(Originally posted on Virtual Blue Ridge’s Blue Ridge Parkway Blog, June 4, 2008)
The January 3, 1979 Asheville Citizen-Times story was brief and sterile:
Four or five gunshot wounds were in Catherine D. Bauer when her dead body was found Monday afternoon in a wooded part of the Cherokee Indian Reservation, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department reported Tuesday.
No arrests had been made at the time, the department spokesman said, but he added: `We might have something tomorrow.’
Mrs. Bauer, 74, widow of Fred B. Bauer, was a former school teacher in the Fontana and Brevard school systems. She had moved recently to Cherokee from Brevard. Funeral services were held Tuesday in Brevard.
She reportedly lived alone in a trailer off Soco Road. The body was found in a wooded area off Hyatt Cove Road near the Blue Ridge Parkway, about five miles from where she resided.
This was just one tantalizing tidbit I ran across while doing the research for my book – one of many that ended up relegated to a footnote in the final manuscript. A story that had only tangential relationship to my main narrative, it wasn’t a thread I had the time to pull. Still, I have wondered all these years, what happened to Catherine Bauer?
A cursory search of subsequent days’ papers – which I did conduct after finding this article – revealed no immediate resolution to the question of who killed the dynamic white woman who, with her Cherokee husband Fred Bauer, had in the 1930s galvanized the Cherokee tribe in a five-year campaign against the Blue Ridge Parkway. At that time, Mrs. Bauer had been well known on the Qualla Boundary as a teacher in the local school and the wife of the fiery Vice Chief. Together, they had railed against a project that they characterized as a modern day land grab, part of a larger government plot to return the nation’s Indian peoples to a state of dependency and isolation from mainstream America.
The full story of Cherokee opposition to the Parkway is told in Chapter 5 of my book, but the upshot was that the Bauers’ actions garnered the Cherokees a substantial cash settlement for their Parkway lands and likely prevented the scenic highway from being built along the route where today U.S. 19, the Harrah’s casino, and other substantial private and tribal tourist-oriented development lies. Pushing the Parkway up onto the reservation’s ridges left this valley area available for the Cherokee-generated development that the Bauers preferred to government-sponsored tourism.
After the Parkway battle was resolved, Catherine Bauer and her husband moved away from the Qualla Boundary for many years, and Fred Bauer died in 1971.
How did a woman who had played such an important role in the Eastern Cherokees’ history come to such a sad end? Clues, anyone?