Anders Family
David Asbel Anders with
Jim and Tina Smith Anders
Family

US GenWeb Project

Rufus and Florence Hall Owen Family in 1947
Rufus and Florence Hall Owen and children

US GenWeb Archives Project

 

Transylvania County, NC 

GenWeb Project

NC GenWeb

 
A Member of a Forgotten Race
by Jesse R. Owen
Contributed by Philip Underwood-Sheppard
 
 

 

The exact publication date of this small printed tract is unknown, though the text refers to it being contemporary with World War II.  An original of this document is on file and courtesy of the Transylvania County Joint Historic Preservation Commission Archives, Brevard, North Carolina. 

 

A MEMBER OF A FORGOTTEN RACE

He was a pioneer of the mountains of Western North Carolina, and though he lived and died in another century his memory still survives. He belonged to a new forgotten race, a race that had a barge share in laying the foundation stones upon which our civilization today is built. Our early mountaineers have never been properly understood nor appreciated by the outside world. Historians have treated them as a lazy, thriftless class, making a living largely by hunting and making blockade liquor. But in truth their industry, sagacity, and rugged honesty, give them a high place on the scrolls of honor. They had a religious turn of mind, and a sense of humor wholesome and refined. With the family piled into an ox wagon or placed on the back of a farm mule, they would set out early Sunday mornings for the little once a month church, often situated miles away. After church they would usually stop along the road with their scattered neighbors for dinner. The crowds were never too large to be fed. The old mountaineer preacher was usually a man of great influence, and his advice was sought as freely about such matters as the right time of the moon for killing hogs, and the best brand of liniment for rheumatism, as it was for domestic difficulties and religious problems. His sermons from the pulpit were often long and tedious but well taken, even if seldom applied. On a particular second Sunday in May, and in a particular little country church the congregation was celebrating, according to the custom, the ordinance of the Lord's Supper. The bread was solemnly passed while a senior deacon was getting ready the wine. But when the bottle was uncorked the odors of the familiar smelling liquor filled the room. The congregation discovered that something had gone wrong in the order of service. After a brief consultation by the good deacons, it was announced by the senior deacon that in the hurry of the morning hour he had by accident brought along a bottle of the old woman's snakebite medicine, and that the distribution of the wine would be postponed until the second Sunday in the following May. The audience understood the situation and the services were concluded with all dignity and solemnity.

    The friendship of the mountaineer were as proverbial as that of Jonathan and David. "Is that George Washington?" "Jesse Owen!" George had learned to speak fragments of the English before the Indian Treaty 1837. Historians have a way of covering up tragic events by simple narration. It has been recorded that complications arose between the Cherokee Indians and the State Government, and that it became necessary for the United States Government to adjust the difficulty. This was done by the payment of five million dollars to the Cherokees, who, in return, relinquished their lands and removed to a region allotted them beyond the Mississippi River. But so bitter was their relinquishment of their homes and happy hunting grounds that hundreds, both of Indians and whites, were killed. And a compromise was finally made by which many of the tribe were allowed to remain in and around the Great Smoky Mountain Range.

    Jesse Owen and George Washington were born near each other and in the same year, 1822. They lived on the Indian side of the border line. They unbounded joy of these lads as they fished and hunted together, was unbroken until one day strange men, uniformed by the Government, came with orders to gather all the Indians into pens, like cattle, for some strange, unknown reason. Then began the battle between force on the one side and strategy and cunning on the other. The whites along the border were astonished and amazed. Who should wonder that they gave every possible assistance to their neighbors and friends in distress! Well, George Washington didn't go; Jesse Owen looked after him. As older brother, James Owen, was a commissioned officer to assist in removing the Indians and, while no charges were brought against him for unfaithfulness or neglect of duty, it was whispered here and there that "Jimmie Owen couldn't tell an Indian and a white man apart." Many families were torn asunder, never to meet again. Many were hidden in the deep forests and mountain retreats and there fed by their white friends. Jesse Owen and George Washington were finally separated and had not seen each other for half a century.

    The Remnant of Indians left behind used to cross the mountains into Upper South Carolina to a place called "The Cane Brake" to get cane to make their sleighs. These would go in groups of six or ten together, and when nightfall came they would build their campfires by the roadside and sleep on the leaves or bare ground. It was on a cold evening in the month of March that a group of these Indians camped near the home of Jesse Owen, and were invited to come inside and sit by the huge log fire with the family. The good housewife prepared an ample meal for her erstwhile friends and had them seated at her table when Jesse Owen came in from the fields, and, by the flickering light of the tallow candles, discovered his old friend, George Washington. What a night it was in the Owen family! Sleep fled from the eyes of all as they listened to the story of older days - stories of darling and adventure. Jesse and George had at one time gone to the rescue of a hog being eaten alive by a huge bear, and with axe and mattock, had slain the beast. When the Indians took their leave the following day, George was well loaded with a suit of clothes fresh from the loom, and carefully hand-made, and with shoes of home-tanned leather just off the last, a warm blanket - all from the factories inside the Owen homestead. Jesse walked "a piece with" George and none of the family ever knew the scene of their last parting. It may be that in the dim twilight of some far-off happy hunting ground the romance of their friendship is yet going on.

    It is a dark, rainy day and I have been out on a ramble across the forgotten years, and in my rambles among old familiar places I suddenly came across this man, Jesse Owen. The chips are yet freshly strewn outside the huge double log house he is building for the little brood he called his own, and for the wayfaring man as well. His only wealth is that of love and generosity. He was most fortunate in his marriage. The wife chosen, a beautiful mountain girl, herself of noble lineage and endued with fine commonsense, courage and sagacity. I think it was Burk who said that people will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors. Jesse Owen was a man of native ability, self-reliance, rugged endurance, and with initiative enough to fashion his own tools with hammer and anvil, to build his house and make his own furniture.

    A man who, without the aid of books, learned to read books, and without the penman's copy learned the art of writing. A man who reared a large family with less than a half dozen visits from the distant physician, and gave them schooling far beyond the opportunities of his day, is himself entitled to recognition. As I stood again by his simple tomb the spirit of Grey's lines came back to me:

            "Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
             The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
             Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
             And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
             Some mute, inglorious Milton here may rest;
             Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood."

Wedding in those days were simple enough. At the home of James Reid, who had recently moved form the Piedmont Carolina, up to the land of the speckled trout, the wild deer and the open range for cattle - the land of the deep forest, and mountain mists, there lived a beautiful black-eyed girl whom they called Juda, and who, as she believed, was divinely destined to become the bride of a handsome, blue-eyed youth whom she accidentally met at the old muster grounds. The old country preacher tied the knot and pronounced them man and wife, and in very solemn tones added his blessing - all for a quart of corn liquor.

    Wild animals lived in the woods where the new home was established in 1845. The children who were born and reared there would lie awake at night and listen to the howl and snarl of the wolf. Vicious dogs were kept for the protection of domestic animals and children alike. Things went well through the early years till a strange terrible thing took place one never-to-be-forgotten day. The husband and father was called to enlist and go as a soldier to war - somewhere - for some cause unknown to the family.

    Only a few families lived in that vast stretch of the mountains. No roads were there, only foot paths through the forests; no stores, no mills to grind the corn. One physician some 25 miles distant who served the scattered families over a large area of county. The men were now all going away to war. Jesse Owen felt that his little family would get along. He was not an avowed Christian, but he was no infidel and believed that there was a supreme power that kept watch above His own. On a cold November evening an accident occurred that came near being fatal to the mother. The kick of a horse shattered the bones on one side of the face. When she came to herself she found the children in great consternation. With their aid the broken bones were replaced and bandaged without the aid of outside help, and she went bravely on with her household affairs.

    Out of the jungles of the pacific and the plains of Africa come tales of courage and daring that swell every true American heart with pride, but these brave lads have comrades at their sides, with physicians, nurses, hospitals and chaplains to minister to them. How we thank God for all these angels of mercy. But the brave men who fought in the Civil War and their lonely families suffered untold agonies with none to relieve.

    "And they tell me that Sam is to be a preacher! Why, Sam can't preach, he's had no schoolin', a preacher has to know how to read, and ther's no school anywhere to send tim to," so surmised the father. But Sam went on preaching - preaching in the little churches scattered over the country, and the people were being converted. Finally a school was heard of - Dawson's Academy some 25 miles across the country. It was destined that Sam and his little family must go there, and from there to Judson College in Hendersonville. Jesse Owen believed in those days that the only hope for our mountain people lay in the education of their children. He had some in contact in the war with men of learning, and he came home with a hunger in his heart that his own children might have some learning. He did not live to see the task finished, for at the time of his death the youngest son was away from home in school making preparations for the ministry.

    Space forbids in this brief story to tell of his descendants. Professional and business men and women are still coming out of the third and fourth generation to add luster to the name.

    But I cannot forbear to tell you a little tale about one of the granddaughters of this forgotten man of the mountains. Jeanette Moses was too fond of the fields, and longed too ardently for the lands beyond the hills to be confined between the bare walls of the schoolroom. She ran away from the high school before the day of graduation. The text-books in the school were too dry and cold for a mind keen and alert, and filled with hunger for adventure. Jeanette's father, Mr. T. P. Moses, was a farmer by trade, but his chief interests were along other lines. He was an expert mineralologist and spent much time in exploring the mineral wealth of his native section in the mountains of Western North Carolina. In his absence the family worked the farm and loved it. But this became too monotonous for Jeanette, and, through the aid of an older sister living in Los Angeles, Calif., she found her way to the great Pacific Coast. Space forbids the telling of her rise there to fame and fortune. Hers was no cheap success. The road was long and difficult. Longfellow has told us that the talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do without a thought of fame. And Jeanette's fame came because it was deserved and not sought after. She was always fair and honorable with her competitors; she mastered the art of working with other people. Her pluck and courage carried her over many a "Slough of Despond." She was in position to be of great service to her country on the Mexican Border during World War I, and she played well her part in the game. She was married in 1919, and in partnership with her husband, Mr. George Daley, in Santiago, they climbed high up the ladder of success in the business world. But her interest in humanity, especially that of the under-privileged class, led her into the stormy path of politics. She was selected by her District as a delegate to the Democratic Convention in 1936. She then entered the race for the Assembly and won over five competitors. It was the aged, the orphaned, the blind, and those otherwise handicapped, that commanded her chief concern. She was made Chairman of the Social Service and Welfare Commission. It is there where all the human welfare legislation originates. That gave her the opportunity she sought for human welfare legislation. She was sent to Washington, D. C., in June, 1941, to protest "States' Rights," and only the future may unfold the success of her works. She is at present time a candidate for the congress of the United States on the "State' Rights Platform," and a Permanent Peace Program. Her address will in due time be the Congressional Hall, Washington, D. C.

    While Jeanette was in the Assembly her old-fashioned mother, Miss Charlotte Owen Moses, was visiting her. The wife of the Governor of the State invited the two lady members of the Assembly for lunch. Jeanette accepted the invitation on the condition that she be allowed to take her mother along also. The first lady of the State was much pleased to have the mother come. She was introduced in the Assembly and received with applause. Her name was ordered placed in the State records of distinguished visitors. The old mother was ardently happy that her distinguished daughter was not ashamed of her "poor relations."

    Historical Background: Go back with me across the centuries - when James I, in 1607 confiscated the estates of the native Irish in six counties of Ulster, he planted them with Scotch and English Presbyterians. These outsiders came to be known as Scotch-Irish because they were chiefly of Scotch blood and had settled in Ireland. More than any other race they served as the amalgam to produce, out of divergent races. a new race, the American. The Puritans of New England, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Cavaliers of Virginia, were as radically different as peoples of different races, and they were separated from each other in their own exclusive communities. The Germans were localized in Pennsylvania and Maryland, the Dutch in New York, but the Scotch-Irish were present in sufficient numbers in all colonies to make their interests felt. More than thirty thousands Protestants left Ulster in less than two years' time to find a home in a land where there was no legal robbery, and where those who planted the fields could reap the harvest.

    So these seekers for freedom became our Western frontiersmen. Soon they began to clash with the Indians, which resulted in many bloody wars along the border. Both sides may have been often in the wrong. But if any race was ever ordained to exterminate the Indians it must have been the Scotch-Irish. They have been described as having all that excitable character which goes with a keen-minded adherence to original sin, total depravity, predestination and election, and in seeing no use in an Indian but to be a target for their bullets. Yet in the after years they came to be the most trusted friends the Indians had ever known.

    On account of the rocky and barren soil of Pennsylvania the settlers moved southward along the Cumberland Valley, and into Maryland, Virginia, and eventually as far south as North Carolina. The western and piedmont foothills of Carolina were settled chiefly by the Scotch-Irish from Pennsylvania. William L. Saunders, Secretary of the State, said in one of his historical sketches that to Lancaster and York Counties, in Pennsylvania, North Carolina owes more of her population than to any other known part of the world. Among these were found such names as Daniel Boone, and the ancestors of David Crockett, Samuel Houston, John C. Calhoun, and Stonewall Jackson.

    The tide of immigration which poured into North Carolina from about 1740 to 1775 had carried settlements to the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Farther westward expansion before the Revolution was checked temporarily by the presence of the Cherokee Indians, but the Federal Government, by a series of treaties, forced the Cherokees to surrender all their lands in North Carolina north and east of a line which approximates the western boundaries of the present counties of Transylvania and Haywood. Into the beautiful and fertile valleys of this region white settlers began to filter as early as 1777. Most of them were hunters and traders. In 1784 Samuel Davidson, from the upper Catawba region led the way into the picturesque valley of the Swannanoa; thither, too, a little later came John Patton, Charles McDowell, Robert Henry, followed by James Alexander and William Davidson. About the same time David Vance settled on Reems Creek, Zebulon Baird, of New Jersey, bringing with him the first four-wheel wagon ever seen in Buncombe County, became his neighbor. Two years later George Swain arrived from Massachusetts and settled on the banks of the French Broad. From these families sprang Zebulon Baird Vance and David Lowrie Swain.

    About the same time immigrants from Piedmont North Carolina crossed the Blue Ridge at Hickorynut Gap and settled on Cane Creek and the Swannanoa Valley, and yet others coming around through Piedmont South Carolina, crossing the Blue Ridge at Flat Rock, penetrated the upper French Broad Valley. Among these were the Owens and the Reids. John Owen, father of Jesse Owen, settled near what is now Cherryfield on the French Broad River. Later he built a very substantial home some ten miles up the river and on the north prong. His household goods were packed on horseback, and over a rugged mountain trail. He reared there a large family of healthy, strong children. These sons and daughters married into families who had moved in from various directions, there being some ten or twelve such families living in a radius of twenty miles. The historical records of those early days have, fortunately, been supplemented by tradition, family records and diaries carefully kept and preserved by mane descendants of the families. From a careful search of these records very valuable information has been secured concerning the Owen family. Such names as John, and Jesse, and Thomas, and William, were common in the family through many generations. Among these were men of character, worth, and achievement. There were physicians, educators, ministers, and scientists. The Owens never turned very much to politics. One, John Owen, was Governor of North Carolina for two years only, 1828-1830. Only very rarely is the name found among the records of state legislatures. But they were patriotic to a very high degree. William Owen, a great uncle of Jesse Owen, fought in the Battle of Cowpens, January 17, 1781, under Lieutenant Colonel Howard's bayonet charge upon the enemy that won the day for the Americans. A half brother of William, George Owen, fought in the same battle. In the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, March 15, 1781, John Owen fought in the North Carolina Militia under General Butler, and though this division of the militia did not give a very good account of itself, it is recorded that John Owen was a brave and courageous soldier. Thomas, the great-grandfather of Jesse Owen, was killed in the Battle of Eutaw.

    In the Civil War, the Owen men fought with the Southern Confederacy, not because they believed in slavery, but they lived in the South and their destiny was bound up with that of the South. They did believe however in the rights of the States to secede if they so desired. Rufus Ancel Owen, a brother of Jesse Owen, was killed in the Civil War, as was also Massey Reid, a brother of Juda Reid Owen.

    World War I, according to the best estimates available, there were 95 descendants of Jesse Owen engaged in the conflict, and in the present World War II there is no way of estimating the number of his descendants, but the writer has the names of a large list from the second to the sixth generation in various zones of the war.

    Let the name live in the grateful memory of a large and useful family.

                                                                                                                 J. R. Owen,
                                                                                                                 The Author

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