All Hermits Died on Thursday
The six hermits of the Nantahala region of North Carolina died mysteriously yesterday. On this day, March 20th, 1899, the town elders had planned to gather the hermits together for the first time to beg their collective advice on the planned railroad and various omens of the new century.
Beard of the Ages
March 21.—The hermit of Granite City, Hoyle Thompson, choked to death on his own beard on Thursday. Mr. Buell Mae found him in his cave, at the back of the boulder field, and proceeded to pull the beard from the old timer’s mouth. According to Mr. Mae, it took three hours to pull the entire beard loose of the hermit’s clenched teeth. The coroner measured the beard at 45.8 feet long. It is the longest beard ever measured in North Carolina. He was 89 years of age. The hermit left the following note addressed to the inquisitive, dated Midnight, March 20, 1899:
“In three hours I shall be gone, feasted to death on my own magnificent beard, the pride of my life. I’ll ride the moon all the way down to hell to meet my mother and Mr. Price, my Latin teacher. Bad bowels are the cause, a phantom knife in my bladder that twists deeper each time I inhale. No one knows of my troubles. It’s my fault that no one knows or cares but I couldn’t be other than I am. I’ve loved this valley and these rocks. They’ve protected me from thieves, well-wishers, and the law. Do what you will with my carcass. Grind it, mince it, flatten it, plant a tree in it, sell it for meat, give it to science, parade it through town, cradle it, shit on it. I’m in pain, desperate pain, but I’m canny enough to know when to make an appointment with the wind.”
Last Cherokee in Nantahala
March 21.—Transylvania County, bordering near this town, has claimed for many years the only Cherokee hermit in Nantahala, in the person of James Cuttawa. Those who attempted to parley with him on Jocassee Mountain were met with a strange sight—the hermit hovering upside down, his legs splayed, his white hair touching the floor. This affrighted those coming to inquire about his health and the veins of gold reported to fill the caves beneath his cabin.
When the writer of this column opened Mr. Cuttawa’s door to beg his attendance at the hermit council, he was met with a similar sight. The hermit, clothed in deer skins, hovering upside down, his hair a white waterfall, and a string of frozen saliva running from his mouth to the floor. No pulse was detected. The writer searched for a means by which Mr. Cuttawa was suspended in the air but located none. On the boards near his head were etched or burnt these puzzling words: “Those strong footholds. For what reason did they place them beyond me?”
March 21.—Dame nature provided Imogene Bascom with all she needed. She lived for forty-nine years in the hollow of a great American chestnut tree, to which she affixed a door on rope hinges. She was well-known in the vicinity of Ellicott Rock for her herd of turkeys which numbered two dozen or more. She drove them about here and there and they flitted to the treetops whenever a thunderstorm was about to break. Reputedly, ten turkeys drowned over the years, so hypnotized were they by the storm that they gazed up at the falling rain, opening their beaks with amazement, forgetting to close them even as they brimmed with water.
A natural historian might catalogue the following curious facts about Ms. Bascom:
Hair: white as snow. Beard: only on her neck. Birthplace: Wales. Diet: berries, nuts, and sassafras tea. Favorite pastime: licking the rocks in the vicinity of her tree and the items within her tree in order to keep everything clean. Clothes: the same coonskins for forty-nine years. Literacy: Wordsworth during the day and the Bible at night. Slept on: turkey feathers and leaves, usually on her stomach. In this position she was found dead. The turkeys gathered in a circle around her tree, their heads bowed. Today they were rounded up by Mr. Willoughby to be plucked.
March 21.—Doctor Beardsley Drake, a gentleman famous for physick, philosophy, and his lust for curiosities, set out Thursday to meet the wonderful old hermit of Bearwallow Falls, aged 389 years. Soon his spyglass revealed the hermit, bathing in nothing but God’s clothing in a pool beneath the remote waterfall. In a strange accent the hermit welcomed Dr. Drake and led him along a narrow ledge behind the roaring water to his haunt. The cave was exceedingly damp with spray. The hermit’s beard resembled a giant fox tail coiled around a leather belt.
The hermit pointed out a bit of rusty armor at the back of his cave, which he claimed he wore in the days of Hernando de Soto, when the Spaniard sought a fortune of gold in Western North Carolina. He recalled how he had crossed the Little Tennessee River with that great conquistador, found that its waters flowed westward, and concluded that the New World was much vaster than anyone supposed (it was he, a young though brilliant soldier, who had first elaborated this idea to de Soto). In his strange accent the hermit lamented how he had been left behind in a small fort to protect the Spanish interest, learn the native language, and convert the Cherokee to Christianity—all with a promise that de Soto would one day return, which he never did.
The hermit drank nothing but water from Bearwallow Falls. Dr. Drake, in search of more detailed information, and desiring to study the hermit’s teeth, loins, and forehead more closely, plied him with whiskey. Upon the first gulp of liquor, the hermit fell into spasms, foamed like a dog and died.