by Rocky Macy
Rootbound loves a good mystery...and we've uncovered one that borders on the incredible! Please read on...
Quite a while ago this column carried a query from Darrel COLE (Star Route, Tussy, OK 73088) seeking information on his great-grandfather, Dr. John Hunt COLE. Dr. COLE came to Southwest City, McDonald County, MO, from Marion County, KS, early in 1879, and he practiced medicine in this area until his death at Vian, Indian Territory, in 1899.
A year or so after that column ran, Rootbound's good friend (and fellow genealogy columnist), Raymond E. JERRFIES of Pea Ridge, AR, forwarded a copy of a magazine article that focused on Dr. COLE. The article, "The Mystery of John Hunt Cole," was written by Mike GRISSOM and featured in the September 1988 issues of The United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine...and what a tale it told!
Dr. COLE, it seems, made a deathbed confession to his family that he was actually John Hunt MORGAN...Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, one of Dixie's better known commanders who was famous for his ingenuity and daring. General MORGAN was supposedly killed on 4 Sep 1864 during a surprise nighttime attack on a house in which he and some of his men were quartered. Dr. COLE, in explaining how he survived, told of changing coats with an aide to confuse the enemy in the event of his capture or death.
Although wounded in the attack, General MORGAN, according to the COLE family, was able to flee and eventually made his way to Illinois where he located and married an old friend, Maggie CRITZER. It was at that time that he assumed the name COLE. Within a few months of settling in Illinois, the story goes, John Hunt COLE was recognized as General MORGAN. a revelation that led to gun-play and the deaths of several men. COLE and his in-laws, the CRITZERs, then decided that a change of scenery might be advantageous to their health and well-being.
The two families settled on the plains of Kansas where Maggie COLE gave birth to five children. In an effort to slow Maggie's deteriorating health, John Hunt COLE moved her and the children to Southwest City, MO, in 1879 where he used his extensive education to assume the title and practice of medical doctor. Maggie passed away shortly after that move, leaving Dr. COLE in need of a mother for his children. He married Carolyn REARIDON on 8 May 1879. John and Carolyn had four sons, none of whom survived to adulthood.
During Dr. COLE's lifetime he kept his past a virtual secret, choosing only to confide in his wife and oldest son, John MORGAN COLE. But after contracting pneumonia in November of 1899 and realizing that his demise was imminent, the old physician summoned his family to his bedside. There, amidst his last few moments on earth, Dr. COLE wrote the signature "John Hunt MORGAN" on a slip of paper and told the stunned assembly, "This is who I really am."
Author Mike GRISSOM and the COLE family offer several pieces of circumstantial evidence that back up the possibility that the doctor's strange confession is true. Photos of old Dr. COLE, it seems, do bear a close resemblance to those of young General MORGAN. There are also similarities between the names of COLE's children and those of relatives of General MORGAN. General MORGAN may have had an aide named Captain COLE, and one of his officers had masqueraded as the General on an earlier occasion in a maneuver that allowed his leader to evade capture.
Samples of General MORGAN's handwriting exist today. Dr. COLE's deathbed signature, which would have served as irrefutable evidence of his claim, disappeared many years ago. But this mystery can still be solved.
Darrell COLE and his genealogy-enthusiast wife, June, need one of two things to prove or disprove their old family tradition: documentary evidence of the existence of John Hunt COLE prior to 1865, or a sample of the handwriting and/or signature of Dr. John Hunt COLE. They are hopeful that some Rootbound reader may have an old medical report or a certificate signed by Dr. COLE. This would verify or vilify the physician's strange tale and bring resolution to questions that have tantalized a family for nearly a century.