During the 1920s, a woman in fancy riding clothes regularly could be seen on a white horse in a sparsely populated area of Banks County near Alto.
She carried a map and said she was searching for a pot of gold supposedly left by Spanish explorers decades ago. She wore high-top black English riding boots and stayed with the Seaborn Gilstrap family. She had come to Banks County from Chicago because her son had tuberculosis and was being treated at what was then a sanatorium in Alto.
Ralph and Maybelle White, who now live on Winn Lake Road near the homes of their childhood, said they were about 10 years old when the mysterious woman would ride through their yards, asking questions of their parents or neighbors. They don’t remember her “German-sounding” name.
The Whites said she told them the map was from Spain, but they don’t know how she came to have it. Two dogs followed the woman and the horse.
According to the story, Spaniards had hidden the treasure under or near a big rock and would return later to retrieve it, but never did. Maybelle White remembers playing on a big rock with the likeness of a chicken carved into it near her home. That rock now is covered with moss, she said.
Mrs. White, her brother, Noel Goodson, and her husband Ralph are the only three people still alive who remember seeing the woman on the white horse, she said. The Whites are in their 90s.
Their son, Max, professor of anthropology at Piedmont College and author of two books on archaeology, doubts there is a pot of gold buried in the area. His parents, he said, certainly saw the woman on the white horse, but he believes even if Spanish explorers had been in the area they would have carried any treasure they found with them when they moved on.
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William E. Jenkins must have thought he found a pot of gold in June 1903, days after a tornado struck Gainesville and killed more than 100 people, many of them children working in the new Gainesville Cotton Mill. Jenkins’ parents worked in the mill, and his home was destroyed by the storm.
He had stored $190 in gold in a tobacco pouch in the house, but couldn’t find it among the ruins of the storm. But 13 days after the tornado, Jenkins found it about 100 yards from where his house had stood.
Hartman Grigg and some women taking pictures helped him count the money: four $20 gold pieces, seven $10 gold coins, seven $50 and two $2.50 coins.
Whenever there are tornadoes, debris usually is found miles away. After the 1903 storm, two life insurance policies belonging to J.H. Whisenant of Gainesville were found 25 miles away in White County. Farther away, in Towns County, somebody found a promissory note belonging to W.L. Anderson of Gainesville.
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The Green Russell family of Dawson and Lumpkin counties was pioneers in the gold rush out West in the mid-1800s. The Russells’ father, James, had brought his family to Hall County from South Carolina in 1822 when Green was 2 years old. James Russell worked in the Lumpkin County gold fields, his sons learning much from his skills.
But the Russells’ fame came in the Colorado gold country, and they are credited with founding settlements that became Denver. They built the first building in what would become Denver. The Auraria name from Lumpkin County remains alive in Colorado.
The Russells and others from North Georgia made several trips out West to prospect for gold.
A Hall County native of 1820, James H. Pierce, a cousin of the Russells, was among them. He was with Green Russell in 1858 in the Cherry Creek gold fields. He, too, discovered gold, is credited with finding the first nugget and assisted with the first gold mine in that area.
Pierce was so admired that in later years Colorado made him an honorary guest of the state.
Born on the Chattahoochee River in the Fork District of Hall County, he lived to be 90 years old, dying in Denver May 11, 1910. His funeral was described as very large.
Pierce and Russell descendants are numerous in North Georgia.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.