Mar 24

Chief Vann Remains Exhumed

“Chief Vann Remains Exhumed” an article by RIP Whitfield appearing in the Forsyth County News, Cumming, Georgia, 13 September 1962.

The remains of Cherokee Indian Chief James Vann, builder of the now famous Vann House at Spring Place, were exhumed Saturday from his grave in Forsyth County and brought to Dalton in a modern day mystery greater than the one which surrounded his death. In 1809, when he was slain by an unknown assassin.

Dalton archaeologist Wayne Yeager has confirmed that he removed the skeleton of Chief Vann from his grave near Ball Ground and brought the remains to a local funeral home, which he declined to name. Dalton funeral home directors have denied that the body is here.

Mr. Yeager stated that his excavation of the grave was at the direction of J. Raymond Vann, a direct descendant of James Vann, who resides at Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Mr. Vann has returned to his New York home and was unavailable for comment, but Mr. Yeager quoted Vann as saying that h hoped his ancestor could be carried to a final resting place near the Vann House he loved.

The local archaeologist said it took seven hours Saturday, to exhume the remains from the old Blackburn family cemetery on the Etowah River between Ball Ground and Cumming. Mr. Yeager said the skeleton is in good condition considering that it has been 153 years since Chief Vann’s death.

Yeager said the bones have been sealed in a container and are being held in mystery to keep curious onlookers from tempting to disturb the remains.

Mr. Yeager said he is positive that he was the right skeleton because of several factors. Number one is that local residents pinpointed the grave from tradition although is was not marked.

Number two, the upper right arm bone had been fractured as if by a bullet. Mr. Yeager said Chief Vann fought a political duel from horseback with his brother-in-law, John Falling, shortly before his death and accounts of the duel say that Falling was killed and Chief Vann was hit in the right arm by a bullet.

Number three, Mr. Yeager has compared the shirt buttons found in the grave with the buttons of a shirt of the same era and found them to be the same. The shirt used for comparison belonged to Tarleton Lewis, great grandfather of Mrs. B.J. Bandy, three times removed.

Mr. Yeager said the grave was located on property owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Sherrill and that Mr. Sherrill’s 94 year old aunt, stated that she could remember when the grave was marked with a wooden slab.

Aunt Mattie Heard said the slab was inscribed and the inscription read, “Here lies the body of James Vann. He killed many a white man. At last by a rifle ball he feel and the Devil dragged his soul to Hell.” However, the grave has long been unmarked.

In fact, after the Georgia Historical Commission established the location of the grave, Mr. Sherrill piled brush over it and refused to tell curous historians where it was located in fear that they might dig into the grave.

However, Mr. Sherrill did show the grave to Raymond Vann and Mr. Vann served an order from Forsyth County Ordinary, A.B. Tollison to exhume his ancestor. Mr. Tollison acted as an official witness during the excavation.

Found in the grave were seven glass buttons, approximately 50 nails from the coffin and a belt buckle. Mr. Yeager said the bottom of the grave was in the exact shape of the old time wooden coffins.

Mr. Yeager said two gold rings were discovered on the hands of the skeleton and these rings are now being cleaned by Jack Zbar, another Dalton archaeologist and chemist. The rings appear to be inscribed, but the cleaning process has not been finished. Mr. Zbar also participated in the excavation.

Yeager said examination of the skeleton revealed that Chief Vann was approximately 5 feet and 8 inches in height and a rather large man. Yeager said Chief Vann’s arms were crossed each hand clasping the other arm.

Raymond Vann said that if Chief Vann is not buried on the Vann House property that he intends to carry the body to Oklahoma for burial with the other chiefs of the Cherokee Tribe.

Raymond was quoted by Mr. Yeager as expressing hope that the body would be buried near the Vann House, but the decision is up to the Georgia Historical Commission. The remains will stay at the local funeral home until a decision is reached.

Mrs. Bandy, a noted Cherokee historian and Dalton philanthropist, stated that she is very pleased with Mr. Yeager’s work and hoped that the Historical Commission will accept the remains for proper burial on the grounds of the Vann House.

Recently 12 descendants of Chief Vann signed a petition asking the Historical Commission to exhume the body and return it to Spring Place, but the Commission refused, apparently in fear that some other descendants would disagree with the maneuver and sue the commission.

According to history, Chief Vann was shot by an unknown relative of John Falling who Vann had killed in a duel. This was the custom in those days.

Chief Vann was reportedly killed at his tavern near Ball Ground and subsequently buried in the Blackburn family cemetery. Chief Vann had two taverns, one at Gainesville and the other at Ball Ground. Vann was 41 years old at the time of his death.

Mrs. Bandy, Mr. Yeager, Mr. Zbar, Mr. Vann and Jon Wear of Fairmont, another archaeologist, who participated in the excavation said they wished to express appreciation to Mr. and Mrs. Sherrill and Gene Mauldin for their cooperation in the project.

**(Taken from the Dalton News)**

Ordinary, Ben Tollison, Mrs. Marcus Mashburn, Jr., Miss Martha Mashburn, and Mr. Clifford Ruddell of Forsyth County were present when the bones were exhumed. Mr. Ruddell participated many long hours in the actual digging of the grave.

Dr. A.Y. Howell, who later viewed the skeleton, noted the teeth undoubtedly were of Indian origin because of the unusual size.

Ordinary Ben Tollison stated that Mrs. Bandy had informed him by phone that the rings definitely did have the inscription of a “V” on them.

Transcription by Linda Woodward Geiger from a copy of the newspaper article provided by Ted O. Brooke.

Copyright. Linda Woodward Geiger. All rights reserved.



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  1. Herman McDaniel

    Somebody ought to find the follow-up news articles that reported that the group concluded that this was NOT the body that Mrs. Bandy had hoped for. It was never buried at the Vann House but reportedly was returned to the place where it had been exhumed.

    1. noneuno

      I believe there probably was really only one, maybe two people who knew the exact location at that time(the 60’s). I wonder if the Sherill’s knew the true location. In the early 80’s before the death of an elderly member of a several generation neighboring family, I was shown the location. Also during this period, I was shown what appeared to be a solid gold (or very close to it) ring with J V inscribed on the inside of it, as well as one other item that would obviously be missing if the real grave were exhumed today.
      Apparently the original and possibly only marker was made of wood and had rotted away in the 1800’s.
      This was witnessed by and passed down word of mouth by a matriarchal figure in his family. I do not recall any mention of a wooden slab, but I think a wooden marker, possibly a cross with a simple inscription. He may have told me that there may have been a replacement marker after that but I don’t remember. If I remember right, the grave was on the back row and the head faced toward the river. I do know that it was not one of the graves closest to the dirt road. It was a small cemetery and there were several depressions that were unmarked graves. There were also some marked graves and some had slabs.I also believe that there were some graves marked only by small field stones which I thought or was told were foot stones.
      At another time, I was also taken across the road to the barn, and was shown where some headstones from the cemetery were being used as foundations for the barn.
      That is all I can add concerning the grave and the cemetery.

      In unrelated comments, I was also shown how the river there was in the shape of a flying eagle and told how that fit into Cherokee history. I was also taken to a large boulder that had carvings on it. I happened to have a camera with me that day and took photos of it. It was pointed out that the carvings were of the river and it was carved in the shape of the flying eagle.
      There were also other markings that were pointed out to me.
      There are other rocks in the area with carvings on them. I also learned that UGA took a rock from the area and has it displayed on campus. What I thought was interesting, is that the rock is supposedly a treasure rock. However, when they took the rock, it was not taken from it’s original spot. It had been moved years ago.

      On an unrelated note, I was also taken to another cemetery. Here I was shown the graves of Jacob Scudder and his wife. It is my understanding that the grave stone has since been stolen so his grave is probably now unmarked.
      I was also taken to his homesite and also shown his well. I was also shown several interesting things up and down the river and creeks that were his after the Indian removal. One time I was asked If I wanted to see

  2. Julia Autry

    Yes, ask Jeff Stancil for the follow-ups. One archaeologist who examined the bones said they were “disturbingly fresh.” All claims that this was the burial site of James Vann were pretty well disputed…including the so called epitaph….not long after this article was published. There was also a lengthy commentary written by a Mr. Townsend that was published around this time with wild stories about James and I think maybe the “epitaph” story may have been fabricated by him. If memory serves he was writing in opposition of a Georgia Historic marker chronicling Vann’s life. Miss you all!

    1. admin

      LLesson Learned! When I first transcribed the article, “Chief Vann Remains Exhumed” an article by RIP Whitfield appearing in the Forsyth County News, Cumming, Georgia, 13 September 1962,” in my post on March 24th, 2011, it was my intent to quickly follow up with an explanation that the exhumed body was not that of Chief James Vann. A search for specific newspaper articles regarding the error were not located and I got too busy to follow through and I hope my readers will accept my apologies.

      My comments are extended in a post I made today that is called, “Lesson Learned!”

  3. Chris Mason

    They need to put him at the home where he belongs.they have no reason
    to mess with native burial grounds he is my third great grandfather I do also
    have the say his daughter is my great great grandmother Eliza quebi vann.
    My great great grandfather is bird tail doublehead cheif doublehead.
    built the house for him

    1. admin

      Testing indicated that the grave that was exhumed was not that of James Vann.

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