The Campbell kid is lost; and I'm sorry for that. I wish there was a way to find him.
What we know,; or think we know, is that Thomas Campbell was a youngster of about thirteen when he came here from someplace in Pennsylvania. We believe he was from Lancaster but nobody's completely certain about that. He's said to have come here to visit relatives, probably the family for whom Campbell Branch is named. We don't know what killed him, and it's possible the kin who nursed Tom through his final illness had only the vaguest notion of what was wrong with the boy.
Tom Campbell died a long time ago, in a day and time when medical science was anything but precise.
My grandfather, Baldwin Sloan, was born in 1877, and grew up hearing about Thomas Campbell's lonesome death. When his children were old enough for walks through the woods, Baldwin took them to Tom's grave, about halfway between their Holly Fork cabin and the old Enex Cemetery. He taught all of them how to find the rough bare rock marking the site, and every decoration Day someone brought a handful of flowers, to lay by the stone. Most years that someone paused long enough to consider the hard loneliness of dying so far from family and the comfort of home.
My family marked the grave of Thomas Campbell for years. Whenever some of us were near the site, we'd detour through the forest to stand over it again, perhaps show the place to another generation, tell the story of that death to a new set of ears.
My nephew Gabe's twenty eight years old, and remembers the day he was taken there for the first time. Others of us remember too, because that was the day six or seven year old Gabe reached down and lifted the stone - - which my father says lay flat all his life - - upright. Pop says no one else ever touched it, "out of respect," but we're glad Gabe did.
Turns out there was writing on the other side.
The photograph I took before we left shows some letters filled in with a pale green something or other, though the picture isn't clear enough to tell whether it's moss, or a rusty oxidation. But the name's there - - Thomas Campbell - - with the phrase "died 1833," and the letters P A. Someone lay the stone back down flat before we left, thinking if the letters survived so long that way, they ought to be further protected.
Raw writing scraped into rock confirmed the truth of a story my grandfather was told by his father before the end of the nineteenth century, and imply for us all there's more truth in "old family tales" than some of us believe.,
Last year some of us went to search for the stone again. My dad and I were part of the group, and Pop's cousin Fred and his son, the "Cousin Fred" I find myself mentioning with some regularity. But something happened since we'd walked the rough logging road between Holly Fork and Campbell Branch.
Maybe the Forest Service or some loggers moved the road.
Perhaps the tires of someone's four wheel drive truck ground the stone down into the mud, and spring floods completed the job of covering it.
Then again, everyone who was looking for Thomas Campbell's grave marker that day had some years on them. Could be our old eyes were too weak to pick the one stone from the other more ordinary rocks.
Whatever the cause, we couldn't find it.
Thomas Campbell's lost out on that lovely ridge.
And I'm sorry he is.
It'd be a shame if his memory were lost along with his grave.
That's why I've told you his story. I hope you don't forget it.