Nancy Ward Grave Site
near Benton, TN
Nancy Ward's Grave: Located near Benton, TN, this grave was unmarked until 1923 when the Chattanooga chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolugion erected this stone pyramid and installed a fence to protect the gravesite. It has been further enhanced in recent years to add a ramp and a state marker and is a Tennessee State Historical Site.
This marker is on the pyramid of stones marking her grave.
NOTICE: If you would like to contribute to this effort, please call the telephone number listed on the above poster. The poster is displayed outside the Polk County Courthouse in Benton, TN.
UPDATE:I just learned that the total raised toward the Nancy Ward Museum has reached $65,000!
CORRECTION OF INFORMATION POSTED HERE IN THE PAST: Marian Presswood, Polk County Historian and President of the Nancy Ward - Cherokee Heritage Foundation recently revisited this page and informed me that the plans for widening Highway 411 DO NOT POSE ANY THREAT TO the Nancy Ward gravesite. Acquisitions have almost been completed for land that swings far away from her gravesite. This is good news and I am proud to correct the previous mistaken information.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION about Polk County plans and activites related to Nancy Ward: The Polk County Historical and Genealogical Society has acquired a small native stone home for a genealogy library and a special room has been set aside as an interim Nancy Ward museum until such time as the Nancy Ward Museum can be built. All nine volumes of the Enrollment books - Cherokee by Blood and other genealogy research materials are available for research into the rich Cherokee heritage.
The Nancy Ward room of the genealogy library is located just one block east of the courthouse in Benton, TN at the corner of Commerce and Poplar Street and is open on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.
IMPROVEMENTS TO THE NANCY WARD GRAVE SITE: The Tennessee State Parks staff who are the caretakers of the gravesite recently worked with DAR and planted some native wildflowers at the gravesite (this will be an ongoing project of planting). Also the State of Tennessee just completed some work there doing fence replacement and some repair work to the grave marker.
The Cherokee District DAR, which has thirteen chapters, and the SAR, with three chapters in the area, have planted over 30 native Tennessee trees, including the special trees the Cherokee use in all their ceremonial fires. Only Tennessee native plants, shrubs and trees are being used at the site. There are two work days a year at the site planting and maintaining the site. Something new also is that Long Fellow's grave has a stone with his name and notes that he is the brother of Nancy Ward. This had to be proven to the State before his relationship could be added. Alexander Keith DAR member’s family donated the stone.
Statue of Nancy Ward placed on a white woman's grave in Arnwine Cemetery near Liberty Hill, TN
The following more recent history relates in a unique way to Nancy Ward:
In upper East Tennessee just after the turn of the 20th century James Abraham Walker, a part-time tombstone sculptor and possibly a descendant of Nancy's daughter, Catherine, was moved by the legend to produce a quaint statue. The statue was made from gray granite (Bear Creek stone). It was approximately five feet high and represented Nancy Ward, holding in her right arm a lamb and in her left hand a plaque with the words "Nancy Ward, Watauga, 1776", referring to the first occasion on which she helped the pioneers by warning them of impending attack by Dragging Canoe, her cousin and the Cherokee who most effectively resisted the white settlement of Cherokee land. Walker intended this work of folk art as a gift to be placed on her grave, but financial reversals in 1912 caused him to sell it to his brother Elbert (Ebb) Walker, who taking advantage of the $15.00 bargain price, placed it as a monument at the head of his deceased daughter's grave.
The statue was photographed in the Arnwine Cemetery overlooking the Clinch River, near Liberty Hill in Grainger County, Tennessee, by David Ray Smith in August, 1975. This photograph was used to highlight the Nancy Ward section in the Tennessee Blue Books published in the late 1970's. In May or June 1983 the statue was stolen from the grave, according to families living near the cemetery. It was seen being taken away in a gray car with a portion of the statue protruding out the rear of the trunk. They have no idea what could have happened to it beyond that last sighting.
The families living in the Liberty Hill community near the Arnwine Cemetery have been asked about the statue and tell some very fond stories of that grave marker. It was a source of much community pride and they are quite upset that it has been stolen. For many years the youngsters were told to "be careful going to that graveyard because that Indian woman is there." When the statue was first placed on the grave it had small red stones (rubies?) in the holes that made the pupils of the eyes. Those were removed by someone very soon after the statue was placed on the Maggie Farmer's grave. Several of the young children would break matches and place the match heads in the holes that made the pupils of her eyes.
A story that is told about the statue is that adults would tell the children that if they went to the graveyard they should go up right in front of that Indian statue and ask here "What are your doing here?" and that she would "say nothing"... meaning she would be silent, not that she would speak, but this was said so as to be understood by the children that the statue would speak saying "nothing" in answer to their question. The older folks living near the cemetery still get a big laugh out of the way the children would go right up to that statue and say "What are you doing here?" and then wait for it to speak back to them. It was a community's way of being humorous with the children and taking pride in the statue of an Indian woman in their cemetery.
The community is quite upset that someone finally stole the statue from the cemetery. For years they feared someone would take and sell it. They sure do want it to be returned. There is some speculation that it might turn up on Nancy's grave near Benton, Tennessee, however, this has not yet been the case. It would surely be a shame if the statue were to be destroyed. Maybe, just maybe, it will turn up again.
I have only recently come into the possession of a large volume of letters written regarding the Statue of Nancy Ward. These letters begin October 8, 1949 when Burton Jones received a letter from Mary Hardin McGown (Mrs. L. W.). She recounted to him the story told her by D. S. Hamilton that the statue was “floated down the Clinch River, lost when the boat sank and found by a farmer who used it for a marker on his wife’s grave.”
Jones eventually made contact with Charles Hurst of Washburn, TN near the Arnwine Cemetery and got agreement to haul the statue out to the road with intentions to truck it to Benton, TN and place it on Nancy Ward’s grave. However, before arrangements could be concluded, Jones got a letter from a lawyer stating that Mrs. Bertha Fridenmaker of Ashland, KY had retained his services and he advised Jones “Unless you can show title to said monument you are advised not to remove the same.”
It seems Bertha Fridenmaker was the daughter of the white woman buried in the Arnwine Cemetery. Evidently someway she had learned of Jones’ attempt to remove the statue and came to visit the cemetery the first of March 1950. She spoke with Charles Hurst while there and Hurst wrote a letter to Jones explaining what had happened. Efforts to remove the statue stopped and Jones wrote a letter to Fridenmaker on March 11, 1950.
On February 23, 1979, a letter was sent from Mike Dahl to Mr. Charles Simpson (grandson of Maggie Farmer) requesting the Nancy Ward statue be donated to the burial site of Nancy Ward that was being developed into a State Historic Park. Dahl also sent a letter to Roy Lillard the same day including the Simpson letter.
On September 28, 1979. Harry Williamson sent a letter to Walter L. Criley, Director of the Tennessee Department of Conservation, Division of Planning and Development stating that Mike Dahl had obtained a loan agreement regarding the statue (this proved to be premature - DRS).
On December 11, 1979 Mike Dahl sent a letter to Walter Criley attaching a letter of appraisal from Pete Lapagleia of The Tennessee State Museum placing the value of the statue at $800 -$1,000. He also included a letter to Mike Dahl from Mrs. Frank (Arla) Alexander stating that her mother-in-law, Mrs. Bertha Fridenmaker, had agreed to accept $1,000 for the statue.
On May 28, 1980 Walter Criley sent a letter to Mike Dahl stating that he should inform Mrs. Frank Alexander that the state would be unable to purchase the statue. I now know that later in 1980 the Polk County Historical Society attempted to purchase the statue for $1,000 and was successful in making the deal (the check still exists - uncashed!). When Mike Dahl, who now lives in Knoxville, TN, went to pick up the statue, he found it had been stolen from the grave. He reported this theft and a police report was issued.
Recent information I have obtained has shed light on the theft. I have an eyewitness to the first purchase of the stolen property and can trace later transactions as well.
It is interesting to note that I have found an eyewitness who recalls seeing the statue being hauled away in the summer of 1983 (he says it was likely in June 1983). One of the local men says he saw the statue in the trunk of a large gray car as it drove out of the community while he was working in a hay field located near the road leading from the cemetery. I wonder about the dates (1980 versus 1983) and can't help but think the statue may have actually been stolen more than once.
Since I have been researching this story, I have learned that Bertha Fridenmaker once came back to the area specifically to reclaim the statue and have it placed back on her mother's grave. I believe this was well before the attempts by the state of Tennessee to purchase it or the Polk County Historical Society's efforts. I have also learned that Bertha was the person who was greatly attached to the statue and who convinced her father to purchase it for her mother's grave marker. Her grandson is now attempting to reclaim the statue yet again! He recalls how attached she was to the statue and feels the need to assure the statue's return.
I have made contact with Mrs. Frank Alexander (through her son). She is 89 years old and recalls the interchange of information between the state of Tennessee and her mother in law, Bertha Fridenmaker. I have also located a descendent of the Walker family who has information regarding James Abraham Walker, the sculptor.
A reporter for a local Grainger County newspaper wrote an article about the statue. I wrote a story in The Oak Ridger telling the history of the stolen statue. A reporter in Chattanooga also wrote about the story as Polk County Historical Society had attempted to purchase the statue to go on Nancy Ward's grave near Benton. However, Bertha Fridenmaker had required, as a stipulation of the sale, that the statue be placed in a secure place.
Information to revise the above account of the statue was provided me by a person who saw this web page. This person visited the Arnwine Cemetery in 1994 after traveling 900 miles from Oklahoma to bring a Nancy Ward descendent to view the statue and to visit Nancy's grave near Benton, TN. The person providing me the information had actually interviewed the daughter of the artist who made the statue and after visiting the cemetery and finding the statue gone, published an article describing the disappointment of the missing statue. The fact that gray granite (Bear Creek stone) was the material used to make the statue, the animal in the arm being confirmed as a lamb, the purchase price of $15.00, the identity of the person purchasing the statue and that he was Walker's brother were all new facts for me. What a delightful surprise to find someone who had such information!
The Tennessee Department of Conservation provided copies of the letters written in 1949-1951 and 1979-1980 that shed additional light on the statue. One letter contained the following description of what happened when the statue was placed on the grave in the Arnwine Cemetery.
Frank Shumate of Lone Mountain, Tennessee wrote Burton Jones February 3, 1951 giving the following details about the statue:
"A neighbor of mine, who is also my farm laborer - Lee Arnwine, age about 62, was living in the community near the Arnwine Cemetery at the time the monumnet was put up. He told me the following story:
'Elbert Walker lived in Kentucky. His daughter, Maggie Walker married Ben Farmer and lived near the Arnwine Cemetery until her death. Then she was buried in that cemetery. Sometime later Elbert Walker shipped a monument crated until it was not visible, from Middlesboro, Kentucky by train. Lee Arnwine, who at that time was a farmer laborer for the Farmers, hauled it in a wagon from the depot at Lone Mountain, Tennessee, to Ben Farmer's father's farm. There it was put in the granary and remained there about one year. Ben Farmer would not agree to have the stone put to his wife's grave during this time. Then Elbert Walker, father of the deceased Mrs. Farmer, persuaded Ben Farmer to let the stone be put up. Lee Arnwine again hauled it in a wagon to the cemetery and Elbert Walker erected it."
David Ray Smith - updated: 1/30/05