The “Tenn” Dollar Archivist: Brushy Mountain

I’m cheating, but only a little, because these photographs were free. And, actually, they were in one of my family albums, passed down from my grandmother, Evelyn (LaRue) Haynes Dill. She is the baby far right of the first image below.

This snapshot was made in 1908 on the lawn of the Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Petros, Morgan County. My grandmother is being held by her father, Arthur Albert “Ab” LaRue, who is standing next to my great grandmother Jennie June (Hoskins) LaRue. They lived in Oliver Springs, Anderson County.

As family oral history goes, my great-grandparents were friends with the Warden at Brushy Mountain Penitentiary. Presumingly, one of the men in the foreground is the Warden. This photograph was made during a prison picnic… note the lounging prisoners in the background. At this particular gathering, my grandmother lost a gold toe ring in the grass. It was later found by an inmate and returned to my family.

UPDATE: After a few weeks, I heard from a Martha Leek on Facebook who identified the Warden of Brushy Mountain as Captain Jack Nelson. Her great-grandmother’s sister, Cora Kelly, was married to Nelson. This makes sense, as my great uncle Sydney “Jack” Spotwood LaRue was named after the Captain. I believe that Captain Nelson is the man in the center of the image with the light-colored hat and mustache. Cora could be either of the of women standing to the left of the Captain.

  • Picnic at Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in 1908 and gold baby’s toe ring
  • “Ab” LaRue and Evelyn LaRue
  • From L to R front, Mary Ann “Sunshine” LaRue, Evelyn LaRue, Harlan LaRue. Back, Jennie and baby Sydney “Jack” Larue
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Greta Bain

Love this story David. Now I need to research the wearing of baby toe rings. You should add the term “storyteller” to your bio. Great stuff.

Wesley Lee

David I have a friend that knows who the warden was, but I wasn’t listening very well when she told me. I’ve sent her a message…when she gets back with me I’ll let you know.

Carol Norton

How do I subscribe? I love this…

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