The Tale of Granny Dollar, A Famous DeKalb Indian
The tale of "Granny
Dollar," one of the most colorful characters and rugged individualists who ever lived
in the Fort Payne area, has long captured the imagination of those who have heard of this
Cherokee Indians century of varied experiences. Assuming that all the information
given by Granny Dollar in an interview in 1928 is factual, these absorbing tales of her
strange life certainly bear repeating; indeed, the legend of such a rare person should
According to an article which
appeared in the January 28, 1928 issue of the Progressive Farmer, this friendly old woman,
who lived on Lookout Mountain about nine miles from Fort Payne enjoyed reminiscing and
talking to visitors. She was Nancy Callahan Dollar, affectionately called
"Granny" or "Grandma," though her many experiences never included that
of motherhood. She said she was 101 at the time of the interview, but she remembered the
early days of childhood well.
Born on Sand Mountain in
Bucks Pocket eight miles east of Coffeetown, Nancy was the daughter of a Cherokee
father named William Callahan and a half Cherokee Indian, half Irish mother. She enjoyed
the games played by Indian children, including one called "dog and fox" and
liked to pitch quoits, an activity similar to pitching horseshoes. She never attended any
kind of school.
Nancys father hunted game
while the rest of the family raised corn and potatoes. On one occasion after having killed
a very large deer, her father appeared to be very sad and unable to eat. The concerned
mother, after persistent questioning finally elicited the reason for his distress. "I
cannot eat my meat," he said. "I fear my three poor little children in South
Carolina are hungry. I have a wife and three children in South Carolina and I was forced
to leave them there." Nancys mother replied, "Go and fetch them. There is
room and plenty to eat."
Thus it was, that the family soon
included another mother and sister and two more brothers. The Cherokees were allowed to
have more than one wife and in Nancys family, at least, there appeared to be no
dissension or jealousy. She remembered that her mother appeared as happy over the new
arrivals as did the children and had her big dirt oven full of baked potatoes and venison
ready for the ravenous children. The two women labored together in raising the crops and
caring for the family. Together, they had a total of 26 children, including three sets of
triplets born to Nancys mother.
This large family ate wild turkey,
deer and fish with vegetables, which included cabbage, pumpkin and corn. Their corn was
roasted with the shuck on. Johnnie cake, sweetened with molasses and hominy were also
common foods. The oven used for cooking their meals was made of red clay and was used
under a shed outside the home.
When most Indians left this area
to join the forced march over the "Trail of Tears," William Callahan avoided
moving his family from their beloved mountain home by hiding in a cave. He did leave
later, however, after an altercation with a white man named Jukes, during which the
Indian, his violent temper aroused by curses and a false accusation, bit off Jukes
nose and one ear. Fearing that the Jukes family might retaliate by burning his home,
Callahan moved to Georgia and settled near Atlanta, which was then, called Marthaville.
When Nancy was about 21 years old
she sought a way to make money in order to help provide food for her many younger brothers
and sisters. One of the mothers was now dead. Granny did not specify which one.
She began hauling goods from the
village of Marthaville to the country stores near her home, a distance of 30 miles. Her
long trips over rough roads were made in a covered, or tar-pole wagon drawn by two mules.
The wagon axles were greased and the mules hitched, unhitched and fed by Nancy herself.
Slaves helped her load the goods at Kyle Brothers Wholesalers and storekeepers helped her
unload the cases of molasses, meat, salt, powder, lead, gun caps, shoes, dishes and wagon
tires which she hauled for some 15 or 20 years. She was never robbed or molested in any
way during the many trips she made alone. During this period she became engaged to one
storekeepers son, named Thomas Porter but the Civil War ended this romance. The
younger Porter joined the Confederate Army and was killed in battle. Nancy remained single
for over 40 more years. The war also brought death to Nancys father, killed during
the battle of Atlanta, after having fought for the Confederacy for several years.
When the Union forces first
reached Atlanta, Callahan sent his daughter word not to go in for more goods, but to stay
home with the children. From 30 miles away the loud roar of cannon could be clearly heard.
She declared in 1928 that she would never forget the battle sound. After the burning of
Atlanta, Shermans march took him through the Indian familys cornfields, which
were "in roasting ear," and Nancy assumed full responsibility for providing food
for the other fatherless children. The indomitable Nancy did care for the younger
children, an accomplishment, which probably gave her a great deal of satisfaction as she
remembered them so many years later. "Yes, child", she told her interviewer,
"my brothers and sisters are all dead." She finally married, when about 79 years
old, a white man named Nelson Dollar. When he died 20 years later, this remarkable woman,
who had cared for so many others, was left with no one to love and care for her.
The Strong constitution that had
provided the vigor and great capacity for long endurance and hard physical work in her
youth had left her alert and erect in her old age. As she reflected upon her many
experiences and hardships, including three poisonous snake bites, by two copperheads and a
rattler, she probably felt fully capable of caring for herself, whatever her age.
Any sadness she felt appeared to
be caused by observing the changes around her. She remembered the happy days of her early
childhood and the casually paced Indian ways. "My fathers hut was enjoyed by
all," she recalled but she noted, "Another race has taken our fields, our
forests and our game. Their children now play where we once were so happy."
She also expressed her opinion
about the white mans ways. "The trouble with the white race," she mused,
is that they lay up so much for old age that they quit work at 50 or 60 years. When they
stop working, they get out of touch with nature; all wear shoes in summer which keeps them
from Gods good earth; then they begin to fail, and soon they are dead."
Three years to the day from the
publication date of the Progressive Farmer article about Granny Dollar, the January 28,
1931 issue of the Fort Payne Journal announced her death. A unique burial service was held
at the foot of a giant mountain boulder near the cabin where Granny had spent the last
years of her life.
Her only companion had been a
mongrel dog she called "Buster", very old himself by animal standards, having
reached the age of 20. Buster had long served as Grannys faithful guardian, ever
ready to attack anyone who approached either him or his mistress. He had frightened so
many people and had even bitten several children, Buster was despised by the neighbors as
a mean, vicious beast but Granny had loved him.
After Grannys funeral no one
wanted Buster and he was equally unwilling to have anything to do with any prospective new
master or protector. When neighbors went to check on the old dog, they found him gnawing
the door, his angry snarl revealing the gums which once had held dangerous teeth. After he
refused to be coaxed or driven from his vigil, the mountaineers decided it would be more
humane to chloroform Buster than to allow him to grieve himself to death or slowly starve.
When Busters body was buried alongside that of his master, another funeral was held
with Col. Milford W. Howard, famous lawyer, congressman and author, eulogizing Granny
Dollars faithful mongrel dog.
"The Legend of Granny Dollar" is a
publication of the Fort Payne Depot Museum
and can be purchased at the Museum for $3.00.
Sketch by Jackie Mattox