Sage of Red Wing – William Byron Way (1858-1934)

William Byron Way (1858-1934) was born and reared in the Elim community, which was a part of Liberty County until 1920 when it became a part of Long County. His an­cestors were among the first settlers of Liberty County. He grew up during the reconstruction years after the Civil War when times were hard.


Way was a farmer, lawyer, and a newspaper columnist. He wrote his first column for the Hinesville Gazette when he was a young man and one of its employees was Walter W. Shep­pard, who went on to become a lawyer, Judge of Superior Courts, Atlantic Judicial Circuit, and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District.


Way said he wrote about “sordid and sublime” subjects.


He had this to say about his career as an attorney:


“I practiced law for 20 years, then on my own motion, I retired for 20 years. Now I have re-enlisted for 20 more years at the age of three score and fifteen. I take nothing but the defense, in criminal cases, and then only at my own choosing. I am not in the practice of law for money, and I won’t get much glory. Don’t want much of it. Ain’t got no place to store it away if I had it. Wish to advise my friends that if they have a case in court, and some money, or its value, carry it to some of my brother lawyers who practice for their living. I don’t want it, and I won’t take that kind of a case. Wish to advise my friends that if you were born poor, and the damned thing has relapsed on you, and you never expect it to be any other way, and that the devil is on your tracks, and you believe he is fixing to run you in, and no other law­yer will take your case, then call me up, and I will take your case, and show you where Tony hit the wedge, the same day Old Ring died.”


The Ludowici News was established in 1923, and Way became its friend and champion for the rest of his life. He wrote columns for the newspaper and was even its editor for a short time. Other Georgia editors read what Way wrote for the Ludowici News and asked for permission to reprint them in their own newspapers. Way gave them permission, but would never accept one penny for what he wrote. He said he wrote only for his own amusement.


He was once asked by a newspaper editor to write a col­umn about his farming experiences. This is what Way wrote:


“Farming? Oh, yes, dog my cats, I’ve been farming for 40 years, but I never did know how to farm. I sent off for a farm paper. It come. First ten pages was on co-opyration­co-opyration with everything and everybody. I hadn’t had much schooling and didn’t know what co-opyration meant. Thought it must mean borry from the neighbors, and when you couldn’t borry anymore, to buy everything they had on credit and never pay them for it, and then beg, when it wouldn’t work. So, I wrote the company that they had sent me the wrong paper and to send me another, and when it come was mostly on diversification and curtailment. I had an idea what them words meant, so to diversify my crops I planted six rows of popcorn, two pumpkin seeds, and a bunch of bear grass. Then, to curtail expenses I never worked it.”


Way’s life-long hobby of deer hunting began when he was 15 years of age. He eventually acquired a pack of six hounds and hunted deer in three states. But most of his hunting activity was in Long, Liberty, and McIntosh counties. The hounds were never allowed to hunt anything but t deer.


Way once estimated that during his life he killed 1,000 deer. His hunts became so successful and well known that he was unable to accommodate all of the people who wanted to hunt with him.


When the deer-hunting season opened, the first of the Way hunting parties traveled across Long County to Honey Island in the Altamaha River, where a drive was made to the sea. From Cat Island off the coast of McIntosh County, they crossed into Liberty County and hunted on ranges extending through Bryan County to the Atlantic Coastline Railroad bridge on the Ogeechee River.


Way built a retreat near his home and called it “Red Wing.”


It was ornamented with 17 sets of deer horns, topped off with a huge set of elk horns. There was also a master wasp nest on which Way painted a grotesque face. Red Wing burned in 1933, but Way built a bigger and better retreat on site of the old one.


Way did not confine his writings to the subjects of legal matters, farming, deer hunting, and politics. He wrote about life the way it was when he was a young man, and customs of days and times long gone by. This is an example:


“Forty years ago I went to church in the ox wagon and the preacher talked all day, turned us out in time to get home by sundown, nearly starved to death.”


The most famous column written by Way was about a marriage he claimed to have performed for a white English­man and a black woman in a backwoods lumber camp in Liberty County. He called it “The Tutty Marriage.”


He said the groom was touring America, very wealthy, and had very peculiar habits and manners. Way said his hair came down to his shoulders, he had never shaved in his life, and his eye brows were five inches long. He said the bride, chief cook at the lumber camp, was young, plump, a good talker, and a leader among her people. He said she eventually got control of his wealth and reduced him to poverty.


Way maintained that “The Tutty Marriage” was published in newspapers in four states. He said 1,000 copies were pri­vately distributed, and 121 copies handwritten by the author by special request.


Way’s newspaper columns were titled “B. Way Says.”


Some of them contained these expressions of his own per­sonal philosophy :


“In the evening of life and before the twilight or even the setting sun, I will study the language of gentlemen and refuse to use language that would wound the hearts of my friends or bring sorrow to any fellow creature.”


“I will be a friend to everybody everywhere no matter how trying the test and always wear a smiling face of good will, unchilled by disappointment or selfish greediness.”


“I will always try to see myself just as I am, and hope always for the power of repentance and reformation and if I can live according to these ideals I will never be old no matter what the record says about the number of years.”


While Way wrote columns on philosophy and serious topics, his readers liked best the tall tales he spun. Here are  some examples:


“The other day I got hold of some booze which was called Gun Barrel, but from the kick it had it must have been gun powder, shot, and caps. I took only three drinks and was unconscious for three days. My eyes got so weak that I had to wink them with a spoon handle until I gained enough strength to get them back on the job. Goodbye, Mr. Gun Barrel, I am done with you.”


“The other day a man came to my house and asked me if I could lend him some money. That excited me and I shot him. Then he asked me if I could pay up what lowed him. That shocked me and I shot him with the other barrel.”


William Byron Way was the son of John E. and Margaret Fennell Way, and the grandson of John and Sarah Ann (“Sallie”) Deloach Way. He married Alice Theodora Dever­eaux, daughter of Karon and Delilah (“Lila”) Johns Dever­aux of Liberty County, and their children were John C., Perla Alice, Maude A., Kate V., Benjamin Gordon, Nanie Mae, and Maggie Way.


Maggie Way married Charles T. Gaskin, and their children were Charles E., Carl, Bruce, Herbert, and Betty Jean Gaskin. Charles E. Gaskin had been a member of the Liberty County Board of Commissioners for several years when this book was written.


William Byron Way lost his voice several years before he died, and spoke in a half-whisper for the rest of his life. When he died, Lester Wilkins, editor of the Waycross Journal ­American, which published his columns, wrote: “B. Way was an old-timer, but some of his philosophy was ahead of us all.”