“Unto These Hills”

Note from Elizabeth: Sixty years ago today, the historical drama “Unto These Hills” premiered at Cherokee, NC. We’re thrilled to present a guest post on the topic by Worth 1,000 Words essay author Andrew Denson of Western Carolina University.

This month marks the sixtieth anniversary of the outdoor historical drama “Unto These Hills,” which debuted in Cherokee on the evening of July 1, 1950. A vivid recounting of Cherokee history from European contact through the Removal era, the play was an immediate success, drawing large audiences throughout its first season. “Huge crowds have been present,” The State magazine proclaimed in its July 15, 1950 issue, and “everyone who has seen it thus far is enthusiastic.” Drawing more than 100,000 viewers in its first season alone, the drama quickly became one of Western North Carolina’s premier tourist attractions. In a significantly revised form, it remains popular today.

Hugh Morton captured some of the excitement of those early performances in a series of striking color images, now preserved in the Morton digital collection. The play’s dance sequences, in particular, seem to have drawn his photographer’s eye. He documented the “harvest dance” seen at the beginning of the drama and meant to express the Cherokees’ respectful relationship with the land (they “possessed it with gentleness and humility, with peace,” reads the script by Kermit Hunter). He also recorded the athletic “eagle dance,” which reviewers of the drama invariably cited as one of play’s most arresting moments. With modern choreography by UNC drama professor Foster Fitz-Simons, these performances bore little resemblance to traditional Cherokee dance, but they certainly gripped viewers’ attention. Fitz-Simons’ version of the eagle dance, in fact, became an all-purpose emblem of the drama, appearing in advertising for “Unto These Hills” for years to come.

The original “Unto These Hills,” it must be said, was rather poor history. Kermit Hunter, who wrote the script as a UNC graduate student, knew little about the Native American or Appalachian past, and his research seems not to have extended much beyond a cursory reading of James Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee. Hunter portrayed Cherokees sympathetically, as honest people who loved and defended their land, yet his Indian characters were little more than stereotypes. Seeking to appeal to a broad audience, Hunter relied on familiar images like the “noble savage,” turning fascinating figures like Sequoyah and the Cherokee leader Drowning Bear into flat caricatures. The play depicted real events, but only in a form devoid of historical complexity.

But perhaps that judgment is unfair. The creators of “Unto These Hills” transformed a somewhat obscure historical subject into compelling popular entertainment, which was no small feat. In the process, the drama may have accomplished something more. For all of its flaws, “Unto These Hills” ensured that several generations of visitors to the mountains departed knowing that Western North Carolina was the Cherokee homeland and that Cherokees had persisted there. That was a message worth broadcasting. Sixty years later, it remains so.

–Andrew Denson

REFERENCES

Beard-Moose, Christina Taylor. Public Indians, Private Cherokees: Tourism and Tradition on Tribal Grounds. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009.

Finger, John R. Cherokee Americans: The Eastern Band of Cherokees in the Twentieth Century. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.

Hunter, Kermit. Unto These Hills: A Drama of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1951.

The State, July 15, 1950.

It’s official…NC has a bunch of official symbols.

With a hat tip to our pals at North Carolina Miscellany, we inform you that North Carolina lawmakers have managed to find time in their busy schedules (state budget, anyone?) to name the Outer Banks’ wild mustangs as the official “state horse.” Hugh Morton was fond of photographing these charming ponies as they wandered through the harbor at Ocracoke.

From this AP article I learned the interesting tidbits that in addition to well-known symbols like the state dog (the Plott hound) and the state flower (dogwood), there is also a state insect (the honey bee) and a state BEVERAGE (milk).

So, I decided to try and determine how many of NC’s official state symbols Hugh Morton photographed. The answer: quite a few! I created the nice thumbnail gallery below to showcase some of the highlights. Hope you enjoy.

NOTE: If you’re a fan of all things North Carolina, you simply must check out the newly-launched website for materials published by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center: DigitalNC.org.

Food for thought

I noted a recent announcement from Grandfather Mountain that as of next week, they will be closing the “Bear Hut” (where visitors have been able to purchase food to feed the bears in the Mountain’s black bear habitat). Among other reasons cited for no longer allowing the public to feed the bears, staff say that the closure should improve the bears’ health (as they will receive a more consistent diet) as well as their temperament (as they will no longer have to compete with each other for food).

This reminded me of Morton photos I’ve seen from a time when ideas about the diets of bears in captivity were perhaps less enlightened.

It’s a little tough to make out, but in the photo above, the famous Mildred is enjoying a refreshing Orange Crush soda. (I cropped the original to make it easier to see).

Granted, this was a special occasion, but I suspect bears in the wild don’t have much opportunity to feast on birthday cake (except for perhaps the occasional trash-can raid):

And finally, here’s Mildred enjoying a more nutritious snack (again, cropped for full effect):

Here’s to the new plan for happier, healthier and more “natural” bears at Grandfather.

The Mountain: before, during, and after Morton

As I hope you noted in my last post, the almost 71,000 Hugh Morton images from the Grandfather Mountain Series are now part of the collection’s online finding aid and are open for research. These images date from the late 1930s through the early 2000s, and thoroughly document Morton’s intimate, life-long connections to the Mountain.

In the latest essay in our Worth 1,000 Words series, scholar DREW A. SWANSON explores this relationship and also reminds us that the Mountain was there long, long before the man, and will exist long, long after. How did tourism and development affect the Mountain’s ecosystems before Morton inherited it? What impacts did his actions, in the areas of both development and conservation, have? What can we expect in its future as a state park?

Read Drew’s essay, entitled Grandfather Mountain: Commerce and Tourism in the Appalachian Environment, and let us know your thoughts about these issues.

Capturing Cherokee, NC

The latest in our series of essays inspired by photographs from the Hugh Morton Collection focuses on images made of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, whose Qualla Boundary lands are primarily in eastern Swain and northern Jackson Counties, just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The essay, “More than Tourism: Cherokee, North Carolina, in the Post-War Years” is by Andrew Denson, Assistant Professor of History at Western Carolina University. Denson specializes in Native American history and the 19th-century United States.

Happy Birthday, Parkway

In case you haven’t heard (perhaps you’ve been hibernating), 2010 marks the 75th anniversary of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Numerous events throughout the year will help mark this occasion, including a symposium next week at Appalachian State University, at which UNC Libraries’ Natasha Smith, Elise Moore, and faculty advisor Anne Mitchell Whisnant will unveil the exciting Driving Through Time digital project! (More on that after it’s launched).

Luckily, we were able to steal Dr. Whisnant (author of the 2006 book Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History) away long enough to write an essay for our Worth 1,000 Words project. It’s now available, and is entitled Roads Taken and Not Taken: Images and the Story of the Blue Ridge Parkway ‘Missing Link.’

It’s no secret that determining the route for the last leg of the Parkway was a protracted, complicated, and divisive process, but one that ultimately resulted in the much-celebrated (and photographed) Linn Cove Viaduct (shown from the air at left). In her essay, Whisnant uses some of Morton’s own images to shed new light on this conflict. She also provides a crucial backdrop for some of Morton’s later environmental work, which will be examined in future Worth 1,000 Words essays.

We look forward to receiving your thoughts and comments!

Picturing the Port City

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With the 63rd Annual North Carolina Azalea Festival kicking off next week, it seems an appropriate time to highlight the festival’s home turf: Wilmington, NC. Not only was Hugh Morton was born and raised in Wilmington, but he and his family played a major role in shaping the tourism industry and infrastructure of the charming, historic Port City.

Here to help us is another Wilmington native, author, and purveyor of all things Wilmington history-related, Susan Taylor Block. Susan is the author of a whole bunch of books and articles (including photographic histories) on Wilmington’s past, culture, and some of its residents. She’s also behind the latest entry in our Worth 1,000 Words series, entitled Wilmington: Faded Glory to Fresh Achievement.

We hope you’re enjoying the growing variety of the essay offerings, and the opportunity they offer to delve a bit deeper into the riches of the Morton collection.

Daniel Boone was a man. Yes, a big man!

The entertainment community is mourning yesterday’s passing of actor Fess Parker (1924-2010), best known for his portrayals of manly pioneers Davy Crockett and (most relevant to the Morton collection) Daniel Boone. According to Entertainment Weekly‘s Ken Tucker,

In his prime, Parker was a big, rangy man who grew up in a small farm in Texas; his voice retained a warm Texas twang. He shot to a singular pop-culture fame in 1954, when Walt Disney’s Disneyland series broadcast “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter.” With his buckskin jacket, long rifle, slow drawl, and his coonskin cap, Parker was an immediate sensation. Kids could not get enough of his unique mixture of warmth, toughness, humor, and taciturn wisdom.

After his Crockett years, Parker went on to embody the role of Daniel Boone from 1964 to 1970. When I saw Turner’s article, I couldn’t help but steal the embedded YouTube video he included, of the opening credits of “Daniel Boone”:

In July or August of 1966, Parker paid a visit to Boone, NC’s own “Horn in the West” outdoor drama, and of COURSE, Hugh Morton was present with his camera. (Parker is shown below with Horn actor Glenn Causey; more images of his visit can be viewed here).

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Parker and the Horn crew apparently took a trip up Grandfather Mountain during this same visit (more images can be viewed here). You may also recall from a previous post that Parker’s TV son “Israel” (Darby Hinton) also visited Grandfather — whether it was at the same time as Parker, I can’t say.

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If anyone knows additional details from these events, please share!

A Springtime ‘Variety Vacationland’

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Here in Chapel Hill, the daffodils are blooming, the world is mud-luscious, and the sweet sound of  sneezing floats on the breeze. It must be spring!

As the buds begin to blossom, so too does the tourist season in North Carolina. To provide some perspective on the development of the tourism industry in the Old North State (and Hugh Morton’s role in it), we offer our newest essay in the Worth 1,000 Words series: Selling North Carolina, One Image at a Time, by Richard Starnes.

Starnes is an historian specializing in southern history and Appalachia, Associate Professor and History Department Chair at Western Carolina University, and author of the 2005 book Creating the Land of the Sky: Tourism and Society in Western North Carolina.

Read, share, discuss, and enjoy.

Grandfather Mountain’s new “Top Shop”

Recently Elizabeth told me about the demolition of the old “Top Shop” and the ongoing construction of a new shop on the summit of Grandfather Mountain. I grew up in North Carolina, and my childhood was full of visits to Grandfather Mountain; I loved searching through the gift shop after I walked over the Mile High Swinging Bridge. So to honor the transition from old to new, this post will be dedicated to the progression of development on the summit of Grandfather. (This is just a brief summary; perhaps the staff at Grandfather can provide a more detailed chronology?)

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Originally, the gift shop/visitors center on the summit of Grandfather was just a little wooden building, with a stone bathhouse next door, as shown above. The first picture is a view of the first visitor’s center. I like this picture because it shows the quaint nature of the original design of the Grandfather summit.  The second picture shows golfer Billy Joe Patton (left) and others at a trophy ceremony for the “Sports Car Hill Climb” event that used to be held annually. The wooden visitors center is in the background. I chose this picture because it shows how the summit was used as an outdoor gathering space.

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Morton inherited the land at Grandfather Mountain in 1952. In the 1950s (according to the book Grandfather Mountain by Miles Tager), “the postwar economic boom had by this time returned visitors to the region, opened up by the Parkway and other roads,” after the scarcity of visitors during the Great Depression. Morton took advantage of the prosperity of the 1950s by constructing a new road to the summit, a new parking lot, and a new gift shop. The picture above shows construction of the road to the summit.

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The new building, dubbed the “Top Shop,” was constructed in 1961. The first picture is of construction of “Top Shop” visitors center, right before it was completed in 1961. The next picture is of the “Top Shop” soon after it was built. And the last picture is of tourists browsing the new gift shop.

Grandfather Mountain has gone through many phases to become the popular attraction that it is today. The new shop will have many advantages over the old one, will be less of an obstruction to the view of Grandfather’s profile, and is much needed because of the weather damage that happens to buildings on the summit. (To see pictures of the construction of the newest “Top Shop,” click here). But though these transitions at Grandfather Mountain are all for the best, it is nice to look back at the simple beginnings of the wooden gift shop sitting on a barely developed piece of land.