Thanks to Jane Berry Thompson of the Union County Historical Society and Museum, Ron Miles, a kinsman of the far-flung Dyer-Souther Heritage Association whom I had not met before, got in touch with me. We have enjoyed making connections and sharing genealogical information.
The book his mother wrote was edited and published by Ron Miles in 1999 prior to his mother's death in 2000. In novella form, Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles wrote of the life and times of Jefferson Beauregard Dyer (1861-1944) and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer (1863-1942), her grandparents.
The "Foreword," by the author's son and editor of the book, is a lofty and eloquently written tribute to the way of life and the people whose story is revealed in the book. Ronald Miles writes: "Ultimately, this family trail would wind from the foot of Yonah Mountain in the newly-formed Habersham County, across the spectacularly wild Tesnatee Gap route, to arrive at Choestoe in the early 1830's. In a rickety wagon, on horseback, and afoot over this ancient Indian trail, the Dyers brought with them all the accoutrements of mountain living to settle by a bountiful and crystalline spring on Cane Creek. As of this turning to the twenty-first century, the Dyer name remains on a mailbox there. The oaken latch from the crumbled springhouse is a precious relic in my Minnesota cabin home, a hand-touch across years and miles." (pp. i-ii)
Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles (6-22-1916 - 2-22-2000) was a daughter of Laura Canzady Dyer, the sixth of twelve children of Jefferson Beauregard and Rhoda Jane Souther Dyer. Her mother was better known by her nickname, Cannie Dyer. Ruby Lee's father was Lonnie Sargent. It is amazing that Ruby Lee, who had to quit school at age twelve because of her mother Cannie's failing health, could write a book with, as her son Ron's introduction states, "such importance, integrity and transcendent beauty." (p. iv) The author was, indeed, gifted with ability with words and with insight and imagination.
The book was illustrated by a friend of Ron Miles, artist Gregory R. Wimmer of Rochester, Minnesota. A replica of the cabin built for Rhoda Jane Souther by her fiancé, Jefferson Beauregard Dyer on land given to his ninth child by James Marion Dyer (1823- 1904), looks amazingly like the log cabins so carefully constructed after the Civil War.
Jefferson and Rhoda Jane were married December 14, 1879. The story is an imagined romantic account of how Jeff met Jane and how their courtship proceeded, with the genuine approval of Jeff's parents, and the cooperation of Rhoda Jane's father, Jesse Washington Souther (1836- 1926).
Rhoda Jane's mother was Sarah E. Collins (1840-1872), daughter of Frank and Rutha Nix Collins. Sarah died when Rhoda Jane was only nine years of age, and being the second child of seven and the oldest girl, it fell her lot to help take care of her siblings who ranged in age from eleven years to six months when her mother died. On March 12, 1876, Rhoda Jane's father, Wash Souther, married the second time to Nancy Sullivan. From this union came eight children, half-siblings of Rhoda Jane Souther. She helped her step-mother care for the two new step-siblings born before she and Jefferson Beauregard Dyer married December 14, 1879.
Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles imagines that Jefferson Beauregard and his bride-to-be took picnic lunches and visited the land he received from his father, James Marion Dyer. I am not sure that young people of that day would have been permitted that much unsupervised time away from elders. But in the granddaughter's account of their courtship, she allows for time for the young couple to dream of their future life together:
"On Sundays, Jeff would take Jane up for the day, to picnic and plan a life in their new home. These times were very thrilling for them. They could almost see the morning glory vines growing over the end of the long porch." (p. 23).
With much hard work, Jeff finished the cabin before Christmas, 1879. The couple had their marriage ceremony at the Souther home. And on Christmas Day that year, Jane and Jeff invited their parents to their cabin and served a typical mountain feast to celebrate their marriage and to show their home.
Ruby Lee Sergeant Miles follows the year-by-year life of the Jefferson Beauregard Dyer family--filled with hard work and births of their twelve children, four sons and eight daughters.
The family moved from Choestoe to Cleveland, Georgia in White County in 1892 and lived there thirteen years. From there they moved to New Holland in Hall County, Georgia where Jefferson got a job working in the cotton mill.
The older children were also employed in the mill. Jefferson built four houses there, three of which he rented. Although life was filled with hard work, the family had genuine love for each other and a sense of togetherness. Ruby Lee says of the family: "Jeff continued to try new and prosperous things to better the life for Jane. His family always had about as good as the best of families." (p. 31).
The last half of Mrs. Miles's book has vignettes about "Yesteryear in the Mountains," including myths, early homes, producing and preserving food, animals, people caring for one another, and plants and herbs. She included recipes for some of the dishes prepared at the fireplace in an iron pot or in an iron Dutch oven covered with coals.
Thanks to Ronald Eugene Miles, retired from his career with Minnesota State Parks, for editing and publishing his mother's book. It is an excellent addition to our written mountain history. The Book Nook in Blairsville has some copies or one may be ordered from Grassroots Concepts, 9980 Ponderosa Lane Southwest, Lake Shore, MN 56468-2005 for $15 which includes cost and shipping and handling.
On the back cover is an "Afterword" written by poet and essayist John G. Neihardt. He states: "This story will not turn back the hands (digits?) of time, but it does advocate lessons the earth still has to teach us. And when mists lift off the mountains, is there a more fulfilling, refreshment than a long draught of pure, cool spring water bubbling from the Giving Earth?"
For those of you who enjoy reading about mountain ways and families of yesteryear, this insightful book will be an excellent addition to your library.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Nov. 30, 2006 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.