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POEM The GreatWagon Road, or How History Knocked the Professor CoId5 or A Storyteller's Story, or WhyAppalachians Are Mountains and a People by Michael Chitwood In "The Great Wagon Road," published in the Spring 1997 issue of Southern Cultures, historian T. H. Breen told of his encounters and adventures while attempting to trace the route of the great migration of German and Scotch-Irish settlers from lands north into the Carolinas. Breen's essay set Michael Chitwood to thinking . . . Scottish, by way of Ulster, Philadelphia, the Valley of the Shenandoah, generous, clannish, violent, kind-hearted, they walked in (the Germans rode) and stayed mosdy out ofcounty records and the backs of Bibles, unlettered. Their only correspondence with me, son of their children's children's great grandchildren, is this ditch, these nearly healed wheel cuts, the line they traced in the earth. Locally, it took its name from where it was going, the potent away-from-here, the better place, the how-it-could-be, not wintering on beans, the infant not dead with the flux, the ground not snagged with roots that sang from the plow's cut and welted the shins. 64 Yonder. Chewed with scratch biscuits, smoked in the porch shade. Something to be believed when believing was the only solace. "Fortunately, only Single Brothers made this trip. This trail at times is impassable and these folk are wild, unpredictable. Unlike our brethren, they came not seeking but fleeing, the almshouse, the sheriff, a shamed woman or her brothers. We sought the freedom to worship. They worshipped freedom from seeking." "I don't know now, though I knew. . . .': Her palsied hand goes to her forehead as if to draw memory with a touch. My past grows dim, illiterate, abandoned, free for the taking. A boy of four, he killed one ofthe King's overlords for casting a desirous eye on his mother, and stowed away to sail the whale road. Saving the crew and cargo from storm, he was rewarded in Philadelphia with a seventeen-hand stallion and rode out of the city stench Poem 6 5 to the Blue Ridge which reminded him ofhome. There he killed and married Cherokee, fathered seven sons and seven daughters, coaxed Highland pipes from fiddle's catgut, distilled moonlight, slaughtered hogs, lost fingers in sawmills, hoed, suckered, topped and primed tobacco discarded washing machines in creekbeds, learned to read the Bible, believe obituaries and recite where he was and what he was doing when the first Ford, radio, television and news ofjfk's death arrived. He put on a tie, conditioned the air and forgot the song of the whippoorwill. "There is not history, but histories." His shoes aren't right for the rough ground. The sapling branches whip his back as he backs into where we're going. Educated, tenured, he hopes to publish a study ofThe Great Wagon Road. "Until documented the facts are in flux." He is lecturing backward into the understory where a honeysuckle vine catches his heel. He barks his bald spot on a sweet gum and is silenced into the fact of himself. Out cold, he's received his dissertation's introduction. Count Casimir Pulaski, Bishop Francis Asbury, Lorenzo Dow, the Moravian Single Brother who wrote "We had to watch our horses closely. . . ." 66 MICHAEL CHITWOOD They crossed the Maggodee, Blackwater, and Pigg, scribbled down some thoughts that I'm stealing outright, keeping an eye on their horses, too. Warrior's Trace, gospel road, going now into sumac, scrub pine and books, somewhere along the way I got your dirt in my shoes, and that will do. Poem 67 ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 64-67
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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