Farley Mowat

My hometown of Port Hope, Ontario has had a number of notable residents, among them Joseph Scriven (author of the hymn “What a Friend we have in Jesus”), artist David Blackwood, impresario and explorer William Leonard Hunt (the Great Farini), and author Farley Mowat, who died in 2014. I remember seeing Mowat around town, and everyone knew the story about him mooning the guests at a banquet, by means of illustrating that no underclothes were worn under a kilt. Now Chris Robert, a high school teacher of mine, sends me images of a monument constructed to honor Mowat and moved this past weekend to its current site on the east bank of the Ganaraska River. You can see Port Hope’s town hall in the background.


Photo: Chris Robert

Why an upside-down boat, you ask? Well, this is a reference to Mowat’s book The Farfarers (1998), which impressed the Port Hope Friends of Farley Mowat. From the plinth:


Photo: Chris Robert

I had never heard of this before, and I confess that the passive-voice construction “are believed” in the first paragraph made me suspicious (Wikipedians will automatically insert a superscripted [by whom?] whenever they find stuff like this). Moreover, there is a long tradition of imagining the arrival of pre-Columbian explorers to the Americas for various reasons – is this just the latest example? Who were these people, and what exactly did Thomas Lee discover on the Ungava Peninsula?

I do not have a copy of The Farfarers to hand, although you can look inside the book at Amazon. According to the summary at Wikipedia, Mowat claims that even before the Vikings, settlers from the island of Orkney, chasing walrus ivory, reached Iceland, then Greenland, and then arctic Canada. Mowat calls these settlers Albans, after “Alba,” a Gaelic name for Scotland, and believes they were the descendants of the prehistoric inhabitants of the British Isles, pushed to the fringes by Celts and then Romans. Thomas Lee was an archaeologist at Laval University; his excavations on the Ungava Peninsula uncovered stone building foundations that Lee thought were temporary shelters built by Vikings around the year 1000, the same time as their settlement of L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. Lee also found a stone landmark that he dubbed the Hammer of Thor on the assumption that it too was Viking, although it could simply have been an Inuit inukshuk. So it seems that Mowat was reinterpreting Lee’s data – Lee did not originate the theory of the Albans.

Thus, it probably comes as no surprise that the editors of Canadian Geographic designated The Farfarers as “highly speculative” and noted that “no professional archeologists are known to share Mowat’s theories.” Stuart Brown of Memorial University noted the “small problem” of a complete lack of “reasonably compelling evidence,” with the book being “entertaining as fiction, [but] far from convincing as fact.” As much as I hate to run down a hometown hero, these assessments are probably accurate. Mowat did indeed have a reputation of never letting the facts ruin a good story. I recall a 1996 cover story in (the now sadly defunct) Saturday Night magazine, with Farley Mowat as Pinocchio.

farleymowatsatniteReporter John Goddard investigated the research and composition of Mowat’s bestselling book Never Cry Wolf, and discovered quite a few things that he simply made up.

As a historian, I confess that I cannot approve of this schtick….

Native America

On our trip we saw a number of things built by the original inhabitants of this continent. In reverse chronological order they were:


1. Sequoyah’s Cabin, Sallisaw, Okla. Sequoyah (a.k.a. George Gist, c. 1770-1843) is famous for having invented a syllabary for the Cherokee language, which was widely adopted and still in use today. His birthplace in Vonore, Tenn., is now a museum. He moved out to Arkansaw Territory some ten years before the Trail of Tears, as he could see the writing on the wall and believed that the future of the Cherokee lay out west. There he built a cabin, which was completely enclosed by a stone building by the WPA in the 1930s in order to preserve it. I did not know that he died in Mexico, on a quest to find more Cherokee who he believed had moved there during the time of the Indian removal.

Jerry Dobbs, manager of the facility, taught us about Sequoyah’s syllabary, and rendered our names in it.



2. Mound sites in Spiro, Okla. (top) and Moundville, Ala. (bottom). These ones were built by the Mississippian people of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (roughly 1000-1500); only Cahokia (Ill.) and Etowah (Ga.) rival them in importance. The Spiro site suffered greatly from looters in the 1930s, and the current Archaeological Center probably needs an injection of cash, but we greatly enjoyed chatting with the Center’s director, Dennis Peterson, who was very knowledgeable about Spiro, the SECC, and the rise of civilizations in general (and their fall: the SECC was largely a victim of a changing climate in the late Middle Ages). He told us about Moundville, so of course we stopped there on our way home. This one is run by the nearby University of Alabama, and is apparently well-funded – one of the WPA-era buildings at the site has recently had an addition put on it, and features displays of the artifacts unearthed at the site, as well as dioramas describing social organization and funerary customs of the Mississippians. The site itself is quite spectacular – when you’re there, you can really get the sense that this was a thriving city (none of my photographs can quite do it justice).


3. Poverty Point, near Pioneer, Louisiana. This is a State Historic Site, and an UNESCO World Heritage Site, because it’s not Mississippian, or even Woodland, but Archaic, i.e. it was built during the second millennium BC, by a hunter-gatherer people. It consists of a large semi-circle of six earthen ridges, which may have supported houses; at the apex of the semi-circle is a quite large earthen mound known as the Bird Mound (pictured). Unfortunately, the semi-circle is rather hard to make out these days, because throughout the nineteenth century this was a plantation, and regularly plowed to grow cotton! And to think people used to do this…

Capitol Campaign

Continuing our personal project, here are some more state capitols that we saw on our recent trip:

1. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This departs from the regular pattern of a neoclassical dome – instead, like Bismarck, N.D. or Lincoln, Nebr., it takes the form of a tower. You can take the elevator to the top for a nice view.


This building, of course, is essentially a monument to Huey Long, Louisiana’s populist Depression-era governor, who authorized its construction and who was assassinated in it in 1935.


A statue of the Kingfish stands on the grounds.


The former capitol building down the street is a crenellated structure that now acts as a museum of political history.


Needless to say, Huey Long appears in here, too.

IMG_2695The Capitol Park Museum nearby is first rate.

2. Austin, Texas. Quite large, as befits anything Texan. It was surprisingly crowded on a Sunday. I was amused to note that the guards were armed with assault rifles. Don’t mess with Texas!


Enjoyed the portraits of Ann Richards, George W. Bush, and Rick Perry, along with the view of the interior of the dome, and the mosaic on the floor.


You can hardly see it, but “TEXAS” appears between the arms of the star.


Another appearance of the Six Flags, or rather, the Six Emblems, with Texas at the center of the large star, and the other five between the arms of the star. Alas, this was the least crowded it ever got while I was there.

Down the street, the Bullock Texas State History Museum is wonderful.

3. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. A rainy day and construction, but the locals were certainly friendly. 


The interior has a nice collection of paintings of famous Oklahomans, like Will Rogers, Gene Autry, Sequoyah (they claim him), and Wiley Post. Like Texas, the interior of the dome is nice, as is the floor decoration beneath it.

IMG_2981 okseal

The arms of the star illustrate devices used by the Five Civilized Tribes, who were all expelled there in the nineteenth century: starting with the seven-pointed star on the top left and moving clockwise, these are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, and Creek. The middle of the seal shows “Columbia” (a feminine personification of America not much used anymore), holding a balance above her head, and blessing a handshake between a white settler and an American Indian, who are flanked respectively by a train and a teepee.

(Not to be too much of a wet blanket, but I don’t think this image necessarily reflects the reality of the Dawes Act, or the land runs that followed.)

Unfortunately, we were too late to see the Oklahoma History Center. Next time!

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.


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.


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.


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.


Laurence Stacey.

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

Dartmouth and Canada

Ron Good apprises me of an interesting article by Thomas Peace at Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History entitled “Dartmouth College and Canada: The Problem of National Historiographies.” As a Canadian and a Dartmouth alum, I was naturally curious – and pleased to see that Peace deals with Joseph Brant, UE (alias Thayendaneaga), the Mohawk chieftain who was educated at Moor’s Indian Charity School (the precursor to Dartmouth), who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, who relocated to Brantford, Upper Canada following the war – and who subsequently sent his own sons back across the border to be educated at Dartmouth. If ever I have enough money to donate a building to Dartmouth College (admittedly a highly unlikely possibility), I would name it Brant Hall, after Joseph and his sons, representative of the connections that have existed between Dartmouth and Canada from the beginning. Peace points out, however, that Brant was one of several such people, and that their cross-border existence has been obscured by the fact that historians tend to focus on writing either a history of Canada, or of the United States. I sure hope he makes more of this.

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.

Leake Mounds

I’ve blogged about the Etowah Mounds, but these were not the only Indian mounds in Cartersville. This afternoon we visited the Leake Mounds Interpretive Trail, which consists of a winding path on both sides of Highway 113, just north of the Cartersville airport. Unfortunately, the site no longer contains any mounds! They were “razed in the 1940s for use as road fill when the Dallas-Rockmart Road was moved to its present location.” So you have to use your imagination:

Where the mounds once were.

The trail provides a nice walk, however, and the signage (produced in part by the University of West Georgia’s Center for Public History) is very informative. The information itself was largely gleaned from an archaeological dig in 2004-06 by Southern Research of Columbus, Georgia. The Bartowdig.com website has the full story.

Indians on Seals

A followup to a post from May: at least Waleska’s seal is not like that of Whitesboro, New York. This was making the rounds recently, along with demands to change it:

From the linked article in the Village Voice.

Wikipedia says that “the Whitesboro seal displays a wrestling match between founder Hugh White and a local Oneida chief,” and village officials themselves “maintain that the wrestling match was an important event in the village’s history and helped build relations between White and the area’s Native American population.”

But I suppose that showing White actually winning is not good form. His name probably doesn’t help things either.

This reminds me of a paper I wrote for the International Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences in Quebec City in 2008. I called it “One Defends and the Other Conquers: Native Figures in North American Heraldry and Sigillography.”* I divided my collection into three categories: 1. emblems that express conquest of Natives by Europeans (or desire for or voluntary submission to such conquest), 2. emblems that express partnership between Natives and Europeans, and 3. emblems that use Natives as simple representatives of the New World. All three of these are dodgy by today’s standards, some more than others – human figures can be very expressive, and can be manipulated into expressing things that may or may not be true; they may also be seen as objectifying to the people in question and therefore bad as such.

The seal of Whitesboro clearly belongs in the first category. Other examples include the seal of Minnesota, showing a settler watching an Indian riding into the sunset, while his gun leans against the stump of a newly cut tree:


The seal of the brief Dominion of New England (1686-89):


The seal of the province of Georgia:

from Kenneth Coleman, ed., A History of Georgia (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1991), 8.

And the chained Indian supporters of the arms of the infamous Lord Jeffery Amherst:

The Christian religion, with its universal imperative, inspired a number of hopeful emblems, such as the seal of the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel, showing natives flocking to the shore to hear a missionary preaching from a boat (cf. Mark 4.1), while believing that he was “coming to help us” (Acts 16.9):


The same sentiment is placed into the mouth of a native on the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony:


(Speaking of this sort of thing, St. Louis University has recently removed a statue of Pierre-Jean De Smet, who was depicted as acting a little too self-confidently. I took this picture a couple of years ago:)

Author’s photograph (June 2013).

Much more palatable to current sensibilities is the second category, the idea of partnership between natives and Europeans, along the lines of the myth of the original American Thanksgiving, a coming-together of two distinct peoples to create a new and amicable political reality. The supporters of your average coat of arms can useful in this regard, viz. the arms of Toronto:

from Alan Beddoe, Beddoe’s Canadian Heraldry (Belleville, Ont.: Mika Publishing, 1981), 87

The arms of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan:

from Alan Beddoe, Beddoe’s Canadian Heraldry (Belleville, Ont.: Mika Publishing, 1981), 95

Or the arms of New York City:


If you have a seal, you can even show Natives and Europeans embracing, as on the seal of the Grand Lodge of Kansas:


Or the seal of Oklahoma Territory:

from Eugene Zieber, Heraldry in America (New York: Greenwich House, 1984), 171.

But although we are edified by these seals and coats of arms, do we risk putting a happy face on a potentially ugly political reality – like with the myth of Thanksgiving itself? The seal of the Oklahoma Territory is not necessarily an accurate portrayal of such things as the Dawes Act (whereby the federal government expropriated Indian land for white settlement) and the Land Runs that followed. New York City’s arms do not show the $24 worth of beads with which the Dutch famously bought Manhattan Island.

Then there’s the third category, whereby Natives simply represent the “New World,” in the same way that New World flora and fauna do. Often natives will be placed as supporters for the arms of colonies, or trading companies, such as the French East India Company:


The Scottish Darien Company:

From the blog of the Glasgow University Library.

The Dutch Society of Surinam:

The province of Newfoundland:


Or the province of Carolina, whose supporters were recycled in the arms of the senate of North Carolina in 2006:

Courtesy Clive Cheesman, Rouge Dragon Pursuivant.

Of course, such usage can be quite objectifying, especially when natives are placed as supporters of European enterprise. (A related issue: when European colonists adopted native symbolism to represent themselves in their dealings with the metropole. This controversial tradition continues in the use of Native American sports mascots like the Chicago Blackhawks or the Florida State Seminoles.)

But as I wrote in the paper:

Does all this mean that North Americans of European descent should abjure the use of Native figures in any sort of identifying symbols? Should the use of Natives be restricted to Natives alone? Admittedly this paper has been rather skeptical about the use of such figures by non-Natives, but I believe that they can still appear in heraldry, provided that designers employ a little wisdom and sensitivity. It is always best, of course, to be specific – rather than a generic “Indian,” a member of the band in question, dressed accurately for the given period (which should be specified in the blazon) – and only if the current leadership of the tribe gives its approval. Obviously the ideas of conquest, or desire or support for conquest, or the idea that Indians really represent white people, are not to be encouraged. But is the remaining idea, that of partnership, too much of a euphemism – does it paper over an unpleasant reality? Sometimes, perhaps, but not necessarily: the history of European-Native encounter is not one of continual oppression by the former over the latter. Many instances of genuine partnership may be enumerated: that of Brock and Tecumseh has already been mentioned; another is the alliance of Loyalists and Mohawks during the American war of independence, acknowledged in the crest of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association. Certainly, to return to the point made at the beginning of this paper, most places in North America have Native heritage – acknowledging that heritage is simply a matter of being honest.

* The title was taken from Nova Scotia’s motto, a translation of Munit Haec et Altera Vincit, referring to the supporters:



Photos of things historical, from a short jaunt to St. Augustine, Florida:

1. On the way down, we stopped at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia. This is run by the National Parks Service and features a WPA-built visitor center.

The site itself is quite large and boasts “17000 years of continuous settlement” in successive waves (Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, and colonial).

One major site is a reconstructed council chamber, designated the “earth lodge,” with a circle of seats around the outside, each one larger and higher until one reaches a platform across from the door, with three seats on it for the leaders. There was a fire pit in the middle and four oak trunk pillars holding up the roof. Unfortunately, the interior was too dark for good photographs.

In common with the Etowah, Cahokia, and Kolomoki sites, Ocmulgee has a large temple mound, built up over many years, one basketful of soil at a time. The parking lot in the front is actually a former railway cutting which destroyed two-thirds of another mound in the nineteenth century. To think that people used to do this!

2. We then headed on to St. Augustine, Florida, which we had been wanting to see for some time. Like Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., it is a coastal settlement from the early days of European contact; unlike those cities, it is significantly older, having been founded by the Spanish in the mid-sixteenth century. Unfortunately, today it is also a lot more touristy, since it it within the orbit of Disney World and possesses a nice beach. But the Castillo de San Marcos remains a well-run historical site.

The fort itself dates from 1672. It was transferred to the British in 1763 after the Seven Years’ War, and back to Spain in 1783 after the American War of Independence. It became American after the United States annexed Florida in 1821 (and was briefly Confederate in 1861-62). It was last used for military purposes during the Spanish-American war, when it served as a prison for deserters. These and other aspects of the fort’s history are detailed in signage and presented by uniformed guides, some of whom will demonstrate firing a canon at set times.

From Wikipedia, an arial view of the place, showing the early modern star-fort design: