“Idiots, Lunatics or Insane" and the Pony Boys--Part II of The 1832 Land Lottery: How We Went From Cherokee to Dade

December 16, 2019

Because the procedures used for the previous lotteries had worked so well, the state authorities didn’t make many significant changes in how the 1832 one was conducted. However, in a further effort to make this lottery as fair and open to as many different classes of people as possible, they did increase the number of categories through which people could qualify to draw for land in the new Cherokee County.


The full list is too extensive to include in full here, but some are interesting enough to mention as they really illustrate the state’s determination to make land ownership more available to its poorer and less fortunate citizens. As before, a bachelor, 18 years old or older, a citizen of the U.S. and at least a three-year resident of Georgia, got one draw--this was the baseline.


Families with two orphans under 18 who had lived in Georgia since birth also got one draw, but a family with three or more orphans in the same circumstances got two. A wounded or disabled veteran of the War of 1812 or the Indian Wars got two draws; a veteran of the Revolutionary War who had already been a fortunate drawer in a previous lottery still got one more draw. This factor kept a lot of people moving and hastened the settlement of the state as new land opened.


I have a South Georgia ancestor, a Revolutionary War veteran, who was a fortunate drawer in three lotteries. Each time he won new land; he moved to it and resettled there. He either sold the prior farmstead or gave it to one of his many children. This meant that some established folks who knew about farming and also had participated in establishing new government entities before would be on hand in the new lands to help get things set up and running.


A surprising new rule of this lottery was that a child or children of a convict who had lived in Georgia got a draw as did male or female “idiots, lunatics, or insane, deaf and dumb or blind,” over 10 years of age with a three-year residence in the state. It was very common to use such insensitive language to refer to afflicted people in the 1800s and even later--several censuses of that era ask for listings of people who are idiots, lunatics, etc., but the impressive thing is that they and their families were being given a chance at a new life through this lottery.


When you review the varied categories for drawing, it is hard to see how it could have been much more democratic, but it seems there were limits.


Any previous lottery winner (except for the Revolutionary War soldiers mentioned above) who had actually accepted and settled on the land they drew could not draw again. Also prohibited from drawing were any persons who had been proven to have mined gold or silver in the former Cherokee lands; this was illegal at the time, so the perpetrators, at least those who had been caught, were denied participation in the lottery. Lastly, any person who had been “squatting” in the Indian lands before the state takeover was prohibited from the lottery.


I haven’t been able to find a lot of info on this but I know from past reading that there were a number of whites living among the Cherokee before they were removed. Many had bought their land from the tribe, but apparently, many had not. The Cherokee never took them on, but the state did. After the lottery had taken place and the land officially awarded, it must have been a shock to a squatter when the new owner, the legal winner of the land in the lottery, came knocking on the door to claim his or her legal property.


Last but not least, anyone who had been convicted of a felony in Georgia was banned from the lottery. Apparently, one group of evildoers had caused so much trouble in the state that they were specifically named in the law as forbidden from participation. This was my first encounter with a group of criminals in early Georgia called the “Pony Club.” It never occurred to me that Georgia might have had a gang problem in the 1800’s, but we did and they were doing about the same things that their descendants do today.


The Pony Club was made up of several groups of organized criminals who began to work the backroads and prey on travelers long before even the Creek Indians left the state. As a matter of fact, many of them began to live among the Creeks to be out of reach of state law and became so entwined with the tribe through marriage to Creek women that, when the Creeks were removed, many of the original Pony Boys went with them. I imagine that was a great relief to the county fathers in the areas where they had lived and practiced.


The forte of the Pony Boys was stealing horses from travelers. There were thieves who stole travelers’ valuables, but then they had to find creative ways of getting money for them. There were others who stole slaves as they were marched from place to place by their owners, but this could be a problem because often the slaves didn’t want to go and put up a significant resistance.


So the Pony Boys settled on horses, which were much easier to steal, didn’t resist obeying a new rider and were very easy to sell. The gang members were apparently ruthless and all over the backroads out in the sticks, so they were a true headache to residents and law enforcement. Any who had been brought to trial and convicted were specifically excluded from the 1832 lottery. The lottery legislation refers to them as the “horde of thieves known as the Pony Club.”


It seems that some things change but human nature. - Not so much!


Next time: Fortunate drawers for Dade and Walker Counties - large-scale settlement begins.


--Joy Odom


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