Larry Vogt is on the trail of the Trail of Tears. He has come to my house near Pine Log because he believes the Cherokee from the Sixes removal fort came this way. Poring over nineteenth-century maps and newspaper articles and ferry records, he’s found tantalizing clues that rather than going all the way west to Cartersville and then north on what is now 411, the Sixes Cherokee may have skirted the base of Pine Log Mountain and come across what was known at the time as Warford’s Trail.
Which happens to lead right to my doorstep.
Larry and his wife Janet are here to walk the 15 acres of my farm and look for traces of old roadbeds. In his car, he has the expedition kit he carries with him everywhere. He pulls on his khaki photographer’s vest with a laminated name tag that identifies him as a historian. Inside the vest’s many pockets, he tells me, he has stashed a Swiss army knife, a camera, a back-up camera, binoculars, a range-finder, a tape measure, an electronic tape measure, a GPS unit, a compass, a first-aid kit, a whistle, a note pad and pens, spare batteries, snacks, zip-lock bags, a water bottle, and 55-gallon trash bags which can serve as emergency rain gear or an emergency shelter. He also has a metal detector in the car, but it’s too cold and windy to spend that much time outside today.
This is a man who comes prepared.
Larry dons a wide-brimmed black leather hat and we start our trek around the property. Janet and I are both bundled up in parkas, scarves, hats and gloves, and the wind still cuts through the layers and blows our scarves around.
Larry is a kindred spirit–possessed by an insatiable curiosity to discover what used to be here, to “connect the dots” of physical and archival evidence to recover the forgotten past. In fact, he has coined a term for what he does: Dautzenlein, pronounced “dots-n-line.”
The “dots,” Larry explains in a book he wrote on the location of the Fort Buffington removal camp, are “people, places, and artefacts,” and the lines are “rivers, roads, ideas, communications, and commerce.” Dautzenleins are “invitations to look and see ‘what else’ is around you.” His two books, The Curious Disappearance of Fort Buffington and The Hidden History of Lake Allatoona, use the Dautzenlein technique to locate forgotten sites.
To my great delight, my house is a dot on a line! The house was built in 1851, thirteen years after the removal, but Cass Pine Log Road and Warford’s Trail, now called Richards Road, appear to predate the Removal. Indeed, Cass Pine Log connected the Cherokee village of Two Runs on the Etowah with the Cherokee village of Pine Log, and Warford’s Trail connected the Stamp Creek and Sixes Cherokee on the south side of Pine Log Mountain to the Cherokee capital of New Echota to the north. I know from looking at the original Georgia Land Lottery plats drawn in 1832 that there was a Cherokee home on the lot adjacent to mine and acres under cultivation in several of the surrounding lots.
Larry is in his 60s, but he retains a childlike excitement and sense of adventure. His wife Janet, an industrial designer by trade and an artist by avocation, is a cheerful sidekick and a keen observer. She has recently retired and tells me that she is having fun exploring new avenues for her creativity, everything from designing jewelry to practicing aromatherapy to inventing recipes for healthier dog treats.
I am having fun watching them having fun. I love to watch people who have decided: now I’m going to do what I want to do.
As we walk to the back of the property, Larry explains that on nineteenth-century maps, Richards Road veered slightly west of its present location, and, in fact, intersected Cass Pine Log precisely where my house stands. I live at the crossroads. Also, Cass Pine Log Road did a weird little jut around my house, actually running behind it instead of in front of it, as it is now.
Larry theorizes that the road paralleled Lipscomb Creek, which runs behind my house, and that there must have been a reason for the road to include access to the creek.
Both Larry and Janet marvel at the beauty of the creek as we walk through the fields and approach it. Where it runs through the pasture, great boulders jut out, sculpted by a thousand centuries of water. The rocks in its course are hollowed out, smoothed down, carved with bowls and tunnels. It looks like the rock is flowing.
“Do you think that some of these basins were carved by people?” Janet asks.
“No,” I tell her, “I think that water did all of this.” But I tell them about the artefacts I have found in this one section of the creek: arrowheads, shards of flint, fragments of pottery.
“Debitage,” Janet says. “That’s what archaeologists call the discarded chips and flakes.”
Larry explains that Janet sometimes makes jewelry from found stones. She has studied the medicinal properties of semi-precious stones and uses them now in her aromatherapy.
It is delightful to hear Larry and Janet brag about each other’s passions and accomplishments, as excited about each other’s pursuits as their own.
I pick up some shells from the muddy bank to show them. I’ve recently discovered they are a species of freshwater mussel that used to be plentiful but are now rare in North Georgia. “Maybe they came here for the mussels,” I say.
I’ve long thought there was something special about this spot. The creek here is broad, shallow and pebbly. It’s a magnet for birds, whether the blue herons who often hunt here or the gull-like grebes who stand in the shallow water and peck until my dog chases them off. I picture people through the centuries kneeling here to wash dishes or clothing or to look for the mussels or the small fish that populate the stream.
I explain to Larry that this creek originates in a spring across the street. Maybe that was the draw to this spot.
We’re trying to figure out if the original road would have followed the road that runs through the farm now or taken a different route. We scan the fields, looking for evidence of roadbeds and trying to figure out where the Cherokee dwelling on the lot to the north might have stood.
Larry is reading the landscape, fired up with curiosity and the thrill of discovery. He reminds me of a child on an Easter egg hunt. So much of childhood is search and discovery, whether hide-and-go-seek or puzzles or word-finds or traipsing through the woods and finding hidden treasures. Walking in the woods or on a beach, children will always stop to pick up shells or rocks and take them home as treasures. Larry still does that. Me too.
“I can feel that we’re close,” he says. “The Cherokee had to have stopped and drunk from the creek on their way to New Echota.”
As we turn to walk back toward the house, a red-tailed hawk swoops down over the section of creek we’ve been focusing on. He circles, gliding on updrafts and flapping his large wings only sporadically.
“That’s a sign,” Larry tells me. “Every time I’ve found something important, a hawk has shown up. One time when I didn’t know where a site was, I followed a hawk and he brought me right to it.”
Others might think he is a little out there with the hawk omen, but I don’t. The first time I paddled the Etowah, right behind the Walmart in Canton, a blue heron appeared and flew ahead of me for the entire trek. Many times when I’ve been in the woods, animals have appeared at revelatory moments: a coyote, a fox, a stag, a bear. We think we are not connected to nature or spirit, but we are. And when someone like Larry is genuinely seeking connections and honoring the people of the past, I do believe that mysterious things can happen. Jung would call it synchronicity.
Larry has, in fact, made some significant discoveries. He has found what archaeologists from the Georgia Department of Transportation are investigating as the possible location of the Fort Buffington removal camp. It is different from what he had earlier theorized in his book, and he is not at liberty to tell people where it is because archaeologists and the property owner at the site do not want the public to know (apparently treasure hunters already plague the general vicinity). But the site Is now being documented by the GDOT archaeologists and Larry himself. He is quick to note that they still haven’t found conclusive, confirming evidence, and that it will take further excavation to prove or disprove the site.
An article about his Buffington quest appeared in Georgia Backroads Spring 2018.
He is also working with some evidence from rare nineteenth-century newspapers that points to the Warford’s Trail route for the Sixes Cherokee.
He is a meticulous researcher. When we go inside the house, we sit at my dining room table and he shows me how he has overlain nineteenth-century maps with contemporary satellite maps and topo maps and traced where the roads are the same and where they diverge.
I ask him how he came to be on this quest, and he tells me that his whole life has been an “odyssey,” an “extended road trip.” He grew up near Chicago, lived for a long time in Colorado, and moved to Georgia ten years ago to care for ailing parents.
“I started as a carpenter and then owned a cabinet shop, a snowplowing business, an art business, and finally a window tinting company. Obviously, the next logical step would be retirement in Georgia as an avocational archaeologist and historian!”
You can discover more of Larry’s adventures in his blog on his website http://www.dautzenlein.com.