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American Overhaul

From: Prairie Schooner
Volume 77, Number 2, Summer 2003
pp. 107-113 | 10.1353/psg.2003.0058

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Prairie Schooner 77.2 (2003) 107-113

Tide Springs Valley was different. The first white men, most of them Methodists who had tromped through here a good two hundred and forty years ago, chasing out the Cherokees who refused to get soul-saved, could have warned you. Something about the place wasn't right. It was the spring itself. Good water, no one would argue that. And there was always water here, underneath these poplar trees. Those first Scotch Irish settlers were happy to have stumbled across the spring, and once they tasted the water, they stayed. Built their homes around it, brought in livestock all the way from Pennsylvania, two cows and a mule given them in their final days of indentured servitude in a Philadelphia home. It had been a long haul, from New England through the Appalachians into Tennessee, so the water was a welcome sight.

At first they thought the water would dry up, for sometimes the spring was full, other times very shallow. They did not notice the ebb and flow at first, so busy were they with surviving the winters and running off Cherokees and wrapping trees with steel wire to choke them off in a three-year planned land cleaning. Then one night a young man and his promised girl sat near the spring. He was trying some quick moves on her when they both heard it: the bubbling. The frothing up, until the small reservoir around the poplar trees filled, covering over the limestone and leaving a deep, even pool of water. It was enough for a man of seventeen to tuck his manhood away and button up and call for help from the elders.

The older men, all in their late thirties, gathered around the deep pool and studied it. They were there long enough to see it happen: two hours and forty-seven minutes after filling, the waterwent away. The earth sucked the pool shallow. Like a tide in acave.

They spoke. But then they waited. One of them owned a timepiece: and two hours and forty-seven minutes later, it frothed full once more.

They knew to fear Satan, who must have been heating up the earth, making the water froth like that. But the elders again sipped the water, brave as they were, and felt its coolness, tasted its freshness, and surmised with the logic of their theologies that God would not take water, one of His greatest symbols of life through baptism, and allow it to be corrupted by the likes of Beelzebub. Besides, they had already started too many homes in the area, and the pastor himself, a man in his mid forties who had a grandchild coming along through his eldest daughter, just didn't feel like moving on. MacRaker was his name. He had homesteaded the most land amongst the settlers. He wouldn't have been surprised that, after his death fourteen years later, they would call the white settlement Rakertown. Nor would he be bemused by the name they gave that holler: Tide Springs Valley.

Still, Reverend MacRaker recognized that this new settlement was like no other. He couldn't understand why; for he and his brethren wanted only what others wanted: an escape from the mix. No Indians. No Negroes. Reverend MacRaker was not interested in owning slaves, as that was an expensive endeavor, and something about it just didn't settle with him. But he didn't want to live with the Negroes neither. Fact was, he and all the others wanted to be left alone.

It was not about to happen: they came in Scotch Irish and white, and started turning light brown about nine to twelve months after arriving. He blamed the Cherokee, every chance he could on Sunday mornings, when Holy Scripture called forth some clear, precise teaching about those cursed with the mark of Cain. Never mind that the Cherokee had been in east Tennessee way before Tennessee got its name. Never mind that the word Appalachia was the name of an Indian people. The Reverend took them to task three Sundays out of four. Problem was, they didn't always act, or for that matter look...

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