The title of this story is borrowed from the Bill Monroe classic–and the story itself is possibly the most heartbreaking I’ve ever come across.
In his 1995 book Haunted Tennessee, Charles Edwin Price makes this observation: “Landscapes. . .can be eerie. Dark, isolated hollows between mountains, and wild, sparsely populated stretches of real estate can beguile a person into believing that spirits of the dead lurk in every darkened thicket or wild patch of rhododendron.” (pages 43-44)
And so can long deep stretches of snow in a dark wood—especially when that snow is marked by the tiny bare footprints of a child.
Middle Tennessee’s Fentress County is famous mostly as the home of the World War I hero Alvin C. York. It is also home to one of the saddest and most unsettling ghost stories I ever heard.
At the time of the Civil War, a young Fentress County wife and mother received word that her husband had been killed at the siege of Petersburg. His body was being shipped home as far as Cookeville, and she and her older sons planned to travel by wagon to meet the train there and bring his body home to Jamestown.
On the day the train was due to arrive, a terrible snowstorm buried Fentress County in deep snow. The youngest son of the family was only three, and the young mother decided it was simply too cold to take him with her; she would leave him at home, with his grandmother. The old lady was in her eighties, and senile, but it was better than taking the little fellow out in the bad weather.
So she and her older sons set out for Cookeville. It was the last time she would see her baby son.
Sometime after they left, and without his grandmother’s knowledge, the little boy slipped out of the house and began to walk in the general direction of Jamestown. He wore no shoes.
The mother returned to find the grandmother totally bewildered and the little boy gone. While her other sons summoned help from the neighbors she went out herself to look in the woods for her child. A neighbor found the little boy’s tracks and called the others; they followed the trail, calling his name, but they never found him—although the tracks seemed to go on for miles.
Another snowstorm that night obliterated the tracks. Despite renewed searches, the little boy’s body was never located.
And yet, after nearly one hundred fifty years, people report that, when snow blankets the woods around Jamestown, the little bare feet walk again—leaving tracks on a long path to nowhere.