by ARIEL McRAE | Associate Editor
Up a long winding driveway, past fields of crops there sits a beautiful white house surrounded by the magic of nature and the rich history of the past. Birds stop in for a bite to eat out of feeders, bees buzz amongst the flowers and a mother deer and her fawn traipse by in a leisurely fashion. It is here you will find two large busts overlooking a familial farm that spans back seven generations. It is here Chief Reelfoot and Princess Laughing Eyes have finally come back home.
Mary Truett, daughter of the original owners of the busts, now resides on a strip of land she calls Lewis Land. The family farmland was sold by an uncle some years ago. Now, due to her fortunate circumstances as a business owner she was able to purchase the land back in sections in 2017 to return the family to their rightful place. This allowed her the opportunity to retrieve the busts passed down to her from her father from where they were loaned back in 1994 to the Old Country Store in Jackson, Tenn.
“I thought about all the places at Reelfoot, some of which do not exist anymore, and I just thought if Chief Reelfoot and Princess Laughing
Eyes go to Reelfoot that it would not be the best place for them,” Truett stated. “I wanted to bring them to the family farm because the roots are so deep here.”
Lewis Land, just outside of Humboldt, Tenn., has been a part of the Lewis family for many years dating back to when the matriarch of the family, Polly Lewis, lived there as a little girl. It is on Lewis farm where Polly met and later married her husband, Ellis Truett Jr. Polly, according to her daughter, wrote in her diary that she chose Ellis. She wanted him and have him she did. Ellis used to walk from Jackson to court Polly before they later wed at Mt. Zion Church down the road from the farm.
The two went to university together at Lambuth and later settled in Lake County as teachers in the 1940s near Reelfoot Lake with their three children. While living at Reelfoot, Ellis and his partner, J. Harry Smith, went into business together and constructed Magnolia Beach on the Washout at Reelfoot. The Washout was this strip of water where the Mississippi flowed fast and hard during the earthquakes that created Reelfoot Lake in 1811 and 1812. The Washout was special because there, people could swim and enjoy the water where there were no cypress trees.
Ellis and his wife, Polly, also owned Edgewater Beach along the washout. During their times as owners of both Magnolia and Edgewater, beach goers could find swimming beaches, restaurants, an ice cream parlor, a high slide, a putt-putt golf course and a miniature train. It was also at Magnolia Beach where the busts of Chief Reelfoot and Princess Laughing Eyes originally called home. Ellis and J. Harry Smith had the busts commissioned in 1954 to keep the history alive and well at their establishments and to honor the legend of these two historical Native American figures.
The legend of Chief Reelfoot, according to reelfoot.com, starts by explaining that his people called him Kalopin or Reelfoot because he was born with a deformed foot and walked with a rolling limp. He was a Chickasaw who, after the death of his great father, became chief. He could not find anyone in his own tribe to become his wife and remembered what his father said about the maidens in another tribe being of wondrous beauty. He traveled to the neighboring Choctaw tribe and there he saw Princess Laughing Eyes, or Starlight as some call her. He asked for her hand in marriage from her father the chief and he said no because Chief Reelfoot had a deformation that he could not stand.
Chief Copiah called upon the Great Spirit who informed Chief Reelfoot that if he were to steal the princess it would be against tribal law and therefore the Great Spirit and the gods would cause the earth the rock and the waters to swallow up his people and bury them in a watery grave. This scared Chief Reelfoot, but not for long. After the next summer, Chief Reelfoot did just that. He stole the princess and brought her to his tribe and it angered the spirits who began to rock the earth to the beat of kettledrums and tom-toms.
It is said the Great Spirit stomped his foot in anger, which alerted the Father of the Floods and he sent the great waters to fill where the Great Spirit stomped. The water did in fact bury the Chickasaw Native Americans under the waters of what is now Reelfoot Lake.
The Truetts wanted this legend at the center of their businesses because it would help those in Tiptonville and those visiting to remember why the earthquake happened even if many believe it was just a fictional fairytale warning. The busts of these legendary Native Americans resided 15 feet in the air at Magnolia Beach in a place of honor. Towards the end of the properties time being owned by the Truetts, Ellis Truett called up Norwood Jones, one of the original owners of the Old County Store and childhood friend of his. Ellis asked Jones if he would
like the busts to be on display at the Old Country Store as a loan to a friend. Jones emphatically told Ellis he would love to have them. They resided at the Old Country store and endured weather conditions and children climbing on them until recently.
Brooks Shaw, current owner, called Truett and told her they were planning to do a renovation at the store and asked her if she would like to have her dad’s busts back. Truett saw this as a sign from God and gave him an enthusiastic “yes.” It was then on her to find someone who could move the 550 lb. Chief Reelfoot and 500 lb. Princess Laughing Eyes back to her family farm. The pedestals each bust sat on weighed 600 lbs. apiece. It was no easy feat to move them from Jackson to Humboldt.
“They had to manually, physically push and pull with a wench to load [the busts]. On the second trip back to get Chief Reelfoot, they called and asked me ‘Can we please find a tractor?’ So I had to call my neighbor who had a backhoe and he came and helped lift it,” Truett explained. “It truly was a labor of love on [Cummings Monument Company’s] part. I cannot give them enough credit. They were a godsend.”
Now that Truett is in possession of the busts, she feels like it has all come full circle. Her family
is now the landowners of the farm that was integral to their upbringing. Her son, Justin Williams and his wife, Jill, along with their children, Porter and Lynlee, are building a house across the street from Truett. Her other son, Bradley Williams and his wife, Lori, bring their sons, Slade and Rhet, to hunt and fish on the land. The family utilizes all of the blessings the farm has to offer. Her precious dog, Gravy, calls the land home too. Truett believes all of this has happened for a reason. She could not have acquired the land back or the busts without divine intervention. She is thankful for everything she has now, made even sweeter by owning the busts her parents once held dear.
“Like many families in this area, I know what’s left has a history,” Truett exclaimed. “It is a fitting tribute to my heritage and my parents. It is my hope that the family farm now including Chief Reelfoot and Princess Laughing Eyes will remain in the family for future generations.”