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In balance with nature

Mountain Stewards
The Wright Cabin, built in 1832, is part of Stan’s wife’s family. It is one of the original cabins built in the Cove in Meriwether County. Photo by Stan Cartwright

Mountain Stewards
By Don and Diane Wells
Stan Cartwright was born in 1951 in the Cove of Meriwether County to Warner “Junebug” Cartwright and Louise Pilkinton Cartwright. When Stan was brought home, there was no crib to put him in, so his first bed was a dresser drawer that was used until he could be safely put in a bed.

His home was a log cabin with no running water and no power. They did not have the refinements of city folk who had TV, telephone and indoor plumbing. One might think they were poor, but, in fact, Stan looks at it as growing up privileged to live a life close to the earth.

Stan's heritage is Muskogee-Creek on his father's side and Cherokee on his mother's side. It is through Willie Lou Allen, his great-grandmother, who married one of the Cartwright men from whom Stan inherits his Muskogee-Creek bloodline. Although he has both Muskogee-Creek and Cherokee heritage, he was raised according to the Muskogee-Creek ways.

From the time he was a little boy until his adult life, he was mentored by his father and his grandparents in the ways of the Creek Indians. His father was a storyteller and Stan recalls many nights, as a child, sitting and listening to tales about animals or other creatures that were best avoided.

He was not told of his Indian heritage until he was 10 and could better understand the meaning of being Indian. He was taught people may come into the Cove to take them to Oklahoma, so living out in the open areas of the Cove was too dangerous.

In the Cove was a road known to the locals as the “White Line,” where some white families rented houses to live in. Stan said the White Line was not secluded enough, so his family lived at the ends of dead end roads. “We were used to living on dead end roads, with the mountains at our backs. We disappeared into those mountains more times than I can remember.”

There were caves in the walls of the crater along the Flint River, and that is where Stan’s father took him to show him where to hide, if needed. He remembers his grandparents living a very secretive life in a cabin on the Flint River. It was part of being Indian and living under the burden of the possibility of being removed from the Cove.

The Cove is defined by the boundary of the impact crater, but that was not the only place Stan’s family remained. To the east was the old town of Long Branch, sometimes called “Over the Hill.” Stan’s relatives once lived there and they visited that area periodically. There are two cemeteries where some of his relatives are buried. Further south of that location, on both sides of the Flint River, are other locations they frequented.

Stan’s father only had an elementary school education, but he had a Ph.D. in living close to the land. Every day was a learning experience for Stan on how to hunt game or fish for food. Bringing home supper from hunter-gatherer trips was their way of life. Stan said, “My father did everything by the phases of the moon, including planting and harvesting crops, knowing when certain fish were running in the rivers or creeks and the availability of seasonal plants that grew in the Cove.”

In today’s world of working mothers and fathers, the skills of living off the land have all but been forgotten. Therefore, teaching children about this way of life, about existing and surviving, is far from common knowledge.

Stan, on the other hand, was raised Indian. Every hour of every day when he was not in school was spent with his father or grandparents, listening and learning. Stan said, “I became a hardened young man, climbing those mountains and paddling on the river in an old wooden boat.” It was one his daddy built out of wooden planks and sealed with pitch. He would bait and check trout lines and, even as a young married man, he said, “I did what Daddy told me to do.”

One cold day in early March, Stan’s father took him to the mouth of Pigeon Creek on the south side of the Cove. Pigeon Creek flows into the Flint River near several Indian sites. Stan said he and his father arrived in the late afternoon and set up camp. Stan built a fire to stay warm and tended it throughout the night. Stan’s father just lay down on the beach and went to sleep with little protection from the cold. In the morning, they rigged fishing poles with hooks and fished for the suckers swimming rapidly toward the river during their spawning season. In 30 minutes they had a “croaker” sack full of fish. Stan said, “We came home with all the fish my grandmother could can, cook or freeze, heads and all.”

One of the skills of the Indians is basket-making using oak shavings, river cane and pine straw. Normally, this skill is found in the Indian women, but in Stan’s family, his granddaddy made the baskets, including fish/turtle baskets. He also put bottoms and backs on chairs. He sold some of his crafts and made sure family members had baskets of all sizes and shapes for their daily needs.

Next month will conclude this series with part three of Stan’s Story, which will be on Indian spirituality.

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