Junaluska Apple Discovery
By Tom Brown
I was fascinated by American Indian culture as my brother and I grew up in rural Iredell County, NC. We spent hundreds of hours hunting arrowheads and eventually accumulated a collection that totaled hundreds of these projectile points. A favorite childhood day involved calling our friend, Glenn Moore, and asking if the three of us could go arrowhead hunting. The Moore family owned a large farm on Third Creek. There was a slight knoll where a small stream intersected the Creek and in this red clay cornfield was the site of a former major Indian village; the three of us probably found 200 arrowheads at this site. I still remember the excitement of slowly walking along and carefully looking among the dirt clods for some Indian treasure; we would all come running when one person would say, “I found one”. We would also find fragments of clay pottery and soapstone pottery. The soapstone quarry was on a hill about a half mile downstream; there we would find major bowl fragments that the Indians had started to shape; it was somewhat impure soapstone containing small iron pyrite cubes. Some of the exposed soapstone boulders had flat surfaces where year’s earlier soapstone had been cut to line a boiler firebox. On one of the flat surfaces the name of “Watt Deal” had been deeply cut in large, bold letters. When my cousin married I made her a large three compartment soapstone bowl for a gift, the name “Watt Deal” is on the bowl bottom.
Right: Wading Branch Knife
One of my prized Indian finds is a very slender perfect knife I found on a gravel stream bar in the wading branch behind our home. This knife would have been lashed into a short wooden handle. Even more prized was the amazing spearhead our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hedrick, had given me one year at Christmas; one of her sons had been in New Guinea during WW II and saw a native chipping out a stone tool, he gave the man a thick glass fragment from a bottle and he quickly chipped out a beautiful spearhead. Another fond memory is the door from our living room to the side porch being propped open with a large Indian stone axe some family member had found years earlier. One day my brother and I went across the road to see our Uncle Duke placing stones he had collected on his farm on a road bank for erosion control, he did not realize it but one of the stones had a deep bowl shape where the Indians had used it to grind corn; I still have the mortar and use it as one of our dog watering bowls. Our time spent hunting arrowheads is the most delightfully memorable of my entire lifetime and still brings a smile to my face, over a half century later.
Later in life I became interested in heritage apples and was delighted to learn that one of the most famous lost apples in the south was the Junaluska (also called Junaluskee). The story behind the apple was revealed in a letter by Silas McDowell of Macon County, NC; he disclosed that the Government wanted to buy land from the Cherokee but there was a problem. The land contained the Chief’s favorite apple tree and they eventually had to pay $50 extra because of the apple tree. The Junaluska was sold by numerous southern nurseries; typically described as a medium to large apple, dull yellow color with some russet & red blush, short to medium stem (thick & knobby), yellow flesh, rich slightly tart taste, and ripe in November (Junaluska descriptions are included at the end of this report). I have spent many hours studying these numerous descriptions. The Junaluska was always at the top of my “must find list”.
Silas McDowell lived east of Franklin, NC in the Cullasaga Valley on land he purchased about 1820. Silas developed a 600 tree apple orchard, where he sold apples as well as apple trees. He introduced many new apple varieties into the apple trade; I have been fortunate to find actual apple trees which were associated with Silas McDowell, including the following varieties: Junaluska, Nickajack, Cullasaga, Chestoa (probably), etc. Silas was a writer of note, biologist, tailor, famed pomologist; a truly remarkable man and a very prominent citizen of North Carolina in the mid 1800s. Silas McDowell originated the “thermal belt” orchard concept, when he noticed that temperature inversions often result in certain mountain-side elevations being less likely to have spring frosts, and thus were more desirable orchard sites. He continued producing apples until 1859 when a disastrous late freeze reportedly badly damaged his orchard.
My first contact with the Junaluska came when I was talking to Edwin Waldroop of Macon County, who lived just west of Franklin. He said that people had told him of Junaluska apple trees being in the area. He also remembered Manson Beauty and Bull Face apples, both which I eventually found in the Walnut Creek area.
Left:Tom Brown Right:Johnny Crawford
In 2001, I was spending extensive time in Rabun County, GA, looking for the Fort’s Prize apple; Rabun County is in the northeast tip of Georgia, just below Macon County, NC. On one of my trips, I stopped at the last convenience store in the Otto Community, just before entering Georgia. Three people were in the store; as usual I asked each of them if they knew of any old apples in the area. One of the men was Hoyt Thomas who told me about remembering Yates, Cannon, Sheepnose Sweet, Tom, and White June apples. Hoyt added that I should definitely go see Johnny Crawford who lived in Franklin and had a considerable apple tree collection. After spending the day apple-hunting in Rabun County, I stopped at the home of Johnny Crawford as I was on my return trip back home. Johnny greeted me warmly and showed me his apple trees which included Pippin, Cullasaja, Pearmain, Nonsuch and many others. Johnny also told me that if I would come back he would take me to visit some people who also had old apples varieties. He was a previous USPS mail carrier, so he knew many people over a very wide area.
In the center of Rabun County is Clayton and going east from it is the major road, War Woman; this is the home area of many Speed families who know a lot about old apples. At the home of Myrtle Speed I found a Bart apple and near-by was a Royal Lemon (apple) tree which Bill Speed showed me. Bill also told me about a Thinskin Neverfail, Hog apple, Candy Stripe, Black Winesap, and Rabun Bald. Ray Speed told me about remembering a Blue apple (Carter’s Blue?), Bart, Black Winesap, and Thinskin. Melvin Speed also told me about the Bart and a local Sweet apple. Later I grafted a Red June apple tree for Mrs. Myrtle Speed from a nearby home (Lamar Marcus). When I delivered the tree, Mrs. Speed said, “I can’t thank you because if I do so, the tree will die.” I guess the tree is still doing well because she did not thank me.
Most importantly of the Speed family contacts, Mr. J. P. Speed told me about remembering a Junaluska apple from southern Jackson County, NC, near the Macon County and South Carolina lines. Several people above mentioned a Black Winesap; Ora Burnette of Haywood County told me that his father took apples to South Carolina for sale; after the Great Depression, his Hoover apples would not sell so he renamed them Black Winesap and they sold just fine.
About two weeks later I returned for the apple search trip with Johnny Crawford. Our first stop was at the home of Robert (Prelo) Stanfield who lives 7 miles east of Franklin. Robert grows apples commercially for local sale and has over 600 trees. Many are modern apples, but he also had some old apple varieties, including the Morgan (called the Great Unknown by some), Nonsuch, Cullasaga, Early June, Early Ripe, Sour Jon etc. He also remembered other old apples that had been in the area such as Cordley and Oat Stack. Robert’s property on River Road adjoins the historic orchard area of the famous 1800s pomologist, Silas McDowell.
Next, Johnny Crawford took me to the home of Kate Mincey, a delightful 80s year old who lived high on a mountain off the Ellijay Road. She talked fast and had a perpetual welcoming smile. At her old home place, were Bank apples, Wolf River, Sweet apples, Winesap, and two John Berry Keeper apple trees (named by her Father because he grafted them from old trees at the John Berry homestead in that area and it was a good keeping apple). It was early in the year and there were no ripe apples on the trees at that time. The John Berry Keeper apple was of immediate interest to me, because its general description fit that of the Junaluska. I made up my mind that I definitely needed to return to the area and get some properly ripe apples to see if there was any slight chance that this could be the long-lost Junaluska apple. I did return at least five times that year, checking on the possible Junaluska and other area apples, a four hour drive each way. There were also trees of the John Berry Keeper on the adjoining Shook property; these were especially interesting because they had been grafted into Ruby Red which served as the rootstock (one shoot from the root system had the Ruby Red apples see photo).
Since I was spending considerable time in Macon County, that year, I approached the Franklin Press and they did an article about my old apple search. As a result of that article, I was contacted by Riley Henry who remembered that there had been a Junaluska apple in Haywood County. Riley had lived in Haywood County six or seven years and visited the Ollie Francis family in Radcliff Cove, on adjoining Francis property there were some apple trees in the high Big Stomp meadow. He remembered that one of the apple trees was a Sheepnose and beside it was an apple tree with russeted apples called the Junaluska.
As Mrs. Mincey’s apples ripened, I was delighted to find that her John Berry Keeper apple was an excellent fit to that of the Junaluska, fitting the average description of the ten or so historical descriptions. In addition to significant russeting, it had yellow flesh, a short to medium knobby stem, rich taste, and ripened in late October. I immediately took some of the apples to show J. C. Speed in Rabun County; he said that the apples looked and tasted like the Junaluska he remembered from Jackson County, NC. He said that there was one problem, he remembered the Junaluska as having a red blush and none of the apples I brought him had a red blush. So in another month I went back to Mrs. Mincey’s home and got some of the later apples which had been on the tree the longest, many of these apples had developed some degree of red blush. I then took these later apples to Mr. Speed and he then said, “Yes, this is the Junaluska apple I remember.”
At first the Haywood Junaluska lead seemed to be a “dead end”. Mr. Riley did not remember the Junaluska well enough to identify it and the property had been sold; Mrs. Ollie Francis who lived across the road had not spent much time in the meadow and did not remember the trees in detail. I took a chance and mailed her a box of the “Junaluska” apples hoping that the apples might stir some forgotten memories. That Sunday, I received an excited call from Mrs. Francis. Her son Jimmy Francis and his daughter Krista Francis had visited her that weekend and they had both spent considerable time in the Big Stomp meadow and well remembered the apple trees. The apples I had sent them were exactly the apples which had been on the tree beside the Sheepnose---the Junaluska.
Thus I had three personal identifications of the apple as being the Junaluska. Also the Junaluska has some out-of-the-ordinary and very rare descriptive characteristics and all these were met in the apple found: significant russeting with a blush, yellow flesh, compact flesh with extra flavor notes (rich taste), and a shorter stout & knobby stem; plus it was found in an area where the Junaluska was known to have historically existed. Also the apple size, shape, ripening time, and color fit into the characteristic range described in the historic nursery descriptions. With high probability, the apple found is the true historic Junaluska (Junaluskee).
After finding the Junaluska, my first thoughts involved returning it to the Cherokee people. I grafted Junaluska trees and donated three of them to the Junaluska Memorial and Gravesite, where they were planted in their annual Junaluska celebration ceremony. I also sold four trees to the Methodist, Lake Junaluska Assembly. Trees were also sent to the Western Band of the Cherokee in Oklahoma. It was an honor to be able to do something very positive for the Cherokee, because we as a white race have done terrible things to them in the past; for instance in Macon County, near the airport, is a road system called Burningtown, so named because as the Cherokee were being forced out of North Carolina in the Trail of Tears march to Oklahoma, they looked back and saw their village being burned.
You may be interested in our Junaluska Apple Descriptions.