Native American

Joan of the Fort LeBeouf Museum

Because the Fort LeBoeuf Museum is only open Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I decided to make the almost three hour drive this morning (8/3/17).  It was definitely an experience I’m glad to have had, though I wouldn’t drive that far for it again.

One of my favorite military costumes

I pulled up to the Museum to be greeted my two teen boys (7th graders, I would discover.)  When I asked if they worked there (because they had greeted me immediately), they informed me that they were part of the historical society there.  I was truly thrilled to see these young men at work.  They were composed, well-spoken, polite, and actually knew a few things about the museum.  While they are still learning, (They told me a uniform was original–it had machine stitching on it–not from the 1700’s…) but overall, they were able to point out some cool things in the museum, and we discussed many of them.  Their favorite was a model of how pelts were pressed into packs.  It is, however, a very small museum, though free–which is a perk.  Still, they did have a number of cool replica uniforms, which will be very helpful as I write.

Washington’s trail

Another cool thing was the map of where Washington traveled, going from Williamsburg to Fort LeBoeuf to deliver the letter telling the French to leave.  (Again, this is 450 miles one way!  On boat, foot, or horseback!)  When the distance for me was trying, I can’t imagine the trip they took–in December, no less.

The couple who founded the museum were incredibly kind and helpful.  Joan took me behind the museum to show me where the fort had been and demonstrate why they had chosen this spot.  It seems even at this time, there was an understanding of the importance of the high ground.  This fort rested on a bluff overlooking French Creek (a river), which would have been a strategic spot on the waterways, which were the super highways of the day.

Washington Statue in a British uniform

Additionally, across the street from the museum is the only statue of Washington wearing a British uniform.

Still, at the end, I felt a bit like Washington when he had to this fort to deliver Governor Dinwiddie’s letter telling the French to leave the area because they were on British lands.  I had gone a far distance without much to show for it (but, at least I didn’t get shot at on my way out of town like he did–for that, I am grateful.)

So, this concludes my study of Washington for this trip.  I’ve traveled almost 6,000 miles, met a number of amazing people, and learned so much more than I knew before.  I’m incredibly grateful to the Individual Artists Grant for allowing me this opportunity!



Outer view of Fort Ligonier

Having visited Fort Necessity yesterday, I was almost blown away when I visited Fort Ligonier today (8/2/17).  The expanse of the fort absolutely blew me away.  But the fort itself is not all that is impressive at Fort Ligonier.

When I first entered the Museum, I was honestly disappointed–the museum covers the 7 Years’ War (The International Conflict which the French Indian War contributed to) starting with the War of Austrian Succession for back story.  I have gotten to the place of such a specific focus that I was especially looking for new information on that section.  Once I got past the “This wasn’t what I was expecting” feelings, I started to actually look at the exhibits.  I was completely blown away by the artifacts they have.  They host a case dedicated to each country involved in the 7 Years’ War, complete with uniforms, weapons, and a host of other artifacts.  How a museum in Pennsylvania acquired such amazing artifacts from Asia, Africa, and all over Europe and the colonies, I’ll never know, but the collection is one of the finest I’ve seen.

Display area

Additionally, they currently have a rare collection of Washington artifacts (with more exhibits promised to come).  The current collection includes his dueling pistols (given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette) and his handwritten remarks (originals) about the French Indian War.   It also has a gallery of art about the French Indian War and the original parlor of St. Clair.  I’m excited to see all the changes they bring.

Fort Ligonier also offers a variety of activities for kids.  Today was cannonball club–children got in Free.  And on the first Friday of the month in the summer months, everyone is free (Friendly Fire Fridays).  I chose to pay to come today to a.) miss the crowd and b.) not have to hike around in the rain (predicted for Friday). But, this definitely seems to be a place that offers a ton of activities for kids (The lobby has children’s writings and projects about the fort on display!)


Outside the museum, the fort is incredibly impressive.  This was the last fort along Forbes road as he was preparing to assault Fort Duquesne (and pick up the pieces after Braddock’s miserable defeat.)  Still, the amount of buildings was incredible!  There were barracks, officers quarters, quarter masters, hospital areas, a cellar for gunpowder complete with a ladder you have to climb down to get in–all designed from two original maps of the fort telling precisely what went where.  There’s also an additional officers’ quarters not on the map, but the archaeological evidence indicates both the foundation and the use of the building.

Officers’ quarters

My favorite part of the fort was the officers quarters where Washington stayed with two other officers.  In it, there is a sign which tells of an incident I had read described by another soldier in a first hand account.  Washington was bringing his men to support some Virginians under attack.  Because it was dusk, the troops they were going to reinforce fired on them, and Washington’s men fired back.

Washington’s dueling pistols

Washington rode down the middle of the two groups, pushing guns aside, and yelling at the men not to fire.  In the first hand account I heard, it stated that the man was terrified because Washington was right in the middle of the two armies when the volley rang out.  But, when the smoke cleared, George was still standing (riding, actually), though he later writes that the encounter had placed his life “in as much jeopardy as it had ever been before or since.”  But, that’s not the only time a bullet would miss Washington.  (I later learned that after he had delivered Governor Dinwiddie’s letter demanding the French leave and been rejected, as Washington was walking the 450 miles back to Williamsburg, one of his Indian guides who had been turned by the French at Ft. LeBoeuf took a shot at him, narrowly missing him.  Washington and Christopher Gist chased him, but he got away.)

Braddock Battlefield History Center–sharing a building with a gymnastics club

I left Fort Ligonier to head to the Braddock Battlefield History Center.  I had learned from another website that there were very few reminders of the battle I wanted to cover, but this museum was one.  It’s open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12-4 or by appointment.  Interesting hours, but the man who started it 20 years ago is a wealth of information and worth any drive!

Area surrounding Washington Statue

The area itself made me sad.  It reminded me of Gary, back home in Indiana–an area once thriving and cultural because of the steel mills and now boarded up and passed over.  I understand why the museum creator Robert T. Messner wanted to build a museum on the forgotten battlefield where so much history took place.

The Museum offers an hour video, which seems like a lot, but is so informative, it’s absolutely worth it.  Then, the Mr. Messner sat with me for another hour and explained the entire background of the battle.  His Museum also includes over 250 artifacts and 50 paintings or works of art (including ones he doesn’t like for their inaccuracies, but he is committed to displaying the art about the battle–even the bad art.)   He also focuses on the role the Native Americans played in this battle, which by casualties inflicted was the second most important Native American battle–The defeat of St. Claire (of my Fort Ligonier visit fame) being number 1 and Custer’s Last Stand being a less noteworthy 10.  He pointed out that when the French Commander was shot in one of the early volleys of the battle, it threw the French into a state of confusion but released the Native Americans from any responsibility to leadership, so they were free to fight the battle the way they wanted–with disastrous effect.

Statue at the site of the Battle of Monongahela

They flanked Braddock’s line and poured into them, specifically targeting officers and drummer boys.  Casualties among the army are around 70%, while casualties among the officers are around 90%.  That Washington made it out alive is miraculous!

Mr. Messner defends Braddock, however, despite the fact that he disregarded and alienated Native tribes and ignored Washington’s advice that a huge group of red coats was a giant target.  Washington had fought Indians before.  Braddock had not.  But, Messner points out that the British made battle plans expecting the land in America to be the same as it was in Britain.  So, when they say, “March from here to here,” they’re not considering that he has to fell trees and actually build a road to go over the Appalachians!  Add to that the fact that his troops consist of every other regiment’s cast offs (Seriously, would you send him your best soldiers?), and to get any money for his engagements, he has to go through the Pennsylvania Assembly instead of the crown–an Assembly made up largely of Quakers who don’t believe in fighting in the first place.  I see his points.

Additionally, he points out (as will Washington) the cruelty of timing.  Most of the Indian tribes were from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario–it took them a while to get there and they weren’t going to stay forever.  The fact that Braddock had taken a month to train his men instead of marching straight to Ft. Duquesne means he met the Indians who had arrived two weeks previously.  Had he trained longer, the Indians would have left–as they did at Fort Necessity facilitating the parlay.  Brutal timing.

Painting of Benjamin Franklin and Braddock

Three other things stood out from my discussion with Mr. Messner.  First, he has a painting which shows Benjamin Franklin talking to General Braddock (The original hangs in the library down the street from the Museum.)   Apparently, Benjamin Franklin tried to warn Braddock not to fight in lines and that the Native Americans would decimate them.  But, Braddock scoffs and says essentially that maybe they could defeat the Colonials, but they held no threat to the British Army.  How wrong he was!  This understanding that the British had no idea how to fight on American soil planted the seeds that they could possibly be overcome when we decide to take them on ourselves.

The second thing that stood out was he mentioned that Monongahela was Washington’s last major engagement before he is named commander-in-chief 20 years later.  That’s when it struck me–he wore his uniform to the Continental Congress 20 Years Later!  The uniform he wore as a 20 year old, still fit him as a 40 year old!  (Though Messner points out he looks a bit chubby in the painting…)  Still, how many people can fit into clothes they wore 20 years ago.

The final point of interest at the museum is another of what I call “Histories Mysteries.”  In a box buried shallowly on the battlefield is found rings, coins, and a medal from Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna.   The speculation is that the box belonged to a surgeon and the contents were things taken from bodies.  But, why a Russian medal from an incredibly unpopular Russian leader?  Definitely a mystery!

All in all, it was a fascinating day and two places I definitely recommend!





Fort Pitt Museum…and the very familiar bridge

When I set off today (7/31/17) for Pittsburgh, I had plans to visit Fort Pitt and explore some of the surrounding areas.  I had forgotten (blocked?) just how much I hate cities.  Don’t get me wrong–some of the coolest things to see are inside cities, but the hassle of getting there always has me frustrated before I arrive wherever I’m going.  Fort Pitt was my normal annoyance on steroids.

To the best of my memory, I haven’t been to Pittsburgh before, and the internet analysis of traffic was truthful, but not positive.  I was relying on my GPS to locate Fort Pitt (having identified its location on a map), and it didn’t steer me wrong–sort of.  It did, in fact, identify Fort Pitt.  While I was on a bridge.  And the building was about 20 feet below me.  With no indication of a road down.  Consequently, I spent an hour and a half driving back and forth over the bridge and surrounding areas trying to figure out where to actually park to approach Fort Pitt.  I had googled Parking Garages in the vicinity, but they seemed miles from the actual building. I strongly considered calling it a day and driving back home.  I’m glad I didn’t.

Blockhouse model

To save you the hassle, I will share my wisdom, so you can do better (or at least faster) if you visit.  I chose a parking garage at the corner of Fort Duquesne and Stanwix.  It costs $20 for the day (Advertised $6.00–but after 4.  Read the fine print.)  There is another garage for $13 a day at Fort Duquesne and Sixth Street (which I was headed to when I found this one.)  It’s a better deal, but 2+ blocks farther away.   After you park, walk down Fort Duquesne until you can turn left on Commonwealth Place.  As you turn, you’ll see a park area in front of you with a circling walkway that goes under the bridge (and over a little bridge of its own).  Take the pathway, and you come out at the Fort Pitt Museum.

Barracks scene

Once I actually arrived, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the museum.  The first floor contains a model of Fort Pitt and vicinity, a gallery of paintings about the French Indian War, and many free standing scenes including traders, barracks, Native American scenes, and the model of the inside of the block house.  There is a lot of reading on panels here, but they explain a great deal about the war.


Depiction of the British articles of war

The main exhibits, however, are on the second floor.  One thing I especially appreciated was the separation of French, British, and American.  Each topic, whether it was uniforms and weapons, reasons for fighting, or responses to various circumstances, contained the views of each side.  I was struck once again with how complex war often is.  I have always presented the Civil War as a many layered event with people fighting for a variety of reasons, but it seems the French Indian War was the same.  I suppose that’s true in every conflict–people have different reasons why they do what they do.  I was also struck with how many times people made stupid and hurtful choices trying to get revenge–Like the whole congregation (96+ people) of Moravian Christian Indians who were slaughtered (after being told they’d be executed and spending the night singing hymns) simply because the soldiers wanted revenge against an entirely different group of Native Americans.  There’s also the time two soldiers decided to kill White Eyes–the spokesman of the Delaware who was known as “The Peacemaker” for his work negotiating treaties.  Of all the people you’d think to kill, the leader who was on your side shouldn’t be at the top of that list!

I also read about the commander who chose tho deliver two smallpox infested blankets and a handkerchief to the Native Americans even before his commanding officer commanded him to do just that.  It was an intentional biological attack.  The museum sites case after case where the Native Americans are stuck in the middle, trying to decide who to trust:  the British or the French, then the British or the Americans.  The choices are not great.

Exterior Blockhouse

I finished up at the Museum, getting a detailed book on the campaign during which my book is set, and headed outside.  There is a remaining block house outside of the museum, but it’s only open Wednesdays through Sunday April through October and weekends the rest of the year, so I didn’t get to go inside.  This blockhouse is one of the original 5 redoubts placed on the perimeter of Fort Pitt for added security.  It is the only remaining part of the Fort.  There is also an outline of the location where Fort Duquesne stood.

All in all, it was a very informative day, but I’m looking forward to the forts that are a little more easily accessible–and a bit more off the beaten path!


The Governor’s Palace

I began my study of George Washington at my favorite Colonial Williamsburg.  When I received my grant on Robert Bolling, I spent a great deal of time in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, aided by the wonderful people there, so I knew they would be a good place to start today (7/7/17).

I was pleased to find on the Colonial Williamsburg schedule that Lady Washington would be speaking today.  We had fallen in love with the “original” Martha Washington (who started the reenactment program at Colonial Williamsburg and now plays Lady Washington at Mount Vernon.)  And while I know the reenactors at Williamsburg are just that, I also know they spend an extensive time studying the original before taking on the role.  Since I wanted to get a feel for Washington’s personality, I figured the best place to start was with those who “knew him best.”

Lady Washington’s presentation was mostly concerning the role of women in the war, but more specifically her duty to her husband.  When they had married, George had promised her he wouldn’t be involved in battle again.  But, when he is selected by the Continental Congress to hold the position, he feels duty bound to accept.  Martha, also has an amazing sense of duty which will compel her to the winter camps to be with her husband.  Ironically, she receives the final persuasion to go from reading in the newspaper that she is a Tory, estranged from her husband, and not supportive of the cause.  Obviously, this makes her aware of the role she plays in the new nation’s formation.  So, for the next several years, she will spend the winters with her husband in camp, where many of the men will view her as a mother and caretaker to them all.  It definitely gave the audience a lot to think about in regards to our current soldiers and their families.

Lady Washington

After seeing Lady Washington, I wandered around a bit and stumbled upon an auction in progress.  This is a newer addition to Williamsburg and one of the changes I actually like. Daily during the summer and on Saturdays the rest of the year, Colonial Williamsburg conducts a public auction (not requiring an admission pass).  During the auction, bids start usually at half price on items available in gift shops and a few special items unique to the auction.  It was an incredible experience!  It’s also the only auction I’ve seen where the auctioneer will occasionally give you items for less than you were willing to pay.  I had bid up to $10 on a hatpin, and he dropped the bid back to $5!  Definitely a fun addition.

After the auction, I decided to buckle down for the heat of the day, and made my way to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, where I received my second surprise.  There was a sign on the window that due to the cuts, the library would no longer be open to the public, except by appointment–which I didn’t have.  Another loss from lack of funding.  Thankfully, however, one of the librarians saw me gaping and let me in.  Those who were there were willing to work with me, and I spent the next four hours pouring over Washington’s papers.  One of the managers was also able to email the man who plays Washington, as an artist on the palace green informed me he had been required to do a year of reading before being allowed to play Washington (You see what I mean about these guys knowing their stuff.)  I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I’m excited for the process.

The Auction

There were several cool things I discovered while doing research on the young George Washington. I started with his diary entries as a 15 year old!  These were mostly about his surveying activities and discussions of hard times he had with lodgings (sleeping on scant hay with vermin infested blankets.)  But, he also included a passage about seeing an Indian war dance.  I copied down his description for use in my book.

“They clear a large circle and make a great fire in the middle, then seat themselves around it.  The speaker makes a grand speech telling them in what manner they are to dance.  After he has finished, the best dancer jumps up as one awakened from sleep, runs and jumps around the ring in a most comical manner.  He is followed by the rest.  Then begins their musicians to play a pot half of water with deer skin stretched over it as tight as it can and a gourd with some shot in it to rattle and a piece of horse tail to make it look fine.”

Knowing how much Washington would deal with the Native Americans in the future, I found it interesting to read these early impressions.  Reading Washington’s own thoughts really gave me a sense of his voice.  I especially loved his dealings in the French-Indian War.  Two things particularly stood out. First, Washington even at this time was honing his spy skills.  He evaluated land for its potential defensability. He also used time in the French forts to scout their resources.  His level of observation (telling how many cannons and which types, the number of men, and areas of the fort that were vulnerable) give indication of the strategist he would become.  It also helped me understand the information he requested of the Culpepper ring.

The Capitol Building

The second thing that interested me was his dealings with the Native Americans and the propaganda each side used.  The French seemed to try to bribe the Indians with goods (mostly weapons or alcohol.)  The British, however, protest that they’re fighting this war to preserve the Indians lands, and they offer their protection to the tribes’ old, women, and children.  Another interesting thing I noticed (and Washington seems to take exception to) is the fact that the French call the Indians “children” and the Indians refer to them as “fathers.”  The British (or at least George Washington on their behalf) calls the Indians both brother and friend.  In one letter, he even signs his own Indian name Conotocarious.  Ironically, the name (which Washington inherited from his Great Grandfather John Washington) means “Town Taker” or “Devourer of Villages.”  In light of our later treatment of Native people, I find that extremely interesting and would love to find the back story.  Even more interesting is the fact that when Washington refers to himself by his Indian name, he has just signed his letter “Your friend and brother.”  Just a fascinating dance, these interactions between cultures!


Escaping a Rainy day at Charlton’s

After studying for the better part of four hours, I decided to head over to Charlton’s Coffee House.  As always, there was amazing chocolate and fun information on the house, and on this particular day, it provided a nice place to wait out the short shower of pouring rain.

I concluded my day by heading over to the William and Mary Campus Library.  The Special Collections researchers had already headed home for the day, but the librarian was able to point me in the direction of Ferry Farm, Washington’s boyhood home.  I was surprised this hadn’t come up in my research–I just had information on his birthplace and assumed he went from there to Mount Vernon.  But, Ferry Farm is on my way (ish) from the birthplace to Culpepper, so I’ll head there on Sunday.  So much to see and do!

Ready to explore

This morning (7/8/16) we got up headed to Jamestowne.  We decided to do the history in order from Jamestowne to Williamsburg to Yorktown.  My nephew (6) wanted to dress up, and we had brought both an Indian costume and a John Smith costume, so we took them along for him to wear in the different areas.  Turns out, it was a great idea!

We bought our tickets and planned to head into the Indian village. One thing that has changed since previous trips is they no longer have the tour guides that lead you through each section, or at least not on a regular schedule.  You pretty much explore on your own and the guides are in the different areas.  I missed the added information of taking a tour.

The packed canoe

There is a special exhibition called “Bartering for a Continent,” which will be available until December 10, 2016.    It is a fun experience, which I recommend.   You begin in the exhibition area (Second floor of the visitor center). Corban was given a card with 5 challenges to complete.  He had to pack a canoe with provisions, put a puzzle together to learn Native American words, find another trading animal than a deer, figure an exchange rate for buckskin (why we call dollars “bucks”), and make a peace medal rubbing in foil.  After completing all the challenges, he was sent to the Indian village to get something to trade.

Grinding corn

In the Indian village, we received a small bag of corn, which we were told was to trade in the fort, not feed to the chickens (The temptation is great, and we met a girl who had already fed her “trade goods” to the them). In addition to the bartering challenge, the village still offers a variety of activities and interpreters to speak to kids. Corban got to grind corn, scrape skins, explore houses, see fish traps, rope, and pottery being made, and play Native American children’s games.

Learning about weaponry

One of the areas we especially enjoyed  was talking to the lady at the weapons place.  I asked her what had made her decide to work here. She said growing up, she had found artifacts in her back yard.  She’d always loved history, but as she was the first generation to go to college, she had pursued a medical career.  Eventually, she also added archaeologically, and fell in love with it.  Since that doesn’t pay the bills, she works here where she gets to be around history and still talk about it.

She shared that Native American society is matriarchal.  Wives built their house by  their mother-in-law’s.  She also explained that, while Indian tools work well, they took a long time to make.  This explains why the Powhatan trade for tools–not because they need them but for bragging rights.

From the Indian Village, we went out to the ships to climb aboard. We ate our lunch and headed to the fort.

Corban holding a “John Smith” sword

At the fort, we first stopped at the armory. Since Corban was dressed as Captain John Smith, the man there told him he needed one thing to complete his outfit–the Captain John Smith sword, which he let Corban hold.  He explained the gun racks in the armory. The leaders wanted the men to keep their weapons in a rack.  They didn’t want soldiers carrying their guns around because then they couldn’t get to them quickly in case of an attack.  Additionally, each man had his own place in the rack.  Unlike later years, guns at this time were unique, so you had to have your own so it would match your musket balls and allow you to actually fire.  He explained that in a battle, soldiers would hold several musket balls in their cheeks for quicker loading.  In battle, he explained, the corporals marked the position of the soldiers while the Sergeant gave the battle orders. The Commanding officer watched the enemy, not the soldiers.  He changed tactics based on position of enemy.  The man at the armory was only able to talk to us for a few minutes as he was the one to fire the musket, which occurs on a quarter til and a quarter after each hour.  But, he let Corban be the commanding officer since he was dressed the part.  That meant he got to call out the commands of “Prepare your piece, present your piece, and fire.”  He thoroughly enjoyed that!

Helping the joiner

A final person we got to meet was the joiner. As the name suggests, this is the man who makes joints consisting of two pieces of wood carved so one has a tab and the other has a slot.  These joints are connected by a simple peg passing through each. Because the joints are constructed with green wood, when the wood swells, the pegs are stuck so the wooden pieces will not come apart.  Since the joiner worked by the river, and his pieces are brought in, he numbers each piece for construction on shore.  The largest house in original Jamestowne had 57 joints. Interestingly enough, 75% of world today still uses this same joint.

Considering a trade

Finally, it was time to make our trade.  We took the corn we had been given at the Indian village and went to meet with the clerk.  He was explaining how things were traded.  We presented our goods, and he proceeded to make a series of offers.  Finally, we settled on a trade of our bag of corn for a glass bead bracelet.  It was a fun experience for kids to see the way bartering works and have a souvenir as well.

All in all, we had an excellent time, despite the changes, and are looking forward to much more fun to come!

Model and sculpture

We decided to start the day (6/29/16) at the Crazy Horse monument, then head out to Custer’s State Park.  The vision Korczak  Ziolkowski had for this area is an incredible one.  The entrance fee of $28.00 for a carload may seem steep, but when you consider that all the work on the project is paid for out of the proceeds of the admission, gift shop, and private donations (with No Government Support), it’s an investment worth making.

We started at the museum with the movie, which gives insight into this remarkable family. The Ziolkowskis and their ten children have truly made this sculpture a life calling.  It was fascinating to me that Korczak didn’t really know many Native Americans before beginning this project, and yet honoring, preserving, and enhancing the Native American experience has become a driving force for not just Korczak, but also his children.

Korczak’s portrait

After the movie, we took a tour of the museum given by one of the students of the Native American summer program. The first place he took us was to the portrait of Korczak his friend Dean Nauman painted. Korczak himself made the frame. He asked for them to put only half of it up initially and put the other half up when the mountain is finished.  The estimated finished date is unknown

Crazy Horse’s gun and saddle

One thing I especially enjoyed on the tour was the sections of artifacts from Crazy Horse. We were told a bit of Crazy Horse’s life which I was not aware of.  First, he went on a vision quest at 14 instead of the usual 16.  While on his vision quest, he saw a horse and a red hawk. When he became a warrior, he always wore a red hawk feather to commemorate this event. He also took over his father’s name Crazy Horse. As a warrior, he became a shirt wearer (police officer)–another testament to his ability as a warrior.

Horse armor with 24,960 beads

One interesting story was that Crazy Horse tried to run away with a married woman. Her husband caught them and shot him in the shoulder (which I’m betting is not where he was aiming.)  Because of this attempted affair, Crazy Horse was ostracized by his tribe and sort of separated from them.  Thankfully for him, he became famous as a warrior in his own right. In one skirmish, he drew 86 soldiers into an ambush.  He also fought in the Battle of Little Bighorn. Because he had repeating rifle, he was able to beat the military who was still using single shot.  Eventually, however, he was captured, tried to escape, and was stabbed in the back.


Bedroom in the Cabin

Another interesting part of the museum is the information about the sculptor himself.  I was fascinated to find out that Korczak actually worked on Mount Rushmore, but had been fired when Borglum discovered he was learning techniques to do his own monument.   He also served in the war.  When he came back, he built his cabin to work on the mountain.  He had met his second wife while he was carving in Connecticut.  She had actually met him at 13, but they became better acquainted when she worked with a group of artists who helped him on a sculpture.  The cabin he built them is still used by their daughter.

Horse and Old Pagan sculptures

Another thing that was especially interesting was how incredible of a carver Korczak really was.  Looking around both the cabin and the studio, one can’t help but be impressed with his ability.  My favorites were the horse he carved in just 9 days.  Next to that is a sculpture entitled Old Pagan.  This man was carved when Korczak was 21 out of wood taken from Boston Harbor. Pagan was a carpenter and sailor who had memorized most of Shakespeare. The carving shows him reciting King Lear.  Next to that is a woodcarving from Oberammergau carved by a man who was the cousin of the famous actor Anton Lang who played Christus in the Passion Play.   Since it’s my goal to go to the Oberammergau Passion Play, this was also an incredible connection.  Among the other amazing antiques were pieces of furniture and items that were a gift from the late King Farouk of Egypt.  He had replicas made of items found in King Tut’s tomb. I would have loved more time to browse all the amazing things around the room, but the tour continued.

Sculptors’ studio of Korczak and Monique

Our next stop was the Sculptor’s Studio. Here we heard about Korczak’s early life. He was orphaned at one and was raised by an Irish prize fighter (Though I heard somewhere that he was placed in a series of foster homes.). He moved out at a fairly young age (16), so he basically raised himself. He even created his own name by taking his mother’s last name as first name and father’s last name as his last name. The pieces pictured in this area are both Korczak’s and his daughter Monique’s who has definitely inherited her father’s talent and is currently supervising work on the mountain.

One fun fact our guide told us was that Korczak carved his sculpture of Wild Bill Hickok out of rock blasted from the mountain.  As he was carving, he found three pieces of gold in the area for the chin!


Eager Donkeys

Since we were trying to beat the storm to Custer State Park, we left after browsing through the wares of a variety of Native American artisans.  Custer State Park is a vast landscape, and we hoped to see animals on the wildlife loop.  Our fist animal sighting was a pair of turkeys complete with babies.
We continued the baby theme when we came across the donkeys.  These donkeys were definitely not shy, and they were even sticking their heads in the windows of passing cars–largely, I’m sure, because people kept feeding them.  They created a nice traffic jam trying to get food, which I’m sure the park discouraged.


After the donkeys, we went looking for bison, which we really wanted to show my niece. But, they were very elusive.  In fact, on the main trail, we only found one.  Driving down the gravel road, we found a small herd, but they were too far away for good pictures.  We were blessed to see a few antelope and deer before the storm set in.


The View from the Top

We concluded our day taking the winding road back.  The rain lifted, and the views were incredible.  Whether it was viewing Mount Rushmore through a tunnel or the hairpin turns of “the pig tails” where the road literally curves back on itself, we loved the beauty of the landscape. But, alas, it was time to head back and get packed.  Next stop:  Williamsburg, Virginia!


Morning mists and layers of beauty!

Morning mists and layers of beauty!

We set out this morning (3/24/15) to visit Cherokee, North Carolina.  Since our previous visit was over Christmastime, we weren’t able to go then, so this was our first time.  As a history teacher, I was hoping to get some first hand information on major events like the Trail of Tears and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend–and I was not disappointed.

We stopped along the way to capture the gorgeous views of the (relatively) early morning mists on the mountains. It was beautiful to see layer after layer of ridges–the sight is breathtaking–in some cases quite literally, as we were a mile in the air. Our first stop was the Oconaluftee Visitor Center, which is a definite “must see.” It boasts and outdoor collection of Mountain cabins and outbuildings that we were interested to see, but we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time in Cherokee, so we vowed to visit on our return trip.

Street view with one of the cultural dancers Photo credit:  Mary Rosalind Brailey

Street view with one of the cultural dancers Photo credit: Mary Rosalind Brailey

A few miles down the road, we entered Cherokee territory. When one hears the word “reservation,” a number of images come to mind. I’m not sure quite what I was expecting, but it was different than what I saw. We drove down a street lined with shops and even a Dairy Queen–I guess I expected it to be more primitive than it was. Not that I think Native Americans should be stuck in the 1800’s, but from reading Chief Seattle’s “If we sell you our land, love it” speech to my class every year, I guess I was hoping in would be more “untouched” by the commercialism that pervades American culture. Having encountered such vast natural beauty on the way into the reservation, I expected it to be more beautiful here. It was not.

The Museum, however, offered a wealth of information on the Cherokee Experience from the beginning of their civilization to the present. There is a wealth of artifacts to see–tools, arrowheads, tomahawks. They also have a variety of interactive displays where visitors can experience tribal stories from the Creation story movie to first hand accounts of different experiences.

The first thing that really captured my attention was the story of Sequoyah. This amazing Native American has about two lines of text in our History book–merely known as a leader who created the Cherokee alphabet. From now on, I will cover him differently.

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian

Sequoyah had so many obstacles to overcome, it is incredible. In today’s world, he would have been labeled an “at risk” kid. Abandoned by his white father and born with an infirm leg, Sequoyah entered life at a disadvantage. Yet, he helped his mother around the farm, and became an artist and a silversmith. He had been exposed to writing but was illiterate himself–the only inventor of a written language (at least in 5,00 years of written history) to not first write another language. And yet, he felt, as I do, that his people had a story to share. So, he set about creating an alphabet for them to record their heritage. He had another obstacle in the creation of the alphabet–this time from closer to home. His wife felt his work was becoming an obsession since he was neglecting their farm. She also felt his work was affecting his mind, so she burned it–I can’t believe what that must have been like. Still Sequoyah pressed on, and two years later he completed his syllabary. Finally, eleven years later, he would receive a silver medal from the Cherokee National Council. He is a true example of overcoming obstacles to achieve a goal.

I also learned more about another interesting Native American: Tecumseh. Being from Indiana, we spend special interest on the conflict between Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison. I knew that Tecumseh had been off raising support from other tribal members when Harrison picked a fight at the Battle of Tippecanoe. At the Museum, we were able to read a portion of his words. Here’s a quote from his speech: “The white race is a wicked race.

Museum Display

Museum Display

The hunting grounds are fast disappearing, and they are driving the red men farther and farther to the West. Let the white race perish whence they came. Upon the trail of blood, they must be driven. Will not the warriors of the Southern tribes unite with the warriors of the Lakes?” While this speech perfectly falls in line with the image we’re traditionally taught in history, an understanding of the Cherokee rule of Blood Revenge casts a new light on history. In Cherokee law, if a member of tribe A kills a member of tribe B, a member of tribe A must be killed in return. The goal was not simply revenge, but balance. The Cherokee followed this same practice with the “white tribes”: the settlers, the British, and the French. Imagine their surprise when these groups returned the blood revenge with military force. This is not to say Native Americans were innocent bystanders, but perhaps they are not quite the savages we have made them out to be.

Museum Display

Museum Display

Finally, we were able to learn of some unexpected people with Native American connections. Even General Andrew Jackson fought in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend alongside the Creeks, the Cherokee, and other Native Americans whom he would eventually expel with the Indian Removal Act. One of them even saved his life during the battle! Another famous American present at that battle was Sam Houston. Sam has quite an extensive experience with the Cherokee. As a 16 year old, Sam ran away from home and lived among the Cherokee. He was adopted by Chief Oo-Loo-Te-Ka and given the Indian name “The Raven.” He lives with the Cherokee for three years at this stint. He’ll then start a school, join the army, and get wounded twice at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. He then turns to politics, representing the Cherokee in Washington, where he will be criticized by Secretary of State John C. Calhoun for wearing Indian dress! After serving as the Governor of Tennessee, he will return to the Cherokee Nation for the Green Corn Dance where he will meet the woman who will become his second wife. He ends up staying with the Cherokee for a while, needing to be nursed back to health with Indian medicine by his Cherokee father after a severe bout with Malaria.

In addition to the notable names, we also learned about the “no names” like William Holland Thomas who essentially made his own Indian Reservation by buying up land on which he allowed the Cherokee to live. He first got to know the Cherokee by working in a trading post as a young man. He will eventually be adopted by Chief Yonaguska, who will name him his successor, making Thomas the only white Chief of the Cherokee. In addition to buying the land that is much of the Cherokee land in North Carolina today, he would negotiate for the Cherokee in court, and represent their interest in the Senate where he was elected in 1848 and would serve until the beginning of the Civil War. He also protected his tribe in the Civil War by forming the Thomas Legion–initially a protective force, but his men would eventually be sent into dangerous battlefields. Yet, his troops hold the distinction of the last shots fired in the Civil War east of the Mississippi.

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Store

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Store

Almost a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Thomas and his men surrounded Waynesville. After a night of war whoops, the garrison surrendered. Just four days later, on the one month anniversary of the Lee’s surrender, Thomas would learn of Appomattox and agree to lay down his arms. Always looking out for his tribe, we will convince the government that the Cherokee had never enlisted in the Confederate army and should therefore be allowed to keep their weapons. He is successful. In decline of health and deeply in debt, Thomas will continue to care for his people. Though he himself was committed to a mental institution, the Cherokee are able to use the treaty he negotiated in 1848 to maintain control of their lands which had been seized due to his debts. Definitely a neat story!


Mountainside Trees

After leaving the museum, we walked across the street to the Qualla Arts and Crafts store, which the museum had recommended we see. Offering a variety of items for purchase from woven baskets, to pottery, weapons, and wood carvings. The Craft store serves as a kind of museum on its own! We visited a few more shops and headed out to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was discouraging to see how much of the area consisted of trailers and abandoned or falling down buildings. Again, I desired more of what I had seen of reservations in the West.

The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Mountain Farm Museum at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center

The Blue Ridge Parkway was an amazing drive. From the views of layers and layers of mountains, to the roadside waterfalls, to the bare trees, every bend held a piece of beauty!

We concluded our drive back at the visitor center to visit the farms they shared. Much like we had seen driving through Cades Cove, these cabins are incredible pieces of history. Apparently, there is more to see later in the season, as most of the buildings were closed, but the layout of buildings as well as the different trade areas makes me think later in the season, this will be a place buzzing with activity.

Finally, we made our way home, stopping often to enjoy the changes in the mountains from the morning when we set out. From battlelines to ridgelines, it has truly been an amazing day!