Tribe asks Swain DSS to send different social workers

Swain County social workers and supervisors named in a State Bureau of Investigation probe are no longer welcome to work child welfare cases on tribal land.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians asked the Swain County Department of Social Services last week to send other workers instead when dealing with cases on the Qualla Boundary.

Swain DSS is under investigation for an alleged cover-up following the death of a Cherokee baby. Relatives had repeatedly warned DSS of suspected abuse and neglect by the baby’s caretaker, but DSS failed to take action and later doctored records to hide any negligence on their part, according to the law enforcement investigation.

An SBI search warrant named five employees, including the DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones. Despite public demands that those employees be put on leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, only one has been suspended.

The rest remain in their jobs, which include duties on the reservation — from caseworkers investigating alleged cases of abuse to Cagle attending child welfare committee meetings with tribal officials. That has created a source of tension in Cherokee.

“I think while we are in this investigative period we should ask these guys to step aside in their responsibilities until we can figure things out,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks. “This is a high profile issue and in light of everything that has occurred, I think it is in the best interest of all related parties.”

The request came from the chief’s office and was run past the Division of Health and Human Services in Raleigh. The state umbrella agency claimed it didn’t have jurisdiction over the job duties and case assignments of Swain County social workers.

“Any decision regarding this request would be made by Swain County DSS management,” according to Lori Walston, a spokesperson for the state agency.

Swain DSS Attorney Justin Greene, who has served as a de facto spokesperson for the agency during the tragedy, said Swain DSS would honor the tribe’s request. The social workers named will no longer work on the reservation in any capacity, even testifying in tribal court in ongoing cases they were assigned to.

“Swain County DSS employees not involved in the investigation will replace those five DSS employees in all matters occurring on the Qualla Boundary so that the delivery of social services to the enrolled members of the Tribe continues unimpeded,” according to a statement by Annette Tarnawsky, the tribe’s Attorney General.

Swain County DSS has an agreement with the tribe to perform child welfare services on the reservation. Swain DSS is reimbursed for all the services it provides on the reservation.

Over half its total child welfare caseload  — and therefore half the budget — is tied to cases involving enrolled members, according to DSS reports.

Cherokee is pursuing the creation of its own child welfare team, which would handle cases involving enrolled members rather than using on Swain County DSS, according to discussions at a tribal council meeting this month. Swain DSS stands to lose considerable funding if such a plan goes through.


Official suspension may be coming soon

Relatives of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn have been calling for the suspension of the social workers for four weeks, as have the majority of Swain County commissioners. Commissioners said their request has nothing to do with whether all employees named are guilty of wrongdoing, but is merely a matter of protocol to protect the integrity of the investigation.

But the DSS board, which holds the final say, reached an impasse on whether to suspend the employees. Commissioners were perturbed the DSS board failed to reach a decision and called for the board to resign. Three of the five indeed resigned, but commissioners then found themselves on the receiving end of public backlash from friends and family of the DSS board.

Two members remaining on the DSS board are Frela Beck, an enrolled member of the tribe, and County Commissioner Robert White.

Of the three vacant positions, one seat gets appointed by the county and two by the state Division of Health and Human Services.

County commissioners last week appointed Georganna Carson to the county’s vacant seat.

The state this week made its two appointments: Tom Decker, a teacher at Swain County’s alternative school, and Sarah Wachacha, a tribal member who works in administration at the Cherokee Indian Hospital.

A meeting of the newly constituted DSS board will be at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 28, at the Swain DSS office. The board will presumably take up the issue of whether to suspend the employees in question until the investigation is concluded.

While the new board members will have to get up to speed on DSS policy, Decker said he is looking forward to the challenge and will not be distracted by the media attention surrounding the controversy.

“Once the new board sits down I am sure we will be able to work together well to do whatever needs to be done,” said Decker, who moved here 10 years ago. “I volunteered because I care about the people of Swain County and especially the children.”

Cherokee trust shaken in Swain DSS

Tribal members and leaders alike vented their discontent with Swain County’s handling of child welfare for Cherokee children at this month’s tribal council meeting.

The Eastern Band no longer wants to rely on Swain County’s Department of Social Services but instead is laying a framework for a new, tribe-operated child protective unit.

Their anger was in response to the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, who died in January despite repeated warnings by relatives to Swain DSS of suspected abuse and neglect. The department is now under investigation for possible missteps and a subsequent cover-up.

The Eastern Band doesn’t handle its own child protective services; the task falls to DSS agencies in neighboring counties.

That may soon change, however. Family members, community members and professional child advocates appeared before the council and implored them to bring child welfare in-house.

“Our priorities are not on our own people,” said Regina Rosario, director of Heart-to-Heart, a Cherokee child advocacy program. “We can realign priorities, and all it takes is just the will in this chamber right here.”

Principal Chief Michel Hicks, who said he had to tread carefully in light of the ongoing investigation, acknowledged that there were problems with the current set-up of child welfare services, and confirmed that “the fire is burning again” on an initiative dating back to 2007 to bring it under the auspices of the tribe.

Hicks said he’s pulled together a team of deputies and other officials to look into the feasibility of a child welfare unit, and that reports will be coming to council over the next few months.

Aubrey’s family also stood up to ask the community for support, putting their voice behind resurrecting the idea of tribal child protective services.

Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s great aunt, with tears thanked the council for engaging a private investigator following the child’s death. Chief Hicks and Tribal Attorney General Annette Tarnawsky made the decision to hire the investigator to check into her death because of reservations about how the case had been handled. Case workers had visited the child’s home several times prior to her death, and state investigators are now looking into allegations that workers failed to follow up with Aubrey and then falsified records in the case.

“She can’t speak, so we have to speak for her,” said McCoy, who is heading a letter-writing campaign lobbying the state for a full investigation of Swain County child protective services, which has now been launched.

She too asked council and the chief about moving child protective services under the umbrella of the tribe, referencing a 2007 proposal by Hicks to do just that.

McCoy proclaimed this the time to take action in the wake of Aubrey’s death.

“Let’s do something about this and get some questions answered about what’s going to happen with our social service department,” said McCoy.

“The simple fact is we just want the truth to be told,” said Hicks. “We also don’t want to see this happen to another baby in our future.”


Tribal children at risk

Many members have questioned whether Swain County social workers take cases involving American Indian children as seriously as white children. The failure by Swain DSS to remove Aubrey from an unsafe trailer that lacked heat and had known drug activity underscores the concern, family members say.

“It’s unfortunate and it does bring question to what else may be sitting out there to where a job has not been done on behalf of our tribal memberships,” Chief Hicks said. “And that’s a huge question and that’s a huge issue that we have to get to the bottom of. It’s time to take a different approach on social services, without question.”

But Carol Maennle, a Swain County social worker, said their agency looks after Native American children the same as white children.

“Don’t think for a minute we don’t love and try to treat them the same way,” Maennle said during a Swain County meeting this week.

Swain County DSS stands to lose money if the tribe takes over its own child welfare cases. DSS receives more for services provided to Native American children than for other children. Reimbursement for social work involving Cherokee children comes from the federal government, which provides a higher level of reimbursement, while funding for other children comes from the state, which doesn’t pay as much.

Other community members asked council members to take action to improve social services, as well.

Council Member Teresa McCoy reported that at a recent community meeting in Big Cove, more than a few residents came forward to relay their own bad experiences with social services in both Swain and Jackson counties, and even more came forward to express similar grievances to tribal council.

“Obviously this issue has touched everybody on this boundary. We’re parents and we take it personally,” said McCoy.

Jasmine Littlejohn, Aubrey’s mother who is currently jailed on federal drug charges, called tearfully for DSS officials to be called to account, saying that she hoped her daughter’s death would not be in vain.

“I want to see that nothing else like this happens to another child,” said Littlejohn, in a jailhouse interview. “My daughter may have just saved other child’s lives.”

Littlejohn said she was confident that, had her daughter not been American Indian, she would have been given better treatment by DSS workers.

Tarnawsky’s office has encouraged members with complaints about social services to contact them, noting that they’ve been involved in the investigation from the outset.

“We just want to find out what happened to this child and see what steps we as a tribe need to make and to take so that our children are well-protected,” said Tarnawsky.

Other tribal council members also expressed support for the initiative to take some social services out of state hands.

Bill Taylor, who represents Wolftown, said moves should be made on meetings held nearly a year ago to discuss that very idea.

“I think it’s the consensus of everybody here that we need our own program,” said Taylor. “Who’s going to take care of our children better? Our own people. I think it’s time that we stop dragging it on, and let’s do something about it before this happens to another family.”

The chief, however, turned it back on the council, challenging them to take their own steps towards a more active role in the tribe’s next move on the issue.

“It’s time for us all to step up and do something about it,” said Hicks. “It’s not just on the chief’s shoulders. There’s 12 council members that can step up also.”

Swain commissioners want DSS workers suspended

The state could step in to run the Swain County Department of Social Services if the top leaders are among those put on leave during a probe into an alleged cover-up.

Swain DSS falsified records relating to the abuse and neglect of a 15-month-old baby who later died, according to an investigation by the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.

The family of the child have asked those named in the probe, including the DSS director and program manager, be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

“I don’t think it is right for them to keep working,” said Leighann McCoy, one of the family members. “Look at all the lives they have in their hands. Their jobs are a matter of life and death.”

The Swain County commissioners have concurred, although they don’t have authority over DSS employees — that lies with a separate DSS board.

So last week, commissioners formally called on the DSS board to suspend the employees in a 4 to 1 vote at a special meeting. The lone “no” vote came from Commissioner Steve Moon, who is the uncle of DSS Director Tammy Cagle. Family of the child chastised Moon after the meeting for participating in the vote.

Commissioners emphasized that their recommendation is not a reflection of whether they think the DSS employees are guilty of wrongdoing. Commissioners said that suspending the employees would protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.

“It is not out of animosity,” said Commissioner Chairman Phil Carson. “We are just trying to do the right thing during this case and this investigation.”

Swain County commissioners met with the DSS board in closed session for more than an hour Thursday evening prior to commissioners’ vote. The meeting could legally be held behind closed doors since the discussion centered on personnel and a criminal investigation.

The DSS board will meet seperately at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 8, at the DSS office to discuss commissioners’ recommendation.

Two-dozen friends and family of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, a 15-month-old baby who died in January, waited outside during the duration of the closed meeting to learn what commissioners would do. Relatives say they had appealed to DSS to take Aubrey away from her caregiver, and had repeatedly complained of suspected abuse and neglect. The SBI is investigating whether DSS employees engaged in a cover-up to hide potential negligence on their part.

Deloris Taylor, a friend of the family, said DSS failures allowed Aubrey’s death to happen.

“There should be a full state investigation and DSS should be held accountable. I think they should face criminal charges,” Taylor said.

Taylor said Aubrey’s case should have been given more attention.

“They shouldn’t just shuffle the paper work,” Taylor said.

Several social workers came to the meeting and expressed their dismay that their agency was under attack. They pointed out the many dedicated social workers in Swain County who put their heart and soul into what is a very tough job.

“I think our county should be supporting our social workers a lot more,” said Alissa Lambert, a child social worker at Swain DSS for three years.

Lambert said the job was so stressful that she burned out and had to find another job.

“The stuff we have to deal with on a daily basis is really difficult,” Lambert said.

Lambert asked where the news media was the rest of the year and during their many fundraisers, from selling hotdogs to a softball tournament to a chili cook-off.

“Nobody sees the positive things we do, the hundreds of families we help on a daily basis,” said Tabatha Medford, a current DSS social worker. “I apply myself in my job every day.”

So far, only one of the employees named has been put on leave — Craig Smith, a social worker with the agency since 2006 making $35,000 a year, who was directly involved in falsifying the records turned over to investigators, according to an SBI search warrant.

Smith told investigators he was acting on orders from his boss. His account of events suggested that the director and program manager knew his report was fabricated — namely that the child had been seen by a doctor when in fact she hadn’t.

But Lambert questioned Smith’s story. She said that supervisors can’t check on the accuracy of every statement in every report.

Lambert said anyone the state sends into run DSS won’t understand working in a small town or the unique culture here.

Tribe, county DSS agencies have complex relationship

By Quintin Ellison and Colby Dunn • Staff writers

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is forced to rely on state social workers when it comes to protecting the tribe’s children from abuse and neglect.

That might change in the wake of Aubrey Littlejohn’s death. Some on the reservation are calling for the tribe to set up its own child- and adult-protection agency. Under the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, the tribe has the ability and federal right to do just that.

“I’ve been standing before tribal council ever since I’ve been in this position saying we need to take care of our own kids,” said Regina Rosario, program supervisor for Heart-to-Heart, a child-advocacy organization that works with tribal victims of child abuse.

This possibility was under discussion by tribal members and officials even before Aubrey’s death, Rosario said, in meetings held by the council’s social services committee.

Until — and if — that happens, the tribe and various county social service agencies must work together. Cases of suspected child abuse are handled by either Jackson or Swain counties for their respective portions of the reservation.

While Swain County DSS refused to speak to reporters about their role in Cherokee Bob Cochran, Jackson County’s DSS director, said the relationship between his county and the tribe is like any relationship in life: it requires good-faith work and thought.

“You have to maintain it,” Cochran said. “We also try to recruit and keep Native American staff. But, even when we can’t, we work hard to have our folks posted down there (in Cherokee) so they can develop those relationships.”

Cochran has six employees assigned to Jackson County’s portion of the reservation. Some are enrolled members of the Eastern Band. Five of the six Cherokee-dedicated workers report to an office each day that is physically located on the Qualla Boundary.

Although federal law does stipulate that states dealing with American Indian tribes must bear the cost of providing those services, Cochran said he was “quite confident the state is not paying for it entirely.”  A variety of federal funding flows into the state’s social services programs, he said.

There are certain complexities for those agencies working with Eastern Band members. When children are removed from an unsafe situation, for example, DSS must try to place those children into Indian families.

“Basically, we work with the tribe in doing that,” Cochran said. “But … I do have the discretion, if I disagree with a recommendation of the tribe, to place the child elsewhere.”

A court can overrule a DSS director’s decision.

Usually, it doesn’t come to that, Cochran said. The tribe and DSS generally find mutually satisfactory care situations. DSS workers and Cherokee’s Family Support Services conduct joint house studies, and are comfortable working closely together, Cochran said.

David Simmons of the National Indian Child Welfare Association said that the agency’s work has shown, however, that tribally run child protective services are more successful at locating and dealing with neglect and abuse than their state or local counterparts.

This, said Simmons, isn’t because state agencies are always sub-par or lacking in their dealings with tribal children, but because tribal agencies are able to take a more tailored, culturally oriented approach that larger agencies just can’t.

“They have knowledge about the community that the state or county program is not going to have access to,” said Simmons. “They’re going to know more quickly, be more knowledgeable about what kinds of interventions are going to be successful. They have a better success rate, usually, at being able to develop resources. They take more cultural approaches to the work.”

Simmons, however, also notes that it’s impractical to expect all tribes to take up their own DSS work.

“Child protective services is one of the more expensive services to operate,” said Simmons. “You can’t do it halfway, too many things rely on that.”

The tribe hasn’t formally announced whether it intends to reassess the relationship with local DSS agencies, but Rosario said she intends to reintroduce the idea of tribal child protection at this month’s tribal council meeting.


Indian Child Welfare Act

The Indian Child Welfare Act is a federal law that governs the relationship between state social-services departments and Native Americans. The act includes the following language:

• Nothing in the act shall be construed as preventing the emergency removal of an Indian child in order to prevent imminent physical damage or harm to that child.

• The act specifies tribal courts have exclusive jurisdiction of children who reside on the reservation. If the child does not reside on a reservation, the jurisdiction must be transferred to tribal court.

• In an action leading to a foster care placement or in any termination of parental rights action affecting an Indian child who doesn’t reside on the reservation, the parents, guardian or custodian may petition for transfer of jurisdiction to a tribal court.

• At any time during proceedings of a foster care placement, the Indian custodian and Indian tribe have the right to intervene in the proceedings.

The tragic life of Aubrey Littlejohn: Family members feared for child’s safety

Relatives say they warned social workers repeatedly over the course of several months that Aubrey Littlejohn was being neglected and abused.

Called by her middle name by family, 15-month-old Kina-Marie died on a mattress on the floor of a singlewide trailer sometime in the middle of the night on Jan. 10. She was dressed in only a T-shirt despite statements made to law enforcement that the trailer had no heat. It is unclear whether an adult was home.

Social workers in Swain County had been warned by relatives that Kina Marie was in danger but failed to remove her from the home, according to law enforcement records.

“Witnesses interviewed have stated that they called the Department of Social Services and made reports detailing abuse and neglect of the child and received no response from any departmental employee,” according to a search warrant executed against DSS offices.

Relatives told investigators “they had witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment.”

The baby had been in the care of a great-aunt, Lady Bird Powell, 38, since last spring. Powell did not have legal custody, however. Other relatives asked Powell for the child, and even the child’s mother tried to get her back, but Powell refused to give her up.

So relatives turned to DSS for help. At least three relatives asked DSS to take the baby away from Powell, and had been to Swain DSS in person.

Kina Marie’s mother, Jasmine Littlejohn, 20, had to part with her daughter last April after being sentenced to a mandatory 90-day drug rehab. Meanwhile, Powell’s 18-year-old son, Hawk Rattler, had died of a drug overdose in March, according to a death certificate. Powell offered to keep Kina Marie while Littlejohn was away in rehab, claiming it would help her cope with her own son’s death, according to relatives.

Kina Marie was six months old when her mother turned her over to Powell. When Littlejohn got out of rehab, Powell refused to give Kina Marie back, relatives said.

Littlejohn was soon back behind bars, however, on federal drug charges for conspiracy to distribute marijuana and is being held as a federal prisoner in the Cherokee County jail.

Whether Powell was getting aid for Kina Marie, such as food stamps or monetary support, is not certain. SBI agents have requested all records of financial support or benefits Powell was getting for Kina Marie from DSS. Relatives say Powell was getting Kina Marie’s food stamps, but that information is not public.


No place for a child

In perhaps one of the most perplexing elements of the case, Powell’s own children were taken away by DSS but Kina Marie was left behind. According to relatives, two of Powell’s own children were removed from her home in August while Kina Marie, who was just a baby, stayed in her care. In November, a nephew living with Powell was also removed from the home, but once again Kina Marie was left there, according to relatives.

DSS records regarding the children and their removal from the home aren’t public.

Dispatch records show that Swain County deputies were asked to escort a social worker to Powell’s home on Nov. 8, but no one came to the door. They went back the following day and were at the home for over an hour, according to dispatch logs.

Relatives said they were concerned that Kina Marie wasn’t growing well and was too small for her age, relatives said. She couldn’t do the things she should have been able to. Relatives suspect she wasn’t being fed properly. She also spent long hours many days strapped into a car seat — whether in the car or inside the house — so she couldn’t move or crawl around, according to relatives and law enforcement documents.

DSS records of one complaint reads as follows: “Reporter states she is very concerned for the baby. Reporter states that the baby is one year old and seems significantly delayed. Reporter states she is always in a car seat and is left in the car alone, even in the heat, while they run errands and drive around all day.”

But there were even more troubling signs. Kina Marie was seen with bruises on her face one day in September. When relatives called DSS to once again report their suspicions of abuse, it finally triggered a home visit by a social worker named Craig Smith.

Powell told Smith that Kina-Marie fell down a set of five stairs. Powell gave Smith two different stories, however, according to his report on the incident.

Powell first said the Kina Marie was sitting in a car seat at the top of the steps. She wasn’t buckled in and fell out when Powell jerked up the car seat. But Powell also said Kina Marie was kicking around in the car seat and made it fall over.

“Ladybird did not take the baby to the doctor because she stated she did not want DSS to be involved,” Smith’s report on the incident says. Smith then told Powell to take her to the doctor. But Powell never did, and Smith never followed up to see whether she had.

Cherokee Indian Hospital has no records of Kina Marie ever being seen by a doctor there, according to law enforcement documents. Cherokee Indian Hospital is where most members of the tribe go for medical care. Whether she was taken to a doctor elsewhere for regular check-ups and vaccinations is not known.

At some point, Kina Marie’s arm was broken. Medical examiners performing an autopsy after her death discovered it, according to a search warrant. The autopsy report is not yet complete.

Following Kina Marie’s death, investigators searched Powell’s trailer and found evidence of drug use. Drug paraphernalia, including pipes, pill grinders, straws and empty bottles were confiscated in the search, along with several items covered in a white powdery residue.

During attempts to revive Kina Marie at the emergency room the night she died, doctors gave her medication to counter possible narcotic exposure based on “previous DSS reports concerning the child’s living conditions,” according to law enforcement records.

According to Veronica Callahan, Powell’s next-door neighbor, there were often lots of vehicles coming and going from the trailer at all hours of the night.

Callahan also said unsupervised children were often running around in the yard and street in front of the trailer. In the fall, she noticed children were sleeping in a tent in the backyard of the trailer. She said Powell would sometimes lock the children out of the trailer.

Sheriff deputies had been to Powell’s trailer on three calls in a six-month period, according to dispatch records. One was for a report of domestic violence in June. In October, deputies responded to reports of a drunk person causing a disturbance. In November, the Swain County sheriff’s office were called to the residence after a report that three boys were missing. The boys were later found under a nearby bridge.

Powell’s criminal record includes misdemeanor child abuse for allowing 5-year-old and 9-year-old child to ride in a car with a 14-year-old behind the wheel. The 14-year-old wrecked, and Powell was charged for endangering their safety. She also has assault charges.


The final hours

The day Kina Marie died, she had been left strapped in a car seat for 12 hours, according to a law enforcement investigation.

“During that time period Aubrey was not removed from the car seat, given food or a drink except for some bites from a hotdog and sips of a soda that Ladybird Powell was eating around 5 p.m. Aubrey’s diaper was not changed during this period,” investigators were told by a witness who was with Kina Marie and Ladybird that day.

Around 10 p.m. she was taken from the car seat and put to bed on a mattress wearing only a T-shirt and diaper.

Powell discovered Kina Marie’s body around 3 a.m., according to dispatch records. The Cherokee Police Department was put on alert that a white truck with its flashers on was speeding toward the Cherokee hospital with a baby who was blue and not breathing. Meanwhile, the dispatcher gave Powell instructions on how to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation while driving in the truck.

Powell was distraught by Kina Marie’s death, according to a recording of the 911 call Powell made after discovering Kina Marie’s body. Powell was hysterical, screaming and weeping as she held Kina Marie in her arms.

“My baby’s not breathing, oh my God, she’s not breathing,” Powell cried over and over into the phone. Powell stayed on the line with the 911 dispatcher while her husband, James Murphy, drove them to the emergency room at Cherokee Indian Hospital.

They arrived at the emergency room by 3:30 a.m., where medical staff had to forcibly pry Kina Marie out of Powell’s arms.

Kina Marie’s body was a dusky blue color, and her core body temperature was only 84 degrees.

“Infant was limp and very cold to the touch,” according to law enforcement records.

Doctors attempted to revive Kina Marie but were unsuccessful. She was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Cherokee police officers felt the mysterious death should be investigated, but since Powell lived off the reservation the case would fall to the Swain County Sheriff’s office. Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran and Detective Carolyn Posey were roused from bed and arrived at the hospital in Cherokee around 5 a.m.

An investigation by the Swain County sheriff’s office into Kina Marie’s death is still pending, which will determine what if any charges are pressed against the baby’s caregivers.

Waynesville Attorney David Wijewickrama has been retained by Kina Marie’s mother to pursue a civil case against DSS for failure to intervene.

“I am absolutely disgusted and appalled with any social worker that would have left her alone in that trailer with the people who abused her and eventually killed her,” Wijewickrama said.

Wijewickrama said DSS should have heeded complaints of relatives and removed Kina Marie from Powell’s care.

“If a social worker wants to take a child they can take it just like that,” Wijewickrama said. “The statute is so broadly written it gives enormous power to law enforcement and DSS workers to do whatever they want, if they even think they need do. They have authority right then and there. Get the kid in the car, and go.”

Wijewickrama expressed “rage and fury” over the alleged DSS cover-up aimed at erasing evidence they knew of the abuse and failed to act.

“I’m mad. I’m very mad,” Wijewickrama said.

Wijewickrama said criminal charges in Kina Marie’s death should have been pressed by now.

“I am absolutely stunned that based on the contents of those warrants that no one has been arrested,” Wijewickrama said.

Staff writer Quintin Ellison contributed to this report.

Child’s death hits Cherokee hard

The mood is grim. Few people in this tight community want to talk to an outsider about the death of 15-month-old Aubrey Littlejohn.

Here on the Cherokee Indian Reservation, kinship ties are strong and families are extended and extensive. It doesn’t matter that they might not have known or ever even seen the toddler: in this tribe of just more than 14,000 members, there is outrage. Anger. Hurt. Aubrey was one of their own, another branch of the close-knit tribal family tree.

“It’s just uncalled for,” said Lisa Owen, who works in a Cherokee Harley Davidson store. “As a parent myself, I think the well-being of the kids should be first and foremost on anyone’s mind. They’re our future, and if we don’t take care of them, nobody will.”

The Swain County Department of Social Services failed to remove the child from the home despite numerous complaints by caregivers that she was in an unsafe home and being neglected by her caregiver. (see related story)

The allegations have spawned outrage among members of the tribe.

“DSS should’ve stepped in and took care of that baby,” said Scotty Gunter, a clerk at a local auto parts store. “She would probably still be alive if they had.”

His coworker Willene Gross agreed.

“I feel like that baby’s death could’ve been prevented,” said Gross. “They [DSS] need to do more investigating into stuff like that.”

Swain County DSS Director Tammy Cagle said she and her staff are deeply saddened by Aubrey’s death.

Regina Rosario, the head of the Cherokee child-advocacy group Heart-to-Heart, said that she’s dismayed, but not entirely surprised.

“I knew one day it would come down to this, you know, one of ours dying, and you see now that it’s a mess,” said Rosario of the DSS system. “It’s gotten a little better but there’s still things that I think that they should be on top of.”

Tribal Council Member Terri Howard also expressed her sadness over the baby’s death, saying that she hoped social services and tribal government both would use this as an opportunity to reexamine their roles and responsibilities, and possibly make some changes.

“I am very saddened that this little girl lost her life,” said Howard. “It’s a tragedy that it had to come to this.”

As the investigation into Aubrey’s death and the alleged coverup at Swain County DSS continues, more discussions about how the system could be improved are likely to be stirred on the reservation and in surrounding counties. Although the issue has not formally been placed on this agenda for a tribal council meeting this Thursday, Rosario has pledged to bring up the issue in public comment, and Howard believes that others will be there to voice their outrage, too.

Swain commissioners recommend suspending DSS employees in wake of SBI probe

Relatives of a Cherokee child who died in January are publicly calling for the suspension of the Swain County Department of Social Services’ director and program manager, as well as other employees named in a State Bureau of Investigation probe into an alleged cover-up at the agency.

Nearly two-dozen family members of Aubrey Kina Marie Littlejohn came to the Swain County Commissioners meeting Monday (Feb. 28) to make their case. Speakers told commissioners that public confidence in DSS has been severely shaken. They said suspending those in charge, including Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones, will help repair the agency’s credibility in the community.

“People do feel a little tense not knowing what is going to happen with these same people still sitting in the positions that they are in,” said Ruth McCoy, a great aunt to Aubrey.

Though commissioners have no authority to suspend DSS employees directly, they could implore the DSS board to take action.

Three of the five Swain County commissioners openly agreed to do so, and a fourth seemed to indicate possible support as well.

Only Commissioner Steve Moon, who is the uncle of DSS Director Tammy Cagle, said he disagreed with suspending the employees. Moon argued with McCoy, who was speaking on behalf of the family, who are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

Several DSS employees attended the commissioners’ meeting, including Cagle and Jones. The cramped quarters — only two tightly packed rows of folding chairs — created standing room only.

DSS officials seemed to know that questions regarding their employment would be broached. DSS Attorney Justin Greene addressed commissioners at the outset of the meeting, preemptively putting them on notice that the authority to make personnel decisions rests “exclusively” with the DSS board of directors and not the county commissioners.

Commissioner David Monteith was the first to weigh in after McCoy sat down.

“I myself would like to suggest to the commissioner board that these other people who have been allocated in this be dismissed with pay until charges are either brought against or cleared. I think it would be better for the whole county if this would happen,” Monteith said.

Monteith suggested the commissioners write a letter to the DSS board with a recommendation to that effect.

A DSS worker who came to the meeting offered a rebuttal from the audience.

“Excuse me, can I ask something?” she said. “How will the agency run?”

Monteith replied that replacement staff could be sent in from the state level. The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, the umbrella agency over county DSS units, has offered to provide support and resources should Swain County need help, Monteith said.

DSS Board Chairman Jim Gribble countered that their board didn’t have the authority to meddle in personnel when it comes to rank-and-file employees.

“The only position the board can appoint is the director. We could appoint a temporary director,” Gribble said.

“I think that would be a start,” McCoy answered.

“Close down the DSS? Is that a start?” Moon asked.

McCoy said the state would send personnel to help run the agency if needed.

“It won’t bring Aubrey back,” McCoy said. “But you are going to see there are going to be more people come forward.”

“No, it won’t bring her back,” Moon said.

It soon became clear Moon was in the minority, however.

Commissioner Chairman Phillip Carson said he supported sending a letter to the DSS board calling for the suspension of employees involved in the SBI investigation.

“In my opinion that would be the fair thing to do until the investigation is over with,” Carson said.

Commissioner Donnie Dixon agreed.

Gribble pointed out that the DSS board won’t meet until the end of March.

“Would they consider a special session?” asked Commissioner Robert White.

Carson turned to Gribble and reiterated the question.

“Would you have a special session?” Carson asked.

Gribble pointed out the DSS board has already made a unanimous decision on how to proceed, and for now that means waiting on the outcome of the investigation before making any personnel changes.

“We felt like the ongoing investigation would yield more evidence on personnel matters than we could obtain by having our own personnel investigation, so we chose not to do a personnel investigation,” Gribble said.

He suggested the commissioners and DSS board meet to talk about the issue behind closed doors.

McCoy said if that happens, Moon should abstain from the discussion and a vote on the matter since DSS Director Tammy Cagle is his niece.

That’s when yet another DSS employee spoke from the audience.

“It is my understanding that our director is not directly involved in the investigation,” the DSS worker said in defense of Cagle. “You would suspend that person, who gives the whole agency direction?”

Carson said he was not passing judgment on guilt or innocence, but was trying to protect the integrity of the investigation.

“It needs to be investigated with no complications,” Carson said. “There is a procedure to investigations and sometimes it is just better to set everyone involved aside.”

Monteith asked whether any DSS employee has been suspended so far. Several DSS workers who came to the meeting began nodding and saying “yes,” but DSS Attorney Justin Greene jumped up and said they could not comment on an employee’s personnel status.  However, the employment status, including a suspension, of a state or county employee is in fact public record under the N.C. Public Records Law, according to N.C. Press Association Attorney Amanda Martin.

Several sources who did not want to be identified have told The Smoky Mountain News that Craig Smith, the case worker assigned to Aubrey’s case, has been suspended. However, Smith claimed to investigators he was acting on orders when he fabricated DSS records (see related article.)


Citizens ask for action against DSS

DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones have not spoken to reporters since the investigation became public. Cagle did read a brief written statement at the commission meeting Monday.

“I want to ensure the citizens of Swain County that the staff of Swain County Social Services has been faithful and diligent in our duties to protect children and we will continue to do so,” Cagle said.

Last week, Greene made a similar statement to media.

“We hope this doesn’t dissuade the public from seeking services or making reports to protect the adults and children of this county,” said Greene.

But Angie Rasulo of Swain County said the allegations don’t exactly inspire confidence in the public.

“How are the people going to feel safe?” Rasulo asked.

Rasulo had an appointment at DSS the day it was raided by the SBI. She was told to come back another day. Rasulo shared what she said was a common sentiment in Swain County, that DSS is not responsive to the community. She hopes the agency sees a clean sweep.

“It’s terrible that a girl had to die to make a change,” Rasulo said. “I hope they are held accountable. They need to clean house.”

Gribble said Swain DSS has asked the state to review all pending child protective services cases to make sure they are being handled properly.

Aubrey Littlejohn’s family members weren’t convinced, however.

“How many other families are going to want to go to DSS? People will think ‘Why should we bother because they aren’t going to do anything,’” Leighann McCoy said. “How can you let them get away with this?”

Swain DSS investigated for cover-up in child’s death

The Swain County Department of Social Services falsified records relating to the abuse and neglect of a 15-month-old baby who later died, according to an investigation by the Swain County Sheriff’s Office and the State Bureau of Investigation.

The specific charge being investigated is “obstruction of justice being infamous, done in secrecy and malice, and/or with deceit and intent to defraud.”

The social worker who handled the child’s case, Craig Smith, altered his reports, fabricating a hospital visit and doctor’s exam that never occurred, according to law enforcement statements. Smith claims he did so at the direction of his immediate superior, Candace Lassiter, according to a search warrant executed by the SBI at the DSS office in Bryson City.

The search warrant also suggests that the agency concealed records in its possession rather than turning them over to investigators.

DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones met with Smith after he had falsified the reports but before they had been turned over to investigators, according to the warrant. Smith said Cagle told him at the meeting “we have to get everything in order and everything straight.”

The SBI seized computers and records from Swain County DSS offices last Tuesday (Feb. 22). Workers were put on lock down during the raid. People with appointments to see social workers or apply for benefits had to come back another day.

The Swain County Sheriff’s Office unraveled the alleged DSS cover-up while investigating the Jan. 10 death of Aubrey Kina Marie Littlejohn. Kina Marie was living with a great aunt, Lady Bird Powell, at the time.

Abuse and neglect are considered contributing factors, according to law enforcement records, but the investigation is still pending and no charges have been filed yet. The autopsy report is not yet final.

The investigation into Swain DSS was launched after Swain County Detective Carolyn Posey uncovered discrepancies in DSS records and found holes in the accounts from DSS social workers. Posey had initially been assigned to investigate Aubrey’s death and determine what, if any, charges should be filed.

Over the course of the investigation, Posey encountered delays getting DSS records. When she finally got the reports she found there were missing pages and other things that didn’t add up.

The child and caregiver are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, but lived in Swain County. The tribe hired a private investigator, Danny Cheatham, to assist Posey in the case.

Posey and Cheatham interviewed several relatives and neighbors who told them they witnessed abuse and neglect of Aubrey while in Powell’s care. Relatives said they had repeatedly informed DSS of the situation, made reports and requested intervention but got no response.

But numerous DSS employees — from the rank and file to the director and manager — told Posey a different story, according to the search warrant.

“Investigators Posey and Cheetham have interviewed numerous persons who indicated that they witnessed physical abuse and neglect inflicted on the child and observed no food, a lack of heat and other inadequacies in the home environment. This information is in direct contrast to the information provided by the Department of Social Services’ employees: Misty Tabor, Craig Smith, Candace Lassiter, Angela Biggs, T.L. Jones and Tammy Cagle,” the warrant states.

Cagle is the director of DSS and Jones is the program manager.

Cagle and Jones told Posey they had turned over all their reports and files on Aubrey. But Posey believed the agency was withholding records and reports, according to the search warrant.

Once Posey and Cheatham discovered what appeared to be cover-up by Swain DSS, they alerted District Attorney Mike Bonfoey, who in turn called the State Bureau of Investigation.


Unraveling tale

Posey encountered significant and unexplained delays getting the DSS records for Aubrey. Posey began asking for the records immediately following the child’s death, but three weeks later had still not received them.

Posey then went to DSS and met with Program Manager T.L. Jones and DSS Director Tammy Cagle to find out what the hold up was.

But even then another two weeks passed before she got the records — a delay of five weeks after her initial request. By now, Posey had grown suspicious. That suspicion mounted as Posey realized the records were incomplete.

“Documents were missing and forms with sequential page numbers were not complete,” the search warrant states.

But it was a dubious account of a doctor’s checkup that proved the biggest red flag to Posey.

Powell was supposed to have Aubrey examined by a doctor following a complaint from relatives who saw the baby with bruises. When visited by social worker Craig Smith, Powell told him the bruises were the result of a fall down the stairs.

Smith told Powell to take the baby to the doctor for a checkup, but she never did. Smith failed to follow up with Powell on the outcome of the doctor’s visit.

Following Aubrey’s death, Smith claims his supervisor told him to go back and “fudge” the reports, according to the search warrant. Smith wrote a fake report recounting a conversation with a doctor who had done a checkup.

Here’s what the fabricated report said about that conversation:

“Smith asked (Dr. Toedt) how the visit went and she stated that she checked the child and didn’t find anything wrong with the child and stated the child appeared to be normal to her. Smith asked her if she could send him something stating what she had just told him. Dr. Toadt stated that wouldn’t be a problem and that she would type something up for him and fax it to him.”

Posey found the account troubling. For starters, Smith spelled the doctor’s name wrong throughout the report.

But as a licensed nurse herself, Posey knew that federal law prohibits doctors from giving out personal health information about patients over the phone. So she decided to call the doctor herself.

“Detective Posey found that there was no medical record documenting that Dr. Toedt had ever seen Aubrey Littlejohn,” the search warrant states. “Dr. Toedt told Detective Posey that she had never had a phone conversation with Craig Smith, and she had never seen or examined Aubrey Littlejohn.”

The very next day, Thursday, Feb. 17, Posey and Cheetham went to see Smith. When they asked him about his visit to Powell’s trailer, he told them the house was clean, that the floors had been mopped and even “smelled of Pine Sol cleaning solution.” He said Powell was feeding Aubrey crackers and juice, and that the home was “stocked with food.”

Smith told the investigators that reports of abuse were “unsubstantiated” and the case had been closed on Oct. 10.

When asked about the doctor’s visit, Smith repeated his story from the fake report. Posey and Cheatham then confronted Smith with what they knew, and Smith fessed up.

Smith admitted to fabricating the doctor’s visit and altering reports in the case file, but said that he did so at the direction of his immediate supervisor, Candice Lassiter. Smith said Lassiter came to him the week after Aubrey’s death and told him to change the records, including faking a doctor’s visit, according to the search warrant.

Smith also said he met with DSS Director Tammy Cagle and Program Manager T.L. Jones during the course of the law enforcement investigation.

“Cagle told Smith that we have to get everything in order and everything straight,” the search warrant says. “This was after Smith had altered and falsified his original narrative and after he had submitted the altered and falsified narrative to Lassiter.”

In the meeting, Cagle asked Smith why he hadn’t followed up on the doctor’s visit, according to Smith. Smith said he was then told to leave the meeting and his bosses stayed in the room.

By now, it was early February. Posey still hadn’t received the records from DSS.

Meanwhile, Cagle told Smith and Lassiter to go out and find Powell so they could question her about whether she ever took Aubrey to the doctor, according to the search warrant. Smith and Lassiter went to Powell’s trailer and to her sister’s house but had no luck. They came back and told Cagle they couldn’t find Powell, according to Smith’s statement in the warrant.

The following Monday, the SBI secured a search warrant from Superior Court Judge Brad Letts. Agents showed up at DSS shortly after the start of the workday the next morning.


Computer forensics

The search warrant gave SBI agents sweeping authority to seize computers, hard drives, servers and data storage devices, including thumb drives and memory sticks in the personal possession of employees. The search warrant also stipulates that DSS workers turn over passwords required to open files or get into e-mail accounts.

Documents to be seized included case files, call logs, child services reports, time sheets, mileage records and even desktop calendars of employees.

In the search warrant, SBI Agent S. Ashe explained why computers had to be seized rather than inspected on site.

“Searching electronic or computer devices for criminal evidence can be a highly technical process requiring expert skill and a properly controlled environment,” Ashe wrote.

Even if DSS employees deleted incriminating files, it might be possible to recover them.

“Files, or at least traces of that file, can be recovered by forensic analysis techniques even after the file has been deleted by the user,” Ashe wrote.

Computer experts can recover “hidden, erased, compressed and encrypted files,” Ashe wrote, but sifting through the massive quantity of data on computers to find what investigators are looking for is a lengthy process.

Tribal police struggle to communicate in outlying areas

In the farthest reaches of the Cherokee Indian  Reservation, work is being done to ensure that when crime happens, the police can be there.

While most portions of the reservation are central to Cherokee itself, within easy reach of police officers and their radio systems, the slivers of tribal land that lie unattached to the main reservation are a far larger challenge to law enforcement officials.

At issue here is the police department’s radio system, which, according to Cherokee Indian Police Chief Ben Reed, is just not strong enough to reach into the Snowbird community in Graham County or the Cherokee County portions of tribal property.

Sometimes this causes problems and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s something Reed said his department is actively looking into.

“Due to the mountainous terrain, it does create issues for us to develop a radio communications system that would reach 45 miles away or 60 miles away,” said Reed. “It’s very difficult to do.”

And while this doesn’t necessarily keep officers from answering calls, it does make communication between the police department and its officers in the outlying regions more difficult and time consuming.

Reed said that his department works closely with the sheriff offices of both counties, who allow the tribal cops to use their radio systems whenever it’s necessary. But calls don’t always come into the local counties’ 911 dispatches; sometimes, they’re called straight into the Cherokee dispatch center, which makes contacting an officer in Graham and Cherokee counties onerous.

Reed said that he and the other emergency response agencies are now putting together a task force to address that very issue, and hopefully they’ll be able to come up with some solutions as early as the end of next week.

“We’re going to figure out, you know, what are our options,” said Reed. “We need to get all these things in place and see where we’re at and is it even possible?”

Whether that means erecting new towers or getting newer, more powerful radio systems for outlying officers, Reed said he’s confident they can find solutions to the problem. The real issue, however, is funding those solutions.

“That’s probably going to take a lot of funding, and where’s the funding going to come from?” Reed said. “We can search for grants and lobby for more funding through our current resources, but there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Meanwhile, the community is calling for a fix to the police communication problems that they see on the ground in the outer counties.

At a special tribal council meeting last month called specifically to address concerns of law and order on the Qualla Boundary, several residents lamented the slow response times to the more remote communities.

“When we talk about the jurisdiction of the land, the Qualla Boundary, it’s not just here on the main which has Jackson and Swain counties, but you’ve got Graham County and you also have Cherokee County,” said Cherokee resident Missy Crowe. “I’ve heard from the brothers and sisters way down in Cherokee County that they would call the police and they’d be lucky if they’d get an officer to respond to them.”

Reed said that, while they do have substations in both counties and six officers assigned to them — four in Snowbird and two in Cherokee County — he knows that more officers can always make things better.

“You can never have enough police officers, and although the calls are minimal in those areas, we still have to provide the community with sufficient resources to serve that population there,” said Reed, adding that his department has worked with those two communities over the last several years to identify just what residents want and need from law enforcement.

But when it comes to actually improving on-the-ground radio communication and coverage for remote communities, Reed said it’s just not something he and his officers can tackle alone.

Reed and his department are overseen by a police commission appointed by tribal council. And while he said he welcomes the oversight and needs the help, it’s no secret that the department and the commission have been at odds in recent months about the commission’s role and relationship to the police.

At last month’s meeting, Reed and members of the police commission had vocal disagreements about the commission’s actions, with Reed taking the position that commissioners were homing in on petty and restrictive issues while ignoring the bigger problems at hand. Radio communications, he said, were one of those concerns, and he reiterated that stance in an interview.

“That’s where we need help,” said Reed. “Those kind of issues aren’t easy. That’s not something that we can just look at tomorrow and say we need A, B and C done and just knock it out.”

He didn’t say whether the commission had been approached for involvement in the process, but noted that improving their radio signals was an important proactive step in the tribe’s crime-fighting approach.

“We’ve not had any major issues with it,” said Reed, “but we shouldn’t sit round and wait on a major issue to happen.”

Tragedy and the Ghost Dance’s demise

(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series regarding the Cherokee Ghost Dance.)

A recent column focused on a so-called Ghost Dance movement that took place among the Cherokees in 1811-13. That, of course, was almost 80 years before the infamous era in the American West that culminated in the Indian massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. The western Indians initially believed the dance would unite them with friends and relatives in the ghost world. As the movement spread from tribe to tribe, however, the dancers began to imagine that the dance would make them invincible.

The unity and fervor that the Ghost Dance movement inspired, however, only brought fear and hysteria to white settlers and contributed to the events ending in the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. When the smoke cleared and the gunfire ceased, more than 300 Sioux, some wearing ghost shirts, lay dead.

In the previous column I relied upon an essay titled “The Cherokee Ghost Dance Movement of 1811-1813” by William G. McLoughlin in the book The Cherokee Ghost Dance: Essays on the Southeastern Indians, 1789-1861 (Mercer University Press, 1984). McLoughlin’s essay is presented as an overview of the extant 19th century accounts of the movement. He treated the various episodes as part of an interrelated related “Ghost Dance” movement:

“In the troubled years 1811-1812 … a prophet named Charlie [i.e., Tsali, but not the individual involved in the Removal events of 1838] appeared among the Cherokee and described a dream or vision in which the Great Spirit … said he was angry with the Cherokees because they had departed from the customs and religious practices of their ancestors and were adopting the ways of the white man … Though Charlie met some opposition, he found many ready to accept his revelations, and he went on to say that it had been revealed to him that on a specific date, three months hence, a terrific wind and hailstorm would take place that would annihilate al the white men, all the cattle, and all the works of the white man … After the storm, these true believers would be able to return to their towns where they would find all of the deer, elk, buffalo, and the other game that had disappeared. Then they would live again as their ancestors did in the golden era before the white man came.”

There was no storm or eclipse. The Ghost Dance fervor withered and died without a return to a golden era.

Michelene E. Pesantubbee is a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Iowa who specializes in Native American religious traditions.  In “When the Earth Shakes: The Cherokee Prophecies of 1811-1812” American Indian Quarterly (1993), Pesanttubbee took a closer look at the evidence and concluded that there was no “Ghost Dance” movement per se among the Cherokees. Unlike McLaughlin, she also felt that the Cherokee incidents were, in part, fueled by rumors about the Shawnee movement led by Tecumseh. Even so, her descriptions of various incidents provide evidence of stress-related symptoms … dreams, visions, phophecies, and apopalyptic forecasts … in Cherokee society 35 years before forced removal took place:

[According to Charlie’s vision] the Cherokee were adopting the customs of the white people. They had mills, clothes, feather beds, and tables-worse still they had books and domestic cats! This was not good-therefore the buffalo and other game were disappearing. The Great Spirit was angry, and had withdrawn his protection. The nation must return to the customs of their fathers ... They must discard all the fashions of the whites, abandon the use of any communication with each other except by word of mouth, and give up their mills, their houses, and all the arts learned from the white people. He promised, that if they believed and obeyed, then would game again abound, the white man would disappear, and God would love his people. He urged them to paint themselves, to hold feasts, and to dance ...

[In] the next record of a prophecy …Big Bear, a Cherokee man, informed the missionaries of a vision another Cherokee man experienced in December 1811. According to Big Bear, this man and his sick children were in their house when: A tall man, clothed entirely in the foliage of trees, with a wreath of the same foliage on his head … said to him ... “I am not able to tell you now whether God will soon destroy the earth or not. God is not pleased that the Indians have sold so much land to the white people. Tugalo [along the GA-SC border], which is now possessed by white people, is the first place that God created. There in a hill he placed the first fire, for all fire comes from God. Now the white people have built a house on that hill. They should abandon the place; on that hill there should be grass growing, only then will there be peace.”         

The third pattern of prophecies was apocalyptic. It began in 1812 after the appearance of a comet and a series of earthquakes. The Moravian records contain three entries describing apocalyptic predictions. On February 23, 1812, the missionaries wrote that David McNair, an intermarried white, told them about the stories he had heard. Later in the entry, the missionaries wrote about an incident in which the residents of one town fled into the hills to hide from a storm of hailstones, the size of half bushels, that were to fall on a certain day. That day passed without incident and the people returned to their homes. A March 1 account came from Laughing Molly, an elderly Cherokee woman, who heard that a sorcerer predicted that in three months the moon would become dark and afterwards hailstones as large as hominy blocks would fall, all the cattle would die, and the earth would come to an end.

George Ellison wrote the biographical introductions for the reissues of two Appalachian classics: Horace Kephart’s Our Southern Highlanders and James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. In June 2005, a selection of his Back Then columns was published by The History Press in Charleston as Mountain Passages: Natural and Cultural History of Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains. Readers can contact him at P.O. Box 1262, Bryson City, N.C., 28713, or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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