Legal History

Appeals Court Rejects Found-in-Trash Claim, Orders Davy Crockett Marriage Doc Returned to County


Calling a found-in-the-trash claim made on an Antiques Roadshow television episode a dog that won’t hunt, a Tennessee appellate panel has also agreed with a lower court that an unexecuted 1805 marriage license for Davy Crockett, the famed American frontiersman, soldier and politician, must be returned to the courthouse from which it was taken in the 1930s or 1940s.

Yesterday’s opinion (PDF) by the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed as well a trial court contempt finding against Margaret Vance Smith, who initially resisted a court order to return the license to Jefferson County before turning it over.

Smith said she got the historic document from her parents. They received it as a gift from an uncle who chaired the Jefferson County court in the 1940s. The uncle, Smith said, saved the license as it was about to be discarded with other documents considered unimportant.

Smith argued in an affirmative defense that the county abandoned the document by discarding it. She also contended that it was too late, under both the statute of limitations and the doctrine of laches, for the county to seek the return of the Crockett marriage license since the county allegedly knew in 1991 that Smith had it but took no legal action to attempt to regain possession until 1999.

However the appellate panel agreed with the trial judge who held that “the explanation given as to how this got out of the records down there, that—that dog just won’t hunt.”

Because prior and subsequent documents weren’t discarded and are still in the possession of the Jefferson County clerk’s office, the trial judge said, “the circumstantial evidence is a member of Mrs. Smith’s family took that document. I don’t care if there’s a building named after him or half of the county is named after him, they took that document out of a depository of the county and a member of the family has still got it. It’s Jefferson County’s document. The title is in Jefferson County, period. She’s got to return it.”

The appeals court also upheld the trial court’s refusal to admit into evidence Smith’s hearsay recollections on Antiques Roadshow about how her uncle got the Crockett marriage license.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Fishing Captain Fights Court Battle for Moon Rock He Says He Saved from Museum Trash”

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