Appalachia Music

Fiddling George Barnes, Last of the Copper Haulers

Today’s guest post was written by Ethelene Dyer Jones.

 TCC teamsters @ 1912 Polk County News

Photo provided by Polk County News

Fiddling George Barnes, Last of the Copper Haulers

By Ethelene Dyer Jones

A considerable amount of romance (meaning legend, mystery, adventure) is tied to the days of early mining and copper exchange in the Copper Basin. This is especially true of the men who were known as the copper haulers along the Old Copper Road. Perhaps none of them were as well known or had as many admirers as George B. Barnes.

We have perhaps heard stories of him, and if we have visited the Ducktown Basin Museum, we have seen displayed there the fine old fiddle that once belonged to this copper hauler, citizen and fiddle-player, George Barnes.

James Barnes (June 13, 1811-August 9, 1859) and his wife, Susan (maiden name unknown – September 23, 1813 – October 14, 1886) had five known children. Daughter Emaline (August, 1836 – July 9, 1885) married first, Enoch Farmer about 1854, and after he was killed in the Civil War, she married, second, John W. Headrick. George B. Barnes (March 20, 1840 – November 5, 1919) married Sarah Gassaway about 1860. They had a daughter, Amanda, who married William Leander Dalton. Nancy was born about 1842, but whether she lived to adulthood is not known. Martha Ann was born about 1844 and married Samuel J. Moore, Jr. in 1869. William C. Barnes, known as Billy, was born January 21, 1872. This younger brother worked with George in the copper mines and as a hauler.

Captain Julius Raht, who had a great influence on the economic growth of the Ducktown Basin area, purchased a fine violin on his travels to Cincinnati or elsewhere and made a gift of the violin to George B. Barnes. Endowed with a natural talent with music, and with the mountain gift of making the strings sing, George was much in demand as an entertainer and a fiddler at various parties throughout the Basin area.

Copper haulers wagon3 polk county news
Photo provided by Polk County News

The copper haulers would often stop off at what was known as the Halfway House, about mid-way between Ducktown and Cleveland, Tennessee on their journey along the Old Copper Road. Mr. Roy G. Lillard, historian, in his book, Polk County, Tennessee, 1839-1999, gives a list of the men employed as copper haulers. There may have been more, but these were documented: George Barnes, I. A. Gassaway, James Rymer, W. C. Barnes (George’s brother), R. Boyd, W. P. Barker, A. J. Cloud, J. H. Williams, R. M. Cole, James Lingerfelt, John Lowry, William Center and W. A. Center. From time to time others joined in the hauls:  Major J. C. Duff, Taylor Duff, Parker Duff, Pen Jones, Jim Ingram, Asbury Blankenship, Joe Dunn, Joe Hasking, Reuben Carver, Samp Orr, Ephraim Woody, Jim Hughes, Jay Fry, Tom Bates, William Williamson, Quint Gilliland, John Hutchins, Posey Parker, Rev. W. H. Rymer, John Moody, Joe Cain and a Greer boy who lost his life along the route. (See Lillard, page 166).  These surnames read like a roster of present-day citizens still in the Copper Basin.

The load limit, strictly enforced, was no more than 500 pounds of copper per draft animal in the team. If a hauler had two mules, his cargo could weigh at 1,000 pounds. But four, six and eight mule teams were not uncommon, and give an idea of the weight of copper these haulers moved. The road was through rough terrain and of poor quality. It was not unusual for the wagon to sink into a rut, and with the grade difficult anyway, the poor mules would stall.

Some of the copper haulers, not as gentle and humane as George Barnes, would use a black snake whip to coerce the mules to move. Mr. Barnes was noted for getting out his violin to play music to soothe the mules. Legend holds that his method for getting the stalled team to pull the load out of the ditch and to get back onto the road worked every time.

At the Halfway House, guests never seemed too tired to hear George Barnes play his fiddle.  A little hoe-down never hurt anyone, and especially the copper haulers. Their spirits were lifted and the music made their stop-over more enjoyable. Captain Julius Raht himself purchased the Halfway House after the Civil War in 1866. He made it into a fashionable place to stop for overnight stays, to eat and to be entertained. Who knows but that it was during his period of ownership of this boarding house along the Copper Road that he gave the violin to Fiddler George Barnes.

The Greer boy who assisted the copper haulers, probably as a groomsman for the mules or a general helper, met his death while he was working as a hauler’s helper. He requested that he be buried along the road so he could see and hear the haulers as they passed by. Is it any wonder that legends evolved about this lad whose likeness could sometimes be seen at twilight, keeping his vigil along the mile-long stretch where his grave overlooked the Copper Road?

During or immediately after the Civil War, George B. Barnes met misfortune at the hands of the notorious John Gatewood, leader of the infamous gang of bushwhackers. Gatewood shot at Uncle George Barnes, hitting him in the eye area and permanently damaging his sight.  But Mr. Barnes was not killed by the blast. In fact, he was able to live for several more years, dying in 1919.

I recently had a delightful call from Mr. Pat Terry, former citizen of the Copper Basin and now a resident of Atlanta. He commented about Captain Julius Raht, and we went from that to talking about Fiddler George Barnes, his wife’s uncle. He knew the violin came as a gift from Captain Raht. Mr. Terry told me that the violin was damaged, its neck broken badly. Mr. Barnes got cherry wood and carved a new neck to attach to the old violin. The workmanship was so perfect and the mend so flawless that the violin looked as though it had never been damaged.

Fiddling George Barnes had the distinction of taking the last load of copper from Ducktown to Cleveland just prior to the change from mule-drawn freight to railroad shipping.

I wonder, during the cold December hauls, did Fiddling George Barnes play Christmas carols to soothe his mules stranded in the ruts of the Old Copper Road? Were the evenings near Christmas at Halfway House filled with strains of “Silent Night” and “O Little Town of Bethlehem”?  I like to think so. I can almost hear him now, making that violin talk.

———————

I hope you enjoyed Ethelene’s post as much as I did. A fiddle player that could sooth the mules-pretty neat uh? Wonder if Chitter’s playing could calm them?

Fun fact- Copper Hill is the small town which surrounds the copper mine and that’s where I was born.

Tipper

 

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Carol
    September 1, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Thank you for posting a great read.

  • Reply
    Tipper
    January 19, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    B.Ruth-thank you for the comment! Pap never did work at the copper mine that I know of. But several of Granny’s brothers and other family did.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 14, 2017 at 3:00 am

    Thanks so, so much, Tippepr, for posting my George Barnes, Fiddler, story. I am a day late reading it because I have a friend very ill in the hospital and due to “sitting overnight” there to give some special care to a beloved, I was late reading “Blind Pig.” (Had no time to access on “smart” phone!)
    I especially enjoyed the comments and want to answer Jim Casada’s query about the barren hills. Yes, it did look like a “moon scape” and could be seen readily from the air as well as from the roads that wind through “The Great Copper Basin.” Now, most of the land (except some for “show and tell” from the Copper Basin Museum area in Ducktown, Tn). No longer is copper mined or processed there. The mines and the smelter are all closed. But reclamation of the land began in earnest several years ago, and the ecological balance is somewhat “back to green”. I thank Tipper for posting my story and thanks, especially, to Dr. Eva Nell Mull Wike for her post. It was my pleasure to edit her wonderful book, The Life and Times of Johnny Mull, Mountain Fiddler. And to all who want to read a delightful story, fiction based on fact, about the Copper Basin and its influence on people there (including health issues from breathing the fumes released that took the vegetation), get a copy of Elizabeth O. Dulemba’s book, “A Bird on Water Street,” published by Little Pickle Press, c2012. The author does an extremely good job weaving life of miners and the area–and problems faced, including not hearing birds sing because of the pollution. A must read for those interested!
    And thanks again, Tippepr, for posting my Barnes story, and for all you wonderful people who follow Tippper’s “Blind Pig.”

  • Reply
    TimMc
    January 13, 2017 at 9:18 pm

    Well, that is interesting. But I would definitely try my fiddling out on low level ground and not on side of a mountain just incase that old mule didn’t like it, things good go from bad to worse..

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 13, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    I was born in Ducktown! My grandfather, Homer Brewer, was the “undertaker”. Great post.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    January 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Tipper, For the life of me I don’t know how in the world I ended up posting as (hath.) If my grandson had been here I would have blamed it on him, but he wasn’t here.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    January 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Tipper, For the life of me I don’t know how in the world I ended up posting as (hath.) If my grandson had been here I would have blamed it on him, but he wasn’t here.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    January 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Tipper, For the life of me I don’t know how in the world I ended up posting as (hath.) If my grandson had been here I would have blamed it on him, but he wasn’t here.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    January 13, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    Tipper, For the life of me I don’t know how in the world I ended up posting as (hath.) If my grandson had been here I would have blamed it on him, but he wasn’t here.

  • Reply
    EAA
    January 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    In the same vein but polar opposite from you Tipper, my great grandmother Cynthia Catherine Ammons DeHart died 30 Oct 1923 in Copperhill Hill.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 13, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Guess What? I was born in Ducktown! Loved this post. My grandfather, Homer Brewer, was the “undertaker” in Ducktown.

  • Reply
    Ken
    January 13, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    Tipper,
    Ethelene Dyer Jones is one of my Favorite writers. I’m glad she’s on here and I bet she was an excellent School Teacher.
    Back in the late eighties I CB’d a lot and I’d go down to Franklin Mountain, overlooking Copper Hill to talk to my friends better. And I remember how things looked so Barren, before they planted all that Kudsu on those hills. I know a few men who worked in the Mine there, like Bee and Clifton Hicks, brothers who were Electricians. The road down the Ochoa for a long ways was Copper colored. …Ken

  • Reply
    hath
    January 13, 2017 at 12:58 pm

    That was interesting history Ethylene, which made me think of my Papaw Griffith. He was a teamster for what the locals call the old diamond mine, He hauled wagon loads from the mine in Elliot co. KY to Willard in Carter co, KY. It was put on a train there and shipped to New York city. Seems nobody knows for sure what they were hauling. Some people till this day call it the diamond mine or the garnet mine. My wife and I have explored it and found red garnets and a few green ones, No diamonds, The mining was done on a dyke , which I believe is where a volcano sends out arms to the top or almost to the top and has precious or semi-precious stones in it.
    I had a thought on playing fiddle for the mules. If I had been playing my fiddle, the mules wouldn’t have stayed stalled, They would’ve wanted to get away in a hurry.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 13, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    Tipper,
    and Ethelene, wonderful history revealed.
    Question, was Pap working in or near Copper Hill? Just wondering!
    I have been to the Copper Basin and Copper Hill many times. Like Jim the first time I went there with a friend to visit, I was in shock! The red landscape with few trees gave me pause. We visited her Uncle that worked in the mines. He was very ill. I think my friends Mother asked me to go along so her daughter would have someone her age to talk and play with to keep her occupied. This was her favorite Uncle. When we started back home late that evening, questions were asked and talk was overheard about his condition. I came back thinking and knowing that I under no circumstances would work in the copper mines. It was heard he was ill from working there. Soon after, the family moved near her sister and away from the red desolate landscape and poisoned land.
    The last time I was there, the landscape was changing, more green growth and a more natural looking area, not as scary as I remember.
    Ethelene, I can’t imagine a fiddler calming mules, however, I would say that music does soothe a troubled soul. So mules hauling a heavy load, especially if pulling it through ruts and muddy red roads, could possibly encourage and soothe their troubles. Just a wonderful history Ethelene! You should write a book about all this since you already have done so much research and definitely have the skill and knowledge to do so!
    Thanks Tipper for sharing Ethelene’s story of Fiddling George Barnes
    PS I think playing music probably soothed George Barnes soul as well!

  • Reply
    Tamela
    January 13, 2017 at 11:41 am

    As much as I enjoy and appreciate the photos of the past, it is the stories that make those ancestors (whether personal or humanity’s) come alive.

  • Reply
    Sherry
    January 13, 2017 at 11:23 am

    How interesting! …And Tipper is a Tennessee ridge runner just like me! I love all this history and especially all the fiddle player stories. I cannot wait to read Eva Nell’s books and all these books to come! Thank you, Ethylene for this post today!

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    January 13, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Tipper: Your post generates much interest and LOTS of memories. My father, who loved history and adventure, often told us about COPPER HILL! But we NEVER TRAVELED BY HORSE-DRAWN WAGON THAT FAR AWAY PLACE – FROM OUR HOME IN THE MATHESON COVE!
    Then when I got married and move to TENNESSEE, my ‘trips back to my home’ in the Cove took me through COPPER HILL!
    Your wonderful coverage has now generated a keen notion to get Ethelene’s references from the Library and do some SERIOUS research.
    HAPPY TRAILS!
    Eva Wike

  • Reply
    quinn
    January 13, 2017 at 10:02 am

    An interesting piece of history, very well told. I especially love the detail of George Barnes playing the violin to encourage the mules. Thank you, Ethelene Dyer Jones.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    January 13, 2017 at 9:50 am

    OH MY GOODNESS! Tipper for TWO REASONS I can say I am so delighted to read your post this morning. I will now sing praises for the lady who wrote the post!
    FIRST AND FOREMOST – IT IS ‘told” by the greatest Author in the WORLD! I kid you NOT! Ethelene Dyer Jones is my cousin, my friend, and MY EDITOR OF “FIDDLER OF THE MOUNTAINS” which I can say, “There are ZERO MISTAKES IN MY PRIZE-WINNING BOOK!”
    SECOND – The ROAD near Copper Hill is one I traveled way back, for many decades! I think it is wonderful that you were born there!
    Back before the ‘good road’ was finished, we drove right through the very unique landscape. I just wish Ethelene had been with us, giving me lectures on the Copper Hill area! Or perhaps having fiddler GEORGE BARNES sharing his music. I’ll bet he was as good at fiddling as my Uncle Johnny!
    My only question to you, Ethelene;
    WHEN IS TIPPER GOING TO WRITE HER “FIDDLER OF THE RED COPPER HILLS” for us?
    Don’t you think SHE SHOULD? I will be so honored to join you as her Editors for her PRIZE-WINNING BOOK!
    Bless you BOTH!
    With much devotion, Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    “Fiddler of the Mountains” Received the NC Society of Historians’ AWARD
    CD of Uncle Johnny’s tunes BEFORE BLUEGRASS!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 13, 2017 at 9:47 am

    I always enjoy history. That is some rugged country the old copper road went through. Those teamsters must have really had a time hauling heavy loads through there.
    There has been talk for decades of re-locating highway 63 up out of the Ocoee River gorge but it keeps getting stalled because of the anakeesta (probably mis-spelled) rock. It is called “hot rock” and creates acid if exposed to the weather.
    There is a rock sticking out of the cut bank in the gorge that has several colors of paint on it from big trucks lierally scraping by. I once saw a log truck and a tanker truck lock down there and the tanker wouldn’t give an inch. The log truck had to huff and snort and wiggle over. They finally cleared by less than a foot.
    The Olympic venue in the gorge is the only place the Olympic white water event has ever been held in a natural river channel. The riverbed, however, is not entirely natural. Many of the rocks were actually glued in position.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    January 13, 2017 at 8:35 am

    Ethelene (and Tipper)–Nicely done and a sterling example of the manner in which local or regional history can be of consuming interest well beyond the geographical bounds of the subject matter. There was a time when ever little community, every town, had individuals of talent, delightful eccentricities, or larger-than-life character who added spice to daily existence. As we become increasingly urbanized and have ever greater commitment to technological devices for communication rather than human interaction, I fear these wonderful characters are becoming scarce.
    Now I have a question for Ethelene, you, or what I suspect are a number of readers who live in or near Ducktown and the Copper Basin. When I was a boy in the late 1940s and early 1950s we used to go through the area every summer en route to visit relatives in Cleveland, TN. I remember a landscape that, for miles, looked like you had landed on the moon. It was virtually barren of vegetation. I suspect the cause was fumes for mining and smelting activities. The barren landscape is gone but I wonder about whether there were negative health effects and what was done to make the changes. Hopefully someone will supply some answers.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Pam Danner
    January 13, 2017 at 8:01 am

    My heart skipped a beat when I saw your post title. My grand-fathers name was George W. Barnes. He was from North Georgia and settled in the Western Mountains of North Carolina. He and my grandmother lived in the Unaka and Copper Creek area, and my Aunts and my Father were all born and raised there. He owned grist mills and I think maybe a saw mill in the area.
    Pam
    scrap-n-sewgranny.blogspot.com

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 13, 2017 at 7:50 am

    That’s an interesting post, thanks Ethylene. I find it note worthy that the list of surnames of the haulers matches a list of present day residents of Copper Basin.
    Tip, I don’t think I realized that you were born in Tennessee.

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