A Brief History of Winston County, Alabama

By: Judge John Bennett Weaver

The white people came to the territory which is now embraced in Winston County, one of the 67 political subdivisions of the State of Alabama, about the time James Robertson founded Nashville, Tennessee, in 1780. The first white people coming to this territory probably came from Georgia or the Carolinas. The first permanent settlement, however, was soon after Alabama was admitted into the Union as a state, on December 14, 1819, about the year 1820. The first permanent settlement, and we mean by permanent settlement, ownership or Title to real estate, was in 1820, about a mile and a half northeast of Haleyville. A man whose name was Richard McMahan, of Lauderdale County, made this first settlement, acquiring title to a few hundred acres of land. Soon afterwards, a Mr. Byler settled there, probably a brother to John Byler, who built the first state road through the County from the Tennessee Valley to Tuscaloosa.

History of Alabama and Her People, Albert Burton Moore, M.S., M.A., Ph. D. (1927), Volume I, Page 358, says "The turnpike Companies opened roads over long distances, through unsettled forests and attempted to solve great transportation problems. A good illustration is the ambitious effort of John Byler and associates to connect the Tennessee and the Warrior Rivers. Between 1820 and 1822 they completed a road from the Big Shoals Creek, in Lauderdale County, across the Tennessee and Bainbridge and to the Shoals at Tuscaloosa, through an almost unbroken wilderness."

This state road, or turnpike, passed through the Western part of Winston County, going through where Haleyville, Delmar, and Natural Bridge now are located.

When the first settlers came there, they came over the Indian trails, lived under bluffs, having made friends with the Indians, which L.D. Miller, in his History of Alabama of 1901, page 357, says "The Cherokees, Creeks, and Chickasaws each claimed indefinite parts of the territory of this county (Winston), and probably used it as a common hunting ground."

The second permanent settlement in Winston County was in what is known as Old Black Swamp Precinct, now Lynn. These settlements were about 1820, but title was not procured until about 1826. The first settlers to this section were Jim Bell, Nathan Stockton, and Jim Tittle, who came from East Tennessee, and Peter Ingle, born in West North Carolina in 1767, one year before the birth of Andrew Jackson.

Peter Ingle was the father of Andrew Jackson Ingle, the namesake of the great leader in the War of 1812, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans, January 8, 1815, and later, from 1829 to 1837, President of the United States. In 1824 Berry Dodd, the grandfather of the late John Dodd, who died about 1928 at Haleyville, also the grandfather of Will Dodd, who lives at Nauvoo, came from Georgia. The aforesaid John Dodd, who was born in 1844, had a fine recollection: He gave me quite a bit of valuable information, in 1901, and on different occasions since then. Although Mr. Dodd could not sign his name until 1900, he owned several thousand acres of land, in three counties. When he sold the mineral rights to the land in 1900, although he could not read or write, he dictated to W.A. Baughn, his advisor, and gave from memory, in detail, the correct descriptions to every 40 acres that he sold.

Winston County had been a part of Tuscaloosa County, Marion and Blount Counties, until 1823, when it became a part of Walker County, when it was created, Jasper being the County Seat. The people in that county farmed for a living, there were a few blacksmith shops and several grist water mills. The people came from Georgia, the Carolinas and East Tennessee from time to time, and a few from other states – from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky.

Winston County was settled largely by the followers of Andrew Jackson. General Jackson’s campaign in 1813-14 resulted in these settlements. Berry Dodd, who, as aforesaid, came to Winston County from Georgia in 1824 and settled in Southwest Winston, said that there were people living here when he came here who had been living here 25 years, several families, and those people gave him the information that in hunting with the Indians in various parts of that section that they found some old settlements that looked like they had been settled maybe 25 years before that. The people of Winston County in those days were not greatly interested in politics, but the leaders were intelligent, if uneducated, and knew some of the important happenings at Tuscaloosa from 1826 to 1846, and after 1846, at Montgomery, when the Legislature and the Governor would pass upon important matters. They also knew some of the important happenings at Washington.

The people in that county from 1820 to 1850 developed about like some of the other hill counties in North Alabama. They were always partial to Andrew Jackson. His word, with a great majority in those days, was both law and gospel.

In about 1832, when South Carolina passed the Nullification Act, John C. Calhoun, resigned, went back to South Carolina, and his friends had buttons on which was printed, "John C. Calhoun, the first President of the Confederacy." President Jackson said, "No, we will have none of that."

In parts of Alabama, according to Moore’s History aforesaid, Vol. I, Page 479: "Nullification meetings were held in several places, and resolutions breathing a spirit of resistance were introduced in the Legislature."

Governor Gale said, "that the Protective Tariff was hastening a crisis which involved ‘in its consequences, the dissolution of the Union’, and it was his opinion that the greatest question before the people of the State was hot to secure their constitutional rights without resorting to an event so disastrous."

"It was only among zealous states rights men, however, that nullification was defended. The masses disapproved of South Carolina’s course. They upheld President Jackson’s hands in the struggle that ensued."

"Governor Gale’s first message to the Legislature, soon after he had won on a strong Union platform, was a strong pro-union statement. The national government was formed, he observed, and it acts upon them individually as member of the same extensive community."

"Both governments originate from the same source, both operate upon the people in the same manner, and the same obedience is due to both. Each is emphatically the government of the people, and patriotism dictates that their affections should be placed as much on the one as the other. Patrick Henry observed that, ‘A county is to a State what a State is to the Union.’ The analogy is just in many respects and particularly as it regards the rights of either to set the laws at defiance. The People of a State, being a small minority of the people of all the States, have no greater constitutional right to resist the laws of the Union than the People of a County have to resist the laws of a State."

On Page 480, quoting from Moore, we find the following: "Now a public meeting in Jackson County, February 1, 1833, characterized South Carolina’s method of redressing her grievances as contrary to the Constitution and laws of the United States; and the doctrines of her Governor’s proclamation as clearly assumed and altogether revolutionary in their character, and altogether subversive of all good government. If a resort to arms to save the Union became necessary they declared themselves to be standing at all times in readiness to rally around and defend the Star-Spangled Banner of our Country with our blood and our treasure."

Secession became an issue again very early in 1848. From Vol. 1, Moore’s History of Alabama, Page 488: "Yancey was the recognized leader of the states rights wing of his party."

That part of Walker County which is now Winston was in hearty accord with the movement of John A. Winston in opposing Yancey and standing for that course which would be most likely to perpetuate the Union.

Hancock County was carved very early in 1850, with the county seat at old Houston, east of Brushy Fork Creek. In 1858, the name was changed to Winston County, in honor of John A. Winston, who had been Governor, and whose political record had been more nearly approved than any other outstanding leader in Alabama in recent years. The population from 1850 to 1860 more than doubled.

In 1860 there were 14 slave owners in the County, owning 122 slaves. Of this number, Dr. Andrew J. Kiser [Kaeiser], who was born in Pennsylvania in 1799, owned 20 slaves, and a Mr. Davis, the largest slave owner in the County, who lived at Miller’s Stand, which is now South Haleyville, owned about 48 slaves. Of course, those who owned no slaves greatly outnumbered the slave owners – 14 slave owners; 637 families owned no slaves. We have already said that Winston County was settled by the followers of Andrew Jackson. Our people were born in Union homes and went to Union schools, whose teachers were Washington and Jackson.

Winston County in 1860 supported the regular Democratic Ticket by a substantial margin. They opposed secession through the years because they felt like it was to their best interests and to the best interests of the country to do so. They were loyal Democrats and had been for years. They were Jeffersonian, Jacksonian Democrats. The Curtis’, three of whom were killed during the war in the County, one while Probate Judge, to which killing we will refer later, came from Mississippi in the early 1850s. They were loyal Democrats, one of the brothers being named for Andrew Jackson. The Miller’s, the Barton’s, the Lovelady’s, the Barker’s, the Taylor’s, all had sons named Andrew Jackson in their families, as did many others.

We have already said that Winston County was democratic in 1860, by a large majority, but in 1865, when the war closed, an overwhelming majority had changed their politics. There must have been a reason for this, and there was. Now, what were the causes that brought about this change in so large a group in politics?

There are at least four Revolutionary soldiers whose brave hearts turned to dust in the territory now embraced in Winston County. There was never a time between the organization of the Government or the beginning of Washington’s administration on April 30, 1789, and March 4, 1861, a period of 72 years, that the South didn’t have either the President or the Vice-President. From 1801 to 1861, period of 60 years, the Democrats had charge of the Country, with the exception of only 12 years, and the people of Winston County were proud of that fact. If the Democrats in 1860 had agreed upon and nominated one ticket, as the people of Winston County so earnestly desired, that ticket would have been elected. In 1860, the Democrats, met in convention at Charleston, South Carolina, but a great many of the Southern delegates bolted. But in order to get together they agreed, and did meet in Baltimore in June 1860, and a majority of the Democrats nominated Stephen A. Douglas. Under the domination of the slave owners, a minority nominated John C. Breckenridge. In other words, the people of Winston County, in 1860, were such good loyal Democrats that they wouldn’t support a bolter. Winston County did not support Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln electors were not on the ballot in Alabama in 1860 as a great many people may suppose, but it supported Stephen A. Douglas. Now why did the Southern delegates bolt? They did it because they wanted to extend slavery, and they believed they had a right to do that, and they did under the Dredd-Scott Decision. But that didn’t keep the people of Winston County from not liking the bolters. In other words, the people of Winston County, in 1860, felt toward the bolters like the Al Smith Democrats in 1928 felt toward the Hoovercrats.

Lincoln was elected.

A.B. Moore’s History, Volume 1, Page 509, we quote, "Governor Moore called a State Convention December 6th to meet at the Capitol on January 7, 1861. He named December 24, 1860, as the day for the election of Delegates."

Winston County elected Charles C. Sheets to that convention, who campaigned, and was overwhelmingly elected on a platform pledged to "vote against secession first, last, and all the time."

Mr. Sheets told the voters that the same crowd that bolted the Democratic Ticket because they were not permitted to carry their property, namely slavery, into the states as well as territories, where the people had overwhelmingly voted it out, now intended to secede because they thought that would be the best method to perpetuate slavery. That while he was not in favor of doing any person any injury, but he was for the Union first, last, and all the time. Mr. Sheets was elected and went to Montgomery and served, and he was loyal in the convention to his promises in the campaign, and was one of the 24, according to L.D. Miller’s History of Alabama, Pages 151 and 152, who never signed the secession resolution.

Moore’s History, on page 514, says on January 14, 1861, Alabama went out of the Union, but Miller, on page 151 of his History, said on January 11, 1861, the Convention, by a vote of 61 to 39, passed an ordinance to dissolve the Union between the State of Alabama and other states, under the compact style, "The Constitution of the United States of America."

The people of Winston County regretted that a majority of the delegates at the convention in Montgomery passed the resolution of secession, for they believed it meant war, death, and destruction. They did not believe that it was for the best interests of the Democratic party, or the country as a whole.

The people of Winston County were not alone in the attitude they took, for on page 524 of Volume 1, of Moore’s History of Alabama, he says: "Many people in North Alabama were not pleased with the work of the convention or with the Southern Confederacy…Secession was distinctly a South Alabama achievement…" Footnote, page 525: "That feeling ran high was evidenced by the fact that Yancey was burned in effigy in Lawrence County."

The truth of the business is that when Mr. Sheets returned from Montgomery in the late winter of 1861, the weather was bad, the roads were bad, and he didn’t have an opportunity to discuss the action that the convention had taken with the people; but along the latter part of May or the first of June, 1861, a group of people met in Houston, the County Seat of Winston County, decided to have a mass meeting at Looney’s Tavern on the 4th of July, 1861.

A.B. Moore’s History of Alabama, on page 543, says, "Meetings and conventions were held in Fayette, Marion, Winston, and counties to the North in which a desire for neutrality was expressed." The historian is correct as to the meeting being held in Winston County, but it was July 4, 1861, instead of 1862. At this Houston meeting, above referred to, in the latter part of May or the first of June, 6 men volunteered to quit their crops and each one ride a week, giving publicity to the mass meeting to be held at the said Looney’s Tavern, on July 4, 1861. During that time they rode all over Winston County, East Marion, Southeast Franklin, South Lawrence, North Walker, Northeast Fayette, and Blount Counties. On the 4th of July the meeting was held, for convenience about one half mile north of old Looney’s Tavern at the Brown’s Spring, sometimes called Reynolds’ Spring, at which meeting there were about 2500 people from Lawrence County, Morgan County, Blount County, Marshall County, Walker County, Fayette County, Marion County, Franklin County, as well as Winston. Charles C. Sheets was the principal speaker. A Committee on Resolutions was appointed. When the resolutions were submitted they were overwhelmingly approved. The substance of the resolutions is as follows:

"First, we commend the Honorable Charles C. Sheets and the other representatives who stood with him, for their loyalty and fidelity to the people whom they represented in voting against secession first, last, and all the time.

Second, we agree with Jackson that no state can legally get out of the Union. (Copy statement regarding Lincoln having Jackson’s papers and the Bible). But if we are mistaken in this, and a state can lawfully or legally secede or withdraw, being only a part of the Union, then a county, any county, being a part of the state, by the same process of reasoning, could cease to be a part of the State.

Third, we think our neighbors in the South made a mistake when they bolted and nominated a ticket, which resulted in the election of a republican. They made another and a greater mistake when they attempted to withdraw from the Union and set up a new government. But we don’t want our neighbors in the South mistreated and we are not going to take up arms against them; but, on the other hand, we are not going to shoot at the Flag of our Fathers – the Flag of Washington, Jefferson, and of Jackson! Therefore, we ask the Confederacy on the one hand, and the Union on the other, to leave us alone, unmolested, that we may work out our political and financial destiny here in the hills and mountains of Northwest Alabama."

The above information was given by B.F. Curtis, Gooder Walker, and Tom Lay.

It is clear from the foregoing that this section of Alabama did desire neutrality, and did its best to pursue that course.

On the reading of the Second Resolution, Uncle Dick Payne, sitting back in the audience, made the following remark: "Oh, oh, -- Winston secedes!! The Free State of Winston!" Ever since that day it had been called "The Free State of Winston."

The people of Winston County were the heart of this sentiment. They not only desired peace, they thought it was to their interest to have peace, and they prayed for peace, but this was denied them. When the Confederate Cavalry from other counties came into Winston County and arrested the young men, under the conscript act, and the married men in 1862, and gave them only five days in which to join the Confederate Army, putting them in jail and after five days taking them out and shooting them in the back, it didn’t take our people long to change from a neutral attitude to one of indignation.

A man by the name of Newt Austin, a Union man, was killed near Nauvoo. A Mr. Pugh was killed about four miles north of Double Springs because he didn’t want to go and fight, and "Wash" Curtis, a brother of the Probate Judge, was shot off of his horse a few days later in sight of Rock Creek Church, about four miles north of Double Springs. In December, 1863, Joe Curtis, another brother of the Probate Judge, was captured, carried to Jasper, and put in jail. He was given just five days in which to join the Confederacy and go to shooting at the flag, Old Glory. When the five days were up he told the firing squad: "No," he says, "My brother ‘Wash’ lost his life because he opposed it. Our people voted against it, and we passed resolutions in a convention to stay out of it, and I will just be shot in the back before I will get into it and shoot at Old Glory, the flag of our fathers." So he was shot in the back and carried about four miles southeast of Jasper and buried in a gully with only pine tops thrown over him. His widow, living 20 miles away, up in Winston, got in a steer wagon alone and went down and got that body after decomposition had set up, drove up by Campbell Mines with him, through Nauvoo, Lynn, Old Sardis, and up to Old Union Grove Church, the church of his youth, and she and the old men and the women buried him. Of course, the people began to get wrought up all over the county. But on January 19, 1864, six or seven cavalry men came from South Walker, East Fayette, and North Tuscaloosa Counties by Dr. Andrew J. Kiser’s [Kaeiser’s] residence, on to old Columbus and Houston Road, went to the County Seat, took Thomas P. Curtis, the Probate Judge, and brother to the other two Curtis’ who were assassinated, and told him that he would be released if he could pay them as much as $2,000.00. Judge Curtis was mad, and expressed himself freely, but finally decided that they meant to kill him, so he went to his home, where his wife and children were, and told his wife to get his pocket book, and when he counted out the $2,000.00 he had about $1,500.00 more, and when the cavalrymen saw it, they took the pocket book with its contents above the $2,000.00. There were no banks here in those days. Judge Curtis was already mad, of course, and when that happened he expressed himself to the extent that the cavalrymen were provoked, so they took him on away, with his money, and about 10 miles southwest of the county seat they shot him and threw him off a bluff.

[The rest of this story related the events of late 1864 and early 1865. Instead of the death of Judge Curtis, the death of Andrew Kaeiser, and the burning of the Jasper Jail being one event, they were actually three separate events. Judge Curtis died on January 19, 1864; Andrew Kaeiser was killed on September 2, 1864; and the burning of the Jasper Jail occurred on January 10, 1865.]

At the same time this group of cavalrymen had captured two other men whose sympathies were with the Union – Bill Walker and Dock Beard – and took them and incarcerated them in Jasper Jail to await the five-day period. The next day, on January 20th, pretty early, about nine o’clock A.M., the friends of Judge Curtis found him shot to death down under a bluff about 30 feet high, with his head leaning back against a tree and his feet down in a branch. The branch was frozen over. So on the 22nd, two days later, before they buried Judge Curtis at old Union Grove where the other brothers were buried, and they got through and were ready to go home just a little bit before sundown. Of course, you will understand, under such circumstances as are detailed here, even during bad weather, there would be a large turnout to a funeral like that. That was the case. The friends of Judge Curtis, after the burial decided that they had done all that they could do for the deceased, but that it was their duty to go and release Bill Walker and Dock Beard, the two Union men awaiting the firing squad in Jasper Jail two days hence. There were a number of men from the Union Army who were on furlough, who in 1862 when this "force business" started, abandoned their neutrality and went and joined Grant’s Army. They were there, about twelve of them, in Yankee Uniform, at this burial. So these Union soldiers, the Curtis brothers, and their friends, decided to meet the next day at the South Part of "Rocky Plains" and go to Jasper and take Bill Walker and Dock Beard out of that prison. The mode of travel was either horseback or in wagons, as there were no buggies even at that time. Some of them lived a great way off. It took them all night and all the next day, until about eleven o’clock, to get to the appointed meeting place. They met at the appointed place about eleven o’clock, 26 of them. They went on quietly to the town of Jasper. It was small then, and when they got to the top of the hill, within 150 yards of the jail they stopped. Six of the men had shotguns, 18 of them had hog rifles, and two had pistols, making 26 in all. They had 13 horses and mules in making that trip; they would take turns at riding. Anderson Ward, a sergeant in the Union Army, was elected Captain to lead them in releasing those prisoners.

Anderson Ward, the Captain who had been elected by the group, made a mark on the ground and he made this proposition: "Every man that is willing to obey my orders, which will be to go down this hill by a method that I will explain a little later, and take Dock Beard and Bill Walker out of that jail, or die in the attempt, cross this line." They all crossed, but two – Vince Roden and Jess Nevels. Whereupon, Anderson Ward, the Captain, said, "Gentlemen, have you deserted?" Their answer was: "No, but we only have pistols, and we think somebody ought to keep the horses," to which all agreed, and so the two men with the pistols were left on the hill to guard the horses while the other 24 were to go down the hill to the jail and release the prisoners, or die in the attempt. The plan was to have all the Union Soldiers in front and all the shotguns in front. Ward said, "I want the first two men in Blue to walk just as close together as possible, side by side, and I want the next two to be about 12 feet behind, a little further apart, and the next two to be about the same distance, etc., in order to make a display, and we will be on a quick until we see the people in the town have discovered us and then we will give the ‘yankee yell’ and put on a double quick."

The strategy worked well. Everyone left town, and they didn’t fire a shot. It had been raining. Town Creek was up. It was not bridged. Men, women, and children plunged into that creek, and everyone left. They arrived in the jailyard, which was not enclosed by a fence. They were fixing to build a house just across the road from the jail. The Captain ordered 12 of the men to pick up one of the big house logs and run and jab one end of it against the jail door, which was a wooden jail with a wooden door. The second time, then the third, they hit the door they burst the hinges on the inside and Dock Beard and Bill Walker, George Wilson, and Will King came walking out for a trip back to the Free State of Winston. But about that time up came the jailer with a pistol in his hand. His name, I was told, was a Mr. Sides. Jim Curtis, a brother of the dead Probate Judge and the other two dead Curtis brothers, threw a shot gun on the jailer and made him drop his pistol, and then he gave the jailer this specific but emphatic command: "Now sir, you stick fire to that God damn jail." Without question or hesitancy he proceeded to put the fire to the jail, all the prisoners having come out. This group of men remained there until the jail was burned to such an extent that they saw it could not be extinguished. Then Jim Curtis ordered the jailer to strike a long trot and not look back, to disappear South, and about the time he got out of sight, they turned and marched back up the hill to the horses. When they got back up to the horses Jim Curtis, who, as we have stated, was a brother to the deceased and his brothers, asked Bill Walker and Dock Beard if they found out who it was sent that mob of cavalry up there and murder his brother. Whereupon they said, "Yes, we found out enough that we have an idea who it was that got them up there." He said, "It was the Chairman and Examining Doctor of the Conscript Board, Dr. Andrew J. Kaeiser."

Jim Curtis says to the crowd: "I have been telling you for two years that right there was where the trouble was – Dr. Kaeiser." He says, "Winston County is not big enough to hold Dr. Kaeiser and Jim Curtis both alive."

So Jim Curtis led that crowd back up by Dr. Kaeiser’s house that night, called him out and shot him right on his porch. Mrs. Kaeiser came out, seemed to be boisterous and mad, more than that she was hurt about her husband. Jim Curtis loaded his gun and he said to Mrs. Kaeiser, "Mrs. Kaeiser, there is one thing you can do and live, but if you don’t do that, you are going to be dead in a minute."

She immediately became composed and told them that she was willing to answer any questions that she could. He said, "If you will tell me the names of the crowd that went up and brought "Dock" Baird and Bill Walker back by here (I know they are the ones that killed my brother), I won’t shoot you, but otherwise I am going to do it." Whereupon she gave him the names of each one of them. He went next week and killed two of them, and he killed every one of them (either six or seven) before the war closed, except one, and in the spring of 1865, about the time the war closed, one of them learned about all the others being killed and went to Texas, and Jim Curtis got on his horse and rode all the way to Texas, and along in the summer he got the last one over there.

When the war was over people wanted to know why Winston County didn’t get prejudiced against the North and the Republican Party because of Reconstruction. The answer to that is that the Reconstruction Acts, like Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was not applicable to those states or parts of states not in open rebellion against the Union, and since Winston County was not in open rebellion but was loyal, having furnished three or four hundred men to fight on the side of the Union, the Reconstruction Acts were not applicable to Winston County. On the other hand, some of the Winston County leaders who stood with the Union were called upon to aid in helping get things straight in the other counties, but this, I don’t think, was done.