History of the Chestnut with Anne Rogers, Gordon McKinney and Tom Saielli

Center for Cultural Preservation


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00:00:00 - David Weintraub introduces the program

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Partial Transcript: David Weintraub introduces the program and tells the audience that there will be Chestnut cookies and crackers at the end of the presentation. David explains that just 100 years ago every third tree was a Chestnut tree. The Chestnut harvests were plentiful and David tells a tale of the bears that would fall down because they had eaten so many Chestnuts. David wonders what type of landscape our children will have 20 or 30 years from now. David introduces the speakers.

Keywords: chestnut harvest; Chestnut cookies and crackers

Subjects: Introductions

00:02:43 - David explains the program and introduces Anne Rogers.

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Partial Transcript: David explains the program is an interactive event and people should ask questions. He first introduces Anne Rogers and gives some of her background.

Keywords: Anne Rogers; Interactive

Subjects: Anne Rogers

00:03:50 - David introduces Gordon McKinney.

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Partial Transcript: David introduces the second speaker Gordon McKinney and gives his background.

Keywords: Gordon McKinney

Subjects: Second speaker

00:04:37 - David introduces Tom Saielli

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Partial Transcript: David introduces Tom Saielli and gives his background.

Keywords: Tom Saielli

Subjects: Third speaker

00:06:06 - Anne Rogers talks about how she became interested in chestnuts

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Partial Transcript: 0:06:06 Anne Rogers talks about how she became interested in chestnuts after eating chestnut bread. She discusses the fact that chestnuts and Cherokees have been part of this area for thousands of years. Anne says it is possible that the Cherokee could have been in this area for up to 20,000 years. Some say the Cherokee were the first entrants into the new world. The chestnut population started to increase 10,000 years ago, or about 8,000 BC. Before that the mountains were covered with evergreens once the chestnut started to disappear the deciduous trees started to take over. The chestnut tree provided more food for the people, most had nuts. The earliest reference Anne has seen to chestnuts is in the De Soto Chronicles. Anne talks about the information in the chronicles.

Keywords: Cherokees; De Soto Chronicles; Chestnut bread

Subjects: Chestnut and Cherokee

00:09:52 - The importance of the chestnut trees to the Cherokee.

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Partial Transcript: Anne talks about the importance of the chestnut trees to the Cherokee. They provided food for the wild animals large and small. The Europeans introduced domestic animals and the Cherokee gathered chestnuts for these animals as well. Chestnuts were a component of the Cherokee diet; chestnut bread is one of the products. Chestnuts are a source of vegetables but you need to eat chestnuts and corn together and no more than 20 minutes apart. Bread was also made with beans and corn but it is possible the beans didn’t come until 1,000 years after the corn so nuts were used to make the bread. Chestnut bread made an easy-to-transport meal for hunters. The ease of gathering the chestnuts was also important. Chestnuts in this area were raked up, put in bags, and taken to the train station to be shipped north.

Keywords: Europeans; chestnut bread; Cherokee

Subjects: The importance

00:13:54 - The importance of nuts in the diet of women.

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Partial Transcript: Anne talks about the importance of nuts in the diet of women and their health. The word for chestnut in Cherokee is gi-ta-ya.

Keywords: gi-ta-ya

Subjects: Health

00:14:50 - Other ways to use the Chestnut.

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Partial Transcript: Anne talks about other ways to use the chestnut other than food for the animals and people. Paul Hamel and Mary Chiltoskey have written a book Cherokee Plants and Their Uses: A 400-year History. Anne reads a quote from James Adair about the preparation of chestnut bread. Anne reads a list of all the uses of the chestnut. There are medicinal uses, how to make dye, use for firewood, and coffee substitute.

Keywords: Cherokee Plants and Their Uses: A 400 year History; James Adair; Mary Chiltoskey; Pau Hamel

Subjects: Other uses

00:17:34 - The blight hits.

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Partial Transcript: Anne talks about when the blight began to destroy the chestnut trees. Timber cutting did offer some jobs to the Cherokees but it altered the nature of the forest. Many of the changes to the forest are still seen today. Anne mentions Joyce Kilmer National Forest and that there are no hemlocks or chestnuts today. The modern diet of the Cherokee is different from the earlier days, some Cherokee still try to retain the old ways by making chestnut bread but in most cases it is bean bread.

Keywords: Joyce Kilmer National Forest; hemlocks; Blight

00:19:40 - Impact on nature and the eco-system.

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Partial Transcript: Anne answers David’s question about what other impact on nature and the ecosystem is with the loss of the chestnut trees. The loss of the trees changed the understory. By cutting out the chestnuts other trees were also being lost. This area was pretty much cut to the ground Joyce Kilmer National Forest being the exception.

Keywords: Joyce Kilmer National Forest; eco-system; nature

Subjects: loss

00:21:02 - Did the chestnut play host to any insects? (question from the audience)

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Partial Transcript: The question from the audience was, did the chestnut play host to any insects? Tom Saielli explains that yes, it was a host plant to many insects, organisms, and animals. The chestnut tree was the largest food-producing species in the forest. The loss of the trees affects many ecosystems. Other trees moved in. The eco-system did not collapse but it was affected.

Keywords: eco-systems; organisms

Subjects: play host to any insects or animals

00:23:05 - Name of the Book? (questions from the audience)

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Partial Transcript: Anne was asked to share the name of the book. She gives the name, publication date, and where she got it. Anne tells the audience one of the uses for the hulls of the black walnut and fishing.

Keywords: black walnut hulls; book

Subjects: Book

00:24:35 - What is the size of the tree? (question from the audience)

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Partial Transcript: Someone asks what is the size of the tree in the picture Tom has brought to the program. Tom explains it is a picture he brings to presentations and he guesses it is about 40 feet tall and a 4 foot diameter. Tom gives some examples of tree size and reminds the audience that the chestnut is a timber tree, some up to 100 feet and 5-foot diameters. Tom shares a picture of a chestnut tree growing in an open field.

Keywords: diameter

Subjects: Tree

00:26:13 - Gordon McKinney places the chestnut in context.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon McKinney places the chestnut in context, in its natural context, and in the context of the settler in Western North Carolina, WNC. Gordon explains we are very lucky because we are in the midst of the richest temperate rainforest. There are 17,000 species of plants and animals in the Great Smokies Mountains National Park. He likens us to the Saudi Arabia of salamanders.

Keywords: Great Smokies National Park; temperate rain forest; Gordon McKinney

Subjects: Type of forest

00:27:41 - The eco-system the chestnut lived in.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon talks about the ecosystem the chestnut lived in. It was very diverse in that it not only produced the chestnut but other plants that Gordon lists. There were all kinds of fish, the rivers were not dammed and on occasion, you would get Atlantic Salmon coming up rivers. The ecosystem also supported very well-fed animals that did not run very fast. All this combined made it possible for one to live off the land; the Cherokees were a prime example. The Europeans came and found the same environment, they were already familiar with living off the land.

Keywords: Atlantic salmon; Cherokee; Europeans; Eco-system

Subjects: What can be found.

00:28:48 - The Europeans arrive.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon describes the Europeans who came to this area and that they were people who were familiar with living off the land. They were not well-to-do in Europe, they were hunters and gathers. The upper classes in Europe started the Enclosure Movement. The upper classes took control of the land and drove the people off, particularly the Irish. Millions of Europeans left and came here. They wanted to use the land in common which meant no matter who owned it, it was available for the use of everyone.

Keywords: Enclosure Movement; Europeans; Irish; use the land in common; hunters and gathers

Subjects: Europeans

00:30:15 - The Europeans settle the area.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon goes on to talk about the Europeans who came, who didn’t necessarily own the land. As late as the Civil War 46% of the families in Western North Carolina did not own the land. They were able to go out to the woods and gather sustenance. By branding their cattle and hogs they could set them free to forage for themselves. Many of the things they did they learned from the Cherokees. They found that many of the items they found were also desired by others. In 1850 the merchants in Buncombe County, Ashville, purchased 181,000 pounds of ginseng primarily for sale to China. This was so successful that many farmers maintained some or most of their land in the forest.

Keywords: branding; civil war; ginseng; Europeans

Subjects: European settlers

00:32:54 - Commons agriculture and economy.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon talks about the system of Commons agriculture and economy. It depended on the area being isolated. People did not have to compete for food with the rest of the country. In 1800 Governor Vance brought the railroad through Western North Carolina. That changed almost everything including the fate of the Chestnut tree. The railroads went to the top of almost every mountain in the area. At the top, they harvested the timber. By the 1900s there were 16 major lumber companies in WNC that owned at least 100,000 acres. In 1905 the Champion Fiber Company came to Canton where purchase 300, 000 acres of land and then formed the Champion Lumber Company and purchased another 100,000 acres.

Keywords: Canton; Champion Fiber; Champion Lumber Company; Commons agriculture and economy; railroad; Governor Vance

Subjects: The railroad

00:35:29 - The purchases of acres of forest.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon talks about the purchases of acres of forest and how the local people did not benefit from these purchases. Many people felt the land was purchased for far less than the land was worth. Gordon talks about the 2 New York speculators, who approached the Cherokee, offered to buy the timber rights, and stumpage, on 33,000 acres, and offered them $30,000. The Cherokee refused and they upped the offer to $66,000. Gordon explains how the Federal Government got involved and sent someone down to estimate the value of the trees. The estimate came in at 1.2 million dollars. Most people didn’t have the government to protest and sold their land for less than it was worth. People came in and followed practices used in New England and the Mid-West which was to clear-cut everything. Most of the chestnuts in WNC were not cut down by blight but by the foresters who were making paper in Canton, and the people who were selling the wood for construction and for making furniture.

Keywords: Federal Government; Speculators

Subjects: The sale of land

00:38:30 - By1920 most of the chestnut trees are gone,

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Partial Transcript: Gordon talks about how around 1920 most of the chestnut trees were gone before the blight arrived. The blight arrived around 1900 coming from people who brought in ornamental trees from Asia. It was first discovered in New York City in 1904. It was discovered in 1917 near Mount Mitchell, in Western North Carolina. By 1930 all the chestnut trees were either cut down or destroyed by the blight.

Keywords: Asia; Mount Mitchell; New York City; Blight

Subjects: The end

00:39:34 - The value of the tannin.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon talks about the value of the tannin in the chestnut tree’s bark. Champion went and cut down all the dead chestnuts and had the biggest tannin operations in the United States. The trees were also sold to furniture companies in Hickory. Even dead the trees fueled the economy until WWII. Gordon discusses the change to the forest and the people when the chestnut trees disappear. People were forced to move on to places like Canton and Anker to work in the mills that use the chestnut trees.

Keywords: Champion; Tannin

Subjects: Dead trees

00:41:50 - The demise of the chestnut tree.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon closes by saying that the demise of the chestnut tree was the demise of a way of life that had been sustained for thousands and thousands of years. The blight was horrendous but it would not have changed a way of life that was changing and restoring the trees would not change anything.

Keywords: changed a way of life

Subjects: The demise

00:43:21 - Questions, answers, and comments from the audience and David.

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Partial Transcript: Gordon was asked if there was some sort of seasonal celebration around the harvesting of the chestnuts. Gordon explains that there was such an abundance of food available that many times neighborhoods would gather together and after the harvest have a celebration. The Cherokee did have the Queen Corn ceremony which was a kind of Thanksgiving celebration.

The question is; what time of the year was the chestnut harvested? Gordon says that it tended to be early to late fall. A comment was made that people do what is called chestnuting. People would go out at harvest time and gather chestnuts.

A woman in the audience shares a story about her father gathering chestnuts as a young boy. They would bring enough to last all winter.

David talks about the fact that bringing back the chestnut would not change the way of life. That the sustainable life we once had has been totally reversed. We ship out our food and purchase food grown somewhere else. David believes that the way of life we have now is not sustainable. David asks what lesson we can take from the life that was lived here in the past.

Keywords: Queen Corn ceremony; chestnuting; harvesting; sustainable life; sustainable

Subjects: Various questions from the audience

00:53:05 - Tom Saielli gives a little background on the American Chestnut.

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Partial Transcript: Tom Saielli from the Chestnut Foundation starts by thanking David Weintraub for putting the program together. Tom gives a little background on the American chestnut and shares some visuals. The range of the tree was from Maine down to the Mississippi. In the higher elevations, the American chestnut really dominated. Tom says the American chestnut is not gone it is just not the dominant canopy tree. He says there are still groves of hundreds of stump sprouts if you just go to the right site. Chestnuts were big trees. There was a tree found in Maine that was 115 feet tall. They were fast-growing and large in diameter. They found a stump in WNC that had a 17-foot diameter. Tom touches on some of the items already covered by Gordon. Chestnut trees were really great to work with. Tom tells the audience what he thinks is the most important thing about the tree, the large masses of nuts. It was a nutritional mainstay for animals and people.

Keywords: American chestnut; Chestnut Foundation; Tom Saielli

Subjects: American Chestnut

00:57:46 - A fungal pathogen.

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Partial Transcript: Tom talks about the blight, a fungal pathogen introduced in 1904 that killed the chestnut. The blight spread quickly it took less than 50 years to wipe out the chestnut. Tom shares a map that shows the path of the blight. Tom points out other places where it is possible the blight was introduced other than New York.

Keywords: fungal pathogen; Blight

Subjects: Blight

00:59:51 - The restoration of the chestnut.

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Partial Transcript: Tom explains there are still millions of little stump sprouts. They are important for the restoration of the chestnut. Tom talks about the many ways they have been trying to restore the chestnut. He explains hypovirulence how it works and the results in Europe and the United States. There is a breeding program, breeding for pest resistance. It is not working too well on American chestnuts. Hybrid backcross breeding is another method being used and Tom explains how it works. This process was started by the founder of the American Chestnut Foundation, Dr. Charles Burnham. It involves hybridizing an American chestnut with a Chinese chestnut. Tom talks about the problems with this practice and how they are dealing with it. They are getting good models from this breeding process.

Keywords: American Chestnut Foundation; Chinese chestnut.; Dr. Charles Burnham; breeding program; hybrid backcrossing breeding; hybridizing; hypovirulence; restoration; Stump sprouts

Subjects: restoring the chestnut

01:04:42 - The work being done.

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Partial Transcript: Tom discusses the work being done at the research farm, Meadowview Research Farm, in Virginia which was started over 30 years ago. He explains the process they use in trying to grow disease-resistant trees. Tom shares pictures of trees that are part of the blight resistance program. He points out that success is not one perfect tree. Tom talks about population genetics and its definition. To restore the tree there has to be genetic diversity. Tom explains how genetic diversity has been incorporated into the breeding program and how crucial it is. They are constantly breeding, testing, and evaluating trees. New modern genomic tools are helping but funding is an issue.

Keywords: blight resistant; disease resistant; genetic diversity; genomic tools; population genetics; Meadowview Research Farm

Subjects: Research

01:07:34 - The American Chestnut Foundation.

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Partial Transcript: Tom talks about the American Chestnut Foundation and some background about the foundation. Every state where there were American chestnuts has a chapter and each chapter contributes time, money volunteers, and energy to put in orchards and help with breeding. There is a local orchard up at Cataloochee Ranch full of hybrid trees, only the best were kept. With the best trees, they have started reforestation where a lot of testing still continues. Tom shares pictures of testing sites from other states. This is a model that is working. They ask volunteers to always be on the lookout for chestnut trees. They need more chestnut trees in the breeding program. Tom feels we can restore this species and be able to count on it being there. Tom encourages people to join up and talks about their newsletter.

Keywords: American Chestnut Foundation; Cataloochee Ranch

Subjects: Progress

01:12:07 - Question and answer time.