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a BLOG by Pastor Ken Rickett

From the time I was around 10 years old and all through my teenage years I would go with my uncle and his family to camp atop Hooper Bald, a 5,482-foot mountain that literally had no trees growing there. Except for abundant grass cover on the bald, the only other plant found in occasional clumps were wild huckleberries which ripened in late August. We would camp sometimes over the weekend but more often than not, our trek to the mountaintop lasted a week in which we lived out of tents and toted buckets of water from just over the side of the bald where several mountain streams and creeks first bubbled out of the ground.

And indeed, it was a trek to get atop the peak. Washed out logging roads that were built in the 1920s was the only way to get there by jeep or a high truck because the rocks and gullies meant slow traveling, rocking back and forth and being jarred with each dip.

The driver had to keep full attention on the road because it was critical that he steer just right to avoid ripping out the exhaust pipes or oil pan on the vehicle. Sometimes the younger ones would walk because it was quicker to get to the top by walking the last three miles. Talk about speed bumps…nothing like an old logging road!

Hooper Bald has a unique distinction of being the last free range for grazing cattle in America—not the wild American West. When I was camping there as a teenager, one reason we did so was not only to pick huckleberries in season but to find our cattle amid the several groups of cattle there and leave a salt block. Each spring several people would take their herd up and each fall they would take the herd back into their valley homes. The federal government closed the area to free range in the 1970s. What a history! A thrill indeed to care for cattle on America’s last free range!

Many times, when wandering around the grassy top (about a mile or so long and several hundred feet wide) I have gone to a rock ledge, not a very large one, but it was truly straight down for several hundred feet. One peculiarity about this rock is the carving on it that reads “PREDARMS CASADA SEPT 1615”. Over the years tourists, not realizing what a treasure that rock has become, have defaced it a bit. Old timers remember seeing this carving in the early days of the settlement of western North Carolina. Talk about a mystery. The date of Sept 1615 causes quite a stir with its puzzlement. First, the pilgrims did not land at Plymouth Rock until 1620. Second, the native American Indians would not know any European languages. What other language would use letters very, very similar to the English alphabet?

Hmmmm! I have studied Greek and Hebrew…and oh, yeah, I took Spanish in high school and college. Bingo!

Could that inscription be Spanish? Oops! Is that possible? 

Well, in 1540, Hernando de Soto led about 550 men from Spain on a search for gold. They traveled northward to the center of present-day North Carolina and then turned west, and actually traveled through the mountains near my hometown. Little did they know that they actually walked near the Cowee Valley which is now called the The Gem Capital of the World for its rubies, sapphires, garnets, amethyst, etc. It is said that de Soto got into a battle with the Indians near present day Knoxville, and half of the Spanish men were wounded, and a few were killed. Did a rogue group leave de Soto?

If so, we are talking 1615, not 1540-1542. If that were true, then some 3 three generations would have survived somehow. There are no Indian tales of white skinned people living on the hills of Carolina, Georgia, or Tennessee back in that era. And Hernando de Soto and his surviving men returned to Spain after trekking all the way into

Texas, but Spanish ships sailed in the Caribbean Sea and Spanish encampments along the Gulf Coast are known to have existed. But the Spanish did not create a permanent settlement.

In those days…O, I almost forgot! In 1567 another Spanish leader Prado also explored what is now the southern United States. Again, no settlement was lasting. Did some of Prado’s men wander off and survive a few years before disappearing without a trace?

Adding to the mystery is the Spanish word CASADA which refers to wedding, or wedding celebration. The word derives from the verb CASAR meaning “to marry, wed.” Did a wedding take place atop this high mountain amid Indian territory in September 1615? If so, who, from Europe, would have been there in 1615?

As much as I would like to know the answers to this intriguing mystery, I am content to let it remain just that–a mystery!

The scriptures testify that God is never fully known, but God constantly reveals God’s nature and being to humankind. God is mysterious in many manifestations and God works in mysterious ways. If God can be fully known, then why would anyone spend a

lifetime seeking to know God and God’s will? If God reveals the loving and merciful nature and being in Jesus Christ, His Son, and grants that Son all authority in heaven and earth, including the authority to bestow eternal life upon the faithful, then surely, we marvel at this gift that we hope to receive. The loving and merciful God revealed in Jesus Christ is too magnificent to fully comprehend. In a mysterious moment, in the twinkling of an eye, we shall be transformed into an eternal body.

And as confident as we may be that we are led by the Holy Spirit, the presence of God and Christ with us in everyday life, we can be greatly surprised when we sense that God’s Spirit is leading us into a new way of thinking or living life. The work of the Holy Spirit among us is quite mysterious, but we seek to discern the Spirit’s calling.

Perhaps the Church Universal as we know it today needs to become more content with the mysteries of God who is known to us through the Son, and present with us through the Holy Spirit. After all, it is only when we acknowledge the mysteries of God, that we can become humble, seeking, searching, yearning, serving. . . . . .

There is something to be said for allowing mysteries to remain….even with rock carvings atop a high mountain.