Little Crab, Fentress Co., TN

History Of Little Crab

littlecrab.jpg (17298 bytes)Little Crab School built in 1906-07. J.B. Reagan taught fust school in this building and 21 years later his daughter Wilma Reagan Pinckley taught her first school in same building. Photo made in 1940's.

The community of Little Crab, about 10 miles west of Jamestown, was one of the earliest sections in the Upper Cumberland region to be settled. When the first pioneers came to it about 1819, it was still a part of Overton County. There are two creeks in the valley - Big Crah, usually called just Crab Creek, and little Crab. The community took its name from the latter. Little Crab is surrounded on three sides by mountains; on the western boundary is the East Fork of Obey River. East Fork, and Crab Creek, which flowed into it, were the main transportation paths for early settlers. For the first century of the community, residents were isolated by a lack of consistently passable roads out over the mountains.

The earliest record of a resident of the Little Crab area is a deed written April 27, 1819 from John McIver of Fairfax County, Va., to Peter Reagan, Jr., who was most probably Living in North Carolina at that time. The deed gives 153 seres in McIver's 40,000-acre Donelson Cove Tract (then in Overton County, in what is now the western part of Fentress County) to Reagan for $256.

The earliest settlers of Little Crab traced their heritage to Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and a few other eastern or northern states. Most of them, however, were born in Tennessee. They were descendants of the English, the Scots and the Irish, with some Cherokee Indian blood mixed in.

They were a progressive people, and they immediately began to establish churches and schools. An early church organized was Cedar Grove United Baptist (1876), which was originally located near the top of the Crab Creek hill on the present Leo Bowden farm. In 1903, a new building was built a few hundred yards west. At first, the Methodist used the local schoolhouse for their services; then a building was built about 1910 almost on the exact place where the first Cedar Grove United Baptist Church stood. It was in this M.E. church in my childhood that two unusual things happened. I heard my first sermon delivered by a woman and I saw for the first time a boy about 9 years old go into the pulpit and preach. The woman minister was Pearl Peavyhouse Kearney - the youth was her son Jewel.

Some of the early settlers could neither read nor write, and many of the old deeds and other documents were signed and witnessed by "X, his mark." However, these parents began soon after migrating to establish schools for their children. One pioneer one room log schoolhouse was located near the top of Crab Creek Hill across the creek from where the Cedar Grove Church stood. Another was built at a later date on the Reagan Branch. In 1907, a bigger and better two story building was constructed near L.B. Chism's store. This school was also one-room; it may be that the second story was built to accommodate the Order of the Odd Fellows and their auxiliary, the Reheccas, who were very active in the community at the time the building was built. The second story, at any rate, was used for their meetings. Sometimes, through later years, the second story was also used for short periods of time to house one teacher and students when enough funds and students were available to justify it.

Usually, school terms ran from July through October each year. There was only enough money available for three to five months of school; those particular months were chosen to avoid bad weather, when the children couldn't walk long distances to school and the open building would have been very uncomfortable for classes anyway. In September, school was dismissed for two weeks to allow students to help their parents at "fodder-pulling and pea-picking time." The older children pulled green leaves from corn stalks, tied them and hung them to dry for winter livestoek feed, while their younger brothers and sisters picked peas.

In 1880, Jacob Wright, teacher for that session, recorded some "Rules of the School" in his teacher's register: - When you start from home to school come on without delay. - No rock-throwing on the way to nor from school nor on the play ground. -No curseing or swaring on the play ground no perfain language no black garding by any person. No ill treatment from one to another treat each other friendly and kind. - When you get here of a morning before I do observe good order. -There shallbe nosparkingby any of the schollars of this school in any way there shall be no letters passed from one to another nor any secrets pass from boys to girls outside of relation. (Wording and spelling copied exactly as written.)

According to the 1880 register, among the approximately 40 children attending the 1880 school term were: Pansy E. Franklin (Age 10 years, 9 months); John M. Franklin (Age 7 years, 9 months); Larcena Ledbetter (Age 12 years, O months); James McJohnson (Age 10 years, 2 months); David Conatser (Age 19 years, 2 months) (Is this right?); Mary E. Massengill (Age 6 years, 3 months); A.J. King (Age 12 years, 8 months); Mary M. Wood (Age 7 years, 8 months); Nancy J. Wright (Age 10 years, 9 months); Lousinda Matthews (Age 17 years, 1 month); James Matthews (Age 9 years, O months); Isaae Thomas Reagan (Age 14 years, 10 months); John Aley Reagan (Age 11 years, 10 months); George Hopkins Reagan (Age 9 years, 2 months); William Lewis Reagan (Age 6 years, 7 months).

The Little Crab pioneers earned their living chiefly by farming, logging, sawmilling, and trading commodities. The buying and selling of land was quite prominent, too.

The East Fork of Obey River was the primary way of getting logs to market. The logs, from virgin hardwood timber, were strapped together into rafts and floated to Celina, Tennessee, where they were combined with more logs into larger rafts and floated on to Nashville or as far away as New Orleans to be sold. The timbermen floated with the rafts; when the sale had been made, it took them a week to walk back from Nashville (about 120 miles) and 30 days to come up the Natchez Trace from New Orleans (more than 500 miles). According to some reports, lumber from logs sawed by Mathias Wright on Crab Creek was floated to Nashville and used in the Tennessee state capitol building.

In 1896, a new industry came along when oil and gas wells known as the Bob's Bar wells were drilled in the Little Crab area. These wells were named for Bob King, a man who owned land nearby - there was also a sandbar on the bank of the East Fork. Other wells were drilled in the early 1900s along the Obey near the 1896 wells. Four or more were drilled on the Jim Wood farm and were also called Bob's Bar wells. The welts were good producers, with one starting off at 600 barrels of oil a day. The resulting oil "boom" brought in new money and new people. Several new houses were built to house the resident workers, and a hotel was even constructed. The Cumberland Pipeline Company built tanks and laid a two-inch pipeline to the field from its nearest branch in southern Kentucky, going across Pickett County.

But the boom was short-lived. Pickett County suddenly levied a tax on the pipeline that went through it to reach Fentress County oil, bringing the industry to a sudden halt. Also, some of the wells became flooded by fresh water. Because the pipeline company considered the tax unjust and since the water problem had driven production down, the pipeline was taken up in 1906. Deprived of a market for the oil, the development came to a standstill and those wells that were still producing fell into disuse.

Some of the families who lived in Little Crab and raised their children there were:

Mathew (Mathias) Wright, born in Virginia in 1815, and Betsy, born in Virginia in 1820. They moved to Little Crab after their marriage and there raised their children: James, Joseph, Margaret, Nancy, John, Jacoh, Sam and David. Mathias was a county trustee; as such he successfully survived at least one dramatic robbery attempt.

Presley E. Johnson, a pioneer doctor, who came here with his wife Nancy (Poindexter) from East Tennessee just after the Civil War. Their eight children were reared in Little Crab, but their only daughter Florenee, who married Jim Reynolds, alone remained as a resident.

Two brothers, Dr. Joel and Dr. Bill Bertram, came from Southern Kentucky to Little Crab (the former in the 1880s and the latter in the early 1900s) and practiced medicine throughout the area for many years. Dr. J. Claude Bertram, son of Dr. Bill, also practiced in this community in the 1920s.

John Reagan (1802, North Carolina) and his wife Naney (Findley) (1813, Tennessee) came to Little Crab sometime in or before the early 1830s and raised their 13 children here: Nancy, Peter, ELizabeth, Susannah, Rebeckah, Joel Lindsay, William Markes D. Lafayette, James K. Polk, Thomas Jefferson, John, Margaret, Andrew Jackson, and Martha.

Isaac Beaty (1803, Tennessee) and his wife Susanna (Gwyn) (1802, Tennessee) were married in Rutherford County, Tenn., in 1824 and soon moved to Little Crab. Their children were William R., Jane, Mary E., Sarah Elizabeth, Naney, John G., James, Isaac, Lucy Catherine, David, and Eliazer Alley. Five of the family's sons served on the Union aide in the Civil War (as did many of the Little Crab men); at least five of them did not return.

Joel L. Reagan, son of John Reagan, and Lucy Catherine (Beaty), daughter of Isaac Beaty, married in 1866. Their seven children were Isaac Thomas, John Aley, George Hopkins, William Lewis, Susan, Joel Gaudin, and James Blaine.

Lawrence B. Chism (Kentucky, 1850) married Mary C. (Wood) (Boatland, Tennessee, 1867) in 1887 and came to Little Crab the next year, where he bought Mathew Wright's store building and contents. He soon became postmaster as well, and at various other points in his life was a druggist, a Mason, a Fentress County judge and a bank director. His eight children were Pearl, Effie, Fred, Benton Ray, Joe, Roxy, Willie, and Ruby.

Some other husbands and wives who reared families in Little Crab were: Prism and Nancy (Reagan) Beaty, John Benton and Becky (Choate) Beety, Jay and Emma (Reynolds) Conatser, Eli and Mary (Reynolds) Hinds, James and Lee Ann (Allred) Taylor, Ike and Jane (Wood) Howard, Bailey and Nancy Jane (Garrett) Bowden, Mett and Bets (Elizabeth Beaty) Reynolds, William (Bill) and Sarah (Hinds) Reagan, Jack and Maths (Greer) Storie, Lewis and Elvira (Matthews) Choate, Ike Thomas and Mary (Matthews) Reagan, James and Sarah Ann (Greer) Matthews, Thomas and Mary (Matthews) Reagan.

A variety of cemeteries in Little Crab contain the graves of the people who lived and died there. Among them are the Ann Woods Cemetery, the Eli Hinds Cemetery, the Reagan Cemetery, the Jack Storie Cemetery, the Bailey Bowden Cemetery, and the Jay Conatser Cemetery. Many of the older graves in these cemeteries have no legible markers. In the earlier days, neither marble nor granite was available and the native field stone was not suitable for names or dates to be carved, so many grave identifications remain unknown.

The population of Little Crab varied considerably from the time the village was founded about 1820. From its beginnings to the Civil War there were about 300 to 500 people; after the Civil War to 1925 about 500 to 800, with the likely population peak being around 1890-1910, when migration caused by the oil and gas "boom" was a contributing factor. From 1925 to 1940 was the greatest period of moving out of the valley to the Jamestown plateeu area. Better roads had come which gave more access to outside jobs; also younger generations were more anxious to secure better ways of Living with more than the meager necessities. Moving meant better houses, modern conveniences and better schools for their children. To be sure, some luxuries served as incentives.

In 1986, Little Crab is an almost-deserted village. About 35 people live in approximately 14 homes in the Little Crab valley today, compared to 40 to 50 homes in the 1900-1930 period. There is no longer a school building, no mercantile business, no voting precinct, no post office.

by Wilma R. Pinckley
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Posted with permission from Curtis Media Corporation
This page was last updated on 08/09/98.