Days Gone By - stories from the pastGenealogy Information

UPDATED WITH PODCAST -Vice President Aaron Burr hid in Dismals Canyon in Franklin County, Alabama after killing political rival Alexander Hamilton [pictures]

Dismals Canyon is located in the town of Phil Campbell in the northwestern part of Franklin County, Alabama. Several outlaws have allegedly hidden in the canyon, including Jesse James and  Aaron Burr. Continued below….

In 1806, former vice president  Aaron Burr hid for two weeks in Dismals Canyon after killing political rival Alexander Hamilton in a duel.

Vice President Aaron Burr

Vice-President Aaron Burr
Vice-President Aaron Burr

Dismals Canyon is a Registered National Landmark and has been voted one of the country’s most secluded and beautiful areas.

Jackson’s Military Road was built through present-day Franklin County between 1816 and 1820 by Andrew Jackson and his troops to save travel time between Nashville and New Orleans.Jackson's military road

Franklin County, Alabama was created by the territorial legislature, February 4, 1818. Its territory was a part of the ancient seats of the Chickasaws, although claimed by Cherokees. With the final Chickasaw cession of October 20, 1832, the county boundaries were extended westward to the Mississippi line. On February 6, 1867, its entire northern portion was formed into a new county, to which the name Colbert was given. It has an area of 647 square miles or 414,080 acres. This split occurred over political issues after the Civil War. It was abolished eight months later by an Alabama constitutional convention and then reestablished on Feb. 24, 1870.

Read more lost stories of Alabama in ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1)

Named for Benjamin Franklin

It bears the name of Benjamin Franklin, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a member of the convention that framed the Constitution of the United States, and one of the most distinguished of Revolutionary patriots.ben franklin

Franklin County, Alabama

Franklin county

The county seat was originally located at Russellville, named after Major William Russell, an early settler and chief scout for Gen. Andrew Jackson during the Creek Indian War of 1813-14. The state’s first rail line, the Tuscumbia Railroad opened in Franklin County in 1832.

Mysterious courthouse fire

It is located in the northwestern part of the state. Originally, Franklin County covered over 1200 square miles. Once its boundaries started at Marion County and went all the way to the Tennessee River. In the beginning, there were only two towns, Russellville and Big Springs. Big Springs was later named Tuscumbia.

The county lies south of Colbert, west of Lawrence, and north of Marion and Winston. Its western boundary is the eastern line of Tishomingo and Itawamba Counties in Mississippi.

In 1849, the county seat was transferred to Frankfort, where it remained until 1879 when it was moved to Belgreen. A mysterious courthouse fire in 1890 resulted in the loss of the county’s records and probably accounted for the relocation of the county seat to Russellville in 1891. A heated election was called to determine whether the new seat would be in a rival town Isbell or remain in Russellville. Russellville won and a new courthouse was built at its original location. Other towns and communities include Red Bay, Phil Campbell, Vina and Hodges.

Russell Valley comprises the northern half of the county. The town of Russellville was laid out with a public Court house square in the center of town. The old square is now the fourth block on the west side of Jackson Avenue and was 384 feet by 468 feet. Russellville’s first Courthouse was built of logs.

In 1849, an election was held to move the courthouse to a more central location in the county and the county seat was moved to Frankfort where it remained until 1879.

Lawyers laid their law books on tree stumps

When Colbert County was created in 1867, it was carved out of the northern portion of Franklin County, but it only existed for 8 months and the land was returned to Franklin County. Then two years later in 1869, Colbert County was again organized.

After the split of the two counties, another election was held to determine Franklin county’s seat and Belgreen was selected.

“This time a wood frame courthouse was built by a Mr. Dooley and the jail was built by Mr. William M. Rollins. The streets in Belgreen were just 99 feet wide. The first court was held in the street where the lawyers reportedly laid their law books on tree stumps. The county seat remained in Belgreen until 4 Dec 1890 when the courthouse and all the contents were destroyed by fire. All records were lost, except for one old land record book that was at the home of one of the court clerks the night of the fire.

So once again another election was held to select a new county seat. Two towns were selected, Russellville and Isbell. After a very heated race between the two towns, Russellville won out with 1228 votes, while Isbell received 1147 votes. After some 50 years, the county seat returned to Russellville.”i

The new courthouse in Russellville was built by architect and contractor John Barrett. The new three story brick building was built on the corner of Limestone Street on the east side of Jackson Avenue. It had a steeple that housed a bell and a four sided clock The courthouse was completed in 1893 and was the first courthouse in the county to display the American flag on a pole.

Franklin County Courthouse ca. 1920 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Franklin County Courthouse ca. 1920

Sadly, this beautiful courthouse was again destroyed by fire on January 13, 1953, but the records were saved this time. The new courthouse was built from the remaining basement on the same site from native limestone. The original bell is displayed on the northern side of the building.

Franklin County Courthouse ca. 1970 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Franklin County Courthouse ca. 1970 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

Streams flow north

The southern half is a high table land, representing the northern edge of the Warrior coal field. The principal streams rise at the foot of the ridge separating the valley from the table land, and flow northward into the Tennessee River.

Big Bear Creek lies to the south of the ridge, flows to the southwest, thence westward and northwest into the Tennessee. The ridge referred to forms an irregular crescent, overlying the coal measures, and forms a very noticeable feature in the topography of the county.

See best-selling books by Donna R Causey

As indicated the streams to the north flow into the Tennessee, and those to the south into the Tombigbee River. An interesting fact is that the waters of Big Bear Creek on the north are some 50 feet or more higher than those of the streams flowing into the Tomblgbee on the south, although not more than a few miles apart. Other streams are Cedar, Hurricane, Tollison, and Little Bear Creek.

Franklin County

Franklin County lake

Franklin County was one of first iron-ore mining centers in the state

Geological formations in the structure of this county are the Sub-Carboniferous, the Coal Measures, and the Stratified Drift. The first forms the valley lands, and the second the table lands. The drift overlies both in the western part of the county. The four predominating soils are the red or mulatto lands, the hill country with thin red or buff clay sub-soils, the black sandy alluvial lands, and black lime lands. The red lands form most of Russell Valley. The principal timbers are red, white and black oak, poplar, hackberry, black walnut, cherry and hickory. “The county was one of the first iron-ore mining centers in the state. By 1840, the county was one of the leading iron manufacturers in the state. Iron produced at the Cedar Creek Iron Works contributed to both the Mexican and Civil War.”ii The Cedar Creek Iron Works was destroyed by Union General Lovell H. Rousseau’s raid in July 1864 during the Civil War.

Few Indian sites or evidences of Indian habitation can be noted in this section. It is too far removed from the larger watercourses. Chicasaw settlements doubtless extended into its borders, but they were of no importance. The place names in the county do not suggest Indian origin. The creeks all drain to the Tennessee, and the settlements which might have existed here were from seats in northwestern Mississippi or possibly along the Tennessee River in Colbert County. However, many Indian town sites have been identified on the Tennessee River, and they may have had outlying posts in Franklin County to the south.

Post Offices and Towns, July 1, 1919, from U. S. Official Postal Guide. Numbers indicate the number of rural routes from that office.

  • Atwood
  • Red Bay—2
  • Belgreen-1
  • Russellville (ch)—7
  • Hodges—2
  • Spruce Pine—1
  • Phil Campbell—4
  • Vina—2

Delegates to Constitutional Conventions

  • 1819 – Richard Ellis, William Metcalf
  • 1861- John A. Steele, R. S. Watkins
  • 1865 – Christopher C. Tompkins, J. Burns Moore
  • 1867- William Skinner
  • 1875- William Burgess
  • 1901- John A. Byars

Early Senators

  • 1819-20- William Metcalf
  • 1821-2 – William Lucas
  • 1822-3 – William Metcalf
  • 1825-6 – Theophilus Skinner
  • 1828-9 – Theophilus Skinner
  • 1829-30- Quin Morton
  • 1832-3—Quin Morton
  • 1835-6– Benjamin Hudson
  • 1838-9 –Benjamin Hudson
  • 1841-2 – Benjamin Hudson
  • 1844-5 – Benjamin Hudson
  • 1847-8 – B. R. Garland
  • 1851-2 – Richard H. Ricks
  • 1853-4 – Henry C. Jones
  • 1857-8- Robert B. Lindsay
  • 1858-60 William M. Jackson
  • 1861-2 – William M. Jackson
  • 1865-6 – Robert B. Lindsay
  • 1868- D. V. Sevier
  • 1871-2 – D. V. Sevier
  • 1872-3 – J. C. Goodloe
  • 1873 – J. C. Goodloe
  • 1874-5 – J. B. Moore
  • 1875-6 – J. B. Moore
  • 1876-7- John H. Bankhead
  • 1878-9 – W. A. Musgrove
  • 1880-1 – W. A. Musgrove
  • 1882-3 – A. L. Moorman
  • 1884-5 – A. C. Moorman
  • 1886-7 – George C. Almon
  • 1888-9 – George C. Almon
  • 1890-1 – L. D. Godfrey
  • 1892-3 – E. B. Almon
  • 1894-5 – E. B. Almon
  • 1896-7 – Walter H. Matthews
  • 1898-9 – W. H. Matthews
  • 1899 (spec.) W. H. Matthews
  • 1900-01 – W. I Bullock
  • 1903 – William Isbell Bullock
  • 1907 – G. T. McWhorter
  • 1907 (Spec.) – G. T. McWhorter
  • 1909 (Spec.) – G. T. McWhorter
  • 1911 – E. B. Fite
  • 1916 – W. H. Key
  • 1919 – A. H. Carmichael

Early Representatives 

  • 1819-20 – Temple Sargent; Anthony Winston
  • 1820-1 – Temple Sargent; John Duke
  • 1821 (called)- Temple Sargent; John Duke
  • 1821-2 William W. Parham; Theophlius Skinner
  • 1822-3 – Anthony Winston; Theophlius Skinner
  • 1823-4 – Temple Sargent; Theophilius Skinner
  • 1824-5 – William W. Parham; Theophilius Skinner
  • 1825-6 – Peter Martin; James Davis
  • 1826-7—William W. Parham; James Davis.
  • 1827-8—Tempel Sargent; John L. McRae.
  • 1828-9—John M. Lewis; Benjamin Hudson.
  • 1829-30—Robert C. Horton; Benjamin Hudson.
  • 1830-1—Robert C. Horton; Benjamin Hudson.
  • 1831-2—William Winter Payne; John L. McRae.
  • 1832 (called)—Benjamin Hudson.
  • 1832-3—Benjamin Hudson.
  • 1833-4—Benjamin Hudson; John L. McRae.
  • 1834-5—Temple Sargent; Gregory D Stone.
  • 1835-6—John A. Nooe; Theophilus Skinner.
  • 1836-7—Robert A. Baker; Theophilus Skinner.
  • 1837 (called)—Robert A. Baker; Theophilus Skinner.
  • 1837-8—Robert A. Baker; Theophilus Skinner.
  • 1838-9—Robert A. Baker; Joseph T Cook.
  • 1839-40—Robert A. Baker; Benjamin Reynolds; J. T. Richardson.
  • 1840-1—Robert A. Baker; Benjamin Reynolds; Elijah McCullough.
  • 1841 (called)—Felix G. Norman; Benjamin Reynolds; Elijah McCullough.
  • 1841-2—Felix G. Norman; Benjamin Reynolds; B. R. Garland.
  • 1842-3—Felix G. Norman; John Richeson; B. R. Garland.
  • 1843-4—Felix G. Norman; Henry C. Jones; Lemuel Cook.
  • 1844-5—Felix G. Norman; Henry C. Jones: F. C. Vincent.
  • 1845-6—Felix G. Norman; Wesley M Smith; B. R. Garland.
  • 1847-8—Felix G. Norman; John Richeson; Richard H. Ricks.
  • 1849-50—R. S. Watkins; Thomas Thorn; Samuel Corsble.
  • 1851-2—R. S. Watkins; Wesley M. Smith; William H. Petty.’
  • 1853-4—R. S. Watkins; Robert B. Lindsay; Charles A. Carroll.
  • 1855-6—L. B. Thornton; Wesley M Smith; Thomas Thorn.
  • 1857-8—William M. Jackson; Robert E. Bell.
  • 1859-60—William C. Oates; William P Jack.
  • 1861 (1st called)—William C. Oates; William P. Jack.
  • 1861 (2d called)—O. O. Nelson; Adolphus A. Hughes.
  • 1861-2—O. O. Nelson; Adolphus A. Hughes.
  • 1862 (called)—O. O. Nelson; Adolphus A. Hughes.
  • 1862-3—O. O. Nelson; Samuel K. Hughes (vice A. A. Hughes, deceased).
  • 1863 (called)—A. Orr; A. W. Ligon 1863-4—A. Orr; A. Ligon.
  • 1864 (called)—A Orr; A. W. Ligon. 1864-5—A Orr; A. W. Ligon.
  • 1865-6—F. LeBaron Goodwin; Thomas Thorn.
  • 1866-7—F. LeBaron Goodwin; Thomas Thorn.
  • 1868—C. P. Simmons; H. C. Tompkins.
  • 1869-70—H. C. Tompkins.
  • 1870-1—J. A. Steele; W. W. Weatherford.
  • 1871-2—John A. Steel; W. W. Weatherford.
  • 1872-3—W. W. Weatherford.
  • 1873—W. W. Weatherford.
  • 1874-5—W. M. Smith.
  • 1875-6—W. M. Smith.
  • 1876-7—W. W. Weatherford.
  • 1878-9—W. P. Jack.
  • 1880-1—R. M. Cunningham.
  • 1882-3—A. J. Underwood.
  • 1884-5—W. J. Bullock.
  • 1886-7—R. H. Clarke.
  • 1888-9—E. R. Richardson.
  • 1890-1—B. E. Finch.
  • 1892-3—Joseph Stocton.
  • 1894-5—C. P. Banks.
  • 1896-7—W. T. Gast.
  • 1898-9—J. A. Byars.
  • 1899 (Spec.)—J. A. Byars.
  • 1900-01—J. A. Byars.
  • 1903—William Joseph James.
  • 1907—B. H. Smith.
  • 1907 (Spec.)—B. H. Smith.
  • 1909 (Spec.)—B. H. Smith.
  • 1911—Charles C. Richeson.
  • 1915—Dr. W. W. White.
  • 1919—J. W. Partridge

Tornadoes killed 27 people

Numerous tornadoes struck Alabama on April 27, 2011 and 27 people were killed in the Franklin County communities of East Franklin (3), Phil Campbell (23), and Double Springs (1).

“Every August, the town of Russellville hosts the annual Watermelon Festival, which features a pageant, a 5K race, arts and crafts, and tennis tournaments.”iii

Franklin County’s rural location offers several outdoor activities and attractions. Some of the most popular include:

  1. Bear Creek – popular with canoers and kayakers
  2. Bear Creek Lakes – boasts of having cleanest recreational waters in the state with excellent bass fishing as well as skiing, swimming, boating and five campgrounds
  3. Dismals Canyon – includes waterfalls, more than 350 species of flora and a strange glowing insects called fungus gnats
  4. Bridge Canyon – Alabama’s largest rock formation with a giant sandstone cliff, caves, springs, waterfalls and an 82-foot-long natural bridge.


  1. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography (1920) Thomas McAdory Owen
  2. Franklin County

iFrank history

iiEncyclopedia of Alabama

iiiEncyclopedia of Alabama

Read more lost stories in ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1)  is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.

Stories include:

  • First Mardi Gras in America
  • The Mississippi Bubble Burst
  • Royalists settle in Alabama
  • Sophia McGillivray- A Remarkable Woman
  • The Federal Road – Alabama’s First Interstate



  1. I applaud Mr. Burr for his service to the fledgling country. It’s just too bad it didn’t do it sooner. Though the country under the influence of Jefferson and Madison, we are now reaping the long-term legacy of Hamilton.

  2. It’s also one of only 3 or 4 places IN THE WORLD where a glowing worm lights up a section of the canyon walls at night. The other places include China and New Zealand !

  3. […] Franklin Lodge No. 36, at Russellville, organized under Tennessee jurisdiction October 3, 1820 to Richard Ellis and others. John S. Fulton signed the Constitution as representative of this Lodge under the name of Russellville Lodge No. 36 and the Lodge chartered as No. 7, although his name is not recorded in the proceedings as being present. […]

  4. […] Campbell located in Franklin County, Alabama, twelve miles south of Russellville, was founded in […]

  5. Dismal’s is a great place to visit… My whole family enjoyed it and keep begging to go back.

  6. That is the coolest place to visit… amazing & otherworldly. And right here in our state!

  7. Been there and didn’t know. Interesting

  8. my family lived in Phil Campbell,

  9. I have been there what a beautiful place

  10. Awesome place to visit ,very interesting

  11. If you go, reserve a night tour to see the tiny “Dismalights”. They’re larvae that glow – like glow worms.

  12. My mom lived at dismals canyon when she was little an i have visited a few times is an awesome place just to get away.

  13. but this is not a photo of the Dismals…..

    1. The picture is of Little Bear Creek in Franklin County, Alabama, the same county where the Dismals are located. Click on the picture and you will discover more about Franklin County with a link to more about the Dismals.

  14. Sounds like Buck’s Pocket where politicians go to cry! lol

  15. Hillary Clinton owns property there.

  16. Beautiful and interesting place to visit.

  17. We went swimming there an the water was cold.for 25cent a day

  18. […] of the settlers located on the Franklin County side of the line and the other half fell into Lawrence County territory.  LaGrange was located in […]

  19. […] his statement Col. Pollard declared that about the year 1834, when he called on Col. Aaron Burr, that he said to him that Lieutenant Peacock’s last escape from his captors was one of the most […]

  20. Lindsey Coppens Kelly Oswalt Naves

  21. My Dad worked on Hwy 72 back in the mid 60s. They found a rusted pistol that was very old. The road crew suspected it might have been owned by Jesse James and he disposed of it during his bank robbery in Huntsville. Now reading this post, it might have belonged to Aaron Burr.

  22. My own relatives probably hid out there, too. My great-great-grandfather was known for being a rowdy sort and was supposedly shot in the back by the “revenooers” while he was running a keg of moonshine through the woods near Bear Creek.

  23. He shot Hamilton, and may have hidden in Franklin County. The warrants he was ducking had nothing to do with the duel though.

  24. Love this one been there a couple of times

    APRIL 19, 2017

    1. I think he was a good guy too. Read the latest biography. Smart and tough. I admire him. Burr-not so much.

  26. […] Bluff, Capt. Edmund P. Gaines, commandant of Fort Stoddert and a file of soldiers met and arrested Col. Aaron Burr, ex-vice president of the United States. He was kept in honorable captivity at the fort for over two […]

    1. Candace Phillips Penn I went there when I was little. I wish it was closer.

  27. Was there a girls camp named Camp Dismal? Around 1920?

    1. But I love this Aaron Burr story.

    2. Kay Sasser Jacoby when he was captured he was prisoner at Mt. Vernon (later known as Searcy Hospital).

    3. Kay Sasser Jacoby my Mama’s sister Alcie went there. Maybe it was just Mama’s description!

  28. I wonder if the AT Burr is related to Aaron Burr?

Leave a Reply