SOUTHEAST FOR A CHANGE

In the fall of '90 I had occasion - the details are unimportant, here - to pay a visit to the Eastern Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. I took it easy across Tennessee, sticking with the back roads rather than the Slab, and pausing at one point to check out the bloodsoaked ground of Shiloh.

And it looked as if North Carolina would be more of the same, but then a little way past the state line the easy blacktop cruising went to hell; the road ran alongside a rushing whitewater river, and the canoeists and the rubbernecks managed between them to create a creeping, crawling traffic jam that went on for miles. It was getting late by the time I reached my destination, and it was starting to rain.

This is some kind of very historic building on the Cherokee Reservation, but I don't remember anything about it. I took very few pictures on the rez; for various reasons I didn't have a very good time there. (For one thing an incredibly obnoxious white couple from Oklahoma happened to show up at the same time, and somehow a lot of people got the idea I was with them.) I would have left sooner but I had certain obligations.

The last day, though, I did manage to get away and do a little riding in the area. The leaves were beginning to turn for the fall and the views were spectacular; I wish now I'd taken a few more pictures.

Seeing that I'd already come so far back east, I thought I might as well go on down to the coast and have a look around. On the way down through rural South Carolina, though, I made a little detour to see something I'd always wanted to see.

In a little cemetery near Saluda, South Carolina, near a pretty little Methodist church, lie some of my paternal ancestors. The old-fashioned horizontal tombstones have been gnawed at by lichens and the elements, but I had brought paper and charcoal and I took a couple of rubbings. The one above reads:

Here
is deposited the body of
MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM M. BUTLER
who died November 15th 1821
the 63d year of his age
loved and venerated by his family
respected by his friends
and honoured by his countrymen
As a tribute of love, veneration and
gratitude this marble is placed
over him by his family

My great-great-great-great-grandfather, and quite a substantial character, it would appear. He served with some distinction in the Revolution; the generalship came later, during the War of 1812, when he was assigned to command the defenses of Charleston. He was also an early congressman from South Carolina.

Nearby is the grave of his wife Behethland, my great-great-great-great-grandmother, and something of a Revolutionary heroine - in fact there is a DAR chapter named for her - for having paddled a canoe up the river in the middle of the night to warn her husband that the British were coming:

THE GRAVE
of
MRS. BEHETHLAND FOOT BUTLER
Consort of Genl. WILLIAM BUTLER
Born December 28th 1764
Died December 2nd 1853

They were cousins. There are quite a few cousin marriages on both sides of my family tree. This is why I look so much alike.

I went on down to the coast, spending the night on an island near Savannah. Next day I rode south along I-95 to check out Sea Island - an interesting place, but way to hell overdeveloped - and then turned inland to Waycross, where the map claimed there was a campground at the northern entrance to the Okefenokee Swamp. This turned out to be a lie, and the rather unpleasant woman at the information desk directed me to the southern entrance, clear down near the Florida line. In fact I would have to swing down into Florida to get there. So with oaths and imprecations I rode on southeast and then south, hoping to make it before dark.

The map was right about one thing, anyway. Highway 94 is a very strange little road; it runs more or less straight east-west across the southern edge of the Okefenokee - but the state line doesn't; it squiggles, following the course of the St. Mary's River. So in the course of a short ride you go from Florida into Georgia, then back into Florida, and then, as the road swings slightly northward, back into Georgia again. There was a cop car parked at every crossing, and it wasn't hard to figure why.

But when I finally got to the lower entrance of the Okefenokee, there was a sign declaring that the place was closed for the season or renovation or something. I stared in some disbelief - never having heard of a swamp being closed - and then, feeling slightly like Arlo Guthrie, turned the bike around, under the bored gaze of an enormous alligator in the muck alongside the road. So much for Pogo and Howland and Uncle Albert; I bet Porky Pine had some choice words to say about it, too.

But there was no time to grumble or call down curses on lying information-desk madames; I was running out of daylight. I turned south, back into Florida, and found a KOA campground that didn't object to motorcycles.

Next day it was cold - not just chilly, cold. I couldn't believe it; OK, it was the tail end of October, but Florida? It's not supposed to get cold in Florida, everybody knows that. I didn't have adequate clothes, either. I got onto I-10 and headed west with a distinct sense of grievance.

I spent the night at a little seaside campground in Mississippi, about midway between Pass Christian and the Louisiana line. There was nobody around. I went for a little walk along the beach but it was getting dark.

In the morning it was still cold, but the sun was out and offered some hope things might warm up. While I was waiting for that to happen, there was an obvious place to go.

I've never been a big fan of New Orleans; I always considered it one of the most overrated cities in the US, and never really understood the mystique. Still, as a place to fritter away a few idle hours while waiting for the day to warm up, it wasn't bad.

And in the early morning the streets were quiet, the tourist traps closed and their prey not yet out in any numbers. Still I was just as happy when it got warm enough to head out again. I took 55 north, through Mississippi; Louisiana is in a class of its own when it comes to speed traps and generally preying on travelers.

I crossed the Mississippi at Vicksburg, where there was another family connection of sorts. My great-great-grandfather, Leontine Butler, escaped from a Yankee prison camp - having been captured at the fall of Island Number 10 - and made his way south, eventually showing up at Vicksburg and reporting for duty, and subsequently attaining the exalted rank of corporal. But nine months after his escape, my great-grandmother was born. He'd taken a little detour, on his way back to the war, to pay a little visit home....

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