April 19, 2021

Pages 4756-4757
Whole Number 176


Reference has been made frequently in the preceding article (pp. 4714-4755) to the Sparks-Lawson Cemetery on Big Gimlet Creek in northeastern Elliott County, Kentucky. An interesting sidelight about this cemetery centers around fragments of a tale that have been handed down to some descendants of George and Nancy (Short) Sparks, involving an Indian named John Casteele. As well as it can be pieced together, the story is as follows:

John Casteele was a Cherokee Indian who came to Lawrence County, Kentucky, in the early 1800s, perhaps with settlers from Surry and Wilkes Counties, North Carolina. In his declining years, he apparently lived near the Sparks families on Big Gimlet Creek in Elliott County. He was termed a "medicine man" and earned his support by doctoring with herbs.

On his deathbed, Casteele asked for his body to be wrapped In cloth that was dyed a red color and to be placed in a homemade coffin that was also to be painted red. He asked for his tombstone to be made of native stone, and it, too, was to be painted red. The inscription on the stone was to include his name and years of birth and death.

John Casteele was "laid out" (an expression used in eastern Kentucky for burial preparation) by Levi Sparks, a son of George and Nancy Sparks, and a Baptist preacher. Levi also dug John's grave, preached at his funeral, and erected the tombstone. The inscription on the stone is quite simple: "Indian / Jno. Casteele / B. 1764 / D. 1877 ".

The same legend also tells of some Indian mounds located in neighboring Carter County and which were known as the "Casteele Hills."

An item from a newspaper, the Portsmouth [Ohio] Republican, tends to give some support to the validity of the legend, although there are obvious factual errors therein. Dated November 21, 1868, the item reads as follows:  There lived on Buffalo Creek, Kentucky, an aged citizen named John Casteel, aged 111 or 112. When Geo. Washington was first elected, he was 32 years of age. He cast his vote then for Gen. Washington and in the present campaign, he voted for Gen. Grant. He was married 7 times and is the father of 47 children. He was born in South Carolina. There is a Buffalo Creek in northwestern Carter County, Kentucky.