Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
Last of the Mohicans . . . a dirty little secret
There is something that I never told y’all. There is a special reason why I love the sound track to that beautiful, yet violent movie. Some of its most dramatic scenes were filmed in the upper areas of my former goat dairy farm near Asheville, NC! Those scenes include the deer hunt, the pioneer cabin that was massacred, the frontier village and the massive battle where the Indian allies of the French massacred the survivors of Fort William Henry. Five years earlier, I had been grazing goats and sheep on the grass though which Daniel Day Lewis is running.
The milk was pasteurized in a pasteurizer that had once belonged to poet Carl Sandburg. We bought most of our goats from Mrs. Sandburg’s goat farm after she died. I took some short courses in cheese making, bacteriology and sanitation from Cornell University.
After some, let’s say, “some learning experiences,” our cheese was selling well in the Mid-Atlantic states, but shipping and hay costs were eating up our profits. The soil in Western North Carolina contains extremely high levels of toxic aluminum, which in the old days, when people grew all their own food, caused high levels of mental retardation, birth defects and insanity. We had to import our hay from Tennessee and Virginia. We eventually moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, where I built a state of the art facility on a colonial farm, surveyed by Georgia Washington. Both my architecture practice and the creamery went major league in Virginia.
However, about five years later, we heard that a super movie, “The Last of the Mohicans” had been filmed around Asheville. We drove up to Winchester. At the opening scene of the deer hunt, I elbowed my wife and whispered, “Lord, that looks like the woods on the top of our old farm. Nah! It couldn’t be.” Soon there were several OMG moments when only a few minutes into the film, we realized that pioneer village was in the midst of our former upper pasture. I knew ever tree in the movie, especially the wild apple tree where I picked apples every fall.
This was one of the most surrealistic moments in my life. During the 10 years, we were there, I had become intimately familiar with the land, trees and streams. For those of you, who have lived on a farm, you know what I am talking about. Suddenly, the whole world was viewing it as a pioneer village in upstate New York in 1754.
The only thing that exceeded the movie’s surreality was watching the scenes in the premier of “America Unearthed” of me looking into my computer monitor as those scenes were being streamed through my computer monitor. I don’t have a television.
They burned a priceless legacy from the past
The pioneer cabin in the movie, where the early scenes of the movie and then the massacre took place, was a REAL cabin dating from the early 1800s. The first time that I watched the movie, I assumed that the burned cabin after the massacre was a modern facsimile, but was horrified in 1996, when I visited the Upper Pasture again and found that the film crew had burned the historic cabin and cut down the ancient apple tree. I think the heirloom apple tree was probably as old as the cabin. That’s the dirty little secret.
The hundreds of survivors from Fort William Henry were marched through a narrow swale along Wolfpen Creek that connected the Lower Pasture to the Upper Pasture. It was again surrealistic to see a horrific battle scene, where once the goats, sheep and Scottish Highland cattle had peacefully grazed.
I have never understood why Wes Studi did not get an Oscar for his magnificent performance in this movie. He captured the probable appearance, personality and language of that time. Was it because a real Native American was finally playing a Native American in a starring role?
Pardon this short departure into a spiritual deja vue. It’s a Native American thing. Perhaps it was the memory of leading our herd dogs and goats up a steep mountainside that caused the beautiful music theme of “The “Last of the Mohicans” to reverberate through my head as I climbed the equally steep slopes of the Track Terrace Complex for the first time. This is why I placed the Peruvian version of the songs on this website. I didn’t dream that the everyone else would also enjoy this music so much.
And now for those of you, who are now also thinking fondly of a beautiful movie from 25 years ago, here are scenes and music from “The Last of the Mohicans!”
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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