Barn and Cow

This photo taken in Tennessee in 1939 shows a woman with her barn and cow, the sort of scene which was undoubtedly common around Jackson County in the 1930s as well. In October of 1933, a tale of the theft of a cow under unusual circumstances was front-page news in the Jackson County Journal.


Hey, diddle, diddle

The cat and the fiddle

The cow jumped over the moon…



By Jim Buchanan


OK, in this tale the cow didn’t jump over the moon. It very nearly did jump over the Smokies, however.

Although not voluntarily.

October of 1933 saw one of the more unusual front-page stories in the Jackson County Journal, which at the time was usually filled up with reporting on political rallies, revivals, Rotary Club events and other social fare.

On Oct. 12, the lead story was of a cattle rustler. And in an extra twist, the rustler was a preacher.

Itinerant parson Sam Quilliams had spent the spring preaching in the Savannah community. Reportedly a bright and engaging young man, the 35-year-old hailed from Tennessee, where he had a wife and family.

Quilliams was a World War I veteran, and defended himself at trial, examining witnesses and addressing the jury and judge. His service was the source of his downfall, Quilliams claimed, causing him to have bouts where his memory was blanked.

Still, the evidence against him was pretty straightforward.

“One Sunday morning,” the Journal reported, “Memphis Buchanan found his cow stall empty and the cow gone. He notified deputy sheriff C.C. Mason, and the two took up the track and followed the cow across Qualla township, to Cherokee, and on up to near the top of the Great Smokies, where they found her at one end of a rope, and Quilliams at the other.”

Quilliams said at trial that he had mental lapses, due to an injury received during the war, and that during those times he had “no knowledge of what he is doing. It was under the duress of such mental aberration, he insisted, that he removed the cow from Memphis Buchanan’s barn and led her all the way from there to near the top of the Smoky Mountains, where he was apprehended by the officers.”

Quilliams later broke out of jail, was arrested in Knoxville and extradited back to North Carolina.

Famed Judge Felix Alley presided over the trial; the separate escape charge landed Quilliams multiple convictions.

As to the cow incident, Judge Alley, in passing sentence, stated that he was taking into consideration the plea of amnesia or whatever it is that Quilliams claimed was the matter with him, and was sending the defendant to the roads (for 18 months), where his condition can be watched, instead of to the penitentiary.

The young man was also banished forever from the state of North Carolina.