Sunday, November 30, 2008

Shape-shifting the Mountains

The Little Tennessee at Calderwood.

Rumi and I leave Kituwah on our way to Cades Cove. After you get past Fontana, there’s not much to distract you from the fact that this is a land of water.

The old river carves through the formidable obstacles of rugged mountains before, finally, reaching the gentler hills of Tennessee. At one point, I see the early morning sun shining over a dam and a horseshoe bend in the river. I swerve into a small parking area and jump out to take a picture, while some cheesy Paul Winter New Age saxophone is still wafting from my truck.

If the motorcycle riders posing for photos with their bikes are annoyed by my choice of music, they don’t let on.

While I line up the shot, the poet ambles over toward them.

They’re suspicious. You know in a few minutes, after we go our separate ways, one of them will make a comment about "that raghead back at the overlook." The other will say, "did you notice the other guy shooting pictures of THE DAM?" And they'll both say, "we should have taken down their tag number. No telling what the hell they're up to."

Anyhow, Raghead asks the guys if they like to fish.

"Yeah," and they leave it at that, sour looks all around.

But Rumi continues. With his hands he mimes fish, swimming:

Each of these fish has a Jonah inside.
They sweeten the bitter sea.
They shape-shift the mountains,
But with their actions neither bless nor curse.

They are more obvious,
And yet more secret than that.

Mix grains from the ground they walk
With streamwater. Put that salve
On your eyes and you will see

What you have despised in yourself
As a thorn opens into a rose.

I get my shot, fold up the tripod, and motion to the poet. When I open the door of the truck, the music rolls out across the parking area. Paul Winter has gotten to his duet with the whales. Paul Winter is tooting away on his horn and the whales are answering back. It’s pretty cool, but what else would you expect me to say, what with a quartz crystal hanging around my neck? Cheesy New Age saxophone or not, Paul Winter is OK with me, but I’ll bet the motorcycle guys would prefer Kenny Chesney.

Rumi and I roll on. It's still a long way to Cades Cove....

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Last One

Thanks to Neal Hutcheson
Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton in The Last One.
Photo by Neal Hutcheson

I was introduced to mountain dew at an early age. I’m not talking about that sickly sweet syrupy soft drink that came in the green bottle bearing the ominous warning, "It’ll tickle yore innards."

Nope, I’m talking about the real thing.

I was about ten years old and up some cove near Whittier. It was my first time ever to visit some family friends at their place, and I was sitting alone on the porch when another boy, a year or two younger than me, approached with a glass of water. At least, I assumed it was a glass of water. He held it out toward me and smiled, "You want some moonshine? I put rock candy in it and that makes it good. I like it!"

It wasn’t water. And I didn’t particularly like it.

As far as that other little boy is concerned, I wonder how his liver is holding up these days.

He may have been the first, but certainly not the last, mischievous guy to offer me a swig of corn squeezins’. If I had a hankering for the stuff today, though, I really don’t know who could help me out. But thanks to a new film by Neal Hutcheson, I’m (almost) inspired enough to revive a timeless mountain tradition and make a batch myself.

The Last One follows Popcorn Sutton to a suitably secluded spot in the mountains where he proceeds to set up a still and make one "last" batch of illegal liquor. If it’s not a step-by-step guide to do-it-yourself distilling, it’s the next closest thing.

Several months ago, I posted a story on Popcorn, and I continue to get hits almost daily from people searching for his book, Me and My Likker, and his self-produced video, The Last Run of Likker I'll Ever Make. The last I heard, Popcorn was facing federal charges and the people of Maggie Valley were circulating a petition asking the judge to go easy on him.

By the end of The Last One, I had a new-found respect for the technical knowledge of a craftsman like Popcorn Sutton. Some of the old traditions that have been a mainstay in these hills, like running dogs and making ‘shine, are fading fast. And the time will likely arrive, sooner rather than later, when they’ll just be memories.

Fortunately, Neal Hutcheson has preserved a closeup look at the work of one mountain master keeping his tradition alive. I’d like to see a sequel, where Popcorn could tell us more of what would no doubt be an endless string of stories from a lifetime of bootlegging.

I don’t consider it a shortcoming of The Last One that Popcorn Sutton remains as much an enigma at the end of the film as at the beginning. Questions remain unanswered. Is Popcorn Sutton the genuine article? Or is he a caricature of himself?

But in raising those questions, I recognize they could just as easily apply to the rest of us. To what extent are any of us authentic people and to what extent are we self-consciously (or unconsciously) playing roles?

While Popcorn Sutton is more than willing to reveal the secrets of crafting fine likker, he is much more guarded about the secrets of crafting Popcorn Sutton. And to that extent, I’d call The Last One a mystery story.


Neal Hutcheson produced The Prince of Dark Corners, written by Gary Carden and featuring Milton Higgins as the outlaw Lewis Redmond. Hutcheson has produced other films with local connections, including The Queen Family and Mountain Talk. They’re all available at the Sucker Punch Productions website,

Moonshiner Popcorn Sutton with mountain musician Abigail Moore in The Last One.
Photo by Neal Hutcheson

Friday, November 28, 2008

We Are All Kituwah People

Thanksgiving morning at Kituwah

What better way to spend Thanksgiving, I figured, than to go bicycling around Cades Cove.

The night before, I'd packed everything I would need in order to get an early start. After the alarm clock goes off at 6:00 sharp, I grab a cup of coffee and my keys and start for the door. At the last minute, I decide to invite someone to go along with me.

What better way to see Cades Cove, I figured, than through the eyes of a thirteenth century Persian poet.

I have plenty of room for Rumi.

Under the best of circumstances, Cades Cove is not exactly a quick jaunt from Oscar, NC. But it is unusually quiet on the roads, and I find myself wishing it were like this every day.


Up a ways on the Oconaluftee, the sun has not yet come over the ridge. Purple light floats over the frozen meadow. A coyote stands by a ditch, waiting for some doomed field mouse to move beneath the frozen grass. Wary of my stopping to watch, that coyote decides to leave. She starts across the field, each stride longer than the last, accelerating into the woods, and then pausing long enough to tell me, "You can’t get there from here. You cannot cross the mountain. You must follow the river."

And, of course, the coyote is correct.

With the unexpected change of course, I find myself at Kituwah, and it is too pretty not to stop.

Kituwah was considered a mother town, and upon meeting their Eastern brethren, the Western Cherokees would declare, "We are all Kituwah people." This ground has been occupied for 5000 years. Off in the distance, faded stalks still stand in a cornfield. I stop to consider how much corn has sprung from this field. How many different varieties of corn have grown here over the centuries?

I try to imagine one day here, say, July 4, 1776. I can see the corn, vigorous and green, being tended by people of all ages. In a few weeks, the corn would be destroyed, the village itself wiped out, by Griffith Rutherford.

People are buried in this ground, perhaps a thousand or more. I wonder if the flock of birds swooping overhead knows that. I wonder if the gaggle of Canada geese, honking and shuffling through the cornfield, knows that.

In a graceful gesture, the poet sweeps his hand across this plain, and speaks:

Sometimes a body rises to the surface
Like Joseph coming out of his well of abandonment
To be the clarity that divides Egypt’s wheat fairly
And interprets the royal dreaming.

Some people say about human beings, Dust to dust.
But how can that be true of one
Who changes road dust to doorway?

The crop appears to be one thing
When it is still in the field.
Then the transformation time comes,
And we see how it is: half chaff, half grain.

He stops and gives me a big grin. I look back at him, my skepticism poorly hidden. I start to say something, but thinking better of it, get into the truck. We continue down the river road.

It’s still a long, long way to Cades Cove…

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's that day again! That day set aside for our customary expression of thankfulness and gratitude through the ritual of gluttonous overindulgence. But I'm not complaining. If humans were rational beings, life would be a lot less interesting. So, as they always say, Happy Thanksgiving!


Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them the rest of us could not succeed.
- Mark Twain

The proximity of a desirable thing tempts one to overindulgence. On that path lies danger.
-Frank Herbert

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.

Observance of customs and laws can very easily be a cloak for a lie so subtle that our fellow human beings are unable to detect it. It may help us to escape all criticism, we may even be able to deceive ourselves in the belief of our obvious righteousness. But deep down, below the surface of the average man's conscience, he hears a voice whispering, 'There is something not right,' no matter how much his rightness is supported by public opinion or by the moral code.
- Carl Gustav Jung

If you cannot avoid overeating at a feast, leave the table and find relief by vomiting.
-The Wisdom of Ben Sira, 2nd Century B.C

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty
-Abraham Lincoln

It is the just doom of laziness and gluttony to be inactive without ease and drowsy without tranquility
-Samuel Johnson

To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.
-Albert Schweitzer

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. - G. K. Chesterton

Monday, November 24, 2008

More Clay Sepulchres?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Silas McDowell’s discovery of clay sepulchres in the Cullasaja Valley. As I summarized then, here’s what he unearthed:

The slabs of burnt clay, found by Silas McDowell while plowing a bottomland field, bore the mold of a human figure. Presumably, the native people would dig a grave, and place a layer of clay over the corpse. By building a fire on the clay slab, the body of the deceased would be cremated, leaving an impression on the underside of the clay.

McDowell discovered three such clay slabs in 1821, and then none, until 1872 when he found one more.

As far as I know, these slabs were not preserved or cataloged in any collection where we could examine them today. And I found no comparable forms of burial, other than this statement from John Wells Foster, in his 1878 book, Prehistoric Races of the United States:

The Mound-builders of the Ohio Valley, as has been shown, often placed a layer of clay over the dead, but not in immediate contact, upon which they builded fires; and the evidences that cremation was often resorted to in their disposition are too abundant to be gainsaid.

So I note with interest an item posted this weekend by Pipsqeak on the Bio-Archaeologists: We Dig Bones! blog. After commenting on the Cullasaja sepulchres, Pipsqeak remarked on the burials found at Town Creek (Montgomery County, NC), and specifically the burials of the Siouan people who arrived after the Mississippian culture that had previously occupied the Town Creek site. In reference to a photo from a masters thesis by Martha Graham (shown above), Pipsqeak explained:

The Siouans buried their dead in the fetal position, completely flexed. While a lot of Southeastern US groups buried their dead in this position, the interesting thing about this picture is the clay cover that retained the impression of the skeleton….I had originally thought that those reports [burials with clay lids] were anomalies, now it looks like, for the Siouan groups, it was a common practice.

Now, I’m not quite sure what the picture represents. It is similar to what McDowell described, but markedly different, as well. His slabs bore the impression of fleshy bodies in a supine position and with their limbs extended, while the photo above reveal an imprint of skeletal remains in a fetal position. What I don’t understand is how the clay molds of Town Creek came about and to what degree it was intentional.

As chance would have it, I used to visit the Town Creek burial site many years ago when the skeletal remains were still on display to the public. Not long after that federal law prohibited such exhibits. But I can’t recall that cremation was used at Town Creek.

So, questions remain unanswered. While I’m indebted to Pipsqeak for pointing out a possible Siouan connection, I’m still mystified by McDowell’s discovery of clay sepulchres along the Cullasaja.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Forgetting the Marion Massacre

Members of the Philadelphia Full Fashioned Hosiery Workers display their solidarity with the Marion strikers.

If we do not know our own history we are doomed to live it as though it were our private fate. – Hannah Arendt

Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all. – John Maynard Keynes

Sometimes, it’s hard to know what to say. I’ve been reading again about the Marion Massacre and finding far too much to fit into one blog post. The events are compelling, the human stories of resistance and suffering are powerful, and the broader context of labor unrest in the Carolina textile mills is fascinating. I could take any number of tangents: the migration of mountain families to the mill towns of the Western Piedmont in the early 1900s, Eugene V. Debs and socialism, Ella Mae Wiggins and protest songs, racism within the union movement, and various novels inspired by the textile strikes. The story connects with me on so many levels that I don’t know where to start.

So I'll start with this; we suffer from our inability to learn the lessons of history. The financial collapse of 2008 is not entirely unlike the stock market crash of 1929. In both cases, the meltdown was the culmination of a long, long trend. Remember "Morning in America" and the dawn of the Reagan Era? The Gipper was a happy champion of free enterprise, but somewhere along the line, unfettered capitalism turned into legalized thievery. For a very few, legalized thievery has been very good, but it has led to a sorry end for most of us. Members of Congress (those public servants who are never guilty of hypocrisy) put on a good rhetorical show this week when they grilled the Big Three automakers, chastising them for disembarking from private luxury jets "tin cups in hand," and comparing them to tycoons "lining up at the soup kitchen in top hats and tuxedos." Zingers like that would be funny if the situation weren’t so sad.

Behind it all, I keep seeing how silence and amnesia deprive us the lessons of history and rob us of our power in fundamental ways. That’s true from the most personal level to the global level. And so I figure the re-telling of the stories is a protest against mute forgetfulness. To anyone who will listen, I contend "Storytelling is essential to the survival of a culture." In that light, I've been considering how to approach the Marion Massacre, which occurred just three weeks before the Wall Street crash of '29.

It's funny how my online relationship with Marion, North Carolina has unfolded. Always one to see little absurdities emerging from daily life, I got a chuckle from several billboards and road signs that I spotted in Marion a while back, so I had a bit of fun with it and quickly discovered that some folks in Marion lack a sense of humor.

To me, different places have different "vibes." If one place feels pretty much like another place to you, then you won’t know what I’m talking about. But I’m sure that some readers can identify with me when I say that Marion feels repressive and dark in subtle ways that defy description. Little did I know that Marion was deep into deliberate forgetfulness, drowning in denial.

After reading an interview with Mike Lawing, author of The Marion Massacre, I had a better idea of what it was I was sensing:
Mike Lawing grew up in Winston-Salem, but frequently visited relatives in Marion. He drove past the mill dozens of times, but had never once heard anybody mention what happened there. He was well into middle age when his father pointed to the site one day and started to tell him about it. The elder Lawing had three uncles working in the Marion and Clinchfield mills--two supported the strike, one was "loyal" to the company. Lawing's mother was related to a deputy accused of shooting at strikers as well as the attorney who represented the Union. "It was as if both sides were ashamed of what had happened, and nobody wanted to talk about it."

Perry Deane Young, who conducted the Lawing interview, commented on how the Marion Massacre had been relegated to obscurity until Lawing researched the history of the event:
With admirable persistence, Lawing has succeeded in getting this story home to the folks in Marion and McDowell County whether they want to talk about it or not…. If his book does not make it on any kind of statewide or national stage, at least he will have helped to erase the long conspiracy of silence and confronted the folks back home with the facts about this tragic event in local history.

There are several, sometimes conflicting, accounts of the Marion Massacre, but here’s one capsule summary of what happened:
During the 1929 Textile strikes in North Carolina the workers at the Marion Manufacturing Co. held out against evictions and hunger and disease for nine weeks. They went back to their jobs at the end of nine weeks when the company promised to grant most of their demands. These promises were never kept, and the company officials, fearing another strike, began to bully and threaten the workers.The foreman on the night shift was worse than most. One night he began to threaten and goad one of the boys. When the boy could stand it no longer he ran to the lever which controls the power of the plant and pulled it. The machines stopped. The men walked out.

That was Oct. 2, the first day of the second strike at the Marion Manufacturing Co., the same day that Sheriff Adkins and his deputies shot and killed six men and wounded twelve others, most of whom were shot in the back while trying to escape the fumes of tear gas.

In the end, all of the lawmen were acquitted of all charges, thanks to lawyers paid for by the factories. Some of the strikers were convicted of rioting. Testimony came out on both sides at trial. The right of the sheriff to maintain order and the need to act in self-defense prevailed. Union organizing did not return to Marion.

Sinclair Lewis witnessed the events in Marion and wrote a series of newspaper articles later republished in the volume, Cheap and Contented Labor:
The workers, especially in Marion, have become discouraged. They are hungry, tired, bewildered. They are sick of being shot down. Unless the whole country encourages them (and there are few more delicate and tactful forms of encouragement than dollar bills), they will crawl back into the slavery I have sought to picture here.

It was reported that no minister of the town of Marion or of the neighboring towns would come near the dead or their families. A stranger from another state conducted the funeral and during the services an old mountain preacher, Cicero Queens, dropped before the coffins of the slain workers, spread out his arms and called out in prayer:

O, Lord Jesus Christ, here are men in their coffins,
blood of my blood, bone of my bone.
I trust, O God, that these friends will go to a better place
than this mill village or any other place in Carolina.

O God, we know we are not in high society,
but we know Jesus Christ loves us.
The poor people have their rights, too.
For the work we do in this world,
is this what we get when we demand our rights?

Jesus Christ, Your Son, O Lord, was a working man.
If He were to pass under these trees today,
He would see these cold bodies lying here before us.
Dear God, do feed the broken hearts
of these loved ones left behind.

Dear God, do feed their children.
Drive selfishness and cruelty out of your world.
May these weeping wives and little children
have a strong arm to lean on.

Dear God, what would Jesus do
if He were to come to Carolina?

Let’s get back to my story. I grew up in North Carolina. In fact, I grew up in a Piedmont cotton mill town. My dad worked in the mill. I worked in the mill, for a brief time. The socio-economic disparities of life in a cotton mill town are not some academic abstraction for me, but are ingrained in who I am. If our North Carolina History class, back in the schools of that mill town, ever included a lesson on the labor movement in the textile mills, I must have been sleeping. Maybe things have changed, but I doubt it. I suspect our young Tar Heel scholars learn about Blackbeard and Virginia Dare and the Battle of King’s Mountains, and never hear a word about Ella Mae Wiggins and the strike at Loray Mills.

If we forget about the injustices of the past - the exploitation and abuse of workers in the textile mills of 1929 – that makes it easier to overlook the exploitation and abuse in, say, North Carolina’s poultry processing plants of 2008. And some people want to keep it that way. The establishment has protected its privileged status by splintering any threats to entrenched power. As a result, the white man looks down on the black man, the linthead looks down on the chicken plucker, the middle class looks down on the underclass. Divide and conquer with a wink and a nod. Anyone speaking out against the corporate overlords is fomenting, heaven forbid, class warfare! Puh-leeze...

So bring on the venomous comments from Marion, NC in response to my rant. Call me a socialist or a communist or an ignorant ass. I don't pretend to know if capitalism is inherently good or bad. I’m simply observing that unfettered capitalism can be just as tyrannical as any system out there, and that the Marion Massacre showed us the deadly side of free enterprise.

It's unfortunate that Marionites (or anyone else, for that matter) believe there's some virtue in forgetting it ever happened.


Frank Welling and John McGhee, recording as the Martin Brothers, released their version of the Marion Massacre on the Paramount label in 1930, with the following lyrics:

A story now I'll tell you,
Of a fearful massacre,
Which happened down in Dixie
On the borders of the sea.

[Chorus]There'll be no sorrow there,
There'll be no sorrow there,
In heaven above,
Where all is love,
There'll be no sorrow there.

'Twas in Marion, North Carolina
In a little mountain town,
Six workers of the textile mills
In cold blood were shot down.'

Tis ever the same old story
With the laborers of our land.
They're ruled by mighty powers,
And riches they command.

Why is it over money,
These men from their friends must part,
A' leaving home and loved ones
With a bleeding, broken heart?

But some day they'll meet them
On that bright shore so fair,
And live in peace forever,
There'll be no sorrow there.

It started over money,
The world's most vain desire,

These men were only asking
Their rights and nothing more,
That their families would not suffer
With a wolf at ever door.

The UNC Library has a transcript online of a 1975 interview with Union organizers Vesta and Sam Finley who organized the Marion workers in 1929:

In a later post, I'll have more from Sinclair Lewis, but for now, this:

...the belligerent Marion druggist cornered one of the objectionable outsiders - a small, trim man, unknown to Marion and presumably a newspaper reporter.

"All reporters," said the druggist, "are dirty Communists. And I got a way with Communists." He produced a knife with a six-inch blade. "Do you know what I'm going to do with this?' he amiably inquired.

"No," the small, trim man said. "But I know what I'm going to do if you don't put that bread-carver away. I'm going to punch you in the snoot!"

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie

Welcome to Marion, North Carolina!

Several months ago, I posted a couple of stories on Marion, North Carolina. I fancy myself something of a travel writer, so I enjoyed the opportunity to describe the cultural attractions, the shopping opportunities and the fine dining that await you in one of the most excellent towns you’ll visit in all of central McDowell County. Should the Marionites ever want to claim the title of “The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie” then I’d be happy to provide documentation supporting their case. You see, in the months since I posted the stories on Marion, North Carolina, I’ve received a number of kind comments from the fine folks of that fair town.

Just this week, “Bonnie” wrote to say that she was impressed with my coverage of what shall forevermore be (in my mind) “The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie.”

Well...very impressive observations you make. May jock itch continue to grow on you and may you never visit Marion, NC again.

One day later, she added this comment:

"I’m not welcome in Marion, North Carolina." You ARE a little brighter than you seem at first glance, aren't you? Since you realize the truth that you're not welcome maybe you will now be bright enough to stay the hell out!

I appreciate the fact that Marionites show such a deep interest in the well-being of visitors to their friendly town. Nothing so bland and generic as “Y’all come back, ya’ he’ah…” In Marion, the greetings are more, shall we say, PERSONAL and HEARTFELT. Take, for instance, this anonymous response to my restaurant review:

Bantam Chef is one of the best places to eat in marion, you ignorant ass. You should really get to know a counties people and food before you decide your too good for it. My mother in law works there and we love to eat there. Maybe you should keep your happy ass in california or keep your rude comments to yourself.

Actually, I have no intention of leaving my heart in San Francisco or my happy ass in California. I figured Bantam Chef was one of the best places to eat in Marion, which is why I chose it, but anyhow…

"Rae" tells me there are plenty of other great places to eat when (or if) I ever go back to Marion:

Maybe if you had a more positive attitude when coming to Marion you wouldn't have such a problem with it. How about next time you come by you eat at a place like Little Sienna restaurant or go to the Crooked Door Coffee House on Main Street or visit the Old Train Station where former President Clinton recently spoke in support of Hilary's campaign or go to Lake James State Park,The Carson House or Linville Caverns and Linville Falls.

Another anonymous reader commented on multiculturalism in Marion:

HAHA, I'm a Marionite (transplanted) and yeah we tend to stare but don't let that fooled you- oops, too late. Being Asian, Marion beats all the places I've been to (N, S, Mid-west) and lived in (MI, GA). I'm still trying to figure out how in the heck a hick town like this can be so much more than first impression. Maybe it was those greasy gyros from the Bantam Chef, I never did much cared for BLT from any restaurant, anyhow. Yeah, the folks here is a bit backwoods nostalgia, but that is how I like it.

Yet another anonymous Marionite indicated that the recent passage of liquor sales in Marion should give people even more reason to smile:

I live in Marion and for the most part, people will be friendly to your face but they dont accept any form of outsiders and they do all seem to have that same look about them. Like they hate life and can't understand why anyone ever smiles. Maybe its the inbreeding, not sure but its a dying town, that's for certain. Now that the liquior law finally got passed now though, hopefully some new blood and businesses can make a place here and give people a place to go, something to do and hopefully something to smile to about instead of the daily condemning people to hell if they are different. Not bitter, just tired. Been here a while, like the weather but most of the people I don't especially care for. I keep to myself, stay home and smile all day! :) dont go to that coffee shop, crooked sux, they have dogs running around up there that bite and get hair in the coffe and cheesecake. :P damn repubilcans.

Helpfully, “libbi greene” weighed in with a resounding endorsement of “The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie.”

I have read your "comments" with interest! Although I have lived in Miami, New Hampshire, Charlotte, And Knoxville, I DO find this place quite nice. I don't have to wear mace or protective equipment to walk to the store. I don't have to worry about the kids playing by the school. I have a very nice home on a medium income that I can afford and I don't have to grab a cab if I want to go somewhere. Although you feel these signs are's to keep small people like you, little guys with no imagination, way back wherever your lonely and insecure soul (if you have one) is hopefully not reproducing. Your poor parents!!! What a shame they have to call you "son" much less sane.

Well, perhaps libbi greene need not wear mace or protective equipment to walk to the store, but should I return to Marion any time soon that’s precisely what I plan on wearing.

Finally, we heard from one reader on the verge of moving to Marion who already had the image of friendly people firmly in mind...well, maybe not so firmly:

I am planning to move to Marion, NC in three weeks. Now I am not sure I want to! I had this image that the people were friendly, and it was a nice place to move...If anyone can tell me something positive please do!!

For the original postings on "The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie" go to:

I'll conclude with a few lines from a Woody Guthrie song, inspired by an infamous 1929 incident in "The Friendliest Little Town in Dixie." At the very least, Marion is a friendlier place today than it was in 1929 when deputies gunned down striking mill workers. But if you do go to Marion for a friendly visit, I suggest you NOT bring up that unpleasant chapter from the past. (Although I intend to, after hearing the 1930 recording of "Marion Massacre" and reading Sinclair Lewis's eyewitness account of the strike. The town has a significant history. Apparently they also have a HUGE RUG under which they've tried to sweep that history. No wonder Marionites are so damned touchy and thin-skinned. The Marion Massacre is quite a story, but it's a story for another day.)

By the way, "Bonnie" and "anonymous" and the rest of you friendly folks, I AM coming back to Marion, North Carolina one of these days, and when I do, I INTEND TO PARK ON YOUR SIDEWALKS! BE AFRAID. BE VERY AFRAID.

'Twas in Marion, North Carolina,
In a little mountain town;
Six workers of the textile
In cold blood were shot down.
--From "The Marion Massacre" by Woody Guthrie

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

High and Dry on the West Fork, Part Five

I didn't think there'd be a Part Five, at least not yet. But while researching an unrelated story I came across an old account of a trip to the High Falls of the Tuckasegee, ca. 1880.

Wilbur Zeigler and Ben Grosscup travelled extensively through these mountains, as re-told in their 1883 book, The Heart of the Alleghanies.

The following paragraphs from that book describe their journey from Webster to Hamburg, including a visit to the famous falls of the Tuckasege...with a "thirsty" artist in tow.

Webster is an antiquated village, on the summit of a red hill, silently overlooking the Tuckasege river. It has a population of about 200, and is the county-seat of a large and fertile section of the mountains. About forty-five miles south of the village, by the way of the river road, is Highlands, an objective point for the tourist.

East La Porte is one of the points passed on the river. It is a country post, with two stores, a school-house or academy, and a few houses. The academy, resembling a Tell chapel, is situated on a hill-top in a bend of the Tuckasege. As this structure rises from the forest-crowned hill, around whose base sweeps the sparkling river, with a line of distant mountains for its back ground, it is extremely picturesque. The road up Shoal Creek mountain, on the way to Cashier's Valley and Highlands, is noted for its wild scenery. Frail wooden bridges span deep ravines echoing with the roar of waters ; the road winds at times around the steep side of the wooded mountain ; then again it dips down to the margin of the stream.

The falls of Grassy creek are close in full view at one point. The water of this stream in order to empty into the larger stream, flings itself over a perpendicular cliff, falling through space with loud roar and white veil-like form. The stupendous falls of the Tuckasege are near this Shoal creek road, but it is not advisable for the tourist to attempt the tramp to them by this wild approach.

In our last pilgrimage up the mountain we attempted it. A few incidents which occurred on this trip may prove interesting to the reader. The artist was with me. Stopping at McCall's lonely cabin, we hired a twelve-year-old boy for a quarter to act as our guide. The day was uncomfortably warm. We led our horses up a mile ascent, so steep, that in scaling it not a dry spot remained on our underclothes. Then we tied the panting animals and walked and slid down a mountain side whose steepness caused us to grow pale when we contemplated the return.

When we reached the dizzy edge of the precipice above the thundering cataract, the artist, unused to so arduous a journey, was in such a state of prostration, that he could not hold a pencil between his thumb and fingers. To sketch was impossible; to breathe was little less difficult for him. We rested a few minutes, viewing from above the mad plunge of white waters, and then, with the small boy's help, I carried, pushed, and pulled my exhausted companion up the ascent to the horses.

How many times he fell prostrate on that desolate mountain slope, stretching wide his arms and panting like a man in his last agony, we failed to keep account of. The last spoonfull of medicine in a flask taken from the saddle-bags enabled him to mount his horse, and we rode off around a flinty mountain with warm air circling through the trees and the hollow voice of the upper falls of the Tuckasege, seen below us in the distance, sounding in our ears.

We dragged our horses after us down a steep declivity; passed a muddy-looking cabin; wended through a deserted farm under an untrimmed orchard, with rotten peaches hanging to the limbs ; startled several coveys of quails from the rank grass; entered a green, delicious forest alive with barking gray squirrels; and then, through several rail fences and troublesome gates, reached the sandy road leading into Hamburg, — a store with a post office. It is the ancient site of a fort of that name erected for use in case of Indian depredations.

Here we tried to get something to more fully resuscitate the still trembling artist, but everything had gone dry; and all the encouragement we received was a cordial invitation, from a man who was hauling a log to a neighboring saw-mill, to come and spend a week at his house, and he would have a keg of blockade on hand for us. This manner of the mountaineers of inviting strangers to visit them is illustrative of their warm-hearted natures. W. N. Heddin was the logger who extended this invitation. I had met him once before while on a tramp through Rabun county, Georgia, where he was then living.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

High and Dry on the West Fork, Part Four

For purposes of comparison, I present three photographs taken at the High Falls on the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River, and all from roughly the same position relative to the upper portion of the falls. The first photo below (courtesy of WCU Special Collections) was posted recently on The Southern Highland Reader.
For a sense of perspective, note the hikers in the middle left of the picture.

The next shot was taken November 15, 2008. Perhaps the recent rains contributed to a greater stream flow than I had expected. Obviously, it doesn’t compare to the volume of water that flowed prior to completion of the Glenville (Thorpe) Dam in 1941.

I will guess that the final shot of the upper portion of the High Falls was taken during the flow test conducted in June 2001.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

High and Dry on the West Fork, Part Two

The Trail Gods were smiling on me.

I took off in search of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee without knowing how to get there. Oh, I had a vague idea of where to go, but nothing definite. I drove slowly along a gravel road when a still small voice spoke: "Park here and walk down the hill." So I did. After a fifteen-minute descent, I reached a trail alongside the West Fork of the Tuckasegee. Appraising the terrain in both directions, I decided to turn upstream, and after another fifteen minutes, reached my destination. This wound up being a lot easier than I expected, even without any trail signs or markers.

I was reminded, once again, that November is an ideal time for hiking. After the rainy days, the woods had a pungent oak leaf fragrance unique to this month. With the trees bare, visibility was good. And the newly fallen leaves retained the warm russet tones that contrast so beautifully with the deep greens of the rhododendrons lining the river banks.

But I kept a fast pace, eager to reach the fabled falls. When I arrived, I was surprised at the volume of water still flowing, but I knew I was seeing a ghost of a waterfall, a trace of what it had been before the dam held back the waters that belonged to this river. I felt like I was walking into a huge stone bowl that had broken in half. Looking up, I saw the curving stone cliffs that surrounded and defined this large, open space. I clambered around on the slippery rocks, to view the falls from different vantage points. And I thought about Henry Colton, Margaret Morley, and all the others who had paused here in awe.

It was more than I had time to explore on this day. After a while, I started back down river and soon reached another impressive waterfall on a small branch flowing into the West Fork. A newly-built log stairway extended part of the way up the falls, and a brass plaque identified this as Thurston Hatcher Falls. Although I’ve learned nothing about Thurston Hatcher (1924-1990), I’d like to know how he managed to get a waterfall named after him.

On my way home, I did travel past another piece of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee. I wouldn’t have known it except for this - thirty years ago, some students from Western Carolina University interviewed elderly local residents. One woman, identified only as "Hazel," commented on the university’s buildings:
They all look like institutional buildings anyhow, sort of like a prison. I wish the architects had a little imagination. The prettiest building up there is one my husband built, the Breese Gymnasium. Made out of native stone, and they hewed ‘em out by hand. Brought ‘em from the old High Falls on the Tuckasegee River. They cut ‘em out and brought ‘em down here in the shape they are now.

If Part One of this story on the High Falls was about the past, and Part Two is about the present, then we'll need a Part Three to address the future: Tuckasegee Falls, the High Falls of the Tuckasegee, way up on the West Fork, might soon roar the way it used to roar, if only for brief and fleeting moments.

I’m looking forward to it.
For a slide show of photos from the West Fork:

Friday, November 14, 2008

High and Dry on the West Fork, Part One

The High Falls of the Tuckasegee, also known as Tuckasegee Falls, on the West Fork of the Tuckasegee River, Jackson County, NC

The Falls of the Tuckasegee River, in Jackson County, are thought, by many, to surpass in beauty anything of the kind they have ever seen.
-Henry E. Colton, Mountain Scenery, 1859.

The High Falls of the Tuckasegee unquestionably rank among the three or four most beautiful and impressive cataracts in the Tennessee Valley.
-The Scenic Resources of the Tennessee Valley, 1938.

Who would have known that those of us living in Jackson County have such a magnificent natural wonder in our own backyard? As soon as I found the photographs and read the descriptions, I started preparing for my own pilgrimage to the High Falls of the Tuckasegee.

I scrounged up some sketchy directions, studied topo maps (both current and archival maps) and turned in last night with visions of Tuckasegee Falls dancing in my head. My plans to roll out of bed early and hit the trail at dawn were dashed when I woke to the sound of a steady rain. But as soon as it slacks off, I'm there...

Unfortunately, I'm about 70 years too late, and I know it.

If our neighbor to the east, Transylvania County, can claim the title "Land of Waterfalls," then Jackson County has a right to call itself "Land of LOST Waterfalls."

Take, for instance, Dills Cove Falls, pictured here:

This lovely waterfall, in the town limits of Sylva, ceased to exist in the early 1970s. As reported in Waterfalls Destroyed a four-lane highway was considered more important.

The story of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee is not quite so tragic. The riverbed and the cliffs are still place. All that's missing is the water. The culprit in the disappearance of Tuckasegee Falls is Thorpe Reservoir, or Glenville Lake, completed in 1941. The flow of water through the West Fork of the Tuckasegee is being diverted to generate electricity to power things so essential to our way of this computer.

In contrast to the finality of the Dills Cove story, there is a tantalizing possibility for the future of the High Falls of the Tuckasegee. But I'll save that for a later day.

For now, suffice it to say the time might come again when we will see what Margaret Morley saw a century ago on her trip from Cullowhee to Highlands:

THERE is joy also in the valleys. From them you look up to the mountains transfigured by a light that crowns them in beauty. In the valleys are the homes of the people, the leafy inclosing hills, and the winding roads, following which a new picture unfolds each moment as you pass along. Leaving Whittier and facing towards the Blue Ridge, one may follow the valleys across the plateau from one bordering range to the other. When you come to the beautiful Cullowhee Valley, you ought to be going the other way, however, for the Balsam Mountains, lying so splendidly against the sky, are behind you, and you are constantly looking back as the valley opens and shuts and those noble heights come and go.

And what does one now see beyond the Balsams? — those spirit-like forms high in the sky? It is the line of the Smoky Mountains, rehabilitated since we left them, and restored to their wonted place in the heavens. As the road winds on and up, you turn to see again and yet again the deep-toned Balsams and that line of dream mountains that grows higher as you ascend. "It's been heavy draughting all the evening." These words from your driver bring your thoughts down to the road which, from recent rains and the passing of tanbark wagons, is, indeed, as he puts it, "terribly gouted out." But you are now up the mountain and crossing the gap where, at the turn in the road, that long white waterfall comes gliding down the slanting cliff, and beyond it in the distance the Balsam Mountains rise, purple, indigo blue, and deep green against a cloudy sky.

Just beyond here you get some one to guide you a mile or two along a wild ravine where the jack-vine grows, to the upper falls of the Tuckasegee, one of the grandest falls in the mountains, the thunder of which is heard for a long distance. Although not so high as the other cascade seen from the road, it is far more impressive, for the much wider sheet of water leaps over a vertical cliff bordered on either side with stern walls of granite. Striking a projecting ledge it separates into two parts to leap again, a mass of foam, to the bottom of the ravine. It is cool and sweet in the spray of the thundering waters and you reluctantly turn back and climb out of the shadowy gorge where the tall trees are draped in vines, among them the great jack-vine whose cables sagging heavily from the tree-tops produce a weird effect in the semi- twilight of the gorge. Nothing in the forest is more suggestive of tropical growths than these enormous vines with their large leaves, the bark peeling in tatters from the stem that when dead separates for its whole length into flat ribbons, black and strange-looking.

Out of the dark gorge, up to the bright sunlight of the road you climb, and continuing on your way, the cliffs that distinguish the country about Highlands soon begin to appear above the trees. Up you mount, now through a forest fragrant with hemlock and white azalea, now over cool, hurrying streams, now close to damp cliffs with little plants in the crevices, the way darkened by the hemlock trees that grow so freely here, on and up, finally to attain the very summit of the Blue Ridge — and find yourself at Highlands.

(From The Carolina Mountains, 1913)

Looking out my window right now, I see blue sky breaking through the clouds. Tuckasegee Falls, here I come...

Dills Cove Falls was located just to the east of SR 1380 (Dills Cove Road) where 23/74 now runs. The street above the falls is still called Falls Circle.

View Larger Map

A Walk Through the Cemetery

For somebody with no intention of ending up in one, I certainly have an affinity for cemeteries. After exploring a stretch of the Cullasaja Valley where Silas McDowell unearthed mysterious clay sepulchres of the ancients, I decided to roll on into Franklin and revisit Mr. McDowell's burial place.

There on a hill above the First United Methodist Church, I remembered how much I like cemeteries, and the older the better. This cemetery contains the grave of at least one Revolutionary War veteran, which is something you don’t see very often in these Western North Carolina graveyards.

I found the grave of Silas McDowell, and it got me to wondering why his wife and the rest of his family weren’t buried there along with him. Add that to my long list of things to investigate.

Anyhow, I sat down and had a little talk with Silas. We go back a long ways and never run out of things to be amazed at. I talked about how these mountains have changed. And I talked about how they’ve stayed the same - more so than most people realize. And he was glad to hear it.

Leaving Silas, I ambled through the cemetery in search of other stories. On the stone marking the grave of James Robinson, I read "If the actions of a good man can endear his memory, this stone will be often visited."

Nearby, a matched pair of stones told the story of yet another damnable war. In a span of less than four months, John and Mary Siler lost two sons to the Civil War. James Wimer Siler died April 8, 1862 in Petersburg, Virginia. William Theodore Siler died July 24, 1862 in Richmond, Virginia. Enough said.

A cemetery is a good place to be, alright, especially if you’re above ground rather than under. I know I’m not alone in my enjoyment of cemeteries. Once again, no matter your field of interest, the web will hook you up with like-minded souls.

Take, for instance, the Cemetery Club Blog, by the editor of Epitaphs Magazine. After a quick review of this site, I find that my enthusiasm for cemeteries pales in comparison to that of the dedicated taphophiles of the world.

Or check out the Cemetery Lovers Headquarters:
The group for anyone who loves cemeteries! Whether your hobby is headstone rubbing, genealogy, family history, cemetery photography, cemetery preservation, or any aspect of cemeteries, this is the place to be!

Cemetery Lovers provides a link to a collection of odd gravestone epitaphs, including this one, seen in a London cemetery:

Ann Mann
Here lies Ann Mann,
Who lived an old maid
But died an old Mann
Dec. 8, 1767

Who says cemeteries can’t be fun?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Clay Sepulchres Along the Cullasaja

The Cullasaja field where the clay sepulchres were found. Beyond the river, Corundum Hill rises in the background.

In the 1870s, objects unearthed along the Cullasaja River caught the attention of the archaeological world. Well over a century later, I’m not sure we’ve gotten a satisfactory explanation for the clay sepulchres of Macon County. The slabs of burnt clay, found by Silas McDowell while plowing a bottomland field, bore the mold of a human figure. Presumably, the native people would dig a grave, and place a layer of clay over the corpse. By building a fire on the clay slab, the body of the deceased would be cremated, leaving an impression on the underside of the clay.

News of the clay sepulchres appeared in academic journals and in newspapers across the country. Silas McDowell shared the story through a letter published in the June 22, 1872 issue of Scientific American, under the heading, The Cherokee Tribe of Indians – A Subject Interesting to Antiquarians:

To the Editor of the Scientific American:
If I am correct in memory, it was near twenty years ago when I met with Henry E. Colton in Macon county, North Carolina, and his business seemed to be an enquiry to myself: "What could have been the intentions of the Cherokee Indians in building so many large earth mounds that were met with in the low grounds of these mountain valleys?"

My reply was that "the Cherokee tribe of Indians disclaimed all knowledge of the origin of those earth mounds, as well as the purposes for which they were built; and, furthermore, that I had evidence, satisfactory to myself, that these mountain valleys had once been inhabited by some race of people antecedent to their occupancy by the Cherokee Indians; and that this fact I inferred from the wide diversity in form, material and quality of their pottery, as well as their edged or cutting utensils, but more particularly as regarded their mode sepulture, which, in all races, is permanently fixed; and in pursuance of this subject, I related to Mr. Colton the following incident:

After the Cherokee Indians abandoned the country in the year 1821, I, in a spirit of romance, became a small farmer in a wild and picturesque valley in the country the Cherokees had left; and while plowing, in a low ground or bottom fields, in passing over a certain spot the plow produced a rumbling hollow sound, and this led to digging – rather scraping away the earth – in quest of the cause; at the depth of fourteen inches I met with charcoal, and then a clay slab that had been so highly indurated by burning that it had the hardness of a brick.

An effort was made to take this slab up entire, as it was but seven feet in length and four in width; but this we failed to do, as it broke in turning it over. But what was out astonishment to find, on the reverse or under side, the complete cast of a human body, not a vestige of which was to be found! From all the appearances, the opinions I formed at that time (and these opinions have not changed) were that at some remote point in the world’s human history, some peculiar race of people inhabited this country, whose mode of sepulture was to place the body of their dead in a shallow grave in a nude state and on its back, with its limbs extended at full length, cover it with soft clay mortar, pile wood upon it and consume the body with fire.

Furthermore, the problem was suggested: May it not be that this race, so far back in the history of man, were the mound builders? In my farming, I found but two other of these burnt clay sepulchres. All of these facts I narrated to Mr. Colton, and about thirty years after their discovery, and after the abrasion of time and the wear of the plow share in farming my lands had reduced these casts in the clay slabs to fragments.

For the first time after the delivery of the above narrative to Mr. Colton, I met with him at a Cherokee Indian ball play, and this was in the year 1860; and he addressed me, as I then thought, somewhat rudely, in these words: "Mr. McDowell, some years ago you described to me some peculiar Indian sepulchres you had found in your fields – have you, since then, discovered any more of them?" My reply was "I have not."

He rejoined: "The reason why I now name this subject is this: I published your narration, and archaeologists and antiquarians give no credit to your story, because, they say, it is contradictive of all the modes of sepulture yet discovered among the various tribes on this continent, and it is due to your reputation as a man of truth to find one and exhibit one of these sepulchres." I was wilted by Mr. Colton’s words and manner, because, not knowing for why, I felt as though I were half a villain. I made him, I fear, an unmannerly reply that was more practical than pious, and have not seen Mr. Henry E. Colton since, nor have I searched for another sepulchre for the purpose of redeeming my lost reputation as a man of truth.

And yet a kind Providence has saved me, from going down to my grave disgraced, in this way: The 16th day of this month was the recurrence of my seventy-seventh birthday [May 16, 1872], and a team of oxen were pulling a deep running plow through my field, when the point of the plow struck upon the side of one of these burnt clay sepulchres and rent from it a small portion of an arm. I had the plowing stopped, and the locality marked, and it shall remain intact until some scientific individual arrives who can superintend the delicate process of raising the sepulchral slab without injury to the cast of the human figure impressed upon it.

I have intrusted the procurement of the proper man to direct this delicate operation to Colonel C. W. Jenks of St. Louis, now superintending, for the American Corundum Company, the working of the Cullasajah corundum mines in this county.
-Franklin, Macon county, N.C. SILAS MCDOWELL
P.S. Since the 25st inst., when Colonel Jenks and myself conversed publicly on the above subject, eleven of these sepulchres have been reported to me, found in different localities.

I’ve not seen the fragments of clay and have no idea what might have happened to them. While I am loathe to doubt my long-time mentor, Silas McDowell, his theory is a bit of a stretch. Could his story be plausible? It is possible that ancient inhabitants of the Cullasaja valley adopted a unique method to dispose of the dead. However, it seems unlikely.

Cremation was rare among Native Americans. My understanding is that for most burials in this area, the body was placed in the fetal position and wrapped in matting or animal skins.

Elsewhere, Ethiopians would cover corpses with a mud-like plaster, but they would not burn the remains. Some native people in present-day Californai and New Jersey would bury a body in the standing position and then build a fire to consume the remains. Nut this was not a widespread practice. If the method said to be employed in Cullasaja was used anywhere else, I’ve not learned of it.

In his 1878 book, Prehistoric Races of the United States, John Wells Foster included a lengthy discussion of the Cullasaja curiosities:

In the mountainous region of North Carolina, as I shall show elsewhere, were situated the great mica mines, yielding a mineral which entered largely into the trappings of the Mound-builder. In this secluded region, secluded even at this day, with all our railroad facilities — for it can only be reached by a rough ride of two days on horseback,' — we meet with the graves of this mysterious race, differing somewhat in their mode of construction from those at distant points.

To Mr. Silas McDowell, a gentleman who has resided in this region (Franklin, Macon County) for more than half a century, I am indebted for the subjoined information. Up to 1819 the Cherokees held possession of this region, when, in pursuance of a treaty, they vacated a portion of the lands lying in the valley of the Little Tennessee River. In 1821 Mr. McDowell commenced farming. During the first season's operations, the plough-share, in passing over a certain portion of a field, produced a hollow, rumbling sound, and, in exploring for the cause, the first object met with was a shallow layer of charcoal, beneath which was a slab of burnt clay, about seven feet in length and four feet broad, which in the attempt to remove, broke into several fragments.

Nothing beneath this slab was found, but on examining its under side, to his great surprise, there was the mould of a naked human figure. Three of these burned clay sepulchres were thus raised and examined during the first year of his occupancy, since which time none have been found until recently. These fragments were so little appreciated that they were suffered to remain in the field, subject to the disintegrating agency of the elements and the tramping of cattle. During the past season (1872) the plough brought up another fragment of one of these moulds, revealing the impress of a plump human arm.

Colonel C. W. Jenkes, the superintendent of the corundum mines which have recently been opened in that vicinity, advises me thus: " We have Indians all about us, with traditions extending back for five hundred years. In this time they have buried their dead under huge piles of stones. We have at one point the remains of six hundred warriors under one pile; but a grave has just been opened of the following construction : A pit was dug into which the corpse was placed, face upwards ; then over it was moulded a covering of mortar, fitting the form and features. On this was built a hot fire, which formed an entire shield of pottery for the corpse. The breaking up of one such tomb gives a perfect cast of the form of the occupant."

Colonel Jenkes, fully impressed with the value of these archaeological discoveries, detailed a man to superintend the exhumation, who proceeded to remove the earth from the mould, which he reached through a layer of charcoal, and then with a trowel, excavated beneath it. The clay was not thoroughly baked, and no impression of the corpse was left, except of the forehead and that portion of the limbs between the ankles and the knees, and even these portions of the mould crumbled.

The body had been placed east and west, the head towards the east. " I had hoped," continues Mr. McDowell, " that the cast in the clay would be as perfect as one that I found fifty-one years ago, a fragment of which I presented to Colonel Jenkes, with the impression of a part of the arm on one side, and on the other of the fingers that had pressed down the soft clay upon the body interred beneath." The Mound-builders of the Ohio Valley, as has been shown, often placed a layer of clay over the dead, but not in immediate contact, upon which they builded fires; and the evidences that cremation was often resorted to in their disposition are too abundant to be gainsaid.

The recovery of a perfect mould of a Mould-builder's form would be a matter of the highest scientific interest ; as much so as of those Roman forms whose impress has been left on the volcanic ashes that settled down upon the ill-fated Pompeii nearly two thousand years ago.

I’m still waiting for the resolution of this mystery.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves;

it is useless to seek it elsewhere.


The truest solitude is not something outside you,

not an absence of men or sound around you;

it is an abyss opening up

in the center of your own soul.

And this abyss of interior solitude

is created by a hunger

that will never be satisfied

with any created thing.


The journey into the inner self is not just the important one,

it is the only one.

We need to listen to the sound beyond the silence.

- W.B.Yeats

Make your heart empty waiting in stillness.

Banish your busy thoughts out from your mind;

Return to quiet.

Take into your calmness the presence of God,

Overflowing with Love, stilling all fear,

Safeguard from all danger;

Rest in God's Peacefulness.

-Lao Tzu (570-490 BCE)

The best remedy for those who are afraid,

lonely, or unhappy

is to go outside,

somewhere where they can be quite alone

with the heavens, nature, and God.

-Anne Frank

Saturday, November 8, 2008

I Shall Come Back

ONCE upon a time at evening-light
A little girl was sad.
There was a color in the sky,
A color she knew in her dreamful heart
And wanted to keep.
She held out her arms
Long, long,
And saw it flow away on the wind.
When it was gone
She did not love the moonlight
Or care for the stars.
She had seen the rose in the sky.
Sometimes I am sad
Because I have a thought
Of this little girl.

- Sunset, by Hilda Conkling

Cataloging my foibles and faults would be an easy thing to do. Surprisingly, a covetous jealousy of other people’s talent is not high among them. I don’t say that in a self-congratulatory way, because I see it more a gift of grace than a sign of good character. Thank God I’ve been given something to counterbalance, in some small degree, my disgustingly over-inflated sense of self-importance.

If I did suffer from that kind of jealousy, I could point to any number of blogs that would turn me green with envy. Appalachian History is one. Appalachian Patria is one. And in keeping with a theme, Appalachian Treks is yet another. Those are some ready examples of bloggers who do what I’d like to do, if only I could do it that well.

More recently, I've been wowed by the work of Kevin Sargent, as I mentioned a week ago. I’ve been enjoying the words and photos from this prolific genius in South Carolina’s Upstate, and while perusing his online galleries this evening, I came across a bit of verse he had reprinted, entitled I Shall Come Back:

I shall be coming back to you
From seas, rivers, sunny meadows,
Glens that hold secrets:
I shall come back with my hands full
Of light and flowers....
I shall bring back things I have picked up,
Traveling this road or the other,
Things found by the sea or in the pinewood.
There will be a pine-cone in my pocket,
Grains of pink sand between my fingers.
I shall tell you of a golden pheasant’s
Will you know me?

I glanced at the credit for this poem:

Hilda Conkling, Age 10, 1922

Age 10? OF course, I had to know more about this prodigy. I’ll confess that I’d never heard of Hilda Conkling before, or if I had, I’d forgotten about a person once described as “the most famous of all child poets in America.”

Hilda Conkling (1910-1986) was the daughter of poet Grace Conkling, who was a professor of English at Smith College. Grace read the very best literature she could find to her daughters from the start, and Hilda responded at age four by speaking her own poems to her mother. Grace transcribed her daughter’s words, broke them into poetic lines and read them back to Hilda, who would make corrections. Hilda Conkling's first book, Poems of a Little Girl, appeared when she was 10, followed soon by Shoes of the Wind and Silverhorn.

Grace Conkling wanted to teach her child self-reliance, so she quit copying down Hilda’s spoken verse when she became a teenager. After that, as far as we know, Hilda never created another poem.

The moon is thinking of the river
Winding through the mountains far away,
Because she has a river in her heart
Full of the same silver.

The full text of Hilda Conkling’s first book, with an introduction by Amy Lowell, is available online as a Project Gutenberg Ebook:

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

-Gil Scott Heron

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trouble in Paradise

The North Carolina State Bar has filed the complaint in its disciplinary action against Avery County attorney Randy Carpenter. The complaint, filed October 23, 2008, is available online at:

Carpenter served as an attorney, surveyor and engineer in various matters concerned the Village of Penland development in Mitchell County. After pulling off the $100 million scam at the development, several of the developers are facing jail terms.

The following information on Carpenter was originally posted in July 2007:

Mr. Carpenter’s name appears in several capacities in many of the activities of Peerless Real Estate and related entities. First of all, numerous corporations were formed to carry out the objectives of Peerless Real Estate Services, Tony Porter, et al. Several of those corporations were listed among the defendants in the Penland lawsuit brought by NC Attorney General Roy Cooper.

For most of those defendant corporations, and for numerous other corporations affiliated with the Peerless group, as well as some corporations involved in the Grandfather Vistas project, Randy A. Carpenter was on record as the initial registered agent. This is a partial list, from the records of the NC Secretary of State, of those corporations and the dates they were established:
Deer Park Estates, Inc. (2/28/02)
SDT, LLC (5/1/02) [Anthony Porter, then of Burton, SC was organizer of that corporation.] The corporation was renamed Communities of Penland, LLC (12/18/02)
Bailey’s Peak Investment Group, LLC (12/16/02)
Bailey’s Peak Reserve, LLC (12/16/02)
Peerless Real Estate Services, Inc. (6/23/03)
COP Preservation Partners, Inc. (12/29/03)
Village of Penand, LLC (5/12/04)
Hanging Rock Fraser Fir, LLC (7/8/04)
MFSL Land Holdings, LLC (8/9/04)
COP Land Holdings, LLC (12/20/05)
Blue River Ridge of Blowing Rock, LLC (2/7/06)
Grandfather Vistas, LLC (3/23/06)

On April 15, 2007, Randy A. Carpenter resigned as registered agent from these (and probably several more) corporations and certified that written notice of resignation had been mailed or delivered to John Perry, Vice President of Peerless Real Estate Services, Inc.


To get a more complete picture of the Peerless developers’ land acquisitions, and Randy Carpenter’s involvement, you need to go back through deeds recorded over the past five years in Mitchell and Avery Counties. In addition to preparing deeds and surveys, Randy Carpenter was a party in the purchase and sale of various properties involved in the Peerless dealings.
Mitchell County deeds are not available online. [ Correction - the Mitchell system is operational again, go to ]

However, you can access Avery County deeds by going to the Avery County register of deeds website to search for various transactions involving Randy Carpenter, RC Avery County Land Holdings LLC, Communities of Penland LLC, COP Preservation Partners, MFSL Landholdings LLC, Hanging Rock Fraser Fir LLC, Mountain Land Company, Roy C. Young, and Angela Whichard, among others.

Here are some of the Avery County deed book and page numbers of interest:


If you turn to page 5 of the December 2004 issue of the NC Bulletin (Newsletter of the NC Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors) you'll find a report of disciplinary actions taken by the Board from August 11, 2003 to October 14, 2004, which includes two cases against Carpenter:

CASE NO. V03-008
Randy A. Carpenter, PLS No. L-3814
Spruce Pine, NC
Map 1
1. Certified a plat which does not comply with the requirements of G.S. 47-30.
2. Failed to accurately locate all watercourses on boundary [.1604(e)(8)].
3. Failed to show calls of property lines [.1604(e)(2)].
4. Failed to report the results of a survey in a clear and factual manner
[.1602(f)] including not showing roads and changes of lot lines.
5. Failed to protect the public by not establishing control corners required by
G. S. 39-32.1 [.0701(b)].
6. Failed to make adequate investigation [.1602(a)].
7. Failed to monument corners [.1602(d)].
8. Failed to properly reference north arrow [.1604(e)(1)].
9. Failed to identify all references sources [.1602(f)].
10. Performed a substandard survey, failing to protect the public [.0701(b)].
11. Failed to provide adequate tie [.1602(g), .1604(e)(9)].
Map 2
1. Failed to properly reference north arrow [.1604(e)(1)].
2. Failed to provide adequate tie [.1602(g), .1604(e)(9)].
Map 3
1. Failed to identify all references sources [.1602(f)].
2. Failed to provide adequate tie [.1602(g), .1604(e)(9)].
3. Failed to properly reference north arrow [.1604(e)(1)].
4. Failed to protect the public by not establishing control corners required by
G. S. 39-32.1 [.0701(b)].
5. Failed to show calls of property lines [.1604(e)(2)].
Map 4
1. Failed to accurately locate all apparent rights-of-way and improvements on
boundary [.1604(e)(8)].
2. Failed to describe monuments as set or found [.1602(f)].
3. Failed to indicate title source [.1604(e)(11)].
4. Failed to provide adequate tie [.1602(g), .1604(e)(9)].
5. Failed to monument corners [.1602(d)].
6. Failed to report the results of a survey in a clear and factual manner
Map 5
1. Failed to accurately locate all apparent rights-of-way and improvements on
boundary [.1604(e)(8)].
2. Failed to indicate ratio of precision [.1603(a)].
3. Certified a plat which does not comply with the requirements of G.S. 47-30,
to include inadequate certificate.
4. Failed to monument corners [.1602(d)].
Map 6
1. Failed to accurately locate all apparent rights-of-way and improvements on
boundary [.1604(e)(8)].
2. Failed to monument corners [.1602(d)].
3. Certified a plat which does not comply with the requirements of G.S. 47-30
to include inadequate certificate.
BOARD ACTION: Pass Ethics course from New Mexico State University or
University of Maine with 70% each part, successfully complete the NC Society of
Surveyors Institute Spring 2004 (courses to be determined by the Board) and
Civil Penalty of $2000. (Combined with Case No. V03-023)

CASE NO. V03-023
Randy C. [sic] Carpenter, PLS No. L-3814
Spruce Pines, NC
VIOLATION: Failed to make adequate investigation [.1602(a)]; failed to examine
most recent deeds and recorded plats of adjacent properties [.1602(c)]; issued
an inaccurate survey creating an encroachment on the adjoining property
[.1602(a),(f)]; and failed to sign and seal a survey not marked as preliminary
BOARD ACTION: Pass Ethics course from New Mexico State University
or University of Maine with 70% each part, successfully complete the NC Society
of Surveyors Institute Spring 2004 (courses to be determined by the Board) and
Civil Penalty of $2000. (Combined with Case No. V03-008)


One interesting diversion for the Peerless developers was participation in the 2005 Latin American and Caribbean Program of Americas Linkage (a program of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, funded by the State of Florida Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development and sponsored by American Airlines).

Americas Linkage program was described as an "opportunity to meet high level executives in
targeted countries, learn about business opportunities, exchange ideas and forge personal bonds that can lead to new business ventures."

Participants in the May 2 session in Rio de Janeiro are identified and several familiar names appear on the list:

Randy Carpenter
Global Trade and Financing
9380 Sunset Dr. # 140
Miami, FL 33177
Phone: 305-596-3606
Fax: 305-596-1336
Sector: Real Estate

Also listed with the same contact information as Mr. Carpenter are Mr. Skip Amelung, Mr. Anthony Porter and Mr. Luis G. Castillo, who also listed a website - - where the company’s mission is described:

We are a privately owned financial services company independent of anygovernment, with the mission to help the private and public sector, operatedby business entrepreneurs who understand the difficulties of obtaining a loan. Our management team represents numerous wholesale lending sources nationwide and internationally.

The 2005 brochure published by the Peerless group touted the company’s "integrated construction products pipeline" including Brazilian hardwoods, Brazilian granite and and Brazilian stone.


Minutes from the October 10, 2005 meeting of the Mitchell County commissioners reflect discussion of the Sanitary District proposed for the Village of Penland development. From the minutes of that meeting:

Mr. Chairman, I am Randy Carpenter, professional engineer with my office located here in Mitchell County. I am also a freeholder within the district and a resident of the district. I have been providing engineering services to the developer for the past four years on this

For whatever reasons, the Village of Penland request for a Sanitary District was withdrawn in March 2006. But, other speakers at the October 10, 2005 meeting referred to the permit issues that the development faced with the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

According to other reports, DENR found that Village of Penland / Communities of Penland violated the Dam Safety Act in restoring Diamond Lake at the Penland property. Apparently, Carpenter filed with DENR on the basis that the restored dam would be lower than 15 feet, but exceeded that limit without the proper permit. And, in working on the dam and development, VOP improperly disturbed wetlands in violation of the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Act. Eventually, they entered into a Settlement Agreement with DENR in December, 2005, agreeing to pay $250,000 in fines (which VOP paid in late 2006) and a $650,000 mitigation fee (which has not been paid, and which liability likely will be inherited by whoever takes on this property). More than one communication from DENR in 2004 and 2005 required that another engineer, besides Mr. Carpenter, supervise project construction.


In May 2007, Randy Carpenter filed liens against various Village of Penland properties for amounts that he asserted were due to him for his work on the Penland development. Carpenter claimed that he was owed $1,388,275.33 plus costs for "professional services including land surveying, civil engineering, master planning environmental/development consulting, construction inspection, and project management" provided from July 1, 2002 through April 17, 2007, as the result of a contractual agreement with Neil O’Rourke, Anthony Porter, Frank Amelung, John Perry, Kevin Foster and Jean Austin.

Copies of those liens are available:


According to the High Country Press article of July 12, 2007, Randy Carpenter intends to establish a 161-acre rock quarry atop Burleson Bald Mountain in Avery County. The proposed quarry triggered debate at the July 10, 2007 meeting of the Avery County Planning Board:

… Randy Carpenter, owner-operator of RC Landholdings, submitted a permit application to the state for the quarry and met with strong resistance from the citizens’ association. [Unincorporated Citizens’ Association to Protect Wildcat Cliffs]
… On May 22, the North Carolina Division of Land Resources conducted a public hearing on Carpenter’s application. Subsequent to the state hearing, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources notified Carpenter by certified letter on June 18 that he had to resolve several issues before his application could be considered for processing.
The modifications to the application reflect the concerns the citizens’ association presented at the public hearing.
… Many attendees also questioned the suggested connection between Carpenter and the board because Carpenter had seated himself at the board’s table prior to the meeting coming to order, giving an impression that he had a connection with the Planning Board. In response to the concerns and to quiet the quickly rising anger in the voices of those complaining, Carpenter was asked to seat himself with the rest of the crowd.

The July 17, 2007 issue of High Country Press reported on issues raised at the Planning Board meeting and addressed during the July 16 meeting of the Avery County Board of Commissioners:

County Attorney Michaelle Poore informed the board that "the county has been served with a notice of a lawsuit to be filed by RC Avery County Landholdings, LLC [Randy Carpenter’s company] against the county for preparatory judgment action seeking to have the 90-day moratorium to halt high-impact development in the county be declared invalid and unconstitutional."

Obviously, we’ve not heard the last of Randy Carpenter.