The Tale of Granny Dollar, Famous DeKalb Indian
(Read more at the DeKald Tourism website, http://www.tourdekalb.com/history%20-%20Granny%20Dollar.htm )
Granny Dollar sketch by Jackie Mattox
Because of my recent travels to Dekalb County, I will begin the haunted story telling with one of the area's most infamous ghost, "Granny Dollar". The tale of "Granny Dollar," one of the most colorful characters and rugged individualists who ever lived in the Fort Payne area, has long captured the imagination of those who have heard of this Cherokee Indian’s century of varied experiences. Assuming that all the information given by Granny Dollar in an interview in 1928 is factual, these absorbing tales of her strange life certainly bear repeating; indeed, the legend of such a rare person should never die.
According to an article which appeared in the January 28, 1928 issue of the Progressive Farmer, this friendly old woman, who lived on Lookout Mountain about nine miles from Fort Payne enjoyed reminiscing and talking to visitors. She was Nancy Callahan Dollar, affectionately called "Granny" or "Grandma," though her many experiences never included that of motherhood. She said she was 101 at the time of the interview, but she remembered the early days of childhood well.
Born on Sand Mountain in Buck’s Pocket eight miles east of Coffeetown, Nancy was the daughter of a Cherokee father named William Callahan and a half Cherokee Indian, half Irish mother.
Nancy Emmaline Callahan Dollar, who came to be known as “Granny Dollar,” is buried beside her husband in Little River Cemetery. On her tombstone are the dates “1826-1931.” She died January 29, 1931, but her birth date is uncertain.
There is no doubt that she was what is known as “a character.” Her mother, Mary Sexton, was Scottish, and her father was a tall full-blooded Cherokee Indian. William Callahan, two wives, and some twenty-six children lived in Buck’s Pocket, a five-miles-long gorge on Sand Mountain in DeKaIb, Jackson and Marshall counties.
When the Cherokees were forced into the long march westward called “The Trail of Tears,” the Callahan family hid in a cave in Buck’s Pocket. Later William Callahan was involved in a fracas with local residents, and fearing revenge, he moved his family to Marthasville, near Atlanta, Georgia.Nancy inherited her father’s stature, rugged features, and tremendous lung power. During the Civil War she drove a mule wagon on a regular route from Marthasville to country stores within thirty miles’ radius. This she continued for almost twenty years. During the Civil War her fiance, Tom Porter, was killed in battle, as was her father.
In her seventies, Granny married Norman Dollar and moved to the Mentone area. Twenty years later, her husband died. She managed to buy his tombstone by selling her cow. From this time until her death eight years later, the legends grew around Granny Dollar. She enjoyed embellishing the stories told about her and encouraged their telling. She told fortunes and managed to survive by growing chickens and vegetables and by the generosity of friends and neighbors.
Her last years were spent on Colonel Milford Howard’s property. The ruins of her cabin are almost hidden from DeKaIb County Highway 156 on the south side of the road a short distance east of DeSoto Parkway. The chimney still stands and vines have taken over the decaying ruins. Across the paved road a dirt road meanders up a hill to the former site of Colonel Howard’s Master School.
Colonel Howard is responsible for much of the legend surrounding Granny Dollar. In 1928 he wrote a feature story about her for The Birmingham News. He met Granny upon his return from a long stay in California. She had then settled into one of his cabins. Although his financial situation was precarious, Howard agreed to Granny’s desires, which included a bit of fat meat in her greens and biscuits, her “baccy” for her ever-present corncob pipe, and rations for her “Injun” chickens and mongrel dog Buster.
Preparing for her own demise, Granny had saved twenty-three dollars toward a tombstone, but the money was stolen from her. People in the community arranged for her burial, and Colonel Howard delivered the eulogy. Soon afterward Buster had to be put to sleep and he was buried in the yard near Granny Dollar’s cabin, with Colonel Howard again delivering the funeral oration.
The ghosts of an old mountain woman and her dog are sometimes seen walking through the woods around this rural waterfall or near the ruins of her old cabin. Some say Nancy Dollar's ghost was looking for thieves who stole the money she set aside for a proper tombstone. She was 108 years old when she died in January 1931. Friends put her old dog Buster to sleep and buried him too. However, thieves broke into the cabin and stole the money Granny had set aside for her funeral, so no tombstone was set over her grave. That did not set too well with Granny. Her ghost was seen in the area so many times that people took up a collection in 1973 and had a marker placed. That seemed to satisfy the old lady, but the phantom of Buster, her faithful dog, is still seen.
In 1973, largely through the efforts of Annie Young of Fort Payne, Granny’s tombstone was erected. The head of an Indian woman is inscribed at the top and “Daughter of the Cherokee” is written at the bottom.
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