Thursday, July 31, 2003

Considering Mists

I met Mr. Frank Bradley, publisher of The Sentinel newspapers on Sunday, July 20, 2003, as he took pictures and interviewed people in attendance at the annual Dyer-Souther Heritage Association Reunion.

Before he left our large gathering that day, he invited me to write a weekly column for The Union Sentinel. Having been told that I have a penchant for historical writing, he requested that I tell about significant people and events that have had a bearing in county and area history.

Considering an overriding title for the series, I thought about how quickly the mountain customs, stories and ways of our forebears are slipping away, buried in the mists of time. I thought, too, about how the heavy mists of fogs of early morning in the mountains shroud our views of the majestic peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain and limit visibility as we travel.

Then comes the bright sunshine of mid-morning and the mists lift, burned away by the sun’s penetration. That little bit of philosophizing gave me my on-going title: “Through Mountain Mists.”

We have all heard stories from our grandparents of how these valleys were settled in the early 1830s, and how our ancestors pursued their visions of a better way of life. With characteristic courage, they set out with meager possessions loaded in covered wagons and moved from the counties of Wilkes and Buncombe in North Carolina to find their way along Indian Trails or portions of crude roads through mountain passes to settle in the valleys and hills of Union County formed in 1832.

No doubt they drove through dual mists: the literal mists of mornings laden with fog, but the more invasive mists of the unknown. And now, out of the mists of time, their stories are begging to be told.

They knew, to carve out a living for their families, they would have to undergird their dreams and determination with hard, back-breaking labor to clear the land, build cabins, raise crops, tame the wilderness, be self-sufficient in their own right, and help their neighbors across the nearest creek or over the next ridge.

When my ancestors came into Union County in 1832 or maybe slightly before, some of them may have taken up residence in cabins built by the Cherokee and abandoned when the first wave of evacuation began about 1819 for those beleaguered native Americans. My heart still moves with sympathy for those who were enticed to early moves and especially in the 1838 forced evacuation to leave the lands and mountains that they loved.

Can we blame our ancestors for this plight? I’ve thought much about the situation. We often dismiss actions by blaming any infractions of justice on “the times” in which we lived then. And so it was in the 1830s. The greed for gold and government intervention caused a general displacement of the native Americans and a rush of white settlers to claim the lands the Cherokee had cleared and tilled and which for so long had been their hunting grounds.

The mists of that hurt still linger, sometimes reechoed in long-muted tom-toms, seen in ancient and undecipherable carvings as those at Trackrock Gap, and falling like silken sounds in places named Choestoe, Arkaquah, Kiutuestia, Nottely and Enotah. The mists are there, blocking our understanding, rising over our beloved mountains like a dense shroud.

I invite you to explore with me some of these mists, to find in them the moisture for thought, the light of understanding. Perhaps we can all come to a greater appreciation of the forces that shaped our ancestors into solid, dependable, hard-working citizens who carved out a new way of life in the valleys and on the hillsides of our beloved mountains.

The threads of these characteristics have been passed to us through blood lines and by example. What was good and noble we can emulate. What was questionable, we can ponder and avoid. Journey with me.

By way of introduction of the author: Ethelene Dyer Jones was born in Union County, Georgia, a daughter of the late J. Marion Dyer and Azie Collins Dyer. Her ancestors were some of the first settlers in the Choestoe District. She is a retired educator, poet, published author and compiler and editor of Facets of Fannin: A History of Fannin County, Georgia, Volume I (c1989) and assisted Dale H. Dyer with Fannin County, Georgia Cemeteries (c2003). She is the historian for the Dyer-Souther Heritage Association.

c2003 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published July 31, 2003 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.