Episode 1: Vein Mountain Road runs Nanney to Nanney

Thermal City Gold Mine

Thermal City Gold Mine

Since I have promised my near neighbors to include their stories in this blog, we must depart Nanneytown. However, we cannot cross the county line of McDowell and Rutherford without mentioning again the historical impact of gold mining in this area. Indeed, Thermal City Gold Mine owned by Wade’s nephew Lloyd Nanney, straddles the line, and the only way to get to Dysartsville from there is down a road named Vein Mountain. At the other end is Wade’s sister Ruby.

Miz Ruby Nanney's Peaceful Abode

Miz Ruby Nanney’s Peaceful Abode



I have already mentioned Vein Mountain Road because it runs under the railroad where the Sprouse ancestor rescued a young man along Baker Creek. See Part 7 of the Brackett Town series where this neighborhood tour began.)

After the stories from Brice Sprouse and his family, we listened to stories from Wade Nanney and his family which was so large that the tales started in Brackett Town in McDowell County, crossed the county line south into Rutherford, and came up Cove Road back into McDowell at Montford Cove. In 1839 some of the Nanneys helped to build Montford Cove Baptist Church and in 1840 some of them helped to build Round Hill Baptist Church on the eastern side of the mountain. Perhaps religious help was needed after gold was discovered. By 1832, according to http://goldfever.unctv.org/film, more than 50 mines were operating in NC, employing more than 25,000 people, an industry exceeded only by farming. Not everyone was sad when the hordes scuttled to the gold rush in California in 1849. The churches still stand strong.

Unifying the area in 1847, Pastor Perminter Morgan’s daughter Tempie of Montford Cove married Col. Amous Nanney of Round Hill in Dobbsville (later Crab Apple Gap, now Union Mills. See Chapter 10: Nanneytown) This strong religious vine continued over the centuries to weave its way through several family trees. (Chapter 22: The Bible Belt Tightens)

In Chapter 26 of the Nanney Saga, I wrote that Amous “purchased a tract of land along the main dirt road between Rutherfordton and Marion, the county seat of McDowell Co. It is now called NC Highway 221. Amous mined gold in the river bottom there near Vein Mountain in the years before the Civil War.” A handwritten deed of trust dated 1847, for 400 acres of worked-out mines sold on the courthouse steps for $20, is in the possession of Lloyd Nanney, the current owner of Thermal City Gold Mine. Very few families hang on to their property for such a long time. As I have mentioned before, the Nanneys can trace their roots back to an ancestral home in Wales.

A brief recap of my gold mining stories in the Brackett Town and Nanney Sagas: In the 1830’s and 1840’s, the rocky pastures northwest of Charlotte, NC, captivated the fantasy of the entire US. Gold was discovered. Newspapers told the world.

Jeweler Christopher Bechtler emigrated here from Germany with his son and nephew. They recognized the lucrative potential of helping miners transform their awkward pocketsful of gold nuggets into a uniform item for standard trade. A private Bechtler mint went into business and produced the first $1 gold coin in the U.S. Between 1831 and 1840, Bechtler minted $2 1/4 million dollars in currency. Unfortunately for them, the US government opened a mint in Charlotte in 1837, closer to the deep mines. And of course, the big dogs could afford the newer steam-powered machines. The Bechtler mine closed in 1849.

Also unfortunately for them, it is suspected Christopher and his son Augustus died because of their successful business. I talked with Lloyd Nanney, a local historian like his Uncle Wade. “The Bechtlers did not die rich. He had a mine, and he had some patents on some mining machines, but his business was minting gold. It amazes me that they were working for 2%. You brought him gold, and he turned it into coins, or he would melt it and make an ingot and stamp it as to its weight and its fineness, so you had a bar of gold. You knew what you had. (Minting coins) was a long drawn out process and the uncle was the main one. His son took over from him, and very probably (both) died from mercury poisoning. They also made jewelry and all kinds of stuff. We got here locally a pistol that they made, and we’ve just acquired a long gun, very ornate on top of the barrel, inlaid in gold.”

Lloyd was reminded by this conversation about a piano owned by the Weavers, his neighbors to the southwest. This family could trace their roots back to the early 1850’s, when they purchased fields where they mined gold for two generations and then leveled it off and farmed. “Pete Weaver just died here about maybe five years ago. When Pete was a hundred, he disappeared one day. Couldn’t find him, didn’t know where he was at, and they were getting kind of worried about him. He come driving in the driveway. He’d been to town and got his driver license! I think he was 104 when he died.”

One of these days I will have to do more research on this Weaver family and the Thermal City Hotel in their front yard. But I have to finish my Bechtler piano story. Lloyd said that he had always heard the Weavers had a Bechtler piano . “Of course, how could you tell? They didn’t carve any initials in it! But I went down and talked to him about it. It had been in the same room for maybe 70 years. An upright grand, a square thing, odd looking. He was very receptive to donating it to the Bechtler museum.” Lloyd talked with the museum people. “Would you have an interest in owning the original Bechtler piano?” But they didn’t really believe him. “So I brought one of the ladies up here, and she got serial numbers off it and researched it. It was made in 1840, and the Weavers had a story about who had it after the Bechtlers and who had it after them, and the Weavers had it ever since.” The piano now sits in probably the same room it occupied when new. One happy ending for the Bechtlers.

And for Thermal City Gold Mine?

Entry from Hiway 221

Entry from Hiway 221

We walk outside, and Lloyd points to the surrounding hills hovering over us, the Second Broad River murmuring to our left. “From the base of that hill over there (right) to the base of that hill on the other side of the river (left) is all stream bed material, all washed in here. Today, the floor of the valley is in a very slow process of building up but it’s been a whole lot higher than it is now. It’s been as high as the top of these hills.”

Ever doubtful, I say, “Really, when?”

“Eons. And it has eroded down to form this valley. Those hills are left because they are basically rock. Granite. This material is from upriver, and there are 33 gold veins that cross the valley up here just a little ways, and this material makes its way down during flood time, the only time it moves. The river’s been there, it’s been here, it’s been over there, it’s been all over the place in different channels.”

Early mining pit

Early mining pit

Lloyd points to a deep depression. “This is probably one of the 1880 pits. I spent a whole summer digging ditches and connecting all these pits and put live water in them. That one over there goes at right angle to the valley, and I’m pretty sure it’s a very early digging, 1830? And I think what they did was dig a ditch and located the places where the old river beds crossed that ditch and then they trenched those out and processed the material. Where the river beds flowed for a good while, that’s your richer material. See, nobody knows…photographs didn’t come in ’til the Civil War. There’s probably not a photograph made here before 1900. It was not a picturesque place.

“There are seven of these pits down here. I think Perminter did them, or possibly even Amous did some of them. I know Perminter in 1885 was using his drag pan and dragging out these pits and mining gold.” When Lloyd started a prospecting business here, “there was nothing here but billions of mosquitos.”

So why did he come?

I asked him.

“Because it just seemed like the thing to do.”

(Our next post will update you on the rest of the story.) Homework: http://thermalcitygoldmine.com


Copyright July 2016 Georgia Wilson


Posted in Brackett Town Saga, Dysartsville Saga, Nanney Saga | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Bear Alert in Dysartsville!

My last post borrowed a written account from the 1970’s, which included references to historical gold mining and the establishment of churches in the area. Religion and commerce–signs of civilization.

That Dysartsville Community Club report did not mention the wildlife that now fascinates those of us who moved here with citified roots. Perhaps it was just taken for granted that we would respect the animals who have roots here as we were moving in with them. For example, the black panther. A neighbor who is a professional painter has seen in his pasture the remains of a brutal kill of a deer whose back was broken. With the artist’s experience of studying and faithfully replicating wildlife scenes worldwide, he is certain that the killer was a cat, perhaps the infamous panther who mysteriously glides through our forest. I have had conversations with locals who have a family member who has seen the “painter,” but these are all third-hand sightings. And much disputed.

Yes, the forests are shrinking, and recently a private preserve was established adjacent to our neighborhood for the protection of thousands of acres, in addition to nearby South Mountain and the Pisgah Wilderness area. Hunting is forbidden on these properties, according to signs posted. However in March, my dog got her foot caught in a trap on an old logging road. Fortunately she was walking with my husband who had the strength to pry open the trap to release her. If I had been by myself, I would have had to leave her to find help. I will never walk there again. Especially since 100 yards later the experience was more traumatic. Her white hair, both short and long coats, stood straight out from her body, giving her a fierce appearance, and she lunged toward the bobcat in their path.

Usually timid in man’s presence, this bobcat was hissing and snarling. Mainly because his foot was caught in a spring loaded trap he was trying to escape. Our husky hit him square on, and they both tumbled over, his claws and sharp teeth barely missing her. No doubt re-evaluating her folly, the dog decided to respond to her owner’s command to retreat, and pranced to his side without a backward glance. Since it was impossible to release the poor bobcat without severe injury to himself, this former salesman had to rely on spreading the word when he emerged from the woods. He was assured the bobcat was being monitored. Whatever that means in hunter-speak.

Stealing My Carrots

Stealing My Carrots

This incident should have prepared me for the bear eating carrots and grapes in my garden last Monday. He was far enough away that I could safely stand on the deck and zoom in to get his photo. He left on the run when my grandson gave a shrill two-finger whistle. But still I was shocked the next morning when I opened my door at 7:00 am. A bear was walking across my yard, 20′ away. I can’t recall actually having a jaw dropping experience before this. Maybe it

Inspecting the Squash

Inspecting the Squash

was the time of day. Luckily I excel at walking backwards–right through the still open door into my house.

Trying to look as cuddly as Winnie the Pooh

Trying to look as cuddly as Winnie the Pooh

And this morning, there was one bedded down among the blueberry bushes which he had mutilated. He had to shimmy up a 10′ deer fence to get in, except where the fence came apart from the post on his last visit because he was so heavy. Most wildlife is timid, but the bears are getting too close. Not tame like deer, but confident like Godzilla.

A neighbor over the hill was aghast to see a black bear on his third story deck cleaning out the bird feeder. They’re not cute any more because they are no longer wary and feel comfortable in sharing our streets. I am reminded of a conversation I had with Brice Sprouse in 2013. He was a local farmer who said you had to plant more than you need so you could share crops with the wildlife. They were going to take it anyway. See Part 23: Sprouse Farm Changes under my Brackett Town series for Brice’s bear story. Actually I don’t mind sharing the crops except when the fences and bushes have to be repaired and replaced. Then it makes more sense to give up the garden and shop at the grocery store.

At least bears are visible, unlike the copperheads on our walking trails through the woods. And I am thankful the five foot rattlesnakes have left town.

Do I really want to see the legendary panther? Only on football helmets.


Copyright July 2016 Georgia Wilson

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Dysartsville History

Dysartsville Community Club 2014

Dysartsville Community Club 2014

I recently came across a treasure packed away in a box gathering dust in the Dysartsville Community Clubhouse. Although one scrapbook had several dates from 1955-1962, there was no date on this report, nor an author’s name. I intended to publish it as typed (in the font of an old Smith Corona). Remember those?

But then I found in a 1974 scrapbook a second history, also not signed. Many of the same words from the earlier report are  used, but there are additional quotes, so it seems that the first record was later rewritten. I will combine both histories to squeeze all the good out of the gift:

“The Vein Mountain area of McDowell County had its own “Goldrush” in 1829. Gold was discovered in Brindle Creek, in the southwestern corner of Burke County, [near the present boundary of Burke and McDowell, later called Vein Mountain] continued into Rutherford County and throughout the entire South Mtn region. A traveler in the South Mt. region reported “The great hordes of mining population have changed the face of the earth. Jamestown used to be a straggling place in a small valley, but has been turned topsy-turvey by the gold diggers, who utterly have ruined the beautiful valley for agricultural purposes.” It was also reported “that one stream in McDowell County had 3,000 miners at work in 1848, but was practically deserted by 1850.

Shelter in the mining camps was crude and consisted of wooden shanties of the flimsiest sort; some with only one room, others with one room and a lean-to, while others were little more than sheds. The procurement of food was difficult; wagon trains operated to sources of supply and provided the commonest staples at exhorbitant prices which were paid for with grains of gold. From 1835 to the turn of the century mining activities gradually declined as the stream deposits were combed, and the promise of rich strikes became disappointing. During this time many of the miners joined the Gold Rush to California. The last organized mining operation in McDowell County was on Huntsville Mt. under the direction of Col. J.C. Horton, and it was on this mountain that a five pound nugget was found.

Another interesting event took place on the Polly Bright farm. Little William Christy and his father Grayson Christy found a very pretty rock at the spring. They sold it for $60, and today the Christy diamond is in a museum.

Dysartsville, was known as Crossroads before a post office was established around the year 1860. The post office had its first location at the home of Mrs. Betsy Dysart, and for whom Dysartsville was named. The home of Mrs. Betsy Dysart was located where Mr. and Mrs. Elija Blankenship now live.

Several houses were built soon after the establishment of the post office. Mr. Dysart built a store, and the post office was moved to the store. Mr. Albert Higgins built a brick house about this same time, and it is still standing. [until the 60’s] Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Shepherd (then) occupied this home. Gamewell Burgess bought the property and tore it down. Hue used many of the handmade bricks for a new house and sold the rest. His daughter and family lived there until he was retired and could come here from Canton. After a few years, he sold to Eubert Jaynes, who lives there now (1974) and raises beef cattle, but still works in a mill.

The Dysartsville Baptist Church was organized May 2, 1857, with eleven charter members. A Presbyterian Church known as Drucilla Presbyterian Church was established soon afterwards close to where the First Baptist Church is located now. [Corner of Club House Drive and Hiway 226] At the time the Baptist Church was where their cemetery is. [On the hill across the street.] A small school was between the two churches. It contained two rooms, one room was made of logs, and the other planks. The Trinity Methodist Church was started around 1858, one mile from Dysartsville on the Bridgewater Road. It was later moved to the present location. [On Trinity Church Rd]. Several years later, Drucilla Presbyterian Church was moved about two miles from where it was on the Marion Road [226]. Soon after that was moved another church was started called the Hebron Presbyterian Church two miles south of Dysartsville on the Rutherfordton Road.

In March of 1965, the new Community Clubhouse was finished and dedicated, and all in the community were elated over it. We started out with a big fireplace, and an oil-burning heater, but this past year we put in all electric heat, and now the floors are warmer, and we do not have to turn it off in order to hear during a meeting. There are many meetings in the building all during the year. [1974]

Dysartsville is one of the oldest communities in the county, but it is one of the youngest. Due to the fact that this part of the county didn’t get electricity as soon as some of the other communities, some of the people moved out, and also there were no railroads.

In 1892 the school house was moved from its first location to the present one. The second building was a two story building with one room on each floor. Mr. J.R. Denton taught the first school in the new location with around 60 or 70 pupils. He received $20 a month, and he taught most any subject the pupils wanted. Their ages ranged from 5 to 21. In 1900, two teachers were added. The school burned in 1925, and the present one was completed in 1927. At the present there are 4 teachers, and 130 pupils.

From 1955 to 1965, the number of pupils decreased to about 60, and the school was closed, and all were taken in school buses to Glenwood School, about 10 miles away. The building stood vacant for several years, and recently has been sold to the Smith family who want to turn it into a music school. [1974]

The three farms which Mr. Jack Morris put together for a large farm and which is located mostly within the Loop road was sold to Rudolf Albert in 1955. Later he sold it to a corporation in 1966, and they bought it with the intention of putting in an 80 acre lake, a golf course and country club. So far nothing has happened. [1974]

Crawleys lived above their store

Crawleys lived above their store

[1974 report] We have two small stores in Dysartsville. The one owned by the Fortune brothers, the other operated by J.D. Fender. Both have gas stations along with the store.

Edna Crawley put in a Beauty Shop across from the little Crawley Store, and it is doing fine.” End of discovered histories.

For years known as Miss Betty's Diner, the place to start the day with your neighbors

For years known as Miss Betty’s Diner, the place to start the day with your neighbors

My Note: Today this home is next door to our mall (The Dollar General Store) and across the street the old shop is going strong as a Diner under new owners, offering a good basic breakfast and lunch to the community, but often referred to by the previous name of Miss Betty’s. It takes awhile for locals to adjust to change. Me, too. Edit on August 7, 2017. Miss Betty is back!!!

If anyone has something to further enlighten me, please comment below. Or email me so I can share your story.




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Patriot Wreath for First American War

Although brothers fought brothers at the birth of this nation and later in the Civil War for its soul, I hope we will never have such violence here again. Sadly, this year’s political season  indicates a country still divided. On this Memorial Day weekend, the mention of selfless military service takes me back to the beginning, the fight for liberty on home soil.

Honoring James Greenlee Founding Father of Morganton, NC

Honoring James Greenlee
Founding Father of Morganton, NC

Last week in Morganton, NC, I visited the Quaker Meadows Pioneer Cemetery with a group of Daughters of the American Revolution to lay a wreath of remembrance on the tombstone which is inscribed: Here lies All That’s Mortal of James Greenlee Who departed this life November 8, 1813, Aged 73 years.

He was the son of James Greenlee and Mary Elizabeth McDowell who moved from England to Rockbridge, VA, to a new world of danger and freedom. When her husband fell ill and died in the summer of 1757, Mary raised the younger children with the help of her father, Ephraim McDowell.

James Greenlee, II, was born October 19th, 1740, in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley, now Rockbridge County, Virginia. He and his siblings were schooled by the first school of high grade west of the Blue Ridge, known as Augusta Academy later to evolve into Washington and Lee University.

According to http://www.burkesheriff.org/Greenlee.htm, as a child, James Greenlee, II, lived in a cabin in the great wilderness, “teeming with bears, wolves, deer and bands of hostile Indians. He would have been 15 years old when the French and Indian Wars erupted.

James and his sister Grace Greenlee Bowman and her husband John, and an unknown number of others, left VA for North Carolina on the Old Wagon Road. The group reached Moravian settlements at Salem where it is very probable that the VA pioneers were deterred from coming directly to Burke County because of Cherokee raids in the Catawba River Valley. During the summer of 1776, war tribes crossed the Blue Ridge and murdered and scalped 37 settlers.

Upon hearing this information, the Greenlees and Bowmans proceeded to the homes of their relatives (Aunt Margaret McDowell Mitchell) in South Carolina. Most likely it was on this trip to SC that James Greenlee fell in love with his first cousin, Mary Elizabeth Mitchell, who he soon married in Charleston. She was the daughter of James Mitchell and Margaret McDowell, Mary Greenlee’s sister. After learning that the Rowan militia had driven the Cherokees back, the Greenlees and Bowmans made their way to Burke County, NC.

The Greenlees built a family of eight children, all born in Morganton, NC, but Mary died when their youngest son was eight days old.

James M. Greenlee III – b. March 29, 1771 who married Mary Poteat; and Sarah Hoard Hunter (2nd wife)
Daughter who died at a young age
John Mitchell – born June 25th, 1775 and married his cousin, Mary Greenlee of Virginia
Margaret Greenlee – born January 14th 1778 and died young
William M. Greenlee – born May 19th, 1779 and died young
Samuel Greenlee*** – born January 26th, 1782-84 and married Minerva Keziah Sackett, d. 5-5-1848
Ephraim McDowell Greenlee – born February 22, 1786 and married to first wife Sarah Carr Shaw; and second wife Sarah Hallingsworth Brown
David Washington Greenlee – born January 28th, 1787, married Mary Howard McIntire, and purchased ‘The Glades’ in Marion, North Carolina, built in 1770.

It should be noted that James and his sister were the first Greenlees to settle in Burke County. While many families abandoned their homes in search of safety, the Greenlees and the McDowells stayed and persevered. James’ Uncle Col. John McDowell (his mother’s brother) was killed by Indians on Christmas Day. Another member of his family, Mrs. Estil, was captured and carried away by Indians, to be rescued by her brother, Col. Moffet.

On their arrival in Burke County, James Greenlee and John Bowman were entertained by relatives (McDowells at Quaker Meadow), and upon learning of their desire to settle in Burke, Gen. Charles McDowell took both men to see “a fine tract of land embracing the lower valley of Canoe Creek and fronting the Catawba River at the mouth of that stream.” Both men wanted to purchase the land and at the suggestion of Joseph McDowell, Sr., the question of ownership was settled by a wrestling match, which James Greenlee won. His land on Canoe Creek remained in possession of his heirs for hundreds of years, and is now occupied by the Mimosa Hills Country Club of Morganton.

James Greenlee’s land acquisition did not stop there. A little hamlet called “Alder Springs” grew in the hills south of the Catawba in full view of the Quaker Meadows home. The 230 acres later became the town of “Morgansborough,” now Morganton. James Greenlee owned all of the best lands about Morganton as well as land in Yancey County, Mitchell, Rutherford, McDowell County, and Memphis, Tennessee. In fact, James Greenlee, II, would become one of the largest land owners in Western NC and Tennessee.

His lands in Memphis were awarded to him for his services in the Revolutionary War. He also owned farms northwest of Marion, in Turkey Cove, and land on Catawba River, where his youngest son, David Washington Greenlee settled as the owner of a large plantation. During the Revolutionary War, when James fought with McDowell’s army at King’s Mountain and Cowpens, the Torries, under Gen. Patrick Ferguson, robbed him of his stock and grain and took off with a slave. But they could not steal his land, and his authority grew.

Greenlee was a well known businessman and land inspector in NC, and when the Morgan District was created in 1782, Greenlee was selected as one of the military auditors who was in charge of settling all debts that occurred during the war. During and after the Revolutionary period, Greenlee acquired hundreds of acres of land in Burke and Buncombe Counties, where he continued to be a cattle raiser and slave owner.

When Burke was established in 1777, the governing body of the County was manned by the Justice of the Peace, and around 1792, James Greenlee was appointed to that position. He also became Coroner of the county at the time of its creation and held that position for nineteen years. However, his duties did not cease there. He was a member of the NC Convention in 1788, which rejected the U.S. Constitution. (He did not serve in the second Constitutional Assembly the following year, which accepted.) He did serve as Burke County’s High Sheriff from 1780-1783. His son Ephraim was a Justice of Burke County Court in 1827.

James Greenlee was known to be a Whig in politics, a supporter of the Revolution, as well as an elder in the Quaker Meadows Presbyterian Church. James was listed as a trustee of the Morgan Academy which was the first formal educational institution in the county. James Greenlee died on November 8, 1813 and is buried at the Quaker Meadows Cemetery in Morganton, NC, near his sister and many other relatives.

Quaker Meadows Cemetery Gates

Quaker Meadows Cemetery Gates

There are many Patriots buried in this Burke County pioneer cemetery whose lives entwined with those in my neighboring county of McDowell. After his first wife died, James married Ruth Howard. The name of “Ruth Greenlee” became synonymous with McDowell County historic preservation in the 1900’s.

The family of “Hunting John” McDowell had been in America for two generations. He came from Virginia to the South Carolina area because of the French and Indian War and in the 1750’s lived around Burke County where other members of his family had settled at Quaker Meadows. In 1768 he received a land grant for 640 acres on the Catawba thirty miles west, and he built a log cabin which stood directly across the road from the present McDowell House, an area known as Pleasant Gardens. He is buried in a private cemetery along a Catawba River trail.

His daughter, Rachel, married John Carson who began acquiring land grants in 1778. The house he built here for his family with seven children is currently a beautifully maintained historic site in Marion. The property and house were later owned by Ephraim Greenlee who built a brick house on the property. I suspect this was Ephraim McDowell Greenlee from Burke County, son of James Greenlee, II.

When Rachel died, John Carson married in 1797 Mary Moffett McDowell, widow of Joseph McDowell of Pleasant Gardens, and therefore the sister-in-law of his first wife. The two Joseph McDowells, one of Pleasant Gardens and one of Quaker Meadows, were apparently hard to keep separate during their lifetimes and since then as well. Both fought at King’s Mountain and were active in politics. To avoid confusion, they appended to their signatures the initials of their home. Joseph McDowell, Q.M., (Quaker Meadows) died in 1801. John and Mary Carson presented a writ of subpoena against his heirs in 1802. (From Carson House by Michael Hill).

Major Joseph McDowell who served in Griffith Rutherford’s campaign against the Cherokees is buried at the Quaker Meadows Pioneers’ Cemetery, laid to rest beside his elder brother Charles. They are the two McDowells who met under the Council Oak to rally the forces preceding the battle of King’s Mountain. There is a marker near the current A.J.’s Steakhouse in Morganton.

Colonel Alexander Erwin was a neighbor of the McDowells’ Quaker Meadows home. During the Kings Mountain campaign of 1780, Col. Erwin was away from his wife and six children fighting with the Burke militia when a party of Tories plundered his plantation, Cherryfields. His wife, Sarah, received a blow from a Tory saber. The gash across her head and shoulder contributed to her early death in 1785 at the age of 35. After the resolution of the war, Col. Erwin harbored deep resentment toward the Tories of Burke County. As first Clerk of Court, he was willing to allow Tory sympathizers to conduct business, but at the end of each day, he rode around the square warning all Tories to leave before sunset. He lived to be 79 and was laid to rest beside his wife near the cemetery gate. A chapter of the Sons of the Revolution was just started in Burke County and named The Colonel Alexander Erwin Chapter. It is rapidly growing.

A plaque reads: Quaker Meadows Cemetery honors the memory of the pioneers interred here who shared in the achievement of American Independence in the Revolution and in the founding of Burke County on the frontier.  June 1, 1777

The stones are made of limestone, easier to carve than granite, but they are disintegrating. DAR is working with the Preservation office in Asheville to save them and put them back together like a jigsaw puzzle. In Burnsville, June 4, there will be a program on cemetery preservation. June has been declared Cemetery Preservation month.

For this article I relied on spoken words at the wreath ceremony, http://www.burkesheriff.org/Greenlee.htm and The Carson House of Marion, NC, A Historical Research Project by Michael Hill


Copyright May 29, 2016 Georgia Wilson

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Moving into a Changed World with Alice

What does a changed world mean to you? Loss of privilege, conveniences, freedom? Is there cautious optimism for an improved future?

Book I in A Changed World

Book I in A Changed World

In Alice Sabo’s trilogy, A CHANGED WORLD, a frightening scenario presents the danger of misplaced trust mixed with the daily challenges faced in rebuilding a community of strangers.

Like Stephen King’s The Stand, in which good vs evil after the devastating results of a plague, Sabo’s first two books LETHAL SEASONS and SCATTERED SEEDS explore details of survival.

Sabo is a compelling storyteller hosting a variety of interesting characters who establish relationships in unusual circumstances. Chapter 1 of Book II, SCATTERED SEEDS, begins with a quote from a chronicle that one of the main characters is writing, titled History of a Changed World:

“When the disease had run its course in the fall of Zero Year, we acted like a war had ended. The dead were buried in mass graves. World leaders declared a day of mourning. We met in public parks, singing hymns and holding hands. Those of us left alive were grieving and battered. We had survived a cataclysm of unknown proportions. And then, fools that we were, we tried to return to normal.”

Book II in A Changed World

Book II in A Changed World

Each chapter is introduced in the same way. Gradually the reader sees a larger picture revealed. This was an effective device because my mind could not process the enormous results of such a breakdown in civilization. (And I read the weighty uncut version of The Stand and the entire Left Behind series!)

Chapter 29: “We had to shake off our grief and fear and confusion to face the grim facts that we must work for our survival. Three years into it, there was no department or agency to bring us emergency supplies or direct us to safe housing. We had to wake up, look around ourselves, and start planning.”

Chapter 35: “Ten years in, many of the durable goods available in stores and abandoned homes were disintegrating.”

Chapter 66: “Each settlement becomes a tribe.”

So, I had questions for Alice Sabo, a writer friend from nearby Asheville, and she gave me intriguing answers:

1. Was there an event or news article that triggered thoughts along the path toward a story about a worldwide/national disaster?

Actually, it was in reaction to a couple of things. I read a post-apocalyptic novel in which people responded stupidly. I wanted to investigate the other side of that. What happens when smart people make good choices? A lot of books in the genre deal with the devastation but not the rebuilding. I don’t think all the survivors would be looting and killing for their food. I also wanted to deal with where climate change might take us a few decades down the road. In a world where camping could get you killed, safe structures become essential.

2. In the creation of a new community using the remnants of old resources, you describe  a vegetable garden grown on a former school ball field. The details include the comment that a blight on tomatoes would affect all members of the nightshade family. Are you sharing the practical experience of a gardener?

Alice in Wonder Garden Planting Slug-bait????

Alice in Wonder Garden
Planting Slug-bait????

I am. I have been an organic gardener for years. Living in NC has taught me a few new lessons. Previously, I hadn’t run into blight. The first few years here I simply figured it was a bad year for tomatoes. Then I researched the problem and found solutions. Even organic gardeners rely on some manufactured products. I don’t know what I would do without slug-bait!

3. I love the character of Nick, somewhat of a John Wayne hero, who volunteers for a dangerous undercover mission. His new friend Wisp cannot go with him but tracks him with extra-sensory powers. How would you describe this unique character who also has two brothers with unnatural skills?

Wisp came about because of some research I had done on feral children. He is genetically designed, as are his “brothers.” They spent their early years in a lab. I learned that children who reach a certain age without familial contacts can never develop them. So it made sense to me that if I wanted characters who could interact and develop relationships with each other, I needed a link. Wish was that link in their early life. At one point, his brother Kyle says of him, “He kept us human.” That will be further examined in later books.

4.How does Nick of the Changed World trilogy differ from your main character in the Asher Blaine mysteries? Do your characters take on unexpected traits as you write or do you have an established profile at the beginning that you slowly reveal?

Asher is always out of his depth, but he does what he thinks is right. Nick has no doubts about right and wrong and what he should do. Sometimes Nick might question an action, but he always chooses the high road. For Asher, he hasn’t a clue how to get to the high road, but manages to stumble on it in his own unique way. And yes, sometimes they surprise me with the things they do. But they are fully formed when I put them in a story. Sometimes I base them on an actor or a character I’ve come across, but they always change into their own individual personality.

5. I understand that you have experience as an accountant. Has an innate balanced approach influenced your plot development style? I am alluding to the left brain vs right brain theory, where the left brain is more analytical.

I’m a bookkeeper, which is much different than an accountant! I like working with numbers which might affect how I approach a plot. I am always learning my craft, and my plotting skills have changed as I pick up new tricks.

6. You are committed to coming out with Book III to end this tale. Do you have a disciplined schedule to keep you on track with your motivation and enthusiasm?

I plan to write every weekday. I keep a calendar specifically for my writing with my self-imposed deadlines on it. I plan about six months from start to publish for a book. I pick a publishing date and plan backwards from there with a little wiggle room. That way if I start falling behind in my daily word count, I know I need to pick up the slack to meet my goals.

Book 3 – SPECULATIONS – is scheduled to come out this fall. It will tie up most of the story lines for the brothers. I plan to write more books in this series.

Terrific! That is welcome news for your fans! Alice, thank you for sharing your time to respond to my questions. I wish you continued success in A CHANGED WORLD.

Keep up with Alice Sabo’s writing progress on her website and blog:




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Keeping it in the ‘Hood with a Bomber

Last week I reached out of the neighborhood to include an interview of a children’s book author who is in my writing group. This week, I share an interview with Sandra Warren, a neighbor who wrote a historical book with a phenomenal background that should interest all Patriots.

Sandra, you have a long history of writing experience with children’s books, biographies, and now a historical account that is an inspiration to future generations, We Bought a WWII Bomber. How did you come to realize this story was yours to write?

In 2012, at my high school reunion, I gave a presentation about the history of the school, which included the story of the Class of 1943’s participation in the “Buy a Bomber” program. The story ended with a newspaper article about another South High school alum who, with the help of former President Gerald R. Ford, found the bomber had been used for training and was dismantled in Columbus, Ohio.We Bought a WWII Bomber

While researching for my presentation, I became fascinated with what the Class of 1943 had accomplished. I decided the story would make a great middle-grade novel since it was instigated by an 8th grader. But first, I had to finish a novel I’d been working on for years.

In 2013, one of my high school classmates decided to find the training log for the bomber. Instead, he found the bomber listed on a 1944 report of stateside military plane crashes. The report said the bomber had crashed in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. My classmate ordered copies of that report and sent one to me.

When you found out the South High plane had crashed, were you tempted to give up the project?

Absolutely not! That’s the very thing that prompted more curiosity. Crashing tells a very different story than merely being dismantled. I needed to know what? where? when? and why? Then, as the investigation unfolded, things got more intriguing. How could a whole community forget that a WWII bomber crashed in their county? And since the field where the bomber came down had been sold to the Blue Ridge Parkway a few years after the crash, why weren’t national park historians made aware of this?

When I discovered that I live less than three hours from Meadows of Dan, Virginia, where the last flight of the bomber purchased by students from my high school ended, it was like a big sign flashing, “You’ve got to write this story!”

You must have interviewed many people for this project. How did you make contacts? Was that process different than writing your two biographical books?

The process for writing my latest book was completely different than writing the biographical books which were about two female Army Reserve nurses who served in the Persian Gulf War. In each biography I had a primary character that was still alive. I interviewed them, and they gave me easy access to their colleagues, friends and family members.

In my latest book, however, many of the key players were elderly or had already passed on. Interviewing older citizens has it’s challenges particularly when dealing with facts. Memories can fade over the years. For the Michigan high school side of the story, I was able to tap into a well-organized alumni association. Key folks in that association put me in contact with class members who were willing to share their memories.

Courtesy of Wikipedia by US Air Force @ www.nationalmuseum

Courtesy of Wikipedia by US Air Force @ http://www.nationalmuseum

Things got more complicated, however, when I started in on the Virginia side of the story. The biggest obstacle was that, no one, even members of the Patrick County Historical Society, seemed to remember anything about the military crash of a B-17 bomber that had occurred in their county on Oct. 1, 1944. I had to call the local radio stations and ask to be interviewed. I also sent letters to surrounding cities’ newspapers, giving a brief synopsis of the story and asked folks to please contact me if they had any memories to share. The people came out of the woodwork. Most were interviewed via the telephone. With permission, I recorded the conversations for future reference.

Was it difficult to organize your facts to make your time line chronological?

No! It was essential that this story be told as it happened, one thing after the other. The only chapters that really gave me pause were the ones dealing with the landing of the pilots after they bailed out of the bomber. The challenge was figuring out how to tell six different experiences all happening within the same timeframe and not be confusing.

I especially liked the details you included about life and times in that era, when everyone was affected by rationing. Because there were many campaigns to fund the war effort, your long list of contributors to the “Buy a Bomber” campaign was impressive.

Since publication last year, has your focus on this story encouraged discussion and more recollections from South High graduates and service members?

Everywhere I go and after every presentation folks share their most wonderful WWII memories. I’ve heard from South High alumni who participated in the program, and many remember selling the bonds and stamps and being at the dedication ceremony at the Kent County Airport. One gentleman proudly pointed out that he was one of the trombone players standing under the wing in the photos. A Virginia woman remembered seeing two of the pilots embrace after being reunited after the crash. It was the first time she’d seen grown men cry. Another Virginia woman insisted that I visit her home so she could show me where her father rescued the Captain. The stories go on and on. I’m collecting these stories to put on my website linked to an “After The Book” button.

Have the alumni of South High supported your efforts?

Oh my goodness YES! Right from the beginning, alumni got behind this project. One alum took up a collection at her place of business to help fund the photos and production costs. She raised over $1000 on behalf of the book. Alumni have also supported me by buying books and inviting me to give presentations. All this from alumni of a school that closed in 1968! The “Spirit” of South High is quite remarkable.

What was your most difficult challenge in writing this story?

Perhaps my most difficult challenge was getting it done in eight months. I started researching the story in mid-January 2015 and wanted a book in hand by September 9th, the Saturday after Labor Day. To meet that deadline, the book would have to be finished and headed to the printer by mid-July at the latest. I had made the decision to self-publish the book because I had been asked to speak at the South High School All-school Open House & Tour the week of Labor Day. I didn’t want to make that presentation without a book to share. A traditional publisher would not have been able to produce it that quickly.

Let me also say that I’ve never had so much fun writing anything in my life, and I can’t imagine another project that will give me as much joy.

What next?

Currently, I’m working on presentations and scheduling for the bomber book as well as trying to keep up with social media. Gone are the days when all a writer has to do is write.

With regards to writing, the middle-grade version of the bomber story is mulling around in my brain. When I figure out the angle I should be able to write it in a couple of days. In addition, the novel I mentioned finishing earlier still hasn’t found a publisher. I need to go through it one more time and get it out!

Thanks Sandra for sharing your busy time on this blog. Sandra will be autographing her books at two events this month: April 16 at Burke Country Library and April 22 & 23 at Blue Ridge Bookfest. (See notices at top on right column.) For more information about Sandra Warren: www.arliebooks.com For Presentations: arliebooksales@gmail.com


I’m so excited! I was just informed that my book, We Bought A WWII Bomber: The Untold Story of a Michigan High School, a B-17 Bomber & The Blue Ridge Parkway is a finalist in the 2016 Next Generation Indie Book Awards! YAY!

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Writers Strive For Independence Together

As many of you may have surmised, writing is an isolating endeavor. Some writers need background music. Some can adjust to the noisy activity of a coffee house. I need total quiet. But we all have in common a desire for interaction with other writers for encouragement, information, and honest commentary on our work. I have been fortunate to find a niche in a local writers’ group that celebrates a ten year anniversary this month. Most of the writers are in a rotation to produce an article for the local newspaper, but two of us spend our writing time in different pursuits. You already know about me.

I want to introduce you to my critique partner, Jeannie, who writes as J.A. McPhail. Her first article as a member of our group was ten years ago. However, she brought years of writing experience with her from Kansas where she went from Managing Editor for a women’s newspaper, writing feature articles, to editor of three different library-related newsletters over a twelve-year period as Public Library Director.

Jeannie and her husband, Dennis, sang with the Messengers Quartet until they moved to North Carolina in 2002 to be close to their only child, Stacie, with whom they sang in a Southern Gospel trio. Dennis taught high school vocal music in Kansas but his first teaching love resulted in his 36 years of coaching. This is his ninth year at Challenger Early College High School in Hickory as varsity boys basketball and tennis coach. He successfully found his purpose, and Jeannie decided she prefers writing books to writing newspaper articles.tresia-bk1-front-300 TRESIA Cover

Her most recent book is Trinity Tales of Tresia: A Most Remarkable Hat available on Amazon, B&N, and on her publishers webpage www.rowepub.com, where you can also find her other two books. Dawn of Day is a “middle-grade historical novel based on the author’s mother’s childhood home in Wabaunsee County, KS,” highlighting a story about the Underground Railroad in that area. I Will Not Fear: A Chosen Life is a “testimony to the faithfulness of God. It is the fulfillment of a mother’s promise to her only child to share with others why and how this family chose, no matter what, to live a life of faith without fear.”

Jeannie graciously agreed to answer a few questions for me to share with my readers. First of all, where did this magical story in Trinity Tales of Tresia start and finish?

The main character, Winny, started as a drawing I created in Jr. High and ended with the Middle-grade fantasy novel. In between, her story was a picture book, then three picture books, and a much shorter chapter book version.

I know a story arc sometimes takes a long time to complete. From first thought to last sentence can take years. What has been your experience with Trinity Tales of Tresia?

Total time of actual writing from the first picture book until publication was 2002-2015. My other two books published along the way made me realize that I liked writing for an older audience. Books that both kids and adults would enjoy.

And where would you now position it on a library or bookstore shelf?

As a fantasy novel, my hope is to be alongside the Chronicles of Narnia, The Wizard of Oz, and A Wrinkle in Time.

Did your characters become real to you and tell their story or did you have to coax it from them?

Winny has a mind of her own

Winny has a mind of her own

Winny is her own person and has been part of me so long that she is like family. She has a lot of me in her and a little bit of my daughter, Stacie, but she definitely has her own personality. I had no idea when I started writing her 32-page picture book story that she had so much more to say and do. Now her story is 208 pages, A Most Remarkable Hat. This is the story I have always wanted to write, and the process has been so much fun. I love the fantasy element and spiritual undercurrents in Tresia and how those allow me to be creative with where the story goes. Many, if not most, of the ideas for plot and characters come directly from the Holy Spirit and the Bible. My imagination, also a God-given gift, takes over from there.

One reason your main character becomes memorable for me is her distinctive name. Did you choose the name Winifred, or did her personality claim it?

The cartoon character I created way-back-when was named Winny. I don’t remember how or why, but the Tresia tale needed Winny to have a formal name and “Winifred” fit the storyline.

The differences in your secondary characters greatly add to your tale. For example, Durrell, a Messenger, is drawn complete with Scottish brogue and tartan plaid. When Winnie’s friends join her adventure, Rita appears to be a prissy troublemaker and Vince seems an inquisitive boy more scientist than athlete. Both good contrasts to the tomboyish main character. Was anybody in your background an inspiration for any of these personalities?

My husband, Dennis, influenced the creation of Vince and the Scottish culture in all of my books. Remembering a fashion conscious grade-school classmate, I added Rita after the original longer version was done. My writers group loved the idea when I pitched it, and they pulled her out of me. One of my writing buddies refers to her addition as the “The Miracle of Rita,” and I agree. She added something that was lacking.

I am very pro-Israel and used many actual Hebrew names with help from a couple people who are learned Hebrew scholars. The variety of the Messenger characters comes from a belief that our angels are as different as we are and hand-picked for each of us.

Have you identified the most difficult bridges to cross when changing genres?

I don’t think I will ever go back to historical fiction because of the research. It was interesting but time-consuming. And memoir was just something I had to do because of the situation. I think it is a matter of what you want to write at the time and getting into the right mindset to do it. I may have a new adult or women’s fiction on the back burner, but I couldn’t have several works in progress in different genres going at the same time as many authors do. That bridge would collapse on my mind.

The cover of Trinity Tales of Tresia: A Most Remarkable Hat proclaims this is Book I! Are we to expect two more? With the same characters and Hai-Klues?

Yes, there will be two more books. Some characters will stay throughout the series but in different roles. I am working on Book II, and it begins six years after Book I ends, so new “Young Ones” will be introduced. And Book III will probably have the same time frame, but don’t hold me to that. Winny and Vince may get married and have kids! Or maybe there will be two more series of three “Trinity Tales” for a total of nine books. I’m not sure. Gehlay Rahzeen hasn’t revealed that mystery to me yet. I’ll have to put in some more Kingdom Corner time to find out.

Note to Readers: You will have to read the book to solve that last clue!

Jeannie, how did you find your publisher and illustrator?

A friend who has written many Kansas history books had just signed with Rowe Publishing for his next book and recommended me with Dawn of Day. Rowe accepts only a few titles a year and does everything with the actual print and online publication process as well as helping with marketing. For Tresia, they suggested Traci Osborn as illustrator, and I have been thrilled with how she took my characters and made them come alive with her drawing. I have been blessed to come in on the ground floor with Rowe and grateful that they have taken care of all three of my books and the next two in this series.

Thank you Jeannie for taking time to broaden our horizons outside the neighborhood.

To learn more about J.A. McPhail and her books, go to her website at www.jamcphail.com or her Facebook Author Page at http://www.facebook.com/jamcphailbooks

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New Nanney Followers

On March 1, Howard D. Bradshaw added this comment to the prologues: I just found nannau.com online and the connection to your website. My mother Dorothy Dalton Nanney Bradshaw was daughter of Harrison Reid Nanney, originally from Union Mills and son of Asbury Nanney. Harrison married Clara Belle Dalton from Gilkey and they moved to Erwin, TN in 1917 where he took a job as Locomotive Engineer with the Clinchfield RR, retiring with 42 years service. My uncle Grover Nanney, born in Rutherfordton, also worked as a Locomotive Engineer and retired from the Clinchfield RR with 40 years service….he made runs to Bostic occasionally and would borrow an automobile, driving to Rutherfordton to visit his first cousin Woodrow Jones. I didn’t realize until reading your research that Col. Amos Nanney was first cousin to my great-great grandfather William Nanney…..they served together in Co G, 50th NC Regt.

On March 13, Kristen Elise Nanney posted this in Chapter 17: I find all this very interesting. I was born Kristen Elise Nanney in 1979. My father is Ronald Gene Nanney born in 1954 and his father was Jerry Lee Nanney unknown dob and, his father was Charlie Cleveland Nanney. I’ve only just begun my search and everything I find intrigues me.

If any of you want to correspond you can add to their comments.

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Does ART matter?

Award Winner for School Calendar

Award Winner for School Calendar

Art done by my five-year-old granddaughter definitely matters! I have a proudly framed mountain landscape she painted. I encourage her, but Daddy wants her to be a doctor.

Some readers will remember gender-specific high school courses when the consensus of academic opinion was that boys excelled in Math and Economics, while girls belonged in English and Home Ec. And there was a Big Stir when a football player was put in the cooking class! That was a long time before child development and hairstyling were part of the curriculum in my school.

In those ancient times, art class was a popular elective, jokingly considered advanced doodling. It is a fact that some people can doodle better than others, but parents lose patience before perseverance and practice produces marketable talent. With good reason. Van Gogh wandered the streets even when he had two ears. (But that’s another story.) He would have prospered in Miami at Wynwood Walls, a 2009 project for graffiti artists transforming exterior walls with color and imagination.

South Florida Street Art

South Florida Street Art

Miami Graffiti

Miami Graffiti





Bulls Charging Matador Street Art on Public Wall

Bulls Charging Matador
Street Art on Public Wall



I am in sympathy with those who shelved an artistic talent because they did not have the funds to pursue it. I have always loved to write. Mama said No.Girls like me, who listened to Mama, grew up to get “a real job” and didn’t follow “foolish” dreams until retirement. I also shelved the regret of following the wrong trail because I have learned patience and perseverance and experienced thousands of relationships I would have otherwise missed. Now I awake every morning eager to assemble meaningful words. Is this my art? Sometimes it is advanced doodling.

This is Art for sure because it was photographed in the Louvre, a public museum since 1793.12041806_10204511544222112_56738216_n12746448_10204511545462143_1689571806_n






In an excellent National Geographic January 2015 article “The First Artists” by Chip Walter, the reader is escorted with precise WORDS creating an artistic visual to share Walter’s experience of witnessing the depiction of more than 400 animals on the limestone walls of Cave of Chauvet-Point-d’Arc, discovered in 1994 by three spelunkers sliding down a crevice and dropping into an entry to a 400,000 square foot room.

They saw profiles of lions, herds of rhinos, bison, owls, bears, mammoths, horses, ibex. (BTW What is an auroch? A European bison often 72″ at the shoulder!)

Walter said, “The age of these drawings makes youngsters of Egypt’s storied pyramids, yet every charcoal stroke, every splash of ocher looks as fresh as yesterday. Their beauty whipsaws your sense of time.” A fine artistic sentence.

Since archaeologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers are now usually funded to shine a bright light on prehistoric studies, they do not wander the streets looking for sponsors, and mankind has benefitted from much of the information they have unearthed. This light is more powerful than the flickering firelight that illuminated the Neanderthal artwork Walter described.

An interesting theory by Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia suggests that “as populations shrink they have an increasingly difficult time holding on to the innovations they invented.” His example: “When sea levels rose 10,000 years ago and isolated Tasmania from the rest of the world, the indigenous population of perhaps 4,000” was not large enough to keep cultural traditions alive.

This relates to the Lapita people I mentioned in the last post: WORDS Matter. As this group of explorers moved east to settle islands that would be known as Polynesia, their pottery lost the original design and was dubbed “plainware.” They had no written history.

I have seen a profile image drawn on a Vatulele cave wall recently photographed that is remarkably like a vision I had three years ago launching the creative project Rampart of the Phoenix. (See my separate page.) In this yet unpublished novel, I show the struggle to preserve an artistic legacy. But I was not aware of Henrich’s theory. I was going on the limited research done on Vatulele petroglyphs which seem modern compared to Chauvet. (I read about them in “Proto-Polynesian Art?” an article by Rod Ewins of the University of Tasmania and published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 104 No. 1 March 1995.)

It was with great interest that I read an article in the January/Feb 2016 issue of Archaeology. Under a familiar title “The First Artists,” Daniel Weiss describes the process of determining the age of cave art found in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. (This island was formerly named Celebes and possibly part of a land bridge between Asia and Australia, perhaps aiding in the settlement of New Guinea, influencing the Lapita people.) A photograph shows a hand stencil created at least 39,000 years ago.

In the comparison of handprints, those made in Sulawesi or those made 37,000 years ago in a cave in France or those made 4,000 years ago in Fiji, there is a familiar refrain of a human voice: I lived, I was here, and I want to be remembered.

I hear Words plus Art=communication of distant souls through the ages.


Post Script: It is a sad day when cultures are diminished whether through natural devastation like the artwork destroyed by a 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the common collateral damage of war or wanton destruction by philistines. (See Antiquites Lost, Casualties of War in Syria, and Iraq, Trying to Protect a Heritage at Risk by Graham Bowley, Oct. 3, 2014.) http://nytimes.com/2014/05/arts

In December of 2015, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) held a two-day conference for representatives from 19 international groups involved in protecting the cultural heritage of Syria and other conflict zones. They are looking for sponsors.

I have to end on the happy reminder that there will be a celebration of Native American art at the Grand Canyon September 10-18, 2016. Make plans now! Celebrate our artists!


Copyright 2016 Georgia Ruth Wilson


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WORDS Matter

Civilization is a paradox. Too many examples show a dominant group inclined to crush the culture of the defeated.

In ancient times, the world lost a brilliant treasure when the Phoenicians lost their country under the rise of Macedon in the mid 4th century BC. However, one or two wise Greeks did preserve the majority of the Phoenician alphabet and added some vowels to benefit the world with the first established alphabet. The Written Word. In contemporary times, soon to be history, Turkey is suffering a similar fate.

On the other hand, while some men are destroying old worlds, there are others who are looking for new worlds to conquer. Who is less civilized? Some mysteries are never solved.

For example, a debate among scholars still struggles to define the settlement of Polynesia. Most archaeologists subscribe to the theory that around 1500 BC until the time of Christ, a group of people emanating from Southeast Asia swept through the Solomon Islands and the Fiji islands to Tonga and Samoa. Why did they settle for several generations at each of these places, and more intriguing, why did they move on? By 400 AD, Easter Island and Hawaii were settled.

First recorded Polynesian contact with Europeans was not until 1595 when Spanish explorer Alvaro de Mendana accidently ran into the Marquesas Islands sailing west from South America. Thus began the competition among naval powers. People who had adapted to their environment and were minding their own business were given little respect, at least not until 1769 when Captain Cook learned the basics of the local language. http://www.pbs.org/wayfinders/polynesian3.html.

He was the first to give credit to Polynesians for intentionally exploring and settling thousands of miles. He sailed from Tahiti to New Zealand with a Polynesian navigator who didn’t need a sextant and couldn’t read charts, exposing the hypocrisy of touted superior continental culture. Eventually, Europeans dominated with firepower and disease that killed 75% of the Marquesas population in the early 19th century.

Norwegian ethnographer Thor Heyerdahl rocked the academic world in 1947 when he set out to prove in the Kon-Tiki raft that Polynesia was settled from South American tribes because the ocean currents moved west from that area.(Great adventure story!) In 2009 Wade Davis pointed out in The Wayfinders that there is a time every year when trade winds reverse. If ancient island navigators got lost, all they had to do was wait for the easterlies to take them home.

Remember James Michener’s great novel Hawaii? The name of the outrigger heading from Bora Bora into the unknown was named “Wait for the West Wind.”

In 1952, a breakthrough of sorts occurred when archaeologists found potsherds in New Caledonia that matched artifacts found in Tonga, New Guinea, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomons. Added to the similarities of languages among these islands reported by early explorers, here was new evidence for remarkable exploration skills. They were given a name: Lapita people.

We like to think education is a determinant of advanced civilization, but that begs the question, what is education? I am reminded of the Chaldean ideas that Daniel studied as a servant in the home of his Babylonian captors, certainly not the education a Jewish boy would have received in Judah. He absorbed different ideas because he was intelligent, but he adapted without giving up his heritage. I think this is called assimilation and suggests a compromise. Domination is not required to understand a different culture. On the other hand, if you are the guest, assimilation does require an effort to respect the host country. Or expect domination.

Sunset in Paradise

Sunset in Paradise

I think it ironic that Westerners gravitate to the fundamental elements of Polynesia with soothing thoughts of rolling waves, stars, moonlight, birds, fish, and warm breezes. Especially in our vacation plans. We want to visit, but skew the experience when we expect our hosts to cater to the fast-paced lives we brought with us.

Although I tend to think the Lapita people were happy with their homeland, the question is still, why did they keep relocating? The trail of pottery and languages indicates movement but not purpose. Traditionally with older cultures, the first son inherited and the second and third sons had to hit the road (or the waves) to find their own future. Or, perhaps some Lapita people were like those called “goal oriented” today. They have to climb mountains for the sheer challenge and gratification of success.

It is reasonable to suppose that warlike tribes did not want them around. Or tried to subjugate them, and the Lapitas preferred to escape rather than be dominated.

Unfortunately, the debate over the Lapita people may never be solved. They left no written history, and their language and DNA has become part of a melting pot. There are observable markers, such as the absence of malaria resistance in Polynesians. In the Nadroga province of Fiji, where evidence of a Lapita settlement was found near the mouth of the Sigatoka River, the natives are noticeably taller.

There are also clues more easily read by today’s technology from “civilized” countries. For example, many of the Polynesian crop plants are Melanesian, a scientific name give to the darker people of New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomons, New Caledonia, and Fiji. Through precise radiocarbon dating and linguistic evidence, a recent internet article suggests the migration from west Polynesia to the region of Tonga and Samoa was four centuries later than previously thought. Now possibly 1100 AD.

Mr. Davis makes the case that language is the “flash of human spirit. Every language is a watershed of thought, an ecosystem of spiritual possibilities.” How can we diminish the cultures of Borneo, Peru, Haiti, the way of life of Tibetan priests, or the Alaskan tribal entities defined by their language groups? He suggests we need to respect alternate ways of thinking and interacting with nature. A task made difficult when limited to oral history.

In his excellent book The Wayfinders, Mr. Davis reports that of the 7000 languages spoken today, half are not taught to children. Eighty percent of the world communicates with one of 83 languages. The question he poses:  “Who will be the last to speak the syllables of an ancient tongue, losing the wisdom of ancestors?”

That might depend upon who is charge. And some of us are plotting to move to Pluto, a new world to conquer!


Copyright@2016 Georgia Ruth Wilson

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