The Legend of the Holly Tree


The first part of this story was extracted from 
The Billy Bowman Bugle

number II, March 1986. 

It was printed by
Ned A Bowman 
(son of Starlin Erman Bowman 
and Mary (Jeffers) Bowman).

Ned states in The Billy Bowman Bugle:

"Shortly after the end of the Civil War, William Bowman rode a horse from his Martin County Indiana farm to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to visit the grave of his eldest son Pleasant.  As a memento, he brought back a holly tree, which stood in front of his Brown Township home farm.  A botanical curiosity, it was a neighborhood landmark for some sixty years, until the land  was taken over by the federal government at the end of the 1930s, for a naval munitions factory and storage.  
The farm location is just east of what is now Burns City, inside restricted grounds.  Virtually all of the homes and outbuildings inside the reservation were systematically destroyed, including William and Julia's.  The holly tree, however, was moved to a location at the entrance to the Officer's Club at Crane, where it still stands - a very impressive tree, indeed".  This article was written in March of 1986.


My personal observations (Valerie Ann Boman):

When I first read this story (about 2002), I must say that I raised an eyebrow, and expressed doubt.  My reasons for question included what I knew of the death of William and Julia's son, Pleasant Bowman: 

1) He was wounded in the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, Mississippi in December of 1862, and died a month later.  According to a letter sent to Pleasant's parents (William H and Julia Ann) from Paducah KY, he died at the W S General Hospital #3 on January 16, 1863. It is unknown where he is buried. 

2) In deposition papers recorded many years later, Pleasant's father (William) stated: "He was wounded at Vicksburg and was taken on the boat to Paducah KY and he died there in the hospital and I never saw anything of him after he enlisted and did not get his body. I do not know where he is buried. Some of the neighbors saw a notice of his death in the newspaper. I didn't know about his death til about 3 months after his death. I think he died in Febr 1863 but I didn't hear of it til I think in May 1863. I wrote to the surgeon of the post at Paducah and received a letter from him that my son Pleasant was dead is all I know of it".

Based on that information, I could only believe that William did not indeed know where his son Pleasant was buried, but possibly made a trip to Mississippi as a distraught father that needed some form of closure.  I actually questioned whether this trip ever took place, and wondered if it was just a story that had been repeated one too many times in the Bowman family, and thus, became known as "fact".  


Eating crow?
Since there was really no way to prove or disprove this story, 
I thought I'd go for a long shot. 

When I took my second family research trip to Martin County, Indiana in May/June 2005, I knew this trip had to include the Crane Naval Weapons Storage Base (and also, for my second time, the cemeteries located there).  I was determined to drive to the spot where I knew William and Julia owned their land and raised their family (yes, I did that).  
Then , I knew I had to drive by that Officer's Club.  Well, lo and behold....  Guess what is right in front of the Officer's Club.  Yes, you guessed it... a big, beautiful holly tree!  It took my breath away, as I realized that this may not be family legend, but something more. 
While still on that trip, my husband, Dean e-mailed me some facts on the holly tree. I realized it is not native to the area, but its general habitat is in the southeastern part of the United States (Mississippi certainly qualifies!).  
Armed with this new information, I looked at the holly tree with a new level of respect, and thought about what it represented for William and Julia and their family.  Maybe there is something to those old family stories.

That magnificent holly tree:

Officer's Club, Crane Naval Weapons Storage Base
Martin County, Indiana

photos taken by Valerie Boman
May 2005