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FINDING DAVY CROCKETT’S FIRST CABIN SITE

by B. Venson Hughes

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On June 07, 2006, I was visiting the North Union Presbyterian Church near Rutherford, Tn. This was my first visit to the Church in several years and I was anxious to see the recent renovations and to photograph several monuments and plaques erected to honor my third great grandfather, Benjamin P. Tyson.

Tyson donated the land in 1847 to establish the Church and he was one of the first settlers in Gibson County. Tyson’s son, Thomas D. Tyson married Matilda Crockett. She was the first daughter of Davy Crockett by his second wife, Elizabeth Patton. Elizabeth Patton’s father, Robert Patton was also an early settler of Gibson County.

After photographing the Church Cemetery, I used my GPS receiver to mark the location of Benjamin Tyson’s gravesite. This site is now well marked but several years ago it fell into disrepair and the headstone had been removed. A GPS reading would insure we would have a record of the correct location in the cemetery.

After completing my information gathering at North Union, I drove into Rutherford. My real objective was to try and locate the house on McKnight Street where my mother was born. I thought the first place to try and find historic information would be the Old Davy Crockett Cabin and Museum located on Highway 45. The cabin was reconstructed here from remains of Crockett’s second cabin in Gibson County. Many of the old timbers were removed from the original site and transported to the Highway for later assembly. In addition, Rebecca Hawkins Crockett’s (Davy’s mother) remains were exhumed from her original resting-place in the Tyson Family cemetery and reburied near the cabin site.

I entered the cabin/museum and explained what I was looking for and the lady at the desk told me I needed to talk to Joe. Joe turned out to be Joe N. Bone, the manager of the museum. I explained how I was related to the Tyson family and how the Tyson’s and Crockett’s were related. He nodded his head showing he already knew the relationships. He said, “I think I have a picture you would enjoy seeing”. At that point he pulled a photograph from the wall and showed me an original picture of Matilda Crockett Tyson. It had been donated to the museum by Effie Floyd from Mayfield, Kentucky who was Crockett’s second great grand daughter. Mrs. Floyd with the picture she donated to the museum.

While talking with Joe Bone, I mentioned that I was very interested in recording the locations of cemeteries, old homesteads and other points of historic interest by using GPS to determine their location. I explained my concern that over time, these locations were being lost to new construction and natural decay. I told him of my visit to North Union and the GPS data that I collected there.

Mr. Bone said he had a fairly good idea of several old sites located in the Rutherford area and if I wanted, he would be glad to show me. I jumped at the offer and we got into my car for an afternoon of exploring the past. The first site was the gravesite of Robert Patton. Patton was the father of Crockett’s second wife, Elizabeth. Mr. Bone remembers the cemetery from his childhood and said it was on a bluff overlooking a small creek. The creek had long since changed course but a rise in the ground marked the bluff. The land now is planted in corn and no sign of the old cemetery is visible.

We drove into the cornfield and I took two GPS readings from the edge of the crop field. From each of these points I took compass bearings which allowed me to use all of this data to triangulate the position of the cemetery on the small bluff. The site is located very near North 36.140687 decimal degrees by West 88.974894 decimal degrees, WGS 84. The bluff or rise is very easily recognized from the ground surrounding the cornfield.

For our next stop, Mr. Bone suggested we visit the area where Davy Crockett built his first cabin in Gibson County. This site is north of a small creek that feeds into the Rutherford Branch of the Obion River and Crockett lived here for six and a half years. When we arrived on the scene, Mr. Bone pointed out a large wooden marker that he and several members of the Rutherford Heritage Committee had erected. The sign is located at the entrance to the farm property which contains the cabin site. We hiked out into the farm property and from a slight rise, Mr. Bone pointed out a large field and said the Crockett cabin was built in that field about 100 yards north of the small stream. The stream was discernable from our vantage point but we were still no closer than a 40 to 60 acre area that could have contained the cabin. From this point, I took GPS readings and a compass bearing. We then drove about 2,000 feet west and took another GPS reading and compass bearing. Still, we were just getting the general area of the large field.

When I got home that evening, I plotted all the GPS points on my computer mapping system and drew lines to show the compass bearings. From that, I derived a general point that might be close to the cabin location. I then used the Internet and pulled up a satellite image that was taken in 1997 by the USGS Landsat 7 satellite covering the area of the derived point. I registered this image to my mapping system and zoomed into the large field where we had been earlier in the day. I was instantly shocked to see the very visible disturbances in the soil pattern showing the outline of fence posts and The photo above is an overview from the sat image from the Landsat 7 satellite covering the area of the derived point. I registered this image to my mapping system and zoomed into the large field where we had been earlier in the day. I was instantly shocked to see the very visible disturbances in the soil pattern showing the outline of fence posts andold buildings. As the old wood decays, it discolors the soil making the outline visible from the satellite image. I registered this image to my mapping program and was able to measure the dimensions of the objects shown in the image. The boundaries of the object are 350 feet across the north side, 550 feet on the west side, 421 feet across the bottom and 490 feet on the east side. The object is centered on a point at N 36.153344 decimal degrees by W 88.975168 decimal degrees.

The fence post appear to have been constructed to keep animals out of the “garden” as opposed to the way we think of fences now days as keeping farm animals inside the fenced area The soil discoloration in the lower left side of the image are thought to be the remains of the decayed wood associated with Davy Crockett’s first cabin in Gibson County.

From this site we moved to Crockett’s third cabin site. This is where he left Tennessee to go to Texas. This site is located near N 36.159472 decimal degrees by W 88.925664 decimal degrees. A slight color shift was noted in the sat photo at this point but it would be difficult to identify this “object” as the cabin site.

The last site we visited was Crockett’s second cabin location and the source for the timbers used to construct the replica of his cabin on Highway 45 in Rutherford. This site was located approximately N 36.169817 decimal degrees by W 88.936871 decimal degrees. The satellite photo of this area failed to show any disturbances that might have been caused by an early building site. The aerial images used in this project were from USGS black and white images. 

In 2003, Mr. Jonathan Kennon Thompson Smith wrote, “The Land Holdings of Colonel David Crockett in West Tennessee”. This book was published by the Mid-West Tennessee Genealogical Society of Jackson, Tn. Mr. Smith’s research included a very extensive search of land records. He concluded the cabin was located in this same field. The satellite image certainly supports his findings. Mr. Smith’s book is highly recommended for researchers wanting more details on this subject.

My thanks go to Mr. Joe N. Bone of Rutherford for all his assistance in making these finds.

—Vince Hughes