One of the most venerable of Georgia pioneers was Col John W. Gray, who lived for seventy nine years at Adairsville, before that town, halfway between Chattanooga and Atlanta, was founded.
His father settled there in 1833, at which time the Indians were so numerous and the whites so scarce that the lad’s playmates were chiefly the papooses. Colonel Gray was one of the best known men in North Georgia. As a young man he went West in search of gold as one of the “forty niners,” but ere long he returned.
He went away again in 1861, and after the four years of war, in which he was a gallant field officer of the 8th Georgia Infantry, and later on the staff of Gen WT Wofford, he returned to Adairsville and of course that was home all the while.
He was a fine model of the pioneer type. He was over six feet tall and until the last was as straight as an Indian, as hard as a hickory knot, sinewy, active, clear minded and clear blooded. He was a fine example of a vanishing kind that cut their way through the frontier in the old days and faced bravely whatever was before them.
He was one of the bitter opponents of secession. He fought it with determination and he helped to carry Bartow County in a vote against it. But when Georgia did secede and war was on he was one of the first to step to the front and declare his loyalty to his State.
And during the war he proved himself a gallant soldier. After the war when sensibilities were raw and feelings were bitter he was one of the leaders in the regeneration of the stricken South.
Bartow County had its share of scallawags, a lawless lot. They infested his own neighborhood until he laid aside the ways of peace and used violence upon them, risking himself single handed against their combined lot, and he saw them scatter.
In the early seventies he was a member of the lower house of the Georgia Legislature, but he loved straightforward talk and quick action. He did not know the meaning of fear. After the war Colonel Gray returned to Adairsville. He took up merchandising and for years was one of the best merchants of that section, being noted for his honest dealings.
His father gave him a rightful inheritance to his pioneer ways. He had penetrated from North Carolina into Georgia, locating first in Columbia County, next in Carroll and then permanently in Cass County, which afterwards became Bartow.
The elder James Gray was the father of several children of whom this son was the last survivor. On June 12, 1909 an automobile in which were his son James R. Gray and several guests stopped in front of his house on its way from Atlanta to a good roads meeting in Dalton, and a reporter of the Atlanta Journal (which paper is owned by the son James R. Gray) wrote: “Eighty years of winter and summer have passed over his head but they have left it little silvered.
“Nor have they bent him nor broken him, for he stands as straight in his tracks as a university squad youth, and his voice is deep and full toned. He is a remarkable living demonstration of the healthful and preservative qualities of the North Georgia air in which he was born and reared.
“His son, himself a proud grandfather, was one of the party that stopped to pay the vigorous old gentleman of pioneer Georgia their respects on his own threshold.
“Colonel Gray said, ‘I have lived right on this knoll for seventy nine years. I played with the little Indians here. They were my only playmates for years. I can well remember the first white boy I ever got acquainted with. He went out to California with me a good many years later and came back with me. He died about ten years ago.’
“It seemed but a step from the voice that was speaking back to the unknown days when the redskins roamed the woods about and traded their wares at the kitchen door with the slave cooks, while the little white boy in the wilderness got acquainted with their bare thighed sons in the yard. His good-by was the benediction of a patriarch.”
Confederate Veteran, Volume 20, Issue 1, by Confederated Southern Memorial Association, Sons of Confederate Veterans, United Confederate Veterans, United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1912, Nashville TN