The Man Who Thought his Daddy was a Booger

My mother talked a lot about her ancestors and I remember being enamored by her story about her Great-Grandpa Alfred Honeycutt. He would never speak ill of anyone, she said, and if others said something bad about somebody in his presence, he would say something good about them.

The men in the community often gathered around the pot-bellied stove at the general store to gossip (of course they didn’t call it that as only women gossiped in those days). Knowing Alfred’s proclivity for thinking only good of people, one day when they saw him coming they started bad-mouthing the meanest man in the county (Mama never told me his name so if anyone recognizes him as an ancestor by his occupation please forgive me).

As the men talked they kept an eye on Alfred, stopping to give him time to comment. “Well,” Alfred said after a long pause, “he’s a good whistler.” The man was an engineer on the railroad and was well-known for his whistling as he ran his train through the small community. Grandpa’s response tickled the men no end and the story was passed down – for over a hundred years!

Another story that was passed down, but in secret, so I did not learn of it until I was in my thirties, was Alfred’s ancestry. He claimed to be a “base-born German Jew”. Some said he was raised by his grandfather and took his surname from him.

It seemed Alfred had told someone his father was a “Berger” or “Burger” – something like that. Because some of the Amburgeys in the area had shortened their name to Burger or Burgey (and the original name was Amberger) this was seen as a vital clue to his identity. The family wondered which Amburgey man had fathered him but had found no strong evidence in that direction.

I, too, searched for clues. Alfred had recorded in his military records that he was born in October, 1832 in Buncombe County, North Carolina. This was the only solid evidence I could find about his birth, and came from him. I worked around that while looking for any Burgers, Burgeys, Bergens, etc. in that area. Nothing fit. I’m not a genealogist but I believe I’m a fair researcher.

Alfred was in Letcher County, Kentucky by 1851 when he married his first wife, Elizabeth Amburgey. She gave him three children before she died, and in the 1860 Census, the oldest child, Robert, age eight, was living with the John Pigman family. The other two children, Thomas, age 2 and Phebe, age 6, were living “in houses nearby.”

In February 1861 Alfred married his second wife, Elizabeth Reynolds, who was a cousin to his first wife, and in November 1861 joined the Confederate cause in the Civil War for a period of one year.

During Alfred’s enlistment in the Confederacy, Union General James Garfield*, later to become, in 1880 our 20th president and the last one to be born in a log cabin, took possession of Piketon (later Pikeville) on February 19, 1862. Garfield wrote to Assistant Adjutant General J. B. Fry that there had been a marked change in favor of the Union among the citizens of the neighboring Virginia counties (Pikeville lies near the border of Virginia). He said that at the foot of the Cumberland Mountains several meetings had been held inviting him to “come among them and promising their cordial support.”

Perhaps Alfred was one of those persuaded by the General. On August 22, 1863 Alfred re-enlisted, this time on the Union side, and mustered in on October 10th. He was honorably discharged at Catlettsburg on December 17, 1864 and mustered out on December 24th in time to be home for Christmas. According to the Adjutant General of the State of Kentucky Historical Data Systems, Inc. Alfred was discharged in good standing from both the Confederate and Union armies.

When Alfred went off to war for the Union Elizabeth was expecting their first child together, Ulysses S. Grant Honeycutt (called Grant), my great grandfather, who was born February 18, 1864.

While I was attempting to trace Alfred’s parentage I came across a book called “North Carolina Bastardy Bonds” by Betty J. and Edwin A. Camin and ordered it. On page 23 was a listing for Susannah Hunnicutt (Honeycutts has had various spellings) in Buncombe County, in October, 1832.

These bonds were posted because of the birth or impending birth of an illegitimate child, and were intended to protect the county or parish from the expense of raising the child. When the pregnancy of a woman or birth of a child was brought to the attention of the court, a warrant was issued and the woman brought to court. She was questioned under oath and asked to declare the name of the child’s father. The reputed father was then served a warrant and required to post bond.

I sent to Raleigh, North Carolina for a copy of the original bond and received a photostatic copy which said the father of the child was William G. Davis.

I’ve wondered since then if Alfred even knew the name of his father, or if he’d been told his name was “Berger” etc. Then other things about him came to mind, how he would never speak ill of anyone, how he appears to be a man of conscience and integrity, not afraid or ashamed to change sides in the war when he felt it was the right thing to do. But sometimes one has to quit being nice, and just tell it like it is.

Alfred, who never spoke ill of anyone, when asked who his father was, may have said his daddy was a booger. If so, for generations to come, soft-spoken Alfred’s comment would be taken for an answer to the question. Instead of what it was: a condemnation of the man, most likely already married, who brought shame to his mother.

“booger (slang): a worthless, despicable person”

Note: Most everyone knows President Garfield* was assassinated but many may not be aware of what happend after he was mortally (?) wounded. I decided to add the following story from my Kentucky book to this post for those who may find it of interest:

Evil Knows No Bounderies

Do I believe a future President of the United States was “cursed” by the evil that swept the mountains, or tainted by his short sojourn there? Of course not. President Garfield’s assassination is just a case in point, that evil knows no boundaries. It is ever present, in every place, in every age, in some form.

At the 1880 Republican Convention, Garfield became a “dark horse” presidential nominee on the 36th ballot, and won the election by a margin of only 10,000 popular votes. On July 2, 1881, in a Washington railroad station, after only six months in office, Garfield was on his way to visit his sick wife in Elberon, New Jersey, when he was shot by a loopy pretender who had sought a consular post.

Mortally wounded, President Garfield lay in the White House for weeks. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, tried unsuccessfully to find the bullet with an induction-balance electrical device, which he had designed. Garfield was treated by many doctors, or rather, mistreated, according to history. A number of atrocious treatments were tried out on him, and although sterilization had been preached it was not widely practiced.

President James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881. At the autopsy, examiners determined that the bullet had lodged itself some four inches from the spine in a protective cyst. Their conclusion? Garfield would’ve survived if the doctors had left him alone.

The murderer argued at his trial that he did not kill the President; the doctors deserved all the blame for his death. That argument didn’t work in the 1880s and Guiteau was hanged on June 30, 1882.

President James A. Garfield was the last of our presidents who was born in a log cabin. Six months was not long enough for him to make his mark on history, yet in that time he attacked political corruption and won back for the Presidency a measure of prestige it had lost during the Reconstruction period.

Meanwhile, in the Kentucky Mountains where he had waged successful battles for the Union, the War continued in the mountain feuds; hardly a county without its “war” as a struggle for political power was waged between the former Union and Rebel forces. Both sides fought to capture local offices, with the ex-Confederates losing out to the “good old Union boys”, who elected their former comrades to fill the log courthouses and to run the counties. (Harry Caudill, Night Comes to the Cumberlands).

The “Union” boys indicted the “Rebels” for war crimes, charging defeated Rebels with murder, arson, rape, grand larceny, treason against the Commonwealth, conspiracy, etc., and the Confederates fought back with a vengeance. In fear for their lives, Jurors became reluctant to convict them.

When officers traveled with the few who were convicted, they were set upon by well-armed members of the opposing side, who demanded the prisoners be set free.

The feuds in the Kentucky Mountains would come to represent to many the backwardness of a mountain culture as defined by the famous Hatfields and McCoys.

Meantime, the foolishness of the supposedly civilized world leading to the death of a President would merely be buried in the annals of history, proving that, indeed, evil knows no boundaries.

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