Outdoors Column

When I was in my younger days ...

By Bill Howard | Oct 29, 2013
Photo by: File Bill Howard

When I was in my younger days, the youth boys went on a camping trip with the church. We had an obstacle course that ran through the woods. We built fires and roasted marshmallows. One evening we all sat around the fire pit and one of the youth counselors shared a story with us. He told us about the history of the land we were on and how the Indians once inhabited the area. He told us where we could look for arrow heads the next morning and each and every one of us was locked into his words.
He then told us how on one side of the creek that we could see from where we were sitting, a young Indian bride lost her life prematurely one evening. Afterward, the widowed Indian warrior swore that anyone he caught on the shores after dark he would exact his revenge on them. Each night he would paddle his canoe up and down the banks in his pursuit.
As if on cue, one of us saw a shimmering light through the swamp bathed cypress trees. Then we heard the slap of the water as the ‘Indian warrior’ paddled toward us. Of course, it was a counselor from the girl’s side of the creek paddling as this whole ghost story was staged. However as a pre-teen, it was as real as it gets and we all slept with one eye open in the tents that evening.
Resting to the east of the Linville Gorge is a non-descript mountain with a relatively flat peak. So vanilla in its stature, Brown Mountain would hardly be recognized except for one very unique feature. Between October and early spring a splattering of lights appear on a regular basis. The Brown Mountain Lights have spawned much investigation into the mystery including television shows and numbers of blog posts and videos.
The causes have many theories but none have become definitive. One legend is of a mighty battle between the Cherokees and Catawba Indians that turned particularly bloody. After the battle, the widows went in search of their massacred husbands by fire light.
Songwriter Scotty Wiseman released a bluegrass hit sung by stars such as the Kingston Trio and Roy Orbison that told of an old slave who was in search of his departed master.
The United States Geological Society investigated the lights on several occasions. In October of 1913, the USGS sent D.B. Sterrett to find out what the lights were and why they appeared. After a few days, Sterrett determined the lights were the result of the locomotive traversing tracks on the other side of the mountain. However, in 1916 there was a great flood that washed the tracks away, yet the lights continued to appear. So in 1922 the USGS once again investigated the lights. This investigation generated a conclusion that the lights were automobile lights, stationary lights, or brushfires.
While I have seen the lights myself, I disagree with the conclusions that have been made. One evening one of the wishful watchers noticed a flickering down toward the valley. “There they are,” he voiced in exhilaration.
But it was not. I had a high powered spotting scope and could make out the individual logs on the fire as well as a blue tinted light that would appear and disappear. The blue light was the screen from a cell phone that would be visible when unobstructed from the camper’s head.
However, the lights, the true Brown Mountain Lights, I cannot explain. Could it be the ones that are explained are not truly the Brown Mountain Lights? And are the unexplained a mourning apparition in search of a lost love?

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