Guided by Mr. Ned Huneycutt, this past weekend a small group of us scoured the countryside in search of things only his mind could recall. It was our goal to glean any and everything Burris from what the 85 year old’s memory could recall. Being a cold and dreary Saturday, most of our time was spent in the confines of the van which actually offered the perfect space for serious discussion.
Our mission and the topic of our discussion abruptly changed as we headed south through what was once the lands of Solomon Burris Jr…
We had just left the 200 acres of Solomon Burris Senior’s deeded land along Burris Road and had turned and were passing over what were once the farms of John and Caswell Perry. Heading south on Gaddis Road before nearing the old David D. Burris home site, it was at this point that Brenda Combs became particularly excited. Conversation quickly changed to a tree, a chimney, a hole, and a graveyard nearby. A descendant of David Burris and wife Sarah Vanderburg, over the years Brenda has heard and researched family stories like none other. And in 2017, Brenda’s cousin, the late Carl Burris, told of David D. Burris’ experience during the war days. David did not own slaves and was dead set against any participation in the war effort. The grandson of David’s oldest son Zachary Ephraim Burris, Carl’s story was written down as follows by Pam Holbrook:
“Apparently David D. Burris did not want to go off to fight in the Civil War, so he dug out a cave in a hillside along Stony Run Creek. He would hide there when someone came looking for deserters or looking for David to take him to war. Nobody would tell where David D. Burris was if anyone came looking for him. He must have come out at night for family to take food and other things to him so he could survive.
When Carl’s grandpa, Zachary Ephraim Burris,(David D. Burris’ son) was a young boy (probably 10-15 years old), some men came looking for David D. Burris. Nobody would tell where David was so the men grabbed Zachary Ephraim and said they would take him to war instead. They started off with Zachary Ephraim but David’s wife, Sarah, followed them. She had a big pine knot in her hand. Sarah told the men Ephraim was not old enough to go to war and to let him go. The men let Ephraim go but grabbed her instead. She hit one man in the face or head with the pine knot and it bled so he let her go too.”
In the 1880’s, David D. Burris and family left out for a new life in Arkansas. All made the trip accept for Carl’s grandfather Zachary Burris. Zachary had already married and chose to remain in Stanly County. The following is a letter from David D. Burris to his son Zachary Ephraim:
December the 30th 1897
(Z.E.Burris) Dear Son
I write you these lines once more to inform you that we are all in common health, hoping you are all the same. I read your kind generous letter in our time ( ???) I was glad to hear from you & that all was well. People here generally well. There has been some little fever and chills on the River but not in our settlement. On the 17th –(???) we had the largest sleet here that I have ever seen in Ark. The roads has been almost impassable from the broken timber, Orchard much damaged. They have rec’d, a letter from John Burgess lately. Ephraim & he is in Prison in Detroit State of Michigan, he says ” for living in adultry’ & was arrested in Texas (make no talk of this). I do not see into it. Tell Filmore as it is him I will let him have the old place this year for a 400 lb. Bale of cotton if it gets no lower than it is now. (But what if he should raise no cotton must I get nothing.) If the orchard hits Ephraim you & Filmore have the fruit stilled & send me a jug of good Brandy by —( ???). That you sent me Ephraim was an amiable flavor, though Philip claimed a gallon & got it, yet I got to drink some of it. Filmore you had better to a come out here. I could have put you on Land that would make from 1/2 to one Bale to the Acre without the least fertilizing as hard work as there.
Make all you can Filmore on the poor old place. Trim up the orchard & take care of every thing and all the overgrown patches that you clear up will be yours.
I would be glad to see you Filmore, hope I may yet. Ephraim I see a few Bluebirds here. But——-
Ephraim you make use of all the dead limbs on my land freely, without pay, you are welcome. I wish to know Ephraim how much taxes to pay on that old place & if you have had the valuation reduced or not. Philip is working at the carpenters rate here at $ 1.25 per day (you may know they are hard run for carpenters). Ephraim when you send me that little money, you must send it to Malvern as Opal is not a money paying office. I have sowed my 4 Acre field in wheat ( –Gideon) finished 30th of Nov. it is just now coming up. Ephraim I have nothing of interest to write only hard times, but I hope times will soon be better for some, but I see no better coming for me. I only wish you was here & your family, where I could see you & talk with you. Try & sell that old place if possible, for I am now needing the money for it. If I don’t sell that I shall have to sell the one I live on I fear, for I am owing some & no way to pay up. Write often & state how all our people there is doing. Give my best respects to all inquiring friends & tell them I have not forgotten them yet.
I will try to write more soon Deovolente.
Unlike with Carl, Brenda’s ancestor, Magdalene (Maggie) Burris actually made the trip west with her father. She married Phillip Swim Honeycutt who was not enchanted by the rocky lands of Arkansas. With Phillip wanting to return to North Carolina and Maggie pregnant with child, the couple eventually made their way back home. Phillip returned immediately while Maggie waited until the following year to make the arduous trip east.
Life moved on with the family clan remaining in touch primarily by mail. I don’t know if any from North Carolina made the trip west to visit though in 1935 a contingent from Arkansas made the trip back east. It was then that the Burris family gathered once more in reunion at the old home site our little band genealogy explorers was about to pass. Note that merely four years after the 1935 reunion, more than a 1000 attended yet another reunion at which time the reburial of Solomon and Judith took place at nearby Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. And in the photo below from the 1935 gathering we can glean that this was definitely a proud family time with picnic tables spread below the old oak tree. See the tree? The location was perfect for such occasion as it is said that David cut the top out of the sapling oak prior to the family’s removal in the 1880’s. We really don’t know why he did it …maybe he topped the tree as some sort of recorded mark of the momentous event? The tree in the photo below is said to be the same tree that David D. Burris topped before heading west:
Front and center in the photo above, we can also identify David D. Burris’ son Gideon Lafayette Burris who made the trip from Hot Springs County Arkansas. Another image from that day of celebration, to the left Gideon is photographed in front of what’s believed to be the original home place. This is believed to be the house that David built. And, on such a dreary Saturday, exploring this home place became the highlight of our jaunt through Stanly County.
Back in 1993 Sue Burris Burton of Malvern, in Hot Springs County Arkansas felt the urge to learn more about her family. Making the pilgrimage to North Carolina, Sue credits Layton O. Burris as providing a treasure trove of documents. He lead her and her brother Elam to several key sites. Layton shared his copies of documents including the pictures above taken at the 1935 reunion. He carried his Arkansas cousins to the epicenter of their dreams, the home site of their ancestor David D. Burris (photo to the right). Unlike at the time of the 1935 reunion, the home was no longer standing and the chimney had collapsed. All that remained was a pile of rocks that that were once fit together in the making of the chimney. In memory of her journey, Sue was given a rock from the old chimney stones.
Sue made more trips east with her sister and others in her Arkansas family. On one trip she noticed that the old oak was showing signs of decay. In response she collected five little acorns. Carrying them back to Arkansas, Sue Burris Burton planted the acorns in hopes of perpetuating the memories she knew her eye and the realities of life would at some point fail to remember. While in hospital following a surgery, four of the plantings died as they were not watered properly. The remaining sprout grew and survives in representation of so many others that have lived and are now gone. The little Carolina tree is growing well and reaches proudly into the Arkansas skies.
Getting back to Brenda’s excitement on a dreary Saturday afternoon, we brought the van to a stop in the middle of the road in front of the old David D. Burris home site. Our minds jumping around trying to remember all grades of things, Brenda and Pam Holbrook looked out of the window in one direction as they discussed an old barn and the Solomon Francis Burris Cemetery just across the road. Brenda pointed to the other side of the road to a stump in the yard in front of a house. She exclaimed “that’s the tree!!!” Brenda repeatedly said she’d love to get out and walk around the old place …but, it was rainy and we had not notified the owners. In the midst of all this, I hopped out of the van to snap a few pictures of the stump. This was all new for me and the stories I had only heard were quickly coming into focus. Honestly, with us all dealing with our own thoughts, the situation was much like a group of 1950’s high schoolers participating in what was referred to back then as a Chinese fire drill. And, while focusing my camera on the stump and house behind it, the gleeful sounds of our adventure turned to silence when the owner stepped out asking across the yard, “can I help you?” For those that don’t know, in southern terms, the expression means “what the heck are you doing? Thinking fast, all I could say was “Sir, this was an important tree and your house sits on what was once an old family home place.” To that, Mr. Lohr introduced himself as the new owner and that he would love to learn more about the history of his land. How wonderful, he invited us to drive up to the house at which time a celebration of sorts broke out.
Exclaiming “this is great!,” Brenda simply could not get over what was going on. She and Mr. Lohr made an immediate connection quickly reaching a common goal of understanding and caring for this special place. They exchanged contact information so that photos etc could be shared.
What a wonderful day …here was the owner eager to learn more and he truly embraced his newly realized role as family caretaker. Yes, equal to those of us who seek and restore the memories of our past, the importance of people who are positioned to preserve it is equally important. And as for Brenda, not seeing any remains of the old chimney, she was curious as to whether any remains survived. Offering her a bit of what little was left, Mr. Lohr walked Brenda to the family fire pit built upon a few of the remaining stones. Happy as a clam, Brenda walked away with a few small pieces of her family past.