Thursday, November 30, 2006

The mountains of yesteryear - Jefferson Beauregard Dyer and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer

The Mountains of Yesteryear is the title of a delightful little book that came to my desk recently. A gift from Ronald Eugene Miles of Minnesota, it was written by his mother Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles.

Thanks to Jane Berry Thompson of the Union County Historical Society and Museum, Ron Miles, a kinsman of the far-flung Dyer-Souther Heritage Association whom I had not met before, got in touch with me. We have enjoyed making connections and sharing genealogical information.

The book his mother wrote was edited and published by Ron Miles in 1999 prior to his mother's death in 2000. In novella form, Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles wrote of the life and times of Jefferson Beauregard Dyer (1861-1944) and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer (1863-1942), her grandparents.

The "Foreword," by the author's son and editor of the book, is a lofty and eloquently written tribute to the way of life and the people whose story is revealed in the book. Ronald Miles writes: "Ultimately, this family trail would wind from the foot of Yonah Mountain in the newly-formed Habersham County, across the spectacularly wild Tesnatee Gap route, to arrive at Choestoe in the early 1830's. In a rickety wagon, on horseback, and afoot over this ancient Indian trail, the Dyers brought with them all the accoutrements of mountain living to settle by a bountiful and crystalline spring on Cane Creek. As of this turning to the twenty-first century, the Dyer name remains on a mailbox there. The oaken latch from the crumbled springhouse is a precious relic in my Minnesota cabin home, a hand-touch across years and miles." (pp. i-ii)

Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles (6-22-1916 - 2-22-2000) was a daughter of Laura Canzady Dyer, the sixth of twelve children of Jefferson Beauregard and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer. Her mother was better known by her nickname, Cannie Dyer. Ruby Lee's father was Lonnie Sargent. It is amazing that Ruby Lee, who had to quit school at age twelve because of her mother Cannie's failing health, could write a book with, as her son Ron's introduction states, "such importance, integrity and transcendent beauty." (p. iv) The author was, indeed, gifted with ability with words and with insight and imagination.

The book was illustrated by a friend of Ron Miles, artist Gregory R. Wimmer of Rochester, Minnesota. A replica of the cabin built for Rhoda Jane Souther by her fiancé, Jefferson Beauregard Dyer on land given to his ninth child by James Marion Dyer (1823- 1904), looks amazingly like the log cabins so carefully constructed after the Civil War.

Jefferson and Rhoda Jane were married December 14, 1879. The story is an imagined romantic account of how Jeff met Jane and how their courtship proceeded, with the genuine approval of Jeff's parents, and the cooperation of Rhoda Jane's father, Jesse Washington Souther (1836- 1926).

Rhoda Jane's mother was Sarah E. Collins (1840-1872), daughter of Frank and Rutha Nix Collins. Sarah died when Rhoda Jane was only nine years of age, and being the second child of seven and the oldest girl, it fell her lot to help take care of her siblings who ranged in age from eleven years to six months when her mother died. On March 12, 1876, Rhoda Jane's father, Wash Souther, married the second time to Nancy Sullivan. From this union came eight children, half-siblings of Rhoda Jane Souther. She helped her step-mother care for the two new step-siblings born before she and Jefferson Beauregard Dyer married December 14, 1879.

Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles imagines that Jefferson Beauregard and his bride-to-be took picnic lunches and visited the land he received from his father, James Marion Dyer. I am not sure that young people of that day would have been permitted that much unsupervised time away from elders. But in the granddaughter's account of their courtship, she allows for time for the young couple to dream of their future life together:

"On Sundays, Jeff would take Jane up for the day, to picnic and plan a life in their new home. These times were very thrilling for them. They could almost see the morning glory vines growing over the end of the long porch." (p. 23).

With much hard work, Jeff finished the cabin before Christmas, 1879. The couple had their marriage ceremony at the Souther home. And on Christmas Day that year, Jane and Jeff invited their parents to their cabin and served a typical mountain feast to celebrate their marriage and to show their home.

Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles follows the year-by-year life of the Jefferson Beauregard Dyer family--filled with hard work and births of their twelve children, four sons and eight daughters.

The family moved from Choestoe to Cleveland, Georgia in White County in 1892 and lived there thirteen years. From there they moved to New Holland in Hall County, Georgia where Jefferson got a job working in the cotton mill.

The older children were also employed in the mill. Jefferson built four houses there, three of which he rented. Although life was filled with hard work, the family had genuine love for each other and a sense of togetherness. Ruby Lee says of the family: "Jeff continued to try new and prosperous things to better the life for Jane. His family always had about as good as the best of families." (p. 31).

The last half of Mrs. Miles's book has vignettes about "Yesteryear in the Mountains," including myths, early homes, producing and preserving food, animals, people caring for one another, and plants and herbs. She included recipes for some of the dishes prepared at the fireplace in an iron pot or in an iron Dutch oven covered with coals.

Thanks to Ronald Eugene Miles, retired from his career with Minnesota State Parks, for editing and publishing his mother's book. It is an excellent addition to our written mountain history. The Book Nook in Blairsville has some copies or one may be ordered from Grassroots Concepts, 9980 Ponderosa Lane Southwest, Lake Shore, MN 56468-2005 for $15 which includes cost and shipping and handling.

On the back cover is an "Afterword" written by poet and essayist John G. Neihardt. He states: "This story will not turn back the hands (digits?) of time, but it does advocate lessons the earth still has to teach us. And when mists lift off the mountains, is there a more fulfilling, refreshment than a long draught of pure, cool spring water bubbling from the Giving Earth?"

For those of you who enjoy reading about mountain ways and families of yesteryear, this insightful book will be an excellent addition to your library.

c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 30, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Past Overflow to the Present

America was torn asunder with the Civil War raging. On October 20, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the "Thanksgiving Day Proclamation 1864."

The Proclamation was lengthy and gave praise to "our Heavenly Father...[who has] largely augmented our free population by emancipation and by immigration, while he has opened to us new sources of wealth, and has crowned the labor of our workingmen in every department of industry with abundant rewards...and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions."

For the list of reasons the president gave for thanksgiving, he did "thereby appoint and set apart the last Thursday in November next as a day which I desire to be observed by all my fellow-citizens, wherever they may be then, as a day of praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God, the beneficent Creator and Ruler of the Universe."

He asked that citizens pray for "peace, harmony and unity throughout the land."

Many observed the day declared as Thanksgiving by President Lincoln. It was not the first Thanksgiving. We all recall reading about the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock in 1621 with 90 friendly Indians gathered with them to render thanks for protection during the rugged winter. The Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia in 1782 proclaimed a General Day of Thanksgiving set for November 28 for that year. President George Washington called for a time of Thanksgiving in 1789 and declared it a national holiday. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Congressional sanction in 1941 making the next to last Thursday in November the official Thanksgiving Day.

Settling on a particular Thursday and sticking with it has been a practice in the United States since the time of World War II. Thanksgiving Day is laced with the famous Macy's Parade which many watch on Television. Gathering with family and enjoying a feast of turkey, dressing and all the trimmings is a memorable part of Thanksgiving Day.

And, we would hope, giving thanks is still a vital part of Thanksgiving. When I was still the hostess for our family Thanksgiving gathering a few years ago, we had the long-standing practice of recalling and telling the gathered family one particular thing that had happened in the past year for which we were especially grateful. We gave some prior thought to what we would report, and going around the large circle of family members as they held hands and thanked God for blessings was a spiritual highlight of our year. I am grateful that my children, now the hostesses, continue this practice.

And so it has been with Thanksgiving among families on this significantly American holiday.

A story my father told me has remained with me for a long time. When he was a boy, his father and others in the Choestoe Valley raised turkeys for market. They would choose a time in late October or early November to have a "turkey drive" on the Logan Turnpike and take the turkeys to Gainesville for sale. I wish I had asked more questions about how they managed to keep the turkeys on the trail and herded them on the two or three day journey to market. I can imagine the turkeys roosting in the trees at night as the entourage camped along the way and rose early to get the turkeys ready for the march to market. In their covered wagons they would have bags of chestnuts gathered from trees in the woods before the terrible chestnut blight hit; sorghum syrup made at the Dyer mill; corn, pumpkins and dried peas and beans to trade, as well as the flock of turkeys. That week's journey to and from market and the goods traded were a way of life for my ancestors, and an item for gratitude when Thanksgiving Day came.

When I was a child, my father decided he would raise turkeys for market. It was far beyond the time of the turkey drives to market over the Logan Turnpike. We got the turkey poults in the springtime. Amazingly, trays of them were delivered by the rural mail carrier. We had a "turkey house" where we fed and nourished the little turkey poults and watched them grow. But as they grew, they were turned out "on the range" to gather their food from the hayfield.

Turkeys could often become a nuisance. Imagine being awakened early every morning, not by the usual rooster's crowing but by the "gobble, gobble, gobble" of the turkeys. The turkeys were much more aggressive than chickens. If we wore a red sweater or coat, we could expect to be chased by a turkey attracted to the bright color.

But then came the day when the truck would come for the turkeys to take them over Neal Gap (Highway 129) to market. We had to arise early to catch the turkeys and put them in large coops for transport to market. Those turkeys became the repast for city-dwellers' Thanksgiving meals. We always kept a few, one of which would make its way to our oven and our table for the Dyer Thanksgiving meal.

This Thanksgiving, may you remember and be grateful for blessings you enjoy.

We should never take them for granted. As Abraham Lincoln stated in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation: "No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy."

Our 16th president's words ring true for Thanksgiving 2006. Have a wonderful day!

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 23, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

White House on the 'Threatened' List

You, as I, probably read the recent threat made by the terrorists to "destroy the White House," which they termed the bastion of evil and lies.

In such a light, one of the important buildings of American government is seen in the eyes of our enemies. Security measures have been greatly increased. Since September 11, 2001, Homeland Security no longer takes such threats lightly. Let us pray that plots to the safety of an American landmark can be found and defused. Many stand to lose if this threat is, indeed, carried out. A grand edifice could be destroyed. The safety of the family who lives within its walls and a multitude of visitors to its halls would be at great risk.

November 17 is a significant anniversary for the White House and for Washington as the seat of US government. On that date in 1800, Congress convened in Washington, District of Columbia, for the first time. President and Mrs. John Adams moved into the White House, the official residence of the president. Many details of the White House were unfinished at that time, including absence of bathrooms and running water.

Let us review how Washington, District of Columbia, became the nation's capital, and how the White House was built.

President George Washington signed an Act of Congress in December 1790. Within the act was this designation: that the U. S. government would be conducted in a district "not exceeding ten miles square...on the River Potomac."

The Frenchman, Pierre L'Enfant, city planner, worked with President Washington to choose the site and lay it out for the various government buildings. The house for the president would be built at what has become a familiar address: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

As the new federal city began to take form, a competition for plans and building of the White House was announced. Nine different architects submitted their proposals. The plans of Irish-born James Hoban were accepted and he won a gold medal, as well as the go-ahead, for his design. Built into it were both practicality and stately appearance.

The cornerstone was laid in October 1792. President Washington himself oversaw much of the construction of the house. Although he would never live in it, he had a deep-seated interest that it would be a worthy residence for the leader of the United States.

Although the house was not completed when President John Adams and his wife Abigail moved in on November 17, 1800, and builders continued their labor, the dream of first president George Washington was finally a reality.

The White House has survived several catastrophes. During what history terms the War of 1812, the British set fire to the residence in 1814 when James Madison was president. A fire broke out in the West Wing in 1929 when Herbert Hoover was president. Following World War II, when President Truman was in office, a major renovation and overhaul of the house was done. The Trumans lived during this period in the Blair House across Pennsylvania Avenue. Despite the fires and renovations, the same exterior stone walls that were put in place from 1790 through 1800 remain in the house.

The majestic residence has had several names. Known first as the "President's Palace," next as the "President's House," third as the "Executive Mansion," and finally, in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt gave its current name, the "White House."

Today, although security is tighter than prior to 9/11/2001, visitors can still tour the White House. Not all of its rooms are open for tours. We might wonder just how many rooms it contains. The White House has 132 rooms and 35 bathrooms. These are on six levels, with three elevators and eight staircases to help access the various floors.

On this 206th anniversary of the White House, we as citizens should take pride in its stately elegance. We can visit it to get a feel of the edifice that was conceived in the mind of our first president who rejected being made a king and wanted only representative government "of, by, and for the people."

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 16, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

America, the Home of the Brave

Voting is a privilege of citizens, not easily won, especially the issue of women's suffrage. It is our way of having a voice in government, and of upholding the Constitution of the United States which has been a vehicle for our freedoms for well over two hundred years.

The second event of note in this week is Veterans' Day November 11. For a long time we called it Armistice Day, marking the end of World War I in 1918. In our more modern version, it is a day set aside to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those willing to take up arms in defense of our country and other countries where the benefits of freedom may be unknown. On Veterans' Day, we should find and thank a military person who was willing to make the sacrifice to uphold American liberty. When I hear the strains of our "Star Spangled Banner," and see Old Glory flying aloft, my patriotism is lifted to a high level. I exult that America is still "the home of the brave."

A most majestic place I have visited several times is Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, DC at Arlington, Virginia. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (now called the Tomb of the Unknowns) holds prominence at the front of the stately Arlington Memorial Amphitheater where people gather to watch the changing of the guard and for memorial services.

Tomb of the Unknowns

On the tomb is inscribed these words: "Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God."

The interment in the tomb of the first selected Unknown Soldier occurred November 11, 1921. Killed in World War I, he was selected by US Army Sergeant Edward F. Younger from four American soldiers fatally wounded in combat, none of which were identified. At the city hall of Chalons-sur-Marne, France on October 24, 1921, Sgt. Younger placed white roses on the third casket from the left, and in that manner designated the Unknown Soldier of World War I. Any of the four could have been selected for all were worthy. The other three were interred in the Meuse Argonne Cemetery in France.

Tomb of the Unknowns

The World War I selected Unknown Soldier was returned to America aboard the USS Olympia. His flag-draped casket lay in the Capitol Rotunda from his arrival in the United States until Armistice Day, November 11, 1921. His remains were then transferred to Arlington National Cemetery. President Warren G. Harding presided at the impressive ceremony honoring America's Unknown Soldier.

Later, unknown soldiers from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were interred in crypts west of the World War I Unknown Soldier. The dates of these burials, and the president leading the memorial services were, respectively: May 30, 1958 for both World War II and the Korean War with President Dwight Eisenhower; and May 28, 1984 for the Vietnam War Unknown, with President Ronald Reagan. However, due to DNA tests, the Vietnam Unknown was identified as 1st Lt. Michael J. Blassie of the US Air Force. His family had his remains disinterred and buried him near their home in St. Louis, Missouri. Since his remains were moved May 14, 1998, the Vietnam Unknown crypt has remained empty.

The sentinels who guard the Tomb 24 hours a day, 365 days a year (366 in Leap Year) are from the Third United States Infantry Regiment, sometimes called "The Old Guard." They subscribe to a strict code of conduct and take their posts proudly and with reverence. Each pledges: "My dedication to this sacred duty is total and wholehearted... I will not falter...I will walk my tour in humble reverence... Surrounded by well meaning crowds by day, alone in the thoughtful peace of night, this soldier will in honored glory rest under my eternal vigilance."

"America, the Home of the Brave!" Let us never take for granted the privileges we enjoy as citizens, and may we hold in reverence the honor due our military, past and present, who salute Old Glory and hold fast to the ideals of defending freedom. May we think thoughts of gratitude on Armistice Day, Veterans' Day.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 9, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

The Blood Mountain Story

To the right of US Highway 129/19 going south, rising above Lake Trahlyta and Vogel State Park, is majestic Blood Mountain with an altitude of 4,458 feet.

I have seen Blood Mountain shrouded in mists and fogs so dense that the mountain seemed to have disappeared completely from sight. When fall's splendor of color climbs the hills, Blood Mountain stands as a mural of Nature, like a carpet of gold, red and russet, spread as a feast of beauty for the eyes. In winter, I've seen it with snow and ice on its summit. With sunlight reflected on its frozen crest, it becomes a giant protruding diamond of glistening glory.

As tourists come to visit the mountains in the fall, surely many have taken time to read the historical and official sign that marks Blood Mountain and to wonder about the myths that surround it and the history that gave it its name.

I quote directly from the sign:

"Blood Mountain - Elevation 4458 ft. - Chattahoochee National Forest
"In Cherokee mythology the mountain was one of the homes of the Nunnehi or Immortals, the "People Who Live Anywhere," a race of Spirit People who lived in great townhouses in the highlands of Old Cherokee County. One of these mythical townhouses stood near Lake Trahlyta. As a friendly people, they often brought lost hunters and wanderers to their townhouses for rest and care before guiding them back to their homes. Before the coming of white settlers, the Creeks and Cherokees fought a disastrous and bloody battle in Slaughter Gap between Slaughter and Blood Mountain." (Georgia Historical Commission)

First, the myth of the Nunnehi was common to other places, not just to Blood Mountain. From Mooney's "Myths of the Cherokee," we learn that the spirit people often assisted those in trouble on their hunts and travels. They were caregivers for those in distress and provided places of rest and recuperation.

Who are we to find fault with the myths of the Nunnehi? Most of us believe in guardian angels who protect and minister. Maybe we express our stories in a different way from the Cherokee-held beliefs of the "People Who Live Anywhere." But basic to most cultures is the faith of ministering spirits that come when needed to bind up wounds and provide sustenance.

Blood Mountain’s name came in a more caustic and confronting manner. Not even the Nunnehi could prevent the confrontation between the Creeks and the Cherokees that occurred many years ago. When the Cherokee came south, they discovered the Creek Nation already entrenched in the mountains. Desiring the land for their habitation, the Cherokee waged a great battle against the Creeks at Slaughter Gap. It is said that the streams ran red with blood from those killed as these two Native American tribes fought for dominance of the land. Thence came the name for the highest peak where this battle occurred, and Blood Mountain stands as a sentinel to this historic fray.

The Cherokee built villages throughout Union County. One was in the shadow of Blood Mountain.

Then the white men began to come to the mountains to settle. At first the whites and Cherokees lived in peace. Known as one of the five "civilized" tribes (the others were Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Seminoles), the Cherokee taught the white man how to till the rugged mountain land and what herbs and plants were beneficial for eating and for medicinal purposes.

History teaches us of the treaties signed and the efforts made to separate the Cherokee from their lands. Some of them are cited here. The Treaty of 1819 ceded Cherokee lands to the whites in other southeastern states except in north Georgia and eastern Tennessee. With the discovery of gold in 1828, prospectors became land-hungry and excessively greedy. It was that year that Georgia passed legislation extending Georgia ownership to North Georgia Cherokee lands.

Despite pleas to the contrary, in 1830 the Indian Removal Bill passed the U. S. Congress. That was the beginning of the end of Cherokee occupation of North Georgia. Before 1832, when Union County was formed from the large Cherokee County which covered much of North Georgia, numerous white settlers had secured land through land lot grants and gold lot grants.

President Andrew Jackson wanted Indians removed to lands west of the mighty Mississippi River where land had been set aside as Reservations. Both Governors Gilmer and Lumpkin of Georgia wanted the Indians sent west. Despite Chief John Ross and the Cherokee Council's pleas in Washington in 1835, about five hundred Indians had signed for removal, going against their Chief who was trying to keep the mountain land for the Cherokees.

We know the sad story of The Trail of Tears and the forced removal of 1838.

Mainly those Cherokee who hid out in caves to escape the soldiers or those married to white settlers remained in their mountain home.

Cherokee names were left on mountains and in the valleys, on hamlets and rivers. Mrs. Belle Abbott wrote on October 27, 1889 in her "The Cherokee Indians of Georgia" (University, Alabama, Confederate Publishing Co., reprinted 1980, p. 7): "Visiting among the mountains of North Georgia, I have often been possessed with the feeling that an impalpable presence moves about the hills and wanders through the sweet, green valleys. There is a whisper in the corn, and a sighing in the leaves, a pathos in the moonlight, and a ghostly grouping in the clouds. What is it? Do the spirits of the departed Cherokees linger yet about their beloved hunting grounds? And do they whisper to the sympathetic heart of today, 'O pale faces, write of us; give us a little page in history of the land that denied us a home.'"

I've felt that 'impalpable presence" on the top of Blood Mountain and other places bearing names given by those long-departed inhabitants.

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 2, 2006 in The Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.