Week 4: January 25, 2014
Ila Stargel Sewell Jones
My first letter from Ila Stargel Jones was in response to a letter written to her sister Cleo about the story she submitted to the Heritage of Lumpkin County book on Sara Bryan Stargel – daughter of my Civil War grandfather, Berrian Clark Bryan. Ila wrote that she was answering for Cleo because she knew the most information on the Bryan families; Ila was 93 years of age at the time of her letter in 1997.
I immediately wrote back with many questions – eagerly awaiting a second letter. The information she wrote back contained more family history then I ever hoped to receive. I was so excited after reading it and couldn’t wait to share the stories with other family members.
Ila was about nineteen years of age when Berrian Clark Bryan died in 1923 in Dahlonega, Lumpkin County, Georgia. She lived with her parents’ across from Cane Creek and next to her grandparent’s, Richard R. Stargel and Sara Bryan Stargel; actually less than a mile from the cabin of her great-grandfather, Berrian C. Bryan. Sara Bryan Stargel was the daughter of B. C. Bryan and grandmother of Ila Stargel Jones.
From her accounts, she wrote that B. C. Bryan was a quiet, caring and a hardworking man – and still so at the age of 73 when she was born. Even at that age, he continued walking into Dahlonega every week for supplies, food and to cash his monthly pension check. By the time Ila was old enough to talk to him, he was hard of hearing so communication was not always easy. It was said he had been hit with a bullet in the face during the Civil War – which may have contributed to his loss of hearing. She remembers him as a quiet man, and maybe the reason being was because of his hearing problem.
Ila’s last memory of B. C. Bryan was when he died in 1923 at the age of almost one hundred years old. He passed away at home in his mountain cabin, which sat across from Cane Creek. In those days the family took care of everything when a family member died – from the bathing and dressing of the deceased for burial, to the building of the coffin and digging of the grave; and that is exactly what the family members did for B. C. Bryan. She wrote how her uncle, Colie Stargel, and Mr. Lance built his coffin and dug his grave; the total cost was a few planks and the black sateen cloth. Ila herself helped prepare the inside of the coffin by padding it with cotton and lining it with the black sateen. They dug the grave about two feet wide and longer until they reached a depth of about four feet, then made a shelf and dug the bottom of the grave to fit the coffin. When they buried him they put planks over the coffin to rest on the shelves so the dirt would not get on his coffin.
Through family customs, her grandmother’s family bathed him after he died. He was laid out on an old door on the bed, covered with a sheet. Silver coins were laid on his eyes to keep them closed; he was then laid in the prepared coffin. The funeral was preached at Cane Creek Church, where he was also buried, of which he attended and lived nearby.
I felt both stunned and excited after reading Ila’s letter – realizing that what I actually was reading was information from someone who actually knew my Civil War grandfather. Ila’s letter left me speechless and wanting more. She was a lifeline to a past that gave me factual details of a life I never thought, or dreamed of ever knowing. I now had a “living” person who could possibly answer questions about the past. I couldn’t write the questions down fast enough as I penned a letter back to her.
Ila was born in a two-room log cabin in 1903 to parents, John J. and Georgia (Jones) Stargel. In 1910, at the age of seven, she walked several miles with her father to await a viewing of Haley’s Comet. They walked to the top of a hill, sat on a quilt, and waited for it to appear. She remembers today of seeing it light up the sky as she saw the nucleus and its beautiful shining tail; she always enjoyed watching the stars. She went on to become a teacher, teaching at Cane Creek School.
During the next few years that Ila and I corresponded, I felt privileged as she shared her family stories and experiences with me. Every year when I went to Georgia Ila tried to come and meet me, but we were never able to actually meet until June 5, 2000 when her son, Ike Sewell, brought her to Dahlonega; we planned to visit family sites together.
With the help of Ila and her son, we found the cabin site of our shared grandfather B. C. Bryan. Ila had always told me she thought she would be able to find the site of where his cabin once stood, and with her help, and her son’s contacts, we were able to step back in time by finding the cabin site of Berrian Clark Bryan. Ike had contacted some of their Stargel family before arriving in Dahlonega and they told him that Fred Burns had recently owned the actual Bryan land near Cane Creek. Fred’s directions led us to finding the cabin site.
Fred had recently sold the land, but gave us permission to walk through his land down into the back hollow where we would find the site. He remembered buying the land from Collie and Babe Stargel (Bryan grandchildren) and told us exactly where the old cabin once stood. We were able to make the discovery of the cabin site and even found pink country roses still blooming around the yard area. (I brought home clippings and my mother rooted them; they bloom in my Connecticut front yard today)
Ila was not able to make the actual walk that day, but in spirit she was with us. In a letter wrote to me after I sent her a copy of the story on finding the cabin site, she said “after reading your story, I feel as if I was with you every step of the way as you traced the steps to Berrian Clark Bryan’s cabin site.”
I will always treasure “Ila’a Letters” written to me; so full of family history and stories. Ila gave me a valuable piece of the Bryan family puzzle and without her I probably would never have discovered it.
Responses to Week 4 – 52 Ancestors 52 Week Blog: Ila Stargel Sewell Jones
Nancy Bunch: March 2, 2014 at 3:59 am –
I am B.C. Bryan ‘s great -great granddaughter .. My grandmother was Carrie Hudson .. Her sister were Ollie, Mary Anne and brothers;, John , and James. I too remember many stories the diddle bug, and Blue Ridge Mountains. Granny married Emory Murrell my grandfather and they moved to Alabama. I love old pictures – I feel like I’m back in time with them. Enjoy reading your stories. My dad was Clarence Allen Morrell – he changed it because Morrell sounded better in the Army. The rest of the family remained Murrell.
Steve Insalaco: January 21, 2015 at 8:31 pm –
I remember meeting her when we went on that hike into the woods. It was really neat to actually see where B.C’s cabin once stood.