Panel at the Funk

I was pleased to attend an interdisciplinary panel last night in the Funk Heritage Center entitled “The Etowah River: History, Ecology, Literature.” Organized by Donna Little, professor of English at Reinhardt, it also served as a kick-off event for Reinhardt’s new low-residency Master of Fine Arts program, currently organized around the theme of “Story and Place in the New South.”

The Etowah River begins near Dahlonega, Georgia, flows southwards and then eastwards, passes through Canton (the seat of Cherokee County and seven miles south of Reinhardt), and then joins the Oostanaula at Rome. The resulting river is named the Coosa; this becomes the Alabama River near Montgomery, and empties into the Gulf of Mexico at Mobile.

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Donna Little speaks at the Funk Heritage Center, 4/20/16.

Dr. Little opened the night’s proceedings by showing a map of the area. Nowadays we are used to thinking in terms of I-75 and I-575, the north-south freeways leading to Atlanta, but the Etowah and the Oostanaula run east-west, and that’s the direction that Indians would have been familiar with: thus the Mississippian Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, and New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, which was not in the middle of nowhere in north Georgia, but on the Oostanaula, which was a major thoroughfare.

Speaking of the Cherokee (who, it must be said, were only resident in north Georgia from the 1780s or thereabouts), Dr. Little publicly unveiled a discovery of hers: that during the expulsion of the Cherokee Indians during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, a group of Cherokee actually encamped on what was to become Reinhardt’s campus. Lloyd Marlin’s History of Cherokee County (1932) quotes the now-lost journal of Nathaniel Reinhardt (the father brother of Augustus Reinhardt, who was the co-founder of RU on his family’s land). It reads:

In 1835, Father [i.e. Nathaniel’s father Lewis Reinhardt] bought a tract of land on the old Pinelog Road [i.e. today’s GA-140] some two miles from his mill-place, improved it and in the latter part of 1835 he moved on it.

1838… In the spring many U.S. soldiers were passing through the country for the purpose of collecting and removing the Cherokee Indians to the West. They frequently lodged at night at Father’s Saw old Foekiller, a neighbor Indian, just after he had been arrested by the soldiers, who were carrying him to Fort Buffington. They treated him rather cruelly, which excited my sympathies very much in his favor. The old Indian desired to see father, who solicited better treatment in his behalf. He left all his keys with Father. After the Indians had been collected by the soldiers and started on their final march off, they came near our house the first night and camped, I caught the measles from a soldier who lodged with us that night, and had them severely. One of the neighbors came and stayed the night at Father’s from fear of injury by the Indians.

[Emphasis added. Fort Buffington was thirteen miles from Waleska and the distance is certainly walkable in a day.]

The need for a Trail of Tears monument on Reinhardt’s campus (not just an exhibit at the Funk) is very great.

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Ken Wheeler.

Reinhardt History Professor Kenneth Wheeler followed with a talk on the human relationships along the Etowah River, particularly the gold rush of the 1820s and the antebellum iron industry, both of which were ecologically disastrous. He also mentioned how Reinhardt co-founder John Sharp had promoted a steamboat service between Canton and Rome, and how William Nickerson attempted to dredge the Etowah for gold – although the attempt proved uneconomical, and Nickerson later opened a sawmill. Presumably all these characters will appear in Dr. Wheeler’s upcoming book.

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Keith Ray and Diane Minick.

Keith Ray, adjunct professor of biology at Reinhardt (a Reinhardt graduate and Ph.D. candidate at Auburn), mentioned how the Etowah valley is one of about five or six places in the world which, for the past 100 million years or so, has neither been under water, nor under glaciers. This remarkable stability has produced a vast abundance of plant and animal species. (I had no idea this area was so ecologically diverse.) Environmentalists Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative and Diane Minick of the Upper Etowah River Alliance spoke of the importance of maintaining this diversity.

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Laurence Stacey.

Laurence Stacey, adjunct professor of English at Reinhardt, ended the evening by reading some haiku.

The GAH

Congratulations to Prof. Ken Wheeler on his paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Georgia Association of Historians this past weekend at Georgia Highlands College in Rome, entitled: “Racial Expulsion and a Myth of Whiteness: Why Reinhardt Normal College Abandoned the New South and Became a Mountain School.” This is based on an article forthcoming in the Appalachian Journal, which I have had the privilege to read, and which begins:

Founded in 1883 at the edge of southern Appalachia in northern Georgia, Reinhardt Normal College initially reflected a New South ideology of its German-American founders, who saw the school as part of a larger vision that included mining, business development, and transportation improvements. By 1900, however, a second generation articulated a different story of the college, in which they presented Reinhardt as a missionary outpost among an isolated and ignorant, though promising, population that required moral uplift. For the founding generation, the hilly, even mountainous, topography surrounding their school signified the waterpower that could be harnessed to power mills and factories, but for the second generation the landscape signified a geographically and culturally remote locale in which the school operated. What stayed constant was a racial outlook in which the first generation advocated ridding the area of people of African descent, and the second generation either echoed that aspiration or presented the school as though racial purification had already happened and Reinhardt existed in an all-white setting.

(Cf. VPAA Mark Roberts’s talk last fall, wherein he argued that the Appalachian “hillbilly” was the valued repository of an unsullied original “Anglo-Saxon” culture.)

Given this history, one can see why the admission of James T. Jordan was such a significant event, and worth remembering.

Congratulations are also due to Prof. Wheeler on being awarded a sabbatical leave next spring to work on his book, Creation and Destruction in the Cherokee Country: Georgia’s Etowah Valley 1829-1865.

The Seven Clans

Happened to see this decal on a car window in a parking lot this afternoon:

These are the seven Cherokee clans that evolved in the nineteenth century (note the Cherokee script). Justice Poteete spoke disparagingly of people who claimed Cherokee ancestry but who couldn’t trace their lineage back to one of these clans. The number seven appears frequently in Cherokee iconography, thus the flag of the Cherokee Nation (which hangs in the Funk Heritage Center), featuring seven gold stars in a circle, each of which has seven rays:

One can also see seven pointed stars on this poster, which a colleague of mine has up in her office:

 

From the Vault

The previous entry on the Cherokee Nation made me think of our visit to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee, which my wife and I saw once. Seqoyah (c. 1770-1840) was a Cherokee silversmith who, impressed by the ability of white people to communicate with each other by means of “talking leaves,” invented from scratch a syllabary of eighty characters for representing the Cherokee language, which continues to be used.

Via Wikipedia, this is the most common portrait of Sequoyah, an engraving after an oil painting he sat for in Washington DC on a visit there once.

Unfortunately, the museum didn’t do justice to its namesake. The exhibits were not about him so much as they were about the Cherokee themselves, with the film they show you (an hour long, as it turns out) focusing heavily on Cherokee removal and mentioning only briefly such things as the tradition of “inter-clan violence.” The rest of the museum consisted of a meager collection of artifacts, rather poorly displayed. We both thought that if it’s being billed as a Sequoyah museum they should focus on him and then branch out into other issues that he represents: the historic identity of the Cherokee, their contact with Europeans, the whole question of what literacy does to people (including the history of the Cherokee Phoenix), and the question of acculturation: how do we deal with Europeans, by resisting them, or imitating them? Of course you then could still talk about how even the latter didn’t save the Cherokee, due to the stunning bad faith of Andrew Jackson, et al., but you could then follow Sequoyah out to Oklahoma and tell about how the band survives out there to this day.

Fun at the Funk

Enjoyed a talk at the Funk Heritage Center last night, entitled “The Cherokee Trail of Tears: Memory and Meaning” by Chief Justice Troy Wayne Poteete of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. Chief Justice Poteete is executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association and has served as a delegate to the Cherokee Nation Constitutional Convention.

L to R: Martha Hasty, Reinhardt Board Chairman Billy Hasty, Chief Justice Poteete, Funk Heritage Center Director Joe Kitchens.

The Funk Heritage Center is now a certified National Park Service Trail of Tears interpretive center, and has received a challenge grant from a foundation that will match donations up to $50,000 for the purpose of exhibiting artifacts excavated at the Hickory Log site in Cherokee County. Donations must be received by November 1, 2015. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Barbara Starr at 770-720-5967 for information.