I spent a large portion of my life in Buffington, a tiny non-city in North Georgia just a mile from the sign pictured in this article detailing an amateur historian’s quest. For a year, we lived in a small house directly across the street from the sign. Yes, I grew up in a place named after one of the Cherokee removal forts used in preparation of the Trail of Tears. Growing up in a rural (as opposed to colonial in the plantation sense) area that was probably 99% white (with its history largely told in the same shade), the Cherokee removal would become my first real education on racial atrocities.
Slavery and the Civil War were just things in books; we did this, it was wrong, we moved on from it (so the story went). The Trail of Tears was in books, too, of course, but real evidence of it existed tangibly around me. As a kid I started to wonder why it always seemed to be white people who were in positions of power and used it to treat others in this way. Once, my fourth- or fifth-grade class took a field trip to the Etowah Burial Mounds, a gorgeous, powerfully ethereal place that has never entirely left my mind.
When we look back at who we were, it’s not only in simple nostalgia. We are trying to do two intertwined things: speak to our child selves and listen to what they have to say to us. I had a good, simple life with a loving family, though it was sheltered. Like many white boys in rural North Georgia, it took a while to see the scope of the whole country and its history. It might seem strange, but I still have some trouble reading about Standing Rock, the Sioux, and other continuing mistreatment of Native Americans. I think I’m still that little boy in this regard. The writer in me is, too.
No one knows where exactly the fort stood, and thanks to a major widening of the main road, it’s possible no one ever will, which makes it even more of a ghost haunting my childhood. What does it mean when the very location of a horror is lost? Larry Vogt is the history buff racing the suburbanization clock to find Fort Buffington. I wish him luck in his search.
These days the community of Buffington, like the city of Canton and the wider county of Cherokee (there’s that false honorarium again), is more suburban than rural. The Appalachians still hunker just north. They’re some of the oldest mountains on Earth, gorgeous but worn down by relentless age, laid out on our horizon like a line God traced with a shaky hand; you can see them clearly in the distance as you leave Interstate 575 at exit 19, though a haze of memory nearly always surrounds them. But Atlanta has sprawled north to Canton, and its slow expansion doesn’t have far at all to go before it reaches the wild barrier of those mountains. In the meantime, even if the fort remains physically lost, I can only hope that with more diversity, future little boys in Buffington will have clearer eyes, even as they feel the tug of more ancient, peaceful history from the Appalachians above them.