Dade County History: The Nisbets and Murder at Cloverdale


Dade County History Series

,Many Dade residents and Civil War buffs are familiar with the story of Colonel James Cooper Nisbet of the Cloverdale community in Rising Fawn. Born in Macon, Ga, James Cooper and his older brother, John W. Nisbet, came to Dade County in 1858 to run a large stock farm called Cloverdale. When news of the war came along, both Nisbet brothers wanted to volunteer. They drew straws and John won and he immediately enlisted as a private in the Floyd Rifles, 2nd Georgia Battalion, and 26th Infantry Battalion. James Cooper was left at home for a while to look after the farm. But he began to conduct drills with some of his neighbors and soon had a company to offer in service to the state of Georgia. This company was known as Company H of the 21st Regiment of Volunteer Infantry, Army of Northern Virginia, and CSA.

After the war was over, James Cooper and John H. Nisbet returned to Dade County. James Cooper Nisbet served in the Georgia Legislature and as Secretary of State Constitutional Convention of 1877. He also wrote a memoir of his experiences during the war, Four Years on the Firing Line. In 1902, he moved to Chattanooga and died there on May 20, 1917. He is buried in the Confederate Cemetery that is adjacent to the UTC campus. There is an historical marker about James Cooper Nisbet and the Nisbet farm at the end of Cloverdale Road that is part of the Chickamauga Campaign Heritage Trail.

Most of the things we know about the Nisbet family are about James Cooper Nisbet, but when he left Dade County, there were still members of the Nisbet family living in Cloverdale. In 1880, James Cooper’s brother John Nisbet was still living in Dade County with his wife, Henrietta, and their children, George, Sidney, Pauline, James Junius and Winfield. By the next available census, 1900, Henrietta is a widow still living in Cloverdale with her adult children, George, 33; Sidney, 31; Frances P., 28; and James Junius, 26. By 1920, Brother George is residing in Chattanooga, and Mrs. Nisbet is living with her bachelor sons, Sid and June Nisbet.

My father, Ernest Middleton Hawkins (known to all as Brody Hawkins) was born in Cloverdale in 1927, and he remembered the Nisbet brothers, especially Sid and June. Here are some of the stories he told about the Nisbet brothers:

Memories of Brody Hawkins

I can remember the last of the Nisbets that lived here in Cloverdale. They were three brothers, George, June and Sid Nisbet. At one time the family was said to have owned a lot of stock in Central of Georgia Railroad. Their ancestors had a private railroad car and it sat on a siding at what is now the Green place on Cloverdale Road. The old Nisbet home is in ruins now. When I can remember, the Nisbet boys lived in a house on the hill, just after you turn off on Cloverdale Road where Bud Tatum built a house.

Mrs. Nisbet lived with her sons until she died. Jewel Beckham Phillips told me a story about Mrs. Nisbet. Jewel’s mother, Mrs. Beckham, went to visit Mrs. Nisbet. Mrs. Nisbet told her that people didn’t visit in the morning and wouldn’t let Mrs. Beckham come in. She told Mrs. Beckham to go back home and come back in the afternoon.

The bachelor brothers were well-educated when they came here. They were way ahead of all of us here on soil conservation. It is told that one of them got to thinking about getting married. At every meal, when he would fix his plate, he would fix a second plate with what he thought a wife might eat. After a trial period, he decided it would cost too much to feed a wife, and remained a bachelor all his days.

Me and Daddy and Cad Evans stopped one day visiting the boys and June came in. He had been milking and he had a single barrel shot gun he had been shooting crows with. He set the milk on the table. He emptied his shot gun and the empty shell went in the milk. June said, “That will make the milk taste like gunpowder. Then he reached down into the milk bucket with a very dirty hand and recovered the shotgun shell. They did not bathe or wash their clothes on a regular basis. They went to every singing and homecoming around just to get something good to eat.

In 1937 my Grandpa Hawkins was the proud owner of a truck and a new Panama hat. We were the only family around with a truck and the Nisbet boys were fascinated with it and loved to hitch a ride with Daddy in the truck. We came back to Rising Fawn one day after a trip to Chattanooga and June and Sid were at Knifer & Fricks’s store. Daddy asked June if he wanted a ride home and he quickly said yes. He hurried back into the store to get his brother Sid. June jumped in the bed of the truck and sat right down on Grandpa’s brand new Panama hat that he had just paid $16.00 for that day. When we got to June and Sid’s house, June jumped off the truck and walked around to Daddy’s side and said, “Oh, Grady, would you mind taking us back to Rising Fawn? We left a team of mules and a wagon tied up at the back of the store." Daddy enjoyed telling this story so much that he didn’t mind the trip back to Rising Fawn at all.

Mrs. Nisbet died in 1924 and Sid Nisbet passed away in 1949 at the age of 80 and both are buried in the Hanna Cemetery in Rising Fawn. George Nisbet was the last to die in 1957 at the age of 90, but he seems to have lived the last years of his life as a patient at the Georgia State Hospital, which is, I believe, a mental hospital. So June Nisbet was the last of the Nisbet family to live in Dade County.

June Nisbet died in 1951, but he did not die peacefully in his sleep. June Nisbet was beaten and tortured and left for dead at his home on Oct. 23, 1951. Although it happened a few years before I was born, growing up I remember hearing my father tell stories about the murder of June Nisbet. After looking through several years’ worth of old newspapers, I’ve found several articles that tell the story of the torture and murder of June Nisbet and the trials of those arrested for this heinous crime.

June Nesbit Attacked, Tortured, and Beaten

June Nesbit was overpowered, badly beaten and received much bodily harm when thugs broke into his home in Cloverdale Tuesday afternoon (Oct. 23, 1951). Mr. Nesbit’s body was covered with bruises, his teeth knocked out, the flesh over his eyes was torn loose and hanging, his throat was a solid black where it had been injured, his ear and wrists showed evidence of being badly twisted and his ankle was twisted so badly that his leg was fractured. (June Nesbit did not live in the old plantation house, but in a house on a hill on the left side of Cloverdale Road, just after turning off Hwy 11).

He was found by Mrs. Donald Tatum (Ruby), who lives next door when she went to take him his evening meal. Mr. Nesbit now lives alone and Mr. and Mrs. Tatum do what they can to take care of him. An ambulance was called and he was taken to a Chattanooga hospital. Though Mr. Nesbit regained consciousness, he is a very old man and his chances are not too good. (Dade County Times, October 25, 1951) My mother was a student nurse at Erlanger Hospital at the time and she said many people in the hospital talked about the terrible injuries Mr. Nesbit had suffered. His room was guarded for fear that the attackers might come to finish what they started. No one was allowed to visit Mr. Nesbit except neighbor Dan Tatum.

June Nesbit Dies of Pneumonia

Dade County Times, Dec. 6, 1951 – Mr. June Nesbit, who was so cruelly beaten at this home in Cloverdale last October, died December 2 in a Chattanooga hospital. Mr. Nesbit had been in the hospital ever since the attack on him and appeared to be holding his own until pneumonia set in, which weakened his condition and took his life. The GBI and police of three states are still working to apprehend these brutal ruffians.

The Nisbets are an old Dade County family. His brother, George, who is a patient at the Georgia State Hospital, (mental hospital) is the last surviving member of this family. Funeral services were held Tuesday from the Rising Fawn Methodist Church with Rev. Paul Howell officiating. Active pallbearers were Grady Hawkins (my grandfather), Montford Newman, Pyron Lambert, Richard Fricks, Charlie Williams and G.V. Green. Honorary pallbearers were Will Hawkins, S.W. Woodin, Dr. D.S. Middleton, J.Z. Bobo, Clyde Chadwick, Charles Bible, Byron Forester, A.W. Peck, Will Street and Frank Williams.

Next Week: The Suspects and the Trials

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