Submitted by:Joe Irons
Hydraulic mining was
often used in attempt to harness a water hose fed by mountain
water in which the hose pipes became increasingly smaller from the source
of the water until it reached the end. Note the gentleman riding the hose.
He is actually on a saddle.
. . . . .
The discovery of that dazzling yellow mineral at the base of Unicoi
Mountain impacted more dramatically on the structure and physical makeup
of Coker Creek than any other single event in the mosaic of its long
history. Without the presence of gold, its history would have been
very different, not only for its Scots-Irish-German settlers and their
descendants, but also especially for the thousands of Cherokee Indians
who were deported to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears to make room for
the exploitation of gold. And the quest for gold is indelibly imprinted on
the consciousness of its folk, for to this day there lingers a kind of
fever which may last forever.
Long before anyone had heard of Sutter's
Mill in California, which sparked the great Western Gold Rush of 1849,
North American gold was first discovered about 1799 in North Carolina.
The next discovery of gold on this continent was in the mid 1820's
just across the mountains of North Carolina in Coker Creek, Tennessee.
Stories of the discovery of Coker
Creek gold are intertwined with
myth and magic and provide some of the most colorful stories of a
community whose mystique and history are as rich as the legendary mother
lode, said to remain hidden deep in the bosom of the Unicois.
Back in the early 1800's, times were
rugged in the
mountains. Coker Creek was peopled by a hearty and independent class of
Scotch-Irish-German settlers who had immigrated mainly from North
Carolina. Proud people, they asked for little; and yet, venturing as
far back into the hills and wilderness a they could get back to where
deep hollows speak in hushed whispers and the nights are silent monuments
in large part, they were charitable and neighborly.
A series of treaties with the
Cherokee Indians (first by Governor
William Blount, whom President George Washington appointed governor of
all the Territories South of the River Ohio, and then
Governor John Sevier, Revolutionary War hero, Indian fighter,
and first governor of the State of
Tennessee) brought a relative clam
to the land where the Cherokee had
reigned for centuries land now
known as Knox, Sevier, Blount,
Loudon, Monroe and Polk Counties. In the late 1700's, this land had
been a kind of killing field for its
However, an uneasiness hung
over the land. The Indians long had
known about the presence of the rich
veins of gold thus undiscovered
by the whites which lay waiting
underneath the forests, layered in
quartz belts that zippered the entire
region in a kind of crossquilt pattern.
The Cherokees knew of the gold and
feared the white man's lust for it.
The presence of US Army troops
in this area to maintain peace made
inevitable the revelation of this deadly secret.
From this setting springs the
legend that links the eons with the
discovery of Coker Creek gold.
In 1826-27, in the relative peace
between the whites and the Indians,
it was not unusual for a soldier to
be attracted to a lovely Indian
maiden. The story is that on a lovely evening of fiddle and banjo music
and much singing, a beautiful
Cherokee maiden accompanied a
soldier to a dance in Georgia.
As the two danced, the soldier's
eyes were irresistibly drawn to a
gleaming object dangling from her
leather necklace, the unmistakable
rich yellow of the object glistening
promisingly in the firelight. The
soldier inquired of her and at that
precise moment, history took a
Perhaps, caught by the warmth of
the fire and disarmed by the charm
and attentiveness of the young
soldier, the maiden told him that it
was a nugget of gold , and that
there was much more to be found on
Indian lands. She said that her nugget had been found in the creek at
Coqua (the original Cherokee name
which the settlers pronounced, and
spelled, "Coker"). She said the
thumb-sized nugget had been found
amongst the sparkling rocks of the
stream and that there were plenty
more where that came from; that it
was in nuggets and tiny flakes
With this the genie was out of the
Soon thereafter, the Cherokee Indians complained
to the federal
government that an undesirable infusion of white men, miners and
settlers, were violating their lands,
hunting gold and causing the tribes
Those pleas fell on deaf ears and
gold mining continued around Coker
Creek. In 1828, about a year after
gold had been discovered by the
whites in Coker Creek, gold also
was discovered in the North Georgia
Blue Ridge at Dahlonega. Considered the heart of the "gold
district," in 1838, the United States
set up a branch of the US Mint
there. During the next 23 years,
more than $6 million would be
coined in Dahlonega. There are conflicting records concerning how
much of this came from the hills and
hollows and streams of the Coker
From 1856 until the outbreak of
the Civil War, close to 1,000 persons, including freed slaves and
slaves, worked in the Coker Creek
mines and panned the waters. Occasionally, as much as several
thousands of dollars worth of gold
were to be found within a period of
With the outbreak of the Civil
War came an interruption (which
lasted until 1870) in gold mining
operations and the region became infested with roving outlaw bands of
deserters from both Union and Confederate Armies, "bushwhackers,"
After the war when mining resumed
in the area, road crew formen allowed their workers to have but one
"call of nature" each work day, Men wore over-alls in those days and
when one of them returned from his allotted time in the bushes, one
of his over-all straps was unbuttoned, twisted and then rebuttoned.
The twisted strap marked him as one who had used up his rest period.