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How Atlanta lawyer eluded bandits in mountains in 1878

POSTED: August 22, 2010 1:00 a.m.

An Atlanta lawyer's exciting trip on horseback through the Northeast Georgia mountains in 1878 provides a glimpse into perils lurking within the peaceful icturesque countryside during that era.

T.J. Hooks set out to Hayesville, N.C., to collect money owed his clients. He took a train from Atlanta to Toccoa, where locals warned that he should go well-armed on the 70-mile treacherous trek over the mountains as he might be mistaken for a revenue agent.

"I thereupon after arraying and arming myself as directed, procured a fleet-footed saddle horse for the perilous undertaking," Hooks wrote of his adventure.

His trip began pleasantly as he inhaled the beauty of Toccoa Falls, Clarkesville and the Nacoochee Valley. "Never did a ride feel so exhilarating, so pleasurable as the ride that May morning," he wrote.

He rested in Clarkesville before approaching Nacoochee Valley. "As I approached nearer, the lowing of cattle on the green meadows, the luxuriant fields of waving grain, the neatly painted fences and residences reminded me that I was in the land of civilization, peace, plenty and comfort."

He spent the night there, so inspired that he quoted poetry: "Child of the Chattahoochee, Hid in the hills afar, Beautiful Nacoochee, Vale of the Evening Star. Hushed amidst mountain shadows, With the May dew on her breast, Her breath is the breath of meadows And her very name sighs rest."

The next day he found the cabin of a mountaineer who kept a tollgate to a graded road across the mountain. Squire Stubbs allowed him to stay the night, fed him supper before proceeding to read from the Bible, sing hymns and pray. Hooks's tab was 85 cents for the meal, toll and a tip.

His host shared with him "a leetle of the best corn juice" he ever tasted before Hooks resumed his journey.
Proceeding up Unicoi Gap, a stranger, Samuel Grimes of Rabun County, joined Hooks and pointed out the bold spring that was the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. A little farther, they spied a mule tied to a tree and a man Grimes identified as Bill Simmons lying on the ground drunk.

Grimes teased Simmons that the lawyer Hooks was a revenue agent, whereupon Simmons drew a pistol on him. Quickly clarifying Hooks was no revenue agent, Grimes put Simmons on the mule with himself, and the three rode on, Simmons and Grimes getting tipsier by the sip.

Hooks didn't want to offend his new companions by refusing their liquor, told them he had to hurry to Hayesville to conduct his business, and left them on the trail.

Hooks finally made it the next day after several crossings of the Hiawassee River. He described Hayesville as "the most salubrious looking spot it was ever my pleasure to visit."

He began his journey back with some foreboding because his two companions up the mountain knew he would be carrying money he had collected in Hayesville. His fears were realized when halfway up Simmons and another man sprang from behind some trees to rob him. He fired at them, wounding Simmons, but was wounded himself.

"Observing myself at a disadvantage, I quickly urged my horse forward while the balls of the pistol of the man behind the tree went whistling by my ears," Hooks wrote.

When he got some distance, he stopped by a stream to apply wet clay to his wounded shoulder.

After he resumed up the mountain, three men on horses began chasing and shooting at him, thinking he was a revenue officer. At the bottom of the mountain, the three were gaining when Hooks spotted Grimes, the friend he had made just a couple of days before.

Knowing the pursuers, Grimes stopped them and explained that Hooks was no revenuer. It turned out, too, that one of the men was Tom Ogletree, whom the lawyer had helped get out of prison.

Hooks and Grimes returned to Squire Stubbs's cabin, treated the lawyer's wound and put him on his way.

The first two desperadoes who had tried to rob Hooks were arrested and jailed. But Hooks later asked that the charges be dropped as he believed the men had suffered enough while sitting in jail. He felt lucky to be alive to tell his thrilling tale.

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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