Thursday, October 19, 2006

James Butts – Proud owner of a Gillespie Rifle

James Butts is pictured with his children, Logan and Morgan, holding a long rifle made by John Gillespie for Sydney Harshaw, James' great, great grandfather.

Sidney Harshaw (1815-1875) was born in Burke County, NC. He was living in Union County at the time of the 1850 census. He owned thirteen slaves in 1850.

He met Salinda Plott (1835-1907) of the Plotttown section of Union/Towns counties. She was born in North Carolina. Whether she and Sidney met before they moved to Union County is not known. They were married August 31, 1854, two years before Towns was formed from a portion of Union. Her parents were George and Rebecca Land Plott.

Sidney Harshaw's estate covered the land that is now a part of Meeks Park west of Blairsville. He operated a grist mill. Sidney Harshaw's great, great grandson, James Butts, states that part of the grist mill can still be seen at Meeks Park after a century and a half.

Sidney and Salinda Plott Harshaw had seven daughters: Barbara Ann Harshaw (1855-1932) married Jacob Luther (Uncle "Boney") Colwell; Harriet Elizabeth Harshaw (1857-1917) married Hiram Theodore ("Red") Colwell; Sarah Cleopatra ("Clee") Harshaw (1859-1923) married Archibald Blucher Butt; Ellen Harshaw (1862-?) married Cicero Y. Rogers; Mary Harshaw (1863-?); Emma Lou Harshaw (1865-1943); and Julia Harshaw (1870-1939).

James B. Butts who now owns his great, great grandfather Harshaw's Gillespie rifle is the fifth generation of Harshaws. His descendancy comes through Sarah Cleopatra ("Clee") Harshaw Butt and Archibald Blucher Butt along this line: Their fifth child, Robert Bryan Butt (1897-1948) and Zora Gibson Butt (1907-1980) had a son, James Robert Butt (b. 1932), who married Betty Ann Davidson. James B. Butts and Jeff Butts (the fifth generation from Sidney Harshaw) were their sons. And now the sixth generation, Logan and Morgan Butts (Shelly Burks Butts is Logan's mother and Lisa Lovell Butts is Morgan's mother), can proudly display the Gillespie rifle of their great, great, great grandfather, Sidney Harshaw.

But the signed John Gillespie-made rifle did not always have a safe place with Sidney Harshaw's descendants. This is the story James Butts tells of how he came to receive the treasured firearm.

Emma Lou Harshaw died in 1943. Sidney Harshaw’s youngest daughter, Julia Harshaw, died in 1939. An estate sale was held following the deaths of these daughters. James Robert Butt, James Butt's father, remembers going to the estate sale with his father, Robert Bryan Butt. The Gillespie rifle was an item up for bids. Local blacksmith, Marion Jackson received the rifle at the highest bid of fifty cents! He took it to his blacksmith shop just off highway 129 north out of Blairsville, and put it on display.

Union County Historian Ed Mauney saw the gun and immediately recognized it for what it was--a treasured, signed John Gillespie-made long rifle. He offered Mr. Jackson $5.00 for it, and the blacksmith accepted his offer. Mr. Mauney did much research on the Gillespie rifles made at East Fork in North Carolina.

The gun changed owners again. Claude LaFayette Butt (1879-1960), a grandson of Sidney Harshaw (son of Archibald Blucher and Sarah Cleopatra Harshaw Butt), bought the gun from Ed Mauney for $15.00. Many will remember Mr. Claude Butt as the long-time Union County Clerk of Court. A state patrolman offered to pay Claude Butt $35.00 for the gun, but he refused, knowing that it was a family heirloom. The rifle passed from Claude Butt to James Robert Butt, great grandson of Sidney Harshaw and James B. Butts's father.

Ed Mauney (1897-1977) in his research found that the particular gun owned by the Butts family was indeed made in Union County after John Gillespie moved here. Its stock is of lovely curly maple and the gun, well crafted and lovingly preserved, bears the proud initials of its maker, "J. G." When Ed Mauney bought the gun, he also received a framed portrait of the gun's maker. That picture was used in Dennis Gillespie's book, The Gillespie Gun Makers of East Fork, NC.

[Note: Many thanks to James B. Butts of Blairsville for much of the information in this column, and to him and Jerry Taylor, Towns County Historian, for the descendancy chart of Sidney Harshaw's family. For questions or to contact me, I may be reached at e-mail edj0513@alltel. net, telephone 478-453- 8751, or mail: Ethelene Dyer Jones, 1708 Cedarwood Road, Milledgeville, GA 31061-2411. Best wishes to all, and may we ever be aware of our rich mountain area history!]

c 2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Oct. 19, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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