Aunt Lou Coleman Keys


Luella Coleman Keys (Aunt Lou) was the sister of my great grandmother, Lizzie Coleman Sanders (Mammy). Mimi told me many times about Aunt Lou's sad life.

She was born July 16, 1872, in Hickman County, TN. She was married to Cicero Keys on August 10, 1902. She had three children, Matthew Dewey Keys (1903 - 1962), Early Keys (1905 - 1914), and Kenneth Roy Keys (1909 - 1910). Mammy stayed with Aunt Lou and Cicero when they lived in Little Lot (probably to help her with the babies.) Big Doc came to Little Lot to go to work and boarded with Aunt Lou. That's how Mammy and Big Doc met. Big Doc worked on the Hassell plantation at that time.

At some point after the birth of Kenneth Roy, Cicero disappeared. Hickman County was full of deep sink holes, and Mimi told me many times that no one knew what happened to Cicero, but everyone thought he must have fallen into a sink hole and died. On one of the census records he is listed as deceased. It was not until recent years that we learned from a relative that Cicero had actually not fallen into a sink hole. He had run away, apparently back to the Chattanooga area where he had grown up. He later remarried. After his death, attorneys contacted Dewey, but he refused to have anything to do with the matter.

Little Kenneth Roy was another sad story. While Aunt Lou went out to the woodpile for more wood, the baby toddled over and fell into the fireplace. They tried to save him but he did not recover from the severe burns. The middle son, Early, must have been a handful. After Cicero left, something happened to cause the men of the area to come to Aunt Lou and remove him from her custody. They said he was too wild for her to control. They took him to Nashville to a place Mimi called the asylum (the Tennessee Industrial School), where he soon became ill and died of measles and pneumonia. He was buried in the Mt. Olivet cemetery in Nashville, but it is no longer there. The graves were unmarked, and the city didn't realize the cemetery was there when they began construction to expand the airport. Crews uncovered some of the graves, and once they figured out what they had found, they relocated the graves to a nearby spot with one marker to commemorate the people buried there. Most of the children who were sent to the Tennessee Industrial School during that time period died not long after arriving.

Dewey spent most of his childhood living with Mammy and Big Doc. He is listed on the 1910 census as living with them (record looks like Mattie D). They raised him until he was about 15 or 16 and then he moved back to Mill Creek to help Ewell with the farm. On that same census Aunt Lou is listed as head of house at a different address, with Early and Kenneth Roy living with her.

I don't know what happened to Aunt Lou for the next several years. She had very little money. She made a little money by selling dishes and other things out of a catalog. Mama has a little glass cream pitcher that came from Aunt Lou. I will post that picture. Ultimately, Aunt Lou lived with her brother Ewell, and died of cancer while living with him.

This story haunts me. I want to re-write history to give her some peace, some happiness. And perhaps she did find some at some point. I hope so.

Where was this?: 
Little Lot, TN
When was this?: 
Early 1900s

Who is in this story?: