I'm always on the lookout for a good story (aren't we all?), and a while back I picked up a book of true stories from Georgia called "A Treasury of Georgia Tales" by Webb Garrison. It's a collection of 38 short stories from the recent past and dating all the way back to colonial days and the Indian times.
They are gathered together in sections such as "High Adventure" and "Women in Action." There is at least one story set in Dalton during the Civil War, and several from the surrounding area including New Echota just below Resaca and over in Fannin County.
Three of the stories caught my attention because they deal with people making choices that were truly life-changing. People faced with choices where they make the hardest decisions of their lives and they have to live or die with the consequences. Following are these three stories and although not from downtown Dalton, one is from the area and the others are from our home state of Georgia.
A desire to bring peace and prosperity
Buck Oowaytee was born in Georgia in 1804. His Cherokee nickname was Galaginah or Buck Deer. His mother was of English descent but his father was Cherokee.
Under the tutelage of Moravian missionaries (like the ones that were over at the Chief Vann House) he developed a desire to bring peace and prosperity to his people. Once the Cherokee had developed their own written language devised by Sequoyah, it became a goal of theirs to have their own printing press and to be able to publish material in their own language. Buck Oowaytee took it upon himself to work on the project of getting a press for his nation. His dream was that the Cherokee Nation would be a welcome neighbor to the young United States.
Buck had gone north for a "proper" education and attended a mission school in Cornwall, Connecticut. A patron of the school was Gen. Elias Boudinot, a congressman and veteran of the Revolutionary War. The general took Buck under his wing and helped him along.
In those days many Indians would take a "white" name to go along with their native names. Buck asked if he could take as his white name the name of the general. Henceforth he became Elias Boudinot the lesser in the history books.
While in Cornwall, Connecticut, he met, wooed, courted and married Harriet Gold. Although he was half-white, that wasn't white enough for the people in the small northern village. The interracial marriage caused such a furor in the town the school had to close. It was afterward that Elias (nee Buck) and his wife Harriet focused on raising funds for the printing press.
He visited many places in the north including cities like Philadelphia and Boston, meeting in churches and houses and social clubs. Talking about the faraway Cherokee lands and focusing on the peace and fellowship between his tribe and the Americans that he hoped the printing press would foster, he eventually raised the money. In Boston, the Cherokee syllabary was set in type for use in the press.
Now came the decision of a lifetime. With the mentorship of Gen. Boudinot he could move to Washington, D.C., and join in society there and find work and live a comfortable life in a major city. Or, he could head back south to join in with his Cherokee people and try and help them. He and his wife agreed their calling was to go back to the Cherokee Nation, just below Resaca at New Echota, the Cherokee capital. He took the job as the editor of the Cherokee newspaper, called the Cherokee Phoenix, for $300 a year.
His goal was peace and understanding, as the paper was to help enrich the civilization of the Cherokee. But one unintended result was paranoia on the part of whites who feared what was being written in a language they couldn't understand. In further efforts at peace, Boudinot was one who believed the best deal for the Cherokee was to head west to Oklahoma. After the Trail of Tears, in June of 1839, he was killed with battle axes, assassinated by his fellow Cherokee for his involvement in the failed endeavor.
Another decision that cost a life
Another tale of a choice involving the whites and Indians is found in the story of Gen. William McIntosh, the son of a British officer (who was Scottish) and a Creek mother.
Before the Cherokee in our area, there were the Creeks. The Cherokees invaded the Creeks in northern Georgia and took the land where Dalton is now.
In southern Georgia, Creeks maintained their hold until the whites came along.
In Georgia were the Lower Creeks and in Alabama there were the Upper Creeks and the two didn't get along, frequently fighting. McIntosh had raised a military unit of roughly 700 warriors of Lower Creeks and joined in Gen. Andrew Jackson's battle against the Upper Creeks during the War of 1812. The Upper Creeks had allied themselves with the British. At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend the Upper Creeks were defeated. McIntosh was promoted to general, and the Upper Creeks became his sworn enemy.
After the war, McIntosh was a very successful businessman with a hotel at Indian Springs, a farm, slaves and three wives including one who was a full-blooded Cherokee. He was friends with Gov. Troup of Georgia and so was close to both the Georgians and the Creeks. His Creek status came through his mother's side since the Creek tracked families through the mother. One interesting thing is that the maternal uncle was as important or even more so than the father in the upbringing of children. Through his mother, McIntosh was part of the Wind Clan.
As the white population grew they were looking for more land and so the efforts to buy or treaty out Indian lands were being made a priority in the early 1800s. McIntosh decided (with a few others) to begin negotiations, and eventually signed a treaty giving away Creek land in exchange for a few hundred thousand dollars and land west of the Mississippi. It is not known if he did it because he thought it was best for the Creeks as he stood to lose all his holdings, or if he did it for personal gain as he personally received $200,000, a huge sum for the day. Regardless of his intent, the decision to sign the treaty would cost him his life.
In a Creek National Council in 1818 that McIntosh was part of, it had been made a capital punishment to give away Creek communal lands. McIntosh knew this and yet signed the treaty that gave away those lands in February of 1825. The Creek Council condemned him, and so a group of Law Menders, as many as 170, rode out to execute him. They surrounded his house, set fire to it and when he came out he was stabbed to death. Then warriors lined up and fired into his body, riddling him with 50 gunshot wounds. Other signers were put to death, and the treaty was renegotiated by the Creeks in Washington. They still lost all their land in Georgia.
A heart-wrenching decision
Next is the story of Kitty, a young, black woman in Georgia faced with a choice no one should have to make. In the 1830s in Georgia there were many free blacks living in the state. The state government had made it a law that freed slaves now had to leave the state as they were worried that an increase in the free black population would lead to revolt.
Meanwhile. the Methodist Episcopal Church was one of the largest denominations in the country. They had almost a million white members, 145,409 blacks and 4,129 Native Americans. In Oxford, Georgia, there was one of the five bishops of the church, James Andrew. A wealthy lady in his congregation had left a young slave girl, Kitty, to him in her will. He took her with the promise that he would free her when she turned 19.
But her birthday came in 1842 when the "no freed slaves" rule was in force. The Emory College president came to visit Kitty to explain what was going on and to make her an offer. The bishop would keep his promise to free her but she would either have to move up north to a free state or sail to Africa where a new nation, Liberia, was being formed by former American slaves back in the homeland.
Faced with the decision to go where she knew no one, to a strange land either in the north or in Africa, and to give up everyone and everything she knew, she made the heart-wrenching decision to remain a slave. The bishop provided her with a small house where she and her husband lived. This decision would lead to one of the first rifts in the country between North and South.
Two years later at the convention in New York of the Methodist Episcopal Church there was much debate about the slavery issue. Then it came to be known that the bishop from Georgia owned a slave. Bishop Andrew offered to resign but wasn't allowed. He was found guilty of slaveholding and the convention moved to have him suspended. Thirteen Southern states protested and so, a year later, on May 1, 1845, the church split between North and South, a precursor of worse to come. And all because a young woman was faced with a terrible decision to make.
Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.