I've written two books on the Smokies. The first was Hallowed Hills, Holy Waters, consisting of stories about hiking and fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains. The second book is Paths Less Traveled, a book of stories about off-trail hiking in the Smokies. Both are available on www.CreateSpace.com. (At the Search bar, be sure to search Store, not Site.) Some of the stories in these books appear in this blog, but much of the material in the books is new and non-blogged.
Back in January, 2010, I wrote a story about the three
Barnes girls who are buried in a remote corner of the Smokies. However, I
recently discovered that one of the “Barnes girls” was actually a boy! The
middle child, Julies, was a boy, probably an alternate of Jules or Julius.
Here’s part of what I originally wrote.
There is one place in the Smokies, one obscure set of grave
stones, that strikes me with a deep sadness, the sadness that comes with the
death of children…
After about an hour on the trail that begins on the road to
Ramsey Cascades, you will arrive at the saddest place in the Smokies: the
Barnes graves. Some folks call this the Barnes Cemetery, and I suppose that’s
technically true, but I can’t bring myself to call three small graves a
cemetery. The entire gravesite consists of a small plot about 6’ x 6’, so it’s
a tiny monument to human frailty in a vast ocean of ancient forests and
mountains, not unlike the tiny speck called Earth floating in the midst of that
vast expanse we call the Universe.
This sense of isolation is enhanced by the fact that it
takes some effort to reach this spot – about an hour-long walk on an old trail.
Just as a waterfall or vista is better if it requires some effort to reach, the
impact of a lonely cemetery is magnified by sweat and distance. And, like most
sites in the park, the more sweat and distance, the lonelier the destination
will be. Death and loneliness are a powerful combination, and nowhere in the
park is that more apparent than at the Barnes cemetery.
But the real impact of the Barnes cemetery is the names and
dates on those three, small graves: Delia Lenora Barnes, Oct 25, 1897 – Dec 25,
1898; Julies Barnes, Dec 25, 1899 – Feb 7, 1901; Rosey Barnes, Aug 18, 1915 –
Sept 17, 1922. Two fourteen month old girls, one seven year old girl. Being a
guy with a precious, young granddaughter, that hits me pretty hard.
This is one of those moments where an historically-informed,
vivid imagination can help us to experience the sadness of the tragedy that hit
the John and Isabelle Barnes family, perhaps the entire Greenbrier community,
in the winters of 1898/9 and 1900/1. Maybe those two winters were no worse than
any other, but for the Barnes they were devastating. The days and sleepless
nights in December, 1898, nursing a sick child. The tears. The prayers. The
loss. Then on Christmas Day one year later having the chance to start over with
little Julies. It must have felt like a gift from God to give birth to a second
child exactly one year after the death of their first. Merry Christmas! And
then, the following winter, their family history was repeated, with a
vengeance. Their second little girl, gone after fourteen months, just like the
first. Imagine the fear and apprehension that must have accompanied their third
Local oral history says there were several more children and
several death-free years after Julies. Perhaps John and Isabelle thought they
had finally moved past their personal tragedy, or knowing the vagaries of life
in the mountains, perhaps they knew better than to assume that their tragedies
had come to an end. Then came 1922 and the death of seven year old Rosey. I’ve
been told that she somehow became lost and died of exposure, perhaps in an
early snow. If you read much Smoky Mountain history, that’s a scenario that has
happened many times in the past 100+ years – farmers, herders, hunters, hikers,
and children lost outdoors and dying of hypothermia in these dangerously
It’s the kind of thing that gets you to thinking about the
brevity and meaning of life…
Okay, that was the original story, which I thought sounded
pretty good. Everyone I had ever talked to about those graves had referred to
them as “the Barnes girls.” We all simply assumed that Julies was a girl.
A few months ago I was hiking the path toward the Barnes
place when I met an older gentleman who was a direct descendant of John Barnes,
the father of Rosey, Julies, and Delia. We talked for a few minutes, and he
clarified a few details. First and foremost, Julies was spelled Jules in the
old family Bible, and Jules was a boy. Second, Isabelle (Carver) was John’s
second wife. His marriage to his first wife, Nancy (Whaley), had recently ended
in divorce, but Nancy still lived nearby. Third, Rosey had died of
appendicitis, not exposure.
The most enlightening detail he shared with me was that
Rosey and Delia were born to John’s second wife, Isabelle. Jules was born to
John’s first wife, Nancy. The significance of that detail didn’t hit home until
about 20 minutes after our conversation. As I stood at the three graves and
reconsidered these new facts, I noticed that Jules was the middle child of
those three. Somehow John managed to father a child by Nancy in between his two
children with Isabelle.
So all that heart-warming stuff I had written about little
Jules being born exactly one year after the death of Delia and seeming like a
gift from God, well, it’s now a bit tarnished. Yes, Jules was born exactly one
year after Delia’s death… but to the wrong woman! I was now a member of a
fairly large club – people who had a good story ruined by the facts.
I won’t engage in any more speculation about John, Isabelle,
and Nancy and the births and deaths of those three kids, but I must say, this
is one of those times when truth is stranger than fiction… but I like my
fictional version better.
[You can find the entire, original story on this blog -- January, 2010.]