Just about everyone would recognize an old arrowhead on the sandy floor of a rock shelter as an artifact. But far fewer people would classify an old can or bottle at a former homestead to be artifacts.
Yet, that’s exactly what they are.
The Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area staff has made a point of using social media this summer to educate visitors to the national park on the importance of artifacts. “Artifacts are the things left behind by people who once lived in a place, for example the rock chips and arrow heads at Native American sites or the old bottles and cans at a historic farmstead,” the NPS said in a Facebook post on July 13. “Artifacts and the relationships between them, structures and the landscape tell the story about how, when and where these old places and items were used and who used them.”
The NPS also urged visitors to remember that “artifacts are not souvenirs. They are pieces of history that belong where they can tell their story to everyone. If you find an artifact, leave it where you found it. Please don’t pick it up, move it, or keep it. It is illegal to dig for, damage, or remove artifacts in a national park.”
Folks who hike, pedal their bikes or ride their horses through the Big South Fork are almost sure to come across some of these old artifacts, especially if they keep their eyes peeled. Not every artifact is as exciting as one of those old Indian arrowheads, but all have stories to tell — stories that define these places and our ancestors who once lived there.
For example, a rusted wash tub along the No Business Trail underscores that a family once homesteaded in the area. Just about every family in the BSF had a wash tub; it was used for a variety of purposes, from bathing to washing dishes.
I was reminded of how things that could easily be considered just ordinary trash help tell the story of a place when I visited a backwoods shack of sorts last week.
Situated at the base of a cliff line, it would be easy to believe that the old shack — which was once wallpapered with cardboard but is now reduced to just a skeletal frame of small logs with tatters of cardboard still clinging to them — had only been around for 20 or 30 years. After all, cardboard decomposes relatively quickly in nature. Under the right conditions, it can break down completely in as little as three months.
But this old hunting shack is actually nearly 60 years old. It was built in the 1960s by Donny Kidd, who grew up around the Big South Fork and still resides on Coopertown Road in West Oneida. He was a teenager when he built the small hut.
The shack was preserved for so many years because it is situated within the shelter provided by the cliff line that towers over it. The rock wall has helped to keep the rain, the wind and even the sun off it over the years. And, so, if you didn’t know Donny built the shack in the ’60s, you’d probably have no idea it’s as old as it is.
That is, if you didn’t look carefully around it for some artifacts that act as aging tools.
For starters, the cardboard that still clings to the skeletal frame, now barely legible, is old chainsaw boxes from Will Kidd’s shop that was in Oneida in the ’60s.
There’s also a Mountain Dew bottle, Royal Crown Cola bottle and a couple of Kern’s bread bags that help narrow down the timeline.
The 10 oz. Mountain Dew bottle comes from the early 1970s, after the Mountain Dew brand had been purchased by Pepsi Cola Co. There are a few give-aways, the most notable being the logo, which was introduced by PepsiCo in 1969 as part of its effort to redesign the brand to appeal to a “younger, outdoorsy” generation.
Mountain Dew has roots in Knoxville, just down the road from the Big South Fork. Sometime in the 1930s, two brothers — Barney and Ally Hartman — moved their bottling business from Georgia to East Tennessee and began bottling a lemon-lime mixer. They called it Mountain Dew as a joke, that being the old nickname for the moonshine that was so famous in East Tennessee.
The Hartmans didn’t make their Mountain Dew to sell; they just made it to drink themselves after the workday was over. But in 1946, they took a few bottles to a beverage convention in Gatlinburg, where a friend told them that what they thought was a joke might actually be marketable. Two years later, John Brichetto drew the first images of Willy the Hillbilly. The artwork, which went onto the early bottles of Mountain Dew, featured Willy shooting at a revenuer who was fleeing an outhouse as a pig looked on.
Mountain Dew went on the market for the first time in 1955, as a lemon-lime drink that was intended to be used as a whiskey mixer. It didn’t go over very well, but time would be a friend of the beverage. In 1959, Ally Hartman donated the recipe and the Mountain Dew name to Bill Jones, a successful soft drink supply salesman, as a way to honor his brother, who had died. Jones refused to accept it as a donation, and paid for Hartman’s dinner in exchange for the rights to the name and recipe of Mountain Dew. The total dinner check was $6.95.
At the same time, PepsiCo was marketing its own lemon-lime soda, Teem. Jones tweaked the Hartmans’ recipe, giving it some orange flavor so it wouldn’t compete with Teem. That seemed to make it stand out in a market that was crowded with Sun Drop wanna-bes.
In 1962, PepsiCo purchased Jones’ company, and the Mountain Dew brand along with it. Within three years, more than 10 million cases of Mountain Dew were being sold annually, and the soda was PepsiCo’s second most popular brand, trailing only its flagship soda.
Jones, who purchased Mountain Dew from Ally Hartman for a $6.95 dinner check is rumored to have made more than $6 million when he sold it to PepsiCo.
The Royal Crown cola bottle is tougher to age, but likely was a little older than the Mountain Dew bottle. It’s a much older soda than Mountain Dew; by the time a 13-year-old Kidd built the shack under the bluff, RC Cola had been around for more than half a century — and had become a popular drink in the South more than a decade earlier.
Royal Crown dates back to the start of the 19th century, when grocer Claud Hatcher had a dispute with a Coca-Cola salesman. He had purchased a large volume of Coke from the salesman. He felt he deserved special prices because he was buying in bulk, but the salesman refused. Amid the conflict that developed between the two men, Hatcher vowed to never again purchase Coca-Cola, and set about the process of trying to develop his own soft drink formula in the basement of his family’s store, using a recipe for ginger ale.
The Royal Crown Ginger Ale that resulted was released in 1905, followed by other flavors. The company named itself Chero-Cola in 1910, and later became the Nehi Corporation after it lost a lawsuit with Coke that required it to drop the word “cola” from its name. In the 1930s, a chemist reformulated the original Chero and renamed it Royal Crown. Shortly thereafter, a court ruled that Coke didn’t actually own the rights to the word “cola.” So, Royal Crown became Royal Crown Cola, or RC Cola for short.
It was in the 1950s that Royal Crown exploded in popularity, with RC Cola and moon pies becoming popular as the “working man’s lunch” in the South.
While RC Cola became a popular abbreviation for Royal Crown, including in the company’s official marketing efforts, it wasn’t until the 1970s that the RC Cola log changed to the blue-and-red version that would persist well into the modern era. The design of the bottle found in the old Big South Fork shack was introduced in the mid 1950s and continued to 1970.
Given that the Mountain Dew bottle design was introduced in 1969, and the RC Cola bottle design was discontinued in 1970, it doesn’t take much of a sleuth to deduce that the shack was being used sometime around 1969-1970.
Finally, the old Kern’s bread bag. Like Mountain Dew, Kern’s has roots in East Tennessee. Peter Kern, born in 1836, migrated from Germany to America in the 1850s and settled in Knoxville during the Civil War. He built a bakery at the corner of State Street and Main Avenue, and later expanded to a two-story structure on Market Square. Later, the three-story Kern’s Bakery opened in a three-story building on Union Street at Market Square in 1876.
Following Kern’s death, his family sold the business and, in 1931, the bakery relocated to Chapman Highway, where it became a local landmark. Sarah Lee purchased the Kern’s brand in 1989, and discontinued it in the 2000s.
Oneida native Larry Marcum rememberes that his mother, Julia Stanfill Marcum (1929-2003) ran the Kern’s Thrift Store in Oneida for nearly 30 years until it closed in the early 1980s.
“Ten loaves of bread would fit in a large paper bag,” Marcum said. “The cost was 10 cents per loaf. The route drivers were Maynard Cross, Harry Terry and Johnny O’Neal.”
The original store and warehouse sat where Preston’s Longhorn Steakhouse is now located, and was owned and operated by Earl Terry, Marcum said. A later store and warehouse are now part of Lumber King.
Of course, random soda bottles and bread bags under a Big South Fork bluff don’t tell the stories of those various corporations, but they do help tell the story of when and who came before us in a landscape that has since been completely reclaimed by nature. Soon, Donny Kidd’s hut will finish collapsing, and it, too, will disappear into the growth of the forest. All we have left to tell the stories of times past are the tidbits that remain — things like rusted metal wash tubs, stove pipes, soda bottles and other items that might be seen as trash to some, but that are actually artifacts with stories to tell.