When I went back to work, I wanted to work days, didn’t matter how early I had to get up. I’ve gotten up early my entire life. What I really wanted was a four-day work week. B.T.L. Industries provided that, except when I started back in November, we were working a lot of five to six-day weeks and some 12 hour days. Not exactly what I signed up for, but then it was winter. I kept thinking that those four-day weeks will happen sometime.
Easter weekend and the next we had four-day weekends. This past weekend was a three-day affair and I was happy. I had decided early in the week that I was going to Franklin, North Carolina. Never mind I need to do some house cleaning and have weeds to pull. You know, those things I was going to get done Easter weekend. No, I was all set on a road trip.
I am on the board of the Historic Piedmont Hotel in Gainesville, Georgia, and had discovered Franklin, North Carolina, as a nice leg-stretching point along the way. What got my attention was The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center. Since I usually just drop in for a short time, I decided to drive down, take time to read every panel in the museum, and shop a little. I left a roast cooking and headed out at 8:30 a.m. Franklin is just over two hours away, so it is an easy day trip, no worse that driving to West Knoxville.
What I have never figured out is why it seems farther going east across the mountains. I do it all the time but it always seems like a longer drive. I think it is the stress of having to watch more intently as you drive. Once at 6 a.m. a bear tried to cross the road, found the concrete barrier in the middle, turned and ran right in front of me. I once had a hog run out in front of me. He disappeared in front of my hood, and I braced for the impact but there wasn’t any. Bears and hogs aside, it’s those other drivers you have to keep an eye on.
I drove down the old road to Newport before getting on the interstate. All was well on I-40 west until I caught up with a half a double-wide in front of me with a “wide load” pickup making sure us followers didn’t sneak around him. He was going 45 miles per hour and taking his half the road in the middle. It gave me time to take in the scenery instead of worrying who was going to try to run over me.
I noticed where all those road closing mountain slides have happened through the years. A lot of places have what looks like chicken wire over the rocks. I know this is some serious chicken wire and not the stuff from the farm supply store. I had to wonder, what good is that going to do if the mountain decides to slide? I wondered if somebody in the NCDOT has a cousin in the industrial chicken wire business. I asked myself, would driving those steel pegs holding the wire not weaken the rocks? Would these keep a 20-ton boulder from crushing a car? It might stay under the wire until it hit the ground then bounce before crushing your car. You would at least know what killed you. Have you ever noticed all those patched cracks in the two tunnels? There are phones in there — who are you going to call? The interstate follows the creek and interestingly, the original wagon roads were down below, following along the creek.
All that aside, I was on the trail of Scottish heritage on this day. This was not some new thing for me, I was just coming back for a visit.
I often mention the Scots Irish and their impact on our area. If you have deep Greene County roots, you are going to have Scots Irish as well as German ancestry. According to AncestryDNA I am 28% Scottish and 22% German. I get all that on Mom’s side of the house. On my Dad’s, I get 28% Irish ancestry according to FamilytreeDNA. I have long enjoyed attending the Scottish events, from games and festivals to concerts. There is nothing better than those battles of the bands into the wee hours of the morning. I have been active in Clans Donald, Gregor, and Wallace. I serve as a council member of Clan Wallace. These three clans didn’t traditionally get along, which is why I tell people I talk to myself. As I have said, the clans fought each other and if someone threatened one or all, they came together and fought the outside enemy before going back to fighting amongst themselves again. One of the reasons the English controlled this island for so long is that some clans just could not align with old enemies.
A group of us have held a Burns Night celebration in honor of Scottish poet Robert Burns for several years now at the Bogart-Bowman cabin in Unicoi. We enjoy food and drink while attired in Scottish finery. We eat, you know, Haggis and plumb pudding. Of course, the most important part is the revelry and friendships like the old days of clans and family reunions.
I am also a member of The Scottish American Military Society. It requires genealogy and proof of military service. I am not military, but they did make an exception for me as allowed in their by-laws.
The English were the Scots’ most hated enemy and some say the American Civil War was a continuation of European wars. The North was heavily settled by the English and the South by the Scots Irish, so there is some credence to this argument. The Scots Irish just wanted to be left alone from the time they arrived and tried to stay clear of war until riled by the Cherokee, British, and later the Yankees, then it was all out fighting. The old saying that these mountaineers would just as soon kill a man as look at him is true.
When writing about Kings Mountain and the threat sent by Major Patrick Ferguson, I said that I had trouble believing a Scotsman would have sent such a threat to the Overmountain peoples. He knew it would rile them and he must have felt confident in his ability to crush them when they came after him. Historian Bobby Moss said, “they had fighting in their blood” and that they did. They swarmed the mountains like angry bees and Ferguson felt their fatal sting. British General Lord Charles Cornwallis called fighting in the Carolinas “like sitting naked on a hornet’s nest.” He too felt the sting of the riled Scots Irish. George Washington wrote from Valley Forge in 1777, “If all else fails, I will plant my standard among the Scots Irish.” Fortunately, General Washington didn’t have to make that last stand in our Appalachian highlands.
Some estimates put the Scots Irish immigration at as many as 200,000. Sources say as many as 100,000 or more of these found their way to the Appalachian highlands of western North Carolina, Northeast Tennessee, and southwest Virginia. During the 1740 famine in Ulster, many Scots Irish sailed to the port of Philadelphia, then traveling down the Great Wagon Road. I mentioned the Germans being pushed out as a buffer between the English and the native Americans. The Scots Irish leap-frogged established German settlers, building their own settlements in the wilderness.
The Scots Irish soon became the dominant culture of the Appalachians from Pennsylvania to Georgia, not only because of their numbers, but because of their independent spirits, adventurous personalities, and restless nature. One of their greatest gifts to our heritage is music. Those fiddle sawing Celts gave us country, bluegrass, rock in roll, gospel, and everything in between. There is nothing better than being on a mountain on a Friday night listening to a Celtic-rock band with bagpipes, fiddles, bass guitars, and drums, lots of drums. It will stir your Celtic soul.
They also brought along distilled spirits and the U.S. bourbon industry is attributed to them. Ronald Reagan once noted “the Irish built the jails, then helped fill them up.” No doubt they fought hard, worked hard, and played hard.
It is doubtful that anyone else could have withstood the harsh living conditions and unbridled hatred of the Indians. These pioneers with “fighting in their blood” did not back down from the English, the Cherokee, or anyone else.
The state historical marker here at The Big Spring states: “The Scotch Irish pioneers made the Spring the reason for the founding of Greeneville in 1783. As early as 1780, the Rev. Samuel Doak preached to the settlers at this spot.” Yes, Doak was Scots Irish and carried in addition to his Sword of the Lord (Bible) a long rifle.
I encourage everyone to get out and explore a little. Western North Carolina is filled with adventure. I have taken tour groups on some fun journeys. I can show you where the white Cherokee chief is buried, where the last shot of the Civil War was fired (well, one of them anyway), where JFK’s fatal limo driver is buried, and where Daniel Boone’s father had a mill. I have been to all sites where “The Last of the Mohicans” was filmed and of course followed The Overmountain Men. There are all kinds of exciting adventures just across those mountains, and it’s a great weekend stay or a day trip. I have been to and ate in Little Switzerland a few times but never stayed overnight. I need to.
My objective on this day was the Scottish Heritage Museum. Their brochure says, “We are located here because of the fact that there are more people of Celtic heritage in North Carolina than anywhere else in the nation.” The brochure continues, “A trip through our museum will start with a 5,000 year old Neolithic village; acquaint you with some of the outstanding personages in Scottish history; show you the development of Scottish dress to the present day kilt; Scottish armament; the Scot-Cherokee connection, an exhibit of over 600 tartans, plus much more.”
If you want an idea of what Robert the Bruce looked like and who he was, this is the place. Mary, Queen of Scots is here too. They are all here, and no, William Wallace is not Mel Gibson and neither is his movie historically accurate.
They are located in an old storefront on Main Street. The old Franklin downtown is vibrant and active. It is a look at what Greeneville could and should be. They have a great gift shop with kilts, jackets, bonnets, shoes, neckties, anything you can think of in your own family tartan. They have jewelry, family (clan) crests, and Scottish weapons. They have canned Haggis, Scottish sweets, and even a Robert Burns tea towel. This is my kind of playground. I am not going to tell you what all I bought, but my photo may be on the wall as visitor of the month!
I like the area between Waynesville and Franklin because of all the unique shops and all those antique shops. You can leave early, take it all in, and still be home on time for supper. I was disappointed to see the Goats of the Roof place was closed.
Since I was in a Scottish heritage sort of mood, the last two weeks I have re-watched “Braveheart,” “Rob Roy,” “The Outlaw King,” “The King” and “Robert the Bruce.” If you like a lot of eating, drinking, killing, blood, gore, and nudity then these are for you. The historical accuracy is questionable — they do get a few things right but most is left to conjecture.
Speaking of the Scots Irish in the American Civil War, the New York Highlanders (U.S.) played a significant part in the local Battle of Bluesprings. Their doggedness helped keep General Longstreet from taking Fort Sanders in Knoxville. At the 1890 reunion, the Highlanders climbed on to the roof of Bleak House, Longstreet’s headquarters during the battle, for a group photo. Their special guest at the 1890 Blue-Gray Reunion in Knoxville was Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet. They recognized his dogged determination, stubbornness, and his worthiness as a foe. Longstreet shared of course their Celtic heritage. Longstreet’s life-long best friend was U.S. Grant, another Scots Irish soldier.
So do a little genealogy and embrace your Celtic heritage. Follow the trail your ancestors followed. Go online and listen to some good Celtic music. Check out those videos about how to dress Scottish correctly. Kilt pleats go in the back, not the front. You know, maybe we could have a Burns Night Celebration at the General Morgan Inn next year. It’s another excuse to celebrate and we hopefully will be out of this pandemic by then. Don’t make fun of a man in a kilt — remember he has fighting in his blood. As any good Scottish Mom would warn, “Don’t run with those bagpipes, you might fall and get kilt!” For those of you that speak Gaelic, “féach leat an tseachtain seo chugainn.”