These crackers had ways peculiarly their own

Posted by | January 3, 2012

“Now to go back in history farther than my own time and recollections, let me venture upon some unoccupied territory and tell how Cherokee Georgia became the home of that much-maligned and misunderstood individual known as the Georgia cracker. I have lived long in his region, and am close akin to him.

“There is really but little difference between the Georgia cracker and the Alabama or Tennessee cracker. They all have, or had, the same origin, and until the Appalachian range was opened up to the rest of mankind by railroads and the schoolhouse these crackers had ways and usages and a language peculiarly their own.

Georgia crackers“It will be remembered that until 1835 the Cherokee Indians owned and occupied this region of Georgia, the portion lying west of the Chattahoochee and north of the Tallapoosa Rivers. They were the most peaceable and civilized of all the tribes, but they were not subject to Georgia laws, and had many conflicts and disturbances with their white neighbors. It seemed to be manifest destiny that they should go. “Go West, red man!” was the white man’s fiat. They went at the point of the bayonet, and all their beautiful country was suddenly opened to the ingress of whomsoever might come.

“Georgia had it surveyed and divided into lots of forty acres and one hundred and sixty acres, and then made a lottery and gave every man and widow and orphan child a chance in the drawing. But the cracker didn’t wait for the drawing. The rude, untamed, and restless people from the mountain borders of Georgia and the Carolinas flocked hither to pursue their wild and fascinating occupation of hunting and fishing for a livelihood.

“They came separately, but soon assimilated and shared a common interest. There are such spirits in every community. There are some right here now who would rather go up to Cohutta Mountains on a bear hunt than to go to New York or Paris for pleasure. I almost would myself, and I recall the earnest cravings of my youth to go west and find a wilderness, and with my companions live in a hut and kill deer and turkeys, and sometimes a bear and a panther.

“But for my town raising and old field school education, I too would have made a very respectable cracker. This was the class of young men and middle-aged that first settled among these historic hills and valleys and climbed these mountains and fished in these streams.

“By and by the fortunate owners of these lands received their certificates, and many of them came from all parts of the state to look up their lots and see how much gold or how much bottom land there was upon them, but gold was the principal attraction. The Indians had found gold and washed it out of the creeks and branches and traded it in small parcels to the white man, and it was believed that every stream was lined with golden sand.

“This proved an illusion, and so the squatters were not disturbed, or else they bought the titles for a song and then sung ‘sweet home’ of their own. They built their cabins and cleared their lands and raised their scrub cattle, and with their old-fashioned rifles kept the family in game.

Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp)Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp)

“Many of these settlers could read and write, but in their day there was but little to read. No newspapers and but few books were found by the hunter’s fireside. Their children grew up the same way, but what they lacked in culture they supplied in rough experiences and hairbreadth escapes and fireside talks, and in sports that were either improvised or inherited.

“Pony races, gander-pullings, shooting matches, ‘coon hunting, and quiltings had more attractions than books. How they got to using such twisted language as “youuns” and “weuns” and “injuns” and “mout” and “gwine” and “all sich” is not known, nor was such talk universal. When such idioms began in a family, they descended and spread out among the kindred, but it was not contagious.

“I know one family now of very extensive connections who had a folklore of their own, and it can be traced back to the old ancestor who died a half century ago. But these corruptions of language are by no means peculiar to the cracker, for the English cockneys and the genuine yankee have an idiom quite as eccentric, though they do not realize it and would not admit it.

“The Georgia cracker was a merry-hearted, unconcerned, independent creature, and all he asked was to be let alone by the laws and the outside world.”

source: The Georgia Cracker, by Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp), Cartersville, Ga. in “The Scotch-Irish in America: proceedings and addresses of the Scotch-Irish Congress, 1st-10th, 1889-1901,” Bigham & Smith, 1892

Georgia+crackers Bill+Arp Charles+H.+Smith appalachia appalachian+history appalachia+history

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