Category Archives: Tennessee History

Bodies of solders slain in Mexican War returned to U.S.

The remains of 11 American soldiers killed in the Mexican-American War, likely including at least some Tennesseans, are finally returning today to American soil, according to news releases from U.S. Reps. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg.

From DesJarlais:
Washington, D.C. – Last year, Representative Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-04), introduced a resolution urging the Government of Mexico and the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs to expedite the release of identified remains of 11 American Soldiers who fought in the battle of Monterey in 1846.

170 years ago, Brigadier General Zachary Taylor led a 6,000 man military force composed largely of Tennessee Volunteers and Texas Rangers to capture the town of Monterrey. During this battle the United States suffered 120 casualties, 368 were wounded and 43 were reported missing.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology, the uncovered remains of the 11 U.S. soldiers were found at a construction site near the Texan border. The remains were identified as American soldiers who died in combat after an examination of the buttons sewn into their uniforms as well as two U.S. half-dollar coins excavated in the area. Continue reading

U.S. Forest Service tore up part of Trail of Tears

By Travis Loller and Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
COKER CREEK, Tenn. — The U.S. Forest Service has ripped up a portion of the Trail of Tears in the Appalachian Mountains, reopening wounds for Native Americans who consider sacred the land where thousands of their ancestors died during their forced migration westward.

The man-made trenches and berms were discovered last summer but the details about how it happened and those responsible hadn’t been publicly identified. In documents obtained recently by The Associated Press, the Forest Service acknowledged that an employee approved construction along a ¾-mile section of the trail in eastern Tennessee without authorization, an embarrassing blunder for an agency that was supposed to be protecting the trail for future generations.

The $28,500 in contracting work done in 2014 involved using heavy equipment to dig three deep trenches called “tank traps” and a series of 35 berms. It was meant to keep out all-terrain vehicles and prevent erosion, but agency officials now say it was done in violation of federal laws. Continue reading

Some TN history on ousting state legislators

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The last time Tennessee lawmakers took a vote to expel a sitting member of the General Assembly, the ousted representative issued a stern warning to his colleagues: “I won’t be the last.”

But for the next 36 years no other lawmaker has been booted under the Legislature’s constitutional power to discipline or oust members deemed to have engaged in “disorderly behavior.”

House Speaker Beth Harwell says that’s likely to change during this week’s special legislative session. The Nashville Republican told reporters last week that an effort to remove state Rep. Jeremy Durham has enough support to meet the two-thirds vote requirement to expel him. Continue reading

Son of Rep. Harry Burn, women’s suffrage figure, dies

Harry T. Burn Jr., the son of the Tennessee legislator who cast the “aye” vote in 1920 that ratified the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, died of stomach cancer Thursday at his residence in Athens, reports Georgiana Vines.

Burn, 78, was an only child, never married and had no children, Knoxville lawyer Wanda Sobieski said Friday. She knew Burn from working with him on a statue of his father, Harry Burn Sr., and grandmother, Febb Burn, proposed for the grounds of the East Tennessee History Center in Knoxville.

Febb Burn has her own place in history for writing a letter to her son urging him to vote for suffrage. The Republican from Niota originally had voted “nay” but changed his vote after reflecting on her note.

…An obit on Burn said he was a graduate of the McCallie School, Harvard College and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He served as a page for the state Senate during his father’s tenure in the Legislature. He also was an editorial associate of the Andrew Johnson Papers, published by UT Press, had retired from Oak Ridge Associated Universities and was active on the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum board of directors.

He had a reputation for contacting journalists writing about the suffrage movement to fill in gaps in stories and correct their spellings.

Lois Riggins-Ezzell, TN State Museum director, retiring

By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Thursday that Lois Riggins-Ezzell, the longtime director of the Tennessee State Museum, is retiring at the end of the year.

Riggins-Ezzell first became the museum’s director in 1981, when it had a staff of six people working in a basement of the War Memorial Building. She oversaw the museum’s transition into its current space in the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, where it employs 42 employees and has an annual budget of $3.8 million, not counting private donations.

The retirement comes as the state is spending $120 million to build a new museum north of the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville, with another $40 million being raised from private sources.

A state attorney general’s opinion issued last week found that the Tennessee State Museum Foundation that is raising the private money is not required to disclose its donors under the state’s open records laws.

Riggins-Ezzell had previously said she wanted to remain in charge of the museum until the new facility is complete in 2018, and raised eyebrows around the state Capitol when she declared to a reporter last year that “I am the museum.” Continue reading

Statue honors TN Supreme Court Justice A.A. Birch

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue of former Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Adolpho A. Birch Jr. was unveiled Saturday in a ceremony honoring the judicial pioneer’s legacy, reports The Tennessean.

The unveiling also marked the 10-year anniversary of Nashville’s downtown criminal courthouse, which bears Birch’s name. The larger-than-life statue, created by New Jersey artist Brian Hanlon and paid for by donations, sits on a base at the courthouse’s main entrance on Second Avenue.

“It’s quite fitting, too, because Justice Birch was, and is, a larger-than-life judicial trailblazer, and now we can all see and say that literally,” said Presiding General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell, who led the committee to get the statue in place. Bell said she grew up three houses down from Birch and grew to admire the man.

Birch was the first African-American prosecutor in Davidson County, and the county’s first black judge in both General Sessions and trial courts. He later became the second black justice on the state Supreme Court, and the first to serve as chief justice.

Before beginning his career on the bench, Birch had a private law practice in Nashville and taught at Meharry Medical College, Fisk University and Tennessee State A&I University, now Tennessee State University. He volunteered to represent activists who were arrested at sit-ins in Nashville during the civil rights movement.

State museum moves, slowly, toward semi-replacement of Riggins-Ezzell

Eleven months after the decision was made to replace Lois Riggins-Ezzell, 76, as the longtime executive director of the Tennessee State Museum, there is finally a tentative timeline for the future hire to start as work toward a new $160 million state-of the-art museum building is underway.

In a comprehensive Nashville Post update on the the museum situation, Cari Wade Gervin also reports the new tentative timeline is already behind schedule, that initial efforts in seeking applicants for the new executive director’s position drew little or no response and that management experts think it’s a really bad idea to keep Riggins-Ezell on the job after her successor is hired, as planned.

An excerpt: Continue reading

Winfield Dunn busted at UT Memphis

A bronze bust of former Gov. Winfield Dunn, a dentist who served as Tennessee’s governor from 1971-75, was unveiled Tuesday in the lobby of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry building that bears his name, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Dunn, 89, graduated from the college in 1955 and served as honorary chairman of a capital campaign that once raised $19 million for the college. He was instrumental in winning the first donation from the state of Tennessee in the history of the college, said its dean, Timothy Hottel.

Uses of the funds include renovations to the Dunn Dental Building, which opened in 1977 at 875 Union.

Dunn, a Republican governor, attended with his son, Chuck. He took a photograph of the bust with his smart phone to send to his wife, Betty, who could not attend, he said.

The bust was made by an anplastologist at the college, Maddie Singer. Singer said she visited the Dunns and worked from photographs while checking with the family to ensure the likeness. Anaplastologists, using art and science, provide patients with custom-designed prosthetics for the face, eyes or body.

Statuesque Dayton debate over ‘monkey trial’ lawyers

By Travis Loller, Associated Press
DAYTON, Tenn. — In 1925, two of America’s most renowned figures faced off in the southeast Tennessee town of Dayton to debate a burning issue — whether man evolved over millions of years or was created by God in his present form.

Today, only one of the two, the Christian orator William Jennings Bryan, is commemorated with a statue on the courthouse lawn. A group of atheists hopes to change that.

Bryan defended the Biblical account while trial lawyer and skeptic Clarence Darrow defended evolution in the “Scopes monkey trial” — formally, Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes. The case became front-page news nationwide and is memorialized in songs, books, plays and movies.

Nearly a century later, the debate pitting evolution against the biblical account of creation rages on nationally and locally. Nearly all scientists accept evolution, but many Christians see it as incompatible with their faith. Just two years ago in Dayton, professors at a Christian college named for Bryan were fired in a dispute over whether Adam and Eve were historical people. Continue reading

TN State Museum given 238 works by artist Red Grooms

News release from Tennessee State Museum
NASHVILLE — July 11, 2016 — The Tennessee State Museum is pleased to announce that it has entered into a promised gift agreement with Walter and Sarah Knestrick of Nashville to receive a donation of 238 graphic artworks created by internationally acclaimed artist Red Grooms. Additionally, the museum will receive 52 commercially printed posters as part of the gift.

Grooms, who was born and raised in Nashville, currently resides in New York City and maintains a home near Beersheba Springs, TN. His work has been exhibited in museums and galleries across the United States, as well as in Europe, and Japan. Grooms’ art is included in the collections of more than 39 museums, including the State Museum.

Knestrick, the retired founder of Walter Knestrick Contractor, Inc. and a longtime friend of the State Museum, was a boyhood classmate of Grooms. He began collecting Grooms’ prints in the 1970s and has helped organize traveling exhibitions of the works since the 1980s. Continue reading