Conrad Pile

Conrad Pile

Conrad Pile, whom I shall refer to as "Coonrod"; a nickname that was bestowed upon him by his contemporaries, to distinguish him from one of his grandsons who was named after him, was the ancestor of the Pile families at Pall Mall, Fentress County, Tennessee, as well as some families who emerged from there. Old "Coonrod" was born March 16, 1766, in Pennsylvania, and died October 14, 1849, at Pall Mall, Tennessee. When he was about a year old, his father moved his family to North Carolina. Or, perhaps it was actually to what is now Grainger County, Tennessee ? Which was a part of North Carolina until June 1, 1796. For, the first deed conveying Fentress County land to Coonrod, September 22, 1800, referred to him as being from Grainger County. The land, lying on the waters of Wolf River, was in Smith County, Tennessee, at the time. And it was conveyed to Coonrod by a Henry Rowan from Hawkins County, Tennessee.

Anyway, Coonrod grew up in the new home to which his father brought him. And, in the tradition of the famous Daniel Boone, who had preceded him southward from Pennsylvania, he became one of the famed "Long Hunters" -- those men who were experts at shooting a rifle. And, around 1798, when he was about 37 years old, he picked up his flintlock rifle and set out, on foot, to explore the wilderness area to the westward. And to find a new home for himself and his family. His adventure turned out to be much more favorable to himself, however, than Boone's did. Because Fortune really smiled on him and poured out blessings on him with a lavish hand. For one thing, he was on friendly terms with the Indians, and did not have to fight them as Boone did. And, for another thing, he amassed a great fortune, in land and in gold, which Boone failed to do.

At the Three Forks of Wolf River, where the village of Pall Mall is now located, Coonrod found a place that was to his liking. He found a spring of flowing water that was cool and clear. And, there beside the spring, he camped. He cooked his first meal on a hot stone, drank his water from a terrapin shell, and made his home, temporarily, in a cave that was directly above the spring. He carried a big batch of dry leaves into the cave to sleep on, and kept a fire burning in front of the entrance. He was all alone -- the first white man in the valley. But, it is said that he was not afraid of man or beast. However, there was one thing that he did fear -- lightning. Every time that he was away from the cave when an electrical storm approached, he would run to the cave as fast as he could go. And he would stay inside it until the storm had passed on. For several years, Coonrod thought that he had settled in Kentucky.

Other white men traveling that way saw the smoke from his fire, and came and settled in the valley. The first of these were Pearson Miller, Arthur Frogge, John Riley and Moses Poor. 80% of the residents of the valley are descendants of these 5 men. For, after a while, Coonrod brought his family there. And he erected a large, well-built house of hewn logs, some of which were over 50 feet long. Coonrod built one of the rooms with no windows and with only one door. That door opened by his bedside. In this room, he kept his valuables. It served as sort of a bank for him. He had a small keg covered with skins in which he kept his gold coins. He kept his rifle by his bedside, and also a pitchfork with the prongs straightened and sharpened. He felt that he was quite capable of taking care of his life savings with these weapons.

Coonrod's wife, Mary Pile, was born Apr. 18, 1769, and died June 13, 1843. Their children were: Jacob born 4-16-1786 married Comfort Williams; Daniel born 1787 married Nancy Atkinson; Delila born about 1790 married William R. Crockett; Elizabeth born about 1793 married Henry Helm; Elijah born 11-11-1795 married Rebecca Earp; John C. born about 1802 married Nancy Rhodes; Jehu born between 1800 and 1810, William, Sr. born 3-12-1810 married Narcissus Sabiens and Mary Davidson; Catherine born 27-1788 married John Rich; Marthy married James C. Latham. And they have many descendants. Over the years, Coonrod acquired many acres of valuable land and timber. In just one 18-month period, he added over 600 acres to his holdings. At one time, he owned the land where Jamestown is now located. He cleared a road to there from Pall Mall. He owned several slaves, a store and a flourmill. He raised livestock, cotton, wheat, corn and various other crops of produce. Also, he made profitable deals with the Indians. For Fentress County was a part of the great hunting grounds of the Shawnees, Cherokees and Chickasaws; and one of their trails passed near Coonrod's home. When he died in l849, he was one of the wealthiest and most influential men in Fentress County.

Some of this information comes from an excellent booklet on the Pile Family, which was compiled by Aaron E. Pyles, of Campbellsville, Ky., and published there in 1978. He is a son of James Brownlow Pyles, 1882-1972; a grandson of Sherwood "Sherrod" Pile, 1844-1922; and a great-great-greatgrandson of Coonrod Pile. It is a nice booklet. But I did notice a few errors in it. No doubt, Coonrod was a brave, industrious and practical person. But I don't quite agree with Aaron's statement about Coonrod, that "slavery did not exactly meet with his approval." If it didn't, then why did he own slaves? I don't think that anyone forced him to do so. It was his own choice. I think that it was for the same reason that most other persons did it -- because it was profitable to him and helped to put a lot of money in his pocket. Coonrod's latter years were years of peace, prosperity and plenty. But the lives of some of his grandsons and their families were quite different. Their lot was years of sorrow, bitterness and tragedy.

For a lot of the wealth that Coonrod had accumulated and that his son Elijah Pile had conserved, was lost during the Civil War. Also, two of Elijah's civilian sons were shot down -- like a couple of unwanted dogs while they were unarmed and peacefully minding their own business. Elijah's oldest son, Conrad "Rod" Pile, 1814-1863, was taken from his home by a group of his neighbors and other men in Champ Ferguson's band of rebel guerrillas, taken along the road about 2 miles, shot 13 times and slashed across the body with a knife, and left dead in the road. This happened while Rod Pile's 2 oldest sons, Sherrod and Jim, both Union soldiers, were away from home fighting in the war. Their mother recognized 6 of the men, and said, "Me and my boys will get every one of them when they return from the war." Her sons vowed to do just that. And they did "get" 5 of the 6. The other one escaped, and is thought to have gone to Oklahoma. Rod Pile's younger brother, Jefferson Pile, 1828-1864, a Confederate sympathizer, was shot and killed as he rode peacefully along the Pall Mall Brydstown road, by a group of men in Union uniforms, who rode out of the woods. A desperado neighbor named Preston Huff is thought to have led this attack.

Coonrod and his wife now lie side by side in the Wolf River Cemetery at Pall Mall, with a large slab of limestone covering each grave. While in another grave, only a few yards away, lies the remains of their famous and heroic great-great-grandson -- Sergeant Alvin Cullom York. The rest of the world may have forgotten his valorous name and deeds, but Tennessee and Fentress County have not forgotten!

by Roscoe Hollis Wright
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Posted with permission from Curtis Media Corporation
This page was last updated on 09/19/98.