A well-known legend centered around the Bankhead National Forest that began in the 1860s is the story of Aunt Jenny Johnston. She and her husband raised 10 children while running a tavern and inn. Her husband gave aid to several union men and confederate deserters who would hide throughout the surrounding forest and hills. The Home Guard Patrol approached their home either to draft their son for the war or to punish her husband for these traitorous acts. The guard lynched Jenny’s husband to a tree and while he was hanging there, their oldest son rushed up to stop his father’s death and was shot by the Home Guard. They then hanged and shot his father and rode away on their horses. Legend has it that Jenny made all of her children join her in taking a blood oath with their own father’s blood pledging not to rest until every one of the eight members of the Home Guard that murdered her husband and oldest son were killed. It is said that she first shot the leader of the Home Guard and made a soap dish out of his skull, then trained her children to shoot proficiently and set out in her revenge. Her sons hunted down several of the men, but eventually all of her sons died of a bullet wound from seeking out their father’s revenge. Aunt Jenny Johnston had a wooden cane in which she cut a notch with every death of the posse members her sons brought back to her. Seven of the eight men of the Home Guard were killed and the last one disappeared when he got word Jenny and her sons were after his life. She died at the age of 98, outliving all but one of her children. On her deathbed she told how proud she was of her sons for dying like men.
People in the surrounding areas have passed down the history and legends of Aunt Jenny Johnston from generation to generation. There are many stories in which people park their cars at her old home place and she will supposedly come up to the car and tell them to get off of her property, threatening to take their lives too if they don’t leave, and then disappearing into thin air. People claim to have seen a green light moving around the land and hear footsteps. She is said to appear in the cars of passers by on Halloween night. There are many different stories that have been added to the actual historical events. Made up along the road to entertain others or to warn people to avoid the forest in the middle of the night.
I’m sure there really was a woman named Jenny Johnston that lived in that area and ran a tavern and inn. I’m sure she and her husband helped the starving men hiding in the woods who had deserted the war. I’m sure the Home Guard really did kill her husband and son. All of this is written in history books and can be found in old records in surrounding courthouses. I’m sure that after watching her husband and oldest son die she was furiously sad and engulfed in rage with a lust for revenge. I’m sure she knew how to use the gun in their home and I can believe she even hunted down the members of the posse that had caused her such hardship and grief. However, Jenny Johnston was said to be quite a Christian woman. So I find it hard to believe that she made a soap dish out of a man’s skull and forced all of her children into a blood oath. As for her ghost haunting her home place, I guess I would have to see it to believe it. I’ve visited the graveyard where she is buried and driven by her house before it was burned down both during the daylight and in the middle of the night. I guess if she pledged on her husband’s blood not to rest until every last one of the men of the Home Guard were killed, that she meant it. And since one of them got away, her ghost must be awaiting his return to the area so she can finish her revenge.
The legend of Aunt Jenny Johnston has had quite an effect on the surrounding areas. Legends have formed around her story to keep young people out of the woods late at night in an attempt to scare them away from getting into trouble. They are told in public libraries and in schools in the surrounding areas to inform people of the history behind the ghost stories and to entertain audiences around Halloween. These legends seem to have served their purpose for about a hundred years, but times change and so do people. Aunt Jenny Johnston’s headstone has been stolen from her grave and replaced multiple times. The descendants finally gave up on replacing it and so her grave is now bare. Her house was still standing until 2010 when it burned down. No one was ever caught or arrested for any of these crimes. It’s sad to think that the legends might die out in time with no little house or headstone to prompt the telling of the story of Aunt Jenny Johnston.
View more information on this topic here.
Refreshed memory of the legend at this website:
True facts from interview with Carla Waldrep.