Ducktown Smoke

Ducktown Smoke: The Fight over One of the South's Greatest Environmental Disasters

Duncan Maysilles
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 344
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807877937_maysilles
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  • Book Info
    Ducktown Smoke
    Book Description:

    It is hard to make a desert in a place that receives sixty inches of rain each year. But after decades of copper mining, all that remained of the old hardwood forests in the Ducktown Mining District of the Southern Appalachian Mountains was a fifty-square mile barren expanse of heavily gullied red hills--a landscape created by sulfur dioxide smoke from copper smelting and destructive logging practices. InDucktown Smoke, Duncan Maysilles examines this environmental disaster, one of the worst the South has experienced, and its impact on environmental law and Appalachian conservation.Beginning in 1896, the widening destruction wrought in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina by Ducktown copper mining spawned hundreds of private lawsuits, culminating inGeorgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., the U.S. Supreme Court's first air pollution case. In its 1907 decision, the Court recognized for the first time the sovereign right of individual states to protect their natural resources from transborder pollution, a foundational opinion in the formation of American environmental law. Maysilles reveals how the Supreme Court case brought together the disparate forces of agrarian populism, industrial logging, and the forest conservation movement to set a legal precedent that remains relevant in environmental law today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0315-5
    Subjects: History, Law, Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. INTRODUCTION THE VIEW FROM THE MOUNTAIN
    (pp. 3-13)

    He could see the smoke coming, and he knew what it was. B. H. Sebolt, a septuagenarian farmer with a little spread in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Fannin County, Georgia, recognized its appearance and odor: a dark, bluish smoke with the rotten-egg stench of sulfur. He could also identify its source. From Mr. Trammel’s apple orchard on the top of the mountain, he looked north and saw the smoke gushing from the copper smelters ten miles away, across the Tennessee border. He testified about the smoke in 1914: “It come right through this county and scattered every way. ....

  5. 1 THE SETTING, THE CHEROKEES, AND THE FIRST ERA OF DUCKTOWN MINING, 1843–1878
    (pp. 14-35)

    In 1837, on the eve of the Cherokee Removal, there was only one way to approach Ducktown from the west: it was along a footpath that began in the Tennessee Valley and then climbed up and over Little Frog Mountain before descending into the Ducktown Basin. It is easy to imagine that a weary traveler might have stopped at some open place along the crest to take a breather and to scan the vista before moving on. The traveler would have seen a great expanse of Southern Appalachian hardwood forest, predominantly oak, chestnut, hickory, and tulip poplar, stretching across the...

  6. 2 THE REVIVAL OF DUCKTOWN MINING AND THE FIRST SMOKE SUITS, 1890–1903
    (pp. 36-57)

    The railroad eventually reached Ducktown. On a bright summer day in 1890, a train full of businessmen, politicians, and reporters left Atlanta for the first rail trip to Knoxville by way of the mining district. Proceeding over tracks laid by wage-earning white mountaineers and shackled, mostly black, convict laborers, it chugged northward ever higher through the foothills in Cherokee and Pickens counties to pierce the Blue Ridge Mountains in Gilmer County at the old Indian town of Ellijay. It continued up the Ellijay Valley into Fannin County to the town of Blue Ridge, and from there made the descent into...

  7. 3 THE FARMERS AND THE COPPER COMPANIES WAGE BATTLE IN THE TENNESSEE COURTS
    (pp. 58-80)

    Attorney P. B. Mayfield bragged that his aggressive defense strategy inDucktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Co. v. Barnes(1900) “resulted in all the suits, but three, being dismissed, and doubtless other suits contemplated, were delayed and abandoned.” It was not an empty boast. Margaret Madison, her son William, and J. A. Fortner were the only claimants of the ten to recover damages, and the sums they received were so small and so delayed as to make a mockery of their seven years of smoke litigation in the Tennessee courts. They had won every point of law, yet if success...

  8. 4 GEORGIA ENTERS THE FRAY
    (pp. 81-104)

    In 1903 Georgia farmers in the Ducktown Basin were beside themselves with frustration. Each growing season brought another round of dismay as acid from the smoky clouds killed the fruits of their labors on the stalk, the vine, and the branch. It was bad enough to suffer the damage. It was worse to know that they could have profitably sold all of their produce to the miners—if only they could grow it. Added to this was the realization that their efforts to fight the smoke problem in the Tennessee courts were, for the moment, going nowhere.

    Ambrose Bierce, a...

  9. 5 THE DUCKTOWN DESERT AND GEORGIA’S FIRST SMOKE SUIT
    (pp. 105-128)

    On January 24, 1904, Attorney General John C. Hart boarded a train for the six-hundred-mile trip from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. The occasion was his first appearance before the U.S. Supreme Court in Georgia’s fight for an injunction against the copper companies. His companions included Ligon Johnson, a young Atlanta lawyer he hired to serve as special counsel on the case, and Farish Carter Tate, a Georgia congressman whose district embraced the smoke-damaged counties. The journey across four southern states gave Hart many hours to consider his two-phase strategy, a plan that combined legal and technological approaches to reduce or,...

  10. [Maps]
    (pp. 129-140)
  11. 6 WILL SHIPPEN, FORESTRY, AND GEORGIA’S SECOND SMOKE SUIT, 1905–1907
    (pp. 141-169)

    Georgia’s attorney general, John C. Hart, negotiated the 1904 settlement agreement with the Tennessee Copper Company (TCC) and the Ducktown Sulphur, Copper & Iron Company (DSC I) in the belief that adoption of the new pyritic method of smelting sulfide copper ore would end the damage to vegetation caused by smoke from the old method of open heap roasting. Events soon proved otherwise: smelter smoke generated by the new method was just as thick and toxic to budding fruit and early ears of corn as before. Because the new method was much faster than the old, the copper companies could...

  12. 7 ATTORNEY GENERAL HART, THE NATIONAL FARMERS UNION, AND THE SEARCH FOR A REMEDY, 1907–1910
    (pp. 170-194)

    Some legal victories bear the sweet sense of finality. The criminal defense attorney who wins an acquittal for a murder suspect can celebrate with the added pleasure that comes from closing a file. Other lawyers, especially those who are paid on an hourly basis, are happier when a file remains open for additional lucrative work. The chancery case at the center of Charles Dickens’sBleak Houselasted for the duration of his nine-hundred-page novel as lawyers on both sides milked the decedent’s estate for their fees. The case ended only when the drain of fees exhausted the assets of the...

  13. 8 THE SMOKE INJUNCTION AND THE GREAT WAR, 1914–1918
    (pp. 195-221)

    The resignation of Attorney General John C. Hart in 1910 did nothing to quell the controversy in North Georgia over injunctive relief. The issue dominated the fall elections in Fannin County when pro-copper Republicans turned out all but one of the anticopper Democrats to gain control of the county for the first time in twenty-six years. Fannin was the Georgia county closest to the copper works and suffered the worst of the smoke damage. At the same time, it had the most to lose if an injunction ended the flow of copper dollars into the local economy. All of the...

  14. 9 POWER DAMS, WHITEWATER RAFTING, AND THE RECLAMATION OF THE DUCKTOWN DESERT, 1916–2010
    (pp. 222-250)

    The Ducktown Desert remained after the smoke suits ended. Ducktown smoke litigation was never about restoring the badlands. Farmers and loggers sued for damages to their crops and timber. The state of Georgia sued for injunctive power to force reduction in the amount of smelter smoke. None of the litigants sued for restoration of forests to the naked hills, nor did the courts suggest it. The settlement agreements between the state and the copper companies, providing only for arbitration of smoke claims and a modest limitation of sulfur releases during the growing season, said nothing about reclamation. So far as...

  15. EPILOGUE THE VIEW FROM THE MOUNTAIN
    (pp. 251-258)

    In 1860 Hardin Taliaferro stood on a mountaintop and saw the clouds of heavy black smoke rising from the heaps of roasting ores. With the eyes of a prose stylist, he described them as “huge columns of smoke ascending towards heaven, spreading out at top like vast sheaves” that combined to cover “the heavens with a smoky pall.” Half a century later in 1915, Dr. John T. McGill stood on a mountaintop to observe smelter smoke at the request of the United States Supreme Court. By then, the smoke McGill saw no longer rose in sheaves from the roast heaps...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 259-300)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-320)
  18. Index
    (pp. 321-333)