The Funeral of Coyd Woody

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Jones Valley Baptist Church | Madison County, NC | Image c. 1907

Sometimes while I’m researching one place or family, a completely unrelated story will pop up that I just can’t pass by. And this was definitely one of those that I knew y’all would want to read about! This fascinating photo depicts a somber event in vivid detail that was uncharacteristically sharp for the era. The details that emerge as you examine it just add to the story and intrigue. Luckily, I was able to dig up the story behind the scene, thanks to a few helpful Facebook groups and Find A Grave. Here it is:

This image was created on October 9th (or 12th), 1907 at the funeral of Jonathan ‘Coyd’ Woody. That morning, his friends and family gathered at Jones Valley Baptist Church in Sandy Mush, Madison County, North Carolina.

Who was Jonathan ‘Coyd’ Woody?

‘Coyd’ Woody was born in 1881 and raised by his parents, James Bailey Woody and Cassie Frisbee Woody, who were farmers in the community of Sandy Mush. In 1900, he relocated to Mountain Home, Idaho where he started a farm of his own. In August of 1907, Coyd made a short visit home to North Carolina to marry his bride, Essie King, and together they returned to his farm in Idaho.

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But tragedy struck the following month when Coyd contracted typhoid fever and died on September 30, 1907. He was only 26, making Essie a widow at only 19.

Grave marker photo for Jonathan Coyd Woody at Jones Valley Baptist Church in Sandy Mush, NC. Photo courtesy of Shawn Riley via Find A Grave.

His body was returned to Sandy Mush, NC via railcar for burial, and on one somber October morning, his friends and family gathered to remember him. In May of 1908, his widow Essie delivered their only child- a girl that she named Coyd in honor of her father.

Pictured in the funeral procession are the pallbearers riding horseback: Ralph Hayes, Jess Ball, Ed King, Jess Keener, Back Robinson, and Crawford Clark.

More Details Emerge

The longer you look at this photograph, the more details emerge. With detailed examination, you might notice the formal wagons for family members, the numerous attendants on foot who walked up the hill to the cemetery for his interment, and the horse-drawn hearse that carried Coyd’s casket. The following year, in May 1908, the first motorized hearse powered by electricity was developed by the General Vehicle Company. In 1909, Crane & Breed released the first gasoline-powered hearse.

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Also of historical note in the photo, are the corn shocks in the field on the front side of the church. Once the corn was cut to the ground, the corn was piled into a shock, thereby allowing the corn stalk and the ear to dry out. Once dry, the corn stalks would typically be loaded on a sled and taken to the barn for storage until being fed to the cows in the winter. This farming practice was replaced by the use of silos.

What other interesting details did you notice in the image?

Jones Valley Baptist Church

The other fascinating part of this story is that this photographer created a record of a church that no longer stands- preserving it for us to see nearly 120 years later. The site of his funeral service, Jones Valley Baptist Church in Sandy Mush, NC was founded in 1901 but washed away in 1977 during the Sandy Mush flood. Today, all that remains is a portion of the foundation near the Sugar Creek Bridge where the old church used to stand. A new sanctuary was eventually built on higher ground to replace it.

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Thanks to Greg Brookshire, Neal Woody, and Bert Abrams for their contributions to this post. You can learn more about this community in Greg’s Facebook group called: Leicester North Carolina History. Funeral image courtesy of Neal Woody. Gravemarker image courtesy of Shawn Riley via Find A Grave.

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8 Comments

  1. Fascinating story and remarkably sharp photo images. I love Southern history, particularly related to Florida, Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Mississippi, but also Arkansas and Virginia, as well. Thank you for sharing your passion for Southern history.

  2. So sad, it left me wondering what became of his wife and daughter, so I had to do a little research. His wife died at 49, after remarrying and having a three more children. One of her daughters with her second husband passed away before she was three, and another by the time she was 26. It looks like their daughter, Coyd, didn’t have any children of her own. Tragedy after tragedy. 🙁
    Essie King Woody Hall https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/55750369/essie-hall
    Cody Woody Nolan https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/57945361/coyd-noland

  3. This may be obvious to most, but something in the photo to note is that the entire procession is at full stop. Film of the era was not sensitive enough to allow shutter speeds fast enough to ‘freeze motion’ – even relatively slow motion – so the sharpness noted in the picture is due in large part to the fact that it was posed. The most obvious way to tell that the procession is frozen in place is to look at the legs and feet of the horses. The six lead riders were probably asked “Don’t look at the camera, look ahead”, and all but the last two complied.

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