Jerry Summers: The Battle At The Cotten Patch

Thursday, January 27, 2022 - by Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Although historically the Battles at Chickamauga, Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge have received more notoriety than the Battle at the Cotten Patch Restaurant on East Main Street in downtown Chattanooga, it is still vividly remembered by the survivors of the titanic engagement between the combatants in the 1980s.

John W. Cotten, proprietor of the now closed bar-b-que drive-in and restaurant on Rossville Boulevard, had moved to 2501 East Main Street when construction of I-24 E had required that the large parcel of land be purchased adjacent to the interstate exit.

The customers at John’s eating establishment were served by car hops who delivered food on aluminum trays that could be attached to a partially rolled down window on either side of the parked vehicle.

The cardinal rule for patrons at the Cotten Patch was that you could not leave your vehicle except to enter the restaurant to dine inside at one of the 10-15 booths.

John Cotten monitored all activities in the parking lot through a large glass window and the use of a microphone and several loudspeakers located on all four corners of the lot.

If a customer without John’s direct permission exited their vehicle for any unauthorized purpose the owner in a booming and surly voice, after an initial warning, would in a rather non-polite tone, be told to “Get you’re a_ _ back in your car!”

Normally, John’s directive would be sufficient to direct occupants back into their cars but on one specific occasion a brave individual balked at the specific instructions and responded with the gesture of extending his middle finger in John’s direction (As Tom Cruise stated in the Top Gun classic movie “___ the bird.”)

John armed himself with a claw hammer, exited the building and approached the slightly inebriated patron intent on teaching him a lesson for his rude gesture and lack of respect.

In return the occupant of the car grabbed the aluminum tray off of the window, grasped some other type of undisclosed weapon and proceeded to defend himself from Mr.

Cotten’s hammer attack. In a battle reminiscent of those participated in by knights in the Middle Ages the two warriors continued the duel.

By this time, the Chattanooga Police Department had been notified and responded to the premises on another not infrequent call to quell a disturbance at the popular Chattanooga drive-in.

While John struck the tray repeatedly with his hammer the battle fortunately ended before serious injury or death to either of the combatants occurred.

When “Chattanooga’s finest” arrived on the scene and with the serving tray showing many dents and serious damage the decision was debated as to who should be charged with a criminal offense.

Since the tray had sustained the most damage the owner of the Cotten Patch was charged with aggravated assault and escorted to the Chattanooga City Jail.

John W. Cotten, when he died at the age of 84 on January 25, 2002, had been a prominent civic, businessman and community leader.  He had served as Potentate of the Alhambra Shrine and his honorary pallbearers included members of the Order of the Jesters, Thirty-third Degree Masons, Highland Park Masonic Lodge, Post 14 of the American Legion, past fellow Potentates, and the Mounted Horse Patrol.

When the case came to be heard before fellow Shriner, the Honorable Riley Graham, a large group of John’s supporters filled the courtroom.

After hearing the evidence from both sides Judge Graham stated that the owner of the Cotten Patch had acted reasonably in attempting to maintain order on his premises after being subjected to a vile and threatening gesture and dismissed the charges.

Although the premises are now occupied by a Hispanic convenience store, many memories with the older generation remain about a very popular eating and drive-inn west of Dodds Avenue at the foot of Missionary Ridge.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com)



Weekly Road Construction Report

Upcoming Special Event Road Closures Announced

Food For The Body And Soul Is In-Town Gallery's June Theme


Here is the weekly road construction report for District 29: BRADLEY COUNTY SR-60 widening from the 4-lane north of I-75 (LM 17.2) to SR-306 (LM19.9): During this reporting period, the contractor ... (click for more)

The Chattanooga Division of Transportation announces the following upcoming special event road closures: Nightfall The following roads and intersections will be closed beginning Friday, ... (click for more)

Artists of In-Town Gallery were asked to submit for June’s theme pieces of art that reflect what feeds them - body or soul. This question evoked a myriad of responses. Robin Howe’s interpretation ... (click for more)



Happenings

Weekly Road Construction Report

Here is the weekly road construction report for District 29: BRADLEY COUNTY SR-60 widening from the 4-lane north of I-75 (LM 17.2) to SR-306 (LM19.9): During this reporting period, the contractor will be performing earthmoving operations and removal of structures. Crews will also be working on foundations for a new bridge over Candies Creek. Brief, intermittent lane closures ... (click for more)

Upcoming Special Event Road Closures Announced

The Chattanooga Division of Transportation announces the following upcoming special event road closures: Nightfall The following roads and intersections will be closed beginning Friday, May 27 from 5:30 p.m.-midnight: • Cherry Street at E. MLK Boulevard (begins at 3 p.m. for set-up); • Market Street between East 8th Street and East 10th Street; • Martin Luther King ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Many Citizens At Walker County Meeting Urge Commissioners To Work Out Differences With Chairman Shannon Whitfield

Many citizens attending a packed meeting of the Walker County Commission on Thursday night urged commissioners to work out their differences with Chairman Shannon Whitfield. A number of those who spoke at the lengthy session said they were concerned about the high cost of adding a county manager and the fact there might be expensive turnover in that position. The meeting did ... (click for more)

Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee To Hear Election Challenges, Including County Mayor, On Friday Night By Zoom

The Tennessee Republican Party State Executive Committee will hear two election challenges from Hamilton County, including one for the county mayor race, by Zoom on Friday night. Sabrena Smedley is challenging the county mayor contest on grounds of many cross-over votes by Democrats that she said helped Weston Wamp win. The Hamilton County Election Commission has certified ... (click for more)

Opinion

Howard Graduates Shined Despite Gang Interruption

I have had many career highlights, but none like the partnership that Lookout Mountain Conservancy has enjoyed with The Howard School for the past 10 years. I have gotten to know hundreds of the students, and I often walk away thinking how fantastic these students are, and yet, how misunderstood. May 20, 2022, is a great example. I attended The Howard School graduation at Finley ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Man And The Tree

During my Morning Readings one day last week I came across an essay that appeared in the Epoch Times on October 27, 2020 entitled ‘The Man’s Pledge.’ It is one of many stories from the newspaper’s readers to its “Dear Next Generation” where the idea is to plant … well, figuratively take a seed pod from an older tree and nurture a seedling that will grow into a new tree. The story ... (click for more)