Man or Monkey? The Scopes Trial: Part I… The 10,000 Mile Bicycle Trek

Monkey photo from the Scopes' Monkey Trial museum at the courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

Speaking into an old-fashioned microphone, a monkey reports on the Scopes 1925 trial on teaching evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. I found this photo in the museum of the courthouse where the trial took place.

My father once told me that the world was 6,000 years old and that evolution was “a bunch of hooey.” Those were his exact words. He hadn’t always thought this way, but he was in his mid-80’s and the Pearly Gates were beckoning. His occasional reading of the Bible had turned into a full-time passion. He didn’t acquire this viewpoint from the Bible, however. He got it direct— from a radio preacher, a man he regularly sent generous donations to from his meager social security income.

I thought of this as I bicycled up the steep ridges of the Cumberland Plateau and passed by rocks that dated back 500 million years. And I thought about it even more as I biked on toward the town of Dayton, Tennessee. Dayton was the site of the famous Scopes Trial where William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow had gone toe to toe in 1925 over whether evolution could be taught in the public schools of Tennessee. The trial turned out to be a media circus, a first-rate dog and pony show, or, maybe I should say, a man and monkey show. Trained chimpanzees performed on the courthouse lawn.

The rocks along Tennessee Highway 30 as it climbs up on to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee are 500 million years old, or 6000 if you accept the Bible account.

The rocks along Tennessee Highway 30 as it climbs up on to the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee are 500 million years old, or 6,000 if you accept the Bible account.

I started this particular section of my journey through Tennessee at Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester. It’s a delightful place perched between deep gorges carved out by the Duck and Little Duck Rivers. Indigenous people in the area took advantage of its location to build what archeologists think was a ceremonial center over 1500 years ago. In the early 1800s, Americans discovered that the quick flowing Duck River was ideal for running water-powered mills. A gun powder mill was operated at the location during the Civil War to supply Confederate armies, until Union Troops destroyed it.

Old Stone Fort Park outside of Manchester, Tennessee.

All that remains of the 1500 plus year old Native American ceremonial center at Old Stone Fort Park is this peaceful meadow.

Indigenous people built an earthen wall around their ceremonial center that came to be known as the Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, Tennessee.

An ancient earthen wall, seen on the left, surrounds the ceremonial center. Visitors are invited to stroll along this pleasant wooded path around Old Stone Fort.

Dugout canoe at Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, TN.

Peggy checks out a replica of a dugout canoe that Native Americans would have used in the region. Fire was used to hollow out these canoes.

All that remains of a water driven paper mill at Old Stone Fort. The mill supplied paper for a number of Southern Newspapers,

All that remains of a water-driven mill at Old Stone Fort. The mill supplied paper for a number of Southern newspapers.

The interesting history of the park is matched by its beauty. Multiple waterfalls are created as the rapidly descending Duck and Little Duck Rivers cascade over ledges made of limestone.

Waterfall on Duck River at Old Stone Fort State Park near Manchester, Tennessee.

One of several beautiful waterfalls found on the Duck River of Tennessee as it flows through Old Stone Fort State Park.

Old Stone Fort State Park waterfall on Duck River in Tennessee.


Waterfall flowing off of a limestone ledge at Old Stone State Park in Tennessee.

And another.

I was reluctant to leave, but the open road called. I followed Tennessee State Route 55 out of Manchester and on toward McMinnville. For those of you into music, Manchester is the site of the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of fans annually. It is like a modern-day Woodstock or, if you will, a musical Burning Man. Attendees camp out for four days on a 700-acre farm.

The ride into McMinnville was relative easy in terms of terrain. This was about to change. In McMinnville, I picked up Highway 30. A look at a map of eastern Tennessee will show that most roads in the region follow a north-south direction. There’s a reason. Fast flowing rivers running south off of the Cumberland Plateau have cut deep valleys, leaving behind high, steep ridges. It’s a lot easier to build roads following the river valleys than it is to scramble up and over the ridges.

McMinnville is an attractive town which includes, among other things, this striking Methodist Church built in the 1800s.

McMinnville is an attractive town which includes, among other things, this striking Methodist Church built in the 1800s.

Steeple of Methodist Church found in McMinnville, Tennessee.

I was particularly impressed with the steeple. It would be fun to check out the view from the upper windows.

Street lamps decorate the main street of McMinnville, Tennessee.

These street lamps added a feel of authenticity to McMinnville’s Main Street running through the revitalized historic section of town.

Peggy and I found this shop in McMinnville and I had to post it: A music store that sells ice cream and guns!

Peggy and I found this shop in McMinnville and I had to post a photo: A music store that sells ice cream and guns! What can I say…

Highway 30 follows the scramble route; it runs east and west. I was about to climb on a roller coaster: 1000 feet up, 1000 feet down, 1000 feet up, 1000 feet down. And these were serious ups or downs, as I quickly discovered a few miles out of McMinnville when I started a switchback ascent to the small town of Spencer.

An old building along Highway 30 in Tennessee.

Highway 30 outside of McMinnville going east provided a hint that I was entering the hilly terrain of the Cumberland Plateau. Here I was dropping into a creek canyon. I would soon be climbing toward Spencer.

An old barn along highway 30 outside of McMinnville, Tennessee.

An old barn I found along the highway.

Although this was from a recent election, I found it interesting. Long before billboards lined the highways of America, advertising was done on old barns.

Although this was from a recent political campaign, I found it interesting. Long before billboards lined the highways of America, advertising was done on buildings.

Spencer was named for one of the longhunters of the 1700’s who made their way from Virginia into the wilds of Kentucky and Tennessee. I used to think they were given the name for the long muskets they carried, guns that they were amazingly accurate with— as the British were to learn. (They also shot at the Red Coats from behind trees and rocks, which wasn’t considered fair in the European wars of the times. You were supposed to walk at each other in long lines wearing bright uniforms and be mowed down like real men.)

I later learned that they were named longhunters because they went on long hunts. Duh. Daniel Boone was one such fellow. He’d be away for months at a time, only to return home long enough to get his wife pregnant before taking off again. Poor Rebecca was left behind to tend the crops and kids. Pioneer women were tough. But they could also get lonely. Once, when Boone was captured by Indians and was away for a couple of years, he returned home to find Rebecca with another baby. It looked a lot like his brother. Legend has it that Daniel was heard to mutter, “Well, it’s best to keep it in the family.”

Burritt College in Spencer, Tennessee has been closed since 1939 but now has a Facebook Page.

The gateway to Burritt College in Spencer. Closed in 1939, the college now has a Facebook Page. Doesn’t everyone?

There had been a college in Spencer at one time, which surprised me. It’s a small town. The gateway still stands. I decided to do some research. Burritt College, it turns out, was founded in 1848 as one of the first co-educational colleges in the South. At the time, putting young men and women together created a bit of a firestorm. They weren’t to be trusted. Who knows what temptations the devil might send their way? To solve the problem, the college adopted a strict moral code. Members of the opposite sex could only communicate with each other during class and at supervised events.

The students weren’t supposed to cuss, gamble, smoke or drink either. The latter presented a bit of a problem. This was moonshine country. The guys couldn’t resist an occasional sip, or several. Out of frustration, the president of the college went to the sheriff and asked him to destroy all stills in the area. He learned a valuable lesson: You don’t get between a Tennessee moonshiner and his still. The President’s house was burned down.

I made it through Spencer without running into any irate moonshiners, but I was soon to have personal encounters with a big, ugly dog and a speeding 18-wheeler. Those are stories for my next blog, however. I’ll also report in greater detail on the Scopes Monkey Trial, as the renowned journalist, H.L. Mencken, dubbed it.

NOTE: I occasionally post this reminder since new people regularly check in on my blog. In 1989, I did a six month solo bicycle journey around North America. This past spring, my wife Peggy and I re-drove the route. Most photos on these blogs about the trip were taken this spring.

36 thoughts on “Man or Monkey? The Scopes Trial: Part I… The 10,000 Mile Bicycle Trek

  1. Your tour of Tennessee looks beautiful. I can just about guarantee there aren’t any moonshiners left in the area but everyone loves to perpetuate the myth! If you find any down South, I can just about bet you’ll find them in every other corner of our country as well. Happy trails, Curt.

  2. Those billboards are an eyesore aren’t they? They are illegal in UK but landowners get around the law by putting adverts on trailers and parking them next to the motorways and that way they are not classed as permanent and do not break planning laws! Some people go to a lot of trouble to get around laws and regulations.

    • Anything for an extra pound, Andrew… One of the many reasons I enjoyed the Natchez Trace was that billboards aren’t allowed. And then the old ditty: “I think that I shall never see, a billboard lovely as a tree, indeed unless the billboards fall, I may never see a tree at all.” 🙂 –Curt

  3. The waterfalls are stunning. Australia too is littered with bill-boards. ‘Freedom to offend’ is what some say. The canoe is more like my kind of bill board and so are old sheds and barns. They tell a story so much better.

    • There are places in Florida that I remember where the billboards were so many you could hardly see the orange orchards. And I am with you when it comes to dugouts and old barns! –Curt

  4. First, this seems like a particularly beautiful part of your ride. I loved the waterfalls, the hills, woods, and meadows – all very scenic. Second, you mentioned two of my distant relatives in this post – William Jennings Bryan and Rebecca (Bryan) Boone! Not super proud to be related to WJB although he was a great orator, but Rebecca is kind of cool (I was a big Daniel Boone fan as a kid!).

    • What fun, Rex. Bryan did have his good points. As for Boone, one of my ancestors, according to a genealogical piece put together by my relatives, “was a companion to Daniel Boon.” This is beautiful country, and gets even more so next week as I head over the Great Smokey Mountains and up the Blue Ridge Highway. –Curt

  5. Another beautiful part of the country Curt. The waterfalls are stunning. You will probably know that there is also a McMinnville in Oregon Took part in a high school debate there.
    Your father seems to have gotten is Biblical knowledge from the same place a lot of other people do unfortunately.

    • Had to look up McMinnville, OR to remind myself of its location. Along Old 99. My dad was always religious but was fairly moderate in his views when I was growing up… not that he didn’t think religion was good for us. Only in his last years did he seem to take on a fundamentalist perspective. –Curt

  6. Love looking at Tennessee through your eyes! We also love waterfalls, dugout canoes, and old barns. But Bonnaroo? Haven’t been to that one. Our son has, and he had a blast. It does sound as if there are some few similarities to Burning Man, an event we learned so much about from your fabulous posts. But we’ve seen so many pics of kids covered in mud or sweating profusely at Bonnaroo that the appeal is just not there. We prefer waterfalls and dugout canoes!

  7. What an amazing trip, Curt! I used to attend the National Storytelling Festivals in Tennessee. It is definitely a storied land. Thanks for sharing some with us, and your photos a wonderful.

  8. My thermometer says 98 degrees. It’s in the shade. It’s hard to look at those waterfall pics and not want to lay directly beneath them. I’d drive to one of ours here in the Pacific Northwest but I’m afraid I’ll turn to bacon in the 90 seconds between the front door and the car.

    Nice post, you waterfall tease.

  9. You missed mentioning the art that the ice cream, music and firearms store also provides. Clearly, this is one-stop shopping at its finest. I can’t help wondering if they might have Buckshot Mocha (coffee ice cream with chocolate chips), Recoil Rum and Raisin, or Open Season Orange Sherbet. It might be worth a phone call.

    The waterfalls are wonderful. Here in the flatlands, we don’t get such treats. It’s fun to see them here.

    Interesting to see the Scopes trial took place in 1925. That right in the middle of the period that the Klan was harassing Iowa — not blacks as much as Catholics.

    • The store was beyond words, Linda, but you’ve added some good ones. 🙂
      There is just something about waterfalls that almost everyone loves.
      I am reminded of the Know Nothing Party of the 1850s who opposed German and Italian Catholic Emigrants as a threat to Protestantism and jobs. They wanted to limit the numbers arriving and require that new emigrants be required to live in the country for 21 years before being granted citizenship. They formed secretive “Star Bangled Banner” societies and insisted that members respond with “I know nothing” when asked about their groups. Other than the secretive part, it sounds somewhat familiar, eh? –Curt

  10. You captured some beautiful photos while in Tennessee. The Duck River is a new one for me. I am always interested in signage and the one featuring Firearms and Music says so much. Great essay and photos. Thank you, Curt. 📮

    • That sign amused me to no end from one perspective, JoHanna. On the other, I couldn’t help think of the message to children. “Here sweetie, why don’t you pick out your favorite flavor of ice cream. When you are done we will think about which type of automatic weapon you want.”
      There is lots of beauty in Tennessee. Our daughter and her family lived there for several years. We even declared it our address when Peggy and I were traveling for four years. But for our home, I prefer the west… as the kids discovered when they tried to persuade us to move there. 🙂 –Curt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s