Charlotte explorer was lucky to be thought a ‘madman’

“Only one man has ever done …the walk from Panama to Colombia: …Richard Tewkesbury, 10 years ago, and he nearly died the first time he tried. He is a little mathematics teacher from [Harding High School in] Charlotte, North Carolina, and he is the only man in the world who has crossed the Darien jungle with its average rainfall of 5 inches a week. This is the densest, nastiest, sloppiest swamp in the world — 240 miles of steaming, unsurveyed jungle….

“Dozens of people have tried to walk or ride or drive through this gap in the Pan-American Highway, but all have failed. Even Tewkesbury failed to cross the Atrato river here. It is exceedingly broad…. He got to he South American border, but others died or gave up.

“[It is believed that] the Indians only let Tewkesbury through because they thought he was a madman and it would therefore be unlucky to harm him.”

— From “Two Against the Amazon” by John Brown (1953) 

Tewkesbury (1907-1969) was a native of Montour, Iowa, and the library at Iowa State University, his alma mater, has compiled an extensive digital archive on his adventures.


Murder and Mystery: The Life and Death of John “Chicken” Stephens

On Saturday, the 21st of May, 1870, the Conservative Party of Caswell County met in Convention, at the Court-house of the county, to nominate candidates to represent the county in the next Legislature and for county officers, and on an occasion of the kind it is to be presumed that many persons would be present, and the number in attendance on the occasion spoken of was fairly estimated at 300 souls. The convention was held in the Court room, and the subject of this history was of the audience that day, who heard speeches from Mr. Philip Hodnott, Hon. Saml. P. Hill, Col. Bedford Brown and perhaps others.

The Court-house, of Caswell County, at Yanceyville, is a magnificent structure of art; but few buildings, upon this continent, probably, public or private, equal it, and none surpass it in beauty of style and finish….In beauty and splendor of outline and elegance of artistic skill within, it would be ‘a fit temple for the indwelling of Gods.’

In this temple the body of John W. Stephens found a temporary sepulchre. This temple dedicated to justice, is converted into a theatre where the assassin wields the blade of death, imbrues his hands in the life blood of a human being–a fellow-mortal–in the broad and unostructed light of day, in the midst of hundreds, and the eyes of no one save that of the perpetrator or perpetrators of the act rest or gaze upon the scene.

The history of that day–the 21st of May–touching the movements of John W. Stephens, the reader will find very fully set forth in evidence before the Coroner and his jury which is published here in full, and in the language and manner deposed.

–from Murder & Mystery: History of the Life and Death of John W. Stephens, State Senator of North Carolina, from Caswell County by A.J. Stedman.

The 1870 pamphlet includes the coroner’s report on the killing of John W. “Chicken” Stephens. The Republican state senator was lured to his death in the Caswell County courthouse by Frank Wiley, a former Democratic county sheriff whom Stephens urged to accept the Republican nomination for re-election. Wiley led Stephens from the courtroom to a downstairs storeroom at the back of the building. A group of Wiley’s fellow Klansmen were lying in wait there and beat and stabbed Stephens. They left his body on woodpile, where it was discovered the following day. Details on those responsible for Stephens’ death did not emerge until 1935, when the last member of the Klan execution ring died and his sealed statement describing the killing was opened.

In response to Stephens’ killing, Governor William W. Holden called out the militia under the leadership of Colonel George W. Kirk. The “Kirk-Holden War” ensued and eventually Holden was impeached by the Democratic-controlled state legislature.

While Charlotte mayor lectures, President Wilson swelters

On this day in 1916: Woodrow Wilson visits Charlotte for Meck Dec Day. “A hearty cheer greeted the president as he left the train, and he smiled warmly and doffed his silk hat in response,” The Observer reports. “Southern crowds are not much on cheering except when ‘Dixie’ is played; they usually prefer to gaze in silence, but the president and Mrs. Wilson were greeted with vocal demonstrations wherever they went.”

Wilson, however, is soon overshadowed by Mayor T. L. Kirkpatrick, who takes the speakers’ platform to introduce Gov. Locke Craig. Undeterred by the sight of spectators and soldiers fainting in the steamy heat, Kirkpatrick offers a 40-minute review of Mecklenburg history. When the mayor at last yields, Craig introduces President Wilson in a single sentence.

Kirkpatrick, who will suffer considerable teasing about having spoken more than twice as long as the president, always insists that Wilson told him he was not feeling well and to stretch his remarks. The mayor’s speech makes such an impression on First Lady Edith Wilson that she scathingly recalls it in her memoirs.


Governor Tryon to the Regulators at Alamance: “Surrender up the outlawed ringleaders”

Great Alamance Camp May 16, 1771

In answer to your Petition, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the true Interest of this Country, and to that of every Individual residing within it. I lament the fatal Necessity to which you have now reduced me, by withdrawing yourselves from the Mercy of the Crown, and the Laws of your Country, to require you who are Assembled as Regulators, to lay down your Arms, Surrender up the outlawed Ringleaders, and Submit yourselves to the Laws of your Country, and then, rest on the lenity and Mercy of Government. By accepting these Terms in one Hour from the delivery of this Dispatch you will prevent an effusion of Blood, as you are at this time in a state of War and Rebellion against your King, your Country, and your Laws.

–Governor William Tryon to “the People now Assembled in Arms who Style themselves Regulators.”

When the Regulators refused to lay down their arms and surrender, Tryon ordered his colonial militia to fire on them. The two-hour engagement came to be known as the Battle of Alamance. The Regulators, largely untrained frontiersmen, were no match for the well-supplied militia and they were defeated. There is no reliable count of the Regulators losses. Nine members of the militia were killed and 61 were wounded. Tryon’s men took 15 prisoners and seven were later hanged. Some Regulators left North Carolina. Those who remained were offered pardons if they pledged allegiance to the royal government.

Artifacts of the Month: Chang Bunker’s silverware

Chang & Eng Bunker

The North Carolina Collection Gallery exhibit on Chang and Eng Bunker, the original “Siamese twins,” continues to fascinate and intrigue visitors. Among the items on display are artifacts from Chang and Eng’s many years on tour, a time when they were presented as walking curiosities to paying spectators in town after town. Figurines and advertisements in the Gallery’s exhibit provide a window into the twins’ travels, compelling us to wonder what it was like to live on display.

But for many visitors, what’s even more absorbing are the materials that illuminate the Bunkers’ lives at home in North Carolina, with their wives and dozens of children, away from the inquisitive eyes of the world. A picture of Eng’s home in Surry County. A letter opener. A photo of the twins with two of their sons. These items speak of extraordinary efforts made to lead ordinary lives, despite challenges that most of us can barely imagine.

Our May artifacts of the month fall into that second category. These pieces of silverware, recently donated by one of Chang’s descendants, bear on their handles the initials “CE,” for Chang and Eng. The silverware pattern was known as “Fiddle Thread” and was made by Tenney.

Chang's silverware

It is precisely the ordinariness of these artifacts that makes them worth contemplating. They offer one more reminder that daily life for Chang and Eng was not all that different from the lives of their neighbors.

North Carolina Symphony celebrates eighty years of making music

The North Carolina Symphony played its first concert at Hill Hall in Chapel Hill on May 14, 1932. Lamar Stringfield conducted 48 musicians hailing from 11 communities throughout the state. The N.C. Symphony garnered state support in 1943 when the N.C. General Assembly passed the “horn tooter” bill, which provided $2000 yearly from 1943-1945.

Underground railroad did lay track in western N.C.

An enlightening  “I Was Wrong” from Civil War blogger Michael C. Hardy:
“I was digging around and came across something that I’ve been telling folks did not happen: escaped slaves on the ‘underground railroad’ in western North Carolina….
“It’s not so much that it did not happen, it is just that it VERY seldom happened. I have a post-war account here someplace that speaks on escaped Union soldiers telling slaves they could not come with the fleeing soldiers. A slave would be missed and sought after immediately. While escaped Union soldiers were always being sought after by the home guard, it is not the same as a master getting together a posse to hunt for an escaped slave.
The account below was written by Dr. Steadman O. Pine (sometimes listed as Oran Steadman Pine). Pine served as a private in the 14th Brooklyn and in the 5th New York ( Duryea’s Zouaves).  Pine was captured at Cold Harbor in June 1864.
“This account was written more than 40 years after the event, so we should not take it as gospel.
“Pine probably would have traveled through modern-day Avery or Mitchell Counties to join up with Federal soldiers. Of interest is his description of his escape in Charlotte.”