Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tracking Down Track Rock

I try to do my homework before setting out to explore new places. Sometimes, though, that is simply not possible. While wandering the back roads of North Georgia in that enchanted triangle bounded by Clayton, Cleveland and Blairsville, I saw a sign for Trackrock Road.



I remembered a reference to Track Rock in John Muir’s account of his thousand-mile walk to the Gulf in 1867, and I knew that ethnologist James Mooney had visited the site in the 1880s. I figured the odds were in my favor that Trackrock Road would lead to the Track Rock of Muir and Mooney.

Sure enough, the parking area for the Track Rock archaeological site was easy to find, just before a gap in a long ridge. From the parking area, it was a very short walk through the woods to a cluster of boulders bearing some familiar markings. I say familiar because they looked very similar to the petroglyphs on Judaculla Rock near Cullowhee.

The Forest Service has done a nice job of interpreting the site, complete with a whole series of bronze plaques explaining the little that is known about the Georgia petroglyphs, which are estimated to be a thousand years old. More information, including technical details of the archaeological work conducted at Track Rock, is available
online at the USFS site, which even mentions Judaculla:

The earliest known reference to the Track Rock petroglyphs dates back to the late eighteenth century. At a town located in a river valley somewhere in the North Carolina and Georgia region a purification ritual was being conducted in which Indians from the town prepared to be adopted by Judaculla, an invisible man who has taken a wife from one of the town’s women. Unfortunately for the townspeople, a shout by two anxious warriors interfered with the ritual and made it impossible for them to join Judaculla in his mountain top townhouse. Because Judaculla’s parents-in-law managed to properly fast and pray, they became the only two townspeople qualified to visit his mountain top townhouse. On their way to Judaculla’s abode, near Brasstown in north Georgia, the parents-in-law “made the tracks in the rocks which are to be seen there” (Haywood 1823:280). Haywood states that the “tracks in the rocks” in this instance refer to Track Rock. Judaculla, who is also known as Tsulkâlû′,or “Master of the Game”, is a giant who came from the land of the dead spirits in the west to visit the Cherokees, stayed a while as a friend and helper, and departed west again. The markings in the rock may well have served as a warning to people that they were approaching a sacred or dangerous area. Judaculla did not like people to approach his abode.



As soon as I got home from Track Rock, I consulted John Muir and discovered he had not made it to Track Rock, although he passed nearby on his southbound route to Mount Yonah. Instead, someone Muir met in Tennessee had urged him to add Track Rock to his itinerary:

Was told by my worthy entertainer of a wondrous gap in the mountains which he advised me to see. "It is called Track Gap," said he, "from the great number of tracks in the rocks — bird tracks, bar tracks, hoss tracks, men tracks, all in the solid rock as if it had been mud."

Charles Lanman did make it to Track Rock and wrote about it in the ever-enjoyable Letters From the Alleghany Mountains:
Logan's Plantation, Georgia, April, 1848.

During my stay at Dahlonega I heard a good deal said about a native wonder, called " Track Rock," which was reported to be some thirty miles off, on the northwestern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. On revolving the information in my mind, I concluded that this rock was identical with one which had been mentioned to me by Professor James Jackson, of the University of Georgia, and I also remembered that the Professor had shown me' a specimen of the rock he alluded to, which contained the imprint or impression of a human foot. My curiosity was of course excited, and I resolved to visit the natural or artificial wonder. I made the pilgrimage on foot, and what I saw and heard of peculiar interest on the occasion the reader will find recorded in the present letter.



In accomplishing the trip to " Track Rock " and back again to this place I was two days. On the first day I walked only twenty miles, having tarried occasionally to take a pencil sketch or hear the birds, as they actually filled the air with melody. My course lay over a very uneven country, which was entirely uncultivated, excepting some half dozen quiet vales, which presented a cheerful appearance. The woods were generally composed of oak and chestnut, and destitute to a considerable extent of undergrowth; the soil was composed of clay and sand, and apparently fertile; and clear sparkling brooks intersected the country, and were the first that I had seen in Georgia. I had a number of extensive mountain views, which were more beautiful than imposing; and among the birds that attracted my attention were the red-bird, mocking-bird, quail, lark, poke, woodpecker, jay, king-bird, crow, bluebird, and dove, together with a large black-bird, having a red head, (apparently of the woodpecker genus,) and another smaller bird, whose back was of a rich black, breast a bright brown, with an occasional white feather in its wing, which I fancied to be a species of robin. Since these were my companions, it may be readily imagined that" pleasantly the hours of Thalaba went by."

I spent the night at a place called " Tesantee Gap," in the cabin of a poor farmer, where I was most hospitably entertained. My host had a family of nine sons and three daughters, not one of whom had ever been out of the wilderness region of Georgia. Though the father was a very intelligent man by nature, he told me that he had received no education, and could hardly read a chapter in the Bible. He informed me, too, that his children were but little better informed, and seemed deeply to regret his inability to give them the schooling which he felt they needed. " I have always desired," said he, "that I could live on some public road, so that my girls might occasionally see a civilized man, since it is fated that they will, never meet with them in society." I felt sorry for the worthy man, and endeavored to direct his attention from himself to the surrounding country. He told me the mountains were susceptible of cultivation even to their summits, and that the principal productions of his farm were corn, wheat, rye, and potatoes; also, that the country abounded in game, such as deer, turkeys, and bears, and an occasional panther. Some of the mountains, he said, were covered with hickory, and a peculiar kind of oak, and that on said mountains gray squirrels were very abundant. The streams, he informed me, were well supplied with large minnows, by which I afterwards ascertained he meant the brook trout.

While conversing with my old friend, an hour or so before sunset, we were startled by the baying of his hounds, and on looking up the narrow road running by bis home, we saw a fine-looking doe coming towards us on the run. In its terror the poor creature made a sudden turn, and scaling a garden fence was overtaken by the dogs on a spot near which the wife of my host was planting seeds, when she immediately seized a bean-pole, and by a single blow deprived the doe of life. In a very few moments her husband was on the ground, and, having put his knife to the throat of the animal, the twain re-entered their dwelling, as if nothing had happened out of the common order of events. This was the first deer that I ever knew to be killed by a woman. When I took occasion to compliment the dogs of my old friend, he said that one of them was a " powerful runner; for he had known him to follow a deer for three days and three nights." Having in view my future rambles among the mountains, I questioned my companion about the snakes of this region, and, after remarking that :hey were " very plenty," he continued as follows : " But of all the snake stories you ever heard tell of, I do not believe you ever heard of a snake fight. I saw one, Monday was a week, between a black-racer and a rattlesnake. It was in the road, about a mile from here, and when I saw them the racer had the other by the back of the head, and was coiling his body all around him, as if to squeeze him to death. The scuffle was pretty severe, but the racer soon killed the fellow with rattles, and I killed the racer. It was a queer scrape, and I reckon you do not often see the like in your country."

I should have obtained some more mites of information from my host had not a broken tooth commenced aching, and hurried me off to bed.

I left the habitation of my mountain friend immediately after breakfast the following morning, and " ne'er repassed that hoary threshold more."

On the following day I passed through the Blue Ridge, and visited the Mecca of my pilgrimage, and was—disappointed. I was piloted to it by a neighboring mountaineer, who remarked, " This is Track Rock, and it's no great shakes after all." I found it occupying an unobtrusive place by the road side. It is of an irregular form and quite smooth, rises gradually from the ground to the height of perhaps three feet, and is about twenty feet long by the most liberal measurement. It is evidently covered with a great variety of tracks, including those of men, bears or dogs, and turkeys, together with indistinct impressions of a man's hand. Some of the impressions are half an inch thick, while many of them appear to be almost entirely effaced. The rock seemed to be a species of slate-colored soapstone. The conclusion to which I have arrived, after careful examination, is as follows : This rock is located on what was once an Indian trail, and, having been used by the Cherokees as a resting place, it was probably their own ingenuity which conceived and executed the characters which now puzzle the philosophy of many men. The scenery about Track Rock is not remarkable for its grandeur, though you can hardly turn the eye in any direction without beholding an agreeable mountain landscape. In returning through Tesantee Gap and the valley below, 1 met with no adventures worth recording, and will therefore conclude my present epistle with a paragraph concerning the plantation where I am now tarrying.

The proprietor is an intelligent and worthy gentleman, who is reputed to be the nabob of this region. He acquired a portion of his wealth by digging gold, but is now chiefly devoting himself to agriculture. He complains of the little advancement which the people of Northern Georgia are making in the arts of husbandry, and thinks that it would be much better for the State if the people could be persuaded to follow the plough, instead of wasting their time and money in searching for gold, which metal, he seems to think, is nearly exhausted in this section of country. Among the curious things which I have seen under his roof, is a small but choice collection of minerals, fossil remains, and Indian relics, belonging to his eldest son. Among the latter may be mentioned a heavy stone pipe, made in imitation of a duck, which was found in Macon county, North Carolina, fifteen feet below the surface; and also a small cup, similar to a crucible, and made of an unknown earthy material, which was found in this county about nine feet below the surface, and directly under a large tree. But the mail boy's horn is blowing and I must close.



James Mooney visited the site and reviewed the literature that had attempted to explain the Track Rock. From Myths of the Cherokee:

TRACK ROCK GAP: A gap about 5 miles east of Blairsville, in Union county, on the ridge separating Brasstown creek from the waters of Nottely river. The micaceous soapstone, rocks on both sides of the trail are covered with petroglyphs, from which the gap takes its name. The Cherokee call the place Datsu'nalâsgûñ'yï, "Where there are tracks," or Degayelûñ'hä, "Printed i.e. Branded place." The carvings are of many and various patterns, some of them resembling human or animal footprints, while others are squares, crosses, circles, "bird tracks," etc., disposed without any apparent order. On the authority of a Doctor Stevenson, writing in 1834, White (Historical Collections of Georgia, p. 658, 1855), and after him Jones (Antiquities of the Southern Indians, 1873), give a misleading and greatly exaggerated account of these carvings, without having taken the trouble to investigate for themselves, although the spot is easily accessible. No effort, either state or local, is made to preserve the pictographs from destruction, and many of the finest have been cut out from the rock and carried off by vandals, Stevenson himself being among the number, by his own confession. The illustration (plate xx) is from a rough sketch made by the author in 1890.



The Cherokee have various theories to account for the origin of the carvings, the more sensible Indians saying that they were made by hunters for their own amusement while resting in the gap. Another tradition is that they were made while the surface of the newly created earth was still soft by a great army of birds and animals fleeing through the gap to escape some pursuing danger from the west--some say a great "drive hunt" of the Indians. Haywood confounds them with other petroglyphs in North Carolina connected with the story of the giant Tsul`kälû'.

The following florid account of the carvings and ostensible Indian tradition of their origin is from White, on the authority of Stevenson:

The number visible or defined is 136, some of them quite natural and perfect, and others rather rude imitations, and most of them from the effects of time have become more or less obliterated. They comprise human feet from those 4 inches in length to those of great warriors which measure 17½ inches in length and 7¾ in breadth across the toes. What is a little curious, all the human feet are natural except this, which has 6 toes, proving him to have been a descendant of Titan. There are 26 of these impressions, all bare except one, which has the appearance of having worn moccasins. A fine turned hand, rather delicate, occupied a place near the great warrior, and probably the impression of his wife's hand, who no doubt accompanied her husband in all his excursions, sharing his toils and soothing his cares away. Many horse tracks are to be seen. One seems to have been shod, some are very small, and one measures 12½ inches by 9½ inches. This the Cherokee say was the footprint of the great war horse which their chieftain rode. The tracks of a great many turkeys, turtles, terrapins, a large bear's paw, a snake's trail, and the footprints of two deer are to be seen. The tradition respecting these impressions varies. One asserts that the world was once deluged with water, and men with all animated beings we e destroyed, except one family, together with various animals necessary to replenish the earth; that the Great Spirit before the floods came commanded. them to embark in a big canoe, which after long sailing was drawn to this spot by a bevy of swans and rested there, and here the whole troop of animals was disembarked, leaving the impressions as they passed over the rock, which being softened by reason of long submersion kindly received and preserved them.

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