Jim Stone last trod the turf of Coldwater Cemetery as a lad of 10 in 1948.
This sunny, 70-degree morning in late February, some 64 years later, he seeks to pinpoint the final resting place of his great-great grandfather William Baldy Stone. William was the grandson of Uriah Stone, the 18th-century explorer and long hunter from whom Stones River got its name.
The bigger mystery for Jim, 74, a retired U.S. Army aviator and 1955 graduate of Woodbury Central High School, is what happened to his great-great-great-great grandfather Uriah. Seems nobody knows.
“Uriah came here in 1766. Fourteen years later, the first settlers started coming to this area. All of his children came to this area. He left no will. He moved away and very little is known of him after that. We don’t know his mother or father,” Jim said.
Col. James Smith of Pennsylvania explored the Cumberland country, which one day would become part of the state of Tennessee, during the summer of 1776. An extract from his journal that appears in the book “Notable Southern Families” shares a tad of information about Uriah:
I set out about the last of June 1776, and went in the first place to the Holston River, and from there I travelled westwardly in company with Joshua Horton, Uriah Stone, William Baker, and James Smith who came from near Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
We explored the country south of Kentucky. We also explored the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers from the Stone’s river down to the Ohio. Stone’s River is a south brand of the Cumberland and empties into it above Nashville. We gave it this name in our journal in May 1767, after one of my fellow travellers, Mr. Uriah Stone, and I am told it remains this name until this day.
How Jim wishes Smith had penned a few pages of details about patriarch Uriah.
“Some say he was German born with the name of Stein, and that he later changed it to Stone. That was my dad’s story. It’s all sketchy, Uriah’s part of the history. He was a long hunter who came here from Virginia. There’s not a whole lot out there,” Jim explained.
“My grandmother (who lived on Stones River Road) always told me as a child that the river was named after my grandfather several times back. Where we tied into Uriah is supposedly from his grandson William,” said Jim, who confesses to skinny dipping in the river of his famous forefather when he was a youth.
According to Jim’s genealogical research, his Stone lineage descends seven generations from Uriah to Usibius to William Baldy to William Buck to James Dallas to James Hilton and then to himself, James “Jim” Earl Stone.
This bright morning it is the grave of William Baldy Stone he hopes to reclaim.
“This is a lot different than I remember as a child,” said Jim, looking over the land. “Last time I was at this cemetery, they had a clean-up day. My daddy told me to get up here and work.”
Coldwater Cemetery was planted on a small hill very near Stones River. Three ancient cedar trees, easily more than 100 years old, command the center of the unkempt graveyard which sprouts briars, high grasses, a patch of cane and a few hardwoods.
Erect tombstones bear the readable names, birthdates and death dates of many who left this mortal coil more than a century ago. Some of the gravestones have crashed to the ground and lay face down in the earth. Other rectangular limestone rocks which carry no markings, perhaps the names were eroded by wind and rain, tilt at angles. Ornamental iron-rail fences that were forged in Cincinnati in the early 20th century border two or three small family plots.
The memorials on this half acre of ground pay tribute to more than a half-dozen families. The names and death-year dates include: Walkup, 1934; Merritt, 1904; Brown, 1944; Rains, 1828; Cummins; 1889; Hoover, 1900; and Markham, 1905.
Jim readily finds the grave site of great-grandfather William Buck Stone (born Feb. 24, 1837; died Dec. 19, 1904) because the man and his wife are buried beside the fanciest grave marker in the cemetery, a 6-foot-high memorial reminiscent of a giant, metallic chess piece.
But, it takes about 10 more minutes before Jim discovers great-great grandfather William Baldy Stone’s simple marker about 50 yards away from his son’s more flamboyant burial place.
“Yeah, this is what we’re looking for,” said Jim, standing between two bleached tombstones. “That’s his wife. She was a Cummins.”
Uriah Stone’s grandson’s marker etched in rock reads: William Stone, born Sept. 9, 1792; died Oct. 18, 1875. The marker nearest proclaims: Wife Ruth; born Aug. 26, 1788; died Aug. 15, 1848.
Uriah Stone is believed to have been born in the 1740s. Different years waft up from different sources. Uriah had several sons including Eusebius, who was born in Pittsylvania County, Va., and died in 1836.
The spelling of his name was corrupted to Usibius once it went down in local record books.
“Warren County records have Usibius listed as AKA Uriah," says Jim, "so you say ‘he’s got to be connected to the family.’ From Usibius this way, it (the genealogy) is all clear as a bell, but beyond that . . .
“I just couldn’t find anything about Uriah that was in cement. He and Daniel Boone were obviously friends. I read a book in the Murfreesboro library, The Life of Daniel Boone, and saw where Daniel Boone and Uriah were buddies.”
Jim’s research in Warren County led him to discover John Stone, who married Sally Grant in 1788. John was listed as the son of Uriah Stone, born in 1740.
“We know that brothers John and Usibius married sisters Sally and Milly Grant. So, if this John is the son of Uriah, then Usibius is the son of the same Uriah. Brothers married sisters. Both brothers and their other brothers, Archibald and William, came to this area; then split in different directions. Our Usibius stayed in Cannon County and raised his family with Milly. This also makes sense that our Usibius named his children, William, Archibald and John, after his brothers.
“This puts everything that I was told as a child in the proper perspective that our line of Stones came from Uriah Stone, the explorer,” says Jim, who lived with Frances, his wife of 52 years, about six miles further down the river than did his grandma. His house sits about 50 yards above the East Fork of Stones River on the west side of Woodbury on the old McBroom Farm. The widower has a son, daughter-in-law and five grandkids who live in the Short Mountain community
So what ever happened to Uriah Stone? For Jim Stone that remains the $64 question.
“One relative speculates that he went to Georgia where he died and was buried, but the more I study about it, the less I think that. There’s a little spotty information where he went up in Kentucky.
“I am continuing my research because I want to see what I can find on Uriah the explorer, who he married, where he came from and where he went. Maybe one day we can solve the puzzle in its entirety. But, for right now, this is what I am sticking with. I just know it’s very frustrating,” says Uriah’s great-great-great-great grandson.
And that you can write in stone.
Stones River Relay
The third annual, 22-mile Stones River Relay (a foot race, bike ride and canoe-kayak paddle) will be held Saturday, April 14. Check-in will be 8–8:30 a.m. at the Arts Center of Cannon County in Woodbury. The event begins at 9:30 a.m. near the top of Short Mountain. For details, contact Neal Appelbaum at 615-563-3276 or go to stonesriverrelay.com.
Following the relay, Randle Branch, a member of the Stones River Watershed Association, will host First Saturday Paddles. These events will be held the first Saturday each month, from May until November, to continue the float down Stones River to the Cumberland River. Visit stoneswatershed.org for more information.