My name is Travis Souther. I am a former resident of the High Country, but I heard of some very troubling news from Boone that caused me to contemplate writing this letter to you. While I am no longer a resident of the High Country, I still have numerous friends and colelagues who live and work in your beautiful town. It has recently come to my attention about the proposed demolotion of a number of unsafe structures in the Daniel Boone Park associated with the outdoor drama Horn in the West. I have also been informed that at present there is no plan in place to reconstruct these buildings. Without proper reconstruction of the buildings, it would be exceptionally hard for this attraction to stay in operation.
One may ask just how an out-of-towner can be so interested in the goings on at the Southern Appalachian Historical Association. It would be best to start at the beginning. My first involvement with SAHA was sometime in the early 1990s. I cannot recall the actual year that I attended my first performance of Horn in the West, but I was very young. To this very day, I have extraordinarily vivid recollections of asking my father questions about the events portrayed in this show. As a pre-teen, I certainly did not understand all the implications of what I had witness on the stage that night, nor did I have any inkling of how it would come to change my life.
I again visited Boone in my junior year of high school in which I made the decision that I would attend undergraduate classes at Appalachian State University. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in History from Appalachian in May of 2006, I soon found myself back in my beloved Blue Ridge as an employee of that illustrious institution of higher learning. After beginning my work at the Belk Library in January 2008, I heard that the show often gave Watauga County residents a proce reak the first weekend of the show. As an individual who also enjoys an interest in the theatre, I chose to see the show as an adult. After seeing the show again, I began to more fully grasp the importance of the themes that the show supports: faith, family, friendship and freedom.
I embraced these themes to such an extent that I wanted to help promote them. The next February, I was reading in the Mountain Times of how SAHA was looking for individuals to take an active role on the state. I jumped at the chance! Although I was unable to commit to the rigorous schedule of practice and performance, already having full time employment with the university, I was still able to be a volunteer in the show. I relished this opportunity and look back on this season as perhaps the greatest summer that I have ever had Many things happened that summer, including the making of new friends, an introduction to hands-on experience with real-life theatrical drama, even one getting to say a line on stage. In any event, it was life-changing. Even as I write these words, I have the musical numbers of the show such as “Knock Under” and “How Firm a Foundation” playing in the back of my mind.
In the drama, there is a scene in which the men of the settlement hear that Patrick Ferguson has threatened to send his soldiers over the mountains to “lay waste to the countryside with fire and sword.” The men of the settlement decide to march out of the mountains and take the battle to Ferguson to defend their families and their home. I was privileed to take part in this scene in the summer of 2009. Owing to the fact that I was a volunteer, I was not able to take part in the sequence that demonstrates the resultant Battle of Kings Mountain. After the season had concluded, I became interested in my own family history. Delving into my own genealogy, I discovered that I had an ancestor who in fact undertook the historic march, but himself never made it to the actual battle, dying of an injury en route. Thus in this way, Horn in the West enabled me to relive the history of my own family.
I would be amiss if I did not mention the Hickory Ridge Living History Museum. Of all the facets of SAHA, this has been the organization that brought me the greatest satisfaction. Hickory Ridge is the adjacent living history musem that visitors have the option to tour before the show. Much more than a pre-show activity, the museum serves to demonstrate life on the frontier in colonial times. This is done through docents who are attired in period clothing and accoutrements stationed in period cabins and structures. Many of the items that the docents wear or use are either hand-made by the docents themselves on site or are purchased by the docents own funds. These docents are volunteers and their most important gift is their time. They choose to spend their limited spare time re-living colonial days to help visitors better understand and cherish the freedoms that we enjoy. Much like Continental Soldiers themselves, the only compensation these volunteers receive is the occasional bowl of leftovers and the camaraderie that they share. These volunteers have helped me to develop skills tht I never even imagined that I would enjoy and cannot imagine ever being without again. Owing to this organization, I now weave and do some minor leatherworking. I have learned to mend my own lothing, and while I have not yet mastered sewing the more I do, the better I become. I have also become a better public speaker and have been previously recognized for my presentation skills while employed at Appalachian. The museum helps to maintain period structures. One in particular, the Tatum Cabin, is perhaps the oldest existent structure in Watauga County, circa 1785. Student groups from as far away as Charlotte have come to Hickory Ridge and the audience that this museum is reaching continues to grow and bring new tourism.
The skills and stories that I have learned have enabled me to travel quite extensively showcasing and researching life in colonial times. I have traveled from Boston and Montreal to Savannah and many points in between. The passion that began at Daniel Boone Park has ignited a continuing flame and given me a purpose to impress others about this country’s foundatios. This passion has also allowed me to be sought out to give demonstrations and talks about the coloial time period. I have recently been able to get several other friends involved in living history solely by the impetus the Horn inthe West and Hickory Ridge instilled in me.
It should be no surprise then why I am shocked to hear that the proposed demolition without reconstruction would mean the end of Horn in the West. As Hickory Ridge is largely dependent on Horn, anything that would even temporarily cease production of the outdoor drama would be disastrous to a place that I cherish so deeply. Per TripAdvisor.com, Horn is rated the top attraction in the High Country. Boone relies mostly on two sources of income: the university and tourism. At one previous annual meeting, it was calculated that Horn alone brought over $1 million into the local economy through ticket prices, related hotel stays, fine dining and so on. To remove the number one tourist destination for even one summer season would mean an irretrievable loss of these funds. Horn in the West has been a main staple of the High Country since its inception. People travel from literally over the United States and even the world to see this show. I have personally seen visitors sign their name and address in the Visitors Book from such places as Ireland, Germany and England.
I plead with you not to take any action that would cause Horn to cease its function as it would inevitably come back to hurt Boone and the High Country. I plead with you as many of the populace now living in the High Country now trace their lineage back to the very people whose story is replicated in this drama. I plead with you as an American that you would help to ensure that future generations know the story of the founding of this country, giving a better understanding of what an who America is. There is a line in the drama where the character of Jack Stuart states, “This is my home, these are my people.” I can only echo Jack’s sentiment: while I may currently live away from my friends and colleagues, the northwestern North Carolina mountains are my home and those who live there are my people. By continuing to actively support SAHA and Horn, you are supporting your country, your neighbors and yourselves.
(Boone Resident, July 2002-May 2006, Jan. 2008-Jan. 2013)