As the late summer of 1918 wore on many young men of Ray City and Berrien County, GA were in training, preparing for overseas deployment in World War I. Others had already shipped out, among them Rossie O. Knight, Hod Clements, Dr. Francis Marion Burkhalter, Lorton W. Register, Private Carlie Lawson, Carlos Boggs, Joe Roberson, John W. Faison, Claudie Whitford and Gordon Williams of Ray City; and many other WWI soldiers and sailors of Ray City, GA.
By mid- August, over one and half million and doughboys were overseas and another million and a half were in training. The tragic sinking of the HMS Otranto and the drowning of 29 of Berrien County’s finest young men, along with hundreds of other soldiers, was still weeks away.
The headlines were full of war news, including casualty reports. But the tide had turned and the newspapers were focused on the string of Allied victories. The German offensive against Paris had failed. The Germans were on the defensive, disorganized, demoralized and rapidly retreating. As the Allies advanced, thousands of German troops were captured.
In the Wiregrass, many people bowed their heads each day “for it is a [patriotic] duty which is being observed in many towns and cities throughout our grand United States of America; for when the whistle blows every afternoon at at six o’clock, it is the duty of every citizen … who is able to walk, to uncover their heads and stop still wherever they may be and no matter what they may be doing to ask God’s guidance on our armies on land and sea and to give us a speedy victory.”
In many ways, life in Ray City, GA went on as usual. People tended their crops and worked at their businesses, children went to school and families went to church. Business was good; in Ray City, the Clements Lumber Company was experiencing a war boom, and, other than the waste laid to the cotton by the dreaded Boll Weevil which had invaded the state three years earlier, the “hog and hominy” farming was good, too.
A letter from Ray City resident Josh Jones, published in the Walker County Messenger, August 23, 1918 reported on every day events of the home front. Jones, apparently a native of Walker County, on the Tennessee-Georgia line, who had removed to Berrien County and was writing to the folks back home.
Walker County Messenger
August 23, 1918
Ray City, GA
Mrs. A. L. Fowler is able to be up at present.
Ray City is a very promising little town, a good many useful industries being located here.
Nashville is the county seat of Berrien county, and as Berrien was such a large county it was divided a few days ago, and Cook county was cut off the west side, Adel being made the county seat. So I am still in Berrien. Valdosta is our nearest market.
We have a bumper crop of corn, and a fine crop of peanuts. The boll weevil ruined all of the Long Island cotton, and the short staple will average about half a crop. The melon crop was fine, several cars shipped from here. This is a fine hog-raising section of the country. Moultrie and Tifton both have branch packing houses of Armour & Co.
Rev. and Mrs. J. W. Shumate, of Cooper Heights, have the Ray City School, and we cordially welcome them into our midst.
I received a long letter from Pat McClaskey, which I enjoyed very much. The Messenger reaches here on Saturday.
Best wishes to the correspondents and Messenger and staff.
- Ray City School, 1918
At the time Reverend John Wesley Shumate, Jr.and Mrs. Harriet “Hattie” Mudget Shumate came to Ray City, the Ray City School was a wood frame, three-room school, teaching students through the eighth grade. The brick school building, which has been preserved in Ray City and which now houses the Joe Sizemore Community Library, was constructed 1920-1922.
- Creation of Cook County, GA
An Act proposing the creation of Cook County from parts of Berrien County was passed by the Georgia General Assembly on July 30, 1918.
- The Boll Weevil in Berrien County, GA
The Boll Weevil had already reached Brooks and Thomas Counties by the summer of 1915. The following summer, 1916, Boll Weevils were found in Berrien on the farms of Dr. Lovett and Jim Patterson at Sparks, GA. The arrival of the Boll Weevil ended the reign of cotton as the county’s main industry, and forced farmers to shift more to feed and sustenance, or “hog and hominy,” farming.
- Armour & Co.
In 1918, both Armour & Co. and Smith & Co. were expanding meat packing facilities in South Georgia, Smith & Co. at Moultrie and Armour & Co. at Tifton, GA. As the prevailing chaos in the cotton market drove sharply increasing hog production, there was a rush to increase the local capacity of meat packing plants.
- Sankey Booth, Wiregrass Educator
- Ray City, GA Veterans of World War I
- October 13-15, 1918 ~ RECOVERING CORPSES FROM OTRANTO WRECK
- Seeking Descendants of HMS Otranto Disaster Victims and Survivors