Oral Histories

I enjoyed listening to Chief Anne Richardson’s insight about the Rappahannock River and the fact that it played a huge part in providing for the indigenous people. I’ve learned that she is the fourth generation chief in her family and that women were designated as chiefs in her tribe. Although each chief also had a male assistant to balance gender authority in the tribe. She has lived her whole life in the Indian neck in Queen and King county, which is three miles from the Rappahannock river on the east side. The official name of the tribe is the Rappahannock Tribe. The name was changed due to Indian tribes being separated into different areas then reuniting in the Rappahannock area. I found it interesting that the word Rappahannock means “the people who live where the water rises and falls” (6:12) because of the hardships these natives had to overcome. It would make sense that the river would be used as a boundary between the different native tribes because many people married into other tribes therefore tribes had relatives in other tribes so this was not an issue. The river was used by the natives for travel, food, training warriors, and used to celebrate different seasons. The ancestors of the tribe also had a spiritual connection to the river by using it for bathing and prayers as well as blessings the river for the needs to survive. The Return to the River Project is supposed to immerse the children in their historic culture and teach them about their ancestral background.

John Tippett’s story was interesting because I had heard of the organization Friends of the Rappahannock but I did not know what they did. After watching this video I know what the organization does and how it got started, which is a pretty amazing story. I found it interesting that there are mainly three options for environmental careers which is work for the government, business, or non-profit. I’ve learned that Tippett worked at Research Triangle Institute where he was a water consultant for the state and federal government. After working there for four years, he decided to turn to non-profit work to really make a difference in the environment and this is when he became a part of the Friends of the Rappahannock organization. The first challenge for the organization was advocating for the dam on the river to be removed. The hardest part was to get money to remove the dam, which I didn’t know was so expensive. I found it heartwarming that there were community efforts to do fish lifts in order to get fish to the other side of the dam so that they could make it all the way up stream. This also proved the how destructive the dam was to wildlife in the river. In order to remove the dam FOR needed federal government authorization and appropriation. The federal government eventually agreed to pay 75% of the cost to remove the dam but the local government were not willing to pay their part in removing the dam. Then the senator made a bill that said the court of engineer had to pay for the dam removal at 100% of cost or else the no water resource act approval would not be approved. Therefore, the cost to remove the dam was paid for and the FOR was successful in getting the dam removed. I found it interesting that Tippett didn’t have a lot to say about how the river has changed since the removal of the dam other than the obvious changes like the dam being no longer visible and the change in the fish community.

James Pitts Sr. interview was super interesting to me because I live in King George, Virginia and I often go to the Colonial Beach and Dalgren area so the historic insights really stood out to me. The farm Pitts Sr. grew up on was along the edge of the Rappahannock River. He had told a story he had wrote when he was 11 years old about going to see the steam boats comes in at Colonial Beach coming down the Potomac River. I found this interesting because he told it like he was going into a big city, which at the time it probably was but presently it is not. He also told stories about salt fish, which is actually rabbit, that he ate as a child. The way he told stories about his life growing up on the farm and how the river played a big role in providing food and other things that his family used to live. It really shows how the river can provide and impact small family and landowners that lived along it.

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