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 (Part 2)

Last week we saw Jim Berry as an employee of the Pfister- Vogel Land Company that had purchased large tracts of mountain land. Jim Berry was hired as a security guard for the land company and had moved into the old Brewster house on Jack's Gap Road.

About this same time a rather crude telephone line was installed in the Choestoe-Town Creek community. A switch at Mr. Hayes Hunter's house near New Liberty Church could connect the community line to the forest service line. Jim Berry's telephone that kept him in touch with the Bald Mountain line could also, through the switch, be connected to the line to the Jesse Washington Souther house, also just off the Jack's Gap Road. In that house lived Varina (called "Tib") Souther. A romance began between Tib and Jim.

She was a daughter of Jesse Washington Souther (04/23/1836 - 09/12/1926) and Nancy Sullivan Souther (03/22/1858 08/12/1936), her father's second wife. Varina was the thirteenth of fifteen children of "Wash" Souther and the sixth of eight born to her mother, Nancy Sullivan Souther. This "second" family of Jesse Washington Souther had these children: Thomas Souther (1877-1937) who married Mary Lou Kay; Albert Galloway Souther (1879-?) who married Mae Pinkston; Lydia Souther (1881-?) who married Charlie Jones; Lina Souther (1883-1915); Benjamin Souther (1885) died in infancy; Varina Souther (1887- 1963) who married James Berry (1896- 1982) on August 13, 1913; Harvey Allen Souther (1889-1984) who married Fannie Collins (1895-1972); and Hardy Souther (1892, died in infancy).

Thanks to the "on line" switch that connected the Souther home telephone to the one the forest service maintained for Jim Berry, this couple could "court" by telephone.

With her full siblings and her half-siblings scattered, Varina Souther Berry took the responsibility of caring for her aging parents. She and her husband Jim Berry lived with them in the old Wash Souther house. One son, Glenn, was born to Varina and Jim, and they adopted a second son, J. T. Berry. Her father died in 1926 and her mother in 1936.

Varina "Tib" Souther Berry was nine years older than her husband, Jim. She died October 15, 1963, leaving Jim a widower. He continued to live on in the old Wash Souther house, with few conveniences. He graduated from a fireplace to a wood heater to heat his house and had a Roman Eagle wood cook stove in his kitchen. After his wife Varina died, he lived alone for almost nineteen more years in the old house.

Jim Berry was steeped in the knowledge of local geography and folklore. He could recount the names of all the mountains surrounding Georgia's highest peak, Brasstown Bald (also known as Enotah). He knew the names of valleys between the peaks, the creeks and rivers. A good marksman with a gun, he got his quota of deer each hunting season well into his seventh decade of life. In his later years, people beat a path to his door to hear his stories and listen to his wit and wisdom.

He learned to play the fiddle from his father. He tells about watching his father play, and then taking up the fiddle himself, finding that he, too, could make music from its strings. He and his brother began to play for and call square dances throughout the mountain region. He once told a visitor that if he had his father's old fiddle, he wouldn't take a thousand dollars for it.

In a finely woven basket hanging from Jim Berry's ceiling, he once kept the medicines he swore by. In individual paper bags were the herbs he gathered from the mountains to give him robust health into his eighties. Dried ginseng root he chewed during the winters with the firm belief that it "cured most anything." Then he had a bag of golden seal. This treasure from the wild cured anything ginseng didn't touch, Mr. Berry believed.

On a spring day, June 26, 1982, Jim Berry, true mountaineer, lay down his head and died. At 85 years, 10 months of age, he had packed a lot of living into his life. He was about the last of the true mountaineers who had a close affinity with the land and its topography, the forests and its inhabitants, and people who came seeking his stories.

c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published September 25, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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