Harber’s History Lesson, Daily News Journal, October 4, 2014, Susan Harber
The word “spy” has an Old French etymology meaning “look out” and “watch closely.”
Our story today centers on an individual who performed this role exceptionally well. Mary Kate Patterson was a beautiful, young woman with a slender frame and a cascade of stunning brown curls. Her alias as Confederate spy was quite surreal, as she personified carefree innocence in her daily character.
Few realized she was a 20-year-old, steely dynamo who protected Confederate soldiers in an all-consuming way. Her hand-written journal stated the well-known passage, “I always kept on the good side of a Union general and could get passes when I desired to do so.”
Mary Kate resided on the Rutherford-Davidson county line just nine miles from the Sam Davis Home. Born in Kentucky, her childhood community of Rashboro was in the immediate vicinity of La Vergne.
Her mother, Elenore, bore four brothers and two daughters. One brother, Everett, was a Coleman Scout with Sam Davis. Her father, Dr. Hugh Patterson, and brother, Charlie, were both well-respected physicians in the county. Hugh’s home was a headquarters for Confederate spies. Mary Kate’s education at the Elliott School in Nashville was halted by the coming of the Civil War.
Mary Kate wed John Davis, elder half-brother of Sam, on Feb. 25, 1864. Henceforth, she developed a close relationship with Sam, whom she admired and respected as a tremendous friend. John and Mary Kate were a team from the first day and maintained a great romance during the turbulence and uncertainty of devastation in every crevice of our county.
The Patterson family home was an underground headquarters for the Coleman Scouts. These bands of spies were in the realm of the Army of Tennessee under command of Gen. Braxton Bragg. Both Sam and John Davis were active participants in this mission. In the second week of November 1863, Sam Davis cast a small rock against the window of Mary Kate’s home informing her that he was headed to Rains Thicket, a heavily wooded area of 300 acres near her home. He needed supplies, as he departed on his mission to Chattanooga.
On the following morning, Mary Kate and constant companion Miss Robbie Woodruff forged through the thicket to bring Sam his breakfast. In turn, Sam gave Mary Kate a list of critical items he needed from Nashville. Little did Mary Kate or Sam know she would be the last close acquaintance to speak to him directly, as he perished within the next 48 hours.
Mary Kate traveled by buggy to retrieve the saddles, bridles, boots and spurs requested by her friend Sam. A concealed compartment was craftily built into her buggy to hide these coveted items. Hidden within her waist jacket was $500 worth of morphine supplied by her father.
Upon her return to Smyrna, Mary Kate was informed of Sam’s imminent capture and transferal to a jail in Pulaski.
While her husband John was confined with typhoid fever, she courageously traveled to Pulaski for a desperate plea on Sam’s life.
She approached Union Gen. Harrison Rousseau for admittance into the camp and discovered Sam had hanged as a spy on Nov. 27, 1863. Despondent, she returned home to share the woeful news. Sam’s youngest brother Oscar returned to Pulaski to retrieve Sam’s body.
Mary Kate’s life as a spymaster continued in the Civil War; however, her travails multiplied.
Her beloved husband, John Davis, was killed in 1867 in an explosion on a steamboat on the Mississippi River.
She later married Mr. Hill, who died soon thereafter. Her third husband was Col. Robert Kyle of Texas.
Their dwelling in La Vergne was situated on a road we identify as Fergus Road today.
Mary Kate was a member of the La Vergne Christian Church for several decades; and she was an active member of the Daughters of the Confederacy. She never had children.
Her gift to the community was visiting veterans in nursing facilities and giving words of comfort. Mary Kate succumbed to a financial crisis in her latter years and was living in meager conditions at her niece’s home to the end of her life.
At the age of 93, she was laid to rest in 1931 within the Confederate Circle at Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Nashville. She was the first woman honored with this interment. A blue velvet remnant from Sam Davis’ vest worn at his execution was buried with her.
Today, Sam Davis’ boot is on display in the Tennessee State Museum. Upon capture, this boot had been sliced open to search for documents that led to his demise. These hand-crafted boots had been purchased in Nashville by Mary Kate; and Sam wore them throughout his service as a Coleman Scout.
Mary Kate Patterson Davis Hill Kyle was a local luminary, who was cunning and gentle and dauntless to her last breath. Her treasured relationship to the Davis’ family is an awe-inspiring page wrapped securely within our history.