TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW
Arthur Stupka, first Park Naturalist of Great Smoky Mountains National Park with Susan Bratton and Mary Lindsay. Twin Creeks, December 15, 1975
AS: Well, back in those days, of course, they didn't have these big square salt blocks, and they would cut depressions along a fallen log. If there wasn't a fallen log, why, they would bend a tree, and eventually there would be a fallen log, and then in these depressions spaced along the surface of this log, they would put, of course, salt. Over a period of years the crossbills got to know about the fact that there was salt there, and as you know if you are familiar with crossbills, they are extremely approachable when they're feeding on salt. I know that at the old CCC camp over here at Sugarlands, about a mile or so above headquarters, they used to make ice cream and made their own ice cream. They used rock salt, and when they were through, they threw the rock salt out on the ground. The crossbills got to know about the rock salt, and you'd almost have to kick those crossbills out of the road in order to get by, no kidding. It seems kind of ridiculous, but they're so crazy about salt. That of course is why people call them salt birds.
ML: Did you talk to a lot of old people when you first came here?
AS: No, I must say I did not. There was a person here by the name of Joseph Hall, Joseph ?. Hall, who got his Ph.D. on linguistics but (unintelligible) prepare a publication (unintelligible) Park Service, something like that. And he went around with a very quaint and primitive type machine, but technically (unintelligible) they were very poor recordings. (unintelligible) collect the data. He got, oh, stories of the mountains, songs, and ballads. He got some cooperation.
ML: Did you lead a lot of nature walks to places like Andrews and Gregory?
AS: Oh, yes. As I said, when I first arrived in '35, the Superintendent was too much occupied in establishing 17 CCC camps. At 200 boys per camp that was a lot of manpower, and therefore he said, "We're not going to start on a tripping program at this time. It'll only worsen our situation." He said, "The thing for you to do is to get acquainted with the Park and build up your study collections," and that went along for between four and five years. In 1939, in our first program of guided hiking trips and tours through the Parks there were times when I was the only one, especially during the War years. But we kept up the tripping program and even went to Mount LeConte on a regular schedule. It was scheduled once a week overnight on the Alum Cave Trail, down the Boulevard, and when we got down to Newfound Gap on the second day, why, being in uniform, I had no problem of thumbing a ride for my customers down to where the cars were parked at the Alum Cave parking area and made a round trip of it. But later on the powers that be said, "No, you're naughty. You shouldn't do things like that." And, you know, I can't abide by those kind of regulations. I did it anyway, and nobody was injured. They were concerned about somebody being injured, you know, after they got a ride at Newfound Gap and before they got to five miles down to where the Alum Cave parking area. But it made a round trip possible, and we continue it today. Of course we went to the popular places. Laurel Falls was a frequent suggestion, Alum Cave Bluffs and Ramsey Cascades and Rainbow Falls.
SB: When was the first time anyone was in Gregory? The first year you were here?
AS: I arrived in October, middle of October, '35, and I don't think I went to Gregory till the next year.
SB: Were the azaleas in bloom at the time you were up there?
AS: I'd have to check. I'm not sure. I know that on Spence Field in that year, there were cattle on Spence Field. I took a picture of them with a little pocket camera, and that picture was in my files for some time.
SB: Do you remember what the azaleas on Gregory looked like in the early days? Were they there on the bald?
AS: No, I don't remember.
SB: They were there, though?
AS: Oh, yes, yes.
SB: But you don't remember whether they were out on the bald or . . .?
AS: There were some out on the bald in little islands here and there, but I think the majority were all in the trees.
ML: When did people start thinking that Gregory was a good place to go and get blueberries?
AS: Oh, I can't answer that. I don't think that was the main reason why people went to Gregory, in my time at least. It was the azaleas. It was always pointed up as the outstanding flower show of the Smokies, period, even certainly overtopping the rhododendrons. Of course I'm speaking in the layman's language. They are both Rhododendrons. But I've always told people that if they really went to see rhododendron, they should go to Roan Mountain instead of going up to the Alum Cave Rocks, which is certainly not comparable to the show that you get at Roan Mountain. Gregory's was simply an objective for azaleas in the latter half of June.
ML: Was the view of Cades Cove a point that people liked about that, or had it pretty much grown up by then?
AS: The view from where?
ML: The view from Gregory of Cades Cove.
AS: Well, I don't think you could see much of Cades Cove from Gregory as I recall. Certainly not the view of Cades Cove from the Cades CoveWhat's the nature trail that starts in the campgroundand there's a view of Cades Cove from there which is far better than the one that you have from Gregory. There are some nice views from Gregory's, but I never thought the view of Cades Cove was particularly outstanding from that point.
ML: I was just wondering. . . . I can see how that north edge would have looked like this old photo of Carlos Campbell's, but the south edge now is such a tangle. It's completely different forest. Do you remember what that looked like?
AS: It looked quite open, as I remember. It looked very much like that in the years that I was in the Park.
SB: How far down did that opening go into the woods? Was that pretty much open oak-chestnut below the grazed area?
AS: It was oak-chestnut, oh definitely.
SB: So there wasn't . . . Was there any clear boundary at all between where the open forest edge stopped and the older less disturbed forest where the glens got started?
AS: Well, I'm not sure I could answer that.
SB: Do you remember any Amelanchier around the edges of Andrews back in the '30's?
AS: I don't know about the edges. There was some here and there scattered on the bald, and of course they are at Spence Field and elsewhere.
SB: Back at that point in time, say '35, '40?
AS: I would say they were there in the '30's, yes.
SB: Very strong on Andrews?
AS: One of my favorite plants. Did you ever hike the Appalachian Trail to Silers Bald in late May when those Amelanchiers were in bloom there? That was quite a sight. They have big Amelanchier there. You know, they get to be big trees.
SB: The record for the Park is down there.
AS: The record for the Park is about a mile beyond Silers from toward Thunderhead. That tree is up near the state line. That tree must be nearly two feet in diameter.
SB: I taped that one. I think it's about fifty feet off the trail, AT, Carolina side, two feet, three inches or something. It's 120 feet tall, which is huge. It's a big shadbush.
AS: That's quite an Amelanchier.
SB: The show on Andrews in some years, not every year, is pretty good.
AS: I've always been interested in Amelanchier from the standpoint of here in the lowlands. . . . There can be a great range from the time it comes into bloom over a period of years. In other words, I had one spotted down lower Little River, not far from the great rock overhang which I had in my journals. There was a range of five weeks over a period of years from the time that first came into bloom. The earliest, as I recall, was about the third of March and the latest must have been about the earlier part of April or something like that. At any rate, there's a stretch of five weeks over a long period of years when that would first start coming into flower. But that range would narrow down at higher altitudes. So when you get up to spruce-fir, instead of having a difference of five weeks when that thing would come into bloom, it would be shortened down to maybe two or three weeks, because your seasons up on top are more diverse. Spring comes later. In other words, there were some years when you could get Amelanchier blooming in early March in the lowlands until late May in the upper Smokies. It's quite a range. Very few plants, whether they be Amelanchier or red elderberry have such a range.
SB: Do you remember. . . . There are a lot of Habenarias in Andrews now. Has that been pretty much consistent, or are they part of a successional sequence?
AS: I wouldn't say there were a lot of Habenarias in there. I've seen some there, but I'd never say it's a common plant.
SB: There are what, three species?
ML: Yes, three species, and I was getting 100% frequency in some of my sets of ten plots.
SB: The pink one is the common one.
AS: Are you calling it the big pink? Of course, I think they're probably the same thing.
ML: It's that little white one . . .
SB: Now, that's in the shrubs.
AS: Is that clavellata?
SB: Yeah, it's out on the open bald, too.
AS: It is?
SB: Yeah, it's fairly common too. You've got to look through the grass for it.
AS: (unintelligible) Pink?
ML: No, it's a little white one.
AS: Oh, the white one is clavellata.
SB: Yeah, that's pretty commonly distributed.
AS: We used to find it almost always just in the bog with the sundews.
SB: That bog has always been there, has it?
AS: As far as I know.
SB: Do you know if the herders that were with the animals went through there?
AS: No, I've never seen animals on the bog . . . on the bald.
ML: Was it always sit off from the rest of the bald by that rim of Spruce trees as it is now, or could you just . . .? Now, if you're walking by on the trail, you wouldn't know it was there . . . if you were looking.
AS: No. No, I didn't think there was any so-called barrier between the bog and the bald in those early years.
SB: Was there much Angelica on the bald?
AS: Not nearly as much as in recent years. Angelica is much more common there now than it used to be in the old days.
SB: So there's been an increase of herbs of that sort?
AS: Yes, particularly Angelica.
SB: What about the lilies, which of the lilies . . .? There's Lilium superbum. . . . What's the white one? Starshaped, what is it?
AS: Well, of course, that occurs there. That's one of the few places that I know, but I've never the lilies to be plentiful. They used to be much more plentiful along the Appalachian Trail between Clingman's and Silers.
ML: On that opened burned area, Mount Buckley, is still very pretty.
AS: The best concentration of lilies in late July.
SB: Well, the hogs have finished off the superbum, but I don't think they've taken the Stenanthium.
AS: That's all?
SB: But they haven't finished it off yet. They've reduced the population substantially.
AS: I remember one time I was leading a hike into that area. We were going into Double Springs Gap, and one of my hikers saw a large moth perched on one of those lilies, and I always carried a knapsack with a cyanide jar. I put this moth in the cyanide jar. Lo and behold, it was the first record of the St. Lawrence Tiger Moth south of the Catskill Mountains. Since then we have had several specimens, all in the time when the lilies were in bloom.
SB: Butterflies (unintelligible).
ML: Did you ever. . . . You've obviously hiked to Silers a lot. Did you ever get to Russell Field?
AS: Not very often. That was sort of out of bounds for us. I don't ever remember scheduling Russell Field as a regular objective. We didn't climb up that high on few occasions. Jennison here collecting plants and so forth, but it was not a frequent objective.
SB: What was that like, say, in 1930?
AS: Well, I have kind of a hazy memory. Not very spectacular.
ML: Did it look really different from the ones which they . . . whose origins they aren't so certain about? It seems to be growing up a lot faster than them, and the species diversity is much greater.
AS: I must say I have not seen Russell Field for years, so I'm not sure I can answer that.
ML: Did it always have that laurel slick down the middle?
AS: I don't know.
ML: Were the rhododendrons at the lower edge of Andrews very impressive in the '30's?
AS: Oh, they were always a good attraction. As I recall, there is a white form of catawbiense. Are you familiar with that?
ML: I didn't notice it.
AS: As I recall, it was not far from the bald in the summer time. It was white catawbiense. Course, most people would say it was maximum. That's out of maximum range, for one thing, and the leaves are different.
SB: Do you think. . . . Has there been any change in the azalea population on Gregory in recent years? Is it going up, going down, stable?
AS: I don't think that there's much change that I've noticed. Some very tall growing azaleas in that forest.
SB: And a lot of hybrids down there.
AS: Oh yes.
SB: Do you know if that was the original area of the hybrids, actually down off that south edge?
AS: Well, that's what I recall you know. It's been quite some research done by Little (?), a person who's a horticulturist at Calloway Gardens.
SB: The one who got his thesis eaten by the bear?
AS: That's right. (unintelligible). He was studying the hybrid azaleas on Gregory many years ago. (unintelligible). Have you ever been there when the lovely shell pink ones are blooming?
SB: Oh, I think we must have seen every color possible.
ML: I was up there for six weeks this summer.
SB: Not on the bald but working in that area. We had a pretty good look at that.
AS: Let's see. In the years I was here, of course, the chestnut was going from bad to worse. And chestnuts were still bearing fruit and even (unintelligible) when I arrived, and some of the people like Harvey Broome, who was a president of the Wilderness Society, he told me that he first noticed chestnut dying in the late '20's. And we would . . .. In my journal, I remember many notes on blooming and fruiting of chestnut and as the years went by, you had to go higher and higher in the Park in order to get the flowers of the chestnut. So that finally, at the highest levels, and there was some, as I recall, at the margin of Andrews at 5,000 feet. I don't think chestnut gets much higher than that.
ML: We've found a few saplings up there.
SB: Yeah, that would be just about maximum elevation for that.
AS: That's about as high as it got. In fact, that's a maximum level also for trailing arbutus. It's right on the bald, on the bald.
SB: Yeah, that came up in our samples, trailing arbutus.
AS: And over the years, I remember pointing out the routes that I would lead up Alum Cave and up to Mount LeConte, there was one chestnut under Alum Cave Bluffs. It persisted year after year. But every year less and less leaves and flowers appeared, and finally it stopped.
SB: There's one up right by Newfound Gap Road that's still producing fruit. It's right on the road. I'd say it's an American. Any case . . . Did you ever go over to Mount Sterling Bald?
AS: Yes, although we did not make that as a regular trip.
SB: How about some of the balds that are like Newton Bald, that are called balds? How open were they in those days?
AS: They looked like the picture right there for the most part. That's how I recall Newton Bald.
SB: So they were sort of. . . . The trees right at the center.
AS: The trees were there.
SB: But it was still sort of an open spaced situation. What are some other balds that that would have been true of at that time?
AS: I don't know. There must have been two or three others, small (unintelligible).
SB: What are the names of some of those othersHyatt?
ML: Hyatt, Nettle Creek.
SB: Mostly on the Carolina side.
AS: Yeah, that's right, on the Carolina side.
SB: So, Newton looked. . . . How big was Newton? Did that go along most of the ridge top?
AS: No, not extensively, as far as I know.
ML: Judging from the size distribution of the trees across it it was not too big. It was probably for just one man's cattle.
Did you ever notice any animals on the balds that were really uncommon elsewhere, that were easy to see?
AS: No, I wouldn't say so. Nothing that would be distinctive.
SB: Do you ever remember seeing any snakes on the balds back then?
AS: Well, I have encountered rattlesnakes on Andrews. Right on the edge of Andrews I killed one of the biggest rattlesnakes, right on the edge of Andrews Bald. And on three or four occasions at Gregory's. In fact, that's a pretty good place for rattlesnakes.
SB: Yes. We discovered that.
AS: I would warn my people. I would warn the people about rattlesnakes on Gregory's when we went there in azalea time.
SB: I had a little exciting encounter with a really bright golden, probably the prettiest rattler I've ever seen. Just gold as gold could be with light brown markings on it, which I almost stepped on as I was picking up my gear near the benchmark. And the funny thing was that people sort of wouldn't believe us when we were talking about that.
AS: Some of the biggest rattlesnakes (unintelligible) the book that I collaborated on with Huheey, some of the biggest rattlesnakes were up in the high altitudes.
SB: So they were fairly common around the bald, just when you first went up there? In '35?
AS: I won't say they were common, but it was not unusual, let us say, that we would encounter a rattlesnake there or had frequent, or had reports, authentic reports. I've seen shed skins, for instance, of rattlesnakes there and not from a snake. One day, I stepped right square on a rattlesnake. This was not on a bald, but when I was going from, going to High Rocks. This is before Fontana Lake came into being, and I had following me, was the fellow in charge of type-mapping the Park, Frank Miller. He was the one who was responsible for getting this type map that you may have seen. Coloring the various color codes.
SB, ML: Yeah.
AS: He was following me about fifteen feet behind me and going down the manway, Welch Ridge. It was in the fall. We were looking for birds. Going down a rather steep slope, and I wasn't watching where I was putting my foot. I always wore oxfords and long pants, and I stepped right square on this rattlesnake. Well, for a minute I didn't know whether I was bitten or not. I pulled up my pant leg, and I had scratches from briars; we were going through a lot of briars. So I thought, "Well, if don't feel anything in the next three or four minutes, he didn't bite me." It was that close, you know. And, so, he didn't bite me. What I figured out, though, was that when I stepped on him, I rolled his body, and if he struck me, he missed me. Well, Frank Miller, when he came along, he had another person following him. There were three of us, and this third person, I forget his name, he was a forester. He killed the snake, which lacked a half an inch of being four feet long. Well, this fellow was kind of a strange guy. He ate the snake, that is, took it home and ate it. He was one of those Georgia crackers, a queer person. But after that, I always carried a snake bite kit, although I never used it. That was kind of a scary experience, to feel that snake right under your foot, you know.
ML: Was Silers Bald all grassy?
ML: Yes, the open part of it.
AS: Yes, as far as I know.
ML: There's very little grass up there now. It's all blackberry and weeds.
AS: Of course, I had close calls other than that with rattlesnakes. I've had, taking people along the trail, I would be walking along, and suddenly somebody back of me, number two or three back of me would say, "Hey! You almost stepped on that rattlesnake," and there was one right beside the trail. They don't go out of their way to bite you; they just sit there. They're gentlemen. But I've come pretty close. Under those conditions I would kill 'em. You're not supposed to kill anything in the Park, but there comes a time when it's one of those regulations you don't follow.
I was interested in food habits, for one thing, and I've gotten some interesting things out of rattlesnakes. Got one record, it was not my record, a fellow who was running a string of horses over Cataloochee, he got a long-tailed weasel out of a rattlesnake. We would get chipmunks and jumping mice. Chipmunks are probably the most common, which you'd expect. And some other kind of mice, gray squirrel. I think the rattlesnake I killed under Dr. Hesler's feet had a grown, full-grown gray squirrel. It was a big rattlesnake.
Course, some of these things I'm telling you are in these books I've written. No need to tell you anything that you already know. No, I've been a journal keeper ever since I was a young kid. I kept it up with my Park Service career, and I don't see, frankly, how a Park naturalist can function as such without keeping a journal. I'm not bragging. I'm just telling you what the facts are. Have you seen the journal in (unintelligible)?
AS: It's in the library. That was an important part of my activities. In other words, I always had an altimeter with me, and I would check it at known altitude. When I got to Newfound Gap, I'd check that altimeter to see that it was reading 5,000 feet or various things like that, so it would be fairly accurate. So on the day, what altitude things were blooming or where I would see birds and so forth. I had my own shorthand system of notebook, and in the evenings, I would elaborate on that, write up my journal. It's one thing I tell anyone who's interested in natural history: keep a journal.
ML: I get lazy about that.
AS: I know. You don't have to keep it in notebook form. You can file cards if you want. I kept it in a notebook form, and then at the end of the year I would index it. So the thing would be available. But I think it's (unintelligible) to keep a record because your memory is not as good as you think it is. I know. Now that I'm getting older, that's one of the reasons why. I'd like to write another book on the Smokies, on the seasons, but I can't steam up the (unintelligible) to get it down. Because when your memory starts failing, you have a rough time phrasing your sentences. You're trying to think of, let's say (unintelligible), and you have to refer to the dictionary. Well, by the time all that comes around, why, you've lost the train of thought that you had and after all (unintelligible). So that's one of the failings now in my old age that keeps me from being more valid in black and white that ought to be recorded. I requested that Mr. Hummel, the Superintendent, I had all those journals of all kinds of data, and I felt as though the people should have access to them. So I set at that. I would do a lot more good if we would set up a series of books on the Natural History of the forest instead of me functioning in my capacity. I had already worked 25 years as Park Naturalist, and he thought it was a good idea, fortunately. And then they swung it so I got the same salary under a different title of Biologist. In the case of . . .
(End of Side 1 of tape)
AS: . . . the journals. So, I got acquainted with I. K. Stern and told him how it looked, Mount Kephart in the Park and Kephart Prong, one of the streams in the Park. We ought to have his journals. So he turned them over to me, but it was not a 100% contribution, but he had his strings tied to it whereby if he decided to change his mind, then he could get them back. Well, unfortunately, after he turned the journals over to me, I had them only a few years. He got the idea that Kephart, who had been buried just above Bryson City, near the school, and they'be got a big rock monument there. His bones ought to be dug up and planted in the park. He pursued that to such an extent that it wound up in the Director's office, and the Director said, "No. If we started that, the first thing you know, we'd have a cemeteries, you know." So I. K. Stern became quite angry and recalled his journal. Well, after I. K. Stern passed away, the journals somehow got to Western Carolina Teacher's Collegethat's what it was called in those days. And I again pursued them and I got them back. And I gave a talk one night, worked on the president of the college, and I told him the same thing I had told I. K. Stern, I thought we ought to have those in the Park files, so he turned them over to us. I understand in recent years they've been given to some other college.
SB: I think they've gone back to Western Carolina. As a matter of fact, they sort of made a move a little while ago to take all the park historical collections. That did not sit well with some of us.
AS: Well . . .
SB: I feel that at least that most of the collections ought to stay in the Park.
AS: After the years that I've spent making collections and encouraging authorities to come in and make collections, that they should turn them over to other areas, I thought that was just. . . . Well, I'd better not talk about it, because I can't talk straight.
SB: Well, we need them here. We need more reference collections than just that plant collection. But our main problem now is storage. We don't have any place to put something.
AS: But those things are important, and that's what you base your interpretative program on.
SB: Oh, yes, I know. You don't have to tell me that. We need 'em. It's just one of those things that's sort of disgusting.
AS: As a result of that, the fact that they were given away to those outside agencies, why, anything that I have that I thought valuable that I would ordinarily give to the Park, I wouldn't think of giving it to the Park, because the personnel comes and goes, and some of them don't give a darn about it you know. They'll throw it in a wastebasket as far as that goes, which I think is a real tragedy.
SB: Yeah, that's happened to some of us.
AS: So, I wouldn't give anything to Great Smoky Mountains National Parks simply because of what has already been lost that I thought was valuable.
SB: Well, the archival material is better protected than it was two or three years ago. They had a set of antique pistols stolen, and that woke them up, and they were losing things because they weren't keeping it, the staff, very carefully. And now you have to get special permission to get in the archives and they're cataloging what they've got, finally, and organizing it. It will probably get a lot better. This is the historical documents and just newspaper clippings and, like, photos and things. That it may be somewhat better protected, but I think it's taken a long time and some of the stuff has not just been given away but also just kind of disappeared.
This has nothing to do with grassy balds.
AS: Well, in a way it does have, from this standpoint, kind of indirectly. We had a project here many years ago that a professor from Clemson College came and did work on lumbering in the Park, and he got hold of a lot of maps, and those have disappeared. I think that out, some of the personnel, I won't mention any names, just overlooked that. And these maps and data were gotten from the lumber operators who worked in the Park, you know, back in the old days. Very valuable stuff, but they're gone.
SB: That's one reason for using the management report format and making lots of copies of things. Once you've done the work, if you've got the original data matrix, you should make sure that it gets well scattered around and more than one person has it unless it's for tabulating up things. Like you're doing a study on (unintelligible) or results that's not a publication. Logging records would be very convenient. There's a lot of interest in doing successional work and setting up permanent plots and that type thing.
AS: That's quite a big function in an article I'm (unintelligible).
SB: I've seen one report. It's a typed report.
AS: This was unpublished. Lambert's work.
SB: Yes, that's the name of it. The one that I've seen as a manuscript. It's a very useful document. We've had, Boyd and I have had a number of discussions recently of where the virgin forest in the Park actually is, and then historically speaking, if it's not, if it's unlogged but been burned and some other things like that. Well, for instance, the status of a lot of the pine forest over on the western end of the Park, just exactly what their exact history is and it's marked on one map as virgin and another map none of that is included. And some of it probably hasn't been logged, but the exact status is very much in question. Thomas Divide, now, is an area of great interest to us because of the proposed Blue Ridge Parkway extension, and I think the upper part of the Divide's virgin, but, again, it depends. The upper slopes are not logged, and I was surprised that it's virgin.
AS: I remember seeing some Norway spruce up on Thomas Ridge years ago. That was back through (unintelligible) . . . actually fire of 1925. There were extensive fires in the Park. That was ten years before my time, but if you go back through the records, you'll find that was the year that Charlie's Bunion burned, Clingman's Doame burned, areas outside the Park, nearby southern Appalachian region burned. That year the rainfall was way under the normal in spite of the fact that October showed eight inches of rain, which was amazing. But, nevertheless, the total for that year, 1925, was way under the normal, and that was the reason things burned. Well, after that fire (unintelligible) particularly the Champion Fiber, planted Norway spruce up on Richland Mountain going down the Sweat Heifer Trail near Charlie's Bunion, down towards Kephart Prong, and I saw that spruce there, and I was very concerned about it. We had a lot of manpower in the Park in all these CCC camps, so I wrote to Dr. Korstian at Duke University. He was one of the eminent foresters in the eastern United States, told him that I was concerned about that particular invader. I was wondering if it would be wise to expend our manpower to eliminate Norway Spruce in the National Park. He said that he didn't think it would reproduce, and therefore it might be just a waste of manpower. So we dropped it, and there's no Norway Spruce.
SB: That wasn't on Thomas Ridge, was it?
AS: There was some on Thomas Ridge. I'm not sure if it was purposely planted there. You know there used to be a cabin just below Indian Gap on the Carolina side called, used to call it "Timbertop Lodge," and it was owned by one of the high officials of Champion Fiber Company, and the Park Service permitted him to maintain that cabin for years after I came, and I have (unintelligible) making trips to spend some time in that cabin, but this man or his people may have just planted some Norway Spruce because it was that company he represented that had the big planting up on Richland.
SB: Would you say that succession has been accelerating on the balds in recent years? That is, that you're losing territory faster than, say, at least the first ten or fifteen years you were here?
AS: I'm not sure I'd say it was accelerating. I'd think it continues, encroachment on the balds is continuing, but whether it's being accelerated faster than it used to be, I'm not sure that I'd say.
SB: Do you notice any differences in the species, say, are in there now, later successional stages against the earlier stages?
AS: Well, we were talking about the Angelica triqinate. That is certainly one that I would immediately call to mind because it'd abundant on Andrews now; it didn't used to be. It was there but certainly not the way it is today, but other than that, I don't know of any species.
SB: What about the shrubs? Are there any present now that just weren't anywhere near the balds in the early days? What about the pines on Gregory, for instance? Do you know when they came in?
SB: Did you ever hear any talk about those balds ever burning? From people who would have known, like the Myers in Cades Cove?
AS: No, no. Way back when Dr. Jennison was still here, Jennison was professor of botany at the University of Tennessee, the Park Service borrowed him, paid him for two years under the CCC program, and he was the one who organized the herbarium, he had a (unintelligible), and they went out and collected plants, that's all they did, collected plants, and Jennison was here in '35 and '36 and seasonally after that for two summers, as I recall, and in that time, he died in 1940, but in that time he brought Frederick Clements in here, and they went to Andrews, and I think that Clements was sold on burning as a possibility. We didn't think it was burning because fire cherry and others that usually follow a burn were not primary plants. They were very uncommon on the balds. And of course the theory that was published by that North Carolinian, Wells, A. W. Wells . . .
ML: The Indian camp . . .
AS: The Indian. I think it was one the most absurd of the various theories that was ever published. Because if the Indians cleared the balds and shot deer and turkey from the cover of the nearby forest. . . . The Indians were never ambitious enough to do things like that. They didn't want to work. Clearing the bald would mean a lot of work.
ML: They probably didn't need to do that until considerably after the white man came.
AS: No, his reasons were kind of . . . you could shoot holes in his reasons. They didn't hold water. He thought if there was a depression in a big boulder, over there, that was because the Indians ground their grain there. It was just a natural erosion pit. Things of that sort, you know. In other words, he had an idea, and everything which agreed with the idea he brought in, but that which disagreed, he threw it out the window, which is not a scientific way of doing things.
SB: So you don't remember anyone locally, say, talking about actually having burned at all?
SB: And the grazing of course is pretty well documented. (unintelligible). What do you think about them as, say cleared by settlers, like the idea that Spence Field was completely cut out of beech forest or was a small opening there, and they extended the bald down.
AS: I think that's entirely possible. I think when the white people first came into the Cades Cove area they somehow got to know there was a meadow on top of the ridge, and they drove their cattle up there and over a period of years they slowly enlarged it. That makes sense. But the fact remains that the meadow was there before the white man had anything to do with it. That's what the problem is: What caused it? I don't think it was mankind's meddling except that they did over in later years change the character of the grass, the clearing.
SB: Do you remember Eupatorium rugosum being on the balds at all in the old days or around the edges?
AS: Now, rugosum . . . That's . . .
SB: White snakeroot.
AS: That's always been at high altitudes. It's a very common, fairly common plant. I'm not sure that it was more common or less common back then than it is now.
ML: Is it more common at higher altitudes than at lower altitudes?
AS: I would say so. Definitely.
SB: So that shoots down one theory of . . .
AS: At least that's been my experience. I don't know if that'd generally be the truth.
SB: I think you'll find some of the other people we talked to, there's a great deal of confusion about several of the snakeroots. One theory was that they brought the cattle up on the balds to get them away from the snakeroots which cause milk sickness.
ML: Yeah, but old Uncle Jim Shelton was saying all the milk sickness was lower down and this mineral they were licking up to get milk sick was never on the mountain tops.
AS: Did you interview Jim Shelton. He's a really fine character. I remember going to see and measure the big mountain laurel, he called it ivy, of course, up on above Tremont which Jennison was told about, and Jennison wasn't there, but Jim Shelton was. Before I came, and they measured 82 inches to the diameter of this mountain laurel. Well, of course, it's an aggregate growth. It fuses over the decades, and I remember I had quite a controversy with Jennison. He's a darn good botanist, fine person, good friend of mine, but on one thing we disagreed. "If you get the publicity to the newspapers that mountain laurel get to be 82 inches in diameter," I said, "That's a lie!" It fuses on you. No one stem could do. The biggest stems there were just over a foot in diameter, which is big enough for mountain laurel and over the . . . maybe even centuries, the thing fused over there so it looked as though it may have been one plant, but it certainly wasn't. But we measured it and photographed it, and I remember in later years I made two trips there, both with Jim Shelton, and I remember the second trip there was an awful lot of damage to the trees. What I thought it was a heavy snow had broken all the big red oak stems. Jim Shelton's ivy stalk was what we called it.
Did Jim Shelton ever tell you the story about the time he wrassled with a bear?
AS: That was a true story. I forget the details. I can't tell it the way Jim does. So maybe if you ever see him again, you should ask him to tell you the story where he wrestled a bear. He actually had the bear. I don't think it was a grown bear, but it was a big bear. Course, Jim was, at least he was a big powerful man. He worked for the lumber company.
SB: When do you first remember hogs on the grassy balds, on Gregory and Spence?
AS: My records don't show any beyond '59 or so.
SB: Was the damage really intense that year, or was it . . .?
AS: It was very noticeable in spots, came right up to the roots of some of these islands of azaleas.
SB: What about Spence Field?
AS: Couldn't answer that because I don't think I've been there since they knew there were hogs on it.
SB: So '59 is the first year that you remember.
AS: It was '59 or '60.
SB: Did you notice what was recovering after that type of damage?
SB: When was the last time you went to Gregory?
AS: I don't know. It might have been ten years. You see, I retired in something like '64. I was, actually I retired at an early age, I was 58 then, because my job was getting too much. . . . I couldn't get outside, and I had already had 31 years in the Park Service, so I decided I'd quit before I got unhappy at being in a beautiful area and not being able to get outside.
SB: Did you ever worry about hiker impact?
AS: We had no problems up to 1960 when I ducked out as a naturalist.
SB: It was pretty free-for-all camping and stuff like that?
AS: Well, you couldn't camp except in designated areas. It was a surprise to me that in later years they permitted them to camp about all over the Park.
SB: You mean the sites or . . .
AS: Well, frankly, I don't know what the regulations were, but I got the impression that they were camping in certain places that in years gone by would never have been permitted them.
SB: But there was no impact really from visitors. Was there much azalea stealing and that type of activity at that time?
SB: Plant poaching, taking shoots off the azaleas or digging up plants by the roots, which is apparently quite a problem.
AS: I don't think it was serious. Of course, there was some of that, I myself have stopped people from getting rhododendrons to take out with them, big balls of earth, put it in the trunk of their car. Back in those days. I wouldn't say that's true now.
SB: You think that's gotten worse, at least the areas that you took people.
AS: Oh, well, I haven't been in the Park frequently enough to know but for instance when we would leave our cars parked at the Alum Cave parking area, we'd go up to Mount LeConte for the night, we would never give it a second thought that anyone would tamper with the cars until, I think, the last year or two I was Park Naturalist. There was a report of somebody stealing something out of a car at the Alum Cave parking lot.
SB: Now that's very common. They have a great deal of difficulty with it.
AS: We never gave that a second thought back in those days.
SB: Were there many local people up around the balds visiting, or did you ever run into people who used to herd up there?
AS: Not very often, once in a while, but not often.
SB: It was mostly . . .
AS: Most of the people were just up there. Although undoubtedly the Hiking Club and so forth, they knew the azaleas would be in bloom in the latter half of June and they would make that ascent.
SB: Well, they're still doing that. They did that last year. Did you ever remember well, rare species or that type of thing that you consider relatively peculiar to the balds or that would be their regular area of distribution in the Park in the past or in the present?
AS: I don't remember any on the balds. I do remember going down to Andrews and in that burned over section half way down, maybe less than half way down to the bald is where I found one specimen of a stalked holly. That is, the fruit was on a little stalk. I forget what species that is. We found that in the burned area to the left of the trail going down. Close to the trail. (unintelligible) found as far as I remember. Maybe I think it's in my book. Of course I remember where choke cherry was found for the first time, not on a bald for the first time (unintelligible).
SB: Prunus virginiana.
AS: Up above Buckeye Nature Trail, on one of those cliffs somewhere.
SB: I think someone at UT was trying to find that.
AS: That's right. Dr. Shanks was the one who spotted it. Years ago. He was an ecologist. That was one of the rarities of the Park. So is the holly. Course, that narrow-leaved gentian, Gentiana linearis that grows in the Sphagnum in pockets here and there on the Alum Cave trail and a few places elsewhere on Mount Le Conte is the one according to Grays Manual, is the one (unintelligible), you know. It doesn't get farther south than West Virginia or thereabout. We're way out south of its range, but the linearis grows up there, apparently with Parnassia.
SB: Do you think the major attraction of the balds are the flowers or the view?
AS: Probably the view, I would say, the fact that you've been in the woods and suddenly you come in to this meadow. It's just like going into Cade's Cove. The charm of Cades Cove is the open characteristic, believe it or not.
SB: Oh, I know that it is. Completely unnatural community.
AS: I believe that's the reason the balds are attractive.
SB: You think people like lawns, even if there are rattlesnakes where they're sitting?
Do you remember much bear activity on the balds?
AS: No. Once in a while you'd find where they'd dig the yellowjackets out, digging along the trails.
SB: You didn't see much evidence of them getting berries or anything?
AS: Oh yes, come to think of it I do remember on Andrews more than once when the bears were feeding on the blueberries and would just wade into the bushes and completely tear 'em up quite a lot feeding.
SB: That's on Andrews?
AS: On Andrews, highbush blueberry.
ML: So those highbush blueberries have been there for quite a while, then.
SB: Do you remember when that was, pretty much?
AS: It was twenty, thirty years ago, or more.
SB: So the peregrines were still in the Park at the time when you were here?
AS: Oh, yeah, quite a lot of them. Now they disappeared long before I left the Park.
SB: They were here while you were here though?
AS: Oh yes.
SB: Where did they hunt? Did they hunt in those open areas along the ridgetops at all?
AS: Well, they must have because. . . . You know if you look at my book there's the bittern, the remains of a bittern were found, a peregrine's nest at Alum Cave Bluff along with a number of large birds, a merganser. Peregrines were taking mergansers at that point, but that was a record that I would certainly believe. Danyon (?) I think, number one ornithologist in Tennessee, I think he was the one who spotted it and recorded it, and in fact, he sent the specimens to Oberhauser in Washington for determination. (unintelligible)
SB: Do you think that those high burned areas were of any importance to birds of prey, the more open areas?
AS: Yeah, that's a great place where they could get flickers and bluejays that fly across there, you know, and birds of that size are right down their alley for a peregrine.
SB: So these burns and balds are good habitat. Maybe more so without the grazing on them, you know.
AS: I'm not sure how you tie in with the balds on that.
SB: Well, just that there are these openings along the ridge so (unintelligible).
AS: I think that the ravens were much more abundant then in years gone by because of the cattle that were on the balds in early years. Sometime something would happen to a cow, much more carrion to feed on, therefore you get ravens concentrated.
SB: Of course you were here after that was all over so you wouldn't have any observations on that.
SB: Apparently, the lightning kills occasionally were large enough to provide rather large amounts of carrion in one block.
ML: Yeah, I heard about some late snow that killed thousands of cattle on Spence.
AS: Yeah, that's right. It . . . old newspaper columns and so forth. Bone Valley was named after that.
ML: Jim Shelton could remember it was on the evening of May 19 and the morning of the twentieth, but he couldn't remember the year.
SB: Have you been going back through the old weather files the old papers to try to find the date of old burns and . . .
AS: I worked on that at the Asheville library for some time, hoping to pin that down, but I was never able to. Going back through kills of cattle by a late snowfall.
SB: We might ask Boney, because if we jog his memory with Jim Shelton's date, he might remember. Shan Davis might, too.
AS: But there . . . I came upon three or four different probably dates as a result of that, and I think it's mentioned in the book called Cabins in the Laurel which is one of the books on the Southern Appalachians highland people, by, was it by Shephard? I think it's mentioned in there. I don't know if that is the authentic date or not, I don't know, but it's mentioned in there. If you find it I'd like to know, but (unintelligible) probably a few dozen killed.
SB: Boney led me to believe they had incredible sheep kills.
End of tape.
Transcribed by Andrea Behrman and Mary Lindsay
Last Updated: 07-Mar-2008