I questioned not only Gaines about stories about both Cora, and her husband, Buck, and also I asked his mother Ruth and Oxford resident Junior Davis. Both were involved in the recovery of Cora’s body from the mountain. From talking to these new sources, I found out about others were who were involved. They included several men from Dryden Funeral Home, Sheriff Owens from Cleburne County, and Ida, Shannon and David McCombs.
“I don’t remember who called me about Cora Johnson dying, but I had an old jeep at the time,” Gaines said. “The CC Road was very rough, and a four-wheel drive vehicle was needed to get through the mud holes. We all met at the Dry Creek Bridge on the CC Road. A hearse was left at the bridge and everyone climbed into a pickup truck and my jeep. Junior and I had to pull the pickup truck through a deep mud hole with the jeep using a long chain.”
Mrs. Gaines remembered some things about the retrieval, too.
“I wanted to see where Cora had lived so I went that Tuesday afternoon,” said Mrs. Gaines. “We got off the mountain before dark.”
“Buck told us that Cora had been sick for two weeks and that he had checked on her every day,” Davis said. “They lived separately. Buck had a cabin just two to three-hundred yards from his wife’s cabin. Buck had found Cora dead on a Tuesday morning. He had called out to some turkey hunters in the area, and they had gone to Chitwood’s store to notify the authorities.
Living inside Cora’s shack with her was a calf, a wild rabbit and other animals. We let the rabbit go into the woods before we left. There was a rock ring fireplace in Cora’s shack that had some type of corrugated pipe above it to vent the smoke out. There were hickory nut shells and muscadine grape hulls littering the floor.”
“After Cora died, Buck moved out of the mountains to live with relatives near Oxford,” said Mrs. Gaines. “He died not long after that.”
This past October, I accompanied Gaines, Wayne and Collett to Cora Johnson’s old home site. It had been nearly 50 years since Gaines had been there but he recognized the place without too much difficulty. All that remains is a short rock chimney and a few scattered, rusty tin cans. Trees have reclaimed the area. We searched for evidence of Buck’s cabin but couldn’t find any. We plan to return to the area before things green-out in the spring. Maybe we can find that site as well. We did find several rock-lined terrace rows where small gardens had once been planted, and fallen fence posts with rusty barbed wire still attached. Gaines told me he is amazed that there is still interest in Cora Johnson after all these years. She is truly a legend in the Oxford area.
According to the April 4, 1963 article that ran in the Anniston Star following her death, Cora Johnson had once made the statement, “I’m a-gonna stay in them mountains till I die.” Cora Johnson lived like she wanted, died where she wanted, and became a legend along the way. Most people can only aspire to such.
Danny McCarty lives in Calhoun County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
I would like to thank all the readers of the Oxford Sun newspaper for their support. It has been a pleasure to write for such a great newspaper and to hear the stories of people who live and work in the Oxford area.