Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Parrots and Rabbits

If you plan to take your horse at a full gallop across the Tuckaseegee River bridge in Bryson City, you’d best reconsider.

Research is a challenging proposition for me. I dig through the files to find details on a given topic and end up following rabbit trails to several other stories. Case in point: while seeking some information about a parrot that used to live here, I happened upon a copy of laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1885. It is one unique snapshot of the matters concerning folks back then.

For instance, Chapter 46 provides that any person who "shall willfully ride or drive a horse or mule or other animal faster than a walk on the bridge across the Tuckaseegee river at Charleston [Bryson City], Swain county…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction shall be fined not exceeding fifty dollars or imprisoned not more than thirty days." With the passage of the law, signs were posted at either end of the bridge, advising that "All persons are hereby forbidden to ride or drive over the bridge faster than a walk."

In 1885, rail service was a relatively new amenity for residents of the far western counties, and it brought other connections with the "outside world" when Chapter 294 empowered the Western North Carolina Railroad Company to construct telegraph and telephone lines along its right of way.

The worst depredations of large-scale logging were still to come for most mountain counties, but a couple of laws indicate early problems associated with timbering. Chapters 91 and 97 prohibited the felling of trees in Richlands, Cattaloochee and Crab Tree creeks in Haywood county, and in Scott’s creek in Jackson county. "Any person who shall fell, or in any other way put timber in [the aforesaid creeks] and let the same remain therein longer than five days, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and on conviction shall be fined not exceeding twenty-five dollars, or imprisoned not more than thirty days, in the discretion of the court."

Apparently, logging wasn’t the only threat to Cataloochee creek. Chapter 61 made it unlawful to "fish for trout in Cataloochee creek or its tributaries in Haywood county, and offer the same for sale as a matter of traffic, thereby tending to the rapid extermination of trout in said streams." The law added the requirement that anyone fishing for trout in those streams is required to obtain "permission or a license from the owners of land lying contiguous thereto." I’d be curious to know the going price for fresh-caught trout on the commercial market of 1885, and just how much money an enterprising angler might make in one day.

Chapter 21 of the code made it illegal to "kill or shoot, trap or net any partridges, quail, doves, robins, larks, mocking-birds or wild turkeys, between the fifteenth day of March and the first day of November in each year." However, Chapter 395 was subsequently passed to exempt Clay, Cherokee, Jackson, Swain, Macon and Graham counties from the North Carolina "bird law."

In 1885, wolves had not yet been extirpated from the mountains, so the general assembly enacted Chapter 25 to increase, from five up to ten dollars, the bounty for killing wolves in Madison, Haywood, Transylvania, Swain and Jackson counties.

Finally, another piece of 1885 legislation addressed stock law. Traditionally, farmers let their livestock roam free. Fences were constructed, not to keep livestock in, but to keep livestock out of croplands. An ever-increasing population was bringing about the reversal of this old practice, but faced bitter opposition from farmers who wanted to continue raising "free-range" cattle and swine. With Chapter 219, the legislature made it unlawful "for any live stock to run at large in Buncombe county; and no person shall permit any of his live stock to go or enter upon the lands of another without having obtained leave from the owner of such lands." Just to make it clear, "the word stock in this act shall be construed to mean horses, mules, jacks, jennets, colts, cows, sheep, calves, goats, and all cattle and swine." The act was one big step toward closing the open range in the mountains of North Carolina.

Now, with the completion of this detour through the session laws of 1885, I can resume my search for that mysterious parrot. At least until I get distracted by another rabbit trail.

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