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Indians lost every effort to keep land

POSTED: July 5, 2008 5:00 a.m.

As white settlers poured into what is now North Georgia in the 1700s and early 1800s, conflicts between them and the Indians were inevitable.

The Creeks and Cherokees might not have had legal deeds to those lands, but they considered them theirs because they had lived there for generations.

Revolutionary War veterans received land grants, some of which were in Indian territory. Treaties had established Indian boundaries, but the lines often were vague, resulting in claims and counter-claims.

A Treaty of 1785 presumably settled some of the issues, but other treaties followed. Finally, the Treaty of 1804 became known as the Four-Mile Purchase, Indians giving up some more territory. It established a four-mile strip of land from Currahee Mountain in what is now Stephens County to what is now Alto on the Banks-Habersham county line. Some of this was in Franklin County at the time, but became parts of Banks and Habersham.

Hall County was affected, too, as the line was considered extending southwest to Hog Mountain near Lawrenceville. Before Hall became an official county, the land was divided between whites and Indians along the ridge south of what is now Gainesville, with the Indians occupying territory to the north.

Indians at that time might not have been astute as surveyors, but they knew that water south of the ridge flowed into the Atlantic Ocean, and streams to the north emptied into the Gulf of Mexico.

Whites steadily encroached on that line until the Indians revolted. They pointed to state legislative acts that provided for 100 to 500 lashes for first-time offenders violating the line or even surveying it.

An appointed commission that included Indians agreed to settle disputes, but white members made it clear they would "obtain for the white people as large a compass of ground as they can."

Eventually, of course, the Indians lost out, although during the settling of Gainesville as county seat, an Indian owned part of the town. Stephen Reed, one of the city's first commissioners, paid the Indian, Simeon White, $350 for 200 acres.

Debate ensued over choosing where a county courthouse should be built. Some wanted it at what is now New Holland, location of a limestone spring. Others wanted it near what was then known as the Findley Mule Camp Spring, near where BB&T Bank is today. They compromised by choosing land between the springs.

Duke Williams of Greene County sold Hall County 50 acres for $1,000 to provide a place to start its government, and the new county and its official seat, Gainesville, were on their way. The Indians were on their way, too, out of North Georgia westward on the Trail of Tears.

• • •

It must have been slow news days in the spring of 1937, a year after a tornado had destroyed much of Gainesville. A woodpecker pecking at the steeple on a local church made national news.

Grace Episcopal Church had just completed its new building on Washington Street across from the Brenau College campus when a woodpecker became attracted to its steeple. The steeple was of cast iron rather than wood, and the pecking at all hours caused some dismay in the neighborhood. The bird often would wake up its sleeping neighbors.

It caused such a stir the Gainesville News reported the woodpecker's annoying peckings. The Associated Press thought the story newsworthy enough to put it on its worldwide wires, and so it became sort of a national curiosity. Columnists across the state and other parts of the country weighed in on why a woodpecker would peck at something iron rather than wood, where it normally would feast on insects.

The Rev. Geoffrey Hinshelwood, the Episcopal rector, appealed for advice to shoo the woodpecker away without harming it. Opinions from experts varied. Nationally known ornithologists even commented on the case. Some thought the bird wasn't desperately hunting for its supper, but admiring the gold-leafed steeple, cocking its head one way, then the other before hammering away again. Others concluded that the woodpecker merely was signaling its kin or perhaps a lost mate in some fashion.

Nevertheless, the bird eventually left the building and so did a story that certainly broke the monotony of springtime in a small town.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com. First published May 11, 2008.



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