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Feb. 18, 2019
1:33 pm


Vanderford's Travel Column

North Georgia Native American heritage honored at Lanier Islands

Sidney Lanier’s words from his famous poem, “Song of the Chattahoochee,” only reveal a small part of the fascinating history of the Chattahoochee River that is the heart and soul of Lake Lanier. Long before the European settlers came to this area, a very proud nation of natives roamed the foot hills and mountains of this picturesque land ... and that history is recognized at Lake Lanier Islands Resort in the form of exquisite bronze statues by sculptor Art Oldham.
The Cherokee Nation in Northeast Georgia was of Iroquoian lineage from the Great Lakes Region and the largest of the tribes in the Southeast. They called themselves “Ani’-Yun’ wiya” or “Principal People” and controlled more than 40,000 square miles in the southern Appalachians by 1650 with a population estimated at 22,500.
Their nation was a confederacy of towns ... each subordinate to supreme chiefs. When encountered by Europeans, they were an agricultural people who lived in log homes – not tee pees – and observed sacred religious practices. In most cases, the Cherokees were far better educated and civilized than the European settlers.
Though the Cherokees, as well as other Indian tribes, sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, they quickly adapted to the white man’s culture, and even volunteered to fight with Andrew Jackson against the British in the War of 1812. Nevertheless, Cherokee culture continued to flourish with the invention of the Cherokee syllabary in 1821. This system, in which each character represents a syllable, produced rapid literacy. It made possible their written constitution, the spread of Christianity and the printing of the only Indian newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix in 1828. The newspaper acted as the official voice of the Cherokee government for its first seven years before being silenced during the roundup to march the Cherokee Nation on the “Trail of Tears” to reservations in Oklahoma.
In 1830 Congress passed the “Indian Removal Act.” Although many Americans were against the act, most notably Tennessee Congressman Davy Crockett, it passed anyway. President Jackson quickly signed the bill into law. The Cherokee attempted to fight removal legally by challenging this law in the Supreme Court and by establishing an independent Cherokee Nation. At first the court seemed to rule against the Indians. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, the court refused to hear a case extending Georgia’s laws on the Cherokee because they did not represent a sovereign nation. In 1832, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Cherokee on the same issue in Worcester v. Georgia. In this case Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign ... making the removal laws invalid. The Cherokee would have to agree to removal in a treaty that would have to be ratified by the Senate.
Despite warnings by Chief John Ross and the support of most of the Cherokee Nation, several tribal leaders, who only had a following of around 700 of the 17,000 Cherokee in North Georgia, signed a treaty for the whole tribe. This action gave Jackson the legal document he needed to remove the Indians. Among the few who spoke out against the ratification were Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, but it passed by a single vote. So, in 1838 the United States began the removal to Oklahoma. When he was ordered to remove the Cherokee, General John Wool resigned his command in protest ... delaying the action. His replacement, General Winfield Scott, arrived at the Cherokee Capital on May 17, 1838 with 7,000 men and began moving the tribe.
In one of the saddest episodes in U.S. history, men, women and children were taken from their land, herded together with minimal facilities and food and then forced to march a thousand miles in horrible conditions. About 4,000 Cherokee died along “The Trail of Tears.” Ironically, a country formed 50 years earlier on the premise “that all men are created equal” brutally closed the curtain on a culture that had done no wrong.
I believe that the Cherokee Nation and my Cherokee ancestors would be grateful for this striking recognition at Lake Lanier Islands from the vision of Virgil Williams and the hands of Art Oldham!

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at 770-289-1543, at or at his web site:

January 2019 column

Remembering a blue-green paradise south of cuba

Approaching from the air, the center of Little Cayman Island appears to embrace the soft greens of an Australian chrysoprase stone. This tiny patch of land is encircled by a band of white sand with touches of turquoise in the shallow flats that fades into the deep blue of the open ocean beyond. After spending a few days on this gem of an island, the healing qualities of the chrysoprase stone seems apropos. It is said that these stones can soothe heartache, promote emotional balance, and grant inner strength and peace, which fits perfectly with the aura of Little Cayman.
As the small airplane touches down on a rough, grass strip that sports a soccer goal about halfway down its length, one has their first indication of going back to a simpler time. A tiny, two room terminal with a fire truck on one end, a sandy parking lot in front, and cars parked only yards from the airplane is another indication that time has stood still.
Being only 10 miles long and one mile wide with a population of around 100 people, Little Cayman is the smallest and least developed of the three Cayman Islands, but it is a nature lover’s dream. More than a dozen secluded beaches along miles of undeveloped coastline, lagoons, mangrove forests, salt ponds and tropical forests dotted with patches of wild orchids are treasures for the senses.
Birds are also an important ingredient of the islands natural mix, and nearly 200 species of transient and home-grown birds are available for the viewing. Since Little Cayman and nearby Cayman Brac are a long way across water from anywhere, many birds stop off on their seasonal migration to the West Indies, Central and South America and other warmer climates. Over 70 species of non-breeding wetland migrants have been observed from October through April. Cayman-born birds include the pied-billed grebe, the endangered West Indian whistling-duck, tricolored and green heron, yellow-crowned night-heron, willet and black-necked stilt.
The most famous bird on Little Cayman is the red-footed booby, which is an albatross-looking sea bird. They live in a freshwater lagoon that is designated Booby Pond, and is the largest colony of these birds in the world. In addition, a huge number of magnificent frigate birds also nest in the same area, and the two species are interesting to watch as they fly high overhead when they come and go from foraging in the open sea.
Though the bird and nature watching is superb, most people visit Little Cayman Island for the romantic solitude of being on a deserted island, the phenomenal fishing opportunities or the world-class diving. To enjoy any or all of these endeavors to the maximum, the famous Southern Cross Club ( is the best place to stay. It was founded in 1959 when Little Cayman boasted just 12 people, and despite a population boom to more than a hundred, few places in the world possess such charm, comfort, hospitality and service. The Southern Cross Club is located on the windward side of the island, so a fresh tropical breeze and the sound of waves breaking on the barrier reef are allowed to drift in through any open window.
During most of the year, the fertile flats around Little Cayman Island offer one of the best chances in the world to catch a one-day, Grand Slam consisting of a tarpon, bonefish and permit. The prime reason is the great number of permit that feed on these flats ... the permit is always the hardest part of any Grand Slam. In addition, tarpon that were trapped in a freshwater lagoon known as Tarpon Pond have reproduced, and now the entire body of water is teeming with smaller tarpon. For those who are beginning fly fishermen and have never seen the aerial antics of a Silver King on the end of a fly rod, this is the perfect opportunity! 
Little Cayman offers plenty of other inshore and offshore fishing experiences for any age and all skill levels. Regardless of how great the fishing, the diving experience around Little Cayman is among the world’s best. 
Although Bloody Bay is the main attraction for most divers visiting Little Cayman Island, the sites in Jackson’s Bight are equally as exciting with many tunnel systems and crevices to explore. The magnificent coral formations in this area join the dive sites of Jackson Bight with those of Bloody Bay. The Mixing Bowl has some of the largest schools of fish and the most beautiful reef structures seen anywhere in the underwater world. The huge crevice in the center of Mixing Bowl is the mark separating Bloody Bay from Jackson’s Bight, and one look over The Wall that drops straight down 10,000 feet into a deep blue nothingness is absolutely breathtaking!
Few places still exist on this planet where you may leave the keys in the car, never lock your home, walk on a beach all day without encountering another soul and you must remember that iguanas have the right of way. Little Cayman Island is just such a magical place, and I, like so many who have ventured there in the past, found something very special that made me reluctant to leave. It truly must have been given the soothing qualities of the chrysoprase stone, because now when the stress of life tries to take over, I close my eyes, picture the soft greens and blues of the island and the sea, and drift off for awhile into memories of my time in a lost paradise just south of Cuba.

December 2018 column

The University of Georgia's mystical 'Iron Horse'

As the first laser-like beams of morning sunlight shoot across the highest point of pasture on a farm off Highway 15 about 10 miles south of Watkinsville, Ga., a huge figure begins to take shape in the misty dawn. This eerie sight has caused more than a few motorists to almost lose control as they catch a glimpse of the mystical vision. 
The famed “Iron Horse” was created in the old Fine Arts Building on the University of Georgia campus by renown artist Abbott Pattison of the Chicago Art Institute. After completion, the horse was placed in front of Reed Hall (Men’s Dormitory) and within hours of situating the big metal artwork, student and faculty members began gathering around the object out of apparent curiosity. Opinions were voiced about their feelings on the introduction of the horse, and both faculty and students seemed to be split 50/50 on how they felt about it.
When the sun set, the rowdy students placed hay, newspaper and old tires around the horse and started a bonfire. As the fire raged around the horse, the more than 500 frenzied students chanted and cheered loudly. The Athens Fire Department was called, but the students tried to keep them away from the blaze. It was necessary for the firemen to turn the fire hoses on the students to allow them to extinguish the growing flames.
In an effort to avoid another outburst from the angry students, the “Iron Horse” was put on a flatbed trailer the next morning and hauled away. It was hidden in the woods behind a large barn on the farm of one of the UGA professors until the faculty could decide what to do with this strange piece of artwork, and for several years the great horse was forgotten.
Dr. Curtis, however, had not forgotten the unique art object that Abbott Pattison had created, so in 1959, after four years in seclusion, the wonderful “Iron Horse” was moved to Dr. Curtis’s farm on the Greene/Oconee county line. For more than half a century now, the horse has had its own place on a knoll in the middle of a gorgeous pasture on the farm – but not without incident. When it first reappeared, UGA students would regularly come to the farm under cover of darkness and push the great statue over on its side, but that ended when it received a permanent base. The “Iron Horse” has been draped with flags on holidays, given wings like Pegasus, adorned with ribbons or wreaths at Christmas and even painted like a tiger before a Clemson football game at UGA. Nevertheless, the stately animal sits on a high plateau where it sees the first rays of the sun in the morning, is silhouetted by blue skies during the day, watches the last flickers of light every day and stands tall under a blanket of stars each night.
Anyone traveling along Highway 15 between Watkinsville and Greensboro can see the “Iron Horse” by looking to the left just after crossing the Greene County line. Its head will be facing toward the south and the waters of the fertile Oconee River less than 1/4 of a mile away, but you can bet that its rear end will always be pointed toward UGA and Athens where it was treated so rudely!

November 2018 column

Fall at Lake Lanier produces unforgettable panorama

Now is the time that the path of “Old Sol” begins sliding more toward the Southern Hemisphere and the days are becoming shorter. The sweltering heat of summer is subsiding and Lake Lanier is magically changing. It is a quieter, calmer lake during the fall season that allows birds, wildlife and fish to again appear in greater numbers. Kids are back in school, hunters have taken to the woods, football is again part of the weekly routine and the cooler, receding waters have many people putting their boats in storage until next spring. For folks who love the peace and quiet, enjoy the diverse flora and fauna or simply want to fish without huge boat wakes, the fall season is the best time of year!
A couple of years ago I found a family of bald eagles in a remote section of the Chattahoochee River above Lake Lanier. Since that discovery, I have had the pleasure of seeing them and sharing their breath-taking presence on many occasions throughout the lake as their numbers continue to increase. 
Ospreys are also relative newcomers to much of Lanier, but these gorgeous birds of prey have become more prevalent in this part of Georgia since the stocking rates of striped bass were increased. Because ospreys are normally larger than hawks or falcons and have a white head, they are often mistaken for the bald eagle. Upon closer inspection, one can easily see that the osprey has a dark band across its face and a smaller, less colorful beak than his more well-known relative. Also, the osprey has white breast feathers while bald eagles are quite dark underneath.
Probably the most unique part of an osprey is the rough textured feet that are perfect for grasping slippery prey. The osprey is the only bird of prey that is able to grasp with two toes in front and two in back rather than the usual three and one toe arrangement.
Ospreys often grab fish that are too big to carry, and they may not be able to let them go, which usually causes these birds to die prematurely. Some experts believe that the excitement of the catch stimulates a locking mechanism in the feet, while others surmise that the claws simply sink into bone and become stuck. Regardless of the reason, occasionally, fishermen catch large fish with osprey feet still attached.
Nevertheless, ospreys that survive are magnificent birds that are fascinating to watch as they go about their daily task of catching and eating fish. So, if you are lucky enough to see one of these fabulous creatures floating on the wind currents above Lake Lanier this fall, watch for a few minutes. You might be in for a great show!
As the nights begin to feel cool each fall, my seasonal love affair with a beautiful and mysterious visitor from the North begins again. Though I’ve certainly known more than my share of unique ladies in my time, this one can fly, dive, swim like a fish and has a haunting song that penetrates the morning fog on Lanier like the beam of a powerful searchlight. I’m referring to one of the most fascinating birds in the world ... the common loon!
Just a few years ago, loons suddenly appeared for the first time on Lanier’s blue-green waters. Loons are divers that are normally 24 to 40 inches in length and have an elongated body and sharp, pointed bills. They are strong swimmers that propel themselves when diving by using their radically webbed feet. Their legs are attached far back on their bodies, a characteristic that permits ease of movement when swimming, but causes great difficulty when attempting to walk on land. Loons are unique among living birds because their legs are encased within the body all the way to the ankle. They can actually out swim most fish. Loons are also good fliers but become airborne only after an extensive run along the top of the water.
In keeping with their uniqueness, loons rarely live or feed in areas that have been polluted. These gorgeous creatures are also very family-oriented, and always mate for life. Often, we at Lanier are privileged to observe parts of their courtship, but they fly back to their homes in Canada, Alaska, or northern areas of our country before actually laying eggs. 
When most of the jet skis and mass humanity of summer have gone, and the cooler weather brings a quietness to the lake, it becomes an entirely different environment. Soon the sounds of loons, eagles, ospreys and other birds and waterfowl fill the fall air with a symphony of sound and natural beauty that again brings sanity to the beautiful waters of Lake Lanier!
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