The distance between Rickman, Tennessee, and Montague County, Texas, is around 800 miles. But those miles didnít interfere with plans two cousins made when they decided to honor their Great, Great, Great Grandfather by erecting a tombstone in his memory, even though the exact location of his grave is unknown. After deciding last year to take on this project, and working toward seeing it through, those cousins, Donnie Holman of Rickman, and Danny Russell of Montague County, Texas, set the date of June 11, 2005, for a dedication service to be held at the Sells cemetery located in the Independence community in Overton County. Approximately 30 people were in attendance, most of whom could trace their heritage back to Joseph Henry Sells who originated in Bedford County, Pennsylvania.

The gravestone placed in memory of Henry Sells who served in the Revolutionary War.

Historical data provided by Danny Russell includes the following information:

Joseph Henry Sells, was born in Bedford County, Pennsylvania in 1760, the son of Solomon Sells. Henry, at age 16, enlisted in the Revolutionary War. According to his pension application, he fought against Indians while serving on the Pennsylvania frontier. In 1795, Henry migrated to Sullivan County Tennessee. Census records show Henryís father was a resident of Washington County, Virginia, a county bordering Sullivan County. Henry and his wife lived there until after the mid 1830's. By 1845, they were living in Overton County. The youngest son of Henry Sells, David Leander Sells, later became the owner of the farm in the Independence Community the Sells Cemetery is located on. David Leander was born in 1797 and died in 1875. This same property was passed to his youngest son, also named David Leander. David Leander Sr. was the father of Pleasant Henry Sells. Pleasant Henry and David Leander, Jr. served in the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1863, Pleasant Henry and a fellow soldier by the name of Login Robbins, whose wife was a first cousin of Pleasant Henry, were granted leave and were on their way home, traveling by foot. They had reached Overton County when they were surrounded by Champ Ferguson's gorillas, and were dragged in a nearby stream where they were drowned. Somehow the two wives learned of their husband's fate and went together by wagon to recover their bodies. On the trip back home, they stopped at a nearby farm to bury their husbands. The women dug one grave and placed both men in it. That grave, located in the Sells Cemetery of the Ivyton community of Overton County, is marked by two U.S. military markers. However, information on the marker for Pleasant Henry has a mistake in it. His initials were placed on the marker backwards (it reads H.P. Sells instead of P.H. Sells).

According to additional information provided by Danny Russell, the Sells name can be traced to the year 1666 beginning with Jacob Sellen of Holland. At some point, the name was changed from Sellen to Sells.


This photograph of Pleasant Henry Sells, a member of the Union Army, was probably taken shortly before his death at the hands of Champ Ferguson's gorillas in 1863.

Direct descendants of Pleasant Henry Sells present for the Dedication Service include great-grandson Kelly H. Sells of Livingston; great-great grandson, Michael K. Sells of Dalhart, Texas; great-great-great granddaughter, Alexis McKenzie Sells, of Cookeville; great-granddaughter, Donna Sells Jolley; great-great granddaughter, Helen Gunnels Keisling; Jimmy Gunnels, great-great grandson, all of Taylors Crossroads; Marcia Smith, of Livingston, great-great granddaughter.

In addition to the placing of a gravestone in honor of Henry Sells, new stones were erected to replace badly deteriorated markers of Pleasant Henry's widow, Elizabeth Baker Sells, and one of their twin daughters, Loudora Sells, who died of typhoid fever in 1872. Family members believe Henry Sells is buried somewhere in the Sells Cemetery near Independence, however the exact location is not known. The gravestone in Henryís honor was placed near the graves of his wife and daughter.

Sue Eldridge, a representative from the Daughters of the American Revolution, was on hand for the dedication service, and announced that a foot marker will be placed at grave of Henry Sells to honor his participation in the Revolutionary War. A ceremony for the placement of the foot marker will be held later in the year.

Footnote: By Michael Sells

I found out that by going to the gravesite, that Pleasant Henry's Last Name was misspelled as H.P. Sills. Sills instead of Sells. This troubled me. Why would the family allow this mistake to go on for this long. I knew that it had to be a mistake because many members of my family had visited the grave on occasion. So I asked my Aunt Lerion Jolley if she knew anything of this. She explained that it was just a mistake when they enlisted. The army knew them as Sills. I then asked my Aunt Lerion if she or my Dad had ever heard the story about Pleasant Henry being drown and the wives burying them. They had not. The version that had been told in our family string was that Pleasant Henry and Logan Robbins were ambushed and killed. They were placed in a common grave.

David Leander Sells


Here is some more interesting information that I found on the internet. There is a site called KY Civil War Records. Pleasant Henry's Tombstone reads: 3rd KY INF. If you go on their site to the 3rd KY Infantry page, you find two Sells' listed. Andrew, a private in company A, and Hillory, a private in Company H. Then you find three men with the last name of Sills, David L., Jacob, and Pleasant H, all privates in Company D. This would lead one to believe that David L would be David Leander, and Jacob another brother or cousin probably all signed up together and the US army misspelled all their names.


3rd KY Inf can be read from Pleasant Henry's Tombstone

Logan Robbins tombstone appears to read 5th KY ??

I believed this to be CA for Calvary when I was standing in front of it, but now I'm not sure. I ran Logan Robbins name through the site in every direction and came up with nothing. Who was this man who was traveling with my great, great, grandfather when they were ambushed and killed and buried in a single grave together. If anyone has any information about Logan Robbins, please let us know at emily@josephinesjournal.com. We would like to honor these men with a new stone, possibly telling their stories for all to see and read for future generations.

As for Champ Ferguson, it seems he got his just reward for his deeds after all. The following is an article taken from the Tennessee Division Sons of Confederate Veterans:

Champ Ferguson, a legendary Confederate partisan ranger and guerilla fighter, was easily the most notorious among the many such men who fought to control the Upper Cumberland Plateau region along the Tennessee and Kentucky borders.  Nominally holding the rank of Captain in the Confederate Army, Ferguson led his own company of independent cavalry.  When not making the most of every opportunity to harass and intimidate Unionists in the area, Ferguson acted as a scout for Genl. John Hunt Morgan, and was for a time attached to the command of Genl. Joseph Wheeler.   His company was under Wheeler's command when they took part in the Battle of Saltville (Virginia).

At war's end, Ferguson and his men returned to their homes and, on 23 May, 1865, they were induced by promise of the same parole given to the officers and men of Lee's and Johnston's Confederate Armies to surrender themselves to federal military authorities.  All except Ferguson were indeed released on Oath.  Champ Ferguson himself was summarily arrested, and charged with over 50 counts of murder.  Some of his purported victims remained nameless, and many of the other charges were wholly unsupported by either witnesses or documentation.   In a trial at Nashville, lasting from 11 July through 26 September, 1865, a military tribunal called witness after unreliable witness against Ferguson, all the while denying his counsel every opportunity to present a competent case in his defense.   On 10 October, General Orders affirming his conviction and sentencing him to death by hanging were issued.  On Friday, 20 October, 1865, the Order of Execution was carried out while Ferguson's wife Martha and sixteen year old daughter Ann watched.   Thus it came to be that Champ Ferguson joined Henry Wirz, Commandant of the Confederate prison at Camp Sumter (Andersonville) as the only two former Confederate's of any rank or position to be executed for supposed "war crimes."
Hanging of Champ Ferguson


I have not until now added anything to my mother's stories, except for putting them on the internet. This story is different. It left me with a lot of questions. I have always been very proud of the south, and where I am from. To discover that my great great grandfather fought for the north was a surprise. After thinking about the extremely strong beliefs that he must have had to make this decision that would eventually take his life, that he must have been a man of great courage and determination. To think of what it would have took to go out and fight in this brother against brother war makes the trials and troubles of today look mighty small. If I could have that kind of courage today what would I do with it?

I am extremely proud of my family heritage and each of the sons who turned into fathers and taught their sons how to be a Sells helped to make me what I am today, and I hope to pass it on to my children.


More Additions to the story from e-mail:

This e-mail was sent in

  I enjoyed your story about Henry Sells this week.  I am also a descendant of the Sells family here in Overton County.  My Grandfather was V.T.  (Vollie) Sells.  He is buried in the cemetery where P.H. Sells and Logan Robins are buried.  I am finally glad to find a picture of P.H. Sells I had a fear that it was lost forever.  It may surprise you but I  have a picture of Logan Robins.  He is not in Uniform but it was given to me by my mother and to her by my grandfathers family.  We are some how related to them.  I am a retired Colonel from the Army and have had a etching of their tomb stones framed and carried with me during my  time in the army from post to post. They always made for good conversation. If you would like a copy I will have one made and sent to you if you will give me an address to send it. I would like to get a copy of H.P Sells picture you had placed in the Enterprise if possible. I could them place a picture in the frame I have.
V/R Ron Cyrus, Colonel, Infantry (ret) USA
It may also of interest to you that there is also a Henry Sells buried in the cemetery at Ivyton.  His wife name was Molly and he was also a veteran. I would say war of 1812 but maybe older. It is not marked but I know exactly where it is.  He would have been my grandfathers G-G- grandfather. His son Philip Sells was killed there near the cemetery by Ferguson's men. My Grandfathers dad Bev Sells was around 12-14 years old and later in the was Killed the man responsible for his fathers death near our home there near Bowlstown.  P.H. Sells was a member of the 3rd KY Infantry and Logan Robins was a member of the 5th KY Cav.   

Anyone that has some information concerning this story, let us know. We may be able to piece things together from many different directions and learn more about these men and their lives.