Sam And Nick Bush Were Among The County's Finest Sheriffs

Monday, October 5, 2020 - by John Wilson
Nick P. Bush
Nick P. Bush

In the decade before the Civil War, the territory around James Bush's log cabin and farm three miles upriver from Chattanooga became known as "Bushtown.'' A native of Georgia, Bush had lived briefly in McMinn County before buying 53 acres on the east bank of the Tennessee River in the early 1850s. Additional land along the river was rented from George Gardenhire at $5 an acre.

James Bush was the son of George Bush, who was born in Virginia in 1796. The first wife of George Bush, Mary Ann, died at Athens, Tn., in 1839 at the age of 32. His second wife, Catherine, was from North Carolina.

James Bush married Sarah Williams, who was the older sister of Andy Williams, a schoolteacher and farmer who lived with the Bush family at Bushtown. James Williams, their father, had first visited Ross's Landing in 1835. He built a hut on a bald knob east of town and planted an orchard there (Orchard Knob). James Williams died in September of 1841 and was buried near William Gardenhire. He was the fifth person buried in what became known as the Citizens Cemetery. Sarah Williams Bush was born in Blount County and she came to Ross's Landing when she was five. She joined the Methodist church in 1845. Her marriage to James Bush was in 1847.

Their eldest child was Samuel Claude Bush, who was born in 1848. Other children were Elizabeth, Mary, James, Charles and Emma. The Bush farm was at an old Indian crossing on the river. It also included a backwater where travelers often became stranded. James Bush rescued one traveler when his wagon became stranded in high waters, but the same man later drowned with his mules when they became entangled at the same site.

Young Sam Bush was needed on the farm, but he managed to get in three months of schooling a year for six years. It was necessary to walk three miles to the Missionary Ridge home of one of his tutors, Beriah Frazier Moore, a son of the pioneer settler Antipass Moore. The Bush children also gained some instruction from their uncle Andy Williams.

Shortly after the Civil War broke out, James Bush took ill with smallpox and died in 1862.The youngest daughter, Emma, was then only a year old. Much responsibility fell to Sam Bush,who was 14. He hired out to the quartermaster service as a wagon driver, hauling water and wood into Chattanooga. Sam Bush helped bring in timber from Walden's Ridge that was used in constructing large government warehouses on lower Market Street and he brought wood that was used in the military bridge that was constructed across the river from the end of Market Street. Promoted to assistant wagonmaster, he earned $50 a month. There was a raise to $75 a month when he moved up to wagonmaster. At the close of the war, when he was 17, Sam Bush left the farm and went into Chattanooga to learn the tinning trade from Nicholas P. Nail. He wound up marrying his daughter, Elizabeth, in 1872. They lived at the corner of Second and Cherry streets. Sam Bush later became active in politics, and he was elected Hamilton County sheriff in 1896. He went on to serve three times, always winning election by wide margins. Later, after he had served the maximum allowable term, County Judge Will Cummings named him to the newly created office of license inspector.

One of his sons, Ben Bush, was a member of the Quarterly Court. Another son, Nick P. Bush, was a locomotive fireman, then he followed his father into law enforcement and became a city detective. Nick Bush and Gault (a fellow detective) were said to be "one of the most noted thief-catching pairs in the South.'' Nick Bush was "a fearless officer and cool-head in critical emergencies.'' Following in his father's footsteps, Nick Bush was elected Hamilton County sheriff in 1914. He, too, served the maximum six years.

Nick Bush was said to be highly respected throughout the Southeastern United States, It was said that he “never took a drink, uttered an oath, or lost his equanimity” upon being elected to office in 1914.

An account from a book on Hamilton County sheriffs said as a detective in Hamilton County, Nick Bush was sent to Atlanta to serve for a week as an outside detective. While there, he toured Atlanta’s jail to acquaint himself with area criminals. Three years later a man was arrested in downtown Chattanooga for possession of dynamite and other explosives. The suspect refused to identify himself to arresting officers. When the suspect was taken to the police station for further questioning, Detective Bush passed through the office, stopped in mid-stride and took a look at the suspect under question. In a matter-of-fact tone Bush said, “Hello Jones. They got you, did they?” Though encountering Jones for only a few minutes in the Atlanta jail some three years earlier, Bush had recognized the escaped prisoner (a convicted safe-blower) and had given a proper identification to arresting officers. Jones was then sent to Atlanta to finish his sentence.

During Sheriff Nick Bush’s last term of office, there were approximately 5,000 arrests made between 1920 and 1922. During that period, 61 arrests were made on murder and manslaughter charges. His office also made over 500 arrests on charges of selling storing, transporting, and manufacturing liquor. During his time, 1,051 gallons of corn whiskey were confiscated and destroyed with 65 stills being captured.

After his retirement as sheriff, Nick Bush became chief deputy in 1924. He held that position until his death.

Emma, the youngest child of James Bush, married Joseph Richard Henderson in 1881. She lived until 1953 when she was 92 years old.Their children were Abigail, Sarah Elizabeth,Pearl, Emily Frank and Clarence Richard.

Other children of James and Sarah Williams Bush were James A. who married Callie Nail in 1880, Elizabeth who married William H. Lipp in 1872, Charles A. Bush and Mary who married Milo Smith Anderson. Sarah Williams Bush lived until 1896. She was buried in Citizens Cemetery.

Voters in East Chattanooga today still cast their ballots in the "Bushtown'' precinct.


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