“Why is it whenever we get close to the Blue Ridge mountains, we always get lost? We have got to get paper maps. We always lose the signal down here and miss a turn.”
Steve now knows we are lost. I should be ashamed of myself, but I feel as if I should be able to control this little electronic device that has already provided hundreds of miles of perfect navigation. I know I should have been looking for the turn, but I am totally dependent on my cell phone when I am in unknown territory. But in the mountains, any type of communication waves ricochet through these mountains like a pool ball in a bar room full of drunks.
“Oh, shit. Just go north. Ohio is north. How lost can we get?” I know the answer to that question immediately remembering the time we spent four hours trying to find White Top mountain and finally stopped at the only gas station we had seen all day to find out we had driven up one side, down the other and was now circling the base of the mountain again. Four hours driving up and down only one mountain. I did not want to add four more hours to our trip today. We were returning from an exhausting vacation where we had shared one house with our son, his family and an unrelated family that we only casually knew plus various other fourteen-year-old baseball players who families could not make the trip south for the tournament. The highlight was that they did win the championship.
“Oh, I got reception again.”
Quickly, I hit Google voice recognition and asked for Charleston, West Virginia. I got a new route before I lost the signal and now we're already west of Charlotte North Carolina. We needed to head back east to get to I-77 for the easiest route over the mountains. We made our connection with ease will be home by four o’clock instead of three. I can now relax. We know the road from here, and it is my favorite part of the trip. My people are from the Yadkin Valley, and this gives us beautiful overlooks from the highway.
Passionate about family history, I love learning about this side of my mother’s family. A black grandfather in 1654, a free man married a Powhatan Indian, and their son married a white Quaker. Not bad mixing it up in just two generations. They were traders from the beginning of being in America and had slowly moved from eastern coastal Virginia, dipped down into the Yadkin valley by the middle of the 1700’s and then further north after the Revolutionary War. They had been Tories in the Revolution until Col Cleveland hung Old Ned Sizemore, the Tory Indian who was my uncles father-law. Now, these were wise folks, and they just switched sides and moved deeper into the mountains.
One thing that I know about my husband is that when nature calls, he is going to have to find a place to stop. We have been to many a strange place because of his bladder. We had just passed the sign for the Wolf Creek Indian Village when he got the fidgets and much to my delight a state roadside rest was just a few miles ahead. What a blessing. When he got back to the car, I asked him if he had seen the sign for Wolf Creek Indian Village and he had not. He was trying to hold “it” in, and that took all the concentration that he could muster. I’d like to stop to see that some time.
“Where is it?”
“I think it was at the last exit.”
“See if you can get a signal and see how far back it is.”
Mom told me that he reminded her of my Daddy when she met him and she was right. He pampered me just like Daddy.
“Oh, I have a signal. It is a sign. The next exit will take us over to the road it is on, and it is only six minutes to the south.”
“Let’s do it now. We can still be home by seven o’clock easy. I would like to see it too.”
Ok, maybe he is not pampering me as much as I think. If it were an outlet mall, we would not be going.
It says they can handle handicapped, so maybe I can do it without too much trouble. I will not mention that until we find out if it will be too much walking and we are already at the entrance anyway.
They have a museum, and it says they have a whole village, but I do not see the village, but ticket sales are at the museum. Often, Steve goes in to check things out to see if I can physically manage but I want to see the museum anyway. It is not very big at all. Much to my surprise, they have golf carts to take us back into the mountains to the village.
Our tour guide is a young lady about the age of our children, about forty-ish and can tell she loves her job. We are the only tourists, so we are getting a private tour. She begins with the 1977 construction of a new interstate roadway for the Bland County, Virginia area. The plans included straightening the winding Wolf Creek instead of building three bridges. As the huge land movers removed the soil, residents remembered that there were tales of an Indian village had been discovered in the area. They called in an archeologist who was familiar with the tales and found remnants of a village. The team was given a permit to do a dig for a brief time, and move artifacts included graves and the remnants of the outer wall and huts. Dating of the site appears in late 1500 to early 1600’s.
The outer wall is a spiral formation with an overlap of about six feet that forms a narrow walkway to enter the building. At the opening is a small round structure that would only comfortable hold three men or women. All villagers have an open voice within the tribe. When a visitor approaches the village, they are only allowed to enter the small structure, and some elders question them to discern their purpose for a visit. If satisfied with their answers, they can then enter the village. Since the passage into the town is so narrow, I will have to walk the rest of the tour, but she reassured me that there would be plenty of places for me to sit if I got tired. The first structure was the council house, and the village would have been home to approximately one hundred tribal members. The exterior wall and the huts are constructed with vertical poles and then woven with limbs to form walls. When the weather turned cold, the villagers would have covered them with clay to seal out the wind. Each building had a fire pit that would contain about one foot of coals all year round. I knew my people could have been in this area about one hundred and fifty years later, so I was curious if they could have at one time, been Powhattan.
The next structure had thee graves outside the building and contain the bodies that they had found. One was of the Shaman, who had been a woman. They found her torso covered with necklaces of Cowrie shells that indicated that she would have been a coastal Indian, so that answered that question without my even speaking it out loud. The shelters belonged to the women and were built in the style of her native tribe. This village had been a multi-tribal society which is common for Woodland Indians. Spouses were often a result of barters with neighboring tribes or women who had been won in battle. Also, it was a customary practice to have a yearly pow-wow that covered hundreds of miles for finding mates for their young people and bring in fresh blood. In this hut, hammocks were used for sleeping while the next hut had benches with furs for beds.
At the end of our hour tour, we have only made it through two of the shelters. The information about the peoples was so overwhelming that I must ask how she learned so much about these people.
“I know that I can speak to you openly as you have shared that your people lived not far from here. My family still lives in a village in the mountains. My grandmother made and sold clay pots in Pennsylvania from the clay that I gathered for her in Wolf Creek. She would fire them in the coals on the fire pit in her hut. She is married to a white man, so my grandfather was white. He is now gone. She was the Shaman, and it is passed down through woman to daughter. When people ask me about things from long ago that I do not know, I ask Grand-uncle as he still lives in the village. We still do everything like they did in this village. We cook with gourds, the boys make their own bows and arrows, our tools are made from bones. We buy nothing. I attended college and live in town, but I go to the village all the time. That is home.
It is another three hours before we make our way back to the village.
“Did I tell you that most of my tribe has green eyes?” She had not mentioned it, but she must have been aware that I would just stare at her gorgeous lime green eyes.
I want to show you something. I know I told you that we are a very small people. I am extremely tall because of my white father. She pulls out her cell phone and thumbs through her pictures as any of my children would do. She holds it out for me to see.
“You look so much like my grandmother.” I was looking at a diminutive woman with brown hair, and I could not help but think that I knew that smile. I did not see the resemblance that she saw, but I saw my great grandmother.
If only Aunt Ruth had lived to hear this story. She worked for years to try to find out what tribe Grandmother’s tribe for her mother. I am not sure, but I can research it when we get home.
I smile and go into the museum to see their displays. Wow, one of the displays is about Mathias Harmon rescuing Jenny Wiley from the Indians. I know that name, but this is a brother of a different Grandmother. Now I am in a hurry to return home.
I jump on my computer and Google Charles Skaggs…Wolf Creek, Virginia. This was grandfather’s father—law. And the land records filled my screen. Thompson Valley and Abbs Valley all on Wolf Creek. These are the descendants of my mixed-race family. They have finally revealed it all to me. My Grandfather Nathan Blevins, first wife, was Charles Skaggs's daughter. His mother was Elizabeth Ward, daughter of Nathan Ward and Sareigh, an Indian. A forty-five-year search has gone full circle. We are all reunited as one family.