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Proceedings of the Fourth Congress at Atlanta, GA., April 28 to May 1, 1892
The Georgia Cracker
By Maj. Charles H. Smith (Bill Arp), Cartersville, Ga.


As confession always precedes forgiveness, it becomes me to say that my right to a membership in this honorable order has not been established to my own satisfaction. Until very recently I had an idea that a Scotch-Irishman was a cross, a descendant from the union of Scotch and Irish parents, and that fitted me pretty well. But now it appears that the pure Scotch-Irish blood was, not contaminated or adulterated with any other, but the Scotch addenda was given because these Scots, under stress of circumstances, removed to the North of Ireland. One of my grandfathers was a McGuire and claimed to have come from Scotland, and I reckon he did, for he was a very stubborn man and always declared that the days wore not as long here as they were in Scotland, and there were not as many of them. But I cannot establish his removal to the North of Ireland.

My other grandfather, who was a Smith, never could trace his ancestry further back than the Revolution, and so I cannot tell whether I am lineally descended from the Smiths of England or Scotland. In my gushing youth I claimed a lineage from Captain John Smith, until I read his biography and found that he never bad any wife or wives to speak of; and so I took another pedigree and endeavored to trace my rich blood back to Adam Smith, of Scotland, whose text book I had studied in college. Investigation on that line proved that Adam had no wife of any kind, and so I cannot say that I am lineally sprung from a distinguished ancestor, and am content with having descended from some of the Smiths who were detailed in old Norman times to do the fighting and smite the enemy. In latter days they became the smiters of iron and other metals, and were called blacksmiths, goldsmiths, silversmiths, gunsmiths, locksmiths, and many other smiths, including John.

There is but one trouble about anybody and everybody being a Scotch-Irishman, and that is the broken links. If a man's name begins with Mack, it is, of course, a presumption in his favor, but just how far back he can safely go in making proof of a long, unbroken line of honorable ancestors is the question. The investigation is beset with embarrassment. Maj. Campbell Wallace, whom every Georgian and every Tennesseean respects and delights to honor, is certainly a Scotchman, of Scotch-Irish descent, and yet he declares that when a young man he made an effort to establish his pedigree and trace it back to Sir William Wallace, and suddenly ran up against an old uncle of his father, who said: "Cam, I wouldn't be overly particular about that if I was you. Some of the boys behaved pretty well away back yonder, but some of 'em didn't. Your pa's Uncle William, I remember, stole some taters offen a flat-boat, and they took him down in the canebrake and whipped him. I wouldn't bank too much on my forefathers if I was you."

Honor and shame from no condition rise;
Act well your part; there all the honor lies.

Nevertheless, pedigree is a good thing—good alike in men and domestic animals. It is a pardonable pride for a man to look back upon honored parents and feel that their blood runs in his veins and their principles are alive in his bosom.

Now, while there is some doubt about my Scotch-Irish pedigree, I am pleased to say that the most influential member of my family has no doubt about hers. She can go right straight back to the Holts of old Virginia, those three brothers who descended from Sir William Holt, of England, and left £40,000,000 in the Bank of England to be kept there for a hundred years and then be distributed among his posterity. I was induced to write to Judah P. Benjamin about it, and he said that it was there on the books, but by the laws of England no heir could got his share unless he moved back on English soil and became an English citizen. He said further that there were about seven hundred thousand claimants to this money, and more coming; and so when I ran the figures through it, I found that our share would be only $300, and half of that would go to the lawyers and it would take the other half to pay passage to England, and so we concluded to stay at home. But that Holt blood is good blood, and it seems to get better the farther it runs my way, and our children will be Scotch-English, you know. Nevertheless, I have known some Holts who were badly sidetracked from the main line. This is one of the ills that flesh is heir to. It is just as my darky Bob said when he returned from a two-years' tour in the penitentiary: "Boss, dar is good folks an' bad folks everywhar; dar is some folks in de chain gang jes as bad and mean as folks outen dar."

But now for the Georgia cracker. My time is already half gone, and it will be impossible to discuss him in five minutes. And hence I must do as "Josh Billings" did when he lectured on milk. With solemn earnestness he said: "My friends, the best thing I ever saw on milk was—cream." And that was the only allusion he made to his subject.

The cracker is a lapse, sometimes a relapse. It takes two or three generations to produce him. It has been often said of the negro that but for his contact with the white man he would fall back in civilization and resume his ancestral barbarism. Environment has much to do with us all. It is as easy to backslide in manners and customs and language as it is in religion. The cracker is not an original institution. He is an Anglo-Saxon lapse. A few years ago, while I was sojourning at Sanford, in this state, I heard Gen. Iverson ask Maj. Marks if he had any yam potatoes to sell. "No," he said, "I have not, but if you will send a team down I will give you a wagon load of laps, but you will have to dig them." On inquiry I learned that laps were the volunteers, the uncultivated crop that comes from seed not planted, but left in the ground from the preceding year. For want of cultivation they are scattering and stringy, and lack good shape and flavor. They have matured outside of good potato society; they have lapsed; they are vegetable crackers.

The Anglo-Saxon is a restless, adventurous race. A century and a half ago they began to occupy the coast region of the Southern States. They were of all classes that then made up the average people of the British Islands. They ranged from Lord Raleigh and Oglethorpe, with their highborn attendants, down to the common soldiers and peasantry of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Class distinctions were well maintained until after the Revolution. The descendants of the nobility did not mate or mix with the toilers. There was a kind of vassalage, but no social equality. The Revolution lowered the dignity of the one, and enlarged the independence of the other. Primogeniture and entailment died with the birth of the new government, and the common people, who mainly had done the fighting, began to respect themselves, and their children grew to manhood imbued with pride in their fathers' prowess and patriotism. They looked upon these forests and mountains and rivers as theirs, and soon began to explore them. Most of them settled down within the limits of civilization and outside of Indian boundaries. They established themselves in settlements for mutual protection, and for schools and churches, and became a happy and prosperous people. But as the years rolled on and the Indians moved westward many of the sons of these settlers, moved by the spirit of adventure, sought homes and hunting grounds beyond the reach of schools and social privileges. Some took wives with them and some came back and married and then migrated, so that in course of time there were children growing up in the wilderness, whose only chance for education or refinement was a mother's love and solicitude. She would teach them all that she had not forgotten. She always does. The father may be educated, but he will not trouble himself to teach his children. He is too busy by day, too tired by night. And so before the war there were at least two generations who had grown up in the wilderness with but a limited education; in fact, with none to speak of, for it was rare to find a man among them who could read or write. It was history repeating itself. Daniel Boone could read, but his children could not. The year before the war the percentage of illiteracy in Georgia was 26. Twenty-six white persons over eight years of age in a hundred could neither read nor write. This was for the whole state; but in some of our mountain counties the average was 66. The itinerant preachers had been there, but not the schoolmaster. The rude people had been taught how to live and how to die. Their morals had been preserved, but not their manners.

The cotter's Saturday night in old Scotland was not more humbly devotional than the gathering of these rough people at the log church on a Sabbath morning. There was none to molest or make-them afraid. They came as best they could come: on foot or on horseback or in the farm wagon. They came by families, parents and children. They sat upon the puncheon seats and devoutly listened as the preacher stretched forth his arms and said: "Let us worship God." It is a lasting tribute to these people that while their percentage of illiteracy was 66, their percentage of crime was only two in 100. In classic, cultured New England the last record taken was 4 per cent. for illiteracy and 26 for crime; for as illiteracy decreases crime increases. And so since the war, when railroads and revenue laws have penetrated the mountain homes of these people, crime has been on the increase, and the moonshiner has become an outlaw. There was a time when his father and his grandfather distilled their corn and their fruit in a limited and honest way, and worshiped God, and violated no law. There was a time when there were no locks on their doors, and the stranger always found a welcome; when there were no hip pockets for deadly weapons; when jails were empty, and half of the week was sufficient to clear the courthouse docket.

There was a time when these men so loved their country that on the first alarm they picked their flints and shouldered their rifles and hurried to Gen. Jackson's call; or later to fight the Indians in Florida; or still later to old Virginia to defend what they believed to be their rights and their Constitution. What a mistake to say that these men were fighting for slavery; when not one in a hundred owned a slave; when in a single county that sent twelve companies to the war there were less than a hundred negroes in it; when nearly the entire voting population were Democrats, Democrats because the slave owners in Southern and Middle Georgia were generally Whigs, and these backwoodsmen had no love for either the negro or his master. But they fought. They fought as did their forefathers who resisted a little tax on tea, though not one in a thousand drank it. Half a century ago, when politics were hot in Georgia and sometimes the Whigs were in power and sometimes the Democrats, it was a most amusing and provoking spectacle to see a talented, gifted Whig running for Congress in the mountain district against a heavy, slow-minded Democrat. Dr. Miller was the "Demosthenes" of the mountains, and his eloquence on the hustings was equal to that of Toombs and Stephens and Prentiss.

Had he been a Democrat, or had he lived in a Whig district, his name and his fame would have followed him into the councils of the nation; but alas! he had made a mistake either in his politics or his place of abode. Judge Lumpkin, his opponent, had but little to boast of beside his name. He had to meet Miller on the stump, and it made him sick. He writhed in agony under the Doctor's gifted and sarcastic tongue. Everywhere the crowds shouted and hurrahed for Miller, laughed at his anecdotes, and were thrilled with his eloquence. And everywhere, when election day came, the votes were piled in the box for Lumpkin. Where do all these Lumpkin fellows live? was the question. "Under the clay roots and brush heaps and in hollow trees," said Miller. "I convert 'em and convert 'em, but they vote against me every time." But it was not always politics that controlled their votes in a state or national election. We Georgians know well how the Baptists have always rallied to Joe Brown, and the Methodists to Colquit. With the humble toilers and tillers of the soil politics and religion move together in close relations. Last fall I attended a fair in the backwoods of Arkansas and made the acquaintance of a patriarch and his wife who had passed their fourscore years and had one hundred and two living descendants upon the ground. A beautiful family Bible was presented to the aged couple as a premium for the largest family that assembled there. The old man was proud and graceful for the attention paid him. He said to me: "Now, Mr. Arp, if you write anything about this, I want you to say that there ain't nothin' ag'in me or my people. Nary one of us ain't never been called to court for nothin' we've done. We are all farmin', and the Lord has been good to us, mighty good. And you can put it down that we have never lost a child out of thirteen the old 'oman has raised. We have both been members of the Baptist Church for fifty-nine years, and all that time I have voted the Democratic ticket. Now there ain't nothin' wrong about us, Mr. Arp, you can put that down."

Not to go back in history farther than my own time and recollections, let me venture upon some unoccupied territory and tell how Cherokee Georgia became the home of that much-maligned and misunderstood individual known as the Georgia cracker. I have lived long in his region, and am close akin to him.

There is really but little difference between the Georgia cracker and the Alabama or Tennessee cracker. They all have, or had, the same origin, and until the Appalachian range was opened up to the rest of mankind by railroads and the schoolhouse these crackers had ways and usages and a language peculiarly their own.

It will be remembered that until 1835 the Cherokee Indians owned and occupied this region of Georgia, the portion lying west of the Chattahoochee and north of the Tallapoosa Rivers. They were the most peaceable and civilized of all the tribes, but they were not subject to Georgia laws, and had many conflicts and disturbances with their white neighbors. It seemed to be manifest destiny that they should go. "Go West, red man!" was the white man's fiat. They went at the point of the bayonet, and all their beautiful country was suddenly opened to the ingress of whomsoever might come. Georgia had it surveyed and divided into lots of forty acres and one hundred and sixty acres, and then made a lottery and gave every man and widow and orphan child a chance in the drawing. But the cracker didn't wait for the drawing. The rude, untamed, and restless people from the mountain borders of Georgia and the Carolinas flocked hither to pursue their wild and fascinating occupation of hunting and fishing for a livelihood. They came separately, but soon assimilated and shared a common interest. There are such spirits in every community. There are some right here now who would rather go up to Cohutta Mountains on a bear hunt than to go to New York or Paris for pleasure. I almost would myself, and I recall the earnest cravings of my youth to go west and find a wilderness, and with my companions live in a hut and kill deer and turkeys, and sometimes a bear and a panther.

But for my town raising and old field school education, I too would have made a very respectable cracker. This was the class of young men and middle-aged that first settled among these historic hills and valleys and climbed these mountains and fished in these streams. By and by the fortunate owners of these lands received their certificates, and many of them came from all parts of the state to look up their lots and see how much gold or how much bottom land there was upon them, but gold was the principal attraction. The Indians had found gold and washed it out of the creeks and branches and traded it in small parcels to the white man, and it was believed that every stream was lined with golden sand. This proved an illusion, and so the squatters were not disturbed, or else they bought the titles for a song and then sung " sweet home " of their own. They built their cabins and cleared their lands and raised their scrub cattle, and with their old-fashioned rifles kept the family in game. Many of these settlers could read and write, but in their day there was but little to read. No newspapers and but few books were found by the hunter's fireside. Their children grew up the same way, but what they lacked in culture they supplied in rough experiences and hairbreadth escapes and fireside talks, and in sports that were either improvised or inherited. Pony races, gander-pullings, shooting matches, 'coon hunting, and quiltings had more attractions than books. How they got to using such twisted language as "youuns" and "weuns" and "injuns" and "mout" and "gwine" and "all sich" is not known, nor was such talk universal. When such idioms began in a family, they descended and spread out among the kindred, but it was not contagious. I know one family now of very extensive connections who had a folklore of their own, and it can be traced back to the old ancestor who died a half century ago. But these corruptions of language are by no means peculiar to the cracker, for the English cockneys and the genuine yankee have an idiom quite as eccentric, though they do not realize it and would not admit it.

The Georgia cracker was a merry-hearted, unconcerned, independent creature, and all he asked was to be let alone by the laws and the outside world.

The justice's court of his beat was quite enough limitation for him. He had far more respect for the old spectacled 'squire than for the highest court in the nation. From this homemade tribunal he never appealed until the young lawyers began to figure in it, and seduced him into the mysteries of the law and the wonderful performances of the writ of "sasherary." Nevertheless, they looked upon lawyers as suspects and parasites, and their descendants have the same opinion still. The old 'squire was especially "fornent" them, and looked upon the "sasherary" as an insult to his judicial capacity. Sometimes he would let two young limbs of the law argue a case before him for half an hour, and then quietly remark, "Gentlemen, I judgmenticated this case last night at home," and would proceed with his docket. That old 'squire and the preacher were quite enough to pilot these people through life and across the dark river.

These rough, rude people were the original Georgia crackers. They constituted a large proportion of the population of Cherokee half a century ago. They were generally poor, but they enjoyed life more than they did money. They were sociable and they were kind. When one of their number was sick, they nursed him; when he died, they dug a grave and buried him, and that was the end of the chapter. There was no tombstone, no epitaph, no obituary. Their class is fast disappearing from our midst. Civilization has encroached upon them, and now their children and their children's children have assimilated with a higher grade of humanity.

It was among these untutored people that I cast my professional fortunes about forty-two years ago. I had been studying law about two months and was admitted on the sly on promise of future diligence, or rather upon the idea that if anybody was fool enough to employ me it was nobody else's business. Another young man of my age was admitted at the same time, and he knew less of law (if possible) than I did. I remember the first case we had was up in Shakerag District, where two neighbors had fallen out because one had accused the other of stealing his hog. And so he sued him in the justice's court for $30 worth of slander. My brother Alexander was employed for the plaintiff and I for the defendant. I didn't know that a justice's court had no jurisdiction over a slander case. My brother Alexander didn't know it. The jury didn't know it. I rather suspect that the old 'squire knew it, but he wasn't the man to limit his own consequence, and so we rolled up our sleeves and waded in. My brother Alexander made a fine speech for his maiden effort. He talked eloquently to that jury about the value of a man's character: how dear it was to him and his wife and his children, and how it should be transmitted down the line from generation to generation pure and untarnished by the foul breath of slander. And he closed his speech with an extract from Shakespeare, wherein he said: "He who steals my purse steals trash, but he who filches from me my good name takes that which does not enrich him, but makes me poor indeed."

I was very much alarmed and very much impressed with his eloquence, and so I concluded that my very best chance was to ridicule the whole business and. laugh it out of court if I could, and I told that jury in conclusion that it was impossible for my client to slander anybody, for he had no character of his own to begin with, and nobody would believe anything he said, whether he was on oath or off oath.

The old 'squire charged the jury to weigh all the evidence and to agree on a verdict if they could, and if they couldn't then they might split the difference and compromise. The jury retired to a log near by and cussed and discussed the matter and joked and carried on powerful, and in about an hour came back with their verdict: "We, the jury, find for the plaintiff two dollars and a half, onless the defendant will take back what he said."

Well, I didn't exactly know whether I had gained the case or lost it, but I took my client out of doors and advised him to take it back and save the cost. He finally consented to do this, but said that "he had hearn that they was gwine to make him sign a lie bill, and he'd be dingnation dadburned if he would do it." So we returned to the seat of war and I stated to his Honor that my client had concluded to accept the suggestion of the jury and would take back what he said. The old 'squire congratulated us on our disposition to peace and harmony, and just then my client stretched forth his hand and said: " But, 'Squire, if I take back what I said,. I want it understood that he must bring my hog back."

The next question that came up was who should pay the cost. I contended that my client had complied with the verdict of the jury, and was not bound for the costs. My brother Alexander contended that he complied a little too late; that he had to be sued to make him comply, and therefore he was bound for the costs. The old squire seemed muddled over the question, and finally said that he would leave it to the jury. So they retired to the log again, and in about five minutes came back with this verdict: "We, the jury, find that the lawyers shall pay the costs."

Well, I thought it was all right, and I think so yet. I planked down my dollar and my brother Alexander paid his and we mounted our horses and rode home covered with dust and glory, and glory was all we ever received from our clients.


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