Shades Of Fall And Echoes Of The Past

GUEST CANCER JAM OF THE DAY (really awesome live performance):

We ventured out on Saturday to catch the last glimpse of golds, oranges and reds splashed across a Fall tapestry of rugged mountains. It was a cool crisp day adorned by a bright blue Carolina sky.

Our adventure took us to  Cataloochee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, about an hour southwest of Asheville, NC. The name Cataloochee comes from the Cherokee “Ga-da-lu-tsi”, meaning “fringe standing erect”, a reference to endless rows of tall evergreens surrounding the lush, fertile valley. This was a tribal hunting ground for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians before the white men came in 1814.  Early Euro-American settlers were friendly with their Cherokee neighbors, even becoming fluent in their language.

Pioneer families in the Cataloochee valley were rugged and independent by necessity in this rural Appalachian outpost. They raised sheep, cattle and hogs on the rich pastureland and traded furs for such necessities as lead, salt, and coffee. Although they were on good terms with the native people, they were sometimes raided and killed by rogue bands of Cherokee.

By the 1930’s, most of the residents of Cataloochee were forced out by eminent domain as the area was turned into a National Park. Many of the original buildings still stand, including one of the original homes, the one-room schoolhouse, and a small church.

.As we toured the Caldwell house, built in 1898, we came upon what must have been a teenager’s room. It was completely papered with tattered pictures out of an old Sears clothing catalog, circa 1920’s. We could almost feel the giddy excitement of the girl who inhabited this room. Did she dream of leaving her sheltered valley becoming a flapper like the glamorous models covering her walls? Did she even know about life in places like New York City? Or was she resigned to being a pioneer woman, sewing shoes for a dozen children out of the remnants of old felt hats?

Before we left the Park, we stopped to admire the growing herd of Elk which were reintroduced in the region over 10 years ago. Elk roamed freely in these mountains in the 1700’s but were driven out by overhunting and population growth. Obviously comfortable with the constant parade of tourists, the elk barely flinched as throngs of eager photographers edged toward them in the grass seeking the perfect shot.

I stood still for a moment before we got in the car and took it all in. As I closed my eyes, I could hear the rhythmic beating of the deerskin drums and the soulful chant of the Cherokee song. I could smell the seasoned oak of the campfire burning under a clear starry sky. Sometimes the most amazing history lessons are in our own backyard.


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