Life is Stranger than Fiction

Part Three

The forgotten movements of peoples

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

In trying to unravel what happened to the many thousands of Chickasaw, Creek, Uchee, Soque and Seminole families, who stayed in the Southeastern United States, while officially these tribes were forcibly deported to what is now Oklahoma, I have stumbled upon a secret world that most historians never knew existed. Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, these families were moving across the landscape of the Lower Southeast, either looking for a safer place to live or an appropriate spouse. They formed enclaves around several towns in South Carolina, Georgia, southern Alabama and northwestern Florida, where they were in such numbers, but hidden on rural farmsteads near rivers or literally in swamps, so that few people bothered them.

After the American Revolution and on into the early 1800s, North Carolina Creeks moved from the original homeland of the Muskogees around Hendersonville, Brevard and Sapphire Valley, North Carolina down into the Georgia Piedmont and central Alabama, where they joined communities of Muskogee-Creeks, who had moved south in the 1600s.

Uchee families from around Lenoir, Old Fort and Marion, North Carolina moved down into South Carolina.

English-speaking Uchee families from the Lower Savannah River basin moved to eastern Alabama, where they became the elites of the Creek Confederacy. An astonishing percentage of the Principal Chiefs and Council members of the Muskogee-Creek Nation (even today) have been descended from Savannah River Uchees.

Chickasaw families from Northeast Georgia initially moved across the Savannah River to South Carolina, when their land was ceded by the Creek Confederacy and Cherokee Nation in 1818. Some families returned to Georgia and lived in remote mountain farms, until there was no longer any political pressure to deport Native Americans to Oklahoma.

Itsate Creeks from northern Georgia moved to river basins and swamps in either southeast Georgia or Florida. Those in Florida became the Seminole Indians.

Soque and some Itsate Creek families moved to the region, immediately west of Miami, Florida, where they merged with Maya immigrants from Yucatan and called themselves Mayas . . . until forced by the federal government to become recognized as either Miccosukee Indians or Hitchiti Seminoles. The last band of Soque to leave Habersham County, GA (1818) however, moved to the area around Auburn and Waverly, Alabama . . . where their descendants live today.

Upper Creeks from northeast Alabama moved to the Yellow River and Choctawhatchee Rivers in northwest Florida, where their descendants live today.

Middle Class Muskogee Creeks in west Georgia carried the Greek Revival style of architecture with them when they resettled in east Texas. That is why Marshall, Texas looks like LaGrange and Newnan, Georgia.

Throughout the 1800s, my mother’s family repeatedly traveled to Ninety-Six, SC (Saluda River), Hawkinsville, GA (Ocmulgee River), Sparta, GA (Oconee River), Dublin, GA (Oconee River), Ocilla, GA (Alapaha River) and the region around the Okefenokee Swamp to meet future husbands and wives.

Yet these families were interconnected and until the late 20th century still practiced Native American traditions in secret. Our family’s elders set the date of the Family Reunion and Green Corn Festival according to the signs of the moon. I was never on the Summer Solstice.

Ultimately, though these families were scattered to the winds by socio-economic changed in the United States. Beginning with the World War II generation, they often married non-indigenous spouses and moved to locations for better economic opportunities. Celebration of the Green Corn Festival via family reunions ceased in the early 1980s.

Bone’s Pond in Irwin County, Georgia ~ now known as Crystal Lake

Bones scattered all over the landscape

In doing this research, I stumbled upon the name Willie Bone, who lived near the Alapaha River in south-central Georgia. Alapaha is Itza Maya and means “Alligator River.” Was he related to my mother’s Bone family? Oh yes indeed, but the story is far stranger than a family connection. He was a member of the band of Bone family members, who relocated from the upper Savannah River Basin to South Central Georgia, along with several other Creek families, during a pogrom caused by an ongoing war with the Florida Seminoles.

At that time, Georgians were quite aware that the Itsate Creeks were different than the Muskogee Creeks . . . plus that most of the Florida Seminoles were actually Itsate Creeks and Upper Creeks from northern Georgia. So, whenever there was a Seminole War going, the Northeast Georgia Creeks would get harassed by the powers-that-be, but not their neighbors or local government leaders.

One of the most pervasive aspects of racism in the Lower Southeast, when I was growing up, was for white adults to address African American and Native American adults as if they were children. In contrast, minorities were expected to address white adults as Mr. Jones and Mrs. Smith. Thus, Charles became Charlie. Robert became Bobby and William or Willis became Willie.

What I eventually figured out with the help of Aubray “Bo” Bone, a fellow member of LinkedIn, was that the Bones down in Ocilla, GA used many of the same first names as the Bones on the Upper Savannah. Aubray’s grandfather was named Willis Jackson Bone, Jr (son of Willie) and his grandmother was named Mahala (means teacher) but went by the nickname of Ruby. My great-grandfather was named Willis Jackson Bone, but went by the name of Jack. My grandmother was named Mahala, but went by Ruby. His grandparents, my great-grandfather and grandmother were related, but entirely different people.

Willis Jackson Bone in Irwin County was a Unionist and helped slaves escape on the Underground Railroad. He was hung after being charged with killing a magistrate in a fight over an escaped slave.

Willis Jackson Bone in Elbert County was against slavery, but fought in Cobb’s Legion, Army of Northern Virginia. His leg was struck by a artillery shell at the Devil’s Den in the Battle of Gettysburg. His lower leg was amputated and replace by a wooden leg. Afterward, he played in the Army of Northern Virginia Band, until surrendering at Appomattox Courthouse in April 1865. He later became a Creek keeper and mikko. In the summer of 2001, his spirit appeared by name in the dreams of at least 200 Creek medicine women, where he predicted the forthcoming terrorist attack and the rise of fascism in the USA. In the dreams, he was wearing a tattered Confederate uniform and had a wooden leg.

Here is an excerpt on the first W. J. Bone from Wikipedia, which is more refined that the local folkloric version.

“A prominent Unionist in the county was Willis Jackson Bone. He lived west of Irwinville, near the Alapaha River. He was a miller and operated a steam-powered mill on what was then Bone’s Pond and presently Crystal Lake. Because he was a gristmill operator, Bone was exempt from conscription. During the Civil War, he helped a number of escaped slaves, Confederate deserters, and escaped Union prisoners hide in the swamps along the river.”

“In February 1865, Bone and a large assembly of others gathered in Irwinville. Those assembled declared Irwin County part of the Union again. A lieutenant of the local militia protested the action, but was knocked down with a musket by Bone. Three cheers for Abraham Lincoln followed. The assembly then took after the lieutenant and the enrolling officer Gideon Brown. They and other Confederate sympathizers were chased out of town and threatened with death, if they should return.”

“Willis Jackson Bone was hanged near his pond in late April 1865 after he killed a local justice of the peace named Jack Walker, while Bone was bringing food to an escaped slave named Toney. Bone had pleaded that it was in self-defense in that Walker had pointed a loaded gun at him. ”

My thoughts: There was no court in session. This trial and execution were vigilante justice that would not have occurred, if the Unionist majority in Irwin County had known about it. Slavery in those states under rebellion had been declared illegal by the Emancipation Proclamation. Walker had tried to take Toney into custody, which was an illegal action under United States law. Within a few weeks, Irwin County would have been under federal protection . . . a few weeks too late.

January 1946 – The Post-World War II bride – As soon as my mother arrived at college until the 1970s, she avoided exposure to the sun, so she would “not look like an Indian.” In the 1970s, it became cool to be Native American. She began wearing earthtone colors, even a Creek bead necklace . . . and enjoyed getting out in the sunshine again.

The strange Bone and Roberts Family connection

Like their fellow Creek-Uchee neighbors in Irwin County, the Bones, the Roberts Families were Unionists and actively helped Confederate deserters, Union POW’s and escaped slaves. The Bones and Roberts even intermarried during the 1800s. Like the Bone Family today, because of several generations of marrying both indigenous and non-indigenous spouses, some members of the Roberts Family look very Native American, while others do not look like they have any Native heritage.

In the 1920s, Pernell Roberts moved to booming Waycross, GA to improve the standard of living of he and his bride. Their son, Pernell, Jr. was born in 1928. After several different jobs, Pernell, Sr. found that being a soft drink salesman and deliveryman provided the most stable living. One of his brothers started an insurance agency on Oak Street in Waycross near the intersection with Tebeau Street.

The Roberts Families joined Trinity Methodist Church, across from the Ware County Hospital where Pernell, Jr. was born. Their son joined the church at an unusually young age and remained very active in the church as long as he lived in Waycross. He was active in the Methodist Youth Fellowship, sang in the youth choir and later the main choir. He played lead roles in several MYF sponsored plays . . . that were of such quality that they were invited to perform at other churches and civic groups.

Pernell. Jr. loved the outdoors. They said that as soon as he could walk, he was out exploring the neighborhood barefooted. By age six, he was exploring the nearby Okefenokee Swamp. His uncles would take him out in flat bottom canoes to the most remote parts of the swamp.

When young he was given a drum, which constantly played up and down the street where the family lived. In high school, Pernell, Jr was a star football player, but also played the saxophone in the Waycross High School Band, when it was not football season. He also played the saxophone and drums in a dance band.

Pernell, Jr. loved girls . . . especially dancing with them at sock hops. All his girl friends remember him as being very respectful of them . . . not a wuss, mind you . . . but never forcing himself on them or trying to make them do something that they didn’t want to do.

Without having to study too hard, Pernell, Jr. made good grades and dreamed of becoming an architect. He was accepted at Georgia Tech and went off to college with high hopes. Years later, he remarked that what initially impressed him the most about Atlanta was seeing African Americans, who were not poor, and in fact, appeared well educated. Unfortunately, Pernell, Jr. flunked out of architecture his freshman year.

Up to this point, everything said about Pernell, Jr. (except the saxophone, church plays and flunking out of Georgia Tech) matches my youthful biography exactly. No one could ever figure out, where I got my talents in playing percussion instruments. Also, I had many other interests, like constantly exploring the woods and building miniature cities out beside the creek, that seemed to come out of nowhere.

As for not becoming an architect . . . those of you, old enough, will remember that in the hit TV series, “Bonanza” Pernell played Adam Cartwright, who was a successful architect in the East, who returned home to the family ranch after his mother died. Ironically, he made more income from being an architect-cowboy on one Bonanza show than he would have made in a year as a successful architect!

Disillusioned by his failure to fulfill his dream of being an architect, Pernell volunteered to join the United States Marines. However, immediately after finishing boot camp, he was assigned to play the drums in the United States Marine Corps Band! He later also played the sousaphone. During his entire stint with the Marines, Pernell stayed in the relatively plush Marine Corps Band barracks in Washington, DC . . . mostly performing at the White House, plus parades and public monuments.

Pernell left the Marine Corps in 1947, after one tour of duty, because he felt called to be a Methodist minister. He returned to Trinity Methodist to announce his call. At that time, ministerial students were sponsored and funded at Emory University by their home churches . . . but first they had to prove their sincerity and qualifications. Pernell was assigned non-paying tasks like teaching the Young Adult Sunday School class and being a lay preacher at small rural churches, which could not afford ministers. They say that his church services had short sermons and long singing sessions – often starring Pernell himself. That delighted those attending.

The Bone connection returns

My mother, Wilma Pauline Kidd, met Doug Thornton in a class at the University of Georgia, where both made 100 on a quiz. World War II was underway. After graduation, he was immediately shipped off to basic training and then to New Guinea to fight the Japanese. My mother wrote Doug throughout the campaigns in New Guinea and the Philippines . . . then while he was recuperating from hand grenade wounds. He began law school at the University of Georgia immediately after the war . . . which was convenient since my mother taught school near the university. They married in January 1946 and lived in a trailer camp for students.

After graduating, Doug worked in a law office for one month then decided that he didn’t like the law profession. He and a classmate from Clarkesville, GA Earl Ray, then decided to start a short order restaurant which featured soft, instant ice cream . . . which then was a new invention, being promoted by Dairy Queen. They looked around for the hottest prosperous city in Georgia and settled on Waycross. They rented a space across from the auditorium on Oak Street, next to the Roberts Insurance Agency.

The mansion built by Congressman Jack Williams in Waycross, GA

The young couple rented a garage apartment at the Williams Estate, owned by the congressman for that district, who was also owner of the local newspaper and developer of about half of Waycross. They joined Trinity Methodist Church and the Young Adult class, taught by Pernell Roberts. My mother said that at least a third of the class were young single women, hoping to catch Pernell’s eyes.

Pernell had the social conscious of his ancestors on Bone’s Pond. My mother said that none of the progressive ideas that Pernell promoted as being true to Christ’s teachings would have bothered Methodists in Northeast Georgia . . . my grandfather’s store had one restroom and one water fountain for all races . . . but they bothered the Old Guard at Trinity Methodist and the White Citizens Council a plenty. The last straw for the elders and preacher was when Pernell openly endorsed the Executive Order by President Truman, which integrated the armed forces. The preacher, trustees and Pernell had a big argument over his statements in the preacher’s office. They never saw Pernell at the church again.

Pernell soon left for Washington, DC where he attempted completing his college education twice and twice flunked out. In the scrapbook that Pernell willed me after his death, he hinted that it was the abundance of unattached, liberated women in Washington, DC that was the cause of his inattention to class assignments. The most liberal of all these young women were actresses in the four plays that Pernell performed in while a University of Maryland student.

I also learned from the scrapbook that even though Pernell never claimed Native American ancestry, throughout his life he gave generously to Native American causes, was on the board of directors of several Native American foundations and put many Native American young people through college. He did not want to be typecast as a Native American actor.

What? Why would a famous, crypto-Creek actor will someone in Georgia, who was actually homeless at that time, a hand-pasted collection of photos and newspaper articles? There is more to the story.

The restaurant and Roberts Insurance agency were across the street from the old Waycross Auditorium. One of my earliest memories was Elvis Presley coming into my parents restaurant with a black eye and torn shirt. He ordered a raw steak to put over his eye.

When I was six months old, Pernell Roberts, Sr. dropped by Thornton’s Restaurant to deliver soft drinks. Without warning, he picked me up by my ankles then dropped me head-first on the concrete floor of the restaurant. I had a concussion, but should have been dead, according to the doctors. There was no permanent damage other than having a bull-headed nature. My mother never forgive Pernell, Sr. for that seemingly inexplicable act, but she remained friends with his wife and other members of the Roberts family.

While performing in a variety of summer plays, local theaters and dinner theaters, Pernell attended several famous acting schools. Within a relatively short period, he was staying busy and getting increasingly affluent from a wide variety of movie, live theater and TV appearances. In 1959, he was chosen to play Adam Cartwright, a staring role in the extremely popular TV Western series, “Bonanza,” You can read in many locations about the rest of Pernell’s career, but I can add one correction. According to his scrapbook, the real reason that Pernell quit Bonanza at the peak of its popularity had to do with the civil rights movement.

Throughout the time at Bonanza and really for the rest of his life, Roberts pressured producers and directors to utilize Native American actors to portray Native Americans and to give African-Americans the same rage of roles offered white actors. NBC executives complained repeatedly about Roberts appearances at civil rights events. However, they threatened to fire him, if he skipped filming of a show to participate in the Freedom March to Selma, Alabama. Roberts quit instead and participated in the march.

Heart throb for French and Latin American girls

In 1990, all that I knew about Pernell Roberts was that he was a likable actor from Waycross, Georgia . . . had attended our church in Waycross . . . and that his father had dropped me headfirst on a concrete floor, when I was a baby. For those of you, who have read The Shenandoah Chronicles, the hostess of the Smithsonian Institute staff party had suggested that the French actress and I relocate to the guest quarters, after we made out passionately in her living room.

At the time, neither one of us could believe that the other person would be attracted to us. I thought it to be a frog and princess situation. Why would a wealthy French actress, who came in wearing a $100,000 Russian sable coat, want to have anything to do with a goat farmer?

Vivi was perplexed. I couldn’t be real. I was the first man who had not treated her like a commodity or prostitute. Why would this kind man want anything to do with a bad woman like herself? There were dozens of National Geo and Smithsonian video tapes on the shelf. Vivi asked if I could find one that could show her where I was born.

Sure enough, there was the recent popular National Geo TV program, “Realm of the Alligator,” starring none other than Pernell Roberts from Waycross, GA . . . who grew up exploring the Okefenokee Swamp.

Vivi squealed with delight, “I LOVE Pernell Roberts! When I was a teenager, I had a big poster on my wall of Pernell Roberts that I looked at and did things that silly teenage girls do. Then when I was an unhappy woman with a horrible husband, who cheated on me, and spent all my money on either gambling debts or his sports car . . . I wondered why I couldn’t have met and married Pernell.”

Vivi reflected a few seconds . . . “But you are better than Pernell, my Bonhomme Richard. You look a lot like him and talk like him, but you are much kinder, because you have not been spoiled by many girls chasing you!”

I thought it was strange that a French teenager or especially a glamorous French woman would have such carnal thoughts about an actor, who had almost become forgotten in the United States. Then a pen pal of mine began finding dozens of videos on Youtube that were dedicated to Pernell Roberts . . . mostly by pretty young French, Spanish, Italian, Swedish and Latin American girls, who were children when Pernell died in 2010. She even found this video of the Tonight Show in which the American actress said almost the same thing.

Emails and checks from Gator Joe

In 2007, the People of One Fire newsletter . . . forerunner of The Americas Revealed . . . had 18 subscribers, who were the newsletter’s founders. I received a brief email from “Gator Joe,” who said he was from Georgia. He stated that the South had long needed someone like me to systematically analyze its complex past and asked to be added to subscribers to the newsletter. He closed by saying that he would be applauding my work from the sidelines. It never dawned on me the significance of Gator Joe’s email address . . . proberts@aol.com

From time to time for the next three years, I received modest cashiers checks from a bank in California, credited to “Gator Joe.” They unfortunately stopped about the same time in the autumn of 2009, when I had no income. Pernell was dying of Pancreatic Cancer.

Even though living in a tent, I could check my emails at any county library, In mid-February, I received an email from a secretary or his wife, stating that “As you know Mr. Roberts died on January 24. (I didn’t know.) Please delete PRoberts@aol.com from your email list.”

In late February, my post office box in Blairsville, GA was stuffed with an insulated package from a law firm in San Francisco. It also announced Pernell Roberts’ death and told me that Mr. Roberts wanted me to have this document. It was a hand-made scrapbook about Pernell’s life. Curiously, the photocopied photos, newspaper articles, letters and personal notes skipped the period from soon after he was born until he was a junior in high school.

It was only after going through the scrapbook did I realize that our lives had almost been identical for the first 18 years, although I suspect that I studied much harder in high school. LOL We even resembled each other in our youth, but increasingly looked different, after 21 as I became more muscular and his hair went bald. His mother was a blue-eyed blond, who carried the balding gene.

I must admit that I also became a bit jealous of him, while reading the scrapbook. From age 14 on, the fairer gender swarmed around him constantly. Geez, he’s been gone to his heavenly reward for 12 years now, yet young honey bees from around the world are still lusting after him on Youtube!

Meanwhile, the only women who ever wanted to have a long term relationship and have our children were French, Swedish and Latin American. No Gringa has ever stated that. In fact, on departure, my ex-wife (a Gringa) told me to my face in front of her psychologist that she never loved me. Privately, she told her shrink that she had been assigned to me by her priestess and that the priestess had told her that she would be killed, if she had my children. I was right on target when I thought on our honeymoon that I should get an annulment as soon as we got home. I chickened out.

One last thing into our journey through “Life is stranger than fiction.” My penpal in Canada did some research. My primary contact at the Muscogee-Creek Nation, Judge Patrick Moore, served on the same board of directors of a foundation that Pernell did. He also had behind the scenes contacts with Second Chief Berryhill and several members of the MCN National Council in regard to foundations and donations that he made to the MCN. It could very well be that Pernell Roberts was ultimately responsible for me doing highly significant research work for the MCN over a five year period. We will probably never know.

The TRUTH is out there somewhere!

2 Comments

  1. Wow – about all I can say about this one. Oh, the “Mahala” I know, was a Malungeon and my grandmother was a Mullins, from Jenkins Ky. descended from Booker Mullins of the Wise, VA area. My mother was of English descent so I’m all mixed up as with most of the people around the globe. Al C.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mahala definitely means “teacher” in Creek and Itza Maya. The Tamahiti (called Tomohitans in VA) were a Creek tribe in western Virginia from SE Georgia, who returned to Georgia after the Cherokee War broke out. Probably, your ancestor was descended from some of those mixed-blood Tamahiti, who elected to stay in Virginia. Tamahiti is an Itza Maya word, meaning “Merchant People.” I have noticed that Virginia anthropologists do not know the meaning of the word.

      Liked by 1 person

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