Thanks to The News-Examiner for permission to reprint this article!
Note: All spelling, punctuation, and omissions are as they appeared in the article in the newspaper.
Thomas Sharp Spencer is the subject of many a legendary tale
originating in Sumner County. One of the best-known stories is that he spent an entire winter in a
hollow tree at Castalian Springs. (A granite slab now marks the spot.) When the rest of the
hunting party returned to Virginia for the winter months; Spencer stayed and braved the elements
from his abode in the hollow tree.
He was man of enormous size, weighing nearly 400 pounds and due to his extraordinary physique many stories of his skill and prowess have been handed down from generation to generation.
One day, while he was hunting with a companion, they were attacked by Indians and his friend was killed. Spencer picked up the body and his friend's belongings and ran into the cane thicket. The Indians, seeing his great strength abandoned the pustuit and he was unharmed.
Another story is that Spencer was ill and way lying on a blanket at the site of the construction of a new log cabin. Seeing that the builders were having some difficulty lifting one of the heavy logs; Spencer rose from his bed, pushed aside the men, and raised the log into place.
He also had enormous feet (huge even in proportion to his big body). The story is that one morning while hunting buffalo, he passed near a settler's cabin and left his footprint in the soft mud. The settler saw the huge print and immediately ran and jumped into the Cumberland River. He swam the river and continued his flight to Vincennes, vowing that he would not live in a land inhabited by such giants. It was this unique characteristic which prompted the Indians to nickname him "Bigfoot".
Another tall tale indicates that Spencer frequented the store of Timothy Demonbreun at the French Lick (now Nashville). On one such visit he took an article from the shelf to examine it and Demonbreun, thinking he planned to take it by force, struck him in the face. Spencer quickly pulled Demonbreum across the counter and greased him from head to foot with buffalo tallow.
He was fearless in dealing with everyone and was known to many as the Hercules of Sumner County. Being aware of his unusual strength Spencer was hesitant to strike any man for fear of killing him.
Another story involves a man who hit Spencer in the face over an imaginary grievance. He responded to this attack by seizing his assailant and throwing him over a fence ten rails high.
The man picked himself up and politely requested that Spencer throw his horse over the fence so that he might ride away.
After surviving many encounters with the hostile savages he was finally scalped and robbed of $2000 in gold while returning from a trip to North Carolina in 1794. This spot in Van Buren County is still called Spencer's Hill.
Spencer was one of a group of colorful figures known as the Long Hunters, who came to the Cumberland Valley in 1776 and set up a station at Bledsoe's Lick (now Castalian Springs).
The typical dress of the Long Hunters was a deer skin shirt which reached well below the waist with a belt serving as a sort of pocket in which to carry a minimum of essential material. Moccasins and leggings of the same material completed the costume.
The Long Hunters of Tennessee and Sumner County were an adventurous breed who usually traveled in a group until they reached a good hunting spot where they set up a central camp. These camps contained only the bare necessities for survival, such as repairs for the guns, cooking utensils and salt.
Deposits of salt which resulted from the overflow of sulphur springs were known as "licks" which had great influence on the location of the central camps.
He is credited with planting the first cop near Bledsoe's Lick, making it the first permanent settlement in this area. During the long cold winter Spencer traveled back and forth over the country between Bledsoe's Lick and the Red River near Clarksville.
After much exploration he laid claim in 1780 to four tracts of choice land in Sumner County. A year later North Carolina (of which Tennessee was a part at that time) enacted the Pre-emtpion law. This permitted only one tract of land to each family. When faced with this dilemma; Spencer chose the land near Gallatin.
Spencer's sister, Elizabeth, later inherited the land and in 1798 sold the property to David Shelby. He built the old stone house which bore the name "Spencer's Choice" until it was destroyed by fire several years ago.
The names of many places now familiar in Gallatin and Sumner County trace their origin to the Long Hunters. Mansker's Creek, Bledsoe Creek, and Stone River are a few of the names still familiar in this area.
The Long Hunters are also credited with naming both the Cumberland Mountains and the Cumberland River, in honor of the Duke of Cumberland who was prime minister of England at that time.
These hardy pioneers have left a definite imprint on Sumner County and Middle Tennessee.
Return to Sumner County Main Page