“As a child I was fascinated by ‘Treasure Island,’” Evans said. “I wanted to dig up pirate treasure. I never found any. I did find a figurehead off a ship once, some old bullets and coins … and I came into contact with archeologists.”
Evans, 73, owns River City Research Group in Chattanooga. He has researched and written more than 100 books, more than 30 about the Tennessee Valley’s rich past. A number of his recent projects focus on Catoosa and Walker counties’ colorful histories. Some of his books on local history include “Cleburne’s Defense of Ringgold Gap,” “Battle at Lee and Gordon’s Mills,” “The Battle of Davis’ Crossroads,” “Camp Thomas” and “The Battle of Glass Mill.” He worked on the Chickamauga Campaign Heritage Trail DVD and is working on a similar project about the Battle of LaFayette for Walker County.
“I met Raymond Evans about 10 years ago,” Chickamauga city manager John Culpepper said.
Culpepper said Evans did archeological work for Frank Green, who bought the Gordon Lee Mansion in Chickamauga in the mid-1970s after the last Gordon-Lee heirs had died. Green wanted to restore and preserve the mansion and its history, Culpepper said. Evans’s task was to identify where the slave quarters had been located on mansion property, he said.
Evans praised Culpepper and other community leaders for having the vision to see that promoting their area’s history would invite tourism, which in turn boosts the area’s economy.
“We slowly saw our mom-and-pop retail go away,” Culpepper said. “So the city leaders had a vision to rejuvenate this town through our history.”
Evans wrote a complete history of the city, “Chickamauga: Civil War Impact On An Area,” Culpepper said.
The anthropologist then worked with Culpepper on the Chickamauga Campaign Heritage Trail project.
“The battle is one story. How the soldiers got here is another,” Culpepper said.
The Georgia counties of Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker and Marion County in Tennessee supported the project, he said. The cities of Chickamauga, Fort Oglethorpe, LaFayette, Lookout Mountain, Ringgold, Rossville, Summerville, Trenton and Trion, along with the Chattanooga Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, also endorsed the heritage trail.
Culpepper said he applied for and received a $50,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to help fund the trail.
“Mr. Evans did the graphics and the texts for (the trail’s) 36 signs,” he said. “Since then it has grown to 54 interpretive signs. We also have a website.”
Evans also produced a 22-minute DVD about the Gordon Lee Mansion, Culpepper said.
“He’s working on (a DVD) for (Walker County commissioner) Bebe Heiskell on significant events in Walker County,” Culpepper added.
Evans said 90 percent of his clients contract his company to delve into Civil War history. Evans and his staff of three often do business with government agencies, municipalities and private individuals.
“I do the research. I write the manuscript. What they do with it is up to them,” Evans said.
Evans was raised in southern California and served in the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in Vietnam. He attended the University of California-Berkeley, Memphis State and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. But it was his participation in a summer excavation at Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts following his military service that determined his career choice, Evans said.
The passionate researcher explained anthropology is the study of human culture. He said there are four disciplines within anthropology: cultural archeology, paleontology, linguistics and ethno-history.
“That (ethno-history) is my specialty,” Evans said. He emphatically maintains he is not a historian. Evans said as an anthropologist he views history differently than do historians. Cultural trends — not exceptional individuals — cause historic events, Evans said.
“This (perspective) is not meant to detract from the qualities of extraordinary people,” he added.
Evans first came to northwest Georgia in the mid-1970s to work on an excavation in Dade County. He said he was surprised to learn Dade was still a dry county then.
The anthropologist said he assisted on the Highway 27 relocation project in the 1970s. He also traveled across the United States and abroad over the years. Evans said he worked on projects in Mexico, Central America and the Orient. He returned to the Chattanooga area in 1997.
“I found some places (elsewhere) so repulsive I’ll never go back again,” Evans said. “Minnesota was the coldest I’ve ever been. They have parking meters you can plug your car into so the engine doesn’t freeze.”
Evans said although much of his work in the local area has focused on the Civil War, he wants to shed light on other historical periods that affected north Georgia such as the Spanish-American War and World War II.
The Spanish-American War lasted from April through August 1898. The war revolved around Cuba’s fight for liberation from Spain. Camp Thomas was established at Fort Oglethorpe to train more than 7,000 regular soldiers and more than 60 regiments of state troops, according to georgiaencyclopedia.org.
Evans said property behind Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park’s visitors center was the site for the largest WAC (Women’s Army Corp) training camp during World War II. He said some WAC barrack foundations can still be found on park grounds. He said African-American and Puerto Rican WAC units were stationed there as well.
Fort Oglethorpe also was a site for a German prisoner of war and German American internment camp during World Wars I and II, according to georgiaencyclopedia.org. Evans said these German POWs were a great help to area farmers. He said the civilian internment camp had one of the finest symphony orchestras in the region.
Evans also has written about African-Americans who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and served in the Spanish American War. He said many black Confederate soldiers, who were conscripted by the South, stayed in the area after the Civil War and helped build modern Chattanooga.