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Gold and Greed

By Sylvia Gailey Head

Have you heard about Benny Parks stubbing his toe? It happened in 1829, but he talked about it as long as he lived. Reams have been written about it for it started the first gold rush in the United States. When Benny was 94 years old J.P. Moran quoted him in The Atlanta Constitution on July 15, 1894, "Yes, I turned up the first nuggets ever seen about here. Other men claim it - men will claim anything - but dog-my-cats if I ain't the one sure enough. It was just by accident that I come across it - the site is now that of the Calhoun Mine. I was deer hunting one day when I kicked up something that caught my eye. I examined it and decided it was gold. The place belonged to Rev. Mr. O'Bear (Robert Obar) who, though a preacher, was a hard man and very desperate. I went to him and told him that I thought I could find gold on his place if he would give me a lease of it. He laughed as though he did not believe me, and consented....The news got abroad and such excitement you never saw. It seemed within a few days as if the whole world must have heard of it, for men came from every state I had ever heard of. They came afoot, on horseback, in wagons, acting more like crazy men than anything else. All the way from where Dahlonega now stands to Nuckollsville (now called Auraria) there were men panning out of the branches and making holes in the hillsides. Dog-my-cats, if it was not an exciting time!"

The above mentioned lease is in the library at Clemson College, South Carolina, and is dated September 12, 1829. Robert O'Bar's land was then in Hall County, just outside the boundary of the Cherokee nation - land that also belonged to the Indians just eleven years earlier.

The events leading up to and following the beginning of Lumpkin and its county seat, Dahlonega, make for a unique story of a land and its people. The story is told in the deeds, the marriage records, and the court trials; in the newspapers, old letters, and the folklore; in the churches, the lodges, and the cemeteries; in the census, the lotteries, and the history books.

Highlights from the newspapers and the history books, along with articles by Fletcher M. Green, set an interesting stage.

In colonial times, Georgia's western border was the Mississippi River. In 1802, she ceded to the United States all her lands from her westernmost settlement toward the sunset. In return all the Indians were to be removed from the state with boundaries as we now know them.

Before 1830 the Indians had already been removed up to the northwest corner which was still held by the Cherokees.

When it became known that gold existed in the streams and the ravines in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the white man entered the Cherokee Nation, contrary to the laws of the United States and the laws of the Cherokees. They came to dig and they came in droves. A gold rush was on - the first one in the nation. They came from the southern states and the northern states; from Ireland, England, and Saxony. That time in history became known as the days of "The Intrusion."

Families knew where their men had gone but they did not know how to contact them. Recently established newspapers in adjacent new counties were publishing lists of letters held in their post offices.

The Indians believed the gold belonged to the Red Man for those veins lay within their homeland where they had lived from time immemorial. Georgia felt that the land and the gold belonged to the state. The fortune hunters who came over the line were unconcerned with the ownership of the land but believed the gold belonged to anybody who could find it. The Cherokees who had joined in the prospecting came out worse in the scramble and tensions tightened. A period of lawlessness prevailed. Federal troops were sent in to bring order out of the chaos.

There was a fight at Scudders place between the Indians and the Whites leaving one Indian seriously wounded. Another confrontation reported was, "Twenty-five Indians painted and unclothed, armed with sticks, stones and clubs, attacked the miners who defended themselves with their mining tools." Six or seven Indians were severely wounded. The Indians protested to the United States and the Whites were warned.

Georgians among the intruders held a meeting and answered the warning. They said they were aware that it was wrong to intrude and previously had returned to their homes. Now, however, they were back and intended to stay until those from other states were compelled to leave.

Georgia was convinced that the time had come to close the contract made when Thomas Jefferson was President of the United States and John Milledge was the Governor of Georgia. Alabama and Mississippi had long since become states in the territory Georgia had given up. Now the Georgia legislature proceeded to pass laws extending jurisdiction over the Cherokee Nation lying within the bounds of the state, and Governor George R. Gilmer wrote President Andrew Jackson asking that the Federal Troops be removed. The request was granted. However, in a few months the governor wrote John McPherson Berrin, Attorney General of the United States, "I am in doubt as to what is to be done with the gold diggers. They, with their various attendants, foragers and suppliers, make up between six and ten thousand persons. They occupy the territory between the Chestatee the Etowah Rivers, near the mountains, gold being found in the greatest quantity deposited in the small streams which flow into these rivers." The rivers were about two miles apart at this point but afterwards they went in different directions.

Governor Gilmer issued proclamations extending the territory and prohibiting any gold mining in the state. When they were ignored, Gilmer's message to the legislature was, "paper bullets were but light artillery against masses of men who could not read" and proclamations "make slight impression on heads accustomed to hard knocks."

State troops were sent into the gold fields but they found great difficulty in preventing trespassing. Colonel Charles H. Nelson reported, "We had warm work at Leathers Ford. A detachment of State Guards under my command was conducting eleven prisoners, when we were attacked by about 60 men, who used everything but guns." They were dispersed with one man seriously injured.

Bands of white men, organized as "Pony Clubs," seized the horses and cattle of the Indians, ejected families from their homes and set fire to the buildings. Then the United States Troops came back into the territory, arrested some officers of the State Guard who resented their interference, and it looked as if the state and federal governments would clash.

While all this was transpiring, newspapers over the state were reporting the return of the gold diggers in great numbers and the productivity of the mines. In March, 1830, The Augusta Chronicle reported, "Near $9000 worth of gold has been purchased within the last three weeks, by Messrs Beers, Booth and St. John besides what has been bought by the Jewelers and others." After nine months of the year had gone by, the same paper announced, "Two hundred thirty thousand dollars worth of gold has been received in Augusta this year." Templeton Reid was said to be coining $700 a day in his private mint in Gainesville, Georgia. It was during this year that the first deposit of gold from Georgia, amounting to $212,000 was made at the United States Mint in Philadelphia.

To stop all this illegal digging, the state of Georgia empowered Governor Gilmer to take possession of the mines. Gilmer believed that they should be operated by the state and the revenue used "to relieve the people from taxation, improve the public roads, render the rivers navigable, and extend the advantage of education to every class of society." Wilson Lumpkin bitterly opposed the idea of a state monopoly and the question became an issue in the contest for governor in 1831, which Lumpkin won.

It was decided to settle the problem by a lottery known as the 1832 Land and Gold Lottery. The gold section of the state was divided into forty acre lots. Those entitled to draw were male citizens who had resided in Georgia for four years; the deaf, dumb, and blind; widows and orphans of soldiers killed in wars; veterans who fought in either the Indian or English wars. Those excluded were fortunate drawers in previous lotteries; anyone who had settled or dug gold illegally in the Cherokee Country; anyone who had been a member of a "Pony Club." One hundred and thirty thousand people registered for the draw of 35,000 prizes. Of course, less than one out of four got a prize and still fewer got a gold mine. But there were gold mines and some with interesting stories which will be covered later.

The hustlers appeared. Lists of the lots with the names of those who drew them were selling for $5.00 each. People who advertised themselves as experts at valuing gold lots were offering their services. D.C. Gibson would test any lot and warrant his opinion to be correct for $25.00.

Now, it was said, the intrusion mining ceased and swindling mining began.

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