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The truth about Tiger Ridge

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EFFINGHAM CO., GA (WTOC) -

It's a corner of Effingham County near Clyo some are afraid to even drive by.

The Tiger Ridge family compound has been surrounded in mystery since the 1800s.

"Everyone here is either sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, or cousins," lifetime Tiger Ridge resident Earnest Edwards said.

Edwards says nearly one hundred of his relatives live in what is called Tiger Ridge.

"We all used to roam this area as youngsters. I was born right here," Edwards said.

Edwards says the Tiger Ridge rumors have been around for as long as he can remember.

He says all the talk about inbreeding is overly exaggerated.

"Maybe a cousin, second cousin, or third cousin might get married. But that happened everywhere," Edwards said.

Edwards says almost all of the rumors are not true.

"I've never seen any of what people say and I've lived here all my life. I've never seen anyone with more than normal toes and fingers," Edwards said.

Back in the early 1900s, when roads weren't paved, it was nearly impossible to meet outsiders, Edwards says.

Those days are long over, but that part of the family's past has stuck.

"I've heard people at my job talk about the weird people at Tiger Ridge. They said you didn't hear about the one arms and legs and all that? I said no...you're the weirdest person I've talked to," Tiger Ridge resident Cindy Evans said.

Perhaps the rumors are hardest for the children. WTOC spoke with one young man in the US Army who says he moved away from Effingham County because of the harrassment.

"I would go to school and children made fun of me. Teachers made fun. I remember being in elementary school and the teachers would ask me where I was from and start making fun of me," he said.

Many of the Edwards are not comfortable opening up. They've suffered through years of persecution and deceptive and inaccurate articles written about them.

"They wrote some pretty bad things and it upset a lot of people," Earnest Edwards said.

Edwards wishes people would come to Tiger Ridge and judge it for themselves rather than listening to what other people say.

"I just want people to know that all those rumors they hear are not true. They should come visit us. We accept anyone. We love everyone," Edwards said.

Edwards says his ancestors were stong men and women how had to defend the land. He says that's how the area got its name.

"You had to survive the best way you could. And that's how they got their names as tigers because they would fight amongst each other...even with knives," Edwards said.

But despite the myths, there's been no fightin in a long time.

Effingham County Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie says Tiger Ridge is a safe place.

"I've been here 25 years and most of the issues we've had have been people who went to Tiger Ridge and started problems out there," Sheriff McDuffie said.

Most of that happened in the sixties and seventies when Gawkers who heard the rumors came and harrassed the families. Some even threw molitov cocktails through windows.

"They are just like anyone else. They don't want to be harrassed and they don't want to bother anyone. It's one of those things...leave me alone and I'll leave you alone," Sheriff McDuffie said.

But there has been one time of year when visitors are encouraged to tour Tiger Ridge.

Around Christmas time, they are known for their elaborate Christmas decorations.

But they say that tradition is coming to an end.

"I apologize to all the ones that did enjoy it, and it was a blessing to see all the people come out and enjoy it...but it looks like we're going to have to quit doing it," Edwards said.

Edwards says they're just getting too old to put all the lights up. He also says many of the grandchildren have moved away.

But that doesn't mean they don't enjoy visitors and the chance to debunk the rumors.

"You couldn't ask for better people here. If you stop at any of these houses, we will help you," Edwards said.

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