Chester Martin Remembers Original Settlers Of Walker And Chattooga Counties, Ga.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 - by Chester Martin
Painting by Chester Martin of mysterious Native American visitor
Painting by Chester Martin of mysterious Native American visitor

My Martin forebears had arrived in south Walker County by 1836, waiting for removal of the Native Americans from the area. That finally happened, and Great Granddad, Enos Martin, witnessed the event. He was still a teenager at the time, and lived near the Broomtown Road – shown as the first "Brainerd's Road" to appear on any local map). It was called that because it led directly to the widely-known Brainerd Mission to the Cherokee Nation near where I presently live in Chattanooga. I have written about that already.

Great Grandfather Enos reportedly heard the Indian Agent say, "Get on your horse, Chenowee", thus starting the Cherokee Removal from the stockade at Center Post, Ga. (Mary Martin Gilmer of Rock Spring, Ga., heard that story directly from her grandfather, Enos).

Enos's son, George Leander Martin, was among the first white children to actually be born in Walker County. He married Emma Alice Harper, daughter of Elijah Harper, a farmer and breeder of fine horses, who settled on what is now known as York Road near his father, Enos. It was close to what would later become the "Harrisburg, Ga." station of the TAG Railway. That was barely inside Chattooga County, adjacent to Walker County.

A large family was eventually born to my grandparents, and they lived happily, engaged in farming. They were involved in building the Macedonia Methodist Church, and in the local school - at Lookout Hall - where my grandmother was a teacher. However, in about 1890 a new railroad was put through from Chattanooga to Gadsden, Ala. It cut across one corner of Enos Martin's farm - and was a huge event for the entire community. The railroad employed local farmers when they had "down time" in the winter months, so my grandfather, George, was able to make himself a bit of pocket change by working on that railroad. A whistle-stop railway station was designated for Harrisburg. “Our” Harrisburg was named for the one “in Pennsylvany”, according to my dad – who was there when the naming was done.

When my dad was six years old the new railroad was nearing completion. He and his older brother, Gus, (Augustus McCameron) had heard about trial runs that were being made, and they begged their dad to take them to see, and test for themselves. As a result, they got the scariest ride of their entire lives when they boarded the small, open-air "dummy" engine with accompanying flatbed car. It started to roll at a good clip, when suddenly some improperly secured rails began to separate, throwing the wheels directly onto the crossties. This set up such a horrendous vibration that my grandfather was thrown off, leaving his two sons in grave danger of falling underneath the steel wheels, between flatbed car and engine. Luck was with them, as the engine stopped just in time to save them from that fate. No one was seriously injured.

And at about the same year, from nowhere, a Native American man appeared at my grandparents door, seeking a few day's lodging. Country people of the time were accustomed to such requests, and no one was seen as a total stranger - so the Native American was welcomed in to stay. If he had a name, or point of origin, both were long-since forgotten by the time I heard the story. All my dad remembered were two things: the man's mysterious actions, and how he was “ary handed “, (meaning “either” handed), as he could use either hand to perform any small task. (He would demonstrate this ability by writing, or by whittling a piece of wood, alternately using both hands). And by mysterious actions I mean he would stand for a long while gazing off at some distant object, then "take off" at a rapid clip in its direction. He never told anyone what he might be looking for, or why. I am certain there must have  been speculation as to what he was doing there. Had he been sent back by his grandparents in Oklahoma to scout out "sacred sites" from past ages, or was he looking for something more tangible, like lost Cherokee treasure? No one knew, and no one ever found out. Could there be some connection with the Dahlonega, Ga., gold rush of the earlier 1800's? It is a fact that within the last 20 years (since about 1996) an actual Cherokee "sacred site" has been discovered in that area near where my grandparents lived - and has been duly studied and recorded by archeologists. (It is on private property and I am sworn to secrecy about it!)

But there is a parallel story to my dad's - of the mysterious Native American - a story my dad knew nothing about - and which I have only recently discovered on the Internet. This second story relates how a similar Native American appeared out of nowhere to watch the progress on the new railroad going through the area about 1890. He would stand on a high pinnacle of Pigeon Mountain and observe, silently, what was taking place. When construction was done and the trains were running, our Native American friend simply disappeared. Could the mysterious men of both those stories really have been one and the same? We may possibly never know for sure...

The Chattanooga Southern Railway began operations in 1891, according to John Wilson's new book on railroads, and that date would fit with all I have written above, and would co-ordinate precisely with my father’s age at the time. That railroad eventually became the Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia (The TAG) Railroad, with its Chattanooga office located across MLK Boulevard from the Read House.

(Chester Martin is a native Chattanoogan who is a talented painter as well as local historian. He and his wife, Pat, live in Brainerd. Mr. Martin can be reached at cymppm@comcast.net )

Chester Martin
Chester Martin

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