Times-Courier (Ellijay, GA)
September 19, 2018 | Author: MICHAEL ANDREWS | MOUNTAIN LIFE EDITOR
A team of German filmmakers visited Ellijay last week while traveling across America to gather information for an upcoming documentary project.
One of the filmmakers, Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt, interviewed Leslie Thomas, president of the Gilmer Historical Society, at the society’s downtown Ellijay Tabor House museum Tuesday, Sept. 11.
Kohlschmidt, an established composer, actor and musician whose production company Mangan 25 has traveled to New Guinea and other remote locations for past projects, was accompanied by his wife, Shakespearian actress Momo Kohlschmidt, and production colleagues Peter and Arta Adler.
“They were quite interested in learning about all the areas where the Cherokee lived,” Thomas said. “From here, they were going to Cherokee, N.C., where the Qualla boundary is.”
The project will explore how different Native American tribes existed in the pre-Trail of Tears era.
“We will be traveling around (the country), starting from Atlanta. We will be following the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma trying to find out some information on the original places and original people,” said Kohlschmidt. “It’s about the nomadic (traits) in everybody. One chapter is about the connection of two Germans to stories (in America). In one of them, a German kid was captured by Apaches and later became a famous chief of the Comanches.”
Local connections discussed
While here, Kohlschmidt wanted to find out more about Christian Gottlieb Priber, a German immigrant to the British Colonies who lived in the region that’s now Gilmer County during the 17th and 18th centuries.
“(The filmmakers) wanted to know more about him because he was from an area near where they’re from in Germany,” Thomas said.
“When (Priber) was a child, there was a circus show in his small town in Germany where they showed two Cherokees who were stolen and brought to Europe (as a sideshow attraction),” Kohlschmidt said. “(When Priber came to America), he went to the American natives. It’s a good story.”
According to a 1973 article in Georgia Historical Magazine, Priber “brought a dream of a utopian colony to the New World and sought to fuse this dream with an existing communal society, the tribal life of the Cherokee Nation.”
“Apparently, he was too liberal for his home country and was determined to develop a utopian commonwealth among the Native Americans in the Southern states. It was reported he wanted to set up his ‘kingdom of paradise’ in Franklin, Tenn.,” Thomas noted. “I’m amazed in reading Priber’s history at how far traveled he was.”
Priber wanted the kingdom’s central capital to be the Coosawattee faction of the Cherokee, she added. “Coosawattee,” which Thomas said means “Creek waters,” is among the names of local places derived from Native American language.
“(The Coosawattee faction would have been) located where the confluence of Highway 136 and Old 411 is today,” said Thomas.
Legend has it that one of Priber’s daughters, Creat, was married to Chief Doublehead, Thomas told the filmmakers. The local Doublehead Gap Road, which leads into Fannin County, is named for the Cherokee chief, she added.
“Legend says their baby had been taken up into the sky by a huge eagle, while they were in afield picking a harvest. Doublehead, who had another name before, felt this was the fault of the white intruders and promptly killed two men and wore their scalps on his belt. He was given the name ‘Doublehead,’” Thomas said. “The story continues that Doublehead had several wives and because of the loss of the child, he then killed Creat (who was part white).”
The film crew was also interested in the efforts of Moravian church missionaries to educate and spread Christianity to the Cherokee people.
“They started in (New England) and wanted to come south to see if they could convert the Indians. The Baptists and Methodists had both come to convert the Cherokee, who did not want that. They wanted to have schools set up and the children go right there where they were instead of them being sent off to be educated,” said Thomas.
The Moravians established a church at Spring Place in Murray County and there were Moravian missions in the Talona and Whitestone areas of Gilmer in the 1700s and 1800s, she added.
‘So many legends’
Thomas said legends abound when it comes to figures like Priber and Chief Doublehead. Historical research has proven they did live in the mountains of north Georgia during that time, she added.
‘ “There are so many legends out there, you really don’t know which ones believe. But that’s all you have (on some subjects),” Thomas said.
Kohlschmidt said Wilmington, N.C., author John Jeremiah Sullivan recommended Thomas as a good source on Cherokee history. Sullivan’s book, The Prime Minister of Paradise, is an in-depth chronicle of Priber’s life set for release in 2020.
Thomas, a past president of the Georgia Trail of Tears Association and its current historic preservation officer, said the documentarians’ visit further exemplified that you never know who you will meet at the Tabor House Museum. The hub of the local historical society features exhibits on Native American life, the Civil War and other topics.
“I really had no idea what they were coming for until John Sullivan, who I’ve never met, called me on Monday night and said he was sending a group of German researchers to talk to me about the Cherokee. I couldn’t figure out why he chose me out of all the researchers on the Cherokee that have degrees and are thought so well of. That really blew my mind,” she said.
Kohlschmidt said the freelance project will likely see a German TV release.
“He said (their TV network) is similar to our PBS stations and that it could take a few months or a few years (to put it all together). I may have just one little phrase out of the whole thing, but who knows?” said Thomas.
Caption: MICHAEL ANDREWS/MOUNTAIN LIFE EDITORGilmer Historical Society President Leslie Thomas, left, is interviewed by German filmmaker Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt, seated, about how the Cherokee people lived here before the Trail of Tears. Also pictured, from third left: are film crew members Momo Kohlschmidt, Peter Adler and Arta Adler. MICHAEL ANDREWS/MOUNTAIN LIFE EDITORGilmer Historical Society President Leslie Thomas, right, shows German filmmaker Kai-Uwe Kohlschmidt a deerskin drum that’s part of a display at the museum inside downtown Ellijay’s Tabor House. Copyright © 2018 The Times-Courier, Community Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Record Number: 16E85D18290371BB
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