Lost Mountain

I have discovered that Lost Mountain, an unincorporated part of western Cobb county, has applied for city status in order to preserve its semi-rural nature. The place had a role to play in the Atlanta Campaign, and is famous for its old country store, which has been in continuous operation since 1881. Plus, like Waleska and the Stone Pile near Dahlonega, it has a romantic Cherokee legend associated with it. According to one version of the story, the Cherokee chief Nickajack had a daughter named Oolalee, whom he had betrothed to the young brave Chickoee. However, Oolalee’s heart belonged to another brave named Sawnee, of whom her father did not approve – and with whom she eloped, never to be seen again. 

In later years, the story says, old Nickajack used to sit by the door of his wigwam and looking away to the northwest would murmur, in his native tongue, the syllable “lost!” His tribesmen, hearing his constant murmur of “lost, lost,” when he looked toward the mountain, called it “Lost Mountain.” 

I would be interested to know more about why white people enjoyed these sorts of stories, told in this sort of sentimental, figurative, “moonshiney” diction. Here’s another example from Rock City, a tourist trap in Chattanooga, Tenn., complete with manufactured waterfall and manufactured Indian Legend to go along with it.

I assume that work has been done on this question….

Blue Beads in Alaska

From Gizmodo (hat tip: Robert Black):

Found in Alaska, These Blue Beads Could Be the Oldest Evidence of European Goods in North America

 
European-crafted glass beads found at three different indigenous sites in northern Alaska date back to the pre-colonial period of North America, in what is an intriguing archaeological discovery.

Somehow, these blueberry-sized beads made their way from what is now Venice, Italy, to the Brooks Range mountains of Alaska at some point during the mid-to-late 15th century, according to new research published in American Antiquity.

The authors of the paper, archaeologists Michael Kunz from the University of Alaska Museum of the North and Robin Mills from the Bureau of Land Management, suspect the beads were trade goods that, after passing through China’s Silk Road, eventually made their way through Siberia and eventually into Alaska via the Bering Strait. If confirmed, it would be “the first documented instance of the presence of indubitable European materials in prehistoric sites in the Western Hemisphere as the result of overland transport across the Eurasian continent,” the authors wrote in their study.

No biggie, right? In other words, indigenous North Americans had their hands on Renaissance jewelry prior to the arrival of European colonists, if this interpretation is correct. Mind blown.

These glass beads, with regional names like “Early Blue” and “Ichtucknee Plain” and scientifically known as the “IIa40” variety, have been found in North America before, including the Caribbean, the eastern coast of Central and North America, and the eastern Great Lakes region, but those finds date back to between 1550 and 1750. In case you flunked grade 2 history, Christopher Columbus reached the Americas in 1492. Dating these beads to the pre-colonial era is thus very significant.

Read the whole thing

The Stone Pile

A former student of mine shares a Facebook post of local historical interest:

The Georgia Photography Fanatic.

The accompanying text:

Ten miles north of Dahlonega, GA, at the intersection of US 19 and State Road 60, you’ll come up to a roundabout with something odd in the middle: a big stone pile inside a triangle! It’s known as the Stone Pile Gap & it has quite a history!

The historical marker reads:

“This pile of stones marks the grave of a Cherokee princess, Trahlyta. According to legend her tribe, living on Cedar Mountain north of here knew the secret of the magic springs of eternal youth from the Witch of Cedar Mountain.

Trahlyta, kidnapped by a rejected suitor, Wahsega, was taken far away and lost her beauty. As she was dying, Wahsega promised to bury her here near her home and the magic springs. Custom arose among the Indians and later the Whites to drop stones, one for each passerby, on her grave for good fortune. The magic springs, now known as Porter Springs, lie 4 miles northeast of here.”

According to lore, the Georgia Department of Transportation has tried to remove the stones on more than one occasion during road construction. Supposedly each time it happened, at least one person died in accidents while moving the pile, leading many to believe that removing a stone from the pile will bring the curse of the witch of Cedar Mountain upon the thief, so only recently they decided to do the next best thing; build a roundabout around the stone pile!

The Georgia Photography Fanatic.

The historical marker is quoted accurately (although according to the GHS website the maker is currently “down”):

Georgia Historical Society.

Of course I would need to do more research on this question before coming up with a definitive answer (who exactly were these people who died?), but my hunch is that this entire thing – both the original story and the story of the subsequently immovable pile – is B.S. If nothing else, the Cherokee did not have “princesses,” and any story that refers to one should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Aztec Death Whistles

Something I did not know about (posted on Free Republic): 

Aztec Death Whistles Sound like Human Screams and May Have Been Used as Psychological Warfare

When odd, skull-shaped grave items were found by archaeologists decades ago at an Aztec temple in Mexico, they were assumed to be mere toys or ornaments, and were catalogued and stored in warehouses. However, years later, experts discovered they were creepy ‘death whistles’ that made piercing noises resembling a human scream, which the ancient Aztecs may have used during ceremonies, sacrifices, or during battles to strike fear into their enemies.

The Aztec Death Whistles were Not Common Instruments

Two skull-shaped, hollow whistles were found 20 years ago at the temple of the wind god Ehecatl, in the hands of a sacrificed male skeleton. When the whistles were finally blown, the sounds created were described as terrifying. The whistles make the sounds of “humans howling in pain, spooky gusts of whistling wind or the ‘scream of a thousand corpses” writes MailOnline.

Roberto Velázquez Cabrera, a mechanical engineer and founder of the Mexico-based Instituto Virtual de Investigación Tlapitzcalzin, has spent years recreating the instruments of the pre-Columbians to examine the sounds they make. He writes in MexicoLore that the death whistle in particular was not a common instrument, and was possibly reserved for sacrifices – blown just before a victim was killed in order to guide souls to the afterlife – or for use in battle.

There’s more (including pictures) at the link. You can watch a demonstration of one of these death whistles on YouTube (hat tip: Dan Franke). 

Pine Log Creek

Enjoyed a hike today at Pine Log Creek Trail, on GA-140 east of Rydal. There are two loops for a total distance of 4.5 miles. The highlight is the CCC quarry that you arrive at at the top of the second loop, which is now filled with water. 

The trail is maintained by Bartow County. I appreciate their bridges, and it’s nice to see inspirational graffiti on them!

I thought some of the tree labels could have been slightly better done, however.

Not too far away is a historical marker from the elusive Pine Log Historical Society, which contains interesting information about the Pine Log Indian Town.

It’s nice how large the sign is, and how the authors make use of both sides. I thought the bibliography could havre been better formatted, though. 

The graphic at the top is an emblem of the Seven Clans

Clovis Not First Anymore

A recent and significant find, as reported by Tom Metcalfe for NBC News (hat tip: Paul Halsall):

Ancient stone tools suggest first people arrived in America earlier than thought

Three deliberately-shaped pieces of limestone — a pointed stone and two cutting flakes — may be the oldest human tools yet found in the Americas.

Pieces of limestone from a cave in Mexico may be the oldest human tools ever found in the Americas, and suggest people first entered the continent up to 33,000 years ago – much earlier than previously thought.

The findings, published Wednesday in two papers in the journal Nature, which include the discovery of the stone tools, challenge the idea that people first entered North America on a land bridge between Siberia and Alaska and an ice-free corridor to the interior of the continent.

Precise archaeological dating of early human sites throughout North America, including the cave in Mexico, suggests instead that they may have entered along the Pacific coast, according to the research.

Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist with the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico, the lead author of one of the papers, said the finds were the result of years of careful digging at the Chiquihuite Cave in north-central Mexico.

The steeply-inclined cave is high on a mountainside and filled with crumbling layers of gravel: “The deeper you go, the higher the risk for the walls to collapse,” he said.

The excavations paid off with the discovery of three deliberately-shaped pieces of limestone — a pointed stone and two cutting flakes — that may be the oldest human tools yet found in the Americas.

They date from a time when the continent seems to have been occupied by only a few groups of early humans – perhaps “lost migrations” that left little trace on the landscape and in the genetic record, Ardelean said.

More at the link. UPDATE: More at Nature.

Gene Flow in the Pacific

From the Guardian (hat tip: Paul Halsall), something I’ve always wondered about:

Indigenous Americans had contact with Polynesians 800 years ago, DNA reveals

Indigenous Americans and Polynesians bridged vast expanses of open ocean around the year 1200 and mingled, leaving incontrovertible proof of their encounter in the DNA of present-day populations, new studies have revealed.

Whether peoples from what is today Colombia or Ecuador drifted thousands of kilometres to tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific, or whether seafaring Polynesians sailed upwind to South America and then back again, is still unknown.

But what is certain, according to a study in Nature, is that it took place hundreds of years before Europeans set foot in either region, and left individuals scattered across what became French Polynesia with signature traces of the New World in their DNA.

“These findings change our understanding of one of the most unknown chapters in the history of our species’ great continental expansions,” the senior author Andreas Moreno-Estrada, principal investigator at Mexico’s National Laboratory of Genomics for biodiversity, told AFP.

Read the whole thing.

Myth or Truth?

Three items of local significance that I’ve heard about recently – although are they actually true?

Indian pointing trees. Wikipedia:

Trail trees, trail marker trees, crooked trees, prayer trees, thong trees, or culturally modified trees are hardwood trees throughout North America that Native Americans intentionally shaped with distinctive characteristics that convey that the tree was shaped by human activity rather than deformed by nature or disease. A massive network of constructed pre-Columbian roads and trails has been well documented across the Americas, and in many places remnants can still be found of trails used by hunters and gatherers. One unique characteristic of the trail marker tree is a horizontal bend several feet off the ground, which makes it visible at greater distances, even in snow.

Dr. Wheeler writes: “The trees are not a myth. But if anyone points one out to you, ask yourself whether the tree is reasonably close to 200 years old.”

Symbolic quilts on the Underground Railroad. From the Longview News-Journal:

Long before Navajo code talkers in World War II and the advent of secured phone lines and encrypted emails, some say, American slaves used quilts hung from windowsills and clotheslines as a signal to others to help them escape to the North for freedom.

“These quilts contained symbols sewn into them. For instance, the North Star signaled for a slave to go north, a sailboat represented safe passage and bear claws told slaves to follow the bear trails into the mountains.

From the comment thread:

This idea has been debunked by serious historians.

1. The quilts would have had to be out all the time, as one could never know when a runaway would be coming by. Neighbors would begin to wonder why a quilt was out all the time.

2. Enslaved people would have had to know about the codes. What is the old saying? Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Imagine a mother, husband, father facing his loved ones being sold away, and would they not be willing to reveal the secret to keep their loved ones close?

3. In his book The Underground Railroad, William Still, secretary to the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery society, states that there are records of over 800 people escaping slavery. None of them mentions using a quilt as a map. Tubman makes no reference to use of quilts in her many trips to bring family members to freedom.

4. There were songs, the most famous being “Follow the Drinking Gourd” that are alleged to be from the period to help enslaved people escape along the Ohio River.

Appalachian English. Wikipedia:

One popular theory is that the dialect is a preserved remnant of 16th-century (or “Elizabethan”) English in isolation, though a far more accurate comparison would be to 18th-century (or “colonial”) English.

From a paper on Scribd:

After leaving Appalachia for school in Louisville I learned that Appalachians use Elizabethan English. Unfortunately that isn’t true. It has, however, become a cultural myth. Michael Montgomery says, “The idea that in isolated pockets somewhere in the country people still use “Elizabethan” or “Shakespearean” speech is widely held and is one of the hardier cultural beliefs or myths in the collective American psyche.”

The idea arose in the late nineteenth century and has often been associated with the southern mountains—The Appalachians of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, and the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri. At one extreme it reflects nothing less than our young nation’s yearning for a stirring account of its origins, while at the other extreme the incidental fact that English colonization of North America began during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I more than four centuries ago. Two things in particular are responsible for its continued vitality: its romanticism and its political usefulness. Its linguistic validity is another matter entirely. Linguists haven’t substantiated it, nor have they tried very hard to do so, since the claim of Elizabethan English is patently based on very little good evidence. But this lack of support is a secondary, if not irrelevant, matter for those who have articulated the Shakespearean English idea in print—popular writers and an occasional academic—for over a century. It has indisputably become a powerful cultural belief and acquired mythic status.

The New Year + Indian Flaggery

Thanks to Jeff Bishop, director of the Funk Heritage Center, for lending us the space yesterday for our history program pop-up party to start off the new academic year. A good time was had by all!

In keeping with one of the themes of this blog, here are images of the flags hanging in the main hall, representing the so-called Five Civilized Tribes of the American southeast. 

The flag of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, one of three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes in the United States. 

Flag of the Chickasaw Nation, also headquartered in Oklahoma. 

There is a Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, but this flag is of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. A third Choctaw band claims Jena, Louisiana as its home.

The flag of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, or as it says on the flag, “Indian Territory.”

The flag of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma does not appear, but that of the Seminole Tribe of Florida does. 

Finally, what does this sixth flag mean? It’s a great design, but apparently it is the flag flown by the Creek… as allies of the Confederate States of America!

(Personally, I wouldn’t hang this one.)

The Cherokee Nation

I like a lot of what Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has to say, but the fact remains that she repeatedly and deliberately claimed Cherokee ancestry over the course of her academic career, for the sake of whatever boost that particular valence of identity would give to it. Frankly, I don’t understand how people can get away with this grift. Unlike the categories of “Hispanic” and “African-American,” “Native American” is buttressed by a specific legal status. The “Cherokee grandmother” (or worse, “Cherokee princess”) that you’re supposedly descended from might be interesting to you, but it is of no more moral significance than having Italian or Irish ancestors. Unless you are a member of a federally-recognized tribe, then you don’t get to say that you’re a Native American! Alas, a seller’s market exists for these claims: liberal academic institutions are so desperate for American minorities, both as students and faculty, that they (apparently) won’t investigate them too deeply. But it is still fundamentally dishonest, not much different from plagiarism, that is, stealing someone else’s stuff and passing it off as your own, which is the unforgivable academic sin.

I was glad, therefore, to read this piece by Rebecca Nagle on Huffpost Personal (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

The center of this controversy is not Warren’s political career, it is Cherokee sovereignty and self-determination. The monster I am trying to wrestle to the ground is not one white woman who claimed to be Cherokee. It is the hundreds of thousands of white people claiming to be Cherokee and the broad social acceptance that emboldens them. It threatens the future of my tribe. Warren is just the most public example.

When white people took over our land, they outnumbered us. Today, Cherokees are once again outnumbered by outsiders, claiming not our land, but our identity. In the last U.S. census, there were more white people claiming to be Cherokee than there are Cherokee citizens enrolled in our tribes. These fakes are writing our history, selling our art, representing us to the United Nations, fighting for the same legal status as our tribe, and stealing millions of dollars from federal programs set aside for people of color. And they all have stories that sound just like Warren’s. 

Read the whole thing