History of Indian Georgia – A Frontier of Wild People

By on February 1, 2017

Indian Georgia

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The Cherokee Territory of Georgia had instituted the Cherokee Light Horse Guard and was working with a group of Federal Troops to rid their lands of the some 4,000 intruders who kept entering into the Cherokee country to find gold. When the Cherokees adopted a constitution in 1827, Georgia’s legislature was furious. Over the next five years, the legislature continued to pass laws that restricted the Cherokees every move to gain their independence. This effort encouraged the Pony Club, a band of mounted criminals who terrorized the Cherokees and pioneers living near the Georgia frontier.

By 1830 the government of Georgia had disbanded the Light Horse Guard, dismissed the Federal Troops and implemented their own Georgia Guard of 40-60 men, who were described as outlaw ruffians themselves. Their objective was to protect the gold mines from the miners or Cherokees, since they felt that the mineral rights belonged to Georgia. Part of their orders included ridding the country of the Pony Club. Militia Col. John W.A. Sanford failed to run them out of Georgia, in fact was considered to have been in cahoots with them on many occasions even during an election of officials in Murray County.

The Pony Club was glamorized and written about in “border romances” by Charles Dickens and by Mark Twain in stories from McMinn County Tennessee. They were a group of about 50 interrelated families that left Tennessee in 1826 and found there way to Dekalb County, Georgia along the Chattahoochee River. According to descendants, the group left Tennessee for the explicit purpose of forming a Pony Club to raid Cherokee and Creek settlements, to steal horses and pass them on to club members in other counties and states to sell.

Carroll County’s extensive Indian frontier contributed to another problem that threatened to have grave consequences. The county became the base of operations of this well-organized gang of horse thieves, along with other renegades, and outlaws whose operations extended all the way from Alabama on the west to South Carolina on the east. Known locally as the “Pony Boys,” this group of thieves brought real terror to the country during the mid 1800’s and through the early 1840’s. They had dozens members across the state of Georgia and into parts of South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama. These members would facilitate the movement of the “hot property” of cattle or stolen goods but mostly for the horses. Some stolen horses even made it as far as Illinois.

It was difficult to convict them because of the clandestine character of their occupation and their closed organization. Habeas Corpus (aka insufficient evidence to convict) and other proceedings in the 1830’s show numerous prisoners were released from custody because of perjury, lack of witnesses, falsified alibis; also some of those citizens seated on the grand jury that released them were members of the gang.

Honest citizens, known locally as “slicks” could be spotted easily for their snappy dress and the way they carried their guns, like characters out of a John Wayne Western. A “Captain Slick” whose real name was never determined headed one such group up. We can assume that Capt. Slick never existed but was probably a series of men who chose to be vigilantes for the cause. Whoever they were, they managed to set their sights on ridding the south of these criminals however they could. They set up their base of operations in six counties in Georgia and about the same number in Alabama. It was reported in the Macon Telegraph newspaper “the ‘ Slicks’ have done more than all the courts in the world in relieving the frontiers from the terrors of the Pony Club.” In some cases it didn’t take long for those who were riding the fence and perhaps leaning more towards being one of the Pony Boys to become law-abiding citizens.

The first fictional treatment of life in frontier Georgia to receive national recognition appeared in 1834 with the publication of Guy Rivers: A Tale of Old Georgia, the border romance that launched the literary career of William Gilmore Simms. Widely acknowledged for his keen eye for geographical and historical detail, Simms set this story in the North Georgia Mountains to take advantage of popular interest in the discovery of gold which had sparked the first major gold rush in American history. It was so popular it was even printed in England.

Simms called Guy Rivers “a tale of Georgia —a tale of the miners—of a frontier and wild people”. Wildly regarded as a haven for embezzlers, runaway slaves, horse thieves, and cattle rustlers, the region around Auraria had acquired a well-deserved reputation for lawlessness. Moreover, Guy Rivers and his band of outlaws had a contemporary parallel in real life. The Sandtown community in modern Fulton County is on the eastern side of the Chattahoochee River and derives its name from the Sandtown Indians, who migrated there from the Alabama territory following the Creek War of 1813-1814.

Leslie Barker Thomas is a resident of Ellijay and the President of the Gilmer County Historical Society, President, Georgia Chapter Trail of Tears Association and Communication Chair Cartecay UMC.

“When history is erased, people’s moral values are also erased.” –Ma Jian

Visit the Gilmer County Historical Society
Historic Tabor House & Civil War Museum
138 Spring Street, Ellijay, Georgia 30540
706. 276. 1861.
Open Thursday–Saturday from 10am to 2pm

www.gilmercountyhistoricalsociety.org