Abstract

This interview took place in Sampson County, North Carolina at the Cohaire Tribal center. The center is a meeting place for the Coharie Native Americans, and has been a second home to many members, such as Gene “Two Feathers” Jacobs. Gene shared many memories of growing up in Sampson County in a close-knit community. He detailed the hardships he faced due to his heritage, as well as some of his fondest memories of growing up with few material possessions. As a child, one of his favorite places to spend time was on the Coharie River. He shared stories of the river providing his family with food, through fishing and trapping, as well as recreation, through swimming and rafting. The river is also a place of meditation for Gene. As a Vietnam veteran, he stressed the importance of the river as a place to reflect and clear his mind on days he is thinking about his time in the service. Unfortunately, the river is changing and deteriorating. It has been for years now, and the Coharie are trying to fight back. Gene shared some insight on what he thinks are some of the causes of the river deteriorating, as well as how he would like to see it change in the future.

Highlights

On Growing Up Coharie

“My dad was a tenant farmer. Everything we ate we either grew it or trapped it. This was my school I came to. I started first grade and went through the twelfth grade here. Everybody else that was around us was poor so nobody really knew they were poor… You know, people didn’t, we had a few families that really, white families, that really took us in, but it was few. Most of them wanted to use us for our labor because we were hard-working people. We worked hard and we didn’t talk back. And we gave you a 14-16 hour day workday and everybody knew that. We had a guy downtown that said he wished all he could hire was natives. Because they didn’t complain, they just worked.”

“…we lived in an old house with no water, hand pump. Our shower was a barrel sitting outside with sacks around it. And we would come in out of the tobacco field or the cotton patch or cucumber field and we’d all go to the shower where the sun had warmed the water and you didn’t stay long, you took a quick shower and jumped out. That was our shower. Handmade, homemade Gravity fit, you know? I never lived in a house with indoor plumbing until I got married in 1967 and built our own house.”

On the River

“…there were sandbars, that water was so clear, You just take your hands and drink right out of the river, and nobody, nobody, said nothing about it bothering you, you know. And I rode my horse up and down the river for two or three miles and we both would stop and drink out of the same bend, bend in the river. So uh, that’s the fond memories I have, you know. Netting, fishing in the river, all those memories are great memories…”

“The river has been neglected. If they would have took the trees and stuff out when they first started falling in, or they controlled the beaver population when they first started damming the river, it would have still been a beautiful river. The Coharie River. You know, it’s been here, I’m 72, and it’s ben here all my life. And up until I was probably 20, it was really recreational. But when the storms came in it created something more for the hunters. And so they left it like that.”

“…it is a great healer for native veterans and non-native veterans. I have several friends that are Vietnam veterans that own land and they tell the same story I do about going down to the river and listen to the water and just getting the peace of mind on those days that all those things in your mind messes it up from the war. All the killings from the war. And there’s something about going to that river and not only the natives, everyone around here wants to see it open.”

On Being Coharie

“I was looking at TV this week, and it almost made me want to cry and that they were worried about the red wolf. There’s only about 25 of them left. You know, what about the red man? …“what about the red man?” We’re still here. You know. To see the artifacts that’s been dug up on the river here and sold. It’s it’s, you know, we had a highway being built and they dug up some artifacts. Instead of contacting the tribe, they called someone else in, “look what we’ve found.”

“My dad would tell everybody, on the section of the river where he had his still, he would tell everybody, ‘There’s bear in there.’ No one would go in there where a bear was at. And everybody was scared of the bear. There wasn’t a bear within 50 miles of here. And he would tell the legend about how he seen the bear… Everybody would tell you, you know, you don’t go down there, there’s bear down there. But actually they had a still down there. Or they had a homebrew where they made homebrew moonshine down there. And proud of it, you know.”

“Some people call them natives, but we’re Indians. It’s just, my dad was like that, and whether you know it or not, if you look at people that’s raised in a home with their dad, the young men mimic their dad. They really do. And my dad did that. My dad would always go outside in a storm, and look, with lightning going everywhere. I find myself doing that. I walk out and look… I go down to the river and I talk to the Spirit. And I keep telling it that we’re going to open it up… The Great Spirit that created the river. Some people call him Jesus. Some people call him Messiah. We call him, I call him, The Great Spirit. The Great Creator. You know? And I go down and I talk to him. When I’m having flash backs from Vietnam, I go down and I can listen to the water run, and I can talk to the Great Spirit, and I can listen to the owl, and I can listen to the crow, and I can listen to the hawk, and they all talk to me.”

On the Future

“We’re losing a great resource that nobody thinks about. Because native land, a lot of us natives own land going to the river. And we would be more than glad to open a spot for young people to come spend a night and camp on the river. They can catch their own food. Let them learn how to scale a fish and clean it fresh and cook it on an open flame. As we used to years ago, you know. I just don’t understand why someone in the state ain’t on fire about the river. Of course it’s not only this river, it’s other rivers too, but this one is unique to the Coharie people. And it would mean a lot to go down and to hear fifty kayakers coming down that river. Native, Non-Native. Enjoying the river. That’s what it was here for.”

“It’s a great story. It needs to be put together and told. One person sooner or later will hear the story and say, “Oh, we need to do something.” And that’s all it takes. But it takes a lot of story telling to get there. It took a lot of us telling the story to get you guys here now. You know, so it’s not an overnight thing. Most of the elders understand that. The young people don’t. But most of the elders understand that.”

“I hear the voices of my people when I talk about the river. They start telling their story. I remember back. When I was a little boy and hearing their story. And I hope my kids and grandkids can tell the same story. Only it will be a different story. That we’re enjoying the river again. But when my spirit leaves, and if I can listen, I want to hear that again.”