Wednesday, August 16, 2017

History Rewritten - 8

They [the Natchez] seem to have been regarded by the Cherokee as a race of wizards and conjurers, probably due in part to their peculiar religious rites and in part to the interest which belonged to them as the remnant of a broken tribe. -  James Mooney, 1899 



In an earlier post, I thought it just a wee bit over the top to say that “the Cherokees” originated as a joint red/white criminal enterprise. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the esteemed ethnographer of the Cherokees, James Mooney, used similar language to describe what was going on in the Mississippi Valley:

In 1716 the French governor sent an officer with goods to the Natchez to establish a trading post among them, but found already on the ground some English traders from Carolina who were trying to form the Natchez, Yazoo, and Chickasaw into a syndicate for the purpose of making slavehunting raids upon the neighboring tribes, a business which the Carolina people had found extremely profitable in their late wars with the Apalachi and Tuskarora. 

But that is not the primary point of this installment. Much more on that is to come.

Refugees Among the Cherokees

Most folks would be hard pressed to name native groups, other than the Cherokees, that lived in western North Carolina. I knew that the Natchez were on that list, establishing a village near Murphy in the 1700s. And I knew that Natchez were among the last of the native tribes to carry on some of the Mississippian traditions.

But that’s about all I knew of the Natchez until I discovered Mooney’s report, “The End of the Natchez.” (American Anthropologist, 1899)  Here’s the beginning of “The End…”:

When LeMoyne d’Iberville sailed into the Mississippi in 1699, just two centuries ago, he found the Na’tsi or Natchez Indians, from whom the modern town takes its name, settled in nine villages, with a total population of perhaps 2500 persons, along what is now St Catherine creek, in Adams county, Mississippi. Thirty years later their villages had been destroyed, their chiefs and hundreds of their people killed or sold into slavery, and the survivors were fugitive refugees with other tribes. Today there may exist twenty of the name. 

For several reasons a peculiar interest attaches to the Natchez. Their language seems to have had no connection with that of any other tribe, excepting possibly the neighboring Taensa of Louisiana. Their strongly centralized government and highly developed religious ceremonial gave them commanding influence among all the tribes of the region, while their heroic resistance to the French, and their final destruction as a nation, lend their history a tinge of romance which writers have been quick to appreciate. The interest is in no degree diminished when we learn that, contrary to the ordinary idea, they were not exterminated, but rather extirpated, which after all is but another word for the same process…. 

In this short sketch we shall endeavor to throw some light on their history subsequent to 1730, prefacing with a brief statement of the causes which led to their dispersal. 

Tensions Between the French and the Natchez

In the early 1700s the French were consolidating their power in the new province of Louisiana and sought to establish a trading post in the midst of the Natchez. After the Natchez resisted that plan, the French built a fort at the principle village of the Natchez, which only exacerbated the conflict.

With a garrison thus forcibly established in their very midst, the Natchez were soon in a condition of smothered revolt, a feeling which the English traders resident among the Chickasaw strove by every means to nurse into active rebellion. In 1722 a quarrel occurred at the post, in which several were killed on both sides. The French commander attempted to punish the Indians by levying a fine upon the whole population of three villages, with the result that they retaliated, when the French burned one village and beheaded the chief…. 

The climax came in 1729, when the French commander coolly ordered them to abandon their principal village, that he might clear the ground for his own purposes. Engaging the Yazoo, Koroa, and Tioux to their support, and supplying themselves with arms and ammunition by means of a shrewd stratagem, at a given signal they fell upon the garrison on November 28, and massacred two hundred men-only about twenty escaping-besides capturing all the women, children, and negroes, with a loss to themselves of but twelve warriors. While the bloody work was going on, the Natchez chief was calmly seated under a shed giving directions for piling the severed heads in heaps about him as they were brought in. The war was now on…. 

In January, 1730, a force of several hundred Choctaw, led by a French officer, attacked a Natchez stockade, killing eighty men, capturing eighteen women, and releasing a large number of captives taken at the first massacre. The Natchez, and their surviving allies, attempted to flee. But battles, captivity and bloodshed continued. From the first outbreak in 1729 to the final repulse at Natchitoches, two years later, we have a record of about 240 Natchez warriors killed and 40 warriors and about 400 women and children taken arid sold into slavery, with no knowledge as to how many died of hunger and disease in the swamps or were picked off from time to time by the French Indians. 

It is safe to assume that not half the tribe remained alive, and they were homeless refugees. They could not return to their own country, for it was now in the hands of their enemies; neither could they seek an asylum among the Choctaw, Tonika, Attbkapa, Caddo Akansa, or Illinois, for all of those were in the French interest: while the smaller tribes that might have befriended them had been brought as low as themselves. They could go only to the tribes in the English interest, the Chickasaw, Creeks, and Cherokee, or to the English settlers themselves in Carolina. 




North to Carolina

Sometime after 1736, a remnant of Natchez were granted permission to settle among the Catawba on the Savannah River.

The "Nachee" are mentioned by Adair as one of the smaller tribes living with the Catawba in 1743, but retaining their distinct language. The next year the "Notchees," having killed some Catawba in a drunken quarrel, fled down to the white settlements to escape the vengeance of the injured tribe, and the colonial government was compelled to interfere to settle the affair. It is probable that the result of the quarrel was to separate them permanently from the Catawba, as in 1751 we find the "Notchees" again noted as one of the small tribes living in the South Carolina settlements. 

Soon after they seem to have moved up again and joined the Cherokee, for in 1755 they are twice mentioned as concerned with that tribe in the killing of some Indians near the coast settlements. This appears to be the last reference to them in the South Carolina records. Just here Cherokee tradition takes them up, under the name of Anintsi, abbreviated from Ani-Na’tsi, the plural of Na’tsi. From a chance coincidence with the word for pine-tree, na'tsi, some English-speaking Indians have rendered this name as " Pine Indians." 

The Cherokee generally agree that the Natchez came to them from the Creek country. It is probable that the first refugees came from South Carolina, while others say that they came from Carolina, and were joined later by others from the Creeks and Chickasaw. Some of them, we are told by Bienville, went directly from the Chickasaw. They seem to have been regarded by the Cherokee as a race of wizards and conjurers, probably due in part to their peculiar religious rites and in part to the interest which belonged to them as the remnant of a broken tribe. 

The venerable James Wafford, a prominent mixed-blood Cherokee who was born in 1806 near the site of Clarkesville, Georgia, when it was all Indian country, and who afterward removed with his tribe to Indian Territory, informed the writer in 1890 that the “Notchees” had their town on the north bank of Hiwassee river, just above Peachtree creek, on the spot where a Baptist mission was established by the Rev. Evan Jones about 1830, and a few miles above the present Murphy, Cherokee county, North Carolina. On his mother’s side he had himself a strain of Natchez blood. His grandmother had told him that when she was a young woman - say about 1755 - she had occasion to go to this town on some business, which she was obliged to transact through an interpreter, as the Natchez had then been there so short a time that only one or two spoke any Cherokee. 

They were all in the one town, which the Cherokee called Gwalgwa‘hi, ‘‘Frog place,” but he was unable to say whether or not it had a townhouse. In 1824, as one of the census enumerators for the Cherokee Nation, he went over the same section and found the Natchez then living jointly with Cherokee in a town called Gu’laniyi at the junction of Brasstown and Gumlog creeks, tributary to Hiwassee river, some six miles southeast of their former location and close to the Georgia line. The removal may have been due to the recent establishment of the mission at the old place. It was a large settlement, about equally made up from the two tribes, but by this time the Natchez were indistinguishable in dress or general appearance from the others, and nearly all spoke broken Cherokee, while still retaining their own language. As most of the Indians had come under Christian influence so far as to have quit dancing, there was no townhouse. 

Harry Smith, father of the late chief of the East Cherokee, and born about 1815, also remembers them as living on the Hiwassee and calling themselves Na'tsi. From Ganse'tl, or Rattling-gourd, another mixed-blood Cherokee, who was born on Hiwassee river in 1820 and went west at the removal eighteen years later, it appears that in his time the Natchez were scattered among the Cherokee settlements along the upper part of that stream, extending down into Tennessee. They had then no separate townhouses. 

Some, at least, of them had come up from the Creeks, and spoke Creek and Cherokee as well as their own language, which he could not understand, although familiar with both the others. They were great dance leaders, which agrees with their traditional reputation for ceremonial and secret knowledge. They went west with the Cherokee at the final removal of the tribe to Indian Territory in 183s. In 1890 there were a considerable number on Illinois river a few miles south of Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, several of them still speaking their own language, among whom were Groundhog, John Rogers, and a woman named Kehaka. Some of these may have come with the Creeks, as by an agreement between the Creeks and Cherokee, before the time of the removal, it had been arranged that citizens of either tribe living within the boundaries claimed by the other might remain without question if they so elected. 

 Among the East Cherokee in North Carolina, about 1890, there were several who claimed Natchez descent, but only one of full Natchez blood, an old woman named Alkini, who spoke with a drawling tone said to have been characteristic of that people, as older men remembered them years ago. 

Haywood, the historian of Tennessee, says that a remnant of the Natchez lived within the present limits of the State as late as 1750 and were even then numerous. He refers to those with the Cherokee, and tells a curious story which seems somehow to have escaped the notice of other writers. 

According to his statement, a portion of the Natchez, who had been parceled out as slaves among the French in the vicinity of their old homes after the downfall of their tribe, took advantage of the withdrawal of the troops to the north, in 1758, to rise and massacre their masters and make their escape to the neighboring tribes. On the return of the troops after the fall of Fort Duquesne they found the settlement at Natchez destroyed and their Indian slaves fled. Some time afterward a French deserter seeking an asylum among the Cherokee, having made his way to Great Island town, on Tennessee river, just below the mouth of the Tellico, was surprised to find there some of the same Natchez whom he had formerly driven as slaves. He lost no time in getting away from the place to find safer quarters among the mountain towns. Notchy creek, a lower affluent of the Tellico, in Monroe county, Tennessee, evidently takes its name from these refugees. 

Haywood states also that, although incorporated with the Cherokee, the Natchez continued for a long time a separate tribe, not marrying or mixing with other tribes, and having their own chiefs, and holding their own councils, but their nation had now (1823) yielded to the canker 'of time and hardly anything was left but the name.' 

Natchez Village at Peachtree

As Mooney indicated, when the Natchez first came to North Carolina around 1750, they settled on Peachtree Creek, east of present-day Murphy, NC. Their nearest neighbors were Cherokees at the Peachtree village, a mile or so downstream toward the Hiwassee River. Peachtree had been occupied more or less continuously since the Archaic period, with substantial mounds constructed there during the Mississippian period. After the mounds were excavated in 1885 and 1933, little remained to indicate it had been a village.

Other Remnant Groups

The Natchez represent just one example of remnant tribes that integrated with the Cherokee. John Swanton in his hefty reference volume Indians of the Southeastern United States (1946) names others:

Yuchi “A few Yuchi seem never to have moved out of the Appalachian region, but to have remained among the Cherokee and become gradually incorporated into them.” 

Tuskegee – Originally identified in northern Alabama, one band united with the Cherokees to form a large town on the south side of the Little Tennessee River, just above Tellico Creek. 

Nottoway – Possibly a mixed band of Iroquois, Savannah and Conestoga. Around 1748 they moved from central and lower South Carolina to Keowee (near the mountains) and were absorbed by the Cherokees.

Catawba – After ceding land in South Carolina under terms of an 1840 treaty, they moved Haywood County but were unable to close a deal on land there. During that time some Catawba went to live with the Cherokee.

Clearly, the native groups of the Southeast were very mobile and very fluid. When the chiefdoms of Mississippian culture collapsed, centuries of instability and regrouping ensued, eventually resulting in what we now recognize as the tribal groups of the Southeast.



Cherokee delegation to England, 1730.  Attakullakulla at far right.

Complicated Family Trees

Let's look at this mobility and regrouping on an individual level. By some accounts, the well-known 18th century Cherokee war chief, Dragging Canoe, had Natchez roots.

From the Black Indian United Legal Defense and Education Fund, here’s one explanation of the parents of Dragging Canoe:

Nionne Ollie, a Black French-speaking Cherokee woman of Keowee, South Carolina (variant spelling, ‘Nani’) [was] the wife of Chief Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter)… Nionne Ollie (described as “Black“) was said to have been from a Band of refugee Natchez (Notchey) born in the old historic Cherokee town of Tomately in 1733. She was captured as a Slave at Goose Creek, SC and sold into Slavery to a couple that took her to the French West Indies. Nionne purchased her own freedom as a young woman, returned to the Cherokee Nation and married Chief Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter). The couple had many prominent Cherokee children whose descendants remain part of the Nations (Black and Red) to date…. 

The couple took in a Scottish (White) Adoptee, named John Stuart [who had been caught up in the conflicts between settlers and natives at Fort Loudon during the 1750s.] Nionne (Nani) died in 1831 at the age of 98, a prominent citizen at Keowee Old Town in the South Carolina’s Low Country, near the area that the fateful Treaties of Hopewell were signed by the Nations that would ultimately comprise the 5 Civilized Tribes (first treaties with the United States). The Seminoles were represented as a sub-tribe of the Creeks. Nionne is buried at Oconee, SC.

I can’t vouch for this version of events - it is tricky business rebuilding these family trees - but numerous genealogies trace back to these individuals in one way or another. (See an earlier post on Fort Osborne and Ephraim Osborne in Virginia.)

So the mother of “Cherokee” war chief Dragging Canoe was not Cherokee by birth?

And neither was the father of Dragging Canoe?  Though we think of Attakullakulla as Cherokee, his son, Turtle-at-Home, said that he was born to a sub-tribe of the Algonquian-speaking Nipissing to the north near Lake Superior. Attakullakulla was captured as an infant during a raid in which his parents were killed, and brought back to Tennessee to be adopted by a Cherokee family, where he was raised as Cherokee.


Dragging Canoe

Father and Son

Attakullakulla was a member of the Cherokee delegation that travelled to England in 1730 and crossed paths with William Bartram in 1775. As a peace chief, he was more conciliatory than his son turned out to be. During treaty negotiations in 1775, a defiant Dragging Canoe was said to have delivered this oft-quoted speech:

Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man's advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers. Where are the Delawares? They have been reduced to a mere shadow of their former greatness. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains, and have settled upon Tsalagi (Cherokee) land. They wish to have that usurpation sanctioned by treaty. When that is gained, the same encroaching spirit will lead them upon other land of the Tsalagi (Cherokees). New cessions will be asked. 

Finally the whole country, which the Tsalagi (Cherokees) and their fathers have so long occupied, will be demanded, and the remnant of the Ani Yvwiya, The Real People, once so great and formidable, will be compelled to seek refuge in some distant wilderness. There they will be permitted to stay only a short while, until they again behold the advancing banners of the same greedy host. Not being able to point out any further retreat for the miserable Tsalagi (Cherokees), the extinction of the whole race will be proclaimed. Should we not therefore run all risks, and incur all consequences, rather than to submit to further loss of our country? Such treaties may be alright for men who are too old to hunt or fight. As for me, I have my young warriors about me. We will hold our land.

We will hold our land!  For the day shall come when our children's children of the seventh generation hence shall raise up great gambling houses upon the bones of their ancestors!  

And so it was...



Friday, August 11, 2017

History Rewritten, 7

I travelled about five miles through old plantations, now under grass, but appeared to have been planted the last season; the soil exceeding fertile, loose, black, deep and fat. I arrived at Cowe about noon; this settlement is esteemed the capital town; it is situated on the bases of the hills on both sides of the river, near to its bank, and here terminates the great vale of Cowe, exhibiting one of the most charming natural mountainous landscapes perhaps any where to be seen; ridges of hills rising grand and sublimely one above and beyond another, some boldly and majestically advancing into the verdant plain, their feet bathed with the silver flood of the Tanase whilst others far distant, veiled in blue mists, sublimely mount aloft, with yet greater majesty lift up their pompous crests and overlook vast regions.
- William Bartram, May 1775




In a letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson, the British essayist Thomas Carlyle commended Bartram’s Travels for “a wondrous kind of floundering eloquence in it.”  Wordsworth and Coleridge were also captivated and inspired by the accounts of the Philadelphia botanist.

Now, in the 21st century, as someone who frequents the upper Little Tennessee Valley, I find it a great joy to see these same landscapes through the eyes of William Bartram.  The Cowee Valley, north of present-day Franklin, NC, was a highlight of Bartram’s visit to western North Carolina.

"Cherokees Are As Ignorant As We Are"

Bartram described in some detail the Cherokee village that sprawled along the river, and also the Cowee Mound, topped by a spacious town-house:

The council or town-house is a large rotunda, capable of accommodating several hundred people; it stands on the top of an ancient artificial mount of earth, of about twenty feet perpendicular, and the rotunda on the top of it being above thirty feet more, gives the whole fabric an elevation of about sixty feet from the common surface of the ground. But it may be proper to observe that this mount on which the rotunda stands is of a much more ancient date than the building, and perhaps was raised for another purpose. 

The Cherokees themselves are as ignorant as we are by what people or for what purpose these artificial hills were raised; they have various stories concerning them, the best of which amount to no more than mere conjectures, and leave us entirely in the dark; but they have a tradition, common with the other nations of Indians, that they found them in much the same condition as they now appear, when their forefathers arrived from the west and possessed themselves of the country, after vanquishing the nations of red men who then inhabited it, who themselves found these mounts when they took possession of the country, the former possessors delivering the same story concerning them. Perhaps they were designed and appropriated by the people who constructed them to some religious purpose, as great altars and temples similar to the high places and sacred groves anciently among the Canaanites and other nations of Palestine and Judea.

This passage is intriguing for what it suggests about the predecessors of the Cherokees in the Southern Appalachians, the comparatively late arrival of the Cherokees, and their role (or lack of a role) in the construction of mounds.

Did Bartram get it right?  Was his source qualified to speak with authority on such matters?  Beyond a certain degree, of course, the answers are unknowable.  And even when archaeology is paired with history as a tool of inquiry, post holes and pottery shards only reveal so much.

"From Time Immemorial"

After revisiting the preceding paragraph from Bartram I stumbled upon its counterpoint, attributed to Major John Norton, who travelled among the Cherokees ca. 1809:

Generally throughout the Nation, emigration was unpopular, and exchanging countries still more so. They said,  that to the country they now possessed,  they had an indisputable right,  from their ancestors who had possessed it from time immemorial . . .

I wish I could dig into the context for the Norton quote.  His journal was not published until 1970 and is not widely available (without shelling out ninety bucks for a copy).  I was not familiar with Major Norton, but he is an interesting character (see note below).  

His quote appeared as an epigraph on a brochure for a 2014 Cherokee ArchaeologicalSymposium.  As I examined the brochure, feelings of anger, sadness and nausea welled up.  Rather than launching into a rant, though, I’ll just say it bothers me to see archaeological expertise subverted to advance a particular political agenda.  

In that regard, the phrase “time immemorial” is of such significance that I will need to devote a future installment of this series to it.   

When influential people have a particular axe to grind, they’ll go to great lengths to manipulate evidence of what actually occurred in the past.  That’s certainly what has happened in the aftermath of a federal law enacted in 1990.

The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), requires federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return Native American cultural items (including human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects) to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes.  NAGPRA also establishes procedures for the inadvertent discovery or planned excavation of Native American cultural items on federal or tribal lands.




To the extent that grave robbers desecrated native burial sites and showed something less than respect for human remains, the intent of NAGPRA was worthwhile.  But like other well-meaning legislation, NAGPRA has had unintended consequences. 

Problems With NAGPRA

At best, repatriation of cultural items under the law becomes a cumbersome and costly bureaucratic process.  And there’s this:

The statute attempts to mediate a significant tension that exists between the tribes' communal interests in the respectful treatment of their deceased ancestors and related cultural items and the scientists' individual interests in the study of those same human remains and items….

Archeologists are concerned that they are being prevented from studying ancient remains which cannot be traced to any historic tribe. Many of the tribes migrated to their territories at the time of European encounter within 100–500 years from other locations, so their ancestors were not located in the historic territories….

Fears have been voiced that an anti-scientific sentiment could well have permeated politics to an extent that scientists might find their work to be continuously barred by Native Americans rights activists….

Compliance with the legislation can be complicated. One example of controversy is that of Kennewick Man, a skeleton found in 1996 near Kennewick, Washington. The federally recognized Umatilla, Colville, Yakima, and Nez Perce tribes had each claimed Kennewick Man as their ancestor, and sought permission to rebury him. Kennewick, Washington is classified as part of the ancestral land of the Umatilla.

Archaeologists said that because of Kennewick Man's great age, there was insufficient evidence to connect him to modern tribes. The great age of the remains makes this discovery scientifically valuable. As archaeologists, forensic specialists, and linguists differed about whether the adult male was of indigenous origin, the standing law, if conclusively found by a preponderance of evidence to be Native American, would give the tribe of the geographic area where he was found a claim to the remains. New evidence could still emerge in defense of tribal claims to ancestry, but emergent evidence may require more sophisticated and precise methods of determining genetic descent, given that there was no cultural evidence accompanying the remains.

One tribe claiming ancestry to Kennewick Man offered up a DNA test, and in 2015 it was found that the Kennewick man is "more closely related to modern Native Americans than any other living population." In September 2016, the US House and Senate passed legislation to return the ancient bones to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes for reburial according to their traditions. The coalition includes the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and the Wanapum Band of Priest Rapids. The remains were buried on February 18, 2017, with 200 members of five Columbia Basin tribes, at an undisclosed location in the area.

It is understandable that any tribal organization wishing to claim custody to skeletal remains in their proximity would want to build the case that they have occupied the area for thousands, rather than few hundred, years. 



A Bone to Pick


It gets complicated. 

An essay by Janet Levy in Anthropologists and Indians in the New South describes her experiences as an archaeologist in the Carolinas, both pre- and post-NAGPRA.  While conducting rescue excavation necessitated by construction at a Yancey County  junior high school in 1990, Levy witnessed the problems that can arise:

A burial had been recovered at the site, and negotiations legally mandated by the 1981 [North Carolina] Burial Bill had taken place.  However, a group of individuals who had identified themselves as Indians had gathered in the town to protest the excavation of the site overall, claiming it was sacred ground….None of the protestors were Cherokee tribal members; some were from outside the state, and as far as we know, none were members of another federally or state-recognized tribe.  Nevertheless, they were quite successful in garnering positive media attention and support from some other, non-Indian, groups in the region. 

It is probably lucky for me and archaeology in North Carolina that I was not the person responsible for interacting with the protestors.  My anger and frustration levels were very high…
Although, during this encounter, various threats were made to stop archaeology in North Carolina forever, little came of those statements.  None of the remaining suspected burials were excavated, and later the one excavated burial was reburied under the mandates of the Burial Bill.

Levy went on to describe events at a Macon County site being prepared for an industrial park in 1995.  

Though the Eastern Band of Cherokees was contacted and expressed no objections to the excavation, a religious faction within the tribe protested the work.

Excavations continued but were interrupted and modified by ongoing demands and negotiations; again, there were some verbal challenges to excavators, many of them community and student volunteers.  The situation was complicated by ongoing political competition within the tribal government and by the political needs and concerns of the county government, which was sponsoring the industrial development.  Ultimately, significant parts of the site were cleared and mapped, but not excavated.

After discussing other experiences and her hopes for positive outcomes from the federal law, Levy observed:

NAGPRA shifted the distribution of power in the discipline of archaeology in North America….Problems arise because of factionalism within, and competition between, Indian communities, including local, non-local, and pan-Indian organizations….And there are ongoing tensions in some situations between federally recognized tribes and state-recognized groups….Ironically, perhaps, NAGPRA has encouraged archaeologists to become better anthropologists, because we now have to struggle to understand the cultural values, social organization, and political structure of communities other than our own.

Lost Clues

When the mounds and associated sites in the Southern Appalachians were plundered in the 19th century, we lost many clues to understanding the past.  In the name of cultural sensitivity, NAGPRA has mandated the “return” of the human remains of approximately 32,000 individuals, nearly 670,000 funerary objects, 120,000 unassociated funerary objects, and 3,500 sacred objects (to date).  How does the loss of this evidence impede our ability to understand the past?  And who’s to say that some of these items, surrendered to various tribes per NAGPRA, haven’t been diverted for sale on the black market?

Sometimes, being able to see the world through the eyes of a William Bartram is a very good thing indeed.  It certainly inspired one of Coleridge’s best known works:

Kubla Khan

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.




In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.


John Norton

Note on John Norton – To make things easier on myself, my note on Major John Norton is drawn from Wikipedia:

John Norton was likely born in Scotland in the early 1760s to a Scottish mother and a father born Cherokee in Tennessee and raised from boyhood in England. His father had been rescued as a boy by British soldiers when his hometown of Keowee (Tennessee) was destroyed during the French and Indian War, the North American front of the Seven Years' War. The boy was taken back to England and raised in an English family. John Norton was likely educated as a boy in Scotland…

He served an apprenticeship as a printer, but ran away to join the army. He was assigned to Scotland… Next he was stationed in Ireland… In 1785 he was assigned to Lower Canada (Quebec) after the end of the American Revolutionary War….




While stationed with his regiment at Niagara (Upper Canada) in 1787, Norton deserted the army and was discharged. For a time, he taught at the Mohawk settlement of Tyendinaga on the Bay of Quinte, west of Kingston, Ontario. In 1791 he traveled through the Ohio region as a trader, establishing many contacts….

During this time, he became increasingly involved with the Iroquois Six Nations of the Grand River. In 1794, he returned to Fort Niagara, where he served as an interpreter for the British Indian department. He became known to Joseph Brant, the prominent Mohawk people leader who became his mentor. In his early 30s, Norton was adopted into the Mohawk, with Brant as his uncle….

He was given the Mohawk name of Teyoninhokovrawen to mark this passage…. 

He married Catherine, a woman from one of the six Iroquois nations….

Later he was appointed a "Pine Tree Chief," in a public ceremony, according to Iroquois custom. This was an honorary position and was not within the hereditary line….

In 1809-1810 Norton had a lengthy trip to the American Southeast, where he traveled through the still extensive Cherokee territory, in part to try to find his father's people. He did meet relatives and was accepted as Cherokee. The people were under pressure from land encroachment by settlers and state governments, particularly Georgia. He kept detailed accounts of what he saw and described Cherokee towns and culture in his The Journal of Major John Norton, 1816…..

Norton led a handful of Six Nations warriors into battle in Tecumseh's offensive in 1811 against the Americans at Tippecanoe. When the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States began, Norton was quick to join General Isaac Brock at Detroit, despite the official neutrality of the Canadian Six Nations. Following Brock's success at Detroit, more Six Nations warriors joined the British forces as allies. Their timely arrival at Queenston Heights, under the leadership of Major Norton, John Brant (Joseph's son), and Lieutenant Kerr of the Indian Department, was crucial to British victory….

Norton's final years are a mystery. There were suggestions that he had left Canada and moved as far as Laredo, Mexico. His date of death is unknown but his last mention in records was in 1826.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

History Rewritten - 6

Native American culture has been a great interest in my life for as long as I can recall.  Here in the shadows of the Smokies for the past forty years, I’ve tried to learn about the Cherokee in particular.  But now, it is becoming clear that I have a lot of un-learning to do.




Myths of the (Ancient) Cherokees

Living in this area, we often hear something to the effect that any and all native people of the Southern Appalachians were “Cherokee” and that the Cherokees have been here “since time immemorial.”

Within a hundred miles of here, thousands of non-Cherokee native people must be rolling in their graves at the notion that this is and ALWAYS WAS the land of the Cherokee.  Fortunately, a new generation of scholars is telling a more complete story about the early inhabitants of the Southern Appalachians.  But it will take a long time to overcome a century of sloppy storytelling and outright falsehoods.

The new insights on old times aren’t easy to sort out.  Romanticized myths about the Cherokee past will be exposed.   In some cases, perplexing questions must replace easy answers. And it will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

But I hope I’m around long enough to see the changes.  The emerging story is a lot more interesting than the ossified old tales that have entertained tourists for decades now.  In prior posts, I took a few stabs at debunking some of the tired, flawed chestnuts, such as the Tsali legend.  That’s mild, though, compared to where I could go with this.

A Red/White Crime Syndicate

Without too much effort, any good “googler” could dig up a United Nations study discussing one scourge of modern life: the three-pronged global network of crime involving human trafficking, drug distribution and the sale of weapons.  Going back three or four hundred years, that same evil triumvirate was central to the interactions between Native Americans and the new arrivals from Europe.  The more I’ve tried to nail down the origins of the “tribe,” the closer I am to asserting that “The Cherokees” came into existence as a joint venture between native people and white colonists - essentially a crime syndicate.  A mutually beneficial red-white partnership facilitated the movement of slaves, whiskey and rifles.  

Although I’m dangling that possibility out there, it will take much more than a blog post or two to make the case for it.  But strong evidence continues to mount for what I’m proposing and it is considerably more plausible than the stories folks have swallowed without question for the past century. 

Mistaken Identity in a Crucial Document

To keep things manageable this post will focus on one, and just one, of the most crucial documents in (so-called) Cherokee history and how it has been misappropriated to support a false rendition of events in the Southern Appalachians.   

A Virginia trader’s 1674 letter has been excerpted and reprinted in dozens, if not hundreds, of books and articles.  Quite often, it is described as an account of his attempt to establish trade with the Cherokees living west of the Blue Ridge.  One year earlier, the merchant and politician Abraham Wood had sent James Needham and Gabriel Arthur westward to explore the mysterious backcountry beyond the mountains.

Here’s the first problem: nowhere in the long letter do we find the term “Cherokee.”  As a matter of fact, if ANYONE was talking about “the Cherokees” in 1674, there’s no written record of it.  The letter does go into considerable detail about Needham and Arthur’s adventures with the Tomahittans.  About a hundred years ago, one scholar jumped to the conclusion that “Tomahittan” was simply another name for “Cherokee.” The association stuck. 

But Tennessee archaeologists Kneberg and Lewis build a strong case for identifying the Tomahittans as Yuchi Indians, rather than Cherokees.  Indeed, in 1727, a delegation of Cherokee visiting Charleston referred to the Tomahittans as old enemies of their allies, the Yamasee.

Nevertheless, many writers have found it convenient to equate the Tomahittans with the Cherokees.  It fills in a missing piece of the Cherokee puzzle, and satisfies the hunger to know more about their earliest history.  But that assumption obscures the more likely scenarios underway in the 17th century.   

Perspective is everything in understanding Abraham Wood’s letter.  Too often, it is presented as the first account of English traders visiting a trans-Appalachian “Cherokee” town.  Viewed in a broader context, the letter yields greater meaning.  Complex interactions were in play between English traders, planters, colonial leaders and investors in London.  Carolina and Virginia were vying for power and influence.  Spanish missions in La Florida, from the Atlantic to the Gulf Coast affected things throughout the Southeast, and to a lesser extent, French influence to the Northwest was a factor.  Conflicts in the north were causing the migration of various tribes to the south, and as the Indian slave trade expanded, some native groups exploited the opportunity while others became targets of red and white slave catchers. 

Frontier Traders and Indian Slaves

Colonel Abraham Wood (1610-1682) was an English fur trader in colonial Virginia, based at the frontier outpost Fort Henry on the Appomattox River in present-day Petersburg (south of Richmond).  Fort Henry was a checkpoint, the only point in Virginia where Indians and whites were permitted (by law) to cross over to each other’s territory.  Wood enjoyed a near-monopoly in the Indian-trade, buying and selling with the nearby Appomattocs and other native people living beyond the bounds of the colony.

The year Wood wrote his letter, 1674, was the birth year of John Lawson and William Byrd II, authors of A New Voyage to Carolina (1709) and The History of the Dividing Line betwixt Virginia and North Carolina, Run in the Year of Our Lord 1728, respectively.  

That these two books are counted among the most significant early accounts of life in the Carolina backcountry, underscores the value of the Wood letter, coming a generation or two before the works by Lawson and Byrd.  The changes during that span of time were momentous.

From 1680 to 1730, in addition to the commerce in deer hides, furs, and rum, the Indian slave trade was a mainstay in the economy of proliferating Carolina settlements.  During that period, countless thousands of men, women, and children of dozens of Indian nations were enslaved by the English colonists, seized by them in raids or purchased for the slave markets from Indians who had captured them from other tribes, usually at the instigation of the English.  At first, the slave traders pretended humanitarian goals, explaining that buying Indians prisoners saved them from the worse fate of being tortured by their captors.  But the traders soon dropped all pretense and, deliberately pitting one tribe against another with offers of guns, powder, and cheap English textiles and manufactured goods, encouraged Indian slave-catching raids against weaker tribal rivals and intertribal wars waged mostly for captives to sell to the whites.  On top of the waves of epidemics that swept through the Indian villages, the destructive impact of the slave trade disoriented numerous nations and engulfed the Indian world from the Southern Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi river to dislocation and turmoil.  (500 Nations, by Alvin Josephy, p. 223)

One scholar estimates that by 1715, Carolina had exported more slaves than it had imported.



Trade  Routes to the West

In the 1650s and 1660s, Wood himself had explored headwaters of the Roanoke and James Rivers, and had even crossed the Blue Ridge to find streams flowing toward the Ohio River.  When Needham and Arthur left Fort Henry in May 1673, Wood hoped they could find an outlet to the Pacific Ocean.

Five weeks after leaving Fort Henry, Needham and Arthur crossed paths with a roaming band of Tomahittans, who agreed to escort them back to their town far to the southwest.  After a short stay at the village of the Occhonechee Indians (now submerged by the Kerr Reservoir near the NC border), they proceeded along the Indian Trading Path (the route later used for Interstate 85 through North Carolina) crossing the Eno and the Yadkin Rivers before turning west and reaching a foothill village, Sittaree, that may have been close to present-day Morganton. 

Located in south-central Virginia, the Occhonechee had operated as middlemen in Abraham Wood’s Indian trade, a position that was threatened by Needham and Arthur’s effort to establish direct contact with native people to the west.  Several months later, near the Yadkin River, an Occhonechee hired for the expedition murdered James Needham, to the dismay and horror of several Tomahittans in the party.

Due to the eventual loss of Needham, Abraham Woods relied on the testimony of Gabriel Arthur for most of the events described in his letter.  Arthur was probably an indentured servant.  He would spend almost a full year among the Tomahittans. But sadly, much that he reported to Woods was left out of the letter.  Curious as I am about these times, it is almost agonizing to read this sentence from Wood:

And as brief as I can, give a touch upon the heads of the material matter my man's memory could retain, for he cannot write the greater pity, for should I insert all the particulars it would swell to too great a volume and perhaps seem too tedious to the courteous and charitable Reader, so I beg pardon for ignorant errors…

If only Colonel Wood had tested our patience with a great volume of such tedium!!!

Beyond the Blue Ridge

The actual course of the expedition once it crossed the Blue Ridge is impossible to trace with even an approximate degree of confidence.  What is indisputable, though, is that the Tomahittans routinely travelled hundreds of miles away from their trans-Appalachian home base. Recreating the route is complicated by Arthur’s inability to take notes and by the passage of many months before he shared his recollections with Abraham Wood.

Sitteree was described as “the last town of inhabitance and not any path further until they came within two days’ journey of the Tomahittans.”  After leaving Sitteree, Needham and Arthur took four days to reach the top of the Blue Ridge.  Upon descending the western slope, they travelled another ten days, crossing five rivers, while seeing “great store of game all along, as turkeys, deer, elk, bear, wolf, and other vermin very tame.”

Finally, they reached the Tomahittans’ riverside town.  The actual location is a matter of debate.  Perhaps it was on the French Broad.  Or the Little Tennessee. Or the Hiwassee, or the Coosa (near Rome, GA), or the Chattahootchee (near Gainesville, GA):

This town is seated on the river side, having the cliffs of the river on the one side being very high for its defence, the other three sides trees of two foot over, pitched on end, twelve feet high, and on the tops scaffolds placed with parapets to defend the walls and offend their enemies which men stand on to fight. Many nations of Indians inhabit down this river, which runs west upon the salts which they are at war with and to that end keep one hundred and fifty canoes under the command of their fort. The least of them will carry twenty men, and made sharp at both ends like a wherry for swiftness. This fort is four square, 300 paces over, and the houses set in streets…

Raiding a Spanish Town

The Tomahittans had some knowledge of Spaniards living downstream from their palisaded village:

Eight days' journey down this river lives a white people who have long beards and whiskers and wear clothing, and on some of the other rivers live a hairy people.

One Tomahittan had been taken captive (and then escaped) on a trip to sell beaver pelts to the white men in the west.  He travelled to Fort Henry a few months later, where Abraham Wood was able to elicit some details about Tomahittan contact with the Spaniards:

The Tomahittans have about sixty guns. Not such locks as ours be, the steels are long and channelled where the flints strike. The prisoner relates that the white people have a bell which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening, and at that time a great number of people congregate together and talk he knows not what. They have many blacks among them, oysters and many other shellfish, many swine, and cattle. Their building is brick. The Tomahittans have among them many brass pots and kettles from three gallons to thirty. They have two mullato women. All the white and black people they take they put to death…

This Spanish town alluded to here, and the Spanish town that Gabriel Arthur would visit with a band of Tomahittan marauders, might have been located anywhere from Saint Augustine on the Atlantic to Mobile Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.

After his arrival at the Tomahittan village, Arthur expected to spend a few weeks learning their language.  He probably had no idea that he would be travelling great distances with them throughout the Southeast:

…they made preparation for to manage the war, for that is the course of their living to forage, rob, and spoil other nations. And the king commands Gabriel Arthur to go along with a party that went to rob the Spaniards, promising him that in the next spring he himself would carry him home to his master. Gabriel must now be obedient to their commands. In the deplorable condition he was in was put in arms, gun, tomahawk, and target, and so marched away with the company, being about fifty.

They travelled eight days west and by south as he guessed and came to a town of Negroes, spacious and great, but all wooden buildings. Here, they could not take anything without being seen. The next day they marched along by the side of a great cart path, and about five or six miles as he judged came within sight of the Spanish town, walled about with brick and all brick buildings within. There he saw the steeple wherein hung the bell which Mr. Needham gives relation of and heard it ring in the evening.

Here they did not stay but drew off and the next morning layed an ambush in a convenient place near the cart path before mentioned and there lay almost seven days to steal for their sustenance. The 7th day a Spaniard in a genteel habit, accoutered with gun, sword, and pistol. One of the Tomahittans, spying him at a distance, crept up to the path side and shot him to death. In his pocket were two pieces of gold and a small gold chain, which the Tomahittans gave to Gabriel, but he unfortunately lost it in his venturing as you shall hear by the sequel.

Here they hastened to the Negro town where they had the advantage to meet with a lone Negro. After him ran one of the Tomahittans with a dart in his hand, made with a piece of the blade of Needham's sword, and threw it after the Negro, struck him through between his shoulders so he fell down dead. They took from him some toys, which hung in his ears, and bracelets about his neck, and so returned as expeditiously as they could to their own homes.

Down the Savannah River to Port Royal

The object of their next raid is one that we can pinpoint, north of the mouth of the Savannah River, inland from present-day Beaufort, SC.  What we now refer to as Yamasees may have occupied the area at that time.  As it would be with the Cherokees and many other native groups now familiar to us, the Yamasees did not have a long lineage as a “tribe” but were an amalgamation of remnants from earlier tribes and chiefdoms.    

The Savannah River fits the description of the waterway (“Port Royal river”) travelled by the Tomahittans on their way to Port Royal: 

They rested but a short time before another party was commanded out again and Gabriel Arthur was commanded out again, and this was to Port Royal. Here he refused to go, saying those were Englishmen and he would not fight against his own nation. He had rather be killed. The King told him they intended no harm to the Englishmen, for he had promised Needham at his first coming to him that he would never do violence against any English more but their business was to cut off a town of Indians which lived near the English. I but said Gabriel, what if any English be at that town, a trading? The King swore by the fire which they adore as their god they would not hurt them.
So they marched away over the mountains and came upon the head of Port Royal river in six days. 

There they made perriaugers [sic] of bark and so passed down the stream with much swiftness. Next, coming to a convenient place of landing, they went on shore and marched to the eastward of the south, one whole day and part of the night. At length, they brought him to the sight of an English house, and Gabriel with some of the Indians crept up to the house side and listening what they said, they being talking within the house, Gabriel heard one say, pox take such a master that will not allow a servant a bit of meat to eat upon Christmas day. By that means Gabriel knew what time of the year it was, so they drew off secretly and hastened to the Indian town, which was not above six miles thence.

About break of day stole upon the town. The first house Gabriel came to there was an Englishman. He heard him say Lord have mercy upon me. Gabriel said to him run for your life. Said he, which way shall I run? Gabriel replied, which way thou wilt they will not meddle with you. So he ran and the Tomahittans opened and let him pass clear. There they got the Englishman's knapsack with beads, knives, and other petty truck in it. They made a very great slaughter upon the Indians and about sunrise they heard many great guns fired off amongst the English. Then they hastened away with what speed they could and in less than fourteen days arrived at the Tomahittans with their plunder.

To the Heart of West Virginia

On his third long trip with the Tomahittans, Arthur almost lost his life.  The Monetons are known to have occupied the Kanawha valley in the 17th century.  Presumably, the “innumerable company of Indians” were along the Ohio, downriver from the Kanawha:

Now the king must go to give the Monetons a visit which were his friends, "mony" signifing water and "ton" great in their language. Gabriel must go along with him. They set forth with sixty men and travelled ten days due north and then arrived at the Moneton town situated upon a very great river, at which place the tide ebbs and flows. Gabriel swam in the river several times, being fresh water. This is a great town and a great number of Indians belong to it, and in the same river Mr. Batt and Fallam were upon the head of it as you read in one of my first journals. This river runs northwest and out of the westerly side of it goes another very great river about a day's journey lower where the inhabitants are an innumerable company of Indians, as the Monetons told my man, which is twenty day's journey from one end to the other of the inhabitance, and all these are at war with the Tomahittans. When they had taken their leave of the Monetons, they marched three days out of their way to give a clap to some of that great nation, where they fell on with great courage and were as couragously repulsed by their enemy.

And here Gabriel was shot with two arrows, one of them in his thigh, which stopped his running, and so was taken prisoner, for Indian valor consists most in their heels for he that can run best is accounted the best man. These Indians thought this Gabriel to be no Tomahittan by the length of his hair, for the Tomahittans keep their hair close cut to the end so an enemy may not take an advantage to lay hold of them by it. They took Gabriel and scoured his skin with water and ashes, and when they perceived his skin to be white they made very much of him and admired his knife, gun, and hatchet they took with him.

They gave those things to him again. He made signs to them the gun was the Tomahittans' which he had a desire to take with him, but the knife and hatchet he gave to the king. They not knowing the use of guns, the king received it with great shows of thankfulness for they had not any manner of iron instrument that he saw amongst them. While he was there they brought in a fat beaver which they had newly killed and went to swrynge [sic] it. Gabriel made signs to them that those skins were good amongst the white people toward the rising sun. They would know by signs how many such skins they would take for such a knife. He told them four and eight for such a hatchet and made signs that if they would let him return, he would bring many things amongst them. They seemed to rejoice at it and carried him to a path that carried to the Tomahittans. They gave him Rockahomony for his journey and so they departed, to be short.

Yet Another River Voyage

Details of the next expedition suggest that the Tomahittans lived on a river that emptied into the Gulf of Mexico:

When he came to the Tomahittans, the king had one short voyage more before he could bring in Gabriel and that was down the river they live upon, in perriaugers [sic], to kill hogs, bears, and sturgeon which they did incontinent by five days and nights. They went down the river and came to the mouth of the salts where they could not see land but the water was not above three feet deep hard sand. By this means we know this is not the river the Spaniards live upon as Mr. Needham thought. Here they killed many swine, sturgeon, and beavers and barbecued them, so returned, and were fifteen days running up against the stream but no mountainous land to be seen but all level.

Risky Return to Fort Henry

In May of 1674, Gabriel Arthur, the Tomahittan “king” and eighteen more of his people loaded up their goods for a return to Fort Henry.  Their journey was uneventful until the night they camped at the Sarrah (Uwharrie?) River and Arthur again had a scrape with death:

There were but four Occhonechee Indians there so that they did not adventure to attempt any violent action by day….When it grew pretty late in the night the Occhonechees began to work their plot and made an alarm by a hubbub, crying out the town was beset with innumerable company of strange Indians. This put the town people into a sudden fright, many being between sleeping and waking. 

Away run the Tomahittans and leave all behind them, and amongst the rest was Gabriel's two pieces of gold and chain in an Indian bag. Away slipped Gabriel and the Spanish Indian boy which he brought with him and hid themselves in the bushes.

After the Tomahittans were gone the four Occhonechees, for there came no more to disturb them, made diligent search for Gabriel. The moon shining bright Gabriel saw them, but he lying under cover of the bushes could not be seen by those Indians.

In the morning the Occhonechees, having missed of their acme, passed home and Gabriel came into the town again and four of the Tomahittan's packs hired four Sarrah Indians to carry them to Aeno. Here he met with my man I had sent out so long ago before to inquire for news desparately sick of the flux. Here he could not get any to go forth with his packs for fear of the Occhonechees, so he left them and adventured himself with the Spanish Indian boy.

The next day came before night in sight of the Occhonechee town undiscovered and there hid himself until it was dark, and then waded over onto the island where the Occhonechees are seated, strongly fortified by nature and that makes them so insolent for they are but a handful of people, besides what vagabonds repair to them it being a receptacle for rogues. Gabriel escaped clearly through them and so waded out on this side and ran for it all night. Their food was huckleberries, which the woods were full of at that time and on the 18th of June with the boy arrived at my house, praise be to God for it.

On the Threshold of Major Changes

And that is about the extent of Colonel Abraham Wood’s letter.  Drastic changes were soon to follow, all along the frontier and throughout the Southeast.  In the course of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the Occhonechees joined the colonists for an attack on the Susquehannock people farther to the north.  But after that battle, the colonists turned on the Occhonechees and decimated the tribe.  By 1678, the Susquehannocks exacted revenge against the Occohonechees, striking them at their island stronghold.  Never regaining the power they once held, the remaining Occhonechees retreated to a settlement on the Eno River near Hillsborough, NC.

The Tomahittans, if they were Yuchis, also faced severe pressures in the late 17th and early 18th century, even as they strove for power in the Indian slave trade.  Conflicts with neighboring tribes forced the Yuchis out of their territory west of the Appalachians and toward South Carolina and Georgia. 

And, they would have a deadly encounter with a new group emerging in the southern mountains, a coalition called the Cherokees.

But that's another story for another day...



Monday, July 31, 2017

Thimbleweed and its Neighbors

"Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them."
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

"The power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely."
-Louisa May Alcott

It isn't rare for me to encounter an unfamiliar wildflower.   But after a decade of native plant study, it is a pleasant surprise when I find a showy specimen that is new to me.


Such has been the case this summer with the Thimbleweed or Tall anemone (Anemone virginiana).  I found some just outside my back door and all over this mountain. How I might have missed it in the past is beyond me (assuming it has grown here in prior years), since the plant is a couple of feet tall.

When I began searching for specimens to photograph, a tiny grasshopper obliged.



Anemone virginiana is a distinctive mid-to-late summer flower with a  whitish-green bloom (what appear to be petals are actually sepals) and an oblong spiny fruit that remains after the petal-like sepals drop.

As with other members of the buttercup family, it produces the allelopathic substance, protoanemonin.  I've seen this described as a mild toxin that can cause skin or gastrointestinal irritation, and also as something that inhibits seed germination and seedling growth in many species of plants that might compete with it.  In any event, the plant's chemical defense mechanisms don't seem to discourage an occasional grasshopper.



A world of great beauty is so close at hand but so easily overlooked.

Just a few feet away from the Tall anemone, I've had a stand of Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) that never fails to amaze.



As Georgia O'Keefe said:

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else.  Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower.  I want them to see it whether they want to or not."

On the other hand, Ms. O'Keefe is also reported to have said:

"I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move!"

Whatever!