Mule Camp Market has been enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people in its time in Gainesville, but the festival has a bizarre piece of history attached to it.
The market was once known as Corn Tassel Festival. One could be forgiven for skimming the name — it sounds like the sort of thing you’d expect out of an event anchored by a farmers market.
But it has nothing to do with a harvest. It’s the name of George “Corn” Tassel, a Cherokee who was convicted of murder and hanged in the Gainesville square in the mid-1830s.
Accounts in The Times records vary. A story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1993 notes that Tassel was convicted of killing another Native American and attributes the fact to “local history.”
A 1971 article in Georgia Magazine by Mrs. James E. Bates refers to Tassel as a “halfbreed” and claims he “murdered a white man trespassing in Cherokee country,” which then sat west of the Chattahoochee River. The case was tried in the Hall County Courthouse in the downtown square.
Whether federal and state law applied on Cherokee land was up for debate during the period, and Tassel’s attorney argued the state didn’t have the jurisdiction to charge the man, according to Bates.
Tassel’s case was appealed to the Supreme Court, and then Georgia Gov. George Gilmer was called as a witness in the case.
“Governor Gilmer knew that the case would be decided against Georgia, so he replied, with spirit, that the United States Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction and that the state of Georgia would scorn to compromise itself,” Bates wrote. “He sent a hasty message to the sheriff of Hall County instructing him to hang George Tassel immediately — which was done.”
The festival’s name was changed in 1993, when the Gainesville Jaycees took it over from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
John Geyer, the first Jaycees leader to organize the Mule Camp Market, said the name was changed at the behest of festival founder James Mathis Sr.
The story from the AJC states that organizers discovered the origin of the name in 1993. In The Times’ records of Corn Tassel and Mule Camp Market, there’s nothing explaining how the festival came by the Corn Tassel name or why.