Lt. James C. Wooten of Maury

This Sunday on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War.

At the Maury County Library in Columbia, a selection of books are on display to commemorate the First World War Centenary. The public is encouraged to check out a book or two concerning the conflict thought at the time to be the “war to end all wars.” A unique look at the war can be had by reading Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum.

Also at the library are artifacts from the life of local hero Lt. James C. Wooten.

James Council Wooten, II was born in Columbia on August 7, 1896. He was named for his grandfather, the first James Council Wooten, who had served as a Confederate colonel during the War Between the States. Young Wooten’s father, John, was a merchant and owned Maury Dry Goods. His mother, Emma, was of the prominent Hughes family of Maury County.

Being of a prominent family and having means, James C. Wooten, II was afforded the best education his parents could give him. His early education began at the Columbia Female Institute. (NOTE: It was not unusual for young boys to attend the Institute—the grammar school, or lower grades, were open to both boys and girls from Columbia.) Following the Institute, he attended Columbia Military Academy.

His friends, of which he had many, called him Jim or Jimmy and, by all accounts, he was a very bright young man. These accounts must have been true, as he finished his coursework at C.M.A. and entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland at just age 16. While in the academy, “he had been upon a cruise in French waters as a midshipman of junior grade and witnessed the entrance of France’s men into the struggle with Germany.”[1] Jim Wooten would have joined the fight then and there had he been allowed.[2]

In 1914, at the request of his parents, Wooten left the naval academy with an honorable discharge and entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then, as with now, MIT only took the best and brightest minds. Jim Wooten fit the bill. In addition to his course work, he was involved with the Tech Show Ballet, on the editorial staff, and was on the tug-of-war and wrestling teams. But, when the United States entered World War I, Wooten put his studies aside and volunteered for the army.

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Wooten finished training and was sent to Fortress Monroe in August 1917 as a second lieutenant of the coastal artillery. On the sixth of September, he, along with 2,000 other officers, sailed from New York to France. There, he would volunteer for the aviation service. Except for the month of training he received in France, Lt. Wooten was in service on the front lines.

Flying above the lines as an aerial photographer, he won the admiration of his brothers in arms and citations for gallantry from his commanders.

The Daily Herald printed some of his exploits. On August 13, 1918 (twelve days after his death), the headlines read, “Columbian Out after Pictures Got a German.” In the article, a letter written on July 7th by Lt. Wooten to his parents is printed in its entirety. In the letter, he tells the exciting tale of his latest flight into enemy air with his pilot, Tom:

I sighted 3 Huns coming in, yelled to turn to the left as one dived at us. Tom pulled a quick one and I put my guns on. All 3 immediately beat it without firing. We turned and I snapped another string [aerial photos]. We turned and began as first time. I had head down, snapping about the middle of last string of pictures, having cautioned Tom to watch direction of 3 others, when he yelled “Look out right!” And, gee whizz, there were 7 of them. I yelled “turn left and run!” He yelled “Oh boy!”

… All seven opened up. Well folks, the feeling was over in a second, but I thought we had done the greatest duty and began firing under tail wires, as tail was in way—a bit dangerous but necessary. My guns jammed and, as I managed to jerk them loose, I yelled, “Climb, tail in way!” We climbed and I had wonderful shooting. Picked out 2 in center very close together, left slightly ahead, and let loose. One of right we down into nose dive giving out smoke and the others all turned and went into big cloud, unfortunately. I continued to fire into cloud. The Boche use them to cover themselves. Wish that cloud hadn’t been there.

They put some holes in our ship, shot up our motor. We did our darnedest with our altitude to make the Allied field in a long straight line, but couldn’t make a good field, hit an invisible ditch and tore up, cutting my nose and the back of my head and hurting my old ankle again. We both hollered “OK,” unhooked our belts and crawled out. Doc came up in ambulance but we laughed and ran it away. Tom wasn’t hurt but let the Doc tie up my head after stopping the blood and cutting off some hair. My head is a funny sight now, as the hair I shaved off on top hasn’t grown back and I’ve got another streak behind. Now don’t worry. Any of us old ones who wish can go on Repose now, or I can get leave if things don’t go badly with us, but I want to wait until later.

He closed the letter with:

I wouldn’t write so much about all this for fear of worrying you, but by the time you receive this, I will be safe on leave.

Lots of love to all, from you devoted boy.[3]

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Portrait of Lt. James C. Wooten painted from a previous photograph. This portrait is now at the Maury County Archives. (Photo courtesy of the Maury County Archives.)

That leave would never come. William Fry, a Maury County soldier, wrote his father and included information about of Lt. Wooten’s death on August 1, 1918. Another letter arrived in Columbia a few days later from Wooten’s comrade, Lt. W. L. McNutty, and recounted his fallen friend’s final moments.

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Lt. Wooten was John and Emma’s only child. Grief-stricken, the mother sought to memorialize her son in a way that would benefit the community. Mrs. Wooten was a member of the Student’s Club. This club founded Columbia’s first library in 1902. She knew that the library lacked a children’s section, so in 1919 she created the Lt. James C. Wooten Memorial Children’s Library in her son’s name. Along with the collection, she purchased child-sized furniture and started an endowment to ensure new books were purchased for the children’s library every year. That fund is still active and generates revenue to purchase children’s material annually.

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Mrs. Emma Wooten in the children’s section of the Maury County Library when it was located inside of the Memorial Building. This children’s section was created in memory of her son. 

Lt. Wooten’s remains rested in France until 1921 when the family was finally able to bring their son home. John and Emma actually traveled to France the year before to visit the original grave site. In May 1921, he was interred in Rose Hill Cemetery. On his cross-shaped marker, his citation from the French government is inscribed.

-Adam Southern

 

References:

[1] Moore, John Trotwood. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, p 823

[2] Ibid

[3] The Daily Herald, August 13, 1918

Columbia’s “Crackup”

Among the personalities that made Columbia such an interesting place in the twentieth century, perhaps none were more colorful than Captain Frank Foster (F. F.) Frakes. Better known as “Bowser,” Captain Frakes made his living by living on the edge as a barnstormer and stuntman.

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1938 Camel cigarette ad highlighting Bowser Frakes.

In 1913, Bowser saw his uncle fly an old Curtiss-Wright pusher. It was love at first sight. With his uncle, Bowser learned everything he could about flying the flimsy planes from the infancy of aviation. Bowser thought he had learned enough to help the Allies with the Great War (WWI), but Uncle Sam did not see it that way—Bowser lacked the two years of college required to be a pilot in the early air force.

During a 1955 interview, Bowser said of his time in WWI, “The closest I came to flying was when a Maury County mule kicked me about 30 feet through the air.” Grounded by the army, Bowser’s main objective was to transport mules to Europe to aid with the war effort.

When the war was over, though, Bowser found himself in luck. The army had hundreds of surplus planes they were all-too-happy to sell to would-be pilots like Frakes. Bowser took what he learned from his uncle and hit the road as a barnstormer, becoming one of the best. Soon after, Bowser landed a job with Curtiss-Wright as a test pilot. But, the Great Depression came along and, in its wake, Bowser’s job was lost, forcing him back to barnstorming.

Bowser and his comrades in the “air circus” quickly learned that things were tough all over; people were no longer paying to watch the old air acts with simulated dogfights and acrobatics that once brought in thousands of spectators. Bowser knew he had to come up with a new act.

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From Flying, July 1951

Bowser said, “I got the idea of cracking up planes before a crowd which would pay admission to see me risk my fool neck.” In 1929, before a crowd of 30,000 spectators, he performed his first “crack up.”

Jack Dealy, in a feature for Flying magazine, wrote, “The crowd roared approval—and Frakes was on his way to a world’s record for walking away from crackups.” The title of the feature in Flying should give you an idea of how many times he cracked up. It was titled, “He Walked Away from 99 Crashes.”  (Bowser crashed into homes, barns, cars, and, once, a body of water during his career spanning ninety-nine crashes.)

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From Flying, July 1951

All along this journey of cracking up planes, Bowser had to stay one step ahead of the law. The Civil Aeronautics Authority (CAA) did not much care for Bowser’s occupation. As soon as it was announced Capt. F. F. Frakes was going to perform a crackup in a town, CAA agents would alert authorities with orders to nab Bowser. Toward the end of his career as a crackup pilot, Bowser was known to feign injuries and go straight from the crash to the ambulance. Once away from the prying eyes of the spectators (and the police), he would have the medics drive the ambulance to either his hotel or the local train station.

In September 1938, Bowser knew the law was close, so he again played hurt. The medics threw Frakes in the back of the ambulance and, before the car took off, two men climbed into the back with the “patient.” Bowser looked at the men, but assumed they were doctors when one of them said they were going to the hospital.

According to The Lincoln Star, “No!” replied the flier, “I’m all right, hurry up and get me to my hotel so I can get out of town.”

“Well,” retorted one of the men, “If you’re all right then we’re going to the jail, not the hotel.”

That’s when Bowser realized the two men were the town sheriff and one of his deputies.

The Wild West-era of air shows was coming to a close, but a new world war loomed on the horizon. Bowser decided to offer his services to the British by writing a letter to their embassy in Washington, DC. According to Bowser, “I told them if British intelligence would map out Adolf Hitler’s residence for me I’d be glad to rid the world of his presence. I said I thought could fly a plane carrying high explosives right down his chimney.”

The Brits thanked him for the offer, but declined. That did not stop Bowser from enlisting in the Royal Air Force where he served honorably from 1941 until 1942 as a flight instructor. In ’42, he transferred to the United States Air Force where he finished the war.

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“Casket of Death,” June 5, 1955, The Tennessean.

Having served through another world war, Bowser, now in his fifties, had to find a new show. Cracking up planes was out—he needed something a little easier to do in his golden years. So, Bowser developed the “Casket of Death” routine, where he lined a coffin with dynamite, sealed himself inside, and had someone light the fuse. Then, BOOM!

Later, at close to sixty years of age, he started performing a rocket routine. Bowser would saddle onto a rocket and have it launched only to explode in midair.

Bowser is still considered an aviation legend. His story has been told in countless newspaper articles and magazines, including Flying and, most recently, Air & Space by the Smithsonian. He flew as a stuntman in thirty-four movies, including Hell’s Angels and Devil Dogs, and was also featured in numerous newsreels during the 1930s. In 1938, at what was probably the height of his career as a “crackup pilot,” Bowser was sponsored by Camel cigarettes and he was featured in several of their print ads.

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From Camel cigarette ad, 1938

In Columbia, Tennessee, many look back fondly on their experiences with Bowser Frakes. Those of us too young to have known him, only wish we could have met the legend. Today, after a daring life of stunts and near-misses, Frank Foster Frakes is resting peacefully in Rose Hill Cemetery, a far cry from the airfields he knew so long ago.

If you’d like to see more of Bowser Frakes, go visit my friends at West Seventh Company. In their current gallery exhibit is a portrait of none other but Capt. Bowser Frakes as taken by Orman Studios in 1938. Lovers of local history will enjoy seeing—not only Bowser—but all of the old Columbia photos on display. And, when you go for your visit, tell Kim and Joel where you heard about them!

 

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Bowser, his wife Carol, and his dog, Ike. Bowser Frakes was a favorite among the children of Columbia, as was his dog, Ike. The kids of Columbia would feed Ike chocolate bars as treats. As far as anyone knows, the chocolate never made Ike sick. August 23, 1954, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cited:

Dealy, Jack. “He Walked Away From 99 Crashes.” Flying, July 1951, p. 26.

Rayburn, Taylor. “Death Diver!” The Tennessean (Nashville, TN), 05 Jun. 1955, p. 110.

Staff. “Pictures of Captain Frakes Crashing Plan Thru House.” The Lincoln Star, 11 Sept. 1938, p. 3.

Start, Clarissa. “An All-Around Daredevil.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 23 Aug. 1954, p. 27.

Columbia’s Rat Hole

In the curve where South High and Depot Streets meet, hidden behind a shield of scrubby trees and vines, is a forgotten Columbia landmark known simply as the “Rat Hole.”

The Rat Hole sits a stone’s throw away from Columbia’s Union Station Depot and the two share a common builder, the railroad. But, instead of saying these two constructions—the Depot and the Rat Hole—are siblings, it would probably be best to say they are first cousins, as the Depot was grandiose in its construction. The Rat Hole was one hundred percent utilitarian.

When construction of the Depot began in 1902, the railroad bed was raised about six feet above street level. This caused the city to close South High Street at the railroad tracks. Knowing that pedestrians would more than likely use the straightest route across the railroad tracks where South High used to be, the railroad decided to divert these pedestrians away from the tracks by constructing a tunnel underneath the rails, thus giving birth to the Rat Hole.

It’s not known when the tunnel was given the “Rat Hole” moniker, but the name seemed to catch on all over town. Generations of Columbians knew exactly where the Rat Hole was and a good number of them actually used it. The tunnel was frequented so often that lights were eventually installed for nighttime use.

As pedestrian traffic in the area of the Depot diminished, so did the usefulness of the Rat Hole. Today, the tunnel serves as a conduit for utility pipes. Upon latest inspection, the Rat Hole floor was filled with debris and at least a foot of water, making the tunnel impassable.

On your next trip to the Columbia Arts District, slow down as you make the curve between the Depot and the Columbia Arts Building. There in the brush you will see the opening of a tunnel. Only you will know that it is no ordinary tunnel—it is the forgotten landmark known as the Rat Hole.

 

Maury County’s Worst Christmas

Maury County has seen many joyous Christmas seasons since its founding in 1807. With so many cheerful tales of Christmases past, it would be hard to single one year out as the best Christmas in local history.

But, one year is agreed upon as the worst Christmas Maury County has ever seen—Christmas 1864.

Frank H. Smith, in a special December 1904 edition of the Columbia Herald, wrote, “At this, the most prosperous Christmas tide that Maury County has ever known, it may be interesting to recall some incidents of this season forty years ago, the gloomiest and most depressing holidays our country ever had.”

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Frank H. Smith (third from the left) sits on the front porch of the Athenaeum Rectory with his siblings.

Why was this the “gloomiest and most depressing” Christmas? Simply, the Civil War was the cause of this county-wide depression.

After the fall of Atlanta, Confederate General John Bell Hood had a radical idea. He would invade Tennessee and take the fight to the enemy. If things went according to his plan, he would take Nashville and march further north, linking his army with Lee in Virginia where they could prolong or possibly win this war that had been raging since 1861.

In late November, Hood and his men swept the Union forces north from Pulaski and across Maury County. Cornering the Yankees in Spring Hill on November 29th, Hood was poised to win the first major battle of his plan. But, it didn’t happen. During the night of the 29th and morning of the 30th, the Union Army slipped through the hands of the opposing Southern army, marching north towards Franklin.

The Confederates awoke to find the fields opposite of them empty. Hood, “wrathy as a rattlesnake” as one subordinate called him, ordered his men north in pursuit of the Federals. They would catch up to the Union Army at Franklin and find them heavily fortified. Hood, still upset about the blunder the night before, ordered his men to attack. Just before dusk, the Confederate Army descended Winstead Hill, marching north toward the Union lines, the evening sun gleaming off of their bayonets.

The men would fight well into the night. In the end, the fighting would be hand-to-hand.

As the sun rose over the grisly scene, witnesses would say that a person could walk across the battlefield and never touch the ground as bodies covered every surface. The citizenry of Franklin emerged from their hiding places and began the overwhelming task of tending to the wounded. With so many wounded in Franklin, wagons were soon loaded with injured soldiers and driven south to Maury County.

Several dead officers were also brought to Columbia. Frank H. Smith wrote, “Generals Cleburne, Gist, Strahl, Adams, and Granberry gave up their lives for the cause they believed right. I think that all of these bodies had been brought to Columbia the second day after the battle.” Funerals were held for the generals and, in a haste, these men were buried in the pauper section of Rose Hill Cemetery. Some of the generals were even placed in pauper’s caskets, as “proper” coffins could not be found in Columbia. Later, the generals would be reinterred in the graveyard at St. John’s Church.

As Columbia dealt with the dead and wounded, General Hood was busy moving what was left of his army north. The Union forces at Franklin dealt Hood a crippling blow, but he was intent on seeing his plan through to the end. On December 15th and 16th, the forces of Generals Hood and Thomas fought on the hills surrounding Nashville. Hood’s forces were routed on the 16th and his army was never an effective fighting unit again.

Hood’s army retreated south, the same route it marched north, and soon this defeated force was in Maury County. The men, demoralized, hungry, and threadbare, took what they could to feed and warm themselves. There wasn’t much for them, though. Both the Union and Confederate armies had stripped the farms and homes of resources when they were in the area not even a month earlier.

In Columbia on December 20th, Hood placed cavalier Nathan Bedford Forrest in charge of the army’s rear guard with orders to hold Columbia as long as possible. With the bridges burned, Union forces rested in the rain and sleet of present-day Riverside while they waited on the pontoons to arrive. Forrest and his rear guard did what they could to check the Union advance. By Christmas Eve the Yankees would be in town.

A member of Forrest’s rear guard, I. N. Rainey would later write a diary of his wartime experiences. Being a Columbia native, he was given a three-day furlough to spend Christmas with his family. He wrote, “By Mother’s request, I invited several of my messmates to spend the night of Christmas Eve ’64 with us… The Yankees were in town, the skirmish lines between us and the courthouse.” Rainey’s home, Woodland, is now Woodland Park.

Rainey and his messmates spent Christmas Eve at Woodland and woke up early for Raineybreakfast on Christmas Day. While he and his friends ate, his younger brother stood watch in case a Yankee patrol happened by. Sure enough, his brother ran into the dining room shouting that the Yankees were coming through the front gate, roughly 300 yards from the house. Rainey and his friends rushed out the back door of the family home and to the barn, followed by his parents and siblings. As they mounted their horses, he kissed his mother goodbye and rode away, waiting for the report of the Yankee guns.

It never came. As soon as Rainey and his fellow soldiers crested a hill, they swung around to find the Yankee soldiers waving their hats at the fleeing Confederates. Rainey and the other Confederates returned their wave and galloped off, thankful his parents would not have to witness a gunfight on Christmas Day.

From Woodland, the small band of cavalrymen road to Pulaski Pike. Rainey wrote, “My brother Joe stood in the middle of the pike shooting as fast as he could load at the opposing line between him and the public square.” The opposing line was a blue tide that could not be stopped, however, and the rear guard would be pushed further and further south until it was out of Tennessee.

After weeks of tending and burying wounded men—many of them possibly family or friends—and witnessing fighting in the streets of Columbia on Christmas Day, it is easy to see why the Holiday Season of 1864 was one of the worst on record. To make matters worse, many citizens were like the southern soldiers—cold and without food.

Smith wrote: “The suffering for fuel was very great in town; there were no teams in the country to haul wood (coal was almost unknown here then) and if there had been teams, the roads were nearly impassable, and if the teams had come to town they would have been ‘impressed’ at once. Dead shade trees were at a premium, and many a green tree was used for fuel, with fences, outhouses and old furniture used to help many them burn… But the greatest suffering was for food. The country seemed to have been stripped of everything eatable…”

Frank H. Smith, a resident of the Athenaeum Rectory, was a teenager in 1864, still too young to fight in the War like his two older brothers. He was able to feed his family this Christmas by sneaking into the stables of the Columbia Institute where the Union officer’s horses were stabled. There, he stole some of the dried corn being used as fodder and his mother was able to grind it into meal for cornbread.

In 1904, Smith ventured there may have been one happy man in Maury County in 1864—Union General George Thomas. While pursuing the Confederate rear guard, Thomas stopped at McCains Presbyterian Church. While there, he received the telegram appointing him to the rank of Major General. Smith may have been wrong, though. Some report General Thomas said the appointment to Major General was too late to be appreciated. (He felt he deserved the appointment after the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863.)

Despite any problems we think we may have, compared to 1864 the size of our problems should seem to diminish a bit. Count your blessings this Christmas. We have so much to be thankful for.

Merry Christmas!

The Columbia Female Institute

When the Columbia Female Institute burned in 1959, it immediately became unforgettable. As a matter of fact, the time of the Institute’s demise is “one of those moments” in Maury County’s history. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard about JFK’s assassination. Just the same, people in Maury County remember the night the Columbia Institute burned. Many travelled to West Seventh Street to watch the blaze, while many others recall the amber glow in the sky that night—a glow that could be seen as far away as Santa Fe.

Built as an Episcopal all-girl school, the Columbia Female Institute, had a run of nearly 100 years before the Great Depression put the nail in its coffin in 1932. Left without a function, the building would serve several purposes over its remaining years, including housing WPA workers, providing classrooms and offices for a local business college, and as a nursery school. The old Institute was even the location of the Maury County Library for a short period.

In 1944, the City of Columbia purchased the property from the Episcopal Diocese for $35,000. At the time of the fire, the main building of the old campus was being used as storage by the county school system. During the March night of Friday the 13th, 1959 about 7pm, the fire was reported. According to reports, the blaze quickly consumed the main building and the attached chapel.

Construction of the Columbia Female Institute began in 1835 and the first class was admitted under the administration of Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith in 1837. An advertising pamphlet released in 1837 reads:

The building was designed and constructed by Messrs. Drummond & Lutterloh, Architects. [Maury County’s “Master Builder” Nathan Vaught actually had to be called in to finish construction of the building.]

The general effect of the exterior is imposing, from its magnitude and its just proportions.

The selection and execution of the decorative parts of the façade exhibit the classical taste of the architects and their judicious adherence to the established principles of Gothic architecture. The front of the building—the exposure of which is towards the north—is one hundred and twenty feet long, including the Octagonal Towers at the corners, eleven feet in diameter, which rise one story above the building and terminate in turrets. The corners on the back side are finished with Martello towers, five feet in diameter, which rise above the parapet walls and are also turreted. The whole effect of the building is improved by its fine basement story (not shown at all in our engraving) which is separated from the first story by an elegant band of hewn stone, the material employed also in the flights of steps leading up into the porticos. The width of the porticos is twenty-one feet, and their projection from the front wall, fifteen feet—the front and side openings being pointed arches, and the massive piers with buttresses in front and on one side, terminating in elegant lanterns. The walls of the porticos and the whole of the façade are turreted…

The interior was also described in the pamphlet. In the basement were the dining hall and offices for the domestics (more than likely, slaves). On the first floor were the accommodations for the teachers and tutoresses and the “Boarder’s Parlour.” Also on this floor were the rooms of the Music and Pestalozzian Departments.

On the second floor, with its fourteen-foot ceilings, was the large “Hall of Study.” The library and the Rector’s desk were also on the second story. Again, from the advertising pamphlet, “One of the chambers on the second floor, separated by a passage and entirely secluded from those resorted to by the school, is set apart as the sick-room. This apartment is airy, with a delightful prospect of the country, and is of easy access to the Matron and other ladies of the Institute.”

The third floor was set aside exclusively for dormitories. Boarders were guaranteed a bed to themselves, unless their sister attended the school. In that case, the siblings had to double-up. A tutoress shared each chamber with the students to provide supervision and to “attend to any case of indisposition.”

The campus of the Institute comprised of just over four acres. After the 1959 fire, this land was sold by the City of Columbia for $100,000 despite the efforts of local groups wishing to convert the old Institute grounds to a city park.

Today, Columbia Plaza shopping center and the U.S. Post Office stand on the grounds of the Columbia Female Institute.