Thursday, December 18, 2003

Good Old-Fashioned Christmases


For all of you who have become faithful readers since July 31, 2003 when “Through Mountain Mists” first appeared in this paper, Happy Christmas. Go with me on a personal journey to Christmases Past. May this odyssey through the mists to a simpler time bring to your mind remembrances of good Christmases of decades ago.

When I was a child I did not give much thought to what went into Christmas except for my want list and a special time of year that seemed a long time in coming. In retrospect, I can understand how hard it must have been for my parents and other kin to provide a good holiday season from the want and penury often experienced during the days of the Great Depression and World War II.

Christmas celebrations hinged around the local school and church. I went to a two-teacher country school, Choestoe, and there in the “little room” (primer through third grades) and the “big room” (fourth through seventh grades), preparations were made by our diligent teachers to make our school Christmas program a special time. I went to the “new” Choestoe School, a building erected in 1936 just in time for me to begin first grade there. It had the unusual feature of a removable partition between the two classrooms, and for special occasions like the Christmas play (or the commencement program at the end of the school year), the partitions were taken down and one large room was formed with a movable stage set against the windows on the north side of the building. There, after days of rehearsing, we performed our Christmas recitations and pageant to a packed house of parents who came to proudly own their children who were in the limelight. I remember some of those teachers who worked with us: Mrs. Mert Shuler, Miss Mary Dyer, and my own sister, Mrs. Louise Dyer, with the primary groups; Miss Opal Sullivan, Mrs. Florence Hunter, and Mrs. Bonnie Snow with upper grades. There were others, of course, but these were teachers for various years I was a student at Choestoe School. We “drew” names and got an inexpensive gift for the person whose name we drew. My gift usually came from my Grandpa Bud Collins’s country store, or else my dad, J. Marion Dyer, would make a trip to Blairsville to “buy Christmas.”

The larger boys had been to somebody’s woods and cut a pine tree, and part of the preparation was making colored paper chains to decorate the tree and stringing popcorn the teacher had brought from home. There were no lights to illuminate the tree, because Choestoe School did not then have electricity. How the teachers managed to get small gifts for each of their children on the meager salary they drew is a mystery to me. I remember pencils with our name imprinted, a pencil box, and small paper bags with candy and an orange or apple. We went home from the school Christmas program feeling good from our performance, the accolades it brought, and our little gifts.

The church Christmas program was not much different from that at school except that our pageant was always a reenactment of the Christmas Story from Luke and Matthew. How all the girls longed to be Mary or angels. If not selected for these parts, we were in the choir to sing Christmas carols or had a special poem to learn and recite. To forget lines, either at school or at church, was an anxious fear. If it happened, we were embarrassed. At church as well as at school, we drew names for giving gifts, and we could expect a bag of goodies from our Sunday School teachers at church.

I cannot remember Santa Claus ever appearing at any of my childhood school and church programs. Maybe some areas had this jolly old Saint Nick, but we did not at Choestoe. Perhaps it was too hard to come by a red suit back then.

At home, our Christmas celebrations were simple. We children could expect one gift from Santa and some candy and fruits in our stockings “hung by the chimney with care.” At Christmas oranges were a once-a-year treat. Dad also purchased boxes of stick candy--peppermint, licorice, and horehound. We sometimes had the rare treat of “cocolate drops” or Hershey’s kisses.

I can remember the Christmas when my little brother Bluford got a “Radio Flyer” wagon as his major gift. Earlier, when I was five, I got a beautiful China doll I had spied pictured in the Sears-Roebuck catalog. I yearned for that doll with a passion and wrote more than one letter to Santa requesting it. Although I was only five, that was the same Christmas I learned that Santa had a very special helper in my father, because on the box the doll came in was his writing: “To Ethelene from Santa.” He must have forgotten that I already knew how to read, even though I had not been to school. I knew it was he who had labeled my special gift. I kept the knowledge of Santa to myself for at least three more years, fearing that if I let the secret out I might not get the Christmas gifts I yearned for.

Christmas holiday meals were interchanged between Grandpa Collins’ home and Grandma Dyer’s home, always with a large crowd of family at both places. Maybe my mother took food, too. I don’t remember. These were solid meals but not necessarily fancy. We grew turkeys for market, and at Christmas one was prepared for the meal. Wonderful country-cured ham was also a part of the meal as were the dried fruits and preserved vegetables from our bountiful harvest.

We had candy-pullings as community holiday parties. My older sister Louise and my older brother Eugene sometimes hosted these events with other young people from the community invited. The sorghum syrup, with baking soda added, was boiled to a certain consistency noted by letting a drop fall into a cup of cold water. Then the candy was beaten for awhile until it was cool enough to take in hand and pull and pull. The sorghum candy was twisted into sticks, and later cut. It was a tasty treat. Especially delightful were the popcorn balls made with the sorghum syrup cooked to candy consistency to hold the popped corn together. Roasted chestnuts, chinquapins, and peanuts added to the refreshments at Christmas socials in the community, and sugar cookies and gingerbread men were also enjoyed.

In that simple time we didn’t notice that we could not afford all the goodies displayed in the Sears-Roebuck catalog. To have one special gift and really appreciate it was treasure enough and to be surrounded by the love of family and friends was a true Christmas treat.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 18, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

A Brutal Murder, A Son's Promise, and the Truth: A Book Review of Blood Mountain Covenant by Charles E. Hill


James "Jim Washington Lance (1/31/1961 - 9/2-1940)


Blood Mountain Covenant: A Son's Revenge by Charles L. Hill
explores a century-old murder in Union County.

Many mists have fallen over Blood and Slaughter Mountains and gathered like a shroud along Wolf Creek as it meanders through Lance Cove in Choestoe District, Union County, Georgia in the 113 years since a notorious murder rocked the peace-loving settlement and set in motion a quest that has extended to the present time.

Questions about the dastardly deed lingered for decades in the minds of those who knew the Reverend John H. Lance, brutally murdered on February 17, 1890, and his body with his head almost dismembered, left lying beside Wolf Creek, his life-blood flowing away and mixing with the cold waters of the swift mountain stream.

Bereft of a beloved husband, a caring father, and a minister known for his unapologetic proclamation of Biblical truth, his wife, children, extended family, neighbors and friends gathered to comfort one another, to prepare the desecrated body for burial, and to attend to the details of the funeral at Old Salem Methodist Church.

The eldest son of the murdered man, James Washington Lance, hurt beyond consolation, made a solemn covenant not to rest until the perpetrators of the crime were brought to justice. Truth has a way of hiding. Sometimes it is concealed by those who tell only half-truths, and thereby can justify their stand. At other times truth is evasive, overpowered by personal agendas and veiled, as mountains are with thick mists and fogs, until a slant of sunlight, like truth with the ability to set free, penetrates half-truths and outright lies, making a straight path to lucidity.

Blood Mountain Covenant: A Son’s Revenge written by Charles E. Hill, grandson-in-law of Jim Lance, took up the torch seeking revealed truth. He left no stones unturned in his relentless pursuit of the answers to the murder of his wife’s great grandfather, the Rev. John H. Lance. He credits those who gave him valuable information and encouragement in the meticulous research and tireless hours spent in producing the book, recently released by Ivy House Publishing Group. The biography reads like a novel, and any interested in a story that has become legend in the mountains of North Georgia will thrill that Jacquelyn Lance Hill and her husband, author and retired pharmacist Charles E. Hill, relentlessly pursued the covenant, as did Jacquelyn’s grandfather, Jim Lance, until revealed truth shone through the mists of time.

The book depicts a proud and independent people. Though mainly dealing with the Lance family of Lance Cove, Choestoe District, the characteristics Hill so aptly captures as he introduces those who play important roles in the biographical account of a mountain man and his son seeking revenge, the book paints a picture of a place and a people who are solid to the core, as local poet and cousin to the Lances, Byron Herbert Reece, stated in his poem, “Choestoe”: “Yes, Sprung from the hard earth, nurtured by hard labor.” That describes the people there, and Hill shows them to be just that, honest to the core, dependable to the end, hard-working, hard-hitting, the salt-of-the earth.

The murder was all about moonshine liquor and those who owned the still believing that the Rev. Lance reported them to the revenuers, resulting in the downfall of their income-producing business. Unable to accept that Rev. Lance and his family, although despising “the devil’s brew,” would not report their neighbors, the minister was ambushed, killed and his murdered body left beside Wolf Creek.

Jim Lance, eldest son of the murdered man, had the major responsibility of securing lawyers, Virgil Marion Waldroop and William E. “Buck” Candler, for the prosecution, and for contacting various witnesses who in some way could give testimony in the trial. Lawyers for the defense of Frank Swaim and his younger brother, Newt, were Carl J. Wellborn, Jr. and M. G. Boyd. Presiding judge over the trial was Carl J. Wellborn, Sr.

After a trial that drew crowds of people to the Union County court house in April of 1890, Frank Swaim was convicted of the murder of the Rev. John H. Lance and given life imprisonment at hard labor. However, he received a pardon after serving thirteen years, with the appeal based mainly upon conviction from only circumstantial evidence. Following Swaim’s release, he went west. In 1925, an article entitled “A True Story of the Georgia Mountains” written by Swaim’s defense lawyer, Carl J. Wellborn, Jr., was published in the Atlanta Constitution. That gave rise to the belief in the “death-bed confession” of Fed Cannup, accessory to the crime. How Hill unravels the fabrications and half-truths of the article published as truth shows his mastery at research. The book moves with both passion and compassion, until the reader can hardly wait until the mystery is unraveled.

Charles E. Hill has accomplished a masterful job in his book. The dialogue, though imagined by the author, is authentic to the mountain vernacular speech. His descriptions of places and depictions of people are true to the setting and the independent spirit of the mountain people. Revenge is not an easy theme to treat. Neither is a century-old murder committed long before the days of DNA and other forensic evidence led to easier solutions. But Hill has accomplished what Jim Lance stated in his 1890 covenant: “It is our job to separate the chaff from the wheat, the true from the untrue, and it will be done.” (p. 154)

I highly recommend this book. If you love the land and the people, as do I, you will eagerly read Hill’s account of the characters appearing in the pages of this true story. You will check historical documents and the resources he lists to see the relationships of those playing a role in the drama. The book is valuable for an authentic historical view of the turbulent times following the Civil War and of how people coped with the hardships of daily living as well as the trauma of a violent and inane murder. You may even want to find the location of Reece Fields and Lance Cove, and wander beside Wolf Creek as its waters still flow swiftly to the Gulf, their message over the rocks echoing the Biblical axiom, “‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ saith the Lord.” (Heb. 12:19b; Deut 32:35a). And sometimes God chooses time, the right time, to see that vengeance is wrought, even if more than a century after the fact.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 11, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Whatever Happened to Richard Jarrett Hood?



Three of the seven children born to Mary Reid Hood and Richard Jarrett Hood: Claudia C; (the mother, Mary, seated); Talmadge J.; and Cora Lode Hood. Jessie Mae died in 1902. Ida, Laura and Zona were not present when this family picture was taken.
Last week’s account of the Mary L. Reid Hood family noted that Mary’s husband, Richard Jarrett Hood, left on a cattle drive from Upper Choestoe to South Carolina sometime in 1895 and was never heard from again by his wife and seven children.

Carol Thomas-Alexander, a great granddaughter, persisted in finding the facts and, together with the help of other kin, has solved the mystery of Richard Jarrett Hood.

She writes in her Hood family history book: “There were many theories about his disappearance. Mary thought he had...been murdered, which is what she told her children...There was conversation in the community that a local resident in South Georgia had seen him, but nothing was ever proven from this sighting.”
Mrs. Thomas-Alexander tells how Elbert Carlyle (E. C.) Sanders (d 2002), a newspaperman, editor and owner of The Rockmart Journal, until his retirement in 1980, made a trip to Blairsville in the late 1980's seeking information about his grandfather, Richard Jarrett Hood, who died in Pembroke, Georgia in 1932 and was interred at the Beulah Baptist Church Cemetery there. It seems the most Mr. Sanders knew about his grandfather was that he had lived in Union County, Georgia before relocating in South Carolina and then moving to Pembroke, Georgia.

E. C. Sanders talked to Dexter Fair, a son of Claudia Hood Fair. She was the six-year old child Richard Jarrett Hood seemed most reluctant to leave behind in Choestoe when he left in 1895, never to be heard from again by his family in Union County. No record was made of the conversation between Fair and Sanders, both, as it turned out, grandsons of Mr. Hood. However, in 2000, Carol Thomas-Alexander made contact with Mr. Sanders in Rockmart and proceeded to unravel the mystery of Richard Jarrett Hood’s “double” life.

When Hood left Union County, he evidently had no intention of returning. He ended up in Barnwell, S. C. where he married Eudora Cave about 1893. He and Eudora had one child, a daughter, whom he gave the same name as his beloved daughter back in Union County. The South Carolina daughter, Claudia Cornelia Hood, was born September 18, 1894. Evidently, without benefit of a divorce by Jarrett from his Union County, Georgia wife, Mary L. Reid Hood, he had married in South Carolina and a child was born to him and Eudora before he officially left Choestoe.

From South Carolina, the Hood family moved to Pembroke, Georgia. There Richard Jarrett Hood was a sawmill operator and active in local politics, serving as a Justice of the Peace and mayor of the town for two terms. When Georgia Power was ready to string lines for electricity to Pembroke and the surrounding area, Richard Jarrett Hood was active in bringing this forward step to the small town.

Mr. Sanders told Carol Thomas-Alexander that his grandfather never returned to North Georgia nor did any Hood family members ever visit them in Pembroke. No mail was exchanged, but he remembered a Mr. M. D. Collins visiting the Hood family in the late 1920's. (This person, as we know, was Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, noted Georgia educator state superintendent of schools for 25 years, and Choestoe native).

Mr. E. C. Sanders told his newly-found cousin, granddaughter of the Union County Claudia Cornelia Hood Fair, that his grandfather, Richard Jarrett Hood “was not a happy person and seemed to have a distant look on his face...which he thought was guilt that went to his grave with him.”

The one child borne by Hood’s second wife, Eudora, was artistic and musical. She played the piano for the United Methodist Church in Pembroke for over 60 years and was a noted piano teacher, director of school choral groups, and played for civic events, funerals, weddings and community and church programs. She married Henry M. Sanders, a printer and typesetter for The Savannah Free Press and they had five sons, Elbert, Marion, Robert, Jimmy, and Gene. This Claudia Cornelia Hood Sanders lived to the ripe age of 90, dying January 20, 1989. She was buried in the Northside Cemetery, Pembroke.

The Choestoe Claudia Cornelia Hood (April 8, 1889-Sept. 10, 1958) married John David Fair (1874-1936). They had seven children: Annie Lee, Jessie Mae, Charles Winford, Fannie Bell, Clifford Leon, Eurah Vee, and William Dexter. Their fourth child, Fannie Bell, was Carol Thomas-Alexander’s mother. Carol writes of her grandmother Claudia: “She was a quiet, composed, well-mannered person, a devoted mother and grandmother...Her creative nature enabled her to be a great storyteller, a wonderful clothes designer, an excellent seamstress and a writer of poetry, among many other gifts.” John and Claudia Fair were interred at Providence Methodist Church Cemetery, Union County.

E. C. Sanders remembered his mother, the other Claudia Cornelia Hood Sanders, as a loving and giving person, one who touched countless lives with her music, her ready smile and her Christian influence.

The adage, “Truth is stranger than fiction” is certainly borne out in the Richard Jarrett Hood story.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Dec. 4, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Thanksgiving Long Ago With the Mary L. Reid Hood Family

The distinctly American holiday, Thanksgiving, is an important time for families. We gather to share a wonderful meal celebrating the bounty of harvest. Turkey and dressing are part of the main course, as are delectable vegetables attesting to the yields from cultivated gardens and fields. We recall blessings of the year and pay tribute to the long tradition of Thanksgiving going back to the gathering of Pilgrims and Indians in early American history. Indeed, we are so blessed, and gratitude abounds for our abundance, health, happiness, togetherness as families.

And well it should, for Thanksgiving Day is a day to count blessings. My personal philosophy is that every day is a day for giving thanks. But sometimes when we consider the hardships of our forebears, we can empathize with the conditions that were far from ideal.

Such is the true story that came to me recently from the pen of Claudia Carol Thomas-Alexander of Fayetteville, Georgia. She is an avid genealogist, and has compiled a book dedicated to the memory of her great grandmother, Mary L. Reid Hood and her seven children, the sixth of whom, Claudia Cornelia Hood Fair, is Carol’s grandmother from whom she heard the accounts of Mary Reid Hood and what she knew of Mary’s husband, Richard Jarrett Hood. Carol Thomas-Alexander was able to find another descendant of Richard Jarrett Hood to fill in the missing parts of her great grandfather’s life, and that we shall see as this story develops.

But I’m getting ahead in this account and must give details so that you may know why Thanksgiving in 1895 was such a sad time for Mary Reid Hood and her children.

Mary Reid was born October 19, 1855. Her parents were Levi Q. and Martha Ann Beach Reid. It is believed Mary was born in White County, Georgia. On December 12, 1875, Mary Reid and Richard Jarrett Hood were married in Union County, Georgia. Richard Jarrett, eldest son of William Jackson and Celia M. Turner Hood, was born in the Pendleton District of South Carolina in 1854. His family had migrated from South Carolina to Union County, Georgia.

It is not known just how Mary Reid and Richard Jarrett Hood met, but it may have been as he went through White County taking goods along the Logan Turnpike to trade in Gainesville, Georgia.

After their marriage in 1875, Richard Jarrett and Mary Reid Hood set up housekeeping in the “upper” Choestoe District around Hood’s Chapel (now Union Church) somewhere near the present Richard Russell Scenic Highway. Richard Jarrett Hood had a country store and the Choestoe post office at his home. He was known to drive cattle to Gainesville for sale and also to take a herd into South Carolina to market. On these trading ventures, he would bring back supplies to his country store for sale. Mary helped him “tend” the store and care for their farm.

Seven children were born to this couple: Sarah Ida (b. 1877); Laura L. (b. 1879); Zona Belle (b. 1883); Cora Lode (b. 1884); Jessie Mae (b. 1886); Claudia Cornelia (b. 1889); and Talmadge J. (b. 1892).

Claudia Cornelia Hood Fair (their sixth child) told Claudia Carol Thomas, her granddaughter, the fond memories she had of her father, Richard Jarrett Hood. As he prepared to leave on a journey in 1895 to take cattle to market in South Carolina, she recalls that he and her mother had a long conversation before he left. He took Claudia, his then six-year old daughter, into the store and picked out a pretty hat from the shelf with navy ribbon decorations. He asked Claudia’s mother to allow him to take Claudia with him on the cattle-selling trip, but her mother would not agree. Claudia Cornelia remembers that her father held her in his arms for a long time before he left, shedding many tears. She recalls how they watched him going down the road from their Choestoe home, driving the cattle. A sense of sadness fell over the family at this particular departure.

In the days ahead, they watched and watched, yearning for his return. But that was the last the family saw of Richard Jarrett Hood. Her mother told the seven children that he must have fallen into trouble, perhaps from robbers who stole the cattle and murdered him.

That first Thanksgiving without Richard Jarrett Hood was a sad time for Mary Reid Hood and her seven children. Ida was then 18, Laura 16, Zona 12, Cora 11, Jessie Mae 10, Claudia 6, and the only son, Talmadge, a little tyke of 3. Claudia Cornelia remembered that her mother fell into a deep depression from which she never fully recovered. Jesssie Mae was sick at the time of her father’s departure and died of tuberculosis in 1902. Talmadge died in 1904, probably from leukemia. Claudia Cornelia remembers that her mother “died of a broken heart” on May 8, 1905. All three were laid to rest in the Union (formerly Hood’s Chapel) Church Cemetery in Upper Choestoe, Union County, Georgia.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 27, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

More Reflections on Byron Herbert Reece (Part 4 in Series)

Byron Herbert Reece’s advice to me (“Don’t hide your light under a bushel”) could have been reminiscent of his own case, for he had written for several years before his literary talents were discovered by Kentucky poet Jesse Stuart who summarily sent poems by Reece to E. P. Dutton Publishers in New York.

In my senior year of high school, under the leadership of my teachers Mrs. Grapelle Mock and Mrs. Elizabeth Elliott, I memorized portions of Reece’s long free verse poem, “Choestoe,” and gave it as a dramatic monologue at the Georgia Beta Club Convention in Atlanta. So Reece, in a sense, was the reason behind my life-long love for poetry. Many times since, I have given that same poem as a reading before groups.

Beset by tuberculosis which took his mother Emma’s life on August 30, 1954, and also afflicted his father, Reece suffered declining health in his last years of life. When he went to Battey State Hospital in Rome for treatment, the neighbors heard how he despised staying there. He left without permission and discharge after about four months of treatment. He headed out toward home, getting there before Christmas.

To help make ends meet financially from the farm work, he became a poet-in-residence, teaching terms at University of California at Los Angeles, at Emery University in Atlanta, at Young Harris College, and at the University of Georgia.

Over the decade of his most productive work, 1945-1955, when he published four volumes of verse and two novels, he was twice winner of the Guggenheim Fellowship for writers and won the Literary Achievement Award for Poetry. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, but did not receive it.

Reece's health broke under the triple demands of dirt farmer, college adjunct professor, and writer. What he longed for was the quiet atmosphere along Wolf Creek near Blood Mountain where he could pursue his writing career.

When Reece took his own life on June 3, 1958 at Young Harris College, my husband and I lived in nearby Hiawassee, Georgia where Grover was pastor of McConnell Memorial Baptist Church. We heard the news of Reece’s death with disbelief.

I personally went through a grievous period of “What If’s?” and “Why’s” Why had we not kept in touch with Reece? Why did he not let us know of his personal suffering?

My husband Grover had skills in counseling. I kept thinking he could have helped Reece. Did Reece not know that I, his long-time neighbor from Choestoe, could have given him a listening ear, helped him to find solutions? And so for several weeks following the poet’s untimely death, I had a sense of failure, of not having reached out enough to aid him.

The Byron Herbert Reece Society was formed to help increase interest in and knowledge of the mountain poet.

From that time on, I began to study his poetry and prose avidly. I made scrapbooks of clippings about him. Later, I would write articles about him, lead workshops on his life and works. I helped to launch the Byron Herbert Reece International Poetry Awards sponsored by the Georgia Poetry Society in his memory. I suggested that the Poetry Society’s anthology of prize-winning poems from members be named The Reach of Song to honor Reece’s memory. Through these means, the knowledge of and love for his works will grow.

When I served as state president of the Georgia Library Media Department, my husband Grover and I talked to Ken Boyd of Cherokee Publishing Company about his company securing the copyright from Dutton and the Reece books and republishing them. This republication feat, gratefully, was accomplished by Cherokee Publishers in 1985. That company had already published Dr. Raymond A. Cook’s excellent biography of Reece: Mountain Singer: The Life and Legacy of Byron Herbert Reece in 1980.

When my two children were growing up, I took them by the Reece homeplace frequently. I read Reece’s poems to them. Keith, having more of a literary bent than his sister Cynthia, became enamored with Reece’s words. Both he and I have written poems about Reece. We were honored to participate on October 14, 2003 in National Poetry Day at the state capitol to read Reece’s poems. I read “Invocation” and “Choestoe” and Keith read “Elbows on the Sky” and “Ballad of the Bones.”

The Byron Herbert Reece Society is an organization that can perpetuate the memory of our mountain poet and instill in present and future generations a love for his poetry and prose.

Plans are in the making to turn the Reece homeplace and farm into a cultural and interpretive center. When this goal of the Society becomes a reality, there on the banks of Wolf Creek under the shadow of Blood Mountain on soil that knew the toil of poet/farmer Reece, people will again hear strains of his poetry and be inspired by the atmosphere he wove so adeptly into his literary works.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 20, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Some Personal Reflections on Byron Herbert Reece (Part 3 in Series)

Bud Hill of Hill-Vue Farms, Blairsville, first contacted me about the newly-formed Byron Herbert Reece Society. Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from Dr. John Kay of Young Harris College, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Society. He invited me to serve on the Society’s Advisory Board.

Those with an interest in Reece and his works and the purposes of the Society may go online at www.byronherbertreecesociety.org to learn more and get a form for joining. This first year, 2003-2004, is the charter membership year.

In the membership application, I was invited to give some reminiscences about the poet and why I was interested in supporting the aims of the Society and perpetuating his works. Following are some of my comments:

Up until (and after) Byron Herbert Reece’s first book of poems, Ballad of the Bones, published in 1945, Hub Reece, as his family and friends called him, was a neighboring farmer close to my father’s farm in the Choestoe District of Union County, Georgia.

True, we had sometimes read an occasional poem by Reece published in the Union County newspaper in the early 1940’s. I knew, too, that he was two years older than my sister, Louise. One day at Union County High School, both of them missed the afternoon bus. They walked together the entire eight miles southward along Highway 129 from school to their homes in Choestoe. They were near dark or after getting home and my parents were greatly concerned about Louise. However, they took her word, and Hub’s, who accompanied Louise to her house, that they had been busy with a project after school and had simply “missed the bus.” There were no telephones in Choestoe in those days so they could call home explaining their dilemma. In the vernacular of the mountains, their only choice was to “foot it home.” That they did, with Louise having Hub as her companion and protector on that long walk.

In 1945, something happened to draw our attention to neighbor Hub Reece. The Atlanta Constitution, to which my father, J. Marion Dyer, faithfully subscribed, began printing reviews about Hub’s book, Ballad of the Bones. None other than the noted editor, Ralph McGill himself, wrote columns praising the “poet of the mountains.”

Some of the articles we read in The Atlanta Constitution were not as complimentary as those by Mr. McGill. Reviews in the Sunday paper often implied that this mountain man might have plagiarized his poems. With such ability evident in the poems, and yet from one so limited in formal education, it was not likely, the critics wrote, that he could have produced poetry of the caliber of that bearing Reece’s byline. However, we at the Dyer household knew the integrity and honesty of the Reece family, our neighbors. The poet would never pass off as his own something he had copied from someone else.

Farmer-turned-poet, Byron Herbert Reece gathering corn on his Wolf Creek Farm, Choestoe, Union County, Georgia, about 1946.

We had in our midst not just a neighbor farmer, someone I had known all my life, but a literary person of notable stature, receiving both accolades and criticism. From then on, we, his neighbors, stood in awe of him, viewed him in a completely different light. A genius lived among us and we were proud to know him. Yet he continued as humble and unaffected by the acclaim as before his national debut as a literary figure of note.

When I visited him with my high school teacher, Mrs. Grapelle Mock, to interview him for the school’s page in our local newspaper, I approached him with a sense of awe and shyness even though I had known him all my life. Now he was more than a neighbor with whom we passed the time of day, talking about crops, the weather, the health of his parents Juan and Emma Reece, or commenting on World War II (as we had during that conflict and when my brother Eugene lay critically injured in a hospital somewhere in Italy). Now Reece was somebody—a famous person. He had climbed in status through the words he penned from lowly farmer to literary giant.

He never let his fame go to his head. He remained humble and reclusive, preferring not to be in the limelight. In that interview, I shyly told him that I liked to try my hand at writing poetry. I had recently presented my first sonnet and another lyrical poem in my high school English class. His advice to me, a teenaged aspiring writer, was biblical and fitting: “Don’t hide your light under a bushel,” he said.

[Next week: More personal reflections on Poet Byron Herbert Reece.]


c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 13, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Poet Jesse Stuart Assisted Poet Reece (Part 2 in Series)

The Prairie Schooner, literary magazine of the University of Nebraska Press, published Byron Herbert Reece’s poem “Choestoe” in the spring issue, 1944. But it was Reece’s ballad, “Lest the Lonesome Bird,” published in that magazine in 1943 that caught and held the attention of poet Jesse Stuart of Kentucky.

Reece, who was still feeling the blunt of rejection for World War II enlistment because of what he termed a “nervous tic in his face,” was feeling lonely and isolated on his Choestoe farm. It was amidst this loneliness, his care for his sick parents, and the heavy farming duties that he received a letter from Poet Jesse Stuart inviting Reece to send him more poems.

Form a picture of another Appalachian poet sitting on a potato box in the combination store/post office in Kentucky, oblivious to those milling about him, reading a sheaf of poems that Reece sent him and recognizing the genius and ability of the poet.

Stuart later stated that he considered “The Ballad of the Rider” one of the best ballads he had read by an American poet. Commenting on the ballads and short lyrical poems Reece had sent him for evaluation, Stuart stated: “He hadn’t written just so many meaningless lines but he had written lyrical ballads with beauty and power. He had written poetry akin to the sixteenth and seventeenth English and the early Irish poets.” (Quoted on p. 36 in Raymond Cook’s biography, Mountain Singer, 1980).

Published poet Jesse Stuart of Kentucky introduced Reece's poems to publisher, E. P. Dutton of New York, and thus assisted Reece to have his first book, Ballad of the Bones, published in 1945.

Stuart asked Reece if he might take the ballads and poems to his own publisher, E. P. Dutton of New York. Reece granted his permission, although with some doubts as to the outcome, as noted in a letter to his friend, Phillip Greear: “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed.” (Cook, p. 36)

Poet Byron Herbert Reece was mowing hay on his farm when three advance copies of Ballad of the Bones arrived from publisher E. P. Dutton on Reece's 28th birthday, Sept. 14, 1945.

Dutton Company did accept the poems for publication and tried to reach Reece by phone, but there was no telephone at the Reece farm. The announcement came by letter. He completed another long poem in November, 1942, “Ballad of the Bones,” based on the account in Ezekiel 37 from the Bible. He showed the ballad to his mother, Emma. She got a ride to Blairsville and took the ballad to Charles Bartholomew, editor of The Union County Citizen. Emma had commented to her son, “It’s something!” Bartholomew said to Reece’s mother: “It’s too wonderful to be true!” (Cook, p. 40)

The new ballad became both the title and the first poem in his first book, Ballad of the Bones, published by E. P. Dutton. On his twenty-eighth birthday, September 14, 1945, he received in the mail three advance copies of the book. He was mowing a hay field when his mother called him to the house about 11 a. m. He was pleased with the book and showed his parents that it was dedicated to them.

In the afternoon, no doubt with a lighter heart, he went back to his task of mowing. In November of that year the book was released by Dutton and immediately met with national acclaim. Poets such as William Rose Benet, John Gould Fletcher, John Hall Wheelock, and Alfred Kreyemborg praised his depth of perception and lyrical acumen. The book sold well, in first and second printings, and by January, 1946, Dutton had produced a third printing.

He was on his way to fame as a poet. Dutton published three more volumes of his poetry: Bow Down in Jericho (1950); A Song of Joy (1952); and The Season of Flesh (1955).

Working also in the novel genre, Reece produced two novels published by Dutton: Better a Dinner of Herbs (1950) and The Hawk and the Sun (1955). In ten years from 1945 through 1955 his publication number for books totaled six, an achievement of note for any writer and especially for a farmer-poet in Union County, Georgia.

[Next week: More on the life and times of Byron Herbert Reece, Part 3]

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 6, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Byron Herbert Reece: Balladeer of the Blue Ridge Mountains

The Juan Wellborn Reece and Hannah Emma Lou Lance Reece Family about 1925.
On Emma's lap, Emma Jean Reece (b.03/29/1923).
Standing (l. to r.): Eva Mae Reece b. 08/25/1911); Byron Herbert Reece (b.09/14/1917); T. J. Reece (b. 07/30/1915); and Nina Kate Reece (b. 06/16/1914).
The first born child in the family, Alwayne, died at age 13 months with meningitis.

He was tall and lanky, a man of the earth, a mountaineer. He was a farmer, a poet, a genius, a novelist, a philosopher.

Union County has a right to be justly proud of the work and accomplishments of Byron Herbert Reece, poet, lyricist, extraordinary balladeer of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Byron Herbert Reece was born on September 14, 1917 in a one-room log cabin that stood in a meadow now covered by the waters of Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park in Union County, Georgia. The community where he was born was named Choestoe after the Cherokee Indian word meaning “The Place Where Rabbits Dance.” Intrigued by his place of birth, he memoralized it in a poem by the same name, “Choestoe.” In the long poem published in 1944 in The Prairie Schooner are these lines:

It’s not that rabbits ever really danced here,
Though sometimes in the dusk when nothing happens
We could believe they danced and wish them dancing;
They came to sport forever in the name our country bears,
One that the Indians gave it.
The son of Juan (pronounced Jew-ann) and Emma Lance Reece, the poet-to-be, had one brother, T. J., and three sisters, Eva Mae, Jean and Kate. Another sister, Alwayne, died in infancy.

Life was hard on the dirt farm along Wolf Creek in the shadow of Blood Mountain where they lived on acreage that had belonged to Emma’s ancestors. Emma cooked the family’s meals in a lean-to built onto the cabin by her grandfather.

Emma Reece recognized early-on the precociousness of her son, Byron Herbert (whom they had named—not for the noted English poets Lord Byron and George Herbert, but for Byron Mitchell, a hog trader from Gainesville, and for Herbert Tabor, an insurance salesman from Ellijay, both of whom were friends of the Reece family).

Emma read to her children from the King James Version of the Bible and from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Before “Hub” (as Byron Herbert was called) began school at Choestoe Elementary School, he could already read from both books. He loved the cadence and rhythm of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, and in that metrical tone many dramatic stories would be turned into ballads later as Hub’s poetic genius budded and grew to fruition.

Days found Reece working hard on the farm. His parents were both beset with tuberculosis and more and more of the farm work became Hub’s responsibility. As he worked, he listened to the melody of Wolf Creek singing against the rocks. A keen observer of nature, his natural introspection turned his insights into poetry.

At night by an oil lamp, he wrote with a passion and expertise uncharacteristic of one with his limited education. That is why, when his poems began to be published, some critics questioned both his genius and his ability to phrase such flawless verse.

The lyrics of literally hundreds of poems came from his pen. Ballads, sonnets and lyrical verse were his forte. He pursued themes of death, wind, time, the brevity of life, changing seasons, nature, beauty and innocence. Many of these thoughts tortured Reece in his life. And upon reading his poetry today, his concerns haunt readers as they contemplate his short life and tragic death.

Nights were short on rest, days filled with tasks taxing to his waning health, for he himself contracted the dread tuberculosis. He arose to seasonal duties: turning the land, harrowing, seeding the rows in spring, cultivating in summer, harvesting in fall. Winter had its tasks: wood to keep the fires going in the Reece house, livestock to feed and tend, fences to mend, and poems and novels to write.

Many of his poems speak of the earth and its call upon his time and energies. In “The Stay-at-Home” (1955) he wrote:

The fields of Hughly held him,
The land where he was born;
With fence to mend,
And cows to tend,
And care of wheat and corn.

He had no lief to wander
Beyond his place of birth,
But often he would ponder
The luring lands of earth.

When a critic claimed Reece’s farm life was just a pose and wanted to know ‘Why not write full-time and leave the farm work to someone else?’ Reece’s cryptic reply was, “Anybody can plow potatoes, but no one is willing to plow mine but me.”

In an article he wrote for The Atlanta Journal and Constitution Magazine for August 16, 1953, he stated: “On a small farm on Wolf Creek in north Georgia, I combine writing and farming. Here, in the last few years, I have grown several crops of corn and vegetables and four books of fiction and verse. By nature, I would rather cultivate a cash crop than the critics; and in my own way of life, a garden is equally as important as a garland. Reviewers have sent raspberries my way, but I am more familiar with those that grow on vines.”

[Next week: More on the life and works of Byron Herbert Reece.]

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 30, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The Life and Times of Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins – Part 5

Major Contributions as Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools

Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins (1885-1967)25 years Georgia's Superintendent of Schools, 1933-1958

From the hills of Choestoe to the capitol in Atlanta--the journey had been arduous but focused. Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins was sworn in as Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools on January 11, 1933. His tenure in that office extended over a quarter of a century until his retirement ended an auspicious career on January 13, 1958. Following his retirement, he was named Superintendent Emeritus, a position he retired from on July 31, 1963.

His retirement at age 73 highlighted a distinguished career that spanned fifty-six years as an educator, from a one-teacher school at Old Liberty in Union County at a salary of $22.50 per month to the highest educational office in the state.

One of his favorite expressions in his tenure as superintendent was, “We deliver the goods, express charges prepaid.” He had Georgia’s children and teachers at heart, with grass-roots knowledge of how education could work for the best good to the most people. Some of his favorite expressions have often been quoted:

“Georgia has sometimes missed a crop of cotton, but has never missed a crop of children.”

“Education does not cost; it pays.”

“Everybody is somebody.”

“A teacher can only teach two things: What he is and what he knows.”

To encourage those who often sought him out in the state’s highest educational office with what seemed to them mammoth problems, “Doc” Collins would send them away with his characteristic smile and “Attaboy! You can do it!” ringing in their ears.

Speech writers were often concerned that he read their painstaking research, tucked the manuscript into his pocket, and went onto a podium to make a speech, filling it with his own home-spun philosophy that often ended with his favorite comparison of two things of like nature going together “like grits and gravy.” Some of these were: education and the community; teachers and pupils; hope and determination.

His favorite themes were expressed in his speeches:

“We must have equal educational opportunities for all the children of all the people.”

“I had rather pay the bill at the schoolhouse than at the jailhouse.”

He entered his job as state school superintendent the year Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president and Eugene Talmadge was governor of Georgia. As the nation and Georgia were coming out of the Great Depression, could he fulfill his campaign promises? Achievements during his quarter century tenure are proof that he delivered the goods for educational advancement.

From 1933 through 1958, he led Georgia to adopt the Minimum Foundation Program for Education; free textbooks for all public school students; school, public and regional library services; bus transportation; surplus commodities; state teacher salary scheduled increases; school lunch programs; expanded vocational education; establishment of regional technical schools at Clarkesville and Americus; vocational rehabilitation programs; twelfth grade added to high school; curriculum expansion; school terms extended from three months to nine months; Georgia Teacher Retirement System (TRS); state employees’ retirement system; state merit system; high school equivalency program for veterans and other adults (GED test for high school diploma); a $200 million school buildings program; and a state audio-visual library with the largest educational film loan system to schools of any state in the nation.

Georgia’s education budget rose from $6 million allocated in 1933 to over $140 million in 1958. One of his favorite platforms was teacher salary increases. He loved to tell the story about a teacher who went to the bank shortly after the Depression to deposit some money from her meager salary. As she counted out the bills, she would lick her finger and lift the next dollar. The bank clerk asked her if she were not afraid she’d get germs from the bills. “Not on your life,” was her reply. “Not even germs could live on my salary!”

As he pushed for teacher salary increases, he also encouraged teachers to get better training for their jobs and initiated a stricter teacher certification program for Georgia educators. In a Reader’s Digest article in February, 1947, “How Georgia Teachers Got a Raise,” he was lauded for asking for a 50% teacher salary increase for 1948.

One perilous hurdle for Georgia education was desegregation. “Equal but separate” was no longer adequate education. Dr. Collins defied state political leaders in 1954 as he openly opposed the “private school” amendment, stating that it would seriously undermine and eventually destroy Georgia’s public education system.

In higher education, he was one of the founders of West Georgia College (now West Georgia State University) at Carrollton. He served as a trustee of Mercer, Oglethorpe and Bob Jones Universities, each of which conferred upon him, a distinguished alumnus, honorary degrees. He brought the Cave Spring School for the Deaf under the administration of the Georgia Department of Education. He was a member of several professional organizations, and served on the Board of Directors of the National Education Association from 1934 through 1957.

He died March 9, 1967 at age 81. He was interred at Westview Cemetery, Atlanta.

Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins exemplified in his life and service the spirit of individualism, self-discipline, hard work and ambition. These are often characteristics of persons reared in adverse circumstances and determined to achieve. He was mountain-bred and people-oriented. He left a rich legacy from which Georgians are still benefiting today. Indeed he was a noble mountain man, a person of vision, fidelity and attainment.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 23, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

The Life and Times of Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins – Part 4

Continuing the story of a Choestoe lad who, despite grave circumstances, received a good education and became Georgia’s state superintendent of schools for twenty-five years, this segment of his biography views briefly his marriage, work as an editor and as an administrator.
Mary Louise Jackson Collins was mother of Mauney Douglas Collins and six other children. This valiant widow reared her large family and saw that each of them received the best education possible for the era in which they lived. Norman Vester became a medical doctor. Mauney Douglas earned his PhD and became state superintendent of schools. Nina Idaho Dyer was a homemaker who reared four children who were outstanding teachers. Laura Collins Shuler was a teacher and poet. Kate Collins Reed was a teacher for awhile and a homemaker who reared a son who became a doctor. Son Jean Benjamin had a 50-year career with the Southern Railroad. Dora Dorothy Collins Sims became a teacher, a poet, and married a banker.

About 1910, Mary Louise Jackson Collins, M. D.’s mother, sold most of her property at Choestoe and moved to Broxton, Georgia, where her son, Mauney Douglas, was teaching and preaching. She became his housekeeper. The move also provided better educational advantages for three of her children still at home: Callie Kate, Dora Dorothy and Jean Benjamin. This arrangement continued until after M. D.’s marriage, after which Mary Collins relocated to Flowery Branch.

Mauney Douglas Collins married Winnie Byrd on December 31, 1911. She died on November 22, 1912. Their only daughter, Fannie, died in infancy.




Mauney Douglas Collins and his wife, Mary Jeanette Cochran Collins









His second marriage was to Mary Jeanette Cochran of Palmetto on September 15, 1921. Mary was a graduate of Cox and Shorter Colleges. Their marriage ceremony was performed by Dr. Fernando C. McConnell, noted Baptist preacher and first cousin to Dr. George W. Truett. Dr. McConnell’s father, W. R., had helped the young M. D. Collins while he struggled financially to finish Hiawassee Academy years before. The union with Mary was a happy one, continuing until her death in 1958. They had no children.

Ever versatile and involved, M. D. Collins wrote for the Union County paper before leaving Choestoe. Later he was editor of The Campbell County News (1926-1930) in Fairburn and concurrently The Fairburn Messenger for five years (1926-1930). He was also a reporter for The Atlanta Journal for a short while.

One of the incidents he liked to recall as a Baptist preacher was performing the marriage ceremonies for eight couples in one day, Christmas Eve, 1927. This was a noteworthy event that caught the attention of Margared Mitchell (who later became author of the famed Gone with the Wind). She was then a reporter for The Atlanta Journal and wrote an article about “The Marrying Parson”. Most of the couples he married that day had been his students in high school.

Continuing as pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Fairburn, he also expanded his work in education. From teaching, he went into school administration, first as a principal and then as superintendent of schools. In 1927, when he was superintendent of Campbell County Schools, he took a firm stand against a gambling and dog-racing syndicate. Others in the community, when asked to sign an injunction, backed down, but not Dr. Collins. His signature alone withheld operations. He won the case in both Superior and Supreme Court where records label the case “M. D. Collins vs. St. Louis Dog Racing Company.” His astute sense of morality could not propose a high value system for Georgia’s youth and condone a means of revenue coming from a syndicate with questionable activities.

From 1921 through 1932 he was superintendent of Campbell County Schools. When Campbell was merged with Fulton County in 1932, a merger Dr. Collins favored, his job then became that of an educational supervisor in the Fulton County School System.

His political career began in earnest as he sought the office of state superintendent of schools. Conducting a “grass roots” campaign for this highest state educational office, he promised the people of Georgia improved schools, better trained teachers, salary increases for teachers, and more money for education. He had confidence that he could fulfill his campaign promises. He was elected in 1932 and took office as state superintendent of schools in January, 1933.

Perhaps he did not dream when he began his duties as superintendent that he would lead for twenty-five years, a period of vast changes and improvements in education in Georgia. The next segment of this biographical sketch will give some of the major milestones in his quarter of a century as superintendent at the helm of Georgia education.

[Next week: Concluding installment of the Life and Times of Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins]

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 16, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

The Life and Times of Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins – Part 3

For four years, from July 1902 through 1906, young Mauney Douglas Collins taught at Old Liberty School in Union County for short five-month terms. He often had as many as eighty students in seven grades.

Among his students were his own brothers, sisters and cousins, and persons who became notable in Georgia. One student who later distinguished himself was William Henry Duckworth who served as Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court.

In 1906 M. D. Collins began what is probably a record for a teacher. He taught three terms at three different schools in three counties in Georgia in the same fiscal year. On July 23, 1906, he began a five-month term at Mountain Scene School in Towns County, finishing that contract just before Christmas. At Sugar Hill School, Gwinnett County, he taught two months. Then he moved on to Oakwood in Hall County to teach a five-month term. By teaching on Saturdays as well as week-days, he was able to clock up what amounted to thirteen months (that is, 13 school months of twenty-days per month). He was not dismissed from either school, but as procedures were then in one-teacher schools, he followed the terms set by the local patrons and the availability of the teacher. During that phenomenal year, he turned twenty-one years old.

One day back home in Choestoe, M. D. Collins was taking a “turn” of corn to Souther’s Mill to be ground into cornmeal. He passed by the Twiggs residence where, the year his father died in 1897, the highly respected Rev. John Twiggs had come out to the road to talk to him. At the time of the conversation, Collins was a lad of eleven. But in 1907, on the same road and on a similar errand to the mill, he recalled with clarity what the Rev. Twiggs had said to him: “Apply yourself and work diligently. Remember always that it is not luck but pluck that counts, and that both inspiration and perspiration are necessary for success.”

He pastored several churches in Georgia while also teaching school. In this photograph he is pictured with some of his young church members whom he had also taught in school.

At the age of twenty-four, Collins recalled every word of that conversation with the Rev. Twiggs. Having felt the call to the gospel ministry, Collins was ordained by Old Liberty Baptist Church in 1909. Thus he began another career as a preacher and pastor while continuing to teach school.

In 1908 he returned to Hiawassee Academy and completed requirements for graduation. He entered Mercer University in the fall of 1908 where he hoped to pursue studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree and a ministerial course of study. However, his brother, Norman Vester, was a student at Atlanta College of Physicians and Surgeons. Knowing that his mother was having a very hard time financially trying to keep two sons in college, and with other children in school, M. D. dropped out of Mercer and again became a teacher, helping his mother and siblings.

The roster of places that employed him as lead teacher sounds like a geography of north and central Georgia: Fish, Broxton, Oakwood, Harmony Grove, Loganville, Social Circle, Fairburn, Union City.

While teaching, he was also gaining additional college education by going to a semester or summer session. Among the colleges he attended were Young Harris, Mercer University, Columbia University, and Oglethorpe University. From Oglethorpe he earned three degrees: Bachelor of Arts in 1931, Master of Arts in 1932, and Doctor of Pedagogy in 1933.

Running concurrently with his teaching career and his college education was his work as a Baptist pastor and evangelist. He favored country churches and pastored several. In 1924 and 1925, the churches he pastored held the statistical record in the Georgia Baptist Convention in number of baptisms. He was pastor of Mount Olive Church near Fairburn. In October, 1930, he became pastor of the New Hope Church in Old Campbell County.

Before the term “Church Planter” came into usage, he was starting new churches and helped to found thirteen churches. His last pastorate was the Friendship Baptist Church in Fairburn where he was the minister for thirty-three years. Upon his retirement from the church, he was made Pastor Emeritus.

His work in education was conducted concurrently with his pastoral duties. He became known as “the marrying preacher.” Many of the young people he taught wanted him to perform their marriage ceremonies. They were assured of a strong counseling session on the seriousness of marriage and family and then he “tied the knot” for them.

[Next week: More on the distinguished career of Dr. M. D. Collins.]

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 9, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 2, 2003

The Life and Times of Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins – Part 2

Front row, left to right: Dora Collins, Mary Louise Jackson Collins, Jean Benjamin Collins (holding dogs, Tip and Tige); Albert Dyer (Mary's son-in-law); on Albert's lap, Watson Benjamin Dyer (Mary's first grandchild) Second row, left to right: Mauney Douglas Collins; Norman Vester Collins; Laura Collins; Callie Kate Collins; and Nina Collins Dyer. In this family portrait, Mary Collins was holding the family Bible. The children are holding ceramic objects they wanted to display. Some are "a hen and chicks," an indication that they had survived a chicken pox epidemic.

Death by typhoid fever had claimed the life of Mauney Douglas Collins’ father, Archibald Benjamin, on April 4, 1897. Being the eldest boy in the family at age eleven (his older brother, Francis Arthur, had died as a one-year old), and his mother, Mary Louise Jackson Collins having seven children to raise, the young M. D. (as he was called) buckled down to responsibility and hard work. Some would say these hardships made a man of him. An examination of his subsequent life shows that, indeed, he did become a man—and an outstanding one at that.

Herself recovering from typhoid and the birth of Dorothy Dora one month earlier, Mary Jackson Collins faced her grief in a weakened condition. But with sheer determination she assessed her possibilities.

First under consideration were the two country stores her husband Ben owned, one at their home in Choestoe and one at the Coosa Gold Mines. With no one to take over the management, go to Gainesville for supplies, and tend the stores—combined with the deficits of thousands of dollars “on the books” which she could not collect from debtors, Mary Collins decided to close out both the stores. She then concentrated on the farm and livestock. Her frugality, hard work and good management kept the large family from starvation.

In each of her children, and especially in Mauney Douglas, there came both from precept and example a strong sense of work ethic and responsibility. Mauney plowed the fields, planted crops, cultivated them and reaped a bountiful harvest, enough to keep the family going from year to year.

Education was a very high priority with Mary Collins. All of her children finished grammar school at Old Liberty, mainly under the tutelage of her brother, Thomas K. Jackson, a good teacher. As they finished seventh grade, she began to seek ways to educate them further.

When M. D. finished Old Liberty School, Mary Collins went with him by wagon to Hiawassee, Georgia to the Hiawassee Baptist Academy, a school founded in 1886 by Dr. George W. Truett, noted Baptist leader who had been born in nearby Hayesville, NC.

At Hiawassee, Mrs. Collins rented a small house. They took provisions from home for M. D. to live on at that small cabin near the school. At the time the young Choestoean entered Hiawassee Academy, tuition was $1.10 and rent on the cabin was fifty cents per month. Students had to purchase their textbooks, provide their furnishings, fuel and food. It was twenty miles over a rough mountain road by way of Brasstown from Choestoe to Hiawassee.

M. D.’s first roommate at Hiawassee Academy was another Choestoe lad, Jack Lance, who would in the future himself become a noted educator and president of Young Harris College. The boys got along well as they “batched” in the small cabin, doing their own cooking and studying by the light of an oil lamp. Trips back to their respective farm homes in Choestoe replenished their supplies of food. They did not live in luxury by any means, but they got by. And both did extremely well academically.

M. D. Collins had $14 in cash in his pocket when he went to Hiawassee Academy. Somehow, he made it stretch over five months of his first term there.

His first teachers at the academy were the president, Professor A. B. Greene; Mr. Leonard Kimsey; and Mr. Frank Lloyd. Through those excellent teachers, M. D. was introduced to the classics of Latin, Greek, the world’s great literature, and “higher” mathematics, social and physical sciences, and archaeology.

He distinguished himself both in academics and in the debate society. At the end of his first five-month term, his business acumen had been so frugal as to allow him to purchase at Berrong’s Dry Goods Store his first “store-bought” suit for $2.75. His new suit was striking, with pin stripes. He completed his ensemble with tie and a dress shirt with a celluloid collar. Up to that time, his dress suits had been made by his mother from cloth woven at her home loom from wool gathered from their own sheep.

In the summer of 1902, Mauney Douglas Collins began his own teaching career back at Choestoe at Old Liberty School from which he had graduated seventh grade. His uncle, Tom Jackson, was still the teacher there. That summer, a record of over 100 pupils were enrolled. Mr. Jackson needed help so he enlisted his nephew as the second teacher.

M. D. Collins was seventeen when he began teaching at Old Liberty. He kept this job for four years. His beginning salary was $22.50 per month, $112.50 annually for a five-month term of school. He taught in the summer when crops were “laid by,” and again in the winter months.

Spring terms, he again attended Hiawassee Academy, continuing his own education. When he was home at Choestoe, he helped his mother with farm tasks. Life was hard, but the family had plenty to eat and Mary Jackson was a good manager. She and her children kept lofty goals as a major priority. Propelled by his drive to learn and to achieve, much lay ahead for M. D. Collins, intelligent and aspiring lad.

[Next week: The Life and Times of Dr. M. D. Collins will continue.]


c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 2, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

In praise of a noble mountain man: Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins

Union County has produced some worthy citizens. One of them was Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, an extraordinary educator.

Some men are of an age and a place; others are timeless and of inestimable station. Such a man was Dr. Mauney Douglas Collins, lowly in beginnings but propelled by his extraordinary vision and inordinate accomplishments.

Georgia knew his expertise and wisdom. His influence spread beyond the state to the nation. He served as Georgia’s Superintendent of Schools from 1933 through 1958, a quarter of a century, the longest tenure for that elected office yet on record in Georgia’s educational annals.

This noble mountain man had been a farmer, a merchant, a teacher, a banker, an evangelist, a pastor, a lecturer, a writer, an editor, and an administrator.

But what of his beginnings? From what roots did this mountain man spring?

Born in Union County, Blairsville, Georgia on July 5, 1885, M. D. Collins’ parents were Archibald Benjamin Collins and Mary Louise Jackson Collins. He was their second son and third child. His siblings were Nina Idaho, Francis Arthur, Norman Vester, Laura Lee, Callie Kate, Jean Benjamin and Dorothy Dora.

His paternal grandparents were Francis and Rutha Nix Collins and his maternal grandparents were Marion and Rebecca Goforth Jackson. His great-grandparents, Thompson and Celia Self Collins, were early settlers in Union County. They were listed in the first county census in 1834, two years after the county was founded in 1832. They were probably here before the county was formed from Old Cherokee. William and Nancy Stanley Jackson, parents of Marion, are on record as having moved to the area in 1827, five years before Union was formed. It was from these hardy pioneers that Mauney Douglas Collins descended.

Reared as a farm lad, Mauney Douglas Collins learned early to shoulder responsibilities. Choestoe District where his family lived had good farm land. Archibald Benjamin Collins, Mauney’s father, was a farmer of note and a tradesman, dealing in sheep, cattle and hogs. Ben and his brother, “Bud” Collins (Francis Jasper) had the first threshing machine in the district. They served Union County farmers by providing a mobile unit pulled by oxen to thresh barley, wheat and rye on “shares”.

Ben Collins was a country store merchant. Much of the trade at his store was in barter. He took in payment for store goods such farm and forest products as eggs, chickens, sorghum syrup, dried apples, chestnuts, chinquapins, herbs and tanned skins of animals.

These bartered goods he hauled over the mountainous Logan Turnpike to the market in Gainesville and there traded them for coffee, sugar, piece goods, nails and other hardware, and various ‘store-bought’ commodities.

Ben Collins drove livestock over this same route to market, and in Gainesville loaded cattle, sheep, hogs and turkeys on a train and shipped them to Augusta or Savannah.

When the gold mine opened in the Coosa District of Union County northwest of Choestoe, Ben Collins established his second store there.

Mauney Collins, as a very young lad, was involved in the entrepreneurships of his father and uncle, learning from them by going on trade excursions and by working in the stores.

When Mauney Collins was five years old, he started school at Old Liberty, a one-room building serving as both a school and church. His uncle, Tom Jackson, was the boy’s first teacher. The young child showed great promise as a student. He studied from well-worn textbooks passed down from his older sister Nina and cousins. The school term lasted at the most four months, conducted at periods when work on the farm was not as demanding.

In 1897 a tragedy struck the Collins family and the whole community. It was the year of the great typhoid epidemic. All in the family took the dreaded fever and struggled to survive. A hard-working housekeeper, Sallie Kimsey, helped the Collins family during that trying time. Dr. McCravey made his weary rounds by horseback from Blairsville, eight miles away, doing what he could to attend the family with the medicines available then.

On April 4, 1897 at age 34, Archibald Benjamin Collins died from typhoid fever. He was buried with Masonic Honors at Old Choestoe Cemetery. Hardly a one of his family was able to attend the funeral.

Bereft, his young widow, Mary Louise Jackson Collins, gradually regained her strength from the effects of the fever. She began evaluating ways to rear her family of seven. The second child, Francis Arthur, had died at age one in 1884. Mauney Douglas was eleven when his father died. The eldest, Nina Idaho, was fifteen, and the baby, Dorothy Dora, was only one month old, Norman was nine, Lee seven, Callie Kate five, Jean Benjamin three. The thirty-four year old widow faced the tasks of making a living and rearing and educating seven children.

It was to be a hard road in a good land.

[Next week: More on the life of Dr. M. D. Collins]

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 25, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Sweet Sorghum Syrup

Time was when almost every community in Union County had a sorghum syrup mill and someone versatile in the art of turning the cane juice into sweet sorghum syrup. September and October were the months for "making syrup" and all the attendant work connected with one of the important money crops of this mountain region.

But now, those old-time syrup makers are few and far between, and except for the Annual Sorghum Festival which will mark its 34th event the second, third and fourth weekends of October, 2003, many people would not even hear of sweet sorghum or have any inkling of what it is or why we observe a festival of remembrance. Thanks to the Blairsville Jaycees, these weekends are fun and preserve a portion of the county's rich heritage.

Being the history buff that I am, and since sorghum-syrup making has been a part of my family's farm life for generations, I wanted to know more about how the process started long ago and why it became important to us.

Sorghum was grown in India before recorded history. As early as 700 B. C., the crop was cultivated in Assyria. It is known to have reached China by the thirteenth century A. D. It is native to Africa, and many of the predecessors of today's varieties originated there. It came to the United States from Africa in the early part of the seventeenth century. Many of the slaves from Africa perhaps already knew how to cultivate the cane and how to extract the juice, boil it, and make sweet sorghum syrup.

Whether our ancestors who settled the area of Union County brought cane seeds with them and the knowledge of making sorghum syrup, we do not know for sure. We do know that the fall crop and its subsequent syrup have long been a substitute for sugar, and a staple food as well as a money crop for generations here.

Emil Van Watson of Fannin County told me this true story of how sorghum syrup seeds were introduced to this mountain region. In the early 1850s a stranger driving a small one-horse wagon came into Ellijay, Georgia, Gilmer County. We don't know his name or where he came from. He had on the wagon some seed heads that he tried to sell. The hawker promised that the seeds would grow into cane and that the heads would ripen in the sun. He explained that the stalks had a sweet juice which could be extracted by crushing or grinding, and that the juice, when boiled, became an edible sweet, sugary liquid.

Furthermore, the man promised, the large seed-heads from the cane could be ground and added to animals' foods to provide supplemental nutrients.

Many of the citizens doubted the stranger's claims for his heads of golden seeds, but one citizen, a Mr. Hansell, a well-respected man, confirmed the claims. Several citizen farmers bought seeds from the stranger at ten cents per head, and in May, as the stranger had directed, they planted the seeds.

The first cane crops in this mountain region grew well, for the climate and growing season were amenable. However, if a heavy windstorm came, the tall stalks, that sometimes grew to ten or twelve feet in height, would become entangled, thus making harvesting the cane very difficult.

Over the decades since the early 1850s, farmers and crop scientists have worked to produce better varieties of cane that will withstand lodging (as the twisting and tangling are called) and resist plant diseases such as stalk red rot and maize mosaic.

At first, cane growers in the mountains had crude wooden rollers to extract the juice, and much of it remained in the cane, unused, because of inferior methods of extraction. They boiled the juice in the largest iron wash pots they had. The resulting syrup was very dark, strong and stained teeth.

Being inventive, mountain farmers developed better ways of extracting and processing the juice. By the late 1860s, iron rollers for grinding the cane had been purchased from far-away places like Cincinnati, Ohio, where Belknap Hardware made them available. Long rectangular copper boilers, placed over a long furnace, were in place for cooking the juice. Better techniques for removing the green skimmings, a waste product, were used. The finished product was tastier and did not stain the teeth.

Sorghum syrup was a better cash crop than corn. A gallon of sorghum syrup sold for fifty cents then, compared to only thirty-five cents for a gallon of corn liquor, "moonshine". The latter had long been a money crop of mountain farmers who could evade the federal revenuers or saw no moral hindrance in producing corn liquor. But sorghum syrup was "within the law," and much in demand when sugar was scarce.

When you visit the sorghum festival, or find one of the few remaining family sorghum mills still in operation, know that the processing of this farm product is indeed a southern tradition. My brother, Bluford Dyer, is one of the few remaining syrup makers, having learned the trade from our father, J. Marion Dyer, and he from his father, Bluford Elisha Dyer. On a cool fall morning nothing is better than flaky biscuits covered in sweet sorghum syrup.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 18, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Hunter-England House

Drive along Highway 129/19 south from Blairsville about eight miles. On the left, in a narrow field between the road and Nottely River, you can see a very old house, now neglected and leaning as if to give up even the ghosts that may sometimes inhabit its rafters. This house was built by John Hunter on Land Lot # 81 about 1832.

What remains of the old Hunter-England house is a reminder of the sturdy ways of the early settlers. The house may very well be the oldest dwelling still remaining from the 1830s in all of Union County. It was built of poplar logs and once had a roof of riven boards. Over the years, weather-boarding was added over the logs and a corrugted tin roof replaced the roof shingles. But the old chimney still remains, a statement of the workmanship with creek and fieldstone rocks that has stood the test of time.


John Hunter (born about 1775), father of William Johnson Hunter (and other children), migrated to Union County from Buncombe County, NC. He came about 1830. He was one of the citizens living in the county when Union was formed out of the Cherokee lands in 1832. He cut trees, hewed logs and built the first Hunter cabin on the site. Stories passed down in the family hold that the Hunter family had to ward off Indian attacks as best they could while they cut, hewed and erected logs for the cabin.

The Hunter cabin was typical of those built when white settlers first came into the mountains. Over the window openings then were wooden shutters, not windowpanes. Glass windows were added later. The house was built of poplar logs. A root cellar was dug beneath the floor, with a trap-door access from within the cabin. The Hunter family stored root crops such as potatoes and turnips for winter use. Cabbage, too, could be kept in the root cellar, as could apples. The side room, a sort of lean-to, was added later and used as a kitchen.

Two of John Hunter’s sons, Andrew and Jason, were in the Georgia Militia in 1836. They probably participated in the Trail of Tears to move the Cherokees west. Andrew M. went farther abroad with his military service and was killed in the Mexican-American War in February, 1848, at Perote, Mexico.

By 1848, the only child at home with elder John Hunter was his 37-year old single daughter, Martha. John deeded the house and lot to Martha, glad to turn it to someone who would appreciate her ancestral roots and take care of the house. John Hunter died in August, 1848. He was buried in an unmarked grave in Old Salem Cemetery, up the mountain and west about one-fourth mile from the cabin. John had given an acre of land to establish Old Salem Methodist Church. On that acre the church building was erected and a cemetery was started.

John’s daughter, Harriet Hunter, married Daniel England, a brother to Margaret “Peggy” England who had married Harriet’s brother, William Johnson Hunter. Harriet and Daniel had moved back to North Carolina from Choestoe where they lived until 1849. Then they moved back to Choestoe to live with Harriet’s sister, Martha, who was alone in the cabin after her father’s death. This is how the cabin got the name Hunter-England cabin.

Daniel and Harriet England either purchased the cabin and land from Martha, or they inherited it. Four of this couple’s children, John, Martha, Mary and Harriet, were born in North Carolina. The remaining six children were born in Georgia in the Hunter-England cabin. These were Andrew England (1853) who married Nellie Hunter; Thomas England (1855) who married Nancy Jane Townsend; Exton England (1856) who married Eliza Akins; Margaret England (1859) who married Noah Stephens; Polk England (1862) who married Mary Akins; and Emma England (1866?) who married LaFayette Ballew.

As you drive by and see the old house on the east side of Georgia Highway 129, know that a lot of living took place there. The late Charles Roscoe Collins, writing about the house in 1987, said of it: “The old house is truly an ancestral treasure. For more than one hundred and fifty years it has been the focus of the lives and fortunes of many families.”

If its sagging walls and overarching roof could speak, we could hear accounts of many people who made it their home.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 11, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 4, 2003

Track Rock Gap – “Datsu’nalsagun’ylu” – Cherokee for “Where there are tracks”

I first saw the rocks with etched figures at Track Rock Gap when I was a child. My father took my younger brother and me there one Sunday afternoon. It was a long trip from our home at Choestoe, some five or more miles away. That adventure of exploration began a sense of curiosity about things prehistoric that has not waned. Since then, I’ve read whatever I could find about the tracks in rocks, and still the answers as to their origins are buried in antiquity.

The Georgia Historical marker placed at the site in 1998 gives ideas about the petroglyph on the large soapstone rocks. Dr. Matthew F. Stephenson who was an assayer of the U.S. Government and served as Director of the Branch Mint in Dahlonega, Georgia. visited the site and wrote about it in 1834. This was before all the Cherokee had been moved out of the area. He admitted to his own vandalism of chiseling off some of the soapstone petroglyph to take with him. In his journal, he tells the experience of visiting Track Rock Gap.

“As we approached it (the mountain), the heavens, which for several days and nights had worn a brightened countenance, began to scowl and threaten…We advanced with quickened pace to the foot of the rock…then commenced the lifting out of one of the tracks. Notwithstanding, I believe I possess as little superstition as anyone. Yet I could not suppress a strange sensation that pervaded me…The first strokes of the hammer were responded to by a large peal of thunder…and the most vivid lightning…soon a deluge of rain was precipitated upon our offending heads.

“I continued, however, to labor until I succeeded in disintegrating the impression of a youth’s foot, which I carefully wrapped up, and prepared to leave…looking backward in momentary expectation to take vengeance…As I passed the confines of the mountains, the rain ceased, the sun broke out, and all nature resumed her cheerful aspect.” [Reprinted in Souther Family History by Watson B. Dyer, 1988, p. 419).

In 1867, John Muir, conservationist and naturalist, took an unprecedented journey by foot which he called his “1,000-Mile Walk to the Gulf.” On that trip, he was told by a sort of self-appointed guide, a mountaineer in the area, of the petroglyph on rocks in a Gap in the North Georgia mountains.

Muir wrote this in his diary: “September 19. Received another solemn warning of dangers on my way through the mountains. Was told by my worthy entertainer of a wondrous gap in the mountains which he advised me to see. ‘It is called Track Gap,’ said he, ‘from the great number of tracks in the rocks. Bird tracks, bar tracks, hoss tracks, men tracks, all in solid rock as it it had been mud.’ “

Archaeologists disagree about the dating of the stones. The historical marker placed by the Georgia Department of natural Resources states that speculation as to the origin of the carved figures is anywhere from 8,000 to 1,000 B. C., the Archaic Period, or even younger, the Woodland Period, (1,000 B. C. to 900 A. D.), or the Mississippian Period (900 – 1500 A. D.) or even the Cherokee who were the last Native Americans to inhabit the Gap.

James Mooney in his history and legends of the Cherokee, gives several explanations relative to the Cherokee period. One is that the rocks were etched by Cherokee hunters as they rested in the gap, leaving behind etchings that are a sort of graffiti.

Other myths about the soapstone markings are that the tracks were made by animals as they were driven through the gap. And even farther back, when the earth was young, that the great canoe that carried two of everything during the earth’s destructive flood came to rest on the rocks while they were soft, and the animals alighted, thus to leave the imprints.

If, indeed, the etchings are a part of Native Americans’ belief systems, those symbols can be found. Their meanings are given:

Human Figure – etched in a trance-like position – worship, submission

Tracks of animals and birds- spiritual helpers of mankind, indication of spiritual flight

Circle and Cross- four directions (N, S, E, W) on earth, or the winds

Dual cup and oval – fertility

Oval and bar – fertility

Feet-travel – travel to the spirit world

Cup holes – place where corn, other hard food, medicine or paint were ground; fertility rituals

Concentric circles – Sun Symbols, entrance to the spirit world.

Time, the elements and vandals to the site have all combined to remove portions of six large boulders on which were once prominently displayed these mysterious petroglyph. But a visit along the old Cherokee Indian Trail at Track rock Gap should still excite the curiosity of anyone who sees the markings.

An old tradition holds that it always rains when anyone visits the spot. The Cherokee believe that the Great Spirit dwelt in the hills above Track Rock Gap, and when anyone intending harm to the sacred grounds intruded, his displeasure was demonstrated by a violent and frightful storm.

According to Matthew F. Stephenson, that indeed did happen in 1834 when he removed a portion of the stone.

Another myth recounts how the Great Canoe came to rest on the soapstone rocks following earth’s great flood. It says, too, that on moonlit nights, ghosts of those who were not saved from the flood can be seen dancing on the rocks, forever lamenting their failure to take safety when warned that a flood would destroy them.

As a young child, I was fascinated by the Track Rock and the stories Dad told me of the place. Today, as I revisit it and take friends to see the petroglyph, I am still awed at the “Datsu’nalsagun’ylu”—where there are tracks; and “Degayeelun’ha” (printed, branded place).

Walk carefully there. It is sacred ground.









c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 4, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

A Mill for the Settlement - The Souther Mill (Part 2)

Jesse William Souther, Jr. was a bachelor, age 35, when he moved from Wilkes County, NC to Choestoe, Georgia in 1848. He and his two brothers, Joseph and John established the Souther Mill in that same year. It was a boon for citizens in the settlement.

Jesse Souther began to court beautiful Malinda Nix, a daughter of William and Susanna Stonecypher Nix, who lived near Cleveland, GA. We don’t know the story of their courtship, but maybe Jesse met Malinda on one of his trips across the Logan Turnpike to take goods by covered wagon to Gainesville. It was customary for the wagons to stop for the first night at a campground at Cleveland near the Nix home. Or maybe Jesse and Malinda met at the Frank Collins home. Malinda’s sister, Rutha Nix, had married Collins on January 6, 1841 and moved to Choestoe.

Malinda’s grandfather, John Henry Stonecypher, Jr. of Eastanollee near Toccoa, had figured prominently in the Revolutionary War and also in the Indian Wars. Jesse and Malinda were married January 12, 1851, two months prior to Jesse’s 39th birthday. Malinda was born in 1829 and was sixteen years younger than her husband.

Jesse Souther added to his land holdings by purchasing a tract from Ivan J. Collins, a son of Thompson Collins, first settler on Choestoe. In a note dated May 12, 1862, Jesse gave his bond to pay $125 for the Collins land along Cane Creek that adjoined the property he had secured from his brother, Joseph Souther, before he went west in 1853.

To Jesse and Malinda Nix Souther were born eight children, four sons and four daughters. Fairlena (died in infancy); Nancy Elvira (b. 1853); Joseph G. (b. 1855); John Baptist (b. 1857); Sarah (b. 1861); Mary (b. 1863); William Jesse (b. 1864); and Jeptha Freeman (b. 1865).

It was the last-born, Jeptha, who was to remain on the Souther farm and continue the milling operation started by his father and uncles.

Jesse Souther was a prominent citizen of the Choestoe District. He was official treasurer of the Militia District # 834. In records kept meticulously by him, are these notations: “In 1849, paid W. L. Howard, teacher, $22.16 for 134 children (for the Choestoe School). On January 3, 1860 paid the District Treasurer, Jesse Souther, for teachers in the district, $155.85. Various other allocations were made over the years for teachers. On record are payments to these teachers from the amount allotted to Treasurer Souther: John C. Ballew; William L. Howard; Andrew Young; S. S. Hanshaw; William Neel; F. M. Swain; H. J. Sparks; S. R. Wright; F. S. Hughes; Jacob Butt; William Rich; Davidson Crumley; W. S. Wiley; and Thomas Bull. Some of Jesse’s bookkeeping notations indicate that the teachers were paid on the basis of 4 and 1/6 cents per day per pupil.

A school term was on the average of four months per year, usually in the winter months when no crops demanded work from the pupils. A notation indicated there were, at one time, 182 school children in the district of Choestoe. Treasurer Jesse Souther paid teachers who worked at Choestoe, New Liberty, Old Liberty and Union (Hood’s Chapel) Schools in houses that served as classrooms during the week and churches on Sundays.

His brother, John Souther, served on the County School Board from Choestoe District, and was also one of the earliest teachers in the district, even before Jesse William Souther, Jr. arrived there. The teachers probably went by the Souther Mill to collect their money on days taught and records of pupils served.

The Civil War years were hard on the Jesse Souther family, as well as others in the Choestoe Settlement. So far as we know, the mill kept operating, but probably not on as big a scale as during pre-war years. Jesse’s son, Joseph, was six years old when the Civil War broke out. He wrote in his memoirs: “Thirty men from Choestoe enlisted, one-half of them never returning to once-happy and prosperous homes.” When he was nine, Joseph became a scout for one of the Home Guard units and continued until the year ended in 1865. Knowing what we know now about Home Guard members and their ruffian methods, being a scout was no easy task for a nine-year-old.

Mourning pervaded the house when Jesse William Souther, Jr. died on May 5, 1869. He was laid to rest in the old Choestoe Cemetery not far from the Souther home. His death left an invalid wife, Malinda, seven children, the oldest of whom was Nancy, age 15 at her father’s death, and the youngest, Jeptha Freeman, age four. Joseph states in his memoirs: “Nancy helped with the younger children and the housework, I, at age 13, worked on the farm. With a single old mare who knew more about keeping the rows straight than I. I plowed the rows of corn.” Malinda Nix Souther died in 1894.

Records are somewhat sketchy about the operation of Souther Mill following Jesse’s death. Various millers were employed, probably on shares, to operate the grist mill and sawmill. In his book, Between the Blood and the Bald (Matthew’s Press, 2000), John Paul Souther, grandson of Jesse and son of Jeptha, tells about how his father at a young age became the miller. Jeptha Freeman Souther was naturally skilled in technology and built a millrace thirty feet long, stretching from the millpond at a higher level to turn the turbines at the mill. The millrace, also called the penstock, was made of three-inch thick lumber a foot wide, and had no leaks. A personable and wise miller, Jeptha kept the clients entertained with his stories, his knowledge of world affairs and his ability to relate genealogical ties of the families in Choestoe District.

Edward Shuler in his memoirs, Blood Mountain (Convention Press, 1953) recalls trips to the Souther Mill when he was a child as highlights for learning about the area and its people from the miller, Jeptha Souther.

Three years after his mother’s death, Jeptha married Mintie Iva Ann Dyer in 1897, a daughter of Henderson Dyer. He brought her to the house his father Jesse had built in 1850, and there they reared their five daughters and four sons: Mae, Fannie, Viola, Mary, Eva, Theodore, John Paul and Hubert.

John Paul Souther stated that his father sold the mill in 1919. Some of the operating millers following the sale were Bud Ballew, Martin Jones, Joe Townsend, Bert Watkins, Newt Curtis, Virgil C. Collins, Jimmy Self, and Ivan Collins. Unfortunately, the mill burned in 1943. The Depression years had caused the mill to gradually fall into disrepair. Gristmills were becoming a thing of the past and the glory days of Souther Mill were no more.

On a misty morning in Choestoe, one can almost imagine the gentle splash from the waterwheel and the steady whirling drone as the millstones grind a turn of corn, wheat or rye.

Descendants related in some way to the entrepreneurs who began Souther Mill in 1848 are almost as numerous today as the turns of corn that knew the pressure from the grinding stones of Souther Mill so many years ago.

Life goes on, layer upon layer, with what is good from the past lighting the way into the future.

Note: For sources I am indebted to Watson B. Dyer’s Souther Family History, 1988; John Paul Souther’s Between the Blood and the Bald (2000); Edward Shuler’s Blood Mountain, 1953); my own childhood memories of Souther Mill when my father, J. Marion Dyer, took me there where he had his own corn ground; and an article I wrote in the Autumn, 1993 issue of North Georgia Journal (Legacy Communications) entitled “Memories of the Old Souther Mill.” The photographs are courtesy of John Paul Souther.)















c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 28, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.