Davis RMC ceases normal hospital operations.

In a move which I am sure will shock many in the local community, Davis Regional Medical Center in Statesville has announced it will be transitioning from a full service hospital to an “inpatient behavioral health hospital”. DRMC is of course the offshoot of the original Davis Community Hospital, an institution near and dear to my heart even though it doesn’t exist anymore.
I don’t generally like to prognosticate, but I feel like this is probably the beginning of the end for the new Davis hospital.

https://www.iredellfreenews.com/news-features/2022/davis-regional-medical-center-to-eliminate-most-patient-services-by-end-of-2022-shift-focus-to-inpatient-behavioral-health/

The Life of Blum Hiliary Vestal

In preparation for two articles I’m currently working on, I’m uploading a small book about a man named Blum Hiliary Vestal, who will figure prominently in one and to some degree in the other.

B.H. Vestal was a prolific evangelist who began his career in the early 1900’s after a miraculous conversion.
He travelled in the early days on foot or by horse, but in later years when vehicles became available, travelled by truck, bringing a tent with him wherever he went.
Born in Yadkinville in 1874, his life took him all over this part of the state and even out of state on various occasions.
In his heyday he preached for Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Holiness churches, and pretty much anyone who would listen. He preached outside, under fallen trees, under brush arbors, in buildings, in meetings houses, and on the street.
He founded churches, started revival camps, and even though he preached for any denomination who would listen, he worked closely with the Moravian church out of Winston Salem.

His life and worked slowed down in the late 30’s as his physical abilities declined, and he was spending a winter in Florida trying to recover his health when he died in 1942. His body was transported back home and eventually buried in the Moravian “God’s Acre” cemetery in Winston.
The book unfortunately is not a complete picture of the man, but a snapshot of a couple years of his life. I think knowing how passionate he was about preaching, he would probably not want us to know too much about who he was, but only the message he preached.

At any rate, I scanned it this evening and it is now available here and on Archive.org. The physical copy will be given to the Iredell County Library.

Researchers exhuming the body of “Marshal Ney” in hopes of DNA testing.

The old stories are all new again. Despite all the past efforts and the various learned men and women opining on the matter, it looks like there might finally be conclusive proof as to whether the man who immigrated to America and died in Mocksville was actually one of Napoleon’s most trusted men.
Today, French researchers are exhuming the grave of Peter Stuart Ney. This will as far as I know be at least the third time the grave has been opened, but thanks to modern science the best chance to find out once and for all if the man buried within is truly Marshal Michel Ney of France, or a very good imposter.

The French crew painstakingly excavating the grave with trowel in hand, inch by inch., bucket by bucket.

Work started this morning with the removal of the glass window on one side of the brick mausoleum and the brick chips that were covering the grave space. Digging has continued all day and was still going on when I left after 6PM. It will likely take at least another full day of excavation before any remains can be found.
On hand was a small group of people representing Davie county, Third Creek Presbyterian Church, Davidson College, and other interested parties.
The French crew themselves consisting of filmmakers and anthropologist Jennifer Kerner travelled all the way from Paris and have been working towards this day for a number of years at this point but were waylaid like much of the world by the Covid pandemic. They will be filming the dig and segments at Davidson College where Ney’s papers and effects are kept for the French tv show L’Histoire au scalpel.
One wonders if they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into by choosing the middle of summer. It was most assuredly very hot and very humid.

Today’s notable finds did include some very long nails and part of a penny or possibly button of unknown date. Likely detritus from one of the past digs in the grave or cast offs from work on the mausoleum. It is known that parts of Peter Ney’s skull and mandible were taken from the grave during the last exhumation- a cast of the skull fragment is now housed at Davidson College, but it’s hoped everything that was removed was reinterred.

I received late word this was all happening but was lucky enough to be present as the work was taking place and took some pictures to mark the occasion.

It will probably be the end of the year before we know the results of all this work, but I will most certainly do my best to keep informed, and will update as I receive updates.

To read more about the man called Peter Stuart Ney, including LeGette Blythe’s book about him, see my past post or Davidson College’s resources on the man called Ney.

EDIT (7/11/22): The dig took a total of three days and no remains were found in the grave, though the outline of a since decayed coffin was noted. In the end, the crew chose to take back a sample from the bones Davidson College has from a former exhumation. The rest were buried once again in Ney’s grave at Third Creek Presbyterian Church.

Ney’s grave, unknown date / Iredell County Library

The Bugle Boy Who Was Buried Twice

Thomas Boyd Speaks was born in Union Grove, NC in 1901 to John Peter (J.P.) Speaks and Gillie Lutissen Templeton. Thomas’ father John was a local farmer who lived just off NC-901 and had been in the community his whole life. With a sizeable property of almost 100 acres, he was probably able to keep his family of 7 comfortably fed but likely not in luxury.
It’s assumed Thomas (who was mostly called “Boyd”) had a fairly uneventful rural childhood, probably working the land and doing chores around the farm. Not much is known about his early life.

The now abandoned Speaks home in July, 2022.

When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Boyd was still living at home with his parents, too young to be drafted. However, a year earlier he had become a member of the local militia called the “Iredell Blues”, and when they answered the call to war, Boyd did something many had done before and many would do afterwards. He lied about his age and against the wishes of his parents, he enlisted in the army.
When the Iredell Blues marched to the local depot in Statesville and left on a train for bootcamp, Boyd Speaks was with them.

It’s hard to say for sure, but I doubt anyone would have believed Boyd was 21 years old. Surely the members of the Iredell Blues would have known his real age. That may be one of the reasons he ended up a bugler for company L of the 18th infantry. The men around him probably thought of it as the safest place for him and the place where he would be most capable. Back then a bugler’s job was to wake the men up in the morning, signal rest in the evening, and call men to the mess hall in-between. Those duties likely changed once Boyd was out of camp and put into the trenches.

Wounded American soldiers. Argonne Forest – October, 1918

Once at war, it’s hard to know what all of his duties might have been. In addition to signaling military movements, he may have been a runner or a company mascot of sorts. I think most of his comrades would have tried to keep him occupied, but out of harm’s way.
Whatever was done to protect the boy, it all came to nothing on October 4th, 1918 in France near the Argonne Forest.

Right in the middle of what would later be known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the deadliest and largest offensive in army history, another local boy who was there and knew him witnessed Boyd’s death when a German bullet passed through the boy’s chest, killing him instantly. Maybe most tragically, the war would end less than a month later when the German armistice brought an end to the fighting in the area.

Like so very many others who fell in France that year, Boyd was buried in a foreign land. His body would rest in the French soil until, as part of a massive program that brought home about 44,000 war dead, he was exhumed and shipped home to North Carolina in August, 1921.

But here’s where our story really begins. If he had been shipped home and reinterred in a local cemetery, there would have been little fanfare or notice. But Boyd’s parents, particularly his father J.P. had some odd notions, and maybe a hard time letting go.
When Boyd’s body was received home, it was delivered to the family farm, and would remain there afterwards for two decades.
You see, Boyd’s father would construct a small “house” for his son’s remains that I can only adequately describe as a shrine. When it was finished, the crate which the coffin was shipped in would form the pedestal, and Boyd Speaks’ flag draped coffin would be placed on top of it. On the walls around were placed items from his childhood, and the door was locked, with J.P. carrying the key to his son’s makeshift mausoleum.

A newspaper photo of the “house” with Boyd’s coffin seen inside, draped with an American flag.
J.P. Speaks in 1924 from the newspaper article that featured a picture of his son’s tomb.

J.P. would give various reasons for this arrangement. To one newspaper he claimed it was done so that the boy’s brother who lived in another state would have time to visit before the body was finally reburied. To another, he stated that one burial was enough, and that he was sure the resurrection of the dead would take place soon, and burying the boy again was wasted effort. I think these were both excuses, though J.P. did have some odd and unique religious beliefs, stating that the local churches “…are all wrong“, and that their services are “…all babbling false worship“. It was for these reasons, one paper noted that J.P. “…does not affiliate with any of the churches in his community“.


The story became well known over the next couple years, with papers all over the state picking up on it, even sending people to interview J.P. and see with their own eyes the wooden crypt where Boyd Speaks was kept.
Also strange to these visitors was J.P.’s attitude towards the government’s offer of aid. You see, due to Boyd’s death in Europe, the family was entitled to $5,000 in death benefits- something like $75,000 in today’s money, as well as a tombstone. Boyd’s father J.P. rejected both the money and the stone, claiming God would take care of his family, and the government owed him nothing.

The strangeness of the whole situation brought two other visitors. Representatives from the government, inquiring why the benefits hadn’t been claimed, and the county coroner, looking in on the situation to ensure there wasn’t anything that might be a health hazard. J.P. turned away the government men and satisfied the coroner that there wasn’t anything inherently unsafe about his construction. And so, Boyd remained in his “house”, in the yard of his parent’s house until 1942.

The beginning of that year, his mother Gillie would die of a brain aneurysm while at home. It may have been the thing that changed J.P.’s mind about his son’s resting place, and when it came time for Gillie’s funeral, her son’s casket was also carried to the little church called Smith Chapel just up the road. While Gillie Speak’s funeral was going on, her son’s casket was being placed in an aboveground tomb next to one where his mother would be laid to rest. I call this his second burial, but technically, he wasn’t buried there either, only entombed. Perhaps a compromise his father would agree to.
A couple months later in September, one of Boyd’s sisters would finally apply for the tombstone he was owed, and it would be shipped by rail to NC, where it was carved and eventually placed on Thomas Boyd Speaks second and final grave. It’s uncertain if the money that was owed Boyd’s family was ever claimed.

Boyd’s father J.P. would live for 14 more years by himself. Either as a guest of family, or possibly as a ward of the Broughton hospital, J.P would pass away on October 25th, 1956 in Morganton, NC.
After his death, his body was brought home to Union Grove and placed beside his wife and son in the Smith Chapel cemetery.

A bugle like the ones Boyd likely carried.

Grief does strange things to people. There have been many documented cases where the family of a deceased person wishes to keep their remains close. Certainly even in modern times there have been news reports of men and women who have been unable to let go of their long time spouse, keeping them in bedrooms, boxes, and even freezers. It’s nothing new or uncommon.
Whatever J.P. Speaks beliefs or intentions, the expression of his grief might seem strange to us, but in comparison to other cases, it was really pretty tame and mostly harmless.
I certainly don’t think he ever meant for the attention he received, but I do think in the end, it was another way of keeping alive his son Boyd’s memory, and maybe it brought him some comfort.

An old horse-drawn hay cutter left behind on the Speaks farm. July, 2022.

The Minish Axe Murder

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
-Jeremiah 17:9

1883 was a bloody year in Iredell county. It’s another one of those spots in history where unseen forces conspired to display mankind’s depravity in uniquely awful ways.

Local historian Homer Keever details the various goings on from that year. If you’d like to read the whole article, I’m including a PDF version here.

In addition to the story we’re going to look at today, that year saw:
-A justice of the peace murder his own cousin because of a fence boundary.
-A man from Wilkesboro killing another with a pistol (possibly an accident).
-A woman on the south end of the county likely murdering her husband with a shovel (though never tried).
-A drunken man shooting his own father-in-law.
-The son of the man who was killed by the justice of the peace being shot and killed himself in an unrelated incident. The killer in this case, a black man ended up being dragged out of the jail in the middle of the night and was hanged. His killers were “never found”, though people probably knew who they were.
-A deputy sheriff killed a man during an argument over tax collection. That deputy sheriff went to jail for ten years over 50 cents.
-In Rowan county, several black residents of Iredell county became involved in some sort of conflagration that left one dead. Possibly as retribution, shortly thereafter a mob of black residents hung another black man “copying the whites in their methods of applying justice” as historian Homer Keever put it.

Possibly the strangest and most heinous of these deaths is one that I haven’t listed yet, and that is the murder of Stephen Warren Minish by his wife, Mary Minish.
Rather than retell a story that’s already been written, we’ll go to the Statesville Record & Landmark for February 18th, 1884.


STATE VS MARY MINISH
Trial for the Murder or Her Husband —Found Insane Ordered to the Asylum.

The trial of the case of the Stale vs. Mary Minish for the murder of her husband was commenced in the Superior Court last Monday. She was represented by Maj. H. Bingham, Capt. R. M. Allison, and Solicitor Adams conducted the case for the State. A jury composed of Messrs. D. H. Stimson, Benj. Turner, A.Turner, R.M. Overcash, J. F. Gibson, E.P. Bradley, G. C. White, A. A. Sides, W. E. McNeely, S. W. Stimson, W. G. Gaither, and J.S. Deaton was secured without difficulty and the taking of testimony was proceeded with, Monday after-noon.

Mary Minish, unknown date, but presumably before the murder. Via Wikitree

It will be remembered that the woman killed her husband at their home in Union Grove township on the morning of the 5th of October last, driving the edge of an axe five times into his skull as he sat before time fire putting on his shoes. There were no witnesses of the occurrence, and the most of the testimony taken was as to the mental state of the prisoner.

Her mother-in-law, the mother of Stephen Warren Minish, the deceased, was the first person at the house after the killing, and she went in response to the call of Mary, who told her that she had killed Warren. After satisfying herself that such was the fact, witness, Margaret Minish, halloed, and presently other parties came. In the mean-time Mary had told her that she was lying in bed while her husband was putting on his shoes in front of the fire; that she slipped up, got the axe, went up behind him and “hit him one good lick and he fell;” prisoner added, “and I kept chopping him. I did not want him to suffer.”

The axe was between the bed and the wall, bloody up to the eye and with hair on it. Mary said Warren swore he would kill Jeunie her little daughter. She said she had prayed for him to go to rest; she was praying for him all the time she was striking him; that she had had it laid up for him for three or four years and was glad it was over with, for now her breast was easy”.
J. C. Minish, father of the deceased, got to the spot shortly after his wife—about sunrise. He supposed the killing to have occurred about 5 o’clock. Mary told him site had killed Warren, handed him a little box containing $15, and told witness to take that and “put him away.” Prisoner was not crying or “taking on” any, but seemed to be quiet. She seemed to have her usual sense.

The morning after the killing she said the Saviour had told her to kill him and now her heart was easy. Witness testified that “she had said lots of times that she had seen angels in the elements; that she had seen the Saviour and had been talking with Him.”

On the morning of the homicide Theophilus Campbell had heard prisoner tell about it. She said she had fixed the axe the night, before. Had heard her threaten to kill her husband, and when warned of the consequences she said, “they don’t hang women. and if they did my beauty would save my neck.” She was told that she was a fool, to which she replied that a heap of folks thought she was a fool but she had as good sense as she ever had; that her uncles had been talking about taking her to the asylum and that they had better attend to their own business, for she had more sense than both of them.

Witness believed she was of as good mind as she had ever been. Witness’ wife was a sister of deceased. A year ago last November witness and his children and Mary were sitting talking when Mary said she heard something; witness said he did not, and she said she did not know what it was if not the voice of Christ telling s her to go on and do just what she 1 wanted to do and He would save her.

T.J. Myers, of Buncombe, uncle of the prisoner, said he had sent prisoner to school when she was a child. She E never could learn to count twenty. He did not believe she ever was able to distinguish right from wrong.
Joshua Dowell did not think the woman was sane. Ile had heard her hallooing and praying frequently at night. She frequently remarked that she had seen her Saviour and He had told her to kill Pappy (the name by which she generally called Warren.) Said she loved him but she just had it to do. The day of the homicide witness was at the house. She said “I have killed Pappy. I had it to do. What else could I do ?”
Catharine Dowell, daughter of Joshua, had heard Mary say, after the killing “Oh! Jesus, come and take me now. You said you would!” Cath-arine had heard her talk of communications with her Saviour.
Four years ago Elijah Ball had seen her with the leaves of a Bible, which she had torn up, on her head, to keep the witches off” she said.
John A. Butler had heard prisoner say that she had seen the Saviour for three or four years, among the living and the dead and that He had told her to kill Pappy and she had it to do. She had seen the Saviour on a gate and He looked like a white cloud.
To some witnesses she had told that her husband was trying to kill her with a knife; to others that he had threatened to kill both her and her little girl. She had told all sorts of stories, but oftenest that she was impelled by a Divine agency. Some of the witnesses believed her insane; others believed her murderous act only the manifestation of “meanness” and “devil-ment.”

Six experts were examined : Drs. T. E. Anderson, M. W. Hill, J. A. Allison, R.T. Campbell, W.G. Nicholson and W.P. Parks. The three first, named believed time woman insane ; the other three did not.
During the progress of the trial the prisoner seemed the least interested person in the court room. She looked vacantly around, the most of time time; again she would rivet her gaze on some object which interested her. She chewed tobacco and fanned herself with her apron, and every now and then she laughed and cried by turns; but neither her smiles nor tears had any reference to anything that was being said or done. She is unquestionably a good looking woman.

Capt. R. M. Allison opened the argument for the defence Tuesday after-noon. Maj. Bingham followed him, the next morning, and Solicitor Adams closed for the State. The judge reviewed the evidence and charged the jury that if they believed the prisoner capable of distinguishing night from wrong, they would find her guilty of murder; if she were believed to be, without this capacity, they would acquit her.

After remaining out but a short time the jury returned and through its spokesman, Mr. E.P. Bradley, brought in a verdict of not guilty. The jury was at once re-empaneled upon the question of the prisoner’s sanity, and gave in the opinion that she is insane. Judge Graves issued an order that she be conveyed to the Western Insane Asylum at Morganton.


In addition to the human heart changing very little since the 1800’s, the news media hasn’t either. The trial was scandalous and was talked about all the way out in Raleigh, with details of the crime being reprinted in numerous papers.

Even though Mary was ordered to the “Western Insane Asylum”, which we would today know as Broughton, it took a while to get her there. Some sort of battle of egos ensued between Morganton and Statesville, with those from Broughton publishing articles in the paper there reminding the judiciaries in Statesville that just because they ordered someone into the place didn’t mean that they were guaranteed a bed. I don’t know if the institution was full, or if they simply didn’t want to take an axe murderer. Either way, Mary was committed in May of 1884.

I have no way of discovering how long Mary was in Morganton, but she was eventually sent to another institution- Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh, where she passes out of the public eye and record.
She would die there in 1925 and is buried in the hospital’s cemetery.

Dorothea Dix Hospital as it would have appeared when Mary was sent there.

Was Mary Minish pretending to be unhinged? Was she really in fear for her life and that of her daughter? Was she actually mentally ill? I leave it to you, the reader to make up your own mind. These events transpired 139 years ago, and we’ll never actually know the truth.


August 11th, 1924

As a postscript to this story, today we live in a world where simple phrases and pictures can be taken up by the public consciousness and reiterated over and over on social media platforms and in real life. To think this is a new thing is to ignore the past.
During the trial, a preacher named Joshua Dowell testified that he thought Mary must be mentally ill because she cut her own bangs, and then proclaimed that it made her “look like the angels”. Bangs were probably not really a common or socially acceptable method of styling hair in this part of North Carolina until the 1920’s, but even back then, people following the trial found reverend Dowell’s reasoning amusing and were apt to talk about it.
Two years after the trial, the reverend Dowell would become ill while plowing his field and would die shortly thereafter.
But even decades after his death, his testimony about Mary’s hair was remembered.
There truly is nothing new under the sun.

Olive Branch Church

The little hill in Davie County where Olive Branch Methodist Church once stood has been in use for over 200 years in one way or another.
The church was organized on paper in 1804, but before that met in an old log schoolhouse building in roughly the same area. It may have been in use for spiritual meetings at least as early as the 1780’s, and was the site of Davie county’s first proper “camp meetings” in 1805.
In the 1890 book “History of Methodism in Davie County” by the reverend W.L. Grissom, which was based on lectures he gave at an “Augusta Seminary”, he claims that they (speaking of Olive Branch and a Walnut Grove) “…were among the first preaching places in the country as has been seen”. I believe he uses the word “country” in the local sense and not the national.

A Methodist camp meeting, about 1819, location unknown.

1806 is when the land was granted to the church by Robert and Nancy Fields, and we must assume construction of the church building began then if it hadn’t already started. In those early years, the church was part of a “circuit” and had no full time minister, but shared one preacher with over a dozen other church gatherings. That first man’s name was Boen Reynolds and he must have worn ruts in the roads meeting all of his responsibilities to these churches, as it’s said he had preaching appointments every day.

Though the original church building no longer remains, a history of it is readily available from the Davie County Library, and in it, a Mary Nell Hartman Lashley, writing in 1932 gives us a detailed description of what Olive Grove was like in it’s prime.

Let us for a few minutes recall how the building itself looked as it stood in a grove of beautiful virgin forest trees. It was a frame structure of good proportions with a medium high gable roof. Two doors on the east side were reached by steps made of large solid rocks. Speaking of these rock steps reminds me of
one custom which the men and women strictly observed, and which now seems very strange to us.
Those steps divided the “sheep from the goats” so to speak. That is, the women from the men. The men used the left entrance and the women used the right entrance, and neither dared to cross the door steps of the other. If a young man brought his best girl to church he left her at the steps, and she entered the womens entrance and he the mens. Nor were they allowed the pleasure of sitting by one another after passing into the church.
..
On the outer side of the two aisles that led from the entrance doors to the pulpit were short handmade benches, and between the two aisles were the longer seats – benches. But this was no advantage to the young couple because a shoulder height partition dividing these longer seats extended from the very first pew to the very last bench in the rear of the church and kept them apart…
The elevated pulpit enclosed in a high railing stood imposing aloft from the rest of the sanctuary with only three or four steps on either side leading up to it. These had gates at the top with fasteners on them. During
James Nathaniel Brooks latter days he was invited to sit in the pulpit with the Preacher in charge.
The several windows on the North and South sides of the church gave light and ventilation at all times. In winter a large wood burning stove which sent the smoke through a long pipe to the ceiling and on into a brick flue to the great outdoors, stood between the pulpit and the front bench of the center section. Here the gathering people warmed themselves as they listened to the long sermons of the good and devout Circuit Riders of the day.
The slaves were not forgotten but were provided a place of worship in the same building with their masters and families. On the outside of the church and just around the corner from the womens entrance there was a door that opened into a winding stairway that Iead to the slaves balcony. This balcony extended over the entire North side of the church and on one-half of the east side where a high partition divided the east balcony in half. The white men used the south half and the entire balcony extending over the south side. The entrance to the mens balcony was on the south side of the church.

The church went on with it’s business, starting a missionary society, having special meetings and regular services, hosting conferences for the local association. There was also either a school connected with the congregation called Union School or it was simply the name of the church Sunday school. I’m unsure which.

November 10th, 1858. This notice was posted to a newspaper in Raleigh.

Following Mrs. Lashley’s account to it’s end, the church went on at Olive Branch until 1881, when a new building was constructed in Farmington proper, which was then dedicated in 1882. The last recorded use of the old building was in June of 1886 and was a funeral for one James Nathaniel Brock.
It stood empty until 1899 when the the church conference sold the building to a farmer named Thomas A Brunt who lived just southeast of the site. Brunt paid $100 for the building and took it apart and moved it by wagon loads to his own farm where he built a barn with the lumber.
Despite this, burials continued in the old church graveyard until 1913, when a Mary Ellis was laid to rest there.

The graveyard of course remains, but must have fallen into disrepair and required several cleanups in the 70’s and 80’s, with another round of repairs in the early 90’s after some stones were damaged by vandals. It has been used for various purposes through the years, including an “old time” singing in 2004.

Today, a stacked rock monument which was erected in 1931 marks the spot where the front of the church would have been. It’s large base stone is actually a step that lead into the women’s door mentioned in Mrs. Lashley’s account. One would have to assume it was too large for Mr. Brunt to make use of or move.
A stacked rock wall also encloses the old burying ground.

I can find no definite account saying so, but I believe the other stones around the monument are likely old foundation stones.

This is the first time I had ever seen the term “consort” on a gravestone and immediately thought it had a negative connotation. However, it was actually used to describe a woman who died before her husband. With the husband still living, he might remarry and I suppose it might be confusing to have two or even three stones saying “wife of so-and-so”.

The stones in this cemetery represent some of Davie county’s earliest families and settlers, and is part of a rich history that spiderwebs out into the rest of the United States, as these people’s children would venture out into the far west reaches of America. This is of course the same county where Daniel Boone’s parents are buried.


There are also some really unique and rather beautiful examples of gravestone art and decoration.