See Beloved Man, Jerry Wolfe, in a Live Broadcast from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian1.23.2017
Jerry Wolfe was born in the late 1920s and grew up in the Big Cove community in Cherokee, NC, just a stone’s throw away from where the Blue Ridge Parkway is today. Growing up, Jerry spoke Cherokee at home and listened to the stories of his parents, including animal folk stories, local legends, and lessons about Cherokee history and culture. Jerry’s father would take him out into the mountains and teach him the names of plantlife and trees in the Cherokee language. He also learned how to identify animals from the sounds they made as they moved quietly through the woods.
In 2013, Jerry earned the title of Beloved Man of the Cherokee Indians for his service to his community. The last Beloved Man title was bestowed in the 1800s, which makes Jerry a living legend.
Meet the Beloved Man at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian
These days, visitors can catch Jerry at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, sometimes at the front desk greeting museumgoers, or as part of his storytelling series on Friday afternoons. (See the Museum schedule for upcoming storytelling events.) Many consider meeting Jerry Wolfe a highlight of their trip to Cherokee and are wowed by the statue in the Museum’s permanent exhibit that is modeled after Jerry’s physical likeness, depicting a shaman from the Mississippian period c. 900 AD–1500 AD.
A Special Live Event
If you’ve never heard Jerry’s stories before, you’re in for a treat! Recently, we had the pleasure of broadcasting a Facebook Live event of Jerry’s storytelling from the Museum of the Cherokee Indian.
Watch as Jerry tells some of the traditional stories passed on from his family, and shares stories from his own life, including playing stickball as a boy, attending the Cherokee Boarding School, and serving in the Navy during World War II.
You can view the two-part video at the links below. Keep reading to enjoy an interview featuring some of the viewer-submitted questions we received during the Facebook Live event.
Jerry Wolfe Live at the Museum, Part I
Jerry Wolfe, Live at the Museum, Part II
Interview with Jerry Wolfe
Visit Cherokee: Water and the idea of water protection has been discussed a lot lately in the news. Can you talk about the Cherokee relationship to water?
Jerry Wolfe: Water has always been used in our old traditions. I mentioned the stickball games, and the stickball games dance always took place not far from the river, from the water, because all of the players, somewhere along the way as they danced before a ball game, they always had to go to the water and ask for strength. And it was used it a lot. It was used also to rub down with the herbs that they mixed with the water. There were so many ways that water was used, and the old Cherokee men called the river the Long Man. That was their way to describe the river, as the Long Man.
Visit Cherokee: Fire has long been considered sacred to Cherokee. What stories do you have about fire from your life growing up in Cherokee?
Jerry Wolfe: We didn’t have matches many years ago, but we still had fire. Some of the logs that were way out in the mountain were real dry and crisp, especially if it hadn’t rained. There’s a mushroom that’s velvety and looks like it has a mesh to it, that grows on dry trees and stumps. My Dad used to take those mushrooms, [puffball mushrooms], and he’d take a little flint rock or quartz rock and tap those rocks together and a spark would come off. If you have that mushroom, it looks a little cottony, and if a spark fell on it, it would smolder and you’d be hard to get it out. The fire will come up and come up, and you can mash it down and when you turn it loose, it will smolder again. And that’s how they’d build their fires years ago, before matches came in.
Visit Cherokee: What do you want people to know about Cherokee, for those who haven’t visited yet?
Jerry Wolfe: I want them to know that we are here and we are strong in our thinking and in whatever we do. We hold tight to our beliefs, and they’re all good beliefs.