October 4th, 2010 by NC BTS
Illustrated presentation: “What I Learned Following William Bartram Across the South ” by Jim Kautz sponsored by the NC Bartram Trail Society.
Footprints Across the South: Bartram’s Trail Revisited
A walk, drive, or canoe trip along the routes taken by William Bartram, America’s first native-born naturalist, provides a unique view of what has happened in the southland since the nation was founded. Jim Kautz took such a journey.
Bartram explored little-known areas from North Carolina to Florida and from Georgia to Louisiana just prior to the American Revolution. His eloquent descriptions, particularly his book Travels, described the frontier of the American southland at the moment of the nation’s birth. He wrote in such detail that we may compare our world with the landscape of the infant nation.
Jim Kautz sought out historical, environmental, and cultural occurrences along Bartram’s pathway. In the course of five years, he traveled 15,000 miles across seven states. He tramped trails, paddled and motored rivers and streams, and interviewed dozens of residents, scientists, and community leaders in revisiting Bartram’s trail.
In Footprints Across the South: Bartram’s Trail Revisited, Kautz shares the results of his quest. “Bartram’s writings give us a benchmark,” he says. “I found a few spots that have changed little in 230 years. A modern traveler can easily imagine the Cherokee town of Cowee in quiet pastureland and rows of corn beside the Little Tennessee River. Cypress swamps are returning to their former grandeur in Florida and Alabama; Bartram’s word picture of Georgia’s Falling Creek Falls could describe the scene today.”
“On the other hand, plantations of slash pines have replaced forests of oaks and flotillas of invasive water hyacinths choke waters he sailed. Environmentalists struggle to restore the health of lands and streams that Bartram found lush and thriving.”
“. . . delightful tour of the South, connecting the past and the present . . .”
. . . a fascinating book that puts a historical character in context for the modern reader.”
“ . . . this book takes a new approach, looking at the changes that have occurred in the places familiar to (William Bartram).”
“ . . . more than a travelogue, more than a biography, more than a history. It puts the past alongside the present, showing how America has changed since Bartram’s travels and how so many of us have lost touch with the history of the land and the people who once lived there.”
Born in Washington, D.C., Jim Kautz has lived in the south for more than forty years while teaching at three colleges and working in five states. He had conducted archaeological explorations in the Middle East and America when William Bartram’s Travels caught his attention. He is past editor of The Traveller, the newsletter of the Bartram Trail Conference and a member of the Board of Directors of the North Carolina Bartram Trail Society.
Footprints Across the South: Bartram’s Trail Revisited is published by the Kennesaw State University Press.