Why We Should Save the Buchanan Cemetery



The year is 1792. Nashville is a tiny town out in the wilderness of what is then western North Carolina, nestled inside a wooden fort for protection. Dotted around the countryside are similar small forts, called stations, owned by people whose names we remember primarily because of the streets, towns and counties named for them. Eaton's Station is just on the other side of the river near the buffalo ford. And out toward Jefferson, down what is now Elm Hill Pike, just past Mill Creek is Buchanan Station, home to Major John Buchanan and his wife, Sarah Ridley Buchanan*, called Sally.

George Finalson (or Findleston, depending on your source) and Joseph DuRat come rushing into town with news that a conglomeration of local Indian tribes — Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw — plan on attacking Buchanan Station, slaughtering everyone there and then marching into Nashville and wiping it off the face of the earth. Everyone is alarmed and men and guns are sent to Buchanan Station. But weeks turn into months and there's no attack. The rumor in town is that DuRat and Finalson made up the planned attack in order to alleviate boredom**. So back come the men and guns to Nashville.

And then, two nights later, on Sept. 30, the Indians attack.

This is the back side of the Buchanans
  • This is the back side of the Buchanans
Josephus Corin Guild writes in Old Times in Tennessee, "The attack was so sudden and the emergency so great that no time was lost by the inmates of the fort in dressing, and they commenced the fight with only the clothes on — many in only their under garments — in which they had retired for the night."

Mrs. Buchanan ran through the fort resupplying men with powder, bullets and liquor. Guild tells us that during the fight, she found one man in the fort not fighting. "I would rather be killed fighting like a man," she scolded him, "than be crouching in the corner like a coward. Go to your gun this instant, for your own credit's sake." This, of course, inspired him to return to the fight.

For an hour the battle raged and then, finally, the Indians retreated*** and Buchanan Station was safe. The attack on Nashville did not go forward.

Sally Buchanan died Nov. 23, 1831. Major John Buchanan died a year later. They were buried in the family graveyard near the site of the old fort.

That graveyard still exists. It sits on a small rise overlooking Mill Creek in the middle of an industrial park along Massman Drive, just north of Elm Hill Pike. For a 200-year-old cemetery, it's in pretty good shape. Many of the old stones still stand, even if the names on them are weathered off. Irises, yuccas and yews are evidence that the cemetery has been well-loved. And a lone bench sits at the center, for those who want to stay a while among the trees and the Buchanans and their neighbors.

But now, the man who owns the land is considering selling it. If he does, let's be clear, it will probably still sit there, looking lovely and spooky, on the small rise overlooking the parking lot. It would be cost-prohibitive to move that many bodies. But it will also sit there in obscurity.

Nashville, we should buy the cemetery.

I checked out the Greenways master plan and look, there is a "proposed" set of dots running right down Mill Creek from the river. If you look at the second dot up from the arrow, that's where the cemetery is. If we think we're going to buy it someday, why don't we buy it now?

Look at the work the Nashville City Cemetery Association has done with the City Cemetery. Look at all our awesome and beautiful parks. We have the knowhow to preserve this park and to provide interpretation of the cemetery and Buchanan Station. In life, the Buchanans took care of Nashville.

In their deaths, we should take care of them.


*Could this be the great-aunt of our own Jim Ridley? {Ridley has no idea but says it sounds plausible, since Ridley women were usually having to tell some man to get off his butt and perform some kind of chore.) Sally's nephew, Moses Ridley, moved to Rutherford County and, weirdly enough, called all of his children "Mr. Pink," even the girls. Okay, the Mr. Pink part isn't true. They were, however, all shades of pink.

**I don't know if the fact that Joseph DuRat was less than a year away from marrying and having his first child with Timothy Demonbreun's mistress — who was spending 1792 having her last child with Tim — weighs on the "shit-stirring" side of the argument or is a good argument against the man needing any more drama.

***The story goes that Jimmy O'Connor kept adding powder to his blunderbuss thinking that it was firing when it wasn't. When it finally went off, the force of it knocked O'Connor on his ass and was so loud that the Indians thought the Buchanans had a cannon — which led them to retreat, even though they had the settlers outnumbered.

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