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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sautee and Nacoochee, the brave and the princess

SAUTEE-NACOOCHEE – On most occasions when there is a sojourn this way, the objective is to hang out in Helen where the fly fishing shop of Jimmy Harris usually leads to time spent in the cool waters of the Chattahoochee -- a river of romance and emotional importance in Georgia.

You may be a cynic without compatibility with traditional legends, including those like Jonah and the whale. Did Jonah really get swallowed by a whale? Regardless, it is a nice story with a happy ending. A lot of folks around here don't think the legend of Sautee and Nacoochee is for real -- but it's fun to review and retell the story which, like Jonah and the whale, has a good news ending.

Jonah got all those sinners in Nineveh to mend their ways, and it couldn't have happened if he hadn't been swallowed and coughed up by the whale.

Legend suggests though their lives ended in tragedy Sautee, the Chickasaw brave, and Nacoochee, the Cherokee princess, brought about peaceful co-existence between the warring nations.

When Sautee's father, the chief, found out that his son was cavorting with a dreaded Cherokee princess, he had his son thrown off a cliff. When Nacoochee sees her lover thrown off the cliff, she tears herself away from the hands of her father and leaps off the cliff to join Sautee. They drag their broken bodies together and embraced, dying in each other's arms.

You can learn about Sautee and Nacoochee at the history museum at the Sautee Nacoochee Center, which is located right up the road from the Old Sautee Store.

For years, people in this valley have been finding artifacts recovered from the area. Alex Lunsford, a guide at Unicoi, often finds pottery shards in the river when he is fly-fishing each year. For many years, Alex spent time as guide in Alaska in the summers.

If there is a time when trout fishing on the Chattahoochee is less than favorable, it would be in summer's heat. Trout are not so compatible with the heat, but Jimmy Harris can remember one of his best fishing days came in January when snow was falling.

"That was a time when the fish really were biting," Jimmy recalled.

Even if you have spent time here before, it is always fascinating to browse though the Old Sautee Store, which, according to a flyer, is "An Original General Store serving locals and travelers alike with quality goods since 1872," which was the year the local post office was established. Yesteryear's inventory, among other items, included Budwine Cola, Lorillard's snuff and octagon soap. There's a 1911 Nickelodeon, a wooden Indian or two and a plethora of interesting signs:

"We Sell Dental Snuff."

"Raise Mules and Get Rich."

"Street girls bringing in sailors must pay for room in advance."

A local doctor, Thomas N. Lumsden, is the resident historian and has written a book which you can purchase at the museum: "Nacoochee Valley, its times and its places."

As his book recounts, the Indians were here first, followed by the settlers who, with the discovery of gold, forced the Indians out of the hills of North Georgia. Gold was not to be wasted on savage men. If you have not met up with Dr. Lumsden's book, you will find an embracing of his research well worth your time. He has a list of 59 historical sites to visit in the Nacoochee and Saute Valleys.

One of these days, I am going to take a day or two and visit them all. With history standing right under your nose, you should not fail to reach out and touch it.

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