Hunting makes up a big part of the Blue Ridge’s history as each year people go outdoors to find wildlife and experience a glimpse of this country’s former frontier.
Thoughts of hunting tends to bring up a romanticized image of exploring the wilderness whether it be through the perspective of the people who settled here during America’s founding or the Native Americans who cultivated these areas long before then. Many are already familiar with some of these frontiersmen such as Daniel Boone, whose name carries on in the town of Boone, North Carolina. There is also the story of Jacob “White Tassel ” Castle who is likely an ancestor of local icon Andy Griffith. While both men were known for serving in the Revolutionary War and being regular explorers, they were also part of the hunting subculture group that was known as longhunters.
Time, weather, and area did not limit longhunters when they traveled in would-be states such as North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Kentucky, hence their name. This subculture began around 1750 when the land was still under British control and many colonists were struggling to live stable lives. Their solution to escape poverty was to go in groups of two or three people and venture into the wilderness of North America for up to a year to hunt animals. Their targets ranged from deer, elk, and wild buffalo to even more dangerous animals such as bears, black panthers, and cougars. The result would be them having various furs and skins to sell and trade to help in their personal lives.
Longhunters could not stay in one place for too long nor could their traveling parties be too big as it risked alerting wildlife to their presence, thus making it harder to hunt. In order to succeed in their profession, these hunters specialized in understanding their surroundings. They relied on natural elements such as sunset, weather, and moisture in the area to best plan their hunt.
Longhunters did rely on rifles for hunting, but they would in some instances use more up-close forms of hunting such as using knives and tomahawks. Longhunting had become such a recognized profession at the time that stations were set up to help the hunters in gathering supplies and preparing their earnings for trade.
With the adventurous details of these hunters, it is easy to get wrapped up in the image that they give, one that is not too far from folklore and fiction. However, longhunters were not perfect as they would also cause unfortunate and disastrous clashes with Native American tribes such as the Cherokee for trespassing onto their territory.
By 1790, with America becoming more formalized as a country and more streamlined in its efforts to gain resources, longhunting had eventually ended as a profession as the country was no longer the wild frontier that the settlers once saw it as. While the history of this group may seem short-lived it still has a lasting impact on Appalachia. The longhunters should not be seen as just a dead profession of the area but instead an important part of this country’s history as they helped create the image of America’s large and beautiful wilderness, a contribution local residents should never forget.
James Slattery is an intern at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History and history major at UNCC-Charlotte.