The Story of Polly Binge
As Told by the Late Charlie Scott, Attorney / Published in Landmarks Bulletin, Volume 1, Number 27, Fall 2009Charles Johnson (“Charlie”) Scott was born in Tenbroeck in 1881. One of DeKalb County’s best known and most colorful attorneys, he practiced law for 60 years after graduating from Grant University (now University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) and being admitted to the bar in 1906. As a young man he taught school at Deerhead Cove. He was always interested in history, and left us a very important story of how Binge’s Creek got its name. We tell the tale here to share it with you and preserve it for history:
“In the summer of 1901, I taught a three months public school on Pea Ridge in this county. My home at the time was at Chavies. I had no means of transportation except on foot, and I don’t think I was back home during the entire three months. I roamed rather far and wide on weekends and came to know lots of people in that section of the county. I attended the popular “Sing Fests,” the denominational associations and protracted meetings. These things were not new to me for they were common to all of Sand Mountain. But I did meet new people. There was considerable drinking among those of my age (I was twenty years old that summer) and I did not drink and I think this fact caused me to associate and become more acquainted with the older class of people rather than those of my age. For instance, I met and became acquainted with Aunt Mary Ballard and Uncle Aaron, Jasper Jones and Aunt Becky, Polk Stone, Uncle Hughey Kerby (and that is the way he spelled it), Uncle Abner York, and his wife, Walker Biddle, John Biddle, Marion Biddle, Tobe Keith, Zilman Williams and George Stoner. I had a wonderful time for three months, and it seemed to me that those old people loved to talk to me and I must have been a pretty good listener. There was a raging ‘backwoods feud’ between the Stoners on one side and the Joneses on the other, and each side gave me a full history of the sins of the other. As is usual, they probably expected me to be a carrier for them and carry bones between the two factions, and one of them at one time said to me, ‘I want you to tell Jasper Jones so and so,’ and I said, ‘Listen, Uncle Fud, I am not carrying bones for either side of this silly feud and if you want Mr. Jones to know anything, don’t tell me, you tell him.’ I was not talked to so much more by that member.
“I did become interested in some of the history of Pea Ridge. And I listened by the hour to such as Aunt Mary Ballard and Uncle Polk Stoner and George Stoner tell of Pea Ridge during the Civil War and even before then, during the migration of the Cherokee Indians from Pea Ridge and Alabama generally. They said a fact, which I already knew, that any Indian that chose to do so could cloud-sign an oath of allegiance to the United States and remain. The act also provided that they were eligible to preempt any land not already preempted to the extent of a definite number of acres, probably 160.
“They carried me to a rather bold spring on the west end of the Ridge which they said was the source of Binge’s Creek, and they did not hesitate to tell me the full story of Polly Binge.
“There was a chief of the Cherokees who lived on the Ridge and whose tribe occupied a sprawling territory which included the Ridge. The chief had lost his wife and lived on the Ridge near this spring. Every time, or so it appeared to me, the story was told to me, the name of the chief was different and likewise the spring. I will not attempt to give the names of the chief, but he was a good man and got along with the few white neighbors who loved and respected him. He was worried no little about the forced migration he had heard about and as his age advanced he was concerned about his daughter, Polly, who was beautiful and very helpful to her father in his declining years.
“About two years before her father’s death, a trader of Irish lineage by the name of Binge stopped at the home of the sick chief, as all traders in the territory did, and it was not long until he and Polly engaged in a formal ceremonial marriage and he remained with Polly until after the removal of the Indians when it appears he merely “traveled on.” Polly married again more than once and reared quite a generation, many of whom, though somewhat removed, still lived in the county, among whom were the Stewarts — Sam and John, whom I knew. John Stewart was dead, but Uncle Sam was still living. I talked with several of those reputed to have descended from Polly and from some of them I got very valuable and reasonable information. Among them was a woman on Pea Ridge named Sizemore who said she remembered attending the funeral of Polly Binge; Mrs. Mary Robertson Stewart, the widow of John Stewart, who died in the early eighteen nineties, and I tried several times to talk to Uncle Sam Stewart, a brother of John, and many others whom Mrs. Sizemore said could trace their lineage to Polly Binge.
“About the close of the century, Bob Poe came from South Dakota and carried John Stewart’s oldest boy back with him. He put him in an Indian school with which he had some connection. The Stewart boy was a playmate of mine and a few years after he went north, and he and I learned to write, we corresponded and he told me about the schools he was attending. He also wrote about Mr. Poe having made application for him to enter an institution of learning in Oklahoma and that he was preparing to apply for a grant of land in Oklahoma based on his Indian origin. I talked to the boy’s mother about it and she said it was true. I don’t think I ever saw the Stewart boy again after Mr. Poe took him to the Dakotas, but sometime after 1910 Mr. Poe came to Fort Payne on a visit to relatives. I sought him out and we had a long and very interesting conversation about the Stewarts, their Cherokee blood, his own, and that of many others, including Uncle Bob Ashberry, W.S. Smart, the Burtons, and many others, all of whom were traced directly to Polly Binge. He said from all accounts, she was a woman of very strong and aggressive personality and ruled her domain like a real monarch. Yes, I tried to talk to Uncle Bob Ashberry about Polly Binge. I was at his home not long before his death. We just casually edged into a conversation which I hoped could steer into the Polly Binge story. This was after I had moved to Fort Payne. He told me of many people who carried the blood of the Cherokee and preferred to hide it. He said he was told of this by his mother who told him never to deny it. I thought I was on the road to the real story but Uncle Bob closed up on me. He said his grandmother had learned to write the Cherokee language under the teaching of Sequoyah. I asked him about the Polly Binge story and he said that he had heard it but that he could not remember that far back, but told me to talk to Uncle Hughie Kerby. I didn’t tell Uncle Bob, but I had already talked to Uncle Hughie. I had once attended Uncle Hughie’s water mill on Binge’s Creek and you didn’t meet Uncle Hughie without becoming acquainted with him. He first told me of the Stoner—Jones feud. He built, owned, and operated the first mill on Binge’s Creek. Later its waters turned two other mills before flowing into Town Creek some six miles southwest of its source, as the crow flies.
“I am recording these facts in the hope that those who may read them and who carry the blood of the Cherokee will understand my motive. I think the Cherokee Indian exhibited the highest courage, showed the most valor, and made the most progress under the most trying circumstances of any race of people in the history of man. The Cherokee was progressive and yielded readily to the ways of civilization, and made more progress in adopting ways, works, and machinery used by the white man. They had devised an alphabet by which they taught their language, both oral and written, and established schools in which they taught their young and old the art of writing the Cherokee language; they had a legislative body which also served in some respects the function of an appellate court. They learned to cultivate their lands in the form and fashion of the white man; they promulgated a constitution, a printed constitution and laws; and they established several newspapers and promulgated a system of mail delivery among their tribes; all of which they had absorbed from the white man in less than 100 years. They were great traders. The charge that they were removed because they refused to “civilize” has been proven false beyond all reasonable doubt. Probably the darkest page in our history is the one that records our treatment of this race. Whatever may happen in the future, we can never make amends for our treatment of the Cherokee.
“Polly Binge? Her story may be mixed with fiction — tradition has a way of mixing fact with fiction — but anyway you look at it, she was a strong character and whoever can trace his lineage to her should feel very proud of it. ”
By Charlie Scott
Notation at bottom: “Archibald H. Ashberry (probably father of Robert Green Ashberry, I doubt) was born 1824, died December 19, 1888, buried at Smith Chapel on Sand Mountain near Ider, Alabama. Nice marker at his grave. He bought 92 acres of land in November 1887 at a price of $92.50. He deeded it to his second wife, Netty, after he became ill in February 1888. Later, Netty married a Dr. Carrell from N.Y. They adopted a daughter, Minnie, who is living at this time (1970) and whose name is Adkins. After Archibald’s death, his wife Netty took over his postmaster job that he had had since 1877. He was the first postmaster at Ider, Alabama. She (Netty) kept the job until 1890. The adopted daughter, Minnie Adkins, is living near Ider and is only 75 years old now (1970) ” Born in 1890.
By Berthel (Tullis) Adams