The Short Life of James K. Estes

James K. Estes was the son of Mary Jane “Jennie” Justice and her husband Peter Estes.  He was born in Morgan County, Tennessee in 1844.  His story has been previously shared in another format in tribute to those family members who lost their lives as a result of war.  On March 15, 1863, he traveled from Morgan County to Somerset, Kentucky to enlist in the Union Army, as Tennessee had followed other Southern states and seceded from the United States to form the Confederate States of America.  As with many East Tennesseans, James was very loyal to the United States and wanted to serve in the Union Army.  He enlisted in Company F, 3rd Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, and proceeded to Nashville, Tennessee on August 31, 1863.  He was then mustered in to the Union Army as a Corporal.

He was involved in several campaigns across Tennessee, and then eventually wound up in September of 1864 in Athens, Alabama.  His regiment was involved in the Battle of Sulfur Branch Trestle on September 25, 1864, and CPL James K. Estes and much of the regiment were taken into captivity by the Confederates.  The captives were marched to the POW camp at Cahaba, Alabama.  Conditions at the POW camp were deplorable, but he survived in spite of few rations and no sanitary water supply.  He was imprisoned there until late March of 1865.  Then, in early April, a deal to exchange Union prisoners for Confederate prisoners was struck.  The POW parolees were marched to Parole Camp Fisk, near Vicksburg, Mississippi.  On April 11, they arrived at Camp Fisk.

On April 24, 1865, about 2100 of the parolees, including James, were herded on board the Steamboat Sultana.  The passenger capacity of the side-wheel river boat was only 376, so with a total of more than 2400 on board, the boat was severely overloaded.  Add to this the fact that one of the river boat’s four boilers had to be patched because of a leak, a great deal of trouble was brewing.  The steamboat departed Vicksburg on the evening of April 24, and headed north on the Mississippi River fighting against the currents of one of the worst spring floods in history.  On April 26, the boat pulled in to Helena, Arkansas, and then headed on toward Memphis, Tennessee.  About 7:00 p.m., the Sultana reached Memphis and off-loaded 120 tons of sugar from the hold.  The Sultana took on a load of coal, and about midnight headed up the Mississippi again.  Around 2:00 a.m. of April 27, 1865, when the riverboat was about seven miles north of Memphis, one of the boilers exploded, followed in rapid succession by two more boilers.  Many of the parolees were immediately catapulted from the Sultana into the frigid waters.  Many of those drowned or died of hypothermia.  Those who remained on board were severely burned, and many of those died.  Corporal James K. Estes was among the more than 1850 parolees and other passengers who lost their lives due to the explosion of the Steamboat Sultana.  His body was never recovered.

Steamboat Sultana 001

The Steamboat Sultana, April, 1865, notice the severe overcrowding.

Corporal James K. Estes never received a burial, and has no tombstone, but there is a memorial in Knoxville, Tennessee to all those who lost their lives in the disaster of the Sultana.

A ramble by Uncle Thereisno Justice in memory of and honor to Corporal James K. Estes.  I’ll see you down the road.


A Tale of Two Cities: Poetry and Royse City

In approximately 1852, Sarah Stonecipher and her husband John Chastain Reese, brought their children; Rebecca T., Isaac N., Francis Jefferson, and John Charles Galloway Reese by covered wagon from the beautiful mountains of Morgan County, Tennessee to the flat prairie land of Kaufman County, Texas.  They also brought with them two slaves, Rhodie and Ann.  Sarah was the sister of Mahattie Stonecipher who married Abraham Justice.  By 1860, the Reese family was living at Turner’s Point, named for Elisha Turner who had received a land grant from President Anson Jones for his service to the Republic of Texas.  Their son John Charles Galloway Reese was living in another part of Kaufman County, near the McClendon community, with his wife Martha Tudor and their children.  Alfred Agee Reese was born to their union on October 6, 1859.  In 1862, JCG Reese enlisted in Company D, 20th Regiment, Texas Cavalry of the Confederate States of America, and was assigned to Fort Washita, Oklahoma.  This fort was originally a US fort, but was abandoned by the Union Army when the Civil War began.  It was occupied by the Confederacy during the extent of the Civil War.  In February of 1864, John Charles Galloway Reese died at the fort, and family members attribute his death to pneumonia.

Alfred Agee Reese grew up in Turner’s Point, Texas with his mother and brothers and sisters.  In 1876, the citizens of the unincorporated community of Turner’s Point were informed a name change for their community was required because there was confusion between it and another Post Office with  a similar name.  A local merchant, Maston Ussery suggested the name Poetry, because he said the area in springtime reminded him of a poem.  The suggestion was accepted, and thus became Poetry, Texas.  By 1880, Poetry had an estimated population of forty.

On February 15, 1881, Alfred Agee Reese and Fannie Bryan were married and took up residence in the newly formed Rockwall County.  In about 1885 Byrd Royse became heir to land in Rockwall County and had it platted for a town.  He also sold the right of way to the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway to run through the town.  The first lot in the town that he sold was sold to Alfred A. “Alf” Reese and Al Royse, his nephew.  Alf Reese and Al Royse decided to build a general store on the property.  They hauled lumber and other building materials from Terrell on a wagon drawn by oxen.  When the two men  finished the building, they brought in merchandise from Dallas.  With more businesses being built, and others being relocated from Fate and Rockwall, and people moving into the area because of the railroad, their new general store blossomed.  Alf Reese remained a partner to Al Royse for some time, but eventually sold his part in the business to another member of the Royse family.  By 1886, Royse City, named for Byrd Royse,  had a Post Office placed there.  The actual home of Alf and Fannie Reese remained in Poetry during these days and they had had three children, two boys and a girl, although their second son had died at the age of two.

During the years between 1887 and 1898, Alf Reese owned or operated ranches in Greenville and Anson, Texas, but by 1899 the family was back in the Royse City area.  On October 4, 1899, Fannie Reese died in Poetry, Texas.  Alf maintained that he had eight children by Fannie, but I have only found seven documented.  The children of this marriage that I was able to document are George Washington Reese, Thomas A. Reese, a daughter Tennie Reese, Charles Daniel Reese, Walter Will Reese, Anson Jones Reese, and Troy Dee Reese.  By 1900 the population of Royse City stood at about 1000 and there were a total of about forty businesses and among them were two cotton gins and a gristmill.  Also in 1900, Alf Reese was instrumental in forming the First National Bank of Royse City, and became the vice president of that bank.  On May 23, 1900, Alf Reese married his second wife, Virginia Lee Fitzpatrick.  Between the years of 1900 and 1920, Alf and Virginia had seven documented children.  They were Ruby Reese, Alfred Agee Reese Jr., James Lennie Reese, Jeanette Reese, Robert Carol Pender Reese, Harry Edwin Reese, and Flurnoy Wilson Reese.  In addition to being a bank vice president, Alf Reese served as the president of the school board for about ten years.  In 1898 there was only one school in Royse City that employed four teachers and had 204 students recorded.  In a newspaper article from the Greenville Banner dated May 28, 1956, Alf Reese is quoted as saying “We built some new schools, and when we saw the need of a Negro school we put that up too.”  In an article in the Royse City American, author Zaner Robinson said “Alfred Reese was a builder of Royse City and truly a pioneer.”

A A Reese about 1924

The date of his death was 25 Mar 1958. The picture is from 1924-1930.

In the next few years, Alf Reese owned or operated ranches near Abilene, Texas, San Angelo, Texas, two sites in Oklahoma, and had several farm holdings in and around the Royse City area.  He also helped to found the First State Bank in Royse City, and then served as the vice president of that bank for a time.  In later years, he was a stockholder in the Citizens State Bank which was an outgrowth of the First State Bank.  There is an unsubstantiated assertion that Alf Reese once served as the mayor of Royse City.  Even if this is not true, he was involved in many aspects of this small Texas prairie town.  In his own words “I have always tried to help in anything good for the community.”

By the time Alf Reese was 96 years old, he was confined to a wheelchair.  Just seven months short of his 99th birthday, on March 25, 1958, Alf Reese died from lobar pneumonia in his beloved home in Royse City, Texas. He was buried in the Royse City Cemetery.  Both Poetry and Royse City remain to this day.  Poetry has never been incorporated and has a population under 600.  Royce City sits just north of Interstate 30 and currently has a population just under 11,000.

AA & VL Reese

Alf and Virginia Reese

Reese Home 1935 001

The home where Alf, Virginia, and family lived.

If ever you find yourself on I30 east of Dallas, just pop in for awhile and take in the sights of Royse City, Texas.  Many of the Reese family are buried in the Royse City Cemetery.  Also, there is the Zaner Robinson Historical Museum, dedicated to the history of Royse City between 1920 and 1960.  There is one more photo below that warrants a look.

Just one more ramble by Uncle Thereisno Justice.  I’ll see you down the road.

AA Reese Poll Tax Receipt



The Stonecipher-Kelly House

Some who read this post might say something to the effect of “Uncle Thereisno, why are you writing about a house?”  Well, just sit tight and you will hear the amazing story of this 203 year old home of the Stonecipher family and then the Kelly family.

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The Stonecipher-Kelly House in the early 1970’s

Sometime around the year 1813, Ezra Stonecipher, who was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina in January of 1782, moved to the Cumberland Plateau of Eastern Tennessee.  By 1814, he had constructed a 3-story log home for his family.  His father Joseph Marion Stonecipher had moved to the area between 1807 and 1813.  Ezra was a multi-talented man.  Not only did he build the house, but he made most of the furniture that was in the house.  He was also a gunsmith, and produced many guns that found their way to many parts of East Tennessee.  There is even an unsubstantiated story that he made a gun for David Crockett.  But back to the house, there was a huge fireplace built in the center of the downstairs. This fireplace was used as a source of heat, served as the kitchen where all meals were cooked, and was just a striking centerpoint for the main room.  There were bedrooms on the second floor and third floor.  There was a huge front porch on the house that was ideal for enjoying the mountain breezes.  In 1817, the area where Ezra’s house was located became a county.  Morgan County, Tennessee is about to celebrate its 200th year of existence this October.

Eventually, log homes were no longer fashionable and clapboard siding was added to the exterior of the house.  That siding probably helped to preserve the logs, because underneath it all they are in good shape today.

Ezra was married to Susannah Curtis and they had, by my calculations, ten children.  Many of their children figured into the history of Morgan County, Tennessee. Also, some of their children followed other Stonecipher family to the Marion County, Illinois area and contributed to the history of that area.  In 1838, Ezra and one of his sons made a visit to Southern Illinois to see the relatives who lived there and possibly purchase some land there.  On their way back to Morgan County, Ezra became ill and died in Hopkinsville, Christian County, Kentucky.  He was buried there and the grave was not marked.  As an Uncle Thereisno sidelight, Ezra’s father, Joseph Marion Stonecipher, and Susannah’s father, Joshua Curtis, both served during the Revolutionary War and helped create this great country.  After Ezra’s death, the house became the property of the Kelly family.

As the years went by, the house was passed down in the family to Samuel Walker Kelly who married Julia Ann Stonecipher, so there was once again the Stonecipher connection.  Samuel and Julia had eight children; Wade, Mary, Delia, Douglas, John, Lillian, Docia, and Nancy.  Douglas and Docia were the only members of the family to ever marry.  Samuel died in 1922 and Julia died in 1943.  As of the mid 1950’s, Delia, John, Lillian “Lillie”, and Nancy still made the Stonecipher-Kelly House their home.

Julia Ann and kids 001

Nancy, Julia Stonecipher, Mary, John, Delia, and Lillie Kelly

The Kelly girls were members of Union Baptist Church in the Joyner community just east of their home.  As late as 1956, Nancy taught Sunday School at Union Church.  After the church services they would often invite extended family back home with them and there would be a massive Sunday afternoon meal that had been prepared in advance that would put many feasts to shame.  Lillie especially was a gracious and courteous hostess and was very kind to any children in attendance.  Lillie was also the last of the immediate Kelly family to occupy the house.  It was her home until her death in 1986.

Lillie 001

Lillie Kelly in 1970’s showing off the 4-poster bed with rope springs and corn shuck mattress.


A view of the mountains near the Kelly home.

Since Lillie’s death, the old home place has fallen into major disrepair, and is in desperate need of restoration.  Recently, the Stonecipher-Kelly House has come under the supervision of the Frozen Head State Park and the presumed intent is to use it as an entrance point to that Tennessee State Park.  At the current time there has been no restoration.  In addition to that, the only work that has been done on the old home has been accomplished through the efforts of volunteers, many of which are Stonecipher cousins and also members of the Morgan County Genealogical and Historical Society.  The state does mow the property and has erected a sign.  At the present time, a new 501c3 non-profit has been organized by Annetta Watson to help in the preservation and maintenance of the Stonecipher-Kelly House.  The group is called the Friends of Frozen Head State Park, Inc.  They are located at 964 Flat Fork Road in Wartburg, Tennessee 37887-3208.  I have no axe to grind in this, but just threw the information out in case someone might be interested.  My only desire is that the old home be saved from the ravages of time.

Another ramble from Uncle Thereisno Justice



A Tribute to Alvin J Justes

Alvin Junior Justes was born in Lee County, Virginia on March 8, 1941 and was the son of Benjamin H. Justes. He left his home in Laurel County, Kentucky at the age of 19 and traveled to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He served in the US Army during the Vietnam War, between March 20 1967, when he was inducted into the Army, and March 19, 1969. After this, he made Oklahoma City his home and lived a short distance from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. His last visit to Laurel County was when his father died on December 7, 1982. He was a frequent visitor to the coffee shop in the Federal Building and the Federal Employees Credit Union on the 3rd floor of the Federal Building. Alvin did not own a vehicle and traveled by city bus wherever he went. According to information attributed to his brother who lived in Kentucky, he was disabled as a result of breathing toxic fumes at a place he had worked in the past. He was described as a loner and a very gentle man. On April 19, 1995, he paid a visit to the coffee shop and then the Federal Employees Credit Union in the Alfred P. Murrah Building. No one, including Alvin, could have suspected that Timothy McVeigh, assisted by Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier and Michael’s wife Lori, had placed a Ryder rental truck loaded with explosives made from ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel in a parking space beside the Federal Building. When the bomb was detonated the morning of April 19, 1995, the resulting explosion crumbled all 9 stories of the north wall of the building. It was not until May 29, 1995 that the last 3 bodies were discovered. They were the bodies of Christy Rosas, Virginia Thompson, and Alvin Justes, as determined by the Oklahoma County Medical Examiner. Alvin’s sister, Violet Root, had been trying to reach her brother since she heard of the bombing on the 19th. She had eventually contacted the police, but had received no word until May 29. Altogether there were 168 people killed in the blast. Among those were 19 babies and young children who were in the America’s Kids Child Development Center (Day Care) on the second floor. An additional 680+ employees and visitors were injured by the bombing. Since the bombing, the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum has taken the place of Murrah Building, which was completely demolished. On June 11, 2001, Timothy McVeigh was executed by lethal injection at the Federal Corrections Complex at Terre Haute, Indiana. Terry Nichols is serving 161 consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. Michael Fortier served only a few years of a 12 year sentence , and his wife never served any time at all. They are now in a witness protection program. Every year on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing there is a marathon run in OKC and many of the runners run for one of the victims. The photos I have included are of Alvin, a Teddy Bear and Marathon Tag left on Alvin’s chair in the Field of Chairs in 2007, and Alvin’s chair in the Field of Chairs. The Memorial has a chair for each of the 168 people who lost their lives on April 19, 1995.