The mayor of the north Georgia town of Witherston and one of its prominent attorneys are being blackmailed by a mysterious Donna Dam, who threatens to expose the two men’s shameful activities of forty years ago if they do not take a paternity test, pay a hefty sum of money, and if Mayor Rather does not withdraw his proposal to build a dam, creating a lake on top of a sacred Cherokee burial ground. Blackmail leads to murder, and when Detective Mev Arroyo and her two teenage twins investigate, they discover some dark secrets, putting all their lives in danger…
Betty Jean Craige, author of Dam Witherston and other Witherston Murder Mysteries
on the history behind her mysteries
Cherokees lived there for a thousand years, in north Georgia and western North Carolina, before the white settlers discovered gold. That was in 1828. In the early 1830s Georgia distributed the Cherokees’ land in forty-acre lots to winners of the Georgia Land Lotteries. When the Cherokees exhibited their anger, they were removed from their land and force-marched—on the Trail of Tears—to the area now called Oklahoma.
This is the history of my state that underpins the stories I tell in the Witherston Murder Mysteries.
I set Downstream, Fairfield’s Auction, and Dam Witherston, the first three novels in the series, in a small town I called Witherston, twenty miles north of Dahlonega, Georgia, where Hearty Withers (1798-1841) panned for gold, won the land lottery, and got rich. Hearty Withers and his wife Penance begat Harold Francis (“Harry”) Withers in 1830, after which Hearty died at the hands of a Cherokee. Harry went to the University of Georgia briefly, was expelled, married Patience Gray, begat Withers Francis (“Witty”) Withers in 1858, and founded the town of Witherston in 1860. Harry did not have to serve in the War Between the States because he paid a young man to take his place. Witty Withers and his wife Obedience begat Hearty Harold (“HaHa”) Withers in 1881 and Hearty’s sister Penance Louise Withers in 1900. In 1930 Penance Louise Withers eloped with Mohe Kingfisher, a Cherokee. Witty disinherited her for marrying a Cherokee Indian, so the couple moved to Tahlequah, Oklahoma. HaHa Withers begat Francis Hearty Withers in 1915. Francis Hearty Withers, having turned his inheritance into several billion dollars, died mysteriously over Memorial Day weekend at the age of one hundred to the benefit of four thousand Witherstonians.
This fictional genealogy is based on historical events that I researched: the rise and fall of the Cherokee civilization, the Georgia Gold Rush, the Georgia Land Lotteries, the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, Reconstruction, and Georgia’s miscegenation laws. I began creating the genealogy when I wrote Downstream, in which centenarian Francis Hearty Withers is murdered. I continued developing it when I wrote Fairfield’s Auction, in which Cherokee artifacts are sold to the highest bidder. I filled in details when I wrote Dam Witherston, in which Witherston’s mayor proposes to build a dam over sacred Cherokee burial ground. Dam Witherston features three murders: one in the present, one in 1977, when the Toccoa dam broke, and one in 1828. All of them involve interracial rape and pregnancy.
The past resides in the present. That is the common theme of my mysteries. And what pleasure I’ve had in populating the past with eccentric but credible characters!
About The Author
Dr. Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has lived in Athens, Georgia, since 1973. Her first non-academic book was Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot (2010). After retiring in 2011, she published a column about animal behavior in the local paper titled “Cosmo Talks” and began writing fiction. Her Witherston Murder Mystery series, set in north Georgia, includes Downstream (2014), Fairfield’s Auction (2016), and Dam Witherston (2017).