Elisha Rainbolt, A Vintage Vignette
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
September 2, 2007
In the northeastern portion of the Madison city limits is a hill that is called Rainbow Mountain. It is a delightful place, where visitors and citizens can explore nature trails with a variety of flora and fauna. However, its name is a distortion of that given by the pioneer settlers to the hill. On February 3, 1818 (the first day of legal land purchases in the area) Elisha Rainbolt patented 72 acres of land in Sections 22 and 27 of Township 3, Range 2 West. That is the land office designation for his land along the north face of Rainbow Mountain and extending across Highway 72 and to the east of Nance Road. When I first encountered these land records when beginning to research pioneer families of Madison, I immediately deduced that “Rainbow” was a phonetic distortion of “Rainbolt”, probably as uttered by early settlers when people inquired about the hill as they passed along the old settlement trail leading to the west, now called Highway 72. My deduction was somewhat affirmed when I acquired copies of some of the old genealogical research records of the late Joe Allen Brewer, dating back to the 1970s. Joe had noted that Rainbow Mountain was originally Rainbolt Mountain, but he left no reference to support his notation.
A final authentication came when I checked Judge Thomas Taylor’s “History of Madison County, Alabama” book, written in 1880-6. Taylor (1829-1894) interviewed the oldest residents of the county as he prepared his manuscript to gain details of the earliest settlements. He lived at a time when some of the first pioneers’ children would have still been alive to provide information, so his document should be authoritative within the limitations of their recollections. On page 14, he wrote: “Among the settlers whose reputation as men of prominence and who were not here in 1809 are … Elisha Rainbolt, from whom we have Rainbolt Mountain near Madison.” The mountain was indeed only “near” Madison in 1880 when Judge Taylor wrote his account, as the town was at that time clustered closely around the railroad tracks.
The implication of the wording by Judge Taylor is that Elisha Rainbolt arrived in the area after 1809. However, that may not be the case. Elisha was not included in the 1809 county census because he was living outside of the legal boundaries of the county. He was a squatter on Indian lands west of the county’s Chickasaw Indian Boundary Line. As such, he was considered a resident within the “Sims Settlement”, which included at least 450 pioneer squatters living in western Madison County as well all of Limestone County. These pioneers, including Elisha Rainbolt, signed a petition to U. S. President James Madison in 1810 requesting that the lands be legally recorded as their own, having lived on the lands since 1806 in some cases.
Elisha was born in North Carolina in 1774. He was a son of Joseph Rainbolt (1725-1791), who in turn was a son of Matthius Reinboldt, born in 1676 in Holland. Matthius was a son of Elias Reinboldt of Holland, who was born in 1651. Elisha lived for a time in Tennessee at the Watauga Settlement, then he moved to Kentucky, where until 1807 seven of his 10 children were born to him and his wife Phillis. The last three children were born in Alabama, according to descendants’ research. Elisha served in Lt. Col. Peter Perkins’ 7th Regiment of the Madison Militia during the War of 1812. This unit defended the western frontier of Madison County against an assumed threat of Indian attack, but it never came.
Elisha made his will in October of 1821, and it was entered into probate in January of 1822. The will was witnessed by William East and David Bailey, known neighbors of the time. The Rainbolt estate was finally settled in the 1834-42 period by Bartley M. Lowe, a well-known military man and resident of Huntsville who owned land around Gate 9 of Redstone Arsenal. Elisha was buried with a tall obelisk to mark his grave just south of Highway 72 and west of Rainbow Drive, but all traces of the little cemetery were destroyed about 50 years ago. The Rainbolt children intermarried with local families, such as the Cains, Moores, and Walkers, but some later moved to Texas. The surname disappeared from the area by the 1850s, but a distorted variation lives on, through our celebrated high point of the city of Madison.