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163A collecting trip to the Highlands of NC in 1920 with Ted Mitchell

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  • Sam Droege
    Jan 4, 2008


      Below is a document just passed on to me by Janet Mitchell who is the wife of Ted Mitchell's only son (both now deceased).   For those of you who don't know, Ted wrote the 2 volume set of the Bees of the Eastern United States.  I have been trying to locate Ted's field notes, but at this point have to believe that these have unfortunately been destroyed.  Janet had a few documents saved at her home and passed copies on to me.  I thought this one would be of general interest and one of my interns, Marian Sackey graciously typed it up.  If anyone is interested I also have his notes on his collecting trips to Puerto Rico and Trinidad in 62 and 63 and can mail you copies.



      Highlands- 1920
      By Theodore B. Mitchell

              My next objective after Marion was Highlands, in Macon County, just north of the Georgia state line. To reach there, according to my travel directions, I had to get to Dillard, Georgia 3 or 4 miles south of the North Carolina line. Mail destined for Highlands was routed to Dillard, and was carried up to the town by a rural delivery mail carrier,  by car, if possible, by mule if not. Just what route I used getting to Dillard, I don’t remember, but it must have been through the South Carolina counties bordering North Carolina, and into North Georgia to Dillard.
              I reached Dillard in the late afternoon (my error- evening). I had learned that everything after 12 noon is evening in these parts. Well, it must have been some time between 3 and 6 p.m. My directions suggested a certain hotel, which turned out to be a private home where transients were entertained. I had to stay over night, to catch a ride with the mail carrier the next day.
              So I registered, was assigned a room, and soon after had supper (at least that is what I called it, but maybe it was dinner to my hosts). I don’t remember much about it, for other happenings over rode that detail.
              What I remember is a couple of attractive young ladies, with their mother, with whom I chatted after the meal was over. They were from Alabama, had been up in Highlands on vacation and were on their way home. Much of our conversation was concerned with our differences, and we had a wonderful time poking fun at each other’s pronunciation of various words, and comparing our back-home life styles. One of them inquired- do you Yankees eat pie for breakfast, like I have been told? Well, that was a new one for me. I replied, “I can’t speak for all of us, but I have never had a piece of pie for breakfast in my life.” That wasn’t to say I disapproved, for it sounded like a good idea to me, especially in consideration of the insatiable appetite I could develop, up in those cool mountains, after sweltering in the hot and humid summer weather around Raleigh.
              The next day I had to spend the morning in Dillard, for the mail carrier didn’t start until after lunch. We finally got started, early in the afternoon, behind a pair of mules. He said he had a car about half way up, and we would put the mules in a barn at that spot, transfer the mail to the car and make better time then.
              That was encouraging, but it didn’t work out that way at all. We were crossing a bridge (sort of a home made affair) and one of the wheels slipped into a crack. The boards were laid lengthwise instead of across the bridge. It took about half an hour to get out of that predicament, and it was getting dark, and not far from the bridge we got stuck in the mud on a slope, and the car just couldn’t pull through the mire. A couple of men showed up and they tried to help but nothing worked. Finally they gave up, saying, “You’ll just have to stay with us till morning.” We certainly had no basis for disagreement, and appreciated the invitation, following them along a trial, in the dark, to their shack. It had two rooms, the front rooms with two double beds, the back room with a stove, a table and some chairs. There was a woman and several children, which I never got counted.
              There was a story, current at that time, abut a couple of traveling men who found themselves in circumstances very similar to ours. The chief difference was the presence of only one double bed. The men protested that they had better try to find some other quarters, but were assured that the problem could be easily solved. So the two smallest kids were put in the bed, and soon fell asleep. Then some pillows and blankets were put in a corner of the room, and the two children were laid in the corner. The two next larger of the brood then were put to bed, fell asleep, and ended up in the corner, until all the children were taken care of. Then the two men were told they could have the bed. But “where are you gong to sleep?” they inquired. “Oh, we’ll get along all right; don’t worry about us.” So they went to bed- and, you guessed it. They woke next morning in the corner with the kids.
              Well, that story was running through my mind. Of course, there were two beds, but that was hardly enough. Where the woman and the children slept, I do not know. They disappeared, and the mail carrier and I had one bed, and the two men, the other, I guess they had some nearby neighbors, or another sack. But the whole affair impressed me. Southern hospitality was no myth.
              The next morning, with some daylight, and possibly a little drying out of the mud, we finally made it up that hill, and got into Highlands fairly early. So that was my introduction to Highlands.
              I registered at the Smith House, a country-style hotel, right in the center of town. It was a cross-road which meant that there were four directions, east and west, and north and south. Two of them however were local (streets), so there was one way in and one way out. On one of these, a block of two from the center, was the town hall, and I found that every Friday night (or was it Saturday?) they had square dances with country music. I guess that was just during the summer.
              In the opposite direction the street led up a slope, to a trail up to the top of Mt. Satulah, practically in the town. Elevation of the town is about 3800 ft., and the top of Satulah somewhat over 5000. So it was quite a climb. Another of the streets led to the edge of the plateau on which Highlands sits, and over a winding road, down into Horse Cove, a valley about five hundred to a thousand feet below.
              As I recall it, I had two places to visit, one down in Horse Cove, and the other on the other side of town toward the Georgia line, on a south-facing slope. I forgot how I got to these places that first summer. Maybe I found someone with a car that could be hired to take me. But I remember hiking out to the second one, in one of those visits, to make the inspection. It was my initiation to the extreme uncertainties of the weather in that area. I went in my shirt sleeves, without a raincoat, but with my bug net, and before I had gone a mile, on the trail through the woods, a sudden shower burst on me. I think I had heard some rumbles in the distance, but this must have blown up from Georgia, and with the rise in elevation, let loose a torrent of cold rain and lightning that hit so close I could hear it sizzle before the bolt came. I didn’t seek shelter under a tree and I got soaked through. The rain was ice cold. Well, it didn’t last but a few minutes, and after it passed, and the sum came out, I warmed up somewhat, and by the time I reached my destination, was about dry again.
              In spite of such experiences, I fell in love with the place. Rhododendrum thickets covered much of the area, especially along the water courses, and there were trails to various scenic spots, past outcroppings of rock, where garnets and various other interesting rocks could be found; and the insects I collected were interesting, in that they were mostly species that inhabited New England and Canada. Along the North Carolina coast, conversely, the species are more nearly related to those in Florida and the Gulf Coast states to the west.
              So after a few days in Highlands, learning the area and doing considerable general collecting, I hitched a ride with the mail carrier back down to Dillard, catching a train that afternoon (pardon me), evening, to Franklin, the county seat of Macon County. According to my travel directions, it was possible to arrange passage by car from Franklin north to Sylva, a town on the railroad connecting Asheville with Murphy, in Clay County, at the western tip of the state. I believe the limit was four passengers; Franklin at 5 a.m., have breakfast.
              According to the schedule, we would leave at a farm house on the way, and were due to reach Sylva by noon. So I made the arrangements at the Hotel in Franklin as soon as I arrived, and luckily there was still room for me in the car.
              Next morning I was called about 4:30, and with the other two or three passengers, started out ( I forgot that detail ) and after a couple of hours ( the road was not what you could call a fast one). We arrived at the farm where breakfast would be served. Well, that was some breakfast. I believe it was the biggest breakfast I ever ate. The two-hour drive, through the bracing air and clearing mists had enhanced my appetite, which really didn’t need enhancing. So we had fried eggs, grits with red eye gravy, country ham, fried chicken, hot biscuits, and ended up (believe it or not) with apple pie. So now you know where I got the idea for the title of this account. I had actually had pie for breakfast.
              After the meal was over we started out again. We had to cross Mt. Cowee to reach the valley on its north side where Sylva is located. It was quite a climb, as I recall it, but easy going down the other side, until we reached the valley floor. There had been plenty of rain down there, and the road was deeply rutted, the ruts filled with soupy mud, and rocks underneath that couldn’t be seen, nor avoided. I was in danger of losing that big breakfast, but reached Sylva just in time.

      Ela, Bryson City, Cherokee, Oconoluftee Riv., Judson

              I forget whether I caught a train westbound that afternoon for Bryson City, or if I had to spend the night in Sylva. I think it was in Sylva that I hired a man to drive me out to the nursery, probably that same day, which suggests that I stayed over night. That really isn’t too important, but my memory chiefly concerns the man who was driving. After we had gotten well on our way, in our conversation the fact came out that he was on ex-deputy sheriff, and (about everyone we passed) he had some comment to make- i.e. “We never could catch him,” or “He had a big operation.” I began to get a little nervous, wondering if someone would take a pot shot at us, or possibly think I was a federal agent, up there to do no one any good. My fears proved to be groundless, however, and we made it safely back to town after I made the inspection.
              I stayed in Bryson City that night, and the next morning back-tracked to Ela, and up a spur of the railroad to the Cherokee Indian Reservation. That community lay along the banks of the Oconolufty River.
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