Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wild Strawberry Fields Forever

Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.
It's getting hard to be someone but it all works out.
It doesn't matter much to me.
Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields.
Nothing is real and nothing to get hung about.
Strawberry Fields forever.
-The Beatles

Today, I spent a few hours mowing and was richly rewarded when I uncovered a bunch of wild strawberries. I switched off the lawnmower and gathered the tender fruit.

Whenever I taste a wild strawberry, I automatically think back to the time that William Bartram crossed the Cowees at Leatherman Gap and descended into Alarka Valley.

What an incredible coincidence for me to find wild strawberries on May 24, 2008, because it was May 24, 1775 that William Bartram encountered this scene:

…enjoyed a most enchanting view, a vast expanse of green meadows and strawberry fields; a meandering river gliding through, saluting in its various turnings the swelling, green, turfy knolls, embellished with parterres of flowers and fruitful strawberry beds; flocks of turkies strolling about them; herds of deer prancing in the meads or bounding over the hills; companies of young, innocent Cherokee virgins, some busily gathering the rich fragrant fruit, others having already filled their baskets, lay reclined under the shade of floriferous and fragrant native bowers of Magnolia, Azalea, Philadelphus, perfumed Calycanthus, sweet Yellow Jessamine and cerulian Glycine frutescens, disclosing their beauties to the fluttering breeze, and bathing their limbs in the cool fleeting streams; whilst other parties, more gay and libertine, were yet Collecting strawberries or wantonly chasing their companions, tantalising them, staining their lips and cheeks with the rich fruit.

Keep in mind that Bartram was a 36-year-old man who’d endured several weeks of difficult travel, far from the comforts of home:

This sylvan scene of primitive innocence was enchanting, and perhaps too enticing for hearty young men long to continue idle spectators. In fine, nature prevailing over reason, we wished at least to have a more active part in their delicious sports. Thus precipitately resolving, we cautiously made our approaches, yet undiscovered, almost to the joyous scene of action.

Now, although we meant no other than an innocent frolic with this gay assembly of hamadryades, we shall leave it to the person of feeling and sensibility to form an idea to what lengths
our passions might have hurried us, thus warmed and excited, had it not been for the vigilance and care of some envious matrons who lay in ambush, and espying us gave the alarm, time enough for the nymphs to rally and assemble together; we however pursued and gained ground on a group of them, who had incautiously strolled to a greater distance from their guardians, and finding their retreat now like to be cut off, took shelter under cover of a little grove, but on perceiving themselves to be discovered by us, kept their station, peeping through the bushes; when observing our approaches, they confidently discovered themselves and decently advanced to meet us, half unveiling their blooming faces, incarnated with the modest maiden blush, and with native innocence and cheerfulness presented their little baskets, merrily telling us their fruit was ripe and sound.

We accepted a basket, sat down and regaled ourselves on the delicious fruit, encircled by the whole assembly of the innocently jocose sylvan nymphs; by this time the several parties under the conduct of the elder matrons, had disposed themselves in companies on the green, turfy banks.

For an itinerant botanist who answered to the name "Puc Puggy", Billy Bartram knew how to have a good time.

On this very day, 233 years ago, he took great delight…

…in wild strawberries.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Nikwasi Mound

Nikwasi Mound, Franklin, Macon County, NC, ca. 1896

If you could travel back
in time to a place not far from here, you could do worse than to return to April 3, 1730 at the Nikwasi Mound along the Little Tennesee River in present-day Franklin, NC.

On that date, 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.

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.

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 since it rendered the debtor unable to repay his debts.

What a day it must have been, 281 years ago today, when Sir Alexander went to Franklin and was crowned with a possum’s hair cap.

One embellished account of this episode is William O. Steele’s "The Cherokee Crown of Tannassy" which expands on the original records of the expedition.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Road That Never Happened

Blue Ridge Parkway, Craggy Tunnel

Today, the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders along Jackson County’s northeastern border. Forty years ago, a proposed extension of the Parkway almost sliced through the southern part of the county. Looking at this place now, you can only imagine how that road would have changed things.

In the 1950s, serious work began toward developing a southern extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The new road was part of the Mission 66 plan devised by the National Park Service. Launched in 1956, Mission 66 was a ten-year initiative to improve facilities and to protect scenic and historic resources in the national parks. It set out to accomplish the seemingly incompatible goals of "widest possible use" and "maximum preservation.”

The year of 1966 passed without construction of the southern extension. Then in 1968 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to accept donations of land for an extension running from the vicinity of Beech Gap, North Carolina, to the vicinity of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park north of Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia.

No exact route for the extension had been determined. Presumably, it would have run almost entirely along the Nantahala National Forest as it passed through Jackson County, on its way toward rejoining the Eastern Continental Divide near Cashiers.

Beech Gap, elevation 5340, is at mile 423 of the Parkway, where it intersects with State Highway 215. And that’s also where the Parkway reaches its southernmost point.

An extension running south and west from Beech Gap would have been closer to the route proposed for the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway. Joseph Hyde Pratt, North Carolina’s State Geologist, began construction of that motorway in 1914, with the intention of connecting Tallulah Falls, GA to Marion, VA. Only a short portion of the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway was completed at that time, and it was later incorporated into the Blue Ridge Parkway.

After Congress passed enabling legislation in the 1960s, it appeared the southern extension was close to becoming reality. In July 1970 the New York Times published a report from Waynesville, where Parkway superintendent Granville Liles expressed the hope that construction of the “Georgia extension” would begin in 1971.

For whatever reason, that’s about as far as the project went.

The concept, however, was never completely forgotten. Fast forward to April 1992. A resolution in the South Carolina General Assembly included this language:

Whereas, the National Park Service has studied the extension of three alternate routes of the parkway from Beech Gap to Norton in North Carolina; and
Whereas, one of these alternate routes passes near Whitewater Falls very close to the South Carolina state line…
Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring:
That the General Assembly of South Carolina memorializes the President, the Congress of the United States, and the National Park Service of the United States Department of Interior to plan, authorize, and construct an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway into the State of South Carolina so as to connect at some appropriate point with the South Carolina Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway [SC Highway 11].

To the best of my knowledge, 16 years further along, any plans for the southern extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway are gathering dust on the shelf of some government office.

For Jackson County it was the road that never happened.