Last One Standing?

William Wayne Weems 


2019 by William Wayne Weems

Photo of  mutilated image and of Jere Baxter.
First there was the prehistoric stone figure. Mountain ranges in Eastern Tennessee generally run Southwest to Northeast, so a easier East/West path through those heights was prized among native peoples. Perhaps this is what led native craftsmen to sculpt the figure of a bear or a dog sitting on his haunches beside that trail and facing West, his two ears struck up high on his head. The first accounts of the descendants of European settlers noted the reverence Native Americans showed to that figure.

But unsurprisingly the first roads followed the Native paths, and pale skinned travelers began to whack off pieces of the stone figure for "good luck". By 1893 visiting scholars could not agree from the remaining remnant whether it had been worked by human hands or not. That determination had become critical. A Capitalist Railroad "robber Baron" named Jere Baxter had plunged deeply into debt to complete the Nashville and Knoxville Railway, and the Standing Stone was in the way of a critical stretch of track. The dithering of scholars meant he had a perfect excuse to blow it up. Locals secured one of the larger remaining fragments and moved it to a Monterey, TN City Park. Much later a "New Deal" WPA Camp some 20 miles away was converted into a recreational site and named Standing Stone State Park. Now an October day is set out by the locals to honor the remaining fragment in their city park, and the Standing Stone Day has its own Facebook page.

"Colonel" Jere Baxter (his brothers were the Confederate officers, not he) was honored for seeing the renamed Tennessee Central Railroad through to its conclusion. Despite his rapacious reputation, a handsome statue of him was erected on the intersection of West End and Broadway Streets in the City of Nashville. Outraged critics of Baxter promised that if a rascal like him warranted a statue, they would erect a statue of that 19th Century Al Capone, the bandit John A.Murrell, in a Nashville park. It is said a plaster effigy of Murrell was erected on a empty marble pedestal (that had once held an astrolabe) and that name scratched on its base, but the Baxter statue had greater longevity. A school was named for him on Gallatin Road in Nashville, and his statue moved there. When a new school took his name, the statue was moved again! (photos showing the original fragment and the Baxter statue's present perch).

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