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 possession.
        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 definite turn.
        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 everywhere.
        With this the genie was out of the bottle.
        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 much distress.
        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 Creek community.
        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 several weeks.
        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," or guerrillas.
        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.