The Bard of Ottaray, Shepherd Dugger

Image from UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries.On September 13, 1938, Shepherd Dugger, chronicler of North Carolina mountain life, died.

In 1881 Dugger, became the first superintendent of Watauga County’s public schools. After holding that position for a single four-year term, he opened a hotel at the base of Grandfather Mountain, with partner J. Erwin Callaway.

Dugger married Callaway’s daughter, Margaret, in 1887.

After Margaret’s death, Dugger raised two sons and pursued his interests in mining and surveying. He also began to write and publish books and pamphlets related to his beloved mountains, known to the Indians as “Ottaray.”

Dugger served as superintendent of roads in Avery County, later calling himself “the Colossus of Roads,” and worked as a surveyor and highway engineer for 17 years, usually traveling the mountain roads by foot, carrying a walking stick. Along the road he gave lectures, read from his works and stayed in local people’s homes.

Dugger’s most notable books are The Balsam Groves of the Grandfather Mountain and The War Trails of the Blue Ridge, published in 1892 and 1932, respectively. It’s been said of him:

No man knew the Blue Ridge people, lore, habits, and tastes better than Shepherd Dugger. In his day he was the foremost historian of the region and recorder of its traditions.

Dugger is buried in the Banner Elk.

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