Friday, December 12, 2008

Piling On

A couple of items I read this week brought back some memories almost half a century old.

The first item was in one of my favorite blogs, Rock Piles. I’ve never been to New England, but reading that blog, and reading Thoreau, make me want to go there. The adventurers of Rock Piles document their exploits in search of mysterious arrangements of stone across New England. Recently, the rock piles at one site threatened by developers were found to contain human bones 700 years old.

The next item is a bit closer to home. I was reading John Haywood’s 1823 book, The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee, where he described a supposed Cherokee tradition of stoning adulterous wives:

For they have a tradition that the stone hillocks which are at all the gaps in the mountains and other parts of the country were originally erected by the casting of stones upon women who had been guilty of adultery, and that their bodies were under them. The same practice anciently prevailed in the Crimea amongst the Tartars, whose law it was to make a hole in the ground of depth enough to cover the adulteress up to her chin; then to stone her to death, and to cover her with stones, thrown by hand upon the body.

I’d be curious if a person could find any traces of those rock piles, since Haywood claimed they were at "all the gaps in the mountains."

What these stories brought to mind was a long-ago visit I made to Kings Mountain National Military Park. Kings Mountain is more than one hundred miles east of here on the border of the Carolinas and was the site of an October 1780 battle that turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. While walking the trail there (as a young tyke), I was instructed to pick up a rock and chuck it at the grave of Patrick Ferguson, commander of the British forces. This was our way of expressing contempt for his loyalty to the King. Apparently, it wasn’t enough that Ferguson died in battle. We were expected to add insult to injury. And I do recall a big pile of stones upon his grave.

Although I can’t find any contemporary references to this practice, I did locate a photo of Ferguson’s grave, showing a substantial mound of stones. Not that it was much consolation, but according to some reports, Ferguson did not go to the grave alone. One of his mistresses known only as "Virginia Sal" also died in the Battle of Kings Mountain and is buried with Ferguson.

Also this week, I happened across yet another oddity, Stonepile Gap, near Dahlonega, Georgia. According to legend, this pile of rocks marks the grave of a beautiful Cherokee maiden named Trahlyta. According to Roadside Georgia:

The Cherokee warrior Wahsega, whom she rejected as a suitor, kidnapped and took her to his home. She begged and pleaded for her release, but Wahsega would not permit it. With each day her strength waned, her happiness gone, longing for her mountain forest. As she lay dying Trahlyta asked to be buried in the mountain paradise from which she had come. "Strangers, as they pass by, may drop a stone on my grave and they too shall be young and happy, as I once was," she said, "What they wish for shall be theirs!"

And talk about convenient! You don’t even have to get out of your car to drop a stone and make a wish! Stonepile Gap is located north of Dahlonega at the intersection of U. S. 19 and SR 60.

Pass not by, Stranger! Stop! Silently bare your head, drop a stone upon her grave, and make a wish straight from your heart. The Spirit of Eternal Youth and Happiness hovers near to grant the wishes of all who love the hills and valleys of her native home.
-Song of Trahlyta


kanugalihi said...

ahhh a road side marker. a median adornment! i love it. how quaint. how historical. see this is proof that development and preservation can go hand in hand!

i wonder how many more of these piles sit forgotten in woods that have been spared the indignity of roadside beautification and best management practices. who is there to see?

pwax said...

Thanks for the kind words about "Rock Piles". Somehow I doubt the legend of women buried under rock piles.