In the years after the Civil War into the 1880s and 1890s, there seemed to be almost a mass exodus from Jackson County into “the promised land” of Texas.
Residents from neighboring counties also began the long trip to the Lone Star State not in search for gold as others before them did to far Western states, but for plentiful cheap land, bountiful crops, livestock and more opportunities.
The first ones to leave would go by wagon train, a convoy directed by Bagwell Manufacturing Co., the well-known wagon maker from Hall County. Andy Byers, a Jackson Countian, learned family stories from those who made the journey west.
His grandfather, Xerxes Taylor Byers, was practically an orphan at age 3. His uncle, who worked for the wagon master, took him to raise, and by age 12, he had made several trips to Texas. The uncle moved his family to Wetherford, Texas, where many of the former North Georgians lived. Many also migrated to Gainesville, Texas.
X.T. Byers, after working on the wagon train, became an outfitter. Andy Byers, who researched his family roots on a trip to Texas, said the wagon train mandated Bagwell wagons. Sometimes 90 to 100 wagons would be in the train. A Bagwell mechanic would ride in the last wagon with parts for the wagons.
His grandfather, who Andy Byers remembers sitting under a tree in his yard and telling stories, told him the wagon train was run like a military operation with inspection of the wagon and manifest for supplies before it left. If wagons didn’t pass or have required supplies, they couldn’t leave.
On Andy Byers’s trip to Texas, he visited two cemeteries in search of ancestors’ graves. He found graves for Byers and Braseltons, among them in one cemetery a prominent pink monument.
Sue Holliman, a Jackson County historian, has names of some who left the area for Texas. Among them, John Amos Braselton and seven of his nine children, Will Holliday, A.E. Brooks, Mrs. L.P. Lanier and husband, Poss Braselton, who had been a county commissioner and sheriff. She said six families left about 1896: Braseltons, Brooks, Nunns, Dukes, Niblocks, Applebys and Blackstocks from Hall County.
A man named Marlow left Jackson County for Texas, stayed one day and returned home.
Benjamin Catlett moved to Upshaw County in Texas in 1867. Among those who went with him on a wagon train were J.C, Highfill, J.M. Meeks and the Bud Williams families, along with J.A. Mangum and James Myers. After 15 years, they never regretted it, he said. “Texas lands are yet good, plenty and cheap and plenty of room for Georgia’s sons and daughters,” he wrote to the Jackson County newspaper.
The pages of the Jackson Herald in those days are filled with news and letters from families who had moved to Texas. H.C. Giddeon sold his farm to move there, and Miss Sallie Worsham was following others, including Jesse Blalock.
There even was a great debate among letter writers about whether the trip was worth it. While the wagon trains were arduous, later migrants gravitated to railroads, still a challenging trip for a family.
In 1893, A.R. Durham wrote that Texas was a great place to live. But another wrote that if life there was so good, why were so many returning to Georgia so soon? Some from Jackson County weren’t making it, another wrote.
Thomas House traveled to Texas in 1887 and concluded “the old red hills of Georgia are good enough for me. I’d rather be a quack doctor and live in Cedar Hill (a Jackson County community) than to own half of east Texas.”
T.J. Bowles in 1892 wrote from Millwood, Texas, that people from Banks, Hall, Jackson and Gwinnett counties were thriving. Those who return to Georgia were simply homesick, he said.
Robert Howard, editor of the Herald at the time, appealed to readers to stay home. “Crops fail in Texas,” he said. “not Jackson County. Land is cheap in Georgia. There is not a better state than Georgia nor county than Jackson.”
Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; 770-532-2326; email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org