UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: Roger Trimnel
Interviewer: Emma Echols
August 8, 1993
Roger Trimnel is a member of the Catawba tribe whom Mrs.
Echols refers to as "the historian of the Catawbas." Trimnel owns
a large collection of photographs and other information pertaining
to the Catawbas, and in the interview he discusses his reluctance
to place them in a museum for fear they will not be properly
preserved. He also discusses his disapproval of the goals of the
Catawba Cultural Preservation Project and says they are more
interested in "setting up a Cherokee-type commercial arrangement"
than in preserving the past. Trimnel also explains his political
and cultural disaffection with the Catawba leadership and says he
has lost all confidence in and respect for the executive committee
of the tribe because, he says, they do not represent the people.
E: I am visiting down on the reservation with [the man] I call
the historian of the Catawbas. He knows more about the
Catawba people, has more pictures [and] more information,
and he has spent lots of his time and money doing this. I
am talking about Roger Trimnel. I am interested in knowing
what you are going to do with all the things that you have
J collected and what you haveF
T: Well, my intention has always been to make it available to
anybody that wants to use it.
E: Will it be put in the new facility here?
T: That depends on the new facility and how it is operated,
because my experience in the past has been that everything
that has been collected and put in any facility has
Disappeared. -Bec~auewhen I worked with CENA years ago, I
left all the documents and records in a file cabinet with
the instruction that one copy would stay in the file--it
would stay closed and locked and never given out--and the
other would be used to make copies for public consumption.
Those files do not even exist anymore.
I am not a member of the Cultural Preservation Project. I
believe in the concept of cultural preservation but the
people who are currently involved in doing that have a very
different concept of cultural preservation. My concept is
to find out what really was, how it was really done, why it
was really done, and to continue those things. But like
most eastern Native American groups now, it appears that the
cultural preservation project is to mimic other Indians, not
Catawbas, and I do not agree with that.
You should say that again.
[Its purpose is] to mimic other Indians. The people in
Cherokee and most Indians in that area wear the Sioux and
Cheyenne headdress. There is no record that any kind of
headdress was ever used in this area. They always insist on
the tepees and western-type dwellings. Well, there is no
evidence that anything like that was ever used here. And it
is my impression that the cultural preservation project is
more interested in--how can I put it--setting up a Cherokee-
type commercial arrangement here at Catawba than they are in
truly preserving what past or culture does still exist, and
I do not agree with that. I do not think that the people
here on the reservation want a Cherokee retail area here.
That is my impression; I may be wrong. But all the people
that I know (which is about all of the older people) do not
want a retail commercial village that will exploit what
remains here as far as homesites and the history.
I am not part of the Cultural Preservation Project and I
have already told one of my sons that when my time comes, I
intend that all my children will have copies of everything I
have got, but one in particular will have all the originals.
I have asked Dr. Proctor for years for copies of the oral
histories. He has been very rude and I want him to hear
this because he has never even acknowledged the letters. He
has never answered the letters, he has never acknowledged
them. I have written letters to the president of the
Sv university. I intend to write letters to the e -uke
C5 ^ 0r Q eA- y
Foundation. I think A othDuke still lives in Hawaii and
I intend to write her and ask for copies of those oral
V R r histories as well as the tapes Bpcause Dr. Proctor has
totally ignored any efforts, even when I was a part of the
cultural preservation project. Frankly, I have no reason to
think it will ever be preserved because I do not really
think that the majority of the people have an interest in
E: My little part has been very small, but I started making
friends with them and the little bits of history that I have
preserved are like bits of a patchwork quilt. I have
/ especially been interested in -teducation. I have
preserved a lot about the teachers and the schools, and the
things like that. And so it is like a patchwork quilt:
this, then that, and the other, all put together. But you
have a great deal. Now to me, you are part of it, the
University of Florida has a thing, there is also pottery by
Mr. Simpson in Rock Hill. I do not know what is going to
happen to that. And there may be other items of history,
but what is going to happen to them? Are they going to be
displayed on the wall, are they going to be put in a
T: I have no idea. Bill Simpson told me six months ago that he
was going to sit down and talk to me about that collection.
Whether you know it or not, Bill Simpson and I have been
involved in what later became SCRAP: South Carolina
Residents Against Pollution. There was an effort on the
part of the city of Charlotte that has not ceased yet to put
a big sewer plant in on the Simpson properties, across the
river from Sugar Creek. Bill Simpson and I pretty well
founded that organization and formed another and that
[plant] has been either delayed or cancelled, and moved
further down river. We do not know what the city of
Charlotte is planning on doing, but they had planned on
putting the sewer plant--put it this way--right in the
center of all Catawba historical cultural centers; either on
Sugar Creek or on this side of the river on the Simpson
r/ property or on the other side of the river near King Creel-"
J which is really ___ .sPd? But the last we heard, they
had negotiated with Lancaster County to put it in somewhere
between the railroad bridge, near Bow Water and Landsford.
Still do not understand why Charlotte or the people in
York County area will even tolerate that. I do not know if
you have even heard about the sledge, as it is called, that
they have taken out of the old lagoon there, near where
Carson Blue is, and spread it all over areas of McConnell
and York County, and the people there are totally outraged.
And if that sewer plant came into existence, that would be
happening every day; there would be hundreds of thousands of
tons of sledge to be scattered all over York County. But
all I am saying is that Bill Simpson and I worked on this
for quite a long time, and so far we feel like we have been
successful in having that not done. My main interest was
the fact that it would destroy cultural sites of CatawbaAand
it may yet happen.
E: Bill Simpson's father was very much interested in preserving
all that beautiful pottery, but he wanted a cultural center
where it would be preserved. He was anxious to have the old
library made into the cultural center of Rock Hill. He did
not want to give it to the nature museum [because] he did
not think the nature museum would take care of it. So now
there it sits in the little house behind the garage. When
this big building is finished, would you be willing to put
your things on display down there or not?
T: That depends on how well they would be cared for and
E: They say they have got a grant of $70,000 to finish that
building. On the outside it is a monstrosity (you know what
I am taking about) but on the inside . .
T: They got a grant that they robbed from the tribe.
E: . they have finished floors and walls and so forth. And
they plan to use a whole wall for pictures and plan to let
people come in and read the things and use it but not to
check them out like a library, where they will be lost. I
am anxious . .
T: I am afraid they will be lost anyway.
E: . that the things I have contributed through the
University of Florida will be preserved in some way.
T: Well, all I can say is current history has shown that there
has been very little interest in those kind of things, and
if you knew the real number of people who supported the
Cultural Preservation Project from the standpoint of
participating in a program and assisting in the work that is
done down there, it is a bare handful. I have no reason at
this point to think that that will really change. I hope it
does because there is a real need to preserve our culture.
E: Do you know Tom Stanley? He was here for the celebration.
T: The last time?
E: Yes. He knows the pottery-making. Is it true that Winthrop
College is going to take your pictures or my pictures or
whose ever, and transpose them and arrange them so that they
would be on display and to be used?
T: Well, he is not going to do mine that way because I have not
talked with him about it. About four or five years ago,
when the Cultural Preservation Project was organized, I went
and talked to the curator--I have his name here somewhere--
of the archives downstairs in the library. He said that
they would be happy to take whatever we had and keep it in a
safe environment and safe conditions so they could be
preserved. But I have negatives of all the pictures that I
have so far.
E: You have got an amazing collection, really.
T: Of course, if I can keep the negatives, the pictures can be
made forever. But I cannot tell you what they are going to
do because I do not know what they are going to do. What is
even more important than that [is that] even though a
facility might be planned, are they going to have somebody
S there all the time)?is it going to have plexiglass? A
great-nephew of somebody on the reservation was robbed last
night. People are robbed down here on this reservation once
a month. Once a month is not an unfair estimation. There
is no reason for me to believe that it will not happen too
in that building over there.
E: With $70,000 they are not going to begin to finish the
outside of that building: make an entrance, make it
attractive for visitors to want to come into it.
T: First of all, let me say this Mrs. Echols: I disagree with
the way the $70,000 was taken, and I say taken.
E: That was from the tribe.
T: It was taken from the tribe. Saturday I washed my hands of
T: Saturday. The only thing I am ever going to have to do with
Catawba any longer is the history and the genealogy on a
personal basis. And as far as what the Catawba Nation does
politically or what they do with the Cultural Preservation
Project is between them and whoever else they deal with,
because I lost all confidence and all respect in our
leadership and the people Saturday for what they did. They
have very little foresight, they make decisions not knowing
what is the case now or what may be the case in the future.
For example, last night, we had a lady here from Clemson
[University] who did her thesis on landscape planning and
she had some concepts that she wanted to throw out to the
tribe about how that discipline can be used for the
reservation. She was turned down cold by the executive
committee; they did not even really want to talk to her.
E: Who are the executive committee [members]? Can you name
T: Gilbert [Blue] is the chief. There is no assistant chief,
Buck George is a committeeman, Carson Blue is a
E: I cannot imagine them not wanting to listen.
T: Carson Blue is also the acting secretary-treasurer. Several
other individuals have been attached to the executive
committee, which, called the Land Claim committee, in the
past was called the money group, who wanted nothing but
money and were willing to sell off Catawba. It is my guess,
or my estimation, that the people of Catawba who really care
about what is going on down here were totally left out of
the meeting Saturday by the leadership, including Gilbert
Blue, who I have always had the deepest and highest respect
for. As far as I am concerned, they have no real concern
for what is going to happen down here, regardless of the
So as of Saturday I have nothing to do politically, I have
nothing to do with the Cultural Preservation Project. What
I do is private and personnel, and I will continue doing
that. At this point, I have no reason to believe that
anything that is or is not collected by the Cultural
Preservation Project will ever be kept on behalf of Catawba.
I see no reason for that to be the case because there is so
little foresight. For example, this woman sitting right
over here, she knows as much about these people down here as
anybody living. She knows more about it than a lot of
people older than her and nobody ever asked her, nobody ever
goes talk to Lula Beck, nobody ever goes to see
Ayers. People are more concerned with what they are going
to have in their hand, by way of money, in the next few
years, and all these other abstracts do not even exist now.
They forget totally about the past. It bothers me; I
decided Saturday there is nothing I can do about it so I
might just as well quit worrying about it.
V E: Now I have got interested in this because I have collected
bits and bits of history. Tell me what should I do with my
Stapes and my pictures.
T: Well, that is for you to decide Mrs. Echols. I am not going
to tell you that. But I can tell you that what I have is
going to be preserved. Like I said I have already made
arrangements with my children. It will be there and
everyone of them will have copies of everything I have got.
My intention was to put it in a public place and if that
public place becomes a reality and it is a safe place and it
can be assured that they are going to stay there, I do not
have a problem with it going there. For example, Tom _
is giving all his pottery to the Cultural Preservation /
E: Yes, I know him.
T: I do not know if he was a professor at Winthrop, but he at
least was an instructor there, and is now employed by the
Library of Congress. He has become quite an expert.
E: Will his things be put down here?
T: Well, that is my understanding. He said he was going to
give them to the tribe, I think specifically the Cultural
J Preservation Project. I understand the museum has
made some commitments to the Cultural Preservation Project.
But quite frankly, I am concerned if that will ever really
happen . .
E: They say Winthrop College has said they would prepare the
pictures and fix things to be preserved.
T: . because certain documents have to be kept in the
right atmosphere, under certain kinds of light, certain
kinds of humidity, and so forth. But this was three or four
years ago. I have not even talked to those people since
E: Well, the future is way in advance t is not right now.
T: I know the future is also right now, Mrs. Echols. For
example, if people do not know what Mildred knows or what
Lula Beck knows now, there is no future for that; it is
gone. So it needs to be done now. For example, on the
other side of the river over here, I asked the Cultural
Preservation Project, when I was on it, and the executive
committee, to consider the bottoms, where the old ferry used
to be. You know the last Early Brown ferries, on the other
side of the river. Have you seen that lately?
T: You ought to go across the bridge. They have literally
raked the river bottom. There is a pond over there now,
just to the right of where the ferry used to come out on the
opposite side of the river. They have dug out clay--and it
is mainly clay because it is the Ash Brick Company that is
doing it--but anyway, that old river bottom has had the
surface down to three, four, five feet, totally ripped out.
They were going in and out of there with truck loads of
V clay, hundred truck loads of clay. As far as the
cultural past there, it is dead, because the executive
committee would take no steps to do anything about it.
Where the old cemetery is located on the Nesbit land, up
here up river, below the old Nesbit hunting cabin--you
probably know where that is--they have gone in there and cut
out all the timber and all the trees.
E: Now who has done that? The government?
T: Mr. Nesbit has. It is his land. But that is where the
cemetery is. The executive committee has taken no steps to
do anything. Now as far as this sewer plant is concerned,
Gilbert did attend one meeting with the city council of Rock
Hill about a year and a half ago, when our committee SCRAP
was there. He did attend. I had represented the executive
committee independently, thinking that I was reflecting what
they wanted. They made no steps to do anything about the
extension of l Boulevard. They have had nothing to do
with the city of Charlotte sewer plan on Catawba
traditional cultural land. They have done nothing about
the old cemetery. I get the idea from the executive
committee that they do not care.
E: So you think it will be years before this building sitting
out here next door will be in usable condition?
T: Well, if they have got $70,000 they feel they can complete
it and have it very serviceable.
S E: That means heat, driveway, and an entrance and underpinning.
T: I have no idea what they mean because I have not attended
the meetings. But I do know that the building was in a
questionable state of repair when it was moved to begin
E: That was a huge thing to move -thb -th-ingfrom two miles
T: It was. It was one of the biggest physical moves that has
taken place in this part of the country.
E: Roger, you and I agree on a great many things and I
appreciate what you have done. And other people in the
tribe all appreciate what I have done and what others have
done in trying to preserve this history, and you have done
the great part of it, and I appreciate what you have done
and what you have meant. And I appreciate you talking to me
because I learn from you everyday.
T: I have great concerns about Catawba. I am certainly not the
E: Yet you hope for the future, do you not?
T: Well, I certainly do. But to be honest with youAMrs.
Echols, what I saw Saturday was the demise of Catawba, as
far as a traditional and cultural past. As far as I am
concerned it began fading fast on Saturday because we have a
committee now that does not represent the people. It stands
there and tells everybody what to do. It does not allow
people to present their grievances or their views. I
understand they committed themselves to spend over five
million dollars Saturday that they do not even have. I told
you after Saturday I was washing my hands of Catawba. My
personal opinion is they had really little regard to
preserve anything. T-H a w-ng -b eve m I
hope I am wrong, I really do; I hope I am totally wrong.
Now you know Gilbert; you have known him for years just like
I have, and up until aboutA/eek or two ago I had almost
total faith in Gilbert. I would have gone to the moon with
Gilbert Blue. But when you turn your back on your people
and you stand before a group of people who you lie to over
and over and over, something is very wrong with this. Two
members of that committee I had considered my brothers,
literally. I would have trusted my wife or children with
E: What two?
T: I would rather not say.
E: Oh, well, that is -oka- n the years to come, somebody will
appreciate maybe a little what I have done: loving these
people and recording my little bits of history, and they are
going to appreciate you.
T: That is not important. You see part of what happened
Saturday is part of what happened on February 20. The
committee and the order of the people of Catawba voted to
terminate or extinguish Catawba because that agreement
(which is going through the Congress and the president now)
agrees that in 100 years there will be no more Catawba. And
there is no way morally or ethically that I could ever agree
with that. If you know Catawba history, [you know] that has
been said at least ten times in the past. I am not sitting
here telling you that ye100 years from now we are going
to have a bunch of full-blooded Catawbas running around; you
know better than that. But there is no reason why a lot of
the culture and the history and the documents and all these
things that made Catawba what it is cannot be here. There
is no reason why there cannot be a successful reservation.
There is no reason why a lot of things cannot take place,
but when your leadership sides with the state of South
Carolina to limit everything that has been done for the past
150 years to keep this tribe here, I cannot agree that they
are acting [in the best interest] of Catawba.
E: I appreciate you giving me your time and your expertise,
your philosophy of life. I like what you said and I say I
hope the future is going to be good for you and that they
e are going to begin to appreciate what you have done/ 6Maybe
appreciate a little wee bit that I have done.
T: That is not the point. As far as I am concerned, that is
/ not the point. The point is that i-a;100 years from now,
people in this area ought to know that Catawba had a great
impact on what happened here, and I would hope 100 years
from now it still does. But because of-w the executive
committee and most of the general tribal council and the
actions they have taken, there legally will not be a Catawba
100 years from now.
E: I want to ask you about your daughter, the one that was a
valedictorian at Rock Hill. I always remember her up there
T: She is expecting her third child. She is very happy.
E: Would you please write to her, when you write, to tell her I
have not forgotten her.
T: OK, I will.
E: Here, put her little address down for me and I will write
her myself. I have her picture that she gave me. She
started off and said, "We have come a long way." I wanted to
say, "Yes you have and I am proud of it." And for her to do
that before 150 students and be the leader of her class was
something. I am going to turn it off now.