Highland Co.’s lost tribe


‘Carmelites’ lived off land, in seclusion

By Isabella Warner - For The Times-Gazette



A family of ‘Carmelites’ pose for a photo outside of their home.

A family of ‘Carmelites’ pose for a photo outside of their home.


Courtesy photo

Deep in the forests that blanket the rolling hills of Highland County, a group of unique individuals once called the woods of Carmel home. The “Carmelites” or “Carmel hill people,” as they’re known locally, were a secluded and private group that did not welcome outsiders. Although hushed whispers amongst townspeople were common and distrust for outsiders was apparent, one young girl was not afraid. Violet Morgan sought and befriended the Carmel hill people as a young girl and stayed close with them for her entire life.

The Carmel hill people had a long and complicated history. Historians know very little about how Carmel became a settlement, except that they likely came from Kentucky and parts of Virginia and Tennessee to seek isolation from others. The heritage of these settlers is also in question. Most claimed Shawnee and Cherokee Native American ancestry. Historians now call this group “Melungeon,” referring to an Appalachian settler descended from a combination of ethnicities, such as Native American, African and European.

Often called the lost tribe of Appalachia, the Melungeons were a very small and dispersed group of people. The Carmelites were known for keeping very close familial ties, having a distrust of outsiders, and living off of the land, choosing to forage and hunt rather than plant many fields and own livestock.

Violet Morgan was born not far from Carmel in 1895. She grew up visiting the community, always fascinated by their honest and self-sustaining lifestyle. Morgan became especially close with an elderly woman named Lizzie, who acted as somewhat of a mentor for Morgan, educating her on the ways of the Carmelites. These lessons helped Morgan later write one of her books, “Squaw Winter,” a love story set in the hills of Appalachia.

Morgan remained close with her Carmel friends as she grew. She attended Hillsboro High School, Wilmington College, and Miami University, returning to Highland County to teach at schools in Mowrystown, Lynchburg and Marshall. She wrote hundreds of articles for local papers and a book on Highland County folklore.

Violet Morgan was without a doubt an incredibly intelligent woman educated on a variety of topics. According to an interview with the Times Herald, her favorite subject was always people. She spent her life helping other people, always seeking a greater understanding and showing respect for all ways of life.

After World War II, the Melungeon hill people of Carmel were not a recognized group in the area, having married into the rest of the population. There is no indication of the tribe that once lived in the forest, no record of any sort of settlement at all. Only the writings of one compassionate and gentle woman remain as a testament to the power of kindness and respect.

A family of ‘Carmelites’ pose for a photo outside of their home.
https://www.timesgazette.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/33/2020/06/web1_carmelites.jpgA family of ‘Carmelites’ pose for a photo outside of their home. Courtesy photo
‘Carmelites’ lived off land, in seclusion

By Isabella Warner

For The Times-Gazette