Before the well-documented gold strike in California in 1849, North Carolina was the gold mining capital of the country. Along with nearby Vein Mountain and Dysartsville, the area around Brackett Town was the center. (See Brackett Town Saga Part #3)
My neighbor Wade Nanney is part of its history. “In the scenic southeastern corner of McDowell County there once existed a thriving, sixty-family community of farming, logging, and mining enterprises.”
In 1798 Shadrack Nanney from Virginia settled a large tract of land on the north edge of Rutherford County. His grandson, Amous (Wade’s great grandfather) acquired property straddling the Rutherford-McDowell county line along side the present day US Highway 221. His growing family had a log house up a small hollow on the Rutherford side. In the years leading up to the Civil War, Amous did some mining in the river bottom where a commercial gold mine had briefly existed beginning in 1830. Close to the Nanney farm was the Adair farm, abounding in colorful characters.
There is a historic marker on the main street in the county seat for James Adair who granted the town of Rutherfordton in 1780. Wade Nanney said Adair “lived among the Cherokee for forty years and published a bunch of writings in Britain showing the Cherokee religion and practices.” Contemporary evangelist Bill Cloud refers to the use of these writings by Joseph Smith in creating the Book of Mormon. But that is for another blog, another story.
“Brackett Town today is just a dim, depopulated shadow of its former self. There are miles of gravel piles and pits where the earth has been turned upside down by slow, strenuous hand labor. Those persistent miners followed the creeks, branches, and finally the dry ore-bearing veins back into the hills. Scant traces of old roads thread through the woods, connecting to points which only a few old timers can identify today. There was even a tiny post office that operated at Sprouse’s Mill about halfway into Brackettown until the time of WWI. Its postmark proclaimed it to be ‘Demming, NC’.” (See Brackett Town Saga Part 5)
Wade told me, “Among these bygone citizens of the mid-1800’s there lived an old man whose name I can find neither in the cemetery nor in the deed room of the Marion courthouse.” Virtually all record of him appears to be lost except through a tale handed down by Thomas Early who then owned a hilly 200 acre farm along the northwestern slope of Conway’s Knob. He passed the story to his grandson who later told his neighbor Wade who wrote a story about the Brackett Town area, “Garden Spot O’ The World.” It won first place with competition years ago in a history newspaper in Georgia. I am delighted to share a shortened version to spotlight Wade’s natural storytelling talent.
“Farmer Early raised livestock and considerable tasty produce in his creek bottoms and upland patches. In addition, he operated a general store which had a signal bell out front so customers could call him in from the fields. He also set up a water wheel mill making use of an earthen damned hollow from which water could be channeled to lower places. When he had his crops ‘laid by,’ the farmer was also known to hitch his mule to the drag pan and sluice out as much as seven dollars worth of gold a day, when gold was only worth $18/oz.”
“Other times, Farmer Early would load up a wagon full of fresh produce and at 3:00am set out to peddle it in Marion twenty miles north on 221. His young grandson, June Causby, would often accompany him on these trips, listening with avid ears to the folklore and memorabilia of a still earlier time. In such a manner, Mr. Causby learned the tale of a quaint character remembered only as ‘Ole Man Adair.’
(Possibly Thomas Adair according to another older neighbor. Possibly related to the notorious Adairs of the nearby Union Mills/Nanneytown area who earned the wrath of the community during Reconstruction days by burning down Round Hill Baptist Church. And in 1870 these outlaws massacred a mixed-blood family. They were tried and hanged.)” I digressed when Wade did. To continue …
“Anyway, whoever this Ole Man Adair was, he was an adventurous type who was content neither with the farm nor with the local mining prospects. When the great California gold rush broke, he hightailed it out there to try his hand. He pursued the glittering dream for a few years; then he decided it was time to head home.”
“At San Francisco he boarded one of the great clipper ships of the 1850’s for the trip home. Being a half-century before the construction of the Panama Canal, the ship had to sail all the way around Cape Horn at the tip of South America, then proceed back up across the Equator to put into port at Charleston, South Carolina.”
“This Adair fellow must certainly have evoked some considerable comment and curiosity on this voyage: he wore a huge, stifling-hot overcoat the whole trip, night and day. Never would he consider removing it! What must the other passengers’ opinions and reactions have been to this oddity?”
Rest of the Story in the next post! Very soon.
Copyright, 2014, Georgia Wilson