The Man From Little Cedar Lick

10 Jul

I have been reading Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne. As you can tell by its title, historians like long titles, and it is about the Comanche.

It is a great book filled with information that I already knew and a lot of information that I had never read before. There are names of interesting people on both sides of the struggle between the Comanche and those encroaching on their territory. These are people who fought for what they thought was right and may have been well-known in their day. However, many of them have faded from history.

I am far from finished with the book, but one name has already stood out. John Coffee Hays is described as the greatest of all Texas Rangers. In fact, he is the one who taught the rest how to do their jobs. His exploits provide great reading, but a tidbit about his early life is what intrigued me.John Coffee Hays

Hays was born in Little Cedar Lick, Tennessee. When I read about his birthplace, a small memory crept to the front of my mind. Several years ago, I was speaking at Rotary about Tennesseans who became famous in the American West. I mentioned the obvious ones like Sam Houston and David Crockett. However, I also talked about John Chisum, Clay Allison and Peter Burnett.

When the presentation ended, a man in the back asked if I knew anything about the guy from Wilson County who became a Texas Ranger. At the time, I did not know anything about him, but this book may have made the introduction.

Like all great investigators, I did a Google search and discovered that John Coffee Hays was born in Wilson County. I also discovered that all of the sites that have information about Hays must have been copied from the same source. Almost all of them were word for word duplicates. The only differences were about his relationship with Andrew Jackson.

I read that his grandfather sold Jackson the land that would become the Hermitage. There was also the story of Jackson being John’s uncle. Also, his father fought with Jackson during the War of 1812. Oh yeah, another said that John spent many days at the Hermitage.

All of that may be true, but, around here, everyone wants to be connected to Jackson. If your ancestors lived in this area while Jackson was alive, then they were best friends. If your name is Jackson, then you are descended from him, which would be difficult since he did not have children.

I will have to ask my colleague, who has a great blog called Jacksonian America and who is one of the leading experts on Andrew Jackson.

Then, I remembered that I know someone named Hays. I sent a text to Nick Hays, who is running for County Trustee, and asked if he was related to John Coffee Hays. He replied that he was, but the family did not have much information on him. He learned most about him from Monty Pope. On the first day he walked into Monty’s class, he asked Nick if he knew about the Hays who became a Texas Ranger.

By the way, if you live in Wilson County be sure to vote for Nick.

As I read about Hays, I began to wonder about the place where he was born. I have lived here all of my life and have heard many stories about its history, but I have never heard of Little Cedar Lick. I thought about asking the folks at the Wilson County Archives, but I do not have much faith in them these days.

Instead, I went to good old Google. Man, that thing is as handy as a pocket on a shirt. All I found was Little Cedar Lick Church. With nothing else to go on, I drove to the location. It was on a road that I had never been on, and I had no idea what to expect. The picture in my mind was of a little country church.

Instead, I found this.image-3

I have no idea if this is the same area where John Coffee Hays was born. I only know that he was born in Wilson County and made his name as a Texas Ranger. Then, he moved to California and became the sheriff of San Francisco before being one of the founders of Oakland.

Throughout all of that, Hays may have looked back and remembered Little Cedar Lick, but I am afraid that place may have disappeared through the ages.



17 Responses to “The Man From Little Cedar Lick”

  1. Marilyn Armstrong July 10, 2014 at 22:08 #

    That’s the thing about scholarship. Sometimes, it turns out all sources are really one paragraph from one very old book. But if it appears in three other books, then you can cite it three times! Yay!

    Little tiny towns can hide big secrets 😉

    • Rick July 11, 2014 at 00:17 #

      Right on both counts. Part of the historian job is weeding through the mistakes of earlier historians.

  2. satanicpanic July 11, 2014 at 01:04 #

    I chuckled at this: “If your name is Jackson, then you are descended from him, which would be difficult since he did not have children.”

    I saw that book in the book store and considered getting it, but I’m up to my ears in history right now, I’ll have to add it to my list though.

    • Rick July 11, 2014 at 01:31 #

      If you get the chance, then you should read it. There is one group of Jackson “descendants” who name themselves after him. I think they are on Andrew Jackson V now. Actually, they are descendants of his adopted son.

      • Mark R. Cheathem July 11, 2014 at 14:11 #

        The Jackson descendants come from Andrew Jackson, Jr., the nephew that the Jacksons “adopted.” The male line stops at Andrew Jackson VI, a federal judge in Knoxville. He has two daughters, neither of whom are named Andrew Jackson. 🙂

        As for Jack Hays, he isn’t related to Jackson, but the stories about his father fighting with Jackson and naming his son after fellow soldier John Coffee seem entirely plausible.

      • Rick July 11, 2014 at 14:53 #

        Thanks for the info. His father probably fought with Jackson, but there is one place that says Jackson was his uncle. That is something that I doubt.

      • Mark R. Cheathem July 11, 2014 at 16:34 #

        I have an extensive Jackson genealogy database, and he’s not in it. This genealogist also doubts the claim:

      • Rick July 11, 2014 at 20:49 #

        I thought that might be the case. I can’t remember which website had that, but it claims to be a historical one.

      • April 23, 2015 at 22:40 #

        Howdy, I am Jack Hays’ grandson Grant Porter Hays. We are from Oakland California and I am the only direct son left. Anyhow, wanted to clear up the Andrew Jackson mystery. Jack was related to Rachel Donelson his wife. Andrew was his great Uncle by marriage. So he is related and was raised around the Hermitage spending much time with the president from Tennessee. Empire of the Summer Moon was very well written. I am working on my own projects to bring light to the most understated hidden western hero in American History. Thanks for all the support and interest. Well done on this website sir you are an excellent historian and writer.

        – G.P. Hays

  3. Mark R. Cheathem July 11, 2014 at 01:17 #

    If I were a betting man, I would lay money on Harmon Hays serving under Jackson and naming his son after John Coffee being true and the rest of it being false. Jack Hays isn’t in my Jackson genealogy database. It’s fairly extensive and has many Hays and Coffee relatives in it, which leads me to believe that Jack Hays being related to Jackson and living at the Hermitage is not true.

    This genealogist seems to have it figured out:

    • Rick July 11, 2014 at 20:52 #

      I can see his father serving under Jackson and having a strong enough relationship with Coffee to name his son after him. I found out that Little Cedar Lick may not be where I went. Some people say that Leeville used to be known as Little Cedar Lick. If that is the case, then he was born around where Highway 109 is now.

  4. Cliff April 4, 2015 at 14:41 #

    When I was about 14 (now 51), I lived in an antebellum house at the junction of Riverview, Davis Corner, and Burton Rd, near Hwy 109 in Wilson County, Tn. My Dad always told me a creek very close by was Little Cedar Lick, and that he thought Jack Hays was born nearby and probably knew the residents of the house we lived in. I remember finding a cemetery on adjacent property that had been bulldozed, with tombstones dating to the 1700’s laying on the ground (birthdates I assume). The property owner of that adjacent tract is very wary of trespassers and didn’t answer the door when I knocked a few years ago. The property is now heavily marked with ‘no trespassing’ signs. Though he had nothing to do with the bulldozing, I think he knows this old cemetery is there, and I know he knows about a smaller one that dates to the mid or late 1800’s, because it is still there. Both belonged to the antebellum house I lived in before the plantation was split up and sold.

    My memory has faded, but I noticed a ‘Harmon Hays’ and a ‘Harmon Bass’ both referenced in my searches for Little Cedar Lick’, and I could swear that ‘Bass’ was the name on those bulldozed tombstones. I would love the opportunity to search on that property for those bulldozed tombstones, a terrible injustice was done when that happened. Any recommendations on a way to approach this, or any info on a link between Jack Hays, Harmon Hays and Theophilus or Harmon Bass would be greatly appreciated. Maybe ‘Harmon’ was a common name back then, but I find it an odd coincidence in an area so small. I think this property has historical significance and I would love to see it researched further.

    • Rick April 4, 2015 at 15:10 #

      Thank you for the information. I know exactly where you are talking about. It shouldn’t be too hard to find out who owns the property and call them. Perhaps that would make them more agreeable. It would also be a good idea to contact the Wilson County Archives. They have a ton of information and are easy to work with. On top of all that, there are Hays descendants still around. One of them ran for office last year. They may have some information, as well.

  5. April 23, 2015 at 22:50 #

    Andrew didn’t have children with Rachel but it is plausible he may have had African American children. I say that with the utmost respect for Andrew. As well as my grandfather Jack Hays may have had Native American children as a Texas Ranger. I suspect of one that I am investigating. It is amazing to learn about Jack and the Texas Rangers who have been depicted incorrectly by film and book. Jack and his brother Harry T were brilliant writers and very respectable with a high degree of honor. The letters they wrote display humility , bravery, and generosity. The Rangers and Confederates viewed these two as role models thus the Southerners were much more gracious and intellectual then perceived by media. Bless y’all.

    – Grant Porter Hays

    • Rick April 23, 2015 at 22:56 #

      Thank you for taking time to read my post. Jack Hays was an interesting person and more needs to be known about him. I know people around here know very little. Have you talked to the Hays’ that remain in Wilson County? I am sure they would like to know more about him. Also, have you visited this area?

      A few days ago, I was telling some people about his story. When I talk about it, people are amazed that he was from here and made such an impact.

      Again, thank you for reading and thank you for the compliments. I am looking for to reading the information that you discover.

  6. April 23, 2015 at 22:53 #


  1. A Small Post While Preparing for an Upcoming Large Post | Surrounded By Imbeciles - July 11, 2014

    […] I wrote about Little Cedar Lick. Today, I found out that it may not have been where I thought it was. It could have been a […]

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