Across the southeastern United States in the winter of 1872, newspapers gave accounts of a brutal murder in the Cumberland Mountains of East Tennessee, with details that seemed more likely pulled from the script of a modern-day TV crime drama than from a remote, mostly law-abiding community in rural America: A teenaged orphan girl, her body beaten and mutilated, found dead in the woods … her surrogate mother suspected in her death.
That was the mystery of Huckleberry Ridge, and of 15-year-old Angeline Moore, whose lifeless, broken body was found on Huckleberry Ridge on Jan. 6, 1872.
Today, visitors to the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area can visit the grave of Angeline Moore. She is buried in the Chimney Rock Cemetery near the Station Camp River Access in the central portion of the national park. In fact, she was the first person to be buried in the old cemetery, and her grave is easily identifiable by the modern, commercial stone that was placed afterward.
The stone reads, simply,
Was found on
Jan. 6, 1872
Gone but not
What the stone doesn’t tell is the nature of how this young girl died. But newspaper accounts from 1872 didn’t spare details. The Knoxville Daily Chronicle wrote, “The body bore evidences of brutality and inhumanity at the contemplation of which a demon might shudder.”
The girl’s body was located on a small path near the road. According to the Knoxville Press & Herald, “One eye was mashed in, the collar bone dislocated, several ribs broken, and bruises innumerable bore evidence of the most inhumane treatment.”
The Daily Chronicle wrote that the body “bore witness to refined cruelty, which is at once sickening and a burning shame to advanced civilization.”
Those who found the teen’s body simply buried her. They didn’t know her. And the story might have ended there, if someone hadn’t reported the girl missing in Huntsville. The county seat was fourteen miles southeast of Huckleberry Ridge. In 1872, that might as well have been a hundred miles. But word gets around, and speculation arose that the young girl found dead at Huckleberry Ridge might indeed be the missing orphan girl, Angeline Moore.
You won’t find Huckleberry Ridge on any topographical map of the Big South Fork region. It is a name that was given by the locals who homesteaded the region, and it died with them. But it is located near the Big South Fork River, not far from Station Camp. The main road through this remote area at the time was known as the Old Monticello Road. It connected Huntsville, Tenn. to Monticello, Ky. West of what would become Oneida, the road more or less parallels the modern roads — S.R. 297 and Station Camp Road. It crossed the Big South Fork River at the mouth of No Business Creek and continued northwest from there.
Huckleberry Ridge is located a couple of miles west of the Big South Fork NRRA’s eastern boundary along Station Camp Road. It was there that the girl’s badly mutilated body was discovered on Jan. 6, 1872, with her dog supposedly guarding the corpse.
After the report of Angeline Moore’s disappearance was made, the body was exhumed and an inquest was held. It was determined that the young girl found on Huckleberry Ridge was indeed Angeline Moore. Newspapers called her an orphan girl, but her mother was very much alive and well, living in Kentucky.
Moore had been indentured to a widow woman — Keziah Thompson — who lived on Huntsville Mountain, between Huntsville and Paint Rock (near what is now John Hall Flats Road). Multiple newspaper accounts of the time said that Moore was bound to the woman, even though indentured servitude had been made illegal in the United States with the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865 (and also in Tennessee with the adoption of a new state constitution in 1869).
History doesn’t tell us who Keziah Thompson was. There was a Keziah Whitecotton born in 1808 in Campbell County (at the time, the area that would become Huntsville was in Campbell County) and she later married Henry Thompson. However, the family moved from Tennessee to Missouri in the 1840s, and it was well documented that Keziah Thompson fed Confederate soldiers who were encamped on her Missouri farm during the Civil War.
In any event, Thompson became the lead suspect in Moore’s death. Word spread that Thompson had been seen riding a grey horse through the night with the teen girl seated behind her. Speculation was that the girl was no longer wanted at the Thompson home and she was taking the girl to abandon her near the No Business and Station Camp settlements in hopes that the girl might find her way there.
Another theory, published by the Daily Chronicle, was that Thompson had driven Moore from her home because the girl was no longer wanted, and Moore spent several weeks “wandering through the mountains homeless, friendless, freezing and starving.”
Thompson was arrested, along with one of her daughters, Sallie Thompson. The two women were charged with second degree murder and jailed with bail set at $10,000. The supposed motive, according to the Alexandria Gazette newspaper, was that there was some property that was set to revert to Moore, so they killed her and carried her body fourteen miles from home in an effort to avert suspicion. A newspaper account at the time suggested that Thompson being a woman might be the only thing that saved her from hanging.
The two women were acquitted at trial, however. It was never determined how Angeline Moore died, nor who — or what — killed her.
The mystery of Huckleberry Ridge was never solved.
In the meantime, Angeline Moore was buried on a piece of property owned by Pa Slaven near the Big South Fork River. That marked the start of the Slaven Cemetery, which is more commonly known as the Chimney Rock Cemetery. It takes its name from the photogenic, free-standing sandstone buttes that tower over the road like sentries just to the north of the burial plot.
Chimney Rock Cemetery grew to become the largest cemetery near the No Business and Station Camp settlements. Today, there are 66 graves at Chimney Rock, most of them more than one hundred years old.
The original grave stones were quarried from sandstone a few hundred yards to the west of the cemetery, along Station Camp Road. Most of those original stones have been rendered illegible by time. Commercial stones eventually began to appear on some of the graves.
The second person buried at the cemetery was 26-year-old Daniel Pennington. He was shot and killed by his brother-in-law, Steward Slaven, in 1872. For reasons unknown, Elias Meshack Slaven — who lived nearby — fired a shot at Pennington after an argument, and Pennington returned fire, hitting Slaven in the shoulder. A short time later, Meshack’s brother, Steward Slaven, shot and killed Pennington as he hid in the bushes near his home. The Slavens were brothers of Pennington’s wife, Susanna, who was five months pregnant with their first child. Slaven fled the area to avoid arrest. A second man, Anderson Lewallen, was later indicted for Pennington’s death, but was acquitted at trial. Four months later, Pennington’s son, William Marion Pennington, was born. He left Big South Fork for Missouri and eventually wound up in California. His mother, Susanna, left the region, as well. Both Meshack and Steward were formally charged with Pennington’s death, but never stood trial. Meshack later died in Missouri, and Steward in California.
In 1936, Claude and Lottie Blevins Crabtree welcomed their first child into the world: Ms. Shirley Fay Crabtree. Lottie was the daughter of Harvey and Poppy Litton Blevins, and the granddaughter of John and Elvira Litton, who settled the Litton Farm across the river near Bandy Creek. She was just nineteen when she and Claude married in 1931. Five years later, on Feb. 19, 1936, Shirley Fay was born. But just four days later, Lottie died, presumably from complications of childbirth. Claude was left to raise his daughter alone. But that September, baby Shirley fell sick and died, at the age of seven months. She was buried a few feet away from her mother at Chimney Rock, and became the last person to be buried in the cemetery.
Claude Crabtree remarried in 1939 and moved to Texas but never had another child.
Angeline Moore and Shirley Fay Crabtree are just two of several children buried at Chimney Rock. Others include three-month-old Victoria Blevins, the daughter of Newton and Mandy Blevins, who died in 1905. One year later, her sister, Sarah, was born. She died in 1920 at age fourteen and is also buried at the cemetery.
Newton was the son of Telitha Blevins Slaven, who is buried at Chimney Rock. She was the granddaughter of Jonathan J. Blevins, one of the earliest settlers of the Big South Fork region whose farm is today Charit Creek Hostel. Newton’s father isn’t recorded in genealogical data, but his stepfather was Richard D. Slaven, a great-grandson of Richard Harve Slaven, a Revolutionary War veteran who was the first white settler of the Big South Fork after receiving a land grant along No Business Creek. Richard D. Slaven was also a brother to Meshack and Steward Slaven.
Newton and Mandy had several other children, as well. In 1924, Newton served a short prison sentence after being charged with involuntary manslaughter for shooting and killing a man: 51-year-old William C. Hatfield, the second husband of Poppy Blevins, the mother of Lottie Blevins and the grandmother of Shirley Fay Blevins. Later on, Newton was shot and killed as he and Mandy rounded up cattle on their property. No one was ever formally charged in his death.