Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bob Dockery Kills an Irishman

He died in 1895, but I still wonder about the mysterious life and death of a traveling salesman named Pat Brice.

Several years ago, I was perusing some microfilms of old newspapers, when I happened upon a story unrelated to the subject of my research. It was an account of a murder that occurred in Cherokee County, NC, the story written in a style that no newspaper would print today, though I appreciate journalism that has room for a line like "when he had a jager of whiskey it tingled joyfully throughout his entire being."

The utter senselessness of Mr. Brice’s murder made it unforgettable. An innocuous wisecrack cost him his life.

And I’m curious about the facts that weren’t reported, the rest of the story that remains untold. Where had he been before he arrived in Murphy? What became of the merchandise that he’d brought along to sell? Were his mother and sister ever given the sad news? Does a headstone mark the location of Mr. Brice’s gravesite? Did Bob Dockery return to North Carolina to face charges? What ever happened to Sis Roberts and the Widow Hubbard?

Anyhow, here’s the full text of that sad story from the September 10, 1895 edition of the Cherokee Scout (Murphy, NC).

Bob Dockery Kills an Irishman by the Name of Brice

On last Tuesday afternoon about 3 o'clock at an illegal whiskey shop, some two miles from Murphy, on the Hangingdog road, kept by a white woman named Sis Roberts, there was a horrible murder committed.

The victim was an Irishman by the name of M. Brice, familiarly known as Pat, who had been peddling spectacles through the country and boarding at the Widow Hubbard's in our town. He was a genteel fellow and had all the genial qualities common to the sons of Erin, and when he had a jager of whiskey it tingled joyfully throughout his entire being.

So on this occasion he offered some spectacles for sale and said he would give a pair to anybody that was a good Democrat, and threw off good humoredly on the Republicans.

The woman who kept the house called him to her and advised him to be quiet. He took her hand and said he would do so, and just at this time Bob Dockery, one of the three Dockery boys and son of Eli Dockery, who were present, caught up a chair and struck him on the head from behind, crushing his skull, some two and a-half inches above the right ear. Brice fell and after a few minutes scrambled to his feet. He did not know who struck him or why they did it, but seemed to realize that he was badly hurt. Later he knelt down and prayed, and spoke of his mother and sister. He died Wednesday morning about 7 o'clock.

There were present at the time of the killing Sis Roberts, Elmira Reid, Tom, Joe and Bob Dockery and Sid McLelland, colored. Others came up soon after and saw what was done and heard declarations of who did the killing.

The remains of Brice were interred in the Methodist cemetery Thursday afternoon.

An effort was made to apprise his relatives of his death, but they could not be located, but we understand that he has relatives in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The material point at the coroner's inquest was testified to by all the witnesses that we heard. The coroner's jury, after being in session half a day, rendered a verdict that the deceased, known as M. Brice, came to his death from a blow on the head inflicted with a chair in the hands of Bob Dockery. The chair with which Dockery struck and killed Brice was broken all to pieces, showing that the lick was a powerful one.

The witnesses before the coroner's jury all testified that Dockery and Brice had no hard words. In fact, some claim that they had not even spoken to each other.

Last Friday Coroner J.L. Berrong and Deputy Sheriff Hugh Sneed made diligent search for Bob Dockery, but he could not be found. He has not been seen since Wednesday morning, and it is thought that he has left the State.
Cherokee County Courthouse, Murphy, NC, ca. 1909

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Tom’s Branch, Pisgah National Forest, Haywood County, NC, July 2008

Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Therefore the sage says:
He who takes upon himself the humiliation of the people
is fit to rule them.
He who takes upon himself the country's disasters deserves
to be king of the universe.
The truth often seems paradoxical.

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 78, Lao Tzu
Translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English

Monday, July 28, 2008

Colors of July


Fire Opal, Oscar
Swallowtails, West Fork of the Pigeon
Black-Eyed Susan, Waterrock Knob


Sunday, July 27, 2008

Celebrating the Chattooga

Wilderness or water-park? Which will it be for the Upper Chattooga River? The deadline is August 1 to submit comments urging the Forest Service to protect this living treasure.

Compared with sections of the Chattooga downstream, the Upper Chattooga as it flows through North Carolina is especially rich in rare plant and animal species. From the Chattooga Conservancy:

The headwaters of the Chattooga have been described as the salamander capital of the world, home to several species in the plethodon family of salamanders and potential habitat for the endangered green salamander. These animals are interesting because they breathe through their skin, must remain in moist areas all the time, and emerge from their underground burrows only at night or in the rain. Additionally, the headwaters contain several rare, threatened and endangered species of plants including rock clubmoss (Huperzia porophila), fir clubmoss (Huperzia selago), Biltmore sedge (Carex biltmoreana), divided leaf groundsel (Senecio millefolium), dwarf filmy fern (Trichomanes petersii), and sword moss (Bryoxiphium norvegicum). Obviously, increased use in this area could affect these species and we believe that a through environmental assessment should be completed to determine the potential threats to these and other sensitive species which are found in this area.

I took the photos displayed here in October 2007 near Bull Pen. If you go out Bull Pen Road, you’ll reach an old steel bridge from which you can see how the river has carved deep potholes into the rock. A short walk upstream from the bridge takes you through a great diversity of habitats along the river, including a rich cove, white pine forest, a seepage with club moss, a narrow gorge and a system of cliffs.

A little farther northeast is what’s known as the Terrapin Mountain tract. The Wilderness Society has compiled a report called Western North Carolina Mountain Treasures, identifying remarkable natural areas that remain at risk. Terrapin Mountain is one of these sites, bounded by the Upper Chattooga just south of Whiteside Cove Road. Among the rarities found in the area was a living 19-inch diameter American chestnut tree.

A “wild river” means different things to different people. For some, it means whitewater gushing over rocks. For others, the meaning of a wild river is more inclusive, taking in the wholeness of the plants and animals and mountains that give life to, and get life from, the flowing waters.

The industry group, American Whitewater, imposing its myopic view of “wild river” on Forest Service policy regarding the Upper Chattooga, is eager to compromise the latter in favor of the former. Maybe it's not too late to stop them.

From the Chattooga Conservancy:

For as long as the Chattooga has been Wild and Scenic, there has been concern for potential use conflicts. The 1971 Wild and Scenic Study Report on the Chattooga River concluded that the river was not "overused," but it cautioned that future demand could reach saturation and cause a degradation of the Chattooga's wilderness "experience". Consequently, the report recommended development to be guided by preserving a primitive experience as a priority over demand.

Click on Act Now to Protect the Chattooga for more background and instructions on submitting comments prior to the August 1 deadline.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A MUST READ – "The Last Wild River"

Do whatever you can to get your hands on the Summer 2008 issue of Oxford American. Proceed immediately to page 62, for The Last Wild River, by Bronwen Dickey. The story recounts her visit to the Chattooga, the river made famous by her father James Dickey in the novel Deliverance.

From The Last Wild River:

When I read some months back that a lawsuit brought by a boating organization called American Whitewater had prompted the Forest Service to consider opening the river’s headwaters to boaters, an unexpected sadness came over me. It was a variant of what I felt years ago when I learned that my childhood home had been torn down and rebuilt into something I couldn’t recognize….

…Could I really blame anyone in techno-heavy 2008 who longed to “get back to nature”? I’d do it more if I could. But I also thought about the Nantahala and Ocoee Rivers near the Chattooga, two once-wild rivers that are now essentially water parks, clogged with tourists looking for “wilderness adventures.”...

Bronwen Dickey’s story is poignant and authentic and humorous and poetic. On a mid-winter hike to Rock Gorge she reflected on the scene:

I wanted to lock the wildness of the river into the sandstone somehow so that it couldn’t be touched by men, and climb back out – straight up – though the mud and undergrowth, crawling over decayed logs, tripping over vines, my lungs burning from the effort because there weren’t any roads. In my heart, if not my head, I wanted the glittering, jade eyes of the last cougar in the south to study me from under a ledge. I wanted to feel that cold fear that sluices through your veins when you realize you’re truly alone out in the wild – or that you aren’t….

The Last Wild River, by Bronwen Dickey, in the Summer 2008 issue of Oxford American. Get it! Read it! Today!

[And thank you, GC]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Whatever Floats Your Boat

I’ve been wondering…

How much would we be reading about Domenic Rabuffo’s development on Big Ridge in Jackson County had it not been for his alleged mob connections?

And I’ve been wondering if the Village of Penland fiasco would have gotten more news coverage if Tony Porter and the Amelungs had been linked to the mafia?

I guess criminal activity gains more attention if you look like the Godfather and talk like Tony Soprano.

And that’s too bad.

Because there are plenty of dirty rotten scoundrels on the loose right now who should be doing hard labor for what they’ve inflicted on these mountains over the past decade. As time goes on, I see how mega-development mania would not have been so manic except for the fraudulent, unethical and criminal behavior enabled by the bankers and their cronies.

With banking regulation a thing of the past thanks to Washington goons like Phil Gramm, we’ve seen what the financiers are made of. The sub-prime mortgage mess gets a fair amount of press. Poor folks who couldn’t afford legitimate mortgages got screwed over, taken for a ride.

We’ve witnessed a somewhat different scheme play out at the Village of Penland and, it would appear, on Big Ridge. Likewise, as soon as I heard the grandiose plans for Cataloochee Wilderness Resort in Haywood County, I figured that the money to be made was from selling a mirage to the lenders, rather than selling real homes to real people.

It’s gotten way past tiresome to watch the shysters bulldoze and clearcut and kiss up to local officials and unveil their artist renderings and their blueprints and their site maps while babbling the latest catch-phrases about environmental sensitivity.

But that’s the kind of thing you expect from developers. If you go crawling around with rattlesnakes, don’t be surprised when one bites you. You can't fault a rattlesnake for being a rattlesnake.

I know. It’s naïve and unrealistic for me to think that bankers might be held to a slightly higher standard than developers. "Fiduciary responsibility" is a quaint and outmoded concept, isn’t it? On the other hand, bankers have always been suspect, which is why they needed to be protect them (and us) from themselves. Even so, I'm becoming more contemptuous of the bankers than the developers (as if there’s much difference), because I did expect them to be a little more scrupulous. (You can laugh now.)

Things might have turned out differently if not for bankers willing to loan $325,000 on half-acre lots (sight unseen). And when an episode like Village of Penland exposes the whole system for what it is, do the banks step forward, clean house and raise their standards?

Hell, no.

What we get is a circle-the-wagons response and more of the same. And, oh yeah, taxpayer bailouts of the banks.

One of reasons I followed the unfolding of events at the Village of Penland was because I knew it would be an instructive example of what we could expect here in Jackson County. That's what fascinates me about the Big Ridge revelations. Fulfillment of prophecy.

Mafia, schmafia. It’s not the Corleone, Gotti, and Genovese families we need to worry about. It’s the SunTrust and First Charter and Wachovia gangsters that are really dangerous.

Nevertheless, I will share a couple of tidbits about Mr. Rabuffo’s alleged mob connections. As mentioned earlier the Big Ridge developer was linked to Irwin "Fat Man" Schiff. If you’re so inclined, you can indulge your curiosity with these old news accounts from the New York Times:

Juicy stuff, if that’s what you want. Or how about this true-life drama from

Irwin Schiff was big 350 pounds and six-foot three. A 50-year-old con man and loan shark, he was connected to the Gambinos. He was involved in the talent agency business, boxing promotion field and investment business. He was also robbing the Genovese family by skimming money off the top of a money-laundering operation that was run by the family, through him, out of Atlantic City.

On August 8, 1987, he went to dinner with the wife of a friend. She was a beautiful blonde model called Judy Galip. They were dining at a very exclusive place, Sergio Bravo Ristorante at 1452 Second Avenue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Just as Irwin was about to dive into the desert of his $90 dinner, a man walked up behind him in the crowded restaurant and shot him with a .25 calibre revolver at point blank range, in the head, twice. The killer was allegedly identified as Tony Rotolo, a 46-year-old Italian immigrant.

Finally, to get all this mafia nonsense behind us so we can focus on the actual bad guys in this case, I’ll share one more. maintains a database of boat registration information. According to their records, a 29.7 foot recreational boat with a gross weight of 9 tons goes by the name of IRWIN SCHIFF.

The owner listed for that vessel?

None other than DOMENICO RABUFFO!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Remembering Carlton McNeill

Only recently, I learned that the ambassador and keeper of Panthertown Valley died on July 20, 2007. Carlton McNeill was 86 years old and had lived the last few months of his life in a Cary rest home, but for many people, he was inseparable from Panthertown, living in a modest home at the east entrance to the treasured place.

On my first visit to Panthertown, Carlton appeared out of nowhere and helped me find Schoolhouse Falls. There’s no telling how many other hikers he assisted during his years in the valley. I posted the following tribute on December 14, 2006, a memory of hiking with Carlton 14 years ago.


I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of picking wild fruit. It is a mark of deep impoverishment when that job goes undone. Especially when it's all but impossible to find better employment.

So the letter in this week’s Cashiers Chronicle caught my attention:

Dear Editor,
Who will pick the berries this summer? Not Carlton. He is all tucked in at the Chatham Creek Rest Home, near Raleigh. But his legend lives on.

Rarely do you remember the date that you met someone, but I can say for certain that I met Carlton McNeill on August 28, 1994. I was about to walk out the door for my first hiking trip to Panthertown Valley when the telephone rang with the news that my father had died.

Given his love of the outdoors, my father would have wanted to see Panthertown, and I knew the only right thing to do under the circumstances. I went hiking.

Before I made it halfway around the valley my path crossed that of Carlton. As soon as I met him, I knew I’d never forget him. And so it was for today’s letter writer:

Many of us remember the cantankerous, opinionated, indefatigable, puppy-friendly old man who lived in a half-singlewide at the old entrance to Panthertown Valley? The man who found almost every lost hiker in the valley, who created trails wherever they seemed needed, who remembered everyone’s name, their children’s names and where they’d been on hikes and with whom they’d hiked. The man whose religion was the forest and the yellow lady’s slippers and Thomas Paine. The man who picked all the blackberries and blueberries he could find - gallons full - and gave them away, making sure that folks at nursing homes and shelters got their share.

I recall how we walked over the bare rocks of the valley and almost stepped on a young rattlesnake. That and how Carlton took the time to lead me to Schoolhouse Falls. After a while, though, our paths diverged and Carlton left me with his business card and good wishes. It was the last time I ever saw him.

How proud he was of Burt Kornegay’s map and brochure that named Carlton as the “surreptitious trail blazer” and of the sign on the road leading down from the altar proclaiming “Carlton’s Field of Ferns.”

So now there’s a job vacancy at Panthertown, and I know where to go berry picking next summer. It’s the only right thing to do under the circumstances.

Rich Stevenson, creator of the NC Waterfalls website, posted the news of Carlton’s passing and quoted a Sam Foss poem, one of McNeill’s favorites:

There are pioneer souls that blaze the paths
Where highways never ran-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Schoolhouse Falls, Panthertown Valley, July 2008

Folkmoot 2008

From Friday's opening of Folkmoot 2008:

Chinese Taipei performers (60 seconds)

Trinidad (40 seconds)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Viewing a Vanished World

Kodak camera similar to that used by Dutch Roth

Last year I proposed an Appalachian Photography Hall of Fame and nominated a few of my favorites for induction:

Margaret Morley (1858 – 1923)
Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten (1875-1959)
George Masa (1881-1933), Horace Kephart’s friend and subject of a fine documentary by Paul Bonesteel, is another.
And we can’t omit O. Winston Link (1914-2001), whose Hot Shot Eastbound is an astonishing masterpiece.

I’m grateful to these photographers for opening my eyes and my soul to a vanished, or perhaps, a hidden world. And I can add one more photographer who has done that for me.

Somehow, until this week, I was unfamiliar with Arnold Gordon "Dutch" Roth (1890-1974), from Knoxville, Tennessee.

The University of Tennessee Library has posted an online collection of almost 900 Roth photos, taken mostly from the 1920s through the 1950s. Roth covered a lot of territory including the Great Smokies, Blue Ridge Parkway, Appalachian Trail, Joyce Kilmer Forest, and the Cumberland Mountains. From the UT site we read:

Albert Gordon "Dutch" Roth, born September 20, 1890 in Knoxville, Tenn., is recognized as one of the most prolific early photographers of the Great Smoky Mountains' Greenbrier and Mount Le Conte sections.

What began in 1913 as a diversion soon developed into a serious avocation as Roth perfected his penchant for photography while avidly hiking the unexplored regions near his home. He worked exclusively with a Kodak 122 camera, and, often carrying a heavy tripod, would climb twenty to thirty feet up a tree or venture hundreds of yards off the trail to capture the landscape images for which he would later be noted.

Roth remained an amateur photographer, and, consequently, his photographs were never highly distributed. Because of his frequent travels in the mountains and early association with a local hiking club, he left a valuable collection of images that illustrate the pioneer way of life before the advent of the national park.

In a 2003 interview, Margaret Roth remembers that her father hiked Mount Le Conte more than a hundred times.

You can follow this link to browse all 898 of the Roth photos in the UTK collection.;g=gsmc;page=index%20


I’ve selected about 50 of my favorite Dutch Roth photos that you can browse from this link.

From top, the thumbnail images include a picture of Dutch Roth working on the Appalachian Trail, an oak tree on the state line near Laurel Top, the summit of Richland Balsam, skiers at Indian Gap and a snowy stream near Tremont.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Digging at Fort Osborne

[Grayson County, Virginia] While travelling among the neatly maintained farms overlooking the New River, I caught a glimpse of a brick monument directly across the road from a white barn. Making out the words "Osborne Fort," I sped past. But it only took me a second to realize that the place warranted a closer look.

The marker identified this as "Osborne Fort Cemetery, 1812-1877." So, was this a military installation during the Civil War? Was this a strategic encampment during the Revolution? Or was it a blockhouse to protect the frontier settlers from disgruntled Cherokees? The answer was not obvious, as the gravestones were the only indication that this place had ever been anything other than a farm.

Something about the cemetery seemed odd. It wasn’t the fact that this cemetery was so carefully tended, but that the stones were arranged so precisely. I had never seen a graveyard arranged with such perfect symmetry. The markings on the stones were only partly legible. It helped that the monument next to the road bore the names of all the people buried in the cemetery: mostly members of the Cox, Osborne, Thompson and Ward families, several slaves and a few Native Americans.

Only later would I learn tbe story of the Osborne Fort Cemetery and the story of Osborne Fort itself. The cemetery extended to the fences visible in the photograph, but in the late 1950s the landowner removed all the stones. During the 1970s, the cemetery was threatened with flooding from a proposed dam on the New River, but plans for that project were eventually abandoned. The brick monument was constructed to mark the cemetery in 1982. After some of the original headstones and footstones were recovered from storage in 2004, they were placed on individual concrete pads in the cemetery, which explains the careful spacing of those markers.

Ephraim Osborne Sr. (1723-1794) made a living as a fur collector working the Yadkin Valley with Daniel Boone’s colleague, Christopher Gist. Around 1761, Osborne and his family moved from Rowan County, NC to Grayson County, Virginia. Their new land, between Bridle Creek and Saddle Creek (tributaries of the New River) was a favorite hunting and fishing spot of the Cherokees, who were reluctant to forfeit the land without a fight. So, to protect themselves and nearby settlers, the Osbornes built a fort on their farm.

The Osbornes did experience a deadly encounter with the Cherokees in 1764, while Ephraim Osborne’s sons were deer hunting in nearby Watauga County, NC. Enoch, Solomon and Ephraim Jr. got drenched by rain, so they set up camp and hung their wet clothes by the campfire. Sometime during the night, Cherokees shot into their camp and killed 21-year-old newlywed Solomon Osborne. After fleeing into the darkness, Ephraim crept back to retrieve his horse, while Enoch returned home without shoes and in his night clothes.

Enoch Osborne (1741-1818) raised his family on the farm at Osborne Fort. He was captain of a militia unit during the Revolution, a county magistrate and a Methodist leader. In March 1792, Bishop Francis Asbury stayed at Enoch Osborne’s during one of his many trips through the area. Upon his death, Enoch was buried at the Osborne Fort Cemetery.

When I began to investigate Enoch’s brother and fellow survivor of the deadly hunting trip, Ephraim Osborne, Jr. (1752-1852) the story got really complicated. In 1774, Ephraim married Mary "Polly" Brock (1757-1855). Polly was the daughter of Aaron Brock and Susan Caroline Davis Brock, a full-blood Cherokee. Some people contend that Aaron Brock was half Cherokee and also known as Cutsawah or "Chief Red Bird" for whom the Red Bird River in Clay County, Kentucky was named.

Depending on whose genealogy you want to believe, Polly Osborne had an illustrious family tree that included:

Chief Doublehead – a controversial Cherokee leader in the Cumberlands, and father of Princess Cornblossom. Doublehead was murdered near Hiwassee Station, Tennessee after making more than a few enemies.

Attakullakulla – as a young man, he returned to England with Sir Alexander Cumming following the 1730 coronation of Moytoy at Nequassee (Franklin). Almost half a century later he encountered William Bartram on the banks of the Nantahala River near the Winding Stairs.

Christian Gottlieb Priber – A Jesuit who settled among the Overhills Cherokee with the intention of establishing a utopian society. He was arrested and died in a Georgia prison. Two books he wrote while living with the Cherokees have never been found.

Ephraim and Polly Osborne left the New River valley to be closer to her family in Harlan County, Kentucky. They must have had plenty of good stories to share at their family gatherings. Ephraim died at the age of 100. Polly lived to be 97 years old.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Schoolhouse Falls

Schoolhouse Falls at Panthertown Valley, Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Emergence of the Swallowtail

"The caterpillar does all the work but the butterfly gets all the publicity."
George Carlin

"There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly."
R. Buckminster Fuller

"A caterpillar who seeks to know himself would never become a butterfly."
Andre Gide

A few minutes ago, I happened across a black swallowtail butterfly that had just emerged from its chrysalis. You could call it a new beginning, although it means the swallowtail is commencing on the final month of its life. For half a year or more, the swallowtail has lived as something other than a butterfly, first as a caterpillar and then as a pupa.

The caterpillar feeds on the foliage of umbellifers, such as carrot, fennel, angelica, dill and milk parsley plants, growing rapidly and shedding its outgrown skin four times. Eventually, the mass of the caterpillar’s body breaks down to provide nutrients to the cells of the young pupa that will develop inside the chrysalis and burst forth as a butterfly.

As soon as it can fly, the butterfly seeks a mate to produce the fertilized eggs that will be laid on a food plant and start the cycle all over again when they hatch as tiny caterpillars.

The three photos above are of this afternoon's swallowtail. Here's a swallowtail that I saw last August.

For a view of the stages of the swallowtail’s life cycle:

From another source, here's time lapse video of the swallowtail breaking out as a butterfly:

And if you're inclined to raise a swallowtail to maturity, click here for detailed instructions:

"The butterfly's attractiveness derives not only from colors and symmetry: deeper motives contribute to it. We would not think them so beautiful if they did not fly, or if they flew straight and briskly like bees, or if they stung, or above all if they did not enact the perturbing mystery of metamorphosis: the latter assumes in our eyes the value of a badly decoded message, a symbol, a sign." Primo Levi

"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough." Rabindranath Tagore

"Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you." Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Quaff Again of the Ancient Delirium

Is Herbert's Spring located near this Highlands stream?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The quest continues.

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

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Worth a Visit

Old House near Meat Camp Gap, Watauga County, NC, February 2008

Some high-quality blogs and websites are out there, awaiting your attention, and I’ve been meaning to mention a few of my favorites. Here goes:

Every time I click on Appalachian History, I think, "This is what I’d like to be creating, if I could do it this well." Blogger Dave Tabler writes of his blog, "I spent the last 10 years helping my dad Kenneth edit his autobiography about growing up in Depression-era West Virginia. And now I'm hooked on this stuff!"

Some of his recent stories tell of early barnstorming aviators in Kentucky, the adventures of Elisha Mitchell, and the boxing match that got prize fighting banned in West Virginia.

Among the superb photo blogs in cyberspace Appalachian Treks is not be missed. Photographer Mark Peacock finds apt text to complement his astounding photos of the Southern Appalachians, and has created an oasis of beauty.

The North Carolina Collection at the University of North Carolina is one of the underappreciated cultural treasures of our state. Thank goodness David Swain had the foresight to initiate the collection way back in the 1840s. North Carolina Miscellany is the blog of the North Carolina Collection. Check it out for a story of the 1916 floods in Western NC, a virtual tour of the Smokies, an enormous collection of vintage NC postcards, and an exploration of the Big Desert of Robeson County.

While searching for a photo of a wood stork, I found a whole series of pictures of Guilford County sandhill cranes at Will Cook’s gallery of North Carolina Bird Photos. I can’t imagine how much time went into collecting all the photos on his site.

Several hundred years ago, before the possibilities afforded us by digital technology, Mark Catesby (April 3, 1683 - December 1749) collected images nature in the Carolinas and the Southeast. Catesby was an English naturalist and between 1731 and 1743 he published his Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, the first published account of the flora and fauna of North America.

It included 220 plates of birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish, insects, and mammals. Stylistically, Catesby’s work is very different from that of Audubon. The Philadelphia Print Shop has some good quality images of Catesby’s work posted online.

While watching UNC-TV recently, I caught a brief profile of Boone artist Noyes Capehart. In one scene, he was snooping around an old abandoned house. It looked familiar to me and was, in fact, the same house I visited last fall while traveling from Boone to New River. I could understand why Capehart was attracted to that place, as it seemed to have stories it wanted to tell. He has compiled several decades of work, combining painting and the written word, in The Private Diary of Noyes Capehart.

The artist describes his approach:

…it is a blend of visual and written content that has allowed me to fashion a meaningful dialogue with self, a way of processing a host of experiences, thoughts, and feelings that have come with my life’s journey….

Stephen Doherty, Managing Editor of American Artist magazine, wrote of Capehart’s work, "The process by which he expresses these feelings and experiences resembles the way a writer establishes the plot of a novel. He imagines all the elements of a richly detailed story – characters, costumes, and furnishings – and then creates mental pictures of the action taking place at critical moments in the story."

Friday, July 4, 2008

every generation needs a new revolution

The words of Thomas Jefferson (April 13, 1743 – July 4, 1826):

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.

Banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.

Books constitute capital. A library book lasts as long as a house, for hundreds of years. It is not, then, an article of mere consumption but fairly of capital, and often in the case of professional men, setting out in life, it is their only capital.

Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government.

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing.

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

Errors of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.

Every generation needs a new revolution.

Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor.

He who knows best knows how little he knows.

I am mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, the sale of a book can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too.

I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.

The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees in every object only the traits which favor that theory.

Walking is the best possible exercise. Habituate yourself to walk very fast.

We are not to expect to be translated from despotism to liberty in a featherbed.

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Everett Street, Then and Now

The upper photograph was taken in 1938 for the Tennessee Valley Authority, and identified simply as "Fryemont Office Building."

The lower photograph was taken this week, seventy years after the first shot, and shows the current appearance of Everett Street, Bryson City, NC.

The columned building on the left is the old Citizens Bank Building, constructed ca. 1900. According to a sign in the window, it will house the Storytelling Center for Southern Appalachians (opening this fall).

You have to wonder how the stories to be told there will measure up to the stories that were told in the Pool Room and the Shoe Shop of long ago.