Was Granny Messick a Witch? Nov 28, 2014 18:27:07 GMT -5
Post by Joanna on Nov 28, 2014 18:27:07 GMT -5
Was Granny Messick a witch?
Our family doesn't have skeletons in the closet. We dust 'em for display in the front room.
By popular request, I'm writing about my favorite ancestress, "Ole Granny Messick," who was supposed to have been a witch. She was my great-great-great grandmother – the first of at least 10 generations of Messicks who have either been born/lived/loved/died in Baxter and Marion counties. She was born Ruby Catherine Messick around the turn of the 18th century (probably 1797) in North Carolina. Her parents were Richard and Ruby Catherine Kohneaver Messick. Since the Messicks came from Alsace-Lorraine, a region that oftentimes belonged to Germany, then France, there is disagreement whether our nationality is German or French. As for the Kohneaver name – I don't think you can get much more German than that.
On March 20, 1814, Ruby Catherine gave birth to a son in Coffee County, Tenn. (Some say Kentucky.) She named him John Wesley Messick. On October 16, 1814, in Kentucky, she gave birth to a daughter, Lydia Ann Messick. Both children were born out of wedlock.
Through the years, a few prim and prudish family researchers have tried in vain to find her a husband. Truth is, she was never legally married. Perhaps a backwoods tradition was observed until a man of the cloth could come by on his circuit. Traditions were like jumping a broomstick, falling off a log backwards or simply announcing it, then going to the marriage bed. I have heard her husband was a near Messick cousin.
But the main story, the one I believe to be as near to the truth as we can come at this late date, was told by my father.
Before the circuit rider came by, her man rode off with Col. Andy Jackson to fight in the Indian Wars. He never returned. Only recently, though, I learned this tale might have gotten twisted in the telling.
After coming to Arkansas, Ruby Catherine had John Wesley and his children enrolled on the Dawes Roll as members of the Cherokee Nation. Was he killed by Jackson? Or was he an American Indian serving as a scout for Old Hickory? Either way, the loss of her man caused Ruby Catherine to become mentally unbalanced for the remainder of her long life. One grandson later described her as being a little nutty and smoking a smelly clay pipe.
A witch? She was a tiny woman – frontier description, no bigger than a washing of soap. Her eyes were black as coal and as piercing and sharp as needles. She had thick, black hair, always worn long, loose and flowing. Even after it began to gray, she never wore it "done up," as was the mature woman's style. In her mind, she was always that young girl waiting for that man to come home. Whenever she heard a group of horsemen approaching, she would run out, with arms wide open, to greet her man.
Her appearance and actions, plus her strange powers, gave rise to the notion that she was a witch. A white witch (versus black, which was evil), who used her powers for good and never for profit. She could stop blood, take the heat out of a burn and cure the thrush in a baby. All admirable abilities on the frontier. She was never ostracized; rather, she was openly revered. Who wants to be at odds with a powerful healer when the nearest physician might be more than a lifetime away?
She also was cherished by her father, who remembered her along with her brothers in his will. Her son treated her with tender love and honor. During his lifetime, she always was nearby. And in death, he wasn't buried beside either of his wives; his mother lies beside him (although the exact location of their graves is known only to God).
In 1832, John Wesley married Celia Wilkerson and they had 12 children. His sister, Lydia Ann, married Celia's brother, James Alfred Wilkerson. In 1856, they all came via wagon train to Arkansas, where they settled just south of Yellville on Mill Creek in what is now the New Hope community. Celia died in 1857, leaving Ruby Catherine to help care for the seven children still at home.
Saving Pasco's Mill. During the War Between the States, they were living at Pasco's Mill on upper Mill Creek (where the Yellville city waterworks is today). It was here that Ruby Catherine truly became a legend.
Times were tough. The young men and boys were all off fighting, leaving easy pickings for the outlaw bands, the Bushwhackers, to raid, ravish and rape. Great mills were among their favorite targets. What grain and meal they couldn't carry off, they would desecrate and destroy, then break up the grindstone and burn the mill.
Pasco's was one of the few left in operation. In 1864, one bright, glorious afternoon in Indian summer, folks from miles around had ventured out to have what corn they had managed to hide ground into cornmeal for their winter staff of life. It was a gala scene. Folks hadn't gotten together for months. The men were at the mill whittling, chewing, spitting and spinning tales. The women were in the house exchanging recipes, quilt patterns, gossip and admiring the babies. The children were outside engaged in a loud and lively game of tag.
Suddenly, the scene turned to panic as a large group of horsemen approached. Since no known troops of either side were in the area, it could only mean one thing. Bushwhackers were fast descending on Pasco's Mills. The men were trying to hide the corn, the women were trying to hide the children and nobody seemed sure what to do, except Ole Granny Messick. She ran out with out-stretched arms to greet her long-awaited lover. The horsemen galloped into the yard fast and down jumped "Ole Morg," the most feared of all the outlaws. As the tiny figure with open arms and long, flowing hair rushed toward him, he instinctively reached out and embraced her. Then he looked into those wild, black eyes and shook her loose. He leapt astride his horse and motioned his men. They thundered away, like the devil himself was after them. Ole Morg sent word around to "stay clear of Pasco's Mills. There's a wild woman there." So Ruby Catherine saved the mill, the winter's supply of bread and about 50 souls.
Still remembered. In 1866, John Wesley remarried and they moved over on the prairie, on what is now Tucker Cemetery Road in Baxter County. He died in 1894 and was buried on their home place. Ruby Catherine died in 1899 and was buried beside him. Not long before her death, the steamboat Rosewood exploded and burned on the White River, near today's Valley Fly Inn. Dr. John E. Marler rushed to the scene, and when he saw the burned and bleeding passengers, he did the only sensible thing – he sent the fastest horseman to Ruby Catherine. At 102, she came, clinging on for dear life behind the rider. Both her long hair and the horse's tail were flowing in the wind.
Today, there literally are hundreds of her descendants around here. I have told her story to senior citizens on down to schoolchildren (a toned-down version for little ears). I can pick out several of her descendants in the children and I recognize them to the group. Then all the kids want to claim kin to Ole Granny Messick – who was supposed to have been a witch.
Source: Mary Ann Messick, Baxter County Historical & Genealogical Society, Mountain Home, Arkansas, November 23, 2014.