The Vagabond – Place names in Etowah County


By Danny Crownover

This article was originally published in the May 4, 2012 edition of The Messenger

Most of us that travel about in Etowah County see names of places and wonder how the name was chosen and for whom or what it was named. This article covers only a few of these sites, since everywhere we go there are names, communities, towns, mountains, streams, roads, streets, avenues, voting precincts and numerous other places to be seen.

We cannot live here and not realize the presence of those who came before us and the influence that they have left for us.

The Indians were first to arrive here, and they have given to us the name of our county, Etowah, and within its boundaries three important tribes have called this home – The Cherokees in the northern half of the county; the Chickasaws, whose boundary extends west of the Coosa River and lying south of the Cherokee Nation; and the Creeks, whose lands were located east of the Coosa River and also south of the Cherokee Nation.

Places like Turkey Town and Turkey Creek named for the popular principal chief Turkey or The Little Turkey, whose towns or villages were scattered along the banks of our beautiful river, the Coosa.

Big Wills Valley, Little Wills Valley, Big Wills Creek and Little Wills Creek were named for the Chief Will, or Red Headed Will, whose residence was at Wills Town. He was the son of a Scottish tradesman and a Cherokee woman,

In Big Wills Valley The Duck lived near the spring that bears his name and gave rise to the well-known community of Duck Springs,

At the conjunction of the two creeks, Big and Little Wills, is the town of Attalla, with the spelling changed a little but, by most authorities means “My Home” or “Our Home.”

We also have Big Canoe and Little Canoe Creeks, which serves as the boundary line between us and our neighbors in St. Clair County. And, of course, we cannot leave out our top tourist attraction, Nocallula Falls, which originally was Black Creek Falls.

One of the earliest sites in which we can place individuals was when Andrew Jackson left the area of the Tennessee River and crossed Raccoon Mountain, following the old Creek Path Trail.

With his army, Jackson came to a spot at the foot of the mountain and camped for the night at a large spring near the present Cox Cemetery off U.S. Highway 431.

In Jackson’s journal is a notation that the next day he and his army crossed a creek into the Creek Nation to a place where a man by the name of Richard Ratliff lived. Ratliff was a white man with a Cherokee wife and three large sons. This was the first time that Jackson had entered the territory of the Creeks. He had come to put down an uprising against the white settlers in what was to become Alabama.

The crossing spot is located just south of U.S. Hwy. 431 at the second bridge which crosses Line Creek west of Attalla. Historians have stated that this was also the site of an ancient Indian village.

General Coffee lodged at Ratliff’s several times while he was surveying the line that was to become the boundary line between the Cherokee Nation and the land that had been ceded to the U. S. Government at the close of the Creek War.

Other travelers also spent the night at this location, where lodging was available for both man and his horse. Meals were also served, as well as spirited drink.

Ratliff was a Tory who had been run out of South Carolina during the Revolutionary War because of his strong stand against the Colonists. He was in favor of England and was to face the general that put him on the run some years later when he and members of his family were migrating to West Alabama.

The general recognized Ratliff, but Ratliff vehemently denied that he was the same man.

Since his home was south of the Cherokee Boundary Line, Ratliff’s land was among those that were sold by the government to Alabama’s new residents. According the records of the Huntsville Land Office, however, his property was purchased by John Ross, Jr. son of the Cherokee Chief and his brother-in-law, John Golden Ross, a northeastern white man. Ratliff and his family moved to Turkey Town, where they were living when the 1835 census of the Cherokees was taken.

The Ross family sold the property to Oren M. San-som and his wife Mary G. Sansom. Sansom was a brother of our own Emma Sansom, who was descended from the famous Vann family that included the Cherokee Chief James Vann at Spring Place in Georgia.

On Oct. 24, 1865, the Sansoms sold the property to John S. Moragne, an early resident of Gadsden, who kept it until 12 October of 1874, when he sold it to Silas Bransford Norton, who had moved here from Atlanta, Ga.

One can still see the site of the old burial ground, as well as the spot known as Jackson’s Ford where the general and his army entered the Creek Nation and the road that they used now known as Homestead Road where it intersects the present State Hwy. 77.

Jackson then arrived at the area we once knew as Rhea’s Lake, where he established Camp Wills on the banks of Big Wills Creek. This site was also the same area of the Bennettsville and Norton post offices.

Bennettsville was one of the early towns listed on first  maps of Etowah County. The community was named for Samuel Be-nnett, a former sheriff of Spartanburg County in South Carolina. He had a store at or near the site where Richard Ratliff had also ran a store and stage stop.

According to the United States postal department, the Bennettsville Post Office was located at the foot of the mountain on Highway 278, which was also the home place of Joel Chandler, one of Andrew Jackson’s soldiers.

Chandler was born in Virginia and later lived in Wilkes County in North Carolina and later still in Blount County, Tenn. Chandler had built the first brick house in this area, located on Canoe Creek at the foot of Chandler Mountain. The house burned a few years after it was built, and Chandler moved to the old Brown place at the site where Carnes Chapel Church and Cemetery are now located,

When Etowah County residents go to the polls to vote, many of them vote in precients named for some of the earliest families in our county:

Beat 2 was Phillips Beat,  located in Southside and named for Mark Phillips,  who married Nancy Sheffield and were from Moore County in North Carolina, There was also a post office known as Markton, Ala.

Beat 7 was Brock Beat, located on Lookout Mountain and named for Josiah Brock, who was from Buncombe County in North Ca-rolina. He was the father of Etowah County’s first circuit clerk, Harvey Marion Brock.

Beat 9 was Kenner Beat, named for the family of David Kenner from Lincoln County in North Carolina.

Beat 11 was Cox Beat, named for Thomas Gale Amis Cox, who lived at what we now know as Cox Gap and where Cox Post Office was once located.

Beat 12 was Chandler Beat, located on the mountain above Aurora and named for Elisha Reynolds Chandler, a son of Joel Chandler.

Beat 18 was Hopper Beat, located near Altoona and named for Lawson Ho-pper, who married Malinda Fields, a daughter of Goulder Fields, who was living here when the 1816 census of the Mississippi Territory was taken.

Beat 23 was Reese Beat, now Reece City and named for John Reese from Buncombe County in North Ca-rolina.

Beat 27 was Hollis Beat, located in the North Gadsden area.  John Hollis married the daughter of Isaac Green, a son of Isaac Green Sr., for whom Greenville, S.C., received its name.

Beat 28 was Gilbert Beat, now a part of Rainbow City and named for the old country gentlemen, Squire Tho-mas Gilbert, who lived in what is now Country Club Hills.

We also have the community of Littleton. named for Hiram Little, one of the largest land owner in the area.

Walnut Grove was given its name because there was a large grove of walnut trees and was simply known as The Grove. Some of the older citizens still call it The Grove today.

Gallant received its name when Tennessean John Gallant moved to the area and was appointed the its first postmaster.

Howelton was named for Howel McCleskey, an early merchant in that area and a member of the well-known McCleskey family  that had left the old Pendleton District in South Carolina in search for better land.

The early maps show Seaborn in Big Wills Valley. It was given this name when Seaborn Watson Guest was appointed postmaster and a post office was established at his store near the Duck Springs School.

The Tabor community on Lookout Mountain was named for John Tabor, who came here from Franklin County, Ga., along with a large delegation of the descendants of Robert Crump, Jr., who died in the 1850s. His large holdings were sold to settle his estate. Tabor married one of the Crump girls.

The Vagabond knows that there are many other names which has been seen and heard.

These interesting people have left a small mark on the pages of the history in our area.

Today, we are walking in their footprints. What kind of mark will you leave?

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