From the Alabama Historical Quarterly, Volume 27, Spring and Summer 1965, pages 95 -132:
A Description and History of Blount County
By George Powell
[Introduction as published in the Alabama Historical Quarterly] George Powell settled in Blount County in 1819 where he taught school and assisted in the original surveys of the region. For forty years he served as surveyor of Blount County. His study of geology and is private explorations of the mineral resources of the vicinity attracted the attention of Prof. Michael Toumey, State Geologist who after 1848 cooperated with his in mineral surveys of Blount, Jefferson, Winston, Walker, Marion, Lawrence, and Franklin Counties.
"A History and Description of Blount County" was first published by the Alabama Historical Society in 1855. Because of its rarity, it is here reprinted in order both to make it more available generally and to stimulate interest in brining the history up to date. The copy used for this purpose belonged to Alexander B. Meek and is now in the possession of the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Details of the original printing are found in the reminiscences of Col. James M. Van Hoose ("the Alabama Historical SocietyReminiscences of Fifty Years," Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, 1899-1903, Vol. IV, P. 120) in which he writes:
A "History of Blount County" came into my hands as secretary with the accompanying directions from the Society to edit and publish it. This manuscript "History" was by Mr. George Powell, of Blount County, and was written at the instance of the venerated Prof. Michael Toumey, professor of geology and mineralogy of the State University, and State geologist of Alabama. Mr. Powell had guided Prof. Toumey in his explorations of Blount, being thoroughly acquainted with the topography of the county. Prof. Toumey's clear discernment of "good metal" discovered that Mr. Powell was of valuable "grit" and laid him under contribution for our Society. The result was the "History of Blount County," a brochure of some thirty-five printed pages as published in the winter of 1855-56, by J.F. Warren, proprietor of the Observer, Tuscaloosa. This little historical pamphlet was unique as a model for such brief histories of our various counties as the Society so much desires. This and the address of Mr. [A.B.] Meek ["On Alabama History"] appeared in the Transactions of the Society for 1855.
An editor's note prefaced the original edition, and as it expresses our intent, it is appropriate to quote it at length.
It is due to the writer of the following pages, to say, that they were prepared by him amid duties of a very dis-similar kind, at the request of a member of the Historical Society, under the belief, that he was merely furnishing material to be wrought by another hand, into a more complete shape before publication. As, however, the main purpose of sending this abroad, is to furnish the friends and members of the Society, throughout the State, a general criterion, as to the character of matter which it is desirable to obtain from the different Counties, the Executive Committee have thought it would as well comport with their duties, and better effectuate their purpose, to publish it without changing, to any material extent, the original manuscript.
The thirty-fourth parallel of North latitude and the meridian of Huntsville, cross near the center of the county. At first, our county extended from the Cherokee line on the north-east to the present Tuscaloosa line on the south-west, and included Jefferson county, most of Walker, a large portion of Marshall, and some of Hancock; but as the country became more densely settled, it was proper to curtail Blount to its present dimensions.
The ridge which divides the waters of the Tennessee from the Warrior, runs through the county and divides it into two very unequal portions; the south part lying on the waters of the Black Warrior, being much the larger portion, than which originally formed part of the Creek nation: this part is sometimes called old Blount, to distinguish it from the smaller part, which was claimed by the Cherokees, and was obtained from them many years after Blount was organized.
The territory under consideration would average a little more than thirty miles square; but nature has divided it into six divisions: five of which run through the entire breadth of the county.
The first division is the long narrow elevated portion between the Raccoon and Pine Mounts, adjoining St. Clair county; the second, is Murphree's Valley; the third is the trough of the Locust Fork of Black Warrior; the fourth is Blountsville Valley; the fifth consists of coal measures west of the Blountsville Valley; the sixth is Brown's Valley.
The first division is the most eastern and is about thirty miles long, and from three to five miles wide. This is a coal region and nearly all of it composed of mountains. It is in this narrow division that the Locust Fork has its main source, rising near the north-west corner of Township 13, Range 3, east, and running first ten or twelve miles north-east, it then turns to the left through a gap of the Pine Mountain into Murphree's Valley, which it crosses at right angles, then running through a gap in the main Sand Mountain and turning again to the left, keeps a south-west direction to Jefferson county.
The little Warrior rises near the main source of the Locust Fork, but flows exactly in an opposite direction eight or ten milesthen turns to the right through a gap in Pine Mountaincrosses Murphree's Valley near Crump's Cave, and unites with the Locust Fork at Yielding's Ferry, in Township 12, Range 1, west.
At the heads of these rivers, the land rises high, almost as high as the mountains that skirt this division, and the inhabitants have at this place constructed a road leading from Blountsville to Ashville. The coal beds that I have seen, are about two feet thick and of good quality; they are in the bottom of the main prong of the Locust Fork. The smiths haul coal from those beds for ten or twelve miles. It is said there is coal on the little Warrior in this division. The timber is oak, hickory and pine. Some good land les on the streamsformerly covered with cane, large poplars, gums, beech, &c.
2nd. Murphree's Valley is about thirty miles long and three miles broad, reckoning from the top of the Straight or Pine Mountain on the east, to the top of Sand Mountain on the west. The Red Mountain is between them, and its top is about one mile from the top of the Sand Mountain. This valley is a continuation of Jones' Valley. It must be kept in mind that all those mountains run parallel through the county, and much furthertheir direction being south-west. (See Toumey's map of the State.) They are very even on their tops, having no abrupt prominences on them; but they have a few narrow gaps through which the waters find their way. The Red Mountain is not so long as the others; it reaches from Five-mile Creek in Jefferson county to the head of Aurora Valley, formerly called Brister's Cove. This mountain is quite knobby.
Limestone is abundant in this valley, and extends rather more than half way up the precipitous sides of the Sand Mountains; then commences the sand-stone, which is succeeded by conglomerate. This valley was densely covered with tall timber, consisting of oaks, hickory, poplars, gums beech, maple, elms, walnut, cherry, mulberry, &c., intermixed with vines and other small growth. Pine is rather scarce; cedar plentiful, on the limestone cliffs and the sides of the mountains. Good limestone water is plentiful.
3rd. This division is the trough of the Locust Fork of the Warrior. It is seven or eight miles wide at the north side of the county, but it gradually widens as it goes south, and becomes ten or twelve broad at the south-west side of the county. This trough lies parallel with Murphree's Valley, and is about the same length. All the waters of Murphree's Valley and part of the waters of Blountsville Valley, empty into the Locust Fork, which runs through this trough, not through the centre, but much nearer to Blountsville Valley. The small streams which flow from Blountsville Valley, are short and rapid, having about one hundred feet to fall before they reach the Locust Fork, which is seldom over two miles distant, and the streams from the north-west have their courses nearly at right angles with the river, while the streams which come from Murphree's Valley are much longer, and their general course forms a smaller angle with the river. In this division we have a great number of very ugly and dangerous bluffs or rocky cliffs. The rocks are millstone grit, sand-stone and slate; and there is besides some coal; but not a solitary piece of limestone can be found in this section of the county. Chalybeate springs are frequent, and what we call "licks," are common in this formation. "Licks" are places where deer and cattle resort for the purpose of licking and eating a kind of brackish clay, and are generally found in low and damp places. The timber is not so thick set nor so tall as the timber in the valleys, though pretty much of the same kind. We have more chestnut and pine, but less cedar, beech, maple and elm. On some of our rich bottom lands, we even surpass the valleys in the size of our timber and fertility of our soil.
4th. Blountsville Valley and Brown's Valley are really the same, they being bounded each side by the same unbroken chain of mountains; and all the difference between them is a low flat ridge or water shed that runs across the valley and divides the waters of the Warrior from those of the Tennessee. This ridge is so low, and on the south side the slope is so gradual, as not to be perceived by a traveller. If he is going to the north, he will be surprised by finding himself on the waters of the Tennessee, without knowing exactly when or where he crossed the main ridge.
What I call Blountsville Valley, includes only the part lying on the waters of the Warrior. This part is over twenty miles long and three or four widelike Murphree's Valley, it has a continuous, but a lower mountain on each side. The middle ridge of this valley is higher than the mountains on either side, so that a spectator cannot see from one side of this valley to the other. In this respect, it differs from Murphree's Valley, which may be clearly seen across in most places; but like Murphree's Valley, the mountains that skirt it are composed of limestone from their bases half way to their tops, which are capped with sand-stone and milestone grit.
This valley is very hilly along its centre, and does not possess that regularity which is so apparent in Murphree's Valley; but the rocks and fossils are nearly the samethe timber also is similar. The creeks that run west, escape through gaps of the mountain and empty into the Mullberry Fork of the Warrior, which runs close to the west side of this mountain.
It is proper to observe that all those mountains which skirt the vallies have one precipitous side, which is invariably the side next to the valleythe other side of each is invariable a long sandy slope. They are all nearly of the same height, being from four to five hundred feet high; in some places perhaps they rise to six hundred feet. In each gap, where rivers or creeks cut through them in leaving the valley, a mill is sure to be found in operation.
5th. This portion of the county is shaped somewhat like a three-cornered handkerchief, with the longest side joining the Blountsville Valley on the north-west. This is the loveliest part of our county; but the soil is sandy and generally poor. The timber is similar to the timber found in the trough of the Warrior. This portion is often called Brindlee's Colony. It is thinly settled, and has a pretty good grass range, with some wild game. The Mulberry Fork of the Warrior heads in this portion near the north-east corner of the county, and runs a south-west course. It keeps within two miles of the Blountsville Valley throughout the county. The longest streams that empty into the Mulberry Fork, come from the north, but they mostly dry up in the summer and fall. The constant streams that empty into it have their heads in the Blountsville Valley.
6th. The part sometimes called new Blount, is merely the southern part of Brown's Valley. It is about eight miles long, and four miles broad. Two creeks have their rise in this valley, viz: Gunter's Creek in the southeast, which flows north-east and empties into the Tennessee river at Guntersville; and Brown's Creek in the north-west, which empties into the Tennessee at Baird's Bluff. The streams entering either of these creeks are short and unimportant. The rocks, fossils and timber, are the same as those of Blountsville Valley. This is the only portion of the county having a north-ward exposure.
As to climate, little diversity could be expected to exist on so small an area, particularly if latitude were the only cause of variation. In Blount, however, other causes exert a greater influence on the temperature than latitude. Pretty much all of old Blount has a south-west exposure, which doubtless gives it a higher temperature than the latitude would otherwise indicate. And further, the coal measures on the Warriors have a sandy soil which would yet more augment the heat; and again these last named places have less elevation and lie farther south. All these causes help to increase the temperature of this part of the county.
Brown's Valley has a north-east exposure and a clay soil, and is the farthest north. These causes combined, render this valley the coldest, and doctors say, the healthiest part of Blount.
A gentleman who resides at Summit, and has for seven or eight years past been a practicing physician, not only in Brown's Valley, but in Blountsville Valley, and the coal measures, assures me, that he has four patients in the two last mentioned places, to one in Brown's Valleythe population being considered.
In the spring season vegetation commences along the southern sides of our long sandy mountains, and the leaves of the trees in such places are often half-grown before those in lower places have fairly burst their buds. The grass, also, on these warm sunny sides of the mountains is earlier, and the favorite resort for cattle in the spring season. In autumn, however, such places are the first to shed their foliage. The present spring, we had a late frost which killed all the young leaves and orchard fruit throughout the county, except such as were near tops of the mountains. Similar frosts happened in 1829 and 1849.
That the tops of these long mountains covered densely with tall timber are cooler that the lower portions of the county, is very perceptible: for in hot weather, a person on reaching near their tops is sure to find himself in a cool delightful breeze. That their tops are colder in winter is also very perceptible: for when cold rains fall in the lower portions of the county, the timber on the mountains is often covered with ice, and the line of congelation is very perceptible.
I have long been of opinion that our long mountains, low as they are, do exert by their coolness a great influence on our summer rains. Certain it is, that after long droughts, the first rains that we have follow pretty much their summits. The following observation was made last summer: Business had kept me some weeks in the immediate vicinity of Warnock's Knob, which is the highest point of the mountain that skirts the south side of Blountsville Valley. A general and severe drought was beginning to be felt, and every body was watching anxiously for every appearance of rain. For several days, slight clouds passed and sometimes we received a few drops but not enough to do any good. One afternoon, we observed several little thin clouds which seemed to meet nearly over the highest part of the knob, but did not appear of sufficient size to afford much rain. Appearance, however, were deceptive; it gave us a fine season on and around the knob, but the rain did not extend over one mile in any direction. Within a few days, the like was repeated at the same place. In all other places, as far as I could learn, the drought continued some weeks longer; but that whole line of mountains through the county had the first season. After which, the rains spread and became general.
Upon inquiry, I was informed that around that mountain a severe drought had never been known, though it had been settled thirty years.
It may be the cooling influence of our numerous, though low mountains, that has hitherto saved Blount from excessive droughts that some of our adjourning counties have suffered. If so, we should never clear our mountain tops of timber.
In the warm season, we have occasionally pretty severe thunder storms. They are narrow and seldom more than a few miles in length, and of uncertain direction. Extensive hurricanes pursue an eastward coursethey rarely occur. We have breezes from every directionthose from the south-west are the most constant.
Before giving an account of the first settlement of our county, it will be proper to notice several obstacles in the way at that particular timesuch as, how far had the immigrants to gothe difficulties to be overcomeand the prospect of provisions after arrival. All these things immigrants are sure to study before they set out. It will be at once be seen by a glance at a map of the surrounding States, that the people of Madison County, Alabama, and the inhabitants of East Tennessee, had greatly the advantage in each of these respects.
The troops from Tennessee that invaded the Creeks in 1812, marched through Madison County, on their way to Baird's Bluff Deposit, and made a wagon road to that place (which is near the Blount County line;) but Gen. Coffee's mounted detachment continued up through Brown's Valley and Blountsville Valley on its way against Old Town; and thus a great number of Tennesseans had an opportunity of seeing the country and learning the distance and the wayimportant information acquired.
Tennessee river afforded great facilities to all the eastern portion of Tennessee. The immigrants from that quarter could, by means of flat boats, bring not only their families, household and kitchen furniture, provisions and all kinds of stock, but even wagons and the teams to draw them. These boats could land at Gunter's or Deposit, and have a good way open to any part of Blount County.
The people of Madison County, who were the first to stop in Blount or Jefferson, emigrated along the old Huntsville road. This road was originally an Indian trace, leading from Ditto's Landing, to Mud Town, on the Cahawba.
At the time Blount was settling, we must recollect that the Cherokee Indians were the lords of all that portion of country lying between Wills Creek and the Chattahoochee river; so that the Georgians and the Carolinians had all that savage country to pass through, and generally over very bad roads; and when they crossed Wills Creek, and were fairly in Alabama Territory, they were only in St. Clair County and had yet to climb the Raccoon Mountain, from which they could indeed get a glimpse (not of the promised, but the desired land) of Blount.
From the above facts, it is easy to see from what quarter Blount was most likely to receive early immigrants. The United States acquired a right to the country in August, 1814, yet the whites were not permitted to take general possession until 1816, when a Mr. Jones, and his brother-in-law, Caleb Fryley, both of Madison County, were the first white men that settled permanently within our bounds. Mr. Jones located at Jonesborough, and gave his name to that village and to the valley in which it stands. Mr. Fryley located at "Bearmeat Cabin," now Blountsville. These two men in the fall of 1816, brought the first wagon into Blount County.
From 1816, the immigration was surprisingly rapid. The immigrants came from Madison, and in great numbers from Tennessee. They advanced along the old Indian trace, that led from Ditto's Landing to Mud Town, on the Cahawba. Every fertile spot near this road was settled in 1817. Great numbers of immigrants came down from Tennessee river in flat boats and landed at Deposit or Gunter's Landing, and there storing their provisions, advanced up Gunter's Creek to Brooksville and turning to the left, crossed the trough of the Locust Fork and entered Murphree's Valley (at section 16, township 12, range 2, east,) and continued down that valley, until they intersected the first named route at the Village Spring. This route was also thickly settled in 1817. Another route, was that pursued by General Coffee, in his expedition against Old Town. This road was thickly settled in 1817, mostly by Tennesseans.
All immigrants that came this year, had to bring and to pack their tools, salt, corn or meal, from Madison County, or the Tennessee river. As for meat, the woods furnished an abundance. They did not give corn to their work-horses, but let them shift on grass.
In 1815, several worthy citizens left the upper district of South Carolina and removed to the State of Tennessee, and early in 1817, immigrated to Blount and located in Murphree's Valley. (Dan'l. Murphree gave his name to this valley.) They formed a prosperous and moral settlement. The members of this little settlement wrote numerous letters to their friends who lived in South Carolina, and induced many of them to immigrate early to Blount County; and it is singular, that from so small a beginning, the Carolinians and their descendants should now from the most numerous portion of Blount, although the Tennesseans had nearly two years the start in the first settlement, and had choice of locations; for the Carolinians could scarcely get to Blount with a wagon previous to 1817, and it was not until 1818 and 1819, that the immigrants swarmed through the Cherokee nation in numbers sufficient to astonish the inhabitants. The road by which they came to the county, crossed the Chattahoochee river at the upper Shallow Ford, passed through Rome, crossed Wills Creek at Bennettville, and leaving the Raccoon Mountains close on the right hand, entered Jones' Valley, seven or eight miles east of Elyton, and then formed a junction with the great Tennessee road. It was at this point that most of the immigrants from the east entered Blount; (this part is now Jefferson County,) but not until after the Tennesseans, as in all other places in Blount, had located themselves on the best places. The South Carolinians settled very thick in the lower part of Blount, (now Jefferson) and next to the Tennesseans, were the most numerous in this part.
These two strong parties, the Tennesseans and South Carolinians, differing so much in manners, customs and ideas, quickly became hostile to each other. Several severe "bear fights" took place between them in 1817, in which the Tennesseans were generally masters of the ring. This was very galling to the chivalry of the South Carolinians; but they had to bear it nearly a year, and until the obtained help from their native State. In 1818, they received a chosen re-inforcement, and at the junction of the Georgia and Tennessee road, a "Battle Royal" took place between the Tennesseans and South Carolinians, which gave the latter the ascendency in the lower part of Blount (now Jefferson.) Hence their manners and customs are Carolinian. In the north-east portion of Blount (the portion now called Blount,) the Tennessee character continued in all its pristine purity.
On the 7th of February, 1818, the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of Alabama, established the county of BLOUNT. The act is as follows:
"That hereafter, all that tract of country lying west of the Cherokee boundary, south of the boundary line of Township No. 8, from the southern boundary of the State of Tennessee, bounded on the west by the Sipsey Fork to its junction with the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior; from thence by the united streams to its junction with the Locust Fork of said river; thence by said river to a point opposite the southern extremity of Jones' Valley; thence by a line drawn from said valley to the main ridge dividing the waters of said river from those of Cahawba river, and bounded on the south and south-east by said ridge to its eastern extremity, and from thence by a line running due east to said Cherokee boundary, shall form one county, to be known by the name of Blount."
John, Wood, who resided at the time near Jonesborough, was the agent selected to organize the county. This was performed by dividing the county into battalions and into beats. The military officers were elected and commissioned by the Governor, as at present; but Justices of the quorum and of the peace, were [formally] selected by Mr. Wood, and their names sent to he Governor who commissioned them. Law books were obtained and justice administered. The County Courts were composed of the Justices of quorum, and they attended to a great amount of county business. The Circuit Courts were conducted nearly as at present. The County seat was first at the house of William Kelly, five miles east of Elyton. Our lands were sectioned in 1817 and 1818.
On the 7th of March, 1819, an act passed Congress authorizing the people of Alabama to form a Constitution and State government. In the Convention for this purpose, Blount was allowed three members; their election to be on the first Monday and Tuesday in May, following. (A short time this,) from the first announcement to the election! Candidates to represent us in Convention, sprung up in every quarter of Blount. The candidates having but a short time to form an acquaintance with the people, thought it best to call them together, which was done by advertising and hand bills, and when they met, were informed from the stump, of the importance of the election. All this was very proper; but for fear that the "dear people" might not thoroughly understand the subject, it was thought best to brighten their ideas with rum. They therefore treated with a profusion that has not since been surpassed. The constitution made almost every office elective by the people; and the legislators were to elect annually. Thus, our county was overdone with elections, in all of which, the candidates were expected to treat the company with whiskey. Elections are pretty much the same all over the State, but Blount, perhaps, has been more controlled in her elections, by whiskey, than any other county.
On the 13th of December, 1819, the southern portion of Blount was stricken off by our State Legislature; and the part cut off, was called JEFFERSON COUNTY; and the line then established, is yet the line between the two counties. Thus, Blount lost Jones' Valleynearly half its territory and over half its population.
As the Court-House of Blount County before this division, was located in the present limits of Jefferson, the latter County kept all the records of Blount previous to 1820. Since that date, our County records may be found in Blountsville.
Some years after this, the north-east boundary of Blount was extended to the Tennessee River. This was done in order to extend the State laws over some Cherokee and Creek Indians, then residing in Brown's and Gunter's Valleys. Tennessee River remained our north-east boundary until Marshall County was established, when Blount County was again curtailed to its present limits.
Although some few persons had grown corn in Blount, in 1816, it was not until the fall of this year that great numbers of Tennesseans, and others, prepared for immediate location in our county; but how they were to obtain bread was the difficulty. They saw no other way but to pack (for no roads then were made) their corn or meal from Tennessee, or Madison County. The first object of some of the emigrants was to settle as near plentiful places as possible, and thus shorten the distance over which each man would have to pack provisions for himself and family. Others determined to make a small amount of bread suffice until they could produce corn.
This they effected by sending a few strong men, generally their sons, without families, deep into the then wilderness in the fall, to make corn and prepare for them. The father generally went with them and chose the place, and then went back to prepare for moving when corn was made. A bushel of meal will suffice a man one month, and if he has no other than wild meat, he will require even less bread. In the fall season, place three or four men one hundred miles in a wilderness, with proper tools and two horses, they will pack their bread stuff for the hundred milesprocure their meatclear landproduce corn sufficient to bread on hundred persons one year. It was by immigrants of this kind that Blount was mostly settled in 1816 and 1817. These pioneers were a hardy race, who cared but little for difficulties, provided they kept healthy.
I will state one small case merely to show how closely they were sometimes pressed for bread: Three brothers in the winter of 1816, were left by their father to clear land and make a crop of corn in Blount. They succeeded in their work, cleared ground, and made a good crop; and when they were done, two of the brothers returned to Tennessee, taking their horses with them, in order to assist their father to his new home; but the third brother was left to mind the crop. They left him about one bushel or corn which was deemed sufficient to last him until the growing crop would mature. Within about a week after his bother left, he discovered that part of his corn was missing. This greatly alarmed him, as he feared the loss would prove very inconvenient. He therefore went to a neighboring company to see, if he became pressed, if he might hope for assistance. All they could promise him was a horse to go to Tennessee for corn, about eighty miles. Being determined to put off the evil as long as possible, he returned to his home, and upon examining his corn sack, found that a hole had been gnawed through it. He then suspected the rats as the corn thieves. He got a string and suspended the sack in such a manner that the rats could get no more, and then went in quest of the enemy, which he found fortified in a large hollow log. He tore their sticks and rubbish out, and found most of his corn. This he carefully gathered and washed, to remove the odour of the rats, and thus saved the trouble and expense of going to Tennessee.
Blount produced a considerable quantity of corn in 1817, but not near enough to supply the vast number of emigrants. The Tennesseans, however, brought down the Tennessee River on flat boats, large amounts of breadstuffs, bacon, iron, salt, and many other things needed by new settlers. It was in this year that the Tennesseans, in flat and keel boats, commenced pouring down their river in great numbers, bringing their families, wagons, horses, cattle, hogs, dogs, cats, and all those necessary animals that are found about a farmer's house. These were landed at convenient points, and all the livestock, both quadruped and biped, took a south-west course, in order to reach their new homes. Those who came by water, and brought their provisions, perhaps suffered less hardships than any others. They had to pack or haul on wagons, their provisions from the river; but they saved the exorbitant prices that others had to pay. The number which came by water down the Tennessee River, though considerable, was but a fraction of the emigration. Every old trace that run through the county, soon became a road, along which swarmed for three or four years, multitudes of people of every description, bringing with them an incredible amount of stock of all kinds. Blount was thus soon filled with inhabitants; and the balance of those living currents was forced further south and west.
The settlement of old Blount may be considered as complete with the fall of 1818, being a fraction over two years from its commencement. Those two years of struggle and privation have long passed, but they are not to be forgotten by those whose lot it was to participate in them.
Packing was one of the greatest and most general inconveniences. Most of the horses that were condemned to bear this evil, were force to start early in the morning, and to carry two hundred pounds on their backs. Near 12 o'clock, the driver would stop, unload the horses, and permit them to graze about two hours; then re-load, and go until sun-set, when he would again unload, bell, and hobble them, allowing them to graze and rest until morning, and so on to the end of the journey. This treatment caused some of the sorest backs ever known. When I read the story of Yellow Blossom, in the Georgia Scenes, my first idea was that the immortalized Bullet, had been a pack pony in some of the mountainous parts of Georgia.
The want of mills was a great inconvenience, and before we could have bread, our corn had to be pounded into meal. This was severe labor and consumed much valuable time. (Steel mills were scarcely known.) Under such circumstances, it was natural that hominy should become the most fashionable diet.
We had to bear many other inconveniences that are inseparable from early emigrants. I will state one of them, in which the ladies were equally involved with the men:the difficulty attending matrimony before we had any authorized agents to solemnize the rites.But a single case of the kind is known in Blount previous to its organization. The parties in that case not wishing to go to Tennessee, (as was usual, to be married) they applied to a very worthy Methodist preacher who lied in the settlement, and requested him to tie the indissoluble knot. This he at first refused, but quickly consented to do, provided both parties and all their relations would enter into a heavy bond that the parties would marry again, as soon as proper authority could be obtained. This they performed, and he joined the parties in holy wedlock. It was the first marriage in Blount, and occurred in 1817. It so happened that this preacher was among the first Justices of the Peace appointed for the county, and was soon as he received his commission, and was duly qualified, before going home, he called in the night on the newly married pair, roused them up, and married them all over again.
Corn was the most necessary crop to the first settlers, and for three or four years it was the most profitable crop they could raise, and in fact, the only one from which they could expect to realize money. Corn was sold as high as four dollars per bushel. In the fall of 1817, the general price was two dollars per bushel. In the fall of 1818, it brought one dollar per bushel; but in the fall of 1819, it could scarcely be sold at any price, except upon the roads, along with the great tide of immigration was yet flowing to the south and west. Although most of our first settlers were in rather indigent circumstances on their first arrival in Blount, yet they had mostly realized money sufficient to pay the first installment on their lands when they came into market in July, 1819, at Huntsville.
Many months previous to the land sales, our county was visited by gangs of land speculators, who were taking the numbers of the most valuable lots of land, and endeavoring to find how much the occupant would give for this land. The information thus gained, the land speculator turned to his own advantage.
The terms of sale at that time, (1819,) were in lots of one hundred and sixty acres each, and the minimum price, two dollars per acre, one fourth of which to be paid down, and the balance to be paid in three equal annual installments, bearing interest from the date of sale.Hard terms! But the people deceived themselves in the though that as money had hitherto poured into Blount from every quarter, and every article for sale had hitherto commanded a high price, that times would remain the same. Laboring under these deceptive appearances, they attended the land sales at Huntsville, and met the Wily land speculators who were prepared to show each of them, not only the number of his improvement, but likewise the price their gang had determined it should bring at the sale. This would startle the settler, as the price which the speculators had set on his improvement was sure to be more than he could give, and it appeared certain that he would lose his home and have to commence in the woods again, unless he could, in some way, compromise with the gang. Compromises were therefore generally effected, and the settler permitted to bid off his land at the minimum price on paying the speculators a certain sum(according to the supposed value of the lot) frequently as much as five hundred dollars hush money. These things were done openly and in the face of daythe occupant often giving his note for the hush money.
In the fall of 1819, our State Legislature passed some severe acts against such open frauds; but this was locking the stable door after the steed was stolen, so far as Blount was interested. The land sales had nearly exhausted Blount of money, and left a great portion of our best citizens deeply in debt for land. Previous to the sales, it was the interest of the settlers to cause their improvements to appear as worthless as possible, in order to escape competition in the land market. Fences were made partly of logs, poles and brush, and their cabins were small and mean. After the sales, those who bought, wished for more substantial improvements; but their debts must be paid, and to do this, cotton sufficient must be produced; and never perhaps, did the citizens of any county determine on a cotton crop, under greater and more numerous difficulties. A few of the most prominent were: the smallness of our farms, and their pole and brush fences.The timber on our first fields, (which had been deadened but about two years,) was in a condition to drop great quantities of limbs and brush on the opening crop. Seed could be procured with great difficulty.Gins and presses were to erect, and roads made to them. The roads to market were long and very bad. Most of these difficulties must be overcome by white labor: for at this time, Blount could not boast of fifty Negroes.
A cotton crop keeps the hands busy most of the year, so that we had little time to improve houses or farms, and the children had little or no time to go to school. Notwithstanding all this, we planted, and grew successfully the first cotton crop, and from that time, continued to plant until 1836, when it was suddenly almost abandoned, and the numerous gins and presses suffered to rot down. Only fourteen yet remain. We now produce only four or five hundred bales of cotton annually.
Although the first purchasers exerted themselves to raise cotton in order to pay for their lands, they were doomed to suffer the anxiety which always hangs upon an honest debtor, for nearly seven years. The change of times, and the great fall in the price, (not only of cotton, but every thing else,) seemed to baffle all their efforts to raise money. Many of them sold their certificatesand all were desponding. Our State Legislature often prayed Congress for relief; and Congress passed a great number of relief laws such as prolonging the time of paymentremitting the interestand afterwards remitting part of the original debt. But the greatest relief resulted from an act, which permitted the purchaser to relinquish part of the land in payment for the portion retained. This act enabled the land holders to get clear of debt, after being seven years involved.
A few of the first purchasers would not grow cotton, but continued to increase their corn crops, in order to produce port and bacon, which they properly thought would at all times command the cash. And in cases of bad crop years, their corn would command sometimes as much as a dollar per bushel. These men paid for their land sooner than the cotton growers. Had all our people pursued this course, it is highly probable they could have sold, at fair prices, all their pork and bacon, by carrying it to South Alabama; but corn would have brought little or nothing.
At the time of our land sales, many settlers were unable to purchase the land they occupied, and if their improvements were on valuable land, they of course lost them and were compelled to settle again in the woods. In their second location, they sought such places as were not likely to be entered and taken from them. We also had a large number who never cared to own land. These, and the class above mentioned, constituted at least two-thirds of our population, and it was owing to this cause that designing men long ruled our numerous elections. The law authorizing forty-acre land entries, has nearly cured this evil. But few families now live on public land.
When the land purchasers were compelled to grow cotton, in order to meet the installments, the other classes also, were obliged to commence the same culture in order to keep up their credit with the merchant from whom they were forced to procure some indispensible articles for family use. And it was from this class that the ginners soon learned to look for filthy and wetted cotton. The land purchaser expected to sell his cotton in bales and was therefore anxious to have it in the best possible order; but "Tom, Dick and Harry," who intended to sell their crops in the seed, and had no anxiety further than weight was concerned, were often guilty of wetting their cotton. This practice was carried to such a length that the ginners were often compelled to make large deductions for water, after deducting more than enough for ginning. Thus, acquisitiveness was active in both grower and ginner.
This wetting of cotton prevailed in all the upper counties, and perhaps in all places to some extent, where cotton was sold in the seed. It was most demoralizing in its tendenciescorrupting the morals even of women and children. It was carried on in Blount until fair dealing became unpopular, and until men found that it was less trouble to borrow money from the Banks that it was to grow cotton for it, even it they could sell it wet in the seed.
The first wheat raised in Blount, was in the year 1817, and was sown by a Mr. Guthry, near the head of Turkey Creek, then in Blount. It grew well and yielded finely, but it was said by those who eat of it, to possess the qualities of "tartar emetic." Many emibrants brought small quantities with them for experiment, and it was early proved that our country was well adapted to wheat; but in those early times, we had no mills (or rather, no bolters to prepare the flour in proper order,) and our farmers therefore, raised but small crops of wheat.
In 1827, D. Hanby erected on Turkey Creek, a mill purposely for wheat. He procured good millstones for grinding, and good bolters. This mill, (though in Jefferson County) is not many miles from the lower part of Blount County, and the people of Blount, therefore, carried their wheat to that mill, and many of them continue to do so yet.
In 1842, J. Hendricks erected a flouring mill within a few miles of Blountsville. This encouraged wheat growing in that quarter. There is a good wheat mill near Summit, which has stimulated the production of wheat in Brown's Valley.
The flour prepared at all of these mills, is carried south in order to find a market. Of he quantity of wheat raises in the county, it is hard to make an estimate. The amount given in the statistics of 1850, was doubtless nearly correct for that year; but the quantity has since increased and is yet increasing. All parts of the County are capable of producing good wheat and other small grain while the land is fresh; but the red mountain lands of the valleys are decided the best grain lands that we have.
The dangers attending a wheat crop areHessian fly, late spring frosts, rust, smut and weevil. To prevent the Hessian fly, we must sow late; and this increases the danger of rust. To obviate these evils, some farmers, when they intend to sow wheat after a corn crop, gather the corn as early as safety will permit, and then turn in all their stock of horses, cows, hogs, &c. These quickly devour the grass and other vegetation, and by this means effectually destroy the fly for that season; then they sow their wheat, and in this way generally escape both fly and rust.
Our farmers believe, that soaking their seed wheat in a solution of blue-stone immediately before sowing, is a remedy for the smut,which they think is occasioned by a kind of fungi, and is contagious. If it is contagious, the practice of ten or twenty farmers having their crops threshed at the same gin, must have a great tendency to spread the disease through all their crops the next year.
Oats grow well in the county, and almost every farmer raises what he thinks sufficient for his own use. They would be produced in abundance if we had a marker for them.
Rye, barley and buckwheat grow finely, but they have never been produced to any extent.
Potatoes of all kinds do well in Blount.
The first apple tree in Blount County, was a volunteer seedling, which was discovered in the spring of 1817. It is supposed that the seed which produced it, was accidentally brought from Tennessee by a Mr. Andrew Alldridge, as it was near his house that the young apple tree made its appearance. Mr. Alldridge took great care of this little plant, which proved very thrifty; and is now called, (for it is yet alive) the "Patriarch Apple tree." I am indebted to Mr. A.M. Gibson, for an account of the earliest culture of the apple in Blount:
"About the year 1817, a Mr. John Fowler, from Tennessee, settled in the County, and soon afterwards, finding the soil and climate suitable for fruit raising, turned his attention to that branch of industry, particularly to the cultivation of the apple. As early as 1823, (in addition to the seedling stocks of his own production,) he had imported the most valuable kinds of apples then known in the East Tennessee. And although he was not a scientific pomologist, yet, under his watchful care and judicious management, the apple was brought to as great a degree of perfection, as it was at that day, in any part of the United States. Indeed, some of his varieties would bear favorable comparison with any that can be produced at the present time. He soon began to transport his surplus fruit to the distant parts of the State, particularly towards the South. The name and reputation of Fowler's apples, became widely extended; and his ready sales brought to this successful orchardist a considerable revenue. His success soon induced many others in the county to engage in the same business; and almost all who did so, reaped a rich reward. So excellent is the adaptation of the soil and climate of this county, to the production of fruit, particularly in the valleys, that with proper cultivation, the orchard fruits of Blount will rival the finest in the world. Apples are now one of the stable productions of the county. Not less than one hundred wagon loads of them, but estimate, annually taken to the middle and southern portions of the State, where they meet with a ready salebringing to the county an annual revenue of many thousand dollars. The cultivation and exportation of this valuable fruit seems still on the increase. All of this has resulted from the well directed efforts of a single pioneer in improvement."
At first, I thought the above account of our apple trade rather exaggerated, but upon examination, it appears that Blount really sends southward, at least one hundred wagon loads of apples; but of course, the amount of money received from the same is uncertain. Our fruit has been mostly destroyed the present year, (1854,) by a late frost.
Mr. Fowler's orchard was of small extent, (about one acre only) but thickly planted with trees, and produced nothing except fruit. He kept it well pruned, but with the trunks so short that the limbs when loaded with fruit, nearly reached the ground. The tillage he gave them was with the hoe, as the limbs were too low to admit a horse under them. When his fruit was in danger from late spring frosts, he kindled as many small fires as he had trees. He had at all times, large stocks of wood ready for the purpose. The fires were placed in the center of each space throughout the orchard, but so as not to injure the boughs of the trees, which sometimes nearly interlocked across the spaces. This firing, prevented the frost from killing his fruit. It was some trouble; but the trouble and expense were small when compared with the profit. He could at all times sell his apples at fifty cents per bushel to the wagoners, who hauled them to market; but after frosty springs, when all other orchards failed, he could obtain one dollar per bushel from them, and thus realize five hundred dollars per acre from his orchard. This five hundred dollars was saved by making one hundred and sixty small fires at the proper timethe cost of which, would not exceed ten dollars. Thus the frosts that deprived others of the produce of their orchards, served to double the value of his.
All orchard fruitsthe peach, pear, plum, cherry &c., as well as the apple, thrive in Blount. None are exported at present, but the apple. A Railroad will, however, open a market for all. We do sometimes, make a few hundred gallons of Peach Brandy, the small surplus of which, always finds a ready sale further north.
Our numerous creeks furnish us with water power sufficient for mills and other domestic machinery, but they are often effected by a scarcity of water in the summer and autumn. We have some very good locations for water-works on our rivers which could be profitably employed in driving machinery; but our people have not the capital to improve them in his way. Our rivers are navigable, on the part below Section 33, Township 12, Range 1, west, for flat boats in the time of freshets.
The Locust fork of the Warrior contains some very fine beds of coal, which extend from the Jefferson line about ten miles up the river, and then thin out. It was from these beds, in 1827 or 1828, that the first Warrior coal was carried to Mobile in flat boats, by Levi Reid, James Grindle, and others. The boats were built in Jefferson, but as the line between the two counties was not exactly known at that time, it was thought that the coal beds, (now D. Hanby's) were in Blount County.
Five or six years ago, Messrs. Truss, established a boat yard in the lower part of the county, and raised and carried a number of flat loads of coal to Mobile. It may be asked, why we do not continue boating coal? In order to answer such a question satisfactorily, several things much be considered:the insufficiency of our riverwhich we cannot safely navigate with large boats, unless we have a freshet of seven or eight feet rise; such freshets are uncertain as to time, and are of short duration. This uncertainty is the greatest difficulty we have in carrying flat boats to Mobile; and when we get safely there, we have hitherto found sales very uncertain. Pile staves were an article we formerly exported in a small way, but our stave timber is now nearly exhausted. Beeves, hogs, corn, and poultry, with a few bales of cotton, are annually carried down the river. Flat boats also, descend the Mulberry Fork of the Warrior from Blount, laden with similar articles.
The first boat which ever descended the Mulberry Fork, was a keel boat built at old "Baltimore," (near the Sulphur Springs) by Elijah Cunningham, in 1820, and was intended to ply between Mobile and Tuscaloosa.
Several attempts have been made with small keel boats to bring merchandise from Tuscaloosa up our rivers, some of which have been partially successful; but the great falls below the junction have hitherto prevented, and will prevent all such attempts from being profitable.
It is quite probable that the demand for coal, will, in a few years, justify, the construction of a Rail-Road to the junction of the Sipsey and Locust Forks of the Warrior: these rivers would then afford the means of collecting at the junction, almost all the coal on them and their tributary streams. It is true, the tributaries are not navigable, but they offer level ways by which to haul coal to the river, where it could be shipped to the junction on small flat or shoal boats, which could return empty up the rivers. In this way, an upward navigation might be of very great advantage, even to Blount county, and particularly the portion west of the Locust Fork, whose inhabitants have difficult and circuitous roads to market.
In Murphrees Valley, are some very fine beds of Iron ore on vacant land, within four miles of good water power. There is a number of good mill seats, also in this region, on vacant land. Limestone, good fire stone, and a good coal bed, one foot thick, are all within a half mile of the ore beds. With all these advantages for making iron, Blount pays annually for thirty thousand pounds of Tennessee iron.
One of our resources, and perhaps the greatest we have, is limestone, which nature has kindly furnished in vast quantities, and distributed in a manner so singular, as to be comparatively near each farm in the county. When our farmers learn the fertilizing power of lime, and the best manner of applying it, we can then indulge the hope, (and not till then) of general improvement in our agricultural products. To obtain lime on each farm at the least cost to the farmer, each one who wants it, can haul the limestone to his plantation and burn it in the large log-heap which he is sure to have in the spring of the year. In this way, each farmer could have plenty of lime, at no cost except that of hauling the stone from the mountainsin few cases over four miles. And nature, as if to invite us, has so placed the limestone that the hauling would invariably be mostly down hill.
Some of our citizens have talked of shipping lime to Mobile on flats. This could be done on a large scale; but whether it would be profitable is doubtful. If such a business should ever be attempted, the best points of shipment would be near "Baltimore," on the Mulberry Fork, and opposite the Sulphur Springs on the Locust Fork. The lime in either case would be drawn from Blountsville Valley.
Level land retains its fertility much longer than that which is rolling. This fact alone, proves, that in a mountainous country like Blount, a large portion of the fertilizing properties of the soil is carried away by water. Every drain and gully in fact, is an outlet to the productive ingredients of the land. The size of these gullies increases with their length, until they become branches, creeks, or rivers; and during each freshet, they carry out of our country a vast amount of fertile matter. This is a loss not within our power wholly to prevent; but much could be done by horizontal plowing, and by weakening the rapidity of our small streams, by a judicious location of low dams placed across them in order to stagnate the water and make it deposit a part of its booty.
At several places in Blount, where creeks pass under our mountains, the entering aperture is so small, that during great freshets, the water has not room to escape, but is heaped or ponded in some places to the height of twenty feet, covering many acres of land. Land thus covered, is the most productive and durable in the countyproducing thirty crops of corn in succession without manure. Nature, as if to invite us to dams, has set the example of making them, and we should not hesitate to follow and improve on what she has so kindly suggested.
Our creeks present many places where a dam of ten feet in height would cause the water to overflow ten or twenty acres of low, poor, clayed soil. Such places are commonly washed and cut into gullies by every freshet, and in their present condition are almost worthless. A well constructed dam at these places would, within a few years, cause such lands to be not only fertile but durable.
Health would not be impaired by this plan of overflowing, as the water need be kept on the land only during freshets. At all other times, the stream could keep the original channel, or even be assisted by a ditch if thought necessary. If a freshet should leave a deposit one tenth of an inch in thickness upon the ground, this would amount to three hundred and sixty-three cubic feet per acre, and would require no trouble to spread. This is one of our resources, but like all others, will be useless unless applied.
Our roads, though hilly in places, are nevertheless rather better than those of the neighboring counties, and are kept in good repair, except at the rivers, where our bridges, (of which we have several,) are so low, the water in freshets often covers them eight or ten feet deep, and of course, prevents their passage at such times. At some places where bridges should be built, we have ferries, and the boats sometimes escape;--by these two causes the mails and passengers are often detained. What we call the old Tuscaloosa road, is well directed, and in the proper place for all that portion of Blount lying south of the Locust Fork; but for those who live north of that river, the old road is both circuitous and across the grain of the country. We have a much better, as well as a much nearer road to Tuscaloosa, by keeping west of the Locust Fork to McCartys Ferry, in the lower part of Jefferson County. Some difficulties, however, as to the right of the way, exist near the ferry, which have hitherto prevented this road from being greatly usefulto the great detriment of west Blount, a large portion of Walker and Hancock, and even a part of Jefferson itself.
The roads which lead north, are good, and have no difficulties attending them, except mud in wet weather. The Gadsden and Moulton road, leading south-east and north-east, passes over every difficulty that can attend a road through our countycrossing each river and four mountains. The Gadsden road is not much traveled by wagoners now. Some years past, however, it was much used in hauling cotton to Coosa, for shipment to Charleston on the Rail-Road.
Since steam boats have come into regular use on the Tennessee river, most of our cotton bales go to Chattanooga; and down the Tennessee River to Guntersville; from which place, they are hauled in wagons. All roads within the county, which lead north-east or south-west, are good and of easy construction; some steeps will be found, but they are invariably short. All the roads which lead south-east or north-west, are difficult to make, as the run across the grain of the country; the hills are long and steep, and the rivers and mountains must be crossed almost at right angles in that direction. We have, however, a firm soil, with but few boggy places in the countyour rivers and most of our creeks being small streams and having rock bottoms.
Blountsville is the County Seat of Blount, and contains twenty-five families. The Court House and Jail are brick;--all the other buildings are of wood. It has two churches(one for the Missionary Baptiststhe other for the Methodists)a Temperance and Masonic Hall, and a good school house called an Academy. Of the inhabitants, three are physicians, two preachers, two lawyers, four dry-goods merchants, one tavern-keeper, two grocers, four blacksmiths, two wagon makers, one cabinet maker, two tailors, and one tanner. Blountsville has no shoe-makerno saddle or harness-maker.
According to the statistics of 1850, Blount County contained:
White males, 3,520
Total free, 6,941
In 1850, Blount County produced:
Wheat, 4,473 Bushels
Rye, 9 Bushels
Oats, 21,204 Bushels
Rice, 330 Pounds
Tobacco, 4,271 Pounds
Wool, 8,784 Pounds
Peas and beans, 3,193 Bushels
Irish Potatoes, 3,171 Bushels
Sweet Potatoes, 28,420 Bushels
Barley, 8 Bushels
Orchard fruit, $25.00 Worth.
Butter, 41,045 Pounds
Cheese, 605 Pounds
Deeded land in 1850 80,581 Acres
Value of same as given to Assessor in 1853, $390,797
Taxes on land, $781.59
Gold Watches 6
Fob chains, 1
Silver Watches, 17
Number of Clocks, 232
Number Bowie Knives, 1
Number Revolving Pistols, 5
Number Vehicles, 27
Horses and Mules kept for saddle or harness, 9
Goods sold in 1853, $18,647.00
The early settlers of Blount were not unmindful of religious duties. It cannot be ascertained, when the Methodists first erected a church in the county, or the location of their first church building; but the Rev. Ebenezer Hearn, of that denomination, preached in the "Bear-meat Cabin," and this must have been in 1816 or 17. This was the first religious address ever delivered in Blount. As early as 1817, Charles Guynn, of the Methodist order, commenced preaching, first in private houses on Sabbaths. During the year, the people collected and built a meeting-house in Guynns Cove, supposed to be the first built in the county. Warwick Brister, also a Methodist, commenced preaching about the same time in Bristers Cove, now called Aurora Valley.
The Baptists were likewise early at work in our county. Their first church, Mount Moriah, stands in Murphrees Valley. On June 19, 1819, this congregation was organized, or established by Sion L. Blythe.Joseph Hill, was its first pastor.
In the spring of 1821, the Rev. Mr. Lockhart, a Cumberland Presbyterian, established a church of Cumberland Presbyterians in Murphrees Valley. This church continues with another of the same order, located at Summit. We likewise have one church of the "Christian" order, sometimes called Schismatics.
Most of the first settlers of Blount, as well as those of the adjoining counties, believed that lead mines existed in Blount and Jefferson counties, and that the Indians knew their location and obtained lead from them. Perhaps, this general belief originated from the following circumstance, which occurred in 1810:
An old Cherokee Chief, named Black Fox, died in the north of our county, and was buried in an old mound; and in digging his grave, the Indians found some pieces of lead ore. This trivial discovery was magnified and circulated in Madison County, and many intelligent persons in the county believed a lead mine really existed, at, or near the grave of the old Chief. This opinion became so strong, that Alexander Gilbreath, who then resided in Huntsville, was induced to visit the grave of Black Fox. His search there, proving unsuccessful, he then examined many other placesparticularly the Chalybeate Springs, of which we have a large number. The singular deposit left by this kind of water, with its peculiar taste, was thought at that time, to indicate the presence of lead ore. It is hardly necessary to add, that the search in these localities was not more successful, that at the grave of Black Fox. After Mr. Gilbreath became fatigued with his efforts to discover the supposed land mines, he applied to some of the old settlers of the valley, for information, relative to the localities, from whence the Indians procured their lead. Mr. George Fields, at that time nearly fifty or sixty years old, informed him that the Indians knew of no lead mines nearer that those of Missouri and Illinois, and gave it as his opinion, that the lead found in the grave of Black Fox, had been brought from one of those States. John Gunter, (another old inhabitant of the valley, who had been brought up among the Chickasaws, and spent all his life with the Indians,) gave the same opinion, as to the pieces of lead which had been found in different parts of the county, viz: that they had been brought by the Indians from the northern mines. These two person informed Mr. Gilbreath, that as far back as Indian memory extended, it was the custom of the Creeks to cross the Tennessee river near Deposit, (Bairds Bluff) and make long hunting expeditions, annually to the north, bringing with them, on their return, lead ore.That the settling of Tennessee by the whites was a great obstacle in their way to the minesparticularly to those of Rock River.That the Indians had then, in order to reach the mines, to bear lower down the Tennessee river, and that as the whites of Tennessee continued to extend their settlements westward, the difficulties in the way of the Creeks to the mines, were continually increasing. To this account, it may be added, that a company of Creeks, on a returning expedition of the above kind, murdered two or three white families which led to the Indian war of 1812, at the close of which, they were finally barred from the mines by treaty.
Although it cannot be doubted, that the Indians brought lead ore into Blount from distant mines, yet this fact does not account for the pieces which have been found in the mounds, unless we suppose them, also, to have been brought from a distance and placed there by the builders of those monuments. Be this as it may, no lead mines have yet been discovered in Blount, though we have often been visited by lead hunters with divining rods, who assure the people that our county is rich in that mineral, and that their conjuring instruments will indicate the places to dig. I am sorry to say that these ignorant wretches have sometimes imposed on the people, and induced them to expend their time and labor, in fruitless searches for lead.
The mounds above spoken of, are heaps of earth in the form of pyramids. They are supposed to mark the burial places of the Chiefs. Some of them are very old, having upon their tops, growing trees of very large size. These mounds are to be found in thirteen different places in our county. Two or three of them are generally grouped together, or within a half mile of each other. In Murphrees Valley, there is one group consisting of three mounds, from four to seven feet in height. In the trough of the Locust Fork, there are five distinct groups.In Blountsville Valley, (and near Blountsville) there is one; and in Browns Valley one. North-west of the Mulberry Fork, there are four groups. These mounds are invariably in the valleys, on, or near the best bodies of land. This fact proves pretty clearly that the Indian settlements were in the valleys. Some knowledge of agriculture, may have led them to settle there, or it may have been the greater abundance of game and water found in such places. About these mounds, great quantities of flint spikes are found, which some persons believe were used as arrow-heads, but they seem unfit for such a purpose. The efficiency of the arrow, depends in a great degree upon its velocity; and arrows of sufficient strength to give great velocity to these spikes, would be so heavy, that all the power of the archer would fail to give them the force requisite to enter the vitals of a large animal. If we consider them as knives, there would be many uses for them:--such as skinning animals, severing the carcass, scaling fish, and cutting or sawing vegetable substances. Some of these spikes are six inches long, and weigh nearly a pound. These placed on poles would be similar to the Mexican lance, and would be very useful against dangerous animals, or in contests with other savages. Besides the mounds mentioned above, we find in different places in our county, heaps of stones, which are supposed to be graves of Indians. In many other places, numerous pieces of broken pottery are found; and near the junction of the Little Warrior and Locust Fork, we have the remains of an old fortification, (enclosing about half an acre) three sides of which are yet plainly to be seen.
On the tops of some of the hills, large quantities of muscle and perri-winkle shells are found. As these are fresh water shell-fish, it is probable they were brought by the ancient inhabitants from the neighboring rivers and creeks, and their nourishing matter extracted for food. Most of our numerous shoals, also bear marks of having been at one time, filled with fish traps. These facts seem to indicate, either a dense population, or that a famine had at some period visited the inhabitants.
It has been stated on a previous page, that the settlement of Blount might be considered as complete with the close of the year 1818. The settlement at that date, however, did not include the portion, since known as Browns Valley. It is difficult to determine accurately, when that portion of our county was first settled by the whites. The Cherokee Indians held a kind of possession of it until 1838 or 39. Besides the Cherokees, there was a colony of two hundred refugee Creeks settled there, and governed by John Shannon, a half-blood Creek. The Indians called him John Ogee. This colony of Creeks was brought there for protections, soon after the Creek war commenced by Col. Richard Brown, (a Cherokee Chief who resided in the valley,) and remained there until the removal of the Cherokees, with whom they emigrated.
In 1818, Col. Brown went to Washington City for the avowed purpose of selling to the whites, or ceding by treaty, all that portion of the country. He advised the Indians to hold themselves in readiness to leave the country on his return. They accordingly assembled at Gunters Landing, for the purpose of emigrating; but the death of Col. Brown shortly afterwards, (who died at Rogersville, in Hawkins County, Tennessee,) prevented, for many years, the ratification of the treaty, and consequently the removal of the Indians. As soon, however, as it was known that the Indians had collected together with a view to emigrating, the restless whites thronged into the country which they had abandoned, and obtained such hold, that they never could be entirely driven out. Browns Valley at this time, showed a motley population of Cherokees, Creeks and whites. The United States troops cut down the growing crops of the whites, and burned their houses; but with all this severity, they were unable to clear the valley of their presence. This portion of territory gave great trouble to the citizens of old Blount, as it prevented the ordinary execution of the laws in many instances. All kinds of lawless characters were found in the valley. Murders were frequent, but will little chance to bring the guilty to punishment. Thomas Davis, the counterfeiter, who was executed at Tuscaloosa, in 1822, resided there from 1818 to 1820. He was known in the valley by the name of Scott; and it was thought that some of his pupils were left there after his execution, who long troubled the country with their frauds. "Father Biggs," one of Coopers heroes, was also a citizen of this valley; but he was more included to drinking and fun, than to mischief. It is hard to imagine anything more troublesome to an orderly community, that the neighborhood of such a lawless colony as this. It was to old Blount, what Walter Scott says, Alsatia was at one time to London. It was a school for fraud, violence and theft, and offered a safe sanctuary to violators of the law, from neighboring settlements. It continued to annoy the people of our county until the year 1832, when the Legislature extended the laws of the State over it.
The proposition before mentioned, of Col. Brown, to cede this valley to the General Government, gave rise to a strong party of anti-cedersat the head of which was Stooka, [Stooka, means "Little Door," in Cherokee] a full blooded Cherokee, who threatened death to any Indian who should sell or lease to the whites. He even went so far as to threaten Col. Brown; but the latter was not a man to be deterred from his purpose by opposition; and had he lived to return, would not doubt have completed the treaty of cession at that time.
In the fall of 1818, about the time Col. Brown departed for Washington, Stooka set out on his annual hunting and trapping expedition to the South. He embarked in a canoe on the Locust Fork of the Warrior, and on his way down, hunted and trapped for beaver. He passed Tuscaloosa, and went to Demopolis, where he sold his skins; and after an absence of several months, returned to the valley, to find it filled with the whites, who came in after the Indians assembled at Gunters Landing to emigrate. This was galling to the feelings of Stooka, and he grew bitter, sullen and morose. Within a few days after his return, on some slight provocation, he struck with a board, a youth, (the son of a Mr. Duke,) so violent a blow on the head, as to cause his instant death. The Indian light-horse immediately seized Stooka, and having secured him with irons, delivered him to James T. Gaines (an agent for the U.S. to treat with the Indians) who chanced at the time to be in the valley. Owing to the determined character of Stooka, it was thought prudent, in addition to his irons, to place a guard of men over him; but the first night of his confinement, he contrived to break his fetters, forced the guard, and made his escape. He procured his gun and horse, and thus accoutred, bid defiance to his enemies, and vowed never to be re-captured alive. He was known to be brave, having distinguished himself under Col. Brown, in several battles with the Creeksparticularly at the battle of the Horse Shoewhere he performed the daring feat of swimming the Tallapoosa river, in the rear of the town, and stealing the Creek canoes, in order to transport the Cherokees (then allies of the whites) across the river into the great bend. He was therefore justly considered by his people, a formidable character when aroused. Being now reduced to desperation, the Indians were afraid even to attempt his re-capture; and he therefore rode off unmolested. His course was however watched.
The news that a white boy had been murdered by an Indian, and that the murderer had escaped, spread rapidly over the country; and within a few days, bands of armed whites entered the valley demanding the murderer, and without any authority, threatening vengeance against the whole Indian tribe. The Indians knew very well, that these bands were not less to be feared, because they were without authority; and the relatives of Stooka, in particular, expecting to be massacred, hid themselves in a cave. The however sent out a messenger to the whites, praying for their lives, and promising to bring Stooka in, provided he was alive, and time allowed them to find him. To this proposition the whites acceded, and, strange to say, departed without committing any act of violence. As soon as the whites left the valley, the Indians called a council to determine how they should proceed to re-capture the desperate Stooka. It was finally concluded to send in pursuit, two brave warriors, well armed, to be commanded by Toonithe step-father of Stooka, who had brought him up. Tooni was not to carry arms. All things being in readiness, the pursuers departed up the Tennessee river; and after going about thirty or forty miles, obtained information that they were near the place where the object of their search was then staying. Tooni then directed his armed followers to conceal themselves in a small unoccupied hut which stood near the south bank of the river, and remain there concealed until he came to them. They were commanded to remain day and night, in the positions pointed out by their leader. Tooni then went alone to the lodging Stooka. He found him prepared to leave the Cherokees and join the Creek tribe. Tooni used all of his influence to dissuade him from joining the Creeksbut all in vain. He had determined, and accordingly set out. His route was through "Turkey Town" and Tooni proposed to accompany him to that place. They therefore went together, talking and thinking on the way, what was best for Stooka to do in his present emergency. Stooka was suspicious, watchful of his companion (and sometimes threatening) until Tooni suggested that it would be better for him to cross the river, and go through the State of Tennessee (where he was not known) to the Mississippi river, cross it, and join the Cherokees in the West. Tooni, moreover, promised to go with him, if he would agree to this course. The proposition was accepted by Stooka at one, and removed all suspicion. He became very kind and gentle in his manners. It was 12 oclock, when they turned about. Tooni, then said, they could reach the Tennessee river before night, hide their horses in the cane, and lodge in a small deserted hut on the bank, and next morning, swim their horses over the river and begin their journey to the far west. They accordingly reached the river about sun-set, tied their horses in the cane; and Tooni, to assure Stooka that all was right at the hut, went forward to reconnoiter, and returning quickly, reported all safe. They then proceeded immediately to the hut, Tooni going before and entering briskly; but as Stooka entered, with his gun on his shoulder, he was compelled to stoop, and at the moment, a brace of balls was shot through his heart. This was done by Toonis warriors, who had been placed in the hut, in such positions, as not to endanger each other by a cross-fire. Thus fell the brave, but unfortunate Stooka! The body was now to be carried back to Browns Valley and shown to the whites, as evidence that the Indians had redeemed their pledge. They therefore placed it in a canoe, and paddling down the river all night, reached Gunters Landing early next morning. The father and relatives of the murdered youth, (as well as other who wished to come) were then sent for viewing the body, and be satisfied of its identity. Some of the inhabitants of the Valley said it was not the body of Stooka, but that of a Creek Indian, whom Tooni had killed that he might deceive the whites with it. To remove, if possible, the doubts of such persons, the Indians then set for the mother of Stooka, who knew not of his death. When she saw the body, she wept, fell down on it, and cried, "my brave Son!"
The particulars of the above occurrence, were received from Jeremiah Vestal, Alex Gilbreath, and J.H. Henderson, the latter of whom, was one of the guards placed over Stooka at the time he broke his irons and made his escape. I have given the circumstances at more length, because of the excitement which it gave rise to; and because it is, in itself, an interesting incident connected with the history of Browns Valley.
It is proper to add, that after this valley was finally ceded to the whites, the lands were not disposed of by a general sale, as the other lands in the county had been, but the occupants were allowed to retain possession of their settlements, on paying $1.75 per acre for the same. Such lands as were not occupied, were subject to entry in the ordinary way. The settlement of this valley by the whites, has added much to the wealth and importance of Blount.
In concluding this outline of the history and description of Blount, I may be excused for a brief review of our character as a population, our natural advantages and future prospects.
One feature in the population of Blount, is their attachment to the soil. Like all other people of mountainous regions, who are cut off from easy intercourse with other sections, they cherish a strong love of home. In proof of this, less emigration has taken place, from Blount, than from other counties, composed of more even and unbroken country. Mountains and valleys, have in fact, a natural attraction for people born among them.
Blount is yet an interior County, and being less accessible than most of the others, is behind many of them in a literary and social point of view. Her population is however, physically, a robust, and well developed oneshowing the effect of mountain air, wholesome food, and contentment. If she cannot equal some of the other counties in the fashions and luxuries of life, she can far out-strip them in strength and vigor.
The natural advantages of Blount will compare with any portion of the South. Some of them have been already noted. Her soil produces not only all the grains used for bread, but is perfectly adapted to the different varieties of grass, most esteemed for the production of stock. Her climate is such as can be found only among Southern mountains, being neither too hot or too coldthe greatest heat ever noted being 94°, and the greatest cold, 16° above zero. The "Blount Springs," are in themselves, one of the greatest natural advantages of our county. At these Springs, within an area of a few rods, are found the White, Red, and Sweet-Sulphur, and Freestone water, and at a short distance, the Limestone and Chalybeate. Experience and an accurate analysis, prove these Springs to be unsurpassed in medicinal virtues. Situated in a delightful valley, and over looked by the finest mountain views in Alabama, they promise at some day, to command great patronage, and to afford of themselves, a market to an incalculable amount of Blount productions.
But all of these natural advantages of our County, her soil, coal, iron and limeher climate and mineral springscan never increase her prosperity in a high degree, until she is rendered more accessible. The future prospects of Blount, for advancement, depend on this. But the inevitable laws of trade and commerce must, in a short time, open a highway to and from all of these natural resources. The people of Blount should therefore remain on her soil, and not suffer a mania for emigration, to lead them off. When the Atlantic and Gulf coasts open a market for the products of our soil and our mineral wealth; and when Rail-Roads have made our mountains accessible to the seekers of health, we will see the lands of Blount, not rated at three and five dollars per acre, but at twenty-five and fifty. We will then see capital seeking investment among usour county filled with schools, academies and churchesour hills and valleys clothed with vines and fruits, and teeming with evidences of a prosperous and intelligent populationour mineral springs, surrounded with appliances of wealth, and thronged with a summer population from the southern States of the Union. Let a highway be opened to Blount, and the people of the State will see her capacities.