Thursday, August 5, 2010

Old Hickory and the Cast Iron Man Shape Both Dixie and Manifest Destiny

Andrew Jackson State Park near Lancaster, South Carolina

Two famous Americans born on South Carolina’s rough and ready frontier would have a hand in shaping the history of the American West. One was the populist American hero of the Battle of New Orleans. The other was the fiery demagogue of Nullification and State’s Rights. Both served in some of the highest offices in the land and both served in the same administration. But Andrew Jackson, known as Old Hickory, and John C. Calhoun, known as the Cast Iron Man, departed ways as the 19th century neared its midpoint. Their split served as an omen for the issue of slavery and its ultimate divisive nature for the American Republic. Their careers, however, also embraced such frontier and western issues as indian removal and Manifest Destiny.

Young Andrew Jackson Statue at Andrew Jackson State Park near Lancaster, SC

Andrew Jackson, who was to become the 7th President of the United States, was born in 1767 in the Waxhaw region on the border between the two Carolinas. Jackson, himself, claimed he had been born in a little cabin in South Carolina just south of the border and considered himself a South Carolinian. His parents were Scotch-Irish and were recent immigrants. Jackson was taught to read and write in a frontier school. He received his education in other matters by experience. When the American Revolution broke out, Jackson, aged 13, volunteered along with his brothers and served as a courier for the Patriot forces under Colonel William Richardson Davie. He and one of his brothers participated in the Battle of Hanging Rock. Both young Jacksons were captured by the British and held as prisoners of war. They nearly starved to death. An infamous incident occurred during this young lad's desperate time. A British officer told Jackson to lick and clean his boots with his tongue. Jackson refused and the angry man slashed Jackson with his sword cutting his hand and head and leaving deep scars. Emotionally Jackson had scars too. He developed an intense hatred for the British and even more so when his brother died from smallpox during his imprisonment. Jackson, helped by his mother, was released but she also succumbed to the deadly disease. By age 14, Andrew Jackson was an orphan.

Andrew Jackson stands up to British Officier

After his release in 1781, Jackson moved west to North Carolina and then Tennessee. He taught school and studied and practiced frontier law. Jackson soon became a planter and merchant as well as a speculator of Western lands. He grew cotton and he owned slaves. He built a home, called the Hermitage, near Nashville, Tennessee. He also served as an officer in the local militia. This militia was called up to fight during both the Creek War and the subsequent War of 1812. Jackson became a national hero by defeating the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814 (See my blog entry: The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Hidden Gem in the Story of the Saga of the American West, August 4, 2009) and later the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815 (See my blog entry: Old Hickory Secures the Louisiana Purchase, March 19, 2009). He went on to serve as a United States senator from Tennessee and ran twice for the United States Presidency before being elected in 1828. As President he served 2 terms. He was the first President born of immigrant parents and he was the first President from the frontier and the West. His victories at Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans opened and secured the West for American expansion and settlement. In addition, Jackson was heavily involved with Indian Affairs and set in motion the removal of more than 45,000 Native Americans living in the East. By means of the Indian Removal Act (1830) he was authorized to negotiate treaties for tribal lands and make payments to Native Americans for lands in the East in exchange for lands in the West beyond the United States borders. He directed that tribes such as the Cherokee and Creeks should be moved west of the Mississippi River and settled on the vast, “deserted” lands of the West. His first Vice President was John C. Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun, who was to become the 7th Vice President of the United States, was born in 1782 in the backcountry of South Carolina. His parents were also Scotch-Irish. He had to quit his studies at an early age to maintain the family farm after his father became ill. Later he was able to earn a degree at Yale College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He studied law and then became a lawyer in South Carolina in 1807. Calhoun had a quick mind and was a brilliant orator and was elected to the United States Senate from South Carolina in 1810. He served from 1810 to 1817 and led the charge, along with other War Hawks, to declare war on Great Britain in 1812. He also was an ardent nationalist during this time and sponsored many bills to improve the nation’s standing by supporting industry and building internal improvements.

John C. Calhoun
Calhoun was appointed as Secretary of War under President James Madison in 1817. He served in this position until 1825. One of his responsibilities was for the management of Indian affairs. He tried to make the Indian department more efficient and to centralize it. Congress frustrated Calhoun in these attempts. Calhoun, in turn, even though he was overstepping his mandate as Secretary of War, decided to use his power to create the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1824. He worked during this period to negotiate and ratify treaties with various Indian tribes. He succeeded in having 38 treaties passed during his tenure. He also had an opportunity to work with William Clark during this time. Clark served as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Missouri. He and Calhoun corresponded about many of the Native Americans found in the still new Louisiana Purchase. Calhoun was adamant to maintain that Native Americans groups did not represent nations as did traditional European Powers. Treaties were written to reflect that belief and were one of the factors that supported and led to Indian removal in the East and massive migration of European Americans onto the Great Plains and beyond.

Calhoun was elected to the Vice Presidency in 1824. He served first under John Adams and then, with the election of Andrew Jackson, he served with him over the next 8 years. What began as a cordial relationship between these two South Carolinians quickly unraveled under the strain of the Nullification Crisis of 1828-1832 and in the clash of beliefs between these two men. Calhoun opposed the Tariff of 1828 and frustrated that it was not repealed he wrote the famous South Carolina Exposition and Protest in which he forwarded his theory of nullification—the right of a state to reject laws and legislation found objectionable to its interests. Jackson, who strongly believed in a powerful central government, did not support that position and the feelings between the two men grew antagonistic. At a 1830 Jefferson Day Dinner Calhoun proposed a toast with the words: “The Union, next to our liberty, most dear.” Jackson responded with his toast of “Our federal union, it must be preserved.”

By 1831 the break between the two men was final. Then along came the Nullification Crisis. In the Nullification Crisis, South Carolina, using Calhoun’s logic, repealed the national tariff and in fact declared it null and void and all other such federal laws that went against the state of South Carolina’s interests. In response, Jackson was empowered by Congress to enforce all federal legislation with the Force Bill. South Carolina then nullified the Force Bill. Senator Henry Clay worked behind the scenes in trying to cool things down by seeking a compromise on the tariff. He eventually got the Congress to pass the Compromise Tariff of 1833.

President Andrew Jackson

During the crisis, Jackson had vowed to send troops to South Carolina to enforce any federal law that was enacted. South Carolina backed down but Calhoun never forgot it and went on to build support in the south for his theory of nullification and state’s rights. Calhoun had resigned over these issues with Jackson in 1832. He returned to his Ft. Hill Plantation in today's Clemson, South Carolina and once again became a Senator for the state, serving until his death in 1850. Jackson retired to Nashville after his presidency and lived at The Hermitage until he died in 1845.

The Hermitage near Nashville, Tennessee
Meanwhile, Calhoun opposed both the abolition of slavery and the attempts to limit the spread of slavery to the West. Calhoun was eager to annex the Republic of Texas, as were other Southerners. Texas was a slave country and would help Calhoun’s cause. Calhoun devised a joint resolution of the House of Congress to amend rules on the vote for accepting Texas as a state by election through a simple majority. This worked to counter Northern attempts to block the acceptance of the Lone Star Republic and Texas joined the Union in 1846. War with Mexico soon followed. Strangely Calhoun opposed the war, fearing the annexation of millions of "colored" Mexicans and all that would mean to the system of slavery in the South. He participated in the debate over Texas which led to the Compromise of 1850. Calhoun also disagreed with the Compromise of 1850 because it limited the spread of slavery and would upset the representative balance of southern and northern states. This was his last battle. Calhoun died in 1850. His support for slavery and states’ rights went on to influence the South and subsequent events that led to the Civil War.

Fort Hill Plantation in Clemson, South Carolina

Both Jackson and Calhoun had been born on the South Carolina frontier. Both however, had come to have competing visions of America. Calhoun looked to the East while Jackson looked to the West. Jackson saw a strong federal government employed in removing Indians and settling the west. Calhoun saw a method to assert state’s rights and to preserve his home state’s system of slavery either with or without annexation of western lands. This issue was to boil until the outbreak of the Civil War. Both Jackson and Calhoun’s legacy, however also had much bearing on the frontier and the west including both the issues of American expansion and Indian removal. Both of these issues led to the later period of Manifest Destiny and the clash between native peoples and Europeans and the spread of American culture to the West.

Andy Thomas

Sources Used to Write this Blog:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Spirit of the American Frontier

Alcohol was an important element in the settling of the frontier and the American West. Alcohol served to cement alliances between European nations and Native Americans, as well as serving as a conduit for trade. It served to relieve pain, boredom, and thirst on many different American frontiers. It also led to extreme violence and early death for some. Although rum and brandy were the initial beverages available on the earliest frontiers, it did not take long for liquor made from corn to become the "spirit" of the American frontier.

Why corn? Corn was ubiquitous in America. It grew everywhere and was a major component in the diet of Native Americans, colonists, and their African slaves. Native Americans probably fermented some types of beverages from native fruits and plants like all other indigenous peoples throughout the world. Though evidence is scant, a weak type of corn beer may have been part of the diet of many Native American tribes. Some tribes may have had no types of fermented beverages which may explain why they were quickly addicted to West Indian Rum and French Brandy. Even if they did have some types of alcoholic drinks, they were quickly abandoned after the discovery of the stronger, better-tasting European spirits including spirits made with corn.

Another factor in why corn was a favorite had to do with logistics. Corn was not an easy product to haul to market from the frontier. Instead of taking 10 carts of corn to market, the early American settler could convert his product to alcohol and send one cart of whiskey to the market and make considerable profit. And so, early colonists began to experiment with corn to see if they could produce a good tasting alcoholic beverage with it that helped to provide a drinking potable for the colonists who did not have a fresh, clean water supply.

In a 1682 travel narrative Thomas Ashe described an early forerunner to American corn-based distillations when he wrote that the South Carolina settlers “have lately invented a way of making it good sound Beer, but it’s strong and heady: By Maceration, when duly fermented, a strong Spirit like Brandy may be drawn off from it, by help of an Alembick.” An Alembick was an early type of still. This method of distilling the beverage along with the further refinements of adding additional grains such as rye, wheat, and barley would eventually give way to the American Bourbon industry that was to cast its shadow from its origins in Bourbon County, Kentucky to the shores of the Pacific.

It was the Scotch-Irish who also brought their own experience and technologies to America that helped to spark a revolution in American distilling. Many frontiersmen took this spark to the frontier. And in the late 1700’s, American settlers in the “dark and bloody” lands of Kaintuck set about turning their corn into whiskey for sale in distant markets. One of them, Reverend Elijah Craig, was an independent Baptist preacher who had spent some time in a South Carolina jail because he did not have an Episcopal ordination from the Anglican establishment. Craig, moved to Bourbon County to practice his religion freely. He owned a corn mill there. One day a fire broke out and charred the inside of some of his oak barrels which he used to age and ship his corn whiskey. Not wanting to be wasteful he used the barrels to ship his product to New Orleans. After the long trip the whiskey had mellowed to a smoother and richer flavor. People started calling this product Bourbon because it was from Bourbon County, Kentucky. The end result was it became an American frontier favorite.

When I visited Kentucky earlier this year I visited the Woodford Distillery. The history of the distillery began in 1812 and the distillery building (1834) is one of the oldest buildings of nine working distiliries in Kentucky and the site is now a National Historic Landmark. Today a super-premium bourbon named Woodford Reseeve is produced there. It is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.

The smell of "corn beer" before it is distilled is wonderful

Mint Juleps are made from bourbon, sugar and mint leaves. The Mint Julep is thought of as the classic Southern American cocktail and naturally it is made with Bourbon Whiskey. It is also the drink of the ultimate horse race: the Kentucky Derby. The Mint Julep's origins are from the Middle East where “julab” the Arab word for rose water became julep in most western languages. The drink’s ancestors appeared in England during the 1400’s as concoctions of sugar, water, and herbs or plants. These were used in non-alcoholic combinations mainly for medicinal purposes. Later alcohol was added. Rum, whiskey, and brandy were favorites. This drink was brought to the American colonies. Instead of rum and brandy, corn whiskey was used. There was also the adaptation in the colonies of adding mint leaves to the drink. Good bourbon soon followed, replacing the corn whiskey and became its main ingredient. In 1845, a South Carolinian named William Heyward Trapier reintroduced juleps to the students attending Oxford University in England when he found out they were unfamiliar with them. Since then, Oxford University has toasted has name and celebrated “Mint Julep Day” on June 1st every year.

Bourbon is still made today at places like Woodford Reserve in traditional small batches. I encourage you to sometime soon imbibe on the spirit of America’s frontier.

Andy Thomas

Sources used:
The South Carolina quotation is from Narratives of Early Carolina, edited by Alexander S. Salley, 1911

Bourbon Whiskey:

Woodford Distillery:

Mint Julep:

Friday, May 14, 2010

See the West without leaving the South

I recently took a trip to the Booth Western Art Museum. It is a spectacular little jewel of an art museum in Cartersville, Georgia. It is the second largest art museum in the state of Georgia behind the High Museum in Atlanta. It has works of art and sculpture from some of the most famous artists who have depicted the American West. There are paintings and sculptures from such famous artists as George Catlin, Albert Bierstadt, Charles Russell, Fredrick Remington, and Thomas Moran on display there. There is also a section devoted to Civil War and Presidential paintings and portraits. Another section is devoted to poster art created for Western movies. Modern contemporary Western art, scupture, and Native American art and artifacts are also on display.

This museum is the only one of its kind in the South. It is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. If you are traveling to Atlanta some time soon, check it out. It is only about 45 minutes away and it really is a treat be able to see the West in the South.

Andy Thomas

See the Museum website at:

A Siesta Costs Mexico the Land of Texas

Sorry for the hiatus. I hope to post several new blogs over the next month.

The resent oil spill tragedy in the Gulf reminded me of a trip I took to West Texas in May 2004 with my brother Jim. We visited the Guadalupe Mountains, Big Bend, and White Sands. On the way back home we stopped in Houston, Texas to visit the site of the Battle of San Jacinto. As we approached the site the smell of petroleum assaulted our noses. The battle site sits near massive fuel storage tanks and refineries on the low, flat, grassy Texas lowlands. This region of Texas has always been a major player in our country’s oil industry as well as many other industries since becoming a part of the United States. The Gulf spill is a tragedy and it remains to be seen how this will impact Texas and the other areas of the Gulf. The same could have been said of Texas itself. Before becoming a state, Texas existed as an independent republic. This “Lone Star” republic won its independence from Mexico. That independence was won in 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto which sits very close to the Gulf shores of Texas. But no one then knew Texas would become a state and a key state at that.

One of the heroes of winning Texas independence was John Coker. John Coker was originally from South Carolina. He had been born in 1789 in Laurens County, South Carolina and he moved to Texas in 1834 with his father to settle on lands in Stephen F. Austin’s colonies. He was a blacksmith and joined the Texas army in 1836.

In April 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, conqueror of the Alamo, made a tactical mistake as he chased General Sam Houston’s army in hopes of battling it and destroying it. Santa Anna was far ahead of his supply lines and he wandered into the maze of waterways and bayous along the Texas coast. On April 21, 1836 the two armies stood close to each other near the site of San Jacinto. They both stood on a maze of lands cut by rivers and waterways. One of the nearest was Vince’s Bayou over which a bridge existed that both armies would have to use to retreat or reinforce.

General Sam Houston

A comrade of John Coker’s, Young Perry Alsbury reported that Coker mused while on horseback looking out at the bridge over Vince’s Bayou, "Boys, before many hours we will have one of the damndest, bloodiest fights that ever was fought and I believe it would be a good plan to go and burn that bridge so as not only to impede the advance of reinforcements of the enemy, but it will cut off all chance of retreat of either party.” This remark was taken by his commander Deaf Smith to Houston. Houston agreed to send Smith and a 6 man team, including Coker, to destroy the bridge and cut off escape or reinforcements for both armies. Coker and his companions burned the bridge.

Surrender of Santa Anna

Meanwhile, Santa Anna and his men retreated to their afternoon siesta, thinking that the battle that would occur here would take place at dawn during the following day. And Santa Anna failed to post sentries. This intelligence was taken back to Sam Houston. Houston’s generals, however, urged him to wait to attack the Mexicans the following day. But Houston would have none of it. When news of the destroyed bridge reached the Texas army, Houston led his men in a surprise charge forward against the unprepared Mexican troops. In 18 minutes the battle was over. The Mexican army had been routed to the shouts of “Remember Goliad” or “Remember the Alamo.” 700 Mexican soldiers had died and 730 were captured. This battle assured the independence of Texas. Only 9 Texas soldiers were killed. The next day, Santa Anna was captured and made to agree to a peace treaty and Texas became a Republic. A little siesta had cost Mexico the lands of Texas.

John Coker settled in Bexar County in 1841 and ended up founding the Coker community in San Antonio on lands granted him as a veteran. He died on January 4, 1861. Today the site of the battlefield has a monument and a museum worth the stop. The white tower monument rises high above the Texas low lands. The museum has a fascinating collection of documents and artifacts telling the story of Texas independence. It was an independence important to the history of the United States. You just have to get past the smell of oil on your visit.

Andy Thomas

Sources Used to Write This Blog:

Wikipedia articles on John Coker and the Battle of San Jacinto. See:

The Handbook of Texas Online articles on John Coker and the Battle of San Jacinto. See:

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

South Carolina's First Frontier River Town

In 1697 the South Carolina frontier was only a couple of miles outside the gates of the English settlement of Charles Town. In that year a group of Massachusetts Puritan settlers and missionaries led by the Reverend Joseph Lord founded the town of Dorchester on the banks of the Ashley River. It was more than 20 miles from Charles Town and helped to push back the Carolina frontier to the north and the west. The new town was laid out like a New England town with small lots that were distributed by a lottery system. A Puritan Congregational church was built and it was called the Old White Meeting House. The Puritans used the name of their old congregation in Massachusetts, Dorchester, to name their new town. Native Americans, who had established an overland trade path from the Middle and Upper Savannah River regions before these newcomers arrived, used the site, at the practical head of navigable waters on the Ashley River, as a jumping off point to make the river-bound trip to Charles Town. They called the site of the Dorchester settlement Boo-shoo-ee whose meaning is now lost to history.

The location of Dorchester on the frontier brought it both prosperity and hardship. Because of the commerce with Native Americans and plantation owners the river easily sustained the town for many decades. It became the hub for the early Indian trade. Native Americans and traders used the town to make transactions, usually by barter, and to move deerskins as well as themselves to and from the frontier and Charles Town. A wharf was built to accommodate canoes, and boats from the coast that brought in such products as rice and trade goods and shipped out such products as cane baskets and deerskins. A boat, known as a common boat and used for the Indian trade was used by the townspeople. This was a large canoe or periauger rowed by 7 or 8 slaves. It could carry as many as 500 to 700 deerskins to Charles Town. Later Fort Moore on the Savannah River, near current day North Augusta, and other towns that sprang up in the backcountry in the years that followed would drain away the deerskin trade, but for a long time Dorchester served as a main trade nexus and gateway to the Carolina frontier.

Rice cultivation also became an important means of enterprise in the 1730’s and 1740’s in Dorchester and surrounding areas. Because of this, indigo production, and the production of naval stores, more and more slaves came to live at Dorchester. In fact Africans outnumbered Europeans at least 3 to 1 by the 1750’s. These large numbers were hard to control and many slaves here ran off as evidenced by newspaper ads found in local colonial newspapers.

By 1752 the New England Puritan settlers had been overrun by other settlers who were mostly Anglican. In addition, these settlers' and the newcomer’s needs for large tracts of land to grow both rice and indigo were limited by the small lot system in the town. Most of the Puritans left the area to establish another town in Georgia. Many others left, but the town continued to flourish for several more decades with traders, planters, artisans, and slaves. An English traveler described Dorchester in 1774 as “a pretty good sized town.”It was during this time of prosperity that a large Anglican church, known as St George Parish Church was built. The solid brick tower of that church remains today.

With the danger of the French and Indian war, the British government built a powder magazine and a tabby wall fort to protect the magazine in Dorchester in 1757. The fort overlooked the river and was meant to stop either a French or Native American invasion force from using the Ashley River to attack Charles Town from behind. The remains of the fort are impressive and can still be seen today.

The Revolutionary War also created havoc for the town. The fort was turned into a military depot for the patriots. Fighters like Francis Marion operated from the fort and town throughout the war. Several skirmishes took place near the town. The British captured the fort for a while and occupied it until they were defeated and run out by Colonel Wade Hampton and General Nathanael Greene. Because of the devastation and turmoil of the war as well as the inexorable shift of the frontier to the north and west the town never recovered after the Revolutionary War. You can visit what remains today at Old Dorchester State Park to see reminders of what was South Carolina's first frontier river town.

Andy Thomas

Sources used to write this blog:

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Where is Lewis (& Clark) When You Need Them?

It was getting dark and late and Karen and I were arguing on which way to go. We had been searching all that winter afternoon in December 2008 for roads that would take us to an elusive historical marker. We had already travelled our share of lonely two lane roads and winding dirt roads. Both of us had just about had enough. We came to a crossroads and argued on which way to go. In the end, we choose a direction that we later found out took us away from our desired destination.

We were trying to reach a historical marker that stood about a mile from the site of Captain John Marks home. The home’s site sat on a ridge overlooking Millstone Creek, a small rivulet that feeds the Broad River in Georgia. The site is difficult to get to but the marker is within a mile of its location. John Marks was a Revolutionary war veteran and the stepfather to Meriwether Lewis, the famous American explorer. He married Lewis’s mother Lucy in 1780 after her husband died of pneumonia the year before. In 1785-1787, when Lewis was eight or nine years old, he and his mother and siblings came south from Virginia traveling through North and South Carolina to go live with John Marks on the Georgia frontier. They migrated to a spot on the Broad River near today’s Elberton, Georgia in eastern Oglethorpe County. I had read about a marker and seen a picture of the marker (with this guys motorcycle parked in front of it) on an internet site and I had tried to contact the person who had posted it but was unsuccessful. He had given directions to the marker on the website, but they were unclear. That day, Karen and I set out to find it we stopped at a county gas station in the area and asked the guy behind the counter if he could help us find Goose Pond, which was near the place where the marker was erected. He hesitated and then told us that, “the roads are notoriously bad there.” He said he could not help us to find it even though he had lived in the area all his life. Little did I know what he meant by “bad.” Karen and I pressed on for a little while longer, but finally, Karen and I, made our fateful decision at the crossroads and, unsuccessful, we turned back toward Columbia, a two hour plus ride.

Once home, I decided to be "smart" and consult Map Quest on the Internet. On Map Quest the crossroads led in one direction toward Millstone Road which we had travelled and in the other direction, which unbeknown to us at the time, was Goose Pond Road. Today the area is called Goose Pond because there was a pond there where wild goose gathered in colonial times. The area had been ceded by the Creek and Cherokee Indians in 1773. General George Mathews of Augusta County, Virginia had petitioned the Georgia government for land there he had spied after serving in Georgia during the Revolution. He found the soil rich and he also saw many opportunities for making a living. He called for other Virginians to follow him south to Georgia. These Virginians established the prosperous community of Goose Pond for several decades after the Revolution. John Marks heard the call and decided to go south. The young Meriwether Lewis joined him and lived here for several years. Lewis learned to hunt and became an accomplished hunter here. A family friend said of him that, “He acquired in youth hardy habits and a firm construction. He possessed in the highest degree self-possession in danger.”According to Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage, he learned to identify trees, bushes, shrubs, grasses, and various fishes, animals, birds, and insects. It was during this period that he became literate and started to read and write. But this rough, wild region did not have teachers who could give him the education he or his parents desired and so he was sent back to Virginia for that.

I made a second attempt, alone, at finding Goose Pond in January 2009. It was a Saturday that the sky had decided to rain cats and dogs. I hit the road early and battled raindrops all the way to the crossroads. I was happy. I was convinced I was going to see the marker once I turned onto Goose Pond Road. How could I miss it? The paved road faded to muddy dirt. I followed this road for about a mile. The road seemed to get worse as the rain beat down on my Durango. Then, in front of me was the reason that the roads in Goose Pond were “notoriously bad”. In front of me a flood of rushing water had buried the road. It was white, frothy, and angry looking as brown water flowed over the road. Was this a washed out bridge? How deep was it? I considered trying to cross it but kept seeing images of those “brilliant” people who also tried to cross roads with rushing waters in front of them and remembered with a shiver how their vehicles always seemed to be whisked away by the powerful force of the rushing waters. I had to turn around and get back to the main road. Even that seemed tricky. And so, I carefully backed up and turned around the best I could avoiding the rapidly filling ditches on either side of me and once again made my way back to Columbia in a grey, pounding rain.

Meriwether Lewis went on to receive his education in Virginia. He returned to Georgia several times afterward but sometime near 1792, Captain Marks passed away and Lewis moved his mother and all of her children, slaves, animals, and possessions back to Virginia never to return again.

I made one last attempt at finding the elusive marker. It was December 2009. Once again, I was on the dirt road. Karen was with me. It was sunny and dry. Where the waters had run the year before was a crude bridge crossing a rushing creek or steam. Was this Millstone Creek? Once again, we wandered for miles up this dirt road, known as Goose Pond Road, searching for the marker. Once again, like Brigadoon, the maker eluded us. Three strikes and you are out! Where is Lewis (& Clark) when you need them?

So, any lessons learned? Better planning? GPS? Better directions? All of those are true and need be applied but even more, what I really, learned on my trips to Goose Pond was how wild and untamed this country still is. Yes, there are roads. But in this small area of the South you can still see how it could challenge those who settled here. It was even wilder in Lewis’s day. He had a good laboratory to find out about what a frontier was all about. He learned to hunt. He learned to identify plants and animals. There is no doubt this formative time helped him in the challenges that the Lewis and Clark expedition posed. It sure gave me some real insight into his past. I really look forward to visiting, seeing, and blogging about more Lewis and Clark sites. I just hope they are not as hard to find as the elusive marker for John Marks site.

Andy Thomas

Sources used in writing this blog:

Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose

Article on Goose Pond in The New Georgia Encyclopedia:

Article on the John Marks site in Athens Banner-Herald: