Archive for November, 2009

World War II Memorial

November 25, 2009

The granite tablets honoring Randolph County servicemen which now fill up a good portion of the Worth Street lawn of the courthouse are only the county’s most recent memorial to its war dead. The Confederate monument, dedicated in 1911, may have been first. The clock at the southwest corner of Sunset and Fayetteville Streets (formerly attached to First National Bank) honored World War I “doughboys”. The swimming pool and tennis courts of Memorial Park, at Church and Lanier Streets in Asheboro, honored World War II and Korea servicemen. But the smallest memorial was one that once hung in the lobby of the courthouse.

In an issue of The Courier from April 1944, the following article can be found:

“Asheboro Rotary Club Plans Memorial Service for World War Dead Friday, April 28/ To Unveil Plaque in Hall of County Court House [in] Honor of County’s Dead

“Randolph County’s war dead will be honored at memorial exercises to be held at the Randolph County court house in Asheboro on Friday, April 28th, at 2:30 p.m. The event will be the unveiling of the memorial plaque in the hall of the court house by the Rotary Club of Asheboro. The plaque will contain the names of the county’s war dead to date.

“Relatives of these men will be guests of honor on the occasion, seats having been reserved for members of their families. Representatives of the following organizations also have reserved seats for the occasion: Asheboro, Randleman and Ramseur Lions clubs; Randleman, and Liberty Rotary clubs; Kiwanis Club; Business and Professional Women’s Club; American Legion and Auxiliary; War Mothers; Daughters of the Confederacy; Randolph Ministerial Association and others. The public is also extended an invitation to attend.

“Principal speaker on the occasion will be Lt. Col. Charles C. Bowman, Chief of Staff Intelligence, First Troop Carrier Wing, at Pope Field.”

The plaque served for many years at the county’s only recognition of local residents who make the supreme sacrifice in the war. Eventually it accumulated 51 small Bakelite plaques inscribed with the names of 50 men and 1 woman; so many names in fact that they filled the original plaque and overflowed onto a small plywood board attached to its bottom.

The plaque was commissioned by the Asheboro Rotary Club and its creation supervised by Joe Ross, a former President of the club and subsequently its lifetime historian. It was evidently built by Asheboro Mayor Clyde Lucas in his shops at Lucas Industries on South Fayetteville Street, in a building that subsequently housed GE, Black and Decker, and is now Wells Hosiery mill. Stylistically it is identical to a larger plaque which hung in the lobby of Lucas Industries and exhibited the names of plant employees who were in service during the war. The Asheboro Rotary/ World War II Dead memorial was removed from the lobby of the courthouse during the 1964 renovations. The Rotary plaque and the Lucas Industries plaque were saved by Mr. Ross and preserved in the basement of his building at 100 Sunset Avenue, where they were found (by me) in 1998.

The Asheboro Rotary Club paid for both plaques to be cleaned and refinished, and the names of the World War II dead were moved to the larger plaque, where they now fit without the extra sheet of plywood. It is hoped that the original smaller plaque can now be used to honor World War I dead, and both plaques displayed in the lobby of the restored courthouse.

Note that the Home Lee Cox name plate is missing—the story is that Joe Ross gave the plate to a family member at some point. One of my real estate clients, LaRue Cox, was the brother of Homer Lee Cox and sent me a tiny newspaper clipping which records his death. Homer Lee Cox was killed in the Philippine Islands at age 19, on May 6, 1945. Robert McGlohon, the 23-year-old brother of former Asheboro Fire Chief John McGlohon, was a bombardier on a B-17 based in England when he died. Chief McGlohon remembers that Robert “and his crew crashed in 1943, leaving the little town of Polbrooke [England] on their way to the continent. Apparently the plane iced up and spun in and all but one of them were killed.”

John McGlohon remembers another, temporary memorial to soldiers serving during the war. A sign made up of 4×8 sheets of plywood nailed to posts stood at the corner of Worth and Fayetteville Streets, beside the Red Ball gas station. “Everytime somebody went into service Edgar Cheek [the local sign painter] would go down there and paint their names on the list. When somebody got killed, he’d go down and paint a star by their name.”

I don’t know the story behind each name, or the circumstances of any other person’s death. That would be a great research project for someone!

Below are the names listed on the Rotary World War II memorial:

W. Fred Allen

Robert E. Andrews

Archie L. Ashworth

Max C. Auman

Leslie E. Bean

William G. Boone

Willie H. Bouldin

William M. Buie

Walter A. Bunch, Jr.

Hartwell L. Byrd

Robert E. Cagle

David Henry Cline

Julius D. Copple

Billy S. Coward

Homer Lee Cox

James D. Crowell

Linwood Deaton

Louis D. Demarcus

Neal W. Dennis

Thomas H. Dixon

William D. Dunham

Charles T. Ferree

Williams A. Grimes

John V. Greeson

Harvey L. Hemphill

Virgil F. Hill

Carl R. Holmes

Arthur L. Hoover

Willie E. Hudson

Calvin S. Jarrell

Howard L. Jessup

Howard R. Jones

Lonnie L. Jones

Sylvester V. Kennedy

John F. Kime

Boyd R. Kimrey

James L. King

Richard W. Kirkman

Truman W. Langley

Clifford G. Lassiter

Caleb D. Marion

Alfred McElhannon

Robert A. McGlohon

Clarence R. McRae

E.K. McArthur, Jr.

Winfred C. O’Briant

Carlie B. Odom

John C. Odum

Earnest O. Nance

Robert H. Newton

Edgar L. (Joe) Pierce

Colon A. Pilkenton

Maurice M. Plummer

Jefferson D. Potts

Mildred Coleen Presnell

Glenn Fox Pugh

Caleb R. Redding

Dewey R. Reeder

Thomas J. Rierson, Jr.

Bruce L. Rich

John B. Richardson

John W. Salmond

William M. Smith

Walter D. Staley

Earnest C. Smith

Samuel W. Sechrest

Claude R. Stafford

Clarence T. Summey

Kester L. Tucker

Junior Voncannon

Harold M. Walton

Guy E. White

Clifford H. Walker

Haywood G. Walden

Charles Wood






Howell Gilliam Trogdon

November 11, 2009

[The Congressional Medal of Honor- U.S. Army version.]

Howell Gilliam Trogdon, born in Randolph County in 1840, was the first North Carolinian to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. There is no better illustration of the ever-divided loyalties of Randolph County than one of its native sons, born in the last state to join the Confederacy, would receive the highest award for valor in action which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Army of the United States of America.

[Howell G. Trogdon, ca. 1890]

Born on the south side of Deep River between Cedar Falls and Franklinville, Trogdon (24 Oct. 1840 – 2 Dec. 1910) was one of eleven children of John Trogdon and his wife Isabella Hardin. Before he was twenty years old he had moved to Missouri; he was working as a cabin boy on a steam boat when he enlisted in the US Army in St. Louis on May 28, 1861.

He was mustered into Company B (“the American Zouaves” ) of the 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry on June 12, 1861. He was placed on “detached service” from June 28, 1862, probably detailed to serve as a courier and spy. In July 1862 he was captured near Ripley, Mississippi bearing dispatches from General William Sherman to General Schuyler Hamilton. He was tried and condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to incarceration at federal prison camps in Tupelo, Miss., Mobile, Ala., Montgomery, Ala., and Richmond, Va.

He finally was paroled on November 19, 1862, and somehow found his way back to his regiment in western Tennessee, where Grant’s forces had been trying cut the Confederacy in half by gaining control of the Mississippi River. The key to that strategy lay in occupying Vicksburg, “the Gibraltar of the West,” a heavily fortified city on a high bluff whose guns prevented the US Navy forces from advancing any higher up the Mississippi.

[Vicksburg from the Mississippi]

After burning Jackson, Miss., on May 15, 1863, Grant’s army battled towards Vicksburg, hoping a quick and powerful advance would keep the retreating Confederate forces off balance and disorganized. By the time General Pemberton’s forces arrived in Vicksburg, the Confederate retreat threatened to turn into a rout, stopped only by the relative safety provided by the trenches and earthwork fortifications built to protect the city in the fall of 1862. A 12-mile-long line of forts and earthen embankments protected Vicksburg on the North, East and South; the Mississippi River was its moat to the west, where Admiral Porter’s blockading forces had bombarded the city for the past year.

Approaching Vicksburg on the road from Jackson, a Union officer observed “A long line of high, rugged, irregular bluffs, clearly cut against the sky, crowed with cannon which peered ominously from embrasures to the right and left as far as the eye could see. Lines of heavy rifle-pits, surmounted with head-logs, ran along the bluffs, connecting fort with fort, and filled with veteran infantry…. The approaches to this position were frightful- enough to appall the stoutest heart.” [Carter, The Final Fortress: The Campaign for Vicksburg, p. 211.]

Grant felt that a quick strike into the heart of the city could cause the collapse of the Confederate lines and preclude a lengthy siege. Even though attacks on the 19th and 20th of May failed to break through the Confederate fortifications, Grant decided to try one last massive assault. A perceived weak spot was identified near one fort, called the “Stockade Redan,” where the 10-foot-tall embankment was protected by a ditch 12 feet wide and 5-6 feet deep. To cross this ditch and breach the wall of the fort, Grant ordered a “forlorn hope,” an advance guard of 150 volunteer troops, sent on what was probably a suicide mission.  The advance party would carry heavy logs toward the bluff, 2 men per log, and throw them across the ditch to create the foundation for a bridge. The second detachment would closely follow with lumber to create the deck of the bridge, and a third detachment would rush across the bridge and plant scaling ladders against the face of the embankment so that the supporting brigades could carry the fort in a grand assault. Most of the first wave of attacking soldiers, the “forlorn hope,” would probably be killed or wounded; others might survive long enough to seize a foothold and occupy the Confederate defenders while the final wave with better prospects could punch through the weakened defenses.

[The modern-day Stockade Redan in the Vicksburg National Battlefield Park. Photo by Michael Noiret.]

Howell G. Trogdon wrote the following sketch in explanation of his Medal of Honor award:

“On the 22 of May ’63 a detail was called for out of our Regiment, but for what we did not know. There were 22 volunteers from our Regiment. We were ordered to take a hundred rounds of ammunition, 40 in our cartridge box and 60 in our pockets. We were then marched in front of General Grant’s headquarters where we stacked arms. We here met details from other Regiments which swelled the number to 250 all told. Generals Grant, Sherman, Cogan, Morgan and Smith, Jiles A. Smith, Ewing, Oustenhouse, Steele, F.P. Blair and others were there. Attention was called and Gen. Sherman made a short speech. Pointing to the front he told us that we were there as a forlorn hope to the front, that we were to file to the right and go into the mouth of a cut where we would be provided with the scaling ladders.

“I noticed here that there was no one bearing the flag. Then I cried out to General Sherman, ‘Say, General, won’t it be advisable for some one to carry the flag so if we get scattered we will see something to rally to?’ About twenty yards from us there was a fine silk flag set in the ground in front of some general’s headquarters. General Sherman walked over and taking the flag brought it to me saying in a jovial manner, ‘It’s a dangerous job my boy to try to put that flag on the fort.’

[Contemporary newspaper illustration of the Forlorn Hope storming the Stockyard Redan.]

“We then marched on into the cut and awaited the signal for the charge on the fort with our improvised scaling ladders. At 10 o’clock [A.M.] we heard the boom of the cannon which was our signal to charge. Then we swept forward and were met by a terrific fire from the enemy so deadly that our little band was almost annihilated. At this moment I ran forward waving the flag and rushed on toward the fort. A canister struck the staff a few inches above my hand and cut it half in two. Then they depressed their guns and a cannon ball struck the folds and carried it half away, knocking it out of my hands. I got down off of the fort and picked the flag up and rushed back and flaunted it in the faces of the rebels and said, ‘What flag are you fighting under today, Johnny?'” [Quoted in The Randolph Guide, April 15, 1970,” Cedar Falls Man Fought for Yanks,” Trogdon’s statement was provided by his great-grandaughter Mary P. Johnston.]

The “forlorn hope” was doomed from the outset by the plan to carry the bridge materials more than a thousand feet across an open “no man’s land” in full view of the Confederate fort. Says one analysis of the action:

“The moment the ‘forlorn hope’ emerged from the ravine, they came within view of the enemy, who opened so heavy a fire on them that their works were covered with clouds of smoke. The gallant little band advanced at a dead run, but in the eighty rods [1,080 feet] of open ground which lay between them and the fort, about half of them were shot down. When the survivors arrived at the ditch, they found it impossible to build a bridge, as so many of the logs had been dropped by the way, and it was equally impossible to remain where they were, exposed to the enemy’s fire. There was nothing for it but to jump into the ditch and seek shelter. Private Howell G. Trogden [sic], who carried the flag of the storming party, planted it on the parapet of the fort, and dropped back into the ditch, where he kept up a fire on the Confederates whenever they attempted to reach it and take it in.” [W.F. Beyer and O.F. Keydel, eds., Deeds of Valor: How America’s Civil War Heroes Won the Congressional Medal of Honor, 1903, p. 191.]

[Detail of the above. Howell Trogdon, at the far left, is planting the flag on the parapet of the Redan.]

“After Trogden had planted his flag on the parapet, the Confederates tried to capture it by hooking it with the shanks of their bayonets, but failed, owing to the hot fire kept up by the sharpshooters. Thereupon Trogden asked me for my gun to give the enemy a thrust. This was a very foolish request, as no soldier ever gives up his gun, but I concluded to try it myself. I raised my head up about as high as the safety of the case would permit, and pushed my gun across the intervening space between us and the enemy, gave their bayonets a swipe with mine, and dodged down just in time to escape being riddled. I did not want any more of that kind of amusement, so did not undertake to force the acquaintance any further. After we had been in this predicament about two hours, they sent over a very pressing invitation to ‘Come in, you Yanks. Come in and take dinner with us.’ We positively declined, however, unless they would come out and give us a chance to see if the invitation were genuine. This they refused to do, but agreed to send a messenger. By and by it arrived in the shape of a shell, which went flying down the hill without, however, doing any damage.” [Statement of Corporal Robert Cox, Company K, Fifty-first Illinois Infantry, quoted in Beyer and Keydel, p. 196]

[Federal advance at Vicksburg]

“The other brigades advance to the support of the stormers, but were driven back by the heavy fire, and all that reached the ditch were thirty men of the Eleventh Missouri… They planted their flag along side that of the storming party, and sought shelter where they could, in the ditch, or in holes dug in the embankment. The Confederates finding it impossible to depress their guns sufficiently to reach them, dropped 12-pounder shells among them, but the fuses were cut too long, and consequently did not explode for about ten seconds. This gave the stormers time not only to get out of the way, but even to toss some of the shells back over the parapet, otherwise not a man would have survived. As it was, the bottom of the ditch was strewn with mangled bodies, with heads and limbs blown off.” [Beyer and Keydel, p. 192]

[“This gave time to toss some of the shells back.” From Beyer and Keydel.]

“All day long, from 10 o’clock in the morning until darkness fell, the unequal fit went on; then the little body of survivors crept out of the ditch, carrying with them their flags, riddled with bullets, and made their way back to their own lines. Of the storming party eighty-five per cent were either killed or dangerously wounded, and few of them escaped without a wound of some kind.” [Beyer and Keydel, p. 194]

“When the storming party withdrew, they left behind them William Archinal, who had been stunned by a fall, and who was afterwards captured by the enemy… [Archinal stated] “When I was taken into the fort, a rebel officer came up to me, slapped me on the shoulder, and said: ‘See here, young man, weren’t you fellows all drunk when you started this morning?’ I replied, ‘No, Sir!’ ‘Well, they gave you some whiskey before you started, didn’t they?’ he said, and I answered, ‘No Sir, that plan is not practiced in our army.’

“‘Didn’t you know it was certain death,’ he asked me again, and I replied, ‘Well, I don’t know, I am still living!’

“‘Yes,’ he said, ‘You are living, but I can assure you that very few of your comrades are.'” [Beyer and Keydel, p. 194]

[Vicksburg National Cemetery]

Howell Trogdon closes by saying :

“Only three of my comrades succeeded in reaching the fort with me: Sergeant Nagle who was killed on the spot and a Private from 54 Reg. who shared the same fate. The reply to my question to the Reb [‘What flag are you fighting under today, Johnny?”] was, ‘You’d better surrender Yank.’ ‘Oh no Johnny, you’ll surrender first,’ was my answer.

“I never left that place of death until after midnight. My canteen was shot away, my clothes was full of holes and the banner was hardly recognizable. Then I crawled back over the corpses of the Forlorn Hope over dead and through the cane and back into our lines with the remnant of the Flag.” [From his statement in The Randolph Guide.]

[Admiral Porter’s bombardment]

The siege of Vicksburg lasted until the Fourth of July; its starving citizens lived for months in caves dug out of the high banks along the Mississippi while Union gunboats shelled the city. Grant finally captured 29,500 prisoners while losing about 5,000 of his soldiers killed, wounded or missing. He would later write, “the fate of the Confederacy was sealed at Vicksburg.” Control of the Mississippi would never return to Confederate hands, and the states South and West of the river were cut off from the rest of the Confederacy. “The Father of Waters,” said Abraham Lincoln, “again goes unvexed to the Sea.”

Howell Trogdon was honorably discharged May 22, 1864. He and the other 50 survivors of the forlorn Hope were awarded the Medal of Honor by Act of Congress on August 3, 1894. Trogdon settled in Chicago, where he married and raised a family. He died in Los Angeles in 1910.


BIRTH 1840 at Cedar Falls, North Carolina

ENTERED SERVICE AT St. Louis, Missouri

RANK/ORGANIZATION Private, Company B, 8th Missouri Infantry

MOH CITATION Gallantry in the charge of the “volunteer storming party.”   He carried his regiment’s flag and tried to borrow a gun to defend it.

PLACE/DATE At Vicksburg, Mississippi; 22 May 1863

DATE OF ISSUE 03 August 1894

[extracted from and ]


W.F.Boyer and O.F. Keydel, eds., Deeds of Valor: How America’s Civil War Heroes Won The Congressional Medal of Honor (Detroit: Perrien-Keydel Company, 1903).

Samuel Carter III, The Final Fortress: The Campaign for Vicksburg, 1862-1863 (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1980).

The Randolph Guide, April 15, 1970,” Cedar Falls Man Fought for Yanks.”

Randolph County Military History

November 9, 2009

[An unknown Randolph County Civil War soldier. This ambrotype was sold at an estate auction in Grant Township in 2001.]

The following overview of Randolph County’s involvement in the military history of the United States was written in 1936 by Tom Presnell. I copied it from a typescript in the files of the Randolph Room which had his handwritten corrections, which are made as indicated.

I always think of the author as “Colonel Tom Presnell,” because that is how my father Lowell Whatley invariably referred to him. Presnell (b. 5-11-1908 – d. 8-9-1973) was my father’s predecessor as commander of the Randolph County National Guard unit, and they had collaborated closely over the new National Guard Armory on South Fayetteville Street, designed under Colonel Tom and built under my father’s supervision. Tom Presnell had been a Major in command of the Asheboro guard unit when it was activated in 1941.

After World War II Presnell worked as one of the county’s first probation and parole officers. In retirement Colonel Tom became the most active advocate for the preservation of local history. When I became interested in history in the 1960s, I was directed to Miss Laura Worth, the nonagenarian county historian (she’ll be subject of a future post) who operated out of a vault in the basement of the courthouse, and Colonel Tom Presnell, who ran the Randolph County Historical Society and wanted to build a museum in the Armfield House on the corner of Fayetteville and Salisbury Streets (now the site of Randolph Bank). The Armfield House museum ran afoul of the need for sprinklers in a frame structure, and the best compromise that could be made was that the Historical Society was given the Armfield Kitchen, formerly the Asheboro Female Academy. Colonel Tom moved the Female Academy to a borrowed lot facing the Junior High School, and began its restoration. Presnell died in a freak accident in the summer of 1973, when his parked car was demolished by a runaway tractor-trailer truck.

[Major Tom Presnell in 1940.]

“Randolph Military History Shows Her Son’s Bravery in Wars of Many Decades,” by Tom Presnell.

From Revolutionary days to the present, in time of stress, Randolph sons have poured forth to war. At the battle of Guilford Court House, Randolph Militia units under command of Lieutenant John Collier, took part in the battle at that place. Of course records are scarce and vague as to this period but it is known that Thomas Dougan, Col. Andrew Balfour, Captain William Clark, Hugh McCain, Alexander Gray and others fought valiantly for liberty and were leaders in the fight against the Tories in this county and surrounding section. Few of them were in the Continental army but from 1775 to 1783 there was practically continuous fighting [with] marauding bands of the organized [Tories] in this and Chatham counties.

In the war of 1812 with Great Britain, the militia of Randolph again went to war but saw little action because this war was fought mostly on the seas and in the northern part of the United States— far from their homes.

During the Civil War the county contributed the full quota to the Confederate cause. Over 3000 boys left Randolph in 1861 to fight for the protection of their homes and property. Randolph sent to the front nine full companies, all commanded by Randolph men. These companies were: I, L, and M, of the 22nd N. C. Regiment; F and G of the 46th N. C. Regiment; B, of 52nd N.C. Regiment; F, of the 70th N.C. Regiment; A and D, of the 8th Battalion; and numerous other soldiers scattered over other regiments.

[Flag of the “Randolph Hornets” (22nd Regiment, Company M, North Carolina Troops), taken in the 1970s in the old Randolph Room of the Asheboro Public Library. The deteriorated silk flag is now in dire need of restoration.]

Near the last of the war the Junior Reserves were organized, and saw some active service. They were boys of about sixteen to seventeen years of age and commanded by C served throughout the war in the army of northern Virginia and in the eastern Carolina. They were in all the principal battles except the first battle at Manassas. At Gettysburg under Pettigrew, and at Seven Pines their losses were severe.

Only a few returned from this gigantic conflict that raged for four years. Many rested in Soldier’s graves; several had died of disease, but many more of them had died fighting for their land. Returning home they encountered hardships that weak men could not face. The country was overrun with deserters. Robbery and pillaging was prevalent over the county.

In the war with Spain, in l890, few Randolph men saw action, mostly because it did last long — only about ninety days.

In 1911 a call was issued through the columns of the Courier, stating that “all citizens interested in organizing a company of infantry in the State Guard meet at the court house…” The notice was signed by James Kivett and George Ross. James Kivett became the first officer in Germany K, Third Regiment of Infantry . The company changed officers several times, T. Fletcher Bulla at one time was Captain, B. F. Brittain, C.E. Elmore, Ed Mendenhall and others were Lieutenants at different times. Dozens of men in all walks of life now living in Asheboro and elsewhere, at one time and another joined the guards for the annual two weeks encampment.

[Members of Company K digging trenches at Camp Sevier, SC. Randolph Room Photo.]

Returning to Asheboro early in 1917 with 53 men and three officers, saw another crisis and recruiting for overseas service began. A reorganization occurred about this time; the Third Regiment became the 120 Infantry and assigned to the 60th Brigade, 30th (Old Hickory) Division. In September, 1917 Company K was sent to Camp Sevier, S. C. to become acquainted with the officers of the company. The officers at that time were Capt. B. F. Dixon and Lieutenants Hal M. Walker and Everett Luck; and about 150 army personnel.

The infantry spent about nine months training at Sevier, the company with the infantry of the 30th Division, composed of the troops from North Carolina and Tennessee, embarked for France. Landing in France in June, 1918, The Division, along with the 27th Division was attached to the British Division in Belgium. On September 29, the Division did some of the most courageous fighting of the entire war.

During the war these two divisions gained fighting glory by successfully assaulting the Hindenburg Line— an assumingly impregnable fortress. Company K going into the assault with 208 men, only 67 emerged living or unwounded. They had fought in the fiercest part and had accomplished their objective, but only at the cost of supreme sacrifice. Capt. Dixon, Sergeant Tom McDowell, Private John Kivett and many other Losing their lives.

[Private J.A. Long of Company K]

After a few days rest, October 10 saw this outfit back in the lines engaged in another fierce battle.

In addition to the National Guard Company, Randolph furnished many men for all branches of the service during the war. Most of the Randolph men who entered the army by way of the selective draft were sent to Camp Jackson, S.C. for training, being assigned to the 81st division. They too went to France and saw action in battle.

After the Armistice was signed, American troops in France wore sent home as fast as possible, The 120th infantry landing in Charleston, S.C. in April, 1919, and Company K was mustered out of service, the boys returning home and Company K was disbanded.

In 1921 the National Guard was reorganized but Asheboro did not get one of the companies. However in 1928 Headquarters Company 3rd Bn., 12 Infantry, a unit of the North Carolina National Guard was secured for the town, being organized by C.J. Lovett and Roy Cox, Lt. Cox his junior officer.

This company is now composed of two officers and 28 enlisted men. Cox is 1st. Lieutenant in Command and Vance Kivett is 2nd lieutenant. The armory is located on N. Church Street and was built only some forty years ago. The large drill room, besides being used for military purposes, is often converted to a dance hall and a meeting place for various civic organizations.

Rabbit Gums

November 6, 2009

When I was growing up and visiting my mother’s family near Union Grove Church on the border between Moore and Randolph counties, I sometimes would stumble across one of these odd contraptions set up in the edge of one of the distant fields: “Rabbit Gums” my uncles and Grandfather set out to catch dinner. I never developed a taste for bunny, but I was fascinated with their traps.

The Chriscoe rabbit gums were wooden rectangular boxes made of thick sawmill plank, with the far end closed and a trap door at the other that slid down like a guillotine. The top of the door was tied to a stick balanced on one end; a notched trigger clipped into the box and held the door open. Rabbit food (apples/ carrots/ turnips/ etc.) was put inside the closed back end; when an animal (not always a rabbit- I remember hearing stories about angry possums and skunks caught in rabbit gums) crawled in the box and nibbled on the food, the trigger would pop loose and slap the trap door down to catch the rabbit. Most of the time.

The “gum” part of the name Rabbit Gum is a holdover from farther back in history, when black gum trees were burned to hollow out the center, making natural boxes for bee hives, chicken nests, rabbit traps and etc. “Gum” became a generic term for whatever served the same purpose as that original hollow block of Gum wood. This internet hunting forum page has pictures of a natural black gum rabbit trap. [Here’s the link unembedded- ]

Local historian Frank L. FitzSimons of Henderson County, NC, wrote here of rabbit gums-

“In early days the fall of the year was the season to set rabbit gums. This was before rabbits were protected by stringent game laws and wild rabbits supplied a sizeable portion of the fresh meat eaten during the winter months. At that time it was not against the law to sell wild game in our stores and meat markets. It is rarely done now but in the days of another generation practically every boy on a farm in Henderson County had a string of rabbit gums …

“Every farm boy used his own favorite bait in the traps … Some held to apples. Others claimed that onions were better than apples. Some boys baited their gums with salt. Then there were those who argued that the best bait of all was a combination of cabbage leaves, onions and salt.

“My uncle taught me to bait traps with apple slices. This was his preference because apples were readily available that time of the year and would keep in the trap for a long while. In addition to placing a large slice in the trap behind the trigger, he also placed tiny bits of apple in a pathway leading to the entrance.

“At the beginning of one winter a rumor spread through town that some boys were killing and skinning cats for rabbits. The market for rabbits was completely wiped out until some wise person came up with the idea of leaving the fur on one hind foot for identification…. When a boy caught a wild rabbit, skinned and dressed it for sale, [and] the fur was… left on one of the hind feet… the purchaser could know the animal being sold was actually a rabbit.”

I discovered these homemade rabbit gums in a former parking lot next to a textile mill in Salisbury that was being torn down. They gently reminded me of the 1950s in rural Randolph. But an April 2007 Craigslist post from Morehead City announced a bigger business:


Obviously rabbit gums haven’t vanished into history quite yet!