By Michael Beadle
On a quiet perch atop Bethel Cemetery, two unmarked graves are all that’s left of a pair of Confederate soldiers who left Haywood County to fight a war far, far away, only to return and be shot down as intruders.
The graves of William Pinkney Inman and Johnny Swanger — it’s hard to say who’s body lies where — are located in front of the headstones of Joshua and Polly Inman, Pinkney’s parents. The real-life Pinkney was the inspiration for Charles Frazier’s best-selling fictional novel, Cold Mountain, about a war-weary, wounded soldier named Inman who journeys home to Haywood County to be with his true love.
Bethel Cemetery was one of 10 sites on this year’s annual Cold Mountain Heritage Tour, a weekend trek through Haywood homes, churches, farms, businesses and cemeteries teeming with rich history and local color. Guides at each site discussed the historical significance of these places while visitors were able to ask questions and learn more about the families, traditions and stories embedded in Haywood County’s past.
On Saturday, June 27, tour-goers were given an extra surprise this year at Inman’s Chapel, where author Charles Frazier greeted fans and recounted stories about his Inman ancestry and the book and movie that made this mountain community world famous. The chapel is referenced in Cold Mountain as the place where Inman and his love, Ada, first meet. Built in 1902 by one of Pinkney’s brothers, James Anderson Inman, it had fallen into disrepair after decades of no longer being in use.
However, a few years ago, Inman family members and community volunteers helped finish a restoration of the chapel. The massive effort included replacing rotted out chestnut beams and a weakened foundation, installing new wiring and lights, building new pew benches that fit the design of the original church, stripping off interior paneling and ceiling tiles to find the original wood, replacing the roof with metal shingles, and removing a sizable colony of bats.
“To get it saved was really important to a lot of people,” Frazier said. As an Inman descendent, he took pride in doing his part to repair the church, painting under the eaves of the exterior and helping match the funds that paid for the church’s restoration.
Frazier had not been to the chapel since the restoration was completed. He’s hoping to return for the Inman Chapel homecoming in mid-August. For now, he’s been working on his third novel (about a year away from sending to his editor). His second novel, Thirteen Moons, was a fictional account based on the life of Haywood County-born entrepreneur, legislator and Confederate colonel William Holland Thomas, who became an Indian agent helping the Cherokee to establish land claims in Western North Carolina that eventually became the Qualla Boundary for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Frazier has strong family roots in Haywood County. He’s the great great grandson of James Anderson Inman. Frazier spent his early summers under the shadow of Cold Mountain.
“I always just liked the name of that mountain,” he said, inspired by what little he could find about the story of his ancestor, Pinkney Inman, as well as the Chinese poems of Han-shan, whose named means “Cold Mountain.”
Frazier’s father, a longtime educator and principal, was educated at nearby Cecil Elementary School. His grandfather, Andrew MacDonald Frazier, was passing through the area after a logging job, walking to Waynesville, when he spotted a pretty young lady named Jessie, sitting on the front porch of a house. “Watch me,” he said to a friend, “I’m gonna marry that girl.” Frazier tells the story after viewing his grandparents’ gravestones — both stand behind Inman’s Chapel.
A few new touches to the chapel include wagon wheel frames for the entrance railing and hanging metal light fixtures that resemble candle holders. The sky-blue hue of the wooden ceiling has been restored, as James Anderson Inman would have included in the original design.
“It made him feel closer to God,” said Cheryl Inman Haney, a descendent of J.A. Inman and one of the Inman Chapel guides during the Cold Mountain Heritage Tour.
A newly released book by Cheryl’s sister, Phyllis Inman Barnett — At the Foot of Cold Mountain: Sunburst and the Universalists at Inman’s Chapel — features stories and photos of the Sunburst logging community, the Upper Pigeon Valley, and the history and legacy of Inman’s Chapel.
Unlike many Protestant denominations at the time that preached with brickbat fervor, the Universalists did not believe in an eternal hell, Barnett explained. They focused on community service. Thus, the missionaries at Inman’s Chapel kept a well-stocked library at the nearby Friendly House that also included adult education programs, a summer school, a day care clinic and North Carolina’s first free health clinic.
Despite such facts, Appalachia is still forced to dispel negative stereotypes of poverty and ignorance portrayed in movies and the media.
Quite to the contrary, Inman relatives would explain, in the early 1900s, the Sunburst logging community near Inman’s Chapel had a population in southern Haywood County rivaling that of nearby towns such as Canton and Waynesville, and trains stopping in the community brought books, culture and refinement that anyone in America might wish to have at that time.
Part of the Haywood history tour is not only to invite people to discover these sites, but to set some of the records straight, as history can often prove to be the tangled vines of speculation and opinion wrapped around fixed posts of dates and families.
Today, for example, William Pinkney Inman’s unmarked grave at Bethel Cemetery does not include a Confederate flag flapping at its side since he was considered a deserter. Many other unmarked graves just beyond Inman’s are those of slaves. Perhaps it’s fitting that Pinkney’s grave lies on a spot of earth where visitors may find perspective to see the mountains that define a man. To the south, one can catch a glimpse of Cold Mountain, the peak that inspired an award-winning story about Inman. In the opposite direction stands Big Stomp Mountain, where Inman and Swanger drew their last breaths, shot down by the Home Guard.
As local historians explain, Inman had seen plenty of war and was captured by the Union and sent to the Andersonville of the North — a crowded prison known as Camp Douglas in Chicago, Ill., where hundreds of Confederate inmates died of disease and starvation. In order to be set free, prisoners were required to take the Union Oath, swearing off allegiance to the Confederacy. This, apparently, is what Inman did.
As he and Swanger made their way home from Tennessee, supposedly in Yankee uniforms (the only clothes they had, since they had been prisoners), they were shot by the Home Guard, a band of local militiamen (sometimes viewed as vigilantes). The scene is portrayed in the Cold Mountain novel and later in the 2003 Academy Award-winning movie, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger. When Inman’s father heard the news that his son had been killed just four miles from home, he set out in a horse and cart and carried his son’s body back to receive a proper burial. Joshua Inman would lose four of his six sons in the war.
In an effort to help preserve the history of Bethel Cemetery, Allison Cathey will be cataloguing all the grave stones in the cemetery and creating a grid map to record who is buried and where. Cathey plans to finish the project for her Girl Scout Gold Award by the end of the year.
This year’s Cold Mountain Heritage Tour, organized by the Bethel Rural Community Organization, also included stops at the J. Frank Mann Century Farm in North Hominy, the Hoey/Smathers House in Canton, Bethel Cemetery, Bethel Presbyterian Church, the Blanton-Reece Log Cabin, Inman’s Chapel and its cemetery, as well as several sites in Waynesville, including Mast General Store, the Masonic Lodge (currently The Gateway Club), the Way House (currently Persnickety’s and Women in the Moon), and Green Hill Cemetery. Local musicians provided entertainment at Riverhouse Acres Campground. The annual tour has also produced several booklets and a Cold Mountain Heritage DVD. For more information about the tour or to purchase Cold Mountain Heritage DVDs or booklets, go to www.bethelcomm.org/purpose.html.