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Bonas Defeat Gorge

Source:  George Ellison/Nature Journal/Asheville Citizen Times

¨My first dog – part something, part something else – was named Rascal.  He was my buddy from the time I was in grade school.  Other dogs have followed….As of now Elizabeth and I maintain three shorthairs:  Woodrow, named for the character Woodrow Call in Larry McMurtry´s novel ¨Lonesome Dove¨; Ulysses, named for the Greek wanderer, not the Yankee general; and Lina, named for Carolina, both the sate and the university.  Even though I haven´t hunted for years, I do have an ongoing appreciation for the hunting tradition, especially as it pertains to dog lore.  I can´t remember where I first read or heard the story of Bonas, the famous nineteenth century Jackson County hunting dog.  But I have no reason to believe that it isn´t based on a factual occurrence.

The Tuckasegee Gorge – located in the remote Little Canada section of Jackson County – is widely recognized as one of the roughest wilderness areas in the eastern United States.  The trail guide ¨100 Favorite Trails of the Great Smokies and Carolina Blue Ridge¨, compiled by the Carolina Mountain Club of Asheville and the Smoky Mountains Hiking Club of Knoxville, describes the Tuckasegee Gorge in the following terms::  ¨Rugged and thrilling trip – for agile and experienced hikers only…Very hazardous.  Nature in is command.   Any rescue operation would be extremely difficult.¨  THIS IS NO EXAGGERATION!!

The Tuckasegee River rises in Jackson County near Cashiers (west on Rt 64 from Brevard, about 30 miles).  The stream flows gently northward through the beautiful Panthertown area for several miles…then veers sharply to the west and plummets down through the gorge, possibly following an ancient fault line created millions of years ago.

Traversing the gorge, one rock-hops continually from boulder to boulder.  At its widest, the gorge is perhaps 100 yards (wide), but narrows to 20 yards or so at points.  The adjacent cliffs arise several hundred feet in numerous places;  the spectacular Bonas Defeat cliff towers 400 feet above the gorge floor.

What does the name signify?  According to local legend, it´s named for a hunting dog named Bonas, or Old Boney.  Bonas´ specialty was chasing deer off this particular cliff into the Tuckasegee Gorge, whereupon his owner would then collect the carcass far below.  This went on for years…some say Bonas started to take success for granted – that he became complacent, stopped paying close attention, and pursued his quarry headlong off the cliff.  Others are more charitable.  They say the deer jumped aside at the last moment, saved itself, and thereby tricked Bonas to his ultimate defeat.

But what about the designation ¨Bonas¨?  My guess is that it refers to Napoleon Bonaparte, who, after many victories,was also defeated.  The early settlers, of course, knew all about Napoleon.  An article by Stepen Winick posted at the American Folklore website notes:

¨One of the best-known pieces from the archive is a distinctive version of the fiddle tune ¨Bonaparte´s Retreat¨…probably Irish in origin, it was used for ballads about Napoleaon´s defeat and exile.  Samuel Bayard further tells us it was used as a military march during the Civil War.  <https://blogs.loc.gov/folk-life/2013/11/bill-stepp-aaron-copland-and-bonapartes-retreat>

To get to this area from Brevard, it is an easy and lovely ride out 64 west to the intersection with 281, just before you get to Lake Toxaway.  Turn right and follow 281 until it ends in Silverstein Road/107.  Take a left and follow 107 past Duke Powers´ ¨Four Remote Gems¨- Tanasee Lake, Wolf Lake Reservoir (Bonas Defeat is just below this lake and its power dam.  BEWARE!) – then several more dams and lakes, until you reach the road that takes you north to Sylva and Cullowhee, or south back to Cashiers.  It´s a very pretty day trip, even if you don´t do the serious hike.  At my age, I wouldn´t even attempt it!  Please be cautioned.  This is not an advertisement for anyone and everyone to rush over and hike down the Tuckasegee Gorge.  Maybe for the young, agile and very experienced hiker – but not for most of us. But a pleasant ride out to the Little Canada area and on north to Sylva is filled with some of the most beautiful scenery our mountains have to offer.

Source:  George Ellison/Nature Journal/Asheville Citizen Times

Images:  ncwaterfalls.com/bonas1.htm,         adventuresinpisgah.com        trip advisor.com


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