March 7, 2021

Pages 4065-4072
Whole Number 161 JOHN L. SPARKS (ca. 1820-ca. 1893)

by Paul H. Sparks

[Editor's Note: Recent articles in the Quarterly dealing with the guerilla warfare which pervaded Kentucky during and after the Civil War have provoked quite a bit of interest among our readers. Another "story" has now come to us about guerilla activities in Lawrence County, Kentucky, and involves John L. Sparks, the youngest son of Levi and Sarah (Lyon) Sparks. In retelling this word-of-mouth tale, we have also added information about John L. Sparks and his family.] John L. Sparks, son of Levi and Sarah (Lyon) Sparks, was born ca. 1820 in Wilkes County, North Carolina, and was carried as a baby to Lawrence County where his parents settled on the headwaters of Big Blame Creek ca. 1821. He grew to maturity in the home of his parents and when fully grown, he was a tall, thin man. He married Mary ["Polly"] Hay ca. 1850. She had been born ca. 1822 and was a daughter of James and Elizabeth (Johnson) Hay. John L. and Polly lived on what is referred to today as the "Calvin Dobyns farm" on upper Blame Creek. His neighbors included his brothers, Calvin Sparks and Wiley Sparks.

The family of John L. and Polly Sparks expanded rapidly during the 1850-1860 decade. When the 1860 census was taken, they had three children living in their household: Sarrilda, Elizabeth, and Wilburn. Children who had been born to them, but who had died shortly after birth were: James, Levi, and Sarah.

John L. Sparks's parents had also died during the decade; Levi Sparks in 1851 and Sarah (Lyon) Sparks in 1855.

(Levi Sparks, father of John L. Sparks, had been born on October 2, 1778, and was a son of John and Sarah (Shores) Sparks; see the Quarterly of December 1955, Whole No. 12, pp. 93-104, and the Quarterly of March 1981, Whole No. 113, pp. 2269-2272, for articles on the family of John and Sarah (Shores) Sparks, along with references to other articles on this branch of the Sparks family.

The political activities of Congress involving slavery were debated in the little communities all across the nation, and citizens began to take positions for and against the right of a state to act against the federal government. The Sparkses of Lawrence County also took sides, and by 1861 it was apparent that most of sons and grandsons of Levi Sparks were on the side of the federal government. A notable exception was his son, John L. Sparks, and it came as no surprise that, when the two factions declared open warfare, he joined the side of the states' rights supporters.

On October 25, 1861, John L. Sparks, along with some of his relatives and neighbors, rode to nearby Prestonsburg, Kentucky, where he enlisted as a private in Company D, 5th Regiment Kentucky Infantry (Mounted), Confederate States Army. His term of service was for twelve months.

Confederate forces fared poorly in eastern Kentucky, and by the summer of 1862 they had been driven to the headwaters of the Big Sandy River in southwestern Virginia. Many of the men left their military units and returned home. Others joined loosely-knit organizations called "Partisan Rangers" or "Home Guards," whose duties involved protecting the local citizens. These organizations also provided opportunities for personal grievances to become military objectives; thus the vicious guerilla warfare, or "bush-whacking," became established, a practice which continued several years after the Civil War was over.

For some reason, John L. Sparks fell out with his half-brother, Garrett Sparks. As the story was handed down, John L. went to Garrett's house to find something (unnamed) and ransacked the rooms, even ripping the feather beds apart. Perhaps this incident provoked further violence. On April 24, 1865, John L. Sparks (accompanied by other members of his organization) is alleged to have ambushed Hugh Boggs and Jim Boggs (ex-Union soldiers and nephews of the wife of Garrett Sparks) while they were working in a field near the mouth of Collier Creek. Both men were killed.

After the shooting, John L. Sparks fled to Scott County, Virginia, where Jesse Boggs, brother of the slain Hugh Boggs, caught up with him. Boggs shot Sparks and left him for dead, but, somehow, Sparks survived. He remained in Virginia, however, for the rest of his life, and even his close relatives apparently had little contact with him.

Little more is known about the life of John L. Sparks after he left Kentucky. He was rejoined by his family, and a son was born to him and Polly in Virginia in 1868. He began the practice of medicine there and was generaly known as "Doctor Sparks." He died in 1893 according to descendants. Polly continued to live in Virginia and died there ca. 1900. They were the parents of ten children, but apparently only five of them reached maturity. Sarrilda Sparks was born February 26, 1852. Sarah Sparks was born February 25, 1853. She died on October 23, 1853. Levi Sparks was born March 17, 1854. He died on September 15, 1855. Elizabeth ["Betsey"] Sparks, daughter of John L. and Polly (Hay) Sparks, was born December 29, 1855. When the 1880 census was taken, she was shown in the household of her mother, Mary [i.e. Polly] Sparks, in Scott County, Virginia. She was listed as Elizabeth Sparks, aged 23, born in Kentucky. Also in the household were two grandchildren of Mary Sparks, Ava V. Sparks, aged 3, and Charlie Sparks, aged 2, both shown as having been born in Virginia. Perhaps they were children of Elizabeth. We have found no further record of her. James B. Sparks was born March 15, 1857. He died on March 23, 1857. Wilburn Sparks was born July 15, 1859, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. He grew up in Scott County, Virginia, and it was probably there that he married Rachel Virginia Brickey ca. 1880. She had been born in December 1858 and was a daughter of William C. and Mary (Flannery) Brickey. Wilburn is said to have "studied" medicine under a medical doctor attached to the Coeburn Hospital at Coeburn, Virginia; however, at least one descendant states that he studied for four years in a medical school. Another descendant says that he did not have a diploma or license to practice medicine. Whatever the circum stances, we know for certain that he practiced medicine as a country doctor, riding on horseback and dispensing pills from a saddle bag.

Wilburn and Rachel had six children, including an unnamed child who died shortly after birth. Wilburn died on April 11, 1934, at Kingsport, Tennessee, and Rachel died there sometime during the following July. John M. Sparks was born in June 1881. He married Josie Carter on July 6 (9 ?), 1903, in Wise County, Virginia. She had been born in December 1888 (1890?) and was a daughter of H. C. and Mary E. (Stapleton) Carter. John and Josie had six children. Virginia Amanda Sparks was born ca. 1905. She married Paul Rinner. Alfred Sparks was born in 1908. He married Zella Sexton, and they had one child: Josephine. William ["Little Bill"] Sparks was born ca. 1910. He married Mary Hamilton, and they had two children: Lenora Sparks and William Sparks. George Sparks; he married Cleo Sellers. Catherine ["Kate"] Sparks was born ca. 1912. She married Samuel Osborne. Lina Sparks was born June 6, 1915. She married Beldon Jones, and they had two children: Betty Jo Jones and Edward Jones. Maude E. Sparks was born in August 1884. She married Tive Osborne. William Calvin Sparks was born February 20, 1887. He married Maude Elizabeth Nickells on February 17, 1913, in Wise County, Virginia. She had been born on August 15, 1894, in Scott County, Virginia. and was a daughter of Arnulis ["Null"] and Martha (Hiliman) Nickells. Calvin (as he was called) died in March 1956, and Maude died on June 21, 1967. They had nine children. (A photograph of William Calvin Sparks appears on the following page.) Loretta Sparks was born June 8, 1914. She died in January 1982. Ethel Sparks was born ca. 1916. She married George Bulick, and they had a son, Kenneth Bulick. She died on August 1, 1975. Hazel Sparks was born ca. 1918. She married Jack Franklin Bundy, and they had three children: Jack Bundy, Jr., Billie Jo Bundy, and Patricia Bundy.

Hazel died on December 24, 1974. Virginia Sparks was born January 11, 1921. She married John Cecil Brown. Randolph Sparks was born in 1923. He died when he was only two years old. Gerald Sparks was born March 17, 1925. He married Eula Reynolds, and they had three children. Gerald married (second) Carolyn Birch. Debra Sparks, Tamara Sparks, and Kathy Sparks. Cora Alice Sparks was born June 16, 1932; she died on January 20, 1993, at Windham, Ohio. She married Leon P. Smith on July 21, 1950, at Anderson, Indiana. He had been born July 1, 1921, and was a son of Earnest and Fanny (Miller) Smith. They had six children: Susie Smith, Ronald Smith, Larry Smith, Timothy Smith, Darrell Smith, and Cheryl Smith.

Susie Smith has been most helpful in the preparation of this article. Betty Lou Sparks was born April 23, 1935. She married Robert T. Hudson on June 23, 1955, and they had two children, Richard Hudson and Randy Hudson. Norman Stewart Sparks was born June 26, 1937, in Wise County, Virginia. He married Barbara Ann Baker in April 1957 at Anderson, Indiana, and they had three children: Julia Sparks, Norma Sparks, and David Sparks. Norman married (second) Ethel Smith. He died on October 3, 1989. Mary F. Sparks was born in September 1889. She married Jesse Davis ca. 1908. H? had been born on May 7, 1881, and was a son of John Davis. Jesse and Mary lived in the little community of Tacoma, Virginia, where they had nine children Jesse died there on January 12, 1927, and Mary died at Kingsport, Tennessee, on October 11, 1967. William L. Davis was born September 7, 1909. He married Bonnie Bellomy on December 6, 1930. He died on November 28, 1967 Annie E. Davis was born May 24, 1911. She married Luther A. Jones on June 24, 1926, and they had three children: Mary Jane, Della, and Bonnie. Clara Davis was born May 7, 1915. She married Marvin Jack Clark in 1929. She died on November 22, 1967. George W. Davis was born May 1, 1916. He married Mildred Jones in 1932. He died on May 3, 1976. Samuel P. Davis was born September 7, 1918. He married Mildred Gonce in 1944. Wilburn J. Davis was born July 5, 1921. He married Louise Booth in 1949. He died on June 12, 1961. Ruth Jung Davis was born in 1923 and died while she was still an infant. Wilma J. Davis was born January 29, 1924. She married James Coy Keller on November 29, 1944. Joseph C. Davis was born posthumously on May 2, 1927. He married Eula Keller in 1944. He died on August 16, 1970. e. Corbett C. Sparks, son of Wilburn and Rachel V. (Brickey) Sparks, was born in August 1892. He died when he was about seventeen years of age. Dicey Ann Sparks, daughter of John L. and Polly (Hay) Sparks, was born February 22, 1861, in Lawrence County, Kentucky. There appears to be a probability that she did not go to Virginia with her parents, but remained in Kentucky. It was there, in Elliott County, that she married Jasper Newton ["Newt"] Day on January 7, 1882. Newt had been born January 1, 1861, in Morgan County, Kentucky, and was a son of Isaac and Frances (Watson) Day. He and Dicey Ann lived in Elliott County for the rest of their lives. It was there that they had six children, two of whom were unnamed and died at birth. Newt died in June 1897, and Dicey Ann died on June 18, 1905.

(A photograph of Dicey Ann (Sparks) Day appears on the following page.) James Harvey Day was born August 16, 1883. He married May Weddington ca. 1908, and they had three children. According to a descendant, James left home sometime prior to 1920 and completely disappeared. May returned to Kentucky and died March 16, 1942 in Morehead, Franklin County. Jacob Day was born ca. 1909 Ann Jane Day was born June 8, 1911. She married Allie Holbrook, and they had two children, Dan Holbrook and Mae Holbrook. Anna Jane died on August 13, 1988. Lucy Day was born ca. 1912. She was married twice. Her first marriage was to Robert Day. Her second marriage was to FNU Kirk by whom she had at least 2 sons Joe Kirk Thomas H. Kirk. Mary Frances Day was born July 28, 1886, in Elliott County, Kentucky. She married Cleon Huston Robert Etter on December 14, 1911. He had been born July 20, 1877, in Missouri and was a son of Cleon Moore and Ellen M. (Wilson) Etter. Cleon and Mary Frances had two children, Rose Ellen Etter, was born October 26, 1912, in Phoenix, Arizona. and died 1997. She married Lee Wesley Gibson on December 25, 1939. They had 2 daughters: Janet Faye Gibson Susan Elaina Gibson James Paul Etter, born in 1917 and died in 1980..

Cleon died in 1941, and Mary Frances married (second) Ira R. Perkins. She died on April 3, 1972. John Calvin Day was born March 6, 1889. He married Sarah Alice Thompson on February 4, 1914. He died on October 22, 1962. Martha Elizabeth Day was born March 22, 1895. She married Raymond McCabe. She died on March 12, 1956. John Humphrey Morgan Sparks was born July 15, 1864. He married Mary Lyon, and they had one child, a son named Walter. We have no further information about this couple. Walter Sparks was born ca. 1900. He married Becky Jane Warrman, and they had eight children; however, the only information we have about them is a list of their names: Mary Ellen Sparks Ada Sparks Alice Sparks Beulah May Sparks Loretta Sparks Glenn Sparks Helen Sparks Sarah Sparks. Mary Jane Sparks was born ca. 1866 in Kentucky. Calvin Nelson Sparks was born ca. 1868 in Virginia. He grew up to become a timber worker. He was married twice. His first marriage was to Rue Carter ca. 1900, probably in Wise County, Virginia. They had two children before Rue's death, which probably occurred in 1910. Calvin's second marriage was to Ellen Warrman, probably in 1912, and they had two children. From information given by a descendant, Calvin died shortly after the birth of his fourth child in 1916. John Henry Sparks was born ca. 1902. He married Dora Fannin. They had no children. Calvin Elgan Sparks was born June 2, 1904. He was married twice. His first marriage was to Mary Hamilton ca. 1926. She had been born on September 14, 1911. Elgan (as he was called) and Mary had three children, including unnamed twins who died at birth. After Elgan and Mary were divorced, he married (second) Georgia Ethel Riner ca. 1929. She had been born on November 27, 1911, and was a daughter of Mack and Mary Delia (Nickell) Riner. She and Elgan had thirteen children, including an unnamed son who died at birth. Georgia died on September 18, 1972, and Elgan died on November 2, 1975. Earl Sparks, son of Elgan and Mary (Hamilton) Sparks, was born November 3, 1927. He married Annie Ruth Riner on February 1, 1946, and they had three children: Jo Ann Sparks Dale Sparks Brenda Sparks Beulah Sparks was born ca. 1930. She died at birth. John Levi Sparks was born November 14, 1931. Edward Franklin Sparks was born March 21, 1934. He married Hilda Doris Stokes. Edna Lee Sparks was born March 21, 1934, and was a twin to Edward Sparks, next above. She was married twice, first to James Sosbe and had a daughter, Vernia Lee;

Her second marriage was to Ray Trevitt. She died on May 24, 1990. Shirley Loretta Sparks was born May 19, 1937. Margaret Sparks was born July 18, 1939. She married Arthur Smith on August 27, 1967. Claude Swanson Sparks was born October 29, 1941. He married Linda Anderson. Dorothy Ellen Sparks was born April 19, 1944. She married Arvil Hill. Carl William Sparks was born April 19, 1944, and was a twin to Dorothy Ellen Sparks, next above. He died on December 27, 1947. Rue Lelia Sparks was born in 1946 and died shortly after her birth. Mack Calvin Sparks was born ca. 1947 and died at birth. Thelma Sparks was born ca. 1948 and died at birth. Orbin ["Orb"] Sparks, son of Calvin and Ellen (Warrman) Sparks, was born in 1914. He married Esther Ramey ca. 1936, and they had three children. Orb died on August 10, 1990. Earnest L. Sparks was born August 10, 1938. He married Sarah Sue Ingram on November 12, 1957, and they have four children: Robin Sparks, Earnest Sparks, Jr., Brian Sparks, and Kellie Sparks. Lucille Sparks; she married Burrell Large, and they had two children, James Sparks William Sparks
. Judy Sparks; she married Henry Walker, and they had two children, Henry Walker, Jr. Brook Walker.