I was told I could have been shot.
The cemetery was located high on a hill overlooking the Clinch River just a few miles from Dungannon in the community of Wood. There was a house at the bottom of the hill with a driveway nearby that led up the hill. The house had several “No Trespassing” signs on it. The gate to the driveway did, too. Mr Ed Nickels had driven me over there to show me some of the cemeteries where my relatives were buried. This one was elusive, he said. There was a record in the series of books published by a lady in the northwestern US who had somehow found this information and published it, but for some reason it just feels better if you can see the information yourself. We looked over this house and driveway, and although I went to the front door and knocked, there was no response. We went to the house next door and inquired if it would be possible to go through the fence and climb up the back side of this hill to the cemetery.
“People have been shot at” we were told, with nervous looks, and frowns. We studied about it a little, then Mr Nickels, about 80 years old, surveying the situation, suggested we just drive on and forget about it today.
I talked to him on the phone a few times after that, got on with my life, and read his obituary in the newspaper one day, reminded of our cemetery trip.
It bothered me for years that I couldn’t get up there and see my grandparents’ graves. I wondered if there were even stones you could read. I would drive by once in a while on my long drives through the countryside. I have this habit of taking the road less traveled. I enjoy that. And this house never seemed to have people at it. There were always lots of cars around the driveway, but no person, no human ever out in the yard in the times I drove by.
About a year or two ago, I got determined.
I was pastoring a church in Giles County, Virginia, which made the trip to Scott County somewhere in the two or two and a half hour range by car. On my days off, I would sometimes go to places like Scott County just to be away. I was sure that I could get to that cemetery. Surely whoever was upset would be over it by now.
I drove, by myself, to this house, parked in the driveway, and walked up to the house. Chickens were scurrying about the front yard. Someone’s garden shoes were left on the front sidewalk. I walked up to the front door. I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. Still nothing. I thought I heard sounds in the house, but couldn’t tell if it was someone, a pet, or just the sounds houses make when they’re that old. This house was at least a century in age.
I finally gave up and walked back to the car. I looked longingly up the hill and surveyed the path to the cemetery. I didn’t think it was wise to go up there by myself. After all, my wife, who was working in a tax office that day, had no clue I was even there. I could be shot and my body not found for days, I imagined. So I decided I’d come back with her when she was available.
In the meantime, I kept researching records. I finally came across the trouble. Shadrack Greear was the progenitor of this side of the family. He had been the “High Sheriff” of Grayson County, Virginia, and had amassed a small fortune in the timber industry there by the 1820s. One of his sons had gone to the Clinch Valley looking for good farm land. Finding it, he had come back and talked his father into moving to the same area, buying a several-hundred acre tract of land, and signing it over to this same son. This would have been fine except the other children didn’t think he should bypass them, and gain the entire inheritance without their being considered. A lawsuit followed. Records still exist, outlining charges that the one son had “tricked” their doting old father into signing documents and those same documents describe his seeming dementia. I’m still not sure how the settlement went, but I know the documents show that feelings were running high at the time.
So, when my wife drove me to the house again, she decided to stay in the car while I tried knocking one more time. No response. I walked through the gate and up the long hill, armed with my cell phone camera. I was enthralled at what I found. There were the graves of my ancestors. At least three generations of them, stones perfectly preserved, I was happy to take pictures and move among the graves with a sense that I was on holy ground.
Near this cemetery, on the same hilltop, was another one that was surrounded by a chain link fence and had not been cared for. I crawled through the gate to check it out. Gravestones were from different eras, and some were not that old. Yet the ground was covered in what would one day become a forest. Tree saplings mixed with high grass and honeysuckle vines. It was obvious someone was neglecting this place. I found no sign of any relation to the folks in this place, and as I was about to exit, I heard gunshots.
They seemed to be coming from across the river. I didn’t hear any bullets whizzing by so I assumed I was not the target, yet I remembered that day when Ed and I were inquiring and the story of the neighbors.
I quickly made my way back down the hill and back to the safety of my waiting and worried wife who willingly wafted me away and out of the territory. But I had my pictures.
The Greear family are quite mysterious. Their origin isn’t well known or documented, and there has been some degree of fussing and fuming throughout the generations. My Aunt Llewellyn was Grandmother Miles’ sister and they were both Greears, daughters of the people whose graves I had found that fateful day. I met Aunt Llewellyn when I was a boy. She owned and operated an Antique store full of old clocks and china cabinets near Rogersville, Tennessee. Her son, PB and his wife, an immigrant from Poland, had lived good lives and worked in important careers in Florida. When Aunt Llewellyn’s health declined they moved to Rogersville to care for her. After her death, the county purchased their land to build a school. They sold everything they didn’t want to take with them, and loaded up a truck with the things they wanted, and dressed like paupers (lest someone would think they were wealthy) and traveled to Florida where they died, without heirs. PB gave me a document that was type-written and supposed to be from the family Bible of the Greears. It says they descend from Palestine. Well, that could explain the shooting!