The Twin Poplars of Peace
Local legend has it that over 280 years ago the Catawba and the Cherokee Indians were locked in a brutal and savage conflict in the smoky hills around Lenoir, North Carolina. So many warriors were killed on both sides that the leaders came together to talk peace, not as victor over vanquished, but as equals. Distrust an enmity were conquered and peace was made..at least temporarily. The symbol of that peace would be two trees and their ability to grow together.
Written language was an unknown to these fearless people on both sides. Sequoyah did not develop the Cherokee written language until over 70 years later, consequently there is no known text of this conflict and treaty. The historical record from our own Revolution seem to at least confirm the opposing relationships between these two tribes. The Cherokee aligned with the British and the Catawba fought alongside of the Patriots almost 40 years afterward.
Near the headwaters of the Catawba River we find road signs like Warrior Rd., Twin Poplar Ln. and Indian Grave Road that seem to memorialize what the history books do not. Boone NC beckons the modern-day traveler, but coves cut into the mountains just off of Highway 321 harbor the stuff of local folklore.
The war ranged all through these coves and valleys. Some of the burials are rumored to have occurred in the caves that are shared by bear and coyote to this day. Dirt roads now cover the foot trails and hunting paths from the past. Black top and development roll over the creeks and crevices where the warriors would drink and hide. Private land with title and tax have replaced the free range of the Indians of a bygone era.
With the energetic and knowledgeable help of Cindy Day, the Director of the Caldwell Heritage Museum, and her equally magnanimous colleague Lisa Ward, the Twin Poplars were found rising like ancient pillars in the secluded local lands. With each cautious step down the wet and steep terrain, we were transported back in time.
The mountains in this part of the country breath and give off a haze that paint the landscape blue as the peaks rise with a smoky mist. The trees were draped in this phenomenon as we made our way to their base. Nature would paint a sacred picture to this cathedral of peace and lend itself to bolster the story even more.
The Legend of the Twin Poplars suggests that the leaders of this ancient and violent war came together and tied two poplars as a symbol of the peace. If the poplars were to grow together, then their peace would survive.
To the naked eye it does appear that the bases of each tree, separated as they are, have their own individual root systems. Their trunks being so far apart, it would seem implausible for them to have grown together without some artificial help from man. Whether that help came from the indigenous tribes of yesteryear or some farmer thereafter is but speculation.
When hurricane Hugo came through in 1989 much of the forest was decimated by the high winds that swept up into the mountains from the coast. Old growth trees were a natural victim and many feared that the twin poplars would not survive. As the curious probed the deadwoods after the storm they rejoiced to find them still standing tall and proud.
We may never know if the Legend of the Twin Poplars is fact or fiction. It is certainly, though, a story of folklore that resonates within us and causes us to reapply ourselves to the convictions of peace and harmony. Their natural appearance in the wood certainly gives majesty to our walk upon this earth and heaps credit on the Creator for His good work. Whatever the origin of their union, these ancient poplars and their union are a natural monument to the better parts of our human nature.