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Kirby's book retells local legend

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — The legend says Caty Sage was taken from her home in Elk Creek in 1792 and found 50 years later living with an American Indian tribe in Kansas.

A story that was once written primarily for adults has now been translated into a children’s book by Ellie Kirby.

Kirby is from Mouth of Wilson and is well known for her prints of illustrations from her children’s book, “Under the Snowball Tree,” and now her newest book, “The Legend of Caty Sage.”

She teaches at Bridle Creek Elementary School and shares her love of music and the Appalachian life with her students and readers.

“The Legend of Caty Sage” is based on the story of a small girl stolen from Elk Creek in 1792, and later sold to the Cherokee.

Kirby took about a year to research the legend and about two years to put together the illustrations and story.

“I wanted to tell the story for children, so they could learn about the legend through pictures and to give them an idea what life was like in Grayson County 200 years ago.”

Kirby worked hard to make the book as historically accurate as possible. In fact, she had costumes made of what clothing was like during those days and had friends and family members act out scenes from the book.

“I took pictures from the scenes they were acting out and made my illustrations from those,” she said.

Although exact details of what happened to Sage are unknown, Kirby said it’s been speculated that she was stolen from her family by a horse thief.

“They believe she was then sold to the Cherokee Indians, who took her to Ohio,” she said.

From there, Sage was given to another American Indian tribe, which moved to Kansas.

Sage’s brother found her 50 years after she went missing, living with a tribe in Kansas.

“She wasn’t able to come back to Virginia,” said Kirby. “But they did write letters back and forth with her original family.”

At the end of the book, a letter to her brother reads: “Brother, I am glad you have come to see me. Write to my mother and tell her that though I have lost my vision, and all is dark without, all is light within... Though you may think my life has been hard, I have no reason to complain. I have always been treated tenderly in the way I have been raised...”

Kirby said she began researching the legend with little knowledge of life in the 18th century.

“I just started reading books in the library about the time period and the legend,” she said.

Kirby also visited a few museums and several sites where Sage lived and grew up.

“My family and I drove around looking at different places,” she said. “Places where she had probably been.”

Kirby also recommends anyone wanting more detailed information about the legend to read Bill Bland’s book, “Yourowquains, A Wyandot Indian Queen.”

Kirby said the most interesting thing she learned in writing the book was about the details of what everyday life was like back then.

“What they wore and ate, both the settlers and Indians,” she said. “It was just interesting to learn about that and it gave me appreciation for them. They had to work really hard to get food and clothes.”

Anyone interesting in purchasing a copy of the book can do so at Chapter’s Book Shop or Rooftop of Virginia Craft Shop — both in downtown Galax.

The book is also available to be checked out at local libraries.

A display of how the book was made is currently up at Galax Public Library and will continue through the month of June.

The display features articles of clothing that actors wore to be photographed for the illustrations, as well as original paintings of the scenes.

The library will also welcome Kirby to tell the story of Caty Sage at 10:30 a.m. on June 24. She will hold a book signing afterwards, and books will be available for sale that day at the library.