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Book details Indian mound history, myths

POSTED: November 29, 2009 1:00 a.m.

When Emory Jones, who grew up in White County, told a friend he was going to write a book about the Nacoochee Indian mound, the friend’s response was, "What, two pages?"

Turned out there’s more to that sacred hunk of earth than you’d think — more than enough to make a book, as Emory and his friend found out. The result: "Distant Voices," a coffee table book that explores every aspect of the mound, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Georgia.

As a youngster, Emory used to haul hay in the pasture that the mound graces, then wash himself off in the cooling waters of nearby Duke’s Creek. Returning to White County after 30 years in Atlanta, he had a greater appreciation of Nacoochee and Sautee valleys, the enchanting countryside between Cleveland and Helen that charms visitors and natives alike. He also began to realize how much the gazebo-topped Indian mound meant to so many people.

Many would come by his and wife Judy’s shop, Yonah Treasures, with inevitable questions about the Indian mound: Who built it? How do you get to the cow church? Is there really a tribe of 7-foot tall Indians buried there?

Seeking answers to such questions was one of the inspirations for the book. He drew on experts like lifelong valley historian Dr. Tom Lumsden, Max White, Piedmont College anthropology professor, and professor emeritus Philip Greear of Shorter College.

He didn’t find all the answers, ending up with still more questions. But the book delves deeply into such legends as Indian lovers Sautee and Nacoochee, who supposedly fell to their deaths off majestic Yonah Mountain. And whether or not Spanish explorer Hernando deSoto ever brought his plundering hordes into what became White County. Doubtful, Emory quotes the experts in the book. Were Slaughter and Blood mountains named for bloody Indian battles along their ridges? Probably not, the book concludes.

"Distant Voices" isn’t all about debunking mountain legends, but it does go so far as to cite as questionable some of the traditional stories that have circulated forever, even challenging the information on a state historical marker in Nacoochee Valley. Yet, Emory pleads, feel free to believe them. Some of the stories might actually have happened. "In the end, facts should never get in the way of a good story," he writes. Besides, referring to Nacoochee and Sautee, " … it is such a lovely legend."

It’s hard to drive by the Nacoochee Indian mound without stopping to take a picture. Many times Emory has stood nearby counting the number of people doing just that. Likewise, artists find it hard to resist painting the picturesque scene. The book contains words and works by some of the photographers and artists who have come under the spell of the mound.

Emory invited others for whom the mound has special meaning to share their thoughts in "Distant Voices."

Cindy Randolph of Gainesville is the granddaughter of the late Gov. Lamartine G. Hardman, who in 1903 bought much of the property surrounding the Indian mound, including the "big house" and other buildings across the road. As a little girl, Cindy and her family would travel from their home in Washington, D.C., to spend several summer weeks there. She writes about riding horses, some of the mysteries hiding in "the big house," and sitting in the middle of the highway after dark with her cousins marveling at the stars that seem to sparkle even brighter over Nacoochee Valley.

And about that tribe of 7-foot Indians? Has anybody ever dug for artifacts in the Indian mound? The extra-tall Indians are a myth, but the mound has been excavated.

An entire chapter of "Distant Voices" digs into the excavation of the mound in 1915. Archaeologists found 75 human remains, as well as several hundred other artifacts in just half of the mound. A dispute between Dr. Hardman and the excavators prematurely ended the project. Over the protests of Dr. Hardman, everything went to a New York museum, then later what wasn’t scattered and sold went to the Smithsonian Institution.

"Distant Voices" is available through Yonah Treasures, the Sautee-Nacoochee Center, White County Historical Society and Frames Unique in Gainesville. The author will autograph copies at Peach State Bank & Trust in Gainesville 4-6 p.m. Dec. 3.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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