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The Russell House

Posted by | January 22, 2018

William Ganaway Russell had the good fortune to buy a farm exactly halfway between Walhalla SC and Highlands NC.

In 1849 an industrious group of Charleston German businessman were looking for a suitable parcel on which they could create a new settlement in SC, and formed the German Colonization Society to do so. Their plan was simple: they would buy a large fertile expanse of land, subdivide it, and resell it to immigrants who they would recruit from Germany.

After much deliberation, the Society purchased from Colonel Joseph Gresham 17,000 acres in Pickens District near the base of the Appalachians (in the center of modern day Oconee county.) They named the town they laid out Walhalla –‘paradise’ in German– and within two years, the first settlers arrived and began to clear & farm the land. The Society took an active role to insure that the new Blue Ridge Railroad ran from Anderson, SC to the new town, thereby providing the last leg of a solid rail connection all the way to Charleston. They expected Walhalla to grow into a major railroad center as the train route eventually snaked west towards Cincinnati. That reality never materialized.

Meantime, by the end of the 19th century The Blue Ridge Railway was regularly taking vacationers escaping from South Carolina’s coastal heat as far as Walhalla. But Walhalla wasn’t their final destination. They were headed to Highlands NC, a summer resort founded in 1875 by Samuel T Kelsey and Clinton C. Hutchinson. The historic Highlands Inn, where generations have rocked afternoons away on the Main Street porch, was built there in 1880 (and is now on the National Register of Historic Places.) By 1931, Highlands’ year-round population of 500 swelled to as many as 3,000 in the summer. Also in the 1930s the town became a golfing mecca when Bobby Jones of Atlanta and some of his well-heeled golfing buddies founded the Highlands Country Club.

Russell House, Chatooga SCThere was no railway service between Walhalla and Highlands. Nineteenth century travelers would have to ride horseback or via stagecoach on the Highlands Highway for two days to get to Highlands, 30 miles away. And waiting for them at the end of their first day’s ride, along the banks of the Chattooga River near the old Cherokee settlement of Tsatugi, sat the Russell farmstead and inn.

William Ganaway Russell (1835-1921) purchased the property in 1867 and built most of the buildings, including the main house. Family tradition says that Russell paid for the property with a fortune he made driving cattle to feed California gold miners.

The large house was gradually expanded to provide rooms for travelers. That frame two-story building, dating from the 1880s, expanded to include a projecting rear two-story ‘L’ added around 1890. A two-story front porch was also added later. The inn could accommodate as many as 80 people per night. In the early twentieth century numerous prominent Georgians and South Carolinians spent the night at the Russell’s, or shared meals there.

William Russell died in 1921 and his wife died in 1935, but the family continued to operate the establishment into the 1950s. In 1970, the federal government purchased the property. Although the main Russell house was burned by arson in 1988, enough of 28 outbuildings (barns, spring house, root cellar, etc.) remain to give a good idea of what a thriving working farm and stagecoach stop this once was.
Backroads of South Carolina, By Paul M. Franklin & Nancy Mikula, Voyageur Press, 2006


They weren’t too beaten down

Posted by | January 18, 2018


Sunday school picnic. Much of the food brought into abandoned mining town of Jere, West Virginia by “neighboring folk” from other parishes. There is a great deal of “hard feelings” and many fights between Catholics and Protestants. Miners as a whole are not very religious, many not having any connections with church, though they may have.
1938 Sept.

Marion Post Wolcott, FSA photographer

“My first assignments were very close to Washington. I think one of the first ones, if not the very first, was in the coal fields in West Virginia. That was a very short assignment, of course. And it was a very interesting one, too. I found the people not as apathetic as I had expected they might be. They weren’t too beaten down. Of course, many of them were but they were people with hope and some of them still had a little drive, although, of course, their health was so bad it was telling . . . .

“I think [all the FSA photographers] did have a social consciousness definitely, perhaps more than some people have but I think they were all — well, they were all interested in the plight of human beings and in the programs of the New Deal, and the remedial programs that the New Deal and the FSA were trying to do, I think that all these people had a lot of vigor and energy and were sensitive to their surroundings.

“[The Farm Security Administration] was one of the few places you could go where you felt that your pictures would be used and seen and that you could be honest in your reporting, whether with a camera or any other device. With your captioning you felt that any exhibits that they produced were definitely propaganda but you believed in them and you felt that they were honest, you wanted to slant them — if you would call it slanting it — or they were slanted, but so is any good program, an effective one.

“I never had worked in the field with handling both the captioning and the traveling and the sending back of the material, and not having my own darkroom. I wasn’t sure I’d like that, and the arrangement of sending the stuff back and having them develop and print it, this worried me a little bit, but it turned out very well because Roy [Stryker, Historical Section chief, Information Division, FSA] gave us a great deal of freedom in that respect.”

Interview with Marion Post Wolcott
Conducted by Richard Doud
at Artist’s Home in Mill Valley, California
January 18, 1965



The shock was so sudden and violent they could not stand it

Posted by | January 17, 2018

On January 17, 1781, American General Daniel Morgan scored a stunning victory over British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre “Barbarous Ban” Tarleton’s regulars at the Battle of Cowpens, in what is now Cherokee County, SC. This win came at a crucial time for Revolutionary War patriots in the South, who had been repeatedly forced to retreat.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. Col. Washington at the Battle of Cowpens

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. ‘Col. Washington at the Battle of Cowpens’.


Private James Collins, a 17-year-old South Carolinian, served in that state’s militia during the campaign in the South. He writes of the day:

“It was not long until it became necessary for us to seek safety by joining Morgan, who was encamped at the Cowpens, but we were not permitted to remain long idle, for Tarleton came on like a thunder storm, which soon put us to our best mettle.

“After the tidings of his approach came into camp–in the night–we were all awakened, ordered under arms, and formed in order of battle by daybreak. About sunrise on the l7th January, 1781, the enemy came into full view. The sight, to me at least, seemed somewhat imposing; they halted for a short time, and then advanced rapidly, as if certain victory.

“The militia under Pickins and Moffitt, was posted on the right of the regulars some distance in advance, while Washington’s cavalry was stationed in the rear. We gave the enemy one fire, when they charged us with their bayonets; we gave way and retreated for our horses, Tarleton’s cavalry pursued us; (“now,” thought I, “my hide is in the loft;”) just as we got to our horses, they overtook us and began to make a few hacks at some, however, without doing much injury.

“They, in their haste, had pretty much scattered, perhaps thinking they would have another Fishing creek frolic, but in a few moments, Col. Washington’s cavalry was among them, like a whirlwind, and the poor fellows began to kneel from their horses, without being able to remount.

“The shock was so sudden and violent, they could not stand it, and immediately betook themselves to flight; there was no time to rally, and they appeared to be as hard to stop as a drove of wild Choctaw steers, going to a Pennsylvania market.

“In a few moments the clashing of swords was out of hearing and quickly out of sight; by this time, both lines of the infantry were warmingly engaged and we being relieved from the pursuit of the enemy began to rally and prepare to redeem our credit, when Morgan rode up in front, and waving his sword, cried out, ‘Form, form, my brave fellows! Give them one more fire and the day is ours. Old Morgan was never beaten.’

“We then advanced briskly, and gained the right flank of the enemy, and they being hard pressed in front, by Howard, and falling very fast, could not stand it long. They began to throw down their arms, and surrender themselves prisoners of war. The whole army, except Tarleton and his horsemen, fell into the hands of Morgan, together with all the baggage.

“After the fight was over, the sight was truly melancholy. The dead on the side of the British, exceeded the number killed at the battle of King’s Mountain, being if I recollect aright, three hundred, or upwards. The loss, on the side of the Americans, was only fifteen or sixteen, and a few slightly wounded.

“This day, I fired my little rifle five times whether with any effect or not, I do not know, Next day after receiving some small share of the plunder, and taking care to get as much powder as we could, we (the militia) were disbanded and returned to our old haunts, where we obtained a few day’s rest.”

— from Autobiography of a Revolutionary Soldier, by James Collins, Clinton, LA: Feliciana Democrat, 1859


Cowpens, along with the recent battle at King’s Mountain, was a triumph that the Continentals urgently needed to boost their morale, and demoralize the British army and loyalist sympathizers. It was a decisive blow to Britain’s commanding General Cornwallis, who might have defeated much of the remaining resistance in South Carolina had Tarleton won. That cold clear January day was a turning point in the Patriots’ war for independence.


Sources: The Historical Atlas of the American Revolution, by Ian Barnes, Charles Royster, Routledge, 2000


Well the son-of-a-gun pecked in, now let him peck out

Posted by | January 16, 2018

Nationally recognized herbalist Tommie Bass (1908-1996) was the subject of scholarly and popular books, television features, a front-page essay in the Wall Street Journal, and numerous articles in newspapers and magazines. Bass lived almost his entire life in the Tennessee Valley and Ridge section of Alabama, primarily in Cherokee County.

“I don’t ever get a letter, but what I answer it. One way or the other. And generally speaking, some of them sends a self-stamped envelope, but some of, a lot of them don’t. But when you answer around a hundred letters for twenty-five dollars, twenty-five cents a letter, that runs into money (chuckles). But I answer ‘em anyway.

[Looks through junk mail] “Most everybody gets something like that. And, course, this one here is from the Baptist Church at Centre, their bulletin. And this one here is a-wantin . . . this here is a politician they want me to send money to help me get along, you know, I get ‘em from the Democrats and Republicans, regardless of who they are, and I even get letters from the Catholic priests wanting me to help ‘em, you know, along.

Tommie Bass, Alabama herbalistPhotograph of Tommie Bass by Tom Rankin, 1983.

“Course this is one of them get rich letters here this make you a million dollars in just a few days, you know, send five people five dollars apiece and then when your name gets to the top, why you’ll go a-getting the five dollars — but don’t try it buddy it won’t work.

“Course this here one, here’s another politician. I get ‘em . . . when they’s running here in our state from the Democrats, I’d average two or three letters a day, and then the same way about the Republicans, you know, it just didn’t make no difference just so they can get some money. (chuckles) But I didn’t give ‘em none. I figured . . . the fact of the business is a fellow running for office, a man or a woman, I’m like the little boy was about the peckerwood.

“Peckerwood pecked a hole in a hollow tree and he went over in there, and the little boy he drove a peg in behind it. Somebody said to him, “Son,” said, “you shouldn’t of done the little bird that way.” He said, “Well the son-of-a-gun pecked in, now let him peck out.

“And so I’m that way about a politician. If he wants to get into office, let him get in there (chuckles), but I ain’t gonna try to help him. Course, if he’s a good guy, I’d talk for him, but as far as paying him in there, I don’t go along with that.”

—excerpt from ‘Tommie Bass A Life in the Ridge and Valley Country,’ 1993 video produced by Alabama State Council on the Arts and the Cherokee County Historical Society



Indian names abound in Rabun County

Posted by | January 13, 2018

Like many locations in Georgia, many of Rabun County’s place names are derived from Indian names. In Rabun County that would be the Cherokees. In most Indian place names, we know the English spelling of how the Cherokees pronounced the word, but no actual translation of what the word means. For example, both Chattooga and Chechero were the names of villages. Chattooga was derived from the town which once stood on the South Carolina side of the river, near the mouth of War-woman Creek.

Rabun County map legend reads: "This is an accurate Map of Rabun County, made pursuant to an Act of the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, assented to December 12th 1866. Milledgeville, Ga: N. C. Barnett, Secretary of State, 1867." Courtesy Georgia Dept. of Archives and History

Rabun County map legend reads: “This is an accurate Map of Rabun County, made pursuant to an Act of the General Assembly of the State of Georgia, assented to December 12th 1866. Milledgeville, Ga: N. C. Barnett, Secretary of State, 1867.” Courtesy Georgia Dept. of Archives and History


It was abandoned, probably in 1760, because it lay on the route of two British Army expeditions. When explorer John Bartram passed by in 1776, he noted town ruins in the area.

The area where Clayton is now located was once an important intersection of major Indian trails known as Dividings. One route that branched to the southeast, along what is now Highway 76 East, passed an Indian village mapped by Henry Mouzon in 1777 and called “Chichirohe.” That derivation is easy to see in the community we call Chechero.

The word “Tallulah” has often been said to mean ‘terrible.’ There was an Indian village near the great falls and gorge in the late 1600s called ‘Talulu.’ By 1725 there was another village in the same area called ‘Turura,’ a variation of ‘Talulu.’

Some Indian names are Anglicized; Warwoman is one example. The most important route out of Dividings ran along War-woman Creek to the east, forded the Chattooga River, and forked in South Carolina to trails that then led to Virginia and Charleston. The creek name (later the community’s name also) came from an honored titled among the Cherokee. It was their custom to take a woman along on war parties, primarily to cook and sew, but when one proved her mettle on several expeditions, she was given the designation ‘War Woman.’ We don’t know which specific woman was referred to because the Warwoman Creek has held that name for more than 200 years.

"Clayton, ca. 1934. Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp Warwoman Creek. Co. 457 GA. F-6 Group photo taken Rabun County, Ga." --from field notes. Courtesy Georgia Dept. of Archives and History

“Clayton, ca. 1934. Civilian Conservation Corps, Camp Warwoman Creek. Co. 457 GA. F-6 Group photo taken Rabun County, Ga.” –from field notes. Courtesy Georgia Dept. of Archives and History


Timpson Creek’s name does not seem to have an Indian connection at first glance. But it is, in fact, name for a Cherokee, John Timson, who was the first convert made by Baptist missionaries in 1823.

Other Indian names abound in Rabun County. Stekoe Creek was first called ‘Sticcoa’ by the Cherokees, and Hiawassee Street is named for the great trail known as ‘Hiwassee’ that connected the Cherokee settlements around Franklin, NC to those of the valleys further south and west. Even Savannah Street, which many believe to be named for Savannah Bleckley, may actually be of Cherokee derivation because it is the English equivalent of ‘Hiwassee,’ meaning grassy valley.

When the Cherokee were removed and Rabun County was created in 1819, the white settlers started their own naming. Rabun comes from Governor William Rabun, who died in office shortly before the county came to be. Clayton, originally Claytonville, was named for Supreme Court Judge and Congressman Augustus Clayton of Clarke County. Dillard was named for the Dillard family, among the first white settlers in that locale. Mountain City was originally called ‘Pass Over’ by settlers because it was part of the great valley pass through the Blue Ridge. By 1915, it was known as Mountain City.

According to Mrs. Della Watts’ recollections, Tiger was once called ‘Kerbytown,’ after a prominent resident who ran a general store there. Some say the name ‘Tiger’ derived from a Cherokee chief named ‘Tiger Tail;’ other oral history says the panther’s cry from the mountains reminded early settlers of English origin of the eerie cry of the tiger of India.


Source: ‘Rabun County Place Names,’ by Carol Law Turner, The Vintage Rabun Quarterly, Vol 3 No 1, January 2009

Rabun+County+GA Cherokees place+names appalachia history+of+appalachia appalachian+history

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