The Smell of Sulphur

In 1821, Major John Randle and some of his family were prospecting for salt at a historic salt lick in Henry County, Tennessee. They dug a well down 16 feet or so, and then hit a solid layer of marble. Undaunted, they began drilling. Three-hundred and seventy-four feet later, a gush of water “with enough force to turn a mill” erupted from the hole. But it wasn’t salt that was a notable feature of the new artesian well, but white sulphur water. The new spring soon became a destination for health-seeking Tennesseans, and a resort grew up on the spot. It proved particularly healthy for those Memphis residents who fled the city in 1873 to avoid a yellow fever outbreak. However, the site now lies beneath Kentucky Lake which the Tennessee Valley Authority filled in 1944.

Sulphur Well 2

Guests at Sulphur Well, date unknown. Sulphur Well was an important tourist destination in western Tennessee until it was submerged beneath Kentucky Lake.

Sulphur Well was likely the last major project in Major John Randle’s adventurous life. Continue reading

A Wilderness Saint

In 1819, several soldiers arrived at a house in Stewart County, western Tennessee, not far from the town of Dover. They had with them a riderless horse and some very bad news to deliver to the young children who lived there. The children’s father Thomas Randle had drowned in the Chattahoochee River in Alabama while on his way home from fighting in what today is called the “First Seminole War.” He was crossing the river in an overloaded boat which responded to the safety issue by capsizing. Although Thomas was a strong swimmer, he was wearing a heavy coat with a large cape, and a struggling comrade grabbed hold and dragged them both under water.

This was the second great loss for the children, as their mother Nancy Davidson Randle had died three years before. An old relative and a servant were looking after them while their father was away, but now their situation was untenable. Fortunately, other relatives lived in the area and came to their aid, but at the cost of splitting up the family. As one of the boys, John Randle, described to his granddaughter many years later:

Relatives of the family came and divided the property and children among them. Martha and Thomas were taken by Uncle Wilson Randle; a relative by the name of Williams took Richmond. Other relatives took George and Sally.

As they rode away from the empty home at twilight with my sisters and brothers, I was left in the deserted yard unchosen. Cousin Henry Wall, who married my cousin Martha Randle, looked back and saw me, a little lonely, motherless, fatherless boy, and called out, “Get up behind and come home with me John.”

But John and his siblings were fortunate in their remarkable sister. Continue reading