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"Bony Tank"

From The Atlanta Journal and Constitution July 31, 1960

6CHARLES AND NAPOLEON BONAPARTE TANKERSLEY of Nuckollsville, Ga., was a man with a claim to fame not easily forgotten. It was not the double-jointed name with “And” in it.  He was the first wounded Georgian brought back to the hospital in Atlanta after the start of the Civil War.  That day this town went wild.

Atlanta gave him a hero’s welcome few have received since, bigger even than the celebration for President Cleveland at the Exposition, according to old-timers.

Bony Tank, as Charles And Napoleon was called for short, was a mountaineer who spent his life mining for gold around Auraria. He never learned to read and write – his pension applications on file at the Lumpkin County courthouse are signed with an X- but when he died in 1908 the New York World printed an editorial about him headed “The Man Who Was Never Whipped.”  It wound up saying, “Peace to his unconquered ashes”.

Bony was a scrapper and fighter all his life.

“They say there’s not a rock in this town he hasn't throwed at somebody,” says his only living4 daughter, Belle, who is Mrs. J. Augustus Lemley of Auraria.  She still calls the town Nuckollsville, as many of the old families do.  The name wasn't changed until 1832.

“He was a brave man and a wonderful father. Folks let him alone because they knew to let him alone.  One day a feller came to Nuckollsville and told my daddy he was looking for the bully of the town.

“Who is he?” my daddy asked.
“ Bony Tank,” the feller said.  I guess I can find him”
“I reckon you can,” he said and the man found him pretty quick after he said that he was going to whip Bony. Daddy hit him with his stick and knocked him down and the man left town quick as he was able to get back on his horse.

”Bony walked with a stick and a limp, the result of a Yankee bullet fired at the first Battle of Manassas. Someone filling out the 1905 application for his annual pension of $50 gave this reason for his invalidism: ‘Received a gunshot wound in the right thigh disabling the same.”

“When he got to the Atlanta hospital he said they liked to have killed him with kindness”, continued Mrs. Lemley, propping up one elbow.  She is 75 now and bedridden most of the time with a bad heart and bronchitis.  “After he recovered, he joined the cavalry and got wounded again in the same leg.”

Her husband of 57 years, stretched out to rest on a couch near by, said, “His horse was shot out from under him in Virginia.”

“Daddy’d tell war tales that’d scare me so I couldn’t sleep when I was a child”, Mrs. Lemley went on.  “Once he said dead Yankees were falling all around him thick and fast when he raised up and saw one above him in a tree.  He yelled “Look at that dam…” and brought him down before he could finish the word.

”Bony was a young man working in Atlanta when the War broke out, and it was here he enlisted.  One of his granddaughters says he was an Atlanta policeman and she doesn’t know how he happened to be on the force unless some gold buyer had met him and liked his scrappy manner and recommended him. Mrs. Lemley thinks he may have worked here in a rolling mill, at a defense-type job which could have kept him out of the army if he’d been less of a fighting man.

Stories about Bony’s fights are nearly as plentiful as rocks in Auraria.

“When Bony saw an old man run over a young boy, he took up for him,” said Mr. Lemley.  “But he wouldn’t let young ones run over an old man, either.

“He never got into trouble more’n little scraps.  Everybody liked him.  He used to go to town and say what he wanted to and get arrested and people would fight over who’d pay him out.”

“If he did have a lawsuit,” said his daughter, “He’d get out of it. He’d get anybody else out of one, too, And in politics, the feller he was fer got elected.”

5BONY'S OLDEST granddaughter is Emma Tankersley, new Mrs. J. E. Gaddis, of the Wahoo District of Lumpkin County.  She’s 66 and remembers a lot of stories her grandfather told.

She says once a man in Dahlonega was bragging he could whip anybody anywhere, but folks told him he couldn’t whip Bony Tank.  He set out to look for him.  When he got to the house, Bony was feeling puny and said, “Can’t we wait a day or so till I feel better?”  But the man wanted to settle it then and there, so Bony got up and settled it. The man bragged no more.

Fearless Bony didn’t always win. Mrs. Gaddis says once he was sitting on the porch of a combination saloon-country store when a drummer came in.  Bony followed the salesman into the store, as was the Auraria custom, to be “treated” with a glass of whisky, But the drummer was no treater and said “Where I come from you buy your whisky and I buy mine.”  Bony bristled and started to make a pass but the drummer struck first and gave him a lick that threw him into the meal barrel. As Bony went out, a man asked him where he’d been.  “To the mill, he answered, and the man said, “Yeah, and it looks like you got a good grinding.”

2Fred Weaver, an old-time miner whose son is now a guide at Dahlonega’s Gold Museum. Says treating was an established ritual in Auraria, a mad, wild west sort of town where America’s first gold rush took place.  Mr. Weaver learned to pan at 5, went into the mines at 8 and kept mining till he was 72.  He says the banks, barrooms, hotels, stores and houses of Auraria once stretched both sides of the road for a mile.

“Now it’s just a skeleton and barely that,” he said.  “It was pretty tough, too, but not so bad as the reports.  Maybe it got rough on Election Day. There was a pack of whisky there then. What they’d do was knock the head out of the barrel and put a dipper in it and tell all around to drink what they wanted. The majority drank.”

“I can remember when there used to be trouble if a stranger didn’t treat.  Once a fellow came up wearing what I call a churn hat that stood up high on his head.  He got done trading at the store and as he walked out a man sitting on the porch said, “Hey, fellow, you know our rules here?  It’s just treat or run one.”  The man didn’t treat and just as he stepped in the stirrup the fellow on the porch whipped out his pistol and fired.  He didn’t kill him – he just wanted to injure that fine hat.

“There was a bully in town named Arpin who sold goods at the store. A drummer went to him to get his orders and after he got them, Arpin said, “Stranger, did you ever dance any?”
“’I never was much to dance,’ the drummer said.
“’But you can try, can’t you?  Let’s see,” and he reached down for his pistol.
“Wait,’ the drummer said, I’ve got my dancing shoes in my pack. Let me get them and I’ll show you where dancing came from.’  He came up with two .38s and kept that old bully dancing for two hours. It broke his habit of asking folks to dance.

“I never heard of Bony pulling a stunt like that bully with the pistol. He’d just got started like the wind and kept spreading”

1MRS. GADDIS says Bony was known far and wide because he sold gold mines to Northerners who came to Auraria hoping to get rich. He would grab his pan, take them out to see a rich lead and they would buy.  One of these men told him, “With what you know about gold and where to find it we could be independent after a year in Africa.  I want you to go to Africa with me.”  Bony said all right, and so they went as far as the coast.

Bony took one look at the ocean and said’ “’That little pond is up, I’m nota-going’.” And he didn’t, independence or no independence.

As they say in the gold country, Bony’s mining enterprises didn’t always “pan out.”

“Bony opened up a lot of mines and sold them,” said Mr. Weaver. “He sold the Kingsberry Mine once and I was hired as the miller.  We ran it three weeks and got just three pennyweight of gold.  It ain’t worth $10 an acre as a gold mine.

“But these mines aren’t through, and you’re going to see some of them open up again one day. The Liberty Bell’s a good mine and at the Battle Branch I once saw my daddy and a Negro named Annison Sprigs take out 1,700 pennyweight of gold in a couple of hours.

“THE RICH pockets are gone now. At least, they’re farther apart and the ground’s harder. A man couldn’t go in and get rich in a day. But those mines never have been worked out.  I’d love to see all of Auraria built back. And it will be someday, you just wait.”

3Auraria won’t become a boom town this summer, but after 125 years it has literally been put on the map. The road through town, one that became impassable after a rain, has just been paved. It’s Highway 9-E, which cuts off S. R. 19 above Cumming and is a new and better route to Dahlonega and the mountains. The highway runs right through the middle of town but it’s almost a ghost town and you have to look sharp to see it. All that’s left is a couple of country stores, a few unpainted houses and the remnant of a hotel which is rented as a residence and wouldn't’t attract a guest even if it were open for business. There’s not much you can do there but stop for a cold drink or pan for gold at $1 a day with Bill Trammel or talk to old miners - almost everybody there has been one.

Auraria is a town with more dead citizens than live ones. The Baptist cemetery, which is considerably larger than the Methodist one, has around 1,700 graves and is something you shouldn't miss if you can get a guide like Mrs. Trammel.

One of the most famous graves is that of Mary Odum, marked only with a rusting gold pan which is the monument she wanted. Mrs. Trammel says Mary and her sister, Caroline, who lies beside her both were miners. They wore lone skirts and carried their gold hidden in black stockings pinned inside the waistbands. The gold was so heavy it sometimes wore a hole in the stockings and the children used to follow the old woman around town hoping they'd leave a trail on nuggets.

After a good strike, the gold gave the lady miners a slight tilt, as if they had arthritic backs. Once a revenuer met one of the hunched-over sisters in the woods and felt so sorry for her he passed around the hat not knowing it was just the weight of gold that made her bend.

"There's the grave of an old man who worked in the gold fields all of his life and died a pauper and then was buried with his feet on a pot of gold," said Mrs. Trammel, whose eyes sparkle like color in a gold pan.  "When they were digging his grave, they struck a vein a foot from where they put his feet. One of the grave diggers packed his vest pockets with gold-bearing rocks and the men would have worked the vein, but it was late in the afternoon and in those days they didn't embalm."

BONY TANK is buried in the Baptist cemetery, too, with his name wrong on the marble shaft above his7 grave. It calls him N. C. Tankersley, but he's listed as "C. N. Tank" on the Confederate soldiers'  roster and he was Charles And Napoleon, according to his daughter Belle, who named one of her sons for him.

"My Charles And Napoleon is a twin," she said. "I told my daddy I was going to name one baby for him and one Gordon Elias for my husband's father, and I asked which one he wanted. He told me he'd take the biggest one. The boys are in their 50s now and Gordon Elias is bigger and fatter than Charley."

"You Can't always stay fat," said Charles And Napoleon Lemley, a chicken farmer in Auraria. "I've got the sugar diabetes, and changing from broilers to laying hens won't help you put on weight either.   I've got 4,400 hens and you have to stay with them more than broilers.

"I don't take after my granddaddy at all. If I get in a fight I have to run. I never won one yet."

Bony Tank may have been born with his fighting blood. Mrs. Gaddis, that granddaughter, says his mother was full-blooded Cherokee. When the Indians were being removed to the Oklahoma Territory, the mother and her two baby sons were hidden in a cave until they were safe from the removal troops. The brother was named Tip Tank.

Tip Married in Georgia an as a young man took his wife to the Territory to claim his lands. According to the story, he died an oil millionaire.

Bony might have got rich, too, but for some clerk's error. Tip told the authorities he had one brother and no sisters, but the man recording it wrote instead "one sister and no brothers." When Bony's family got around to filling a claim, Bony didn't exist according to the record.

Bony died on April 23, 1908. The Dahlonega Nugget, surely one of the frankest newspapers ever printed anywhere, included this statement in his obituary: "He never joined any church, but professed religion while sick."

Mrs. J. D. Anthony of Hall County says that six months before Bony died he sent for Joe Bell, pastor of the Antioch Baptist Church and the father-in-law of his son Andy.

"Preacher Bell stayed 10 days praying and converting him," Mrs. Anthony said, "Finally Bony saw the light and then prayed for strength to go to a creek or river and be baptized. But his prayer was never answered. Bony's wife, Eliza Lowe, was a Methodist and she tried to get him to consent to be sprinkled but he wouldn't, So he died unbaptized but saved."

Today Bony Tank - Charles And Napoleon Bonaparte Tankersley of Nuckollsville - remains an unforgotten man in an almost forgotten town.