Photo by Suzi Phillips
On a cold April day we set out to find the place Henry Grooms, his brother George, and Mitchell Coldwell were killed by Teague’s Home Guard during the Civil War in the Cataloochee area of Haywood County, NC.
Don Casada was able to pinpoint the general area of the murders through his extensive research on the subject.
It was one of those bright early spring days that fool you into thinking its warm, and it sort of is as long as the sun is hitting you directly. But as soon as a cloud waves its way over the sun or the wind begins to stir you realize old man winter is trying his best to hold on just a little bit longer before he leaves for good.
The girls have been playing Bonaparte’s Retreat/Groom’s Tune for at least 3 or 4 years. The song is said to be the fiddle tune Henry played just before his death. Once we learned the story behind the song Chitter begin telling it everywhere we played. After making such a strong connection with the tune, we were all super excited to visit the place and let the girls play the song right there as sort of a remembrance to those who died.
As luck would have it, Chitter wasn’t feeling well and she was pretty much miserable for the entire trip, but she’d tell you she wouldn’t have missed it for the world and she’s glad she went. She carried a blanket along and wrapped up in it every time we stopped to talk or to see a new sight.
A highlight of the trip for all of us was meeting Blind Pig Reader, Suzi Phillips. The Grooms event took place practically in her backyard and she was gracious enough to tag along with us and help point out things we didn’t know.
The girls brought skirts to wear because they wanted to look nice in the video. It was so cold we tried to convince them to wear their jeans or at least wear their blue jeans under their skirts but they weren’t having none of that for the video.
Once we started filming they had a hard time keeping their fingers warm enough to move and keeping their instruments in tune was almost impossible.
You’d think there wouldn’t be much traffic on a cold April morning way back in the mountains of Cataloochee, but there was! Finally Don walked up to the next curve to hold traffic until we finished the song we were filming.
The girls, mostly Chitter, were disappointed with the video. They wanted it to be perfect.
The cold and Chitter not feeling well made for many mess ups. We finally made it all the way through the song and even though it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for, we called it done. I reminded the girls the reason they were doing it was for the men who died, not for their own perfection.
I thought the video turned out pretty good. It captured a day we’ll never forget as well as gave remembrance to the men who died.
When Chatter went to put her guitar back in the case she found she had a little friend.
The girls put their pants on under their skirts and with Suzi’s help we went on across the mountain to find the grave where the Grooms brothers and Mitchell Coldwell are said to be buried.
It seemed warmer down off the top of the mountain and we were all excited to see the graveyard. Like many old cemeteries in Appalachia, the Sutton Cemetery is spread out along a small ridge line.
The hand carved stones in the cemetery are among the prettiest and neatest I’ve ever seen. Most looked to have been crafted by the same hand.
As you can see, we found what we were looking for. Certain historical records say the Grooms brothers and Coldwell were all buried in the same grave and at a later date, the family of Coldwell set the stone for him.
We’ve played the song and told the story of Grooms Tune for so long that going to Cataloochee was like completing the circle for us. As silly as it sounds standing near the gravestone had a feeling of home or maybe it was more a feeling of kinship. Either way it was a good feeling and one that we’ll never forget.