Dargan: Hidden Gem of Literary Legacy - TribPapers

Dargan: Hidden Gem of Literary Legacy

Olive Tilford Dargan Historic Marker. Photo by Clint Parker

West Asheville – If you’re not careful, you’ll drive right passed this historical marker on Haywood Road in West Asheville and not even know it. A walnut tree has all but covered it up, but it’s located between the police resource center and the public library,

The marker reads Olive Tilford Dargan 1869-1968 – Writer of fiction and poetry. “Fielding Burke,” her pen name. Author of Call Home the Heart and Highland Annals. Home, 1925-68, was 1/4 mile N.

Olive Tilford Dargan, a native of Kentucky, left an enduring mark on the literary landscape through her profound contributions to both poetry and fiction. Her life spanned almost a century, during which she became most active in the 1920s and 1930s. An author who garnered critical acclaim for her insightful portrayal of North Carolina mountaineers, Dargan’s work captured the essence of a unique culture and landscape.

After completing her education at Peabody College in Nashville, Olive Tilford Dargan embarked on a career in teaching. For a number of years, she imparted knowledge to young minds while fostering her own passion for writing. It was during this time that she met Pegram Dargan, a resident of Blue Ridge, Georgia, whom she would later marry. The couple moved to New York City, where both pursued careers as writers. Tragically, in 1915, Pegram Dargan was lost at sea, leaving Olive a widow.

Following this loss, Olive Dargan found solace on a farm near the Almond community in Swain County, North Carolina. It was here that her creative energy blossomed, and she transitioned from writing primarily plays to publishing poetry and prose. In 1917, she released “The Cycle’s Rim,” a collection of sonnets dedicated to the memory of her late husband. This work received the prestigious Patterson Cup, marking it as a notable contribution to literature.

Dargan’s literary output continued to grow, encompassing poems, plays, and short stories across thirteen volumes. The culmination of her writing prowess was recognized by the University of North Carolina, which awarded her an honorary doctorate of letters in 1924. The success of “Highland Annals,” a collection of stories set in the North Carolina mountains, further solidified her literary reputation. Republished in 1941 under the title “From My Highest Hill,” this work showcased Dargan’s storytelling prowess alongside photographs by Bayard Wootten.

In 1932, Dargan took on the pseudonym Fielding Burke and published “Call Home the Heart,” the first installment in a trilogy of novels. This trilogy delved into pressing social issues, addressing the lives of mountain natives who had been enticed by the prospects of prosperity in textile mills. These novels, including the sequel “A Stone Came Rolling” (1935), drew widespread attention for their poignant portrayal of a changing society. Literary scholar Richard Walser praised Dargan for her ability to transform tumultuous times into compelling literature, especially in the context of textile strikes.

In the midst of her literary pursuits, Dargan’s personal life experienced changes as well. Her farm home in Swain County was tragically consumed by fire in 1923. In 1925, she relocated to west Asheville, settling into a log cabin that she fondly named “Bluebonnet Lodge.” This cabin became her sanctuary and creative haven, where she continued to write and contribute to the literary world.

Despite her extensive achievements, both in literature and in her personal life, the passage of time led to the eventual demise of Dargan’s beloved “Bluebonnet Lodge.” In the 1970s, a developer razed the cabin, erasing a physical connection to the remarkable legacy of Olive Tilford Dargan. However, her impact on the world of literature remains indelible, a testament to her ability to capture the spirit of a region and its people through her suggestive storytelling.