Michele is a friend that I “met” through blogging, and she has a beautiful blog (http://rabbitpatchdiary.com/) which I follow. She has the most amazing appreciation of nature, and you get transported as you ” see” through her eyes the beauty that she paints with words in her diaries. She also seems to know the names of every plant, tree and flower, as they come alive in our mind’s eye through her descriptions.
She read the story I posted about the “old lady and her bag of seeds” (https://amiracarluccio.com/2017/10/24/stories-the-old-lady-and-the-seeds/,) and she commented that a similar true story happened with the Joe Bell flowers in the outer banks of NC, (USA). This is probably where “the story of the old lady and the seeds” came from, so in Michele’s honor, I decided to research the true story of the Joe Bell flowers and here it goes:
The gaillardias (Gaillardia aristata) or Joe Bell Flower , are a member of the sunflower family. Drought tolerant and especially well adapted to sandy soil. They are native to the northern and western sections of North America Asteraceae, and South America where they are often called Indian blanket flowers, fire wheels, or paint brushes or beach daisy. The flowers were introduced to Ocracoke in the early days of the twentieth century by a gentleman from Washington, North Carolina who was just as colorful as the gaillardia, Joseph Nash Bell, Jr.
Born in Washington in 1850, Joe Bell seems to have been destined for adventure. When he was only fourteen years old he left home, lied about his age, and joined the Confederate army. His military career was cut short when a family friend recognized him and sent him home.
After only one year at university and another at a business college, he was persuaded to attend watchmaker’s school. His father, Joseph Nash Bell, Sr., and his uncle, Benjamin A. Bell, were established watchmakers and jewelers in New Bern and Washington, North Carolina. In his early twenties Joe joined the family business. In 1899, when gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska, Joe Bell moved his business there. The sea called him sometime later, and for a while he served aboard sailing ships plying the Pacific Ocean.
Joe Bell’s brother-in-law had purchased two homes on Ocracoke Island where he and his extended family spent summer vacations. It was the perfect retreat for the aging adventurer. As caretaker of his brother-in-law’s summer residences Joe Bell received free housing and the opportunity to continue his unconventional lifestyle. Island life suited Joe Bell. He made a modest income repairing watches and jewelry. He even served as magistrate for a while. Although there were few small claims cases to be adjudicated on Ocracoke he did officiate at the occasional wedding ceremony.
Joe Bell’s most enduring legacy is the Joe Bell flower, for that is what islanders call the gaillardia. The most popular story has it that Joe Bell moved to Ocracoke to mend a broken heart. According to the legend, the woman he loved left him to marry another. In tribute to his enduring love for her Joe Bell brought gaillardia seeds to Ocracoke and planted the flowers in his yard.
Joe Bell’s story got more fanciful as the years passed. Charles Whedbee, North Carolina judge and raconteur, even published his version in which Joe Bell’s wife Josephine, a midwife, died and her heartbroken husband discovered gaillardias growing out of a conch shell next to her grave. He decided to bring the flowers to Ocracoke, where they had spent many a happy summer.
For the romantic love story legend please visit: https://hubpages.com/education/jobell-flower
In fact, Joe Bell never married. He did bring some of the red and yellow flowers to Ocracoke from California, but not as a way of mending a broken heart. He was simply a man of good taste who appreciated beauty.
Joe Bell died in 1930. He was standing on his brother-in-law’s porch when he had a stroke. He was buried in a simple, handmade wooden casket in the yard. Joe Bell flowers were planted next to the grave, but they no longer grow there. Nevertheless, Joe Bell’s legacy lives on.
Joe Bell planted the colorful flowers in his Ocracoke yard almost a century ago. They quickly spread to neighbors’ yards¸ then throughout the village. In time they migrated past the village and established themselves along the highway as far north as Hatteras Inlet. By the 1970s Joe Bell flowers had spread the entire length of the Outer Banks.
It is said he wore the flower in his lapel and gave out seeds to all that he met and encouraged them to plant them. Currently , they are almost anywhere along the Outer Banks from early April through December you are likely to notice clusters of brightly colored red and yellow wild flowers.
- In the book “Outer Banks Mysteries and Seaside Stories” by Charles Whedbee, there is a chapter dedicated to the Jobell flower.