Thursday, June 17, 2004

In Tribute to Our 40th President, Ronald Wilson Reagan

Regardless of your political affiliation, you no doubt were greatly touched, as was I, by the state funeral of our 40th president, Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004). We saw proceedings on live television for almost a week of tribute, first in California, then in Washington, DC, and the return to California for a sunset service at the Reagan Library. It was as if we citizens had a front-seat view of the pageantry of a presidential funeral. The dignity of the proceedings made me proud to be an American and renewed my faith in a country he called “a shining city on a hill.”

To me, the review of the life and service of our 40th president brought history into perspective. Many were asked, “How would you rate Ronald Reagan as a president?” Without fail, most of those asked responded with accolades that enumerated his greatness.

From humble roots he rose to be president. Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in the small town of Tampico, Illinois on February 6, 1911. He had an older brother, Neil. His parents were Jack and Nelle Reagan. His father was a shoe salesman who moved around to small towns in Illinois to keep a job. Jack Reagan had a major problem with alcoholism. When Ronald was a boy of eleven, he came home and found his father on the porch of the Reagan home. He thought his father had passed out from over-imbibing, as indeed he had, but Jack Reagan was dead. The lad managed to move his father’s body inside the house and awaited his mother’s return from work. His mother was a seamstress and a Christian from whom Ronald learned hard work, the Bible and a desire to do something worthwhile with his life. He was able to get a scholarship to Eureka College in Illinois where he graduated in 1932.

His career prior to entering politics included radio announcer from 1932-1937 and Hollywood film actor from 1937-1954. Perhaps his most notable role was that of George Gipp, star half-back in the film about Notre Dame’s great football coach, “Knute Rockne, All-American” in 1940. This role gave him the nickname, “The Gipper.” He starred in some 50 films and served as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild where his love of persuasion and politics were nourished.

He was host and acted in the General Electric Theater, a TV production, from 1954-1962. He was married from 1940 through 1949 to Jane Wyman, actress. Children from that marriage were Maureen (died of cancer, 2001), Michael and Christine (born prematurely and lived one day, 1947).

On March 4, 1952, he married actress Nancy Davis. Their children were Patti (b. 1952) and Ronald (b. 1958). It was Nancy who was to become the beloved first lady of California and the first lady of America, standing by her beloved “Ronnie” through years of public service and his last decade as he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s.

In November, 1980, he was elected president of the United States over incumbent Jimmy Carter, receiving 51.5% of the popular vote. At his first inauguration January 20, 1981, the Iranian hostages were released. In his first term, he was shot in an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981. On July 7, 1981, he appointed Sandra Day O’Connor of Arizona to be the first female justice in the US Supreme Court. She participated in his funeral, by his prearranged request, reading a portion of a sermon by Colonial preacher John Winthrop from which came Reagan’s term for America, “a shining city upon a hill.”

During his first term, the infamous strike by over 11,000 air traffic controllers ended with them being fired by the president Terrorism was evident in the October 23, 1983 suicide truck-bombing in Lebanon when 241 U. S. Marines lost their lives. Two days later, U. S. troops were sent to the island of Grenada to tackle a leftist coup there.

He was reelected on November 6, 1983 to his second term, winning over former Vice President Walter Mondale with almost 60% of the popular vote.

Using hard-nosed tactics in dealings with Russia, he called it “an evil empire.” His Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was often termed “Star Wars,” but led to the eventual demise of the Russian Communist Regime and the end of the Cold War. His dealings in summit conferences with Russian leader Gorbachev led to the arms agreement, the breakup of the USSR, and later the removal of the Berlin Wall. He stood boldly near the end of his presidency at the Brandenburg Gate and said: “Come here to this gate, Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Two years later, the wall came down. A portion of that wall is now at the Reagan Memorial Library in Simi Valley, California.

Blights on his second term were the Iran-Contra deal in which Oliver North was dismissed and arms went to the Nicaraguan rebels in exchange for hostages held by Iran. Reagan later apologized, stating the action was a “grave mistake.” Sweeping tax cuts initiated by President Reagan were popular with citizens but led eventually to the largest budget deficit in the history of the nation when he stepped down at the end of his second term.

Seeking to summarize the worth of Ronald Wilson Reagan as a president, many have seen him as a leader of integrity, honesty and faith and one who restored America’s belief in itself. “Morning in America” was one of his famous mottoes. He saw the nation as “a shining city on a hill.” Dinesh D’Souza became senior domestic policy analyst on President Reagan’s staff. His book about the president has sold over 200,000 copies. In it he praises Reagan for giving the American people the opportunity to live their lives. D’Souza states: “I think all of us can learn from Reagan’s confident leadership. His unshakeable faith in closely held principles, his vision of a better tomorrow, and his belief in the worth of every human being should inspire us all.”

I watched the proceedings of the state funeral with interest and respect. Since the funeral, I have accessed various websites with Reagan eulogies and tributes. At the website Reagan, I found that those who wish to send a personal message about our 40th president can do so, and light a candle in his memory. This is what I wrote:

“For the period when President Ronald Reagan served our country, we did not always realize the magnitude of his zeal, his spirit and his service. Now, in retrospect, we see that he was a great president and one who restored faith in America and in freedom. May we hold to his ideals and persist in making America that ‘shining city on a hill.’ God bless his family and may his legacy be remembered with respect and deep appreciation.”
On December 1, 1988, President Reagan wrote this farewell message:
“When I saddle up and ride into the sunset, it will be with the knowledge that we’ve done great things. We kept faith as old as this land we love and as big as the sky: A brilliant vision of America as a shining city on a hill. Thanks to all of you, and with God’s help, America’s greatest chapter is still to be written, for the best is yet to come.”

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 17, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

William Jasper Cotter and Cherokee Removal

Two weeks ago this column told of the Rev. William Jasper Cotter, Methodist Episcopal Church South minister, who was sent to a charge in 1846 at Blairsville. He and his wife Rachel resided in a cabin in Union County and from there he went out to twenty preaching stations in North Georgia, Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee.

He gave invaluable insight into his life and times in his memoirs which he entitled My Autobiography. His descriptions of places and events were clear and incisive. He was living with his parents in Murray County, Georgia when the Cherokee Indian Removal occurred in 1838. His parents were John Vance Cotter, born November 28, 1789 in Union District, South Carolina and his mother was Mary Ann Nall Cotter, born June 12, 1796 in Chatham County, North Carolina. The Cotter family lived in Hall County, Georgia where son William Jasper was born November 16, 1823. They moved to Murray County in 1832 and settled in the area of the Carter Plantation (now Carter’s Lake area) along the old Federal Road.

In his life story, the Rev. Cotter gave vivid accounts of what he saw and experienced as the Cherokee were rounded up and moved west.

When he was a teenager, he was hired as a delivery boy to haul loads of corn to some of the posts where General Winfield Scott’s soldiers were encamped. He saw first-hand much of the action of rounding up the Indians and holding them in forts awaiting the removal to Oklahoma.

From his book we read: “On a mild May morning, two men stood at our gate. Dismounted from his large, raw-boned white horse, his bridle rein on his arm, stood General Scott, with White Path, an Indian, for whom White Path Gold Mine (in Gilmer County) was named. There was neither a white man nor an Indian there, only two old soldiers who had met at the battle of Horseshoe Bend. Chief White Path exhibited a medal that General Jackson had given him for his bravery in the battle.” (p. 42)

A quartermaster in General Winfield Scott’s army, Colonel W. J. Howard, boarded at the Cotter’s house. It was from him that the young Cotter received his orders to deliver loads of corn to the soldiers. The going rate for corn at that time, under the inflated economy and the dire need for corn, was one dollar per bushel. Young Cotter returned almost every day he hauled a load with five dollars for his father. One day, he returned with thirteen dollars. He hauled the corn on an ox-drawn wagon.

He remembers: “It was a hard day’s work, starting early and getting back late, and this was the daily round.” When he was not hauling corn, he was engaged to move the household goods the Indians had been forced to leave in their cabins when they were taken to the forts. Five or six soldiers went with Cotter as guards. The soldiers forced open the cabin doors and left Cotter to load the meager goods. He recalled that he could load “the stuff of two or three families at one load.” The soldiers left him to the sorry task of loading. He wrote, “The soldiers galloped away, leaving me in worse danger than anyone else; for if there had been an Indian hiding out, I would have been the one to suffer.” (p. 40)

The situation gave Cotter great concern. Cows and their calves had been apart for days and the calves were starving. Cotter turned them together. Chickens, cats and dogs scattered at the approach of the soldiers and Cotter and his ox team. Indian ponies stood under shade trees fighting flies. Bells around necks of cows and ponies made an eerie music in the spring air. Dogs howled mournfully for their owners. As cabins were emptied, the doors were left ajar. Cotter commented, “To have seen it all would have melted to tenderness a heart of stone.” (p. 40)

Cotter saw fields of corn the Indians had planted. It had been a warm spring and they had seeded the fields early, maybe with the idea that if they proceeded with life as usual the removal would not occur.

Cotter emphasized that the Indians were not mistreated in captivity. “From General Scott down, every soldier and citizen looked upon them with an eye of pity. The Indians were neither prisoners nor captives. They were defenseless wards of the government, cared for and fed from the commissary stores.” (p. 43)

According to Cotter’s account, the Indians were not crammed inside the forts. They were encamped outside the forts awaiting the move to Ross’s Landing. Cotter saw the children and youth playing and “happy as larks.” When the move began, the ill and infirm were transported by wagons. As a first-hand observer of the action, Cotter stated that published reports of Indians having to survive on roots and berries were untrue. “They felt no fear of the soldiers, realizing at once they were their protectors. Not one of the Indians could have been tempted to leave the camp a mile. I am persuaded that more than half of them were glad and ready to go.” (p. 45)

Yet even with the humane treatment of the Cherokee that Cotter observed, he noted that a pervading sadness lingered like a pall. The vacated Indian cabins and deserted animals stood in stark contrast to the cultivated fields with crops of corn and beans growing in the spring warmth.

In addition to hauling loads of corn from his father’s farm to the army camps, young Cotter was also hired by Colonel Howard on occasion as a messenger boy to take papers from Murray County to Fort Hartzell in Ellijay. It was a journey of about seventeen miles across rugged mountains. The lad encountered a huge man with a gun and feared for his life. But the man did not fire his gun at Cotter. The lad spent the night in the mountains, cold and lost, but the next morning he determined which direction he should go and he and his horse arrived at the fort safely.

William Jasper Cotter was fourteen when he worked as a delivery and messenger boy during the Indian Removal. What he saw made such a lasting impression on him that he could write his eye-witness accounts in his autobiography when he was an old man of about ninety. He died in Newnan, Georgia on January 4, 1922.

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 10, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 3, 2004

A Gold Prospector Named Hamby

Stories abound about those who hoped to make their fortune from gold found in Union County mines. One told by the late Preston Turner and Robert Corn is about a mysterious fellow named C. A. Hamby who spent eighteen or more months prospecting along Coosa Creek.

The story goes something like this. It was a cold rainy morning in 1937. Robert Corn was with his father, John, and a neighbor, hunting on Duncan Ridge. There they came upon a man digging along a creek bank. He was unkempt, dirty and looked like a hobo. The hunters learned from him that he had made himself a temporary shelter from bark but would like a more permanent place to stay while prospecting for gold.

The Corn family took him in. They learned his name was C. A. Hamby, he had been born in Western North Carolina, and that he had spent fourteen years teaching in an Indian school in Oklahoma. Mr. Hamby spent most of his days during the next eighteen months out on Coosa Creek and elsewhere digging for gold. He brought in a pound nugget that was assayed at a value of $420.00. In those days, with the nation trying to recuperate from the Great Depression, that was no small find.

With John Corn’s help, Hamby boxed up and shipped forty-five pounds of quartz to a mining company in London, England. The company assayed the ore and made a proposal that if other ore were as rich in gold as the sample, the England Company would finance up to a million dollars to set up mining operations in the area. They instructed C. A. Hamby to purchase mineral rights so that the project could move forward.

As happens with the best laid plans, history interfered and England declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. That London Mining Company could not proceed with plans to finance a gold mine in Union County.

However, Mr. Hamby seemed to have an alternative plan. After his eighteen months of prospecting, he told the Corns that he was going to Seymour, Indiana. He knew a wealthy lady there who could finance the venture. He would go, possibly marry her, and then return with the necessary equipment to mine the rich vein of ore he had found. The nuggets had rich gold on one side and were white on the other side.

On November 2, 1939, John Corn walked with his boarder to Owltown Gap. Hamby was carrying a small pouch of gold nuggets and had only the clothes on his back. The men bade each other farewell.

Later in the day, Mr. W. H. Nix saw C. A. Hamby. He was carrying two heavy suitcases which he did not have when he left the Corn residence. Hamby boarded the bus at Harve Davis’s store, still with the two suitcases in tow.

On November 10, 1939, John Corn received a letter from C. A. Hamby. He had, indeed, reached Seymour, Indiana, and there the “wealthy lady” had become his wife. She had agreed to finance the mining venture. He asked Mr. Corn to hire ten to fifteen men to begin mining operations. He would be back soon to supervise the operations.

Who was this wealthy lady? Her name, if ever known in Union County, has been lost to time. But it is reported that she, herself, came to investigate the situation. She said that C. A. Hamby had borrowed $450. 00 from her to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania or to Virginia to purchase mining equipment to send to Union County. As he left her in Indiana, he had the same two heavy suitcases with which he was seen leaving Union County.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called into the case. Four men, two in New York and two in San Francisco, were caught trying to smuggle raw gold out of the country. That raw gold, by the nature of its golden patina, was identified as gold from Coosa Creek. Was one of these four men the mysterious C. A. Hamby? Or had he been robbed of his heavy suitcases, maybe even murdered? Were others trying to make a fortune from his eighteen months of prospecting and hiding his gold-filled ore?

The unfinished story of Prospector Hamby and his gold cache lies somewhere in the hidden records of mountain mists. Perhaps someone with a propensity for a novel will delve a little deeper and come up with a like-life story of the Corn family’s boarder who made off with two suitcases of Union County gold ore.

[The sources referenced for this article are “Sketches of Union County History, Volume III” (1987), pp. 22-23 and “Mountain Relic, 1980”, pp. 38-40.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published June 3, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.