Hamilton County Pioneers - the Ragons

Tuesday, January 16, 2007 - by John Wilson

The Ragons (or Ragan) began to move into Hamilton County about the time of the Indian Removal. In the Civil War, they were “half and half” – some going with the Union and some the Confederacy. J.B. Ragon was a force at Lookout Mountain, Tenn., serving as its first mayor.

The family traces back to Ashe County, N.C., where Eli Ragon died in 1807. He and his wife, Mary, had a 400-acre land grant at the foot of Jefferson Mountain. His sons afterwards began moving into frontier Tennessee. The children of Eli and Mary Ragon included Mary who married Eli Cleveland, Jacob B., David, Daniel, Eli Jr., Absalom, Sarah who married Samuel Jesse Martin, and Delilah.

Jacob Ragon first married Mary Smith. The children included Elizabeth who married Isaac Laymance, Nancy who married Jonathan Jackson, Mary who married Andrew Forgison Cromwell, Matilda who married James H. Barnett, and Robert W. The family was in Morgan County, Tenn., when another son, Jesse Smith Ragon, was born in 1821. Jacob Ragon was clerk and master in Morgan County. He later moved to Murray County, Ga., after the Indian territory was opened to white settlement. There in 1841 he took Lucinda Gallagher Council as his second wife. While in Murray County, young Jesse Smith Ragon got his first glimpse of Ross's Landing. He was sent by his father with a wagon and an ox team to get a load of salt on a trip that took several days. While in Murray County, he married Perlina Murphy, who was from Blount County, Tenn. The Jesse Ragons moved to Ooltewah in 1849 and bought a farm. Afterward, he operated a general store at Ooltewah. His father, Jacob Ragon, also made his way to Hamilton County. He and his second wife had a daughter, Nancy Jane. She married William Mitchell of Ooltewah. Jacob Ragon died in 1872 at the age of 84.

Jacob's brother, David, had arrived here earlier. David Ragon in 1844 sold his brother, Eli Ragon Jr., 500 acres in Hamilton County for $3,000. They were joined here by another brother, Absalom. David Ragon died at Ooltewah in 1848, but his widow, Nancy Faw Ragon, lived on until the end of the Civil War. Their children were Eli, Elizabeth who married D.W.D. Mitchell, Robert, John, Delila, Martha Adaline and William M. who married Nancy E. Forrest.

Eli Ragon Jr. had married Charlotte Ayres in Knox County in 1820. Eli died at Fort Smith, Ark., in 1864, while Charlotte Ayres Ragon lived on until 1886. Their eldest son, Jonathan C., trained as a carpenter and was also a Baptist preacher. He married Elizabeth Rogers, daughter of Elisha Rogers, in 1847. They were among the Ragons to move to Arkansas. Jonathan and Elizabeth had Martha who married T.B. Smith, Cecilia, Penelope who married William Moseley, and Cordelia who married J.G. Stevens. Jonathan Ragon married Annie Lee Elliott in 1884 at Logan County, Ark. Their children were Mary M., Lottie E. and W.S. Ragon. Other children of Eli and Charlotte Ayres included Darthula, Mary Malinda, Allen, David and Ludema Caroline who married Henry J. Waldrip.

Absalom Ragon and his wife, Jane Hixson, had a 361-acre farm near the Jarrett Dent place at Tyner. This farm was sold in 1864 to Jesse C. Roberson for $10,830. Part of the consideration were three slaves, Tom, Andy and Ned, which Absalom Ragan went to South Carolina to pick up and sold for $7,500 in Confederate money in Atlanta. There was later a dispute over the sale because the slaves were worthless to the owner following Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and then the Union victory.

Jesse M. Ragon, son of Absalom Ragon, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862, at Chattanooga with the Confederacy's Co. F of the 35th Tennessee Infantry. He rose to the rank of first lieutenant, but resigned March 25, 1863. By the time of the war, several other children of Absalom Ragon had left for Johnson County, Ark. These included Eli Cleveland Ragon, who had married Nancy Rogers, and Mary Ann Ragon, who had married William C. Hixson. Eli C. Ragon was captain of a Confederate unit in Arkansas, while his younger
brother, Alfred Jackson Ragon, rose to captain in the Fifth Tennessee Cavalry. Jonathan C. Ragon fought with the First Arkansas Infantry on the Federal side. During the war, William C. Hixson was captured by bushwhackers and hung in front of his wife and nine children. Mary Ann Ragon Hixson stayed on in Arkansas and raised her large family. She married Nelson Miles in 1878. The other children of Absalom Ragon were Louisa J., Caroline and Sarah E. who married Jesse Martin. Alfred Jackson Ragon married Ann Heartsill.

Jesse Smith Ragon opted for the Union. He went to eastern Kentucky and joined the Federal army, fighting with the First Tennessee Regiment. His eldest son, Robert McCamey Ragon, was also on the Union side. His wife was Josephine Henegar.

During the war, Sherman's troops camped for several days on Jesse S. Ragon's 150-acre farm at Ooltewah. Perlina Ragon was not at home and the soldiers helped themselves to some chairs, a mantle clock, some fence posts, a horse and 100 bushels of wheat. Perlina Ragon went into the Union camp to try to retrieve her items and was given back the chairs and clock - though the back leg of the clock was broken. The family later received payment for the horse, wheat and fence rails. The clock was in the family until 1958 when it was taken to a shop to have the broken leg finally repaired. It was lost to the family when it was left over 30 days and sold to a man traveling through town buying old clocks.

After the war, Jesse S. Ragon returned to Ooltewah and was its postmaster from 1867 to 1873. He lived in Texas between 1881 and 1906, when he returned once again to Hamilton County. He lived to be 97 and often spoke of the Indian chiefs he had known personally.

His other children included Mary Ann who married Nathan J. Stone, Jacob Monroe who married Laura Cate, James Harvey who married Burlie McNeill, Matilda Jane who married Hiram D. Rider, and Perlina Angela who married Walter Pritchett and moved to Fort Worth, Tex. Nathan Stone died of cholera in Chattanooga in 1873.

Another son was Jesse Bartlett Ragon, who had been born at Ooltewah in 1855. He graduated from Hiwassee College, then studied law under Judge D.C. Trewhitt. J.B. Ragon became deputy clerk and master in 1881 at a salary of $50 a month. He was elevated to clerk and master by Chancellor Summerfield Key in 1888. J.B. Ragon had grown up at Ooltewah near the Robert Nelson Chesnutt family. Chesnutt's mother,
Matilda Cleveland Chesnutt, was a daughter of Eli Cleveland and Mary Ragon. J.B. Ragon corresponded with the Chesnutt daughter, Hattie, even after the family moved to Texas. J.B. Ragon and Hattie Chesnutt were married at Ennis, Tex., on Dec. 30, 1884. J.B. Ragon was an ally of County Judge Will Cummings and they both were advocates of transportation improvements. Ragon chaired the committee that built the Scenic Highway up Lookout Mountain and he helped complete the tunnel through Missionary Ridge after engineers had despaired of the project. He was also a leader in the Market Street (Chief John Ross) Bridge effort. Ragon lost his fight to have the bridge built midway between Market and Broad streets - so both streets could benefit equally. But he had his way
in his insistence that it be a concrete bridge instead of a steel one. When an effort to build a road up Suck Creek Mountain was stalled because a small portion of the right of way was in Marion County, Ragon arranged for that county to temporarily lend the section to Hamilton County. He was the author of the bill incorporating Lookout Mountain, Tenn. The Ragon home was at 311 East Brow Road on the bluff at the steep Ragon's Hill. Hattie Chesnutt Ragon died in 1901, leaving her husband with four young children to raise.

Summerfield Key Ragon was gassed during machine gun battles in France, and he died in 1920. His brother, J.B. Ragon Jr., had an insurance agency and was a member of the state House and Senate. Tillie Ragon, daughter of J.B. Ragon Sr., married Hollis Caldwell, who also was a Lookout Mountain mayor. Her sister, Nina, married Thomas Hickman. Marion Caldwell, daughter of Hollis and Tillie Caldwell, still lives on Ragon Hill. Her sister, Mrs. Junius Wall, resides in North Chattanooga.

The Robert McCamey Ragons lived at Ooltewah. Their children included James Jesse who married Julie Caroline Jefferson, Minnie Teale, Mary Susan who married William C. Smedley, Harvey Finley who married Agnes S. Wise, Robert Howard, Homer Jackson who married Hortense May Whitaker, Hiram Sidney who died young, George Jacob who married Gertrude C. Wicks, and Lloyd Allie who married Ann B. Austin.

The annual Ragon family reunion was held in June of 1996 at the Stone Methodist Church in Ooltewah where another Ragon descendant, the Rev. Ronald Ragon, held services.

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