The Scared Corn-Ryo Murders
In the late summer of 1865 in Pickens and Gordon Counties in Georgia, a couple of violent conflicts occurred that left seven people dead and a new bride and a small boy wounded. The first incident, in Hinton, Pickens County, resulted in the deaths of Berry Collins, 21, and Boswell Collins, a relative whose identity remains a mystery and whose age is unknown. A few days later at a cabin near Ryo, Georgia, in Gordon County, Berry’s brother Fielding Bell Collins, 34 (all ages are “about”), Ben Smith 27, Elijah Nalley, 18, his sister Grace, 23, and Francis Graveley, 19, all died as a result of a shoot-out involving Gordon, Bartow and Pickens County citizens, and Federal troops.
There are several different historical versions of just what happened and why, some of them so obviously in error – including the newspaper account of the time – that I won’t bother to dispute them, and many details are obscure. Instead, after spending many hours examining the different accounts as well as researching other records, I offer what I believe may be the most accurate depiction of the events of that fateful August and September in 1865 and why they occurred.
What has been called the “Scarecorn Massacre” began at the Hinton, Georgia, Methodist Church, pictured above, in Pickens County on Sunday, August 27, at or after the wedding of Julia A. Collins, 19, and Alexander "Elick" Thomas that afternoon. Berry and Fielding Bell Collins were her brothers and Boswell Collins was, it is said, an unrelated brother-in-law with the same surname. One account says there was a Collins funeral held that day, and another says the incident happened during the regular church service, but one account says all three events occurred that day. Two say a woman was wounded in the shooting, and one specifically says it is Julia Collins. She was shot in the elbow.
Adjacent to the church, which is the oldest in Pickens County, is the Scared Corn Methodist Campground, said to be so named because the corn grew so fast along nearby Scarecorn Creek (as it is called today) that it looked like it was scared. The church was informally called the “Skeerd Corn Church” in those days, thus the incident is not referred to as the Hinton Methodist Church Massacre, which is more accurate but less colorful. Even more accurate, I believe, is to call the incidents “The Scared Corn-Ryo Murders.”
At some point during the day, four armed young men appeared outside the church. They were Baylis M. Nalley, 21, and his younger brothers Elijah H., and Jesse Aaron, 16, who lived near Ryo in Gordon County, along with Francis A. Graveley, son of Booker T. Graveley, a prominent blacksmith who lived in Ludville, in Pickens County, less than two miles southwest of Hinton.
When the Nalleys and Francis Graveley arrived at the Hinton church, they called out one, or possibly two of the Collins’ men. In one account, an interview with William Jasper Collins, printed in the Cartersville Courant, Thursday, July 2, 1885, only one man was man called out and that was Boswell. When Boswell did not come out, at least two of the Nalley brothers, Elijah and Bailey, went into the church. William Jasper Collins, who was 27 at the time, said he was sitting next to Berry and his brother Miller Collins in the church, and that Elijah Nalley put his hand on William's knee and said: "Boswell, step out a minute with me."
Miller stopped Boswell, who was sitting on the other side of the altar, and said, "No, if you have anything to say, say it here."
That’s when the fighting started. The Nalley brothers, armed with guns, got the better of the Collins, who only had knives. Berry died in the church, at the hands of one of the Nalley brothers, while Boswell was killed by Francis Graveley, firing through a window. Berry was shot in the chest and clasped his hand to the wound, then staggered and braced himself on the altar, staining it with his bloody hand print for many years after the fight. As said, Julia Collins, the bride, was shot in the arm, and a small boy, name unknown, was shot in the hip. Both Nalley brothers were cut badly.
When the news reached Cartersville, Georgia, probably on the following Monday, Fielding Bell Collins, who is not known to have been at the church, and his friend Ben Smith contacted the local Union commander, Lt. George W. Harper of the 29th Indiana Infantry stationed there. On Thursday, September 1, a group comprised of Bell Collins, Ben Smith, 27, of Pine Log, Thomas Hancock, 17, probably of Franklin County, Lt. Harper, three Union soldiers, and possibly several other civilians, traveled up the Old Tennessee Road (now U. S. Highway 411) to Fairmount in Gordon County, a distance of over 20 miles, then turned east along the road to Ellijay (now U. S. Highway 53). The Nalley cabin is said to have been along this road in Gordon County near the county line, probably very close to Ryo, and about six miles from Hinton.
When the group arrived at the cabin about supper time, fighting broke out immediately. Bell Collins and Smith stormed into the cabin, reportedly yelling that “if the Nallys wanted the home guard, they would have them now.” The Federal troops remained outside and fired through the gaps in the cabin walls. Bell Collins died first, at the hands of Elijah Nalley, who was lying in bed recovering from his stab wounds. Ben Smith died next. Elijah Nalley was killed by one of the troops firing through the wall. The Nalley’s sister, Grace, also died in the melee, but at whose hands is unknown. Francis Graveley is said to have tried to surrender, but according to William Collins’ account, attempted to load his weapon and was mortally wounded. He died the next day at his father’s home.
Bailey and Aaron Nalley, and their father Benson, who was wounded, managed to escape. Benson’s wife, Cristina, apparently suffered no physical harm, nor did their youngest son, 6. Ironically, his name was Berry B.
The cause of the murders is most often attributed to deep North-South resentments born in the Civil War, which had only officially ended a few months before the wedding. and there is evidence to support such a conclusion. Armed conflicts between Rebs and Feds continued for many years after the war. Pro-Confederate sentiment was strong in the Collins family. Ten of the numerous first cousins served in Confederate units, including Lt. Miles Collins, commander of Company D of the 23rd Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Berry was a private in this unit. Fielding Bell Collins was a private in the 10th Battalion, Georgia Cavalry (State Guards). Berry and Fielding Bell Collins’ father Ransom was a private in Company I as well, and was also on the 1864 Enlistment Lists (the “Joe Brown census”) for Pickens County along with two of his brothers and a nephew. The Joe Brown census was a list of names of men eligible for military service but not currently serving.
Ransom Collins and his family later moved to Benton County, Arkansas, and in a letter to his son Miller dated 1 December 1867, he concludes a list of the positive aspects of their new home by saying, “And the best of all they are all rebels and say what they please to anybody. When the people come in here they ask them if they are rebels or feds and if they say fed they can't rent land.”
It is also true that the three Nalley brothers were veterans of the 10th Tennessee Cavalry Regiment (Union) and had just been mustered out on 1 August 1865. But I found no records that indicate that the Graveleys were Union sympathizers. One account says Frank is Franklin A. Graveley, who served in the 1st Tennessee Artillery (Union), but his name is Francis in all the census records, and both he and his father are in the Joe Brown census in 1864.
It is also true that Booker’s nephew, Samuel Gravely, joined Company A, 43rd Regiment, Cherokee County, the "Cherokee Vanguards,” and was mortally wounded at Baker’s Creek, Mississippi, 16 May 1863.
Also weakening the argument that the Graveley’s were “feds” is the fact that Booker’s reputation apparently did not suffer for any activities associated with his family during the Civil War. He donated the land on which the Unity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Ludville stands today, and in 1877, he along with several other men of prominence in the community established Ludville High School, the first of its kind in Pickens County.
While the large majority of Georgians supported the Confederacy, there was significant support for the Union in the mountain counties of North Georgia. When Georgia seceded from the Union, an American flag was hoisted at the Pickens County Courthouse in Jasper and, guarded by local citizens, flew for several weeks before they took it down. Pickens is also one of two counties in Georgia that raised both Confederate and Union military units during the war (the other is Dawson), although the “rebs” outnumbered the “feds” by about 5:1 in the county, based on available records. Still, for years after the war, the county’s reputation suffered as a result.
There was certainly enough potential animosity between the two factions involved in the murders, and revenge killings were common in the years immediately after the war, although many of them involved Confederate regulars and Confederate deserters. It might not have helped that the Collins were Methodists and the Graveley’s were Disciples of Christ, either. But I believe that these differences only provide a context in which the murders happened. The spark that ignited the violence was more personal.
In late 1864 or early 1865, Benjamin McCollum's Cherokee Home Guards apparently looted and vandalized the Nalley farm, and assaulted Elijah Nalley’s mother, Eda, 39. A cow was also stolen from either the Nalleys or possibly Francis Graveley’s family. Francis’s presence at the church that fateful Sunday, and his offer to surrender at the Nalley cabin, suggests the latter but records indicate otherwise. The mission of the Home Guards was to capture and punish deserters, and procure livestock for the army, but it is said that in this case, the Home Guards did not take the cow to the Confederate commissary, but sold it for cash.
When Fielding Bell Collins and Ben Smith stormed the cabin, they identified themselves as members of the Home Guards. Initially, I concluded that the deaths were a by-product of the “reign of terror” from 1864-1865 in Pickens and surrounding counties by the notorious Captain Benjamin Franklin Jordan and his Pickens County Home Guards. They are the only Home Guard unit mentioned in Luke Tate's History of Pickens County. However, according to Robert Scott Davis's article "War on the Edge: Civil War Era Politics and Its Legacy in the Appalachian Country" published in Breaking the Heartland: The Civil War in Georgia (Mercer University Press, 2011), the culprit was Colonel Benjamin Franklin McCollum's Cherokee Home Guards, also known as McCollum's Scouts, which is said to have been 100 strong.
McCollum had a reputation somewhat like that of Jordan, and was accused of at least one murder during the Civil War. He was also a very violent man who was involved in a number of altercations after the war, including one that led to his death. However, James V. P. Collins, son of Davis Collins, and Berry and Fielding Bell’s first cousin, was a member of Jordan’s group. He was indicted for two robberies and two murders, along with Ben Jordan and other members of the home guard, when the first post-war Pickens County Grand Jury met in September 1865. They were accused of murdering Peter Cantrell, a deserter, on 22 July 1864, as well as a man named Lewis Willis. There are no records that any of the accused were ever arrested.
Of course, the assault of Federal troops upon Union veterans on behalf of members of the local Confederate Home Guards is too paradoxical to explain unless Fielding Bell Collins was not completely truthful with Lt. Harper, who had only been commander at the post since May. I find it telling that only Fielding Bell and Ben Smith entered the cabin, that two of the Nalley brothers and their father are said to have escaped, and that no Federal troops were killed or wounded. Could it be that after the initial assault, in which Fielding Bell Collins and Ben Smith identified themselves as members of the Home Guards, Lt. Harper realized he had really messed up. Or could the Nalleys have quickly identified themselves as Union veterans?
Federal troops occupying Georgia in 1864 and 1865 actively tried to protect and rescue Union sympathizers, and were in constant conflict with home guard units, so the killing of the Nalleys in defense of the Collins was directly contrary to their mission. There is no record of Lt. Harper filing a report on the incident, but Robert S. Davis, Jr., says, in “The Last of the Civil War: The Scarecorn Massacre,” that he is probably the source of the garbled story that appeared in Georgia newspapers. The major error in the story is that the cabin is said to belong to the Graveleys and not the pro-Union Nalleys, and Davis says “Harper likely used the story as a means of persuading his superiors not to investigate further.” If so, it is a further indication that the Graveleys were not Union sympathizers. In any case, the irony points to the complexity of the relationships of those involved in the shootings.
There is some confusion over just what McCollum's and Ben Jordan’s groups were. In Luke Tate’s History, Jordan's is called a “gang.” But there is ample evidence that both Home Guards and others were acting under the authority of Gov. Joe Brown. McCollum's Scouts are said to have been assigned to "Glenn's Calvary" stationed in Athens, Georgia, according to the website listed below, but this is an apparent reference to Lt. Col. Luther Judson Glenn, who was an infantry commander of Company C., Cobb's Legion, and later Lt. Col. of the unit. All the confusion is understandable because from 1863 until many months after Sherman’s March to the Sea, North Georgia was beset with up to six different groups of men who sometimes caused suffering and misery for the civilian population.
First, there were pro-Confederate “independent scouts” plain “scouts,” or “hogbacks.” composed largely of either draft evaders, deserters or, late in the war, soldiers who had become separated from their units in the wake of Sherman’s march. In some cases, they acted as guerrilla forces against Sherman’s army. These groups, who sometimes lived in caves in the mountains, periodically went on raids, often preying on pro-Union families, and the wealthy of either stripe to obtain food, horses, and whatever else they could. As civil authority broke down in 1864 and 1865, these groups often became little more than outlaw bands.
As I noted, Luke Tate lists only Ben Jordan’s militia as among such groups operating in Pickens County, but Lucy Josephine Cunyus, in The History of Bartow County, lists the names of six such groups in that county alone. Three are relatively close to Fairmount, including Baker’s Scouts in Pine Log, and Tate and Aycocks Scouts in Cassville. The town of Ranger, just up the Tennessee Road in Gordon County, is also said by some to have been named for one group of scouts, and the once-famous writer Maurice Thompson implies in his papers that he belonged to such a group in Gordon County.
George Magruder Battey, Jr., in A History of Rome and Floyd County, Volume 1, mentions pro-Confederate scouts led by Green Cordle in Walker County, Capt. Jack Colquitt in Floyd County, and John Gatewood’s Scouts, a large group of as many as one hundred men who roamed Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama from Rome to Trion, Georgia, to Gaylesville, Alabama. Gatewood’s Scouts battled not only Sherman’s forces but other scouts as well. Cunyus states that Colquitt killed Baker, the leader of the group in Pine Log, and the two bands were bitter enemies after that.
According to an article entitled “Forgotten Union Guerrillas of the North Georgia Mountains” by Robert S. Davis, Jr., with assistance from Bill Kinsland, some Confederate soldiers deserted just so they could return home and protect their families from the scouts, and Battey mentions that “Little Zach” Hargrove’s Scouts of Rome were formed specifically to protect local citizens from other scouts.
Cunyus also mentions Wofford’s “Scouts”, which she says is a misnomer. They were not scouts, but a group of up to 7,000 men assembled at Kingston by Brig. Gen. W. T. Wofford in the spring of 1865. Wofford was put in command of North Georgia by Governor Brown to deal with the deprivation and chaos left by Sherman’s army, and the men included some wounded, and many regular soldiers, deserters, members of various Home Guards, and scouts who had not been officially paroled. Wofford negotiated a truce with the Union commander for North Georgia, Brig. Gen. Henry M. Judah, and his men were paroled on 12 May 1865. Wofford is said to have convinced Judah to distribute 30,000 bushels of corn to the men for their families.
Second, there were scouts composed of Union sympathizers and Confederate deserters who served as effective scouts and spies for Sherman, helped defend pro-Union families, and helped procure supplies for the invaders. One such group was John Long’s Scouts in Chattooga County. There was a pro-Union Home Guard of 125 men organized by Union Capt. John P. Cummings of the Third Kentucky Cavalry in Jasper, Pickens County, in July 1864. It's purpose was to protect Union sympathizers in the county.
Third, in 1864 in Pickens County, James G. Brown, civilian chief of scouts for Union General George H. Thomas, organized Company D, 1st Georgia State Troops, one of six such units formed in North Georgia, including four in Dawson County. Two of the companies were incorporated into the 5th Tennessee Mounted Infantry, while the others, including Company D, were entrusted with guarding the railroads. They also served as spies and guides for Sherman’s army, and helped his foragers seize property belonging to pro-Confederate families, especially those of the Home Guards. Davis says that the men of the 1st Georgia were not provided with horses or mules, however, and periodically raided the farms of pro-Confederate families on their own.
Fourth, there were the Home Guards, such as McCollum's and Jordan’s, which had probably been authorized by Governor Joe Brown in the spring of 1864. They were likely to have been established in May. Similar Home Guards were formed in Kingston and Euharlee in Bartow County that month. Their mission, as noted, was to capture and punish draft evaders and deserters, whose numbers swelled after the Battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga in the fall of 1863, and to procure draft animals and other livestock for the Confederate military. The units also acted as guerrilla forces against Sherman’s army as it passed through Georgia, and in some cases, such as the Kingston Home Guards, were organized to defend their communities against marauders of any stripe. As the number of deserters and draft evaders climbed in the last year of the war, the operations of the Home Guards became more frequent and in some cases their actions more severe and brutal.
Davis says that the “Tactics used by the Home Guards included torture, executions without trials, and retaliations against families and friends of the resisters. The folklore of north Georgia includes numerous tales of corpses found after the Home Guards had departed, and of men having their Achilles' tendons cut on their feet and being made to walk or crawl for miles before finally being hanged.”
Booker Graveley, in a deposition in a claim for compensation filed by John S. Johnson, said that hundreds of Pickens County citizens were forced to flee their homes and hide in the woods when the Home Guards were around (fiche no. 11155, M1407, Barred and Dissallowed Claims, Southern Claims Commission, National Archives).
According to the account of William Thompson, a former resident of Hall County, Georgia, published in the 8 October 1891 edition of the Bridgeport, California, Cronical Union, he witnessed Ben Jordan’s personal execution of 12 Gilmer County deserters at New Holland, a small town just north of Gainesville, Hall County, Georgia, in "1863" (probably 1864). Jordan and his men lined them up side by side and Jordan went down the line, shooting each one in the head. One of the soldiers was only 15.Thompson, who was 10 at the time, said he kept a notebook with a list of the names and dates of those killed by the Pickens Home Guards, but said he lost it in a river while being pursued by unnamed assailants. The list numbered 125, and this was prior to the massacre at New Holland.
Yet it is important to understand that from the standpoint of those loyal to the Confederacy, the Home Guards were sometimes looked on with admiration, not only for their capture and punishment of deserters, but also for their attacks on the scouts. As a correspondent to the Atlanta Intelligencer wrote on 23 January 1865, “These scouts are made up and headed by deserters from our army. They are eating up the people's subsistence and stealing their stock. In many counties the people are compelled to suffer. I know of but two men in Northwestern Georgia who are authorized to be there with any commands – Capt. T. P. Edmonson [of Murray County] and Captain Benjamin Jordan. They have some good men [...] who are doing good work.”
And, it is important to add, treason was and remains a crime punishable by death, so from the Confederate point of view aiding the Union was treason. Still, members of both Jordan’s and McCollum’s Home Guards, were indicted for numerous murders and robberies in Pickens County after the war by Grand Juries protected by Federal troops.
A fifth group was a special unit of State Guards that operated in the area in the latter half of 1863. It was Company I, the Pickens Raid Repellers of Cherokee County. It was originally designated as Company A, 16th Battalion Georgia Cavalry, State Guards, but there is no evidence it ever served as such. This legion was organized in July 1863 to serve for six months as local defense.
Finally, after Sherman’s conquest of North Georgia, regular Union troops were sent into Pickens and other counties to steal horses and mules, rescue pro-Union families, and to conduct raids against both the pro-Confederate scouts and the Home Guards. Union soldiers burned Canton, Georgia, in October 1864 in response to atrocities committed against pro-Union families in North Georgia.
So, in Bartow, Gordon and Pickens Counties in 1864 and 1865, civilians were at the mercy of pro-Confederate scouts, a pro-Union home guard, the 1st Georgia State Troops, Ben Jordan’s Pickens County Home Guards, Ben McCollum’s Cherokee Home Guards, and Union regulars. Company D of the 1st Georgia, in particular, attracted the attention of Ben Jordan’s Home Guards and for several weeks in the fall of 1864, Davis says “Hit and run ambushes between Brown's men and the Confederate Home Guards were apparently happening almost daily.”
In the Cronical Union article, Ben Jordan, whose age is unknown, and his brother Bob, born about 1835, were Confederate soldiers from Pickens County, but they are not in the Pickens census records. However, there is a Benjamin F. Jordan from Murray County who served in Co. B, 3rd Georgia Infantry Battalion, later the 37th Georgia Infantry. He enlisted 29 August 1861 as a private and was seriously wounded at Chickamauga on 19 September 1863 before being reported missing on 29 February 1864. A search for records on Bob Jordan proved inconclusive.
William Thompson said the Jordans had a particularly bad experience with scouts. A band of Confederate deserters descended on their father’s home, probably in 1863 or early 1864 since Ben Jordan may have deserted to go home and protect his family. The scouts are said to have "assaulted" their sister and Bob Jordan’s wife, which may or may not mean they were raped, and abducted their father, brutalized him, and took the elderly man a distance of 60 miles from home before releasing him. The attack may have been simply because the family was very wealthy. There are numerous stories of scouts attacking wealthy families during the latter days of the war. But the brutality of the attack on his family might explain why Ben Jordan went on a rampage.
Ben and Bob Jordan were the sons of Robert Jordan, the first pastor of the Talking Rock Baptist Church in Pickens County. Although Ben is not listed in the two family trees I could find, two Jordan sources confirm that his father was Robert. The Rev. Robert Jordan was born in 1790 in Virginia, and was one of Pickens County’s wealthiest men in 1860, with real estate valued at $6500 and personal assets of $1500. He was probably a tobacco farmer, and owned slaves. He may have also provided financial or material support for his son's Home Guards because the Rev. Jordan, along with three other Pickens County citizens, was arrested by Union soldiers in mid-July 1864 and according to family tradition, the reverend was hanged.
Jordan’s Home Guards were defeated by the Third Kentucky Calvary (Union), which killed eight, wounded 14, including Ben Jordan, and captured five in a battle near Jasper in late July 1864. But, according to Bertil Haggman, the Lumpkin County Home Guard (also 1st Georgia State Cavalry Home Guards) commanded by Col. James F. Findley, defeated a detachment of Brown’s troops in November 1864 while those troops were on a raid to steal mules and horses in Gilmer County. Col. Findley and his men captured Brown's second in command, Lt. Colonel Ashworth and 20 members of Brown’s unit.
Most importantly, some of the men in Brown’s unit carried on them the names of local Union supporters they were to protect, which led to their arrest by the Home Guards. The Nalleys could well have been on that lists, which would have prompted the raid on their family.
Brown's unit was disbanded on 15 December, 1864, and according to Haggman, received no pay, bounty or compensation. Ben Jordan’s Pickens Home Guards are known to have been active as late as January 1865, according to the article in the Atlanta Intelligencer. But the Home Guards lost all official sanction with the surrender of Wofford's "Scouts" at Kingston 12 May 1865. And, with indictments by Pickens County Grand Juries beginning in September 1865 and continuing into 1866, Luke Tate speculates that Jordan and others members of the Pickens County Home Guards left the county.
I must note that The History of Pickens County makes scant mention of Ben Jordan, never mentions Bob (nor McCollum), and makes no connection between them and Robert Jordan (pp. 211-214). Contrary to the article in the Cronical Union, Luke Tate specifically states that Ben Jordan came to Pickens from another county and that not more than a “handful” of the members of his home guards lived in Pickens, which is unlikely although it could be technically true, of course, and yet not change the facts. He says that of the 40 names mentioned in numerous grand jury indictments for murder and other crimes by the members of Jordan and McCollum's groups, only six were listed in the 1860 Pickens County census. Mr. Tate does not list the six, however, and would have every reason not to further besmirch Pickens County’s reputation.
So, the underlying causes of the violence at Hinton and near Ryo was probably not just purely left-over resentment from the Civil War, but most likely the result of a direct attack on the Nalley family, and possibly the Graveley’s, by McCollum’s. possibly Jordan's Home Guards, probably in the winter of 1864. James V. P. Collins was probably among those involved.
And, there is also another personal dimension to the murders. William Jasper Collins, whose account is noted above, knew Francis Graveley personally, a fact he neglects to mention in the article in the Cartersville Courant. His father, William James Collins, is the next door neighbor of Booker Graveley in 1860 in the Truck Wheel (Talking Rock) District of Pickens County, when William was 22 and Francis 14. The Graveley's are known to have owned substantial property in Ludville, and William Jasper Collins owned a very large farm in Hinton, and the two communities are only 1.7 miles apart. Also, Berry Collins’ family lived only 23 houses away from the Graveleys.
As one of the wealthiest farmers and the wealthiest blacksmith in the county, William James Collins and Booker Graveley undoubtedly had many dealings and the families must have known each other well. In fact, the families may have been competitors or rivals. In Ransom Collins’ letter to his son Miller in 1867, he notes that, “The people say here is the best place for mechanics in the world. They can get almost any price.” In the 19th Century, the term “mechanic” included any profession in which craftsmen turned raw materials into finished products, including blacksmiths. One relative of the Collins family, Samuel, who lived in the Talking Rock District in 1860, was a blacksmith.
There are many questions that remain about the murders, most especially the exact identity of Boswell Collins. In the only account that states his relationship to Berry and Fielding Bell Collins, in the Cartersville Courant, he is identified both as a brother and a brother-in-law with the same surname. Of the sisters of Berry and Fielding Bell Collins, I could not find the husband of only one, Elizabeth, born 1840-42 in Lincoln County and living with the family in Pickens County in 1860, but no further information is known about her at this time. Berry and Fielding Bell did have a brother named James or Jonas B., who was born 2 February 1851, but he died 12 January 1883 in Benton County, according to a family source. No one named Boswell Collins appears in Collins family records I have seen and there is no Boswell Collins in the Ancestry.com records before 1900.
As noted earlier, it has been suggested that Boswell is James V. P. Collins, a first cousin to the victims, born 1841 in North Carolina, and indicted for murder by the Pickens County Grand Jury. At the present time, I can find no other Collins, related or unrelated, who might be Boswell. Boswell is a very rare first name in America, and I wonder if it was a nickname.
The connection between the Nalleys and Francis Graveley is also unclear. As said, the Nalleys all lived in Gordon County, in the Fairmount District near Ryo on the Pickens County line. The Graveley’s lived four or five miles from the Nalley’s in Ludville, although along the same road. A possible connection is Booker’s brother Samuel, who lived in the Fairmount District as well, so they may have may have known each other through him. In any case, Francis must have had contact with the Nalley brothers before the war. It is highly unlikely that they were strangers in August of 1865.
It is interesting to note what happened to the participants and their families in the wake of the shootings.
Francis Graveley’s mother Edie applied to the federal government for a pension. Her lawyer argued that Francis died fighting on behalf of the federal government against Confederates, but her claim was denied (as were many, many others).
Jesse and Bailey Nalley also applied for federal pensions. They made no reference to the shootings at the Hinton church, but said they had suffered at the hands of Confederate “bushwhackers” in the attack on their cabin. They, too, were denied.
Jesse Aaron Nalley is said to have changed his name to McNalley and migrated to Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Texas before settling in Missouri. He died in Pemiscot County, Missouri, on 15 September 1924.
Bailey Nalley eventually moved to Illinois, where he died in Pulaski County on 1 January1927.
I do not know what happened to the rest of the Nally family, but there is a Berry B. Nally, born 1859, living in Arkansas in 1910 and Missouri in 1930.
Many members of Fielding Bell and Berry Collins’ family, including their father Ransom and mother Rhoda, moved to Benton County, Arkansas within a year or so of the shootings, but I don't know if there was any connection between the two events. Incidentally, their brother Miller was shot and killed in Kingston, Georgia in 1875 as the result of an argument, so three brothers in the family died violently.
James P. Collins’ father Davis and mother Martha, and a number of other family members, also left the Talking Rock District within five years and settled in Blount County, Alabama. I don’t know if the move was prompted in any way by the shootings, either.
William Jasper Collins lived in Pine Log, Bartow County, where he ran a “poor house” in the 1870s and 1880s. He died before 1900.
Booker T. Graveley died on 1 January 1888 and is buried in the Graveley Cemetery behind the Unity Christian Church in Ludville next to his wife, Edie, who died 19 February 1902.
In the two family trees I found, the Rev. Robert Jordan died 26 December 1866 in Pickens County at 76 years of age, but if he was hung by Union soldiers, why was it two years after he was arrested. I suspect that either his death date is in error or there is more to the story. His widow, Elizabeth, died sometime after 1870 and before 1880.
Robert Harrison "Bob" Jordan was never tried for any of his crimes. According to the Cronical Union, he was shot and killed in Florida by “a weak, sickly young man on whom he was imposing," date unknown, and Ben Jordan, who was also never tried for any of his crimes, was stabbed to death in a barroom in Texas (Cronical Union), date unknown, but perhaps not long after the war.
However, family records indicate that the newspaper account has it backwards. This record states that Bob Jordan died in Bosque County, Texas on 24 November 1924, although it doesn't say how. The same record suggests that it was Ben who was killed in Florida. Another account says that he was married to Frances Jane Brackett, whose mother was part of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, and fathered two children by her, including her son, Robert E. or L. Brackett, born 1865. She is said to be listed as a widow in the Gilmer “tax relief fund” in the late 1860s, but I have not seen the actual record. Property belonging to Ben Jordan in Jasper was seized by the county in December 1865 for failure to pay taxes.
While none of the family records I found on Ancestry included Benjamin F. Jordan among the children of the Rev. Robert Jordan, I recently received a handwritten list of their children by a Jordan descendant that lists both Ben and Bob. I can't explain the discrepancy between the Cronical Union account and the family record regarding when Bob died, however.
Benjamin Franklin McCollum enlisted on 18 April 1861 in Company F. 2nd Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, and enlisted on 6 August 1862 in Company C (Cherokee Dragoons), Phillips Legion Calvary, part of the calvary corps of the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of J. E. B. Stuart. He was reported AWOL on 16 August 1864, perhaps because his younger brother Robert, who was wounded 11 June that year and also reported AWOL in August. McCollum, as said, was recommissioned by Gov. Brown on 5 September 1864. After the war, McCollum worked as a blacksmith in Canton, Georgia, and later as a lawyer in Forsyth and Hampton, Henry County. He barely escaped arrest in 1873 by a Pickens County posse for a murder he is alleged to have committed during the Civil War, and as noted was involved in other altercations after the war. He died in Hampton due to a gunshot wound to the chest as the result of a dispute over a "public closet," which I assume referred to an outhouse. He objected to its presence as a public nuisance, and the source below implies that it was because it served a house of ill repute.
No one was ever charged in any of the seven deaths at Hinton Methodist Church and the Nalley cabin.
The Hinton Methodist Church split after the war ended into Northern and Southern factions. I don’t know if the schism was related to the shootings. The Northern Methodists built a church a short distance from the Hinton church, but it may not have lasted very long as a separate entity. The church is apparently no longer in existence, and Luke Tate's history does not say if it still existed when his book was published in 1935.
I write all this as a Collins descendent with, strangely enough, connections to the Jordan family and possibly the Graveley family as well. My paternal gg-grandmother was Ursula Collins, a first cousin of Berry and Fielding Bell Collins and others.
Also, my great-granduncle James A. Hall lived next door to the Rev. Robert Jordan’s widowed mother, Elizabeth, in 1870 in Gilmer County. And my gg-grandmother Susannah Hall lived next door to their daughter, Elizabeth Jordan Allen, in 1880 in the Truck Wheel District. Apparently the families were friends.
I am also related to a Gravely family from Whitfield County, Georgia, by marriage. The spelling of the name is said to have been changed because Graveley was adopted by some African-Americans. The oldest known ancestor is Grady Gravely (1903-195), who was possibly born in Cherokee County and died in Murray. But have been unable so far to determine if they are related to Booker and Francis.
As a final note, I would add that the information contained in this article contains both facts and deductions, any of which may be in error. This account is simply an attempt to interpret the available information in the most logical and reasonable way, and I welcome any suggestions, proposed revisions, and new information.
“A Noted Family,” Cartersville Courant, 2 July 1885: <http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/t/i/n/Sheri-G-Tiner/FILE/0001text.txt>
This site contains the account of William Jasper Collins, plus the letter from Ransom and Rhoda Collins to their son Miller, and other Collins documents.
[Note: This is the primary source for information, and misinformation, on the murders. The full text, which contains some fascinating details on the Collins, is reprinted below.]
“Forgotten Union Guerrillas of the North Georgia Mountains” by Robert S. Davis, Jr., with assistance from Bill Kinsland: <http://www.izzy.net/~michaelg/n-ga1.htm>
The Bridgeport Cronical Union. The article is entitled “Wholesale Butchery.”
“Terrible State of Affairs in North Georgia.” The Atlanta Intelligencer. Atlanta, Ga. Jan. 23, 1865: <http://shermans5th.blogspot.com/2008/01/Saturday-January-21-1865.html> This site also contains other accounts of the pure devastation and haunting silence left in Sherman’s wake.
“The Last of the Civil War: The Scarecorn Massacre,” by Robert S. Davis, Jr.: <http://virtualgoshen.blogspot.com/>. There are other documents on this site about the Collins family.
“Guerrilla Fighting for the Confederacy in North Georgia,” by Bertil Haggman. <http://www.southernmessenger.org/the_gray_ghost_column.htm>
This page has many accounts of guerrilla activity by Confederates. Scroll down to the bottom of the page or do a search.
Colonel Benjamin F. McCollum
The History of Pickens County by Luke E. Tate.
The History of Bartow County by Lucy Josephine Cunyus.
A History of Rome and Floyd County, Volume 1 by George Magruder Battey, Jr.
History of Gordon County by Lulie Pitts.
All these can be found on-line at:
Other information on Robert Jordan:
"A noted family"
Account by William Jasper Collins of the Collins’ arrival in Georgia and of the Scared Corn-Ryo murders.
Cartersville Courant, 2 July 1885
A few days ago, the writer had a pleasant call from Wm. J. Collins, the excellent superintendent of our Bartow county pauper farm, and in the course of conversation he gave us the following facts:
In the year 1841, his father, James Collins, moved to this county from Cleveland county, N.C. Fifty-one persons came together in company, and of that number all were related by consanguinity except one young man by the name of Logan. They reached Pickens county (then called Gilmer) a short time before the Presidential election of 1844. The political excitement was exceedingly high, and all along the route these emigrants were saluted and questioned as to politics. Mr. James Collins was a staunch democrat and he decorated his wagon-covers with pokeberry juice in broad stripes. In the front and rear huge poke-stalks were planted, and above all towered a hickory pole, in memory of "Old Hickory" Jackson. Our friend, Wm. J., was only eight years old, but he recollects they passed a farm house where they were engaged in digging sweet potatoes. Seeing the red poke stripes on the white wagon-cover, the farmer insisted on sharing his potatoes with his democratic friend most liberally. These staunch democrats were not allowed to vote, however, by the Whig managers at election time.
The wagons halted in old Gilmer and the new settlers proceeded to build houses. They got all the corn they wanted at fifteen cents a bushel and a sufficiency of meat at two and a half cents a pound. James Collins settled near "Skeerd Corn" church and camp ground ( which the writer remembers very well from a visit made to it in the year 1879.) There was only one grave when the Collinses settled there, now there are between two and three hundred. The mother and two brothers were laid to rest at this spot before the family scattered. The father lies on the hill above the Baptist church in Cartersville.
A Rev. Mr. Lowry traveled the "Skeerd Corn" circuit at the time of their settling in this country, and as a part of his pay for pastoral services Mrs. Collins and several others spun and wove him a suit of clothes. The material was cotton - the warp white and the filling blue. "If some good old sister was to do a like a like deed for some of our fashionable preachers, don't you reckon he'd leave the circuit before he would wear them?" asked Mr. Collins of us.
It was a subject that required thought, and we replied, "perhaps he would?"
But brother Lowry was quite willing to put on his white and blue summer suit when he got hold of it. In those days a neighbor was cared for by his friends if he got sick. they would plow and hoe his crop, harvest his wheat and supply him with wood if cold weather overtook him on his bed of sickness. Would they do it now, when they cry out they are ruined if it rains too much, or they are swamped if their crop gets grassy? Were not the good old times the
But time rolled on. The Collins family increased and multiplied. Some died and many moved away, but when the war broke out there was a host of them in Pickens, Cherokee, Gordon and Bartow. They made splendid soldiers. Our worthy merchant and citizen, Miles Collins, was orderly in a company of the 23rd Georgia volunteers when they went into the war and he returned their captain. Martin, Berry, Miller, Boswell, William and Bell Collins, went to Virginia, and there the most of them were in camps and on battlefield at the time of the surrender.
In August, '65, there was held a funeral service at "Skeerd Corn" church. On a seat, some three or four steps from the alter railing, William, Berry and Miller Collins were seated. Before the service began a man by the name of Nally, one of a large family, came up to the three persons named, laid his hand on William's knee and said: "Boswell, step out a minute with me."
As Boswell rose, Miller detained him, remarking: "No, if you have anything to say, say it here."
Nally, his brothers, and a man by the name of Gravely, also present, were Unionists, and had gone out of this country during the war to join the Federal forces. On their return they had made threats that no Confederate should live in their midst. Hence, Miller's reply. Nally instantly put his hand behind him for a pistol, seeing which Berry drew his knife and began to defend himself.
Another Nally also began to shoot, and directly the fray was at its height. Berry was shot in the body, but not before he had cut both the Nally's severely. Miller assisted Berry to hold down his assailants, when Gravely was seen to fire from outside the arbor at Boswell Collins, who sat within the altar, killing the latter dead. The shots became frequent, and when it was over two dead men were lying on the ground. A relative of the Collins', who was only married that morning, was shot through the elbow, and a stray shot passed through a small boy's hip. William was unhurt, and says that he had no fear or dread, and that he was determined to stand by his cousins to the last. Mr. Wm. Collins also says that as Berry staggered out from under the stand he held his hand to his breast where the blood was pouring out. As he passed by the rude pulpit he tottered and caught at it, leaving the print of the bloody palm in plain view. He insists that he sees the death mark on the pulpit whenever he visits the well-remembered spot.
But the end was not yet. Mr. Bell Collins lived in our city, Cartersville. The news of the brutal murder came down at once to the friends here. He reported the fact to the commandant of the post, who sent a squad of Federal soldiers to preserve the peace and arrest the murderers. Mr. Bell Collins went with them and their numbers increased as they drew near "Skeerd Corn." A Captain by the name of Smith was in command. On Tuesday night, (after the bloody deed on Sunday,) they found the Nallys and Gravely entrenched in a small log house between Fairmount and Ludville. The logs had been pierced for loopholes and these desperadoes intended to die right there or kill their assailants if possible. As the Federals and Bell Collins approached the Nally's fired a shot from the inside. The attacking party quickly sprang on the door and burst it in. Smith went in first, and one of the Nally's who had been wounded by Berry Collins' knife on Sunday, raised himself in the bed and shot at Smith. As he fell Bell Collins advanced to avenge his brothers' deaths and he was also killed. A Federal soldier then put his musket through a porthole and riddled the blood-thirsty creature, Nally, who fell back dead in the bed. Gravely ran out and cried, "We give up," but as a Federal soldier approached ramming down a charge in his empty gun, he shot at the soldier, whereupon the soldier fired at once, and rushing on him pinned him to the earth with a bayonet a dead man. The father of the Nally boys also ran out, and he was shot and bayonetted, but he was not mortally wounded by either weapon and made his escape.
How well does the writer remember the funeral cortege that brought Bell Collins' dead body to Cartersville the day after he was killed. The whole country was in a state of apprehension and dismay. Two brothers and a brother-in-law (all of the same name), cold and stiff in death, who were on Sunday before well and hearty, at peace with all the world, and with no evil designs toward anybody in their hearts! Those were dreadful times! At some future time we will give the Courant readers a full account of the depredations
committed on the people of that region about that time.
In conclusion we bear testimony to the courage of the brave soldiers who left home and fireside to go into the four years war at the call of the country, but who found a bloody death on the very threshold when the war was over.
Notes from Richard Nix : The publishers of the Courant were Dr. and Mrs. W. H. Felton. Mrs. Felton (Rebecca Latimer) was the first woman to be a United States Senator. She is probably the one who wrote this narrative.
Last updated 7 September 2012.