The next two weeks, we will be examining the life of William Elkanah “Cain” Lackey, a much-revered Church of the Brethren preacher from the Elamsville community. I would like to thank Andrew Doss for providing much of this information about his great-great grandfather, Preacher Cain Lackey.
Cain Lackey was born on the 3rd of January 1869 to William Crawford “Croff” Lackey and Martha Jane Sneed. Cain’s father’s name got my attention because there were so many men born in early 1800’s Patrick County by the name of William Crawford: William Crawford Hooker, William Crawford Hall, Dr. William Crawford Staples, and William Crawford Smart, just to name a few. I suspect that these men were named for William Crawford, a Colonel in General Washington’s Army who was killed by Native Americans in Ohio in the late 1700s. Anyway, that is a rabbit hole for another time.
Cain Lackey was the oldest of eleven children and no stranger to hard work. According to a history written by the late Joel Naff, young Cain would lie in bed at night and look at the stars through the slats in the roof of his parents’ cabin. By the age of ten, he was breaking new ground for farming behind a two-horse plow.
At the age of fifteen, young Cain helped his father build a grist mill on Puppy Creek. The site of the mill was ten miles from their home, so they slept on rough boards at the mill site. They would awaken the next day, covered in the morning dew and would resume work again. Young Cain grew into a giant of a man whose strength and work ethic became legendary. According to Naff, Cain once “cradled” 172 dozen sheaves of wheat in ten hours (A grain cradle is a scythe attachment that looks like a large claw).
Doss shared that Cain and his brother John ran W. E. Lackey and J. J. Lackey Lumber & Crossties. When Cain was hauling crossties to sell to the railroad, occasionally the load would slip on the wagon. Cain would use one of the 265-pound crossties as a maul to square up the load again.
Naturally, a man of this stature will be challenged by other young men to see who the most hard-working, hard-living man in the county. It was known by locals that Cain could lick any man on the Smith River or Shooting Creek. In a memory shared by Naff, in a fight at Old Union Church, Cain beat off a challenger and thirteen of his friends in a free-for-all that left Cain’s head scarred for life from the mule spurs his opponents beat over his head. In later years, then Preacher Cain Lackey called these wounds on the back of his head, “the scars of sin.”
In 1886, 17-year-old Cain married Miss Nancy Elizabeth “Betty” Foley, the 22-year-old daughter of Anderson and Letitia Foley, also from the Elamsville section of the county. Cain and Betty’s daughter Emily was born the following year, followed by Malissa in 1888. Tragically, Emily died the same year that Malissa was born. Samuel James was born in 1891 and died of the croup only a year later. In 1893, Carrie was born on the 9th of April 1893 and her mother, Betty never recovered, passing away less than a month later, on May the 5th. So, here was 24-year-old Cain, a widower who had already buried two infant children. How would he handle all this tragedy and loss at such an early age?
Next week, we will find out what happens to Cain Lackey and his two young daughters. Thank you to Andrew Doss for sharing the biographical information and photo for this article.
Woody may be reached at email@example.com or (276) 692-9626.