The Cherokee People were the first to arrive in the fertile Swannanoa Valley at the south end of the Black Mountain Range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They built their villages, performed ceremonies, and raised their children. Then the White Man came. Scots-Irish immigrants looking for land and a brighter future travelled the Great Wagon Road from Pennsylvania in the 1730’s. They didn’t see any other white people around, so assuming the land was up for grabs, they built rough lean-tos, cut down the towering trees, and worked their hands raw cultivating the fields.
When the Cherokee objected to the new settlements, the Europeans were surprised and resistant. By then they had scratched a meager living from the earth, and felt a sense of ownership. The Cherokee wanted them gone, and so the bloody struggle between the Cherokee and the settlers began. Many lives were lost on both sides. Then the French joined the Cherokee and increased the death toll. Finally, the Cherokee were sent packing on the deadly Trail of Tears. The Settlers breathed a sigh of relief.
Billy Ray Davis was a descendant of these Scots-Irish pioneers and knew how much in blood and sweat his people had paid for the land. At one time the Davis family owned almost the entire Swannanoa Valley. They were rich in land and were respected by all the other settlers of the valley. Over the years they survived floods, poor crops, and the Civil War. And they held on to their holdings. Then the government pushed its way in and paid them pennies on the dollar for the biggest part of their land. Bureaucrats said the land was needed for government buildings and parks. The Davises objected, but as with the earlier white takeover from the Cherokee, there was no room for dissent. The Davises learned the hard lesson about trying to fight City Hall and felt something like the Cherokee might have felt as they watched their hard-won holdings stripped away.
The little town of Grey Eagle in the Seven Sisters Range where Billy Ray lived was named for the railroad stop between Charleston and Asheville where in the eighteen and early nineteen hundreds summer people would get off, their trunks full of summer clothes, as they fled the coast seeking cooler temperatures. At one time there was a fleet of taxis at the station to ferry these part-time residents to their hideaways. They were the second wave of newcomers to invade the valley. The Davises steered clear of these lowlanders with their high-falluting ways. The Davises were still farming and tending to their animals, and when they went to town for supplies, the summer people would cover their noses with scented handkerchiefs and cross to the other side of the road.
Seven generations of Davises had held firmly to what was left of their stake, until it came to Billy Ray’s generation. By then many Davises lost sight of the high price the family had paid for the land, and when they moved away, they didn’t care any more about their inheritance. They wanted the money. And before Billy Ray knew it, the mountain side behind his small farm was beginning to be subdivided and sold off to outsiders. It stung.
Like most people, Billy’s dreams of how his life would unfold were unrealized. He had been a fun-loving and devilish young man with many friends. As he aged, though, and he ran into one dead end after another, he turned bitter. He ran through jobs and money, and was left alone on a patch of flat land at the foot of what had been the border of Davis holdings. His small farm was too much for just him, and soon he let it turn to weeds, wishing he would wake up one morning and see his fields full of corn, squash, and tomatoes. Disappointed every morning, he would just sit in a hard wooden chair on his front porch sipping Bourbon, daydreaming about the early generations of Davises who had conquered the valley and set down roots here. He was the last surviving Davis in the valley and felt the weight of responsibility of being a Davis in Grey Eagle and all that meant.
One day he saw a car he didn’t recognize kicking up dust as it sped up the dirt road leading to his house. “Slow down,” he shouted as the car continued past his house and up into the woods. “Who the hell is that?” he asked himself. “And what the hell they doing here? Poaching gingseng?”
Billy Ray eased off his chair and ambled up the hill into the woods. When he got a little way up, he turned onto the old logging road his grandfather had made, and there on the crest of a hill where the coyotes had their den, was a strange woman in an SUV, hands on hips, gazing around.
“Hey!” he yelled, “This is private property! What do you think you are doing here?”
“Oh, hi!” answered the woman with a strong yankee accent, extending her manicured hand to shake. Billy just stared at the hand, not extending his own. “I’m Judy Maxwell with Homes, Inc. Real Estate. Johnny Davis of Los Angeles owns this land and he called me to list it for sale for him. Do you know Johnny Davis?”
“Know him? He’s my brother. What you mean he wants to sell the land? This is family land! He said nothing to me about selling. He can’t just up and sell what has been in the Davis family for seven generations!”
“Well actually, he can. He has the deed to this five acre plot, and because he lives so far away, he decided to sell it. I guess you’ll have to speak with him if you object, but legally he can do what he wants with this land.”
Billy Ray hated his brother. He hated him for being his cocky older brother, for picking on him as a kid, for leaving North Carolina, but mainly for being a rich asshole. Now he had even more reason to hate him. He sure would speak with his brother. If anyone should take over this property it was Billy. He was the last man standing on family land. Johnny owed it to him to give this land to him for safe-keeping. Without saying good-bye, Billy spun on his heel and started back down the logging road. After a few steps, he spun around and glared at the realtor. “Oh, and by the way, slow down on this dirt road. You’re throwing up all kinds of dust and killing what few crops I still have left. This ain’t the Rockingham Speedway, you know!”