The Archaeology in Tennessee blog is sad to report that Walter T. Durham died on Friday, May 24, 2013. He was 88 years old. Walter was a native of Sumner County, Tennessee, and he lived most of his life in its county seat (Gallatin, Tennessee). He was a well-known and very successful businessman in Gallatin. However, in the fourth decade of his life, his main focus veered away from business pursuits and more towards researching, writing, and publishing scholarly works on the history of Sumner County and Tennessee. Time proved him to be a prolific and engaging writer. Over the past 10 years, he held the official title of Tennessee State Historian.
Once upon a time, at this point in the post, we had three URL links to some really nice Gallatin Examiner and Tennessean newspaper articles on the life and death of Walter Durham. The best the Archaeology in Tennessee blog has been able to determine, those articles have been deleted from the newspaper websites. If your local public library archives these Gallatin and Nashville newspapers, you can read the articles in a comfortable chair at that repository.
Personally, I remember Walter Durham for several reasons other than his formidable historical scholarship. First of all, he was a very kind and friendly man who was always willing to help other people. Whenever called, he graciously answered historical questions pertinent to my archaeological research in Sumner County. Walter was also a lifetime member of the local First United Methodist Church, which was also my home church during the 1960s. My dad was a local carpenter and cabinetmaker, and Walter presided over the premier building materials outlet in Gallatin. Consequently, Walter and my dad were friends in the local business community for many decades.
Finally, Walter and I are actually distant relatives within the same extended family. The Durham family settled the Mt. Vernon area of Sumner County in the very early 1800s and donated land to this rural community for construction of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church and establishment of its adjacent cemetery. This original Durham family consisted of a father, a mother, and numerous children. Walter Durham was a direct lineal descendant of a boy in that family. I am a direct lineal descendant of this boy’s brother through my mother who was also a Durham. She grew up in the Mt. Vernon area and was a lifetime member of Mt. Vernon church.
The available genealogical records definitively indicate this relationship. To the average person, this might suggest that Walter’s nuclear family and mine were relationally close in recent years. This was not the case at all. A time lapse of only 200 years, an extended family with many members, and the passage of several generations have a way of erasing what was once the close relationship between two brothers in the same family. Archaeologists would do well to remember such things when considering ancient social organization.
Walter probably never knew that we were distant cousins. I am fine with that: “Good night cousin Walter. We all loved you very much, and we will miss you more than you could have ever imagined.”