I lay on the ground in the front yard of Posey Brown’s Cabin on Pheasant Street–an old white man of 70, long-haired, gray-headed and bearded, imagining the birth of earth around the cabin.
Long before, some of you will remember, long ago–but not too long ago, before the cell phone, the television, certainly before the computer and the Internet, we would lie on the summer earth wrapped in her warmth, gazing at the sky above. There was an unfolding drama of magical history that repeats itself, blue and cold, warm and swimming–swirling, cyan, pink, and cobalt. The sun, moon and stars, even planets bright, looked upon us wee–even atom-sized–creatures. Directed by an invisible and magical hand, clouds, light and fluffy, dark and stormy, moving swift and others crawling, began to compete, criss-crossing above our recumbent selves.  It is an old story. One told in variations and recorded both in oral tradition and written in sacred writings around the world–how the earth was formed.
She. Her. A primal spirit–a pudendal life-giver and mammary sustainer, creator She is—moving about, between, and behind the storm gathering clouds. Some say She holds the earth in place by four strands, until it becomes so full, a strand would break and we would all fall down.
Them. Running, flying, hopping and crawling, all about me. It was getting crowded. “Too much water and not enough land.” Them said, complaining to She.
So She directed Them, “Go down into the great waters and bring up the mud so you can have more land.”
Them did. One by one Them tried. One by one Them failed.
Grandma Turtle was old. Grandma Turtle napped most of the time, but Grandma Turtle watched. Each time one of Them would fail Grandma Turtle would say, “I can help. I will go.”
Them would laugh and tell Grandma Turtle, “Go back sleep.” And Them continued to try–the duck with webbed feet, the beaver distracted by a branch, the coyote sniffing for food. Them failed. And, Grandma Turtle would say, “I can help, I will go.”
“Okay, then.” Them said, rolling Them eyes about. And Grandma Turtle did.
Grandma Turtle crawled to the water and descended below. Some say Water Spider rode down with Grandma Turtle to help, as Water Spider had done before. Them waited.
When Grandma Turtle came up with Water Spider, Grandma Turtle had mud on her back, and the earth grew and grew until All Them were happy and had enough. In her honor they named it Turtle Island .
Soon They. Ancient Ones. Ameridian joined Them. They roamed Turtle Island in peace and began to organize theyselves–hunter, farmer, Village Priest, Warrior Chief, Peace Chief.
Soon They would call Theyselves Cherokee, Catawba, Lenape, Iroquois, and many more on the big Turtle Island. They respected Grandma Turtle who provided for them daily, along with Them. They lived in relative peace, growing crops, hunting and fishing, and enjoying living on the back of Grandma Turtle.  
I stood up on Turtle Island looking for Them. Them are still here but Them can not always be seen as Them like to hide from Us. Them do that.
They had long time left this place, mostly I would learn, because We pushed They far away until blood flowed into the streams, then the rivers. Musket ball, arrowhead, saber blade and tomahawk clashed for a long time all because We wanted Turtle Island for Weselves–land, gold and silver, tobacco, cotton, farm and trade.
Once. We ran away, sailed, some driven away from We land far away, only to become like our Distant Fathers. But We forget. We often don’t like to remember the past. We like the future. So We retell our stories in our own image. Or, ignore our past. But Grandma Turtle doesn’t forget. Grandma Turtle sees. Grandma Turtle knows.
As I walked along Pheasant Street I stumbled on what I thought was a large stone.
Grandma Turtle: Pssst. Hey. You. Watch where you are walking.
Me: Oh, excuse me, I didn’t see you there.
Grandma Turtle: You people seldom do. I thought Grandma Turtle said.
Me: You people?! What do you mean ‘You people.’
Grandma Turtle: Do you not know who I am? You We people have been walking on my back for centuries. It is hard enough holding the earth in place without being crushed by heavy dirty feet. Grandma Turtle has a lot of scratches on her back.
Me: Sorry. Ouch.
I’ll admit, I carry some shame at the way WE (including some of my own ancestors), Us have treated THEM. This inner emotion sometimes is projected on defensive encounters with the OTHER. Such was the case when I almost stepped on an Eastern Box Turtle along my walk. I can claim that emotion and developing reality, or I can try and change reality.
That night, as I lay sleeping, Woody Guthrie began singing in my ear.
This land is your land, maybe not so much
You may or may not remember singing the Woody Guthrie song This Land is Your Land in youth group events at school or local church. This land is your land, this land is my land, this land was made for you and me, were the only words I could remember as the melody swirled in my head in an early morning dream. “Was it really?” I thought to myself, especially on reflection of our country’s settlement history. Who is the YOU and who is the ME, and what about THEM.
Written in 1940, This Land Is Your Land would become somewhat of a patriotic song. As a child living in small North Carolina mountain towns in what today has become tourist meccas for the relative rich–and not so famous–I didn’t have the historical worldview to question song lyrics, especially ones that might be edited to conform to a particular historical lens. It would be white-washed (a term that itself has changed meaning and thus a double entendre), cleaned up or modified for a particular public consumption. It can be called cultural selective memory, future orientation, historical forgetfulness come alzheimers, maybe even ignorance or self-interested apathy. In the end it has to do with respect for those who have passed before us–those like Us and those who may not be like us, They, and the great land–earth–all have shared on the back of Grandma Turtle.
In February 1940, Guthrie wrote “This Land is Your Land” in reaction to Irving Berlin’s song “God Bless America.” Guthrie heard Berlin’s song repeatedly while he traveled cross-country and became increasingly annoyed that it glossed over the lop-sided distribution of land and wealth that he was observing and had experienced as a child. (Library of Congress)
In response to changing the lyrics from God blessed America for me to This land was made for you and me, two verses of his song would also be omitted:
As I went walking I saw a sign there And on the sign it said: No trespassing But on the other side it didn't say nothing That side was made for you and me In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people By the relief office I seen my people As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking Is this land made for you and me?
As I would learn later, Guthrie, born in Oklahoma in 1912, was somewhat of a socialist who loosely affiliated with the communist movement in the United States. He was a prolific writer and composer who firmly established the folk music movement. His motto displayed on his guitar was This machine kills fascists. As it turns out, the musician who lived through the Great Depression, was asking the rhetorical question, “who owns this land?”–private property owners-the wealthy, or the poor and landless-houseless folk who were standing in bread lines during the great depression. Yet, did Guthrie avoid or omit what today is the obvious in regards to Native Americans, in spite of a concern for the poor and homeless? Maybe not.
For additional versions of this song from Black Jazz-Funk and Anishinabe Nation see the end of the post.
Whose Land Is It?
As I go walking in our little mountain community, it is my custom to share ideas in conversations in order to clarify my thoughts and get feedback. I’ve shared with Us the ancient Cherokee tradition of original land and communal ownership in the area and the concept of Turtle Land.
“Well they’re not getting it back.” One neighbor snapped with a snark. I pretended my right eyeball had not just popped out of my head, in shock, as it was now rolling down the hill.
“Maybe not,” I responded as I picked up my eyeball from the ground, “but as septuagenarians, we are not going to own it for very long, either.”
A descendent of an early settler shared her view. “Like other large family land holdings in the area, our children don’t necessarily want a tract of land, they might rather have the cash, selling to land development speculators and living somewhere else.” But with all the in-movers, and real estate prices sky-rocketing, they may have wished they waited to sell.
Later another neighbor took it to the next level,
“We are going to wake up one morning and find extraterrestrials have planted their pods in our yards and there ain’t a damn thing we can do about it but move off THEIR newly acquired land.” Eminent domain to the extreme. We will all be homeless! I wonder if I could get a fair compensation, like a free ride to another planet. What comes around goes around.
For as far back as 10,000-8,000 years BC, or longer, the original people of this land–Mother Earth to They–were the forerunners of the Cherokee Nation, and part of 574 tribes in the United States who live on Turtle Island. Eventually inhabiting Georgia, Western North and South Carolina and Tennessee, The Cherokee farmed and hunted along the rivers, and settled villages amidst vast forests. Posey Brown’s Cabin, indeed all of the cabins and farms since the settlers arrived in the early 18th century sit atop a rich and unknown, forgotten, often under-appreciated past. Remnants of these great cultures remain in a few names, road signs, and places. Catawba, Cherokee, Swannanoa, Cullowee, Wataugua, Tennessee, Yadkin, Alabama, among others. A reminder that Us did not move onto uninhabited land.
We know this, in part, because of a Spanish explorer named Ferdinand De Soto who traversed America and in 1540 passed through Tryon, N.C. just 20 miles south of where Posey Brown’s Cabin now stands onward to Asheville, N. C. on a route that is now similar to I-26, or possibly through Hickory Nut Gorge. The De Soto Chronicles describe his and his conquistadores journey and identify the Cherokee towns/villages of Xuala (Tryon SC) and Guaxule (Asheville, NC near Biltmore) as thriving communities. .
It would be another 67 years, after DeSoto’s visit, that the British would create a settlement in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. It didn’t go well. Through waves of settlers seeking their own freedom and a better life through the encouragement of European mercantile governments and dynasties, physical conflict with Native Americans over land ownership would intensify and last through the Civil War. One only needs to read Indian Country Today to understand that conflicts still exist. And why? Land, and gold on, in and under the land, most often sustained by slavery. Yet, I should also remind Us that there were many intermarriages and exchanges between Us and Them from the beginning, including, supposedly, my own family.
Land speculation began early in European settlement. In fact, it was the reason and part of our WE DNA. We believe in the future and our manifest destiny’s right to it. It was the yeast in the dough that fomented fights turned wars. French against the British, Indians against settlers, British against the Cherokee, North against the South. We who fought in those wars were given ‘free’ land and the option to buy more at cheap prices. These include my own ancestors, many of whom came for religious freedom, and yet Us, too, would benefit from the conflict going on about them, even when they did not participate. Land speculation continues now in the form of land development corporations. Riverbend, where Posey Brown’s Cabin sits, was begun as Ecological Development INC. in 1980, not without its own controversy. How I frame this may not be popular, but beautiful Lake Lure, a place I love and appreciate, was basically land development by a small group of investors who flooded a town, displacing–though compensated–several hundred people and the small businesses, church and school that supported their way of life.
July 22, 2020, where I lay on the warm summer ground, was a day when worlds seemed to collide–not in an explosive way, but sometimes explosive as I listen to the news in January–but in a way that reminds me of the conflicts of history that slowly, and often painfully, crawl to a resolution. Yin and Yang are finding a way to balance themselves. On that day, when Grandma Turtle crossed Pheasant Street, the Catawba and Cherokee Nations were fighting each other (in court) over a new casino near King’s Mountain, NC, and songs kept coming in my head as a running commentary on the history embedded in Posey Brown’s cabin.
Now. I can agree with my snarky neighbor, in part–no offense intended. In today’s capitalistic society no one is getting land back unless they pay for it, of course, after hiring a good real estate agent, a reputable lawyer–or not, and negotiating a fair price–or not. It is expensive. And. The descendants of early settler land holders may wish to reconsider selling, if they haven’t already.
And for me. I love Posey Brown’s Cabin, the forest around her, the dirt roads, and appreciate those who can drive 15MPH to keep them relatively smooth, the dust down, and along the way, enjoy and appreciate Mother Earth and Them who live in the forest and also cross Pheasant Street. A human, and yes, a spiritual price was paid and extracted from They for me to enjoy Mother Earth in the last chapter of my life. I respect that.
I’m not buying the extraterrestrial thing–except I sure do watch the brilliant starry skies at night and wonder. In other words, as a friend commented, “let’s not wander aimlessly in this beautiful wilderness, traveling at high speeds searching for ourselves, while trashing up the place”.
As we walked away in opposite directions, me to the cabin, and Grandma Turtle into the forest, I turned for a parting look. Shockingly. Amazingly. Grandma had risen on her back legs and was twirling in a rhythmic dance, her hands above her head. “I own this land, you are a visitor, respect the land, all living things matter, honor those before you, play nice, dance well.” She then returned to the ground turned her head, winked and disappeared in the forest.
In music, and other art forms, our personal and collective theologies and philosophies of life are both reflective and instructive in how we view the world, and relate to it. I have been blessed in my life to have had both a theological background in the Christian tradition, but also researching and experiencing the spiritual nature and religious practices of non-white and non-Christian cultures. This includes those of Native Americans , recognizing that there are 574 federally recognized tribes living within the US, who have some commonalities, yet many differences.
Two popular songs from the recent past may demonstrate these differences in culture and religious views. While a single song does not a philosophy make, a single song can be representative and illustrative of specific beliefs and values like our relationship to the world.
In the first song of the country music, and Southern white gospel tradition, the single phrase and title This world is not my home, I’m just a’passing through tells of the temporal nature of life. The relationship is to God in Heaven.
This world is not my home
I’m just passing through
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue
The Angels beckon meThis World Is Not My Home lyrics © Sony/atv Tree Publishing
From Heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home
In this world anymore
This world is not my home written by Albert E. Brumley in 1924 was sung by gospel groups and published in 40 hymnals. Popularized by Reeves in his 1962 rendition, the hymn focuses on end times and the afterlife in heaven (or hell). Life is a transient experience where rewards are in heaven. Of course this was well before a focus on the planet and the environment. While there are more recent hymns of protecting the earth, these remain outside the Southern Gospel tradition.
In the prayerful Cherokee Morning Song the focus is on Mother Earth (see visual at end of video). Mother Earth, the Great Spirit, and even Grandma Turtle are to be respected, and are present. Recorded in 1994 by the musical group Walela (Cherokee word for hummingbird.) and founded by Rita Coolidge of Cherokee ancestry, the trio female group adds harmony to the Cherokee-based song. The Great Spirit calls us to be one with the sacred earth. Besides the obvious difference in musical style, the later is more reflective/prayerful with traditional drumming and repetition, as opposed to the instructional/poetic nature of the former, though still prayerful.
Two traditions and cultural views can be different and complementary, at the same time Yes, We will all pass away and most believe we will go to a different place where we will see those who have passed before us–in the spirit world around us or far away. And. While we are here, we can respect each other, the common place we share, and Mother Earth who provides for all of Us and They.
Postscript Two: A Limited (very) Timeline of European Occupation of Indigenous Land
I. The Indigenous Period
c. 15,000 BC. A long time ago…
Ameridians, or the original indigenous people of Turtle Island, arrived 15,000 years ago from Asia by way of Beringia (the Bering Straight). They would eventually populate North and South America from Alaska, through Canada and onward into what is now the United States of America, Mexico and southward. A good summary is here. Ameridians would develop into tribes come nations, with their own myths of origin, cultures and ways of life adapting to their environment. One should not assume a peaceful co-existence, as there would be conflicts and alliances between nations and that would encourage the population of uninhabited land.
Photo Corbitt 2010: A reenacted Monacan dwelling near Natural Bridge, VA. Corbitt, 2010.
N.D. They were buried here…
Indian Burial Ground in Uree/Bill’s Creek Community. Residents in and around Riverbend where Posey Brown’s Cabin is located have often found shards of pottery and arrowheads. In Precious Memories, Virginia Dare Dalton Wilson describes a local Indian burial ground, including a map locator, pp. 102-103. While thought to be Cherokee, it could also be Catawba as there is a belief that our area was a non-contested hunting ground. Evidence of a village does not currently exist.
Photo Credit: Virginia Dalton Wilson
2. European Invasion: Age of Exploration
1492. Columbus sailed the ocean blue…
Contrary to the historical teachings of my youth, The Spanish sponsored Italian Christopher Columbus never set foot on North America. He landed in Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) in the Caribbean and further along the coast of South America. During the occupation of Hispaniola, and under his leadership on three voyages, terrible atrocities were committed for which he was imprisoned for barbarous acts against local people, including torture and genocide. This all aside from historical research that the Vikings were the first to land on North American soil (Land of the Turtle), long before the Columbus myth. Given this, Indigenous People’s Day is quickly becoming the replacement for Columbus Day as a US American Holiday.
Photo Credit: Christopher Columbus Face.jpg. (2020, June 29). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 21:52, January 15, 2021 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.phptitle=File:Christopher_Columbus_Face.jpg&oldid=429662602
1540. There’s gold in those hills…
A Spanish explorer named Ferdinand De Soto traversed the United States looking for gold. In 1540 his army (conquistadors) passed through Tryon, N.C. (20 miles from Posey Brown’s Cabin) onward to Asheville, N.C. on a route that is now similar to I-26. The De Soto Chronicles describe de Soto’s journey and identifying the Cherokee towns/villages of Xuala (now Tryon SC) and Guaxule (now Asheville, NC near Biltmore) as thriving communities. The Cherokee in Xuala, now Tryon, were helpful in resupplying his expedition onward through what is now Asheville. You can read a nice online summary of The De Soto Chronicles by Donald E. Sheppard, DeSoto’s North Carolina. See the map drawn by Spanish royal cartographer Geronimo Chiaves. 
3, Age of Conflict and Settlement
1607. Brother can you spare an acre…
Beginning in 1607, Jamestowne, VA became the first British settlement in America. In a race for resources, European countries, primary England, France and Spain would compete through their trading companies for the New World. Conflict would inevitably result between Settlers and Indians and also the European nations. Alliances would also be formed between Indian Nations and Europeans.
During the French and Indian Wars (1754-1763), the French fought, and lost, against the British for control of middle America, along with their various Indian Nation allies. The Anglo Cherokee War 1758-1761 was also happening. The British would then fight and lose to American Patriots in the Revolutionary War 1775-1783.
Photo: Three Cherokee would go to England. After the Anglo–Cherokee War, bitterness remained between the two groups. In 1762, British Henry Timberlake took three of the former Cherokee adversaries to London to help cement the newly declared friendship.File:/collections/the-memoirs-of-lieut-henry-timberlake-1765/Three Cherokee.jpg
c. 1790. The fatal bear hunt…
Apparently you just can’t become friends. A fort, a few miles from Posey Brown’s Cabin, was named after for George Russell, Sr. from Ireland. [The British Major Patrick] Ferguson marched west as far as Russell’s Fort which was more of a cabin during the Revolutionary War. One morning George Russell, Sr. was killed by Indians while on a bear hunt after the Revolutionary War.
The Town of Tryon was named for William Tryon, Governor of North Carolina from 1765 to 1771 in recognition of his negotiation with the Cherokee for a treaty during a bloody period of conflict during the French and Indian War. Treaties with the Cherokee (and other nations) always included a cession of land.
Age of Speculation
1797-1909. Making money selling land…always about the gold…
The Speculation Land Company was a New York company which owned thousands of acres in Buncombe County, Rutherford County, and Mecklenburg County, N.C. The lands were acquired by Tenche Coxe (1755-1824) in 1797, …Some correspondence and accounts of the 1850s relate to gold and other mining on the Mecklenburg County lands, and post-Civil War papers relate to the recovery of the properties which had been taken over by Confederate sequestration agents. UNC Collection. Read my brief bio of Tench Coxe in this post.
Age of Removal
1832. Can we just send them somewhere else…
The Indian Removal Act of 1832 was signed by Andrew Jackson. He was given authority to negotiate treaties to remove all Indians east of the Mississippi to west of the Mississippi. This was a result of both land speculation and the discovery of gold in Georgia.
In 1838 and 1839, the Cherokee were removed from Western North Carolina as part of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy in what the Cherokee called The Trail of Tears. Not all Indians were removed. Many Cherokee hid in the Smokey Mountains and would eventually establish the Eastern Band of Cherokee in what is now the Qualla Boundary
Local resident, William F. Flynn (1815-1908), served in the Cherokee Indian Removal in 1838. According to family reports he walked the full distance. (Wilson, 23)
1838. Some went this way
Upper trace map of the Trail of Tears that passed through my ancestors’ farm land. A Trail of Tears map of Southern Illinois from the USDA – U.S. Forest Service.
1861-1865. Civil War
The Cherokee, like many nations, would ally with warring settler nations in a bid and hope to maintain their land. During the Civil War the Cherokee aligned with the Confederacy fighting in Western, N.C. and Tennessee. Tradition holds that Posey Brown’s Cabin was a Confederate post during the Civil War. In 1866, The Eastern Band of Cherokee were formally allowed to live in North Carolina.
Photo: Cherokee Confederate reunion in New Orleans in 1903.
1780-1980. White and Black Settlement…
For two hundred years, the land along the Broad River and around Posey Brown’s Cabin would be settled and developed with large and small farms and small businesses in a community called Uree, only miles from Chimney Rock, N.C. During the early part of this period the Cherokee (and Catawba) would stop hunting in the area as they retreated, agreed to ceded land, or were forcibly removed. Sporadic conflict occurred through the Civil War, though the area was relatively free of major conflict. Some Settlers, major families, received land grants of 150 acres if members had fought in the Revolutionary War against the British. They could then go to the county courthouse bid and purchase additional large tracks like the Whiteside family who owned most of the valley along the Broad River from Cane Creek to Chimney Rock. The Whitesides along with other major owners of farmable land were also slave owners. Descendants of the Whiteside and Egerton slave families sill live and work in the area.
Photo: Section of Lynch 1905 of Uree and Bill’s Creek Community. I have marked Posey Brown’s Cabin south of the Broad River. Lynch Map of Rutherford County 1905.
1980. Land Speculation returns…
In December 1980, a Florida-based land development company sold to or transferred holdings to the Ecological Development Inc (EDI) and created through purchases the Riverbend tract which consists of 1,500 platted lots covering approximately 1,266 acres. Lots were, and are, sold as vacation homes, rental properties and full time residents. Most land development speculation for residential use is not without controversy. In 2019, The Riverbend Property Owners Association, with 75% ownership, took control of Riverbend from EDI and hired a management company.
While we don’t always rewrite history, we do conform it to our own narrative, and changing circumstances–including our cultural symbols. We don’t know or we collectively forget our past. As an example of changing symbols in the U.S., this is a 1939 photo of my father’s one-room school class in Southern Illinois saluting the US American flag as part of the morning ritual and pledge of allegiance. Following WWII, and in negative response to the Hitler or sig heil salute, Americans began to place their hands on their hearts as opposed to the outstretched arm to the flag. Another example is the changing of the 1776 U. S. motto E pluribus unum (out of many, one) on the Great Seal of the United States to In God We trust in 1954, which now appears on all our currency.
For further reading: Why Symbols Aren’t Forever.
- I make no claim to this story, other than a story summary of extensive reading in Native American and other creation stories from cultures around the world, particularly of Native American or First Nation traditions. It combines my own childhood memories of imagining the meaning of the clouds with several indigenous creation myths. The Cherokee Creation Myth. “How the World Was Made.” The Portable North American Indian Reader. Ed. Frederick Turner. NY: Penguin Books, 1977. 86-88. Turtle Island. Mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. CHEROKEE STORIES OF THE TURTLE ISLAND LIARS’ CLUB. Teuton, Christopher B.. Cherokee Stories of the Turtle Island Liars’ Club. The University of North Carolina Press, . Kindle Edition.
- For over a decade Vickie and I lived in an historic neighborhood of Philadelphia. Our house, which I restored, sat on Tulpehocken Street. Tulpehocken as I would learn is a Lenape word meaning Land of the Turtle. While not specifically used by the Cherokee and Catawba nations here in Western North Carolina, Turtle [land] Island is part of a creation myth of a number of North Eastern indigenous peoples.
- As often happens, I don’t have an original thought I might have. Guthrie has been criticized, in this song particularly, for ignoring or overlooking Native American rights to the land from which they were removed. The misguided attacks on ‘This Land Is Your Land’ explores this view and adds the broader context of his life and concern for Native American land rights.
- Chapter 1: COLUMBUS, THE INDIANS, AND HUMAN PROGRESS, A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
- The De Soto Chronicles, The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543. Edited by Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight, Jr., and Edward C. Moore. Copyright 1993 Volume I and Volume II, 608pp. both with illustrations. Each volume, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, 4 line drawings, 15 photographs, maps. Thomas, C., & Hewitt, J. (1905). Xuala and Guaxule. Science, 21(544), 863-867. Retrieved January 8, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1631005
- Cherokee reclaim landmarks of ancient Asheville. Dale Neal firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Traditional Native Concepts of Death and Some American Indian Beliefs About an Afterlife.
- Tonight, the Senate confirmed the appointment of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as Secretary of the Interior Department. March 15, 2021. Letters from an American.