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Memoir,Tragedy In Tin Can Holler, Sheds Light on Family's Dark Secrets

Updated on August 23, 2017

A Tragic Family History Shared in Mowery's Memoir

Tragedy in Tin Can Holler is a shocking memoir, dedicated to the author's mother. Author Rozetta Mowery's dysfunctional childhood was filled with abuse, neglect, addictions, and foster care.

A happy child, she grew into reliving some of those old family problems. Her mother's death haunted her, and she dedicated years of her life in finding out the truth. While the old saying goes, the truth will set you free, it also unearthed generations of abuse, addictions, neglect, and murder.

Tragedy in Tin Can Holler is the story of Rozetta's mother and her death but also recounts the family history. In the end of the book, Mowery lists copies of letters, photos, and other factual documents found in her investigation of her mother's life and death. By opening her own investigation, Rozetta concludes that abuse is a learned behavior passed down through the generations. It's a difficult journey, by the author's account, but one she opens to others in hopes of spreading awareness and ending domestic abuse.

Chapter 1 Excerpt of Tragedy in Tin Can Holler

The year 1959 was an uneventful year for most people. In the life of one little 7-year-old girl, Rozetta Mowery, it was a life-altering year. Her mother's vicious murder left her with emptiness and a heart full of unanswered questions. It took her until she was 53 to find the answers and "the truth."

Rozetta was born on August 4, 1952, to Seignoyst Randolph Mowery (aka Seig Sims) and Eliza Mae Robinson at Epperson Hospital in the small town of Athens, Tennessee. She was brought home to a two-room shack on the other side of the railroad tracks to a community called "Tin Can Holler."

She was told her mother named her after Rosita Bazamba, a Spanish dancer who was famous at the time. At the age of 15 she discovered the real spelling of her name when she received her birth certificate while applying for a social security card and a learner's permit. She was in shock! All of her report cards and anything containing her name were not spelled correctly. Where had this mysterious "Rozetta" come from, or rather, where had she been all those years? It was half a century and what seemed a lifetime later before she found out the truth regarding her last name and what it should have been.

She uncovered the truth about her mother's brutal murder at the hands of someone she had loved and trusted as a small child in Tin Can Holler. This truth exposed family secrets that had been buried for decades and shocked her entire family and three small communities in Tennessee.

Rozetta's family tribulations began in Meigs County, Tennessee, a century before she was born and a long time before Tin Can Holler. Meigs County is located in southeast Tennessee. Its county seat, Decatur, is located in the middle of the Tennessee Valley. It's bordered on the west by the Tennessee River. The northern third of the county is bordered on the west by Watts Bar Lake and the rest of the county is bordered on the west by Chickamauga Lake. The lower third of the county is divided by the Hiwassee River.

From the novel:

"Family secrets, no matter how terrible, were never spoken back then."

Chapter 1 Except - Continued

Rozetta's great-grandfather was Tyre Houston Sims. He was named after his mother's father, Tyre Lawson, Sr. Tyre was the sixth child born of George Washington Sims and Caldonia Lawson, who had 10 children. George and Caldonia were married on July 15, 1844. George was 21 years old and Caldonia was 17. The family was very poor and times were grueling during the Civil War era from 1860 to 1865. The eldest son, William Henry Harrison Sims, enlisted in the 4th Tennessee Cavalry unit in Nashville at the age of 24. After he returned home, he and his wife, Mary, lived next to his family's farm in Meigs County because George gave his sons acreage from his original homestead when they became men.

George and his sons were loggers and owned a local sawmill. The illiterate children had to work on the farm or at the sawmill and were not allowed to go to school. They also farmed and raised hogs. They were a very private, close-knit family that was feared and considered evil by their neighbors. They had limited association with anyone in their small community. They only ventured to town once a month to purchase needed supplies.

Rozetta's grandparents, Tyre Houston Sims and Mary Jane Robison, applied for a marriage license in Meigs County, but the marriage license was never returned to the courthouse. There is no legal evidence that they ever consummated their marriage by law. Tyre was 27 years old and Mary Jane was 28. Tyre built a small cabin for his bride on the 12 acres given to him by his father. The surrounding farmlands were owned by the Lockmillers on the north, the Davises on the west, and the Fikes on the east; to the south were Brickell Ridge and the McMinn County line. Tyre continued to work with his brothers harvesting lumber for their sawmill, raised hogs and farmed his 12 acres.

Mary Jane had a lot of health issues. These health problems caused her to have many miscarriages. On September 21, 1886, at the age of 34, she gave birth to Rozetta's grandmother, Grace Victoria Sims. Her grandmother, Grace, was their only child.

Domestic violence is insidious and continues through generations until the cycle is finally STOPPED.

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Q & A with Author Rozetta Mowery

Q: Why would you want to tell the world this horrible story?

A: To help other people. By telling my story I can help people get to the root of their family problems and seek help before it's too late and before someone loses their life as my beloved mother did.

My book is an outlet to warn other people about the dangers of domestic violence and the aftermath of what happens to the children. The trauma of witnessing my mother's abuse will always be with me. It never goes away!

I want to help people and warn those who are living in domestic violence that they do not have to be abused, because there are people today who are willing to help them -- if they will only ask for the help!

During the 1950s, there were no shelters for victims of abuse and my mother's family was angry because she married my father, so they told her she made her bed and she could lie in it! It saddens me today to hear the same thing from so many women who are living in domestic violence! Sadly, my mother became a statistic of domestic violence, as so many thousands of other women do each year!

Q: What was your reaction when you discovered the truth about your family?

A: I cried a river of tears. The things I discovered about my family's past aren't things to brag about and most people would never have done what I did; it would have remained a deep, dark secret. I knew after I discovered all the information about my family that I would be opening a can of worms, but I didn't realize that it was going to be a five-gallon bucket!

But, I wanted to tell the whole truth -- I didn't want to sugarcoat my story. I wanted people to know the FACTS as they were. I was a voice for my beloved mother, because there were untruthful rumors about my mother, and I wanted to set the record straight!

I researched my father's family and discovered startling facts. I traced my family's domestic violence back more than a century before I was born! Every kind of domestic violence that you can imagine has occurred in my family for six generations.

Q: You're a very nice person, but with everything you have gone through in your lifetime, why aren't you angry or bitter?

A: My childhood hardships never made me bitter -- they made me stronger. During my lifetime I've learned that any problem that doesn't destroy you, either physically or psychologically, does indeed make you stronger!

If you choose to open the door of your soul inward toward God to search for answers, as I have done, you will come out on the other side of this experience with a greater understanding of yourself than ever before, which is the purpose of our life on this earth.

Q: Were you shocked when you discovered that your real grandfather was one of the wealthiest and most prominent businessmen who ever lived in Athens?

A: Yes, and I wonder if my real grandfather ever had any regrets! He left a legacy because of all the people he helped during his lifetime! He owned the Evans funeral home in Athens, TN.

After I discovered the truth about him, and the life of luxury he lived, seeing the mansion he once owned that is now in need of many repairs, and how he took my grandmother's farm away from my dad and his brothers when she clearly wanted to keep the farm in the family, made me very sad.

I was not sad because he deprived my siblings and me of our rightful inheritance due to his greed and negligent mismanagement, or that we had to live in poverty as children in a place called Tin Can Holler, but that he did not have any desire to know or paternally bond with my siblings or me.

Our lives would have been completely different and could have been much happier had he been man enough to step up to the plate and admit he was our grandfather and offered to help us, rather than having us sent to an orphanage home to be raised by strangers. He befriended my brother Billy, as Uncle Harry, but he could have made a big difference in my brother's life had he admitted to Billy that he was his grandfather. He was too proud and thought more of his public image than his own grandchildren.

Q: How do you feel now that your book has been published?

A: Writing my story has given me a new beginning -- a new lease on life. I have finally been able to put closure to my mother's death. I stopped hating my father when I discovered that he was a victim of horrible child abuse. I'll never condone what he did, but I have forgiven him.

My grandmother, Grace Victoria Sims was mentally ill and was sexually abused by her father at an early age, which turned her into an abusive mother, an alcoholic and a killer. She lured men to her farm during the great depression and killed them for their money and belongings.

My grandmother should have been committed to a mental hospital, where she could get help, but instead she drank more and more moonshine, which fueled her mental illness. Back in those days, moonshine was made in car radiators, which contained lead, so that too escalated my grandmother's mental illness!

I personally know that the "truth" will set you free. If my dad had been truthful and told my siblings and me about his life, I'm sure that he could have had some type of relationship with all his children. However, he kept his family secret until he had a major heart attack and then he only revealed it to my older sister Barbara. I didn't find out the truth until many years after he died.

My advice to others is: do not deep family secrets especially if it involves domestic violence!

Q: How much time did your father spend in prison for murdering your mother?

A: My father was originally charged with 1st degree murder by the grand jury, but when it came to the sentencing, he was only changed with manslaughter. You have to remember that my real grandfather had a lot of influence in my hometown and was friends with the judges. He paid for the best attorney in the area to defend my father.

Because my father was on parole when he murdered my mother, he was sent back to prison to serve his ten-year sentence for prior crimes of larceny and breaking and entering. When it was time for him to start his 2-10 year sentence for murdering my mother, he only served 2 years and was released. So, he only served 2 years for murdering my mother! He spent more time for lesser crimes than he did for her murder!

Q: How do you siblings feel about your book?

A: They are very proud of me. The dark cloud that's been over my family for decades is now gone except for a few clusters that we are working on. Now that we know the truth we are determined to stop this curse.

We have said, "No more domestic violence!"


Photo, courtesy of Rozetta Mowery

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New Hardcover Release Of Tragedy In Tin Can Holler

New hardcover book with updated material. The book has been turned into a documentary, shown in selected cities, with hopes of a nationwide release.

Official Website of Rozetta Mowery

From Rozetta Mowery's official site:

I've completed the second edition of my novel "Tragedy in Tin Can Holler." It's now available in hardback! If you liked the first edition you will love this one even more. I included all the information that came available to me after my book was published.

A few hints include: more information about Grace and the dark side to my real grandfather Harry -- yes, he had one! Because of the thousands of requests for more information about my dad after he was released from prison, I've included that also.

For More Information, please visit:
Tragedy in Tin Can Holler


Postscript of utmost importance

If you buy any of the books recommended above, this page automatically makes a donation to the incredible nonprofit, Donors Choose, which helps provide classrooms and students in need with resources that our public schools often lack.

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