Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A Trip West in 1873 - From the Memoirs of James Nix

James William Nix pictured in 1881,
8 years after he left Georgia for Colorado.
Pictured beside him is his fiancée, Iona May Copp.
The couple married January 2, 1890 in Norwood, Colorado

Elizabeth Souther Nix had the spirit and determination of a true pioneer. She set out from Choestoe District; Union County, Georgia on March 24, 1873, nine years after her young husband, William Nix (1837-1864) died and was laid to rest in Old Choestoe Cemetery. That cemetery also contained the grave of her second born child, John B. Nix (1860-1862).

In her research of what we call “the western Southers,” Diana Lee Greagar found an invaluable document that lends much light on a young widow’s trip with three young children as they migrated west. The account is in the form of memoirs written by Elizabeth and William Nix’s eldest son, James, who was born December 26, 1859 in Choestoe and died in Boise, Idaho March 2, 1947. James was not quite fourteen when he, his mother Elizabeth, and his sisters, Martha Jane (1861-1949) and Nancy Ann (1863-1899?) left Choestoe going west.

Elizabeth Souther and her three children were in the company of others from Choestoe who were likewise heading west. Her brother, William “Bill” Souther had already gone west to Colorado. Evidently his letters home had put a spark of hope in his sister’s heart. Nine years after her husband William’s death, Elizabeth looked at the mountains surrounding the small farm on Choestoe where she had tried to eke out a living for herself and her three children since Will’s untimely death. Unknown lands beyond familiar hills and valleys seemed to beckon her. She hoped there was a better way to make a living than her small farm on Choestoe afforded.

Jim wrote in his memoirs: “Father and Mother lived on Town Creek in Choestoe District on a high knoll or ridge overlooking a small valley where brother and sisters and I were all born and where I put in my happiest childhood days. Our school house and church when we left that part of the country was named Liberty.”

James Nix had recollections of the Civil War as it affected Choestoe. He mentioned the “rallies” and the “mustering days” when able-bodied men volunteered for service, or, if opposed to joining with the Confederate forces, either hid out in the mountains to escape service or, if aligning with the North, went to Tennessee where they joined the Federal Army. Jim Nix does not write whether his father lost his life due to the war or through natural causes in 1864. James also remembered what he called “the miserable pilfering parties” that robbed Choestoe homesteads. “The Union Army ran them out near the end of the war,” James wrote.

The Nix family loaded their wagon with enough provisions to get them from Choestoe to Cleveland, Tennessee, several days journey over the narrow road along the Ocoee River Gorge then used to transport copper ore from the mines around Ducktown and Copperhill, Tennessee to the railroad in Cleveland. Since others from Choestoe were in the wagon train (unfortunately Jim does not name the other families in his memoirs), Elizabeth and her three children had some protection as they camped along the way.

In Cleveland, they “stayed for a few days,” (still camping out in the wagons) where they dickered with the railroad for fares west to Colorado. James wrote, “Finally, the different families, consisting of quite a number, got them down to $35 dollars a ticket and baggage free.” Think how long Elizabeth Souther Nix must have saved up to have that amount of money in 1873 for herself and three children to go west. Being an enterprising woman, she no doubt found a place in Cleveland to sell her mule team and wagon to add a little more cash for the journey west.

James Nix gives their itinerary from Cleveland, Tennessee: “We took the train for Colorado by way of Chattanooga, Tennessee, Mobile, Alabama, and Corinth, Mississippi where we lay over for a few days.” Layovers meant more outlay of cash for the young widow and her three children. They would have found lodging in a boarding house or hotel of that day. Meals would have been another cost, for it is not likely that Elizabeth would have had a means of preparing food for them. At Corinth they did some sightseeing. He wrote, “We looked over the breast works thrown up in the Civil War.”

Next on the rail stop was Union City, Tennessee and then on to Columbus, Kentucky. There they had to cross the mighty Mississippi River by boat, which ferried the railroad coaches across. Although James Nix writes only matter-of-factly about this experience, we can imagine the excitement felt by a fourteen year old lad and his sisters, Martha Jane, 12, and Nancy Ann, 10, as they saw the great river from the windows of their railroad coach as the ferry laboriously edged to the western bank of the Mississippi.

“Then we took the Iron Mountain to St. Louis, Missouri, where we stayed a day and looked it over, such as the piers and abutments of the Eads Bridge (to be),” he wrote. The Eads Bridge was under construction in 1873. James continues, “But only the telephone wire was stretched across it at that time, and that was a wonder to me.” He had not known telephones in Choestoe Valley in his childhood. Certainly that technological advancement would have been “a wonder” to the curious lad from Choestoe.

From St. Louis the next major stop was Kansas City. They had taken the Wabash Railroad. The Missouri River had risen from the spring rains and melting snow and a washout had occurred. The people, livestock and baggage had to be transferred from the train. “We finally got to Kansas City, Kansas,” he wrote, “and laid over again.” He wrote about “the main interest there” being a prairie dog on a chain used to entertain passengers. The animal could burrow under the side of the platform and was a diversion for travel-weary passengers, especially the children.

“We left Kansas City, as I recall, about ten at night over the Kansas-Pacific Railroad for Denver, Colorado. We traveled that night, the next day, and night.”

They arrived at the Denver, Colorado rail depot about 9:00 a. m. on April 7, 1873. Since March 24, when they had left Choestoe, the Nix family had been traveling fifteen days, not a bad record for that time. “It snowed about four inches the night we got to Denver,” James wrote. “After daylight we could see buffalo running across the rolling prairies from our train, which was a wonder to me.”

[To be continued.]

c2004 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 8, 2004 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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