It all started with the Civil War.
At least that’s what the late Grover Brown told me when he described the strange things seen in the Cedar Valley area where he lived all his life.
“My grandpa Shook was making syrup one day when some Yankee soldiers came along and took the horse right out of the cane mill. Grandpa and some others got their guns and went over the mountain to head them off. They brought the horse back, but the soldiers were never seen anymore.”
To Grover’s way of thinking, that incident triggered a series of strange occurrences that began in the early 1900s and persisted until 1962. Several had to do with a large white dog and other dogs, often seen at night.
“If you were going up the creek, they’d be coming down,” Grover told me around 1975. “My pop used to stay at Joe Shook’s house of a night, and he’d meet those dogs going up and then he’d meet them coming down. So one night he kicked one – only he didn’t kick anything except he about kicked his knee out of socket and couldn’t walk for a week.”
Grover also told about a young man who was courting up that way and saw the big white dog.
“People told him to be careful, that strange things had been seen up there. He said he didn’t care – if he saw that dog, he’d shoot it. So he did. And when he shot the dog, balls of fire flew everywhere – balls of fire as big as gallon buckets – and landed all over him and his horse. The horse ran so hard he couldn’t go again for a week.”
Grover said none of those dogs were seen after Joe Marion Shook died in 1962.
“I saw one that night – the only one I ever saw – and as far as I know, no one’s seen any since. It’s a hard thing to tell about. It looks just like you’re seeing a dog, but somehow you know it’s not real.”
Grover’s sister, Roxie Queen (also deceased) told about walking home from church one night and feeling somebody stepping on her heels.
“I turned around and said ‘now you’uns quit that’ for I thought it was some of the others with me. But when I looked, I saw a man seven feet high. He looked like a soldier boy, and he walked a piece with us and then disappeared. We’d come to a little drainage ditch; I’ve heard they never would cross water.”
Grover also said he’d heard that “haints” wouldn’t cross water.
“I’ve been told they disappear when they go over a branch – except the dogs. There was a white one, black ones and spotted ones. I saw one of the spotted ones.”
Roxie told me that one of the “old generation” told her that after he was gone there’d never be anymore such things seen, and Grover heard the same thing.
“Uncle John told Joe Shook that when they (he and Joe Marion Shook) died, there’d be no more seen. They were young men when the soldiers came and stole the horse.”
Grover also told about a scary thing that happened to Bane Brown, the son of the Uncle John Brown mentioned above.
“One night Bane was going up to Granny’s. He was carrying a lantern. On the way he saw something that scared him so bad he started running. He ran so fast he put the lantern out. Then he ran over a rail fence and tore it down. I asked him a hundred times what he saw, but he never would tell me. He’s dead now, so I’ll never know what it was.”
Years later, when Bane was living in the Rock Bridge area, he had another strange experience. His late son, Howard, one of my neighbors at the time, told me that story.
“He’d gone to the mailbox and was sitting there waiting on the mail. He looked out through the field by the old house and saw a line of men dressed like soldiers. While he watched, they went past the barn and disappeared. He tried to track them, but there was no sign they’d ever been there.”
I lived for several years in that same old house but only heard the preceding stories after something puzzling happened to me.
One evening near sunset I was walking with my dog just up from the place where Bane saw the soldiers. Something caused me to turn around, and I saw a gray dog on the crest of a small hill. I thought it was my neighbor Joel’s dog, but my dog Ralph wasn’t barking, even though he hated Joel’s dog.
Passing Joel’s house a few minutes later, I saw he wasn’t home. He took his dogs everywhere he went, so how could I have seen his dog?
I went back for another look. I found my tracks and Ralph’s going up the dirt road and coming back down, but there were no other tracks.
The next day, I told another neighbor, Fannie Mae Brown (Grover’s sister, also now deceased), about the strange thing I’d seen. She wasn’t at all surprised.
“People have seen those dogs there before,” she said. Then she told me to ask Howard what his daddy had seen and to ask Grover and Roxie to tell me the stories they remembered.
I can’t say if all the things described here actually happened, but I know that those who told me about them were convinced that they did. And I do know I saw a dog that wasn’t there.
Lynn Hotaling was editor of The Sylva Herald for 18 years, retiring in January 2016. She is the author of two books on local history.