When Stephen Neal Dennis began researching the history of LaFayette, Ga., he had no clue he would turn up boxes and boxes of long-lost war records that shed new light on the Cherokee Removal and Chattanooga in 1838.
Dennis, an attorney and historian, was born in LaFayette, and once worked with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C.
In looking for records about military actions in and around Lafayette, he -- like scores of other researchers -- had failed to turn up the records in Washington's War Department files about the Cherokee Removal, also known as the Trail of Tears.
But then Dennis followed a time-honored ruled of investigation: Follow the money.
Might something have been filed in Treasury Department records where accountants scrutinized War Department expenses and invoices? he wondered.
The answer was yes.
"Every nickel that had been spent in the field during the Cherokee Removal by any representative of the War Department ... and all the original papers had survived, carefully folded up after the auditing was finished and tied together with faded pink ribbons, the notorious 'Government red tape,'" Dennis said.
• Monday -- Stephen Neal Dennis will tell of new records about the Cherokee Removal.
• Oct. 10 -- Bobby Horton, a Civil War historian and musician, will perform and tell stories with the Chattanooga Boys Choir.
• Nov. 7 -- Nevada Barr, author and former National Park Service ranger, talks about the fictional ranger Anna Pigeon and the 16 mysteries that have enhanced public understanding of parks.
All lectures are at 7 p.m. in the Tennessee Aquarium auditorium.
On Monday night, in the first of three talks for the annual Moccasin Bend Lecture Series, Dennis will tell some of the secrets he has found in the records.
"No one had disturbed these papers in probably 160 years," he said. "This is where I think the real story of the removal is."
The lecture series is free and open to the public, according to Shelley Andrews, spokeswoman for the Friends of Moccasin Bend National Park, the series sponsor.
The second lecture on Oct. 10 will feature Bobby Horton, a Civil War historian and musician, along with the Chattanooga Boys Choir presenting Civil War songs and stories.
The third lecture on Nov. 7 will be by Nevada Barr, an author, artist and former National Park Service ranger.
Greg Vital, who is a Friends of Moccasin Bend Park board member as well as the co-founder, president and CEO of Independent Healthcare Properties, has funded the lecture series for six years.
"I believe the lecture series, through a variety of speakers and subjects, has allowed the community to better educate themselves on issues affecting national parks in general and their specific role locally on history, land conservation and as parks for people," said Vital, who also is a member of the national advisory council for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Dennis, a graduate of Baylor School in Chattanooga and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, completed his history of LaFayette in a nearly 800-page book titled "A Proud Little Town." It was published in March.
Now Dennis, who received a doctoral degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Duke Law School, is wrestling with which of two writing goals to pursue first. Using the Treasury Department war records in the National Archive he must choose between a history of the Cherokee Removal or a history of the Union occupation of Chattanooga during the Civil War.
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, ...