The Rediscovery of Delta Point
By Owen LeGrone (The University of The South, 2018)
Beta Theta Chapter, housed at the University of the South, has a long and distinguished history stretching back nearly 140 years. In the summer of 2021, one undergraduate made a personal contribution to his chapter history when he uncovered the original site of Delta Point, a lost rock outcropping near the university onto which some of the earliest Beta Theta Delts had inscribed their names and fraternity letters. These inscriptions date from the 1880s to the first World War, and include alumni of national renown as well as ordinary people from all walks of life. Through extensive research, we have been able to unearth their stories.
The University of the South, located near Chattanooga, Tennessee, sits in the middle of a vast finger of sandstone jutting westward from the Cumberland Plateau. It is surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs that range from 20 to over 200 feet in height. Naturally, when the university first opened its doors in 1868, excursions to particularly scenic views of the valleys below became an integral part of student life. Young men (Sewanee did not admit women until 1969) chiseled names or initials into the stone of the clifftops to commemorate their visits. When the first fraternities opened in the 1870s and 1880s, their members congregated at certain overlooks, dedicating them by inscribing their letters. Generations of men shared pleasant moments here, enjoying their brotherhood and watching the world go by.
One of the very first of these “fraternity points” was claimed by the Beta Theta chapter of Delta Tau Delta not long after its founding in 1883. Maps of Sewanee dated 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1946 all note its approximate location to the north of the university campus. In an article for the January 1927 Rainbow, fraternity secretary Ralph M. Wray wrote that he knew “of nothing more inspiring than being on ‘Delta Point,’ one of the cliffs, watching a sunset.” He described it as carved with the name “Delta Point” and the names of several members, including those of brother Hale, a founding father of the chapter, and Archibald “Archie” Butt, who died with the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
Despite its importance to the chapter in those early days, knowledge of Delta Point’s exact location was eventually lost to successive generations. This may have been due to the construction of a golf course nearby, which destroyed much of the nearby woods and made the point less secluded. The appearance of more exciting diversions for Beta Theta Delts, like movies, cars, and female students, probably didn’t help either. The point stopped appearing on maps after the 1950s, and modern campus guidebooks give no hint of its presence. Its general location remained known within the fraternity, and while an active member from 2015 to 2018, I often hiked to nearby Beckwith’s Point under the assumption that it was Delta Point. The storied inscriptions, however, were nowhere to be found.
Nowhere, that is, until 2021. Junior Aidan “Mitch” Shakespeare (University of the South, 2024), aware of historic accounts of the point, set out to find it along the plateau edge near the modern golf course equipped with a GPS device and scans of historical maps. The first location he investigated revealed a number of old carvings, but few associated with Delts, and the large inscribed letters “ΣΑΕ” finally convinced him that it could not be Delta Point. Eventually, however, he identified another promising clifftop. With the permission of university domain manager Nate Wilson, he began to excavate on June 19, 2021 using simple digging tools and a brush. Unlike all of the other known fraternity points, no bare rock was initially exposed, only dirt and leaves. However, a few minutes of soil removal yielded the first big break. No more than a few inches down were carved letters of obvious age spelling out “ΔΤΔ.” After having been lost for the better part of a century, Delta Tau Delta Point had been rediscovered.
The next step was to locate and identify all of the markings present. Mitch and I worked together collaboratively. To link inscriptions to members of Delta Tau Delta, we referenced a catalogue of members published in 1917, as well as back issues of the Rainbow from the fraternity web archives. Historic enrollment catalogues and yearbooks digitized by the University allowed us to further refine which years a student was present on campus, as well as other details about them. A comprehensive list of the sources we consulted is given at the end of this article.
We are unsure who left this inscription, but he was almost certainly a Delt. There are two possible candidates: Roger Nelson Atkinson (1883 – 1931) and William Lane Atkinson (1872 – 1922), both Texans. They may have been related, but census records do not confirm this.
a. Roger attended Sewanee from 1900 to 1904. In 1917, he was recorded as working in the “Coal and Lumber” industry in Montana.
b. William attended Sewanee from 1891 to 1893 (class years had not yet been established). He studied law in Texas, working in the state land office from 1894-9, then as an attorney.
a. The first mark to be uncovered, this is one of two that represent the fraternity rather than any individual member. Its provenance and date are unknown.
3. POINT ΔΤΔ
a. This is likely the marking that Ralph Wray referred to in 1927 when he mentioned “the name Delta Point.” It must have been inscribed sometime between then and the founding of the chapter in 1883, but its origin is otherwise unknown.
4. C. HEARD
a. This is almost certainly Charles Stephen “Charlie” Heard (1869 – 1910), a Delt from Augusta, Georgia. The April-May 1886 edition of the Rainbow describes his initiation along with that of two others in the spring of that year: “We are quite proud of our choice, and we think we have the pick of the flock.” Heard left the university in 1889 without a degree and was involved in “business” of an unspecified nature for the remainder of his life.
5. R. W. COURTS TENN ‘86-7
a. Richard Winn Courts (1871 – 1940), from Tennessee, was a Grammar School student at Sewanee during 1886 and 1887. He matriculated to the University proper a year later, although he was not a Delt. Like many of his contemporaries, he left without graduating. The presence of Courts’ name, along with those of two other non-Delt preparatory students, indicate that Delta Point was popular with the broader Sewanee community even after the fraternity claimed it as its own.
6. F. M. HEARD
a. The younger brother of Charles Stephen Heard, Francis Muir Heard (1878 – 1904) was initiated in 1902 and left the university the following year without a degree. He died quite young, and his career path is unknown.
7. N. B. HARRIS
a. Norman Bond Harris (1858 – 1909), from Mississippi, was a founding member of the chapter in 1883. He studied theology at Sewanee from 1878 to 1885, earned a degree in Divinity, and became a priest in the Episcopal Church for the remainder of his life. His Delt badge was returned to Beta Theta in 2017.
8. R. R. RICE ARK
a. Robert Ritchie Rice (1886 – 1961), from Arkansas, was a Grammar School (preparatory) student who attended Sewanee only briefly, from 1902 to 1903. He was never a college student and was not associated with Delta Tau Delta.
As with the ATKINSON and BUTT inscriptions, this mark cannot be linked definitively to one person, but it probably belonged either to Ralph Peters Black (1881 – 1960) or Robert Mickleberry Williamson Black (1879 – 1929), both from Georgia. The two men were half-brothers, sons of Confederate veteran and US Senator Robison Black (1835 – 1886).
a. Ralph entered Sewanee in 1897. He played on the famously undefeated Sewanee football team of 1899, often referred to as the “Iron Men,” as a substitute end. After graduating with his B.A. in 1901, he worked as a rail engineer and served in World War I with the 32nd Engineer Regiment of the Allied Expeditionary Force, earning the rank of Major. He later became professor of civil engineering and head engineer for his alma mater. He designed the university’s first sewer system, its football field, and numerous other projects.
b. Robert enrolled at Sewanee in 1880 at the preparatory level. He was elevated to the college in 1883 and was initiated into Beta Theta on August 29, 1883, one of the earliest members of the chapter. He graduated with his B.A. in 1889. Like N. B. Harris, he went into the Episcopal clergy, serving dioceses in New York and Texas.
10. J. S. SMYTHE MISS
a. James Strain Smythe (1886 – 1962), from Mississippi, was a Grammar School student from 1901 to 1902. He may have been friends with Robert Ritchie Rice. Like Rice, he was never a member of Delta Tau Delta.
11. R F C
a. This could be Robert Cade (1878 – 1931), from Louisiana. Cade, whose middle name is not listed (or nonexistent) in available census records, was initiated into Beta Theta in 1897 and left the university the following year without a degree. The initials could also be those of another student with no relationship to the chapter.
12. E. C. ARMES ΒΘ ‘08
a. Edmund Campion Armes (1888 - 1958), from Washington, D.C., entered Sewanee in 1907 and graduated with a B.A. in 1913. The 1917 membership catalog lists him as having been initiated in 1908, and perhaps this was the occasion on which he carved his name into the point. While a student, he served as official secretary to University Vice-Chancellors Benjamin L. Wiggins and William B. Hall, a clear testament to his organizational and writing skills. He also lent these talents to Beta Theta, where he held the position of chapter secretary and wrote Archibald Butt’s eulogy for the June 1912 edition of the Rainbow. After graduation, Armes entered the insurance business in Birmingham, Alabama. He married and fathered two children.
This could be one of two brothers, Lewis Ford Butt (1868 – 1924) and Archibald Willingham Butt (1865 – 1912), both from Georgia.
a. The younger of the two, Lewis, spent three years at Sewanee and left without a degree or particular distinction in 1887. He had a long and successful career as a Georgia cotton merchant before dying suddenly after a brief illness at age 54. However, it is his brother who is identified in Ralph Wray’s 1927 account as the originator of the inscription, probably due to his greater fame as much as any historical record.
b. Major Archibald Butt (1865 – 1912), by far the most distinguished individual linked to Delta Point, served as a top aide to two U.S. presidents and perished heroically when the RMS Titanic sank in 1912. “Archie” became a member of Beta Theta on July 3, 1883, and while not a founding father he was only the ninth man to be initiated within the chapter. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1888. Among his student achievements was the creation of a regular college newspaper, whose descendant, the Purple, is still printed at Sewanee. Abandoning a promising journalism career, he joined the US Army during the Spanish-American War and rapidly rose through the ranks. He became military aide to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, a position he attained based on his service record and close friendships with Roosevelt, vice-president William Howard Taft, and other Washington insiders. When Taft assumed the presidency in 1909, Butt stayed on as military aide. He was returning from a diplomatic visit to the Vatican at the time of his death.
Many stories have circulated about Butt’s actions aboard the Titanic during the ship’s final hours, although the truth remains uncertain. An account by survivor Henry B. Harris holds that the major stopped a panic-stricken man from leaping aboard a lifeboat already full of female passengers, proclaiming that “women will be attended to first, or I'll break every damned bone in your body.” Newspapers quoted Ms. Mary Young, another survivor, as saying that Mr. Butt helped her into a lifeboat and asked her to “kindly remember me to the folks back home.” Others stated that he quietly observed the evacuation and returned to the first-class smoking room, where he had been playing cards, before the ship went down. His body was never recovered.
"Major Butt was the highest type of officer and gentleman. He met his end as an officer and gentleman should, giving up his own life that others might be saved. I and my family all loved him sincerely." – Theodore Roosevelt, 1912
Today Archibald Butt is recognized by a memorial fountain that was dedicated in 1913 on the grounds of the White House Ellipse, as well as a bridge in his hometown of Augusta, Georgia. His writings and voluminous correspondence are still regarded as essential primary sources for anyone researching the 26th and 27th presidents of the United States.
14. “C L C”
a. This mark likely belongs to Charles William Loaring-Clark (1894 – 1915). A British national, Clark immigrated to the US with his family at age 9 and enrolled at the University of the South, first as a preparatory student in 1906 and then as a college student in 1911. He also attended some classes at the University of Chattanooga (now the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga). Son of an Episcopal priest, he planned on following his father into the ministry but had not completed his bachelor’s degree when World War I broke out in 1914. That August he departed for Toronto, volunteered for service, and was commissioned into the 3rd battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a lieutenant. Not long after arriving at the front, he sent his Delt brothers his old sword belt and other items. He was killed in action on June 17, 1915 while assaulting German trenches near Ypres, Belgium. The January 1916 edition of the Rainbow commemorates him.
a. British theology student Rowland Hale (1858 – 1920) was a founding brother of Beta Theta chapter. He conceived the idea of affiliating with Delt over the winter of 1882-83, which he spent at Sewanee with his friend Charles T. Wright. Together, the two men established correspondence with the fraternity central office and applied for a charter. An 1881 graduate of Kings’ College of London before obtaining his theology degree from Sewanee, Hale was probably the most educated man in the early fraternity. He served as the first chapter secretary, and wrote a history of Beta Theta that still exists in the University archives today. He stayed in the United States after graduation in 1885 and subsequently entered the Episcopal priesthood.
Some of the signatures can be linked with relative certainty to one person, while others could apply to two or possibly more individuals. In all cases, however, researching them allows us to peel back the layers of history and see Beta Theta chapter for the kinds of people who first built it in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the most striking things about them is the volume of family ties. My research uncovered three pairs of brothers or half-brothers among the candidates for the inscriptions. The Butt, Black, and Heard families would no doubt be pleased to hear that many pairs of siblings continue to join Beta Theta – brothers in both blood and fraternal bond.
Another thing that stands out about this list of men is the diversity of life paths they took. Among the chapter members certainly or potentially represented on Delta Point, three became priests, four became businessmen, at least three served their country in wartime (of whom one died in battle), one was a lawyer, one was a professor and civil engineer, and one was a top U.S. government official and recognized American hero. Though none of them could have known it at the time they carved their names, that clifftop now stands as a monument to their combined achievements, influenced or perhaps enabled by the fraternal bonds they forged at Sewanee.
No one should come away from this article with the impression that the last word on Delta Point has been written. Only a portion of the rock on the clifftop has been exposed so far, further excavation being dependent on permission from the University. There is every reason to believe that more names lie hidden, even as so many historically significant ones have come to light. More importantly, the task remains to ensure that the point, and the history of those who inscribed it, is never again forgotten. It is the obligation of Beta Theta, actives and alumni alike, to pass its story to future generations of Sewanee Delts.
The Beta Theta. (1917). The seventh general catalogue of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/seventhgeneralca00delt/page/358/mode/2up
Hale, Rowland. (1883) History of the Beta Theta Chapter of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity. University Archives, Sewanee, TN.
Smith, G. & Suarez, S. (2010). Sewanee Places: A Historical Gazetteer of the Domain and Surrounding Area. University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.
University of the South. (1890-1899). Catalogues of the College of Arts and Sciences, 1880-1889. Retrieved from https://dspace.sewanee.edu/handle/11005/2388
University of the South. (1890-1899). Catalogues of the College of Arts and Sciences, 1890-1899. Retrieved from https://dspace.sewanee.edu/handle/11005/2389
University of the South. (1900-1909). Catalogues of the College of Arts and Sciences, 1900-1909. Retrieved from https://dspace.sewanee.edu/handle/11005/2390
University of the South. (1910-1919). Catalogues of the College of Arts and Sciences, 1910-1919. Retrieved from https://dspace.sewanee.edu/handle/11005/2391
Roger Nelson Atkinson (1883 – 1931)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/105877085/roger-nelson-atkinson : accessed 13 November 2021), memorial page for Roger Nelson Atkinson (1883–1931), Find a Grave Memorial ID 105877085, citing San Marcos Cemetery, San Marcos, Hays County, Texas, USA ; Maintained by Cheryl Schouten (contributor 47598079).
William Lane Atkinson (1872 – 1922)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/46269997/william-lane-atkinson : accessed 13 November 2021), memorial page for William Lane Atkinson (1872–9 Aug 1922), Find a Grave Memorial ID 46269997, citing Gonzales Masonic Cemetery, Gonzales, Gonzales County, Texas, USA ; Maintained by Tim & Gail (contributor 46836128).
Charles Stephen Heard (1869 – 1910)
"Georgia, Chatham, Savannah, Laurel Grove Cemetery Record Keeper's Book (colored), 1852-1942", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:C1V2-1Q2M : 17 April 2020), Charles Heard, 1910.
Richard Winn Courts (1871 – 1940)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/123996420/richard-winn-courts : accessed 13 November 2021), memorial page for Richard Winn Courts (31 Mar 1871–16 Dec 1940), Find a Grave Memorial ID 123996420, citing Greenwood Cemetery, Clarksville, Montgomery County, Tennessee, USA; Maintained by Jessica (contributor 48047517).
Francis Muir Heard (1878 – 1904)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/207625467/francis-muir-heard : accessed 13 November 2021), memorial page for Francis Muir Heard (15 Apr 1878–30 Mar 1904), Find a Grave Memorial ID 207625467, citing Summerville Cemetery, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, USA; Maintained by Nala (contributor 46984635).
Norman Bond Harris (1858 – 1909)
"United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011", database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q53M-BC4D : 18 July 2020), Rev Norman Harris, 1909.
Robert Ritchie Rice (1886 – 1961)
"United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011", database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q5SG-RG1B : 18 July 2020), Robert Ritchie Rice, 1961.
Ralph Peters Black (1881 – 1960)
"Find A Grave Index," database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:63G9-8K2M : 18 December 2020), Ralph Peters Black, ; Burial, Gladwyne, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, United States of America, Saint Christopher Churchyard; citing record ID 215505099, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com.
Robert Mickleberry Williamson Black (1879 – 1929)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/49123271/robert-mickleberry_williamson-black : accessed 14 November 2021), memorial page for Robert Mickleberry Williamson Black (15 Feb 1867–7 May 1929), Find a Grave Memorial ID 49123271, citing Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Arlington County, Virginia, USA; Maintained by John C. Anderson (contributor 47208015).
James Strain Smythe (1886 – 1962)
"Tennessee Deaths, 1914-1966," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q2HD-G93B : 1 March 2021), James Strain Smythe, 1 Mar 1962; Death, Shelby, Tennessee, United States, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.
"United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918", database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KZ6F-1QC : 23 February 2021), James Strain Smythe, 1917-1918.
Robert Cade (1878 – 1931)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/81400924/robert-cade : accessed 14 November 2021), memorial page for Robert Cade (1878–1931), Find a Grave Memorial ID 81400924, citing Rose Hill Cemetery, New Iberia, Iberia Parish, Louisiana, USA ; Maintained by Donna McCurley-Thiel (contributor 47241561).
"United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011", database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q5MQ-LVNZ : 18 July 2020), Robert Cade, 1931.
Edmund Campion Armes (1888 – 1958)
"United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q53V-C5JW : 18 July 2020), Mr Edmund Campion Armes, 1958.
Lewis Ford Butt (1868 – 1924)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/117521616/louis-ford-butt: accessed 14 November 2021), memorial page for Louis Ford Butt (16 Jun 1868–2 Aug 1924), Find a Grave Memorial ID 117521616, citing Magnolia Cemetery, Augusta, Richmond County, Georgia, USA ; Maintained by GMG (contributor 47391530).
Archibald Willingham DeGraffenreid Clarendon Butt (1865 – 1912)
"United States, GenealogyBank Historical Newspaper Obituaries, 1815-2011", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QPB8-RSY4 : 18 July 2020), Maj Archibald Butt, 1913.
Charles William Loaring-Clark (1894 – 1915)
Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/56189793/charles-william-loaring-clark : accessed 13 November 2021), memorial page for Lieut Charles William Loaring-Clark (13 Jan 1894–17 Jun 1915), Find a Grave Memorial ID 56189793, citing Beuvry Communal Cemetery, Beuvry, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France; Maintained by Barbara Haney Shepard (contributor 47572045).
Rowland Hale (1858 – 1920)
"Tennessee Deaths, 1914-1966," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NSQ2-1R3 : 1 March 2021), Rowlan. Hale, 30 Jun 1920; Death, Sewanee, Franklin, Tennessee, United States, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.