Teacher keeps history of Civil War killings alive

Civil War

GREENHILL, Ala. (AP) – Each year before the snakes come out from hiding, Rogers High School teacher Brian Smith likes to take some of his social studies students to a historic site in Greenhill known as Gist-Town.

As the story goes, Joseph Gist received a land grant along Shoal Creek for his service in the War of 1812. The land has remained in the Gist family ever since.

The area, however, became known for the “Hog Killing” murders of the Gist brothers, who were home from the Civil War. The brothers, Levi and James, were Joseph Gist’s sons.

According to Smith and federal archives he has researched, the Gist brothers were union sympathizers. During the winter of 1864, they were home on leave from the Civil War to butcher hogs and cut firewood for their family. Several local men found out they were home.

Smith said the two men were butchering hogs at the home of Levi Gist when guerrilla forces rode up on horseback and shot them at point blank range. Both Levi and James were left for dead in the yard in front of the women and children.

Brian Smith, a direct descendent of one of the Gist brothers, said it’s important to tell the story to keep local history alive.

“The story brings back the emotions of the war, and you can imagine how the women and children felt seeing the murders in their own front yard,” Smith said. “I think it’s important for people to know what went on in this community as far as local history goes.”

James Gist and Levi Gist are buried in Gist Cemetery overlooking Shoal Creek.

Smith recently took several of his students to the site of the shooting and to the cemetery. Only chimney blocks remain at the home of Levi Gist.

Smith also took students to Gist Ford, a shallow portion of Shoal Creek where one of the Gist grandchildren, Thomas Jefferson Gist, was married.

According to Smith, James Gist’s family stayed on the farm in Greenhill. The other Gist widow relocated to Missouri.

“The Gists settled along Shoal Creek and purchased more land there on both sides of the creek, adjoining the Alabama/Tennessee line,” Smith said. “There was a historic road at the creek where wagons could cross en route from Greenhill to Iron City, Tennessee.”

Smith’s students said it was important to learn about the history of the area so they could pass it on to their children.

“It’s important for the present to remember our history and carry it on,” said Kyle Bevis, one of the students who was on the hike. “We’re losing history more and more each day. This way, we help keep it alive and understand its importance.”

According to Smith, James Gist’s widow was able to get pay from the Union Army following her husband’s death. With it, she helped send a local doctor, H.L. Stutts, to school. She lived about 50 more years after her husband’s death, never marrying again.

“With her paying to educate a doctor, something good was able to come out of the tragedy,” Smith said.

Smith said the entire area of Gist-Town is full of history.

After James Gist was killed and before he was buried, his oldest son, William Gist, rode in on horseback. He was a medical doctor. His mother told him to view his father’s body and to leave immediately before anyone learned he was in the area.

He was caught after leaving and also murdered, Smith said.

“It’s pretty interesting to learn about how they lived and farmed,” said Alex Harper, another one of the students on the historical tour. “It’s important to learn about the murders so the stories can be passed on down to future generations.”

Caleb Butler, one of the students on the hike, is a direct Gist descendent. He said he enjoyed visiting the historic sites.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and never heard some of these stories,” Butler said.

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Information from: TimesDaily, http://www.timesdaily.com/

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