At the Stone-Stoner Confluence

Musings by Mike Slate.

About half a mile south of the Stone’s River bridge on Lebanon Road, along the new greenway trail, you can peer across the river at the place where Stoner’s Creek empties into Stone’s River. If you know your history, you will stop dead in your tracks for a few moments, knowing that you have arrived at a historic location. The confluences of streams were landmarks for the pioneers and early historians . . . and no doubt for the Indians before them. Whereas we might say today that Central Pike is just past the Stone’s River bridge, the pioneers would more likely have said that a trail was just past the point where Stoner’s Creek flows into the Stone’s River.

Painting by Fred Hetzel (from NHN collection)

Standing on that special spot and watching the Stoner rushing into the Stone awakens the realization that stream confluences are also confluences of lives: hundreds, maybe thousands, of folks have stood in this same area long before the greenway made it accessible to us greenhorn pathfinders. Uriah Stone, for whom Stone’s River was named, probably stood there. Michael Stoner, after whom Stoner’s Creek was named, surely scouted around that spot. I wish I could tell you that these two “long hunters,” so called because they explored and hunted for extended periods of time, met each other at that place and marveled together about the similarity of their surnames. That discussion may well have taken place, but probably not there. Both Stone and Stoner might have hunted in the Wellen party in the early 1760s, but that group did not follow the Cumberland as far west as its confluence with Stone’s River. It appears that the two pioneers explored our area at separate times in the late 1760s, about a dozen years before Nashville (or “Nashborough,” as it was first called) was founded.

Nashville co-founder John Donelson would probably also have stood on that spot. He planted corn in the adjoining bottom land, called “Clover Bottom,” and the Donelson family eventually lived nearby. No less an international dignitary than Andrew Jackson may very well have strolled that area himself, perhaps while his horses were warming up on the Clover Bottom race track. Another intriguing possibility is that Daniel Boone might have stood there. Boone and Stoner were not only compatriots but also close friends. Though I know of no record of a Boone visit to the Stone’s River, he could have come with Stoner at some point in time.

Photo by Paul Pierce

Nineteenth-century historians mention the existence of a Stoner’s Lick, located at some unspecified point on the creek. This would have been a salt lick, an area where salt or a salt rock outcrop rose to the surface. Such places were not just landmarks; they, like the French Lick around which Nashville was founded, were quite valuable in other ways. Buffalo and other game congregated at the licks, assuring easy access to meat and fur for the Indians, explorers, and settlers. Stoner’s Creek winds much farther east than it appears to on some maps [Stoner Creek Elementary School in Mt. Juliet, destroyed by the March 2020 tornado, is currently being rebuilt (2021)], so the lick could have been anywhere along several winding miles. For example, since buffalo trails often became roads for the settlers, the lick could have been approximately at the intersection of today’s Central Pike and Stoner’s Creek. Perhaps the driveway to the emissions inspection station is astride the lick! At least we still have the confluence, since the lick is probably lost forever.

I will conclude these musings with a linguistic grumble: Stone’s River and Stoner’s Creek do not exist on modern maps. Oh, the streams are there, all right, but the names have changed. Although most nineteenth-century historians wrote both names in the possessive form, somewhere along the way the apostrophes dropped off. Considered acceptable now are “Stones River” and “Stoners Creek,” despite the fact that the long hunters’ names were Stone and Stoner. I will hazard a guess that the corruption occurred first on maps, for lack of space or accuracy, and then continued on into texts. However it happened, if you drive out Lebanon Road and cross the Stone’s River bridge today, you will see a sign that reads “Stones River.” Feel free to smile at that sign, realizing that you know better.


Note: In 2011 a reader informed us that his ancestor Thomas Wilson bought this land from James Rucker in 1805. Wilson died in 1811, but his sons lived there until the 1830s and then migrated to Memphis. One of his daughters married William Creel, and another married Timothy Dodson.