I show two marriages for her too, but the dates are pretty goofy. What do you have for dates? Has your husband or his family DNA tested?


      • I found these transcriptions in the Claiborne County Marriage Register: On page 14, recorded without a return of the minister or justice: ” 156 marriage license Isd to William Rutledge for his intermarriage with Nancy Eastus on this 23rd of Novr 1839. Wm. Neil, Clk.”

        and P. 153 in Claiborne County Marriage Register: “Marriage License Isd the 2nd day of May 1850 to Wilburn Hooper for his intermarriage with Nancy Rutledge.

        The within were married according to law on the 2nd day of May 1850, J.M. Kelley, Minister of Gospel ”

        The 1850 Census confirms this marriage with Hooper within the Census year.
        – From Hoopers in 1850 Claiborne County Tennessee, Family Source Compass-Ann Goodwin Editor

        My husband died 36 years ago and his only brother is also deceased. There is one living nephew and great nephew. I am not sure their genealogy addiction is strong enough for the expenditure yet. I am 92 years old and trying to get that addiction going before my demise. I did not have children.

        Thanks for your reply. Forgot to mention that according to the 1850 Census Records, their son Nelson is 11 and likely should have been reported in the 1840 Census Record. However, Nelson and John’s ages are within the dates of these marriage records.

        • There were two Estes male men in Claiborne County before the 1850 census which began to list family members. Based on the earlier census information, combined with documents, I reconstructed the two Estes families. In addition, the early family trees given me in Claiborne County showed her as one of John R.’s children. I am e-mailing you.

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  20. Love this story! I am intrigued if you have placed Buster’s DNA on Gedmatch, as it looks like it is. I have followed many of your posts. I believe my mother (and therefore, I am) are related via the Dodsons. This would be a hoot if it were! I will email you via Gedmatch just to be sure.

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