And, no one in Lascassas, Tennessee, said a thing.
Over 9 years ago, me & Michelle and our two sons moved to Murfreesoboro from Hattiesburg, Mississippi. After a year or so living in a rental house, we built a home on the Stones River in Lascassas. It was our kind of community. Farmers and country folk. Salt-of-the-earth kind of people who talked like me, people who’d help you out at the drop of a John Deere hat, people who knew my family and I were transplants because, as Tracy Byrd sang, “…everybody knows everybody, and everybody calls you friend…”. I remember going to our first all-you-can-eat catfish supper at the Lascassas Volunteer Fire Department (a monthly event), seeing more John Deere hats and overalls than I’d seen in a long time, and being stared at with suspicion and curiosity because…well…we weren’t from around there.
There’s lots of history in Lascassas. We built our house just a few hundred yards from where the old Brown’s Mill once stood, providing flour, corn meal, and, I’m sure, the latest news and gossip in this part of the county. Going up river, you could find the fading remnants of the old Boy Scout camp. That’s a place I’ve heard lots of stories about from locals who camped and enjoyed the swimming hole there.
But, why the name Lascassas? In a state where almost every town ends in -ville, where did a farming community obtain its name, Lascassas?
Enter Bartolomeo de Las Casas. Las Casas came to the New World – Mexico – as a youth and quickly saw the mistreatment of the conquered natives. Because of his desire to champion human rights for the indians, Las Casas freed his slaves and became a Catholic priest. His efforts in the New World earned him the name, “Father to the Indians.” You can read his story here. One writer described the efforts of Las Casas as liberation theology and stated,
Las Casas’ early years are marked by his struggle to come to terms with the horrors he has seen and his understanding of how God could allow His creatures to suffer so. Many of his contemporaries believed that God had delivered the New World to Spain as a reward of sorts, to encourage the Spanish to continue to wage war upon heresy and idolatry as defined by the Catholic Church. Las Casas agreed that God had led Spain to the New World, but he saw a different reason: it was a test. God was testing the loyal Catholic nation of Spain to see if it could be just and merciful, and in Las Casas’ opinion, it was failing God’s test miserably.
Yet, how did a tiny farming community in middle Tennessee share the name of a Spanish monk?
One site states that a local indian chief named his son Lascassas in honor of Bartolomeo, who visited the area as a missionary to the indians. When the son eventually became chief, he named the settlement Lascassas. That’s mostly true. While most historical accounts never place Bartolomeo in middle Tennessee, some people tend to think that the missionary monk visited the area and the local indians.
Actually, the Indian chief was named after the Spanish missionary, who came to America on Christopher Columbus’ third exploration voyage out of Europe. It was the Indian chief who took the name ‘Lascassas’ after the Spaniard missionary named ‘Bartolome de las Casas’ came into the region. The missionary became known as the ‘Apostle of the Indians” he befriended. He’s credited in history books with efforts to protect the native population from slavery and abuse.
I’m not sure anyone can prove Bartolomeo ever stepped foot near the Stones River, but there is one thing everyone will agree on…the name of the farming community in middle Tennesse does have inspiration in a Spanish monk who fought for the rights of indians.
This past Tuesday was the 446th anniversary of Bartolomeo’s death. And, no one said a word.