This weekend over 200,000 people will descend upon the little town of Dahlonega for the annual Gold Rush Days. Out of that number only a few will be from Dahlonega.
We have been taken over by furriners.
Growing up, there were two types of people in the community: the been-heres and the come-heres. When the come-heres outnumber the been-heres there's bound to be trouble.
The come-heres have outnumbered the rest of us for a while now.
When I was young, Gold Rush was a festival to honor the town's heritage: Site of the First Major U.S. Gold Rush, as the sign at the edge of town reads. My great-aunt Ethel Adams was once Gold Rush Queen, when she was over ninety years old.
If it hadn't been for Gold Rush back then, the only way anyone would know about Dahlonega gold would come from history books. Or locals.
I come from a long line of gold miners and moonshiners. My Grandaddy mined gold when my Mama was young. She tells of how, when the family needed money in an emergency, Grandaddy would get his pan and head out south of town toward the old Barlow mine, where he would work the water and dirt until he had the gold he needed.
The Hillbilly Corn Maze is located there now. Right behind the Full-Time Yard Sale site. The Barlow Mine is at best, hidden, but at worst, invisible.
I live in the Auraria community in Lumpkin County. Not too far from where Grandaddy mined gold, and the authentic Site of the First Major U.S. Gold Rush. Regardless of what signs say.
You can throw a rock from my back porch and hit the ground where my Cherokee ancestors walked on the Georgia part of the Trail of Tears. There's an historical marker up the road that tells about Union General Winifield Scott having a Station there to help them get the hell out of the mountains. The site is on Auraria Road, known in those days as Gold Digger's Road, part of a system that winds all the way up into North Carolina.
I pass by the Auraria Church of the Almighty God every morning on the way to work. It's just down the hill from the Auraria Cemetary, final resting place for everyone from gold miners to slaves.
Across the road is the Auraria Community Center, located on the site of the entrance to many of the mines operated back in the 1830's when Auraria, not Licklog (Dahlonega), was THE town. Only the fight for locating the courthouse prevented Auraria from becoming the county seat.
It was too mean a town for that distinction, anyway.
When the gold started running out, most of the miners, thinking their fortune was still in the ground elsewhere, decided to pack up and head West, to Colorado, where they had heard gold was plentiful. Their women had a meeting at the Antioch Baptist Church (also on Auraria Road) to decide what they could do to make their men stay put.
While they were meeting, their men packed all their respective belongings in their respective wagons. Then they burned all the houses down while the women were at church.
I go down the road those houses were on every day. It's called Burnt Stand Road.
The real Gold Rush story isn't in Dahlonega, where the come-heres, along with their Chinese-made "local" arts and crafts, will circle the Square this weekend, peddling their goods to the thousands of tourists who will believe for a time (if it even crosses their mind) that they are walking where history was made. Gone from that Square are Kenimer's Grocery, Fred Jones Chevrolet, Pete Sisk's Rexall, Dahlonega Ford. In their place has come every kind of Yankee tourist trap you can imagine.
I'm not bitter. Dahlonega is a nice place. I just wouldn't want to live there.
Auraria Gold Days is also this weekend, where the place called Nuckollsvile, or "Knuckles-ville", once stood, a rough-and-tumble community of outcasts and fortune-seekers who followed a dream before moving to Colorado, where they established a new town and named it Auraria, for the place they first found gold.
By the way, you won't find Auraria, Colorado, on the map today either. They changed the name of the town, honoring a come-here land baron who owned the land on the other side of the creek from where the miners worked.
Oh, the name of the town?