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

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

James "Jim" Berry, the Last of the True Mountaineers

Visit New Liberty Baptist Church Cemetery in Choestoe, stretched in front of a beautiful white country church house, with Enotah (Brasstown Bald) Mountain lifting its towering peak in the distance, and you find graves of many early settlers to that section of Union County. Today, we will focus on two graves bearing names, not of early settlers but the descendents of some of them.

These graves are of a husband and wife, James "Jim" Berry and Varina "Tib" Souther Berry. The dates tell us Jim lived from August 14, 1896 through June 26, 1982, and Tib lived from May 12, 1887 through October 15, 1963. Many who knew Jim Berry, and who wrote about him, like Charles Roscoe Collins and the roving reporter for The Atlanta Journal, Charles Salter, called him one of the last of the "true mountaineers."

Living in the old log house, somewhat updated from the time his wife Tib's grandfather built it in the mid-1800's, James was a widower from 1963 when his wife died until 1982, when he passed on at age 86. A philosopher of sorts, Jim Berry enjoyed company and was a great talker. His simple lifestyle was often an amazement to the many visitors who dropped by his house just off the Jack's Gap Road to hear him talk and to get his viewpoints on the issues of the day.

Jim Berry was not a Union County native. His wife, Varina, claimed that honor, but not Jim. His grandparents came from Old Gilmer County (a portion that later became Fannin) and from the mining town of Copperhill, Tennessee. Like settlers to that section, his forebears left North Carolina in a general migration and found land on which to carve out a new life in the mountains of North Georgia. The Berry Family moved from their Gilmer County home and got land along Fodder Creek in what became Towns County in 1856. There Jim Berry was born in 1896 to William Berry and Becky Shook Berry. Jim Berry had siblings William Berry, John Berry, Tina Berry McFall, and Martha Berry Chastain.

James Berry spent his childhood and early youth working on the family farm at Fodder Creek. He had little formal schooling because his father was an invalid. It was necessary for Jim Berry to work hard to try to make a living on the hardscrabble farm for his father, mother and siblings. They had cattle and hogs that ranged the mountains and, when rounded up and driven to market in Gainesville, provided a little extra income for the family.

When America got involved in World War I, James Berry served in the US Army. After basic training at Fort Gordon, he was selected to be in the unit that guarded German prisoners of war at Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia. He remembered those two years of his life as hard. Guarding the prisoners took great vigilance and discipline. When the Armistice was signed in November, 1918, Jim Berry was one of the guards chosen to accompany the 550 German prisoners by train to Charleston, SC, where the captives were loaded on boats and returned to Germany.

Upon his honorable discharge from the army following World War I, James Berry returned to Fodder Creek in Towns County. He purchased 80 acres of mountain land, and there continued the same life of small patch farming in the bottoms along creeks as he had done growing up.

Then another opportunity came for this World War I veteran. The Pfister-Vogel Land Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin had purchased thousands of acres of mountain land in Towns, Union, Lumpkin and White Counties. They needed workers. Jim Berry signed on, and because of his previous experience as a guard in World War II, he was assigned to the security detail of the company's work force.

Part of the land purchased by the Pfister-Vogel Land Company included the old Brewster holdings along the Jack's Gap Road leading toward Bald Mountain. An aside in the Jim Berry story lets us know that this tract of land had a history. It was sold to the land company by John Brewster. On that land, during the Civil War, Washington Brewster was killed near Jack's Gap by a roving band of Home Guard. The Brewster Place also had other families living there through time. Some were Jesse Spiva, Ben Spiva, Cornelius Spiva (who was killed in Germany during World War I, the first casualty of that war from Union County), Jim Harkins, Van Duckworth, and, finally, James Berry himself. Near the house was an old cemetery where Brookshires, Brewsters and Spivas were buried back in the era when family cemeteries were started near the old homeplace. The Land Company allowed James Berry, one of their important security guards, to live in the old Brewster house.

And that move, from Towns County to Union County, set the stage for the rest of citizen Jim Berry's life and times. Not only did he have work in the outdoors and woodlands he loved, but romance was on the horizon for James Berry. In the sequel to this story, we will learn about the life and times of Varina "Tib" Souther and James Berry. Stay tuned for the remainder of this delightful story.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 18, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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