Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Barney Hughes is Dead. Well-known Railroad Man Dies at Memphis, 1892

"No Eulogy of this man is necessary.  We all knew him--Some well, some slightly, none unfavorably." Those words are inscribed at the top of a very elaborate monument to Barney Hughes in Elmwood Cemetery and though true at the time of his death, not true at all today.  If you're like me you've never heard of Barney Hughes.  

Barney Hughes
"A handsome granite sarcophagus, erected to the memory of Barney Hughes, was unveiled at Elmwood cemetery, Memphis, recently. Hughes began life as a printer, but finding this an uncongenial pursuit, he entered and achieved distinction in the field of telegraphy.  He is the first who, by touching his tongue to the broken wire, could "take" the interrupted message.  For a time he was chief telegrapher in Gen. Bragg's army.  He identified himself with the fortunes of the south in her struggle, and on one or more fields was complimented for distinguished services.  After the war he assisted in establishing the overland telegraph line to Salt Lake City, and was the first man to operate a telegraph line from that far western city."
Originally posted in The Durham Daily Globe (Durham NC), October 20 1893

"Mr. Hughes opened the first ticket office in Chicago when it was a village." Los Angeles Herald, Sept 6 1892

Bernard "Barney" Hughes was born about 1839 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was the son of Edward and Mary Hughes of Ireland.  In the 1850 Census his father's occupation was "laborer", his oldest brother Francis was a blacksmith as was brother Patrick and James was an Engineer.

1850 Census Louisville Kentucky
Edward Hughes, age 45, laborer, Ireland
Mary Hughes, age 51, Ireland
Francis, age 22, blacksmith, Kentucky
James, age 21, engineer, Kentucky
Patrick, age 20, blacksmith, Kentucky
Edward, age 15, Kentucky
Bernard, age 14, Kentucky

During the Civil War he served in Co. H Capt. Winston's Company, Light Artillery Tennessee, CSA and on August 19 1861 was appointed 2nd Lieutenant. During the war his skill came into play and he served as the Telegraph Operator for the Army of Tennessee during 1862-63.  He married Witt Eva Ellis Dec 5 1871 in Henderson County Kentucky.  

The 1880 Census for Shelby County TN lists the following in the Hughes household:
Barney Hughes, age 41, Railroad Agent, born in Kentucky, both parents born in Ireland
Witera (sic), age 28, wife, keeping house, born in Kentucky, both parents born in Kentucky
Eddy Hughes, age 6, son
Frank Hughes, age 5, son (Jan 14 1875-Feb 2 1930)
Mary Bates Hughes, age 4, daughter (married William Wyatt Evans July 4 1898)
Henry Hughes, age 2, son
Jenny Ellis, age 22, sister-in-law
Annie Gillespie, servant, nurse

"The late Barney Hughes, of Memphis, was a telegraph operator during the larger part of the Civil War.  At the outbreak of hostilities he entered the service as a lieutenant of heavy artillery, and in this service he handled a battery on the river front under the chalk bluffs at Columbus, Ky, when Belmont was fought on the opposite side, November 7 1861.  Later he served as ordnance officer on the staff of General Trudeau at Island No. 10.  In the summer of 1862 he was located at Chattanooga, where he sometimes whiled away a leisure hour by sending dispatches to the operators along the front telling them of a scarcity of forage and other supplies, so that he was confidential operator for General Bragg, the leader of one of the great armies of the Confederacy, and he was with him at Ringgold and Catoosa Springs, Ga.  At the close of the war he was at Montgomery, Ala., and later he went to the far northwest, where he operated for several years.  Then he came to Memphis, entered the railway service, married in 1872, reared a family, won the regard of the people, and died universally regretted by a host of people.  A beautiful monument now marks his resting place at Elmwood, and its inscription records the genial qualities of the man as well as the great esteem in which he was held by his fellow citizens."
Telegraph Age, volume 24, page 258

Public Ledger 3-20-1875
Barney Hughes was well known and well loved by the citizens of Memphis.  His name could often be found in newspapers of the day as "Prof. Barney Hughes" where he lectured on a variety of topics.  He seemed to be somewhat of a showman performing magic shows and seance's at the local theaters as well as being auctioneer at many functions. 

His first performance occurred at the behest of his friends in July 1872:  "Seance to-night.  The New Memphis Theater should be filled to its utmost capacity to-night by the fashion and intelligence of the city, the occasion being one of unusual interest--a lecture from Barney Hughes.  Everybody knows who Barney Hughes is, and everybody has read more or less of his Record of humor and drollery.  Having succeeded so well as a writer, Mr. Hughes' friends thinks he might likewise make a hit as a lecturer, and hence they have induced him to make his debut at the theater tonight.  Mr Hughes, who facetiously calls his lecture a seance, has chosen for his subject this evening "The Harp of a Thousand Strings," and possibly he may tell us something about the spirits of just men made perfect.  The numerous friends of Mr. Hughes will give him a hearty welcome tonight in this his maiden effort."
Public Ledger July 10, 1872

"Orthographical...The Theater Crowded Last Evening by the Elite of the City--Successful Result of the Spelling Match for Benefit of the Orphans...This evening the closing spelling match will take place, when the ladies' class will be introduced under the management of Prof. Barney Hughes."
Public Ledger April 28, 1875

"Barney Hughes will appear as an auctioneer on Tuesday at the Chickasaw Bazar (sic)." 
Public Ledger, October 25 1880

"Captain Barney Hughes will tell the young men how to catch a sweetheart, and the girls how to hold them."
Public Ledger, April 25 1882

"Remember the vocal and instrumental concert at Leubrie's Theater to-morrow night for the benefit of Leath Orphan Asylum.  Prof. Barney Hughes will startle the audience with an address on some international subject." 
Memphis Daily Appeal May 18, 1881

Hughes was also the editor and proprietor of the Railway Record, a monthly publication that was described as "witty and amusing, and its circulation large...delivered free of charge to any address."  (Memphis Daily Appeal April 29 1880).  But inside the pages of his publication he also tackled topics such as smoking and drinking which were picked up by the local newspapers and reprinted as in the following case:

"Smoking in street-cars is a common practice in Memphis.  It is wrong, however, and many of the men who do so admit that it is wrong.  Barney Hughes in his March number of the Railway Record, seizes the cigar question by both ends when he says:  'We hereby petition the abolition of smoking in the street-cars. The summer time draws near, and let the car horse do all smoking; but stop, by legislation, the sinner who puffs the villainous perfume of a villainous cigar through the entire car and its occupants.  He may think he looks well behind it, and perhaps suffering from the delusion that it is finely flavored; he will pardon us for conceding the former vanity, but as to the latter, we prefer the steady aroma from a goat. If he could only realize the sensations of his fellow smellers, he would conclude that his car companions would, if on a jury, hang him for the slightest indiscretion."

At the time of his death, Barney Hughes and his family were living at 218 Wellington next door to attorney and U.S. Senator Thomas B Turley and notary public Marye B. Trezevant.  Hughes died September 3, 1892, from an obstruction of the bowels and was interred at Elmwood Cemetery.

The will of Bernard Hughes was filed in Shelby County TN September 8, 1892.  He bequeathed everything to his wife and desired  that she "shall always retain the custody and control of the persons and estates of our children" and to that end he named her guardian of their children.  He named his friend W.H. Bates executor.

Witt Eva Hughes name appears in the Civil War Confederate Pension Applications Index, soldier name: Barney Hughes, state served: TN.  Application Number and place: W7250 Shelby TN

Witt Hughes moves to Centreville Illinois and appears in the 1900 Census:
Witt Hughes, Head, born June 1849, widow.  She listed a 29 year marriage with 6 pregnancies and 6 live children.
Edward,Hughes, son, born June 1874, age 26, single
Frank Hughes, son, born June 1878, age 24, single
Henry Hughes, son, born Oct, 1878, age 21, single
Barney Hughes, son, born Sept 1886, age 15, single

She died October 21, 1929 in El Paso, Texas and was brought back to Memphis for burial at Elmwood Cemetery.


  1. Glad to see you working on this blog again. I've been missing your stories.

  2. Thank you for this wonderful piece on Barney Hughes. He was the first manager of Western Union in 1866 in Virginia City, Montana Territory and served there almost two years. The Montana Post, Montana's pioneer newspaper, had a number of contemporary stories about him.

    There were actually two Barney Hughes in Montana in the early days... one was one of the prospectors that discovered the rich Alder Gulch gold strike... and the other was your Barney Hughes.

    I do living history in Montana as a telegraph operator and often assume the character of Barney Hughes, although my information on him has been somewhat sketchy. Now you have wonderfully filled out the gaps. Thank you so much!

    John Barrows, Helena, Montana

  3. Thank you so much for this wonderful piece on Barney Hughes. I just found it and was delighted.

    There are two Barney Hughes in early Montana history.... one was one of the discoverer of gold in Alder Gulch, what was to become Virginia City, Montana. The other, (they were contemporaries of each other) was the Barney Hughes you write about. In November 1866 he opened the first telegraph office in Virginia City for Western Union, the line stretching south to Salt Lake City.

    From contemporary newspaper reports in Montana he was well liked, personable and a fine telegrapher. He left the employ of Western Union to become agent of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.

    I often give a living history at various locations on the early days of the telegraph in Montana, and frequently assume the character of Barney Hughes as the first telegrapher in the new territory. i was able to find some basic information on him, but your blog was a tremendous help in fleshing out the portrayal of this most interesting man.

    I am so glad I stumbled across your blog. Thank you so much.

    John Barrows, Helena, Montana
    former telegrapher, Northern Pacific Railway, retired newspaper publisher and retired Executive Director of the Montana Newspaper Association.

    1. Hi John! I'm sorry I didn't see your comments sooner but now that I have I just wanted to thank you for dropping by. I bet you make a wonderful Barney!