Southern Weakley County
|Written by John Holt
Long past and almost forgotten is the town and legend of Mulberry, Tennessee. A small settlement that once existed until shortly after the Civil War. It was located in Weakley County, Tennessee directly where the Meridian Line crosses the old Jackson-Paris road. A road that was once used by the Union Army to move soldiers and supplies to the deep south during the Civil War.
Mulberry consisted of several public establishments and may have been populated with over one hundred residents during it's prime years. There was never a Post Office and there's no record or evidence where it was an official stage stop. However, the Jackson to Paris stage line ran right through the heart of it.
The settlement was named Mulberry because of a large mulberry tree that stood in the center of the settlement. A Negro man was once hanged on one of the branches and afterwards large curly knots resembling a Negro's head grew on the sides of the old tree (Dr. Elinor once had one of these knots cut from the tree and he used it as a doorstop in his office). The mulberry stood in the front lawn and north of old Mulberry Schoolhouse. This was one of the first, one-room log school building built in Weakley County. It was a community school and existed before any state or county education systems was established. The old building sat directly on the Meridian Line and faced north. The well was a dug well and was located a few yards south and was used for watering large quantities of animals occasionally, and also furnished water for the school.
North of the big mulberry tree was Smithson's Cotton Gin, powered by a "tromp wheel" using cattle rounded up from open range. This operation was run by Samuel P. Smithson, his wife Elizabeth (Earls) and their family. Sam was born here in 1833 and raised here and had nine children, all received a good education at Mulberry School.
William M. "Billy" was the oldest (born about 1853/54) and a graduate dentist, he married Ella Ford (daughter of Jonathan Fletcher Ford and Martha Jane McAlister). John "Jackie" never married and died about 1936; Martha; Gus "Bud" was the best veterinarian in the entire area and a practicing attorney,; Nancy, first married "Coon" Ketcham and later married a Mr. Williams; M. Ella married D. Scott Robertson, Thomas probably never married; Alecia "Leecy" married H.S. "San" Hubble,; and Maggie.
The family owned a considerable amount of land and their acreage in one tract was estimated to have been four miles long. Some of the land was inherited from Sam's father W.M. Smithson and the family added to his original acreage.
This old settlement then known as Mulberry was most likely established on William M. Smithson's land. He was born in 1796 in the state of Virginia, married his wife Elvira and was a veteran of the War of 1812. Some of the Smithson acreage came as payment for the services he rendered during that war. However, he was already a resident of this settlement in 1833.
When "Bud was a young man he worked at the Smithson Gin, hauling cotton seed to a field fenced off with chestnut rails. Wearing only a long shirt (or dress) he rounded up bull calves from the open range, hitched them to a cart and hauled cotton seed from the Gin and scattered them on Smithson land for fifteen cents a day.
West of the old mulberry tree was located a brick kiln. Not much information is available about this operation, although it was thought to have been operated by Nancy Smithson's family. It was on the farm later purchased by Logan Argo.
Just east of Mulberry Schoolhouse stood Sheepskin Shelter. A community church where big meetings and occasional services were held by all religious denominations. Traveling ministers then called "Circuit Riders" would fill the air with peaceful bliss as well as hellfire and damnation. Sheepskin Shelter had a bungalow roof and it was supported by long posts, pickets aligned the outer walls to keep open range cattle out, the two doorways segregated the gentlemen from the ladies and a crude pulpit stood on the earthen floor covered with tanned sheepskins.
The heart of the
was the old Camptown Racetrack, where the rich race horse owners
with their trainers and special riders to bet their money and
in this gentlemen's sport. Large crowds assembled here as they followed
the racing circuit of Camptown Racetracks across the south. This track
was acclaimed "the finest in seven states". It was the only one
the Camptown tracks of crescent design and the start/finish line was
south of Mulberry Schoolhouse. It Made a semi-circle that ended about
a mile southwest of the starting point, following the crest of a
ridge all the way allowing good water drainage. Several Camptown
tracks existed in the southern states and always large crowds
A very interesting story about the old track was often told by "Bud" Smithson. This story or legend relates to events that took place just prior to one of the big races, and was told as follows: "One day just before a big race, a Gypsy wagon pulled by a number of good horses arrived with a cart in tow. The cart contained a big Arabian racehorse belonging to a Gypsy and he was one of the famous Cooper Brothers. There was thought to have been three of these brothers that followed the racing circuits always betting large sums of money and almost sure to win.
After this race Cooper would return to the Gypsy colony and the long drawn out marriage ceremony would take place between him and his bride, followed by festivities for several days. But there was a big race that had to be run (if not won) before the wedding festivities began.
Cooper bet his gold on winning the race, then buried all $50,000.00 in a brass chest along with a fine diamond engagement wedding ring he had already purchased for his bride and a gold pocket watch set with diamonds.
The next day it began to rain, but there was a lot of getting ready that had to be done before the race. The stables were located west of Mulberry Schoolhouse on the south side of the old Jackson-Paris Road. The big Arabian had been shod with extra heavy shoes to condition him before the race. After the rain stopped, Cooper asked his trainer to give the horse a run or two on the track, but the trainer refused stating it was too dangerous to run this animal at full speed on the wet, slick track and muddy racetrack. So Cooper saddled up and was off at full speed on the slick track when the horse slipped and fell. Cooper was hit in the head by one of the heavy horse shoes, his skull was crushed and he died without ever regaining consciousness.
None except Cooper knew where the gold had been hidden. Cooper was buried a short ways northeast of the big mulberry tree (and his grave site was still visible in the early 1940's)."
For years to come the Cooper Gypsy Caravan came, camped and searched for the buried gold, but never found it. It was on a night during one of the Gypsy Caravan's visits that "Bud" Smithson doctored a sick animal for them when he learned in full detail about the Cooper tragedy. Although, he had already heard about the incident from his father.
In the early 1940's
sold his timber to "As" Michael, a timber buyer from Trimble,
While they were walking the woods discussing the terms of sale, they
upon Cooper's grave and "Bud" told "As" Michael the story. For years
World War II, when gas was rationed and tools hard to buy, Mr. Michael,
Mr. Bailey and Mr. DeLaneycame once or twice every week to dig for the
buried treasure. Several Sunday
RETURN to Weakley County Homepage
Webpage by MaryCarol