03 April 2009

Sergeant York and His Michigan Ancestor

What a day! We visited the Alvin C. York Historic Site where Sergeant York's son, Andrew Jackson York, is the ranger. When we first arrived, Sergeant York's daughter-in-law, Margaret York, greeted us. As we were leaving, we chatted with Mr. York and a York grandson who was visiting. It is not often that one is privileged to meet a war hero's family, a family depicted in a Hollywood movie, Sergeant York. Sergeant York was awarded the Medal of Honor and France's Croix de guerre for his actions in World War I. The Diary of Alvin York can be found here.

I asked them what it felt like to have a movie made about their family. They all felt as though they were just a regular family. Mrs. York said that she had lived in the home (now a National Historic Site) for about 7 years after her marriage. Mr. Andrew J. York pointed to the room next to the welcome desk and said that was where he had been born.

When Mr. Andrew York realized we were from Michigan, he told me that his maternal grandfather, William Brooks, had been born in Michigan. Mr. Brooks had been a Union soldier in the Civil War who settled in the Fentress Co., TN, area. He may have left the Army a little early after he fell in love with a local girl, Miss Nancy Pile, daughter of Elijah and granddaughter of Coonrad Pile.

The book, "Sergeant York and his people," related the following:

There were tensions stemming from the Civil War near the Kentucky / Tennessee border. Nancy Pile's brother, Conrad "Rod" Pile, Jr., a non-combatant but a northern sympathizer, was captured by the Confederates. Nancy and Rod's brother, Jeff, was murdered enroute to visit his brother. "The war-feuds of Fentress County did not end with the ending of the war."

"The feeling between the children of Elijah Pile and Pres Huff was silent but tense (because Huff was thought to be behind Jeff Pile's murder)." Huff was found murdered after he had threatened William Brooks, who was Jeff Pile's brother-in-law. Brooks disappeared from the Tennessee valley and Nancy (Pile) Brooks followed his path north. Months later a letter that Nancy (Pile) Brooks had mailed home to Tennessee, letting her family know that "she and her husband were at a logging camp in the woods of northern Michigan" was intercepted. Brooks was extradited from Michigan to Tennessee where he was subjected to vigilante justice. Mr. Brooks was then dragged through town tied to a donkey and shot several times.*
*An incident corroborated by Mr. Andrew York

A story found here at the York's Fentress County, Tennesse, indicated that William Brooks may have been an alias for William W. Herrington. The name Walter H. Harrington is mentioned in the Governor Brownlow papers below.

The Papers of Tennessee's Governor Brownlow mention extradition papers exchanged between Michigan and Tennessee regarding William Brooks:

Doc.(manuscript); August 10, 1867; Detroit. Signed Timothy McCarthy. Notice from a Michigan Justice of the Peace that, pending an extradition request from Tennessee, he is holding William M. Brooks for the 1864 murder of Preston Huff, which had been committed in Fentress County. With Michigan state seal.

ALS; Aug. 15, 1867; St. Johns, Clinton County, Michigan. From Sylvester Hoyt. A long letter from the lawyer for Walter H. Harrington. Discusses his arrest by Ely Hatfield for the murder of Preston Hough (Huff?). Contains clerk's notations. Also action note.

Doc. (manuscript); Aug. 23, 1867; Travisville, Tennessee. From A. P. Senter, Jeremiah Wright et al. Citizens of Fentress County present a petition to the Governor in regard the murder of Preston Huff by William Brooks. Says that Brooks' friends are charging that Huff was "a bushwackers which is falls(sic)..."

Mary Brooks, daughter of William & Nancy (Pile) Brooks married William York. They were the parents of Sergeant Alvin C. York, a famous American.

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