Hunting for gold in Southside in the 1890’s


  There have been many efforts to mine gold in Eto-wah and adjoining counties, mostly with small profit, although in some instances a few nuggets of real gold were found.  There have been several stories about Indians pointing out where gold could be found and about the various kinds of mining carried on by white men who believed the Indian tales.

But perhaps the most weird of all stories in co-nnection with some of these ventures originated in Southside where three blacks – brothers Ephraim, Esau and Isaiah Collins sank a shaft near the old site of the Pilgrim’s Rest Church in Southside back in the 1890’s.

Legend has it that a man named Maxwell drifted into the community and soon contacted the blacks and convinced them that he could find gold on their 40-acre tract of land. He pointed out a large tree with a scar on it near its middle and told them that the scar was an Indian sign, indicating that gold could be found by digging under its wide-spreading branches. 

Maxwell talked convincingly, and the Collins brothers began to prepare for gold mining on a large scale. They built windlass with a cog wheel, the cogs being made of persimmon wood and mortised into the wheel. The persimmon wood was used because of it was fine and hard and did not splinter. In addition, it would stand the wear and tear of hard usage.

The brothers obtained a rope from a steamboat, the large, stout kind that the boats on the Coosa River used to tie up to banks and to tow rafts of logs. The brothers were all good woodworkers and mechanics and farmers, for on their 40-acre tract they raised cattle, hogs, and sheep and produced much grain and cotton.

After they had completed the stout framework for the windlass, the Collins brothers started to sink their shaft, which was 12-feet square. It is said that they held some sort of ceremony before starting operating each day. The brothers would walk around the opening in a sort of dancing way, perhaps to imitate Indian ceremonies. Some thought the performance could have been a throwback to their African ancestors who practiced voodooism.  Be that as it may, the brothers never failed to go through their weird walk around the pit.

For 18 months, the Collins brothers worked and toiled, taking out only en-ough time to make their crops. They operated the windlass and they dug out the opening with picks and shovels, all the dirt being hauled to the surface in a large wooden bucket that they built for the purpose. The brothers would listen to nobody but Maxwell, who it seemed had worked some sort of spell over them. 

The brothers did not seem to mind the back-breaking labor involved. They toiled with much enthusiasm because they firmly believed that they would strike gold.

The 12-foot square shaft was sunk to a depth of 50 feet when the brothers struck a floor of limestone rock, which appeared to be thick. It seems that it would require something more than muscles, picks and shovels to remove, or even penetrate, that surface 

The brothers said that they could hear water running under the rock, but Maxwell is said to have told them that they had struck a magnetic field that was responsible for the noise.

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