Week 32: August 9, 2014
“There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills” Tillman D. Gooch
“There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills” – (Mark Twain’s version of what Mr. Stephenson, Dahlonega Mint assayer, said from the second floor porch of the Dahlonega Courthouse.
Gold was discovered in the North Georgia Indian Territory in 1828 – everyone poured in as wanna-be miners. Most only saw a quick and easy way of striking it rich. My fourth great grandfather Tillman D. Gooch was one of those men.
The most written story is – a man was hunting west of the Chattahoochee River when he tripped over a rock, only to discover that it was full of gold. This Lumpkin County gentleman was Benjamin Parks, known locally as Uncle Benny. There are actually several stories of the first discovery of gold in Georgia, but Mr. Parks story is the most circulated and told.
News first spread slowly of the gold find in Georgia but it quickly turned into what we know as the 1829 Gold Rush. One of the first written accounts was in the Georgia Journal (Milledgeville newspaper), on August 1, 1829:
GOLD – A gentleman of the first respectability in Habersham County, writes us thus under date of 22nd July: “Two gold mines have just been discovered in this county, and preparations are making to bring these hidden treasures of the earth to use.” So it appears that what we long anticipated has come to pass at last, namely, that the gold region of North and South Carolina, would be found to extend into Georgia.
Suddenly thousands of “Twenty Niners” poured into North Georgia – entering those Cherokee lands illegally, which caused much conflict with the Cherokees; this was still Cherokee Indian Territory. While gold enriched the lives of the new miners, it was the beginning of the push to remove the Cherokees from their native land. This caused much distress with the Cherokees as The Treaty of Washington of 1819 between the Federal Government and the Cherokee Nation had defined this as their land initially. It didn’t take the miners long before they used political pressure against the government – they were determined to mine for gold – on their land. The Federal Government soon forced the Native Americans West of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma with the promise of new land and money – this Indian removal by 1839 was sadly known as The Trail of Tears. I can only imagine how they felt having to pack up their family and belongings and travel to another land – and being forced by gunpoint.
The first two towns the miners built up were called Auraria, and Dahlonega. The latter was first known as Licklog, then Talonega by the Cherokees – which meant yellow or gold. How ironic the Cherokee’s called it as such – they knew the gold was there but it never had the same meaning to them that it did to the men coming in – they were content to leave it in the ground. The name Licklog came about because Benjamin “Benny” Parks put out salt in a hollowed-out log for his livestock on the site where the present court house stands today. The name Talonega was changed into Dahlonega when it became the county seat of Lumpkin County in 1833.
Auraria was the first county seat of Lumpkin County from 1828-1832 with a population of over 1,000. Merchants rushed to support the booming population that was swelling quickly in the area – everyone wanted to jump in on the bandwagon of making money. Miners needed supplies, and that spelled money for those merchants.
Businesses sprang up overnight in areas such as this; that’s how boomtowns survived. There were twenty saloons, five hotels, and they even had a newspaper; constant news reported of found gold brought more miners into the area. Those saloons must have made a small fortune, probably why so many opened in one small area. Any service that could be bought – could be found.
Those miners were a rough and rowdy group that frequented the many gambling houses, dance halls and saloons that were open day and night, seven days a week; families soon found it difficult in raising their children in this environment.
The boom of men looking to strike gold overnight caused this boomtown in the Dahlonega area; they came for one reason – to mine for gold. Boomtowns can as quickly undergo a ‘bust’ as fast as they grow, often leaving behind what is known as a ghost town. The town known as Auraria, just southwest of Dahlonega – is just that. Boomtown-Auraria was now a ghost town. Dahlonega was the only boomtown that continued to build and grow slowly when most of the wanna-be-miners moved on.
The miners often carried gold dust loose in their pockets, using it for payment. It was measured by how much could stand on the point of a knife; how accurate was that? Merchants soon brought in special scales for weighing gold dust and nuggets so the miners could use their gold mining finds to pay for supplies, as well as the whiskey in the saloons.
As it was not cost effective or safe in the transport of all this new found gold to the mint in Philadelphia, PA. – the United States soon built a mint in Dahlonega which operated from 1838-1861. It was a much smaller operation, only accounting for a fraction of gold coins minted there; this resulted in the surviving Dahlonega coinage being very highly sought after today. All coins minted there were stamped with “D” for Dahlonega. By the time the Civil War began the mint dwindled in operation – eventually closing its doors. The mint building burned in 1878 and the North Georgia College built the Price Memorial Hall on its foundation; they gold leafed the steeple to give reference to its history.
The year 1849 marked the end of Georgia’s first and most major Gold Rush; once the word of gold discovered in California reached the ears of the miners, they quickly picked up their pick and shovel and headed west to make their fortune. Most of the easily-had gold was now gone from Georgia, panning easily on the river banks was no more. There was still gold in them thar hills – but you needed to mine deeply for it. The miners looking for the easy buck packed up and left.
Many of the “Forty-Niner’s” who left for the Western Gold Rush died en-route, but many returned in later years with found gold and brought new ideas for mining back to Lumpkin County; they formed mining companies. One of the most well known mining companies in Lumpkin County was the Consolidated Gold Mining Company. They soon began mining with hydraulic equipment to recover the gold still hidden in the North Georgia mountains – and it was still there! What once was a slow process with a pick and a shovel, was now accomplished in record time by powerful water cannons; it ate away at the land causing much erosion, but it uncovered those hidden gold veins below the surface.
The Consolidated Gold Mining company was bankrupt by 1907, but several underground tunnel mines were still worked until World War II. Because of the war effort underway, mining halted due to the fact they could no longer get explosives. Mining never resumed after the war either as President Roosevelt prohibited private citizens to own more than twenty ounces of unrefined gold and he froze the price at $32.00 on ounce. As of this writing gold is now over $1300.00 an ounce. (2014)
James Bryan, my 4th great grandfather, also settled here around 1829 in the vicinity of Cane Creek. I’ve never found anything written on him mining gold, but it may not have been a coincidence that he settled in this specific area – he most likely mined for gold at some point. If he didn’t come for that reason, I’m sure he panned for the easy gold in Cane Creek as some of the mines in the area were placer mines along the Cane Creek bank – one was the Horner Mine along the creek. Cane Creek also played an important part in the building of the courthouse in Dahlonega. Bricks were made from the mud of the creek – and also used as the mortar. The saying goes that the courthouse has gold in its structure – and rightly said as Cane Creek was known to be rich with gold.
I often wondered how Cane Creek came about its name and read recently that there was a syrup mill just below Cane Creek Falls on Oak Grove Road; that tells me that cane was abundantly grown in the area. There is also a Cane Creek Gap, just above Cane Creek as well as a Cane Creek Church Road.
Berrian Clark Bryan, son of James, also lived near Cane Creek and granted “Right of way to the Consolidated Gold Mining Company of Georgia on Lot #1208, District 11, 1st Section of Lumpkin County, Ga. for consideration of the sum of $100.00 – this was listed in the Lumpkin County Deed Book W., pgs. 432-433 and recorded on Oct. 25, 1882; there was still gold in them thar hills!
Tillman Gooch (bc 1800-1850) was one of those “Twenty Niner’s” settling in the early boomtown village of Dahlonega; he was born to parents James Gooch and Elizabeth Kelley. The Gooch family, through land deeds found, lived on Clear Creek and the Tyger River in Greenville County, South Carolina. Tillman was my 4th great grandfather and the first of the Gooch line settling in the North Georgia Mountains, where many descendants still reside today. He is my only documented gold prospector I’ve found in my research.
Tillman Gooch was a family man and a farmer, as well as a prospector seeking gold in 1929. He was the son of a farmer, but seemed very adventurous in taking a change for the future for himself and his family. At the age of nineteen, which was young for a man of that era to marry, Tillman married Mary Elizabeth Justice (1819), also nineteen years of age. Their first child, my third great grandfather Samuel Gooch, was also born in South Carolina. Before their second child was born in 1926, he brought his family into this uncivilized land known as the Cherokee Nation, later to become Rabun County. He was listed with his family on the 1830 Rabun County Census. 1834 deeds show he sold a Gold Lot received in Lumpkin County. He also purchased land in Cherokee County, later to lose it in a Sheriff sale.
By 1838 Tillman and Mary Elizabeth had five daughters and two sons. Tillman soon seemed to abandon his family at that point. I say abandon, as he never returned to his family; its been stated through written words that he and his wife did not get along. The Gooch Newsletters write that he joined up as a captain of a militia troop and was in charge of moving the Cherokee Indians from the Southeastern States to the new Indian Territory.
Another story ‘tale’ goes – Tillman shot a man while hunting turkey. Thinking he might be tried for murder, he left – either on the Indian drive or maybe he just went West on his own. The 1840 Census records him living in Tishomingo Co., Mississippi and serving as a JP there as late as 1843. It’s later written that Tillman moved on to Sutter County, CA. a couple of years before 1950 and the California Gold Rush. It didn’t take Tillman long before he found a wife in Caliornia; marriage records are soon found in Sutter Co., CA. listing a Tillman Gooch marrying a Nancy Miller on 15 Apr 1850. If this is indeed my Tillman Gooch, he never divorced first wife Mary Elizabeth – but he clearly remarried from the marriage records found. This was also the year Sutter County was formed, just one year after the big California Gold Strike of 1949 in Sutter Creek. We find no more records for him after that time. We can only assume he died between 1850-1860.
Tillman’s father, James Gooch, was born in North Carolina and the son of William Gooch, a prominent landowner in Caswell, Virginia; William Gooch was the son of Claiborne Gooch of Hanover, Virginia. The Claiborne and Gooch families can be found in the earliest records of York County, Virginia and Jamestown; they were leaders in the counties and state. The Gooch family history continues back to England to great leaders and kings. I personally have not pursued that far back, but its written the name takes on a change in the 1300’s, and can be traced back to Hrolf Turstain. Maybe one day….
From Cecil Daniels, publisher of The Gooch Newsletter: “We have found proof of marriage for three of Tillman’s daughters that we did not have until we found the Eastern Cherokee application of daughter Mary Jane Gooch Allison. But I must ask, “how did she apply unless she could prove Cherokee heritage?” Who was Cherokee – Tillman? Mary Elizabeth? This area clearly needs more research, but as its not my direct line to these girls – I will leave it for someone else who descends from them, although if Tillman is Cherokee then it does affect my lineage.
The Gooch name at some point was given to a couple of landmarks – Gooch Mountain and Gooch’s Gap I’m assuming were so named for my Gooch ancestors of Lumpkin County. Many landmarks were named as memorials to the brave men who chose to settle in these unknown areas. It’s written that it was a once well-used mountain pass, rich in green forest and abundant in native plants. And even still today you find Gooch Gap under a dense canopy of mountain laurel and a vibrantly green forest, filled with trailing ivy, fern and seasonal wildflowers. Gooch Mountain is a 3,333 ft. mountain peak near Dahlonega, Georgia. Based on peak data, it ranks as the 173rd highest mountain in Georgia and the 33906th highest mountain in the United States.
Gooch’s Gap could very well have been the traveled path into the North Georgia area that Tillman Gooch took into Georgia; it is situated alongside the Appalachian Trail. He may have even made a trip there before deciding to bring his family; we can only speculate. The gap is only accessible by foot, a remote area still full of treasure if you feel the need for adventure on foot.
So it seems, my “mountain man” Tillman Gooch descended from a very prominent family. But it strikes me odd that coming from such prominence – he moved away from family – to mine for gold. Leaving his family and homeland at such an early age, coming to a wilderness area, leads me to believe he was very strong-willed, wanting to be his own man. Probably that strong will of his was why he didn’t get along with his first wife, leaving her to raise their family when he left the area around 1939 – never to return.
History of Lumpkin Co., Ga., Andrew Cain
The Georgia Journal of Milledgeville, Ga.
Anne Dismukes Amerson
Gooch Family Newsletters
Lumpkin County Deed Book W
Georgia Archives and Digital Library (photos)
Anthony Hunter; Article from Union Sentinel, Blairsville, Ga.