Friday, August 16, 2013

The Barnes Kids

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 pregnancy.
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 beautiful mountains.
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.]