Between the Rivers: A Socio-historical Account of Hegemony and Heritage

Published in: HUMANITY & SOCIETY, 2007, VOL. 31 (May/August: 164-209)


Between the Rivers: A Socio-historical Account of Hegemony and Heritage


David Nickell

Associate Professor

West Kentucky Community and Technical College


I wish to express my gratitude to Ann Goetting, Michael Mayerfeld Bell and Douglas Clayton Smith for their helpful suggestions in the development of this paper.


ABSTRACT: Drawing from the writings of George Ritzer, James Scott, and others this paper offers a critical, first-person account of a people’s struggle to defend their cultural heritage and connection to place against the Weberian application of  “order,” and “modernity” by government agencies attempting to “improve” their lives.  This paper focuses on the experiences of the Between the Rivers people, who, since the eighteenth century, lived on an inland peninsula formed by the Cumberland, Tennessee and Ohio Rivers in far western Kentucky and extending into Tennessee, but the threat to placed cultures by the rationalized forces of “progress” applies to innumerable localities.  Beginning with a sketch of the historical context in which geographical and social forces combined to forge a cultural heritage that is place specific, I move from the failed attempts to remain on the land as the Land Between the Lakes recreation area project culminated in a total population expulsion, to the twenty-first century struggle of a displaced people to retain ownership of their cultural heritage in the face of government attempts to “preserve” that heritage by usurping it as a commodity to market for heritage tourism.


Personal Reflexive Statement: I was among the sixth generation on a Between the Rivers farm that had been in the family since the eighteenth century.  Among my earliest memories are community gatherings to plan strategy in the fight for our place.  As an adult I have taken my own children to innumerable gatherings of the same communities, now forcibly dispersed, to strategize in the same fight.  While government policies, agencies and managers have retained little continuity, we remain the constant that unifies this struggle to retain the cultural connection to place that defines the land as an authentic “place.”  It is a fight that has become an essential part of what it means to be from Between the Rivers.  It has become the fight for the very soul of my homeland and its authentic cultural heritage. 



Between the Rivers: A Socio-historical Account of Hegemony and Heritage



Early in my studies of sociology I encountered references to Max Weber (1947, 1958).  I was excited to find a systematic and penetrating warning against the Orwellian evils of “rational” organization and the disastrous impacts it could have if not held in check.  My enthusiasm quickly dissolved when my professor described Weber as a champion of bureaucracy and of the efficiency that rational organization promised for human progress. 

How, I wondered at the time, could my reading of Weber be so dramatically different from that of my professor?  Being from Between the Rivers, an inland peninsula formed by the Tennessee, Cumberland and Ohio Rivers in far western Kentucky and Tennessee, I had experienced what it was like to have the powerful social machinery of bureaucracy bearing down on my world.  I had lived through a total population expulsion at the hands of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) for the sake of the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) project in the 1960s.  This project was the culmination of a series of removals that had largely been justified by the assertion that our unique cultural heritage was “backwards” and that we were so impoverished (both culturally and economically) that we were being done a favor.  The whole question of whether my interpretation of Weber was wrong was set aside, and I carefully avoided his writings to the extent my studies would allow.

Some twenty years later I found myself involved in renewed efforts to protect the Between the Rivers homeland and heritage and witnessed the transition of management from one form of government bureaucracy to another.  I experienced first hand what changed and what remained the same, as first TVA and then the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) Forest Service attempted to usurp our cultural heritage for their own use as a commodity to be marketed as heritage tourism, denying us any standing as they did so.  It was in that tumultuous context that I encountered George Ritzer’s (1996) newly released work titled The McDonaldization of Society, which laid open the dark side of Weberian rational organization that had seemed so obvious to me years before.  I found in this work, and in my rethinking of Weber, an initial theoretical framework for understanding why the struggle to retain ownership of our heritage was gaining no traction.  The very agencies and policies created to protect our homeland and the culture embedded in that landscape threatened to destroy all that was authentic in order to preserve it.  The officials who were charged with this preservation saw us as the major obstacle to managing the land and heritage with which they were entrusted.  Later writings by Ritzer (2004, 2005) provided a language and a more nearly complete conceptual framework that resonated with the Between the Rivers struggle but offered no favorable outcome.

I searched for ways to apply existing laws pertaining to heritage preservation and encountered inexplicable resistance.  In Conserving Culture, Mary Hufford (1994) describes the fragmented advances beyond initial attempts to legislate protections for local cultures.  As those working with heritage issues in many disperse fields found overlapping concerns, they began to share resources and information.  The result was a gradual emerging of consensus for  “…shifting the government’s preservation paradigm—away from a top-down, prescriptive approach to heritage planning toward an approach more open and responsive to grass-roots cultural concerns” (Hufford 1994: 1).

These were encouraging words, indeed.  They seemed to both capture the frustrating impasse facing the Between the Rivers people and to outline the path to resolution.  Unfortunately, Hufford’s words had not reached beyond the academic community to government policy makers and policy implementers.  With great expectation and more than a little naïveté, I provided to appropriate agency officials my literature-based advice on managing heritage.  That included my co-authored paper with Thomas King (Nickell and King 2004) using the Between the Rivers cultural heritage as a case study demonstrating how government regulations are often misapplied and how this might easily be corrected.  I erroneously assumed that such evidence would alter their behavior.  Proper application of the government’s regulations was their job, after all.  The result was an overwhelming disinterest followed by concerted efforts first to dismiss and discredit those of us who raised the issues, and then to circumvent the organized and long-standing efforts of the Between the Rivers people to be involved in defining and conserving our own cultural heritage.

            James Scott’s (1998) Seeing Like a State provided significant insight into the government’s resistance to the efforts by the Between the Rivers people to preserve our local culture and heritage.  A state, he explains, attempts to bring people and resources under its authority by working with models of the world rather than with the world itself.  The people and the resources must be made “legible” by placing them into a rational model that lends itself to efficient calculation and manipulation by distant “experts” who need have no direct knowledge of the place or the people who are the subjects of that model.  A state may then use its power “to bring about huge, utopian changes in people’s work habits, living patterns, moral conduct, and worldview” (p. 5).  The model is manipulated until it theoretically produces the desired results; then it is imposed upon particular places through official policy and regulation.  These policies and regulations are implemented by underling officials who have intimate knowledge of the model and authority to do whatever is necessary to impose the model anywhere they are instructed to.  One place is considered to be the same as any other.  The complexities of the many and diverse local realities of human praxis are necessarily excluded from consideration, which can prove devastating to communities and places that do not adequately fit the plan.

            Though Scott (1998) utilizes numerous anecdotes to illustrate his thesis, his prime examples are Soviet collectivization and the forced villagization in Tanzania.  He mentions in passing that he originally intended to include as an example “the Tennessee Valley Authority, the United States’ high modernist experiment and the granddaddy of all regional development projects” (p. 6).  This paper will show that the “granddaddy of all regional development projects” was, for the Between the Rivers people, but one stage in a long-term persistent colonial agenda continuing to be endured and resisted by the Between the Rivers people.  That agenda may have first gained a fully rationalized form when the TVA began its massive efforts to “improve” our lives, but TVA was merely a continuation of the agenda to bring structure to disorder that was already shaping our ancestors’ settlement of the Between the Rivers peninsula through land grants at the close of the Revolutionary War.  This agenda continues, in evermore rational and extensive form, into the twenty-first century as heritage officials dodge our concerns and objections in order to accomplish their official mandates. The result is a long history of struggle against cultural hegemony as official policy and formal authority clash with local traditions and informal patterns of legitimate authority that do not fit the government’s model.  

            In what follows, I offer a socio-historical critical account of ill-fated attempts by Between the Rivers people to block rationalized government efforts to improve our lives.  The evolving government model, by its continued inability even to recognize the complexities and specificities of local culture, has imposed a generic definition upon us and thus continues to externalize us from our own placed identity.  James Scott (1998) puts it this way:

The state…is the vexed institution that is the ground of both our freedoms and our unfreedoms.   …certain kinds of states, driven by utopian plans and an authoritarian disregard for the values, desires, and objections of their subjects, are indeed a mortal threat to human well-being.  Short of that draconian but all too common situation, we are left to weigh judiciously the benefits of certain state interventions against their costs (p.7). 


Without critical examination nothing has prevented the scale from tipping toward colonialism and imperialistic outcomes for the Between the Rivers people.  The result has been a slippage into hegemonic conflict in which we must fight for ownership of our heritage and our ability to define ourselves within it.  It is not true that all government programs designed to benefit the people have such disastrous outcomes.  This paper focuses on the Between the Rivers struggle as an example of how government programs can go awry and the difficulty involved in correcting the situation.

I divide the paper into four main sections.  The first lays out the early settlement of the peninsula in accordance with government policy and how the geographic and socio-historic forces resulted in the construction of a place-based cultural identity that was independent of that policy.  The second section covers the series of government attempts to bring “improvement” to our lives by means of its models of  “progress” and “preservation,” with the resulting deconstruction of our cultural heritage.  In the third section I describe recent interactions between government agencies and the Between the Rivers people that have resulted in my rethinking the concepts of heritage, place-specific culture, and what it means to have ownership of one’s cultural heritage stripped away.  In the final section I offer what I believe is an inkling of a way forward, allowing the reconstruction of the Between the Rivers cultural heritage in a manner that will acknowledge “ownership” of the heritage by the Between the Rivers people rather than impose from above a generic model designed by outside experts.



Geographical realities and social forces combine to shape how people live their everyday lives.  Over time these everyday activities alter the geographical realities and even how larger social forces, originating from “outside,” are experienced.  In such a context the people no longer live in a mere location among many possible locations but rather in a socially constructed “place” embedded with shared meanings, collective memories and common assumptions sedimented to form a multi-generational continuity.  A constructed “place” defines the people as much as the people have defined the place.

            In this section I summarize the multi-generational experiences that transformed the peninsula located between the rivers into Between the Rivers as a true place.  I divide this process into two thematic headings: (1) the initial settlement of the peninsula by early social planning and (2) the brief exposure to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century with the resulting early community-based conservation efforts. 


Initial Social Planning on the Peninsula by Way of Frontier Settlement Policy


By official accounts, the inland peninsula that is the focus of this analysis remained uninhabited by Native Americans long before the historical period (U.S.D.A. Forest Service 2002).  The first wave of European settlement began in the 1780s, when Revolutionary War veterans were given land in the area as payment for their service in the attempt to extend and regulate settlement throughout the new nation as rapidly as possible.  The farm settled by Jeremiah Nickell was located in Virginia, near the Tennessee River, which was the far western boundary for that portion of the nation.  In 1792 Kentucky became a state, with the Nickell farm on its far western edge.  Everything west of the Tennessee River remained designated as Indian Territory by treaty until the Jackson Purchase continued the efforts to push the rationalized structure of State governance further into the frontier.  The drive for expansion, justified as “manifest destiny,” had been the impetus for policy and action since at least the time of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock (Turner 1996; Slotkin 1973).  This program of western expansion was a deliberate attempt to impose the order of civilization on the chaos of wilderness, and the moral imperative of a manifest destiny provided whatever justification that might be needed at each stage.

The rivers inscribing the peninsula were a natural obstacle to travel, settlement, and commerce so the peninsula continued to exist in a migration shadow; the routes of less resistance went around the 40-mile peninsula.  The rivers may even be said to have resulted in a population that self-selected for independence of character.  As late as the mid-twentieth century a large portion of the peninsula’s population remained descendents of the early pioneering veterans.  Access to the peninsula was primarily by ferry, which created a strong sense of “insiders” and “outsiders,” strengthened by the clear perception of a common heritage and distinct community structure.  Amenities and the government agencies that were shaping daily life across the rivers from the peninsula were often only marginally present or absent altogether Between the Rivers, even though the area officially shared the same state and county governments as those surrounding areas.  With both county and state boundaries in flux, the sense of “belonging” to any of those governing entities remained tentative (Wallace 1992).  The Nickell farm has been located in two states and three Kentucky counties and is now controlled by the federal government. 

Life  in the northern part of the peninsula, where our farm was located, was heavily influenced by the Coalins, a piece of wild terrain that ultimately centered the settled land.  (The origin of the name “Coalins” is unknown.)  Land grants and land patents provided each war veteran an exact number of acres but, because formal surveys of the area were not yet completed, specified only a general location, leaving the settlers free to lay out their farms according to the geographic realities between the large rivers.  The Coalins was so rugged, with deep folds in the hills and both rock and ore protruding from the thin soil, that the original settlers avoided it.  The result was that as communities built up, they ringed this rugged terrain with no one having filed a claim to it. 

            As unclaimed land surrounded by communities that were effectively insulated from outside influences and regulation, the Coalins helped define and was defined by the pattern of life that was emerging Between the Rivers.  It belonged to no one, so it effectively belonged to everyone.  It was a remnant piece of the unclaimed world surrounded by communities and farms.  It was very early on that turning livestock into the forest of the Coalins to forage during times of pasture shortage became a common practice.  Families established their own brands to identify their cattle and their own ear notches to identify their hogs.

 Ferries had provided ready access to the outside soon after settlement, but the people between the rivers remained leery of outsiders.  Within living memory, the ferry operators would ring their bell as they approached the landing if they were carrying outsiders.  Most of the homes used dinner bells as a form of communication among homesteads and across the communities—distinctive rings could signal not only dinner, but summon help, indicate a death, or call people to a meeting.  The signal indicating the presence of outsiders would be passed from bell to bell across the community.  This insulated agrarian way of life, however, did not offer an impermeable barrier to the social changes of the nineteenth century.


The Industrial Revolution’s Short Presence Brings Lasting Change


The Coalins, to my knowledge, was never called a “commons,” but that was the informal pattern of agrarian use that emerged.  Lacking official regulation, people relied on the informal trust and respect that had emerged through daily interdependence.  The rapidly changing structure of commerce and ways of life off the peninsula had little influence on how things were done between the rivers.  In 1841, however, Thomas Watson, a businessman from Nashville, Tennessee who had established several iron furnaces (which produced iron from raw ore and were thus vital to the nineteenth-century American manifestation of the industrial revolution) got wind of the abundance of iron ore in the area (Henry 1975).  He discovered that no legal claim to the Coalins land had been filed in government offices. Watson filed legal papers and acquired a land patent on all unclaimed land in the Coalins area—roughly 37,000 acres—and the iron industry made its entrance between the rivers.  Shortly after establishing legal title to the land, Watson entered a partnership with a speculator from New Jersey named Daniel Hillman.  When Watson died in 1846, Hillman retained the title. 

The iron furnaces were shut down during the Civil War due to Union concerns that the iron could benefit the Confederacy.  Though re-opened after the war, by the 1880s the iron industry’s operations between the two rivers had ceased to be significant, and Hillman moved his operations to Birmingham, Alabama (Henry 1975).  Yet even while the iron industry was making its short run between the rivers, the communities there continued to use the Coalins as a commons for grazing and hunting.  They simply worked around the “foreigner’s” iron operations.  As sections of the forest were cleared to fuel the furnaces, new land was opened for grazing.  According to documents from the time, community members expressed relief when the intrusive iron industry was finally gone (Henry 1975).  In the late nineteenth century, the Hillman family sold its title to the land (Hudson 1999).  By 1901 Hillman and the industry operations had been long gone and the title had passed through a series of quiet transfers in distant courthouses, ending up in the hands of an investment group from St. Louis.  That group formed a company called the “Hillman Land and Iron Company,” with an eye on the market for cross ties for the railroads that were receiving unprecedented government favor for opening the west to rapid settlement and modern commerce.  The vast stands of timber still remaining between the rivers were attractive to the economic speculation that was defining the broader American culture as the twentieth century began.  Nevertheless, even the market for cross ties, which never became what the outside investors had hoped, dwindled after the First World War, and cross tie production all but ceased, leaving the Coalins idle except for the continued traditional uses by the Between the Rivers people.

By 1908, several local farmers had united to initiate aggressive wildlife conservation efforts on their farms to protect the dwindling numbers of wild turkey, white-tailed deer, and other wildlife—and the forest itself.   Arrangements were made with the overseer of the Hillman land to expand this conservation effort onto the Coalins, with local farmers traveling off the peninsula to be officially sworn in as unpaid game wardens in 1912 (Henry 1975).  They worked with their neighbors to assure that inappropriate hunting in the Coalins was controlled.[1]  The day-to-day agrarian use of the Coalins by the locals, rather than being curtailed, became the core of the conservation efforts.  The success of these community efforts would ultimately be their undoing.




As government programs to “improve” the lives of the people found their way onto the peninsula, the traditional ways of life of the people would be first modified, and sometimes criminalized, before finally being disrupted altogether.  This deconstruction of the traditional ways of the Between the Rivers people came in successive waves as “problems” were identified and addressed by programmatic solutions from the government.  Each stage replaced traditional patterns and social order with an “improved” model designed by distant experts to bring development and modernity to the lives of the people.  This section is divided into two parts.  The first describes how successful community-based conservation efforts between the rivers attracted the government, and its regulatory structure, onto the peninsula.  This set the tone for government interactions with the Between the Rivers people and for the five waves of population removal that followed.  Part two describes these removals and their aftermath.


Native Initiative for Wildlife Conservation Attracts Government Regulation


The Hillman Company entered a cooperative agreement with Kentucky’s new Fish and Game Commission, which was established in 1919 in response to the emerging realization that industrialization had taken a toll on the natural resources throughout the state.  Though legal title to the Coalins remained with this St. Louis investment company, the land was given the official title of “Hillman Game Refuge,” which provided the state Fish and Game Commission the authority to trap turkey and deer.  There is evidence that this odd arrangement between the Hillman Company and the state of Kentucky was the result of the Hillman Company having fallen behind on its property taxes (Hudson 1999).   The Hillman Game Refuge (the Coalins) became the source of game for re-stocking the refuges being established throughout the state (Doerner et al. 2005).  All use by the Between the Rivers people was banned under the new refuge rules because their access to the land was inconsistent with the government restoration program.  Where no monopoly of use had ever existed, the government now claimed exclusive rights.

Through these changes the local residents continued uninterrupted their practices of open grazing, planting, communal hay cutting, and supplemental hunting on the Coalins.  The use of the Coalins as a commons was structured by community customs and assumptions extending across five generations with no formal regulation.  Legitimate authority was earned by those who had proven themselves capable through long community engagement.  Still this would be challenged by the Coalins’ new formal status as “public” land, which is not compatible with traditional community use as a commons.  The unpaid game wardens had their limited official status revoked, having evidently not done much to restrict use of the land that the Between the Rivers natives saw as an essential component of day-to-day living as well as a long-standing tradition.  The government has, to this day, not acknowledged our early conservation efforts, which incorporated the long-standing traditional use of the Coalins as a commons and which gave way to the Hillman Game Refuge.   


Government Assistance Brings Population Removals and a Promise


It is not always true that government “improvements” require the removal of populations, but for the Between the Rivers people “government help” became associated with forced removal.  Implementation of plans from afar resulted in five rounds of removals in one generation and brought dramatic change to the lives of the people.  These removals would leave our cultural heritage connected to the place by only a promise.  These five removals and their aftermath are described in the six parts that follow.


The Resettlement Administration: The New Deal Arrives
.  Just as with the rest of the nation’s farming communities, the Between the Rivers people failed to notice much difference when the Great Depression officially hit.  Access to the Coalins and cooperation among neighbors had supplemented family resources and supported the way of life on the peninsula.  Family and neighbors simply took precedence over legal boundaries and regulations.  Phil Harrell (2000) recounts how his “Grandmother Atwood” was told that a young family was building a house on the far edge of her farm.  It was the depth of the Depression, and her response was, “It’s hard times.  I’m not using it; let them build.” 

Such attitudes about neighbors and boundaries did not mesh with the legalistic model that was structuring life off the peninsula.  These informal ways must have caused dismay for the record keepers in the government courthouses.  Well into the mid-twentieth century it had been a common practice for families to take up temporary residence according to the season and the work at hand.  They might move the entire family to a small building or camp along the river when fishing and mussel harvesting, then move the family to another dwelling when labor was needed for farm work, and still another while working in the forest.  Existing structures might be occupied by different families at different times—or stand vacant until “fixed up” for another round of use.  Where a family was living at any given time might have little relation to who “owned” the land.  Such arrangements were consensual rather than legal.  Even families with a central home on established farms often relocated during the winter months so that the children could be within walking distance of a school.  Cultural values and folkways that were reflections of our geography had emerged, and the geography was coming to reflect our cultural patterns.

  The outsider’s claims to the Coalins land, first for the iron industry and then for access for tie production by the St. Louis company, had never caused much interference with the traditional usage by the Between the Rivers people.  Titles changed hands in distant courthouses, but to the locals it was still the Coalins and traditional patterns continued to shape its use with little conflict.  Yet, with the formal designation of “game refuge,” the state was making its first serious attempts to claim authority on the peninsula by imposing not only an official title but also regulation of the use of the Coalins.  Conflicts and frustrations were inevitable.

The Resettlement Administration, one of numerous New Deal programs, arrived in 1935 to “assist” the people by freeing them from land that would not support a modern lifestyle.  The farms that adjoined the Coalins (now officially the Hillman Game Refuge) were declared to be unsuitable for profitable agriculture (Hudson 1999).  Technically, this was not a use of eminent domain, but the effect was the same.  The farms were condemned, families compensated in an amount the government determined to be “fair,” and the land became property of the federal government.  This was the first of five waves of removal of families from between the rivers.   

Many families who lost their farms through the Resettlement Administration managed to find land between the rivers and resumed their way of life—others had to leave the peninsula.  Through the Resettlement Administration, the federal government also took possession of the 37,000-acre Hillman Game Refuge from the St. Louis firm in 1936.  Combined with the farms that the Resettlement Administration took from the families, the federal government now held approximately 56,000 acres between the rivers (Hudson 1999).   In 1938, by Executive Order (E.O. 7966) of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this entire block of Resettlement Administration land became the Kentucky Woodlands National Wildlife Refuge as part of the newly emerging federal conservation program.  That Refuge became recognized as the only source of abundant wildlife in Kentucky. The federal government had found its way Between the Rivers, and it brought managers to enforce its regulatory authority.  The success of the wildlife conservation initiative of the Between the Rivers people had attracted the interest of the government, first state then federal.    

Carolyn Bonner (1999) recalls the first time she saw one of the federal refuge signs, sometime in the late 1940s.  It was the first “real” sign she had ever seen.  Not even a stop sign had intruded on the lives of the Between the Rivers people, but now federal officials had moved in among them with signs and regulations to bring the rationalized model of modernity. 

Numerous official reports were filed expressing frustration with the inability to control the open grazing and hunting by the locals.  The government experts wanted to eliminate the traditional use of the land in order to “protect” it through regulated use. In  1941 the federal government began impounding livestock found on the refuge.  The Between the Rivers constables (chosen by community members from the Between the Rivers communities in compliance with new regulations that required a police presence) arrested the federal Fish and Wildlife Service officials for taking the livestock and interfering with the people’s use of the land.  They remained in jail for eight hours before federal authorities intervened and had the Wildlife officers released (Lane 2003).  This clash with the government marked another escalation of widespread bad feelings between the people and the government officials.    


The Kentucky Dam Project: Government Improvement Gains Institutional Form
.  In early 1941 TVA announced its plans for a high dam on the Tennessee River.  TVA had been working its way through the Tennessee Valley since its inception as a New Deal program in 1933.  The ultimate goal of TVA was social engineering (Caldwell 1952; Munzer 1969).  It was established to bring the rural South, which was seen as lagging behind the rest of the nation both economically and culturally, into compliance with the new vision of modernity.  Donald Davidson (1978) even argued that because establishment of an agency to modernize the South had been repeatedly proposed since very early in the twentieth century, TVA should be seen as the last of the Reconstruction programs that followed the Civil War.  The goal was to bring the entire nation into a single cultural and economic model. 

TVA’s efforts began with the conversion of an uncompleted World War I munitions plant at Muscle Shoals, Alabama to production of artificial fertilizer and the demonstration of its use to the region’s farmers.  TVA was also mandated to develop a master plan for regulating the region’s many rivers through construction of a coordinated series of navigation dams, beginning with the impassible falls at Muscle Shoals, in order to bring modern commerce to the South.  Almost as an afterthought it was added into the mission that TVA could generate electricity from its constructed dams and thus extend modernity into rural areas where providing electricity had never been profitable for private companies. To many, this appeared as socialism, making TVA controversial from its very beginnings.  Due to this controversy, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt chartered TVA as a semi-private government agency.  Rather than being dependent on appropriations from Congress, TVA was established with the power to use eminent domain under its own authority, thus allowing it to take property for demonstration projects and then to sell it as “surplus property” to finance its own projects.  Congress could control TVA’s actions only to the extent that appropriations were provided; otherwise TVA could operate as a private company generating revenues from its own operations.  TVA’s ability to operate outside the conventional government structure to achieve the government’s goal of bringing modernity to the region would define much of what was to follow for the people who lived between the rivers.

The many low dams constructed by TVA provided flood control and dependable river traffic, but did not inundate much of the surrounding land.  This high dam on the lower Tennessee River, to be called Kentucky Dam, would produce one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the nation, to be called Kentucky Lake.  The Between the Rivers people had heard of the dam project, but assumed it was to be another of the low dams.  It was not until surveyors began painting elevation numbers on trees across farms, and through yards, that reality hit home.  The project made no sense from the perspective of the people.  How could even the government permanently flood more prime farm land than had ever been flooded by the worst of the natural floods and call it “flood control?”  The initial reaction was to assume an attitude that had served the Between the Rivers people well for generations: they would just ignore outsiders and continue their lives as before.  If they refused to acknowledge the government’s authority the project could not go forward; or so they believed.  This, according to many stories from the time, is when the people first became aware of the government’s power of eminent domain.  That the government could take your land against your will was unbelievable to these descendents of Revolutionary War veterans.  This was a government power that could not simply be ignored.  Efforts to organize an opposition to the project were in their early stages when, in December of 1941, Pear Harbor was attacked.  The Kentucky Dam project was declared a matter of national security due to the electricity it would produce, and opposing the government became as untenable as ignoring it.  Families that had made their lives along the Tennessee River for generations received notice that the government had established an “offered” price for their land, which could not be challenged, and that the land must be vacated by a designated date.

While a significant portion of the adult male population was gone to war, whole communities scrambled to relocate farms that had been in place for generations.  Louis Vogel’s experience was perhaps exemplary of what the families along the Tennessee River were enduring.  His family had run the Star Limeworks quarry and kiln for generations.  He argued that because of extensive limestone deposits, his land was worth far more than TVA’s determined value.  After lengthy and contentious exchanges with the local officials implementing the project, Vogal traveled to TVA’s headquarters in Tennessee to plead his case before a TVA board (Travis 2000). 

TVA experts testified at that hearing that the quality of the stone on the Vogel land was of such low quality that it was of no value, and because the land had been quarried it was of no use as even farmland.  The “offered” price was determined to be more than generous.  TVA constructed railroad tracks from the dam site to the Vogel land and quarried, by all estimates, several million dollars worth of stone to construct Kentucky Dam.  The Vogel family left the area after Louis Vogel died of a heart attack, which the family and community members always believed was the result of his treatment by TVA. 

With a short time allowed, families not only had to find a place to relocate, but they had to construct homes, barns, and fences and relocate livestock, equipment and other rudiments of traditional farming life.  In the midst of the resulting chaos, some cemeteries were moved in time; others remain below the waters of Kentucky Lake.  Schools and churches—the centers of community life—were forced to move or were disbanded altogether.  The most productive crop ground became a lake bottom.  Even those whose houses were beyond the take level for the project found that their ability to make a living was greatly affected. Long established community structure was obliterated.

Those families along the Tennessee side (as the edge of the peninsula bordering the Tennessee River was called) who could keep their homes found ways to adapt as best as they could.  The land above the water level that was now TVA property was soon declared “surplus” and sold as lakefront lots, bringing several new residents to the peninsula—mostly as summer or retirement homes or hunting cabins.  The massive lake opened opportunities for new enterprises, including small boat docks, bait shops, and rental cabins for the hunters and fishers who were drawn to the lake and the Woodlands Refuge, where hunting was allowed by permit to visitors, but not to the locals.  Of those who were forced to relocate, those who could found land between the rivers. 


The Barkley Dam Project: Distant Master Plans Bring More Dramatic Change
.  The Between the Rivers way of life had begun to stabilize when, in the late 1950s, it was announced that Barkley Dam would be built just across the peninsula from Kentucky Dam on the Cumberland River.  It would be another high dam, producing another massive impoundment, which would be named Barkley Lake.  The project had strong support from much of the surrounding region, where people had been promised the economic windfall of a tourism Mecca.  This project was part of TVA’s original comprehensive plan to regulate river-based commerce, but opponents of TVA had complained that it was moving outside the Tennessee Valley into the Cumberland River Valley and questioned the agency’s authority for the project.  That objection resulted in the transfer of the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The Between the Rivers people saw only the continued plans for improvement that were disrupting their lives; that a different agency was in charge made little difference.

Again the Between the Rivers people found themselves scrambling to move farms, cemeteries, churches, and schools.  Again some cemeteries had to be left behind, whole communities were disbanded, and families were left to find a way to fit into the portion of the peninsula that remained above the water.  The events surrounding a woman named Babe Williams became emblematic of the Barkley Lake project and foretold what lay ahead as government improvements would escalate.

Babe Williams (known locally as “Miss Babe”) had never been married and farmed land that had been in her family since the original settlements.  Her land was the site for the dam itself.  The only time she had ever left the farm was to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where she developed her talents as a painter.  The independent ways that she had learned from working a farm on her own were a challenge to government attorneys.  Condemnation notices and letters from government agencies simply went unopened.  After nearly two years of attempting to remove her, with government bulldozers already working in the river bottoms of her farm, a pickup truck with government officials approached her two-story house.  They got out of their truck and walked up the path toward her house, shouting that they had come to remove her.  She reached inside the door of the house, took out a double-barreled shotgun and blew the windshield out of their truck.  The agents drove back across her field without Babe Williams.

A few weeks later the Corps of Engineers convinced the mayor of nearby Grand Rivers, who knew Babe Williams well, that if he would bring her to their office, which was over an hour away, they would work out an agreement with her.  The mayor told me the story years later.  He swore till his death that he had believed the government officials were on the level.  When Miss Babe and the Mayor arrived at the office they were escorted into a back room and offered coffee.  After waiting for some time they realized no one was there to meet with them and so they left.  As they began the descent into the river valley they could see smoke rising.  The government bulldozers had pushed the stone columns from the front of Babe Williams’ house through the walls, shoved all that remained into a pile, and set it afire.  Her possessions, including a lifetime of paintings, were inside.

Babe Williams remained in the area for the rest of her life, but never cashed the government condemnation check.  This was the only event of this kind reported by the local media.  The numerous confrontations that were to come went unreported, apparently because they were seen as unfortunate, but necessary, steps to deal with the backwards and stubborn people standing in the way of progress and economic development. 

A federal attorney who worked on the condemnation of land appeared on a local television program years later.  He told the interviewer that he believed at the time that he was just doing his job and had thought nothing about it.  He confessed that he had misrepresented the people and the value of the land and lied repeatedly to get the land condemned as quickly and as cheaply as possible.  He concluded, “If I die and go to Hell, it won’t be for drinking whiskey and chasing women; it will be for what I helped do to the Between the Rivers people” (video recording of the interview is in the author’s possession). 


Refuge Replacement: When Agency Goals Collide, the People Lose
.  As the Barkley project neared completion many local residents had managed to find a place to live Between the Rivers.  Others were forced to leave the peninsula.  The last of the expansive and fertile crop ground was disappearing beneath the second lake, forcing the people to look for new ways to survive.  They were adapting to the additional rental cabins, bait shops, boat docks and even small motels beginning to appear in response to the increasing number of tourists coming for the two lakes and the wildlife refuge.  Before people could settle into the new circumstances, however, they learned that the legislation authorizing Barkley Dam had included a provision to comply with a little known law passed since Kentucky Dam had been completed.  When one government agency, through its actions, affects property held by another government agency, the agency causing the damage must compensate the agency harmed.  Barkley Lake flooded the bottom lands contained within the Kentucky Woodlands National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Plans for the Barkley Lake project had been in place long before the public was informed, and the Fish and Wildlife Service had conducted its own preparatory study (United States Department of Interior 1957).  That study determined that the bottom land to be flooded had a very high carrying capacity for wildlife; the carrying capacity on the upland ridges was much lower and would not sustain nearly the same level of wildlife.  Thus, the Corps of Engineers would have to compensate the Fish and Wildlife Service for the loss of carrying capacity, not just the acres lost.  This was not to be cash compensation, but rather would require a replacement of land to equal the original capacity—even though the wildlife found in the upland habitat would not be the same species displaced by the flooding of the river bottom habitats. 

The experts had calculated that it would take 10 to 15 acres of upland habitat to “replace” each acre of lost bottomland habitat (many from Between the Rivers wished they had gotten the same deal).  This replacement, of course, would take the form of yet another round of eminent domain, taking the replacement land from private citizens.  Counting the Resettlement Administration relocation, Kentucky Dam, and Barkley Dam, this was now the fourth round of removals between the rivers.  Many people had already been forced to move multiple times.  As Koochie Pinnegar described it to me, “Every time you would about get settled in, here they would come again; and they acted like it was your fault for being in their way” (audio recording of conversation in possession of author).  It was common for people to find another place, move in, and then discover their land had, again, been condemned—with the “offered” price being less than that for which they had just purchased it. 

Hurried and rudimentary government surveys were made of potential Native American sites that would be destroyed by these projects but no government agency tried  to identify, much less protect, sites significant to the cultural heritage of the Between the Rivers people.  The Corps of Engineers did move the grave of Thomas Watson—the Nashville speculator who had filed claim to the Coalins land for the iron industry—above the water line of Barkley Lake and erected a marker proclaiming him to be our most prominent citizen. 

By the early 1960s most residents along the “Cumberland side” (the edge of the peninsula along the Cumberland River) had either been forced to evacuate the peninsula or had managed to find a place on higher ground and begun the process of adapting traditional ways to the new situation in order to make a living.  Many stories persist about events that occurred in places now beneath Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.  I have often stood with elders from Between the Rivers who will point out into a bay with a broad sweep of their hand and recount memories—some direct, others passed down through generations—of a human geography that is no longer there. 

The farm where I was born was located near the northern end, where the peninsula narrows dramatically.  Our place had originally reached from the Tennessee River, across the peninsula’s ridge, and down to the Cumberland River.  The fertile river bottom crop ground on either side of the farm was now beneath very large lakes.  As of yet, however, our place had mostly escaped the devastation of government projects.  We still had our ancestral home and family cemetery, and the sixth generation was still drinking from the same spring that had led Jeremiah Nickell to settle there.  Despite government intrusions and disruptions, a vital continuity of life persisted, and enough land remained for most to undertake traditional practices within the communities.  Most residents were finding ways to supplement their income by adapting to our “improved” environment and by adapting it to our ways.  The Woodlands Refuge, which contained the Coalins, had swollen to approximately 70,000 acres from the replacement of flooded land and was an attraction for outsiders seeking access to “nature.”  Still the government projects had not yet run their course.


The Land Between the Lakes Project: Terminal Improvement Arrives.
 The families remaining on the peninsula had little time to adjust to the changes resulting from the construction of Barkley Lake and the Refuge expansion before an article appeared in the regional newspapers announcing that President Kennedy had endorsed the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) project.  LBL would be a 170,000-acre National Recreation Area equivalent to the Wilderness Areas found in the western U.S. (Wallace 1992).  This was to be accomplished by a fifth round of forced expulsions.  Only this time all of the nearly 1,000 families who remained between the rivers would go.  The article in the papers was the first solid information about the project, and it was already a done deal.  No one had asked our opinion.

As the scramble for information and options began, it was learned that this project had been on the drawing board for some time.  Harold Van Morgan, a TVA planner, had been assigned to find a way to compensate for the lost tax base that resulted from the many government projects in the region.  With so much land taken out of private ownership by the government projects, the resulting loss in tax revenues, coupled with the loss of income the removed families would have contributed to the local economies, there was a negative effect on potential regional development.  Social engineering, bringing modernity to our “backwards” culture, had been TVA’s original goal, but their actions were having the opposite effect.  To salvage their efforts to “improve” our lives we would now face terminal improvement.  In the late 1990s I contacted Morgan, who was then nearing 90 and living in Paducah, Kentucky.  He invited me to come talk with him.  He was unapologetic for the events surrounding the formation of LBL.  In fact, he expressed pride in his brainchild.

Harold Van Morgan told me that after lengthy consideration of options for offsetting the negative economic impacts of the government land acquisitions in the region, a colleague suggested that he “give it [the land] back to the Indians,” meaning that the peninsula would be reverted to a completely natural condition.  He took as his model for the project the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.  That park was maintained in a natural condition with no commercial developments and only those services and facilities inside that were necessary for public safety and minimal maintenance operations.  The result was a “green magnet” that was becoming ever more attractive to visitors as the surrounding region became increasingly developed.  While the park would attract them, the private sector in the surrounding area would provide all their needs. This had, in fact, resulted in private investment in the surrounding area.  The famous tourist attractions in the many small towns surrounding the Smokey Mountains were the proof of the model’s viability.  LBL was to be a demonstration of how public ownership of land, properly managed, could stimulate the economy of a region rather than drain it. 

The original plan for LBL was drawn up by the National Park Service (U.S. Department of Interior 1961) and included provision for many already existing businesses and some communities to remain in private ownership in order to serve the public.  I mentioned to Mr. Morgan that my family had once held out hope that we would be among those allowed to stay.  His response was quick and defensive: “Boy, we did you a favor.  You were living in a rural slum.”

I changed the subject by asking why the Park Service plan had been abandoned and the project taken over by TVA.  He explained that the National Park Service had to go through the process of gaining Congressional approval and full appropriations for their projects.  That could have taken a couple of years.  “But,” he said, “we [the U.S. Government] had to hurry because Barkley Lake was nearly completed and the land values were about to go so high that Congress would never have approved the project.”  With the second lake complete, our homeland would be transformed into some of the most valuable real estate in the central United States and Congress was unlikely to approve spending the money necessary to obtain it.  The TVA Act of 1933 gave TVA the authority to use eminent domain without going through the full approval process, if it were for the purpose of a “demonstration.”  Transferring the project to TVA would allow the project to go forward immediately and thus take advantage of the still cheap land prices.  Mr. Morgan had just told me that we were done a favor because we lived in a rural slum but that they had to hurry to do us that favor because the nearly 1,000 families still living between the rivers were about to get rich, and he evidently saw no contradiction at all.  Those words still haunt me whenever I am told that we are all “better off” after having been forced out.  That our lives were improved by the expulsion is a common assertion, even being prominently touted in the informational displays in LBL today.  Social engineering in the name of progress had targeted us, and who were we to question their “improvement” of our lives?

For TVA’s  LBL demonstration project to work properly there could be no inholdings, not “even homes or farms,” for if new facilities and services were to be barred, “the older ones must also fall within this bar” (Smith 1971: 92).  Everything would have to go, with the peninsula being restored to as natural a condition as possible.  Rumors circulated throughout the communities and often included outdated information from the Park Service plan.  In preparation for that original plan, several individuals had been informed that they would be allowed to keep their businesses and that certain communities near the new entrances to the new park would be allowed to stay to provide services for the coming flood of tourists seeking to spend their dollars.  It was as if they had been told they had won the lottery.  This added to the confusion as the removals began.  There seemed to always be a vague possibility and hope that staying might be an option.  TVA appeared to play on these rumors to prevent organized opposition to their plan.  The agency had, after all, been in the business of removing populations for their projects since 1933 and had become very efficient.  Confusion of the people was an effective strategy.

A delegation from Between the Rivers managed to make the trip to Washington to see our Congressman, Frank Stubblefield, and the team was instructed to go back home and not to worry because there was no way the people could be forced to sell against their will for the sake of a recreation area.  It was not until years later that I learned, from researching Congressional records, that Congressman Stubblefield had been a main proponent of the project and was working to ensure its implementation while telling us it could not happen.  The deception delayed organized resistance. 

            At one point TVA hired and trained a team to go door-to-door throughout the peninsula explaining the purpose of the LBL project.  The team was told to explain that TVA had to evacuate everyone in order to protect the land from the development that would be inevitable if left in private ownership. TVA explained before Congress and civic groups in the surrounding region the necessity of excluding all private ownership and commercial development from the peninsula in order for the demonstration to work. The people Between the Rivers were assured that TVA was not taking our land for profit, but rather that it would “remain forever free to the public and undeveloped commercially” (Dulaney 1996).  More than anything we wanted to keep our land and our communities, but we found some comfort in the assurance that this land that we considered sacred would stand forever in its natural state as a tribute to the unique culture of the seven generations of Between the Rivers people who had lived and worked there. Understanding that our land would be protected from outside intrusion and, in that way, that it would be forever “our” land brought some sense of compensation for our great loss. In the context of our total evacuation, we took seriously TVA’s promise to us about the protection of our place.  We came to call it The Promise.  In time we would learn, however, that the government does not see promises in the same way we did.

When government surveyors began appearing and an LBL “acquisition office” opened, people attempted to gain information but found they were treated with contempt.  As I later learned from my conversation with Harold Van Morgan, the government officials were so convinced they were doing us a favor by offering us an opportunity to be liberated from our way of life that resistance was seen as proof of our ignorance.  Stories of being called ignorant, backward, and worse are ubiquitous among Between the Rivers people, yet there is no documentation of such treatment.  The promotion to the surrounding region of the LBL project announced that the people being removed were being offered a tremendous opportunity and that the few resisters were simply evidence of how backward the Between the Rivers people were.  I have often pondered the similarity to the former Soviet Union placing dissenters in mental institutions for their own well-being, because anyone who is not satisfied with a perfect society must be insane.

One of the first actions of the LBL project was to close our Between the Rivers schools and bus us around the lakes to the county schools.  It was a one-hour bus ride each way for me.   The Between the Rivers children stood out and were often subject to ridicule.  Teachers used the LBL project as an example of the progress America was experiencing and decried us as examples of the futility of resisting change.  My brother was even called “trash from Between the Rivers” in class by a teacher.  I had never heard of “cultural hegemony” at the time, but I was living it.

It was discovered that the government could not base their “offered” price on a “drive-by appraisal.”  The people became vigilant and refused to allow the surveyors onto their land, with neighbors keeping watch over each other’s property.  The government responded by basing appraisals on tax records housed in the courthouses across the lakes.   Teams of Between the Rivers people made a daily trek to the court house, checked out property records, and took turns sitting on them so that the TVA officials could not get access.  This strategy worked until a court order gave the appraisers access to the records.

Rather than doing appraisals and condemnations across whole communities at a time, the acquisitions came in a pattern that seemed designed to break the opposition.  Those who had purchased property after the dams were built, mostly for summer and retirement homes, were given a reasonable offer first.  These people, having no cultural connection to the place, were not inclined to resist and took the “offers.”  This initial round of accepted offers was widely touted in the press and before Congress as evidence that the Between the Rivers people were willing sellers and eager to leave.  No mention was made that these early sellers, though land owners, were not actually Between the Rivers people.

When it came time to remove the Between the Rivers people the method changed. The owner would receive a letter stating the “offered” price.  This price was based on one-half the value of the farm land as assessed for tax purposes (with no consideration that it was now prime real estate located between two major lakes).  Testimony before Congress justified this practice on the basis that (1) the low price was necessary to discourage the rampant land speculation that was taking place—evidenced by the number of individuals who had already been repeatedly bought out in previous projects and (2) the people were so impoverished that they were glad to take that amount, as evidenced by the low number of appeals of the price (Stubblefield 1968).   Not included in that testimony was the fact that the only mechanism for appealing the price—no mechanism existed for appealing the taking—was to go before a three-person TVA review board that always lowered the “offered” price, often by half (Stubblefield 1968).  It did not take long for word to circulate, and the number of appeals rapidly declined.  We were described as a culture that had failed based on the steady decline in population on the peninsula over the past decades (U.S. Department of Interior 1961).  No mention was made of the role four prior rounds of removals had played in this decline or that those who could find a way to stay on the peninsula had done so  (I know one man who moved his two story house three times, the third time being across the lake.  His wife told me the house has never been nailed to the foundation in its present location, in hopes that someday they may “take it back home.”)

The letter revealing the TVA “offer” provided a date by which the land owner had to vacate.  Federal marshals would then arrive and remove the family from the house—sometimes in hand cuffs—and bulldozers would push the house into a pile, burn it, and bury the ashes.  All possessions still inside were burned with the house.  Many people held out till the end, even knowing there was no way to stop the inevitable.  TVA officials called them “staywarts.”  I have heard these people explain that, “I know right from wrong; what was being done was wrong, and I wouldn’t pretend it was right.”  Others were left to this fate because they were not paid enough to afford another place.  The daily stress—which stretched on for years—of wondering when the letter would arrive took a tremendous toll in the communities, especially among the elderly.  One elderly woman had her “sick bed” removed to her yard, from where she watched as a cable was wrapped around her house to pull it down.  An elderly man, standing by the rubble of his freshly demolished home, was asked why he had not arranged to go elsewhere.  His answer: “Where are you going to go when you’re already home.”

With nearly a thousand families looking for land across the new lakes, there was a real estate boom.  The promised economic benefits for the surrounding region never materialized.  For the Between the Rivers people this boom had a different face.  Being paid one half the assessed tax value for their ancestral lands on one side of the lakes, then having to pay the tremendously inflated real estate prices on the other side of the lakes meant they were seldom able to acquire equivalent land and a home.  Whole farms—farms that had been in the family since the eighteenth century—were traded for small lots with a house.  Or, the entire “offered” amount was used to acquire land at the inflated price and their existing house was moved to the new location.  Houses had to be loaded onto a truck, taken to the shoreline, loaded onto a barge and floated across the lakes.  I remember sitting on our front porch on summer days, watching the neighbors’ houses go down the road.

This relocation process required specialized equipment, and there were few people equipped to do the job.  Rainy weather could put the house movers far behind schedule.  Notifying TVA that the mover was behind schedule would not get an extension on the demolition deadline, and houses were sometimes destroyed before they could be moved, leaving families with nothing.  A neighbor was in the process of moving his family’s possessions from their house well before the scheduled demolition date when he returned to find the house had been destroyed.  Upon inquiring why the house and their remaining possessions had been burned before their deadline arrived, he was told that TVA had begun a “scenic improvement” project.  The officials had looked through the windows and “didn’t see anything worth moving.”

As entire communities were being evacuated, trucks and cars from across the lakes drove the Between the Rivers back roads seeking abandoned buildings from which they would take anything of value.  As families tried to move their possessions, it became necessary to leave someone with the house to prevent looting. Our farm had a large shop filled with tools and farming accessories accumulated in the nearly 200 years we had lived there.  These were more than old tools; they connected our daily lives into a six-generation continuum of caring for our place.  We managed to salvage my great, great grandfather’s anvil and a few other odds and ends, but most was lost to the rampant thieving.      

Near the end of the population purge a well-maintained two-story house had been left by an elderly woman.  The local five o’clock news ran a story that TVA had announced plans to use the house as a headquarters building.  The ten o’clock news ran the story that the house had burned.  The news story offered no explanation and the public remained mostly unaware of the conflict that was unfolding.

Congressman Stubblefield, who had told us the project could not happen without our consent and who at the same time deceptively pushed for its passage in Washington, had heard enough of the horror stories coming from Between the Rivers to have a change of heart—or at least to see the number of voters affected. Stubblefield took action by collecting a stack of affidavits about the abuses and mistreatments at the hands of the government.  He used these to amend the TVA Act of 1933 (Stubblefield 1968: H.R. 4846 & S. 1637 to Amend the TVA Act of 1933), which altered TVA’s power of eminent domain. 

As a result of Stubblefield’s amendment, those who now face loss of property by eminent domain may challenge the agency in court before a jury, rather than merely appealing to a three-person board of officials from the agency.  This marked a major step in the rights of citizens when faced with the government’s power of eminent domain.  The people were ecstatic over the victory but because the property condemnation phase of the LBL project was already underway before the law was amended, the option for a jury trial did not apply to the Between the Rivers people.  I have talked with many from Between the Rivers who remain proud of this victory won at our loss for the benefit of all who might someday face a similar situation.  In the context of such terrible loss, a victory that could not apply to us was bittersweet. 


The Removals Completed: the Place and the People Remain Connected by The Promise
.  The fifth and final round of evacuations had begun in 1964, with a prediction that everyone could be removed in two years.  Toward the end the remaining people endured the shutting off of electricity, the closure of access roads, and regular verbal abuse—all while attempting to avoid federal marshals.  The last effort to stop the LBL project was finally defeated on February 23, 1972, when the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on a class action suit filed by Between the Rivers people.  Because the new amendment to the TVA Act did not apply to us, pooling funds and waiting for a law suit to work its way through the federal courts was the only option.  The suit was specific in that it was not challenging the offered prices but rather the government’s authority to use eminent domain just to establish a recreation area.  The judge ruled that because LBL was established not as a regular recreation area, but rather as a demonstration of a new kind of management strategy for recreation areas, TVA did have the right to use eminent domain under its own authority, according to the TVA Act of 1933.  That ruling also formalized, in our minds, The Promise that the land would remain “forever free to the public and undeveloped commercially” (Dulaney 1996).    

It was obvious from my conversation with Harold Van Morgan that the TVA officials had never understood why we would want to stay in what they saw as a “rural slum.”  They never saw the vital communities we knew and loved.  They saw only an absence of amenities and an economy they could not calculate.  They were blind to the rich cultural heritage that meant so much in our understanding of who we are.  A TVA lawyer who came to our home to finalize details for our removal explained that “heritage isn’t worth a dime” and could not be taken into account.  As my 95-year-old aunt recently put it: “TVA told us we were poor and needed their help, but it was news to us.  The only change I saw when the government arrived was that we had to put locks on the doors.”  How we valued our place and how the government valued it could not have been in greater disagreement.

It was not uncommon for the older people to suffer heart attacks, strokes, or other fatal afflictions before removal.  Many had sworn they would never leave, and they kept their word.  Some committed suicide after their removal.  There are people still living who never cashed the condemnation check, refusing to give legitimacy to what was done.  In the end, the expulsion was complete.  Those who did not appeal to the three-person TVA board or wait for the federal marshals and bulldozers to remove them are officially listed as “willing sellers.”    

As the inevitability of complete expulsion became apparent, communities began to seek concessions.  Despite originally being told we would have to move our cemeteries or else abandon them to the returning wilderness, heirs did retain burial and maintenance rights for the cemeteries.  We requested that our many small churches be allowed to stay so that we might return on Sundays to preserve community.  We were told the churches would be treated as any other structures—we could either remove them or they would be destroyed.  A handful of communities were able to gather enough resources in the midst of the chaos to move their buildings. Most were bulldozed and burned.  The full force of the federal government was turned to removing all evidence that we had ever occupied that peninsula, and we could do little to retain any sense of our place.  The emotional and physical upheaval endured by the Between the Rivers people throughout the removals, and especially toward the end, was in the context of hostility from the surrounding region that saw our ignorant and backward ways as depriving them of their entitlement to economic progress.  We were a defeated people clinging to The Promise that our homeland would be protected as a wilderness.



When it no longer served the government, The Promise, as we saw it, was ultimately broken.  It never held the permanence to the government that it did in the hearts and minds of the Between the Rivers people.  Since the 1970s we had experienced relative stability in our relationship with TVA.  We were under the impression that nothing more could be taken from us and that the management course for LBL was secure in The Promise.  Communities began to hold yearly reunions, and families quietly worked to maintain the many scattered cemeteries and continued to bury their dead within them.  Children and grandchildren were raised with stories of place, and many of them developed a deep respect for the homeland that had been taken.

However, in the mid 1990s TVA unexpectedly announced its plans to completely abandon The Promise completely, and the Between the Rivers people were again forced into action to protect our homeland.  As events unfolded our efforts would result in the first-ever organized movement of the Between the Rivers people to protect our heritage rather than merely to live it.  This transition of our heritage from something unquestioned and unspoken to something that must be defended has marked a reframing of our persistent struggle for place into a hegemonic contestation over reconstructing the cultural heritage.

The difference between us and the government in terms of the importance of place in the understanding of our “heritage” had always been a critical factor in our strained relations with agency officials.  Those differences were about to become the focus of our struggle.  Because our placed cultural heritage had always been intuitively natural to us, we were unable to articulate its essence effectively.  Recognizing the government’s inability to understand either the importance of place or the significance our heritage holds for us, I set out to clarify these to myself and then to the outsiders in the federal government.  I would discover that the cultural barrier between placed peoples and the “modern” world-view held by those with no connection to any place was pervasive.  I came to see “our” struggle for recognition of placed heritage as part of a broader hegemonic clash between cultures—the contestation over who will define and who will be defined determining what is judged to have importance as well as what will be dismissed as irrelevant. 

Each step in this process of attempting to articulate what place means to us has been in reaction to a renewed government intrusion, and each has forced me to rethink the concepts of cultural heritage, place, and what it means to be in the possession of an authentic cultural heritage.  This process is in its beginning stages, and the final outcome of our dealings with government officials is far from certain.  From their modernistic world-view, heritage is merely a collection of artifacts and official records equally accessible to everyone.  From our more traditional perspective, our heritage is a communal connection to place from which individuals construct identity within the continuity of generations of accumulated memory; our heritage, as we see it, is only minimally accessible to outsiders.  My efforts to understand and communicate the concept of placed cultural heritage have been driven by events that also led to the transition of management of LBL away from TVA, a partial-government agency, to a more formally-structured total government agency. 

This section is divided into five parts.  In the first, I describe the series of government actions that have forced me to formulate and express our intuitive sense of our placed cultural heritage.  Each step in this process has been in response to a renewed threat from government authorities and their apparent inability to comprehend our concerns.  The result, which is described in the second part, was the first organized, but still informal, effort to preserve our heritage.  The third part explores our attempt to use to our advantage the existing government model designed to acknowledge and protect cultural heritage and how that attempt has produced our growing realization that the rational model and the traditional patterns it is designed to protect do not mesh.  This incompatibility between model and reality is the source of continuing conflict as government authorities insist upon forcing our heritage to fit their model and we attempt to alter their model to fit our heritage. The fourth part addresses our efforts to reach out for assistance in understanding the government model for preserving heritage and in making it work to our advantage.  The last part of this section explores how the Forest Service’s application of its rigidly bureaucratic heritage programs has resulted in the current struggle over the reconstruction of the Between the Rivers heritage—and whether, officially, a Between the Rivers heritage even exists.


TVA’s Fortunes Turn: The Promise Becomes an Inconvenience to be Discarded


TVA officials saw the LBL as one of TVA’s greatest accomplishments and originally made lavish efforts to ensure its success (Smith 1971).   Through the 1970s and into the 1980s innovative outdoor recreation was combined with an aggressive environmental education program.  The popularity of the LBL did bring economic benefits to the business owners surrounding the park during this time.

 The nation’s social climate and political forces in the 1980s, however, shifted toward conservatism.  TVA’s power production programs had fallen billions of dollars in debt as administrative boards and agendas changed with each new presidential administration.  With the Cold War fervor gaining strength, conservative members of Congress were pointing to TVA as an example of the failure of socialism.  Attempts to dismantle its government component and transform TVA into a private power company were led by Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell.  Groups organized throughout the South to defend TVA, which intensified the debate.  The Reagan Administration had viewed public lands as representing yet another socialist program, and this increased the influence of powerful lobbying groups that sought to commercialize public lands in order to unleash their sequestered economic potential and eliminate the need for federal subsidy.  It was in this context that two forces, one targeting TVA as an agency and the other targeting tax-payer funding for public lands, merged at LBL to result in severe pressure against funding throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s.

As a quasi-governmental agency, TVA had never before bothered with many of the federal regulations for land management, such as seeking public involvement to develop a management plan.   Instead, it tended to manage its affairs in accordance with its role as a private corporation.  Yet in December of 1995 TVA, in compliance with the “government agency” facet of its identity, released the “Preliminary Concepts for a Public Use Plan,” the federally required initial step in forming the first-ever official management plan for LBL.  It proposed large-scale commercial developments combined with the closure of currently free facilities and activities.  The development concepts included condominiums along the more than 300 miles of shoreline, two professional-level golf courses, an upscale marina, a resort hotel and a “heritage theme park” based on the Between the Rivers heritage, including a waterslide depicting the course of the Tennessee River.   

The first group to emerge with an organized opposition was the Concept Zero Task Force, a grassroots coalition including Between the Rivers people and other individuals opposed to commercialization in LBL for reasons ranging from concern about economic competition from within the park to environmental interests.   The name implied that we preferred none of the development concepts.  This Task Force marked the first expansion of concern beyond the Between the Rivers people to the larger public.  Concept Zero garnered enough press coverage that before the comment period had expired, TVA filed notice of official withdrawal of the Preliminary Concepts in the Federal Register.  This appeared to be an unprecedented victory for Concept Zero.  Then word came that unannounced construction projects had been underway throughout the winter.  These consisted of small versions of commercial development that would produce less alarm from the public, including grocery stores at the two main campgrounds; gift shops at all public information centers; a restaurant, tack store and rental cabins at the horseback riding area; and fees instituted throughout the park in tandem with the elimination of many of the popular free sites and activities—all violating The Promise.  In response to our complaints TVA officials explained that The Promise had never been legally binding.  Because LBL was a TVA demonstration project, it was unique among public lands in that no Congressional legislation had given it any legal designation at all—no legally-established purpose and no legally-binding management constraints. 

During the coming summer months TVA’s Director announced that he was asking Congress to cease all funding for its non-power programs, including LBL, its most prominent non-power demonstration project.  This request, at first blush, seemed illogical, but it is important to consider that the only legally binding restraint on TVA’s management of LBL came in tandem with Congressional appropriations.  Once released from government regulation, the 170,000 acres of mostly hardwood forest surrounded by one of the largest man-made lake systems in the world could become a long-term money-maker for TVA and be used to finance its other operations as it saw fit—all in full compliance with the TVA Act of 1933.  With a fully developed system of marinas, golf courses, condominiums, a resort hotel and a heritage theme park combined with world-class hunting and fishing, LBL could rival Disneyland.   Most residents surrounding LBL had known little of The Promise but still opposed the transformation of the park into a huge commercial recreation area.  To those of us from Between the Rivers, the newly established rather minor forms of commercialization within LBL were a betrayal.  The threat of a mega-tourist park was a moral outrage.

By summer’s end 1996, Concept Zero had acquired more than 30,000 signatures on a petition to be presented to both TVA’s administrators and our Congressman, Ed Whitfield, asking that commercialization of LBL be stopped and The Promise upheld.  One copy of the signatures, gathered over months of intensive effort by many volunteers, was ceremoniously delivered to LBL headquarters, escorted by several dozen supporters.  The LBL Manager came to the front lobby to receive the petitions, politely thanked us for them, and then returned to her office.  As we left the building we saw a worker unceremoniously depositing the petitions in a dumpster.

 Congressman Ed Whitfield had already informed us that he was aware of our position but had to consider all perspectives (some prominent developers, locally and nationally, favored commercialization at LBL) and that he did not need to hear from us anymore.  Upon receiving the 30,000 signatures, mostly of voters in his district, he arranged for a Congressional hearing on the future of LBL.  I was among those who gave testimony at that hearing while the panel of prominent Congressmen read newspapers or talked among themselves.    

Through the efforts of Concept Zero, The Promise became the central theme of public discourse regarding threatened changes at LBL. Congressman Whitfield, with our encouragement, joined forces with Kentucky’s Senator McConnell to draft the “LBL Protection Act of 1998,” which was touted in Whitfield’s campaign ads as finally giving legal authority to The Promise.  This piece of legislation, which became law in an omnibus spending bill that fall, would transfer LBL to the U.S.D.A. Forest Service if TVA were ever to become separated from Congressional control over LBL.  Though the Protection Act’s threat of transferring LBL to a more conventional government agency was not a complete solution, it appeared to be our best hope for ensuring that The Promise would be honored and our homeland protected.


Organized Efforts to Salvage the Heritage Emerge


While the LBL Protection Act removed the immediate danger of a Disney-scale development at LBL, the land remained under the management of a financially strapped TVA, and the nation-wide push to make public lands turn a profit rather than rely on taxpayer subsidies was still in place.  The small-scale LBL developments that TVA had already initiated were being heavily promoted and were producing little resistance from the general public, who were satisfied with the derailment of the immediate plans for mega-development.  Our concern now was that TVA would opt for a creeping commercialization effort, slowly adding more development over time. 

The realization that The Promise, which we considered inviolable, remained tenuous made us aware of how vulnerable our cultural heritage might be.  We saw an obvious need to establish a precedent for our right to maintain sites significant to us, including cemeteries and old church and school sites.  Some of our cemeteries are a simple cluster of stones in the forest with no family remaining and no record of who is buried there.  We consider all those buried Between the Rivers to be our ancestors. With no official burial records (the government’s rationalized version of memory), the cemeteries were at risk, especially if the Forest Service were to inherit LBL. Then the agency would be under no obligation to acknowledge our sacred burial grounds. We needed to establish our claim to what little was still ours.

We thus formed the first organized effort to restore any unmaintained cemeteries and to identify and protect any other source of cultural heritage that was in danger.  Each Saturday a convoy of pickup trucks loaded with volunteers and tools would head into the forest to reclaim our heritage.  Through this process, community and family alliances that had been in disarray for more than thirty years were reconstructed as stories were shared about the many places where we were working that day to repair and reclaim cemeteries or to erect signs at former church and school sites.  Individuals often possessed pieces of information, but did not know the “whole story.”  As individuals told what they knew of places and events, the stories were re-woven into whole narratives of place—communal memories were given new life and their oral transmission revived.  Elders were restored to their prominence as repositories of the culture’s memory.  Stories were physically connected to place through remnants of building foundations in the forest; through steps alongside an old dirt road, steps that now lead to nowhere; or through patches of jonquils and daffodils that blossom each spring where a home had been.  The landscape began to re-emerge as a place imbued with a living cultural memory.  Most important, a reconstruction of a sense of community was underway, and a sense of empowerment began to replace the familiar feelings of loss, despair and isolation.  The Between the Rivers heritage that had almost slipped away was regaining vitality in our lives.

TVA officials resented our having blocked their commercialization plans and reiterated to us that, because we had been paid for our land, we had no claim to it. We assumed they would move to block our efforts to reclaim our heritage when they learned of them.  We invited the press to come with us as we worked, so feature stories of our activities quickly made it into the Associated Press and circulated nationally.  Though we still had no official agency recognition of our heritage claims, we calculated that by making it untenable through public opinion for TVA to stop our work, we had established, at least informally, our claim that the heritage was still ours.

One result of the publicity was that we were contacted by Corky Allen, a Euchee tribal member, who was living in eastern Tennessee and doing work on cultural resources for his tribe.  He informed us of cultural resource laws and regulations, primarily the Section 106 Review, the National Heritage Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which we could use to gain official recognition of our heritage and a formal role in protecting it.  We had never known such legal mechanisms existed. Together, these form a regulatory structure through which we might become “consulting parties” [36 CFR §800.3(f) for implementation of Section 106] and allowed to work with agency officials to identify and protect sites with heritage significance.  Such involvement would provide a critical sense of ownership and engagement in our heritage, as well as an official recognition unknown to us.

One step to getting land protected as a heritage site is to have the managing agency and the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) acknowledge that site as eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, which is maintained by the National Park Service.  The bureaucracy involved would be formidable, and Between the Rivers people had bad recollections of dealing with government bureaucracy.  This option was viewed with varying levels of skepticism by the people, many of whom were suspicious of any such formal mechanisms.


First Cautious Effort to Use the Bureaucratic Structure to Our Advantage


We had been successful in establishing an informal claim to our heritage by our well- publicized work.  We were now aware of the possibility of using the government’s own legal system to gain official acknowledgment and legal sanction for our claim.  About this time TVA announced plans to log in the old Coalins area.  I saw this as an opportunity to use the formal system to our advantage.  Federal regulations for such actions on public lands mandate that the public be allowed to submit written comments on proposed projects.  The agency must then release a finalized plan for the action that addresses the concerns raised in the public’s comments.  Finally, the public is allowed the opportunity to appeal the agency’s determination that all of the public’s concerns have been adequately addressed.  Following Corky Allen’s advice, I submitted written comments to LBL’s Resource Manager stating that because the proposed logging project was in the Coalins, the project should be evaluated to determine if it would diminish the heritage significance of the area.  My goal in submitting the comments was not necessarily to stop the logging, but to have TVA formally acknowledge the significance of the Coalins to our heritage.  By merely stating in their response to my comments that the logging would cause no harm to the heritage value of the place, we would have been provided with the first official acknowledgement of our cultural heritage.

TVA steadfastly refused to acknowledge that the Between the Rivers site has heritage significance, so I appealed that decision to Kentucky’s SHPO, which has authority to review all agency actions that might affect heritage resources within the state.  The Resource Manager at LBL informed the SHPO that our use of the land before government intervention not only failed to warrant recognition for its heritage significance, but that it had been so abusive that nothing TVA could do to the land could be worse.  In order to resolve the dispute over whether or not the old Coalins area has heritage significance, the SHPO requested an independent study, and a private consultant was appointed to research the question.

That study (Hudson 1999) focused almost exclusively on the government’s use of the land, beginning with its management by the Kentucky Fish and Game Commission in 1919 and ending in 1964 with the transfer from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to TVA for the LBL project.  The rest of the study addressed operations of the iron industry in the nineteenth century, New Deal programs, and potential prehistoric Native American sites.  The study drew its information from public records and interviews with retired agency officials.  The result was that only the government’s formal activities and perspectives were represented.  Our tradition-based use of the land as a commons was referenced only in terms of agency efforts to stop poaching and illegal grazing. 

The only meeting between the researcher and anyone from Between the Rivers was with me (as the complainant) and Ray Parish, the president of the Between the Rivers organization.  The purpose of that meeting was for the researcher to explain the findings of the study—not to gather information from us for the study.  Our concerns had been addressed by a single prefatory statement that the study was not the “proper vehicle” for evaluating the “non-tangible values” that we ascribed to the place (Hudson 1999).  The study had utilized a formally established list of criteria that must be met in order for a site to be recognized by the government as possessing heritage significance.  Those criteria focus on the architectural integrity of human-built structures and whether those structures contribute to an understanding of a pre-selected “historical context” such as “the Civil War,”  “the iron industry,” “New Deal Programs,” or “government conservation programs.”  If such a structure were still architecturally intact and if it added to the thematic understanding of a predefined historical context, then it met the criteria.  Our use of the Coalins as a commons had ensured that no human constructions existed in that area and so nothing added to an understanding of the iron industry, the New Deal Programs, or the government’s conservation programs.  Our use of the land could not be acknowledged as having heritage significance by those criteria.

The clear implication was that criteria other than those employed by the Coalins study would have to be used to provide the “appropriate vehicle” for evaluating the “non-tangible values” that the place holds for us.  The Coalins had been central in the development of our community structure and is thus essential in understanding our cultural heritage.  We wondered what criteria could designate our heritage as the “historical context” for evaluation of the Coalins?  The author of the study was unavailable for consultation on that question.

I began research into the question of what alternate criteria could acknowledge our use of the land as significant to the development of our culture, which led me deeper into the concept of “cultural property” law and the principles upon which it is based.  The legal system recognizes two broad categories of property; one based on the writings of John Locke, the other on the writings of G.W.F. Hegel (Drimmer 1998).  Under Locke’s model, property is fully fungible, meaning that when transferred from one owner to another the seller is left with no remnant claims at all—as in selling a car or a house.  This type of ownership was of no use in understanding our claims, though it was the model shaping the government’s decisions, including the assertion that, having been paid for our land, we had no remnant claims in LBL’s management. 

  Under Hegel’s model, however, property ownership stems either from it belonging as much to future generations as to the present or from its being an intimate expression of  the producer’s innermost soul (whether the expressions of individuals or of a culture).  Such ownership is non-fungible.  Copyright laws are grounded in this concept as it applies to individual expressions: if I purchase a painting from an artist it is, in Locke’s notion of “ownership,” my painting and I can do with it as I please but I have no right to remove the artist’s name from the work, replace it with my own, and sell it as my work. Hegel’s notion of ownership dictates that it will always be the work of that artist.  Extending Hegel’s notion of ownership to the cultural level, the present generation cannot sign away the future generation’s rights to cultural property.  Sites with deep religious significance, or sites where events essential in the formation of a cultural identity took place, belong to the culture in Hegel’s sense.  A legitimate claim remains that is communal and thus cannot be signed away by any individual.  Future generations will always have a legitimate claim to those sites regardless of who “owns” them in Locke’s sense. This is the legal model under which traditional cultures routinely request the return of artifacts housed in distant museums.  (Much of the infamous Middle Eastern conflict can be understood as a problem of sorting out competing cultural claims to specific locations.)

The government designation for places that possess cultural significance—allowing future generations to “possess” their cultural heritage through access to, and a sense of ownership in, those places—is “Traditional Cultural Place” (TCP).  TCPs are to be identified and protected through the Section 106 Review process.  The problem I faced was how to apply these arcane notions of ownership in a manner that would result in the government acknowledging our heritage claims to our homeland.  The land, in Locke’s sense, was no longer ours.  Yet in Hegel’s sense, the heritage associated with that land is still ours. It is still our heritage, and within the “context” of our heritage our traditional use of the Coalins has more significance than the human-constructed artifacts of the iron industry, the New Deal Programs, or the government conservation programs—all of which were products of outsider intrusion.  This issue was about to assume elevated importance.

Before the dispute over logging in the Coalins could be resolved,  some members of Congress apparently attempted to block allocations for TVA’s management of LBL, which would activate the LBL Protection Act and transfer LBL to the Forest Service.  Others in Congress, however, were working to secure funding to keep TVA in control of LBL. TVA began a public relations campaign as a last ditch effort to retain the LBL.  Seeing as an opportunity this desire for TVA to ingratiate us, some of us applied for and received “consulting party” status from TVA’s manager at LBL.  This became the first acknowledgment that we should have an elevated standing with regard to our heritage because the heritage was ours in a way that it could never belong to anyone else.  This victory would be short-lived.  

The LBL Protection Act, under the guise of protecting The Promise, contained a provision to ensure access to our cemeteries, and the section dealing with heritage also authorized the Forest Service to establish a heritage program, but failed to mention our role in it.  There was also a clause, added at the last minute and without our knowledge, that authorized the Forest Service to charge fees and construct commercial facilities as it deemed appropriate.  All revenues raised by these means were to be used in the management of LBL, supplemental to regular federal appropriations.  This reflected the growing trend toward commercialization of public lands[2], and a major component of this commercialization agenda is the push for “heritage tourism” on public lands.  Not only did the Protection Act turn out to allow The Promise to be violated through the establishment of commercial facilities in LBL, our heritage could also be treated as a commodity and marketed.  This implied that the heritage had been taken from us along with the land itself and that we had no more claim to our heritage than we did to our land.  The LBL Protection, which we had initiated and supported, turned out to operate against us.  It was suddenly important that we figure out how to apply those obscure cultural resource laws to establish who “owned” the Between the Rivers heritage.

In the fall of 1999 Congress provided no appropriations for TVA’s management of LBL; that marked LBL’s transition to the U.S.D.A. Forest Service, a total government bureaucracy. We believed that the transition from TVA’s quasi-governmental structure to a more conventional government agency would resolve most of our problems.  We soon learned that the Forest Service had no inclination to remove the several small commercial facilities installed by TVA and that nothing prevented it from adding more.  Though we had managed to elevate The Promise into the public discourse over LBL throughout the region, the new Forest Service Supervisor at LBL refused to even discuss The Promise.  We were told that the Forest Service had made no commitments or promises because it was not they who had taken the land from us. The Promise never had assumed legal form, and whatever moral weight it had come to possess was now made void by the transfer.  We thought it was still the same government and that playing shell games with agencies as mechanisms of that government did not lessen the moral obligation incurred by how the government took our land.  We were about to receive a harsh lesson in bureaucratic structure and how individuals behave within it.


Reaching Out for Help in Deciphering the Rational Model


As it became apparent that we would have to use the government’s legal structure to gain formal recognition of our heritage, I immersed myself in the regulations for applying the existing laws.  What I found was a maze of laws dictating complex interactions among numerous state and federal heritage agencies—each with its own complex bureaucratic structure. A series of bulletins had been produced to serve as guidelines for agency managers on how to navigate the complex tangle of laws.  Two bulletins were produced for meeting the Section 106 requirements.  The first, often called “National Register Bulletin 30” (McClelland, Keller, and Melnick 1989/99), provides guidelines appropriate to historic buildings and rural landscapes of buildings, fences, and roadways. These are the guidelines that had been used unsuccessfully (from our perspective) in the evaluation of the Coalins (Hudson 1999). 

The other set of guidelines is contained in “National Register Bulletin 38” (Parker and King 1990/98).  This bulletin deals with, among other things, how to evaluate significance that is not apparent to “outsiders” and has been commonly applied when dealing with Native American sites.  For instance, if a hillside were the location of an event that plays prominently in a people’s understanding of their cultural heritage, there may be no physical feature on that hill differentiating it from other hills and yet it possesses great significance for that culture—even if the event “exists” only in the mythology of that people and is not acknowledged by outsiders.  Being granted a role in deciding how that hill is recognized and protected is essential to future generations’ ability to retain their sense of a placed cultural heritage.  Bulletin 38 provided guidance on how to acknowledge a people’s ownership of their own cultural heritage and to interpret the significance of places from their perspective.  These guidelines were the missing “appropriate vehicle” for evaluation of the “non-tangible values” we had been claiming.  Dr. Thomas King was the co-author of Bulletin 38 and had since left his government post to become an internationally recognized private consultant on the protection of cultural resources.  I contacted him for clarification on the regulations.

Resulting from our conversations was a paper[3] Dr. King and I co-authored (Nickell and King 2004) making the case that Between the Rivers is a TCP, fully meeting the official criteria of eligibility if the proper guidelines for evaluation are used.  The acknowledgment of Between the Rivers as a TCP would establish a formal mechanism wherein the Between the Rivers people and the U.S.D.A. Forest Service could work together to identify and protect sites, such as the Coalins, that possess significance from our perspective.  This would be the “bottom up” heritage management that many heritage professionals believe is needed (Hufford 1994: 1). 

Our paper was submitted to Forest Service and Heritage officials at the local, state, regional and national levels.  We received many useful responses from the Heritage officials, and the paper went through several drafts as a result.  We never received a response from the Forest Service, though I learned later that the LBL Supervisor had contacted both the Kentucky and Tennessee SHPOs to argue against our position.  The Kentucky SHPO informed me that he was unwilling to consider our claims as long as the Forest Service was working against us because nothing could be accomplished until all parties were cooperating.  Whether or not we were right was apparently inconsequential in determining whether the proper regulatory guidelines could be applied.  The LBL Supervisor also rejected all new requests from Between the Rivers people for Consulting Party status.  The Consulting Party status that TVA had granted some of us is not acknowledged by the Forest Service, and both they and TVA deny having any record of such status ever having been granted (even though I presented them with a copy of the letter from TVA granting me the status). 


The U.S.D.A. Forest Service Applies the Rationalized Model and Redefines the Heritage


Transition of LBL to the rigidly bureaucratic structure of the Forest Service was a glaring shift to the Between the Rivers people in not only what would happen, but how it would happen.  The Forest Service officials expressed much frustration at having to integrate long-standing programs and policies from TVA that had never been in full compliance with federal regulations and were dismayed to find the Between the Rivers people working inside the park (maintaining cemeteries and other structures) with no formal framework to either authorize or regulate our projects.  For us, the fact that this new agency was always going to operate “by the book” meant everything was about to change, but we anticipated an overall improvement once regulations and laws were properly applied.

One of the first tasks of the new Forest Service archeologist at LBL was to write the required Heritage Resource Management Plan (HRMP), which would be tiered to the full Management Plan for LBL. We requested an active role in its writing but were told that a preliminary draft of the HRMP would be provided to us when completed and that we could offer input at that time. 

 The Draft HRMP (U.S.D.A. Forest Service 2002) contained extensive and detailed context for evaluating the significance of prehistoric sites, the iron industry artifacts, Civil War sites, the New Deal Programs, and the various government conservation programs.  The final few pages referred to the people who had lived between the rivers at the time LBL was established by TVA, stating that conditions for the people had been such that while a few were “reluctant to leave,” most were willing sellers.  Generations of lives Between the Rivers were reduced to components that added to an understanding of TVA’s LBL project.  An inventory of cemeteries would be maintained under the HRMP, and former building sites would be documented and evaluated for significance within the provided historical contexts.  No provision for input from us was provided, which meant we would have no voice in the interpretive heritage program.  It was officially no longer our heritage, and any identified heritage resources could be used for tourism purposes by the Forest Service. We requested a meeting to discuss the draft HRMP. 

I asked the archeologist why no mention of applying guidelines from Bulletin 38 for evaluation of the significance of the Between the Rivers heritage was included.  His response was, “Yeah, like that’s ever going to happen” (Wise 2003).  As people at the meeting suggested aspects of our heritage, including the inhumane forced removals, that should have been addressed, he closed the conversation by slamming his fist on the table and proclaiming that he was “tired of hearing those stories.”  “I’ve read all the records,” he said, “and none of that ever happened.  TVA did everything they could to help you people out.”  One man present responded, “Federal marshals took me and my wife out of the house; if that’s what you mean by ‘helping us out,’ I guess you’re right” (Wise 2003).

We were told that the HRMP had been written in a deliberate attempt to “keep the bitterness out of the record” and that we should be grateful for that.  It is a surreal experience to sit in a room full of people who lived through such a traumatic time and have a government official tell you it never happened.  None of it was in the records left by the state or federal conservation agencies, the Corps of Engineers, or by TVA, and the intention was clearly to keep it that way.  The meeting ended with the Forest Service archeologist agreeing to re-write the HRMP to better represent our views but, as expected, the revision simply never materialized; there was no legal requirement for revision, and an official merely stating that it would be done implied no commitment.  By our not being included in the official version of the heritage, our objections need not be addressed.

The comprehensive management plan for LBL stated that all heritage issues would be handled under the guidance of the HRMP, which had been prepared in consultation with tribal representatives and the Kentucky and Tennessee SHPOs, all of whom had reviewed the document and approved it.  No mention was made of the Between the Rivers people or our rejection of the draft plan. According to the HRMP, it had been so long since any Native Americans lived on the peninsula that none of the tribes reviewing the document claim any sites in LBL.  We, on the other hand, had lived there for nearly two hundred years before being forcibly removed.   Almost all “artifacts” in the park are remnants of our lives there, and we still claim a strong cultural connection to the place.  That the tribes were given recognition and we were not was a reflection of the official position: we were paid for our land and thus have no legitimate claim to the heritage associated with that land.

 The official goal of the heritage plan is to “preserve LBL’s rich heritage.”  I have repeatedly tried to explain to LBL officials that LBL does not have a heritage.  “LBL” is a bureaucratic designation; no one is from Land Between the Lakes or ever lived in Land Between the Lakes.  “Between the Rivers” has a rich heritage, and that heritage belongs to the Between the Rivers people—not the government.  Our heritage was not removed by eminent domain and it is not fungible.  Within our collective cultural memory Between the Rivers still exists as a “place” and Land Between the Lakes is merely a government designation imposed upon it. The officials have expressed extreme frustration with my claims and refuse to discuss the matter. 

Interactions with the Forest Service worsened when a handful of seemingly random Between the Rivers people received a copy of the “Cemetery Handbook” in the mail.  The LBL Supervisor insisted that because the LBL Protection Act acknowledges our right of access to and use of the cemeteries, that access and use must be regulated under the agency’s authority.  According to the Handbook, formal approval from the Forest Service would be required before we could cut dead or damaged trees from the cemeteries and the Forest Service could regulate the type of markers used for graves.  We would not be allowed to fill in the settling graves of our ancestors without government permission.  Some cemeteries would even be locked behind a fence and family members would have to request a key—during business hours.  This was all being done, we were told, because the Forest Service now owns the cemeteries.

The impact of this on people who had long felt the cemeteries were the only remnant of our homeland that we could still claim as completely our own was inestimable.  The many cemeteries will eventually merge each of us into the landscape itself, passing the shared concern for place to yet another generation as they care for our graves.  The cemeteries are a tangible nexus through which individuals are joined in the sustaining continuity of a shared heritage.  We thought the purpose of a heritage program should be to assist us in preserving such connections to our placed heritage.  The government managers saw their mandate as protecting the heritage resources from us—the sterile artifacts being pieces of a generic national heritage that belongs equally to all United States citizens.  In Ritzer’s (2004) terms, an authentic place was being rationalized into a non-place.  The living cultural heritage must be killed and transformed into an inventory of artifacts to be preserved by government programs.  The artifacts would then become a roadside attraction emphasizing those aspects that appeal to mass interest, thus eliminating authentic place-specific perspectives by way of generic regulations applicable to any place—and to no place.

In an ironic twist, it was the condemnation papers from when our land was taken that allowed us to fend off the Cemetery Handbook.  Those papers specifically stated that all the government’s rights to use of the land within the cemetery boundaries are superseded by the burial rights withheld for the heirs.  The Forest Service was forced to admit that ownership of cemeteries, as relating to actual use of the land, is not fungible even if the federal government does own the land the cemeteries are on.  Nevertheless, retaining control over our burial grounds was possible only because arcane distinctions in types of “property” had been embedded within the layers of law, not because traditional values had been respected.  The Forest Service’s begrudging relinquishment of its ownership claim to our cemeteries was not going to be seen as extending to our broader heritage concerns.

            I continued communicating with the Kentucky SHPO regarding the paper Dr. King and I had written, trying to get some movement on the TCP option.  The SHPO informed me that his office resisted applying Bulletin 38 guidelines and acknowledging Between the Rivers as a TCP because to do so would be outside standard procedure.  Adopting a “new” model and allowing us that designation would “open the floodgates” of communities everywhere seeking involvement in the management of places that were important to them.  It would become a “bureaucratic nightmare” for all government agencies involved.      

            The quagmire of regulations representing every level of government control was clearly intended to produce a model to increase local community involvement in protecting local cultural heritage. The Forest Service officials, however, have used the regulations as a mechanism for screening out such local public involvement so that “expert” management of the places that their model does recognize will be more efficient.  Identifying and protecting cultural heritage for future generations is undeniably a worthy goal.  Still it appears that the bureaucratic mechanisms for achieving this goal of local public involvement, when misapplied, can actually separate local peoples from any authentic relation to their heritage. 

            In explaining his reasons for denying Consulting Party status to the Between the Rivers people, the LBL Supervisor denied that there is a Between the Rivers cultural heritage (but offered no justification for that assertion). He explained that part of his role in managing and protecting the “LBL heritage,” which he sees as public property, is to ensure that a “small group” does not have a “louder voice” than other interested citizens (Lisowsky 2006).   

The Supervisor at LBL has recently told the Between the Rivers group that we may not continue our informal efforts to preserve our heritage sites but that we may participate in the Forest Service’s new heritage program as individuals if we choose.  If we do so it will be on an equal footing with any other interested citizen.  Between the Rivers people may share information with LBL heritage managers and heritage interpreters if they wish, but will have no more say in what information is used, how it is used, or how it is interpreted than will any other citizen.   An individual might be consulted if the agency officials determine that a project could have direct impact on that individual’s “personal heritage;” beyond that, “…all can have an equal voice and role” (Lisowsky 2006).  Despite my repeated protestations that the concept of a “personal heritage” is nonsensical, under the current policy at LBL there will be no recognition of a shared cultural heritage or generations of cultural memory that accumulated in a particular place and continues to inform our identity.  Our “ownership” of the heritage is critical to its survival; we can belong to the cultural heritage only to the extent that it belongs to us.  That ownership had now become the focus of dispute.

According to Thomas King (2003: 6), legitimate “self defined groups” qualify for official recognition, but the LBL Supervisor has defined us as a non-group.  This official determination did not involve input from us and does not acknowledge the simple fact of our on-going organized efforts.   It does, however, eliminate the need to consider our perspective on what has heritage significance within LBL.  This, no doubt, streamlines the Forest Service’s task of protecting heritage sites and providing educational programs (heritage tourism) for visitors.  This rationalized efficiency appropriates our heritage for commercial use, removing any sense of ownership from us. The cultural hegemony I experienced as a child, but could not yet name, not only continues, but has reached greater dimensions than I could have imagined. 

            When the Forest Service announced it was reinitiating the logging project that TVA had proposed for the Coalins, I was joined by Heartwood[4] in filing a law suit in federal court to halt the logging.  We argued that the Forest Service had not met NEPA and NHPA requirements for Section 106 review in that they had failed to “consider new evidence” (as the regulations require) by not responding to the paper Dr. King and I had submitted and by not doing an evaluation of the area under the appropriate Bulletin 38 guidelines.  Forest Service attorneys argued that the regulations are only “procedural requirements.”  As the legal precedent puts it: “NEPA prohibits uninformed actions, but not unwise actions” [Colorado Envtl. Coalition v. Dombeck, 185 F.3d 1162, 1167 (10th Cir. 1999)].  As long as the Forest Service claims that it has considered everything that the regulations mandate it to consider, its conclusions do not have to reflect the information it “considered.”  In this case, the Forest Service claimed that it did consider the Bulletin 38 guidelines and the submitted paper but chose not to apply them; and no amount of evidence indicating that Bulletin 38 guidelines were the appropriate guidelines mattered.  The Sixth Circuit judge concurred that the only requirements on the agency were procedural and ruled that the courts should not be involved in second-guessing the agency’s expert judgment.  As the LBL Supervisor has often told me, if the law does not require the agency to take a particular course of action, being the right thing to do does not enter consideration.




Since the revolutionary formation of a new kind of rationalized nation-state in the eighteenth century, the Between the Rivers people have endured an almost continuous application of ever-changing models for bringing “progress” and for “improving” our lives.  It is clear that there is now a model in place for preserving disappearing cultural heritages and that, at least at LBL, this model is being devised by remote experts without consideration for the specific enculturated peoples or places to which it will be applied.  The distant experts are busily tweaking their model to yield the results that their model tells them they should value; local officials busily work to circumvent local concerns that would encumber application of the model.  The result is that official efforts to preserve cultural heritage cannot consider the authentic cultural heritage.

The current debate among the government’s heritage experts favors preservation through more astute marketing.  Selling products associated with “place” and “heritage” is a promising preservation tool if  “strategies for marketing and branding” the items can be devised in ways that promote “sustainable tourism” (Diamant, Mitchell, and Roberts 2007: 9).   In the same way that “Amish made” has become a valuable brand in the marketing of certain goods, a Between the Rivers logo might someday be used to attract tourists so that “LBL’s rich heritage”—or at least agency-selected artifacts that lie about the park—might be preserved.

The question that the model builders do not ask is whether the people who, over many generations, constructed an authentic cultural heritage in a particular place can retain “ownership” of it under that model.  If my children and grandchildren will have no standing towards the Between the Rivers heritage beyond that of any other citizen, then in no meaningful way can they claim it as “theirs.”  If marketing that heritage is the strategy for preserving it, then our heritage will have become a commodity, not a living connection to place and community.[5]

Seyla Benhabib (2004) captures this predicament of cultural loss in the description of Max Pensky’s concept of “Yoder’s Dilemma”:

…either one must abandon the claim to the holistic and totalizing aspects of one’s identity, recognizing now that it is one among many such identities competing for equal recognition in the public space of democracies; or one must adopt a purely strategic attitude towards legal norms and make one’s culture a good which, just like money and power, can be pursued strategically.  It would appear that the price of democratic protections for cultural difference is either Weberian disenchantment or strategic (p. 292; emphasis in the original text).


Still Benhabib offers hope: “There is a third alternative.  This is the narrative resignification and reappropriation of one’s culture within a more reflexive framework” (p. 292).

            Most Between the Rivers people have accepted that we will never again live in our homeland.  The best we can hope for is a continuous redefinition of our heritage that encompasses the many struggles we have endured, including our expulsion and the current struggle for control of our heritage and cultural identity as a displaced people—the displacement itself serving as a powerful symbol that keeps us connected to place.  Agencies, officials and policies have come and gone; we have remained as the sole source of integrity that makes the land a coherent “place.”  We can hope to remain the conscience and the protectors of our homeland, but only if we can retain ownership of our cultural heritage.  In Benhabib’s (2004) words, “…traditions, worldviews and belief-systems can only continue as hermeneutically plausible strands of meaning for their members insofar as they can engage in such creative resignification and renegotiation of their own core commitments” (p. 293). 

            In short, the Between the Rivers people can keep alive the sense of being a placed people with a shared cultural heritage only to the extent that we retain an authentic engagement in how that heritage is manifest and carried forward.  If the narrative of what it means to be from Between the Rivers is to survive, it must embrace the new distinction-building oppositions as well as the old.  Our relation to our place will never be what it was prior to the government intervening with its improvement projects, and this has been used to declare the demise of our culture (Wallace 1992).  However, only dead cultures fail to change; evolvement of the narrative of identity is the survival of a culture.  Short of this, nothing will remain but sterile artifacts for public display, interpreted by outside experts.  This is expressed in Mary Hufford’s (1994) assertion that “cultural specialists” should cease to pursue “cultural preservation” as a goal and begin to think in terms of “cultural conservation” ( p. 3).  Preservation is the job of taxidermists; conservation seeks survival. 

This shift in official perspective would require a willingness of the expert model makers and model implementers to leave room for retention of engaged ownership by the people whose cultural heritage is being conserved.  Setha Low (1994) describes how, without the involvement of the keepers of the local knowledge, the expert managers merely recreate the place in terms that are meaningful to the experts.  The result is that, “…the meaning of place and place conservation becomes separated from the locality and the lives of the people affected.  The professionals…deconstruct and reconstruct a world of images rather than deal with the reality of local lives, and they thus maintain a stranglehold on the cultural reproduction of place…” (p. 71).

            This contrast in perspective was manifest in our restoration of St. Stephen’s church, the sole remaining Between the Rivers church.  It had been long abandoned by the time its remote location resulted in TVA passing it over for destruction in the 1960s, and our restoration of it in the late 1990s was well before there was any discussion of a heritage plan at LBL.  When TVA officials learned of our restoration efforts they attempted to demolish the building as a “safety hazard.”  After the SHPO intervened on our behalf (acknowledging the integrity and age of the structure itself, but not its role in our heritage), TVA officials favored moving the building (which would have destroyed the integrity recognized by the SHPO) closer to a road where it would be more accessible to tourists and more easily protected, and suggested that grant money be obtained to purchase materials and to hire professionals to do the extensive restoration work.  We continued our restoration efforts, refusing to comply with TVA recommendations, and after the Forest Service arrived we were threatened with arrest for continuing our work outside its authority.  All labor was provided free by the Between the Rivers people, and materials were obtained by locating and dismantling abandoned buildings with similar construction.  A large crowd gathered each Saturday for nearly a year, producing as much talk and food as work.  Many elders observed from under shade trees, providing both advice and stories of the place and the events associated with it.  We continue to maintain the church in the same informal manner, albeit now with the tentative blessing of the Forest Service in the form of a written agreement “allowing” us to provide all labor and materials.    

The result has been that the restoration of the building was equally a restoration of community.  The significance that church continues to hold in our collective heritage would have been destroyed had we followed the model offered by government officials.  We also insisted, with strong objection from the Forest Service, that The Promise be upheld for at least this one site.  The building remains open to anyone anytime, with no fees and no promotion as a tourism attraction.  Signage explains the history of the church to visitors who happen across it, but there is no doubt of whose heritage it belongs to, and it is not a commodity.

            We are insisting that our relationship to the rest of our heritage be the same: full engagement sustaining our sense of shared connection to place through our planning and our labor—all in accordance with our understandings.  This way the heritage would remain far more than a collection of generic artifacts marketed for tourism.  Tourists would be welcome anytime, with no fees and no promotion as a tourist attraction, but the heritage would remain “ours” in a way no one else could ever claim.  The place in which our collective care is expressed through shared effort would give validation to our “self-defined” identity, reaching back across the generations for meaning and, it is hoped, informing our way forward as well.  This, I believe, is the correct model for conserving heritage.  “Ownership” of the cultural heritage must be through active engagement by the people according to their own traditional values and understandings, not through agency models designed by distant experts.  Government agencies could provide invaluable assistance, but the people must own their heritage.  “Experts” would assist the local people in achieving their own goals rather than goals imposed from on high.

            In a time when local cultures everywhere are disappearing, the continuing efforts of the Between the Rivers people, in spite of and because of overwhelming and almost continuous losses, are an illustration of possibilities that I believe others should heed.  Government programs can be of true benefit to the lives of the people, but they can also go terribly wrong.  At this time it is uncertain if we will be successful in salvaging what little remains of our cultural connection to place.  The determining factor is whether the experts can leave room for the locals to make it happen on our own terms.  It cannot be mandated from above without slipping into cultural hegemony.  At present, we are officially obstacles to the agency goal of preserving LBL’s heritage.






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Bonner, Carolyn. 1999.  Personal Conversation.


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[1] According to oral history accounts, large parties from off the peninsula had begun coming to hunt.  These sport hunters would camp in the area for weeks at a time, killing vast quantities of the game that the locals still considered a vital part of their everyday food source.  By being sworn in as “wardens,” even though unpaid, they were given the limited authority to control the hunting in the Coalins.

[2] A data base with links to primary sources in this important debate can be found at:

                [3] This unpublished paper is available by contacting the author at

[4] Heartwood has been the only environmental organization that has shown an interest in this issue.  Other national and regional organizations have been contacted but have not seen the significance of cultural heritage as it relates to environmental concerns.  Heartwood places environmental concerns within the context of local cultures that preserve knowledge and care for their places through sustainable use of resources.  For more information see:

[5] In Husserlian terms, the culture shifts from a constitutive function within the noetic pole of the


 relation to place to become a constituted object within the noematic pole of the bi-polar stream of


 phenomena.  In other words, it ceases to be a nomic matrix within which meaning is constructed


 to become a generically interpreted meaning.  In its constitutive function it unites individuals into a


community of shared assumptions sedimented through generations of meaning construction; as a


constituted object it is equally accessible to all and no longer serves as a perspectival point for anyone.

Published in: HUMANITY & SOCIETY, 2007, VOL. 31 (May/August: 164-209)

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