The Truth About Camp Yonahlossee, From a Chief of the Tuscaroras

This week in our Summer Reading Series Blair’s president Carolyn Sakowski talks about the book that took her back to her summer camp days.


IMG_1090In January 2012, the buzz in the book industry was about a first novel auctioned for a rumored seven-figure deal. Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani had to be about my beloved Camp Yonahlossee in the mountains of North Carolina, where my sister and I, as well as our mother before us, had gone. From 1961 to 1964, I spent most of each summer there.

IMG_1086When Publishers Weekly announced Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls as one of the “most anticipated books of Spring 2013,” I knew it was going to be on my summer reading list. The book’s jacket copy says, “It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy . . . Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes.” I loved that “Southern debutantes” part.

DiSclafani keeps readers wondering exactly what Thea has done to deserve her exile. Since Thea has been raised on an orange-grove plantation without knowing any girls her age, her discovery of female friendship is one of the book’s strongest themes.

KioskHowever, I suspect other Yonahlosee alums will be as slightly disappointed as I was. I know DiSclafani has gone to great lengths in media interviews and personal appearances to say the camp in her book is nothing like the real Yonahlosee (which closed in the 1980s), but I still yearned for a book that would capture the magic of the close relationships we developed during those summers together.

Susan Kelly’s article “Camp Days” in the June issue of Our State magazine actually fulfilled more of my need for a dose of nostalgia. You can tell Susan really went to Camp Yonahlossee.

In the ringThere really was horseback riding at Yonahlossee, and I did partake, but it wasn’t the core of my camp experience. Whereas Susan Kelly gravitated to the crafts cabin, I was one of the girls who “swam endless laps in the pool’s frigid water in order to earn the privilege of Going to the Lake for four days and nights to ski and motorboat.”  I also got to be a pretty darn good shot with a rifle—and a bow and arrow, long before high-tech bows and Katniss Everdeen came on the scene.

on the water frontI must admit that, after that extra glass of wine, I can also throw back my head, “lift my arms to the heavens and intone in an eerie sing-song, Wa ah ta ho, maui ta la no.” Having been chief of the Tuscaroras, I, too, know the secrets of the echo and the bonfire—and I know all the words to “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

Check back next week for another installment of Blair’s Summer Reading Series.


13 thoughts on “The Truth About Camp Yonahlossee, From a Chief of the Tuscaroras

  1. I had no idea you were also a Yonahlossee girl! My mother went there, as did my younger sister and I. GREAT experiences and memories. There was a reunion this summer, but I wasn’t able to go.
    We’ll have to chat about it one day……

  2. Great to read your article, Carolyn. I have missed my days and friends at CY for many years…..but I have such wonderful memories of my days there. I did get to the reunion this year. If it hadn’t been for CY and FACEBOOK, I would have never been reunited with my college boyfriend, whom I married two years ago. It’s a long story of about 38 years, but a good one. Hope you are doing well. I got to see your mother and Margaret about a year ago at the K Mart here in Morganton. I am living on Lake James now… it. Susu Fitz McAninch

    • I wondered who Susan mcaninch was. Of course, susu fitz. How great to hear from you. As you see, I’m in Winston. Mother is still at grace ridge at 97, but pretty much only in apartment with her companions. One of us is up every weekend.

      • Great to hear from you!!!! We need to get together, when you are up one weekend. WOW….97 years old!!! That’s amazing. My parents both passes away in 1995.

    • Read the recent novel. Wanted to see what I could find about the REAL camp and found you!! Wondered how you have been. No longer in Morganton. I am in Jacksonville, NC…but go home to Chapel Hill regularly for family, etc. Would love to catch up with you. Elaine Blyth Bixiones

      • So wonderful to hear from you, Elaine!!!!! I have thought about you and your family over the years……especially when I am in Chapel Hill. I am still in Morganton, NC. I live on Lake James now. I retired from teaching in 2008 after 36 years of teaching at the same elementary school here in Burke County. I have three daughters and four precious grandchildren. I am loving the retirement life…….married my old college boyfriend, who found me via Camp Yonahlossee. I would love to see you again!!! Thank you for your message. Love and hugs……

      • Great hearing from you. I taught high school too for 33 years….some college classes….and then retired in 2009. My husband Mike is a retired Marine helicopter pilot and we followed his career to Pensacola to Okinawa two times and back to NC where we wanted to end up. Two daughters, two grandchildren. I am headed to DC this week to stay with eldest daughter and her two children while her husband is away at a conference….travel a lot, leading trips to Europe, and go to Chapel Hill for games even though I graduated from W&M. You know growing up and going to UNC football and basketball games were a tradition for both of us!!! Would love to visit over the phone sometime when it works for you. Can send you contact info. email me at Elaine

  3. Hi Carolyn — just reading along on FB, naturally went to your blog and BOOM! There I am. Thanks for the shout out. Someone gave me the book, but, well, hm, I have lots of summer reads before that one….

    • Thanks for telling it like it was! Even knowing the book wasn’t supposed to be about actual Camp Yonahlossee, it made me squirm to think others who didn’t go there might believe that book represented the real camp. Not even close. @ Susan Kelly: I took all your books to the beach with me for my summer reading and I thoroughly enjoyed them and the glimpses in them of the real Yonahlossee (& St. C’s). :-)

  4. Carolyn, Two names I want to throw out at you. Did you ever know a Kathryn (Kathy) Fleming from camp? She would have been a little younger than us. Also I noticed Donald Davis listed as an author. Do you know him? I have now bought all 3 of Lin Stepp’s Smokey Mt. novels. LOVE them. Joanne Tubergen Whitley

  5. I also went to Camp Yonahlossee for several summers back in the 60’s. I loved it!! Your picture “on the waterfront” brought back so many memories! I also swam and swam so I could go to the lake and waterski! I also did the one mile swim there. We also went on a canoe trip (I think the New River) ? I was not big into horseback ridding but most of my friends were!! They brought their own horses with them. I won an award for my weaving! I will always tell people I went to the best camp and had the best time. P.S. We did get in trouble with Jete a few times!

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