Tales from the Swamp: Snakes and Skeeters of Berrien County

The editors of Berrien County’s early newspapers were always up for a story that brought attention to their district.

The tall tale was an art form which seemed to required an outrageous allegation and an unimpeachable, civic-minded witness.

One community supporter was William K. Roberts, merchant of Nashville, GA. W. K. “Bill” Roberts was a son of Bryan J. Roberts, pioneer and Indian fighter of old Lowndes county.

Another unabashed promoter of Alapaha, GA was Dr. James A. Fogle:  veteran, physician, innkeeper, Mason, and Justice of the Peace.  Dr. Fogle was a public figure of Berrien County, well known to the citizens of Ray’s Mill. In 1884, he challenged Hardeman Giddens for bragging rights to the fastest horse in Berrien County.

Later that same year, the names of Dr. James A. Fogle and William K. Roberts, among others, were invoked to assure readers of the veracity of a summer tale of Berrien County swamps, snakes and mosquitoes.

June 12, 1884 Leavenworth Weekly Times Attending physician Dr. J. A. Fogle reports "mosquitoe cure" for snake bite in Berrien swamp.

June 12, 1884 Leavenworth Weekly Times. Attending physician Dr. J. A. Fogle, of Alapaha, GA reports “mosquito cure” for snake bite in Berrien swamp.

Leavenworth Weekly Times
June 12, 1884

The Story of a Rattler and a Prominent Citizen of Georgia.

Berrien (Ga.), News.

On last Friday, the 28th ult., Messers. R. Q. Houston, B.R. Johnson, George McMillan, and W. K. Roberts went on a deer hunt in the Alapaha river swamp, about three miles from town. After taking their respective “stands,” Mr. Houston went below about three miles to “drive” up the swamp. When he was near the Brunswick and Western railway bridge which crosses the Alapaha three miles east of this place, on his return, an immense rattlesnake sprang from the bush and buried its fangs in the calf of his leg. He at once called for help, and fortunately Mr. J. P. Loyd, section master, who was having some work done near, heard and responded to his call. By the time Mr. Loyd reached him Mr. Houston’s leg below the knee was swollen to twice its natural size and he was suffering great pain. Mr. L. bound a ligature around the leg above the knee, and then boarded his hand car to come to Alapaha for a physician. Dr. Fogle was soon found and hastened to the scene of suffering. When they reached Mr. Houston’s side, wonderful to relate he was found sweetly sleeping and the swelling was almost gone from his leg. Around him were lying dead nearly a half bushel of mosquitoes, who had drawn the poison from him. The gentlemen, in great surprise, aroused Mr. Houston, who, barring a little weakness from the loss of blood was as well as he ever was. This is a wonderful story, and some may be inclined, just as we were, to doubt it at first, be we are personally acquainted with all the parties mentioned, except Mr. Houston, and we do not believe they would vouch for a story not true in every particular. The snake was killed by the section hands and measured five feet and four inches in length, and had nineteen rattles and a button.

 

 

Gilbert Parrish and the Dipper Gourd

Gilbert Parrish (1856-1903)

Gilbert Parrish, son of William Parrish and Rebecca Jane Devane, was a farmer of the 1156 District of Berrien County. As a farmer, Gilbert Parrish  appreciated the aesthetics of  country life.  The simplicity of a cool drink of water from a gourd dipper was, for his tastes, unbeatable.

Gilbert Parrish

Gilbert Parrish

For Parrish and other pioneers of Wiregrass Georgia, the utility of gourds was an essential part of daily living.   “In a thousand different ways the gourd is of the greatest use to all Southern families,” the Friends’ Intelligencer 1902 volume observed.

“… there is seldom found a farm-house where many gourd utensils are not in evidence, and the tourist will not be long in finding that in some of the poorer homesteads, and, in fact, in a great many of the well-to-do farm houses, they are the only known receptacles for water, milk, food, soap, and the various articles found in country kitchens. Every Southern housewife has a small sized gourd for holding salt, one for flour, one for pepper and other condiments, and a large one for lard, butter, corn, beans, and other vegetables…The housewife prides herself on her milking-gourds, which are kept white and clean by constant scourings and scaldings.” Large gourds are used as hens’ nests, water is carried to the farm hands in the fields in a large gourd bucket, the tinsmith and the shoemaker keep their tools in a gourd chest; they are also used as hanging baskets…” “Stopping at a farm-house in any of our Southern States of North America and asking for water, the tourist will be directed to help himself at the well, where a gourd dipper hangs in readiness.”

The 1883 American Agriculturalist noted the utility of the dipper gourd:

 One of the most useful forms is the Dipper-gourd, in which the smaller end, or handle, is sometimes curved, but quite as often it is straight. The shell of this gourd, when a large opening is made in one side, and the contents removed, forms a dipper, very useful on washing days and at soap-making times. When thoroughly cleansed and soaked, to remove all taste, it is used at the water- pail. 

Dipper gourd

Dipper gourd

While in Nashville, GA on a dog day afternoon, Gilbert Parrish waxed eloquently on the refreshing qualities of water from a dipper gourd.

Atlanta Constitution Wednesday, Aug 6, 1884. Pg. 2. GEORGIA GOSSIP.  From the Berrien, Ga. News   It was Sunday afternoon, and they were sitting under the awning in front of Bill K. Robert’s store. As we walked up Gilbert Parrish was delivering himself as follows: “Boys, you may talk about your fancy fixing, your silver and gold and your tin dippers, your oak buckets, and your drinking from the spring, but for solid comfort and keen enjoyment give me the old-fashioned country raised gourd – the kitchen gourd. It must hold about a quart, have a long crooked handle and be split about half way down the side and sewed up with white thread crossed just so (here he crossed his fingers like the letter x). If a man will drink some of our Berrien county water from such a gourd as that and say that it ain’t the very quintessence of pleasure, why I don’t want to know him, that’s all.”

Note: Storekeeper William K. Roberts was a son of Bryan J. Roberts, pioneer and Indian fighter of old Lowndes county.

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Bryan J. Robert’s Account of the Last Indian Fight in Berrien County

Bryan J. Roberts, and his brothers Nathan and John, were among Levi J. Knight’s company of men who fought in the Indian Wars of 1836.  Many published accounts of the pioneer skirmishes with Native Americans at  William Parker’s place on the Alapaha River and at Brushy Creek have been related on the Ray City History Blog.

Here is the story the way it was told by B. J. Roberts 50 years after the event:

The Valdosta Times
May 14, 1887

INDIAN FIGHTERS

A Brief Account of the Fighting In This Section In 1836.

Mr. Bryan J. Roberts, father of Mr. W. K. Roberts of this place, is one of the pioneers of Lowndes, and has seen service as an Indian fighter in this and Clinch counties.  He is now in his 78th year and is spending the evening of his life very happily among his devoted children, having a few years ago divided a fine property among them, reserving for himself a sufficiency for his simple needs.  His children are all prospering and he is happy in seeing them happy.

In 1836 the rumors of depredations and murders by Indians in other portions of the State caused widespread alarm in this section, and the citizens organized companies for the protection of their families and property.  Capt. Levi J. Knight commanded the company to which Mr. Roberts belonged.

This company was on duty one hundred and five days, and during that time engaged in two bloody fights with the red skins.

In August, 1835, a squad of Indians raided Mr. William Parker’s home, not far from Milltown.  They carried his feather beds out into the yard; cut them open, emptied the feathers, cut and carried the ticks with them.  They also robbed him of provisions, clothing, and $208.25 in money.

Capt. Knight’s company was soon on the trail of this squad and in a short time overtook them near the Alapaha river, not far from the Gaskins mill pond.  The sun was just rising when the gallant company opened fire on the savages. A lively fight ensued, but it soon terminated in the complete routing of the Indians, who threw their guns and plunder into the river and jumped in after them.  A few were killed and a number wounded.  One Indian was armed with a fine shot gun.  This he threw into the river and tried to throw a shot bag, but it was caught by the limb of a tree and was suspended over the water.  This bag contained Mr. Parker’s money, every cent of which he recovered as well as all the other property taken from his house. The fine gun was fished out of the river and, afterwards sold for $40, a tremendous price for a gun in those days.  In the fight Mr. Peters was shot with this same gun.  One buck-shot struck him just above the waist-band of his pants, passed through and lodged under the skin near the backbone. He was also struck by two shot in the left side, which made only slight wounds.  The Indian was not more than thirty yards distant when he shot him.  Mr. Peters recovered from his wounds in less than twelve months.

Having driven the Indians into the dense swamp beyond the river, Capt. Knight marched his company as rapidly as possible in the direction of Brushy creek, in the Southwestern portion of the county.  When they arrived near that place, they heard a volley of small arms, and on arrival found that the battle had been fought and that the volley they heard was the last tribute of respect over the grave of their brave comrade-in-arms, Pennywell Folsom.  Edwin Shanks and a man named Ferrell were also shot dead in the fight.  Edwin Henderson was mortally wounded and died near the battlefield.  Mr. Robert Parrish, Sr., who lives near Adel, had his arm broken by a bullet in this fight. The Indians lost 27 killed and a number wounded.  We have no account of any prisoners being taken.  The battle of Brushy Creek was fought in a low, marshy swamp where Indian cunning was pitted against the invincible courage of the Anglo-Saxon, and in five minutes after the fight opened there was not a live red skin to be seen.

From this place Capt. Knight marched his company to what is now Clinch county.  He overtook the Indians at Cow Creek, where a sharp engagement took place, resulting in the killing of three and the taking of five prisoners. Mr. Brazelius Staten was dangerously wounded in this fight but finally recovered.

This ended the Indian fighting in which Capt. Knight’s company were engaged. Half a century has passed since then.  Nearly all the actors in that brief but bloody drama are at rest beyond the stars. A few of them are still among us, the valiant pioneers of this country, who bared their breasts to the bullets of the savages in order that their descendants might possess this fair land in peace.

The following is a list, as near as can now be ascertained, of the living and dead of Capt. Knight’s company.  The company numbered 120 men, many of whom came from neighboring counties, whose names cannot now be recalled.

LIVING–Bryan J. Roberts, Moses Giddens, John Studstill, Jonathan Studstill, Aaron Knight, Guilford Register, Echols county.) David Clements, William Giddens, John and Nathan Roberts, Fla.) (Zeke Parrish, Lowndes county,) John McMillain, John McDermid and Robert Parrish.

DEAD–George Henedge, Jeremiah Shaw, Daniel Sloan, John Lee, Moses Lee, James Patten, William J. Roberts, Isben Giddens, Jacob Giddens, Elbert Peterson, John Knight, Thomas Giddens, Harmon Gaskins, John Gaskins, William Gaskins, Sam Lee, Frederick Giddens, James Parrish, Martin Shaw, Archie McCranie, Daniel McCranie, Malcom McCranie, Alexander Patterson, James Edmondson, David Mathis, Thomas Mathis, Levi Shaw, William Peters, Jonathan Knight, Levi J. Knight and Brazelias Staten.

The Indians who passed through here belonged to the Creek Nation and were on their way from Roanoke to Florida to join the Seminoles.  They were first discovered in this county by Samuel Mattox, at Poplar Head, near where Mr. Tom Futch now lives.  Mattox was afterward hanged for murdering the fifteen-year-old son of Mr. Moses Slaughter.  Most of these Indians reached the Okeefenokee Swamp where they were joined by a large band of Seminoles.  From then until 1839 these savages did much damage to the white settlers in the vicinity of the Swamp, but in that year they were driven out and took refuge in the Everglades, where they were, with the exception of a small number, finally captured and sent to Arkansas.
Since the above was put in type another of the gallant old Indian fighters, Mr. Aaron Knight, has joined his comrades beyond the stars.

A 1915 reprint of this article also  noted “The Malcolm McCranie referred to was the father of Mr. Geo. F. McCranie, cashier of the Bank of Willacoochee and Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners of Coffee.”

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Bryan J. Roberts ~ Lowndes Pioneer

Bryan (or Bryant) John Roberts (1809-1888)

In 1827, eighteen-year-old Bryan J Roberts arrived in the newly created Lowndes County, GA with his parents and siblings.  His father, John Roberts, settled the family on a plot of land situated near the Cat Creek community, eventually establishing a large plantation there.

Bryan J. Roberts

Bryan J Roberts 1809-1888. Cat Creek Cemetery, Lowndes County, GA.

According to Folks Huxford, Bryan J. Roberts was born in Wayne County, GA on June 4, 1809, a son of Phoebe Weeks Osteen and John R.  Roberts.

In Lowndes County, on January 26, 1832 Bryan J. Roberts married Wealthy A. Mathis (1813 – 1888). As a young woman, she had come from Bulloch County, GA with her parents, Rhoda Monk and James Mathis, to settle at the site of present day Cecil, GA in Cook County.

Wealthy and Bryan J. Roberts established their home place on the land that had been settled by his father in 1827.  Of B. J. Roberts, Huxford says. “He had a large plantation and lived in comfortable circumstances.”     Roberts may have been among the earliest  planters to introduce pecans in Georgia, as pecans are mentioned in a Civil War letter written by John Hagan, of Berrien County, dated June 2, 1862.  Hagan wrote to his wife, Amanda Roberts:

 ”Give my respects to your Uncle Bryant J. Reoberts…Tel him I would like to heare how his little cob corn is doing. Also letter me know if Capt Martin has paid his cotoe [quota] of the precans [pecans] for introductsion.”

Children of Wealthy Mathis and Bryan J. Roberts:

  1.  John Jackson Roberts (1832 – 1907), married: (l) Susan Vickers daughter of Lewis Vickers; (2) Mrs. Catherine Gaskins widow of John Gaskins of Coffee County.
  2. James W. Roberts (1834 – 1900), married Elizabeth “Eliza” Edmondson daughter of David Adam Edmondson .
  3. Mary Ann Roberts (1835-1919), married Archibald Duncan Wilkes of Berrien County.
  4. Stephen N. Roberts (1837 – 1863), never married; joined the Berrien Minute Men in 1861 and served at Brunswick, Sapelo Island and Savannah; died of pneumonia January 6, 1863 in Lowndes County, GA; buried at Owen Smith Cemetery, Hahira, GA.
  5. Jemima Roberts (1839-1913), married William H. Burgsteiner son of John R. Burgsteiner.
  6. Rachel Roberts (1841-1867), married Jacob Dorminy son of John Bradford Dorminy, Jr. of Irwin County.
  7. Nancy Roberts (1843- ),  married William S. Phillips of Stockton.
  8. Warren H. Roberts (1846-1908), married: (1) Virginia S. “Jennie” Edmondson daughter of Rev. John Edmondson; (2) Isabella Strickland, daughter of Charles Strickland.
  9. William K. Roberts (1847-1908), married Phyllis McPherson Oct 27, 1888 in Berrien County, GA.
  10. Leonard L Roberts (1849-1919 ),  married Georgia Ann Baskin, daughter of James Madison Baskin
  11. Elizabeth “Betty” Roberts (1851-1933), married Daniel D. Andrew Jackson Dorminy, son of John Bradford Dorminy, Jr. of Irwin County.
  12. Martha Roberts  (1854-1898), married Frank Moore son of Levi Moore.

From 1827 to 1829, Bryan J. Roberts served as an ensign in the 663rd district of the Lowndes County militia. He was elected Justice of the Peace in the 658th district, Lowndes County, for the 1834-1837 term. He served in the Indian War of 1836-1838 as a private in Captain Levi J. Knight’s company of Lowndes County militia, and was one of those present at the skirmish with Indians at William “Short-arm Billy” Parker’s place preceding the Battle of Brushy Creek.

Prior to his death, Bryan J. Roberts divided his property among his children. This “self-administration” of his estate was reported in The Valdosta Times, August 8, 1885.

The Valdosta Times
August 8, 1885

His Own Administrator.

      Mr. Bryant Roberts is 77 years old, and he moved to this county in 1827.  He has reared 10 children and there are numerous grand-children.  The old gentleman lost his wife last year, and since that time he has been lonely at the old homestead.  Last week he summonsed all his children together and made up and inventory of all he owned.  It footed up $10,000.  Six thousand of his property was divided up into ten equal parts, and each child drew for his or her share.  The old gentleman reserved $4,000 for his own use for the balance of his life.  The homestead was included in the property divided, and the old gentleman will break up housekeeping and spend the remainder of his declining years around among his children.
      Mr. Roberts has taken this step because he feels that the silken cord has weakened under the weight of years and he prefers to be his own administrator.  We trust his children will make it pleasant for the old gentleman during the remainder of his sojourn with them.

According to the above newspaper clipping, Wealthy Mathis Roberts died about 1884. on July 8, 1888 Bryan J. Roberts followed her in death. They were buried at Cat Creek Primitive Baptist Church.

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