The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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The Man Who Had Two Tombstones - The Life and Times of Cain Elcana Ash

By LaVonda S. Harris © 1986

Issue: March, 1986

Cain Elcana AshCain Elcana AshIn 1846, a call for help spread through the mountains and the lowlands of Carolina. The United States had declared war against Mexico. A young Lt. Ash bid his family goodbye and went to the far-off lands of Texas, the quest being to drive Santa Anna back across the Rio Grande. Lt. Ash served his country and returned home safely to his family in the Savannah Valley.

Cain Elcana Ash was born in 1824, in Lincolnton County, North Carolina. Leaving the security of Macon County in the western mountains of North Carolina, seeking a life of his own. There, at the age of 19, a dark-haired Cain met and married the pretty, 17 year old Martha Mary Mason.

Cain purchased a large tract of land, consisting of several hundred acres, and built a house from its virgin timbers. Together Cain and Martha Mary farmed the land and raised a family in the green and rocky valley known as Savannah.

In the year of 1851, Cain found himself living in Jackson County, though he had never moved, Jackson County was formed by taking parts of Haywood and Macon Counties. The new, Jackson County took its name from the native born Carolinian Andrew Jackson. The change was a bit confusing as far as mail and taxes, but the change was accepted and then forgotten.

Ten years later, news of secession came through the mountains as fire through dry leaves. In early April, 1861, South Carolina seceded from the Union. The people of North Carolina had mixed emotions about the secession of their sister state. Cain's southern heritage finally prevailed, and he took the oath of allegiance to the Confederate States of America. He was sworn in as a lieutenant in the 113th North Carolina Regiment, under Lt. Col. John H. Ally of the Mounted Infantry Calvary. Their duty was to police the mountains, apprehending bushwhackers and deserters taking them to Fort Sumter, South Carolina to be imprisoned.

When the last shots of the Civil War (east of the Mississippi River) were sounded, on the grounds of the Sulphur Springs Hotel near Waynesboro, North Carolina, in 1865, Cain returned once more to the greenness of his valley home. The years of his life rolled gently by, just as the calm waters of Green's Creek run peacefully through the valley on its way to the wide Tucaseegee River. In those later years, Cain filled his days with farming, family, and church activities. He was clerk of Old Savannah Baptist Church for 22 years.

At his death in the early 1900's, Cain was laid to rest in the Old Savannah Church yard. On his grave was placed a hand-hewn rock marker, with the words, "Lt. Cain Elcana Ash, Mexican-American War." Later a group called the Daughters of the Confederacy erected markers on all the graves of Confederate soldiers. A new stone was set in place at Cain's grave. It reads "Lt. Cain Elcana Ash, C.S.A. 1861-1865, 113 N.C., M.I.C."

Cain's wife Martha Mary, not having a marker at her grave, was given Cain's old stone, leading to a genealogist's nightmare. After two years of puzzlement over the two tombstones, the riddle was solved with the help of numerous relatives and friends. The original stone has since cracked and broken; only pieces remain.

I am grateful to have unraveled the mystery of the man with two tombstones, my great, great-great-grandfather Cain Elcana Ash.