Friday, August 29, 2008

Searching for Teresita

The events of one’s life take place, take place. How often have I used that expression, and how often have I stopped to think what it means? Events do indeed take place; they have meaning in relation to the things around them. - N. Scott Momaday

“Could you help me find Teresita?”

Should some perplexed traveler stop me with that question, I’d have a quick reply.

“Sure. Head west out of Franklin on US 64. When you get to Cartoogechaye, turn left on the Old Murphy Road. Follow that to North Jones Creek Road, look for Gillespie Chapel and you'll reach Teresita, between Pine Mountain and Black Mountain."

While that’s a reasonably accurate answer, it’s not what writer and critic Edmund Wilson wanted when he raised the question forty-five years ago. More on that later.

This story began when I heard N. Scott Momaday read a piece called “Riding is an Exercise of the Mind” from his book, In the Presence of the Sun. It’s amazing how a few carefully chosen words can possess the power to transport a person through space and time, and bring back a flood of memories. Momaday’s words did that for me:

One autumn morning in 1946 I woke up at Jemez Pueblo.

Two decades later I would be the one waking up at Jemez Pueblo, and at about the same age as Momaday was in 1946. The twelve-year-old Momaday had come to the place of his growing up, as he put it, and found a place much like the village I saw in 1968. He described the scene:

The village and the valley, the canyons and the mountains had been there from the beginning of time, waiting for me. So it seemed….

The landscape was full of mystery and of life. The autumn was in full bloom. The sun cast a golden light upon the adobe walls and the cornfields; it set fire to the leaves of willows and cottonwoods along the river; and a fresh cold wind rand own from the canyons and carried the good scents of pine and cedar smoke, of bread baking in the beehive ovens, and of rain in the mountains. There were horses in the plain and angles of geese in the sky.

Hearing those words from Momaday took me back to Jemez. I could smell the wood smoke. I could taste the bread from those beehive ovens. I could revisit my own adventures from the time I spent there. I remembered:

One afternoon, my new-found friends at Jemez asked if I liked apricots. “Follow us,” they motioned, and in just a minute we came upon a tree loaded with apricots ripened to perfection under the New Mexico sun. The heavily laden limbs beckoned and we began enjoying the golden fruit. I had never tasted apricots more delicious, either before or since.

I had never felt more at home anywhere else, before or since.

Suddenly, my trilingual buddies were yelling frantically to one another in a language I did not understand. They took off running as fast as they could go. I turned around slowly and saw an old man at the back door of his adobe house, holding a shotgun and scowling. Surely he wouldn’t shoot a skinny little tow-headed boy for raiding his apricot tree. Or would he? And how could you blame him if he did?

I didn’t wait to find out.

Edmund Wilson’s visit to Jemez Pueblo had preceded my arrival by almost 40 years. When N. Scott Momaday began a correspondence with him in the 1960’s, Wilson wrote:

There was a beautiful Indian girl there named Teresita…If you should meet her, please remember me to her.

Momaday never found Teresita, but later reflected on Wilson’s comment:

In his long lifetime, Wilson knew a great many people and traveled widely over the earth….It fascinates me that he should recall to mind a girl in the Jemez Mountains after a span of thirty years. But why should it?

If in August, some year, when I go to see the Pecos bull run through the streets of Jemez Pueblo, I find the old woman, I shall indeed remember him to her.

One indelible memory from Jemez was when the old ladies came around selling freshly cooked tamales. Every evening they'd carry baskets of steaming hot tamales wrapped in cornhusks. I wonder about Edmund Wilson’s Teresita. Since she had been a young lady in 1930, she could have been one of those tamale vendors four decades later. Or perhaps I saw Teresita in Jemez Pueblo taking bread out of a beehive oven. It might have happened.

Now, if a perplexed traveler were to ask me for help finding Teresita, I would hesitate before answering.

“Well, that all depends. Which Teresita are you looking for?”

There is great good in returning to a landscape that has had extraordinary meaning in one's life. It happens that we return to such places in our minds irresistably. There are certain villages and towns, mountains and plains that, having seen them, walked in them, lived in them, even for a day, we keep forever in the mind's eye. They become indispensable to our well-being; they define us, and we say, I am who I am because I have been there, or there. - N. Scott Momaday

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Great Haywood Artifact Scam

A portion of the 1760 Kitchin map. The village of Evanga is indicated where the Little Tennessee and the Tuckasegee Rivers meet.

The folks at the North Carolina Collection of the University of North Carolina library in Chapel Hill have been providing a wealth of research materials online, and just this week they’ve announced the beta version of North Carolina Maps. Eventually, this collection will make available via the web 1500 historically significant maps.

I was glad to see one map in particular, the 1760 Thomas Kitchin map, A New Map of the Cherokee Nation. As far as I know, this is the first published map to show any level of detail for the Tuckasegee River Valley. Kitchin engraved the map based on “an Indian draught” and it was included in the February 1760 issue of London Magazine, along with an article describing a punitive expedition against the Cherokee and the importance of obtaining allegiance of the Cherokee to prevent French incursions from the west. In June 1760, Colonel Archibald Montgomery led British forces into Cherokee country to quell the uprising, but was ambushed and turned back, south of present-day Franklin, NC.

The Kitchin map identifies several villages located near the Tuckasegee River, including Newni, Cunnulrasha, Tuckereche, Kittewano, Cunnawiskee and Tuckeseegee.

Thomas Kitchin (1718-1784) was one of the most prolific English engravers and map publishers of his time. He published a wide range of books, many of which were unrelated to the subject of geography. He also produced maps for magazines, such as The London Magazine and books relating to history. He collaborated with Emanuel and Thomas Bowen, and Thomas Jefferys. On his own, he published the General Atlas in 1773.

Nicholas Graham announced the launch of North Carolina Maps this week:

The site currently includes over 750 maps, primarily from the State Archives and the North Carolina Collection. Maps from the Outer Banks History Center will be added in the fall. There is an impressive variety of maps on the site, including many of the earliest maps of North Carolina, state highway maps, Coast and Geodetic Survey maps, and — my personal favorite — soil survey maps. North Carolina Maps also includes at least one map for each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

New maps and features will be added to the site on a regular basis over the next two years.

The Kitchin map and many, many more North Carolina maps are at:

Friday, August 22, 2008

Unexpected Discoveries

North Carolina has plenty of places to discover, and one of my favorite books on those places is Carolina Journeys, Exploring the Trails of the Carolinas, Both Real and Imagined. It is different from other guide books – more personal and whimsical than similar volumes. I enjoyed it so much that I tried to contact the author, and learned the sad news that he had died after completing the book. It would have been fun to compare notes with someone who had worn out a copy of the 1939 WPA Guide to the Old North State.

In the introduction to his book, Tom Fowler took a couple of pages to explain his approach to sharing the places he had visited. Fowler wanted to write a guide book without providing so much information that it colored the expectations of the reader. Fowler explained that:

…the novelist Walker Percy thought about this effect of expectation upon perception. He described it as surrendering sovereignty over the experience to the expert – or at least to someone else who will evaluate your experience for you even before you experience it.
Carolina Journeys is intended to tell stories of poorly-known sites of interest in the Carolinas.

We realize that providing information about these sites is the first step in co-opting your sovereignty and reducing you to a sightseer – so our goal is to avoid providing too much information or too good directions or being too knowledgeable and authoritative. Much will be left up to you, dear reader and Carolina sojourner.

I appreciate how Fowler was careful not to rob the reader of the possibility for the experience of discovery. Nowadays, with the abundance of information just a click away, that sense of discovery is harder to come by. For whatever hiking trail or side road the traveller intends to take, it’s easy to find a detailed account posted by someone who’s already been there.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But sometimes there’s extra excitement in finding a place you’ve never heard of. That happened with the waterfalls pictured here. Had it not been for a keen-eyed navigator scanning fine print on the map, it would have been easy to drive right past the place, even though it is right next to a highway. In fact, I’d already driven past it a dozen times without knowing it was there.

I have no doubt that some readers will recognize the place. It’s not hard to find if you know where to look. But this time, I’m not going to name the place, provide directions or divulge any clues.

Then, if you do happen to stumble upon it, you might be as pleasantly surprised as I was.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tuckasegee Valley - 1760

A portion of the 1760 Kitchin map. The village of Evanga is indicated where the Little Tennessee and the Tuckasegee Rivers meet.

The folks at the North Carolina Collection of the University of North Carolina library in Chapel Hill have been providing a wealth of research materials online, and just this week they’ve announced the beta version of North Carolina Maps. Eventually, this collection will make available via the web 1500 historically significant maps.

I was glad to see one map in particular, the 1760 Thomas Kitchin map, A New Map of the Cherokee Nation. As far as I know, this is the first published map to show any level of detail for the Tuckasegee River Valley. Kitchin engraved the map based on “an Indian draught” and it was included in the February 1760 issue of London Magazine, along with an article describing a punitive expedition against the Cherokee and the importance of obtaining allegiance of the Cherokee to prevent French incursions from the west. In June 1760, Colonel Archibald Montgomery led British forces into Cherokee country to quell the uprising, but was ambushed and turned back, south of present-day Franklin, NC.

The Kitchin map identifies several villages located near the Tuckasegee River, including Newni, Cunnulrasha, Tuckereche, Kittewano, Cunnawiskee and Tuckeseegee.

Thomas Kitchin (1718-1784) was one of the most prolific English engravers and map publishers of his time. He published a wide range of books, many of which were unrelated to the subject of geography. He also produced maps for magazines, such as The London Magazine and books relating to history. He collaborated with Emanuel and Thomas Bowen, and Thomas Jefferys. On his own, he published the General Atlas in 1773.

Nicholas Graham announced the launch of North Carolina Maps this week:

The site currently includes over 750 maps, primarily from the State Archives and the North Carolina Collection. Maps from the Outer Banks History Center will be added in the fall. There is an impressive variety of maps on the site, including many of the earliest maps of North Carolina, state highway maps, Coast and Geodetic Survey maps, and — my personal favorite — soil survey maps. North Carolina Maps also includes at least one map for each of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

New maps and features will be added to the site on a regular basis over the next two years.

The Kitchin map and many, many more North Carolina maps are at:

Monday, August 18, 2008

See That Can of Worms?

At the Great Smokies visitor center recently, I came across this postcard.

The caption on the back reads:

With rod and bait pail in hand, Clem Enloe, 84, allowed a photographer to take her picture in exchange for a box of snuff (showing in her blouse). She refused to observe the park’s fishing regulations and fished year-round using live bait.

The photographer, Joseph Sargent Hall, was a young researcher working in the park in 1937. Enloe was quick to inform him that nobody would stop her from fishing in the park. Thankfully, we have a more colorful account of Hall’s encounter with the obstinate angler.

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."

And 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)

So far, I’ve been unable to determine the location of Tight Run Branch, NC.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Shopping for Apples

To make a long story short, I went shopping for apples today.

Now, for the long story. Hearing Gary Nabhan talk about about Silas McDowell’s Nickajack apples inspired me to go digging through my files. And here's what I found...

Working from his farm in the Cullasaja valley, Silas McDowell (1795-1879) lived in Macon County (NC) for most of his life and discovered or improved many varieties of apples. Thanks to McDowell, the Cullasaja Valley became a treasure trove of new apple varieties. In 1847, McDowell explained the origin of the Nickajack:

…it is the product of a tree left by the Cherokee Indians when they abandoned the country, and they had no mode of propagating their fruit other than by the seed. I found it when a small tree in an Indian improvement on a branch of the Sugartown [Cullasaja] called the Nick-a-jack creek - hence its name.

In 1855, McDowell listed some of the apple varieties that he had discovered. All except the first four on the list were of Cherokee origin:

Camack's Winter Sweet
Maverick's Winter Sweet
McDowell's Winter Sweet

In 1858, McDowell’s friend and fellow nurseryman, Jarvis Van Buren of Clarkesville, GA, acknowledged that successful apple production in the South was a fairly new trend and credited McDowell for that success:

Many of these [apples] were originated by the Cherokee and Creek Indians, who, it appears, were entirely ignorant of the process of propagating by grafting, but depended upon the sowing of seeds, which were collected in their intercourse with the whites. When the Indians left the country, their lands were occupied by our citizens, and since the enthusiasm for cultivating fruit has become awakened within the past ten years, these desirable varieties have been made public. Amongst our best winter apples are the Equinetely, Tillaquah, or Big Fruit, Chestoa, or Rabbit's Head, Elarkee, and Cullawhee, all of Indian origin — the latter the largest apple known.

Years later, one of McDowell’s neighbors in the Cullasaja Valley advertised even more varieties of trees for sale. This announcement appeared in the July 22, 1881 issue of the Western Reporter:

Cheap Fruit Trees. Mr. W. G. Stanfield, near Franklin, is offering the following very choice variety of apple trees at the remarkably low price of ten cents each. Don't send off for trees when you can get them so cheap at home.
Comanche Winter Sweet
Yellow Pippin
Early Harvest
Red June
Yellow June
Golden Pippin
Great Unknown
Winter Horse
Nansamond Beauty
Johnson's Fine Winter
Golden Russet
Aromatic Cordling
Clark Pearmain
Rhode Island Greening
Red Pippin
Royal Pearmain
Summer Golden Pippin
Winter Queen
Stevenson Fine Winter
Northern Spy
King Russet
Newtown Pippin

However, 33 years later, none of these appeared on a list of apples grown in Jackson County. These varieties were listed in the program for the 1914 Jackson County Fair:

York Imperial
Roman Beauty
Stayman's Wine Sap
Virginia Beauty
Wine Sap
Gano (Black Ben Davis)
Grime's Golden
Mammoth Black Twig
Bryson Seedling
Royal Limbertwig
Delaware Red
Roman Stem
Wolf River

To make a short story long, that’s the background for today's shopping trip to buy apples. Granted, it’s still early in the apple season. In another month or two, I might have more choices than I had this afternoon. I'll probably find more locally-grown apples than I found today. But just for fun, I wanted to see how many apple varieties I could find for sale in Sylva.

What better place to start than Walmart?

They had a half-dozen different apples, with the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith coming from Washington state, and the Braeburn, Fuji and Gala shipped from Chile.

Moving on to Ingle’s I found the same roster of apples. The biggest difference from Walmart was that almost all the apples were from Washington state rather than Chile, and some of the apples were labeled organic.

Next, I visited Terry’s Produce Stand. He offered three varieties of early apples, the Cortland, Ginger Gold and Wolf River. Mercifully, none of them had come from as far away as Chile, much less Washington.

For my last foray, I stopped at Harold's Supermarket. From what I could tell, all the apples were grown in the Chilean fruit at Harold's. On the other hand, I didn't see anything labelled organic. Signs above the display listed Winesap and Jonagold apples, but I couldn't find them. Harold's did have a relatively good selection of the usual suspects: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Rome, Braeburn, Mutsu, Fuji and Gala. Additionally, they had three varieties tagged as locally grown: Ginger Gold, Wolf River and Poly Red.

When it comes to apple diversity in the market, that's a start. But who knows? Some good people are working hard to renew America’s food traditions. One day soon, we might reconnect with the rich heritage of apple-growing in our own corner of the mountains, and get our first tastes of the apples named for the places we call home. Walmart can keep their Chilean Fujis and Galas. One day soon, we might find a Nickajack, a Cullasaga, an Alarkee…

…or even the largest of all apples, the Cullawhee.

More Varieties - The Apple Journal has a nice online list with descriptions of dozens of apples.

Scanning the list, I did not see the Poly Red, but I did find Paula Red, and the description fits the apple at Harold's. Some other names from the Apple Journal list caught my eye. Here are a just a few of the more intriguing ones:

Crow Egg
Dixie Red Delight
Douglas Wormless
Hollow Log
Husk Spice
Irish Peach
Mountain Boomer
Peace Garden
Pitmaston Pineapple
Pomme Gris
Rusty Coat
Sops of Wine
Winter Banana

Illustrations -
Top, the painting is from the USDA's National Agricultural Library Pomological Watercolor Collection. This delectable online exhibit includes selections from the 7700 watercolors commissioned by the USDA starting in 1887. Since the use of scientific photography was not widespread in the late 19th Century, the USDA relied on watercolor artists to illustrate newly introduced cultivars.

Photographs, from the Ewart Ball Photographic Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville. These photos are from a 1920 Apple Show. The first photo shows a display table of North Carolina apples. The second shows a display by Holston Orchards, Altapass, NC. The third is of a large Wolf River apple grown by Patton and Gillespie. The marks on these photos indicate they were produced by Plateau Studios in Asheville where the legendary George Masa did much of his photographic work. Several years later, Ewart Ball acquired Plateau, and questions have lingered as to whether or not Masa was properly credited for his work.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Smackass Gap

I’ve always liked Hayesville. I've been to Clay County many times over the years, and just learned something new about the place. If you’re driving west on Highway 64, you’ll cross Smackass Gap shortly before reaching the county seat.

I’m serious.

I never knew this until I took a close look at a topo map for the area. Smackass Gap is just west of Ledford Chapel, a church on the south side of Highway 64 overlooking one cove of Lake Chatuge.

According to the Board on Geographic Names, the official federal place-namers, there is only one Smackass in the United States, Clay County's own Smackass Gap. It begs the question, "Why in the world did they name it Smackass Gap?"

I have no idea.

While searching for the answer, I did come across a website for Miz Eudora Rumph, a noted author (In the Sweet By and By) who proudly hails from Smackass Gap. I also learned that Miz Eudora will be hosting a tour of Smackass Gap on September 19 and 20. Apparently, a motor coach full of Red Hat Ladies will be arriving for two days of festivities, including dining at the Hayesville Family Restaurant, a visit to Clay’s Corner (home of the possum drop), Moonshine Mash, a picnic at Chatuge Dam, and lunch at the Jarrett House in Dillsboro.

For real.

Presumably, if you pay the $216 to attend this shindig, you will find out why the place is called Smackass Gap.

On US 64 at Smacksass Gap, Clay County, NC

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Culture of Corn

The preservation of traditional crops is more than just saving seeds. It includes the preservation of the recipes and stories that earned those crops a treasured place in local culture. Many individuals and groups have recognized the value of perpetuating old-timey varieties, and it’s encouraging to see what they’ve accomplished. But those efforts can be tenuous. The story of Cherokee flour corn is a good example.

Back in the 1980s, Western Carolina University Chancellor Cotton Robinson was involved in research to restore the original strain of Cherokee flour corn. As I recall, the Cherokee Boys Club participated in raising the corn and marketing the cornmeal. I remember buying a bag of it, and discovered that it made the best cornbread I even ate. If you were to bring me a bag of that cornmeal right now, I’d drop everything else, pull out the old black skillet and bake some cornbread.

I hope that the recovery of Cherokee flour corn hasn’t fallen by the wayside. Fresh-baked cornbread is one of life’s great pleasures, and Cherokee flour corn made it even better. I’ve not found another cornmeal that comes close. In searching for the latest news on Cherokee flour corn, I did find this description posted by "blueflint" on a message board:

[The Cherokee] late pre-history corn culture was mostly based on their white flour corn, which they are very well known for and this was grown through out the Cherokee lands. If you have never seen this corn grow, it will average 12' tall but in good soil can reach 18'. This is an 8 row white flour corn that grinds silky smooth.

My search also led to a business established to grow and market old Southern crops. Ten years ago, Glenn Roberts founded Anson Mills in order to "grow, harvest and mill near-extinct varieties of heirloom corn, rice, and wheat organically, and re-create ingredients that were in the Southern larder before the Civil War." The entire story, at , is worth a read. By searching for the ideal corn to produce grits, Roberts might have saved one variety from extinction. According to the Anson Mills website:

The corn was revered for its high mineral and floral characteristics, and its creamy mouthfeel. He found this corn in a bootlegger's field near Dillon, South Carolina in 1997, and planted and harvested his own first crop of 30 acres in 1998. Known as "Carolina Gourdseed White," the single-family hand-select dated back to the late 1600's. Gourdseed is a classic Southern dent corn, soft and easy to mill.

Preservation of the old varieties is so much more than just botany or agriculture or cuisine. To preserve the old crops is also to preserve language, beautiful and powerful language. I posted a piece on this last year, and it has some relevance to the current discussion:
One of the last conversations I had with someone born prior to the twentieth century was with Robert Lee Franks (1897-2000). While transcribing the 1990 interview, I recognized the poetry in his way of speaking. As he talked about growing corn, he spoke in the gentle rhythms of the past.

Here’s what Robert told me.

Making Corn

It took lots of ground to make corn,
The way the old people farmed it
On these hillsides,
Four foot apart the rows,
Hills of corn four foot apart.
Now that takes a big patch
To make anything.

We grew the Pigeon White, they call it,
And the Hamburg Red Speckled for a long time.
And we got off from that on to a corn
That was mixed a little bit with sweet corn,
Made a great big long grain
Sort of like Hickory King
But it would get ripe quicker.

Sometimes we’d grow a little wheat
And make our flour,
But not often, though.
We just traded corn
For most everything.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Finding Guaxule

May is an important month in the history of the Southern Appalachians. In fact, the (recorded) history of the Southern Appalachians began in the month of May, because it was in May of 1540 that Hernando de Soto and his 600 Conquistadors crossed the Blue Ridge and stopped over at the village of Guaxule (Guasili).

The de Soto party started their trip across the Southeast a year earlier after landing on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Among de Soto’s followers were three men who chronicled the journey and gave us the first written accounts of European contact with the Cherokees (or perhaps the people who preceeded the Cherokees). One of those writers described the Guaxilians that greeted the Spaniards:

The lord of the province, who also had the same name of Guaxule, came out half a league from the pueblo accompanied by five hundred nobles handsomely dressed in rich mantles made of various kinds of skins and wearing long plumes on their heads, in accordance with the common usage of the whole country. Thus ceremoniously he received the governor, showing by signs his regard for him and speaking to him most courteously and with a very lordly air. He took him to the pueblo, which had three hundred houses, and lodged him in his own. The house was on a high elevation like other similar ones we have described [a mound]. All around it was a public walk along which six men could pass abreast.

And although maize was scarce, or perhaps hidden away from the voracious explorers, the villagers provided "three hundred small dogs" to feed them. In all likelihood, those small dogs were possums, generally not consumed by the Cherokees, but "the Christians liked them and sought them to eat."

Someday, I think it would be great fun to retrace de Soto’s journey across the Southern Appalachians and to revisit Guaxule. And to do it in style, I would need to find the perfect ride for the trip. You know, something along the lines of a, hmmmm, classic DeSoto.

Maybe a sleek 1942 DeSoto Custom convertible

Maybe a pink 1956 DeSoto Firedome

Maybe a pint-sized DeSoto Firemite convertible

Assuming I could get behind the wheel of one of these beauties, the next challenge would be finding Guaxule. And with the accounts of three eyewitnesses to go by, that should be a simple matter. Right?


It might be easier to find the right DeSoto than to find the right Guaxule. At least seven different locations have been suggested as the spot where the conquistadors chowed down on possum.

Guaxule # 1 – Coosawattee Old Town, near Carters, Murray County, Georgia
Guaxule # 2 – Etowah, near Cartersville, Bartow County, Georgia
Guaxule # 3 – Nacoochee Mound, White County, Georgia
Guaxule # 4 – Peachtree, on the Hiawassee River, Cherokee County, North Carolina
Guaxule # 5 – Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina
Guaxule # 6 – Embreeville, on the Nolichucky River, Washington County, Tennessee
Guaxule # 7 – Garden Creek, on the Pigeon River near Canton, Haywood County, NC

Well, THAT narrows it down! Actually, recent archaeological research may have eliminated some of these sites from serious consideration. Charles Hudson has spent many years recreating de Soto’s route and has weighed in for Guaxule # 6. But another contemporary researcher, Bob Jones, makes a strong case for Guaxule # 7.

It continues to be one of the great mysteries of the Southern Appalachians, that month of May that marked the beginning of our history. Someday, I hope to hit the road in a classic DeSoto to follow the route of the Spaniards and to find Guaxule for myself.

But I'll take a pass on that roast possum, thank you.

Roan Mountain Mystery Noise a Real Humdinger

In just a few weeks, the rhododendrons of Roan Mountain will be in full bloom. It’s one of the prettiest sights I’ve ever seen. But that’s not the only reason I’m itching to get back there. What I really want is to hear some good old mountain music. And Roan Mountain is the place to find it.

No mournful ballads. No droning dulcimer. No scratchy fiddle. No plinkety-plunk of a banjo. This Roan Mountain music is something altogether different, as described and explained (with great certitude) by Henry E. Colton in an 1878 newspaper article:

Several of the cattle tenders on the mountain and also General Wilder had spoken to us about what they called Mountain Music. One evening they said it was sounding loud, and Dr. D. P. Boynton, of Knoxville, Hon. J. M. Thornburg, and myself accompanied General Wilder to the glen to hear it. The sound was very plain to the ear, and was not at all as described – like the humming of thousands of bees – but like the incessant, continuous and combined snap of two Leyden jars positively and negatively charged.

I tried to account for it on the theory of bees or flies but the mountain people said it frequently occurred after the bees or flies had gone to their winter homes or before they came out. It was always loudest and most prolonged just before there would be a thunderstorm in either valley, or one passing over the mountain.

I used every argument I could to persuade myself that it was simply a result of some common cause and to shake the faith of the country people in its mysterious origin but I only convinced myself that it was the result from two currents of air meeting each other in the suck between the two peaks where there was no obstruction of trees, once containing a greater, the other a less amount of electricity, or that the two currents coming together in the open plateau on the high elevation, by their friction and being of different temperatures, generated electricity.

The ‘mountain music’ was simply the snapping caused by this friction and this generation of electricity. Many have noted the peculiar snapping hum to be observed in great auroral displays, particularly those of September, 1859 and February, 1872.

As the amount of electricity in the air currents became equalized or surcharged, they, descending to the other side caused the thunder storm daily in the valleys near the mountain and sometimes immediately on the edge of the timber surrounding the great bald top. The air currents of the Western North Carolina mountains and the East Tennessee valley form an aerial tide, ebbing and flowing.

The heated air of the valley rises from nine in the morning until three or four in the afternoon, making a slight easterly wind up and over Roan Mountain. As night comes on the current turns back into the valley, almost invariably producing a very brisk gale by three or four o’clock in the morning which, in its turn, dies down to a calm by seven and commences to reverse by nine o’clock. This continual change of currents of air makes it an impossibility for any great malarial scourge to exist in the East Tennessee valley, especially its northeastern end.

A 2006 Australian newspaper reported something similar to the Roan Mountain Music, but failed to confirm a source for the sound which had been heard in New Zealand. That article mentioned a novel inspired by the auditory oddity:

This is not the first incidence of humming in New Zealand. In 2005, New Zealand author Rachel McAlpine wrote a book called The Humming. In her novel set in small town, an artist called Ivan and a number of the townsfolk are plagued by a low frequency humming noise. The book was largely inspired by the author's own experiences in the seaside town of Puponga on the northwest tip of New Zealand's south island which was itself at the centre of a humming mystery some years back.

Two copies of the said novel are available on Amazon, at a cost of $196.13 and $469.81!

It looks like I’m going to have a difficult time getting to the bottom of the Roan Mountain Music mystery. Any clues to understanding this curious phenomenon would be greatly appreciated.

And if you're going to Roan Mountain any time soon, I'd suggest you take a camera...

...and a tape recorder.

Gitchi-Kenebig and the Uktena

I often think about the civilizations that occupied this continent before us. We know so little of their rise and fall. It’s not easy to connect the dots and create a meaningful picture when you can barely find the dots. Once in a while, though, something happens to shine a light upon the dark mysteries.

Many months ago, I posted “gravity is the source of lightness” recounting my meanders along the Tuckasegee River to contemplate ancient fish weirs and recent stacks of stones. In that story, I mentioned Peter Waksman, who had discovered arrays of stacked stones in Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, I had the good fortune to hear from Mr. Waksman and to learn about his Rock Piles blog, which reports on unusual assemblages of rocks in New England.

A couple of weeks ago, Waksman described a recent discovery that had reminded him of something I had mentioned in my story about the Tuckasegee. I had included a photograph of the place in the river that the Cherokee called “Datleyastai” or “where they fell.” As I went on to explain, the “they” in this case were:

…two Uktena tangled as though in combat, rose from the river, and fell back into the water. Uktena, in case you’ve not seen one lately, is a monstrous snake, as big around as a tree trunk, with horns on its head, a bright, blazing crest like a diamond on its forehead, and scales glittering like sparks of fire. Whoever is seen by the Uktena is so dazed by the bright light that he runs toward the snake instead of trying to escape.

The arrangement of rocks that Waksman found near Westford, MA bore a resemblance to the Uktena with a horned head and a contrasting piece of quartz in the neck. Upon further examination, Waksman found a smaller creature following the first and it, too, had a strategically placed piece of quartz in its body.

After studying his story and photos, I consulted James Mooney (1861-1921), the anthropologist who recorded much of what we know about the Uktena. Mooney stated:

Myths of a jewel in the head of a serpent or of a toad are so common to all Aryan nations as to have become proverbial. Talismanic and prophetic stones, which are carefully guarded, and to which prayer and sacrifice are offered, are kept in many tribes.

Since it is likely that some of the Algonquin tribes were active in what we now call Massachusetts, this comment from Mooney really caught my attention:

The Uktena has its parallel in the Gitchi-Kenebig or Great Horned Serpent of the northern Algonquin tribes.

The effigy discovered near Westford just might be an Uktena, or more accurately, Gitchi-Kenebig. The piece of quartz in its head could be the magical Ulunsuti sought by the conjurer. It is fascinating to read the accounts of the earliest European travelers through Cherokee country, who wrote accounts of the talismanic stones treasured by the natives.

If you want to visit the home of the Uktena, then you should travel to Gahuti, or Cohuttta Mountain, in Murray County, Georgia. This was the place where the Shawano captive, Aganunitsi, attacked the Uktena. (Could this explain the enormous stone wall built upon the nearby Fort Mountain?) Mooney tells us:

The Shawano, who at one time occupied the Cumberland region of Tennessee immediately adjoining the Cherokee, were regarded as wizards by all the southern tribes.

Finally, D. G. Brinton explains how the Shawano shared the news of the Great Horned Serpent:

Among the Algonkins the Shawnee tribe did more than all others combined to introduce and carry about religious legends and ceremonies. From the earliest times they seem to have had peculiar aptitude for the ecstacies, deceits, and fancies that make up the spiritual life of their associates. Their constantly roving life brought them in contact with the myths of many nations, and it is extremely probable that they first brought the tale of the horned serpent from the Creeks and Cherokees.

So, do I believe there is a more-than-coincidental connection between the Uktena of the Tuckasegee and the Gitchi-Kenebig of Westford, MA?

Of course I do.

Recommended by Duncan Hines

This postcard destination won’t make it into anyone’s hiking guide to North Carolina lookout towers. But it warrants a mention, if for no other reason, by combining an observation tower with a waterfall. Frank Lloyd Wright attempted something similar with considerably more success.

[Observation Tower and Water Falls at Nantahala Inn – On U. S. 19, 9 miles west of Bryson City, North Carolina. From this Observation Tower panoramic views may be had of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and of Clingman’s Dome, the highest peak in the Park. Nantahala Inn serves the best in Southern Cooked Food – 35 units – Rooms or Separate Cottages – Swimming pool – Recommended by Duncan Hines.]

I have no idea if the tower / waterfall continues to stand / fall at Nantahala Inn. My guess? It has vanished.

Up the gorge from the Nantahala Inn another landmark has gone the way of the Edsel - Gorgarama Park and Restaurant. This postcard conveys the unique Gorgarama charm.

I especially like the Gorgarama-mobiles parked out front.

Perhaps the rights to the name from this fine establishment are available. Some quick entrepreneur would get rich by purchasing the Gorgarama name…

…and opening an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.

"If the soup was as warm as the wine, if the wine was as old as the turkey, if the turkey had breasts like the maid, it would have been a fine dinner." - Duncan Hines (1880-1959)

On the Trail of the Rat

Well, you don't know what we can find
Why don't you come with me my friend
On a magic carpet ride
Well, you don't know what we can see
Why don't you tell your dreams to me
Fantasy will set you free
-Magic Carpet Ride, by Steppenwolf

Given the current worldwide shortage in magic carpets, we’ll need to find alternate transportation for the trip I have in mind.

A bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan should do just fine. Meet me at Boone’s Corner in Candler and we’ll take it for a spin on the Pisgah Motor Road.

First, though, let me tell you how this all got started. Shortly after I began collecting vintage postcards of Western North Carolina, I snagged this linen-era scene of "Mount Pisgah and the Rat" and encountered a mystery. The Mount Pisgah part was easy. There’s not a more recognizable peak this side of Grandfather Mountain.

But "the Rat"? I pondered over that one. Maybe the rat was one of the smaller hills poking up in the foreground. What were they talking about? I just couldn’t see it. Then, a few months later, I was reading Margaret Morley’s 1913 book, The Carolina Mountains:

That beautiful form with the dome-like top, southwest of Asheville, is Mount Pisgah, and that ridge, a little lower and to the left of the summit, is the Rat. " Pisgah and the Rat ! " — the two names inexorably yoked together because the two shapes make one group, and the lower of them has a form so suggestive that there is no escape for it. They are so near Asheville as to attract immediate attention from the newcomer, who, according to his temperament, is shocked or amused at his first introduction to "Pisgah and the Rat."

In the meantime, I had collected more images of Mount Pisgah and the alleged rat. Perhaps if I viewed the scene in person, the ridge leading up to Mount Pisgah would bear a greater resemblance to a rodent of gargantuan proportions. To check it out, I could drive the Nissan up NC 151 toward the Parkway.

But anybody could do that!

Instead, you’re invited to join me in that bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan. Fortuitously, it came furnished with North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State published in 1939 by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Project Administration. So hop in, hang on, and open up the book to page 445, Tour 21A.

According to the Guide, the following scene awaits when we reach the 4.0 mile point on the Pisgah Motor Road:

Pisgah and the Rat, twin eminences, loom above the range straight ahead. From a distance the Rat resembles a rodent with tail extended and head lowered between its front paws.

Eureka! I pull over to the side of the road, and snap a few pictures with my Kodak Brownie. If I squint and turn my head to one side, I can barely, just barely, picture a giant rat skulking up toward the top of Mount Pisgah.

It's just like Peggy Lee always said:

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

With a full tank of Ethyl in the Chrysler, I figure there’s no need to end this journey on an anticlimactic note. Let’s break out the booze, let’s have a ball, let’s turn the page, let’s roll on.

After four more miles of travel, we pass Stony Fork, "a colony of summer cabins, a few permanent homes, and a sprinkling of refreshment stands."

Then the road gets steeper and curvier as we wind to the top. I watch the temperature gauge pushing toward the danger zone, so I ease up on the accelerator to keep the radiator in this old Chrysler from boiling over. In spite of our automotive anxiety, the scenery along the way lives up to the promises of the Guide:

In May the woods are gay with azalea that varies from white to deep orange. The bloom of the laurel shades from white to delicate pink, and in June the purplish-red splotches of the rhododendron are profuse. Among flowers in the woods are columbine, bluet, wild iris, Indian pink, ladyslipper, and trillium.

Soon, we manage to reach the top. Just ahead is the Little Pisgah Ridge Tunnel. Anatomically speaking, we’re about to pass through the bowels of the rat. When we come out the other end, we’re that much closer to Buck Spring Lodge, the impressive log structure built by George W. Vanderbilt on his private hunting estate.

Nearby is the parking lot for the trail to the top of Mount Pisgah.

It’s too bad the refreshment stand is closed today. An ice-cold bottle of Double-Cola sure would hit the spot.

So we roll on along the Pisgah Motor Road and in less than a mile pass by the Pisgah Forest Inn, "a rustic hostelry from whose front porch the Pink Beds and the round dome of Looking Glass Rock are visible." Just across the road, the Frying Pan Campground (5,040 alt.) is the highest campground in the Pisgah National Forest.

After a couple of more miles we come to Wagon Road Gap and the junction with NC 284. Might as well take a little drive south toward Looking Glass Falls and the town of Brevard. Just past the Pink Beds, we pull into the U. S. Fawn Rearing Plant:

This is the only plant in the United States that has for its primary purpose the rearing of fawns. People in this area are given permits to capture fawns, which the plant buys at $4 a head and raises on bottles. When they are six months old, they are shipped to other preserves. About 135 fawns are reared each year.

I’d like to stick around for feeding time, but it’s getting late. The sun is dropping fast. And I need to drive you back to Candler before this bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan turns into a pumpkin.

It's been quite a day...

...on the trail of the rat.

Pisgah and the Rat slide show with many more vintage images of Mount Pisgah and the Rat, Buck Spring and Pisgah Forest Inn:

Recommended reading - A 2004 Becky Johnson article in the Smoky Mountain News reports on efforts to unearth and rehabilitate the ruins of Vanderbilt's Buck Spring Lodge.

Mount Pisgah and the Rat - revisited

Coincidence is something I can’t explain away as sheer happenstance. I’m convinced there’s a bit of providence to what some call random chance. For instance, I went to my mailbox this week and saw that I’d received a shipment of vintage postcards. I’d been the successful bidder on a collection of 50 old postcards of North Carolina scenes, so I was eager to inspect what I'd won.

I opened the envelope and pulled out a thick stack of cards held together by a rubber band. On top of the stack were two cards in their own plastic sleeves. A big post-it note had my order number scribbled on it, and the 50 in "50 NC PCs" was crossed out, replaced by the number 52.

"Well, that’s mighty nice," I thought, "the seller included a couple of extra cards." Then I peeled off the post-it note and was amazed at what I saw.

It was an image of Mount Pisgah and the Rat, an especially gorgeous card published by the Asheville Post Card Company in 1912. There’s no way this dealer could have known about my recent excursion in a bright yellow 1941 Chrysler sedan to find that mythical Rat. But somehow, this card materialized in my mailbox. Coincidence, if you insist.

Incidentally, that 1941 Chrysler made it back down the Pisgah Motor Road to Candler in one piece. Sadly, it stalled out before I reached Canton. I left it stranded by the side of Highway 19. And I haven’t seen it since. Fortunately, I thought to hang onto that Kodak Brownie camera. So I sent off the roll of Plus-X Pan for processing and here’s a shot from the U. S. Fawn Rearing Plant near the Pink Beds in the Pisgah National Forest. It was feeding time for the fawns.

Remember this place?

This is the only plant in the United States that has for its primary purpose the rearing of fawns. People in this area are given permits to capture fawns, which the plant buys at $4 a head and raises on bottles. When they are six months old, they are shipped to other preserves. About 135 fawns are reared each year.

Things must have been different here in 1939. Were the mountains over-populated by deer?

Large and small game abound in the [Pisgah] forest. Trapped deer and fawns are shipped to other forests for restocking. Apparent in the forest are bear wallows and grubbings, also deer rubs, where the bucks polish their hardening antlers. The "browse line" effect of dense deer population is noticeable at places on trees and shrubs.

(From North Carolina, A Guide to the Old North State, Federal Writers' Project, 1939)

Finding Tamahaka and Tlanusiyi

If you can get beyond viewing these mountains through 21st century eyes, there’s no telling what you might see.

Take, for instance, William C. A. Frerichs. The artist visited the mountains during the 1850s, and painted at least two scenes of Tamahaka Falls in Cherokee County, NC. Tamahaka Falls is a place that I've yet to visit. That doesn’t mean it isn’t out there. But you won't find it with modern eyes.

That’s true of many places in these mountains. Tlanusiyi is another such place in Cherokee County. If you want to go, get onto Business 19 in Murphy and cross the bridge over the Hiwassee River. Find a place to park and take a good look at the stretch of water just downstream from the bridge. In May of 1848, Charles Lanman stood here and examined the river he called “Owassa”:

The Cherokee word Owassa signifies the main river, or the largest of the tributaries: and the paraphrase of this name into Hiowassee by the map-makers is only a ridiculous blunder. So I have been informed, at any rate, by one of the oldest Cherokees now living. The Owassa is a tributary of the noble Tennessee, and is as clear, beautiful, rapid and picturesque a mountain river as I have ever seen….

Today’s bridge crosses the Hiwassee (or “Owassa”, if you please) where the thousand-year-old Unicoi Trail forded the river. From this point, we have the luxury of seeing it as Lanman saw it:

I may here mention what must be considered a remarkable fact in geology. Running directly across the village of Murphy is a belt of marble, composed of the black, gray, pure white and flesh-colored varieties, which belt also crosses the Owassa river. Just above this marble causeway the Owassa, for a space of perhaps two hundred feet, is said to be over one hundred feet deep, and at one point, in fact, a bottom has never been found.

A couple of miles due west, the Nottely River makes the final approach to its confluence with the Hiwassee. Lanman reported that the two rivers were connected by a underground channel through the marble:

I have heard the opinion expressed that there is a subterranean communication between this immense hole in Owassa and the river Notely, which is some two miles distant. The testimony adduced in proof of this theory is, that a certain log was once marked on the Notely, which log was subsequently found floating in the pool of the Deep Hole in the Owassa.

Fifty years after Lanman’s visit to Murphy, James Mooney described the view along this portion of the river:

On the south side the trail ascended a high bank, from which they could look down into the water. One day some men going along the trail saw a great red object, full as large as a house, lying on the rock ledge in the middle of the stream below them. As they stood wondering what it could be they saw it unroll--and then they knew it was alive--and stretch itself out along the rock until it looked like a great leech with red and white stripes along its body.

It rolled up into a ball and again stretched out at full length, and at last crawled down the rock and was out of sight in the deep water. The water began to boil and foam, and a great column of white spray was thrown high in the air and came down like a waterspout upon the very spot where the men had been standing, and would have swept them all into the water but that they saw it in time and ran from the place.

More than one person was carried down in this way, and their friends would find the body afterwards lying upon the bank with the ears and nose eaten off, until at last the people were afraid to go across the ledge any more, on account of the great leech, or even to go along that part of the trail.

And so it is that the spot where the Valley river joins the Hiwassee was known among the Cherokees as Tlanusiyi, or "The Leech place." Mooney mentioned the underground waterway linking the Hiwassee with the Nottely. A deep part of the Nottely, where it bends toward Murphy, was also known as Tlanusiyi because the leech would emerge and make the water boil, just as it did on the Hiwassee.

There you have it. The next time you visit Murphy, you can look for Tlanusiyi on the Owassa, Tlanusiyi on the Nottely, and the underground river that connects them. And while you’re at it, you can look for Tamahaka Falls. But remember: if you view Cherokee County through 21st century eyes, you might never find those places.

Good luck.

Quaff Again of the Ancient Delirium

Is Herbert's Spring located near this Highlands stream?

He was possessed by that extraordinary renunciation of civilization which now and again was manifested by white men thrown among the Cherokee tribe…. Whether the wild sylvan life had some peculiarly irresistible attraction; whether the world beyond held for them responsibilities and laborious vocations and irksome ties which they would fain evade; whether they fell under the bewitchment of "Herbert's Spring," after drinking whereof one could not quit the region of the Great Smoky Mountains, but remained in that enchanted country for seven years, fascinated, lapsed in perfect content—it is impossible to say. There is a tradition that when the attraction of the world would begin to reassert its subtle reminiscent forces, these renegades of civilization were wont to repair anew to this fountain to quaff again of the ancient delirium and to revive its potent spell. – Charles Egbert Craddock, "A Victor at Chungke"

While I was driving a few thousand miles on the blue highways of North Carolina this spring, I was especially pleased to see road signs identifying the various river basins of the state. And if you look at the 2008 state highway map published by the DOT, you’ll find a nifty inset – a map showing all the river basins of the state.

I spend a lot of time studying maps and I’m learning that you can find lots of interesting things happening along the divides that separate one river basin from another. That’s certainly true in Jackson and Macon Counties where the meandering line of the eastern continental divide separates the Tennessee River basin from the Savannah River basin.

Somewhere, not far from that divide, is a place called “Herbert’s Spring” and I’m trying to find it. Mary Noailles Murfree (under the pseudonym Charles Egbert Craddock) made several references to the spring in her 1900 short story, A Victor at Chungke. Almost certainly, the author had read of Herbert’s Spring in James Adair’s History of the American Indians, published in 1775.

Adair was a trader and agent among the Cherokees and other Southeastern tribes during the eighteenth century. His was apparently the first written report that those who drank the waters of Herbert’s Spring would be unable to leave the Cherokee country for seven years. More than a century later, James Mooney reprinted Adair’s account and added a note concerning the possible location of Herbert’s Spring:

The subject of this old trader’s legend must have been one of the head-springs of Chattooga river, an upper branch of Savannah, having its rise in the southern part of Jackson county, North Carolina, on the eastern slope of the ridge from which other streams flow in the opposite direction to join the waters of the Tennessee. It was probably in the vicinity of the present highlands in Macon county, where the trail from Chattooga river and the settlements on Keowee crossed the Blue ridge, thence descending Cullasagee to the towns on Little Tennessee.

It seems to me that Mooney has made a crucial error in placing Herbert’s Spring on the headwaters of the Chattooga (Savannah River basin), considering that Adair himself wrote that the spring was just across the divide, on the headwaters of a river flowing toward the Mississippi (at that time French territory).

Assuming Herbert’s Spring is located near the eastern continental divide where it passes through present-day Highlands, the description of the spring as “French waters” would place it on the headwaters of the Cullasaja, rather than the Chattooga. Here is Adair’s original description of Herbert’s Spring:

From the head of the southern branch of Savannah river it does not exceed half a mile to a head spring of the Missisippi water that runs through the middle and upper parts of the Cheerake nation about a northwest course, and, joining other rivers, they empty themselves into the great Missisippi. The above fountain is called 'Herbert's spring,' so named from an early commissioner of Indian affairs, and it was natural for strangers to drink thereof, to quench thirst, gratify their curiosity, and have it to say they had drank of the French waters.

Some of our people, who went only with the view of staying a short time, but by some allurement or other exceeded the time appointed, at their return reported, either through merriment or superstition, that the spring had such a natural bewitching quality that whosoever drank of it could not possibly quit the nation during the tedious space of seven years. All the debauchees readily fell in with this superstitious notion as an excuse for their bad method of living, when they had no proper call to stay in that country; and in process of time it became as received a truth as any ever believed to have been spoken by the Delphic oracle.

One cursed, because its enchantment had marred his good fortune; another condemned his weakness for drinking down witchcraft, against his own secret suspicions; one swore he would never taste another such dangerous poison, even though he should be forced to go down to the Missisippi for water; and another comforted himself that so many years out of the seven were already passed, and wished that if ever he tasted it again, though under the greatest necessity, he might be confined to the Stygian waters.

Those who had their minds more enlarged diverted themselves much at their cost, for it was a noted favorite place, on account of the name it went by; and, being a well situated and good spring, there all travelers commonly drank a bottle of choice. But now most of the pack-horse men, though they be dry, and also matchless sons of Bacchus, on the most pressing invitations to drink there, would swear to forfeit sacred liquor the better part of their lives rather than basely renew or confirm the loss of their liberty, which that execrable fountain occasions.

I figure the headwaters of the Cullasaja is as good as anywhere to begin looking for Herbert’s Spring. But one fact casts doubt on this theory. Silas McDowell, the venerable agriculturalist and historian, lived along the Cullasaja for the greater part of the nineteenth century. Among his many, many writings about the natural wonders on the area, I can’t recall that he ever mentioned Herbert’s Spring. If Herbert’s Spring had been located on the Cullasaja, McDowell would have heard about it. And if McDowell had heard about it, then he would have written about it. As far as I know, he did not.

So, while I’m willing to give some weight to the words of James Mooney, I can’t help but consider Silas McDowell’s silence on the subject of Herbert’s Spring.

The quest continues.

Click on map to enlarge. Is Herbert's Spring on this map? The eastern continental divide, separating the Savannah River basin from the Tennessee River basin, is indicated by the dashed line marked with yellow diamonds.

The Hellbender and the Locomotive

I don't know if the local newspapers will report the real reasons behind the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad's decision to abandon Dillsboro.

But I will!

More often than not in the battles between Commerce and Wildlife, Commerce prevails. We're left to mourn the loss of the snail darter and the elktoe mussel. But occasionally, Nature strikes back, and sometimes with a vengeance.

No one could have imagined how things would turn out when a team of wildlife biologists began their survey of the Tuckasegee River earlier this month. I'm indebted to a friend for keeping me up on the progress of that team, and for providing the photos included here.

On their first outing, they discovered a rare Hellbender near the forks of the river in Tuckasegee. What a beautiful creature it is!

However, it's a good thing I didn't go out exploring with the team of researchers. I'll admit that it bothers me when I see the way that wildlife biologists handle their "subjects". I'd have to bite my tongue, and bite it almost in two, to keep from scolding them:

Don't be so darned rough with that Hellbender!!! Can't you see how you're annoying the little fellow? You've already weighed him and measured him, so just let him go. He wants to get back under his rock!!!

I knew that wouldn't go over well. So I was satisfied to get the emails and the photos instead.

A couple of days later, the scientists found another Hellbender near the Dillsboro Dam. Gorgeous!

Had I known the team intended to proceed much farther down the river, I would have warned them. All this trouble might have been averted. Had I known the team was bound for Barker's Creek, I would have opened my tattered copy of James Mooney and turned to page 404.

I would have held out the book and motioned them to read from that page:

AKWETIYI - A spot on Tuckasegee River, in Jackson County, between Dick's creek and the upper end of Cowee tunnel. According to tradition there was a dangerous water monster in the river there.

What more could I add to that?

Only a grim expression of remonstrance.

It didn't happen, though. Nobody asked me. We didn't turn to page 404 of James Mooney.

Instead, the research team crossed under the railroad trestle in their quest for yet another Hellbender. One of the interns spotted a slimy glimmer under the water and swooped a net along the bottom of the river to capture the specimen.

Without waiting a second, all the wildlife biologists began their wildlife biologist thing of poking and prodding the Hellbender. But this time something was different. This was not just another big Hellbender. It was one toe of a very, very, very, very big Hellbender. And that toe was still securely attached to that very, very, very, very big Hellbender.

The poking and the prodding was the last straw for this ill-tempered Hellbender. He had endured the smothering run-off from clearcut and denuded hillsides along the river one hundred years ago. He had survived the acrid chemicals pouring from the paper mill in Sylva fifty years ago. And for the past twenty years, he had put up with the incessant toot-toot and chug-chug and skreeeeg-skreeeeg and clickity-clickity of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. For two decades he had looked up from Akwetiyi and seen that damnable train crossing the trestle above his home before it disappeared into Cowee Tunnel.

He could not take it anymore.

With a sudden kick of his foot, he sent the researchers flying onto the banks of the river. In one swift motion he exploded from the water and looked all about. The steam locomotive, pictured above while it was departing from Dillsboro just a minute before, was starting to cross the trestle pulling a whole trainload of sightseers.

This only added insult to injury and the Hellbender became angrier than he'd even been, seething with fury. People who knew of Akwetiyi knew that this was the moment they had always feared. Provoked to the breaking point, the dangerous water monster was on a rampage. He raised up as tall as he could and then thrust himself toward the trestle with a sweeping sideways motion.

Grasping the locomotive firmly in his powerful jaws, he surged out of the river onto dry ground, the passenger cars trailing along after the locomotive like beads on a string. Once he reached pavement, he scuttered and lumbered faster and faster, staggering this way and that. His teeth still clinched around the locomotive, he passed the old courthouse and jaywalked from one side of Main Street to the other. Several times.

Down Highway 107 he kept running, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. He slammed his way across the campus at Western Carolina University, where a security camera trained on the Fine and Peforming Arts Center captured this image of the Hellbender-to-beat-all-Hellbenders.

He scrambled out Speedwell, crossed over Cherry Gap, jumped the river at Moody Bridge and careened into the higher hills toward Trout Creek and Pilot Knob and Big Ridge. The last anyone saw of him, the Hellbender was wading the Savannah River on his way to the ocean, a string of railroad cars hanging from his scowling mouth.

What a day that was! The wildlife biologists were stunned. Officials of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad were flabbergasted. Seeing how the wrath of Nature could burst out from the place called Akwetiyi, they knew it was too great a risk to remain nearby. So they made the decision to retreat from Dillsboro and consolidate their railroad operations a safe distance away in Bryson City.

That's the real reason the GSMR is leaving town. A small team of unwitting scientists, and a very, very, very, very large Hellbender ran one business out of Dillsboro...on a rail, you might say.

When the local newspapers get hold of this, you'll read about things like the high cost of diesel fuel and the lack of tourist traffic. But that's just a smokescreen.

You can fold up that paper and set it aside, because you just got the scoop on the real reason why the train left town.