Buncha Stories

You might hear these if we were at a bar. . .

Bob Sloan

Bob Sloan
Rowan County, Kentucky,
May 31
Writer, three books in print, two more coming: http://bobsloansampler.com Don't have --and don't want-- an MFA


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JANUARY 6, 2009 4:01PM

The Campbell Kid, Part I

Rate: 18 Flag
The Campbell kid is lost, somewhere between the Enex Cemetery and my father's boyhood homeplace on Holly Fork.  I'm sorry for that.  I wish there was a way to find him.  

What we know, or think we know, is that Thomas Campbell was a youngster of about thirteen when circumstances brought him to our corner of Kentucky, from someplace in Pennsylvania.  We believe he was from Lancaster but nobody's certain just where his real home was.  He's said to have come here to visit relatives, probably the family for whom Campbell Branch is named.  We don't know what killed him, and it's probable the kin who nursed Tom through his final illness had only the vaguest notion of what was wrong with the boy.  

Tom Campbell died a long time ago, in a day and time when medical science was anything but precise.  

My grandfather, Baldwin Sloan, was born in 1877, and grew up hearing about Thomas Campbell's lonesome death.  When his children were old enough for walks through the woods, Baldwin took them to Tom's grave, about halfway between their Holly Fork cabin and the Enex Cemetery, the oldest Sloan burying ground in Rowan County.  All of them learned how to find the rough bare rock marking the site, and every decoration Day someone brought a handful of flowers and lay them by the stone.  

My father says that whenever he or his brothers and sisters passed by Thomas Campbell's grave, they paused long enough to consider the hard loneliness of dying so far from family and the comfort of home.  

My family remembered and marked the grave of Thomas Campbell for over a hundred years.  Whenever some of us were near the site, we'd detour through the forest to stand over it again, perhaps show the rough stone to another generation, tell the story of that death to a new set of ears.

My nephew Gabe's is over thirty years old, and remembers the long ago day he was taken there for the first time.  Others of us remember too, because that was the day six or seven year old Gabe reached down and lifted the stone --which my father said lay flat all his life-- upright.  Pop says no one else ever touched it, "out of respect," but we're glad Gabe did.

Turns out there was writing on the other side.

The photograph I took before we left shows some letters filled in with a pale green something or other, though the picture isn't clear enough to tell whether it's moss, or a rusty oxidation.   But the name's there --Thomas Campbell-- with the phrase "died 1833," and the letters P A.  Someone lay the stone back down flat before we left, thinking if the letters survived so long that way, they ought to be further protected.  

Raw writing scraped into rock confirmed the truth of a story my grandfather was told by his father before the end of the nineteenth century, and imply for us all there's more truth in old family tales than some of us realize.

A few years ago a crowd of us went searching for the stone again.  Dad and I were part of the group, and Pop's first cousin Fred Brown, and his son, the "Cousin Fred" mentioned here with some regularity.  But something had changed since we last walked the logging road between Holly Fork and Campbell Branch.  
Maybe the Forest Service or some loggers moved the road.  
Perhaps the tires of someone's four wheel drive truck ground the stone down into the mud, and spring floods completed the job of covering it.  
Then again, everyone who was looking for Thomas Campbell's grave marker that day had some years on them.  Could be our old eyes were too weak to pick the one stone from the other more ordinary rocks.  
Whatever the cause, we couldn't find it.  
Thomas Campbell's lost out on that lovely ridge.  
And I'm sorry he is. 
It'd be a shame if his memory were lost along with his grave.
That's why I've told you his story.  I hope you don't forget it.  

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You're a natural storyteller, Bob. This is yet another lovely offering. Thank you.
The way you told it, I won't forget it. Thanks.
A superb story Mr Sloan.....
That was wonderful. He is remembered.
This is a beautiful tribute to your boy ancestor. These 'lost graves' are sad and tough for family genealogists too. If you don't know about a website that is very helpful let me share it: it's called find a grave and it allows people to register for free and create listings for cemeteries and post stories/photos about family gravesites. The thing about this is it serves to preserve lost family burial locations and stories for future family members and allows you to write personal tributes so people such as Thomas Campbell won't be forgotten as long as the internet and that website endure.

I won't forget Thomas I know. I made pilgrimage last spring to an old church cemetery tucked so far away in the Missouri hills among the convoluted windings of the Meremac river that I had to stop at a local fire department and get them to show me on their incredible locator maps just how to drive there! I found my great-great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Young, who served in an Illinois regiment that fought during the Civil War in Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. After losing his first wife, as a father with three kids, he met and married my great great great grandmother America Ruby Ennis (already twice a widow with a son of her own) and lived out his final years in Missouri. Together they had my gg grandmother Mary Young Bay whom I met once as a small child. I can't tell you how connected it made me feel to stand there and touch his lovely granite gravestone.

How I wish I could know more of his and my ggg grandmother's personal stories, but sometimes the past becomes almost as great a mystery as the future!

Thanks for a lovely tribute and I can't wait to read the promised Part II. I'm rating this!
I love history and especially, family history. It is stories such as this that make researching family fun, exciting and well worth the time and effort. In those areas away from the urban jungles, it is not surprising that your family took so much care for this lone grave. Here in South Dakota, we have a few of those that communities take care of.

It is a sad commentary that someone could be so crass as to either abscond with or drive over such an ancient marker to what was a tragic end to a short life. The way you weave the words of your story is grand and pull the reader into your experience. Thanks for sharing.
I see why this one is a favorite. On to part !!.