Appalachia Civil War Letters

Hunting Rocks – A TVA Lake & A Civil War Soldier

Rock hunting in clay co nc

North Carolina High School Seniors are required to do a yearlong project during their last year of high school. It’s called the Senior Exit Project-in other words to ‘exit’ high school seniors are required to complete the year long project and present it to a committee of folks selected by the high school.

Chitter decided to do her project on rocks. Truth be told-she probably decided her subject matter way before she ever became a senior. If you’ve been a Blind Pig reader for a good while you’re already familiar with the fact that Chitter is a queen of rock hounds.

She had a great mentor to help her with her project-Zach. He encouraged Chitter to narrow her project’s scope down to something easier to handle. She decided to concentrate on the rocks found in Clay County and Cherokee County North Carolina; and on the geology that caused the rocks to be in those counties.

The project required Chitter to visit several documented rock collecting sites in Cherokee and Clay County. Many of the Clay County sites were along the shore line of Lake Chatuge. Before TVA built the lake, there were several mines in the area, so it makes sense that collecting sites would be around the lake where the water washes up certain types of rock on a regular basis.

Chitter checked with the Stines family to see if we could look around the lake’s edge that borders their campground. Knowing Chitter’s love for rocks (they once brought her and Chatter a bucket full of rocks they picked up along their trip out west) they said it was ok.

On a chilly overcast winter day the girs and I headed up to the campground to see what we could find. We stopped at another site on the way-only to find condominiums had been built there since the guide book Chitter was using had been published.

Lake chatugue hayesvill nc


As you might imagine-there wasn’t a soul in the campground-the place was silent and quite. The lake was so still it looked like a solid mass. You could see through to the bottom like the water was a piece of glass keeping the rocks and fish stuck in its crystal cold grasp.

Looking for rocks at lake chatugue


It didn’t take Chitter long to break the glass as she waded in and started digging.

Old homeplace under lake chatague


While the girls continued to search for the type of rock Chitter needed, I walked around and let my mind think about Holt Patton.

In the middle of the campground sits a house that was built in 1882 by the Patton Family. Holt Patton was 6 mos. old when the house was built by his parents (Luola Penland Patton and Burgess Patton). After Holt was grown he married Annie Jones and they too lived in the house and raised their family there. Holt lived to be 101 and died in 1983.

Not for the first time, I imagined what it must have been like for the Patton family when they got the news that a good portion of their land would soon be underwater once the TVA built a dam and began to flood the area.

I don’t know what would have been worse-having your home completely submerged or having a front row seat to watch everything you’d ever known change forever. At least the ones who watched still had a home…but would it have been easier to leave the area and start a new life-you know out of sight out of mind?

Walking around the old house also made me realize I was already behind on my goal of republishing the W.C. Penland Civil War Letters. When the Stines purchased the old homeplace in the late 80s the house was in disrepair. As they began the arduous task of making the house habitable-Mrs. Stines discovered an old pillowcase full of letters in the attic. The letters were written by W.C. Penland. He was the son of Patience Mahalia Moore Penland and Harvey Monroe Penland-and the brother of Luola Penland Patton, who was Holt Patton’s Mother. Patience had lived with her youngest daughter, Luola, after her husband, Harvey had died.

Arrowhead from hayesville nc


In the time it took me to daydream about the Pattons and Penlands, the girls didn’t find much. Chatter found what she thought was an arrowhead.

Pottery at lake chatuge


I found a piece of pottery and a piece of a canning lid insert.

Rain on lake chatuge


But we all seemed to be coming up short in the rock department. My fingers were numb and the rain was coming-in other words I was ready to go home. Chitter said “Please just a little longer. I’ve got to find something before we go or it’ll have been a totally wasted trip.”

Chatter and I followed Chitter around the bend to the other side of the campground. We were both whispering about how we wanted to go home-like now, when we heard Chitter give out a whoop! We knew she’d found something we just didn’t know what.

Staurolite from clay county nc


She came running up to us holding out her hand. She pointed out how heavy the rock she held was, how it had faces (whatever that means), and the texture of the rock. We said yeah yeah but what is it? It was a piece of Staurolite, which was one of the rocks she needed for her project.

Coming soon on the Blind Pig Historical Notes written by Buford W. Penland about the William C. Penland Letters from East Tennessee.


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  • Reply
    Melissa P (Misplaced Southerner)
    June 4, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Talk about bringing back old memories. My mother’s first cousin (does that make her my second cousin or once-removed cousin? I never can figure that stuff out) and her husband owned a fishing camp on Lake Chatuge. This would have been in the 1960s. I only was there once, but loved every minute. I was a mere child, but I remember going out with Rad (their last name was Radcliff – Bo and Harriet) onto the lake in a little boat. It was very beautiful, but the thing I remember most was that there was a beautifully paved road that went right into the water. Bo – or “Rad” as he was called by all the locals – told me that in the winter they “drew down” the lake and the road was then passable. I also remember feeling so sad for all the people whose homes, churches, and businesses were “drownded” under the lake. In my child’s mind, I couldn’t quite fathom why they couldn’t make the lake go around everything. Thanks again, Tipper, for the sweet memory.

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 3, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    I’ve been out of commission since Sunday
    afternoon, so I’ve been missin’ my daily dose of the Blind Pig and the Acorn.
    Glad Chitter found one of the Stones
    she needed. Both those girls are very
    keen observers when it comes to rock
    My oldest daughter and her two girls
    are always on the look-out for rocks.
    I guess they get that from my daddy.
    Graduation will be here before you
    know it, a bitter-sweet moment for
    you and the Deer Hunter…Ken

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Tom-thank you for the comment! Chatter did her project on music : ) Hope you have a great evening!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm

    Patricia-what a wonderful history of loving rocks you have! And how neat that others get to see those rocks of his in the Museum. I know me and Chitter have looked at them many times : )
    Have a great evening!
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    It sounds like a wonderful day and ‘not’ a waste as spent with your children.

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 1:30 pm

    That was very interesting. I truly like the idea of a Senior Project. It gave realism and resposibility to the graduating students. Maybe Chitter will continue the rock love and study geology in college. Will there be a story about Chatter’s project?

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    My wife studied geology in college. She is constantly loading pockets, buckets and my truck with rocks.
    I studied music for my fine arts requirements. I will ask, “Can you hear the oboe or tuba or fiddle or harmonica, etc.” Her response is usually, “I can’t understand any of that. It just sounds like noise to me. But I’m a good husband and haul her rocks anyway.

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    June 3, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Tipper: Your rock story was interesting. Now I can’t wait for the BUFORD PENLAND document! You probably know he lived in Oak Ridge. Really a bright and wonderful person.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Joyce Heishman
    June 3, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Giving time of yourself to your kids is greater then diamonds or rubies.You are a good Mama

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Great to hear that Chitter found one of the rocks she was looking for and needed for her exit project. I’m sure that her project is awesome, just like everything else she does! So, what did Chatter choose for her project? Hard to believe that the Pressley Girls will be graduating next week! Where did the time go?

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 3, 2014 at 10:28 am

    I almost “froze” with you and the girls on your trek to find rocks on that cold winter day to Lake Chatuge’s shores. We once lived in Hiawassee. I will always remember the beauty of Lake Chatuge’s basin that filled a large basin of water between mountains. I hope the girls got good marks on their exit projects! And like another commenter, I would like to see their graduation pictures (or have I missed them in the few days I’ve failed to access Blind Pig?). Best wishes for a busy, productive, exciting summer!

  • Reply
    Patricia Page
    June 3, 2014 at 10:04 am

    My love affair with rocks (and hunting for them) started when my grandmother introduced me to her cousin Nelson Palmer. I was only 8 years old and his “museum” was in Marble. He started me off with a few rocks and an arrowhead (which I still have). His collection eventually turned into the Cherokee County Museum!

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 9:17 am

    B.Ruth- the floor boards of my car always have rocks in them! Graduation June 13th the days are going by fast now : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    June 3, 2014 at 9:12 am

    I too love rocks, stones, pebbles,… boulders not so much.
    I hope Chitter put in her report the many boulders found in towns, parks, counties and Interstate roads that are anchored with cables to more rock and boulders to keep them from rollin’ and tumblin’ and squashin’ us like a bug. For instance the court house in Marshall, NC comes to mind as well as others I’ve seen with cables and thick mesh war (wire) holdin’ onto other rock where it was drilled into the mountain face. I never did quite understand this process! Is that like the painting, “Blind Leading the Blind” or “Boulder Holding the Boulder” and what keeps them all from falling? Guess that is why I am not an engineer!
    My Mom loved rocks too and usually brought one back from every little trip around and about. My Dad told her one time she was going to pull up the wrong rock and cause a cave-in or a mountain collaspe!…He hated toting those rocks around in the old Packard and years later he was still toting rocks in the old Ford…I brought home several of her rocks and placed the large ones in my flower garden. They are solid white. Not sure where she found them (?) White Rock, NC…lol not sure, hope it was legal..I remember them all my life, if we moved the rock moved!
    I may have to visit that campground, sounds like I might have a kinship there…
    Thanks for the post Tipper, it was rockin’ good for sure! Will be looking for the letters soon as you get them in their place. I know you are organized with your posting.
    PS…When is graduation? Be sure and post the pictures! I am sure there are many teachers in their school that will miss those girls!

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Neat! We used to hunt for fairy crosses in Blue Ridge.

  • Reply
    Gina S
    June 3, 2014 at 9:09 am

    You’ve whetted my appetite to read the Civil War letters. Good for Chitter! Her perseverance paid off.

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Hurray for your budding geologist – or perhaps with all the gardening you do, a soil scientist.
    I’m with Chitter – rocks are fascinating – especially when you think: holding a rock, you are holding millenia in your hands! – quiet witnesses to ongoing creation.

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 7:47 am

    So interesting! I love collecting rocks too. Can’t wait for the stories about the Civil War letters also. Thanks so much for sharing your days with us. You feel like family. :}

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 3, 2014 at 7:42 am

    I don’t know that Chitter will find literal rubies and diamonds, although the former are located in the NC mountains. Figuratively though, both girls are finding precious stones aplenty as they grow, pursue the unknown trails where their questing minds direct them. As for you Tipper, there’s gold in mining the past, as you are finding and will continue to find in your researches into W. C. Penland and that terribly troubled era in our country’s history–maybe the saddest ever, although I’ll admit I wonder and worry about the trends of today and the political leaders directing those trends.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    June 3, 2014 at 7:29 am

    I loved this story! I have a granddaughter who has always loved rocks also.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 3, 2014 at 7:26 am

    I’m glad Chitter found a rock that she needed. It would be ashamed for the three of you to freeze and get no results for it.
    I wonder if the rock has iron in it. She said it was heavy and it looks like it might have some iron in it.
    I have some rocks for Chitter. They came from the river in Montreat, NC. They have some interesting striations in them. I got them from a guy who hunted rocks and made necklaces from then.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    June 3, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Looking forward to the letters from Buford Penland. My grandmother was Juanita Patton, sister of Holt Patton. I remember Uncle Holt very well and I visited the farm as a child and fished for bluegill in Lake Chatuge with crickets we caught on the farm.
    My great-grandmother, Luola Penland Patton, had a tragic story. She lost her father, then lost her husband, then got typhoid fever, but survived, then got meningitis and survived, but she was never mentally recovered. All of these events happened in a space of just a few years. After her husband died, she found herself with 4 children, the oldest one aged 8 years (Uncle Holt). Her mother moved in with her and basically raised the kids, because Luola just couldn’t do it.

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