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.

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