Stories & Tales

Jonathan Mize Killed Guarding Courthouse

Carroll McMahan

When the Civil War erupted, William Holland Thomas felt the citizens in the isolated mountains of his native western North Carolina would fare better as part of the Confederacy than they had in the United States. He was appointed the rank Colonel in the Confederate Army and rallied companies of men to fight with him. Col. Thomas, who was adopted into the Cherokee tribe by Yonaguska and appointed chief of the Quallatown Cherokee when the great chief died, had no trouble soliciting both white and Cherokee troops. The force he formed was called Thomas’s Legion. In 1863 Thomas’s Legion crossed the Smoky Mountains and occupied Gatlinburg. During their stay in Gatlinburg a few of Thomas’ men, out on a scouting mission, were captured by the Federal Home Guard in Sevierville and thrown into a makeshift jail in the basement of the Sevier County Courthouse. Col. Thomas was furious. Immediately rushing 200 men to Sevierville on December 8th, they surprised the guard, broke open the jail and released the prisoners. He captured 60 Federal Home Guards, six regular Federal Army soldiers as well as their guns and ammunition. During the raid, Jonathan Mize, 59, and his 17-year-old son James Harold was guarding the Sevier County Courthouse along with several other Federal Home Guards. 6 men were shot, of which only two survived. Jonathan Mize was critically wounded and died on December 14th. His son James was wounded but survived. Jonathan Mize lived on a big farm just a few miles south of Sevierville. His landholdings , located on the east side of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River, stretched from acreage south of present day Governor’s Crossing all the way northward to the spot where the Sevierville City Park is now located. Mize was born in Rockingham County, North Carolina in 1804. He moved to Tennessee and married Nancy Chambers on September 19, 1829 in Greene County. The couple later moved their growing family to Tuckeleechee Cove in Blount County before settling in Sevier County sometime in the 1850s. Two of their sons, 32-year-old William Alexander and 24-year-old Rufus Lee enlisted together in Company K of the 2nd Tennessee Calvary. Their son John Clark, 25, enlisted in Company M while another son Robert joined Company G of the 3rd Tennessee Infantry. Jonathan was considered too old to serve in the regular Army and his youngest son James Harold was too young. The attending physician, J.W. Hammer, reported that he “attended Jonathan Mize after he was wounded by the Rebels and Indians in the town of Sevierville…and that his wound was a gunshot or pistol shot inflicted while engaged as National Guard under order of Major C. Inman.” Jonathan Mize was laid to rest in the Middle Creek Methodist Church Cemetery. All of his sons returned from the War, although Sergeant Rufus Lee was wounded in the shoulder at the Battle of Decatur, Alabama, Private John Clark was hospitalized in Michigan and Private Robert received severe eye injuries. The following month after the raid by Thomas’s Legion, the Sevier County Courthouse was used as a hospital during the Battle of Fair Garden. When the Federal troops in Knoxville received word of the alarming incident in Sevierville, Col. William Palmer with the 15th Pennsylvania Cavalry was dispatched to recover the property taken by Thomas’s Legion. Led by Col. Palmer, 150 Union soldiers headed from Wear’s Valley by mountain trails to Gatlinburg. A Wear’s Valley native, Reverend J.D. Lawson led them over Rich Mountain, down Laurel Branch, through Fighting Creek Gap and down Fighting Creek Gap to Gatlinburg. Lieutenant Colonel C.D. Lamborn led 50 soldiers from Sevierville by way of Pigeon Forge. These two forces met in Gatlinburg and camped near the river where the Riverside Hotel was later built. On the morning of December 20, 1863 the Union forces advanced on the blockhouse built by Col. Thomas on what was known as Burg Hill, near the spot where Andy Huff later built the Mountain View Hotel. A small skirmish ensued and the surprised Confederate forces fled toward Roaring Fork and Dudley Creek. They hastily crossed the mountains toward their homes in North Carolina. A story circulated around Gatlinburg after their departure that Col. Thomas was in such a hurry to leave that he left his black hat on the table. The Union soldiers were delighted to have the hat as a souvenir. Although a major battle was never fought on Sevier County soil, the Civil War was a very pivotal time in its history. As a stronghold for Union loyalist in a Confederate state, everyone was suspicious and cautious. It was not uncommon for a farm to be pillaged by both sides. The raid on the courthouse by Thomas’s Legion and the subsequent death of Jonathan Mize is only one tragic incident among many that occured in Sevier County during the dark days of the Civil War.

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Sevierville Mills Was a Sevierville Landmark For a Century

Carroll McMahan

In 1865, the same year the Civil War ended, Archimedes M. “Art” Chambers built a mill and log mill dam on the east prong of the Little Pigeon River about 500 feet upstream from the confluence of the east and west prongs of the river. Chambers, who moved to Sevier County from North Carolina and married Elizabeth Calvert McMahan in 1857, operated the mill until his untimely death in 1875 at the age of 47. Since Elizabeth McMahan Chambers had died a couple of years before her husband, the mill was sold to Jerome D. Bowers. Before the bridge crossing the east fork was built in 1893, horses and buggies crossed the river at a ford just west of the mill dam. A crude foot log tied to the mill post behind the mill was used by pedestrians to cross the river. During the second half of the nineteenth century Main Street was the only commercial street in Sevierville. Other businesses along West Main included a blacksmith shop, owned by Jerome Bowers’ brother Joseph E. Bowers, Sam Blalock’s poultry and egg business and McDonald Brown’s produce business with a coal and oil business across the street. In those days, the west end of Main Street from the bridges to the town square where the courthouse was then located was often called “China Town.” Although the water was not deep enough for swimming, the area above the dam was a popular location for young people to “cool off” during the hot days of summer. The slow-moving water often froze in the winter solid enough to be used as an ice rink. Around 1900 Bowers constructed a new mill on the site of the previous mill. His oldest son William Augustus worked there from the time he married Sevierville Postmistress Dixie Lee Chandler in 1896 he died in 1914. After operating the mill for 40 years Jerome Bowers passed away on August 5, 1915. Jerome Bowers’ daughter-in- law, Dixie Lee Bowers then became the proprietor. She hired John Sevier Ballard as manager. During the time Ballard was manager of the mill he served a term as mayor of Sevierville from 1917 to 1919. The old log dam was removed and replaced with a concrete dam in October, 1915. Later an ice plant was added. John Ballard resigned from the mill after four years to return to the Bank of Sevierville and Dixie Lee Bowers sold the mill and ice plant to J. Reed Wade and Frank Murphy in 1925. Wade managed the facility in addition to his association with Underwriters Fire Insurance Company. Prior to purchasing Sevierville Mills and Ice Plant, J. Reed Wade was a school teacher and farmer. The mill had two wheels producing approximately 96 horsepower. One wheel was used for wheat and the other for the corn grinding and ice plant. The ice plant supplied ice to keep residential ice boxes cold and for businesses needs. Before the days of electric refrigeration, sawdust was scattered over the ice to keep it from melting. The ice wagon pulled by a beautiful Clydesdale horse delighted the children in town who loved to jump on the burlap covered ice for a ride as the deliveryman completed his route through town. In 1944, Union County native Clifford G. Frost purchased the mill and ice plant from J. Reed Wade. The following year, Wade was elected to serve a term as Mayor of Sevierville. Frost retained the name Sevierville Mills for several years before renaming the business Frost Milling Company. Throughout its history, Sevierville Mills suffered damages from various floods that took a heavy toll on the old structure. The owners had marked the crest of all floods at the mill since the time the building was constructed. The flood marks were located in the lower floor in the room farthest downstream of a series of elevators. Made by pencil, the marks indicated the exact dates of the floods. When the Tennessee Valley Authority was chosen to implement a Flood protection Program in 1966, the project consisted of widening, rechanneling, removal of debris and deepening the two forks of the Little Pigeon River. One of the sacrifices necessary in order to carry out the plan was the removal of the picturesque dam behind the old mill. Although the flood control measures were badly needed, one of the most notable fixtures in Sevierville for a century was lost. Soon afterwards the mill and ice plant buildings were removed. The lot was cleared and converted into a parking lot which in now used by Carl Ownby Hardware Company. Sevierville Mills was not the only mill in the vicinity of Sevierville. Countless small mills once existed throughout Sevier County. Catlettsburg Mill was located 3 miles north of Sevierville for many years. Sevierville Grain and Feed Company was organized by a group of businessmen in 1915. Walker Milling Company was established in 1908 two miles south of Sevierville at the power dam. The business moved to downtown Sevierville in 1916 and was obtained by Stanley McMahan in 1915. John and Effie Temple purchased the mill in 1934 and the Temple family operated the business until several years after a gigantic fire destroyed the historic building in 1980. Built by John Sevier Trotter in1849, The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge is the only example of an authentic flour and grist mill in use in Sevier County today.

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