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Indian raid in 1859 nearly killed Hall native

POSTED: April 5, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Green Russell, who with his brothers caused a gold rush in what is now Colorado and who shares credit for the founding of Denver, was a colorful, adventurous character out of the hills of Lumpkin and Dawson counties.

He led several treacherous trips out west in search of gold after it seemed Lumpkin County's gold was diminishing.

But his brother Levi, a Hall County native, must have been equally as daring and ended up in Texas as a prominent doctor.

Cindy Lynch of Hall County is a descendant of the Russells and recently came across an account of some of Levi's travels, including a narrow escape from Indians.

First, Levi Russell told of navigating the Chagres River on the Isthmus of Panama "in canoes with great peril and difficulty" headed for a steamship bound for San Francisco via the Pacific Ocean in 1850. "We were received at San Francisco with booming cannons and wild demonstrations for it was our vessel that carried the news that California was admitted as a state ..."On the way back to Georgia from that trip they were quarantined in Key West, Fla., because of an outbreak of cholera on their ship.

In 1858, it took the Russell brothers from February to late June to get to what is now Colorado from Lumpkin County. Levi described the journey in wagons and prairie schooners as "not without many hardships and difficulties, and was long and tiresome ... "

He helped build the first house, a two-room cabin, in what is now Denver. John Smith and his Indian wife stayed in one room, while Levi and several others stayed in the other room. "This was the beginning of a village, first called Auraria, so named by our Georgia party, that being the name of a mining town in our native state," Levi Russell wrote.

He writes of his confrontation with some Indians in 1859 on a trip to Montana territory. His party was camping on the Bear River near a good fishing hole.

"I could not resist the temptation to try my luck, contrary to the advice of the other members of the party," Levi wrote. "I had not been there long when I saw three Indians ride out of a clump of timber ... I knew they saw me, and wishing to show a friendly disposition, I accosted them with the familiar salutation, ‘How!' They replied, and after an exchange of a few words among themselves, one of them rode up within about 20 feet of me and quickly raising his bow, sent an arrow straight for my heart; the only thing that kept it from reaching the mark was a large, heavy leather purse, filled with fishing tackle, which I was carrying in my shirt pocket and which the arrow could not penetrate.

"I didn't have as much as a pocket knife with which to defend myself, and the only thing that remained ... was to run. As I dashed off in the direction of camp, a second arrow was sent after me, which stuck quivering in my left thigh."

Levi managed to keep running, and the Indians suddenly turned around as he neared camp. Shortly after fellow campers pulled the arrow out, they heard shooting nearby. The next morning they found a wagon with two dead oxen and two men having been scalped and killed.

The prospectors traveled to a U.S. Army encampment, where they found a survivor of the Indian raid. The soldiers were reluctant to pursue the Indians until Levi suggested they hide in wagons to surprise them if they raided again. They took his suggestion and killed 150 Indians.

In 1862, just learning of the Civil War, the Russells and others made their way home, but not before being taken prisoner by U.S. soldiers in Texas. After they were released, Levi practiced medicine in Georgia for six years.

In 1868, Levi Russell took his family to Texas. He bought a farm in Bell County, raised his family there, practiced his profession until 1905 and died in 1908.

Levi Russell was described in one publication as an honored, courageous, modest and learned practitioner of medicine and a botanist interested in the flora and fauna of Texas.

The Russells have numerous North Georgia descendants. Cindy Lynch of Gainesville will give a presentation on her ancestors June 11 at the historical society in Lumpkin County.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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