Monday, December 30, 2013

The Willawaw

By Hugh Singleton

In the valley of the Chattahoochee the consistently muddy river flows at a rapid pace between the tree-lined banks of plantations established in the days when the red man occupied most of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. Andrew Jackson had yet to bring his army to Horseshoe Bend and determined white men often had to defend themselves from hungry red scavengers who regularly raided along the river in Georgia, then escaped into Alabama with livestock from the Georgia farms, often leaving dead and wounded farmers in their wake. Owners constantly searched for different ways to intimidate the fierce warriors. This was said to be when the Willawaw came into existence, although nothing of a factual nature was ever found to substantiate the rumors.
     Captain Winston Burnett, owner of the four thousand acre Burnett Plantation, was credited by his slaves with releasing the Willawaw on the banks of the Chattahoochee in response to a raid which resulted in the loss of almost fifty prime beef cattle. Captain Burnett never claimed credit for the Willawaw, nor did he ever admit having anything to do with the massacre of a thirty-eight member raiding party found two days later lying dead and mutilated less than a day’s distance into Alabama. When the Captain and his party of armed slaves left that scene of horror to search for his cattle, the slaves spread their wide-eyed tales that a Willawaw was loose and roaming the banks of the Chattahoochee.
     Superstition was rampant in the lives of slaves as well as among the redskin tribes. While no two people could describe a Willawaw nor agree on its habits, blacks and Indians agreed that it was a ghostly phantom, never seen and it was inescapable; a vaporous monster given to ripping apart the bodies of anyone or anything that crossed its path. Some seventy-eight red bodies were found torn apart and scattered along the river banks between Irwinton, later known as Eufaula, and Fort Gaines, a small stockade with just eighteen permanent troops. It was rumored that Indian raids in that stretch of the river ceased entirely until Captain Winston Burnett was killed in a duel and ownership of Burnett Plantation passed to his oldest son, Marcus. During the Indian wars that brought Andrew Jackson’s army south into Georgia, Florida, and finally to        Horseshoe Bend in Alabama, Indian raids increased and slaves who fled their plantation homes to live with the Indians spread tales that the dreaded Willawaw had left the Chattahoochee. Indian warriors claimed that fear had driven the monster away; that the redman’s magic was too great for it.
     Through the years that led to civil war and freedom for the slaves the Willawaw seemed to have disappeared. Then in 1999 a gruesome murder occurred at Shaw’s Landing. Miss Angie Criddle, a life-long resident of Clay County was fishing in the river, something she loved to do on Saturday afternoons. She was brutally attacked and left for dead by a river tramp, who then proceeded to take the radio, the spare tire, tools, blankets and a flashlight from the vintage auto that Miss Criddle had driven for thirty years. As the tramp was loading his spoils into his bateau, Miss Criddle regained consciousness but remained quiet despite her throbbing head and watched the thief furtively.
     “He was just starting to push his boat into the water,” she told Sheriff Watson later, “when something hit him so hard he went head over heels into the river. Then it looked as if he was yanked back out of the water and thrown into the thicket around that big pine tree. I couldn’t see into the thicket, but there was a great deal of thrashing about before everything got real quiet. That’s when I ran to my car and called 911 from the cell phone I keep under my seat.”
     Deputy Palin drove Miss Criddle to the hospital in Eufaula while the sheriff and two deputies combed the area where she was attacked. They found no tracks except those of Miss Criddle and the thief. His dismembered body was strewn where Miss Criddle had pointed out and blood was splattered everywhere. The sheriff was never able to identify the dead man nor trace the old bateau. Miss Criddle appeared on several television news programs and also described her encounter to various civic groups. Sheriff Watson never mentioned the red eyes that had watched him from the thick woods along the Chattahoochee.

copyright 2014, Hugh Singleton

Hugh Singleton was born 1931 in Cuthbert, a small agricultural town in southwest central Georgia.  The Singletons date back to the pre-civil war days, with older roots  paternal roots go back to England; maternal to Ireland.  Hugh’s higher education consists of business school training in accounting and administration.  He served four years in the U.S. Navy, 1951-1955.  Hugh  enjoyed a career with the NCR Corporation and retired at the end of 1993.  Hugh and his wife  live in a retirement community near Leesburg, FL where they enjoy a number of activities.

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