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The Cove of Meriwether County

Mountain Stewards
The Wright Cabin, built in 1832, is part of Stan’s wife’s family. It is one of the original cabins built in the Cove in Meriwether County. Photo by Stan Cartwright

Mountain Stewards
By Don and Diane Wells
With part four of this series, we continue the story of families who lived under the burden of hiding their Indian culture for fear of being removed to Oklahoma. Stan Cartwright’s story is centered in a cove in Middle Georgia in Meriwether County.

The Cove is, in fact, a meteorite impact crater located on the east side of Meriwether County. The Flint River cuts through the eastern side of the formation. The circular impact crater, with its high, mountainous sides, forms a place of isolation, a place of safety. It might be considered a “sanctuary.”

Black Elk, Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, said, “Everything the power of the world does is done in a circle. The sky is round and I have heard that the Earth is round like a ball and so are all the stars. … The life of a man is a circle from childhood-to-childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves. Our tipis were round like the nests of birds, and these were always set in a circle, the nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.”

The early Indian trade routes and pathways went west, north and south of the Cove, but none of them went through it, probably because one would have to cross over the mountainous ring twice going in any direction. The archaeological evidence found in the Cove shows that indigenous people have lived—or at least visited—there from the Archaic period, approximately 10,000 years ago, until today. During the Historic period, the Muskogee-Creek and other Indian heritages lived in the Cove.

The Cove has many artesian springs with good water, the land in the bottom of the Cove is very fertile and the Flint River is a source of food. In the Cove are two ancient Indian fish weirs that remain in existence today.

This place of sanctuary is where indigenous people of many Indian heritages came to stay. Families with Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Muskogee-Creek have lived there for generations. The story of how these people knew about this place is not known; perhaps it was shared when they traveled the thousands of miles of trails to trade and hunt. Even the Iroquois knew about White Sulphur Springs and its waters with healing properties that exists 10 miles west of the Cove. It is to this sanctuary that Stan’s family migrated many generations ago.

Because his family with Muskogee-Creek heritage did not want to be found, they did not record a lot about their whereabouts. They also avoided the census takers in order to remain off the record. Thus, it is hard to track the time his ancestors moved into the Cove.

It is likely his ancestors initially were living just east of the Flint River in a place called Long Branch. The land on the east side of the river was ceded to the U.S. by the Creek Indians in 1821, and they had to leave and move to the west side.

Just six years later, however, William McIntosh, chief of the Lower Creek Indians, relinquished the lands between the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers—against the wishes of many Creek Indians. Thus, the Creeks were required to move farther west into a small part of Alabama that remained in Creek hands. Not all moved; Stan’s ancestors probably began their life in the Cove hiding from the government that wanted them out of this territory.

Those who lived in the Cove were a mix of Indian heritage and pioneers—mostly Scotch-Irish—who also did not like the government. Their closely knit society lived, mostly harmoniously, apart from the outside world. They banded together to protect each other from those who wanted to harm any member of the Cove.

Stan said, “If an unknown person ventured into the Cove, all work stopped until it could be determined what this person’s purpose was for being in the Cove.” As a young boy, Stan’s father took him to see the caves nearby on the Flint River where they could hide if someone from the government was coming to take them away.

Stan's heritage is Muskogee-Creek on his father's side and Cherokee on his mother's side. Some of the family members were included in the census roles of Oklahoma Indian tribes. One of his relatives was Jessie Bartley Milam, 1884-1949, who was the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1941 to 1949.

Stan's great-great-grandfather, John Benjamin Cartwright (1812-1895) was probably the first of the Cartwright family to arrive in the area of the Cove. Stan's great-grandfather, Benjamin Hill Cartwright, was born in the Cove in 1857. It is through Willie Lou Allen, who married one of the Cartwright men, that Stan inherits his Muskogee Creek bloodline. Some of the Cartwright men removed to Oklahoma with their Indian wives. Stan's great-grandfather, Benjamin Hill Cartwright, is buried in Woodbury, Ga., just north of the Cove. Next to him are two graves that are identified as “Indian.”

Stan's other great-grandfather, Arthur Allen, born 1873, Tallapoosa, Ala., was in the Cove by around 1890. He came to the Cove, following sawmills in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eventually, he found himself in a small community called Long Branch, just east of the Flint River and the Cove.

Long Branch is also called "Over the Top" because it is located on the top of the eastern rim of the meteorite crater that formed the Cove. Along the banks of the secluded Long Branch Creek and the Flint River, Stan's paternal great-grandfather met Lou Teal, a Muskogee-Creek Indian woman living and hiding from the world to avoid removal.

Although Stan is both Muskogee-Creek and Cherokee, he was raised in the ways of the Muskogee-Creek, and it is this heritage that gave his family the ability to live close to the land and survive in an environment where the hunter-gatherer way of life was the norm.

Next month, we will begin to share Stan’s story of growing up Indian.

 

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