Tombstone Tuesday: Simpson Socrates Nix (and a little Civil War history)

SimpsonNixSimpson Socrates Nix was born on April 10, 1841 in Weakley County, Tennessee to parents Riley and Mary Ann (Alexander) Nix.  Riley and Mary Ann were born in North Carolina, both in 1820, and they married on October 17, 1838 in Henry County, Tennessee.  Their family was enumerated in Weakley County in 1850, but by 1860 they had relocated to Calloway County, Kentucky.

According to The History of Jasper County, Missouri, Riley was a farmer and also involved in local politics, serving as sheriff and public administrator.  A posting at Find-A-Grave seems to indicate that Riley’s father was a slave owner in Tennessee, but it’s unclear whether Riley owned slaves.  He and his family did, however, live in a part of Kentucky that was more sympathetic to the Southern slave states.

A Little Civil War History

Calloway County was located in a region sometimes referred to as the “Jackson Purchase”, which wasn’t part of Kentucky at the time of its statehood in 1792.  After President Andrew Jackson purchased the area from Chickasaw Indians in 1818, it became part of the southernmost part of Kentucky.  Fast forward four decades as the nation was on the brink of a war of brother against brother.

As a border state, Kentucky was neutral at the beginning of the war.  It was also the place where Abraham Lincoln had been born and raised, and he always considered his home state key to winning the war.  He famously said, “I hope to have God on my side, but I must have Kentucky.”  He felt that losing Kentucky meant losing the entire war.

Despite its neutrality, Kentucky still had a significant slave population, almost twenty percent.  Yet, curiously, Kentuckians who considered themselves Unionists saw nothing wrong with the practice.  Indeed, Kentucky had largely been settled by folks who migrated from Virginia, North and South Carolina, all major slave states.

Kentucky Governor Beriah Magoffin sided with the Southern states, believing their states rights had been violated.  To avoid a rending of the nation, he wrote to other Southern state governors imploring them to find a way to avoid secession by agreeing with the North to strictly enforce the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act.  His pleas for a conference of slave states was ignored.

Magoffin called a special session of the Commonwealth’s legislature in late December 1860, requesting they decide which side Kentucky would support.  However, the majority of the General Assembly were Unionists, and fearing that the general population had begun to lean more toward secession, decided to decline Magoffin’s request.

Instead, the legislature sent delegates to a peace conference held in Washington, D.C. on February 4, 1861.  From that gathering came a call for all states to gather at a convention to resolve their differences.  Earlier Kentucky Senator John Crittenden had drafted a proposal known as the Crittenden Compromise.  Neither attempt at compromise and resolution was successful.

Lincoln sent a telegram to Magoffin on April 15, 1861 requesting he send troops as part of the first 75,000 called to put down the rebellion.  Magoffin, a staunch Southern sympathizer, wrote Lincoln back and curtly turned him down: “I will send not a man nor a dollar for the purpose of subduing my sister Southern states.”  By this time, most Kentuckians sided with Crittenden and wanted to act as mediator, remaining neutral.  After both houses of the legislature passed declarations of neutrality, Magoffin declared his state’s position on May 20, 1861.

Despite declared neutrality, both Union and Confederate forces were gathering in the state, making it less likely the state could remain neutral.  Not only was the general populace becoming more divided on the issue, the state’s military forces were also experiencing a schism.  The State Guard favored the Confederacy, while the Home Guard stood with the Union.

After a special congressional election was held on June 20, 1861, the results indicated a desire to either remain neutral or side with the Union, as nine of the ten Kentucky congressional seats were won by Unionists.  The one remaining seat went to the Jackson Purchase area, largely comprised of Confederate supporters.

All this to say that when it came time for Simpson Socrates Nix to decide which side he would support, he chose the Confederacy, for after all Calloway County was located in the Jackson Purchase region, whose economy was linked to nearby Tennessee.  Simpson had married Rebecca Elizabeth Holland on November 29, 1861 and on October 10, 1862 he enlisted, and according to The History of Jasper County, Missouri, did so with a “great deal of enthusiasm for the cause of the South.”

He enlisted in Company G of the Seventh Kentucky Regiment and initially assigned the rank of third lieutenant.   The Jasper County history book indicates that he served with valor until the dreadful Battle of Shiloh, where he was severely wounded.  After healing and returning to the front he served until June 10, 1863 when he was honorably discharged just before the fall of Vicksburg.

Simpson returned home to Calloway County and was later appointed its deputy sheriff, serving under Sheriff Riley Nix, his father.  Simpson and Rebecca were the parents of seven children: Evett Dumas; William; Leona Jane; May Etta; Nellie; Eulalia; and Daisy.  When their oldest son Evett moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory in 1889, Simpson and Rebecca also relocated.

Evett was appointed marshal of the lawless Oklahoma Territory by Grover Cleveland and Simpson served as both a clerk in Guthrie and as Evett’s deputy marshal.  One of the other lawmen Evett hired was Heck Thomas (see Wild West Wednesday article here).  Evett and his team made names for themselves, by arresting over fifty thousand criminals during the first three years of their tenure and killing forty-seven.

In 1900 Simpson and Rebecca left Guthrie and settled in Jasper County, Missouri.  By this time their children were grown and in 1900 Simpson was enumerated as a “dry goods dealer” at the age of fifty-nine.  By 1910, Simpson was still employed, now holding the office of assessor for the city of Joplin, and in 1920 he was the county treasurer at the age of seventy-nine.  So, perhaps as Simpson grew older he decided to immerse himself in civil service.  The History of Jasper County, Missouri recorded:

In politics Mr. Nix gives a stalwart support to the principles and policies promulgated by the Democratic party and in a fraternal way he is affiliated with a number of representative organizations.  In their religious faith the Nix family are consistent members of the Primitive Baptist church, to whose philanthropical work they contribute liberally of their time and means.  Mr. Nix is popular among all classes of people and his friends are legion, bound in no sense by party lines, religious creeds or social status.  His home is his haven and his heaven, and probably no man regards more sacredly the ties and responsibilities of home life than does he.  He has lived a life of usefulness such as few men know.  God-fearing, law-abiding, progressive, his life is as truly that of a Christian gentleman as any man’s can well be.  Unwaveringly he has done the right as he has interpreted it.

Perhaps homesick for Kentucky and both in their eighties, Simpson and Rebecca were living in Paducah, Kentucky in 1924.  Simpson Socrates Nix died on June 1, 1925 at the age of eighty-four.  He was buried in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Paducah County.

RebeccaHollandNixIn 1930 Rebecca, age eighty-four, was living with daughter Leona and her family in Carthage (Jasper), Missouri, and in 1937 she was living in Coffeyville, Kansas.  Rebecca Elizabeth (Holland) Nix passed away in Paducah on August 27, 1939 at the age of ninety-three.  During her life she had been known as a “woman of rare charm and magnetic personality” and much beloved by all who knew her.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2015.

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