The story about my great, great grandfather nearly severing the leg of his brother with an axe

Not too long ago, as you may recall, I shared a few family stories here that had been handed down by my great grandmother’s cousin, Mattie Belle Wise (1892-1992). Well, I’ve got another family story to share with you today. This one, however, comes from my recently-discovered fourth cousin, Stephen Wise. [Stephen reached out to me not long ago, after he was told by 23 and Me that we shared .77% of our DNA.] Stephen and I are both descendants of John Anderson Wise (1823-1892) and Matilda Gill (1826-1912), who are my great, great, great grandparents. [I’m a descendant of their son, Jefferson Davis Wise (1861-1937). And Stephen is a descendant of Thomas Richard Wise (1872-1956), one of Jefferson’s many siblings.] What follows is the most recent email that I received from Stephen. In it, he recounts how my great, great grandfather almost severed the leg of his younger brother, James Monroe “Roe” Wise (1865-1948), with an axe. [He also says some really nice things about my great grandmother, Minnie Wise Florian in the letter as well.]

Stephen Wise writes:

I don’t know if you are interested in the following information, but our correspondence has inspired me to examine what I remember about that part of our family…

I have been writing down memories about the generations of Wises that might interest you. As a child, I met “Aunt Minnie,” your great grandmother, when she would come to visit my grandparents, George Henry and Jennie Tucker Wise. My grandfather was very active in the Caesarea Church of Christ and would take Minnie there when she was visiting. I believe she stayed with them in Georgetown during those visits. I remember your great grandmother as a kind and funny woman. I believe that another Wise, Seth Wise, would occasionally join them when she was there. I believe he was closely related to her. [note: Seth was Minnie’s younger half-brother.] Seth Wise, to the best of my recollection, lived in Lexington at the time. I remember Seth more clearly than your great grandmother. He used to come to our house to visit my father. Dad would give him odd jobs to help him out, and they would visit.

My father, Billy V. Wise, was devoted to the Wise family. As a child, I did not appreciate the importance of his devotion. He often talked about his grandfather, Thomas Richard Wise, and his brothers and sisters. From his descriptions, I can describe them as hard people who lived hard lives. But, I knew them only when they were all very old.

I have a story about your great, great grandfather, Jefferson Davis Wise.

My father often discussed his favorite great uncle, James Monroe “Roe” Wise, a brother of Jefferson Davis Wise and Thomas Richard Wise. I found this story in one of my old journals from 1982. My father told it to me, and his father confirmed its veracity. Since it involves your ancestor I thought I would pass it on.

Apparently, as children, the Wise boys were playing a game of Fox and Hounds. Roe, playing the role of the fox, climbed a tree to escape the hounds. One of the brothers, who my grandfather recalled as Jeff, was angry at Roe because he would not come down out of the tree and receive his beating, so he grabbed an axe and started chopping down the tree. Roe slid down the tree, and Jeff struck his leg. His leg was nearly severed above his ankle; the axe going through the bone, but not entirely through the muscle. I do not know if it was accidental or intentional… Not having money for a doctor, their father, John Anderson Wise, your great, great, great grandfather, stitched his leg back together. And, amazingly, Roe survived. However, uncle Roe never walked normally again.

My father told me that that he liked hanging around uncle Roe. He said he smoked constantly and drank whiskey, most likely homemade, all day long. In spite of that, he lived a long life. Maybe that will give you an impression of the life they lived growing up. Tobacco was the life’s blood of the Wise family. My father and grandfather would tell me stories about growing up, and how all the men would get together to cut and strip tobacco. It was hard and dangerous work. The dangerous part was hanging the tobacco in the barn to dry/cure. If you’ve never seen a tobacco barn, the ceilings, where the tobacco is hung to cure, are quite high.

Most of the Wises lived in Stamping Ground, Minorsville, and Long Branch in Scott County. Several lived on or near Elkhorn Creek.

And here, in the center of his family, is Roe Wise, the man nearly killed by my great, great grandfather. Had he died, none of the younger people seen here would have existed.

I should add that I, of course, have no way of knowing whether or not Roe’s leg was nearly severed, as Stephen suggests. I suspect, as with most things, the story grew over the generations, as it was retold. Still, though, I don’t have any doubt that Jefferson Davis Wise assaulted his brother with an axe, and that their father had to stitch him back together. This makes total sense to me, given what I know of the Wise boys.

Oh, and I should also note that, when I shared the above with my father, he confirmed a few facts shared by Stephen. First, he said it was absolutely true that several members of the Wise family had live “on or near Elkhorn Creek.” He said that Elkhorn Creek ran behind his grandparents’ farm in Woodlake. He said that he learned to swim in it, and that his grandfather, Curt Florian, would put out trotlines out in the creek it at night and catch a lot of fish that way. Also, he said, the tobacco barns were, as Stephen noted, big and dangerous. “Pa’s farm had three (tobacco barns),” he said, “and when I was six or seven, I would climb to the top of them, high in the rafters, and take pigeons from their nests to raise in something like a hen-house.”

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5 Comments

  1. Kim
    Posted March 7, 2020 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    What are the chances that it was an accident?

  2. Bob
    Posted March 7, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    “You don’t want no part of this, Dewey”

  3. Anonymous
    Posted March 7, 2020 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Since Bob didn’t provide a link:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJQ35sJzRkE

  4. Bob
    Posted March 7, 2020 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Vastly underrated comedy. Almost too many good jokes and smart music references for one movie.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted March 7, 2020 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    It’s a good movie, but I’m trying to figure out the connection to this post. Does Dewey get his leg chopped off by his brother?

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