Appalachia Ghosts - Haints - Spooky

The Demon Driver Of Dawson County GA

Today’s guest post was written by Keith Jones.

Keith-Jones-Mountain-Story-teller 

The Demon Driver of Dawson County (GA) by Keith Jones

Of course he didn’t start out as a haunt. Decades ago, long before the Elliotts gave up selling building supplies to gain NASCAR fame, little Danny DeWalt was just one of a crowd of skinny backwoods boys who wore their untucked cotton shirts and patched, hand-me-down jeans and overalls to the dusty halls of Dawson County’s schools. Dr. Herschel Vester Dyer, the high school principal, was sympathetic to the poor underfed students, since he himself had grown up in cornbread poverty in one of the nearby mountain counties. He hadn’t noticed Danny DeWalt—the family pronounced it DEE-walt—in any particular way until the truancy report came in and Danny’s name was on it. He watched for him in the hall.

“Danny, can I talk to you for a bit?” “Yessir.” The boy stood with his head down, not making eye contact, like so many of the bashful farm kids. “I noticed you’d missed several days of school. What’s been going on?” “Awww, Dr. Dyer, I was a-drivin’ a load of shine for my Daddy’n them, and the law cotched me.”

Dr. Dyer knew that though Danny was underage to be driving, the local moonshining families often had their younger sons drive loads of whiskey to customers, since the county judge rarely sentenced them to more than an overnight jail stay.

“Danny, that doesn’t explain why you’ve been out over a week.” The boy seemed to glance through the window into the piney distance. “Ummm, well, Dr. Dyer, it’s like this. Me’n Daddy’n them had to make a couple more runs to pay m’fine.”

In a way, Dr. Dyer may have been the originator of Danny DeWalt’s nickname. After Danny had passed his car in a flurry of dust late one afternoon, Dr. Dyer warned him, “You better watch out! That demon driving is going to catch up to you!”

In some ways, Danny DeWalt remained that shy, backward country boy the rest of his life. In other ways, he became very sophisticated. And one of those ways was speed. About the time he dropped ‘Danny’ for plain, serviceable ‘Dan,’ he got a nearly-new 1948 Mercury Coupe—the kind with the front grille that’s either eight panels of whale baleen, or a mouthful of fangs. As his midnight whiskey runs became more successful, the Merc got a better engine and a deep purple paint job, the exact color of NuGrape soda-pop. Eventually the ’48 became Dan’s race car, tearing up the dirt tracks across north Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina. But it wasn’t Dan’s fastest car. That was a ’51, painted the same NuGrape color, that Dan used to continue his midnight runs out of the pine thicket hills of Dawson County.

Racing gained in popularity, and the track owners began to promote Dan as the “Demon Driver of Dawson County.” Even though he used no more ‘dirty tricks’ than some of the good-guy drivers, the promoters painted him as a dangerous ‘black hat’ character—which only endeared him to his ‘good ol’ boy’ fans. Meanwhile, reformers had vowed to stamp out the illegal whiskey trade, so Dan had to drive more and more recklessly on those nights he carried his dad’s product to the markets of Atlanta.

Of course he was doomed to a tragic end. The yellowing newspaper files say he crashed and burned eluding a police roadblock. But other legends say he went into the Chestatee River off the old Keith Bridge road, or hit a logging truck head-on, or blew a tire and went over the side off the mountain curves leading up toward Gilmer County.

Old-timers still remember that long, long funeral procession of cars and pickups from Dawsonville out to the tiny country church cemetery where they buried him amidst many generations of DeWalts. The twisted remains of the purple car rusted away in a back corner of a junkyard, overgrown with blackberry bushes and kudzu.

About the time the junkyard started advertising itself as a ‘recycled auto parts dealer,’ and crushed all the old models that no one drove anymore, there were reports of strange sightings on the back roads of Dawson County. At first, they only happened on the night of the new moon. Gradually they became more and more common, until finally only the nights of the absolute full moon were safe from the ghost car’s wild rides.

People started talking about the black-looking car that would pass you no matter if there was a blind curve, a double-yellow line, or even oncoming traffic. And as it went by, in your headlights’ flash before the car pulled rapidly ahead, you could tell that it wasn’t black—it was deep purple, the exact color of NuGrape sodas. In a few seconds, all you could see was the red tail lights, with the little tiny violet circle in the middle. Whispers started spreading, first only in Dawson County, and then across all of north Georgia. “The Demon Driver of Dawson County is back behind the wheel.”

I’m pretty sure that I had an encounter with the ghost, or spirit, or demon—whatever it is. I was driving home to Blue Ridge from an evening class at Dahlonega’s North Georgia University. A mile or two after you enter the northern part of Dawson County, the road runs by the entrance of Amicolola Falls State Park and Burt’s Pumpkin Farm. At the time of night I was traveling, there was no traffic into or out of those tourist spots. Right after passing Burt’s, the highway enters a looping triangular intersection where Georgia highway 52 turns north toward Gilmer County and Ellijay. Just as I swung through this intersection, I noticed a car roll up to the stop sign, heading the same way as me. As it pulled out behind me, I seemed to sense something vaguely classic in the set of the headlights. Maybe they had those chrome half-reflectors that seem to intensify a car’s lights.

We were running four or five miles above the speed limit, but the car pulled up toward my bumper. Ahead, the twin marching lines of gold reflectors looked like a sinuous queue of poisonous snakes, rearing their heads as we snapped by. I kept expecting the car behind to pass me, but it never did. A couple of times, it got uncomfortably close, but as I maintained a steady pace, it backed off a bit. Of course we slowed down just a little as we began to navigate the ess-curves leading up the escarpment toward the Gilmer County line. Surely this car would pass me when we crossed the line, took the last curve to the left, and entered the first really good, long straightaway since the triangle intersection.

Instead, while we were still coming up the mountain, the car behind once again got right up on my bumper. Then as I crossed into Gilmer County, the headlights of the car behind suddenly, without slowing, whipped to the left. I knew there was a nearly-abandoned driveway there, but surely that car was going too fast to safely make the turn. I craned my neck to the side to get a good look up that driveway…and the lights had disappeared. That’s when I decided I had encountered the Demon Driver of Dawson County, and lived to tell about it. I remembered how I’d been told that he never left the confines of the Dawson County line.

Not all encounters with Dan the Demon Driver—if that’s who it is—have been so benign. If you ever have to drive the back roads of Dawson County at night, especially a dark, cold, clammy, moonless night, be extra cautious. If a driver comes up behind you, don’t hit your brakes, even if they aggravate you by coming too close. Just keep up a steady speed, not too fast, and especially not too slow. Don’t glance over if the car passes you. If you do, you’ll see something all right—a ghostly figure, translucent somehow, sitting casually with a skeletal right hand gripping a ‘suicide knob’ on the steering wheel, the glow of a lit, unfiltered Camel unnaturally lighting up a hawk-like face. The eyes you won’t see at first, because the driver is wearing dark Ray-Bans. For heaven’s sake, keep your nerve steady if you see Dan. If you swerve in the slightest, he will glance over at you—and then you’ll see his eyes…glints of red like burning white oak chunks that have fallen out of an old stone fireplace.

And whatever you do—what EVER you do…DO NOT SPEED UP. If you try to race, or keep the other car from passing you, you’ll hear the howl of the old Mercury’s engine, like eight hellish banshees. You’ll smell burnt rubber from where the old race car made tracks, even at 65 miles per hour. The car will swing by you, nearly clipping your left front, as twin gouts of flame blast downward from the chromed pipes under the purple monster’s rear bumper. The car will race away from you, as if taunting you with its speed, until suddenly, when it’s almost out of sight, it will slew around in an old dirt track slide, and head straight back toward you, right in the middle of the highway, its headlights now blazing like shooting stars. Now it’s too late to get out of the way. You try, but the car matches your every move…

No, you won’t die in a fiery crash. You’ll stand on your brakes and swerve wildly, but if you’re a reasonably skillful driver you won’t roll over or even hit the ditch. But as that NuGrape purple mechanical impossibility drives through your vehicle, as your ears ring with the insane laughter of the maniacal driver, as you will your heart back to a survivable rate of beating, you will feel something. And you will know that, every dark night from now on, down the lonely years and decades, the tiniest sliver of your soul will ride…with the Demon Driver of Dawson County.

——————

I hope you enjoyed Keith’s ghost story as much as I did!

Tipper

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Lisa Lee
    August 24, 2018 at 4:44 am

    My first read of Blind Pig. I love this story, I’m 67, grew up in Dawson Co and I’d never heard this tale. I’m reading it at 2am, and got the shivers so bad I had to just kinda skip to the bottom of the story. It was great. I had my own terrifying experience with that part of the road starting about 5 miles out of Dawsonville toward town. On Friday nights I loved to spend the night with my Aunt Aileen and Uncle Duck. He was a character too, larger than life, and most of their nieces and nephews were scared of him for how quick he was to chew us out. Aileen was the sweetest most gentle woman in the world and a fantastic cook. She’s the reason we all loved to visit and we just tried to stay out of his way. I was about 10 when this happened. My Uncle Duck had a restored 39 Ford – beautiful black with red leather interior. Once it got dark, we never went out – the stores were all closed in Dawsonville by 6 or so. For some reason my Aunt Aileen and i got in the car with Duck and headed for town. Those roads are deep windy and dangerous even in the day if you don’t know what you’re doing and plain deadly at night. Many a reckless teenager has been killed on them. That night Duck got a wild hair and began to speed up from the safe 25-30 . Within a couple of minutes he going so fast the tires were screaming and his was zipping around the curves so fast that the car was rocking and everything passed in a blur. I was scared to death. Aileen kept telling him to slow down , more and more insistent and I realized he was laughing – not wild like, just a little bit more than a chuckle . He was enjoying himself thoroughly while I thought for sure we were gonna die. I knew for sure that on one of those curves we’d slid off and flip down the hill. At some point Aileen was yelling at him (who was a soft spoken woman) and he finally backed off. That’s all i’ve ever been able to remember – not where we went or the ride back home. I guess the sheer terror he’d put us through made me blank out everything else. As an adult I began to see that his bark was worse than the bite we kids expected to get and I enjoyed being around him esp when he and my daddy would sit together and talk. Its a great thing to have known characters like him.

    • Reply
      tipper
      August 27, 2018 at 8:10 am

      Lisa-sadly Mr. Jones passed away last fall. I’m glad you found the piece you were looking for. Thank you for the comment!

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    October 28, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Tipper Mr Keith is such a grand story teller and writer. I enjoyed his story, this was right up my tall tale alley as you well know Tipper.
    Appalachians mountains are full of story tellers and big imaginations Boo watch out for those spooks

  • Reply
    RB
    October 28, 2014 at 12:44 am

    Very interesting, and about some towns I spent a fair amount of time in when I lived in Atlanta in the 70s-80s.
    Ex-husband’s step-father was a teacher at a school in Dawsonville during the 60s, I believe it was, and one of my favorite restaurants on the planet is in Dahlonega, GA – The Smith House. Even spent a few weekends in their guest house there during some craft fairs. What great times those were!!!
    Ever been to The Smith House? YUM!!! Ya got two choices to dine there, cafeteria or family-style. We always chose family-style where they sat you down at a large table laden with food surrounded by strangers, but after a few, pass the ______ (fill in the blank) we voiced, everyone became quick friends, and it was nice learning about them, where they came from, what they did, etc. Great times!!!
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 27, 2014 at 7:06 pm

    That car had them halfmoon headlights. That’s what we called them anyways.
    I was coming home just last night and saw two lights ahead of me in my lane. I got on the brakes pretty good but the lights kept coming. Turned out it was a possum. I stopped and gave him time to pass under the truck before I took off again. There wudden no thump so I guess it was OK. On out the road a ways here was three does out in the middle of the road. Two of them jumped out into the weeds. The other one decided she had as much right on that road as I do even though she don’t pay any North Carolina gas tax. Anyway I follered her out the road to where she wanted to turn off. The rest of the drive home was uneventful.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 27, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    that was quite a yarn — last year I was driving down from Cherokee, NC to Cartersville, GA late at night and around Gilmer County there was a bit of fog and out of nowhere two lovely does drifted across the road. One of mystical moments. Guess I’m glad it was deer rather than the Demon Driver

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 27, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Tipper,
    No wonder Keith Jones is such a good story teller and writer! Why he comes from such good stock and a great mentor…his Mama!
    Loved the tale, though it got my heart a’racin’ again, I am looking forward to the next one this week!
    Thanks Tipper, and Keith
    PS…I would have loved to have gave you a “ringy-dingy” while in your neck of the woods, but thought we better get over the next hill fore all those black leather britches decided to head home for the night also!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    October 27, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Great story Keith. Having grown up in Gilmer County I have traveled those same roads many times and I am glad I never encountered the Demon Driver of Dawson County! If I had I would have high tailed it back across the county line. There was a lot of shine hauled on those twisting winding roads back in the day and probably still some today but nothing like back then. I still live close to Dawson County so I’ll be keeping an eye out for that Merc on moon lit nights!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 27, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    Tipper,
    What a great Storyteller by Keith
    Jones! All those details hints like
    there’s a bit of truth…Ken

  • Reply
    C Ken Little
    October 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Sounds like b.Ruth should have gone home and got back in her pot of dumplins.

  • Reply
    dolores
    October 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    I must remind myself to be careful riding through Dawson County. Those moonshine drivers might have some relatives still hanging around. Enjoyed the story!

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    October 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Now, this is a storyteller with some serious talent. I grew up in Appalachia so storytelling is one of my favorite pastimes.
    This story took me back in time before seat belts and when your neighbors sometimes made moonshine. A long leisurely walk in the woods could sometimes reveal a busted moonshine still. Back in the day it seemed everyone drove fast on these narrow winding roads. I recall my Dad literally racing to the outdoor theatre before the movie started. There was a road with a little hill, and we would beg him to jump it. He was very responsible in all other ways, and treasure that reckless side of him. This seems so irresponsible now, but he was a wonderful driver and thoroughly enjoyed the wild rides with no seatbelts.
    Bring on the stories-love them!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Excellent! I think this is the best thing I have read on here in quite a spell if not forever.
    I do have a question though. The story recounts Dan’s exploits on the dirt tracks of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. No mention was made of North Carolina. Was Dan afraid to come play with the Big Boys? The Earnhardts, Jarretts, Johnsons, Parsons’ and Pettys. Was he afraid of what he would encounter at Wilkesboro, Hickory, Mooresville, Charlotte or Brasstown. Was he practicing for such an event when he met his demise as many have before? Sometimes its that last step up that proves to be fatal one.
    Dr. Mull was at Mooresville (Race City, USA) just the other day and she is fine. We don’t eat people here. Especially fledgling race car drivers. Dan had nothing to fear. He might have had to take a spanking or three before he eventually learned but he would have done OK.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    October 27, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Tipper,
    Here is another ironic post presented by you and story teller Keith Jones. Why my heart started speeding up nearly as fast as those wheels he was telling about…..WHY…for last night at
    exactly 7:30 pm we were hi-tailin’ it through Murphy, NC on our way home in hopes to get here in time to take a soothin’ medicatin’ potion to calm our nerves. What, you say happened?
    Well, we just started out in drivin’ toward Blount County to have a look-see at the changing leaves…Next thing we knew we wuz in Tellico, then somehow Graham County, NC…We accidently or not, following views and overlooks and leaves landed on the Tail Of The Dragon..the dreaded 129…I am here to tell you we seed speedin’ Demon Devil Drivers on two wheels and little sports car four wheels…Demons in broad daylight! We wuz passed on blind curves, while I held my hands over my years and screamed bloody murder. Just as we were calmin’ down a bit from that we heard a rubber band buzz from behind and then along side, a black sports car done the same thing…Let me tell you that is no way to look a Fall leaves…We seen cops a’stoppin or tryin’ to stop the flying foolish drivers, I know some were ghosties cause there is no way they went round them hooks, they had to have gone through them.
    There ain’t no way we wuz going back home the way we come. We I think went through Robinsville and on over to Andrews and Murphy and back home. It was a longer way around and back but safer. I would never drive on the tail of the dragon at night….
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Broad daylight demons in black leather outfits…
    However, we did I think see a beautiful overlook with colorful trees but was afraid to drive in and peek over for fear of seeing them motorcycles and sports cars, that failed the curves a’dangling from the tops of trees and the power lines that run acrost the mountain…I suppose from Fontana!…Don could tell us about that!

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 27, 2014 at 9:42 am

    That Keith Jones, who is author of this story, “Demon
    Driver of Gilmer County,” is my story-telling son, Keith. He came by story-telling “honestly,” as the case may be–from my Uncle Herschel Dyer, noted teacher, who found out about why Danny DeWalt was absent from school. And from his Grandpa Jones, Mack Duffie, and from his father, the Rev. Grover Jones, all who told him stories when he was a little boy (well, maybe he read about Uncle Herschel). Best wishes, Keith, at the Ghost Story-telling bash tonight at N GA College. And thank you, Tipper, for making October a memorable time on Blind Pig! And my friend Eva Nell, congratulations for your writing and your story of “The Fiddler of the Mountains,” (I can still hear Johnny Mull’s music in the breeze; as Don Byers, musician of note stated, “Johnny played for the smiles.”) My, my! What a heritage we have in our mountain culture of stories, ghosts and music. They’re all on the breezes of October!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    October 27, 2014 at 9:41 am

    We were told about two skinny men in black suits and hats driving an old model T driving around looking for little girls who did not come home when they were supposed to.
    Always made my curfew.

  • Reply
    Howland
    October 27, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Tell you what; that ol’ boy described them cars and the dirt roads an everthing right down to the least bumper-bolt, and he weaved a story so fine that I ain’t NEVER gonna drive through Dawson county after sundown!

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    October 27, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Lawsemerci! I jest don’t know if I could get any sleep after another ghost story sech as thisen bout the demon driver! My Grandpa Mull use to sker us haf to death with his relly skery stories. Then we’d hav to ride in the bak of that horse drawn wagen all the way into the Matheson Cove. But we wuz warned bout themthar georgia boys! But wed ride from Atlanta witem when we wuz worken down thar!
    Now speaking of Georgia, why don’t you up and tell folks over in Georgia to put 11-15-14 on their calendar for a WONDERFUL NIGHT OUT! They’ll have to do some research to learn more about where it is that I WILL BE READING from “Fiddler of the Mountains” about 7:00 p.m.
    Now I’ll just make this note a little longer cause I got GOOD NEWS! My sweetheart and I went down to Mooresville, North Carolina where I was presented with the NC Historical Society book award. I don’t know if the event will make the NEW YORK TIMES but it certainly has made my day.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 27, 2014 at 7:31 am

    Wow, that was quite a story, had me on the edge of my seat. When I hear a story like this I understand that it is a story but I can’t help believing there is a bit if truth at the base of it.
    Thanks, Keith!

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    October 27, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Tipper I loved that post, I am a fan of ghost stories especially ones told by a great story teller like Keith, he keeps you on the edge of your seat all the way through.

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