John Wayne, the Hollywood legend who starred in dozens of films, is directly tied to Pine Bluff, Tennessee. The story is quite amazing, but first, we need a quick overview of where Pine Bluff is located.
It’s a Big Cliff on Kentucky Lake
One of the more prominent features of the Kentucky Lake shoreline is Pine Bluff, a rocky cliff just south of Blood River on the eastern shore. The bluff is located in Tennessee, but some maps show a cluster of homes across the river in Calloway County, Kentucky that has the community designation of Pine Bluff.
Before the creation of Kentucky Lake, the area was sparsely populated, but featured an important link across the Tennessee River with the Pine Bluff Ferry. It connected northwestern Stewart County in present-day Land Between The Lakes to Calloway County, Kentucky. In fact, Kentucky 280 once ran to Pine Bluff from Murray before the inpoundment of Kentucky Lake. The ferry discontinued in 1943 with the lake’s arrival the following year.
Civil War Skirmish
There were many skirmishes and guerilla raids during the Civil War. Pine Bluff was not spared. One incident featured eleven men of the Union’s Eighty-third Illinois Infantry, Company B, and Captain William Turnbull, which were stationed at Fort Donelson.
On August 17, 1864, Captain Turnbull received orders to guard telegraph repairers on the line running to Smithland, Kentucky. Three days later, near the Great Western Furnace, about 15 miles from Fort Donelson, a citizen reported six guerillas stealing horses. Captain Turnbull and his eleven men began pursuit. Once they arrived, the guerillas were already gone and headed toward Pine Bluff.
Captain Turnbull caught up to find just one horse and one gun and decided to return back to Fort Donelson. However, just a short while in his return, he was ambushed by 110 men from the Confederate Army.
In a report about the incident written by Lieutenant Colonel Elijah C. Brott of the 83 Illinois Infantry, he writes this account:
“110 men of Woodward’s command, who fired into the captain and party at a distance of about twenty yards, the captain returning the fire. The rebels then charged on and overpowered them, killing the captain and 7 men, horribly mutilating their bodies, their heads and faces terribly beaten, and from two to four bullets in each. One man being wounded and left on the field was carried by ladies to the house of a citizen. While lying on a couch a second party came up. One of the fields seeing the wounded soldier fired his pistol at him three times and killed him.”
Two men were able to escape, one reportedly by playing dead, and then nearly dying from his wounds. That man was Marion Morrison, the grandfather of legendary actor Marion Robert Morrison – or known professionally as John Wayne.
An excerpt from the book John Wayne, American:
[Marion] took saber wounds to the chest and neck and was hit by bullets in the nose and the top of his head. Morrison played dead for several hours, then lost consciousness for two days before crawling down to the Tennessee River, where a Union gunboat picked him up. He carried the bullet in his head, and suffered from the accompanying headaches, for the rest of his life.
Marion went on to survive the Civil War, got married and had a child, Clyde, in 1884. Clyde Morrison gave birth to Marion Robert Morrison in 1907, named after his grandfather – a Civil War hero. Marion Robert Morrison would adopt the name John Wayne and appear in nearly 170 films from 1929 to 1977. He passed away in 1979.
Had Marion not survived the bullet and saber wounds in 1864, America would not have the legacy of John Wayne.
Pine Bluff Today
Regarding the community of Pine Bluff, it now rests under the waters of Kentucky Lake. For those who lived on the Tennessee side, where the bluff is located, Land Between The Lakes now encompasses the area, leaving it uninhabited.
Pine Bluff is only accessible by boat today. There are no trails or roads to Pine Bluff in Land Between The Lakes. It’s a great place to see – and it’s pretty hard to miss when you’re on that part of Kentucky Lake. There is one other cliff directly north of Pine Bluff called Cedar Bluff, but Pine Bluff is the bigger of the two.
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