Vanishing Madison County

By Charlotte Collins Bond

 

In keeping with the pictorial project that is now in progress called VANISHING MADISON COUNTY, I would like to offer this little known part of our county’s history.  There is so little written history of what life was like and what this area was like before Georgia was formed, I feel compelled to relate to you some things that were related to me by several different people. These are antidotal stories and not meant to be construed as historical fact, but have been handed down from one generation to another.  I have no reason to doubt the truth and accuracy of any of the tales.

We know that our county was occupied by the Creeks and Cherokees when the first settlers came into what was to become Madison county.  Their life style was much different than what I had imagined. Many years ago I found a Georgia History book at my grandfather's home that had belonged to my uncle. It had a red cover on it but has since sadly disappeared. I was intrieged with the section on Indian life.

I was surprised to learn that the Creeks lived in houses and that they lived in a commune. The book said they lived in a one room house with a dirt floor. There were usually ten or twelve houses in a community according to the book. The men did the hunting and fishing, but it was up to the women to do the gardening. All the women would cultivate the garden site and plant the seed. When that was completed the garden was divided up and staked off into as many portions as there were families. Each family tended and harvested their own garden plot.

The other interesting thing was the way they buried their dead. They were buried inside the house. They dug up the floor and the deceased person was place in a sitting position and then covered.  I assume this practice was done to keep the wild animals from digging up the body.

 The Indian Skeleton

Many years ago "Aunt Mamie" Williams, a lovely black lady, told me about the day her husband, Ike, plowed up some bones. It was not long after they moved to their Fort Lamar home that Ike was breaking up ground for a garden. The area was full of rocks which he would give a sling to the rock pile as he continued to plow. Then he noticed what looked like a bone and then another bone and fimally a skull was unearthed. At this point Ike stoped plowing and started diging. He unearthed a skeleton in an upright seated position with the legs crossed. It was his determination that he had unearthed an Indian body.

Was this a Creek Indian? I believe it was. Their home was located not far from the Fort and it seems feasible that they now occupied what was once a Creek Community.

 

The Ball Game

 I’ve been told that the Creeks lost their fertile hunting ground to the Cherokees in a ball game similar to our soft ball game. It supposedly was a huge affair that both tribes attended each year. It was similar to a yearly convention and ended with a ball game with high stakes. I’m sure the Creeks never believed they would lose their homeland when they make their wager, but lose it they did. They were evidently poor losers because they continued to fight with the Cherokee for many years. They were angry with them for accepting the white settlers as their friends and neighbors. There was much intermarriage between the Cherokees and the white settlers. By the time of the removal [The Trail of Tears], there were very few full blooded Indians in Georgia. Most all the Cherokees had English names which makes it almost impossible to trace our Indian heritage unless you also knew their Indian name. A great many of the Madison County families that I have traced have an oral history passed down to them through the years of an Indian great or great-great grandmother. I have never heard of an Indian great grandfather.

The ball game was held at a place known today as "BallGround".   It is in the Black’s Creek area.

 

The Massacre

 The James Spring area, near the Hudson River, is also said to be an Indian community. It was told to me by an older cousin, John H. James, that when he was a child the hill on the west side of the spring was dotted with one room houses. He said there must have been at least ten of them. They were falling in at the time, he said, and that was about 1915. What is known for sure is that at the top of the hill was two cemeteries with only field stones for markers. It was told by John’s grandfather that one cemetery was Indian and the other was white settlers. Is it possible that this was a Creek settlement at one time and the white’s came in later?

John’s mother, my Aunt Cora, took him with her one day across the Hudson River, near their home, over on the Franklin County side of the River to gather broom straw to make house brooms. Near the field was an old abandoned house that was falling in. Aunt Cora told John the story that had come down through the years about that house and it’s occupants.  This is the story:

The Creeks were on the war path with the white settlers. They raided the family that lived in the house and killed and scalped everyone except a teen-age boy. He had been badly injured and had suffered a broken back but he had managed to pull himself into some low shrubs and lay out of sigh until the Indians left. He dragged himself along the ground until he got to the river and somehow got across to the Madison County side and got help from the white settlers.

There were four families of settlers living near the Big Bend of the Hudson River down below Carruths Mill. One of the families took the young injured boy in and raised him as their own son. It isn’t known what happened to these early settlers or who they were. Did they move on west as many others did ? Or did they die of the fever that was so prominent back then or were they also murdered by the Creeks??? Were they buried in the cemeteries across from the Earl James House?? Was there another battle or another massacre later?? We’ll never really know what happened, but it had to be something tragic to result in so many deaths. Those who remember the two cemeteries said there were a great many graves in each one.

John found the four houses on the river when he was a boy. He said they were large two room houses. The roofs had caved in but the houses were still standing. He said the yards were full of china and pottery chards.

I never found an official record of this massacre.  I’ve never made a complete search of all the Indian massacres, but I did find one that is interesting. I t follows:

 

The Crockett Massacre

 Owen Bowen wrote a letter to the Governor of Georgia telling the sad story of the Crockett family.  I think the year was 1790 but I’ m not sure. I’ve searched, but I can’t find my copy of the report, so I‘m going to try to rely on memory. The Crockett family had been warned that the Indians were going to raid and that they should go immediately to the Fort. The adult son was busy with some chore. I think he was repairing his shoes, and he told the man who warned him [I think it was Owen Bowen] that since there had been so many false alarms the would wait a while before they left for the Fort.

The next day the entire Crockett family was found dead in their yard. They had all been scalped. According to local ledgen, the family was buried in a mass grave and covered under a rock mound to keep the animals away. This massacre happened in Banks County but it was also on the Hudson River.

 

The Red Clay Eagle

In between the afore mentioned White and Indian cemeteries and the four abandoned houses lay the Cherokee Ceremonial Worship Center. It was a very large area and in the center was a red clay eagle

It had a wing spread of about 60 feet. It was similar to the Rock Eagle at the 4-H Center. The total range from the cemeteries to the abandoned houses was estimated to be about one-half to three-fourths mile.

Kline Fowler told me of going to see the clay eagle with his grandfather, Mayfield Fowler, when he was a child. John H. James, my cousin, was also taken to see the eagle by his grandfather, John Taylor James. They were both told the same story about the Ceremonial Ground by both their grandfathers as it had been passed on to them.

Both men were told that the reason the Indians didn‘t settle around James Spring was because the Indians didn‘t like the yellow water. It is full of iron and minerals.

The red clay eagle was inadvertently destroyed about 25 or 30 years by the new land owner. The area had grown up and few people knew of the existence of the eagle mound and it was bulldozed.

There is still evidence of Indian life just below where the eagle mound was. I’ve never seen it but I’ve talked to many who have. A canoe is imbedded in the bank of the Hudson River. I called Dr. Charles Hudson, the author of many books on Indian life and he said it would not be cost effective to remove the canoe because it would dry rot unless it was placed back in water and he didn’t know of any museum that was equipped to handle it.

 

Fort Lamar

There was a story told by many about an Indian raid on Fort Lamar. It‘s a very short story, but one worth telling. I don’t know the background of the story. I don’t know if there were many families that had gone to the fort for protection because of being warned of impending raids or just an isolated incident. I don’t know the name of the family that lived in the log cabin inside the fort. What I do know, is that a young mother was breast feeding her baby and an arrow came through the open window before they could close the shutters. The mother was killed, but the baby lived. End of story.

Evidently there was much activity in that location resulting in a very large collection of arrow heads and other Indian paraphernalia that was collected by one of the local residents many years ago. The story goes that the lady of the house, tired of seeing the mounds of "junk" in her yard threw the whole collection in the well.   OH WELL!!

Conclusion

There is much evidence of Indian life all along the Hudson River. Larry Kirk has an extensive collection of Indian artifacts he has collected through the years. Sometimes all it took was to step out his door after a rain the arrow heads would just shine. My brother, Charles Collins, garnered a large collection of arrow heads off our family’s property near the Hudson River back in the 1950‘s.  He also unearthed a near complete clay bowl that was decorated in Indian style.  He found this as he was digging a hole to line with wet leaves with which he planed to cook his wild game.

 

Charlotte Collins Bond

September 19, 2003