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‘Where it all started’

Film will feature prospector Russell

POSTED: April 25, 2012 4:00 a.m.
Chelsea Thomas Dawson Community News/

Jimmy Anderson, a historian for Dawson and Lumpkin counties, walks toward the home of Green Russell, which dates to the 1850s, when Dawson County was founded. Russell, a famed gold prospector, will be featured in film about mining and the gold rush, according to officials.

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A movie that touches on the north Georgia gold rush and famed local miners is in the works, according to film and Dawsonville officials.

Jimmy Anderson, a historian for Dawson and Lumpkin counties, confirmed that local property is being considered for scenes about famed miner Green Russell.

Russell is known as one of the few miners to participate in the three major gold rushes of the 19th century: Georgia, California and Colorado. He's credited for starting the Pike's Peak rush in Colorado.

In the next two months film officials are hoping to have confirmation from local property owners on whether they can use the land and home where Russell lived near the Etowah River.

"If they can work it out with the property owner, [the film officials] want that to be one of the main sites for the film," Anderson said.

"Of course, they looked at a lot of different sites on the Yahoola Creek, Etowah River and Chestatee River, as well as the Consolidated Gold Mine in Dahlonega and old Woody's store in Auraria [off Castleberry Bridge Road.]"

According to executive producer Denise Kleiner, the film's budget is set at $50 million.

Kleiner visited Dawson County about a month ago when the movie "Trouble with the Curve" was being filmed at Amicalola Lodge. She said she gave a rough draft of the script to actor Clint Eastwood.

Anderson said film officials are hoping Eastwood might direct and narrate the piece.

"He would be a great elderly Green Russell, narrating how the gold rush came about," Anderson said. "[Film officials] have made contact with him. He hasn't said no yet, which is a good sign."

Kleiner said it's too early to tell if Eastwood's involvement will pan out.

When Kleiner visited Dawsonville, she met informally with acting mayor James Grogan and local historian Gordon Pirkle.

"At this point, [the film officials] had wanted some historical background and to put them in contact with people that were related to [Russell]," Grogan said.

Russell, legally known as William Greenberry Russell, was a man whose life's work revolved around gold mining.

His father, James Russell, mined near Dahlonega and Green, the eldest of three brothers, came to age in a local economy booming from the nation's first gold rush.

Originally the film was focused in Colorado. But after learning about Russell's mining history and Georgia's role, the attention shifted.

"The movie idea has shifted from a focus out West to Georgia. The movie will include the Russell brothers, as well as other characters," Kleiner said.

The script is being finalized by a few different writers, according to Kleiner. Officials are not willing to release more details until filming locations are set.

For Anderson, a former Dahlonega postmaster, the film has been a surprise from the beginning.

Kleiner contacted him to ask about John H. Gregory, a mysterious miner who supposedly found a rich vein of gold in the north fork of Clear Creek, which he titled "Gregory Gulch."

"I was called out of the blue by the executive producer," Anderson said. "She was under the impression that John Gregory was from Lumpkin County. She knew very little about the Russell brothers, who actually had organized a prospecting party and had the first gold discovery there in Colorado."

"I brought her up to speed on the Russell brothers. I wanted to make sure they played a more prominent part in the movie than they would originally. I think they will."

Known for being a local leader and prospector, Green Russell spent his life traveling. He also had a special companionship with Native Americans, according to Anne Dismukes Amerson.

"Russell volunteered to join the enforced march [of the Trail of Tears] so that he could help his Indian friends on the long journey west," she wrote in one of her books.

With money from the California gold rush, he built and planted his homestead in Lumpkin County, which was later claimed for Dawson County, and had eight children.

Russell, his brothers and fellow Masons were also responsible for founding a local lodge.

The extent of Russell's role in the film is unclear, but he will certainly be spotlighted, according to Anderson.

"In the beginning [film officials] said 75 percent of the movie would be shot in Colorado and maybe 25 percent in Georgia," he said. "And now it looks like these figures have been reversed because out here is where it all started."


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