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Interview with Amanda Swimmer [1]

Swimmer, Amanda [1]
Gardner, Susan
Date of Interview: 
Native American history; American Indians; Cherokee history; Qualla Boundary; Native American crafts and customs; tribal dancing; pottery; tribal council
Amanda Swimmer reflects upon her life growing up on the Qualla Boundary near Cherokee in North Carolina. Swimmer describes her family background and life on the reservation, as well as her involvement with the Oconaluftee Indian Village where she worked for 35 years. Despite depravations during childhood, Swimmer sees the past as preferable to the future for which she predicts human conflict and ecological catastrophe. During her conversation with interviewer Susan Gardner Swimmer talks widely about traditional Cherokee traditions, including pottery making, storytelling and ceremonial dancing. She also touches upon tribal and racial conflicts, changing female roles in Cherokee society, and the internal politics of the tribal Council.
Soco, North Carolina; Bryson City, North Carolina; Qualla Boundary, North Carolina; Oklahoma; 1920s-1995.
Interview Setting: 
Qualla Boundary, North Carolina
Native Carolinians and Indian Elders Collection
Interview Audio: 
Introduction by Susan Gardner
Amanda Swimmer (b. 1921) lives in the Strait Fork section of the Big Cove Community on the Qualla Boundary.[1] The mother of seven children (and grandmother of famed hoop dancer Eddie Swimmer of the Am. Indian Dance Theater), she explains in the interview how she has been a waged worker for decades. At present she teaches pottery at the Cherokee Elementary School (now under tribal control); she has been working with clay for nearly 40 years, and for nearly that long demonstrated her techniques at the Oconaluftee Indian Village, a rebuilt 18th century Cherokee village located just north of Highway 441N in the town of Cherokee.
Mrs. Swimmer has never used a potter's wheel: she shapes her smaller bowls with her hands and thumbs and makes her larger bowls from coils of clay, according to tradition. After using traditional techniques for smoothing and shaping the clay, she presses in designs with wooden and bone paddles, sea shells, and smooth rocks. After drying pieces in the sun, she fires them in an open pit or in her kitchen ovens. A member of Qualla Arts and Crafts Mutual, Inc., she was the 1994 recipient of the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award. She also conducts pottery workshops in Kentucky and Tennessee.
We met late one morning after Mrs. Swimmer finished teaching at the elementary school, and then had lunch at the tribally-owned Teepee Restaurant. The interview took place at Mrs. Swimmer's kitchen table, in the room where she has two ovens for firing her pots. People delivering supplies of firewood from the tribe, and a young female neighbor with her baby, dropped in.

SG: What I've been doing has been asking people some questions that are all the same. But I'm really glad when people talk about whatever they want to talk about! These are just for the record. Did Freeman [Owle] and I say much about the project last time I was here? I don't know if we did--[2]
AS: No, I don't think he did.
SG: Well, what it is, is that I'm interviewing American Indian people just in the Carolinas--who are older than 70 is what I'm looking for. Freeman is way too young, but he still is interesting! [Both laugh] [This was just testing the tape; SG starts over]
SG: When my friend [Vail Carter] from the Heritage Council can come with me--but he's at the Lumbee Pow-wow today, so he's in the opposite direction--but when he comes along, if people don't mind he likes to videotape them, too. And so I almost feel a bit lost without him! I'm so used to having him right there with his camera, and then forgetting all about it. Oh, here's the permission form [hands it over], and here are the questions, I knew I had them somewhere here! Some of these are a bit boring, I think, but they get more interesting--in fact, here, would you like to have a copy? Those are the things that he and I worked out together. But, as I said, it gets really interesting when people just talk about what they want to talk about. So we'll just see how things go. You were born here on the reservation, weren't you?
AS: Yeah, I was born right here, I was born right down there where that house is, there's a little house there.
SG: What became of it?
AS: They--well, after my daddy died, my mother moved up here with me. And then, right after, about a week after, she let my brother move in there. And his wife. And there was a kitchen on this side, with this low door. And somehow we had a horse--I mean, my daddy had a horse--it was a big old mare, you know, that he used to haul wood, the wood into the house. So that horse didn't like no fire; we'd make some smoke outside would keep them gnats from coming round, they used to be [a lot of?] gnats way back; stay outside too long, they'd be all on you. And we'd make a smoke out there, and be in the wood yard, build a fire, and that horse didn't like it. Every time we made a fire he [would?] throw his little foot off, and scatter all that fire away. And we'd just believe that horse walked in that house while they were gone they didn't shut the kitchen door. 'Cause after she let them in there were all kind of papers all over the floor, the kids did--
SG: Oh, for heaven's sake!
AS: Where they weren't supposed to be. And the fireplace was on this side, and we just thinking, that horse did go in there, ( ). They were hewed from poplar trees. They were this wide, they built with--they were this wide. And they had a [chipping] on one end, with what they called a ( ). Something like an axe, it just had one side, a sharp one. Draw-axe, or something like that. And they used that to make them smooth outside. And then inside they put the ceiling on, inside, ( ), and a chimney, for the fireplace.
SG: Who built it?
AS: I guess the man that owned that place build it hisself--Old Man Chiltowskie was his name, he was the first one lived there, and after his wife died, he sold it to my grandma. My mother's mother stayed over on the other side of me, 'cause that time he sold it to her, and he just stayed up there with them after he lost his wife. And when Mama got married, her mother told her, "Well", she said, "I've got that land over at Strait Fork, you've got this land right here. When I'm gone", she said, "either one of you, use anything you want." The house there, that I was telling about, and she got that, and then my sister got the old homeplace that my grandma used to live in. So actually we was all born right there except one brother I had, he was born on top of the mountain.
SG: Oh, really?
AS: Yeah, she didn't know she was that [gone?]; she had him on top of the ridge.
SG: How many of you were there, then, your brothers and sisters?
AS: Yeah, they were born there, too, except, when they be growned up, two of my sisters got married; well, my oldest sister got married first and then she died, had two, three boys. Then this man that she married married my other sister, yeah, and they lived there at Mama's. And when she lived to be--I guess her little boy was about two years old when she passed away. So Mama kept these grandbabies at home; they were just taken care of by her all the time. And then, whenever my brother-in-law wanted to marry another lady, he was wanting to get married. And Mama told us, "Well, he wants to get married, it's up to him," and said, "He's a grown man now ( )." And that he did. Married this girl and wanted to take them kids [with him?]. Mama told him, "Well, you don't take all of them, you just take your own, that one ( ) I'm keeping, 'cause they would start trouble, you having two families." Well, he went on, but he said, "I'd rather take them with me, they've been around me so long", but Mama said "No, I think it's best just to leave him." So, he went on. And 'bout a month after that, in Soco,[3] he wanted Mama to come and see them boys, and after she got with them, they told her she needs to keep them boys, 'cause the baby was starving to death. And they was skinny, said that their daddy don't want them to do anything at home on account of his wife, and his wife just didn't want them to eat anything. She would give them nothing. And they'd go to these homes, that's neighbors to them over to Soko, they'd go 'n' ask them for some bread. "You're starving to death, we could give you some bread..." And they'd give them bread. So, about a month after, somebody told Mama, "You'd better just come get them boys 'cause they're starving to death." Sure enough, she wouldn't allow them to eat no bread.
SG: How shocking! And so did your mother bring them back?
AS: Yeah, she brought them both back, and they just played around, they were so happy to get back home! [Laughs]
SG: I'll bet they were!
AS: We went to Bryson [City, TN]--we used to walk to Bryson--and we was going to Bryson when [his name] sister hollered at us, the one that took the baby, you know, after its Mama died, well, they just give it to her, 'cause she didn't have no kids, and' she told her brother, she said, "[His name], just let me have that baby, you're not able to raise it." And he said, "Well Ma is the one's taking care of it, my mother." "Well", she said, "if she's not able to, she's getting old, not able to take care of babies anymore like she used to ( )." And so they took the baby. She said, "You're welcome to come see the baby any time you want to." And she raised that boy. And after--two years after she raised that boy, she had her own! She start having them then, she had about five. That started her off, getting this other little boy.
SG: So how long would you say you lived in the log cabin?
AS: Well, until I got married. Yeah.
SG: How old were you when you got married?
AS: I was 16.
SG: Do I remember--I hope I'm not scrambling things--had your husband been married before?
AS: No. Yeah. My husband was. Yeah, he had two girls. One died when it was a baby, and one died just, I guess it's been about four years ago when she died. She left her kids too; went down where you been, them Lumberton Indians down there ( ).
SG: One hears about Cherokees being intermingled in the population down there... Oh, you've got somebody at the door! [break]
SG: [Talking about one of Mrs. Swimmer's pots] When you say that's your lightning design, it's your original design?
AS: Yeah, I made it way back, about '69. There's more, his daddy took it home, and he had it up his house. Then his daddy died, this boy brought it back, he went way back in the village and I brought it back and give it back to him. I said "Gosh," I said, "that's what I've been looking for, that design." And I said, "I lost that pattern," and I said, "I want that design on there--"
SG: It's beautiful! Where do you get the clay?
AS: In Asheville. [It] was good clay we had, but now we've got this clay and it's not even sifted out I don't think, and they charge us seven dollars for 25 pounds, when we used to pay dollar and a quarter for that clay, when I made this. ( ) kind of making money off of us. "When I first bought the clay", I said, "I just paid dollar and a quarter, and it was just this clay, and no rocks, and nothing in it." I said, "And here I have to scrape around for an hour to do all that I did."
SG: Where did the old people get their clay?
AS: We got it around here, I had some right up here, up the fishing place up thar. And the [Blue Ridge] Park covered it up when they made a road through. ( ) And some of them got it up at Macedonie [Macedonia] Church up there Soco.
SG: That certainly makes things harder, doesn't it?
AS: Um-hum.
SG: So you got married when you were 16, and did you also bring up your husband's two children?
AS: Yeah, well I raised one of them, but one died right after its mama died, but he still lived with his mother-in-law, the first one. And then after we got married he had this little girl and she was four years old so I just practically raised that little girl. And she got married. And after that then I had mine, I had nine kids, six boys and three girls. Two of them boys is gone.
SG: How did you meet your husband, then?
AS: Well, he used to stay over there across on the other side of the mountain; we went to church and we just got together, I met him there. Two years after that he [proposed?]. It's usually bad luck if you happen to get married to a man that lost their wife. When they first lose their wife you don't marry them just right after they've gone, maybe a couple months people wants to get married again, marry another woman or man. And they used to tell us it's bad luck to do that. You have to wait two years before you can live longer with a person that you're marrying, if you wait that long. But ( ) if you're marrying just a year after he lost his wife, you would lose him, too. Or you'd go first.
SG: So did you wait?
AS: I didn't get married until two years after that; he was the one for getting married early but I was still going to school. I told him, No, I was going to wait, 'cause it was bad luck, too. Getting married right away, when you just lost your wife 'bout a year ago. Wasn't ready.
SG: And so were you going to the school, that same school where the Holiness church is now? Or was it a different one?
AS: Where I was going to school? Yeah, that's where I was going.
SG: And they went through eighth grade?
AS: They--they just finished eighth grade and high school. They didn't finish the 12th grade like they're doing now.
SG: I see. Yeah. Was the teaching in English?
AS: They teach English. We had arithmetic, and the geography, I mean all that, when I went to school.
SG: But your first language was Cherokee?
AS: [misunderstanding] No, it's English. They didn't teach them—( ) the first time, well, they didn't teach Indian language, or something like that; they was just, you know, just like white people, teachers now, that's all there was. They did used to talk [ ] with some of those people that came to Cherokee; they wanted to let them speak Cherokee; they didn't want them--they weren't allowed to speak in Cherokee. Had to get around and speak for their own self, after that. But when I went to school you weren't allowed that; you can talk to each other in our own language, but they didn't say nothing to us about that. That was way back when my sister and them was going, they weren't allowing nobody to speak in Cherokee. They tried to put soap in their mouth or something like that, they done them. And so, when I went to school they wasn't doing it like that. But I didn't learn how to talk English till I was 10 years old. I talked my own language around here. And my mother taught [talked?] me English--Indian language all the time; we'd go to a home had a kid could talk, speak English. Right now they have to talk English to them.
SG: Was that your grand-daughter who was just here?
AS: Ah, with that baby?
SG: Yes.
AS: No, that's my grandson's girlfriend. They're not married.
SG: Oh, ok! I was wondering if she could speak Cherokee.
AS: No, she don't understand Cherokee. She came out from Oklahoma in Job Corps. See, her mama throwed her away, she don't know where her mother is.
SG: How horrible!
AS: And my grandson went to school to Oklahoma and stayed there all winter long till spring. This girl got with this boy and she wouldn't leave him. She just stuck with him. So when he came home, she wanted to come. In spring she come back here with him. So they sent them back and about a month and here she was the one's calling, wanting to come back. And I don't know if she's 20 or not, she seem like she's about 14 years old--
SG: She seemed young to me-
AS: To me. Um-hum. But she says she's 22. But she don't act like it, she's just like a little kid yet. But she's pretty close with that baby--
SG: Just four months old?
AS: Yeah. And her mother start beating her when her daddy died, they separated, and somehow her daddy gave her to the foster parents in Oklahoma. So they got her, and then I guess she got wild, they couldn't handle her, they put her in the Job Corps. And that's where she was at.
SG: I see. Are her parents Indian people?
AS: No.
SG: Oh, I see, so there's no real connection?
AS: No. She's from Florida--her mama was in Florida, and she don't know where all her sisters' at. And she kind of talk of--you know, was telling me the other day, when we went to [ ] , she said, "Mama used to take me out, and put me in a car [ ] ; I just had to cry my head off. Wouldn't even come and check on me, she'd just leave me in the car squalling." I said, "Don't you do this baby like that, your Mama done you like that, don't you ever do that thing, 'cause they'll catch you around here and put you up." [Both laugh ruefully]
SG: It sounds like the way your family was--always taking children in--that sort of thing couldn't have happened.
AS: Um-hum. Yeah, that's what I told her. I said, "When I had mine," I said, "I raised this [ ] step-daughter just like my own, and she was just one of them girls in there, and they treated her just like that [ ], they didn't treat her mean, the boys didn't treat her mean, they just was good to her." And some people thinks their step-kids--they just be mean to them.
SG: Like those poor little boys who all but starved--
AS: Yeah, that's what happens...
SG: Did you speak Cherokee in the home when your children were growing up?
AS: Um-hum. Yeah, they understand when I say something in Cherokee. They kind of get bashful to speak when somebody speaks English and they understand.
SG: When did you learn how to do all this pottery and beadwork?
AS: Well, I learned it when we was staying with Mama, when I went to get some clay, I told her her, "I'm going to try to make some bowls, some [ ] pottery", so I went up there, I played around with the clay and made some little bowls; like that, you know. Wanted to play with clay, I don't know why, and now I just went on ahead and learned more. Then I went up to the village and I learned more from friends that I worked with.
SG: At Oconaluftee?
AS: Um-hum. They were good pottery maker up there. That time. And she happened to be my daughter-in-law after that.
SG: Oh, really!
AS: Yeah. [Both laugh]. And I got--learned from her, and more, after I went up there and picked up more.
SG: How old were you when you went to work at the village, do you think? You must have had children by then--
AS: Well, I had children, I had about--well, before I went to work--my [ ] boy was up there as a [guard?] before I went up there. You see, I didn't go to work up there right away; I worked a little while up there and then I went to factory work, four years and a half.
SG: What kind of factory?
AS: It was at, ah--where they make roller pins and hair bobs and stuff like that. And then they sew some [?caps], just for women, you know, with their cap and bonnets and scarves and lacy caps, and stuff like that. Rollers, all kinds of hair rollers they made, and hair bobs. We was making overtime. And I worked there four years and a half. They come up there to get me, to go back to the village. They didn't have nobody to make pottery. And I hadn't missed a day, I worked every day up there. And that Mr. White--the white man came up and this man there, the supervisor over us, his name Ervin, from New York, he's our supervisor, asked him if I could get off and go up there and work for him. He said, he told me, "Would you like somebody off that you could depend on? I depend on her all the time when I rush something, have to rush out and pack it, and get the orders in." He said, "I got eight of them that stays overtime and do my work." He said, "Now I just can't let her go", he told him. So they don't let me come back.
SG: How much did you earn at the factory? How did they pay you?
AS: They paid us $3.50 an hour. In the factory.
SG: Did that seem good at the time?
AS: Well, it was pretty good, if you worked full-time like that; everybody didn't get paid that time when I was working there. Some other places, they just paid a dollar seventy-five, two seventy-five; that's all they'd pay, you know, some places. But that was pretty good. Everything was cheaper than what it is in grocery store and buying clothes, too. Now.
SG: Where did you shop, before the reservation became so commercialized?
AS: Well, we had a store in Bryson City, only time we had a store down there. That's the only place we could go, closer.
SG: How far away is Bryson City?
AS: It's ten miles from Cherokee, on down.
SG: You said you used to walk there?
AS: We walked to Cherokee. Catch a ride and half-way you had to walk from the Forks. You'd come across the mountain with a car, and then they'd bring us to the Forks, there was this railroad, we had to walk through the Forks and carry our own groceries home.
SG: Did you--you must have grown a lot of your food, did you?
AS: Well, we done lot of farming that time: we raise our own beans, and own potatoes and corn, then we made our own meal, someone didn't have to worry 'bout when we run out of meal, and go to the store to get it. And when we ran out of flour, we had to buy flour.
SG: So I picture you coming back from Bryson City with lots of bags!
AS: Well, we--there was a taxi that time, there'd be one taxi would go from Bryson City.
SG: When you were growing up, were there any doctors around here?
AS: No, they wasn't none, they had one down ( ),they had to call him, they needed a doctor, he had to come up on a motor.
SG: Who had a phone?
AS: They had one down there that you can tell the man's on, run the train here--we had a train going up here and they'd get some logs away back in the mountain--there's a railroad right up in front--it goes way up there and sweeps back down this way. We'd get a notice to them, you know, to send a doctor. A lot of them died. You know, some of them doctored their own self; had the wrong medicine.
SG: Can you remember any of the medicines?
AS: Well, I can't remember all of them, what they used. You know, a lot of people used different medicine there were. And I wasn't around them too much to know everything they used to doctor. All I know, they take us to the branch, and the man comed here and doctored us, whatever was wrong with us, and something like that, some got their earache and stuff like that. I never did go around and ask them what kind of medicine there was; I wasn't paying no attention when I was so little, though, anyway. [Break while the firewood is delivered.]
SG: Related to everybody--everybody knows you!
AS: Yeah.
SG: Where did you go to church, then? Before you married?
AS: Well, before we was married, we had to go to church down there that Holiness church .
SG: Oh, I see? Both church and school in the same building?
AS: They done away with the school, and there was a church house there. Baptists and Holiness went and had service together.
SG: Are most people up here Baptist?
AS: Yeah, most all of them. A few of them is Methodist.
SG: Are there any more traditional people? Who just don't go to Christian churches?
AS: Oh, there's a lot of them don't never go to church no more. Even my own family don't go.
SG: Do you?
AS: Um-hum. I'm going to Yellow Hill, you know where we was eating?[4] There's a road turns off ( ) on the hill.
SG: Were you the youngest?
AS: Yeah, the youngest of the family.
SG: Of how many?
AS: Ah, well, they was 12 of us. She ( ) all them kids and I can't hardly remember how they died and how many there was, I just remember a few of their names. And she had four girls, and I think she had about six boys.
SG: And you were the baby?
AS: Yeah, I'm the youngest. My sister's living over there, she's about two years older than me. Just me and her living now. All my brothers and sisters are gone.
SG: The family sounds so large, but my impression from my reading was that traditional Cherokee families weren't so big.
AS: No, they had big families when they were small, but now they're just all gone. Yeah, they died young, my sister died of [meningitis?], my oldest one, and they said my other sister died of TB. I don't know what it was or not, but they're just guessing.
SG: I was wondering if there was once a lot of TB up here?
AS: Yeah, they used to have lot of that going on, and they'd send them off to Oklahoma. They had a hospital in Oklahoma to send them to.
SG: A sanitorium type place? For Indian people?
AS: Yeah.
SG: Has there been much in the way of contact between the Western Cherokee and the Eastern Band?
AS: Oh well, it's--it's closer, you know, they contact each other better than any other Indians. The Oklahoma people are. And they know, whenever they come out here, they're just like one of us. When they come. But then you take Seminole, the difference from us, and they don't talk to you. They just go on their own business, and we don't understand what they say when they talk their own language. And they don't understand our language, the Seminoles. And even the Choctaws they sound different. From our language.
SG: Yeah. Mr. [Walker] Calhoun[5] was telling me about the stomp dance, that they actually had forgotten how to do it here, and then they learned again from the Oklahoma people?
AS: Well, they've learned--they used to dance all kinds of dance way back. But after the old people died out they never did try to dance no more. Now Walker brought this up, and train them again, but he's just training the young ones, and the older people, they're all gone. I don't know where he picked up all that stuff, but he hasn't picked up all the songs that they used to sing, though. He must have just picked up what little he remembered and all, hearing them sang. But [Wesley Long?] used to be a good one, he had all kinds of songs to sing, these things that they dance, and seemed like Walker just has two different songs, you know, that he sings. I noticed that, myself. 'Cause I been to these dances many time. My mother was a regular dancer all the time, she wore shells, and my daddy, they never missed the dancing. And I used to go there, and they danced all kinds--red corn dance, bird dance, and booger dance, and something else, too. [Knee-deep?] dance, and fellowship dance. And they'd dance that. And eagle dance--that was pretty, when the old people used to dance. The women lined up ( ); they'd hold them on their hands like that; women go this way, and the man goes this way. They all danced. And now you see them trying to do that, they're just walking, walking. They have to be dancing! I told Walker, I said, "You got some groups over there, they're not even dancing, they're just walking, that's not really dancing,” I said, "They got to tap their feet just like the leader is," I said, "That's the way they used to do way back, "I said, "when Mama and them used to dance." And she know how to dance, and keep them shells moving, and the others followed. He said, "Yeah, that's what I thought," I told him that was all yet that they'd have to learn. I told him, "I've been to those dances, and I know how they went," and I said, "Every one of them danced. They just didn't walk just around a circle, just be walking." They go to square dance, everybody has to dance square-dancing when they're dancing, you never see one just walking around and twisting around! [Both laugh]
SG: Where were the dance grounds?
AS: He's had a place over here in Big Cove where--along that stomping ground Walker had. And it's a big old field where they played ball, practiced [union?] ball? Just a little up towards the river they had a place where they danced, [up a mile?]. And then sometimes they'd go where Wesley Long's house, he had a yard like the one down here in the front, and that's where they had that dancing. And then in the night time, when they had dances, they'd go to somebody's home and they'd move all the beds out of there. They'd just need one room there, and they'd dance in the house.
SG: I've seen paintings of that; I saw one down at the museum gallery the last time I was here. It's beautiful. [N.B.: I may be referring to Murv Jacobs' "Booger Dance."]
AS: There was an old man lived over there, he couldn't hardly talk good. And his wife was old, she ( ) use a walking stick; they never did wear no shoes. And they'd go asking if they could dance in there and he removed everything out there, and we was [in] bed, we didn't have much bed, living in that little room like that out there? Like a kitchen room. All that stuff in there. And he'd put his wife in there, and put her to bed, before the dancing. But you know, sometimes he was [ ] he'd be so drunk and want to show off and want to fight. They'd bring Daddy in and that old man would go in the back room and get his gun tell everybody to leave, get out of the house. And they'd leave, too! ( ) he told them to get out and quit dancing. They all had to leave. And he would have his wife in the back room sleeping.
SG: How long would these dances last? A couple of days and nights?
AS: Well, they danced all night long sometimes. They'd rest the next day.
SG: So this must have been when they had some free time? Obviously!
AS: Well, that's all they had to do, you know, way back, on weekends. They had no ball games or nothing that time.
SG: I was wondering, what else did people do for fun when they had enough time to have fun?
AS: Yeah, we didn't have nothing to [look?], and we would play out there and climb trees when we were small. [Laughs]
SG: What about the river?
AS: We'd go swimming in the summertime. So--that's all the people did when they didn't have no TV, wasn't nothing like that.
SG: It must have been a very different sort of life.
AS: Um-hum.
SG: I picture it as sort of slower-paced, I guess.
AS: Yeah, um-hum.
SG: Did you hear any stories when you were growing up? Did they tell stories about the People before?
AS: Well, I didn't hear too much. 'Bout all they'd tell us what was going to happen when the old people go away. And they say the weather's going to get worse, bad and bad, every year, that's what they told us. I guess it's because, you know, it's about time for the Lord to come, He's going to show us what He can do, what He can make. I think that's just what they knew what was going to happen. And they'd say that people's going be mean, and going to have starvation, you ain't going to have nothing. There's going to come time you can't raise nothing. And that's what they said. And then all these strong winds we're having, they told us when we was growing up, we said we never had no strong wind like tornadoes on these mountains way back. It always been down Florida, down South Carolina, down there in lower parts, all summer long and then the fall. But she said, "Now, you's going get them." And it's not because--"it's going come", he said, "it's because where these people are turning up the mountains, making these roads across the mountain." They making the open where the wind can gather up and make a tornado like. And they call it 'twister', some of them do. Just whirled around... "That's what's going gather up," and said "They going to clear all these mountains, just ruin the mountains, but we won't be here. But you's going to see all of that. And' you's going to be [wondrous?], and you's going to have high winds, strong winds you never have had before." And I just don't know today, I said what Grandma said would happen, it happen today, tonight. [N.B.: The interview took place during the hurricane season, and the Cherokee fall festival was disrupted by strong winds and mudslides.]
SG: What did they think would happen after? After there were all the roads in the mountains, and the rains and so forth? Did they think the world as we know it would come to an end?
AS: Yeah. that's what they said. It's going get worse and worse. And the world is going to get worse, you know, bad. And people be fighting each other, and trying to kill each other, and all that, and then when it's right very close to even their own families they're going have fighting.
SG: Have you been seeing that?
AS: Yeah, it's starting up. "It's," she said, "it's just the beginning. ( ) People are going to get mean", she said, "mean." And they are. And I said, "You can't go nowheres no more, you can't walk nowheres like we used to way back, we used to walk to church of a night, and daytime, and now you can't walk up a night, somebody running over you." I said, "Then the world's getting [shorter?] ," I said, just the way it looks it doesn't--I said, "I'm not even happy when the fall comes," I said, "it just gets worse and lonesome." Every year, it seem like. And people don't love each other like they used to way back. They used to help each other, they had free labors, and they'd go out and help this person's that's got sick, a sick person in the home, they'd go get wood for them, they'd go hoe corn for them, or gather up the corn, put it in, put it up, and that's what they used to do. And when those free labors would go, they'd take something what they cooked and take it to the person got--got the sick person. And they don't do that no more, they don't [know] who's sick and who's dying.
SG: Do you think people depend on the tribe, or the BIA?
AS: That's all, you know, they don't have nothing theirself, they think they're going get money all the time. It's like they living on the welfare, they don't try to save their money, lot of them around here, goes down there, gets a case of beer, and gets drunk, even the women's doing all that. You see the women just staggering around, I--they don't never think about how bad they look when they're drunk.
SG: I'm sure they don't realize.
AS: No!
SG: Do you think things are getting better in that regard? I mean, do they they have education about alcohol and drugs? In the schools?
AS: Well, they tell them about it, but that's not going stop anything. And that's not going straighten it up. Until the Lord gets ahold of them, that's where they were everything might scare them to death, but some of them won't. "No", I said, "the Lord's doing all these things." I said, "He [owned up?] to where we're doing. And He's kind of mad now. It's just like when you whip a child, you don't mind him, he don't understand what we tell him", I said, "that's the way he's doing to us." I said, "I don't know, I've done all my part, [here?] in this world, all I'm waiting for's the end to come and call me home." [Both laugh] That's all I'm waiting for. "I don't worry about anything", I said, "He's already said what He's going do." What I worry about my grandchildren, how they're going be when I'm gone. They come to me when they need he[l]p, and they want something to eat, I say, "What you going have cooking? What you going to eat?" They'd like to eat with me, but then when I'm gone I say who's they going call on? I tell them, I tell them every time, I say, "Just read your Bible, read that Revelation, it's telling you what our grandma told us, what's going to happen."
SG: I think that's interesting, that the way your grandmother saw things, was also the way the Book of Revelation sees things. Do you think what she believed was also influenced by traditional Indian beliefs?
AS: Well, anyway, they believe in there own ways, you know, they seen, just like you use a microscope, way back, that's what they, they had it in their minds, and they can tell you, what's going to be, and whenever about a year or that, what things is going to be. And they even know we're going to have cars, and they didn't have no cars way back. They even know 'bout what's going come along the mountains.
SG: How did they describe that?
AS: That is what I didn't understand, and they tell us that "You's going have something that goes over these mountains, they'll have wheels on it", they said. And it's a car. And we didn't have cars that time. And then they said, "We're going to see something, like a bird, you's going to see a bird, in the air, that flies around." And that was a airplane. They described it like a bird. And they seen that way back. And they already gone to rest, that one that told it, told us what was coming in.
SG: When do you think the first cars were here on the reservation?
AS: Well, that's when they first brought them in, I guess that was before when I growed up, they had one car, they didn't have no roads, they had those high cars and we--with small wheels on them? That's the only kind they had when I growed up. That's all I seen, this old antique car, [ ], but I don't know what year they came in.
SG: What kinds of values did your parents teach you? Things you should do, things you shouldn't do--
AS: Well, we were told to not do-- END OF PART 1 Begin NASW0015b, part 2
SG: What other kinds of things, I wonder? It's not an easy question! I try to remember how I was brought up [laughs]. I'm assuming the upbringing was somewhat different from today. The way you were supposed to be--
AS: Well, a lot of people ask me, "Do you think this world's better than what it was when you grow up", and I say, "No, it's not no good right now. I think. It's just going down worse and worse." I say, "You was happy, way back, either there wasn't much money, nor either much food, you had to raise your on food, and you felt better. And now, you--everything is going up, you don't know what you're going to get and do, if you had to go travel somewheres," I said, "You can get killed," and that's just the way that people are, getting meaner and meaner. They don't care for nothing.
SG: It sounds like people looked out after each other--
AS: Yeah, and [the most?] people looking here on TV, that's all you hear is somebody got killed, got shot and everything, men killing their wives, and their kids and all that stuff. People aren't that way before now. I just don't like to turn the TV on sometimes.
SG: When you were growing up, did you think you would be working, like in a factory, or at the village?
AS: Well, I didn't know I was going to get to work that much growed up. I was going to have to be in that housekeeping all the time [laughs]. Well I did anyway, when the kids growed up.
SG: And so you were working at the village for 35 years, you said?
AS: Yeah, I started 'bout four years--four years or three--after they opened up. My mother worked thur first, and she quit. She came over here to this camp. Mr. Berry from South Carolina had a camp over there, over those hillside. You know, where Walker lives? On them hillside there. And they had tents and cabins, all a that. And he'd bring all them different children from different states; they'd kind of stay all summer long. So Mama had got to cook for those kids over there. So then after she quit then I went up and asked for a job up there and they put me on as a relief worker. I didn't go to work right then, I was just relieving those people that goes to lunch. Set in their place while they're gone. I started making something all alone, weaving, I done finger weaving. Then the year after that I sat at the finger weaving with Mary Shell. And the next summer they moved me to the pottery. So I sat down, and I was there until I quit. [Laughs]
SG: A long sit! [Laughs]
AS: [Laughs] Yeah!
SG: Well, from what you've told me about it, it just sounds like most of the Indian people were being used.
AS: Yeah, that is the way it seems like, we was just used there, just to make the money.
SG: Did they pay any benefits, or anything like that? Or was it the hours you worked?
AS: Jwst the hours we worked. But it said nine to nine [five?] thirty, but he'd keep us in there till six o'clock sometimes. And they never get to pay us overtime. They were just the way that is over there. I ain't never seen them giving any full-blooded Indians scholarship to go to school on. I ain't never seen anyone get it.
SG: And that's supposedly what they're doing, isn't it?
AS: Yeah, that's what they always say in their book, but I ain't see full-blooded Indian get that money. They have to help theirself. One of my cousin down here she's got two girls and she sent to her two girls in college to [make their master's?] And none of them down in Cherokee didn't even help her, any from the tribal; she had to do that herself. She can tell you right now what she done to get them in college. Just like I sent mine to Charlotte, you know, she went to Charlotte, one of my grand-daughters. And she took up a steward job and they didn't [hire? "har"] her and she went there two years. She'd come home and go back. And she had her money in the bank, what she got from her daddy, and what she got from her mama, and she was using that when she's going to school. She finished. Then after she finished college she didn't get hired nowhere. But she's a good kind person, she works with them computers good, she's a smart girl.
SG: If you had to single out the major accomplishment of your life, what would it be? In other words, what are you most proud about having done?
AS: Well, I don't know right now... Just like I said, I'd be proud for them to get a good schoolhouse for the school. Big schoolhouse; they['re] crowded. That's all I was thinking, you know; if they can build them school kids a big schoolhouse, it would be a lot better for them people. But I don't have no kids; all I got is great-grandchildren going to school, all my kids is finished. But I still worry about other people's children, where they going to put them in school. A lot of them can't afford to bring them down, put them in the public schools, what the busses run, and they can't get them up there early.
SG: Where would they go?
AS: They go to Bryson, Smoky Mountain- -
SG: What else would you like--say you could redesign the future for the reservation? For the Indian people? What else is needed besides a much better school?
AS: Well, I don't know what else could be done.
SG: Is this new woman chief--do you think she will improve on things? It sounds like Chief [Jonathan] Taylor was--quite a crooked individual.
AS: Well, she [Joyce Dugan] might do pretty good, she's a pretty smart girl. But she has a lot to straighten out right now.
SG: All the mess he left behind?
AS: Yeah, uh huh. What the Council done wrong, they should of hold them houses he built and the land he bought with that money. Instead of letting him have the whole house and the land, that's where they made a mistake. And I told that one councilmember, I said, "That's where you's made a mistake. You should of got them houses and let people live in there. We've got five people that don't have no home," and I can understand, you know, more, I've been going to the Council, just like they had a Grand Council last night, and they're trying to go by the ( ) Constitution, and they done away with that way back with these other council members. You see, they got laws, what they have to go by, with the Constitution. What the old people used to have. Them old people was there, and they think first before they ever pass anything. They won't just go 'head and take everything they bring up to them like these new ones done. They sit down they think. And then one will say, "I don't think it's right for us to do that", they say. Just like they was going to move us out of here, and take that land down there, the Park, you know where we came across that bridge behind that big tree there? They is wanting to trade this in and put us down there, and then what able to make a dam down here at the fork. And our old councilmember told them, he said, "No, we're not trading. We're not moving out of Big Cove", he told them. They all went with him when he said "No." "Oh, well, I shouldn't do this" (that's when they went with the other councilmember).
SG: Well, what right would the Council have to move people about? I mean, I think of this as your land, here.
AS: Well, it's not really the Council that says so, but they have to have a big council, and let everybody know what's going on, about there land, and some of them thinks that they should go and just do what they want to. On somebody's land. That's not right--if they go by the Constitution that tells them what to do, they just put that back in there, see, they done away with the moderator; they's two of them, and when they vote on something, and if they tie, that Constitution said the moderator has to get up and untie and vote one side they tied up together. And I told one of the council member about a year ago, I said, "How come those chairman gets up and raise their hands?" I said, "They ain't supposed to be raising there hands while they vote. They're supposed to sit there, untie the votes whenever they tie up." And he said, "Oh, they done away with that Constitution way back", he said. I said, "That's why nothing ain't going right!" I said, "You set down to read it, it tells you what to do, what the old councilmember did." So they're trying' to get it back in, now. They're going to have each community have a committee come and talk to them, see what they think about put it back in there, and that happened in Washington, by the people that was against it when they got that Constitution. And they said they done away with it, but they had it up there and they gave it to' them.
SG: Are there any women on the Council?
AS: Um-hum. We have two--well, we have two in council, no, three? Three women, and two women is interpreter, and a clerk.
SG: Women's jobs. I was just wondering if there were more women [politically] involved.
AS: Yeah, we have three in council. One Yellow Hill, and one Big Cove, and one in Painttown. And Wolftown got both mens on the council.
SG: I was just thinking, maybe if there were more women, they would run things better!
AS: Well, that's what I've been telling them all the time, I think the women can take more than these men, men just sit there just for money. They're getting there pay just sitting in there.
SG: They don't have to care about anything, or do anything.
AS: No, they--I don't know quite what's going on, take place. I ain't seen the other chief, it's been over a month since I seen him.
SG: Made himself scarce!
AS: Yeah, all the time, he was doing all that, and we didn't know it. And he had two person usinig that money up, that's a woman and a man. And they reported they was getting some money and they lost their job; yeah, they lost their job. And this lady's supposed to be the one's giving these people that's going out to school, when we send our kids to school, going to high school, or going to Oklahoma, or going to Western [Carolina], or to Charlotte, wherever they're going to have to go to college. This lady's supposed to be giving some money and she was using all that money!
SG: What a waste, when it should have gone to education- -
AS: They had to go to her every time they wanted money; but then it got so she didn't have the money. She told them to wait. Oh, that Council down there is all messed up?
SG: When was the first time you left the reservation?
AS: Me? I can't remember now; about four years ago we went to Oklahoma. Senior citizens. Then about ten years ago I went to Connecticut, and that's my first trip on the plane. I didn't want to ride the plane, I swear I was scared to death. [Name?'s] the one who took me, Raymond's brother? And then Louise [Bigmeat Maney?], she's supposed to go with them, to demonstrate pottery, to the Save the Children, in Connecticut. So she was afraid she might get laid off, 'cause she was getting off too much in school, she was teaching down there, art, I mean, craft, so she ( ) me to go. [Name? Carl ?] came up here and asked me if I'd go. I'd not be riding a plane, I was scared to death to ride a plane. "Oh," he said, "it's not nothing, it's like you're just sitting there still." I said, "Yeah, but when it's fog there", I said, "it won't be still up there, that'll drop!" "No", he said, "You get there quicker than driving a car, won't get tired." I said, "I'll let you know Thursday, I can't say nothing right now." So he gone on back. "If you find somebody else to go," I said, "let them go." Thursday he ( ) me to go again. I said ( ) my daughter ( ). "That'll be a nice trip for you, first time you ever been away from home. That far anyway." ( ) "Well," I said, " I might go ( )." So I went, everyone one of them was there [at the airport in Asheville?]. So we went on and stayed till Thursday; Wednesday evening we got in New York at eight at night. We went on to Connecticut; they had to get us in a car to go out there. And they brought a small car, and we laid in there like sardines. To get to Connecticut.
SG: Did you meet any of the Indian people there? Pequots, or--?
AS: No, we didn't see none. Just one time we seen a Indian, that was all. It's mostly white people came through ( ).
SG: What about Black people, are there any around here? Has there been any coming and going between Indian people and Black people?
AS: Well, they come in, there's quite a few of them around Smoky Mountain, they're Job Corps? They go down to Cherokee once in awhile, and walk around.
SG: A student of mine interviewed some people who live off the reservation. They're part Black and part Indian. I got the impression that they wouldn't be very welcome on the reservation; is that true?
AS: I guess so, they don't hardly let colored people come around. And they stay up here in the [Blue Ridge] Park, they don't allow them to walk around down there.
SG: Why do you think that is?
AS: I don't know.
SG: Is it distrust?
AS: I guess they're kind of scared of Indians, you know, they fall back on them whenever they do some meanness down there. I don't know what it is. But we all work together; these foster-grandparents, we got Indians, and whites, and colored. And we all work together. I say, "Well, it ain't no use to turn them down, they came from the same [Creator?], we all going to get together." He ain't going to say, "You're colored, you stay back," or, "You're Indian, you go back," the Lord ain't going to say that. Going to get every one of us. So that's the way we ought to be to these people. I have nothing against them, the Colored, just like there is a man, came up the village, in the Council House, and asked [ ], "What you Indians think about these Colored people?" And she just went down, she said, "We don't worry about them! It's your worry, you're the one brought them over here, to the United States," she told him. "You ain't bring them over here, they wouldn't been there." She said, "That's your worries, not ours." [Both laugh] Yeah, she told them! [Both laugh]
SG: I should have asked this earlier, but I forgot. What was your name before you were married?
AS: Sequoyah.
SG: My heavens, do you think you were related to Sequoyah?
AS: Well, I don't know if he was in my [ ], but my grandpa's Sequoyah, his name was Jakoli Sequoyah. That was my grandpa. My daddy was Running Bull Sequoyah. And my mother, she was Molly Walking Snake, first her daddy was a Walking Snake. And then she went by her mother and married another man called Davis, then she went by Davis after that.
SG: What did you think of the Indians out in Oklahoma? Did you feel like you were at home?
AS: Yeah, I like to talk to them, and they feel at home when they come out here. And they always tell us, "You don't have to stay in a motel when you get to Oklahoma," just call their names and they give us their number and they'll come out here, "Come stay with me," they say. But I didn't get to visit them when I was out there. This woman that took us, you know, to Oklahoma, she got scared to walk around it was so hot, in September we went. She said, "It's so hot, I just can't stand it, so let's not go out till this evening." We wouldn't go out till after supper, but you couldn't see nobody then! I didn't meet none of the Indians but one! Long as we was there!
SG: That's what Mr. Owle said to me. He said he was looking around for Indians, but he didn't find any.
AS: I didn't see none. And we went to a lunchroom; the only one that was there was doing the cooking, that's all we seen. Didn't see that other people we'd like to meet.
SG: It's funny, I always thought the links were much more direct, but I guess not.
AS: That's the way it was.
SG: I've taken up so much of your time, I was just wondering if there's anything else you'd like to talk about?
AS: Well, I can't think of nothing else.
SG: I'm just thinking like, if you had any advice to give to younger Indians, what would you tell them?
AS: Well, I always tell them, "You ( )."
SG: Who's "they"?
AS: My grandma.
SG: Do you think there is going to be a Cherokee nation well into the 21st century? Do you think they'll be--you know--all living and working in Bryson City, marrying white?
AS: Well, I don't really know what's going to happen anyway, it's so hard to tell right now what the people are going do. Just like they said, those rules they had, when a woman married a man, they had--it's in that paper they got now, she's supposed to go with the man, to his hometown. To go with her husband.
SG: She'd go to the man's place?
AS: She married a white man, she had to get out of the reservation, go to his place. Then if a Indian man marries a white, he's welcome to bring her in, to his place. That's the way they had it.
SG: It's the men that have the right.
AS: It's the man, the one have right to bring her in, but then, if it's a girl, married white, she'll have to go out, go with him.
SG: Why is it that way? Surely she's just as much an Indian as, say, her brother is?
AS: I guess it's the land, you know--if the man had the land she had to go stay in his land, and she can't bring him in on her land. She doesn't have none on account of her daddy and mama owns the land.
SG: I guess again, traditionally, I thought women had many more rights?
AS: Um-hum.
SG: And so now it seems Cherokee women--legally it sounds like, aren't as important as they were traditionally.
AS: Yeah. They just changed around.
SG: I think you need a lot of active young women to change it back again! [Both laugh] I think that's one of the worst influences that we Europeans have had; we give men so many rights, not just legal, economic, political, everything, and the women don't have so much status.


1 What most people regard as the "Eastern Cherokee reservation" is properly referred to as the Qualla Boundary, or, as many Cherokees themselves simply call it, "the Boundary." The history of these 56,500 acres held in federal trust for the Cherokees is extremely complicated, a consequence of the 1838 Removal of Cherokees to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Some of those who refused to go and hid out in the mountains, separated themselves from the Cherokee Nation, accepted North Carolina state sovereignty over their villages, and delegated a special power of attorney to the white trader Will Thomas. Thomas convinced the NC General Assembly to incorporate the NC Cherokees into a state corporation, of which he was corporate president and trustee. In this capacity, he bought more land for the Eastern Band, but since non-whites could not own land in North Carolina, it was deeded to himself. After the Civil War, the federal government began to investigate the legal situation, and the Eastern Cherokees then invited the US Government to become the trustee; "their" land took on reservation status. The Qualla Boundary is the largest tract of the reservation, which also includes the outlying villages of Snowbird, Tomotla, and a 3,200 Acre (Thomas) Tract. Big Cove, physically the largest community within the Eastern Band, "is one of the strongholds of the 'traditional' Cherokees" (French and Hornbuckle 30). The Blue Ridge Parkway and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park merge in Big Cove (31).
2 Freeman Owle, my intermediary with Cherokee elders, is the subject of a separate interview. In an earlier visit he had introduced me to Mrs. Swimmer and we spent some time at her house.
3 The nine communities of the "Cherokee Reservation" are the town of Cherokee (Yellow Hill), Painttown, Soco, Big "y", Big Cove, Birdtown, the 3,200-Acre Tract, Tomotla and Snowbird; the latter two, not on the Boundary, are 80 and 60 miles away respectively.
4 Yellow Hill=the town of Cherokee.
5 Walker Calhoun is an elderly traditionalist who teaches language, music, and dance. I had met him on my previous visit, when he was preparing for the Green Corn Dance at the grounds near his house. Non-Indians may not participate.