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

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