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Generation VIII: Sam & Priscilla Penley-Anna Penley & Charles Lowe

Samuel & Priscilla (Price) Penley

Samuel Penley (1856 - 1921) married Priscilla Price (1865 - 1951)

Our line of Penleys actually descends from two of Epp and Tempy’s children, Hiram, born 1816, and Ira, born 1817. Over a hundred years later, Hiram’s grandson, Rufus Penley married Ira’s great granddaughter, Stella Lowe

Actually, three sons of Epp and Tempy (Ira, Hiram and Samuel) married three daughters of Charles and Susannah Kilgore Bays (Anna, Rachel and Elizabeth).

Literacy returned to our family line at last! Beginning in 1870, Samuel Penley, and all of Hiram's children were designated as literate. We were reading again, only 220 years after the death of our well educated literate immigrant, William Pinley. The first free schools in Scott County were opened in 1870, but even before that, "subscription schools" taught the basics to paying customers, and Hiram or Aunt Nancy made that investment for us. Samuel was literate, his wife Priscilla was not. 

Hiram's family was still near Estillville, Gate City today. Hiram passed away in 1878, his family remained at Epp's old homestead.  Samuel and Charles were at home with Hiram's widow, Rachael. Enoch lived next door, alongside Epp's daughter Aunt Nancy, age 71. These were hard times, and by 1900, Hiram's sons owned no land. William, Enoch, Sam and Charles' widow were listed as renters in Estillville district. Hiram's acreage was just not enough to support the growing families of four sons. 

Our Samuel Penley (May 14, 1856 - December 4, 1921) was the son of Hiram and Rachel Penley. Samuel married Ann Shoemaker, who died after giving birth to one child, William Manuel Penley (1875 - 1941).  Widower Sam Penley then married our grandmother, Priscilla Price on July 15, 1882 in Scott County. Priscilla (October 5, 1865 - April 4, 1951) was the daughter of John and Fanny (Aldridge) Price, the granddaughter of Drury and Margaret Price. John and Fanny Price, aged 23 and 24 are on the 1850 census at house #7, Drury Price is nearby, at house #11. Most of the Prices were of Scot Irish descent.

Together Sam and Priscilla Price Penley gave birth to FIFTEEN children between 1883 and 1912.
1. Sarah Lydia Penley (1883-1972)
2. Cora Lee Penley (January 5, 1884 - October 15, 1885)
3. John M. Penley (1885 - 1920) married Ida Lane
4. Lula Penley (1888 - 1970) married William Henry
5. Lillie Penley (1888 - 1939) married Carson Strong
6. Lona Penley (1890 - 1943) married Worley Clayton Lane
7. James Worley Penley (1895 - after 1970) married Eliza Henry
8. Hiram Thomas Penley (July 15, 1896 - June 6, 1927 )
9. Rufus Asbury Penley (October 12, 1896 - July 14, 1981 ) married Stella Mae Lowe on April 19, 1919.
10. Mary Buena Penley (1898 - 1960) married Kelly Lane
11. Enoch Penley (1901 - 1965) married Monnie Lane
12. Nancy (Nannie)Penley (April 20, 1905 - April 12, 1988) married Ira Luster
13. Malcolm Barney Penley (April 28, 1908 - April 2, 1988) married February 24, 1940 Georgia Marie Freeman
14. Monnie Penley (1908 - 1918)
15. Kelly Horton Penley (June 27, 1910 - Jan 16, 1982) married Bernice Freeman

The exact location of Sam and Priscilla's home is not clear after 1880, but the small Taylor Cemetery by Blairs Chapel at the intersection of State Roads 71 and 72 between Slabtown and Snowflake reveals much about Hiram's descendants. Enoch's wife Nancy was buried in 1911. Later Enoch, their son Charles and three grandchildren were buried there. One of the oldest markers there is for Mary Penley, 1826 - 1908, the probable wife of Epp's son, Thomason Martin Penley. Sam and his brother Enoch probably lived near here at the time the first burials took place.

There are many unmarked graves at Blairs Chapel. Death took Sam and Priscilla's daughter Cora in 1885. When their daughter Monnie died at age ten in 1918, she was buried by Blairs Chapel. Samuel followed in 1921, son Hiram Thomas in 1927, and Priscilla in 1951. Years later their daughters Sarah and Lula (Henry) were buried. A very small unmarked grave next to Sam's marker may be Georgia Marie Penley who died circa 1920, the first child of Rufus and Stella.

When Hiram Thomas and Rufus registered for the draft in 1918, both listed Gate City as home, Thomas said he was born near Gate City. Rufus signed his name; Thomas made a mark. Sometime before 1920, Sam and Priscilla moved across the state line to Kingsport, perhaps to take advantage of jobs created by World War I. The exact location of Sam and Priscilla's home is not determined, but the Morrison City area is strongly suggested. Items about the Penleys appeared in the Morrison Chapel section of the newspaper in the 1920s. They were found in Sullivan County, outside the city limits of Kingsport, 12th Civil District, section #168, page 20.

Sam and Priscilla were found on Sullivan County's 1920 census in house #415 with children Sarah, Thomas, Enoch, Nannie, Malcolm and Horton Kelly. Their married sons Worley and John were nearby with young families in houses #412 and #413. Jobs probably took them to Tennessee, though Sam and Worley are listed as renting farms. Enoch worked at the pulp mill, and Thomas at construction, all for wages. John was working at wholesale grocery, perhaps the Kingsport Grocery Company that opened in 1916.

Rufus and Stella have never been located on the 1920 census, but they were possibly living near Gate City. We have no photos of Grandpa Sam Penley, Aunt Georgia said Sam believed cameras were evil. Sam did write a wonderful letter from Kingsport to his son Rufus that conveys his beliefs, values and fatherly pride. Cousin Jennifer interpreted the old writing.

March 23, 1920
Dear son and daughter,
I will try to write you a few lines to let you know we are all alive. We have all been sick. I hain't much better. John and all of his family has been down with the flu. All are better I think.
Well dear one good boy, I heard you and Stell had professed religion. Oh what good news to me Rufus. Watch and pray. Go to your work and pray. Keep Satan off.
Well come over as soon as you can. Well I heard you sold your pup. I will give you one of mine if you want it. Send me word. Well I would like to see you all. Worley's baby is sick. They have had the doctor with her. Be a good boy. Jesus Jesus Stand by me and keep the devil away from me.
From your papa
Samuel Penley

Circa 1921, Sam also took a job at a grocery. Soon after, he became ill with Brights disease and died of kidney failure on December 4, 1921 in Kingsport. He was survived by his wife Priscilla and fourteen children.

Sam and Priscilla's son, Hiram Thomas Penley, was a World War I soldier. Because he returned from the war in poor health, Thomas kept his serviceman's life insurance paid up with his sister Sarah, and brothers Malcolm and Kelly as beneficiaries. He left specific instructions for them to buy a small farm for his mother Priscilla where she could live out her days in peace. Upon Thomas' death, his wishes were carried out poetically. For $1,250 the Penleys bought 85 acres on Clinch Mountain from James Willis. Malcolm later bought 30 acres more for a total of 115 acres. Between Slabtown and Snowflake on State Road 71, the land rises up behind the Woods Cemetery and the old Mountain View School, about four miles from Gate City. 

It was about a 3/4 mile walk to the house from the road, across a creek. In the summer a car could get a good way up, but in the winter it was a hike all the way, unless you turned an ankle, then Granddaddy Rufus carried you up on his back. Uncle Luther bought a Scout that could maneuver the entire route to their front door in good weather. Kinnie Wagner was born there, and is buried at the foot of the mountain, at Woods Cemetery by Mountain View School. Flint and Indian arrowheads were found there. Signal Knob was a bit further up at 3,217 feet. It was a distance Mitch Penley loved to run; he said they never walked anywhere, they always ran. In his later years he regretted not taking one more hike up there. Uncle Malcolm's house was only up about 2600 feet above sea level.

As soon as Priscilla gained her mountaintop home in 1927, it became a safe haven and hub of activity for her children, and grandchildren. When her kids hit hard times in the 1920s and 1930s, they brought their families to Priscilla's mountain while they worked through rough patches. Mitch Penley lived there with Luther, Dolphine and Jeanette for a few years around 1927 - 1930. Rufus and Stella came on days off to see the kids.

Through good times and bad, on weekends the mountain came alive with children. Mitch fondly remembered running with throngs of cousins and begging to stay over through the summer, or at least the next weekend. There were some tall tales about Alpha, Ginny and Don Strong, Jack and Benny Collings, Janie Lane, Uncle Malcolm's boy Tommy and some other favorites, but mostly just fond reflections on the bygone days.

When Mitch's grandson Joey Zack interviewed him for a school paper, he wrote: "Cousin to my grandfather means best friend. He grew up in a very tight-knit family cluster and spent most of his time with his cousins. My grandfather regrets nothing about his life, as he is grateful for all he has been given."

The good times lasted through the years. Don Strong, Jack and Benny Collings would come to our home on Long Street or Dora Street to play Rook until the wee hours. Whenever any of Mitch's cousins visited, there were always big smiles, pranks, and talking long into the night. Helen kept the coffee pot going and usually had to make a cake for Don. When Helen was pregnant, Benny always threatened to call a Vet for delivery. Linda and Karen fell asleep many a night to the voices and melodious laughter coming from the kitchen. Janie (Lane) Mann and her daughter Coantha Mann lived near us in Florida for a few years. We spent a lot of time together, and endured Hurricane Donna at their house in 1960. Jack and Benny Collings might pop up anywhere for a quick visit. These are just memories of Dad's memories; if he were here now there would be more colorful stories about these folks.

After hearing the now legendary tales of the Penley cousins on that mountain, imagine the surprise at finding it reported on the society page of The Kingsport Times. But it was no surprise to see that the Misses Georgia and Bernice Freeman were visitors. My Aunt Georgia married Uncle Malcolm, and Berniece married Uncle Kelly, and they kept the farm through the 1980s when age forced them off the mountain. There are many more newspaper entries like these in the 1920s; these were chosen because Mitch, Luther, Dolphine and Jeanette were surely there those days, such visits spawned many a Penley legend. These must have been some of the days that Dad talked about for the rest of his life. Priscilla's daughter Lillie married Carson Strong, referred to here as C.E. Strong.

January 29, 1929: Mr. Malcolm Penley and Miss Fannie Strong called to see Miss Georgia Freeman Tuesday night. Mr. Malcolm Penley returned to his home near Gate City Friday after spending the week with Mr. and Mrs. C.E. Strong.

October 24, 1929: Mr. and Mrs. C. E. Strong and family, Misses Georgia and Berniece Freeman, Messrrs. Robert McKinzie, Clarence Bruner and Malcolm Penley spent the day with Mrs. Samuel Penley, near Gate City. Mr. K. H. Penley spent Sunday night with Mr. Alfred Strong.

December 19, 1929: The C.E. Strong family spent Sunday with Mrs. Priscilla Penly near Gate City.

Grandma Priscilla's remained a favorite spot on earth for those who came, not just because of the calm and majestic beauty of the mountain, not just because of the table where there was always food for one more, or the beds that were never too full for one more cousin. It reminded you of who you were, where you'd been, and told you where to go next.

Relationships forged on the mountain sustained the family for generations to come, and built character that would see them through tribulations to come. If World War II adults were The Greatest Generation it was the love of people like Sam and Priscilla that made them.

Grandma Priscilla died in 1951. It was "Uncle Malcolm's Mountain" to the next generation. The farm was neat as a pin inside and out. He was a giant of a man who made every little visitor feel incredibly important. He guided Aunt Georgia down the mountain on a sled to meet an ambulance after a copperhead snakebite. Aunt Georgia was a powerful woman with a razor sharp mind for every detail of family history. Uncle Kelly and Aunt Bernice lived nearby. Their son, Sammy Penley has added some memories to this book.

As this is written, Aunt Georgia is celebrating her 100th birthday, on January 15, 2009 with her son Tommy in Georgia. [She died March 6, 2010] If she lived closer this book would have flowed easily into one big wonderful story. The Penley name lives on in Thomas Wayne Penley, the son of Malcolm and Georgia, born December 4, 194X. Tommy's children are Cynthia (Chilton) born in 19XX and son Tommy Wayne Penley, Jr. born in 19XX. Cynthia and Rudy Chilton have Austin Thomas Penley born October 1, 19XX. Tommy Jr. has Matthew Wayne Penley, born September 10, 19XX and Ashley Nicole, November 6, 19XX.

I Never Knew Another (That Was A Finer Man)
written by Steve Barber 
In Memory of 
Malcolm Penley
He wore overalls on Sunday,
They seemed to suit him fine.
He never was pretentious,
He wasn't that kind.
He seldom went to church,
But he was a righteous man.
I never knew another
That was a better man.

His face was all weathered,
From working in the sun.
It seemed he never stopped,
The work was never done.
He never took vacation,
It wasn't in his plans.
I never knew another
That was a better man.

He always found the time,
To help a friend in need.
He'd work in the fields
Until his hands would bleed.
If you searched this world over, 
And went across this land,
You'd never find another
That was a better man.

Kinnie Wagner

It wasn't just the local newspaper that noticed the gatherings at Priscilla's home. The single most ludicrous documents ever found came from the F.B.I., provided by cousin Charles Penley. When Charles filed for the Wagner papers, he never expected 800 pages! Notorious desperado Kinnie Wagner escaped from a Mississippi prison in 1942. J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to apprehend him in Scott County. They put Priscilla's mountain under surveillance, and told Hoover that they couldn't climb up to get Wagner because our Grandma Priscilla Penley was armed, dangerous and had an army of lawless sons defending Wagner. They named Rufus, Malcolm and Mitchell Penley, and repeatedly blamed our tiny Priscilla for ruling the fortress with an iron fist. They also sat in a living room across the street from the Rufus Penley home on Flannery Street in Morrison City waiting for Kinnie's visits, and probably watched Aunt Jeet polish her nails on the porch. This was 1942; there was a war going on. For these agents, Scott County was safer than the beaches of Normandy or Iwo Jima. They avoided the real war by painting Priscilla and her sons as hardened criminals, risks to national security. The 800 pages are worthy of a comic book, and someday must be transcribed.

There was some fire behind the smoke, but not the flames the federal agents described to Hoover. Kinnie was a second cousin, Hiram Penley's grandson. Rufus and Malcolm, and Stella's Uncles Jerry and Jimmy and other Penleys were friends with Kinnie Wagner. They believed that Kinnie was set up for an ambush by a crooked sheriff, back in 1925, during prohibition. The sheriff wanted to get rid of Kinnie to keep him from turning the sheriff into the revenuers. The deputies at the river were just following orders from higher up, probably unaware of the background. When ambushed, Kinnie was the better shot and killed two deputies. 

Much of the family was appalled by the unfair trial and lies told on the witness stand. Amy Lou Penley, Priscilla's niece through Sam's brother Enoch gave eyewitness testimony in Kinnie's defense. Mitch grew up knowing the story so well, he was shocked years later to find out he was only a few months old at the time. Rufus and Stella may well have taken Mitch with them to court that day, but he realized his memories came from the repetition of the story through the years. Kinnie was found guilty and sentenced to electrocution. Family legend is that Rufus, Jerry and other Penleys arranged Kinnie's escape from jail. The truth will never be known. 

When Kinnie escaped from jail or came home on furloughs, he lived off the land in the backwoods and sneaked visits with friends and family. He was a moving target, and never stayed anywhere long. He did visit Grandma Priscilla’s farm, and would shoot targets with the boys on Sunday afternoons. Mitch watched Kinnie drive nails into fence posts with a 22 rifle from fifty feet across the yard. He would name items, then hit them in that order, as fast as he could pull the trigger, never missing a target. After Luther left for the war, Rufus sent Mitch out in Luther's 1937 Plymouth to take Kinnie places. Mitch once asked Kinnie how many men he had killed. Kinnie Wagner looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Mitch, I never fired on a man who wasn’t already firing at me.” Mitch believed him. 

Like many people, Mitch was amazed by Wagner's silken nerves, physical strength, and sharpshooting. He believed Wagner had a tough childhood, and got a raw deal in 1925. After that, things spun out of control; no side was all good or all bad; there was no victory to be had. Mitch raised his daughters to believe that Kinnie Wagner created much of his own bad luck, as well as heartbreak and hardship for many others.

Wagner was charismatic; his saga remains interesting to many 50 years after his death. The story is too complicated and sensitive to be dealt with in these pages. Mitch said that the people who knew the most talked the least, and now they are gone. There is more of Mitch's story at Other valid and conflicting points of view have been published. 

Priscilla was not a national threat, but would probably feed Sam's hungry nephew who grew up hard. If the feds heard gunfire from the mountain, the boys were hunting or target shooting. And those bungling F.B.I. agents would have made lousy soldiers anyway, and would never have made it as Marines.