Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

AMERICA'S FIRST COWBOYS


The Cattlemen of Wheeler County

Long before the cries of "Head 'em up, Move 'em out" echoed across the plains of the southwest, cattle were raised along the coastal plain of the southeastern United States. While cattle had been in America for centuries, the first true cattlemen came to our country following the American Revolution. They were to Scotsmen and the Scotch-Irishmen who first settled in the Carolinas. The first generation of these cattlemen moved southward to the lower Oconee River Valley during the War of 1812. They were "America's First Cowboys" in a time when south Central Georgia was the southwestern United States. Today Wheeler County encompasses the extreme western portion of old Montgomery County which lies west of the Oconee River. Originally the lands were a part of Telfair and Laurens Counties until the formation of Emanuel County in 1812.

With first names like Angus, Archibald, Alexander, Duncan, and Malcom and last names like McMillan, McLeod, McRae, McQuaig, McArthur, Gillis, Peterson, Currie, and Clark, they came by the hundreds into Montgomery County, Georgia.

The Scots came looking good grazing lands, which they found in the regions of the Upper Wiregrass. Although the grass was not the best the Scots would persevere for many decades to come.

The Highland Scots continued to move into the area well into the 1830s.  Many of the families had made brief stays in Ireland before coming to this country.  Gaelic became a second language and was often used in church services. The Scots were known to be as honest and hard-working as they were obstinate and prejudiced. The were members of the Presbyterian faith. The central church was founded in 1851 just across the Oconee at Mt. Vernon. Some of the Scots converted to Methodism. They began meeting at Morrison's Hill, near Glenwood, in 1828.

Among the large farmers in mid 19th century Wheeler County were Archibald McMillan, Malcom Currie, Anqus McMillan, Duncan McCallum, Duncan Bohanon, William Haralson, George Browning, Gabriel McClement, Henry Wooten, James Chaney, and William Brantley. The 1850 Census recorded that the largest improved acreage farm was 200 acres. Larger tracts were used for grazing lands including those used by sheep. The '50 census indicates that 75% of the current day Wheeler County's slaves worked in the southern part of the county where the larger farms were located. No Scots were considered planters, because none had more than twenty slaves, the largest being the seven each owned by Roderick Gillis and Isabel McRae. When Georgia voted on secession from the Union in 1861, Montgomery County's citizens and representatives voted to remain in the Union, even after it was certain that Georgia would vote in favor of secession.

Among the more successful Scots who became public servants of early Wheeler County was John McRae. Judge McRae, son of a native Scotsman, served as a justice of the Inferior Court, State Senator - including the first three years of the Civil War -, State Representative, U.S. Marshall, a forty year term as chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, and as Postmaster of Alamo, which was created in 1889. The McRae family donated the land for the new town.

Christine McRae Brightto named the town for the immortal Catholic mission in Texas. She also named the streets for her seven daughters. Glenwood, which means a small valley in the woods, was established the same year on land given by Peter Galbraith.

Many Wheeler County communities carry Scottish names. John McCrae established a village of McVille along the western banks of the Little Ocmulgee River which separates Wheeler County from Telfair County. When the railroad company requested that the town change its name to avoid confusion with McRae, Scotland became the name of the community at the far southwestern edge of Wheeler County.

Other 19th century communities were McArthur, Bruce, and Little York.  Little York was established as Post Office on August 11, 1853. Duncan McRae was the first postmaster. He was followed by Alexander McMillan, Harlow Clark, Henry S. Clark, and John McRae. The post office was discontinued shortly after the end of the Civil War. The first two postmasters, McRae and McMillan, operated a general store in Little York. Through the generous donation by Mary Alice Brownson, the ledger books of the store are now available for inspection by historians and genealogists at the Dublin-Laurens Museum. These well preserved and invaluable books detail every purchase and payment during the mid 1850s.

Other business records in the museum include the McRae store at McVille. The books give the names of hundreds of individuals who lived in present day Wheeler County, northeastern Telfair County, and southern Laurens County.

The heritage of the Scots in Wheeler and Montgomery County still lives.  Many descendants of the original families still live in the lower Oconee River valley. Their heritage lives on in the names of their communities and churches.

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