Tall Tales of a Tall, Tall Man – The Conundrum of the 9 Foot Grave

In all of the years of my chasing down my own ancestors, I have always been fascinated, and return quite often, to my ever elusive great-great-grandfather, Lorenzo Dow Bunch. So much folklore surrounds this mystery man that he has become quite the urban legend in the previous generations of my family, and also in his home country, Clinton County, KY.
Bunch is on my father’s side of the family, but I feel the need to mention briefly here that my mother’s side has bragging rights to sharing DNA with famous statesman Davy Crockett. Our Crockett line also came from Clinton Co., KY. Needless to say, over the long 30 years I’ve been dedicated to solving these family conundrums, I have made several trips to Clinton County. Several of my Crockett line are laying in perpetual rest in the cemetery at the Beech Bottom Church.
Before that church came into existence, my Crockett relatives were at Clear Fork Baptist Church near the small community of Paoli. This church was also home to “Raccoon” John Smith, ancestor of the honored LT Smith, of whom the football stadium at WKU in Bowling Green is named. We share some DNA with him as well, on my mother’s side.
Also at Clear Fork was my 3rd great grandmother, Lydia Bunch. There were at least 3 Lydia Bunchs in the Cumberland-Clinton County area in the early 1800s, but I have pinpointed the Clear Fork Lydia to be Dow Bunch’s mother. I know little else about her. It’s a guessing game on which of the three women she actually was.
But I digress – Lorenzo Dow Bunch grew into quite a striking figure. The original legend stated that his mother was a “white woman raped by an Indian.” DNA done on the male descendants of the family in the last several years have proven this to be wrong, giving us a Scotch-Irish connection somewhere back on the family tree.
Whatever the background, Bunch’s appearance definitely showed Native American heritage, and it was claimed to be Overhill Cherokee – who were indigenous to Tennessee, south of Cumberland and Clinton counties. And the man stood an impressive 7 feet tall, which I had confirmed several years back when speaking with the late James Martin, who owned the farm that Dow Bunch is buried on.
Back when James Martin was a young man, he had occasion to make the acquaintance of Hays Glover, Sr., who was a pall bearer at Dow Bunch’s funeral. He stated that yes, Dow Bunch was buried in the small grove of trees on the back of the farm that was once owned by James Butler Bunch, and you could see the grove of trees from the Harp Road. Another tidbit that Mr. Glover added was that Dow was a “tall, tall man,” and when they dug his grave they had to make it a 9-footer because Dow stood at least 7 feet tall!
While at the cemetery that day with my mother, and Mr. and Mrs. Martin, who have both passed on since then, Mr. Martin and I measured the one grave that looked suspiciously larger than the rest. To any who have not been to this cemetery, it is out in a field on a rise, with some scrawny trees on one side of it. So it’s been out there in this field all these years, exposed to occasional cattle and the elements. All the graves are slightly sunken, and one of them had actually eroded enough to see the layers of rock and wood that was used to pack the graves as they were filled. Each grave is marked with two stones, one at the head, and one at the feet. There are 14 graves in all, and one of them has a hand carved headstone that reads – “ZH Bunch, died Dec 1862.”
The grave I am certain is Dow Bunch’s measured the 9 feet from headstone to foot stone, and that said foot stone being directly behind the headstone reading ZH Bunch. Over the years, arguments have arisen over his questionable burial place. When he died, he lived near Vernon School Road, off of Lick Branch Road, with his third wife Betsy Devore and their daughters. Dow’s daughter by his first wife, was my great-grandmother, Liddie Bunch Lawson, and she is buried in a cemetery there on the Frank Wells’ farm that is also known as Bunch Cemetery, and several family argue that he was buried there.
Others claim that he had an actual headstone with writing, and claimed to have seen it, over in what was called “Morris Hollow.” Morris Hollow was named after Morris Pickett, and to make a long story short, this Bunch graveyard off of Harp Road is in what was known as Morris Hollow! Two of his sons are buried there, as is his second wife Rebecca – one of those sons being the named “ZH Bunch,” who died at Greensburg during the Civil War, while serving in the Union Army in the 21st KY Infantry.
The other reference, given by Clorine Lawson, for Dow’s burial location, is “the back side of the Garrett Cawthorn place.” That’s the only one that has eluded my research, but I found Cawthorns owning land less than two miles away from the Harp Road location!
Lorenzo Dow Bunch had many legends about him being a fighting man, and somewhat of a gypsy, owning several different parcels of land, and moving all over the area between Morris Hollow, also “No Man’s Land” closer to the Lick Branch Church, Kino, off of Lick Branch Road, and back around to Slick Rock and returning to Morris Hollow. Any of his origins remain as murky for me today as they were 30 years ago, but I have learned alot! For every tidbit of info I get, I have that many more questions to ask, but it has been an unforgettable experience, trying to follow in the footsteps of this urban legend!

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About Gclee

I am a long time genealogy and local history hunter from Barren Co., KY. I have many stories to share that may be of interest to other local genealogists and history buffs. I enjoy this as a hobby and hope I can be of encouragement to others. I also hope everyone enjoys my stories as much as I have enjoyed learning about them.
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8 Responses to Tall Tales of a Tall, Tall Man – The Conundrum of the 9 Foot Grave

  1. I am thoroughly enjoying your stories about Barren County. I am related to the Bunch family through marriage. My great great aunt, Martha Catherine Rutledge, was married to James Robert Bunch, son of James Butler Bunch. My grandfather, Bob Rutledge, remembered his aunt Martha and his Bunch cousins quite fondly. You mentioned that the Lorenzo Dow might be buried on the farm that Robert Bunch owned, on Harp Rd. My gg grandfather, Robert J Rutledge (Catherine’s father and my grandfather Bob’s grandfather) was a neighbor to James Butler Bunch on Harp Rd, according to the 1879 Beers Land Ownership map. You mentioned Native American ancestry in your post. I thought that was interesting. Our Rutledge Y chromosome has been tested (through male descendants, including my dad) and it is Native American. So that means that Martha Catherine was part Native American. I think it is interesting that she married into a family that might have Native American ancestry. I would love to read any stories that you have about the Slick Rock/Beaver Creek area, since that’s where Robert J (along with two brothers – Thomas and Samuel) moved after the Civil War. All of the Rultedges in that area seem to come from them. Their father was Emmanuel Rutledge. Coincidentally, Emmanuel had a brother named Lorenzo Dow, also named after the famous preacher – like your tall, tall Lorenzo Dow Bunch. Thanks for the great stories!

  2. Ashley says:

    Thank you for sharing! Lorenzo is my 4th grandfather (through his son with Rebecca Lee, Allen.) Lorenzo is my biggest brick wall in my genealogy research. I can’t get past him, so anything I learn about him is fascinating!

  3. Russ Klicker (Bunch) says:

    This is Russ Klicker, my mother was Louise Bunch. Research on Dow has been stagnant for quite a while. DNA research is helpful but not definitive by any means. DNA results come as a result of two types of tests: 1) Lineal ancestry, direct line of unbroken mother to grandmother to ggrandmother, etc. or direct line of unbroken father to grandfather to ggrandfather, etc. 2) Recent Admixture which looks at all relatives but only about 5 generations back. This leaves several potential reasons the DNA tests done to date would not reveal Native American ancestry.

  4. Gclee says:

    The Sidwell line did have the Overhill Cherokee match, as did my Daniels line on my mother’s side. Lucretia Sidwell was Dow’s first wife and the one my great grandmother, Liddie Lawson descended from. But another of my gr gr grandmothers was Lucinda Daniels, and she was a cousin to Lucretia Sidwell. So it showed up in my lines. Good to hear from all of you, and if I ever get more info on these particular lines I will share with all of you. It’s been my life’s goal to untie this conundrum! 🙂

  5. Dee Crabtree says:

    Hello apparent cousins! I am descended from J. Butler Bunch. My grandfather told several colorful stories about Butler and Dow, who he said were first cousins. I can’t seem to find a father for either one of them in records anywhere. I’m just guessing, because of the shared last name, that their fathers were brothers. You never know with the Bunches, though. I’ve seen several records where Bunch men married Bunch women.
    Just an FYI, all of the Bunch men in my line were exceedingly tall and had very dark skin, eyes and hair. I’ve also heard/read that our line is Saponi Indian, although it didn’t show up in my DNA results. My understanding of the DNA testing is that they can only match you to groups already in the database. If Saponi was a small tribe, I wonder what the chances are of any database containing Saponi markers in the match results. DNA testing is an ever-evolving science.
    Have any of you heard of any Saponi roots or have any info on who Butler or Dow’s fathers might have been?

    • Gclee says:

      I am certain of the Saponi roots in Israel Bunch’s line, but I have not for sure connected him as Dow’s father, but it is 75% possibilty. We know that Dow’s mother’s name was Lydia, and we know that Israel married three different women named Lydia. Papers here in Glasgow give indication that Israel’s daughter Fanny was married to James Bunch, and that Dow named James as “brother” in estate settlement of 1864. In those days they would call brother-in-laws “brother” as well as their actual brothers. Saponi were also known as “Brass Ankles” and they came from the area near the Georgia- South Carolina border.

  6. Russ Klicker says:

    Israel Bunch is documented by government/court personnel of eastern TN as indian. He, along with a small group of others, were called “chiefs from the friendly tribes from the east” (Ref Jarvis and Dromgoole). Some Bunches tied to this group were documented by courts as Saponi. Some, a generation or two later, applied to the DAWES commission as Cherokee but were denied because they were “not living with the Cherokee”. This is all consistent with the Saponi and other small tribes integrating into other tribes and into white families as they left their traditional lands.

    All this happened 6 or more generations ago. Our Bunch family has since become more and more European. Mostly Scots Irish.

    Autosomal DNA has limitations. Autosomal chromosomes are barely reliable if at all to indicate ancestry after 6 generations. However it can never be totally eliminated (lol).

    I am a Dow Bunch descendent. My mother was Louise Bunch.

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