Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Old Indian carving once told tale of 'star-crossed lovers' in Wilcox County

An example of Native American tree carvings.

Old tales of “star-crossed lovers” are common throughout the world, and Wilcox County is no exception.

Sources say that there was once an old oak tree in Oak Hill that bore the “carved figure of an Indian encircled by the coils of a large snake.” For many, many years, visitors to Oak Hill were taken to see this locally famous tree and were told the tragic story behind this unusual carving. The best available source about this old story is a local history book called “Oak Hill, Alabama: Its Houses and People, 1856-1978” by William and Joyce Jones.

According to this book, which was published in 1978, Isaac and Sophia Taylor Newberry built a house in Oak Hill that stood in a grove of “beautiful oak trees.” On one of these trees was the carving of an Indian and a snake, which “gave rise to the following story: Two Indian tribes camped nearby. They were hostile to each other. A young brave of one tribe and a girl from the other met somehow and fell in love. Their meeting place was under the big tree.”

The story goes on to say that “one day when going to meet her lover, the girl discovered his dead body in the clutches of the snake. She either killed herself or died of grief there. They were both buried under the tree. This is a story long told.”

The book goes on to say that the tree that bore the carving no longer stands. It was cut down during Pressly Dale’s occupancy of the property.

A close reading of this story is revealing and yields up just as many questions as it answers. Who carved the image of the Indian and the snake in the tree? When was the carving made? Why did the carving only include the Indian brave and not the Indian maiden?

Presuming the story of these “star-crossed lovers” is true, what tribes did the Indians belong to? Why were they hostile to one another? How did the Indian brave and maiden meet? What type of snake killed the Indian brave? How exactly did the girl die? Who discovered their bodies? Who buried them? Why did Pressly Dale have the tree cut down?

One question that can probably be readily answered by current residents of Oak Hill regards where all of this took place. The book by the Joneses indicates that the house where the “Indian oak” was located was on the same road as the Bethel Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church “manse” built by the Rev. T.B. McBride. They go on to say that after the death of the home’s owner, Pressly Dale, the house was eventually lived in by Jack and Ann Seigler of Atlanta, Ga.

“(The Seiglers) have done a great deal of remodeling on the house, beginning at the back porch,” the Joneses wrote in 1978. “Baths and gas heaters were added. It is developing into one of the beauty spots of Oak Hill.”

In the end, it would be interesting to know if this house still stands and who lives there today. Perhaps they do not know of this aspect of the property’s history, and one is left to wonder if whether or not any of Oak Hill’s older residents remember the Indian carving and the oft-told tale of the “star-crossed” Indian lovers.

Also, before I wrap up for another week, special thanks to Martha Grimes Lampkin of the Wilcox Historical Society, who graciously supplied me with a copy of the 1978 Oak Hill history book by William and Joyce Jones. Many thanks.

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