by Lonnie Jones
Imagine being a nine year old girl awakened to shouts, screams, wild incoherent ranting, and loud noises. Then picture yourself walking out on the front porch of your isolated mountain home to find your father standing over your mother with a bloody ax. You plead with your father to stop and then run to your uncle’s home down the road to get help. How scared you would have been!
This scene is real and it happened in Ashe County on June 1, 1903. Ashe County was remote to the rest of the state at that time, but Cut Laurel was remote from Ashe County. The Pond Mountain area is still not easily accessible, I can only image what the roads were like then.
At the Laurel Missionary Baptist Church that week, the Ashe Missionary Baptist Association was having it Annual Associational meeting. This was a well attended event, and many visiting people, especially ministers, were in the area. There were no hotels so the church members agreed to host the visiting preachers in their homes.
Christopher Columbus Davis and his wife Nettie Glenn Davis agreed to host Rev. Alfred Barker who was from Ashe County, NC, and Alfred’s son, Rev. Levi Clayton Barker who was a minister in the Chilhowee, Virginia area. A description of Christopher Columbus Davis or “Crick” as he was known, written later several weeks later, says he was a successful farmer and good carpenter, a devout church member, sober, industrious, but he was known to have a temper, It was said his neighbors knew to not stir him up.
These descriptions, given in court documents and newspaper reports from the time, do not fit well with the rest of our story.
After going to the Davis home and eating a meal with the family, the two preachers retired to bed. Their bedroom was in the house, but you had to go outside and around on a porch and enter the bedroom through a separate doorway. Also in the house that night was the Davis’s three young daughters, the oldest was nine and the youngest by one report was too young to have had a recorded name at the time. Sometime late in the night “Crick” got up and got an ax. Some reports state he had the ax in the house and had spent some time in the evening sharpening it. He went out and entered the bedroom of the two ministers. With one blow he severed the head of Levi Barker, apparently killing him instantly. He then turned to the older Alfred Barker and started attacking him. Barker must have awakened for his cuts were on both arms and on one leg. All of this made a horrible commotion which awakened Nettie Davis from her sleep and she came around to the door trying to stop her husband. His reaction was to attack her with the ax, first knocking her off the porch with blows and then following her to the ground and continuing to attack her. While this was occurring, Rev. Alfred Barker crawled or ran out of the house and into a nearby rye patch to hide.
The children were also awakened and the oldest girl came and intervened with her father and it is said her pleas caused him to stop. She then went quickly to an uncle’s house and brought him back to the house. Here the story gets somewhat confusing. One report says Davis had brought his wife into the house and had laid her near a hearth and was gently treating her wounds. Another report says he had brought her in but was setting weeping beside her.
It is a long way by horse, wagon or even car to the area where Davis lived from Jefferson. But sometime that night or early morning Sheriff B. Sturgill came and arrested him, taking him in a wagon to jail. It was reported in one newspaper that a group of neighbors had gotten together and were threatening to lynch Davis, so the sheriff’s action was a rescue.
In many of the newspaper reports Davis is called a monster, or an insane man, even referred to as a “warlock” by people in the area. This doesn’t match other earlier descriptions of him. His wife lived nine days and died. Levi Barker had been killed in his bed, and his father Alfred lived three additional years before dying of the wounds he received.
Let me hasten to say there were at least three Alfred Barker’s in Ashe County then and two of them had sons named Levi. This has added confusion to the story over the years also.
Davis was tried, was allowed to plead insanity, but then pled guilty to Murder in the Second Degree. On the stand he said. “Something came over me, I don’t know what it was. I would have rather killed myself. The whole affair seems like a bad dream.” He was sentenced to 30 years in prison and apparently served a great many of those years in the North Carolina prison system.
Upon release he lived in Tennessee and in Virginia. He was stopped by police in Virginia who had mistaken him for another person and there was gunplay when they tried to arrest him. He may have wounded an officer, he himself was shot. His family was contacted and took him to the Saltville, Virginia area where he died about six months after the incident.
Nettie Glenn Davis is buried in Ashe County. Many of the descendents of the three daughters live in the nearby area. The Levi Barker family seems to have moved to West Virginia, although many of his brothers and sisters descendents (children of Alfred) do live here still.
No exact reason for these events has ever been known. Many have reasoned he went insane temporarily. Others have thought that since some descriptions of his wife record her as an attractive woman, he became very jealous that night. Others say he was a warlock or witch, killing for some strange reason. Some think his temper flared out of control over something that night. We will never really know.
I shudder to think of the effect this must have had on the church, the family and the whole community in the Pond Mountain section of the county. Even more, I reflect on that night for the three children and especially the older daughter. I know she carried the scene in her mind for all her days.