Friday, April 18, 2008

Old Walton County

Some people call Transylvania County the "Land of Waterfalls".

Today a place of wild splendor, it was - two hundred years ago - a place of confusion and turmoil.

Remember how the boundaries of early states ran from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to the Mississippi River? By 1787, South Carolina ceded to the United States government a narrow strip of land between the northern border of Georgia and the southern border of North Carolina.

Over the next decade, 800 people settled in the area. By 1800 they petitioned Congress to have the land turned back to South Carolina, but the South Carolina government wanted no part of the orphan strip that some say gained a reputation for harboring desperadoes and outlaws.

Federal legislation, the 1802 Act of Cession, made Georgia responsible for the territory but did not establish whether the strip belonged to Georgia or North Carolina. Before long, Georgia claimed it and established Walton County, named for George Walton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. (The original Walton County GA, not to be confused with a later Walton County GA, included much of present Transylvania County and parts of Henderson and Jackson Counties.)

Unfortunately, some of the Walton County residents held South Carolina land grants while others held North Carolina grants… resulting in jurisdictional conflicts between leaders of Walton County, GA and Buncombe County, NC.

Walton officials tried to intimidate citizens who favored Buncombe rule in the area. In December 1804 Buncombe constable John Havner was killed by a blow to the head with a musket stock. The Buncombe militia responded with 72 men who marched into Walton County on December 19. They apprehended ten Walton County leaders and took them to Morganton to be tried for Havner’s death. But the prisoners escaped from the jail and were not seen again.

Meanwhile, North Carolina secured a claim to the orphan strip. Eight years after it was established, Walton County, Georgia ceased to exist. Writer Harry McKown would say that was all there was to the legendary "Walton War."

Other writers, not quite so burdened with footnoted sources, tell a different tale. For instance, Richard E. Irby, Jr. describes a December 1810 confrontation, (rather than 1804) in which the Buncombe sympathizers marched into Walton County and removed the leadership:

The major engagement was fought at McGaha Branch about one mile south of present day Brevard near the Wilson Bridge on U.S.Highway 276. The North Carolina Militia killed an unknown number of the Georgians and took about twenty-five prisoners. A second stand was made by the survivors of McGaha Branch at Selica Hill some three miles southwest of Brevard. The Georgians were either shot or taken prisoner. The fate of the prisoners is still uncertain. Sporadic snipping continued for some weeks but the main engagements were over.

Another version of this story, from Carol Greenberger, discusses the subsequent survey to establish the borders of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. In 1811, disgruntled Georgia leaders hired the highly regarded scientist and surveyor Andrew Ellicott to verify the location of the 35th Parallel, the intended demarcation between North Carolina and Georgia:

Ellicott followed the Savannah River north, up the Tugaloo River and then the Chattooga River until he determined by astronomical observations where the true line lay. He marked a rock in the east bank of the Chattooga, now known as Ellicott’s Rock. Ellicott’s survey determined that Georgia had been claiming territory eighteen miles too far north. The legislative commission was unhappy with Ellicott’s findings and refused to pay him. However, Georgia’s governor finally accepted the verdict and said "it appears that no part of the territory heretofore claimed by this state remains in Georgia."

So, the next time you head south from Brevard on US 276, keep in mind that you’ll drive past the bloody battleground of the Walton War.

But then again, maybe you won’t…

[As recently as 1971 Georgia considered reopening a separate dispute about the boundary and the North Carolina legislature “in a jocular mood” mobilized the National Guard to protect the state from usurpers.]

The Marion Camera

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Marion, North Carolina a dreadful little town. The Chamber of Commerce types would coo, "Oooooh, it GROWS on you!" The same thing could be said about jock itch: "Oooooh, it GROWS on you!"

You have to wonder about a town that finds it necessary to greet visitors with the warning not to park on the sidewalks.

Was that a problem?

Were hordes of drivers so stupid they could not distinguish a sidewalk from a parking space? And if they were that stupid, what makes you think they would read a sign, much less heed it? But I guess the sign works. I mean, I didn’t park on the sidewalk ONCE during my visit.

Before I could finish pondering the first sign at the edge of town, a great big billboard caught my attention.

At best, using celebrities to promote mental health services is a questionable strategy. But Abraham Lincoln? Vivien Leigh? What demographic was Tanyi trying to reach with this billboard, anyhow? The Rhett Butler - Ulysses Grant set?

The guy that called me "depressive and shrill" last week should go to Marion. Right there in black and white on the Tanyi’s billboard is the very image of "Depressive" and "Shrill" personified as the beloved "Abe" and "Viv". I feel better now.

While visiting Marion, North Carolina you could go shopping at the Lady Marian Plaza.

But why would you?

Their sign must have been the most modern thing in town. In 1966. And why Lady Marian? Robin Hood’s girlfriend, I assume. But that’s Marian with an "A". The town is Marion with an "O". So why do we have the Lady Marian Plaza? What’s the point? Might as well throw in a "T" and call it the Lady Martian Plaza!

It was lunch time and my belly was rumbling. I pulled over at the Western Sizzlin and was about to scurry in for a quick bite until I read their sign. The ENTIRE sign. "Mr. Roach?" Suddenly, I wasn’t hungry anymore.

Actually, there was only one reason I left Interstate 40 to cruise Marion. I intended to take a photograph for you. But the one and only photograph I planned to take was the one photograph I could not take.

You see, Marion did have one feature I found attractive, and that was a camera shop built to look just like…A CAMERA!

I went out of my way to snap a picture of it, but there was just one small problem. The camera shop was gone! Vanished! Vamoose! Poof!

I learned my lesson. I should have taken a picture of it last year, when it was still there. Thank goodness for cyberspace, where I did manage to find an old photo of the camera shop that looked like a camera.

So while I wouldn’t go so far as to call Marion, North Carolina a dreadful little town, I contend that now more than ever the virtual Marion is far preferable to the real one.

I discovered the photo of the Marion camera shop on a really nifty blog by Sarah Bryan called "Field Guide to What’s Good." It's an awesome collection of photos showing us the South at its very finest!

Hotel at Andrews Geyser

If you’re like me, you’ve never had much reason to spend time in Old Fort, North Carolina. Sure, on a long trip back from Raleigh, it’s a good place to pull off the interstate and grab a cup of coffee at Hardees before making that white-knuckle drive up the mountain and back to Paradise.

Last week, though, I had an hour to spare while headed west toward Old Fort. After exiting I-40, I saw a couple of restored log cabins, and an old stone building that housed the Mountain Gateway Museum.

For now, the museum, the library, and several other locations in Old Fort are displaying photographs by Margaret Morley, a fine photographer of early twentieth century Southern Appalachia. This is the same Margaret Morley who rode the Hippie Bus through Cowee (with Horace Kephart!) last summer.

Morley’s 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains, has been reissued in recent years, in two different editions (I thought I was going to recommend one over the other, but looking at both again…I’d say each has its strengths.) The 2002 reissue by Land of the Sky Books is a faithful reproduction of the original edition. In the more recent Historical Images edition, the text has been re-set, and the volume includes dozens of Morley photos that did not appear in the original edition. An extensive introduction and biographical notes make this version indispensible.

Staff at the museum answered all my questions and then some, and recommended places to explore. One thing you’ll notice if you get out and about Old Fort is that it’s neither strictly a piedmont town nor a mountain town, sitting as it does at the base of the Blue Ridge.

In 1566, the Spanish gold prospector Juan Pardo built a blockhouse in Old Fort. And recent archaeological digs confirm that Spanish miners were active in the area through the 1600s.

Though the Western North Carolina Railroad reached Old Fort by 1860, it was another 20 years before the line was extended to the top of the mountain. By 1879, a resort hotel and a geyser next to the railroad (just west of Old Fort) attracted vacationers.
Unfortunately, the train caught the hotel on fire in 1903 and it burned down. Several years later a wealthy New Yorker rescued the geyser, moved it across the creek and renamed it to honor Colonel A, B. Andrews, the first president of the Western North Carolina Railroad.

This was the first recorded instance of someone successfully moving a geyser.

In truth, it wasn’t.

Andrews Geyser is not a geyser at all, but merely a fountain that is gravity-fed by a long pipe leading from a high mountain spring. I call it Andrews Not-A-Geyser.

But don't allow the news that Andrews Geyser is actually Andrews Not-A-Geyser to spoil your trip to Old Fort.

I didn’t.

I returned to town and stopped to admire a genuine roadside wonder, the thirty-foot tall granite arrowhead towering over Main Street. It was, in fact, used by prehistoric peoples to slay dinosaurs of the Upper Catawba Valley…
…many years ago.

Split Mountain Ramble

Claude Monet, Impression, Sunrise, 1872

Paris – April 1874 - a group of artists rejected by the juries of the Salon offered their avant-garde paintings for public view. Renoir, Monet, Cezanne and Degas were among those represented in what became known as the first exhibition of Impressionism.

Meanwhile that same month, on this side of the Atlantic, there was another kind of explosion. The Hickory Nut Gorge gained notoriety as rumors spread of a volcano on Rumbling Bald Mountain, near Chimney Rock. Buncombe County’s Thomas Clingman (1812-1897), a one-time US Senator and a long-time explorer of the mountains, promptly weighed with his observations of seismic phenomena throughout Western North Carolina. In several articles he described "a certain mountain in the northern part of Haywood County, N.C. [which] was, at intervals of two or three years, agitated and broken into fragments along a portion of its surface."

Clingman first visited the site in 1848, and learned that the jolts to this unnamed mountain in northern Haywood County had been witnessed as early as 1812. Amidst his descriptions of the mountain’s behavior, he provided detailed clues to its location, so I compared his notes to my Haywood County topo map. Tracing the lines that indicated a mountain rising from Ledford Cove to Pug Knob, I saw the letters that spelled out "Split Mountain."

I was on the trail, with a map, a compass, a camera, and the words of T. L. Clingman:

The top of the ridge, where evidences of violence are seen, is perhaps three or four hundred feet higher than the ground below. There are cracks in the solid granite of which the ridge appears to be composed, but the chief evidences of violence were observable a little south of the crest. From thence along the side of the mountain as one descends, there were chasms, none of them above four feet in width, generally extending north and south, but also occasionally seen in all directions. All the large trees had been thrown down.

There were a number of little hillocks. the largest eight or ten feet high and fifty or sixty feet in diameter. They were usually surrounded by what appeared to have been a narrow crevice. On their sides the saplings grew perpendicularly to the surface of the ground, but obliquely to the horizon, making it manifest that they had attained some size before the hillocks had been elevated. I observed a large poplar or tulip tree, which had been split through its centre, so as to leave one-half of it standing thirty or forty feet high. The crack or opening under it, was not an inch wide, but could be traced for a hundred yards, making it evident that there had been an opening of sufficient width to split the tree, and that then the sides of the chasm had returned to their original position without having slipped so as to prevent the contact of the broken roots.

As indicating the sudden violence with which the force acted, a large mass of detached granite afforded a striking illustration. From its size I estimated that it might have weighed two thousands tons. It seemed from its shape to have originally been broken out of the side of the mountain above, and to have rolled in mass a hundred yards downward. It lay directly across one of the chasms two or three feet in width, and had been broken into three large fragments, which, however, were not separated a foot from each other.

I figured I could find Split Mountain. I wondered if it would resemble anything that Clingman had described.

The more I tried to imagine it, the more I hoped to locate that mountain. And the more I hoped to meet someone to tell me about it.

It was a gorgeous April drive. Beyond the big fields and rolling pastures of Crabtree, the farms were hemmed in by steeper and stonier mountains. Rock piles, hundreds of yards long, lined the ancient pastures on the slopes.

At last, my map and my compass told me I had found Split Mountain.

I couldn’t see any two thousand ton boulder broken into three large fragments.
I couldn’t see any hillocks, eight or ten feet high, fifty or sixty feet in diameter.
I couldn’t see any large trees thrown down, or saplings growing perpendicular to the ground.

But I’d found the place, and still hoped to find the person.

Then I saw him standing next to his porch.

We slowed to a stop and I said "hello".

He greeted me with a smile, and we proceeded to talking about rain and drought, developers with too much money, big tax bills, the price of gas, the prospect of raising laying hens and growing the corn to feed them.

This gentleman was exactly the person I’d hoped to meet. He must have been almost eighty, and he'd been born on the same homeplace where he lived today.

I showed him the Clingman article and asked what he knew about it.

"Not much," he said. "That’s Split Mountain, alright. But I’ve only been on it one time, hunting ginseng with my daddy."

He continued,"You see how those rocks run down the side of the mountain. I always heard you could go to the top, and find holes in the ground, where you could drop [fence] rails in and never hear them hit bottom."

I climbed out of the car, "I’d better take another picture of this mountain."

He pointed down the road. "There was a post office there one time. Split Mountain, North Carolina. And Riley Greene ran his mill down there. He ground corn into meal, and he had a sawmill, too. The sluice came all the way down the creek, ten or fifteen feet off the ground. In the winter, the water would overflow and freeze solid, all the way down to the ground. Winters were a lot colder then."

I enjoyed my visit, meeting this new friend, and seeing this place through his eyes.

On another day I might actually climb to the top of Split Mountain. I might even find that hole in the ground. And when I drop a fence-rail (or a walking stick) into that hole, I’ll let you know what I hear…or what I don’t hear.

For the time being I'll ponder over Clingman’s theories in regards to Split Mountain:

The extent and configuration of the ground acted on, the long intervals between the shocks, for a period of nearly a century past, and of the absence of heat and of the continuous escape of gasses, rendered it evident that these disturbances were not due to such a merely local cause as the combustion at a short distance below the surface of a bed of inflammable mineral substances. Though in the opinion of Mr. Fox and others, there are electric currents in certain mineral veins, yet no observations heretofore made would justify us in attributing such phenomena to electricity.

And I’ll continue to follow Clingman’s treasure maps to some other curious places in these mountains.

By the way, that First Impressionist Exhibition from April 1874 is depicted online at It's worth a visit, too.

Camille Pissaro, Gelee blanche (Hoarfrost), 1873


Nothing like a road trip through unfamiliar territory to raise plenty of questions. While debunking one Polk County, TN legend I stumbled upon an even better story concerning one of my favorite topics, a failed utopia. I suppose any time you mention "utopia" the addition of the word "failed" is redundant, but nonetheless...

Around 1850, Rosine Parmentier came to the Sylco Mountains of Polk County to establish Vineland, "a unique experiment in social living." With the help of a New York associate, she bought 50,000 acres of land and encouraged French, German, Italian and Austrian colonization. They had great plans for a winemaking industry, but it went sour and the colony dispersed. Contemporary Polk County family names like Beckler, Miolin, Nocarina, Genollic, Sholtz, Pace, and Chable are indicators of this vanished settlement.

Closer to home, I was already familiar with the visionary village of Whittier at the border of Jackson and Swain Counties. Clark Whittier, cousin of the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, came here in 1881 and purchased 60,000 acres with the intention of creating the world’s largest temperance colony. "It is my wish, and I so move," he said, "that we start operations here upon the principles of the Word of God, including all morality, especially temperance and prohibition of the strongest form."

An 1886 newspaper article was profuse with praise: No other town in North Carolina or any of the Southeastern States has ever accomplished so much in so short a time. … Five stores, a grist mill, a brick yard, two steam saw mills on the town site, are in operation. ... No lots are sold in Whittier without an agreement to improve them. Prohibition prevails on the whole property. This, the largest temperance colony in the world, and the largest single enterprise by one man in the United States, is attracting attention all over the country. (Highlander, Feb. 19, 1886)

One of the most colorful stories of a mountain utopia dates even farther back. It was in the 1730s amidst the Overhills villages of the Cherokee in eastern Tennessee. A German Jesuit, Christian Priber planned to build a settlement in the Indian territory open to all fugitives, servants, slaves, and felons. His design was "to bring about a confederation of all the southern Indians, to inspire them with industry, to instruct them in the arts necessary to the commodities of life, and, in short, to engage them to throw off the yoke of their European allies of all nations."

Governor Oglethorpe's forces considered Christian Priber to be an agent of the French seeking to alienate the Indians from the English traders, so they arrested him and brought him under guard to be examined by Oglethorpe. He found Priber to be an excellent linguist, speaking English, Dutch, French, Latin and Indian, and to have in his possession two manuscripts: a dictionary of the Cherokee language to be published in Paris; and a book entitled Paradise, containing principles for a commonweath based upon natural rights. Oglethorpe imprisoned Christian Priber at Frederica for life, and the remains of Priber and his books were subsequently lost.

This just scratches the surface of the Priber saga. You’d like to imagine that those books survived and are stored away in a trunk somewhere. But the books, and Priber’s dream, are as long gone as the temperance colony on the Tuckasegee and the vineyards of Vineland.

When You and I Were Young, Maggie

I wandered today to the hill, Maggie,
To watch the scene below -
The creek and the creaking old mill, Maggie,
As we used to, long ago.
The green grove is gone from the hill, Maggie,
Where first the daisies sprung;
The creaking old mill is still, Maggie,
Since you and I were young.

If you can’t trust the Daughters of the American Revolution and an Eagle Scout then who can you trust?

The story begins as we meander along the route of the millenium-old Unicoi Turnpike in the hills of Tennessee, just north of the spot where John Muir crossed the Hiwassee River on his thousand mile walk to the Gulf of Mexico (September 17, 1867). As soon as I saw the sign for Maggie’s Mill Historic Site, I pulled onto the gravel road leading to a small stream. Some pilings along the creek told me that a mill, long since gone, had operated there. And then, at the edge of the road, I read this marker:

I made a mental note to get to the bottom of the story. But the road beckoned, and more places to explore. At Reliance, Webb’s Store stands on the southern bank of the river. Been a long time since I’ve seen a Texaco sign like this:

And just down river, near the confluence of Junebug Creek, this vintage house is a real beauty:

But I kept thinking about that song, Maggie. And even if I’d never heard it, I could pretty well imagine the melody and could hear Al Jolson singing it, Maaaaggieeee. Back home, it didn’t take long to find some recordings of the song, plus lyrics and sheet music. I was on a roll!
I even found a picture of the dapper songwriter:

And a picture of his beloved Maggie Clark:
Clark? I thought her name was Harris, but we’ll let that slide. Johnson didn’t scrimp on the sentimentality, and when you learn the story behind the song, you understand why. He was a schoolteacher in Hamilton, Ontario and Maggie was one of his students. I guess there weren’t any vigilant school administrators to question the propriety of what happened next. G. W. and the tubercular Maggie fell in love and were engaged to be married. When she became ill, he penned the lyrics to "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" and published them in his book of verse, Maple Leaves. (This was Ontario, CANADA, after all.)

They married later that year, but after seven months, poor Maggie died on May 12, 1865. Johnson’s friend James A. Butterfield (1837-1891) set the words to music and the rest, as they say, is history. Now hold on, what about the 1820 date carved in the monument at Maggie’s Mill? George Washington Johnson was born in 1839 and wrote his poem in 1864. Maggie whatever-her-name-was was born in 1842.

So they got the 1820 date wrong, but there must have been a Tennessee connection for George and Maggie. Let’s see, the widower marries two more times, moves from Canada to Cleveland and eventually to Pasadena, California where he died in 1917. No mention of Tennessee at all.
But the song lives on, recorded by everyone from John McCormack to Benny Goodman to Fats Waller to Mac Wiseman.
And to cap it all, "When You and I Were Young, Maggie" made it into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005. Wow!
So what of the Tennessee claim? All I could find was a gazetteer listing for Springtown, Tennessee: "A picturesque mill adorned the bank of the creek and was first known as Harris Mill. During another period, it was known as Maggie’s Mill; local residents insist that it inspired the ballad, ‘When You and I Were Young, Maggie.’" INSIST!!!!! That’s not going to cut it. I might as well INSIST that Beethoven wrote the Fifth Symphony on MY back porch. Look for the granite monument, coming soon.

Despite all my big talk about the value of preserving local legends, I’ll make an exception for something as blatantly misleading as the Maggie’s Mill "Historic" Site.
Polk County, Tennessee should be ashamed.
The Ocoee Chapter D.A.R. should be ashamed.
And I found the phone number for that Eagle Scout, Dan Cain. I’m tempted to give him a call, because he’s got some ‘splainin’ to do, Maggie.

They say that I'm feeble with age, Maggie,
My steps are less sprightly than then,
My face is a well-written page, Maggie,
And time alone was the pen.
They say we are ag├Ęd and grey, Maggie,
As sprays by the white breakers flung,
But to me you're as fair as you were, Maggie,
When you and I were young.

Smith & Baird's

photo link
The next several days (and a few more later this month) will feature the blog of Asheville attorney Augustus Summerfield Merrimon (1830-1892). His 1850s diary of sojourns to the Western North Carolina courts and county seats is one my favorites from that grand decade.
Sunday January 15th. 1854.
Today I left home at noon for Madison Court.—I had a cool ride down, that romantic river, the French Broad. Rode 22 miles this evening. Stopped on the river at the house of Smith & Baird, a comfortable place. Quiet a crowd of Lawyers, travelers &c. sojourn here tonight. Tonight I have been greatly amused at the conversation of different ones of our party. The conversation has not been instructive, save in one way, that is we learn from it the nature, that is often hiden of a certain class of men. The river roars tonight, the moon shines beautifully and the rugged hills around awake one to contemplation when he walks alone. I love to be alone in an hour like this. All is silent save the continual roar of the river, and the moon shine comes down so softly.—The night is cool, not cold. It is late at night.

Dills Cove Falls

Highway 74 skirts the edge of Sylva as you drive toward the Smokies and Bryson City. You could zip right past the Jackson County Justice Center without a hint of what was sacrificed to build the four-lane bypass. Construction of the road in the early 1970s spelled the end for Dills Cove Falls.

No other town in North Carolina had a comparable waterfall within its city limits…the total height of Dills Cove Falls was said to be 249 feet. But it was standing in the way of progress. It had to go.

You have to wonder what the job was like, demolishing Dills Cove Falls. Who would want to show up for work that day? Do visions of the Falls ever come back in nightmares?

Chimney Rock Gold

You don’t have to go far to find stories of hidden treasure. Right here in Oscar, NC the legends live on. Had you talked to those students lined up in front of the Oscar schoolhouse, I’m sure they could have told you about the gold buried near Tilley Creek.

I hope the folklorists are earning their keep by cataloging the stories of buried treasure all through North Carolina and the Southern Appalachians. In his 1941 book, Western North Carolina Sketches, Clarence Griffin retells the tale of a lost fortune near Chimney Rock, specifically on Round Top Mountain.

A half dozen Englishmen, who owned a mine farther north, were on their way to the coast with a large load of gold. While traveling through Hickory Nut Gap they relaxed their vigilance and were ambushed by Indians. A battle ensued and the Englishmen, not faring well, sought shelter in a cave. To protect themselves, they built a stone wall at the mouth of the cave. It was of no avail as the Indians killed the entire party, with the exception of one Englishman who escaped into the night.

After an arduous week, the sole survivor reached the coast, boarded a ship and returned to his homeland. He intended to organize a party to return to the mountains and recover the gold hidden away inside the cave on Round Top. On the eve of his return, though, he lost his eyesight and had to dictate a map showing where the gold was hidden.

For whatever reason, the treasure hunters that came back from England were unsuccessful. In later years, General Collett Leventhorpe brought fifty of his slaves and spent two months searching, but went away empty handed.

One persistent claim held that the map dictated by the blind Englishman was on file at the Library of Congress. Responding to an inquiry in the 1930s, a library official acknowledged receiving numerous requests for a map to the cave "where gold is said to have been hidden by a party of Englishmen in the 18th century, but we have never located such a map."

And if they had located such a map, I think you might have seen that library official and his friends hiking up Round Top Mountain. As far as I know, the gold remains hidden away…on Round Top…and right here in Oscar.

Tight Run Branch, NC

In 1937, the young linguist Joseph Sargent Hall was hired to document the lives of older mountain residents allowed to remain in the Great Smoky Mountains after the land was purchased for a national park. He met many unique people.

It was said of Mrs. Clem Enloe, from Tight Run Branch, NC, that she was "an awful hand to fish." People would slyly suggest, "have Mrs. Enloe tell about her fishing rights." She would snap at the interviewer, "Are you a little Park man or a big Park man?" Without waiting for an answer, she’d continue, "big Park man or little Park man, you son of a bitch, I fish when I please, winter or summer. See that can of worms?" (which were then forbidden in the park)

Understandably, many of the displaced residents resented the national park, saying things like "It’s the worst thing that ever ruint this country." Or as a man from Hartford, TN, said, "Before the park came in, I could shoot a rabbit or a possum whenever I wanted to. Now I don’t stand no more show than a one-legged man at an ass-kicking!"

Hall and his associates collected unforgettable stories and memorable expressions, such as:
It began to come down dusky; the sun was a-settin'.
We ought to do plenty of fishing against the season closes.
It's not generated in me to steal.
Hit'll kill ye or cure ye, one.
I didn't want to be catched in the rain and no shelter.
Dad gone it, there weren't even a sprig of fire in his place!
Hit was thick of houses, thick of people up thar then.
I had a good barn until come a wind storm and blowed it down.
I would rather surround (avoid) a snake than kill it.
I let drive (shot) at him. The bear broke to run and ran yan way up the mountain.
The day before the hunt we usually go and find where the bears are usin'. There's a heap more hard work and slavish runnin' and trampin' in bear huntin' than in 'coon huntin'.

Pictured is a CCC enrollee interviewing Steve Woody.

Hotshot Eastbound

John Szarkowski says of him, "One of nature’s noble men, and a legitimate American genius and nut."

No photographer’s work has reached out and grabbed me like the work of O. Winston Link. To say that he took nighttime photographs of the last Norfolk and Western steam locomotives doesn’t do him justice. He takes you to a primal familiar spiritual landscape with his 1950s work in the Southern Appalachians.

With the owl as his emblem, O. Winston Link was a unique character…tireless and innovative in finding and lighting and photographing the trains streaking through the night. And at the same time, his human subjects were depicted with a remarkable degree of wistful intimacy.

One of his best known works, Hotshot Eastbound, shows the patrons of a drive-in theatre, huddled in their chrome-festooned automobiles, watching a jet plane on the movie screen while a locomotive speeds past. It is such a distinct image that the creators of the Simpsons recreated the scene, as David Bryant explains in a great story about an unusual tribute.

The Winston Link photography collected in Steam Steel & Stars is astounding, the story behind it equally so. One-time Link assistant, Thomas Garver, concludes the collection with this:

As we can now see, the romantic documentation of the vanishing machinery I thought was our sole purpose was only a fragment of his project’s final meaning. For what Winston has preserved may now be seen as a wonderful and much more complex vignette of the individual lives of small-town America, and that, too, has all but vanished.

Negroskull Mountain, 1963 - 2006: R.I.P.

It is misleading to say we give names to places. Giving suggests a generous act. In fact, the naming of place is more a matter of taking control. And there’s always somebody who wants to call the shots. Inspecting my old map of the Smokies I find Wahhiya, Yalaka Creek, Una Mountain and Ugly Fork. But that map’s eighty years old, and those names are gone now, overtaken, pushed away.

Just last year, a helicopter full of investors flew over a few thousand prime acres of Jackson County and said, "Yes, we’ll buy it." With the amount of money they’re dropping, they expect to rewrite the map. And they will. Times change. And names change with them.

I moved to Cullowhee in the seventies, and remember being taken aback, browsing the local paper and seeing news of the Niggerskull 4-H Club. The Heritage-Not-Hate-Confederate-Flag sticker guys might have said, "Niggerskull Mountain, Niggerskull Creek, that’s what we’ve always called it and we don’t mean any harm. So why change it?"

Thirty years later, I’d guess a few old-timers still call it Niggerskull, and that a lot more newcomers have never heard its old name. Just because we [almost] all speak English doesn’t mean we’re talking the same language.

You probably won’t read about Niggerskull, Jackson County, NC in the newspaper any more. You won’t see it on the TV news. Impolite at best, the name is destined to fade into obscurity faster than most. It’s a matter of local usage, but also a matter of legal authority. After all, he who calls the shots… Sometimes, the problem is who calls the shots?

In 2003, the North Carolina legislature finally mandated the change of some racially-charged names including Niggerskull Mountain and Niggerskull Creek in Jackson County. One legislator said, "I'm surprised, really, that this wasn't done before -- that this would still exist in our state." The News and Observer quoted Jackson County Rep. Phil Haire as saying he had not heard that people were offended by the names. "It's just what it's always been," he said. "I don't know that people consider it offensive or not offensive."

Actually, in 1992, the Jackson County commissioners had changed the name of Niggerskull Road to Cedar Valley Road. But Niggerskull Mountain remained. Unbeknownst to state and local officials, though, the federal government had – in 1963 – "corrected" most of the offending place names by adopting the word "Negro". And for the years since then, that mountain near Cullowhee was officially, but very quietly, Negroskull Mountain.

Until January 12, 2006. That was when the Domestic Names Committee of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names convened in Washington for their 675th meeting. At long last, the committee considered a motion to change the name of Negroskull Creek to Cedar Valley Creek, Negroskull Mountain to Cedar Valley Knob, and Negro Spring to Cedar Valley Spring. The motion passed, by a vote of nine in favor and two opposed.

Quoting from the minutes of that meeting, "The negative votes were cast in the belief that there is no evidence that the term ‘Negro’ is offensive to a large segment of the population. The members suggested that the State Legislature, in submitting these names, was operating under the misconception that the official names were still in the pejorative form when in fact all Federal products were directed to be corrected in 1963. If the pejorative form still exists on State or county products, it is incumbent upon the State to correct those, not necessarily to seek a change at the Federal level."

Next on the docket, the committee voted on name changes to two places in Clay County, NC. This time, by a vote of seven to four, the committee renamed Negro Head and Little Negro Head as Clay Knob and Little Clay Knob. "The negative votes were cast in the belief that there is no evidence that the term ‘Negro’ is universally offensive and that the proposed names were unimaginative."

Well, there you have it. Not a story about how a place received its name, but a story about how it lost its name. Good riddance.

Webster Bridge

Waynesville, NC, ca. 1880

Jeff Biggers came to town tonight, reading at Osondu Booksellers. No less than Studs Terkel said of The United States of Appalachia (How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America), "Biggers’s inspiring book should be a best-seller immediately. It is a ‘how-to’ book—how to assert your fundamental rights and how to speak out in the manner of the American Revolution footsloggers, whose descendants they are. Read it and your faltering hopes will rise."

Biggers opened his reading with an account of Rebecca Harding, who in 1861 published "The Iron Mills". Her story, set in western Virginia, broke new ground for literary naturalism. In Biggers’ estimation, "Harding set the standard for a century of chroniclers in shattering the stereotypes of the mountaineers and hill folk. Her work reminded the country that Appalachia was not a foreign land, but a vital American crossroads of numerous immigrant groups, blacks, and courageous women, all of whom were playing a significant role in our nation’s industrial saga."

Rebecca Harding Davis was still writing when she visited Western North Carolina almost twenty years later, and she wrote of an incident that occurred in Webster. From The Providence of Nature, Chapter 8, we read of that trip:

The travellers had come South for a summer vacation. They were awed by the mountains' splendor, amused by the mountaineers' quaintness. Their escort for the passage from Waynesville to Franklin was familiar with the road, and stoked their curiosity.

"'We are half way now,' said Judge Hixley, when they reached the little town of Webster. 'There is a bridge hyah over the Tuckaseege, which I discovered five years ago, that I wish toh show you. It is built on square piers of logs, which have been filled in with earth. The wood has decayed, and out of the earth wild vines have grown; the red-leafed ivy, passion-flowers, pink sweet-brier, and feathery fern cover the piers and the bridge, and trail into the water. There are steep, quiet banks at either side, the river is crystal clear, and across it hangs this span of plumy leaves and flowers. It belongs to fairy-land. You will see it at the next turn. Ah-h!'

Over the river stretched a tight, solid bridge of bare new pine planks.

'Lookin' at our new improvement?' said a lank-jawed fellow sitting astride of the fence. 'Neatest thing in Jackson County, that bridge, I reckon.' "

In that one moment, Rebecca Harding Davis captured the essence of two very different world views, a difference still present today, as the ongoing disagreements over development in Jackson County so amply demonstrate. One’s improvement is another’s disappointment.

Maybe the authors of The United States of Appalachia and The Providence of Nature are saying the same thing: when we lose our true history, we lose our true future.

Great Telliquo

March 29, 1730
They proceeded over the Mountains, drank some of the Water on the Top of the high Ooneekawy Mountain, near which was a large Tree called the Poison’d Pear; from the Top of this Mountain to great Telliquo, is a Descent about 12 Miles. They arrived at great Telliquo in the Afternoon, saw the petrifying Cave, a great many Enemies Scalps brought in and put upon Poles at the Warriors Doors, made a Friend of the great Moytoy, and Jacob the Conjurer: Moytoy told Sir Alexander that it was talked among the several Towns last Year; that they intended to make him Emperor over the Whole; but now it must be whatever Sir Alexander pleased.

This entry describes one day of Sir Alexander Cuming’s travels through Cherokee country and the Ooneekawy (Unicoi) Mountains. "Great Telliquo (Tellico)" was located near the current Tellico Plains, TN. And the petrifying cave refers to a nearby cavern containing stalctites and stalagmites. The 38 year old Scottish nobleman had left Charleston on March 13 to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokee. Cuming’s meeting with the Cherokee leaders would take place on April 3, at Nequesee (Nikwasi) in present-day Franklin, NC. Ultimately, seven Cherokees departed with Cuming to sail to England for an audience with the King on June 22, 1730.

Cuming had already been traveling along the Little Tennessee on March 26, 1730:
From Estoway they went to Nooulfkah, and made a Friend of Hercules, got the Secret of his several Roots for Distempers, met on the Road the Conjurer of Toogabow, and made a Friend of him; then went by Echvey to Nequassee, where they met Telloquoluftokay, and made a Friend of him, then to Jore, where he lay all Night: This Day he made several Discoveries, made a Friend of the second Warrior of Joree, spoke with Caesar’s Brother, who discovered the Indians Plot to murder the English, and found here a transparent Stone on the Ground.

Clearly, Sir Alexander had some busy days during his travels amongst the Cherokee villages.


I’d call it an astonishing mystery - on April 3, 1730 in the Cherokee village Nequassee (present Franklin, NC) Sir Alexander Cuming oversaw a ceremony to install Chief Moytoy as the "Emperor of the Cherokees," and won the allegiance of the Cherokees to the King of England:
April 3. They proceeded this Morning to Nequassee, being. five Miles Distance from Joree, their Company always increasing. Here the Indians met from all Parts of the Settlements, (having received Intelligence of the General Meeting intended) by the Expresses sent from Keeowee. This was a Day of Solemnity the greatest that ever was seen in the Country; there was Singing, Dancing, Feasting, making of Speeches, the Creation of Moytoy Emperor, with the unanimous Consent of all the head Men assembled from the different Towns of the Nation, a Declaration of their resigning their Crown, Eagles Tails, Scalps of their Enemies, as an Emblem of their all owning his Majesty King George’s Sovereignty over them, at the Desire of Sir Alexander Cuming, in whom an absolute unlimited Power was placed, without which he could not be able to answer to his Majesty for their Conduct. The Declaration of Obedience was made on their Knees, in Order to intimate, that a Violation of their Promise then made in so solemn a Manner, would be sufficient to make them no People. Sir Alexander made the Witnesses sign to the Substance of what they saw and heard, in order to preserve the Memory thereof, after Words are forgot. The Witnesses were Sir Alexander Cuming, Eleazar Wiggan, Ludovick Grant, Samuel Brown, William Cooper, Agnus Mackferson, David Dowie, Francis Beaver, Lachlan Mackbain, George Hunter, George Chicken, and Joseph Cooper, Interpreter, besides the Indians.

Cuming anticipated some details of the ceremony, as indicated by one contemporary account:
Sir Alexander had been informed of all the Ceremonies that were used in making a head beloved man, of which there are a great many in this nation. They are called Ouka and as we translate that word King, so we call the Cap he wears upon that occasion his Crown, it resembles a wig and is made of Possum’s hair Dyed Red or Yellow, Sir Alexander was very desirous to see one of them, and there being none at that Town One was sent for to some other Town, He Expressed Great Satisfaction at Seeing of it, and he told the Indians that he would carry it to England and give it to the Great King George.

During the ceremony, Moytoy insisted that Cuming share in the glory of the moment. The Cherokees present lifted Cuming up onto the seat reserved for Moytoy and performed the Eagle Tail Dance that involved stroking him with the tail feathers of 13 golden eagles.

We’re told that Cuming made the trip to the colonies because of his wife’s dream that he would accomplish great things among the Cherokees. Drawn to a place he’d never seen, Cuming left England on September 13, 1729 and arrived in Charleston on December 5.

He was a persuasive confidence man, who wasted no time in swindling Charleston investors and planning an escape on the next ship heading back across the Atlantic. But not before his trip to the Cherokee territory as a self-appointed emissary of the crown.

For guides, Cuming enlisted white traders and Indian fighters familiar with the Cherokee land and people. On March 11, 1730, they set off from Charleston toward the southern mountains. Along the way, the party shot a wild bison in South Carolina, and were warned to avoid Cherokee territory because of their hostility toward the English.

Cuming never hesitated, but sped forward. At that time, there were about 64 Cherokee villages in parts of four present-day states, 30 to 60 houses per town. In an incredibly short time, Sir Alexander visited many of those villages, was greeted with exceptional generosity wherever he went, and forged extensive alliances with Cherokee leaders, culminating with the April 3 ceremony. He must have impressed the Cherokee people, because very soon after his arrival they hailed him as a 'lawgiver, commander, leader and chief' and presented him with the scalps of their enemies.

His whirlwind tour among the Cherokees began in the Lower Villages along the headwaters of the Savannah River, like Keowee, and then proceeded to Nequassee and the other Middle Settlements along the upper part of the Little Tennessee. He crossed the Unicoi Range past Murphy and visited the Overhills Settlements, including Tellico, before starting back to Nequassee.

He somehow convinced seven Cherokees to return with him to the royal court as evidence of the agreement he had negotiated with the Cherokees. Cuming and his entourage arrived back in Charleston on April 13, just a month and two days after starting their expedition to the mountains. They boarded a ship on May 4 and landed in Dover, England on June 5, 1730. He was promptly thrown in jail for debt. The Cherokees thought it a counterproductive punishment in that it rendered the debtor unable to repay his debts.

What a day it must have been, 277 years ago today, when Sir Alexander went to Franklin and was crowned with a possum’s hair cap.

One "embellished" book on this episode is William O. Steele’s "The Cherokee Crown of Tannassy" which expands on the contemporary accounts of the expedition.
The illustration: Seven Cherokee men show off English costumes given to them by King George II on a walk in St. James Gardens, London, summer 1730. Engraving, British Museum.

Opium Fields of Dixie

Every planter in the Confederate States can produce the opium that is required, either for the army or for home use. Occupied in researches upon these subjects during the month of June, under the order of the Surgeon-General, I was enabled to collect, in a few days, more than an ounce of gum opium, apparently of very excellent quality, having all the smell and taste of opium (which I have administered to the sick), from specimens of the red poppy found growing in a garden near Stateburgh, S. C. I have little doubt that all we require could be gathered by ladies and children within the Confederate States, if only the slightest attention was paid to cultivating the plants in our gardens. It thrives well, and bears abundantly. – Francis Peyre Porcher, M.D., 1863

Let’s get acquainted with one of the major figures in Civil War medicine, Francis Peyre Porcher. His opus, Resources of the southern fields and forests… being also a medical botany of the Confederate States, was published in Charleston in 1863. In light of the difficulties importing materials into the South during wartime, Porcher’s remarkable 600 page document was intended as a:

repertory of scientific and popular knowledge as regards the medicinal, economical, and useful properties of the trees, plants, and shrubs found within the limits of the Confederate States, whether employed in the arts, for manufacturing purposes, or in domestic economy,
The Regimental Surgeon in the field, the Physician in his private practice, or the Planter on his estate may themselves collect and apply these substances within their reach, which are frequently quite as valuable as others obtained from abroad, and either impossible to be procured or scarce and costly. But information scattered through a variety of sources must needs be first collected to be available in any practical point of view.

Here are some excerpts from Porcher's entry on opium production:
The poppy may become one of the most profitable crops, if we have the means of disposing of the seed, or if we knew how to extract the oil. By proper cultivation it may be made to produce from nine to ten bushels of seed per acre, and one bushel yields twenty-four pounds of good oil. This oil, especially the first portion, which is cold-pressed, and mixed in the mill with slices of apple, is doubtless the purest kind of oil for the table, and the most agreeable that is known.

In Thornton's Family Herbal a very full and interesting account can be read of the cultivation of poppy in England, with the successful production of opium in considerable quantity. Forty pounds were made in one season by one person. Boys and girls were employed in incising the bulbs and gathering the gum.

The strength of the juice, according to Dr. Butler, of British India, depends much upon the quantity of moisture of the climate. A deficiency even of dew prevents the proper flow of the peculiar, narcotic, milky juice which abounds in every part of the plant, while an excess, besides washing off this milk, causes additional mischief by separating the soluble from the insoluble parts of this drug.

In obtaining gum opium, the capsules are cut longitudinally only through the skin, though some advise that it should be done from below upward. I find longitudinal incisions the most economical. This is generally done late in the afternoon, the hardened gum being scraped off early next morning. Boys or girls can easily attend to this.

It has been calculated by Mr. Ball that more than fifty pounds of opium may be collected from one statute acre.

If the boys and girls are eager to get started on this do-it-yourself project, complete details are found on pages 23-28 of Resources of the southern fields and forests.

I believe Stephen Foster wrote a song about the opium fields of Dixie, but I've not been able to locate it yet.

Enemy Invaders

This post is NOT about golf course developers.

June 10, 1761 is one of the most significant and tragic dates in the history of the Little Tennessee River Valley. It was on this date (246 years ago!) Colonel James Grant, leading a British expeditionary force of 2800 soldiers against the Cherokees, approached the point (south of present-day Franklin, NC) where the Cherokees had turned back British forces only a year before.

On the morning of June 10, "the high blue wall of the Cowee Mountains loomed in the foreground." And shortly thereafter, Cherokee forces engaged the British in a fierce battle that continued for five hours. Grant commented that his forces would have been defeated had the Cherokees not run out of ammunition.

Over the next month, Grant’s forces destroyed fifteen Cherokee towns along the Little Tennessee. Lieutenant Francis Marion wrote about this brutality:

We proceeded, by Colonel Grant's orders, to burn the Indian cabins.

Some of the men seemed to enjoy this cruel work, laughing heartily at the flames, but to me it appeared a shocking sight. Poor creatures, thought I, we surely need not grudge you such miserable habitations. But when we came, according to orders, to cut down the fields of corn, I could scarcely refrain from tears. Who, without grief, could see the stately stalks with broad green leaves and tasseled shocks, the staff of life, sink under our swords with all their precious load, to wither and rot untasted in their mourning fields.

I saw everywhere around the footsteps of the little Indian children, where they had lately played under the shade of their rustling corn. When we are gone, thought I, they will return, and peeping through the weeds with tearful eyes, will mark the ghastly ruin where they had so often played.

'Who did this?' they will ask their mothers, and the reply will be, 'The white people did it, - the Christians did it!' Thus, for cursed mammon's sake, the followers of Christ have sowed the selfish tares of hate in the bosoms of even Pagan Children.

White men who enjoy destruction for "cursed mammon's sake"? Maybe this post IS about golf course developers.


In the spring of 1761 Lieutenant Henry Timberlake kept notes of his time among the Overhills Cherokee. This is an account of his visit to the village of Settico:

About 100 yards from the town-house we were received by a body of between three and four hundred Indians, ten or twelve of which were entirely naked, except for a piece of cloth about their middle, and painted all over in a hideous manner, six of them with eagles tails in their hands, which they shook and flourished as they advanced, danced in a very uncommon figure, singing in concert with some drums of their own make, and those of the late unfortunate Capt. Demere; with several other instruments, uncouth beyond description. Chuelah, the headman of the town led the procession, painted blood-red, except his face, which was half black, holding an old rusty broad-sword in his right hand, and an eagle’s tail in his left.

We then proceeded to the door, where Chuelah, and one of the beloved men, taking me by each arm, led me in, and seated me in one of the first seats; it was so dark that nothing was perceptible till a fresh supply of canes were brought, which being burnt in the middle of the house answers both purposes of fuel and candle. I then discovered about five hundred faces; and Cheulah addressing me a second time made some professions of friendship, concluding with giving me another string of beads, as a token of it.

He had scarce finished, when four of those who had exhibited at the procession made their second appearance, painted milk-white, their eagle-tails in one hand, and small goards with beads in them in the other, which they rattled in time with the music. During this dance the peace-pipe was prepared; the bowl of it was red stone, curiously cut with a knife, it being very soft, tho' extremely pretty when polished. The steam is about three feet long, finely adorned with porcupine quills, dyed feathers, deers hair, and such like guady trifles.

After I had performed my part with this, I was almost suffocated with the pipes presented me on every hand, which I dared not to decline. They might amount to about 170 or 180; which made me so sick, that I could not stir for several hours.

The Indians entertained me with another dance, at which I was detained till about seven o’clock next morning, when I was conducted to the house of Chucatah, then second in command, to take some refreshment.

Soon after this, Timberlake prepared his famous map of 1762, shown here next to a contemporary Google Earth image.
The left side of the map is north.
At lower right, the Tellico River meets the Little Tennessee.
At upper left, Chilhowee Mountain.
Trading paths from Virginia and from Charleston, SC converged just down-river from Settico, located on the south bank of the Little Tennessee.
(Click on either image to enlarge)

The Stream on Mountain Grove

Pretty slow in greater metropolitan Oscar, North Carolina....somebody did install a new sign on the way into town this week.

After a couple of days watching cabbages grow...

...we decided to go across the mountains a piece.
Took a little target practice on the way...

...then we found a favorite place to shoot...
Radiant sacred earth

But I can't go there without some apprehension. I see the most beautiful pastures for miles around, where Arnie, Jack and Phil would just see 18 more holes.

If you care to, you can visit the cemetery out behind the church...

...see the names who farmed this valley, see the graves of the folks taken by the 1919 Epidemic...

before you go up the road some more.

Rival gang graffiti marks their turf

Slow down where the road used to end

I knew what had rolled in beyond there. Saw their fluff on the world wide web, The Sanctuary at Mountain Grove. Tacky gates and all the rest. Wonder what else they’ve done up where our cameras can't go.
Took a hint from a sign on the barn...

...the last old barn before the sanctuary.

Heroes live here...
and geese do, too.
A creek is a terrible thing to waste.
Remember the old home place?
We left Mountain Grove with mixed feelings, crossed the gap, and saw a brand new sign on the way back to Oscar.

Good advice, indeed