Diamond City, NC History
As told by Suzanne Yeomans Guthrie
No tradition is more precious to a native Harkers Islander than the privilege of returning to Shackleford Banks. For it is through this ritual that Island people "go home." In fact, the desire is almost an actual need - often undiagnosed by the individual, but quenched only by going and "feeling" the Banks under your bare feet.
Over the past several years, this pilgrimage has become even more cherished, as the freedom to continue this custom has been curtailed. What remains now is a limited access that only rekindles sweet memories of days gone forever. …Yet, the need to "go home" remains, and so we go - to keep "alive" the memories, so that generations to come may retain their ties to the past through us.
It is for that purpose that this book was created - and especially so for this one element of our heritage. May the "love of the land" that was engrained in our forefathers continue as we strive to preserve the uniqueness of our inheritance.
Shackleford Banks …
Over the past ten years, we have all heard a lot about our "roots." Most Islanders have deep roots at Shackleford Banks, including myself. Both of my grandparents, Dan and Nettie Yeomans, were born and raised on the Banks. The old Yeomans' homeplace, that was located where the Harkers Island Marina now stands, was moved from the Banks, then rebuilt on the Island. This was a common occurrence as the fierce weather continued to force the ocean closer and closer to the Banks dwellers' homes and property. The barrier island, that the Bankers once called home, had to finally be abandoned after the destructive hurricane of the early l900's. Even though the people no longer lived on the Banks, frequent trips were made across the sound to visit the grave sites of loved ones. In the fall, women would pick tubs of wild, black grapes from the vines on Wade's Shore. Until recent years, when fir trees became popular as Christmas trees, it was tradition for Daddy to go "Christmas tree hunting:" to find the pretties cedar the Banks had to offer to bring home to us.
Many Island folk left fish camps. Later, others returned to build summer camps for vacationing. As a little girl, I traveled to my Grandaddy's small one-room camp to enjoy many summer evenings. The camp had six oversize bunk beds at one end, that could - if you didn't mind being crowded - sleep twelve people. The wooden table and benches were built from scrap driftwood that had been found washed up along the beach after a hard wind at high tide. A two- or three-burner kerosene stove and oven was used to cook many simple, but delicious meals. We kids would settle for a meal of Ritter pork and beans, Vienna sausage or a potted meat sandwich as long as it was accompanied with a Pepsi Cola. The adults preferred clams, oysters, fish, stewed loon, or a pot of hard crabs - prepared only as Islanders can.
Most of the fishing my family did while at the Banks was from a skiff - with a hook'n line. Some of the men, like Clarence Willis, would always have a net to haul for mullets, or bottom fish, like spots or hogfish. Most of the time, the catch was large enough to be shared with all the neighbors. No one was surprised to hear someone holler from the back door, "Hey, do you want a mess of fish for supper?"
Eating stewed loon is unique to Islanders and Salter Path people with Banks ancestors. Loons are wild fowl that at one time were legal to kill during the winter hunting season. Harkers Islanders are famous for their loon stew and their persistency in obtaining them. Killing loons became illegal to prevent their extinction. However, the loon was not threatened by hunting, but the fact that their natural nesting and mating places in Canada were in danger. The birds migrate during the summer months to coastal areas of Canada. It has been told that the Canadians used loon eggs for making a special type of glue, which, in turn, caused a great decline in the numbers being added to the species. In order to preserve the bird, loon killing was outlawed both in the United States and Canada.
Shallow wells furnished water for outdoor hand-pumps and proved suitable for cooking, washing clothes, and rinsing tired, salty swimmers returning from an ocean dip. Our drinking water, as well as all other supplies, were carried from the Island. If you happened to have forgotten something, you could always borrow it from a neighbor.
Bathroom facilities were primitive and consisted of going behind the nearest hill or in the bushes. Later years brought improvements in this area - but always proved to be quite an inconvenience.
Our camp was built on the east end of Shackleford Banks, near the horse pen. The summer horse roundups became a favorite summer attraction for the Island people. Daddy's brand was "D.Y." At the time of the roundups, new colts would be branded, and horses would be auctioned or sold. These roundups were held the first Saturday of every summer month, and the Fourth of July. The events attracted people from as far away as Raleigh, and proved to be somewhat profitable for some Island men. After the Pony
Penning, as it was called, the remaining unclaimed horses were dipped to help control ticks, then allowed to continue grazing their favorite grassy territory.
The Banks horses are considered native to the Banks and have an interesting history. They are supposedly descendants of Arabian horses that came ashore from shipwrecks along the east coast. The horses from the Banks are different from any others, except those at Chincotague, Va. The environment has influenced their development over the generations. They are smaller than a regular horse, but larger than a Shetland pony. The horses feed on marsh grass and brackish water. If one is tamed, they must be "taught" to eat hay and drink from a bucket or trough. In the l950's, the government tried to remove these animals from the Banks. The reason for the proposed removal was said to be that they were destroying vegetation, thus encouraging beach erosion. Dan Yeomans and Clarence Willis, along with others, traveled to Raleigh to plead the horses' case before the Legislature. They won their case, the horses are the only legal residents of Shackleford Banks.
As children, we entertained ourselves and played on "Buzzard Hill," one of the largest sand dunes on the BAnks. We also explored the mounds around the horse pen, finding pottery and broken dishes that were cherished treasures, proving that someone had definitely been there before us. The heat never seemed to bother us, nor did the gnats and mosquitoes. Part of every day was spent in and around the water, both on the ocean side and around the shoals and grass lumps of the sound side.
The inner call to camp at the Banks was so inbred that inclement weather did not prevent our traveling there whenever daddy could get away from his job as Postmaster. One blustery Saturday afternoon stands out vividly in my mother's mind. Daddy's twelve-foot sailskiff, outfitted with a five-horsepower outboard motor, was our transportation across the sound. Even with warning signs of bad weather, whining children persuaded reluctant parents to take their chances. After packing supplies, I, being the youngest, was placed safe and secure under the old boat's canvas sail to keep warm and protected from the elements. The ride over proved to be a rough one, with Mama and the boys bailing while daddy manned the helm. After arriving safely onshore, they remembered me, tucked under the canvas. As I was uncovered, I rolled over and fell in the boat. With gasps, they all thought I had smothered under the heavy canvas. Of course I had been sleeping, unaware of the dangers we had encountered.
We all realized that strangers had gradually been moving to Harkers Island, but it seems that in the late-60's, people really found the Island - and told everyone they knew. Now it has become a haven for summer vacationers and many have made it their permanent home. As the Island became more populated and crowded, there seemed to be an even more urgent call for the native Islanders to return to the land of their forefathers. During this time, one could see - almost overnight - camps springing up all over the Banks. Most of those building summer retreats thought they legally owned family property, and many had even been paying taxes on same.
The Islanders, camping on the banks at this time, left cares at home and joined in the satisfaction of "roughing it". Doing without modern conveniences, like electricity, telephones, running water, indoor plumbing, and air conditioning seemed to be almost enjoyable. There was a special pride about passing by a camp and seeing salt, split mullets on a clothesline to dry. These mullets would be charcoaled later as neighborhoods gathered for a cookout. There was an attitude of sharing and "communal living" that could only be experienced at the Banks. What one had, one shared....With he "rat-race" forgotten, and "keeping up with the Joneses" of no importance, Banks campers could enjoy Mother Nature at her best - as their ancestors did.
Island people are clannish - as are most people who have had to be self-sufficient. With this in mind, it would not be hard to understand their fears as outsiders (like they had done on the Island) started barging in on a good thing:" - Banks camping. In the early l980'3 the Banks began to change. It was not unusual to pass groups of strangers fishing in boats along Wade's Shore, or hikers backpacking to a camp site, or someone looking for the old cemetery. With so many people, from so many places, privacy was almost impossible.
With the reality that change is inevitable, the Island people, that had enjoyed the Banks so much, prepared for what was about to happen. The Banks land, unknown to us, had become an issue for lawyers and governmental agencies. After months of pleading for our homeland and camps, the battle was lost - and the government declared Shackleford Banks a wilderness area, under the control of the U. S. Park Service.
December l985 was a sad month in the life of Harkers Island people. Tears ran freely and hurts were deep, as smoke curled on the horizon from camps being burned by their owners. With that smoke went memories and feelings that could never be replaced. It was the end of "a way of life."
To be very honest, we did, at one time, think that we had a monopoly on our Island and on or Banks. We know now that do do not - but OUR heritage is OURS - and no one can claim that but US. Eventually time will heal the hurts we feel now…
What remains now…
One driving force, that calls me back to the Banks, is the inside longing to "go home again" - not exactly home where I have lived, but to the home of my ancestors. Home, to a time when life was not as impersonal as it often gets in these modern times. Life, in those days, was very busy, with no modern conveniences of housekeeping, or engines to run boats - sailing was not as easy as "turning a key." But it was personal and loving. When houses were built, everyone helped. When someone was sick or hurt, everyone cared. And when someone died, everything stopped - and everyone came to show love and concern for the family.
When I walk over the mounds of shells where my ancestors lived, I can almost hear the children playing in the grass, the mothers sweeping the bare wood floors, and the fathers mending nets or opening clams in the backyard. A close look in the shells will often show a piece of bright blue or green plate or bowl. These fragments of history are gentle reminders, saying "Don't forget your ancestors and their way of life." When I stop and think about that life, I can understand that it was not easy, it was not carefree, and it was not free from worry - but it was concerned, caring, and loving. Everyone and everything existed together - not alone. The environment was not exploited or wasted - they only caught, killed or used that they actually needed.
My ancestors lived with nature. They understood their environment, and knew they were powerless to change time or to stop changes that time brings. They did not want to leave their homes on Shackleford, where they had lived for generations, but they knew that they could not continue living on a small barrier island. So sadly, they packed their belongings, took their houses apart, and moved…
When I walk through the cemetery at Wade's Shore, I can almost feel the sadness and hurt that my people must have felt when they had to leave mothers, fathers, and children to move to a new life. The graves are left as reminders for me - that man has lived here before - and it was not just any group of men and women, but MY FAMILY. The stones are carefully inscribed with details of who they were - and their faith in God.
To their new homes, they took with them memories of earlier times. Skills of fishing, clamming, oystering, and making a living have been passed down from father to son and mother to daughter. Now, even though no houses remain, many of the descendents of these earlier natives feel "called back" to work these small waters. When the nets are pulled in on the beach, and the mullets have been cleaned, salted and carefully dried, and cooked over an open wood fire, I can feel a closeness to my past that cannot be described.
Time has changed and life has progressed to modern times, but Shackleford has not given up - the ocean, the beach, the twisted oaks, the cemetery, and the salt marshes are still here. They are our reminders of the past, and even though I, too, am powerless to stop the change that time brings, I can still go home again" - because memories can never be taken away.
Susanne Yeomans Guthrie
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