The Legend of Granny Dollar

Have you heard of Granny Dollar? I had heard of her many times, but never knew the whole story; until today. A nice man named Don Hall from Geraldine, AL shared a Landmarks of DeKalb county booklet with me all about Granny Dollar.

She was a fascinating Cherokee woman born in Buck’s Pocket as Nancy Callahan in approximately the mid 1820’s. Her father, William Carnahan, was an adventurous full-blooded Cherokee. Little is known about her mother Mary Sexton Callahan, but that she was part Cherokee, and half Irish, Scot, or Scot-Irish.

As the oldest child in a very large Cherokee family Nancy Emmaline helped care for and mid-wife the babies born into the family, and tended her father’s whiskey still by the time she was ten. They ate wild turkey, deer, and fish, along with the vegetables they grew in their garden.

Nancy recalled her father fighting in what she called the “Florida War” which was actually the Second Seminole War that began in 1835.

Ironically, at the time that Callahan was fighting for the United States Government, his own Cherokee nation was facing immediate extinction. In that same year a small minority agreed to sell their Cherokee lands and the Treaty of Echota was signed. Although Chief John Ross, spokesman for the Cherokee Nation, proved that a majority of his people opposed the treaty, which had not been signed by a single major chief, was approved and enforced by President Andrew Jackson.

The Indians were ordered to leave voluntarily for the Oklahoma reservations, with threats being made of forced marches for stragglers. Two years later Gen. Winfield Scott ordered Capt. John Payne to build a log fort and stockade in northeast Alabama to hold all the Indians still in the area after they had been rounded up by the soldiers. Indians were tracked down on the mountains and throughout the valleys of this section of the former Cherokee Nation.

Whether or not Nancy Callahan personally witnessed any of the forced march to the  fort or on the beginning of the Trail of Tears is not clear. But one way or another, she learned about some of the hardships of the Indians, especially those about to give birth. She later related tales (confirmed by other accounts) of Indian women marching when one had to stop by the roadside to deliver. She would then be surrounded by a circle of Indian squaws, while a midwife entered the circle to provide aid. After the baby arrived, it was wrapped in a blanket and strapped to the mother’s back so she could fall in line and continue the march.

For a time the Indians rounded up in this area were herded into the local stockade, and some (perhaps the most defiant males) were placed in a dark round hole which had been dug beneath the one room log fort and were fed through a hatch. William Callahan was determined that he and his little tribe would never submit to such humiliation.

Her later-life memories placed Nancy’s age at this time at about thirteen or fourteen. The Callahans trekked through the mountain wilderness to the west side of Sand Mountain to an area near the Tennessee River at what is now Jackson County.

They were hidden in the black recesses of Saltpeter Cave, one of  many such caves in the rugged terrain of this region. The brave hunter did not venture out to bag game and the family was miles away from their productive corn and vegetable patches. To keep the frightened fugitives from starving, Nancy crept out at night to search for something for herself and her family to eat. The resolute young Indian maiden managed to capture, discover, or “borrow” enough food to keep her family alive.

Other families hiding in the sandstone caves fared less well. Many of the babies slowly starved and their scattered skulls throughout the cave bore evidence over a century later of this pathetic result of a particularly sad chapter of history.

After 1838 the government discontinued its search for the few remaining Cherokees who still evaded capture. The Callahans were free to leave their sandstone prison and to return, with much happiness and thankfulness, to their beloved Buck’s Pocket home.

William Callahan’s pride, stubbornness, and courage had helped his family avoid the forced march to a far-away territory. But his violent temper and natural combativeness were to yet cause them to flee the home of their most tranquil and happy days.

Nancy Callahan was married to Nelson Dollar for some twenty years and lived on Lookout Mountain. When he died in 1923, Granny sold her last cow to buy a tombstone for his grave.

Then, at approximately 100 years old, the homeless Indian who had lived through so much of American History, simply walked down a mountain road to look for a place to live. She settled into a cabin on the new Master School’s property owned by Col. Milford Howard. Fortunately for later generations, the Colonel would write often about Granny Dollar in his articles.

Remains of Granny Dollar’s cabin can be seen off County Road 89 through the trees. Granny Dollar is buried at Little River Baptist Church next to her husband.

Funds were raised by Mrs. Annie Young to put up a tombstone matching her husbands and it reads:

Nancy Callahan ‘Granny’ Dollar 1826-1931

“Daughter of the Cherokee”

“She was admired for her individuality, her determination, and her unwavering courage.”



Thanks to everyone at Landmarks of DeKalb County and all the contributors for passing down this piece of our history.

Special thanks to Don Hall for sharing the complete story with me.


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