Thursday, September 25, 2008

James "Jim" Berry, the Last of the True Mountaineers (Part 2)

Last week we saw Jim Berry as an employee of the Pfister- Vogel Land Company that had purchased large tracts of mountain land. Jim Berry was hired as a security guard for the land company and had moved into the old Brewster house on Jack's Gap Road.

About this same time a rather crude telephone line was installed in the Choestoe-Town Creek community. A switch at Mr. Hayes Hunter's house near New Liberty Church could connect the community line to the forest service line. Jim Berry's telephone that kept him in touch with the Bald Mountain line could also, through the switch, be connected to the line to the Jesse Washington Souther house, also just off the Jack's Gap Road. In that house lived Varina (called "Tib") Souther. A romance began between Tib and Jim.

She was a daughter of Jesse Washington Souther (04/23/1836 - 09/12/1926) and Nancy Sullivan Souther (03/22/1858 08/12/1936), her father's second wife. Varina was the thirteenth of fifteen children of "Wash" Souther and the sixth of eight born to her mother, Nancy Sullivan Souther. This "second" family of Jesse Washington Souther had these children: Thomas Souther (1877-1937) who married Mary Lou Kay; Albert Galloway Souther (1879-?) who married Mae Pinkston; Lydia Souther (1881-?) who married Charlie Jones; Lina Souther (1883-1915); Benjamin Souther (1885) died in infancy; Varina Souther (1887- 1963) who married James Berry (1896- 1982) on August 13, 1913; Harvey Allen Souther (1889-1984) who married Fannie Collins (1895-1972); and Hardy Souther (1892, died in infancy).

Thanks to the "on line" switch that connected the Souther home telephone to the one the forest service maintained for Jim Berry, this couple could "court" by telephone.

With her full siblings and her half-siblings scattered, Varina Souther Berry took the responsibility of caring for her aging parents. She and her husband Jim Berry lived with them in the old Wash Souther house. One son, Glenn, was born to Varina and Jim, and they adopted a second son, J. T. Berry. Her father died in 1926 and her mother in 1936.

Varina "Tib" Souther Berry was nine years older than her husband, Jim. She died October 15, 1963, leaving Jim a widower. He continued to live on in the old Wash Souther house, with few conveniences. He graduated from a fireplace to a wood heater to heat his house and had a Roman Eagle wood cook stove in his kitchen. After his wife Varina died, he lived alone for almost nineteen more years in the old house.

Jim Berry was steeped in the knowledge of local geography and folklore. He could recount the names of all the mountains surrounding Georgia's highest peak, Brasstown Bald (also known as Enotah). He knew the names of valleys between the peaks, the creeks and rivers. A good marksman with a gun, he got his quota of deer each hunting season well into his seventh decade of life. In his later years, people beat a path to his door to hear his stories and listen to his wit and wisdom.

He learned to play the fiddle from his father. He tells about watching his father play, and then taking up the fiddle himself, finding that he, too, could make music from its strings. He and his brother began to play for and call square dances throughout the mountain region. He once told a visitor that if he had his father's old fiddle, he wouldn't take a thousand dollars for it.

In a finely woven basket hanging from Jim Berry's ceiling, he once kept the medicines he swore by. In individual paper bags were the herbs he gathered from the mountains to give him robust health into his eighties. Dried ginseng root he chewed during the winters with the firm belief that it "cured most anything." Then he had a bag of golden seal. This treasure from the wild cured anything ginseng didn't touch, Mr. Berry believed.

On a spring day, June 26, 1982, Jim Berry, true mountaineer, lay down his head and died. At 85 years, 10 months of age, he had packed a lot of living into his life. He was about the last of the true mountaineers who had a close affinity with the land and its topography, the forests and its inhabitants, and people who came seeking his stories.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 25, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

James "Jim" Berry, the Last of the True Mountaineers

Visit New Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery in Choestoe, stretched in front of a beautiful white country church house, with Enotah (Brasstown Bald) Mountain lifting its towering peak in the distance, and you find graves of many early settlers to that section of Union County. Today, we will focus on two graves bearing names, not of early settlers but the descendents of some of them.

These graves are of a husband and wife, James "Jim" Berry and Varina "Tib" Souther Berry. The dates tell us Jim lived from August 14, 1896 through June 26, 1982, and Tib lived from May 12, 1887 through October 15, 1963. Many who knew Jim Berry, and who wrote about him, like Charles Roscoe Collins and the roving reporter for The Atlanta Journal, Charles Salter, called him one of the last of the "true mountaineers."

Living in the old log house, somewhat updated from the time his wife Tib's grandfather built it in the mid-1800's, James was a widower from 1963 when his wife died until 1982, when he passed on at age 86. A philosopher of sorts, Jim Berry enjoyed company and was a great talker. His simple lifestyle was often an amazement to the many visitors who dropped by his house just off the Jack's Gap Road to hear him talk and to get his viewpoints on the issues of the day.

Jim Berry was not a Union County native. His wife, Varina, claimed that honor, but not Jim. His grandparents came from Old Gilmer County (a portion that later became Fannin) and from the mining town of Copperhill, Tennessee. Like settlers to that section, his forebears left North Carolina in a general migration and found land on which to carve out a new life in the mountains of North Georgia. The Berry Family moved from their Gilmer County home and got land along Fodder Creek in what became Towns County in 1856. There Jim Berry was born in 1896 to William Berry and Becky Shook Berry. Jim Berry had siblings William Berry, John Berry, Tina Berry McFall, and Martha Berry Chastain.

James Berry spent his childhood and early youth working on the family farm at Fodder Creek. He had little formal schooling because his father was an invalid. It was necessary for Jim Berry to work hard to try to make a living on the hardscrabble farm for his father, mother and siblings. They had cattle and hogs that ranged the mountains and, when rounded up and driven to market in Gainesville, provided a little extra income for the family.

When America got involved in World War I, James Berry served in the US Army. After basic training at Fort Gordon, he was selected to be in the unit that guarded German prisoners of war at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. He remembered those two years of his life as hard. Guarding the prisoners took great vigilance and discipline. When the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, Jim Berry was one of the guards chosen to accompany the 550 German prisoners by train to Charleston, SC, where the captives were loaded on boats and returned to Germany.

Upon his honorable discharge from the army following World War I, James Berry returned to Fodder Creek in Towns County. He purchased 80 acres of mountain land, and there continued the same life of small patch farming in the bottoms along creeks as he had done growing up.

Then another opportunity came for this World War I veteran. The Pfister-Vogel Land Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin had purchased thousands of acres of mountain land in Towns, Union, Lumpkin and White Counties. They needed workers. Jim Berry signed on, and because of his previous experience as a guard in World War II, he was assigned to the security detail of the company's work force.

Part of the land purchased by the Pfister-Vogel Land Company included the old Brewster holdings along the Jack's Gap Road leading toward Bald Mountain. An aside in the Jim Berry story lets us know that this tract of land had a history. It was sold to the land company by John Brewster. On that land, during the Civil War, Washington Brewster was killed near Jack's Gap by a roving band of Home Guard. The Brewster Place also had other families living there through time. Some were Jesse Spiva, Ben Spiva, Cornelius Spiva (who was killed in Germany during World War I, the first casualty of that war from Union County), Jim Harkins, Van Duckworth, and, finally, James Berry himself. Near the house was an old cemetery where Brookshires, Brewsters and Spivas were buried back in the era when family cemeteries were started near the old homeplace. The Land Company allowed James Berry, one of their important security guards, to live in the old Brewster house.

And that move, from Towns County to Union County, set the stage for the rest of citizen Jim Berry's life and times. Not only did he have work in the outdoors and woodlands he loved, but romance was on the horizon for James Berry. In the sequel to this story, we will learn about the life and times of Varina "Tib" Souther and James Berry. Stay tuned for the remainder of this delightful story.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 18, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Awful Anniversary: Remembering 9/11

"Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001?" No doubt you have been asked that question many times since that awful and terrible day when America and the world were shattered by deliberate and targeted crashes of four hijacked commercial jet airliners.

In the seven years intervening, we have recalled with both alarm and disbelief that date of attack which brought terrible reality, not just threats to our safe and secure lifestyle.

We know the events happened. We saw television news coverage of the billowing smoke from crashes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York. We saw the Towers topple, heard confused cries, saw the devastation, observed with disbelief that such could happen in America, the "land of the free and the home of the brave."

We heard reports that a third hijacked airliner crashed into a portion of the Pentagon in Washington, DC. Our worst fears surfaced. Had this center of America's military operations been rendered completely ineffective?

With the brave action of some passengers on the fourth hijacked airliner, its direction was thwarted from its intended target in Washington, DC and the crash occurred in a field in rural Somerset County, Pennsylvania near Shanksville.

There were no known survivors of the four jetliners. The 19 hijack- ers went to their deaths with a sense of accomplishment that they had done the deeds with martyrs' bravery and allegiance to their god. The passengers, no doubt, had boarded planes with confidence, with no thought that manipulations already in place would result in their untimely deaths that fateful day. Victims within the Twin Towers and others who died as a result of the travesties numbered over 3,000. Countless hours of rescue and recovery work resulted in airborne and contaminant afflictions that would follow victims the rest of their lives.

Nine/Eleven is an awful anniversary. Since that date in 2001, neither America nor the world has been the same as it was before.

We had rather not be reminded, but it is indelibly written in our history as a Day of Darkness and Doom.

To fight such an enemy as perpetrated these attacks on America on September 11, 2001 is a hard battle. Was Al-Qaeda behind it all—that dreaded terrorist regime that hides out in caves in the desert and plies its poison throughout the world? Were the enemies an army that could be confronted on a given battlefield and engaged in warfare which would eventually declare that the best side won?

Hardly so. But the battles began. And we are still in the midst of the war seven years later.

Immediately after 9/11, a surge of zeal and patriotism swept the United States. A turning again to the God of our nation was evident in songs, in messages, in websites, in patriotic gatherings, in churches, in town square meetings. America had rallied in the past to similar threats to her freedom. We could do so again. War was declared against the Taliban with forces deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. Saddam Hussein was hunted and deposed, brought to trial and found guilty. The efforts to find and bring to justice the world-wide leader of terrorism continued. Osama bin Laden became the most wanted, the king of the terrorists, the person to find and depose at any cost.

America passed the USA Patriot Act, which was drafted by Representative Frank James Sensenbrenner on October 23, 2001, passed in the House on October 24, in the Senate on October 25, and signed into law by President Bush on October 21, 2001. The name of the act is an acronym standing for its major aims: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA PATRIOT Act).

Erection of memorials is under way in many places. Many, still in the building process, are geared to solemnly remind Americans of the fatal 9/11 invasion. The Freedom Tower in Manhattan, now being built, is to be one monument to the toll the day had on our sense of safety and freedom. At "Ground Zero" in New York City, pictures and memorials tell the story of the heartache that came on a bright sunny morning in September, 2001.

I'm sure you, as I, have read survivors' reports, accounts from persons who narrowly escaped with their lives, and lived to tell the story of fear and an about-face in their own lives. One such story is by Kyle Crager, who descended from the 71st floor of the World Trade Center and lived to tell the story. He described himself as having "a cushy office high over the streets of Manhattan, a view of the Statue of Liberty, a fast-track career." But all of that changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.

Speaking at churches, schools, colleges and community events, Kyle Crager now quotes lines from the 17th century English poet, George Herbert: "Thou hast given me so much… Give me one thing more, a grateful heart." And one of his rallying cries uses words from C. S. Lewis, English apologist, minister and writer:

"God whispers to us in our pleasures,
Speaks to us in our conscience,
But shouts in our pain:
It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Anniversaries dredge up fearful memories at times, as is the case with 9/11. But the event can, as it did with Kyle Crager and others sharing survival, give one more thing: "a grateful heart."

c2 008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Sept. 11, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

More on the Berry Kin

Last week’s column centered on Dr. Thomas Newton Berry (1870-1927), country doctor, something of his practice in Union County, of his black Stetson hat that became a symbol of “passing the torch” from the elder Doctor Berry to his grandson, Claude Hempill III, who received the hat as a gift when the younger man entered medical school.

I wish I, like popular radio journalist, Paul Harvey, knew “the rest of the story.” There’s much yet to uncover, I’m sure, about Dr. Berry and subsequent generations.

In fact, one of the Berry descendants, William Robert Berry, better known as W.R., who is the great nephew of Dr. Thomas Newton Berry, called me to thank me for the article, and to fill me in on some of the other aspects of the Berry family, a staunch and hard-working early settlers family who lived almost astraddle of the district line in Choestoe and Owltown. W.E. reminded me that Dr. Thomas Newton Berry was one of those Choestoe people who, from humble beginnings, did well and served people. Doc Berry’s house in town, long a landmark on Mauney Street, has recently been removed.

Dr. Berry had a brother four years younger than he, William Jefferson Berry (9/27/1874-12/19/1936). This Berry ancestor was W.R. Berry’s grandfather.

Recall that Thomas Newton and William Jefferson Berry were sons of John Johnson Berry (1848-1921) and Caroline Swim (Swaim, Swain) Berry (1848-1923). And, to keep the family line in perspective, John Johnson Berry’s parents were Elias Berry (1812-1885) and Sarah Johnson Berry (1814-1901). This couple was in the 1840 census of Union County. Family tradition holds that they moved to Union County after the 1834 census was taken in Union, but before 1837. The couple obtained land in the Choestoe and Owltown Districts. Berry Springs on the land is named in tribute to them.

Elias was a notable farmer, but also plied his trades of blacksmith for the community, and was a cobbler, making shoes not only for his own family, but for others round about. Methodists by denominational persuasion, the Berry family were important in the early years of the Shady Grove Methodist Church, and when death came to members of this early Berry family, they were interred in the Shady Grove Cemetery.

William Jefferson Berry, Dr. Thomas Newton Berry’s brother, married Ila Jane Frady. I find a discrepancy in the date of marriage. The article about Jeff and Jane Berry in The Heritage of Union County lists this couple’s marriage date as November 14, 1894. The Union County marriage record gives the wedding date as April 14, 1895. Descendants might have a family Bible listing that could authenticate the marriage date. Their ceremony was performed by I.T. Wilson, Justice of the Peach. Ila Jane’s parents were John W. Frady and Sarah Lance Frady. But to fully appreciate Ila Jane’s mother, the reader needs to see her full name: Sarah Harriet Nancy Artillery Saphronia Martha Ann Lance Frady. It was almost as if she received seven names in order to honor a string of female ancestors, or else to make a statement about the little girl who would become the mother of Ila Jane Frady Berry.

Jeff and Jane Berry had thirteen children in all, and supported and educated them by farming and doing other self-sufficient tasks that persons in that era did to make ends meet and provide a living for a large family. The couple believed strongly in education and were determined that their children would get the best education they could provide them. It is interesting that Jeff and Jane often moved from their Choestoe home to Young Harris in the wintertime in order for their children to have better educational opportunities. The trip would be made by wagon before the era of family automobiles (or trucks—as it would have taken a roomy vehicle to move a large family).

With a family of thirteen children, their births were over a period of twenty-six years, from 1895 through 1921. Space and knowledge of the family precludes my going into details about each of the thirteen. Here are birth dates and spouses, if known:

(1) Forrest Carter Berry was born in 1895 and married Vernie Brown and Irene Hackney.
(2) William Cautus Berry was born in 1897 and married Lorena Crawford.
(3) Sarah LuVina Berry was born in 1899 and married Cap Kerby.
(4) Floyd McRae Berry was born in 1901 and married Louise McDonald.
(5) Ulma Mae Berry, born in 1903, died in 1923, never married.
(6) Dollie Madison Berry was born in 1905 and married Lester Davis.
(7) Theodore Roosevelt Berry was born in 1907 and married Los Murray.
(8) Charity Belle was born and died in 1909.
(9) Jessie Pelle was born in 1910 and married O.H. Fields.
(10) Blanche was born in 1913 and married John Mullis and Roy Osborne.
(11) Bessie was born in 1916 and died in 1918.
(12) Mary was born in 1918 and married B.B. Tucker.
(13) John Jefferson born in 1921 married Elizabeth ? and ?

The Berry gatherings were large as children, grandchildren and great grandchildren returned to the old Berry homeplace at Choestoe/Owltown. Descendants of Elias and Sarah Johnson Berry have grown up and made a difference in our world as homemakers, teachers, politicians, bankers, farmers, merchants, foresters, doctors. . . almost any occupation you want to name. They stood tall in these tall hills and beyond.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 4, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.