We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:
We open today’s show with a 19th century political analysis that rings eerily true during this current American presidential campaign. “As we look over the country today we see two classes of people,” observed Alabama Representative Milford Wriarson Howard in his 1895 book The American Plutocracy. “The excessively rich and the abject poor, and between them is a gulf ever deepening, ever widening, and the ranks of the poor are continually being recruited from a third class, the well-to-do, which class is rapidly disappearing and being absorbed by the very poor.”
We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a Calendar of Events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.
The great American botanist Asa Gray termed the rare Carolina plant startia galacifolia, or Oconee bells, “perhaps the most interesting plant in North America.” This has little to do with its beauty (modest) or its elusiveness (legendary), but rather with the role shortia played in the greatest scientific drama of the 19th century: the debate over Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species.
“A preacher by the name of Kaler come from Tennessee, threw the dirt out of Unatsi’s grave and robbed it,” relates Blue Ridge historian Shepherd M. Dugger (1854-1938) in his telling of this Cherokee family’s troubles. “Her cups and saucers were fitted to her ears and the dish pan placed over all. The breech of the little rifle had been placed against her right shoulder with the muzzle extending down almost or quite to her feet, and her several strands of beautiful beads were in placed on her neck and bosom. Rev. Kaler took all these, put the dirt back and left— on his way to Heaven?”
We’ll wrap things up with the tale of a n’er do well railroad line that only got built as far as 15 miles out of Greenville, SC. “You may name your boy Percival, Algernon, or Montmoresst,” journalist Charles David tells us in his 1926 article Greenville of Old, “but if some chap at school dubs him Sorrel-top, Bully, or Buster, the nick-name will stick and his real name be forgotten. So it has been with this little railroad–its owners christened it the Carolina, Knoxville and Western, but some fellow with a bit of humor in his make-up spoke of it as The Swamp Rabbit, and that appropriate name continues to the exclusion of the longer and higher-sounding one.”
And, thanks to the good folks at the Internet Archive, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music by fiddler Eck Robertson in a 1931 recording of Texas Wagoner.
So, call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corn-cob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian History.