Drinking in the Dog River
How did the river get its name?
I never know where I’m going with these columns until my deadline looms. I get a little frantic, and I finally sit down to write. This week I’ve been thinking about historical myths–those bits and pieces of historical lore that get mixed in with actual facts–and how the myths and true facts become muddled in the first place.
The muddling is easy for historians and educators to do. We seem to perpetuate the myths. Don’t get me wrong….I don’t think we intentionally do this. One reason has to do with new primary sources and how they are constantly being located and examined. The new information counters what we previously thought was fact. Another reason is the structure and content of classroom resources over the last two hundred years does not always set things straight for various reasons.
I don’t want this column to perpetuate myths. Therefore I’ve agonized over each word, sentence and fact wanting to make sure everything I share here regarding the history of Douglasville and the surrounding area is factual, however we don’t have many scholarly published resources. Mostly, what we have is a plethora of stories that must be waded through and measured very carefully against what we know regarding facts.
This week I want to discuss the Dog River–the source for our drinking water. For some people it’s hard to describe the Dog River as a river because it’s more of a creek in places. It begins south of Villa Rica in Carroll County and flows into the western side of Douglas County. Then it travels south and eastward till it spills into the Dog River Reservoir in the southern end of the county. Finally, the water flows into the Chattahoochee River.
However, don’t let the fact the Dog River is used for drinking, and a quick glance at the quiet lake fool you. RiverFacts.com advises, “[The seven mile stretch of the Dog River from Highway Five down to the reservoir] is according to American Whitewater a Class III+ section of whitewater. Many a Douglasville teen has gone to shoot the rapids along the Dog River on transfer truck sized tire tube in past Summers. However, it is important to remember they are classified dangerous by the experts. Many other Douglas County residents enjoy the 300-acre Dog Reservoir Lake for fishing and boating.
I became interested in the Dog River as I began reading about the various mills in Douglas County during the 1800s for my research regarding my article last week concerning an important millstone. I found it interesting to discover the original name for the river was not Dog River but Trout Creek, the name Native Americans in the area prior to the 1870s had given it.
Then I had to wonder how does a creek, a river, a river-creek change from Trout to Dog? There are a few stories and here is where the historical myth connection comes into play. Fannie Mae Davis’ history of Douglas County relates a few interpretations regarding the naming of the body of water. Apparently she asked around and was told different things. She advises an early settler in the county by the name of M.L. Dorsett claimed mad dogs roamed the banks of the river while having seizures. The dogs fell into the river and drowned. Later it became the spot to shoot mad dogs and dispose of them in the river. Did they have that many problems with wild dogs back then?
Another gentlemen quoted in Davis’ book by the name of Tom Sneed advises the Creek Indians actually gave the river its name in memory of a beloved chief named Haujo. His name translates to “dog” and he was the appointed warrior over Chattahoochee Town in 1799. Other sources indicate the word “haujo” translates to mean "mad" or "crazy." It must have been a popular title among Creek Indians because six different men from the Creek Nation signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814. Is this story possible? Yes, but I have yet to discover any hard evidence.
Ephraim Pray, one of Douglas County’s earliest settlers, bought up land along Trout Creek paying fifty cents an acre and using gold coins to make his purchase from the State of Georgia. Pray Street in Douglasville’s historic district is named for him as well as Pray's Mill Baptist Church. You can read more about Ephraim Pray here. Ephraim Pray is credited with saying the Dog River name had to do with dogs that were drowned after a tussle with a deer. While I don’t doubt occasionally dogs would have a major throw-down with deer, I can’t believe it happened often enough to change the name of a body of water. Again, I have found no verified story regarding this event.
Then, of course, this being the South we have the Civil War angle to the story. The story goes that during the Battle of New Hope Church near Dallas, Georgia a courier dog used by the Confederates was attempting to swim across the river. The Confederates were waiting on the other side of the river for the vital messages the dog carried within its collar when the dog was shot mid-river by a Yankee spy. It makes for a good story doesn’t it? Davis’ history advises more than likely it’s a myth by saying, “Stories of those dark days are part of the lore of every Southern child.” Could it be true? Maybe, but I have found nothing to verify the details and every account I’ve seen regarding troop movement through the Douglasville area indicates Sherman’s men were further southeast from the Dog River. There is documented evidence the Federals crossed the Chattahoochee close to where the Highway 92 bridge stands today. There were several skirmishes there between Sherman’s men and Confederates after the burning of the New Manchester Mill and the Campbell County Raiders who defended Campbellton just across the river. Could a Yankee spy have been sent up that way for intelligence reasons? Sure, but again there is no documented evidence.
So, it looks like for now we have no bona fide reason why Trout Creek became the Dog River, but questions like this spurs the historian on.
We may never find the answer, but the journey is just too enjoyable to pass up.