Who Is Buried in Tall Betsy’s Tomb

“To Fort Hill Cemetery she will go, To her mausoleum, with YOU in tow!”
by Michael T. Slaughter
According to “The Legend of Tall Betsy,” she sleeps in the mausoleum at Fort Hill Cemetery. The mausoleum in the legend was based upon a real one built for the Shields family many years ago. I was given the task of finding out who built the mausoleum and when. Also, I needed to find out who is interred there, and when and where they lived. Here is what my research revealed.

The first of this particular Shields family to arrive in Bradley County was William Shields and his family. They came over from Polk County some time after 1850. William Shields was the son of Banner Shields and Margaret Weir. He was born February 17, 1803 in Tennessee and died March 11, 1891 in Bradley County. William was buried in the Shields-Harris family cemetery. He married Elizabeth Lea in McMinn County on February 27, 1840. She was born August 1, 1817 in Tennessee and died September 28, 1905 in Cleveland. Elizabeth was the daughter of Abner and Mary Lea. Elizabeth was also buried in the Shields-Harris family cemetery.

William and Elizabeth Shields had eight children that this researcher has found: John Caswell, Martha E., William Banner, Eliza Jane, Joseph W., Marshall Napoleon, Susan E., and William B. There were two children named William in the 1870 census listed as children of William and Elizabeth. I have found no further record of the second William.

John Caswell Shields, the eldest son, was born November 27, 1840, probably in Polk County, and died November 12, 1908. He married Emily Avaline Howell on November 15, 1860 in Murray County, Georgia. She was born in December 1840 in Haywood County, North Carolina and died in 1924 in Dade County, Florida. Emily was the daughter of Evan Shelby Howell and Camilla Ermina McLeod.

John and Emily had five children: John Caswell Jr., Charles Milton, Emma Flora, William C., and Joseph Edward.

According to the Find A Grave website, John Caswell Shields owned a grocery store in Cleveland on Ocoee Street across from the courthouse. He married in Georgia in 1860 and had his first child in Georgia in 1861, even though he was living in Bradley County in 1860. Therefore, he and his family probably were in Bradley County after 1861. In the 1870 census, John and his family were living in Smith County, Texas, and his occupation was listed as physician. He could only have had a grocery store in Cleveland for a short time, between 1861 and 1870.
The one previously known occupant of the Shields mausoleum at Fort Hill was Flora E. Shields. The Find A Grave website lists three members of the Shields family at Fort Hill: John Caswell Shields, Sr., Emily A. Shields, and Flora E. Shields. On each of their separate web pages, there is a photo of the Shields mausoleum. I surmised that Flora E. Shields was the same person as the Emma F. Shields listed in census records as the daughter of John and Emily. I searched the census records thoroughly to check the validity of this surmise.

In the 1870 census of Smith County, Texas, the daughter of John and Emily is listed as Emma, age 4, born in Georgia. The next census, in 1880, is interesting. It shows John living with his oldest son in Eugene, Oregon. It shows Emily and the rest of their children living with her mother’s family in Murray County, Georgia. The next available census, 1900, shows the family back together, living in Umatilla County, Oregon.

According to a Confederate Pension Application (#D18300) filed by Emily in 1910 in Dade Co., Florida, John died in Bradley County. So it seems that John, Emily, and Flora moved back to Bradley County sometime after 1900.

Emily is listed with her daughter, Emma F., and an unnamed granddaughter as living in Miami, Florida in the 1910 census. John’s brother, William Banner Shields, had moved to Miami by 1910, so it is possible that Emily moved to Florida with her daughter to be close to other family. William and his wife died and were buried in Florida.

In the 1920 census, Emily is still living in Miami, but her daughter is now listed as Flora. Also living with them was Emily’s granddaughter, Esther, and her husband, a Mr. Dupont (his first name is unreadable in the census).

Emily died in 1924 in Dade County, Florida. In the 1930 census, her daughter is again listed as Emma F. Shields. She was then living with a niece, Lena B. Donovan, who was born in Oregon. In the 1940 census, the daughter is now listed as Flora E. Shields, living by herself in Homestead, Florida. That census also indicates that Flora had attended one year of college and was living in Homestead in 1935 as well.

The next information on Flora came from a family tree on Ancestry.com. Her name was listed as Emma Flora Shields, and the tree stated that she died September 27, 1951 in Dade County, Florida.

According to the Find A Grave website, John Caswell Shields was interred in the Shields mausoleum in 1908, his wife, Emily, in 1924, and their daughter, Flora E., in 1951. I have found no other records of other interments in the mausoleum. The other children died in other parts of the country. John Jr. (a physician) died in Oregon, Charles (a farmer) died in Florida; William (a watch repairman) died in Oregon, and Joseph (a dentist) died in California.

I believe the Shields mausoleum was built by John Caswell Shields, and John, Emily, and Flora seem to be the only occupants. Since John only lived in Bradley County sometime between 1861 and 1870 as a storekeeper, and then again about 1901 until 1908, after his career as a doctor, I believe he had the mausoleum constructed sometime between 1900 and 1908.

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