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White County mountain’s past is quite infamous

POSTED: September 28, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Lynch Mountain isn't as well known or prominent as its more visible neighbor, Yonah Mountain, which stands guard over picturesque Nacoochee Valley in White County.

But where it got its name is curious. W.H. Craig, an Atlanta writer who later edited the Gainesville Eagle, once suggested that it came from Jeter Lynch, son of a Cherokee Indian and her husband, a German peddler.

Jeter Lynch was a part Cherokee of gargantuan stature and lawless life, Craig wrote. He lived at the same time as the more famous Sequoyah, who developed the Cherokee alphabet and published a newspaper.

Jeter Lynch was the first Judge Lynch, he said. "Lynch was a born leader, brave as a lion with an eagle's eye and sly as a fox, and at an early age became chief of his tribe," Craig wrote.

But he could be rather ruthless. When whites from the Carolinas and other parts of Georgia began to raid Indian territory, he adopted stringent measures to stop them. "Lynch was a dangerous antagonist," Craig said, and few of the prisoners whom he captured ever returned to tell stories of their tortures.

Tradition is that Lynch would line his prisoners against a tree and chop off their fingers. One story goes that he took 25 men whom his braves had tortured and had his paramour, Katy Ward, push them over Toccoa Falls one by one. At one time, Craig said, three lonely and desolate graves with soapstone headstones stood at the foot of Lynch Mountain, supposedly the final resting place of Lynch, Katy Ward and Lynch's wife.

"And did that frightful thing we know as lynch law first raise its head and show its face in Northeast Georgia?" Craig asked.

The tree where Lynch did his deeds became known as Chopped Oak because Indians would record the number of scalps they took with gashes in the tree with their tomahawks. Chopped Oak, however, also was the gathering place for Cherokee and early white settlers. It was considered a law ground where magistrates would hold forth.

Later, whites objected to the legend of the tree where so many of their brethren apparently had been tortured and their scalps recorded, and it either died of neglect or through design.

Chopped Oak's Indian name was "digalu'yaton'yi," translated "where it is gashed with hatchets."
The tree was located on the road between Clarkesville and Toccoa about six miles east of Clarkesville.
Another noteworthy mountain in the Nacoochee Valley neighborhood is Tray Mountain. For many years it was called Trail Mountain, probably because so many Indian trails crossed it. Tray Mountain once was the site of cheese factories, started by Major Edward Williams, one of the valley's most famous residents.

Apparently, the mountain was chosen because of cold water springs two-thirds of the way up. The cheese-making operation was on a cleared level area of the mountain with plenty of grass for 50 to 75 cows, which were driven up from the valley.

Cheese-making later moved down the mountain into the valley.

Edward Williams also built the house known as Starlight in Nacoochee Valley. He valued the place most highly and died there in 1856. He left the house and 200 acres to his youngest daughter, Mary Hannah. She married a Dr. Starr from Rome, they returned to the valley to live in the home and began to call it Starlight, for obvious reasons.

It later became a home for children and operated as a summer camp for some time.
One of Major Williams' sons, George Walton, became even better known than his father, and his writings about Nacoochee Valley chronicled much of the early history of the area.

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 in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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