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Editor’s note: This Back Then column by George Ellison first appeared in the Feb. 15, 2012, edition of The Smoky Mountain News.

Olive Tilford Dargan is fairly well known in literary circles as the author of From My Highest Hill (1941), a delightful collection of autobiographical stories set in Swain County, originally published as Highland Annals in 1925. But she is also one of the finest poets the Smokies region has as yet produced.

(Editor’s Note: Readers should be cautioned that several of the descriptions of scalping and related practices presented in this column are graphic.)     

When I was a boy, incidents of scalping by Native Americans were a staple in the old-time movies about the “Wild West.” And there is no doubt whatsoever that the western tribes utilized that practice. But what about the Cherokee, Creek, Catawba and other southeastern tribes — to what extent was scalping a part of their warfare and ritual?

Note: This is the second of a two-part series about Christian Priber, an utopian socialist whose beliefs — including free love — caused him in the mid-1730s to “flee” from Germany and eventually into the Southern Appalachians, where he intended with the aid of the Cherokee, to establish a Kingdom of Paradise in which those beliefs could be implemented.

Christianus Gottlieb Priber was born in Zittau, Germany, where he was the son of a beerhouse owner. In October 1722, Priber’s Doctor of Jurisprudence thesis (written in Latin) was published at Erfurt University in Erfurt, Germany, after which he returned home to practice law. In time, he became the German equivalent of a district attorney (Oberamts-Reigierungs-Advokat) for the government in the superior bailiwick that included Zittau. And in 1722 he married Christiane Dorothea Hoffman, with whom he had five children.

Everyone knows what a blue jay looks and sounds like in a general sort of way. Their incandescent blue plumage and raucous “thief! thief! thief!” calls are a vibrant part of everyday life. It is a stunningly beautiful bird with a bag full of attitudes and postures.

People sometimes wonder if the prehistoric Cherokees used any sort of poisons on their blowgun darts. These darts (slivers of black locust, hickory, or white oak) were from 10 to 20 inches long with thistledown tied at one end to form an air seal in the blowgun (a hollowed piece of cane cut to a length of seven to nine feet). The Cherokees were accurate with these weapons up to 40 or 60 feet, especially when shooting birds, but there is no evidence they used poisons of any sort on their darts.

The books have once again piled up in stacks up to three feet high in many corners of the house. It’s time to get organized. Easier said than done. Un-shelving and reorganizing and re-shelving books is tricky business, with multiple options that can be endlessly fascinating and frustrating. But it’s an innocent species of self-therapy that I look to — for the most part.

High-elevation overlooks are one of our finest natural resources. These vantage points allow us to rise above our everyday humdrum existence and see the world with fresh eyes. Many of the finest overlooks along the Blue Ridge Parkway, in the Great Smokies, and elsewhere can be reached directly via motor vehicles.

Late summer has slid into early autumn. The end of summer officially arrived with the autumnal equinox of Sept. 23, when the sun crosses the celestial equator.

One senses this transition in the cool mist-shrouded mornings we’ve been experiencing of late …  as well as by the brown-splotched and red-tinged leaves of the buckeye trees. Communal groups of swallows will gather on wires and branches prior to their annual southerly migration. Monarch and cloudless sulphur butterflies will pass with ease over high ridges and through low gaps headed for ancestral wintering grounds.

In the June 14, 2004, issue of The New Yorker magazine, there was an essay titled “Blocked! Why Do Writers Stop Writing?” Therein one of the Romantic poets, Coleridge, was cited as a prime example of a writer who suffered from that peculiar malady known as writer’s block:

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