The Sentinel of Currahee Mountain


The Sentinel of Currahee Mountain
Kitty Stratton

For many years, living in Northeast Georgia, I could never quite get a fix on exactly where Currahee Mountain was until I recently moved to Toccoa. Now that I drive past the mountain on a regular basis I can clearly see Currahee “standing alone” the name given to the mountain by the Cherokees who at one time lived in and around Toccoa.

The more I study this mountain the more I am fascinated by it. It truly does stand alone, like a sentinel rising up from the rolling hills of middle Georgia. Currahee has been called the first mountain in the Appalachian chain.

One side of Currahee is steep whereas the other has a long approach. On a glorious fall day last year, my son and I climbed the steep side of Currahee. The narrow, overgrown, path that we climbed, started on Hwy 184 and snaked back and forth up the mountain until it became rocky and strewn with enormous boulders. Having read the myths and stories of hidden caves and gold in the area my imagination took flight and I scanned the giant boulders on either side of the trail looking for even the smallest of cave openings.

Unable to find any mysterious cave like openings with my naked eyes, I turned to my camera and using it like binoculars I zoomed in and took several photographs of the rock strewn mountainside.

Currahee Mtn Rock Face

The Sentinel of Currahee

Only later, when I was viewing the pictures on the computer did my gaze fall on the above photograph and I could suddenly see the sphinx like face appearance on the rock!! Take a close look and beware! To me this is the guardian of Currahee holding and protecting secrets of hidden gold and deep caverns.

Newly Discovered Appalachian Moth Named after Cherokee Chief


What a perfect way to honor the spirit of the Appalachians!

Entomology Today

A new species of moth discovered in the Appalachian Mountains has been named after Attakullakulla, a Cherokee chief who lived in the region in the 1700s. The new species, Cherokeea attakullakulla, is described in a special issue of the journal ZooKeys.

In 1958 a professor from Cornell University, Dr. John G. Franclemont, was studying some of the insects he collected at the Highlands Biological Station in Macon County, North Carolina when he found a couple of specimens that seemed different. Similar specimens were not recorded again for four decades until Dr. J. Bolling Sullivan III, now a retired biologist who formerly worked with the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, encountered numbers of this same insect while conducting biological inventories in the mountainous regions of the western part of the state.

Print of the Cherokee ambassadors in England in 1730. Attakullakulla is in the center, identified with…

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Kitty Stratton


Petroglyphs or rock carvings can be found all over the world.  We are fortunate in N.E. Georgia to have a well preserved collection of petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap close to Blairsville GA.  Track Rock is considered one of the most significant sites of Native American rock engravings in the Southeastern United States.

Track Rock Gap is situated near Blairsville, Georgia in the Blue Ridge Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest.  The site has been well taken care of and a trail leads up from a small parking lot to the huge soapstone boulders that contain over a hundred carvings of different shapes and figures.


Boulder at Track Rock showing carved symbols

As far back as 3600 years ago Native Americans were using the soapstone at Track Rock to make bowls and other items.  Starting around AD 1000 different Native American Tribes have carved figures and symbols in the soft soapstone.  It is likely that the Cherokee people carved some of the images.

Some of the stories handed down over the years, linked to Cherokee legends, give various ideas for why the carvings are at Track Rock.  Some of the stories indicate that the carvings on the stones are Hunter’s carvings.  Other stories tell of a great flood that left the rock soft and the animals left their tracks on the soft stone.  Additional stories tell that the Track Rock area was the dwelling of a Great Spirit.

Regardless of which story or combination of stories tells the truth of Track Rock, it is obvious that it was a special and sacred place to the people living and passing through the area.  It is also very possible that the rocks were used to commemorate battles between warring tribes.  South of Track Rock Gap at Slaughter Gap near Blood Mountain there was a battle between Creek and Cherokee Tribes.



Regardless of how or when these carvings were made they should be preserved for future generations.  For more information on the area and a map to find Track Rock visit the USDA Forest Service website. There are pages with photographs of the boulders and maps that explain the different symbols and possible meanings of the drawings.  A wealth of excellent information can be read about Track Rock at

Hernando De Soto in Clarkesville, Georgia – Kitty Stratton



Hernando De Soto in Clarkesville, Georgia.

 Kitty Stratton

It was the year 1540.  King Henry VIII of England had just married his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves.  It was the age of exploration.

Hernando De Soto had been born in Spain in 1496.  He was destined to become one of history’s famous explorers and Conquistadors.  Conquistadors or conquerors were soldiers and explorers who served the empires of Portugal and Spain. They colonized a large part of the world during the 15th,16th & 17th centuries.  Their goals were to conquer territories and open trade routes.

Fortunately for De Soto, he had acquired a large fortune from his part in the Spanish Conquest of the Inca Empire in South America.  He was famous as a negotiator, soldier and horseman but was also unfortunately known for his brutality.

The fortune he made in South America financed his explorations of the southeastern states of North America.  However the planned trip cost him heavily and he was highly motivated to recoup his losses by discovering gold in “La Florida”.  He was given the governorship of Cuba by the King of Spain and was expected in return to colonize North America for Spain.

When his party left Havana, Cuba, De Soto had recruited 620 volunteers for the planned four year exploration.  They loaded no less than nine ships with armor and heavy equipment, large quantities of livestock, including 237 horses and 200 pigs.

The entourage arrived at Charlotte Harbor, Florida and proceeded northwards. De Soto’s travels were well documented for the time.  There are several different recorded eye witness accounts of his explorations.

Hernando de Soto

Hernando de Soto

The records of his travels are fascinating and his group travelled through Florida, up through Georgia, North & South Carolina, Tennessee and further west.

De Soto was definitely in Georgia, but did he pass through Clarkesville, Georgia? There is a marker near the Courthouse in Clarkesville that states.










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De Soto died in the Spring of 1542 from a fever.  He was, however, the first European to cross the Mississippi River.  No gold was ever discovered on the expedition but the legacy of the accounts of his travels are documented and stored online as a living history for generations to come.






By Kitty Stratton

After a week of freezing temperatures and snow in January, Northeast Georgia was blessed with a day of clear skies and warm sunshine.  I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon taking a tour of the Tugaloo Corridor area in Stephens County.  My tour guide was Joe Ferguson, Chairman of the Stephens County Foundation.

We visited many sites in the Tugaloo Corridor between historic Traveler’s Rest site and Yonah Dam, but the main area of interest on this particular day was the Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site.

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Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site opened to the public beginning March 1st 2014, and is open from 8:30am to 5pm Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from 1pm to 5pm on Sunday afternoons.  Groups can be scheduled by appointment. Volunteers will be available to orientate visitors to the different trails available. Amenities include a handicapped accessible nature trail, restrooms, a classroom pavilion and parking lot.

The highlight of my visit to Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site was hiking the approximately 1 mile loop River Trail that can be accessed by a short walk from the parking lot past a wetland area with an active beaver dam into a quiet & peaceful pine forest.  The trail loops along the banks of the Tugaloo River which flows quietly beneath its surprisingly high banks.  The trail is well marked with green painted trail markers on trees and the terrain is flat and surprisingly dry.  For those of us who appreciate a less strenuous hike the trail is perfect.  Opportunities for viewing wildlife are plentiful, especially along the duck pond edge of the trail.

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After attending a volunteer orientation and excellent slide show in early January I came to learn that the vision of Tugaloo Bend and preservation of the Tugaloo Corridor had started back in the late 1990’s. Channing “Billy’ Hayes, Jr. was the owner of the 87 acre “Tugaloo Bend Farm” and had decided to sell this property but wanted to see the land preserved and protected from future development.  The main part of the story of the Tugaloo Bend Heritage Site starts with the creation of the Stephens County Foundation and a collective desire to give back to the community.

The vision of the foundation has been preservation, education and recreation.  The Tugaloo Bend Heritage site is for the community and area visitors.  Visitors will have an opportunity to come to a quiet and beautiful location to enjoy the natural surroundings and hike the different trails.

Directions to Tugaloo Bend Heritage site are as follows.  From Toccoa head north on Prather Bridge Road from the intersection of Tugalo St and Prather Bridge Rd (at the First Baptist Church) go 7 miles until you see the Tugaloo Bend Heritage site on your right.  The facility is located on Yonah Dam Rd which curves to the left just before you cross Prather Bridge into South Carolina.

For further information or to schedule a group outing contact, The Stephens County Foundation, 706 282 7636.   More information about the Tugaloo Corridor project can be found at




Kitty Stratton

Travelling through the small towns of Northeast Georgia there are many roadside markers that historically connect our communities.   Recently when visiting Historic Traveler’s Rest located off of Highway 123 close to the South Carolina state line I saw a marker explaining the route of the old Unicoi Turnpike.

I wanted to know more about the Unicoi Turnpike and discovered that the word Unicoi means “white” in Cherokee, possibly meaning that this was a road built by white settlers in the area.  The turnpike part of the name referred to the gates along sections of the road which were simply, very long poles serving as gates.  The pole would be moved away when the traveler paid the toll to the landowner for using that section of the road.

Who were the people who used the Unicoi Turnpike?   History tells us that in 1813 the Cherokee people signed a treaty to allow the Turnpike to cross the Cherokee Nation but long before the Turnpike was built the route had been used as a pathway before White settlers came to the area.   After the Turnpike was built drovers would herd cattle and other livestock from Georgia on up into Tennessee.   Traders used the roadway to transport animal furs and deerskins.

Wagons usually travelled around twenty miles a day and so there was a need for rest stops. Traveler’s Rest was one of these stops along the Turnpike and there will have been many others.  Sometimes families would open their home to travelers for room and board.

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Traveler’s Rest Historic Site off of Hwy 123 located east of Toccoa.

The turnpike was completed in 1819 and provided a wagon road northwest through Georgia from Traveler’s Rest  passing close by Toccoa Falls, heading towards Clarkesville, crossing the Soque River at some point and passing through Sautee, Nacoochee valleys and Helen.  There are a few sections of the original Turnpike visible near the Nora Mill just south of Helen.  The turnpike followed the main road through Helen but there were no bridges and the Chattahoochee River had to be forded.


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Historical Marker outside of Traveler’s Rest Historic Site off of Hwy 123 located east of Toccoa. 

Crossing the mountains must have been a hardship for these early travelers.   The Turnpike crossed the lowest point of the mountains ten miles north of Helen at Unicoi Gap at an elevation of 3000 ft.  It is hard to imagine the arduous climb they had to endure with wagons and livestock, especially with days of rain and mud.  Descending the other side of the mountain the wagons had no brakes and to avoid rapidly sliding down the mountain, they would attach large logs to the back of the wagons to slow them down as they eased down the steep and primitive roadway.

What I had not realized after living in Northeast Georgia for more than 30 years was that there are still sections of the Unicoi Turnpike still visible and looking much as they would have done hidden away in our National Forests.  There was recently an excellent article in the Toccoa Record, “Retracing the Unicoi Turnpike” by Angie Ramage.  This article does an excellent job of telling the story of the Unicoi Turnpike and there are great photos of well-preserved sections of the historic roadway.



A Georgia Historical Marker along the Unicoi Turnpike outside of Helen, GA.

For further reading on the Unicoi Turnpike, Matt Gedney has written a very interesting and informative book called, “Living on the Unicoi Road”.

The Art of the Dulcimer – A Mountain Tradition – by Kitty Stratton


The Art of the Dulcimer – A Mountain Tradition

 Kitty Stratton

Northeast Georgia is part of the Appalachian Mountain region and has a strong and rich heritage dating back to when its coves and mountains were first settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants. When these immigrants arrived they brought with them strong traditions of storytelling, folklore and music.

Their music was rooted in English and Scottish ballads and Irish reels and one of the main instruments used to play this music was the violin or fiddle.   As time went by it became difficult to find violin makers in the Appalachian Mountains and a need for an easier to make string instrument gave birth to the Appalachian or Mountain Dulcimer.

There is no previous recorded history of a dulcimer anywhere else in the world although it is related to other diatonic fretted string instruments.  It is even possible that its roots date back to the mediaeval psaltery a stringed harp-like instrument.

Today the dulcimer is regaining popularity and there are many, delightful recordings of music played on the dulcimer.  Some of my favorite music played on the dulcimer are the old time hymns.

I recently had the opportunity to take some beginning dulcimer lessons.  I had not yet purchased a dulcimer, thinking it might be wise to wait and see if it was a fleeting whim or a true interest.  On a beautiful winter morning I traveled over to Helen to the Smithgall Woods State Park to take my first mountain dulcimer lesson.

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Gwen Aumann, our dulcimer teacher for the afternoon has, “Discovering the joy of the Dulcimer”  written on the top of her business cards.  After 3 hours of her kind and patient instruction and hearing myself and the rest of the small group of beginners actually playing, “Boil them Cabbage Down” and the lovely hymn, “Nothing but The Blood of Jesus”, I felt I had truly discovered the joy of the dulcimer.  The dulcimer is not a difficult instrument to learn to play and there is definitely a feeling of joy playing with others.

To my surprise, Gwen had dulcimers for rent, for those not quite ready to make a financial commitment.  I was especially delighted by the “cardboard” dulcimer she had brought along as a loaner.  The sound it produced was very pleasant and I proudly headed home, with my very own cardboard dulcimer for a week!

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I had signed up for two lessons and will probably end up purchasing my own dulcimer. Gwen gave us good sound advice on the different types of dulcimers that are available for sale.  Depending on the sound you are looking for you will want to ask what type of wood a dulcimer is made from.  A cherry wood instrument will produce a brighter sound than say a walnut which is mellower. Dulcimers can vary tremendously in price, from something cheap you could purchase on EBay for example to an expensive performance dulcimer.

For anyone interested in learning to play the dulcimer either individually or in a group, email Gwen Aumann  you will definitely not be disappointed and you will discover the joy of playing the mountain dulcimer.