John Guthrie Tells Story of Berrien Tiger

John Guthrie, folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA relates the story of the Berrien Tiger.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985) , folk musician and merchant of Ray City, GA. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

The legendary Berrien Tiger was a large panther that attacked two Wiregrass victims in 1849, before the creation of Berrien county, GA.  Guthrie was a nephew of Hamp Guthrie, who was mauled by the big cat, and grandson of Martha Newbern Guthrie, who was an eyewitness.

John Elwood Guthrie was a son of Arren H. Guthrie and Elizabeth Lucinda “Lucy” Newbern Guthrie.  He moved with his family to Ray City in 1922 and attended the Ray City School. He and his parents and siblings resided on the the farm of his sister, Effie Guthrie Knight on Park Street.  As a boy he attended the Primitive Baptist Church but later attended the Ray City Methodist Church.  He married Madge Sellers and they made their home on North Street in Ray City.

John Elwood Guthrie (1911-1985)
Ray City, Georgia,
August 20, 1977

I was borned out on the Alapaha River.

You want me to tell you a little story about the Alapaha River?

OK. Now, believe it or not, now…if you want do a little research you can go back and find this story.

Now my grandmother…she was about ninety year old when she first began to come to our house. She’d sit in a rockin’ chair and all of us kids would gather up around her, and she would begin to tell us stories about the Civil War and things that happened back during that time.

Here’s a story…now you can believe it or not. Now, it did appear in the Valdosta paper, the Valdosta Times, and also in the Berrien Press. If you want to do a little research you can look it up. But, it happened.

A young boy back in those days, he went down on the Alapaha River a lookin’ for some hogs down there at was lost. And whiles he was down there they was some animal. Now, they said it was a tiger – now you can believe it or not – they said it was a tiger. But it appeared, now, in both these papers. They said it was a tiger.

He jumped on this boy’s back, and he clawed him up, and bit ‘im, and he thought he had killed ‘im. And he tried to drag ‘im back in the river swamps down there. But he’s too heavy. He couldn’t carry ‘im. Instead, he covered ‘im up with leaves. Covered ‘im up with leaves.

So this boy, when he came concious again, he was almost dead, but he got back ta house an he told his brothers and sisters and his parents an’ everything about it. Well, they formed a search party and they went down there lookin’ for this animal. They had their dogs, and their guns, and everything. That’s on Alapaha River, now, right over here.

When they got down to the swamp, the dogs, the first thing, they began to bark, you know, and run all down the river swamps. Well, it wasn’t very long before all them dogs came back, and their hair was standin’ right straight up on their backs, up there, and they just whimperin’, the dogs.

So, the men decided they’d go down there an’ see what had happened. Well, they went down there, and an ol’ uncle o’ mine, his name was Hamp -now, this is history, now if you don’t believe it you can go back and search. His name was Hamp.  And, he was a little bit behind all the rest. Well, this animal, whatever it was, jumped on his back. Jumped on his back and he began to claw ‘im an’ bite ‘im, an’ almost killed ‘im.

Some of the rest of the fellas in the search party looked around back there, and they saw what was happenin’ and they had a gun and they just shot whatever it was, if it was a tiger or whatever it was. They shot ‘im and killed ‘im. And when they killed ‘im, they had to pull his claws out of Uncle Hamp’s back, back there.

Now, this is history, now if you won’t believe it, all right. If you don’t, you can go back an’ search the records, and that’s part of the history.

Adler, T. A. & Guthrie, J. (1977) John Guthrie tells stories and plays guitar, Ray City, Georgia. Ray City, Georgia. [Audio] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, .

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Ray City, GA ~ Town is Smaller Now

A sign on the tracks of the Georgia & Florida Railroad indicates the town of Ray City, GA to passing trains. The trains no longer stop at Ray City, although the town once had a bustling depot.


Times Union

Ray City
The town is smaller now, but folks are coming back home

RAY CITY, Ga. – Before the turn of the century there were more than 27 businesses, five doctors, a pharmacy, corn mill, sawmill and several thousand people.

Ray City has changed.

The town now has a population of 725. What remains are a few stores and churches, the remnants of the corn mill – now a restaurant and fish camp – and Victory Soda Shop and General Store, where people meet to exchange news and gossip.

Billy Clements, owner of The Victory and long-time Ray City resident, said the closing of the sawmill and the Depression drove most of the people away, but old residents are “gradually creeping back.”

People come from all over to listen to John Guthrie play his guitar or just talk.
“I could talk all day about music, Guthrie said.

Guthrie teaches music to anyone who wants to learn, and musicians from all over the country meet in Ray City for jam sessions.

Lamar Booth, who runs the fish camp, points out that the Old Mill Pond draws a number of out-of-town fishermen during the summer. The lake is more than a mile wide but only 5 to 7 feet deep.

Booth’s mother, Mrs. Ann Campbell, owns a cafe, which is the main attraction at the pond. People say she serves the best fish dinners in the area.

The original post office and general store were at the lake during the late 1800s, and the corn mill (it opened in 1863) was once the heart of Ray City’s economy.

The town limits form a one-mile circle, located on Highway 37, 15 miles east of Adel between Nashville and Valdosta.

Farming is the main occupation in Ray City now, though many of the town’s people travel to Valdosta, Adel, Lakeland and Nashville for work, according to Mrs. Don Wilson, the town clerk said. Many residents also own or work in local businesses, she said.

Clements said there is not much for people to do after work except hunt or fish and many young people go to other places for entertainment.

He said he likes it there, because “people care for each other and pitch in and help each other when they need it, like a big family.”

Madge Sellers Guthrie as a Young Woman

Madge Sellers Guthrie

Madge Sellers married Ray City musician John Guthrie.  The couple opened a general store on Main Street in Ray City, on the lot now occupied by City Hall.

young madge sellers?

young madge sellers?

As a young woman, Madge contracted tuberculosis. She was treated in a sanitarium in South Carolina and cured.

Madge Sellers Guthrie, long time resident of Ray City, GA grew to adulthood in South Carolina.

Madge Sellers Guthrie, long time resident of Ray City, GA grew to adulthood in South Carolina.

Madge Sellers Guthrie, of Ray City, GA, photographed at Ruby, SC, 1966.

Madge Sellers Guthrie, of Ray City, GA, photographed at Ruby, SC, 1966.

Madge Guthrie, August, 1969

Madge Guthrie, August, 1969

June 8, 1970 Madge Guthrie, Johnny Guthrie, John Guthrie

June 8, 1970 Madge Guthrie, Johnny Guthrie, John Guthrie

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Madge Sellers Guthrie

Madge Sellers Guthrie (1912-1998)

Madge Sellers, wife of John Elwood Guthrie, made her home in Ray City for more than 40 years. She met John in Florida while he was on tour with a band. After they married, they opened a feed store in Ray City and John taught music.

Madge Sellers Guthrie

Madge Sellers Guthrie

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Guthrie Music School at Irene Church

Music School at Irene Church

Music School conducted by John Guthrie (right) and John Varner (left) at Irene Church, Lanier County, GA

Music School conducted by John Guthrie (right) and John Varner (left) at Irene Church, Lanier County, GA

John Elwood Guthrie was the youngest child of Arrin Horn Guthrie and Lucy Newbern Guthrie, of Ray City, GA.

John Guthrie was  country storekeeper, operating a feed store on Main Street in Ray City, that was situated where the City Hall is now located.  His home was directly behind the store.  John and his brothers, Sam and Herman were  and musician extraordinaire of Ray City, GA at times conducted music schools that drew students from surrounding counties. Guthrie was well known around the region as a teacher and performer, appearing at local night clubs, events and churches.  He was master of a variety of instruments and was known for playing country, gospel and jazz styles throughout the Southeast.

These photos depict a music school held by John Guthrie (right) and John Varner (left) at Irene Primitive Baptist Church,  which was located in Lanier County, GA (formerly Berrien County) about 5.5 miles northeast of Ray City.

Music School conducted by John Guthrie (right) and John Varner (left) at Irene Church, Lanier County, GA.  Image courtesy of

Music School conducted by John Guthrie (right) and John Varner (left) at Irene Church, Lanier County, GA. Image courtesy of


Guthrie Music School, Irene Church near Ray City, GA

Guthrie Music School, Irene Church near Ray City, GA


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Mary Jane Bostick McGee

Mary Jane Bostick McGee

Mary Jane Bostick McGee

Mary Jane Bostick McGee

Mary Jane Bostick was a daughter of John David Bostick and Rachel Kirkland.  She grew up in her parent’s household in the 1144th Georgia Militia District, the Rays Mill District. She married David Judson McGee on September 29, 1895.   In Ray City, the MaGees lived in a house on the southwest corner of Main Street and Park Street.  Her son, June Magee, built a small house on Main Street just to the west of his mothers’ house, and on the next lot was the home of Lacey Moore.


Mrs. Mary McGee Died at Ray City
December 27, 1941

December 27th marked the passing of Mrs. Mary McGee, a most lovable citizen of Ray City. She had been in ill health for quite awhile, rallying only slightly at times. There and in the immediate vicinity has been her home throughout the sixty-five years of her life. Her friends were numbered by her acquaintances. The community sustains a great loss by her going. The funeral services were held Sunday afternoon, December 28 at the Ray City Baptist Church where she had been a loyal and consistent member many years. Rev. John W. Harrell, her pastor, was assisted in conducting the services by Rev. R. C. Carter, pastor of the local Methodist church. Wiseman & Son, undertakers, of Adel were in charge. Music was furnished by Mesdames H.P. Clements, Ancil Vickery, Messrs. Herman and John Guthrie, Mrs. A.B. Baskin was at the piano. Active pallbearers were nephews of the deceased: Curtis McGee, Willie B. McGee, Shelly McGee, L.J. Bostick, Lincoln B. Bostick, N.A. Boyette. Honorary pall bearers were: Messrs. Lossie Webb, Pleman Sirmans, H.P. Clements, A.B. Baskin, N.A. Swindle, B.P. Swindle, J.N. Swindle, Lyman Giddens, Lacy Moore. Mrs. McGee is survived by five brothers and sisters: Messrs. Hardy, Leonard, Jesse, Freeman, Ivey Bostick, Mesdames Mattie Boyette, Florence Kent-Peavy, Annie Durren. Her surviving children are: Mesdames Bessie Rhodes, Nashville, N.C.; Emma Smith, Ray City, Ga.; Messrs. Perry McGee,Miami, Fla.; Eddie McGee, Cecil, Ga.; Luther McGee, Adel, Ga.

In Memorium

We will never forget our beloved brother, June McGee, who died February 24, 1936 and our dear Mother, who died December 27, 1941. With many thanks to all our friends, through the trying bereavement during the illness, and the after the death of our Mother, is this memoriam written.

Perry McGee, Miami, Fla.; Luther McGee, Ray City; Eddie McGee, Ray City; Mrs. R. D. Smith, Ray City; Mrs. L. B. Rhodes, Ashville, N.C.; Mrs. June McGee and daughter, Hazel.

Grave of Mary Jane McGee (1875-1941), Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Grave of Mary Jane McGee (1875-1941), Beaver Dam Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

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John Guthrie Brought Six Decades of Music to Ray City

Another clipping, circa 1983, from the Ray City scrapbook.  John Guthrie (1911-1985), subject of previous posts, taught music and entertained for six decades in Ray City, GA (see John Guthrie ~ Ray City’s Musician Extraordinaire).

John Elwood Guthrie, Ray City musician and shopkeeper.

John Elwood Guthrie, Ray City musician and shopkeeper.

Plenty of Wind

John Guthrie, 73, still has enough wind to make his saxophone sing.  The Ray City, Ga. shopkeeper and music teacher is master of a number of instruments including sax, organ, piano and several types of guitars.  Since obtaining his first guitar at age 14, he’s played country gospel and jazz styles throughout the Southeast.

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Samuel G. Guthrie of Ray City, GA

Sam Guthrie

Samuel G. Guthrie of Ray City, GA with an unidentified friend.

Samuel G. Guthrie, of Ray City, GA, photographed in Florida with an unidentified friend.

Samuel G. Guthrie Dies in Brunswick; Burial at Ray City

      Samuel G. Guthrie, well known and highly regarded Ray City and Berrien county man, passed away Tuesday, January 9, in the Brunswick Hospital following a heart attack. He was 44 years of age.
     A son of Mrs. Lucy Newbern Guthrie and the late A. H. Guthrie of Ray City, the deceased was born and reared in Berrien county and had spent practically all his life here. He had lived in Brunswick about one year where he held a position in the shipyards.  He was a member of the Baptist church.
     Funeral services were held at the New Ramah church in Ray City Wednesday afternoon, January 10, at 4:30 o’clock, conducted by Elder Charlie Vickers of Nashville, and Elder Orville Knight of Valdosta.  Burial was in the church cemetery.
     A choir composed of N. H. Harper, Mrs. J. I. Clements Sr., Mrs. H. P. Clements and Mrs. Jack Cribb sang two songs, “Asleep In Jesus,” and “Rock of Ages.”
     Pall-bearers were Carroll V. Guthrie, June Eroll Purvis, Emmis Purvis, Archie Peacock, Rudolph Moore and A. T. King.
     Surviving besides his mother, there are four brothers and five sisters,  June Guthrie and Herman Guthrie of Jacksonville, Fla., P. T. Guthrie of Lakeland, and John Guthrie of Ray City, Mrs. J. R. King of Nashville, Mrs. Marvin Purvis, Mrs. O. A. Knight, Mrs. Rossie Futch, and Miss Bettye Guthrie of Ray City.

Samuel G. Guthrie (1900-1945), New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA.

Samuel G. Guthrie (1900-1945), New Ramah Cemetery, Ray City, GA.


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John Guthrie ~ Ray City’s Musician Extraordinaire

An old newspaper clipping tells the story of John Guthrie, one of the Guthrie clan of Ray City, GA  and brother of Effie Guthrie Knight.

John Guthrie, Ray City, GA

John Guthrie, Ray City, GA

RAY CITY – It was another typical Ray City weeknight with lots of pickin’ and grinnin’ coming from the back room studio of John Guthrie,  country storekeeper and musician extraordinaire.

Guthrie is a local music legend, dating back 20 years and more when he would teach public school classes of 30 kids – some tone deaf – to play guitar.

Musicians from hereabouts, nearby towns like Lakeland, Valdosta and Adel, gather nightly in Guthrie’s cozy studio –  a slightly oversized room crammed with instruments, especially guitars.

Other folks come too; they want to listen and learn. Guthrie teaches “all fretted instruments and saxophone,” his card says.

But he has strict rules, “teaching only on Saturdays and Sundays. And I won’t teach a kid to play piano. They can’t reach an octave,” he declared.

Guthrie figured he could have easily made the big time long ago… if he had been willing to turn his back on his beloved Ray City and south Georgia.

“This is the best place in the world,” he exclaimed.

It was the tug of Ray City friendships which brought the native son home from a couple of years of drifting with different bands through Florida.

Those were lean times, Guthrie recalled, back during the Depression.

More than once he earned a free supper by masquerading as Jimmy Rogers, a country and western pioneer referred to “as the grandfather of folk music” by Guthrie.

People believed Guthrie when he introduced himself as Rogers whose plaintive ballads seemed to help sooth the Depression’s wounds.

“I’d play and sing. It wasn’t anytime before we’d get a big crowd around. Someone would come along and ask me home for supper,” he recalled.

Guthrie considers himself a very honest man. But those tough days put rigorous demands upon a young musician.

“I was hungry boy. I tell you, I was hungry.”

Conveniently, Guthrie had mastered the guitar by playing along with Jimmy Rogers recordings on an old windup Victrola.

Guthrie explained he could have stayed with the band. Several friends did make it to the big time, finding spots in the Nashville scene or with television or radio.

Although the days of  “all night dances” had an appeal, Guthrie explained he needed something more stable for when he got married.

“Of course, at that time I wouldn’t have married the Queen of Sheba.  I was just on my own without responsibility, playing music and having a good time.”

But a pretty South Carolina girl, vacationing in Winter Haven, Fla., derailed Guthrie’s career plans.

“She smiled at me while the band was on intermission. I went over and we had a talk,” he recalled.

Actually it was several years before Guthrie and the young woman from Chesterfield, S.C. married.

She returned home, but they corresponded.

“Then one day I went up and got her and brought her back to Ray City,” he said.

Guthrie called his wife “my first love.”

“But an old Spanish guitar is my second love,” he said.

“A guitar can talk back to you,” he explained. “It can cry with you, sing with you, be happy with you. There’s no other instrument that can produce the twangy sounds of an old Spanish guitar.”

Electric guitars also have a hold on Guthrie’s affections, but, he noted, “a guitar loses something out of its sound when you use an amplifier.”

Guthrie loves country music. But he also plays classical, Spanish, Mexican and gypsy style guitar music.

And the pop songs of his youth, “songs like Stardust,” he said, “had something to them.”

Contemporary music, he said, is based upon three chords.

“There’s too much repetition,” he complained.

“But those old jazz bands … when they put out a tune, it had something in it.”

Years ago, Lessie Guthrie Futch wrote in the margins of that newspaper clipping:

 “My youngest brother. If he was hungry, he should have been home on the farm with the family picking cotton.”

In his troubadour days, John hung with the ‘Genteel’ set.  While all his brothers wore overalls and worked the farm, he wore a white sports coat and worked the dance halls and social events. But later, he worked hard running a business and working in music to support his family.

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The Marriage of John David Miley and Lessie Lee Guthrie

John David Miley, of Hahira,  and Lessie  Lee Guthrie, of Ray City, were married February 24, 1926 inValdosta, GA.  They were married at Christian Parsonage by Reverend Richard Wallace.  Mrs. Wallace served as the witness.

Lessie Guthrie was raised in Ray City and spent most of her life here. Her ancestors were among the pioneer families that settled Berrien County, and many of the Guthrie family connection still reside in the Ray City area.

Lessie Guthrie Miley and John David Miley, 1928, Brunswick, GA.

Lessie Guthrie Miley and John David Miley, 1928, Brunswick, GA.

Following their wedding, John D. Miley took a job at the A & P  Grocery, in Waycross, GA.  At the first opportunity, though, he took the Civil Service Entrance Exam, and got a position with the U.S. Postal Service working at the Post Office in Brunswick, GA.  Thereafter, John D. Miley worked with the postal service the rest of his life.  Even when he served in the military, his service was in mail delivery.

The Ray City News, Jan 3, 1929 edition mentioned, “Mrs. John D Miley of Brunswick is visiting relatives here.”

Personal mention in the Ray City News, Jan 3, 1929.

Personal mention in the Ray City News, Jan 3, 1929.

Lessie Guthrie Miley with daughter Diane Miley, circa 1934

In the early 1930’s John D and Lessie had two children, Diane and David. But by 1935,  they were experiencing marital difficulties. 

Lessie left Brunswick and took the childen to Florida. They lived for a short time with Lessie’s brothers, Sam and John Guthrie, in an apartment  in Winterhaven, FL.  John D. Miley came to see her, they reconciled, and he took his family back to Brunswick.

The marriage of Lessie Lee Guthrie and John David Miley lasted another four years.   They separated in 1939 while living in Hollywood, Florida.

John David Miley, Jr., "David", circa 1939.

 Lessie was left alone there with her two children.  Her mother-in-law, Narcissus


Miley, came from Hahira, GA to take them back to Georgia.  Narcissus arranged for a large railroad crate to be delivered to Lessie’s place of residence. She packed all of Lessie’s possessions, her electric appliances, clothes, everything right down to the doilies.  The railroad picked up the crate and they all rode the train together back to Hahira.  Lessie and the kids stayed with Narcissus in Hahira about a week.  Then June Guthrie, Lessie’s brother, came to get them and took them back to the Guthrie farm on Park Street, Ray City, GA.


Later, Lessie wrote, “We came back to Ray City on Easter Sunday, 1939.  John D. left us December 1938 – one week before Christmas.  We remained in Hollywood, until Granny Miley, went and brought us back on Easter Sunday.”

For more on the Guthrie and Miley families, and the history of Ray City, GA visit

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