The two gentlemen holding the book: Lawrence Timbs Jr., left, and Michael Manuel hold up a copy of their book, 'Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface.' The book is a re-imagining of a book written by Timbs' father about a love triangle and possible murder in
It’s a story about passion, pain, war, and murder. But it’s also a story about a little-known community in Northeast Tennessee that time — and hundreds of thousands of gallons of water — have almost washed away.
The book, “Fish Springs: Beneath the Surface,” tells the story of two childhood friends vying for the same woman’s affections in the Fish Springs community during the Civil War, while painting a picture of what life was like living in the remote Northeastern Tennessee community.
Written by Michael Manuel and Lawrence Timbs Jr., the story is a re-imagining of a book written by Timbs’ late father, Lawrence Sr., called “Tragedy at Old Fish Springs.” Published in 1981, Timbs Sr.’s story recounted a tale that was told to him by his grandfather about two Civil War veterans, one Union and the other Confederate, who competed for the same woman’s love in Fish Springs. During that competition, however, one of those soldiers would meet an untimely end from a rattlesnake bite.
While that manner of death can happen naturally, according to the authors, there may have been more to the soldier’s death than happenstance.
“It’s about, potentially, a very grisly murder,” Timbs said.
In addition to involving a potential killing, the story has another component that could distinguish it from similar tales — it could be a true story.
“According to (Lawrence Timbs Sr.), the story that was told to him was a true story,” Manuel said. “He believed his grandfather was telling him a true story.”
Timbs Sr. and his family all grew up in the original community of Fish Springs, which was flooded in 1949 by the Tennessee Valley Authority during the creation of Watauga Lake.
Still, Manuel and Timbs don’t claim that their story is gospel. Unlike the original book — which they said almost exclusively concentrated on the soldiers, the woman, and the death — in their rendition, Timbs and Manuel attempted to give their readers a better understanding on what life was like in the Fish Springs community at that time.
“There’s a lot more context in this book, and background and perspective on Fish Springs and the way it was back then, or the way it might have been,” Timbs said. “We have a disclaimer at the start. We think there’s a lot of things that could have happened.”
In the book, Timbs and Manuel portray Fish Springs as a small, rustic community that was heavily Christian and heavily isolated. According to Carter County Historian Scott Bowers, their assessment is close to the truth.
“Almost everybody who lived out there, that I can tell, was farmers,” Bowers said. “There was a lumber mill up there, and there was a grist mill. But it was incredibly small.”
During his research, Timbs said he learned the area may have been populated by approximately 50 families, though, he added, the records he reviewed did not provide him with an exact figure.
“I think the census record is a little cloudy,” Timbs said.
Part of the reason for that cloudiness might be that the community itself spread far and wide across the region.
“Being pretty much the outskirts of Doe River Cove — which would later be Hampton — everybody would have been kind of widespread,” Bowers said. “There wouldn’t have been a thick community at that time. But, with it being Carter County, it didn’t matter how far away they were. It would have been a close-knit community.”
In addition to being close-knit, Manuel and Timbs said the region was heavily steepled in Christianity, and most residents practiced their religion at Fish Springs Baptist Church.
While painting a picture of what life in Fish Springs may have been like, Manuel and Timbs also chose to include fictional accounts about what may have been the most prominent issue of the time — slavery.
“We used a bit of dramatic license for this story,” Manuel said. “The basic story about one man dying from a rattlesnake bite, that’s pretty much the way it was in the original book. The stories around it about slavery and a lot of other little side stories that we wrote in there were fiction.”
Manuel added that, while his book contains stories about slaves in Fish Springs, he was unsure if any residents actually owned any.
“There probably were not any slaves in Fish Springs,” Manuel said. “But there were slaves in Carter County.”
According to Bowers, however, at least one Fish Springs family owned slaves. Three men named Smith — John, John H., and Edd — owned four slaves between them. Through additional research, Bowers learned that anywhere from 370 to 380 slaves were living in Carter County during the time of Timbs’ and Manuel’s story.
“In Carter County, it wasn’t uncommon to have two or three — they called them house servants — in the house,” Bowers said. “(Fish Springs) was a farming community. It wouldn’t be unheard of to have one or two in a farm house at that time.”
In addition to the 180 known slaves, Bowers said that Carter County also played home to more than 1,000 freed slaves.
While slavery was a prominent issue of the time, the Civil War affected slave-owners and non-slave-owners alike. Though the state of Tennessee ultimately seceded with the rest of the Confederacy, most communities in East Tennessee voted to remain in the Union. In fact, in Carter County, more than 90 percent of voters voted against secession.
“According to (Timbs Sr.’s) book, most were for the North,” Manuel said. “I’m sure there was a good population for slavery.”
According to Bowers, before the Civil War, Carter County was “wholeheartedly” on the side of the Union. As the war progressed and the region saw occupations by both Union and Confederate armies, however, allegiances began to shift.
“There was no neutrality,” Bowers said. “If the Confederacy was here, you were Confederate. If the Union was here, you were Union.”
In June 1861, the East Tennessee Convention voted in favor of seceding from Tennessee to remain in the Union. After Union forces occupied parts of East Tennessee, however, that attitude began to change.
“That had to do more with the brutality by the federal troops,” Bowers said. “Some (Union) troops here had to be ordered to stop abusing the people of Carter County. When you suffer abuses, you tend to switch sides.”
As far as Civil War activity in Fish Springs, Bowers said the area was sometimes used to ferry refugees — either Union or Confederate — across state lines to safety. In the military memoir “History of the Thirteenth Regiment, Tennessee Volunteer Cavalry, U. S. A.” by Samuel W. Scott and Samuel P. Angel, the authors detailed an incident involving two Union soldiers who were captured by a Confederate squad while trying to shuttle refugees out of Carter County via Fish Springs.
“If you go by the “History of the Thirteenth Cavalry,” they put it out there like they were beaten like dogs,” Bowers said. “One begged for his life, and the other cursed and fought until his dying breath.”
From prisoners being guided across state lines to local legends about a love triangle and a suspicious death, Fish Springs offers no shortage of history. Those wishing to purchase a copy of Timbs’ and Manuel’s book will be able to do so in a few months. A launching ceremony will be held May 3 at Fish Springs Marina, the same day the marina will celebrate its 65th anniversary.