Thursday, July 31, 2008

Our heritage –the story of Tillman Gooch

For this column today I give precedence to one of my writing students. I have personally invited Anthony Hunter to share the story he wrote about his ancestors, early settlers in Union County, Georgia.

It has been my privilege to give some instruction in creative writing to Tony over a period of several years. He learned of me by reading one of my articles in the paper, a correspondence developed, and “by mail” creative writing instruction began.

I have seen him develop in perception and skill as a writer. He is facile in poetry, essays, short stories and family history. I didn’t have to instruct him very much; he already had the inherent talent for positioning words creatively. My contribution, perhaps, has been to encourage him and to give him pointers in grammatical structure and punctuation.

I hope you enjoy Anthony Hunter’s family account. If you find ancestral links to the people he writes about, know that he has researched thoroughly to bring to the public this article.

The Story of Tillman Gooch by: Anthony Hunter, Guest Writer

Lying within the Chattahoochee National Forest along the southern arm of the Appalachian Trail, just a few miles south of Blood Mountain in Union County, Georgia is a once well-used mountain pass whose name is now all but forgotten.

Gooch’s Gap with its southern exposure is unusually rich with lush green flora. The deciduous hardwoods with a scattering of stately eastern white pines tower over a forest floor covered nearly knee-high in an abundance of native plant life.

As the gap is only accessible by foot, the quiet hiker might expect to see all manner of wildlife from chipmunks to squirrels, deer and turkey, or the rare spotted elf newt and perhaps even a fleeting glimpse of the shy black bear. But if you ever do make the journey to this serene, remote place, bear in mind that it is also a doorway into time, and therein lies part of its treasure.

Many of our landmarks such as Gooch’s Gap are so named as a dedication and memorial to the hardy, brave pioneers who ventured forth into unknown lands as settlers. Tillman D. Gooch was but one among the ranks. He was a family man, a farmer, a prospector and an adventurer. The son of a farmer, he was born in Greenville County, South Carolina in the year 1800. It was there he lived his youth. Although young for a man of his era to marry, at the age of 19 Tillman wed Mary Elizabeth Justice who was born in Franklin County, North Carolina. She was 19 as well.

Their first child, Samuel, was born in South Carolina in 1824. Before the birth of their second child, Caroline, in 1926, the young family ventured forth into the then-Cherokee nation in the area of Georgia that became Rabun County.

No documents or journals have been found that record Tillman Gooch’s life. But living through oral family history, two things have been passed on about the man. First is the fact that he and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, did not get along well. Their marriage was an on-again—off-again affair. This probably contributed to the second known fact about Tillman: that he was an adventurous man.

In his wanderings or by conversing with the native Cherokee, Tillman learned of a certain mountain pass that led to the headwaters of the Toccoa River. By crossing the gap, traversing down along the Toccoa River as far as the present town of Blue Ridge, then veering southwest through the connecting valleys, he found a route through the mountains that led to the Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee County. It was a week-long trip by horse, deep in the heart of Cherokee County. To travel the distance was just part of the everyday life of men such as he.

Whether planning to move his family or to leave them, Tillman purchased land in Cherokee County. Then for reasons unknown, he lost that land in 1834 in a sheriff’s land sale to a man named Andrew Miller.

Between 1826 and 1838, Tillman and Mary Elizabeth had five more children: Elizabeth Ann, James Madison, Adaline, Mary and Margaret. Their children numbered five daughters and two sons.

About the time the Cherokee were removed on the infamous Trail of Tears (1838-39), Tillman left his wife and children never to return. Some say he left to help drive the Cherokee out. If this be true, why did his own daughter, Mary Jane, apply for enrollment with the Eastern Band of Cherokee in 1907? Wouldn’t one of her parents had to have been Indian? Her mother Mary Elizabeth was not removed. Could it be that Tillman was part Cherokee and ordered to leave? Or could there have been another reason for his disappearance—like love?

Two years before the famous gold strike at Sutter’s Mill, California in 1850, Tillman arrived in Sutter County. There he married a lady named Nancy Miller (without divorcing his first wife, Mary Elizabeth). Was she kin to the man Andrew Miller to whom Tillman lost his land in Cherokee County in 1834? We may never know. But in the days when divorce was almost unheard of, how could a man be with his new love without running away with her? Regardless, Tillman and Nancy stayed married for the reminder of their lives. Perhaps Tillman found the happiness denied him with his first wife, Mary Elizabeth.

All of Tillman Gooch’s children married and had children of their own. Both of his sons, Sam and Jim, settled at the very foot of the gap named after their father. Sam settled on the southern side in the Nimblewell District of Lumpkin County. His brother Jim settled on the northern side of the gap in the area known as Sarah at the very headwaters of the Toccoa River in the greater area called Suches in Union County. The two Gooch brothers married sisters, Betsy and Elvira Grizzle.

The legacy from Tillman D. Gooch is not the high mountain pass named after him. Like many of our pioneer forefathers, his legacy is the children he left behind—children who became men and women that love their mountain home so that it has become the very fiber of their being. These children and their descendants went on to become farmers, teachers, soldiers, business owners, craftpersons, moonshiners, homemakers, artists, timber cutters, successful politicians, church leaders—the sons and daughters of the American dream.The legacy from Tillman D. Gooch is not the high mountain pass named after him. Like many of our pioneer forefathers, his legacy is the children he left behind—children who became men and women that love their mountain home so that it has become the very fiber of their being. These children and their descendants went on to become farmers, teachers, soldiers, business owners, craftpersons, moonshiners, homemakers, artists, timber cutters, successful politicians, church leaders—the sons and daughters of the American dream.

And if by chance you wish to attend a Gooch Reunion where there might be 500 present, you will be sure to learn the real meaning of the words “southern hospitality.” I’ll see y’all there—or maybe on the mountain.

(Note: Anthony Hunter is a great, great, great grandson of Tillman D. Gooch.)

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 31, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reunion Reflections: Basking in the Afterglow

Sentinel photo/Janie Holbrook Authors displaying their books at the 2008 Dyer-Souther Reunion:
Seated: Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike (The Matheson Cove in the Shadow of the Devil's Post Office); Ethelene Dyer Jones (The Singing in the Wood and Mother and Child Reunion); Dr. Tom Lumsden (Nacoochee Valley); Sylvia Dyer Turnage (Micajah ClarkDyer and His Amazing Flying Machine; Choestoe Story and other books);
Standing: Dr. Joe Turner (High Humor of the Hills); Charles H. Souther (From the Mules and Wagon to the Space Shuttle); Keith Jones (Mother and Child Reunion, with his mother, Ethelene and an 8-disk CD recording of the collected poems of Byron Herbert Reece). Not pictured (absent because of his mother's illness), William Clyde Collins, Jr. (The Last Deer Trapper.)

The annual Dyer-Souther Reunion is now history, an event of Saturday, July 19, 2008.

Held at Choestoe Baptist Church that some of our ancestors helped to found in 1832, the gathering of 163 people rejoiced at being together, at seeing new faces joining our number, at the sheer pleasure of family and roots and heritage.

The theme of this year's reunion was "Meet Our Authors." We invited those we knew in the "clan" who had written books. Seven were present to sign their books and to talk about the stories that had inspired them to write history, comedy and poetry.

Absent was president of the association, Bill Collins, whose book, The Last Deer Trapper, also was featured, by vice-president Keith Jones reading a story from "The Deer Trapper." Dr. Joe Turner, Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike, Dr. Tom Lumsden, Sylvia Dyer Turnage, Charles Souther, Keith Jones and Ethelene Jones were present and folks enjoyed talking to them and getting signed copies of the author's books. Reports coming in by e-mail since the reunion term the event "fun and enjoyable," and "I loved hearing the authors."

All the long journey back to my present home in Milledgeville gave me four hours to reflect upon the reunion. Many thoughts went through my mind.

I thought of the "In Memoriam" period of our reunion program. Each year the list of our honored dead who have passed in the last year seems to increase. It is a solemn time of remembering. We recall going to school and church together, keeping in touch spasmodically as the years roll by, enjoying a once-a-year reunion when family ties are renewed. Maybe seeing them as "looking over the windows of heaven" to see us below is only a fanciful idea I have of re-identification with our beloved departed. But I imagined that "great cloud of witnesses" Paul the Apostle writes about. I see them applauding us. They are happy that we still remember the important virtues of family togetherness. The reunion was a little preview of heaven right here on earth.

Our honored dead who passed during the last year were James Perry Dyer (1923-2008), Anna Mae Dyer Burnett (1922- 2008), Harry Vaughn Dyer (1929- 2007), Carolyn Collins Kelly (1950-2008); James Vaughn Dyer (1916-2008), Connor Andrew Brock Carmichael (3 months, 2007), Dr. Howard Van Ness Morter (1916-2007), Opal L. Sullivan (1917-2007), Clara Belle Collins Duckworth (1919-2008), Raymond Sullivan (1919-2007), Robert Edward Moose (1970-2008), John Chester Dyer (1932-2008), Clinton Samuel Kelly (1927- 2007), Pearl Souther Smallwood (1919-2007) and Francis Homer Hunter, Jr. (1922-2007). These had a relationship to members of the Dyer-Souther family: Mildred Ensley Brown Turner Haigler (1930-2007) and Ruby Gibson Shook (1916-2008). We sang together "Amazing Grace" after standing in tribute as names were read.

I missed people who were not present. Mrs. Dora Hunter Allison Spiva has been our "oldest present" since the death of our historian emeritus, Watson Benjamin Dyer. Had she been present this year, at age 103, she would have received again the "eldest present” certificate. Mrs. Dora, Aunt Dora, Teacher Dora, know that we missed you. The reunion just wasn't the same without you. Several of her nieces and nephews, usually present, were not in attendance. This segment of our family line was sorely missed.

The oldest present was Mrs. Irene Coker Brown, widow of Emory Brown. At age 99, she amazed us all by her keenness and ability to walk on her own. She is a tower of fortitude and inspiration.

The youngest present was little Maddox Kidd, two-and-one half week old infant of Jessica Kidd. Proud grandmother Deborah Rich Leach and proud great grandmother Ann Rich were present to see this newest member of the clan receive a certificate. This family descends through Nancy Dyer Rich.

Roma Sue Turner Collins, having recently sustained a fall and serious bone breaks, was in the Northeast Georgia Medical Center at Gainesville in intense therapy section. Her husband Clyde, and her son, Bill (president of our Association) were in Gainesville visiting Sue. We missed you - and prayed for you. Edna Ruth England Rich was thoughtful enough to bring a huge "get well" card to be signed to take to Sue.

The "farthest distance" people were from Hawaii- our cousin Linda Nahser Beadle and her husband Wes. They came by way of Wetumpka, AL where Linda's sister, Sandra Nahser Gilley and her husband, Scott, joined in the entourage to bring the girls' mother, beautiful Kathleen Dyer Nahser to the reunion. I needed a camera in hand when mother and daughters stood together talking to me. They formed a trio of classic beauty, poise and love. Thank you, Linda, for traveling so far to the reunion!

My "children" from Liberia, West Africa were present, Magdalene and David Sunday-gar. But we could not count them as "traveling farthest." They have lived in Gainesville since 2000. David earned an AA from Gainesville College and a BS in Business Administration from North Georgia College. He is now in seminary working on his master's degree. They plan to return to Africa after David completes his education. Ethelene and Grover met David when they went to Africa for a mission trip in the summer of 1986, and they have kept in close contact with David since. "It's a small world, after all."

Many were present for the first time, and we heartily welcomed them to the gathering. We expect to hear from them and to see them back in forthcoming years.

The food was unbelievable. Thanks to those who volunteered to get the tables spread with the most delectable-looking food imaginable. Somehow, a food serving committee was not appointed this year. Volunteers, you know who you are, thank you! You came through with flying colors.

In business session, Reid Dyer was elected vice-president. The other officers remain the same: Bill Collins, President; Janice Lance, Secretary; Marie Knight and Lee Knight, Treasurers of New Liberty Cemetery Fund; Ethelene Jones, Historian and Newsletter Editor; and these named officers are also trustees, as is Keith Jones, who has served for several years as vice-president. Joe Dyer remains as an advisory member of the Trustees. A committee appointed to draw plans and implement the monument honoring Elisha Dyer, Jr. was given to Reid Dyer, Harold Dyer, Lee Knight, and Ethelene Jones, Historian. We heard that $11,000 is now in the cemetery fund drawing interest for upkeep and care of the cemetery, and the newsletter/ reunion fund has a balance of $2,600, with some bills current for postage and newsletter distribution. Edward Dyer reported that the Dyer Family Bible is now on display at the Union County Historical Society in a lovely display case. Edna Ruth England Rich told the group of the Historical Society's latest project, the "history cards."

The miles rolled away and I left the beloved mountains of Choestoe behind. But the reflections of a day at the reunion will remain as a sweet aura surrounding me for the next year. I will bask in the afterglow- until we meet again.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 24, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pinnacles of the Past: The Railroad went to Blue Ridge, not Blairsville Blue Ridge, Mecca of the Mountains

The railroad, when it came to the mountains, went to Blue Ridge, Georgia and not to Blairsville, to the disappointment of many in the 1880s. Folks from Blairsville had to go to Blue Ridge to the train station, or to Culberson, NC, when the tracks extended on to there, or to Murphy, NC to catch a train or to ship their farm goods.

Blue Ridge, Georgia was incorporated by an Act of the Georgia Legislature on October 24, 1887.

But the history of Blue Ridge, named after the azure peaks, part of the Southern Appalachian Range that surround the town, had a much earlier beginning than that October day in 1887.

Cherokee Indians had a village and stronghold at the site of the future town. They cleared fields for cultivation and grew maize and other crops. One of the five "civilized tribes" of Native Americans, the Cherokee were advanced in agriculture, a written language and governmental practices.

The first post office in Blue Ridge was established before the Indians were forced west on the Trail of Tears. Seventeen years before Fannin County was formed by an Act of the Georgia Legislature and the bill signed by Governor Herschel Johnson on January 21, 1854, William L. Buchanan was appointed first postmaster of the Blue Ridge station on March 30, 1837. It is likely that Mr. Buchanan was also an Indian agent, dealing in land transactions with the Indians as white settlers moved into the area prior to the Indian removal. Tuckahoe Post Office, which later became Tacoah and then Morganton, was established fifteen days before the one at Blue Ridge, on March 15, 1837, with Benjamin Chastain as first postmaster and Indian agent.

The founder and "father" of Blue Ridge was Michael McKinney whose father, James Isaac McKinney, had settled at Chestnut Gap to the west of Blue Ridge in 1853. There the McKinney family established a mill, a store, a stagecoach stop on the old Ducktown to Ellijay Road, and various other enterprises. Because of serious damage to the McKinney store and mill during the Civil War, the McKinneys returned to their former home in Tennessee at Horseshoe Bend in Roane County. Michael McKinney joined the Confederacy and served in the Civil War, earning the rank of Colonel. He was known as Col. Mike McKinney upon his family's return to Chestnut Gap after the war and until his death in 1925.

In 1886, Colonel Michael McKinney sold out his Chestnut Gap holdings to his eldest son, Robert McKinney, and he and his wife, Hepsey Adeline McClure, and their younger children moved to what would become the town of Blue Ridge. There Michael McKinney established the first business, with a general merchandise store, a sawmill with sale of lumber and building materials, and a real estate business. The McKinney residence was the first built in the newly formed town of Blue Ridge.

Land for the town of Blue Ridge had belonged to an early settler, John Green, a farmer who raised corn and other crops on the location where the Fannin County Courthouse now stands. Mr. Green's son, Elisha, donated land to establish the town of Blue Ridge and worked with Mr. McKinney to survery and plat the town.

Michael McKinney was the mover and shaker in getting the railroad to Blue Ridge. McKinney and Georgia state legislator from the county, Mr. Ben Duggar, negotiated with officials of the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad. Engineer C. R. Walton worked to find the best right-of-way for laying the railroad tracks through Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin Counties and on into Murphy, North Carolina. Through convict labor secured by Representative Dugger, the grade for the tracks was finished in 1885. Col. McKinney and Col. R. L. Herbert of Cherokee County, NC, drove the ceremonial spike linking the northward bound track at Ellijay on January 1, 1886 amidst much festivity and celebration. The engine named "Little Mary" roared into Blue Ridge in 1886, pulling the train into the depot. The railroad shops were located at Blue Ridge from 1886 through 1906, providing jobs for repairmen and other railroad workers. The railroad was a boon to population growth and commercial and residential building.

Blue Ridge soon became a tourist attraction. Mineral Springs, with health-giving chaleate water, was touted as a place where health could be restored. Hotels sprang up in the new town along the twin main streets east and west of the railroad tracks. Homes were opened as boarding houses. Blue Ridge quickly became a bustling town. Horses, buggies, carts and farm wagons crowded the streets. Railroad whistles, the sound of cars switching on the tracks, the sights and smells of steam and smoke combined to produce an atmosphere of prosperity and productivity.

A problem arose concerning county government and judicial business. Lawyers, judges and others coming to the county for "court weeks" traveled by train and lodged at Blue Ridge hotels. They had to hire buggies or other conveyances to travel the dirt road to Morganton, the county seat, to conduct court. This seemed a waste of time and was a great inconvenience to them.

A proposal came to move the county seat from Morganton to Blue Ridge. The vote was taken on August 13, 1895. Two-thirds of those voting favored the referendum. However, those who had long cherished having Morganton as the county seat town did not easily give in to the vote. The dispute was settled by the Georgia Legislature and the vote upheld.

A stately brick courthouse with two stories and a clock tower was completed in Blue Ridge in 1901 at a cost of $14,000. That building burned July 3, 1936. The replacement was completed in 1937. The present new court house was entered in January, 2004.

A lengthy article published in 1887 in The Ellijay Courier described the rapid growth of Blue Ridge. stating that people were moving "from Atlanta, Marietta, Michigan and other places." The climate, land, healthy environment and future prospects of prosperity hailed Blue Ridge as the "mecca of the mountains." The writer further stated that "Messrs. McKinney and Walton, who own the real estate, intend to make a town of that place whether fate so decrees or not."

Although the heyday of the railroad subsided when passenger trains ceased to pull into the depot in 1951, and freight transportation ceased in the 1980's, the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway short run between Blue Ridge and McCaysville draws thousands of sightseers each season. Downtown Blue Ridge has undergone massive renovation and could well be renamed the "mecca of the mountains" for antiques and specialty shops.

Citizens in each generation since the town's founding in 1887 to the present have left a legacy of hard work, entrepreneurship, and determination. "Mecca of the Mountains"? The torch of hope and determination is still flaming, ready to be transferred to those, who like Colonel Michael McKinney, are yet to dream of what Blue Ridge can become.

And it's still a pretty good place for folks at Blairsville to travel to, even though the only train operative there now is the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 17, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Charles Roscoe Collins: His Life and Times (Part 2)

Paying tribute to a man whose life was characterized by service to others is easy. Such a life was lived by Charles Roscoe Collins (1907- 2000). He wore many hats: son, husband, father, teacher, school administrator, lover of history and preservationist. On the other hand, writing such a tribute is hard. Everything can't be included, and there's the outside chance that some of the most important contributions of the person will inadvertently be omitted.

Go back to this column for July 4 to read the beginning account of this man, born in the hills of Choestoe to James Johnson Collins and Margaret Ann Nix Collins, the youngest of their six children. Charles Roscoe, better known as "Ros," made his appearance in the Collins home on September 20, 1907. He lived a full and productive life of over nine decades. He didn't stumble over obstacles but saw them as challenges to overcome.

By way of education, he went to Choestoe School near his home, walking from his home over a mile in all sorts of weather. He often recalled some of the outstanding teachers who early-on influenced him to be studious, pursue knowledge, and consider teaching as a career for himself. Following Choestoe, he boarded at the Blairsville Collegiate Institute. There he played on the basketball team, practicing on an outside court, and going to competitions as their coach, the Rev. Harry Smith, could garner transportation to take the outstanding team to Dahlonega, Gainesville, Demorest and elsewhere. He graduated with honors from the Blairsville Collegiate Institute in 1927.

It was a long distance from Choestoe in the mountains to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Roscoe packed his meager belongings in a "cardboard suitcase" (as he termed his traveling bag). He wore, on that long trip, a "linsy-woolsy" suit made by his cousins, Avery and Ethel Collins, from wool sheared from sheep, and woven into cloth on their hand loom. Then they tailored a suit--pants, jacket and vest- out of the sturdy material. "I was warm in that suit," Ros said, and it served him well for years as his best dress-up suit. I once saw him hold up the brown pants, died that color from oak bark, as he made a talk on mountain ingenuity and crafts. That old wool suit and the pants became symbols for Roscoe Collins for the "make-do" road of his young manhood.

Mr. Charles R. Collins points out the memorial window at Choestoe Baptist Church honoring his parents, James Johnson Collins and Margaret Ann Nix Collins.

He rode on the top of a load of logs over Neal Gap to Gainesville, then caught the train on to Macon, Georgia and Mercer University. He said that the Rev. Harry Smith helped to arrange a scholarship for him at Mercer University to pay some of his tuition and board. Roscoe worked, too, as he studied, to make ends meet. He spent two years at Mercer, but did not get his Bachelor's degree. That was to come later. He had to stop his education for awhile and begin his teaching career to earn some money to continue. His first teaching job of consequence was in the Hall County Public Schools at Gainesville, Georgia.

Some of Roscoe's kinfolk had moved to Colorado seeking a more economically-secure way of life. There they worked on large farms or ranches, purchasing their own when they earned enough money. All of their stories sent back home by letters enticed the young man Ros Collins to go to Colorado. While there, he did odd jobs for a living and attended the Colorado State College of Education in Greeley, earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938.

Back in Georgia, Roscoe taught school, becoming the first principal (and also a teacher) at the Town Creek Consolidated School. He told me of walking the several miles from his father's farm to get to Town Creek early enough to build the fires in the heaters in each of the four classrooms. He was still wearing that linsy-woolsy suit he took to Mercer away back in 1927. It kept him warm as he walked on cold days. His evaluation of his years of teaching and administering the Town Creek School was that he taught some of the brightest young lads and lassies there of anywhere in his 40+ years of teaching.

Ros enjoyed telling people that he had "taught in the four corners of Georgia and many places in between." He had a long stint in St. Mary's, Georgia. On his 90th birthday (September, 1997), I was present to see a large motor coach bus full of people who had been his students travel to Blairsville from St. Mary's to honor Mr. Collins, to testify to his influence on their lives. All had a good time remembering. It was exhilarating just to be a part of that big birthday party and to hear the heart-felt accolades.

On June 4, 1940, Charles Roscoe Collins and LaVerne Cheshire (a fellow teacher) were united in marriage in Lakeland, Florida. She was a daughter of Robert and Minnie Lemack Cheshire. Ros and LaVerne continued their careers as teachers, he clocking up more than 40 years at his retirement and she having 35.

Their daughter, Becky Ann, was born August 7, 1947, and adopted by Ros and LaVerne when she was a baby. When Becky Ann grew up, she married Garland Moose of Suches, Georgia. Ros and LaVerne delighted in their three grandchildren, Rodney, Robby and Carrie. Becky Ann, like her parents, became a teacher.

As he continued to teach, Roscoe took classes at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he earned his Master of Education degree in 1948. He went back to Mercer University in the summer of 1952 to take a course commonly called then a workshop for in-service educators. I was a student at Mercer University at the time, working on the last requirements for my Bachelor of Arts degree. As good fortune would have it, Roscoe and I were both students in that summer workshop. Roscoe, in his joking way, liked to call the workshop classes, which were over a three-week period from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon with only a short break for lunch, the "Paw-Paw Patch" classes. That was because we had to come up every day with innovative ways to teach, and one day Roscoe and I together "performed" the song, "Way down yonder in the Paw-Paw Patch!" We could barely refrain from laughing as we sought to show how rhythm, music and action help to reinforce younger students' learning.

Although I had known Roscoe Collins all my life, and we were neighbors (and cousins) on Choestoe, that summer workshop at Mercer University made us life-time friends. We discovered our common interests in history and family roots, as well as education. He retired long before I did, but after my retirement, my husband Grover, he and I took many "historical" treks together so that he could point out significant milestones, like the Logan Turnpike and the Mule Springs Camp. We also made trips to visit the Rev. Harry Smith in Forsyth, Georgia. We had a lot of time to talk and to appreciate history.

He had a distinguished career in education in "the four corners of Georgia." His service to his home county of Union included being teacher, basketball coach, principal and county school superintendent. After 42 years as an educator, he retired in 1972.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 10, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Charles Collins, lover of country

On the 4th of July we all summon our highest degree of patriotism. We listen to speeches calling forth our best American spirit. We find ourselves following the beat of the drum and the blare of the trumpet from patriotic parades. We revel in the red, white and blue of our flag, symbol of freedom. And so we should. All are part of our proud heritage as citizens of the "land of the free and the home of the brave." A late citizen of Union County, Charles Roscoe Collins, was an often-invited speaker at patriotic occasions. And, as we who loved and remember him know, he always "rose to the occasion" with his wit and wisdom, his quotation of appropriate memorized poetry, his sincerity and oratory.

I kept thinking about this influential man who was born in Union County over a century ago. He never served in any branch of our armed forces, but his patriotism was unparalleled. His name was Charles Roscoe Collins, born September 20, 1907. He died January 29, 2000 at age 92. I count it a great privilege that I knew him and had the opportunity to be taught by him, not in formal classroom settings, but as we traveled to places my husband and I took him and visited on many occasions.

Someone has written about the dash- the period between birth and death- and how meaningful that is in a life well lived. "Ros," or C. R., as he was lovingly known, filled that dash with fruitful living. He was a patriot par-excellence and educator-extraordinary. At this 4th of July, 2008, let us recall and honor him as a giant among us.

One of the characteristics of a genuine patriot is the respect and love a person bears for his ancestral roots. Charles Roscoe Collins did much research on his family lines "on both sides" of his early-settlers families.

C. R.'s father was James Johnson Collins (1868-1967). Ros's paternal grandparents were Ivan Kinsey Collins (1835-1901) and Martha Jane Hunter Collins (1840-1920). His Collins great grandparents were first Collins settlers Thompson Collins (ca. 1785-ca. 1858) and Celia Self Collins (ca. 1787-1880). He could link these ancestors up to their kin on the "Hunter" and "Self" sides. Celia Self Collins's father was Francis Self. Martha Jane Hunter Collins was a daughter of William Jonathan Hunter (1813-1893) and Margaret Elizabeth (called "Peggy") England Hunter (1819-1894). And that marriage joined another early-settler family. Peggy England was a daughter of William Richard England and Martha "Patsy" Montgomery England, and her grandparents were Daniel England and Margaret Gwinn/Gwynn England. Daniel England and his father were patriots of the American Revolution in that their iron forge in North Carolina produced metal for arms in America's War for Independence. These links to a patriotic past did not escape C. R. Collins's notice and appreciation. His stories of the brave exploits of his ancestors, and their opening up new areas for settlement, were dear to him.

C. R.'s mother was Margaret Ann Nix Collins (1871-1927) who had the nickname "Babe." She was a daughter of Thomas J. Nix (1848-1902) and Martha Jane "Sis" Ballew Nix (1852- 1951). Margaret Ann and James Johnson Collins were married at Choestoe, Union County, Georgia on March 6, 1890 by W. C. Hughes, Justice of the Peace. Margaret's grandparents were James "Jimmy" Nix (1812- 1882) and Elizabeth "Betsy" Collins Nix (1814-1859). Have you guessed yet? Elizabeth's parents were Thompson Collins and Celia Self Collins. Margaret Nix Collins and her husband, James Johnson Collins, had the same grandparents, early settlers Thompson and Celia Collins. And on Margaret's Nix side of the family, her father James's parents were William Nix (1788-1874) and Susannah Stonecypher Nix (1788-1870?). Susannah's parents were John Henry Stonecypher (1756- 1850), soldier in the American Revolution, and Nancy Ann Curtis (ca. 1760-1849), whose father was a Revolutionary patriot (not a soldier).

With a knowledge of his ancestry, Charles Roscoe Collins had a life-long interest in history, and contributed much to preserving it. He was a founder of the Union County Historical Society and served as its president. He and Jan H. Devereaux compiled the first Sketches of Union County History and published it in 1976. C. R. wrote in the preface of that book: "Our heritage is a good heritage, and we have much of which to be proud - not ourselves so much as those who went before, those who settled this land with little more than the strength of their bodies, minds and souls." He continued to contribute to that heritage until his death, speaking at organizations, schools and churches, using his keen mind and willingly sharing knowledge of "how life was" when his ancestors settled in the wilderness prior to Indian removal and carved out homes and a county for posterity. He added to that heritage by his own outstanding contributions in education, leadership and preservation efforts.

This is the first in a continuing series. Stay tuned. Next week, we will continue with the life and work of Charles Roscoe Collins. In the meantime, enjoy a safe and meaningful 4th of July. Remember an axiom that carries much weight: "Freedom is not free."

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 3, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.