Friday, December 21, 2007

Whoop up the Laggards

Our expedition grew rapidly after we left Waynesville, and our group of horsemen, followed by "the baggage train," toiling along the mountain roads, caused a genuine excitement at the farms by the way. One of our most memorable trips was that from Waynesville to Whiteside and the return.

Upon the beautiful country through which we were now wandering the Indian lavished that wealth of affection which he always feels for nature, but never for man. He gave to the hills and streams the soft poetic names of his expansive language--names which the white man has in many cases cast away, substituting the barbarous commonplaces of the rude days of early settlement.

The Cherokee names of Cowee and Cullowhee, of Watauga, of Tuckaseege, and Nantahela, have been retained; and some of the elder settlers still pronounce them with the charming Indian accent and inflection. The Cowee mountain range runs between Jackson and Macon counties, and the valley of Tuckaseege, walled in four crooked, immense stretches, includes all of Jackson county which lies north of the Blue Ridge.

The river itself, one of the most picturesque in the South, "heads" in the Blue Ridge, and swelling into volume from a hundred springs of coldest, purest, most transparent water, which send little torrents down all the deep ravines, it goes foaming and dashing over myriads of rocks, sometimes leaping from dizzy heights into narrow caƱons, until it comes to, and is lost in, the Tennessee. Where the Tuckaseege forces its way through the Cullowhee mountains there is a stupendous cataract.

The little inn at Webster, the seat of justice of Jackson county, was none too large to accommodate our merry cavalcade. We came to it through the Balsam mountains from Waynesville, along a pretty road bordered with farms and giant mulberry-trees. In the valleys we saw the laurel and the dwarf rosebay, the passion flower and the Turk's-cap lily, and on the mountain sides the poplar or tulip-tree, the hickory, ash, black and white walnut, the holly, the chincapin, the alder, and the chestnut, each in profusion.

Webster is a little street of wooden houses, which seem mutely protesting against being pushed off into a ravine. For miles around the country is grand and imposing. A short time before our arrival the residents of the county had been edified by the execution of the only highwayman who has appeared in Western North Carolina for many years. The hanging occurred in front of the jail in the village street, and thousands flocked to see it from all the section round about.

Sunset came with a great seal of glory. Before the dawn we were once more in the saddle, en route for the Cowee range. Just below Webster we crossed the Tuckaseege river at a point where once there was a famous Indian battle, and wound up the zigzag paths to the very top of Cowee, now and then getting a glimpse of the noble Balsam left behind.

Now we could look up at one of the "old balds," as the bare peaks' tops are called. (The Indian thought the bare spots were where the feet of the Evil One had pressed as he strode from mountain to mountain.)

Now we stopped under a sycamore, while a barefooted girl brought a pitcher of buttermilk from the neighboring house; now a group of negro children, seeing a band of eight horsemen approaching, made all speed for the house, evidently thinking us Ku-Klux or "Red Strings" resuscitated; and now a smart shower would beat about our heads, and die away in tearful whisperings among the broad leaves. The mile-stones by the roadside were notched to indicate the distance; and from hour to hour, in the mountain passes, stops were made to whoop up the laggards.

-From The Great South, by Edward King (1875), illustrations by James Wells Champney

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