I grew up in a little town in the Southeastern United States that I like to call Great Falls. It’s not like we have any waterfalls here, or there is anything really so great about it either. I just have to call it something and I like the name.
Great Falls is in an area famous for Civil War battles but it somehow managed to emerge from the Civil War without one single interesting piece of history. No famous generals, or even captains. Not even brave town folk who sneaked supplies to the Confederate army… really not one war story we can call our own. But the park in the center of town, if a fountain and some benches equal a park, has a statue of a guy on horseback with a plaque and everything. We all grew up with him as our town hero, Great Falls’ proud claim to fame.
I thought it would be cool to do one of my high school reports on our town hero. Not every town has its own Civil War hero after all. A lot of them like to piggy back on someone else’ hero. You’d be surprised how many towns have a statue of Stonewall Jackson like the one pictured here, but not Great Falls. We had our own hero!
Much to my surprise, when I researched our town records, I learned that our “hero” never lived in Great Falls and didn’t even have any family who ever lived here. Seriously? He was born in Clifton (which doesn’t have any cliffs either) about fifty miles up the river, and he spent most of his life on the other side of the Dixie line! I immediately questioned whether he even had anything to do with the stuff it said on the plaque. Call me what you will. I didn’t have it in me to destroy our town’s wealth of cultural history, so I made up my whole report and I’m leaving his name out here.
Here is what I did find…
Great Falls only has about 4,000 people in it so the fact that it has no real history of its own surprises me none. According to the records I researched doing my report, Great Falls was first settled by a family named Sheridan whose wagon broke down while the missus was near in labor. Abigail Sheridan was born, the family took root, and a population of seven sprang up halfway in between where you shouldn’t be going and where you shouldn’t have been coming from.
Several years later, William Ferris, a friend of the Sheridans, came to stay with them. Ferris, according to our records, had no living relatives. I suspect he didn’t have any money or any real friends either, or he wouldn’t have ended up in Great Falls. Anyway, the two men, desperate for money, began disposing of dead livestock as a means of income. James Sheridan came up with an idea to begin rendering tallow and other products from the carcasses, but he died of pneumonia before realizing his dream.
Ferris eventually married young Abigail (“Do you Abigail Sheridan take this man old enough to be your grandfather as your…” Ew!!!!). Abigail followed her father’s dream and formed Ferris Tallow which is still here today. The tallow business grew, because frankly dead livestock were not in short supply. It attracted workers, needed a trading post, and then a post office, and oops, the township of Great Falls, Carcass Capital of the World, was born.
I’m pretty sure nothing important ever happened here. It’s a real good clue when we have a statue of some guy who never lived here, charging off the top of a pedestal which bears a plaque detailing deeds he probably never really did, erected proudly in the center of our town where everyone (who cares) can see. Even today, you don’t need a real sensitive sniffer to catch a whiff of the truth of our town’s roots. Everyone still believes all that stuff I wrote in my report though, so keep it to yourself okay? Thanks!
© 2011 Anne Schilde