published Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Teaching Bend history

Audio clip

Tim Stone

Hundreds, even thousands, of years ago, Chattanooga history began on Moccasin Bend with paleo Indians shaping spear points, drills, hide scrapers and food grinders from rock.

The primitive instruments of survival became the tools of trade of the nomadic people who eventually settled and learned to farm around the Tennessee River and local mountains.

Now as the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park begins this weekend to integrate the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District into its teaching mission, park service officials are introducing new programs to help visitors -- and local residents -- understand this little-known piece of history.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press - James Holtzclaw, left, education coordinator and a park guide at Russell Cave National Monument in Bridgeport, Ala., talks with Jim Ogden, historian for the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, as he instructs incoming seasonal interpreters in the Native American and paleo Indian history of the Chattanooga area.

But telling the Bend's 12,000-year human history on a daily basis is not as simple as it sounds for rangers who long have been experts on the Civil War, but not necessarily on paleo Indian culture.

"It is a big task to get a grasp on this story," said Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park Historian Jim Ogden, who can tell the history of any local Civil War battle as though he lived it.

"My reading list now includes books on American Indian history into the thousands of years ago," he said.

Kim Coons, who supervises much of the park's interpretive effort, said park officials decided to partner with rangers at Russell Cave National Monument in Bridgeport, Ala. to begin the learning -- and public teaching -- process.

For more than 10,000 years, Russell Cave was home to the same prehistoric peoples who inhabited Moccasin Bend for 12,000 years.

"Because the themes are similar to those at Russell Cave, I thought it would be a good opportunity," Ms. Coons said.

So today, Russell Cave Ranger James Holtzclaw will present the first of several monthly programs at Moccasin Bend to help Chattanoogans understand the region's newest park.

TOOLING THE LESSON

Calling his presentation "Tools of the Trade," Mr. Holtzclaw will show some artifacts and demonstrate how prehistoric American Indians used something as simple as chert and rock to tame their new home and develop their society from one of hunters to one of gatherers and eventually to one of farmers.

"Life for those folks would have been difficult," said Mr. Holtzclaw, who has gone back to school at the University of Tennessee to seek a degree in anthropology in addition to his history degree. "They had to make their own tools. They made spear points and blades by knapping (breaking flakes off of rocks and shaping the flake into a usable tool). They also made blow guns."

In exchange for Russell Cave's help, Chickamauga park rangers will be giving weekend sessions in Bridgeport about Northeast Alabama's and Russell Cave's Civil War history, Ms. Coons said.

And in addition to the monthly weekend programs at the Bend, local park officials are working with Outdoor Chattanooga to arrange bicycle tours of the Bend and the local battlefields, including Chickamauga and Missionary Ridge.

IF YOU GO

* Moccasin Bend demonstration

Rangers at Moccasin Bend National Archeological District will talk teach about how prehistoric American Indians used something as simple as a rock to develop the complex societies that once existed on the historical peninsula. The program is today at 11 a.m. at the Blue Blazes Trailhead.

Additional programs on Moccasin Bend will occur every fourth Saturday of the month through September.

* Point Park Bend Overview tours

Join a park ranger and learn about the park's newest unit, the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District. The 45-minute tour begins at 1 p.m. daily and will cover the significant 12,000 years of human habitation on Moccasin Bend, including the uses of the bend during the Civil War. The tour begins inside the Point Park entrance gate.

* Bicycle tours

Free monthly guided historical bicycle rides to Moccasin Bend National Archeological District begin Thursday, June 10. The monthly five-mile tours begin at 6 p.m. at Outdoor Chattanooga, located in Coolidge Park at the base of the Walnut Street Bridge. Additional tours are on Thursday, July 8, and Thursday, Aug. 12.

And at Point Park on Lookout Mountain, rangers and seasonal workers will begin on May 31 to give daily "overview" tours of Moccasin Bend National Archeological District.

"Sometimes it's actually easier to tell the story of the Bend from up there," Ms. Coons said.

TRAINING TO FUNDRAISING

Last week, Mr. Ogden, who 20 years ago worked as a young ranger at Russell Cave himself, spent about 16 hours training some of Chickamauga's seasonal workers about Moccasin Bend and other military park points of interest.

"The opportunity to do formal training like that is relatively limited," he said. "But we're trying to use all the avenues we can to learn this very rich and important story."

Tim Stone, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park's acting superintendent, said local park rangers are working hard to broaden their expertise not just for teaching, but also to raise public awareness as organizations plan capital campaigns for the Bend's interpretive center.

The park has gotten federal funding to develop an interpretive plan, he said, but there already are two visitor centers at Chickamauga Battlefield and Point Park, so the military park likely would not compete well for federal funding for a Moccasin Bend visitor center when some national parks across the country don't even have one.

"This is an interesting park," he said. "And the thinking was we could get it moving faster to work locally."

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Chattanooga: Area projects earmarked for federal dollars

Article: Area businesses, nonprofits tout services at expo

Article: Chattanooga: Bend lectures bring experts

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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