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Thirteen Short Stories with Southern Character







  An appropriate article by A.R. Williams appeared in the July 2017 issue of National Geographic regarding the colonization of the South Pacific. “Going farther, to remote Oceania, required a very different voyaging strategy from what was used before,” says University of Oregon archaeologist Scott M. Fitzpatrick,” (who contributed to a recent seafaring study). “No islands were visible, so sailors had to use a celestial compass.” http://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/07/explore-adventure-colonizing-south-pacific/

This article was appropriate to me because of the recent release of my first novel, Lost Legend of Vahilele, now available on Amazon. Click on the Lost Legend tab at the top of this page for details of the tale and personal revelation.

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Episode #25 An Eternal Flame

This month not only have we traveled over the Blue Ridge, we are skimming Indian history from the Pequot war in 1636 (losing Mistick Fort in Connecticut) to the loss of the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears beginning in 1836 in North Carolina. We almost have a final resolution, still playing out. Exhausting, I know. But so very insightful to political positions today. It seems that we are still eager to set up divisions among ourselves to establish rules and customs to decide who is “in” and who is “out,” manipulating the popular vote, like fourth grade, to see who gets chosen for “teams.” Pay attention to who chooses you!

At the beginning of the 19th century, the Cherokees were encouraged, with a supply of plows, spinning wheels and looms from the federal government, to assimilate into American life. They already excelled at raising horses, cattle, and gardening. An effort was being made on both sides for a short time…by some folks. Not surprisingly, Indians became more dependent upon European goods. Some of the Cherokee men were natural leaders, and many Native American families sent their children off to be educated or else brought teachers into their community. For a very short time, there may have been a chance at peace. If it had not been for the misunderstanding about the value of property. Especially when the smell of gold dust filled the air.

It was at this time a hero claimed his spotlight. Some might say a genius, and it appears he applied more than common sense and perseverance to solve a gigantic problem his brothers could not see. Sequoya could not read or write, and he had no need to speak English. But he was observant and noticed that many who did speak English made markings that could be interpreted in order to understand the thoughts of those in another location. “Writing” must have appeared to be a useful idea, and he reasoned his language could use the same markings. Horace Kephart told this story on pages 9-12 of The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains, published in 2010 and marketed by the Great Smoky Mountains Association. “After years of hard study, in the face of ridicule and repeated failures, Sequoya finally began analyzing his language into its component sounds,” picking out one hundred and fifteen distinct syllables. Any word in the Cherokee language could be written by “assigning a separate character to each syllable.” Eliminating double consonants with similar hissing sounds, Sequoya reduced the number of sounds to eighty-five symbols. No spelling to learn. “Any Indian could pick up in a few weeks” the art of reading and writing. Thousands of Indians became literate, “without one school being established or one teacher hired.”

The Cherokees made a concerted effort to be “civilized” to please their new white neighbors. Page 9 in Kephart’s book: They passed laws for the collection of taxes, for repairs of roads, for the support of schools, for the suppression of temperance and polygamy, and for the prevention of selling land to the whites without the consent of their National Council. From my perspective, it seems as though they tried to prove their own civilization was worthy of respect. How sad they justly felt their survival depended upon a subservient demeanor. We have seen that before, and it never works, for neither side.

In 1827 the Cherokee Council began publication of a national newspaper in the Cherokee language created by Sequoyah who then lived in Arkansas. (Kephart, page 10) Under the editorship of an Native American educated in Connecticut, the press was located in the newly established Cherokee capital of New Echota. (Bringing us back to The First American War–in Connecticut–See Episode #23)

Sequoyah himself moved to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and tried to use his notoriety to unite the Cherokee Nation from there. He traveled with a peace delegation to Washington D.C., in 1828, and to Takatoka in 1839 (love that name; it sounds Fijian) to achieve a fragile voice vote between the Eastern and Western tribes that failed to “resolve the reunification issues,” and later to Mexico to convince Cherokee bands to return home. He is reported to have died on one of these trips around 1844 in Coahuila, but the date and the location of his grave site are up for speculation. There are a few possibilities: he could be buried in Coahuila,  in Wichita Mountains north of there, or in Zaragoza, Texas.   https://en.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Sequoyah

In 1965 Sequoyah’s cabin was declared an historic landmark operated by the Oklahoma Historic Society until 2016 when it was bought by the Cherokee Nation.

Overview: Chota was the original Cherokee capital of the Overhill Cherokees but it was moved in 1788 from the Little Tennessee and Tellico Rivers to Ustanali on the Coosawatee River in Georgia. Ustanali was established in 1777 by refuges from burned-out towns in northeastern SC when Chief Old Tassel and several other leaders were trapped and murdered as they responded to “Nolichucky Jack” Sevier’s request for a peaceful meeting. This turned out to be retribution for the killing of a settler family by somebody else, not these particular chiefs. But an Indian is an Indian, right? All the same? Do we have these same prejudices today? Oh, yeah. Maybe in first grade. (This was the time of angry warriors like Dragging Canoe, told in Episode #23) Check out the website: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Echota

New Echota became the new capital in 1825 but didn’t last long because Chief John Ross and the National Council meetings moved to Tennessee. Instead New Echota became the site of a removal fort for the Trail of Tears, the painful forced evacuation of Native Americans to a new territory most of them didn’t want. The town was abandoned for a hundred years. Now it has a historic monument; I don’t know if there are any Cherokees there, but I do know Sevier became the first governor of Tennessee, his retribution.

South Mountain

Between 1804-1827, most gold in the US came from North Carolina. (See Brackett Town Saga on this blog) In December 1828, the Georgia legislature got vicious, annexing the Cherokee property within her chartered limits, declaring all laws and customs of the Indians be null and void, and none of them or their descendants would be able to witness or be a part of any lawsuit where a white man was a defendant. Each white citizen in Georgia was given a lottery ticket for the auctioning off of the confiscated Cherokee property. (Kephart, pages 14-16)

The Cherokee Nation was not the only Native American tribe affected by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. At the beginning of 1830, there were nearly 125,000 Native Americans living on millions of acres in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida. By the end of the decade, there were very few in the southeast US because the federal government had voted itself the power of an Omniscient Ruler to exchange native-held land east of the Mississippi for land to the west, acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase in present day Oklahoma. Out of sight, out of mind. Just paperwork. The Choctaws left in 1831, and the Creeks in 1836.(See https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history)

(Today I got a request for a blanket donation from St. Labre Indian School in Ashland, Montana, “serving Native American children of the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Reservations since 1884.” Just sayin’…)

In 1835, the National Council of the Cherokees was led by Chief John Ross, who was only one-eighth Cherokee blood. He was their leader for 40 years, and they trusted him. Even when he talked them into giving up their weapons to prove their good will. Unfortunately, that advice prevented the defense of their property from the thieving rabble who still had their own weapons.  I suppose the theory was the tribe was going to move anyway and didn’t need all that stuff.

That may have been a factor in why a few self-appointed representatives of the Cherokee negotiated in 1835 “the Treaty of New Echota, which traded all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi for $5 million, relocation assistance and compensation for lost property.” This sneaky treaty was negotiated with Cherokee chiefs who represented a small faction, trading their land in Tennessee and Georgia for land in the west. These men, led by John Ridge, did not have permission to represent the majority, certainly not the National Council. Out of a population of 17,000, only 300 were at the meeting at the Cherokee capital. Protesting this treaty, nearly 16,000 signed a petition of renegotiation to take back to Washington, but Congress approved the treaty anyway, on an unusual fast track. See https://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history

The story continues in https://cherokee.org/About-the-Nation/History/Trail where I read “the Cherokee leaders who signed the Treaty of New Echota also signed their own death warrant, carried out once the Cherokee arrived in Indian territory.”

When Chief Ross headed to Washington to represent the majority of Cherokee, attempting to halt the miscarriage of justice, he was waylaid by Georgia militia. All his documents were taken along with scientific data about Indians carried by poet John Howard Payne who traveled with Ross. They were held without charges in Georgia so they could not represent the Cherokees before Congress. At the same time, the Cherokee Press was disabled. (Kephart, page 18-19) The Cherokee lost their voice. No freedom of speech for them.

On May 23, 1836, the treaty became law; the Cherokee were given two years by President Van Buren to abandon the land of their fathers. (Not because of anything they did to lose their rights but because they didn’t have any rights IMHO.) There were many Congressional leaders opposed to this new treaty such as Daniel Webster, Edward Everett, and Henry Clay, according to Kephart, page 21. The law was passed by only one vote. As a side mention, Davy Crockett had been elected to Congress as a Jacksonian Democrat from Tennessee, but in this issue he went against his constituents and Jackson. Even under threat to losing his political career, Crockett said he would not sacrifice his honor and conscience to please the opposition who considered a treaty as a “matter of expedience.” Just a “matter.” (Kephart, page 21) Crockett was voted out and went to fight in the Mexican War in 1846. You know the rest of his brave story at the Alamo.

Bridal Veil Falls

At this time, the census showed there were 16,542 self-supported Cherokees with no debt. (Kephart, page 17-27) The Supreme Court had ruled their territory should remain inviolate forever…separate from that of any other state boundaries. But now 7000 troops appeared in May of 1836 to round up peaceable Cherokees guilty only of trusting their chief’s ability to persuade Congress to let them remain as honorable neighbors. New Echota became the location of Ft. Wool, a Removal Fort from which they were herded like animals to a country totally unlike their beloved forest with scenic vistas and waterfalls.

From Horace Kephart’s book we learn that there are many legends and stories about the Trail of Tears, and it is hard to separate fact from fiction. On page 28, he recommends the account of James Mooney, of the US Bureau of Ethnology, from which he quotes: “squads of troops were sent to search out with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in coves or by the sides of mountain streams, to seize and bring in as prisoners all the occupants.” “Men were seized in the fields or going along the road, women were taken from their wheels and children from their play.” In many cases the “rabble” who followed the soldiers like “scavengers” stole the livestock and set fire to the cabins during the roundup, stealing the Cherokee’s hope as well as their possessions. “Systematic hunts were made by the same men for Indian graves, to rob them of the silver pendants and other valuables deposited with the dead.”

In a few weeks, most of the Cherokee were “corralled in various stockades,” and the “work of removal” began in June of 1838. In bands of 5,000 under the direction of Army officers, they were put on steamboats and sent down the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. They were deposited on the Mississippi River banks to march across Arkansas into Indian territory, now Oklahoma. Mountain folk did not do well in the lowlands in scorching heat. Even after the summer passed, and a new route chosen, an estimated 4,000 perished along the way. On page 31, Kephart quotes one of the conservative Chiefs who counseled peace with the white man but opposed leaving his homeland.  Before allowing a circulation among his people of a translation of St. Matthew published by the Cherokee press at Echota, Chief Yonaguska had it read to him. He commented, “Well it seems to be a good book–strange that the white people are no better, after having had it so long.” Ouch!

Just like a movie, the climax was a final showdown between a protagonist and the antagonist. Tsali was a spiritual leader, a prophet, originally from Coosawattee and once a compadre of Dragging Canoe, a Chickamauga-Cherokee War Chief referenced in the Burchfield story of an earlier blog. Older now, Tsali was caught in the dragnet of Cherokees along with his wife and brother and three sons and their families. Here is one place where the truth has died with the witnesses. Kephart relates the story one way, saying that the wife “unable to travel fast” was prodded with bayonets, and Tsali became so angry he signaled his party in Cherokee language to kill the soldiers and flee. At https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsali  the story had the same result of escape but a more dramatic tale of a baby being killed, evoking the outrage of any reader.

General Winfield Scott had been tasked by President Martin Van Buren with the responsibility of implementing the controversial evacuation law. He had the military backup and the ability to enlist the help of locals who were anxious to seize Cherokee land. The orderly march westward was overshadowed by a thousand Native Americans who refused to participate. They were hiding securely in caves on 5000′ treacherous mountain slopes which made the job of the soldiers difficult. The lack of available food put these Indians in peril, and many starved to death. Scott decided on a compromise: he would leave the majority alone if Tsali surrendered because his group had been responsible for killing soldiers. Tsali listened to this option and accepted his fate: “I will come in. I don’t want to be hunted down by my own people.” (Kephart, page 34) So the finale sputtered to an ending that neither side was proud of: Tsali, his brother and two sons were executed by a firing squad of their own tribe who was forced to choose between that act of betrayal and their own lives. Their helplessness was reinforced. Again.

Colonel William Thomas, who had been a trader and friend to the Cherokee for twenty years, was complicit in Tsali’s surrender and death as the only option to save the larger number of refuges. For the next three years Thomas represented them in Washington, lobbying for their best interests, and it was through his diligence that the Eastern Band of Cherokees was able to return to their land, although it took many more years for their citizenship in North Carolina.

Another finale that took years to appreciate: In Episode #23 Westward Ho Dysartsville, Oconostata was introduced as one of the Cherokee Chiefs who traded away land to Jacob Brown on the Nolichucky River in TN. The deal was made on the property of Hunting John McDowell in today’s McDowell County. This is the rest of the story of the great Cherokee War Chief. “In July of 1782, the aging warrior with the consent of the Cherokee Nation resigned to his son his forty-four year status as ‘Great Warrior’.” In 1783, almost completely blind, the former Chief lived with Virginia Indian Agent John Martin on the Long Island of the Holston River.” When he felt his time was close to ending, Oconostata asked his friend to carry him to the Cherokee Capital of Chota. The town became a myth when eventually its location was only mere speculation. Their friendship was real.

Writer Ann Landis Swann continues the legend of Oconostata in her The Other Side of the River, Morris Publishing, Kearney, NE, pages 387-388. In the late 1960s, in preparation of flooding the Little Tennessee River, archaeologists located seven columns which represented the seven clans, remnants of the Cherokee Council House. When they excavated the area, they found the remains of a man between the ages of 69 and 72. Anyone buried at the entrance of the Council House in this possible capital of Chota signified an elevated stature in the Cherokee legend of leaders. Believable evidence that it was Oconostata.

According to the Cherokee Travel and Tourism Cherokee Guide of 2008: “In 1879 in Carlisle, PA, Capt R.H. Pratt opened the first Native American boarding school to forcibly acculturate Indians to mainstream white society. ‘Kill the Indian and save the man,’ Pratt said. Toward this goal, Indian children throughout North America were taken from their homes and families, given ‘white’ names, wardrobes, and haircuts, and forbidden to speak any language but English.” (Pages 7-8) “The Cherokee Boarding School, founded in 1880, likewise maintained an English-only policy until 1933, with devastating effect on Cherokee fluency.” This backward philosophy has now changed; we celebrate our roots.

“When the Cherokees were driven west on the Trail of Tears, the caretaker of the Sacred Fire, an eternal flame, went with his people into exile. This flame was then maintained in Oklahoma for succeeding generations.

“In 1951, the Cherokee Historical Association sent an expedition of tribal leaders from the Eastern Band to retrace the Trail of Tears. In Oklahoma, these leaders lit a charcoal filled bucket with live coals from the Sacred Fire and brought it all the way back to Cherokee, North Carolina. On the 1951 opening night of “Unto These Hills,” a torch lit from these coals transferred the Sacred Fire to light a new Cherokee Eternal Flame, located just offstage. This flame still burns today.

Smoky Mountains

“And in ‘Unto These Hills…a retelling.’ It is brightly reflected by a Hoop Dance that symbolically reunites the Eastern and Western Cherokee. As these hoops become a glowing, living connection between both tribes, they proclaim the unquenchable Cherokee spirit to all who see their light.” Your Cherokee Guide, 2008, Cherokee Travel and Tourism, page 32.

“Both stories end in present-day Cherokee, where descendants of those who held out against removal and those who returned from it now live on their own, sovereign land. And as the new play suggests both by its plot and its existence, today’s Cherokees are actively deciding how best to blend their own traditions with what the larger world offers.” Your Cherokee Guide, page 31.

Psalm 121:1 “I will lift up my eyes onto the hills. From whence cometh my help? (and then) Verse 2: “My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.”


Copyright (c) May 2019 Georgia Wilson


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Episode #24 Where do You Go When You Can’t Go Home?

The first Cherokee-European treaty of which I am aware was in 1721 with England. The Governor of South Carolina invited delegates from 37 Cherokee towns, and after smoking a peace pipe and trading gifts, they agreed on defined borders. An agent was appointed to represent the affairs of the Cherokees. Very civilized. Although the Cherokees were already trading amicably with the French with no rules, the British were pushier, a more experienced nation builder who wanted to ink the deal. And they wore fancy costumes and carried fire weapons. It seems there was some jealousy between the two old countries who often feuded on the other side of the pond. Trouble was predictable.


Then in 1730, the Cherokee in North Carolina negotiated their own treaty. They agreed to submit to the English king; they agreed to trade only with England; they agreed only the English could build forts or plant corn; they agreed to be the police force tracking runaway slaves, and also to surrender any Indian killing an Englishman. In return, a delegation of six warriors got a round trip ticket to London to present King George with “the crown of the nation (consisting of five eagle tails and four scalps)” and recognize his sovereignty over them. The Cherokees must have loved the attention, but I don’t see where they received any benefits. (Although the identification of the scalps was not printed!) After a few years of abusive treatment, it seems they came to the same conclusion.

The information for the previous paragraphs came from a website you can peruse: http://www.nanations.com/cherokee/tribe/treaty1721.htm  This same website mentions these back and forth treaties which soon included the Cherokee loss of massive chunks of land.

In the Royal Proclamation of 1763, France got out of the American colonial business and ceded their territory to England which generated a big meeting that included the four governors of North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. As the mediator for the southern Indian tribes, John Stuart tried to explain the situation to the chiefs gathered. He could read; most of them could not. “A boundary line running close to the Appalachian ridge from Canada to Florida indicated a clear separation between the Europeans and the Native Americans who understandably resented the encroachment of foreigners on their land.” (Other Side of the River by Anne Landis Swann, Morris Publishing, Kearney, NE page 45) And the Cherokee were definitely not agreeable to moving to a foreign country, which was anywhere their roots were not planted, including the western frontier of America.

Our last post intentionally stranded you in suspense regarding the fate of Samuel Davidson, builder of a stockade near the head of the Catawba River. There seemed to be much discussion about the origin of this fort based on conflicting reports of pensioner accounts which Ms Swann handles adroitly in her Other Side of the River, pages 147-149.

Davidson’s Fort was at the confluence of Mill Creek with the Catawba River. This was treasured land for the Indian, and the intersection of many of their paths: “the Old Cherokee Trading Path to Virginia which branched from the Great Indian War Path at Saltville, VA, …an offshoot segment of Boone’s Trail (The Wilderness Road)” …and a number of other trails referenced by Swann on page 136, quoting William Edwin Myer from his Indian Trails of the Southeast, Blue and Gray Press, Nashville, TN, my old stomping ground for fifty years. (BTW…I recall hearing Ms. Swann say that the Cherokee had particular respect for any place two bodies of water crossed, so it seems possible to me that the location of this particular fort was especially vexing, like profanity against their religion.) How much aggro can people take and play nice?

According to Abraham Forney, pension applicant quoted on Swann’s page 344, “In the year 1782, there was a call for the militia to go against the Cherokee Indians…we commenced our march and joined the troops of Wilkes and Burke near the head of the Catawba River. My company was attached to Colonel Joseph McDowell’s regiment. From this we marched across the Blue Ridge and met with the Rutherford County troops…We took up our line of march into the nation nearly on the trail of General Rutherford in the year 1776 and marched some further than where the main army halted in that year–meeting with no Indian forces of any strength. We destroyed their towns, cut down their corn fields and with the prisoners we commenced our march home and were dismissed sometime in October, 1782.”

Back then they would commence, not begin. Declared authority. Intentional path of action. Did not look to the left nor to the right…but straight ahead. (BTW…that part is Biblical) They evidently thought they were on the side of justice; historians preserve conflicting positions. It seems history shows that the Native Americans had better trade relations with the Dutch and the French, but perhaps those countries weren’t so interested in the land as were the English colonists. Or the gold, as were the Spanish explorers before them. Seems like England had better communication with the Home Office: Heads up…this new country is phenomenal, worth a fight.

Rutherford’s scorched earth methods were successful in a show of power, but most of the Cherokees had been anxious to live peaceably, exemplified in their willingness to sign treaties which they could not read from men they wanted to trust. In The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains, pioneer Horace Kephart writes “Long before their discovery by Europeans, the Cherokees had developed for themselves the rudiments of civilization. They were not roving hunters but dwelt in villages of log huts and cultivated the soil. They raised corn, beans, potatoes (probably some variety of sweet potato), squashes and fruits; also practiced various simple industries. Their tribal organization, though looser than the confederacy of the Iroquois, was yet coherent enough for the whites to recognize as the ‘Cherokee Nation’.” (page 3 of this collection of Kephart’s notes in 1936, put together by Laura Mack Kephart and made available by the Great Smoky Mountains Association.) His opinion is not lightweight; in 1931, the 6,217′ Mount Kephart was named in his honor.

Pioneer Cabin Model
at Old Fort Gateway Museum

In 1784, Samuel Davidson decided to take advantage of relatively peaceful conditions and move to land he had previously claimed. This time he took his wife, infant daughter and an African slave to a choice setting near the Swannanoa River where they built a comfy cabin in the wilderness. The daunting task of carving out a homestead amid the cane and briars and rhododendron would have discouraged a more timid man. Samuel let his horse roam at will to feed on the abundant wild grass; a bell around the beast’s neck made him easy to find when necessary. Surely thoughts of his brother’s death at Crooked Creek must have been foremost in Samuel’s mind, but he risked all he had for his family’s future. (See last post)

One morning he hustled out to “commence” unending chores, locating his equine helper by following the sound of a bell. It is possible he never heard the Indians who shot him. But his wife heard the shots and picked up the baby and ran for their lives. She and her helper crossed the mountain as fast as they could, no doubt scurrying, terrified for all sixteen miles, until they were safely inside Davidson’s Fort, now the location of Old Fort Gateway Museum. Family members and friends started out as soon as possible to save Samuel’s life or recover his body. After they buried his scalped corpse, they set out to avenge their loss, shooting at the first group of Indian hunters they saw, and no doubt others died.

Whoever shot Samuel did not deter more European Americans from trekking over the mountain. Some of those in the Davidson posse fell in love with the land they saw and later returned  permanently. Samuel’s twin brother, Major William Davidson, was one who came back to settle, along with their sister Rachel and her husband, in company of other friends and relatives. The lesson to the Native Americans seemed to be that their land was indeed a desirable gift of bountiful beauty, and the newcomers wanted to possess it…and were not intimidated by hard work or death.

Telling this story without finding fault is fruitless because there were so many involved over so many years. And men polish a variety of mindsets and backgrounds and characters. Suffice it to acknowledge that friendships between individuals of both sides kept the possibility of justice alive, but when greed is rampant, reasonable men are hard to find.

Approximately 20,000 strong at this time, the “Cherokee Nation was in possession of a region as large as Ohio, about half of it being within the present limits of TN, and the rest in GA, AL, and the southwest corner of NC.” (pages 7-8 of Kephart’s The Cherokees of the Smoky Mountains) “It had been guaranteed to the Indians in perpetuity by the government,” and President Jefferson supported the Cherokee. With encouragement from him, they formed a government modeled after the United States, and seven years later formed a constitution.

According to Kephart on page 5 of his notes, the first treaty with the new American government of 1785 surrendered “Cherokee lands east of the Blue Ridge and much of the northern boundary” but nothing really prevented settlers from crossing borders except bloody conflicts which provoked a war and the necessity of another treaty in 1798 which as usual promised the Cherokee had possession of their country forever.

Perhaps a sticking point lay within State Rights, Kephart wrote on page 10: “President Monroe approved the suggestion of the Indian agent that the Cherokee lands be allotted, the surplus sold for their benefit, and the Indians invested with full rights of citizenship in the States where they resided. But Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia refused to allow any Indians to live within their boundaries.”

The younger Cherokees were pushed into a position of defense; the loss of their birthright, even identity, was happening on their watch as defenders of the tribe’s history. Therefore, they signed a treaty without the agreement of their elders, ie sold the farm and headed west, no doubt hoping to keep as much of their heritage as possible in a new land, to become the Western Tribe. Those left behind as the “eastern tribe” were not pleased.

One of the young men who left the war zone in the Appalachians was the stuff of national legends. Sequoyah’s background is still debated, some saying he was full-blooded, some saying not, according to http://www.org/wiki/Sequoyah

Born somewhere between 1760 and 1776 to Whut-teh, or Wurteh, who was related to Cherokee Chief Tassel, Sequoyah was possibly the son of a Colonel Nathanial Gist, a US Army negotiator, or another Gist, a German trader who came to the reservation in 1768. Or of Scottish descent. All say that Sequoyah had no siblings, was crippled in a hunting accident and was illiterate. He never went to school, and never learned English. Exhibiting natural intelligence, he excelled at making his own tools, and at his silversmith trade, selling exceptional spurs and bridle bits at his mother’s trading post. It was probably here that he took notice of how English speakers corresponded with each other by markings on paper, and he started working on a Cherokee written-communication system in 1809. Now we herald him as a polymath, a person whose expertise spans a significant body of complex subjects, in the company of Vincent van Gogh. And Richard Buckminster Fuller who produced many inventions, notably the dome prototype unveiled at Black Mountain College where he was a summer instructor. (See BMC #2 Who Needs a Supine Dome?)

From Tennessee, Sequoya moved to Alabama where he became a participant in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend of 1814. He continued his efforts to construct a Cherokee syllabus, even when his wife burned his first efforts which she suspected were influenced by witchcraft. Evidently Sequoyah persevered at his calling for years. I see similarities in his mindset and that of pioneer Samuel Davidson, and the motto of the US Post Office…”neither snow, nor rain nor hail nor heat nor gloom of night stops these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” When I researched this, I was hoping to find a connection to the Pony Express Riders who operated only one year, 1860-1861. They seemed to have the dedication to their tasks that Sequoyah and Davidson had. Alas, although this motto is inscribed on the US Post Office in New York, the origin was Herodotus writing about Persians who had the original pony express in the Persian Wars against the Greeks in 500-449 BC. They might win a prize for the longest war, but the Achievement Award goes to the guy who owned the American Pony Express franchise. He grossed $90,000 but lost $200,000!!! Wait…he sold it to Wells Fargo for $1.5 million after the Civil War. Pony up! Like I said earlier…mankind is diversified. (Google Pony Express and/or https://about.usps.com for more info; I must move on)

And then it got worse. In 1828 gold was discovered in Dysartsville, North Carolina, my neighborhood, and the possibility of gold running westward into the Cherokee Nation was too tempting to ignore.

The most abuse was in Georgia when gold was found inside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. In an exercise of eminent domain, the Georgia legislature quickly annexed that part into her chartered limits. And new President Jackson quickly went along with the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Most of the mineral veins were proven to be barren, but the land was forever lost…stolen. “In 1832 the Supreme Court … decided that the Cherokees formed a distinct community in which the laws of Georgia had no force,” Kephart wrote on page 16. Although Chief Justice John Marshall declared Georgia’s land seizure to be superseded by possession rights of the original occupants, Jackson downplayed it. Which is ironic, since he was backed by the Cherokee Nation at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. Without their help, Jackson would not have ended the war with the Creeks in Alabama who opposed white expansion into their territory. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Battle-of-Horseshoe-Bend

On page 26 of Kephart’s book, the author quoted Chief Junaluska, “If I had known that Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at Horseshoe Bend.” And it is likely Davy Crockett would have applauded since he often expressed disdain for Jackson’s leadership. At the Indian village of Tohopeka, the final casualty list was US Army 150 dead or wounded, Indian allies of US 69 dead or wounded, and Creeks almost 1000 dead of wounded.

And now the landowners would be evicted, even though the Cherokee Nation had been at peace for twenty years, wanting only to remain in their ancient villages and cultivated fields, similar to the Scottish highlanders who had left their homeland to reside farther north in the higher altitudes they loved. But the Scots were newcomers without the trade connections to export cotton to New Orleans, or the boats to get it there as did the Cherokee. Ironically at this time, the Chief of the Cherokee was John Ross, the son of a Scottish trader. John’s mother was a Cherokee and since that tribe is matrilineal,  membership is traced through the mother. Although his father provided his children with a European education, John was reared in the customs of the Cherokee. He put his heart and soul into representing them for forty years but was not able to protect them from evil.  http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1540

Enough for one read. Next post: Trail of Tears


Copyright @ May 2019  Georgia Wilson


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Episode #23: Westward Ho Dysartsville

In the last three posts, I “literally” traveled from my McDowell County neighborhood, westward toward Black Mountain, past the little town of Old Fort which used to be the edge of civilization even before the county lines. The fort was built to protect against Indian attacks in the  1700’s, since the settlers were spaced far apart and needed communal shelter at uncertain times. (See my post about the Ledbetter property, Nanny Saga #47 Port Holes in the Attic)

In March of 2019, there was an article in the Charlotte Observer written by Mark Price about a mysterious Nikwasi Mound, purported to be 1000 years old and possibly built by the ancestors of the Cherokee tribe. So since I was out and about western NC on my blog reporting, I decided to extend this tour of mountain history. According to the recent Nikwasi article, it has been two hundred years since the Cherokee lost ownership of this land in 1819, sad and bitter days for all Americans. This year the town council of Franklin voted to “deed control of this site to the Nikwasi Initiative, (a nonprofit co-owned by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee,) along with three partners: the town of Franklin, Macon County, and Mainspring Conservation Trust.” A little late for harmony, but not too late for lessons learned.

Also in March, my Dysartsville neighbors went to today’s Cherokee reservation and returned with a book for me to read about the tribe…they know I like history…and I dug out my older research books to broaden my story. I had been to Cherokee two years ago at the perfect time to see a herd of elk come out of the woods and pose for tourists’ cameras. In spite of the warning signs to stay back, there were a couple of fools who either couldn’t read or wouldn’t.

Photo of Elk in 2017 at Cherokee Reservation in western NC

Elk are big animals! And they do not know the command, “Whoa!” But in 2019, they might be the biggest danger in this now peaceful territory, and of course the snakes. And bears crossing the roads with no signals. Do not hit one…you will be the loser. Nor would I rule out some excitement generated from the probable moonshine stills in the hollers. Besides the gaming tables, many things have changed among neighbors living in relative harmony.

Of course it was not always this way. But it has always been about a relationship with the land. Not just in North Carolina, or just in America, but everywhere: remember the Babylonians and Israel? Make no mistake: the hunger for power and control are not the characteristic of only one race. You know that.

Okay, sticking to America, I’ll begin with an article “America’s First War” by Jason Urbanus, published in one of my fav magazines Archaeology, Jan/Feb 2015. On page 32, “Every year in early June, members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation in Connecticut gather at dawn for a ‘First Light’ ceremony,” “to commemorate their deceased ancestors on the anniversary of the Battle of Mistick Fort, the bloodiest engagement of the 17th century conflict known as the Pequot War,” involving Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York. Ironically or providentially, the owner of the property accommodating the commemoration of the battle is a distant descendant of the English captain John Mason” who decided to burn the fort, according to Kevin McBride, Director of Research at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. (page 37)

Have you ever heard of such? I had not. “The deadly conflict which raged between the year 1636 and 1638 not only pitted English settlers against the Pequot tribe of southern New England, but also unraveled old Native American alliances and resulted in fierce Native versus Native warfare.” It began with Dutch traders establishing a permanent presence along the “Hudson  River Valley and Long Island Sound in the 1620s and 1620s.” Gentle reader, have you noticed as greed escalates, the more money raked in the more desired; no end to it. But don’t be fooled: it was always about the land. Because there is a limited portion of that.

On page 33 of same article: “On the morning of May 26, 1637, English troops and their Native allies attacked and burned the Pequot village of Mistick, killing more than 400 Pequot men, women, and children.” Before this period was over, only a few Pequots survived, reduced not only by armed conflict but also by disease, deportation, and slavery. This was a pattern of corruption spreading like an epidemic rolling westward. I mistakenly titled an earlier post on May 29, 2016, “Patriot Wreath for First American War.” The Civil War was one of many in-house disagreements, and too bloody to forget. However, the shameful Trail of Tears deserves more recognition than the description “systemic land grab.” It has always been about the land. Everywhere, in all time frames.

In this post, I seem to be emphasizing the literary convention of three examples for balance, and therefore I will continue by mentioning three men who excelled at “pioneeringship” and invading the land that was designated “For Indians Only.” Evidently the First Settler West of the Blue Ridge Award is up for grabs, reminiscent of the dispute between Mitchell and Clingman over who discovered the highest mountain peak first. But that’s another story.

First up, is a gentleman I mentioned in my Dysartsville Saga: Episode #7 Dysart Family, Cont’d. William Moore was from Ulster Province in Ireland. His arrival in North Carolina is a mystery but he must have had a good reputation when the new Tryon County was pulled out of Mecklenberg County in 1768. He went into politics.

Moore represented the new Tryon County in NC from 1769 to 1771 and served in the House of Commons 1775-1776, according to website http://www.revolutionarywararchives.org/moore.html  even before it had constructed county buildings. However, he did not waiver when his brother-in-law “General Griffith Rutherford led an expedition against Cherokees who had massacred colonists along the NC border. Moore went along in 1776,” nationally known wordsmith Wilma Dykeman wrote on page 46 of her acclaimed perspective, The French Broad, 1955 Wakestone Books, Newport, TN.

http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tryon_County._North_Carolina reports that officially there was peace west of the Catawba River 1763 to 1776, but “the frontier was the target of occasional raids usually by Cherokee but sometimes by Shawnee and other tribes. Established forts were closer to the county line between future McDowell and Rutherford counties, as in Fort McGaugh near Brittain Church, Fort McFadden on Mountain Creek near Rutherfordton, and Potts Fort in Montford Cove.

It is important to note that many of these militia guys were also volunteering for the lines in the Revolutionary War, which supposedly commenced on July 4, 1776. But their hearts were with their homes, with muskets blazing where needed.

More than 6000 armed men descended on Cherokee Nation. They destroyed fifty towns, cut down cornfields, killed or carried off stock. Hundreds of people were killed or died belatedly of starvation. Others were made prisoners, and many were sold into slavery. Those who escaped became fugitives in the mountains, and lived to fight another day. (paraphrase of pages 104-114 which include personal narratives and pension applications collected by local Anne Landis Swann for her engaging historical account of The Other Side of the River, Morris Publishing, Kearney, NE)

Moore was appointed to be a militia captain and marched with Rutherford over the Swannanoa Gap along a route known now as Rutherford’s Trace. Evidently Captain Moore was impressed with this land of bounty and returned in the midst of soldier obligations to build a small log cabin-fort in Dysartsville in 1777. Then he joined a battle with farther reaching consequences. He was a lawyer/warrior; that’s how he rolled, a Renaissance man.

At the end of the American Revolution, the General Assembly of NC opened in 1783 a tract of land west of the Blue Ridge for settlement and with a grant of 640 acres from Governor Richard Caswell, Capt Moore brought in his household in 1784 with his second wife, slaves, three daughters and three sons. Evidently he flourished here, and his descendants are still in residence in Buncombe County. One of his family stars was Daniel Killian Moore, Governor of NC 1965-1969.

Captain Bill is buried in a grave in public ground near a NC county school near Asheville, marked: “William Moore, died November 11, 1812, AE 86 y’rs.” What a life, what a legend.

Moore’s contemporary, Jacob Brown, was a merchant and trader from South Carolina who made trips to the Upper or Overhill Cherokee towns. It must have been a harrowing and lonely way to make a living, accompanied –presumably–only by plodding equine footsteps and tinkling bells tied to the packs.

Brown eventually gave up trading for rich bottom land and dense cane that was easier to clear than timber. He worked a lease with his Cherokee customers in the French Broad watershed and pitched a tent on the North bank of the Nolichucky River. As a business-man, he encouraged others to join him, selling rights of portions of his lease. North Carolina warned them they were on Cherokee land which covered west Tennessee and east North Carolina and eastern Virginia and most of Kentucky….not to mention northern Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina. They had a treaty, a legal document signed in 1763. However, most settlers did scoot close to the Watauga settlement, mindful their scalp was more valuable than the land they coveted, and a piece of paper would not protect them.

But soon silver-tongued Jacob Brown worked in 1775 an incredible deal for ten shillings with the Cherokee Chiefs Oconostota, Attakullakulla, Chenesley, and the Bread Slave Catcher, for an area now “embracing the two rich East Tennessee counties Washington and Greene.” (pages 44-45 of Dykeman’s The French Broad) Brown lived only ten more years, but he had made his mark. His tombstone is now in a churchyard, and his grandson built a brick farmhouse near the giant oak where Jacob traded with Cherokee Chiefs.

Round Hill Gravesite on Marion Greenway

Brown’s story crossed into North Carolina numerous times because he was a friend to Hunting John McDowell, Joseph McDowell’s father from Pleasant Gardens (later Marion, NC). The McDowells had come from Pennsylvania around 1750. In 1779 when NC attained statehood, John was given an official royal land grant of 640 acres. At that time, John purchased an additional 440 acres from John Watkins, a tract surveyed by Griffith Rutherford and known as Round Hill Bottom. The deed was witnessed by William Moore and others. See any names you know? The newcomers stuck together. Round Hill Cemetery is located on a knoll along the walking trail overlooking the Catawba River close to US Highway 70 West. (Not to be confused with the Round Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Rutherford County.)

John McDowell’s grandson was killed by Indians in 1775 while on an expedition with Daniel Boone who cautioned McDowell via letter, “Your company is desired greatly, for the people are very uneasy, but are willing to stay and venture their lives with you, and now is the time to flusterate their (the Indians) intentions, and keep the country whilst we are in it. If we give way to Indians now, it will ever be the case.” (Swann’s The Other Side of the River, page 52)

Hunting John’s friendship with Jacob Brown was used to negotiate land purchases with the Indians. According to Swann on page 59, Brown promised 1400 acres on the Nolichucky to McDowell and wanted John to arrange a meeting with the Indians which took place March 1775 at Pleasant Gardens. One hundred thirty Cherokee camped out at Round Hill Bottom. McDowell provided food for the Cherokees and their animals. Sale of the land was paid for by beef cattle, fat hogs, green and roasting corn, but Jacob never paid McDowell with the Nolichucky lands as promised. When Jacob died, McDowell had to sue Brown’s estate for the debt; At his death, John had received only 400 acres of what was promised for financially backing the deal.

In 1750, John Davidson also came to North Carolina with his five sons: John, Jr., twins Samuel and William, and George and Thomas. Samuel Davidson built a stockade at the intersection of Main and Mill fork of the Catawba River which started in the mountains above it and flowed east and then south for miles.

The stories of three pioneer “first settlers” come together in this sad finale. Remember the pow-wow of Cherokee chiefs negotiating with Jacob Brown in 1775? Chief Attakullakulla had a son named Dragging Canoe who did not have kind feelings toward the settlers and wanted no part of a treaty. In fact he was so hateful, he and 700 of his friends and allies, including Delawares, attacked the TN settlements of Holston and Watauga. Dragging Canoe was shot in both legs which did not improve his temperament. He was particularly angry that his father and friends had “leased” and then “sold” a chunk of Cherokee territory to Jacob Brown via John McDowell.

The chiefs had knowledge there would be a three prong attack on white settlements. Although they did not support it, they did nothing to stop it. According to Swann on Page 77, some of the warriors used warpaint to disguise themselves because they were actually Loyalists (Tories) recruited by the British to wage war with the Cherokee on their neighbors, like John Davidson. Patriots returned home from war to a neighborhood over run with Tories. The fight for freedom was not over, although there was a new component. The Native Americans wanted freedom also.

Dragging Canoe led almost fifty warriors in an attack on the Crooked Creek settlement. While the rest of the country celebrated Independence Day, July 4, 1776, pioneers were being eulogized. John Davidson, Jr, and his wife were killed that day.

Within hours, word had spread and settlers headed to the closest shelter. The Thomas Burchfield family lived north of the area on the northeast shore of small Lake Tahoma; the closest fort was Fort Cathey, one mile west of Pleasant Gardens, home of the McDowells. Joining with neighbors, they struggled toward safety with families and necessities, twenty men in front leading, followed by women and small children, the rear guard being a larger group of larger boys and thirty to forty men.

While some of these men were chasing unruly cattle, seven Indians hit the center of the line and snatched young children from the arms of their mothers. Lydia Burchfield, age 12, sister Mary, age 15, and baby Burchfield were taken, along with four others. The remainder of grieving settlers made their way to the nearest fort.

Since their safe haven needed repairs, it was three days before a search party could prudently follow the victims without jeopardizing the remainder of their group. Approximately twenty men started out and found six of the children had been scalped, five dead. “Not only had the Indians taken the hair, they had taken skin and bone down to just above the eyes.” Lydia was still alive. The recovery party washed her head in the river, bandaged her as best they could, and returned her to a grateful mother who nursed her back to health. Her sister Mary was never found again, although there were stories of spotting her within a band of Indians. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to be grateful for. In this case, Lydia was blessed. She survived and had an almost normal pioneer life. There is a grave marker with her name on it in Drucilla graveyard on Harmony Grove. “In memory of Lydia Hunter, the dear beloved and grately lamented wife of Andrew Hunter, was bornd July 24, 1763, and departed this life October 19, 1846 AGE 83 y 2m 26d: Dear friends go home, dry up your tears, I must be here till Christ appears, When He appears then I shall rise, to meet my Jesus in the skies.” (The Burchfield story on pages 92-99 of The Other Side of the River)

Samuel Davidson’s story will have to wait for the next post. In 1780 a land grant was given to his brother George for 640 acres including Davidson’s Fort, but by then Samuel had moved. Ever headed westward, he was one of the first to venture over the Blue Ridge in the Swannanoa Valley Region, in the Black Mountain vicinity. Continue to the next post to find out his destiny.


Copyright @ 2019 Georgia Wilson

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BMC#3 Worker Bees Are Necessary; We Can’t All be Queens (Or Kings)

Suggested by several interviews on this blog over the years, our elder locals were perhaps more cosmopolitan than their children. (I didn’t say wiser.) As a fitting detour from my casual McDowell County history, in my last two posts I dipped into the story of the former nearby Black Mountain College, an unconventional institution of higher learning that closed in 1957.

Jonathan Williams (1929-2008) was one of the few NC natives to attend Black Mountain College. Williams graduated St. Albans, a college prep school in Washington DC. Then on to Princeton (FYI the fourth oldest institution of higher learning in the US) before dropping out to attend Chicago Interior of Design and Black Mountain College where he studied painting and graphic arts with Stanley William Hayter, an English painter and printmaker influenced by surrealism and abstract experiment. Not a lightweight, Hayter was celebrated with many international awards.  http.//en.wikipedia.org/Williams

In 1951, Williams joined David Ruff to found the Jargon Society with the goal of publishing obscure writers. This press had a long association with Black Mountain poets who were inspired by long silences enjoyed when walking Appalachian trails, listening to country noises and to mountain people. Williams “only had to organize a bit, crystallize it,” and call it “found material.” The Jargon Society published American and British “avant garde” writers who, according to Wiki Free Encyclopedia, “push the boundaries of what is accepted as the norm, primarily in the cultural realm.” Actually, the term “avant garde” is a French term for radical and unorthodox (which scares me) but I admire the embrace of creative freedom from afar.

I love that Williams called himself a cultural anthropologist as he exaulted the process. This niche might now be led by one of my favorite NC writers, Ron Rash. Not only is he able to draw distinct word pictures, he can construct a plot with the best mysterians. He has been a long time professor at Western NC University in Cullowhee, and a 2017 recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, along with others, receiving $50,000 to support his work.

Regarding the fertile environment of Black Mountain College, it would be unfair if I did not mention Helen Auerbach Morley (born in 1916 to Russian parents living in New York). Helen was quite precocious, beginning her career early by penning verse in her childhood. Her doctor-father was descended from Hasidic rabbis, and her mother was a Labor Zionist who made certain Helen studied at the University of London. Back in New York in 1945, Helen married abstract expressionist Eugene Morley for a short time. In 1952 she married German composer Stefan Wolpe, and both taught at Black Mountain College.   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilda_Morley ) Stefan Wolpe was diagnosed with Parkinsons and Morley was “greatly affected by her need to care for him until his death” in 1972.

Morley lived in New York for four decades, but her limited career really began in 1976 when she published her first collection, A Blessing Outside Us, to accolades that compare her work to the poetic greatness of Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot. In contemporary commentary, at https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/hilda-morley  a critic said it was a “shameful comment on our present-day literary situation that Hilda Morley’s work has been largely neglected.” (I am guilty but I had never heard of her.) Morley wrote, “the poem of organic form molds its phrasing and spacing to conform to the pressure of the poetic content.” (Besides, I don’t know what that means.)

In an earlier post about Black Mountain College, I tagged Charles Olson who also offered a helping hand to struggling writers. Soon after assuming his leadership position in 1953, Olson founded the Black Mountain Review magazine. It may have been a groundbreaking arts magazine since it helped establish beat generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs, (reported by Tom Patterson on page 28 of “The Success of its own Accident,” an article in the North Carolina Literary Review, Vol II, #2 but were they significant?). Evidently Helen Worley’s work was influenced more by Wong May, a Chinese poet she met in a residency in New Hampshire in 1969, than it was by Charles Olson at BMC.

As an attraction to get new students, the Black Mountain Review magazine was a failure, not to denigrate Olson’s altruistic efforts, just the futility of the educational experiment. “By 1954, the student population had shrunk to an all-time low of nine. Meanwhile, faculty attrition in the wake of (rector) Josef Albers’ departure had left only six teachers at the school, which by this point was in debt by almost $90,000.” The dining hall and dormitories on the south end of the campus were rented out for use as a boys’ camp, and land along the edges of the college property was sold off, as were the school’s pianos and a small herd of cattle that were once part of a once-thriving farm.”

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S_Burroughs, another Ivy League grad was attracted to the literary reputation of BMC. William Burroughs, (his middle name was Seward), was born into a wealthy family in St. Louis, Mo. He left home in 1932 to attend Harvard, and studied English and anthropology as a postgraduate. A serious student and most probably very intelligent, Burroughs attended med school in Vienna. Along with many affected by WWII, his life changed in 1942. He was turned down by the Navy after which he “picked up drug addiction that would plague him the rest of his life.” That Wiki line sounds as though Burroughs picked up a cold, poor baby. Somewhere he had a choice. Refer back to Buckminster Fuller’s life in the last post. Bucky was also very intelligent, and had significant difficulties, but he focused on solving them.

William Burroughs was prolific; he managed to produce 18 novels and novellas, 6 collections of short stories and 4 collections of essays. He also created and exhibited thousands of paintings and other visual artworks. But much of Burroughs’ work was drawn primarily from his experience as a heroin addict. In 1943 he met Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouak in NY; this friendship presumably was the foundation of the Beat Generation–a defining influence on the 1960s counterculture. Interesting but not inspirational.

Burroughs was on a downhill spiral no matter how intelligent he started out. In 1951, he killed his 2nd wife in Mexico City. The evolving story claimed he dropped a gun that went off and killed her…ignoring his first story of “drunkenly attempting a William Tell stunt.” He was convicted of manslaughter in absentia and received a two year suspended sentence in the US. When he returned to the States, his friends seemed to wash over his character problems and applaud his creativity for going rogue. His friend Jack Kerouac called Burroughs “the greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift.” Norm Mailler declared him “the only American writer conceivably possessed by genius.” In 1953, Ginsberg helped Burroughs with his first novel Junkie, a confessional. Burroughs best known novel was Naked Lunch, which was challenged in court under sodomy laws. More reading about him at  https://www.who2hs/.com/bio/william_s_burroughs

Allen Ginsberg was a Columbia student in NY in the 1950s before he traveled to San Francisco where a 1955 public reading of his ground breaking poem “Howl” became a counterculture hit, helped along by publicity over an obscenity charge against him as a homosexual. https://www.who2.com/bio/allen-ginsberg/  He was selected by poet Robert Greeley of Black Mountain College to be the west coast editor of the Review just in time for its last issue, according to Patterson.

Opening Lines from “Howl”: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical, naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…”

At this point, I was very disappointed in the literary figures applauded by Olson. I expected better. I was taught in writing classes that you have to know rules before you can break them. I believe Monet and Matisse started with traditional landscapes, and evolved into their own impressionist genres. American realist painter Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) succeeded with the rules, but writer Elmore Leonard became a category of one with his inimitable dialogue. And progressive Buckminster Fuller did not try to reinvent the wheel, well, yes, he did, but actually he succeeded. Like I said earlier, if you know the rules…

Ginsberg became one of the more prominent figures in the American anti-war movement, as he also joined love-ins, and took LSD. In 1974, he won the National Book Award for The Fall of America: Poems of These States 1965-1971. Some say he was successful, and I would say that depends upon your perspective.

In a 1994 Asheville radio interview with David Horand, WCQS, Ginsberg pointed out that many of the BMC students and faculty moved to the west coast and became active in what is generally known as the San Francisco poetry renaissance, “which inaugurated that whole program of spoken poetry that…runs through Bob Dylan up through rap.” (Patterson, pg 38) “Ginsberg also notes that his poem ‘Howl,’ coincidentally published at about the same time that BMC was closing, “represented a voice of the counterculture, which Black Mountain also represented, a counterculture which had old roots in Europe, in the refugees from Hitler who knew what central authoritarianism was and were trying to preserve the old American spirit and the international spirit in the form of a libertarian bohemian world.”

“The extraordinary characteristic that set Black Mountain apart from other schools of its era was, quite simply, the open-ended, flexible, process-oriented approach to education and the arts that it consistently embodied,” Patterson wrote on page 30. “The progressive model it offered for living and learning no longer appears to have much currency in the diploma-factory realm of American higher education.”

Bee on Cherry Tree
His natural calling fulfilled by his very best effort

Patterson’s summation ignores the lack of accountability to the input of thousands of teachers who established a foundation that conceivably was built on the work of many, each one making a different but valuable contribution to the individual. In my opinion, genius needs a bed to lie on. This open border process produced more societal failures than successes. Recognizing that some of us have elevated ideas that benefit mankind, most of us learn the basics from each other.

I have known excessively-intelligent people who failed to function in society without help from parents/spouses. But some of us are almost supernatural and called to excel; we mere mortals can appreciate but never emulate them. For example, I cannot imagine making Edgar Cayce’s  life a pattern for success. Nor using the genius of Vincent Van Gogh as a progressive model for living. In my humble opinion, the supporters of Black Mountain College did not recognize that a successful society needs structure enforceable by laws for sustained growth.

Could be my opinion, but even the bees know the laws of nature.


Copyright @2019 Georgia Wilson

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BMC #2: Who Needs A Supine Dome?

Nobody really, but its NC history is interesting.

The term caught my attention when a writer friend loaned me an “opinionated” bound article about the history of Black Mountain College where the practice of arts, as in painting, music, theater, literature, and dance, was the central focus of the curriculum. We were both attracted to the legacy of Charles Olson who became rector in 1953; he described the school as a “creative accident.” Olson’s “most important contribution to Black Mountain College was to establish its reputation as a vital center for contemporary writing,” claims Tom Patterson in the North Carolina Literary Review, Vol II, #2, “The Success of its own Accident.” Tom was personally connected to this history because in the early 1960’s, he attended two summer sessions at Camp Rockmont for Boys, on Lake Eden. The site was formerly occupied by Black Mountain College.

In the last post, I promised highlights on well-known persons involved with this progressive school. I can’t describe any as graduates, because each student determined his/her own graduation date, and there were no graduation ceremonies. Or grades. No hurt feelings. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Mountain_College

One guest teacher who brought more radical thinking to the campus was inventor Richard Buckminster Fuller who inspired the students with an “improvisational lecture” on synergy (described by Webster as combined or cooperative force). From a wealthy and well-educated family, Fuller’s progressive mindset was possibly nourished by an aunt associated with the American transcendentalism movement, the study of thoughts to discover realism. Suffice it to say that Buckminster (his preferred moniker was Bucky) thought outside the box. Today he might be called gifted.

Bucky was born in Milton, Massachusetts in 1895 and by the age of 12, he had invented a “push-pull” system for propelling a rowboat by use of an inverted umbrella. Perhaps this effort encouraged an interest in design and underlined the importance of becoming knowledgeable about materials used in the sheet metal trade, as he earned a machinist’s certificate. (Ref: Martin Pawley (1991) Buckminster Fuller, NY, Taplinger.)

Conventional education did not hold a sustained interest from this innovator. Wikipedia reports Bucky was expelled from Harvard twice. The first time for getting involved with a vaudeville troupe, and the second time for showing irresponsibility and lack of interest in his studies, although the two charges sound repetitive to me. In between his years of study at college, he worked in Canada in a textile mill and in a meat-packing plant. He later served with the Navy as a shipboard radio operator in WW1. It was at this time that he lost partial hearing. His first handicap was extreme hyperopia requiring thick glasses. He also struggled with a shorter leg requiring a shoe insert, but Uncle Sam took him anyway. In spite of physical shortcomings, he was described by one writer in a Wikipedia article as having a “golden smile and an angelic temperament.” And he must have been high energy to accomplish as much as he did. From scratch. Did he walk to the beat of a different drummer? Genius does. What was his inspiration?

To his credit, Bucky married Anne Hewlett for life. Sadly they lost their oldest daughter to complications from polio and meningitis. He became depressed since he suspected her death related to their damp and drafty environment. As the case with many creative thinkers, he felt pressed to find a solution for others. With his father-in-law, Fuller founded Stockade Building System, lightweight, weatherproof housing, but the company failed in 1927. No longer part of an upper class that was shaken apart by the stockmarket crash, Bucky’s family lived in serious debt. Suicide seemed a good option to his way of thinking.

Bucky later described a walk around Chicago that changed his life. Feeling suspended above ground in a shaft of light, he heard a Voice that told him, “You do not belong to you. You belong to the universe. Your significance will remain forever, obscure to you, but you may assume that you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experience to the highest advantage of others.” (Ref: Lloyd Steven Sieden (1989) Buckminster Fuller’s Universe: His Life and Work. Basic Books.)

Fuller evidently took this message to heart. He first determined to make himself an example of the transformation of a human living through the gay 90s into the turn of the century and beyond. He saved almost everything he wrote between 1915 to 1983, a paper document pile stacked about 270′ high, including copies of all incoming and outgoing correspondence, now housed at Stanford University.

In the summer of 1948, Buckminster Fuller came to Black Mountain College, a last minute replacement of a Chicago architect. He arrived two weeks into the session but his genius was instantly recognized in his first three-hour lecture. His manner of communicating was unique to him, using unusual compound words like “intransformative,” as well as terms he himself invented, like “ephemeralization” and “tensegrity.” According to Fuller, the words “down” and “up” were a concept of planar direction and should be replaced with “in” and “out” in respect to the center of the earth, which he called “Spaceship Earth.” (Reference: Wikipedia.org) This term is currently used to describe a challenge to scientists today to consider the regeneration of earth’s ecosystems at the Buckminster Fuller Institute. https://www.bfi.org/challenge/spaceship-earth-challenge

At the time of his visit to Black Mountain College, Fuller had reached a turning point in his “Dymaxion” inventions intended to help postwar problems with low cost solutions. His study involved “geometry of geodesics, a term that described an arc of inter-crossing great circles on a spherical form. His first application of this geometry, the Dymaxion World Map, received a patent in 1946.”

See http://www.blackmountaincollegeproject.org/Biographies/FULLER

His most famous invention, the geodesic dome, was a latticework structure used in military radar systems, environmental protest camps, exhibitions, etc. (Including a “Fuller Dome” intended to cover the entire island of Manhattan, but that didn’t happen.) However, on the way to his success, Buckminster Fuller brought his Supine Dome prototype to Black Mountain College in 1948, where the students tried to make his theory a reality. Enthusiastically, “the students measured long strips of [plastic] blinds and computed the tensile strength of each unit. Each strip was coded and the points marked where they would mesh together.” They attempted to erect a dome 48′ in diameter, 23′ high with an area of 1500 sq ft. As predicted by Fuller, the dome collapsed during the project because the materials “weren’t right.” The next summer they used aluminum aircraft tubing and erected the dome. The lesson for the college students was memorable: You succeed when you stop failing. (Ref: http://www.Appalachian History, “The Supine Dome Flops in a NC Field” posted by Dave Tabler, June 6, 2017)

Many successes belonged to Buckminster Fuller, even the patent on a hanging storage shelf unit. Less familiar may have been the model for an offshore floating city which resides in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum. And one of his Dymaxion houses–described as radically strong with light tensegrity (Fuller’s word)–is permanently displayed at the Henry Ford Museum. He was also recognized as the second World President of Mensa (a group with ridiculously high IQs) from 1974 to 1983.

And that was the year of his death, which was also creative. Bucky sat at the deathbed of his wife of 66 years. Anne was comatose, dying of cancer. On July 1, he said, “She’s squeezing my hand!” He stood up, suffered a heart attack and died an hour later. His wife followed him the next day.

Rest in Peace. May we be blessed with more genius and fewer pompous celebrities.


Copyright February 2019 Georgia Wilson




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Black Mountain College, Don’t you Know?

No, I did not know there was or had been a Black Mountain College until Marion friend, Nancy Hunter, gave me a bound article titled: The Success of it’s Own Accident, An Opinionated Encapsulated History of Black Mountain College. Written by Tom Patterson for the North Carolina Literary Review in 1995. (An intriguing read for an opinionated writer like myself who has endeavored to encapsulate the encapsulation)

I discovered that Patterson’s interest in unique stylistic art, as in folk art, started with an experience at the Black Mountain College Festival that took place in 1974 at St. Andrews College in Laurinberg, NC, where Patterson attended. When he followed through to write the essay I comment on today, he referenced “two extensive published histories of Black Mountain College–Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (1972) and Mary Emma Harris’s The Arts at Black Mountain (1987).” Also referenced is “Fielding Dawson’s exuberant memoir of his own life as a student there in the late 40s and early 50s.”

I share this information at this particular juncture in my Dysartsville blog because I have recently posted three memorials which vaguely tie in to this story: as in the local Boy Scout Camp, Foxfire Project, and Berea College.

Patterson reports that Black Mountain College was the brainchild of classics professor John Andrew Rice, whose “strong personality and freethinking ways got him fired” from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. It was the depths of US depression, and he needed a job somewhere. Fortunately for him, several other professors and loyal students offered to support his idea of a more democratic institution of learning and an unconventional student body. They left Rollins as a mobile learning cell in search of a host.

From their website, I learned that Rollins College was the first college in Florida. It was founded in 1885 through sponsorship by a church, which was the norm back then. But from wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregational_church I was surprised to learn this body of believers was of New England Congregationalist inspiration, embracing autonomy and the belief that “every seeking child of God is given directly wisdom, guidance, and power.” This sounded kind of radical to me, especially since King Henry VIII once declared himself Supreme Head of that Church, and he had radical ideas about marriage. However, many of our nation’s oldest educational institutions, like Harvard and Yale, were founded to train Congregationalist clergy.  So although the Church progressed to become involved in many social movements, Rice wanted more intellectual freedom for teaching. He was invited to leave.

In the Conference Center at the Blue Ridge Assembly, where the Baptist Church used the facility only in the summer months, the first faculty of eleven opened Black Mountain College for fewer than two dozen students in the fall of 1933. Wikipedia reports Black Mountain College “was ideologically organized around John Dewey’s principles of education while emphasizing holistic learning and the study of art as central to a liberal arts education.” Dewey visited the campus twice during the 1934-1935 school year and his name was on the advisory board, later joined with the names of Albert Einstein and Carl Jung, an impressive endorsement for the infant hope of excellence.

At the same time, across the Atlantic in a turbulent Germany, the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus art and design school where Josef Albers and his wife Anni taught. They immigrated to the States and with connections through similar educational refugees found positions in Black Mountain College and stayed for sixteen years. Josef “developed a strong following among both students and faculty, and he ultimately proved to be the single most important influence on the school’s evolution as an arts center. In 1987 Mary Emma Harris wrote in The Arts at Black Mountain College that Josef in 1928 was the head of the furniture workshop at Bauhaus, and he “distinguished himself as a glass painter and as a designer of furniture and lettering.” (Patterson pg 23) Anni taught weaving and textile design. Language was a big problem for awhile, not to mention the political issue like an elephant hiding in the mountain forest.

In a free society, rules are unnecessary, right? So there were no written guidelines to the students at first. They were expected to show up for class, dress nicely for Saturday dinner, and each was allowed to decide their own graduation date. Later on there was a growing list of suggestions regarding barefeet and/or sex in public, throwing lit cigarettes out windows, borrowing books without asking, etc. With their past experiences, Albers and Ted Dreier, a physics and math instructor, and Rector Robert Wunsch were not as progressive as perhaps the rest of the faculty, and they remained ever vigilant for plots by political subversives attempting to destroy BMC. They did have a “rule” that said “No firearms” but like I said earlier, rules were rarely enforced, just argued. Even the one suggesting: Be Intelligent.

John Rice left six years after the college opened. In 1941, the college made a short move across the valley to a larger campus of 600 acres with craftsman style bungalows around Lake Eden. Students were required to participate in farm work, construction projects and kitchen duty, similar to commune living. After all, there were no course requirements, grades or degrees offered. “Work crews were headed by German refugee Richard Goethe, who had a PhD in economics but was also a master mechanic and toolmaker,” wrote Patterson. A materials course taught by Albers and a course on Plato were the only non-negotiables. The largest benefactors were members of the Forbes family. Even Eleanor Roosevelt visited once. Much of the teaching was by guest lecturers.

In 1944 an incident occurred that alarmed the faculty because the publicity drew much negative attention to the school. Two female students were arrested for hitchhiking and charged with loitering which then had a close connection to prostitution. The girls were forced to leave the school along with their female advisor who sanctioned their trip to visit a former teacher at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. In protest, all the student officers and twenty of their fellows, mostly liberal arts majors, resigned from the college. Two of these professors had been hired the year before, and Josef Albers was “convinced they were communists looking to take over the college.” (Patterson ppg 20-21) Hitchhiking was banned, for females. And the list of behavior suggestions got longer and stronger: don’t be noisy after 10:30pm and do not vacation with members of the opposite sex.

Patterson wrote in his article that “from the outset two key aspects of its administration and educational emphasis set it apart from other schools in this country. First, the faculty were the sole owners and administrators of BMC, which had no outside board of trustees or directors that could exert political pressure on the school. Second, the arts occupied the center of the curriculum; not the liberal arts or the study of art history, but rather music, dance, theatre, visual art, and literature as active practices. Courses in the sciences and humanities were offered, at least until the last year or two. In the reversal of the usual order of academic priorities, those disciplines held a more peripheral position at BMC.” (Patterson pg 21)

Patterson wrote, “Despite the Southern heritage of its founder, BMC was always culturally and socio-politically out of step with the surrounding region.” After a speech in Charlotte about the college and his ideas on education, a front-page article in the Charlotte News described him as “decidedly radical and communistic.” (pg 24 of his bound article). On page 25, he quoted Duberman’s page 68 of Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (1972), writing that predictably “blacks were allowed in the kitchen at BMC long before they were allowed in the classroom. The first African Americans at the college were cook Jack Lipsey and his wife Rubye” who stayed for several years. “The question of whether a visiting black student could stay on campus or not was one of the first divisive issues to confront the college in its founding year. In the end, fear ruled, and the student was housed in ‘suitable quarters in town’.”

Duberman also wrote “the arrival of Carol Brice and Roland Hayes as guest faculty for the summer music institute of 1945 marked another important turn for the college. Brice brought her mother and baby and stayed for four weeks; Hayes and his family stayed two weeks. Both had dramatic impacts on the college and the town. Hayes’ public concert brought an integrated audience of over 300 to the campus without incident.” “Percy H. Baker, a professor at Virginia State College, was hired to teach biology. Baker later said BMC was ‘one of only two places I have been in my life when I was unconscious of race.’ (Quoted in Duberman page 217) “By 1947, five black students were enrolled.” But few applied after that.

Patterson wrote, “the full-time faculty worked in exchange for a share in the school’s ownership and were paid based on its income, which was usually lean and sometimes nonexistent. Long-term teachers went for months, even years, without receiving a paycheck, in essence working for room and board and an ever-increasing IOU from the college.” (pg 22)

The most divisive issue that perhaps unfortunately destroyed the school was not in the student population but in the faculty, the adult leadership. From Duberman pp 230-22 and Harris, 105, Patterson wrote that Rector “Robert Wunsch, a founding member of the faculty, was arrested in 1945 on a ‘crimes against nature’ charge and forced to resign his post.” (pg 25) Wunsch had taught at Rollins with Rice, and had come to BMC to teach drama. It seemed a natural fit for him since he was a native of this area. When Ted Dreier heard the news, he “returned immediately from a sabbatical and had the charge reduced to aggravated trespass in exchange for Wunsch’s promise to leave the area (forever). Dreier later told Duberman that he suspected Wunsch had been set up because of his liberal reputation.” Wunsch “moved to Los Angeles, where he changed his name and began working for the post office.”

For the next couple years, strife within the leadership regarding BMC’s future direction weakened it’s utopian hope. Albers left in 1949 because of the power struggle, and the school never recovered. Patterson writes, “But from an artistic standpoint, it was a time of remarkable energy and unprecedented innovation at the school.” “The lively spirit of avant-garde renaissance that infected Black Mountain during the early 1950s was epitomized by the most famous event ever to take place there–the now legendary ‘happening’ that composer John Cage organized one evening in the summer of 1952.”

In the next post, I will be highlighting individuals who added to the excellence that Rice hoped to encourage with his education experiment. There are several who deserve spotlights and admiration.

But to end this general description of Black Mountain College, it must be noted that Charles Olson tried his best to breathe spirit into an unconventional institution. “Olson taught briefly at Harvard, worked in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration and published two books when he was first invited to teach writing at Black Mountain in the fall of 1948.” Over the next five years, he was in and out between Black Mountain and his home in DC, or studying Mayan glyphs in Yucatan, a most extraordinary individual.

On page 27, Patterson describes Olson as “a formidable personality which was magnified by his towering 6’8″ frame.” The college was without a rector until the fall of 1953, when Olson agreed to take the reins. His recognized contribution to BMC was his influence on contemporary writing. “He brought fellow-poets Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan to join him, and soon afterwards, founded the Black Mountain Review, an arts magazine “whose seven issues helped establish the Black Mountain writers and beat generation writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs as important forces in American literature.” (Patterson pg 28)

“Describing the ambiance at Black Mountain in the early 50s, Olson wrote that it was ‘more no-college now, and fast becoming a Chinese monastery or  hill-fort’.” “These last Black Mountain holdouts were an outlaw commune on the cultural fringe, a band of intellectual outsiders and visionaries taking refuge from a bland, conformist society.” Olson wrote a series of farewell lectures called The Special View of History that “speak to a basic issue that was always at the heart of Black Mountain’s educational philosophy: the relationship of the individual, and particularly the individual artist to his or her time.” The lectures were posthumously published fourteen years later. (pg 28)

Black Mountain College took its last gasp in 1957. Wikipedia reports, “Ironically, the property was purchased and converted to an ecumenical Christian boys residential summer camp Rockmont.”

As a local native, young Tom Patterson attended this camp for two summer sessions in the 1960s, returning, enlightened, to write a fitting memorial for the college once birthed there.

Surely I have left out many consequential names, but readers can go to the current website blackmountaincollege.org and learn more details of this historic chapter in our beloved mountain neighborhood. Although the college is gone, it is remembered in the BMC Museum and Arts Center at 120 College Street, in Asheville NC.

Advertized now is an Upcoming Exhibition: February 1, 2019 to March 18, 2019.


Copyright @2019 Georgia Wilson


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Story Brake #2: Another Funeral for McDowell Native

Last week two contributors to a biography I wrote on William Brown (Pete) Gibbs, Jr., The Bear Hunter’s Son, “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” (This poetic description may/may not have connections with my eighty-year-old friends who died in 2019, but I’ve always loved this image. Poem “High Flight” was written by John Gillespie Magee, 19 yr-old aviator who died shortly afterwards in a 1941 midair collision.)

I wrote first about Max Woody, who passed on Tuesday, January 2. (Read my comments in last week’s post, January 5) I had not seen the notice about Henry Seawell Brown, PhD, who died December 30 at age 88. His funeral service was at the Concord United Methodist Church, followed by private interment at the Brown Family Cemetery.

Two years ago, on December 28, I visited Henry at his lovely historic home in the North Cove community, and he told me stories of his family who had lived there for generations. (North of Marion) A few years before, they had celebrated the 200th anniversary of this Brown family farm. He showed me a copy of the original deed, signed and witnessed, “written with a turkey feather and painful to read.” He pointed to the name Romulus Walter Brown. He was the “ancestor to all of us, including the Gibbs, because one of his children, a sister to my Granddad, married Harrison Gibbs.”

“Romulus Walter was in the Civil War as a cavalry man. His father John Seawell worked a lot, kind of got out of farming.” Henry showed me a bill of sale for a sleigh that John S. Brown had bought from his father Samuel for $4,000 in 1855. Also he bought “a fine riding horse for his son because Romulus was going to be inducted into the Confederate Army. The horse was shipped up from Texas and called Star of the West.” Romulus was therefore able “to join up as a cavalry man because he had a horse, and he didn’t enter as a private; he entered as a corporal and stayed in until the war was over, 1865 I guess.”

Historic Carson House
FB Photo 12-3-2014

This NC State Senator John Seawell Brown cobbled together several tracts of land that included  property along Buck Creek and the historic Carson house, the first seat of government in the area, called Pleasant Gardens. John moved into the Carson House around 1880 and lived in it until he died in 1893. “At intervals they have a reenactment over at the Carson House,” where Henry later served on the Board of Directors. “We kept it in the Brown family until 1910, and then it was bought by a Morris family” of Marion.

All together, Samuel and John S. and Romulus acquired lots of land. The Browns owned the whole valley, 2660 acres, both sides of the road because 221 wasn’t there until the 1920s. “The road was over there next to Linville Mountain.” (The old folks did not want to take up good farmland with a road. ‘No, put it over by the hill where it’s rocky. We want to grow corn on this.’) The Brown farm started about three miles past the Baxter plant location today, all the way up the foothills to beyond the current golf course.

Henry said, “My Granddad inherited the original 300 acres that their ancestors bought from a Joseph Wilson. The Wilsons entered and claimed this land back in 1700 something. This was the son of the original man who claimed it, and he then sold it to Daniel Brown, 300 acres for $920. That was a lot of money in those days. The house that Samuel built in the 1800s was destroyed in the 1916 flood. “Every generation of Browns has a bunch of Sams. There’s a Big Sam, a Little Sam, a crippled Sammy, also ole froze face Sam.”

Postcard to Mrs. Henry Seawall Brown Garden City NC from North Cove (Ashford) December 1897

“When my grandfather, Henry Seawell, got married, he went over to Buck Creek to farm on John S. land. Romulus stayed and worked this land in North Cove. Granddad’s wife was only eighteen, and when their first child died the first year, she was devastated. Romulus came to his son, called Seawell, and said, “I’m going to close down the distillery; it might have been a sin. It could have been a punishment to cause your child to die, a punishment for having it, so I’m going to close it down. So he took down his still long before the turn of the century.” He also took down the store that was with it where he sold whiskey. Seawell and his wife, Mary Jane, moved back to the North Cove land, back near her people, the English family farther up the mountain. And Romulus went to the Pleasant Gardens property where he lived out his life and is buried with his father John S. at the Brown Cemetery at the top of the wooded hill on Hiway 80. (near Pete’s old house) Romulus died in 1905, but his wife Delia Bobbitt Brown lived on to manage his estate.

Granddad did not tear down the mill. “Sometime before 1900 the mill burned. The guy was convicted; he was mostly blind, a McCall, and one snowy night he got out and burned Grandfather Brown’s mill. And then went back home. And they traced his tracks going and coming. He finally admitted, “Yeah, I did it.” He had been in competition with (the Browns) for the grain to grind for people. We “didn’t press charges. I think Romulus said, ‘Well, he’s a neighbor. We’ve gotta live with him. I just want everyone to know who burned their mill. That’s all I want.’ But it was rebuilt by my grandfather.”

Around 1905, the Clinchfield railroad came through the North Cove property and “offered a nice price to buy the right of way for about a mile.” The Browns were able to capitalize by selling “timber as well as foodstuffs to the construction outfit.” Henry showed me photos of the camp, with its mule barns, commissary, clinic, bunkhouses, and engineer’s office. There were about 400 people living there between 1905-1908. “They had a bakery, a steam plant, a water pump to make steam so they could drill through the rocks and all.” (I wonder if any of this had influence on Henry’s vocation. He got his Master of Science in Geology in 1954 and Doctor of Philosophy in geology and geochemistry in 1968. His obituary at Westmoreland gives his long list of credentials.)

“When the railroad crew moved out, Granddad decided to replace the old house since he had the money. Well, he got the new one almost up with rafters and siding and everything, without roof, and the flood of 1916 came and got into the old house and the new one. So he pulled it back down and moved the home location up the hill.” Where it is today.

Henry Seawall Brown Homestead in 1903 with extended family gathered around including the English neighbors

“My dad said he was about ten or twelve when the flood came in July, 1916. The railroad had rechanneled the creek away from a sharp bend so they wouldn’t have to build two bridges.” The garden had a picket fence around it, and when they heard the fence fall, they knew the creek had over run its banks and was coming to get them. “Granddad said, “Let’s get out.” And they went up to a corn crib that was a little bit farther away from the creek, and on higher ground, and spent the rest of the night there. “My grandmother was gross with her last child; he was born in 1916.” ( I am operating with Henry’s recorded interview, and my academic friend said “gross” which means “evident” or “obvious” in archaic language, according to Webster. I’m sure she was beautiful.) The mill had been rebuilt by that time, and the flood did get into it but did not destroy it.

“The flood took a lot of topsoil off the mountains…my Dad said before the flood the upland where the house was placed and back toward Honeycutt Mtn was what they farmed. Now the upland is not as rich like down in here by the Catawba River.” “They said that after the 1916 flood you could go along what we call Morgan bottoms going out toward Old Fort the flat along the river and a lot of topsoil had been washed away, and you could find arrowheads, and there were just gangs of them. The 1940 flood came, and you couldn’t find any; they had been covered back up.”

I told Henry I had seen the effects of the 1940 flood in a photo of the temporary lake between the Carson House down to the Hilton pottery shed. Of course, he knew the story. “Apparently the Buck Creek got up against the Carson House but people stayed to keep loose timber from backing up against the house and washing it away. The family had been sent across Buck Creek over on the other side, and they were told by those who stayed, ‘you’ll know we are still safe over here because we are going to put a light in the window.’ Well, in the middle of the night the kerosene ran out, and the folks who were keeping a vigil thought the house was gone. But it wasn’t.”

(In 1916)”The old road was still over there (by the mountain); it went all the way from Marion, as you come out of Marion take a sharp left and go out toward Pleasant Gardens on 70. Hiway 221 used to be down the river just a little piece over an iron bridge that you had to go down a little hill to get to it. You went down to Marion across the little branch on the left side next to the mountain. But it was actually abandoned after about a mile up the road. That’s where the First Methodist Church was but they decided okay we’ve got another road coming through so we’ll stop the road here. And if you go up the road, you’ll turn into now 221. I remember when 221 was gravel, a lot of mud and ruts. It went through the middle of everybody’s farm.”

Henry showed me a picture of his mother who was a Daniels, raised up on Jonas Ridge. “Dad first saw her when her father was a construction man who built railroads in the Great Smokies when they were first logging them out. Around WWI, (local workers) were coming back home and it was winter, and the Daniels had to get out here and walk up the mountain to Jonas Ridge. By the time they got to our place, the rest of their family had come down and built a big fire so they all got warm and walked up the mountain” together.

Henry and his wife Wilda bought the family homestead along with some around it from his Aunt Bea in 1965. There was no heat or running water, and the elderly lady was staying with her brothers and sisters during the night, returning home during the day.

Henry lived a totally different lifestyle from most farmer’s children today. They were isolated in North Cove, protected by a close community, most of them relatives. But also isolated from worldly temptations and other lifestyles. “I don’t think I was in Marion more than six times before I got grown. I had all kinds of family around me and a church up the road. When my dad was growing up, he and Uncle Dewey and maybe my Granddad, hitched a team to a wagon and they’d go to town. They’d leave early in the morning, go down the old Linville Highway, get into Marion, park behind the courthouse, do their shopping or trading. They would come back. By the time they got half way, it was night so they camped out and come on home the next day. So going to town was a two-day trip.”

Henry showed me a photo: “This car was driven by one of Granddad’s grandsons out to the state of Washington. My Uncle Hud married a girl from Nebo, a Parks, who had family out there that was going to give them a farm (in Washington). But they got homesick and came on back.”

I wanted to share some of Henry’s memories. They seem to represent his life more than statistics and a list of achievements of which he had many. Henry Seawell Brown valued his family, and he will be missed by them and an entire community.

The current Brown cemetery is located on Brown property in North Cove, close to the fire station.


Copyright @ 2019 Georgia Wilson





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Story Brake for Another Local Funeral: Sixth Generation Chairmaker

Last week, at the age of 89, local legend Max Woody passed on.

I met Max when I was writing  The Bear Hunter’s Son about his former schoolmate and neighbor Pete Gibbs. They both lived and worked in the Pleasant Gardens community all their lives in Marion, NC. Pete’s family owned the Lake Tahoma Steakhouse in the North part of the county where he had lived until he passed in 2017 shortly after his biography came out. This restaurant became another culinary landmark as Little Sienna Restaurant at the corner of US 70 and NC 80 running up the mountain. The sturdy renovated building recently acquired new owners for a coffee shop downstairs and a place for parties in the large room upstairs that used to handle local bear suppers.

Down the street, Max had opened in 1962 a store for his fast-becoming world famous handcrafted rocking chairs and stools, but his original location remained open on US 221 North until fairly recently. He left a note on the door advising friends/customers where he could be found.

Max was also a native son of McDowell County. He told me, “We were very poor. My dad got crippled in a railroad accident, and just before I was born, they lost their home and car and everything they owned. My dad was in a brace and walking on crutches; we got away from there with just a mule and a wagon. They did. I got born a short time after that and the Depression hit. So we grew up tough. We had a garden and grew everything we ate. Have you every ate a fried squash bloom? They are delicious. We used to eat them when I was a little boy. The male bloom does not produce a squash; it grows on a long stem and has a long pretty bloom about so big (2″), and you can pull those blooms and dip them in cream or butter or whatever and meal and fry them. And they are delicious.”

He told me of his friendship with Irina Wall who launched an Italian menu at Lake Tahoma Steakhouse when Pete’s father died. The Little Sienna big city fare was also popular, but Max had a special palette based on his childhood. Yes, he had enjoyed the country buffet at the Steakhouse, and Pete’s ranch dressing on the salad bar, but he bragged about the squash blooms that Irina dipped in batter and deep fried, just as she did slices of bell pepper. And also dandelions. Max told her that was the food he ate when he was a child, when things were Depression tough. He ate pumpkin blooms, too, and day lilly blooms. (We didn’t have that in Minnesota. But we did have Lefse and Lutefisk, the odor of which might offend those other than Norwegians)

According to Mike Conley’s article about him in the McDowell News, “A Craftsman Now Rests: Master Chairmaker Max Woody dies at 89,” Max’s great-grandfather Arthur was featured in the classic book about mountain culture “Cabin in the Laurel.”

This legacy seemed to be important to him as Max told me about mountain history that started in Rabun Gap, Georgia when a schoolteacher “tried to cram grammar down the mountain kids.” Since that didn’t work, “they started studying the culture of the mountain people, doing little stories on them. Well, they incorporated some of these stories in a magazine, and they called it Foxfire, and it was about the old ways of doin’ things, about dressin’ hogs and planting by the signs. You know old mountain people have always got to plant something on Good Friday! Mountain moonshining, hog killing, all kinds of mysteries, home remedies,” and “they bought land there in Mountain City, and they started puttin’ up ol’ log cabins on it where old dilapidated houses had been, and made a village. That book they named Foxfire, not knowing there would be another; now there’s thirteen of them. The (first) book sold I forgot how many hundreds of copies.” Max said he also sold Foxfire books at his store, but “you can buy on Amazon or used for less” than he sells them.

After this little commercial, Max continued his Foxfire story. “They put up the cabins where we can stay the weekend, and they bring people from all over the world and they learn by doing. It got to be a very, very wealthy program, and at the height of its popularity, the newspaper came out one morning that the founder (Eliot Wigginton) was guilty of molesting some of his students. And it took a tailspin.” Max said because of “several good mountain people” that “worked 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, it is still a fine program. It’s how to do things.” (Under Wigginton’s name, Wikipedia substantiates this report and mentions there are also special collections of stories published such as: The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cooking and A Foxfire Christmas. In addition, several collections of mountain music were released.)

Max was an avid musician. Reported by Conley’s article in the local newspaper, “Old Fort Mountain Music got its start when friends and fellow musicians would gather in his shop on US 70 West” (where he played fiddle.) “And he started another Friday night music program which was located in the building across the road from his chair shop.”

Max said his “mother’s people were from Haywood County; they were woodworkers and farmers and lived like the Woodys did. They were Arringtons. I got a dose of it from both sides. I made my mother’s casket, and I made one for a friend of mine, made out of oak and put together with locust pegs. And he was a doctor of philosophy, and he was so highly intellectual that he was an atheist. He said if anything cannot be scientifically proven, if there’s no DNA there, …then it’s not necessarily true. I made his casket, and I had a hard time making it, cause the New Testament tells that…” (Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.)

“I made anther one for a friend of mine who had a sawmill, and he sawed his own lumber. He was separated from his wife, and he brought the lumber to me, and I made the casket. When he died, his widow didn’t feel like she ought to pay for his casket, and I couldn’t repossess it, so we (just) buried him.”

As I was leaving his store on Hiway 70, Max said, “If you come back next week, I’ll have you a book to read about me. The lady that did the book was a poet and a writer, and I met her at a gathering at Turtle Island, a big old compound over near Boone. It’s called ‘Legacy in Wood.’ As a result of that, I have won the North Carolina Heritage Award, I guess it is, this year. It’s called the Hudson Brown Award. Have you ever heard of it? I haven’t either, but they’re coming to McDowell next month. It’s a well-written story.”

Of course I went back and bought his book. And later stopped by again to give him the book I wrote about Pete Gibbs so they would have more tales to swap. They were only a couple miles from each other and Max visited his old friend occasionally, since Pete was homebound.

On the back cover of The Bear Hunter’s Son, I quoted Max from his book: “You just never know when you are going to touch someone’s life for the good. If you can change one person’s life, the effort is worthwhile.”

A good man surely gone to his reward.

Copyright @2019 Georgia Wilson


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Episode 22: The Purposeful Life of Mary Sue Hogan Dillard

Thanks to my Dysartsville friend Mary Sue, I am back to writing again. I love to put words together and have had a passion to investigate my neighbors history in this community where I have lived only ten years. I am still a newcomer to some whose families settled here in the Revolutionary War. Mary Sue was a newcomer also, she moved here with her family in the 1930’s during the Depression. (See Episode #4: Learning Dysartsville). I had several opportunities to talk with her about the neighborhood, and she loved to share her stories. My friend went to her reward for a life well lived for 88 years. Her standing-room only farewell at the Beam Funeral Home in Marion was held on December 15, 2018. But she left thousands of memories that will be remembered for ages. Composing my notes of our conversations together has broken my lethargic slump, and I am back at the computer telling tales.

Mary Sue retired as a CNA for J. Iverson Riddle in Morganton and was a founding member of Dysartsville Volunteer Fire Department where she served for over twenty years. The Fire Department covered her casket with their flag and escorted her to a final resting place with honorary pallbearers. Along with other activities, she had been actively involved with the youth in the community, four years as a 4H leader and two years as a Boy Scout leader.

Which brings me to our conversation in July of 2016 at her daughter Amelia’s home. I asked her what she knew about the Mecklenberg County Boy Scout property at the corner of Vein Mountain Rd and US Hiway 226. Every summer it opens for hundreds of campers from the Charlotte area.

Mary Sue did not disappoint. “It used to be the old J.D. Blanton farm.”

I had written several times on this blog about Mr. Blanton, but just to make sure, I asked, “Is that the Blanton that had the grocery store in Marion, and the department store?” His family lived in the gorgeous white antebellum home that is now a commercial business next to the post office on Main Street.

“He had everything. He used to own Marion.” Mary Sue went on to tell me her relationship with the Albert family who purchased the farm. The Alberts were from Ohio, on their way to Florida. They had to stay all night in Marion and talked to a realtor who took them down here to Dysartsville to “show you this before you go on,” said Mary Sue. “Mr. Albert wanted cattle. Well, he got the cattle and put ’em in there, and he went back to Ohio to live, and left her (his wife) here with the cattle.” Mary Sue pointed out that in that day, phone service had not come to Dysartsville, so Mrs. Albert had to drive to Marion or Rutherfordton to order her feed. Dorothea Albert was really alone in an old house in a foreign country, so to speak. (An earlier post describes her, as told by her neighbor across the street, Mike Allison.)

Evidently, Dorothea eventually got some help because the next part of Mary Sue’s story was about her driving down from Ohio with her youngest child with special needs, who would play with Amelia. They both enjoyed dancing. Dorothea would have two more children, a son who practiced medicine in Virginia, and another daughter who became a nurse.

After Rudolph Albert died, his wife stayed on at the farm.When Amelia grew up, she and Mary Sue would drive Mrs. Albert to Ohio to visit her siblings. Her brother Carl had a big farm, and they would stay there. After the Albert farm was sold, Dorothea lived in some apartment in Marion, but her daughter had a disease “that in the winter you could see your bones, so she had to go to a warm place.” So Dorothea soon moved to Florida with her daughter. Mary Sue kept up correspondence with her, sharing the happenings of the Dysartsville community.

In 2007, Dorothea passed away at age 100. Her older daughter Barbara had already passed at age 60. Her younger daughter Ursula, called Sue, sent Mary Sue an announcement and a note that she would cover airfare if Amelia couldn’t drive her up for the funeral. It was typical of Mary Sue to tell Amelia she was going to the funeral, even though Amelia’s son was getting married and she had more than enough to do. But Amelia is her mama’s daughter. When she saw Mary Sue had rented a van to drive to Ohio, she said, “You’re not going to go to the wedding?” Mary Sue said, “No, I’ll see them from now on. I’m going to Ohio. Will you go with me or not?” She told me, “I was to foller the directions that they said and then go to the motel where they was all staying at.”

Amelia was right there, and always has been. Mary Sue said that year the Albert family “couldn’t do enough for us.” But when they went into the motel, “there was a big crowd standin’ there, and we stood over to the back like, and I said, “There’s Rudolph.” (The son.) “And he turned around and saw me, and he grabbed us by the arms and went down the hallway with us and took us to the room right beside of theirs. And I told Amelia she better go up there with the tag number so they wouldn’t tow that car off.” And the lady at the check in counter said, “you’re the two that they grabbed and run down the hallway with? I knew they had a room for somebody but I didn’t know who.” These dignitaries from Dysartsville impressed the locals in Akron. Dorothea’s family also took them out for dinner at a restaurant where they rented the upstairs. And of course provided their breakfast before the Dillards started home. Treated them like family.

Although Mary Sue was impressed with the cemetery, describing the “tomb rock” in the center of four plots for the remains of eight people, all cremated, she didn’t remember anything else about visiting Ohio.

Since then, Ursula has also died. She had not told Mary Sue how sick she was, but Mary Sue corresponded with Ursula’s daughter in Ohio, who had gone down to Florida to bring her mother back home. Another good daughter like Amelia, she also packed up her daddy’s things and moved him to Ohio to live with her. Since this Albert daughter is still working, she had to put him in a home when he became too ill to stay alone.

Back to the Scout property. I thought the Alberts sold it to the Boy Scouts but Mary Sue was sure there was another owner between them. (Since then I have been told that Jack Morris owned it) Mary Sue could remember the big dances they held out there, and the watershed built on the property. “They damned up the road to make the watershed so it would have enough water during the droughts.”

Mary Sue described a long road that goes far into the property and said it’s interesting to go over there and see the things they’ve built, ‘to slide down on and everything.” One day she stopped at the Baptist Church because there was a car “settin’ there, and I thought mayabe he needed help, so I pulled in and asked him if he was all right.” He said he was just waiting to go over to the Boy Scout place where they were going to have a big cookout. “And so we talked awhile, and he says ‘Come on over and visit. That’s a nice guy over there. He’ll show you around’.” So she went and was impressed. Especially since one day at the Fire Department, someone said there were 500 kids over there, and they couldn’t be heard. Mary Sue said, “The first scoutmaster, he come to the community club, he come to the Fire Dept, he went to the church, and he said that was their rules or something, you had to belong to everything in the community. But these others don’t. Now the second one who was there, he belonged to the Fire Department. He done that electrician work, down where that car garage is, that used to be the Fire Department. (226 Tire) But he was…he liked boys instead of a woman. He didn’t have no wife and all. They should have thought of something but they didn’t, and he killed two boys because they had told about him. And they was lookin’ everywhere for ’em, and they found them out behind a building, buried.”

“They were probably teenagers, but they was liking the money he give them. But he found out, and he had told them he what he would do if they told it on him.” “Then they had court and you know who he blamed it on? His mother. She was an alcoholic and didn’t raise him. But he was in for life.”

I was not totally shocked by this story because I had heard it a couple times already. Still a sad, gruesome tale, no matter the setting. These are just some of our conversations; she loved to visit with everyone. The last time I went to her house, I took my dog’s bed and her food because Zion was no longer in need of anything I could give her. Mary Sue had adopted a stray dog. She was always looking to help others, even though she was wobbly on her feet. She continually put her cane/walker to the side so she could use both hands to give to others, like the kids she handed out sweets to. Pastor Don Morrison called her “the sweet lady,” who enjoyed life and enjoyed seeing all the folks at the Dysartsville Food Pantry where she had volunteered for the last eight years. Always with a big smile and a friendly word for everyone.

At the recent neighborhood celebration of her life, Mary Sue’s nephew played his guitar and dedicated an 1880’s song to her, “I’m Just a Poor Wayfarin’ Stranger.’ After he introduced himself, he adjusted his guitar, saying he could hear her telling him to do it right or sit down. Pastor Stephen Painter said she was faithful and honest. “She’d tell you what she was thinking.” And sometimes it was painful. But most importantly, he said, “And she knew when she closed her eyes that last time, she would see Jesus when she opened them again.”

In my opinion, Mary Sue did not have an envious or self-serving heart that elevated herself above others. She may have acted quietly, some might say meekly, but she knew she was a child of the King, and did not suffer foes weakly. Mary Sue made excellent use of her time here in Dysartsville, and I will miss her.


Copyright @2018 Georgia Wilson

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Episode 21: Community Pride

After the world wars, Americans all over the country settled down to the business of living again without fear. Then we lost another 55,000 Americans in Korea, according to https://www.britannica.com/event/Korean-War, and perhaps we were just plain tired of minding other people’s business. (Unfortunately we are back to that scene with the same bad actors. Maybe nothing has really changed. But there comes a time when you yearn for the peace to concentrate on your own house and backyard.)

In a 1955 scrapbook Linda Yutzy unearthed from the Dysartsville community club, there is a newspaper article, with no date or byline. “Dysartsville is one of the communities that has lain dormant a great many years. Only in the past few years has it begun to wake up, look about, and see what can be done. Now residents of that community are working hard to improve themselves, their homes, churches, roads, and school.”

Here are a few examples of projects cited: “Mr. and Mrs. T.J. Shepard have built a new house, which Shepard wired for electricity. Their old house was about 100 years old. Mr. and Mrs. Jolley Duncan have remodeled their house, and underpinned it. Claude Allison has built a pump house, which will also house Mrs. Allison’s laundry. Mrs. John Huskins has filled her freezer full of foods. The Clay McIntoshes have added a gas stove and water heater. Mrs. McIntosh canned food by a Home Demonstration food budget.” Local news worthy of sharing. Early Facebook posting.

“Many improvements have been made in the school. The grade A lunchroom has new tables and chairs. Mrs. J.E. Conner prepares and serves the food to approximately 100 children, out of 120 enrolled. She not only prepares and serves the food, but she is also the dishwasher, and “clean-up lady.” “The kitchen and lunchroom are both in one room. One plan for the school is to build a separate kitchen for the lunchroom. The whole school is being repainted, and new windows put in. The library which was once in a dark, dungeon-like room is now in a large room with new chairs, tables, and bookcases. They also have new books.”

Dysartsville School 1955

“The school has new water fountains, and new swings for the playground.” “Plans are being made to plant shrubbery on the playground and around the school to enhance its looks. Principal G.L. Byrd is working to change the course of the driveway so it will not cross the playground.” Excellent idea! Of course most kids walked to school. Most families had only one car.

“Dysartsville Community is entering the Rural Community Development Program contest of Western North Carolina. The aim of the whole program is to make the communities better places to live. Projects range from beautification through recreation, rehabilitation of public buildings, and church improvement programs.

Jolley Duncan at home in 1955


There was also a sample notice from the US Post Office to Rural Route No. 1 residents to conform to the regulations of a mailbox so the carrier “does not have to dismount from his conveyance.” It had to be firmly planted, level, and waterproof at a certain height and distance from the road on the right-hand side of the road and facing the road with the correct house number. And it had to be white with “neat black letter about 1 inch in height.”

And then came the paragraph I had to reread and again wrap my head around the technological progress we take for granted. “Residents of Dysartsville are working hard to get the telephones in the community. They are hoping to get them soon.” How can our kids possibly relate to the past if they don’t read real history. We are the sum of our experiences. And having a telephone in 1955 was a foreign experience for kids.No phones? How did people communicate?

I found out talking to Pat Allison Arrowood. In 1959, she was the last bride to be married in the old Dysartsville Baptist Church. She married her Glenwood high school sweetheart Ray Dean Arrowood who lived on family property on Brackett Town Road. Pat’s grandfather, Benjamin Taylor Daves, was the postman for the Vein Mountain post office (Deming post office when it was a town. Pat and Ray live directly across the street from Nora Worthen, sister to Brice Sprouse whose story I told in the Brackett Town Saga Part 17 Brother Larry’s Turn to Tell Tales). The school teacher for Vein Mountain lived in Dysartsville, and was Pat’s cousin, Inez Daves. “When grandfather came to bring the mail, he would bring her to work every morning, leave her at the schoolhouse, and then when he come back to deliver the mail in the afternoon, he’d pick her up and take her back home. But it was funny, you got the mail the same day. “Everybody mailed everybody, and all they did was put their name on the outside. I collect postcards, and I love the way they addressed the card like Aunt So-and-So. And they spelled the town Dysortsville,” as they pronounced it.


Copyright @2018 Georgia Wilson



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