View Full Version : cemeteries, bears, and hazel fishing

07-30-2009, 01:31 PM
This Monday was warm and sunny, so my girl Julie and I decided to take a boat ride on Fontana to explore the North Shore cemeteries and do a little evening fishing on Hazel. I picked out several cemeteries to visit on a topo map, all near the Hazel drainage -- including Cable, Fairview, and Proctor. The easiest way to locate a cemetery from the lake is to look for the small gravel paths that the park service maintains to access them. You'll usually see a gravelled landing area and a small road into the woods. Most of the lake centeries are also connected to the Lakeshore trail.

Why visit these cemeteries? If you spend much time in the park it's hard not to become interested in the lives of the settlers who made these coves home. Apart from the other relics that can be found in the park -- such as old cabin chimneys, rock walls, and streamside rusted jalopies, the cemeteries are a glimpse into what life must have been like here at the turn of the last century. Just read the stories that are revealed on the markers.

The first thing you will notice when you reach a cemetery is the picnic areas for families who visit. Each plot has one. You can only imagine the Sunday home cooked meals enjoyed here when families come to pay their repects.


The sites are always situated on a knoll, and the ground kept clear. Some headstones are simple field stones. Others have more ornate carved stones or new markers. Here's the Proctor site.


About half of those buried are children, often under the age of 3. Many are newborn. Aside from the children, the average age of the adults who passed away is under 40. It's rare to find a 60 year old. It's a testimony to the difficulty of the life endured here. Beyond this, there are literally dozens of life histories on display. One example is the tomb of Ada McDonald, the 18 year old wife of O.D. McDonald. Ada had a baby in October, 1918, who died at birth. Ada then died two weeks later in November, 1918, probably from complications from birth. O.D. is not buried here. Did he move away after the death of his wife and child?



After paying our own respects, we eased over to Hazel Creek as the cool of evening set in. There were two local fellows spin fishing near the Old Calhoun place, so we walked upstream about a mile. On the other side of the stream is a large cave, and just in front of the cave we suprised a mature black bear. The bear turned and barked into the cave, and out popped four cubs. One cub started climbing a tree, and momma paced nervously along the bank. Julie and I started a slow retreat, and during the hub-bub I got a poor picture of mamma and one of the cubs before they eased around the ridge. You can just see the cave to the left.


Julie was a little un-nerved, but I convinced her to hang out a ways upstream while I fished for a half hour. I rarely fish Hazel Creek because it stays crowded, and there were wet boot prints on the rocks where I got in. So it surprised me a bit when a small brown took my dry on the third cast. I had 8 strikes and caught 3 fish on a parachute dry/ dropper in about 200 yards of water, which I thought good for late July. The water conditions are great for this time of year. All the fish were hand sized, but I bumped a 12 incher with my wading.


On the way out to go get supper, we noticed a fisherman casting right in front of the cave. The bears were gone, but for those visiting Hazel in the next few weeks I'd advise keeping a watch. All in all, a great day.

Jim Casada
07-30-2009, 03:26 PM
Slipstream--I share your fascination with cemeteries, in the Park and out, and right now I am several columns along in a lengthy series in the Smoky Mountain Times under the general title of "Trails to Tombstones." This series looks at prominent people buried in the Bryson City Cemetery atop School House Hill. At least a few of those will mean something to those familiar with Park history (Mark Cathey, Horace Kephart, Kelly Bennett, and Jack Coburn), and there's a site with one of the "angels" of Thomas wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. If you are really interested in graveyard, the local history society in Swain County has a huge book, The Cemeteries of Swain County, which lists virtually all the cemeteries and the graves in them in the entire country. There are some errors, especially in indexing, but it is a fabulous research tool.
If you had gotten on up the creek to Boney Valley, you might have changed your mind about the condition of the graveyards on Hazel Creek. This is the largest cemetery in the Hazel Creek drainage and it is in terrible shape. In fact, unless some restoration steps are taken fairly soon, there is going to be so much erosion graves will be open and skeletons exposed. I think maybe the Park has some plans for work here. On the other hand, the Hall Cemetery a mile up Bone Valley is in nice shape.
An old historian's adage tells us "You can't know where you are going if you don't know where you've been," and I know of no better way to let awareness of that truism seep into one's soul than to visit places where silent stone sentinels stand as monuments to a hardscrabble world we have lost. For me, a side trip to a cemetery is an integral part of many Park fishing trips. Jim Casada
P. S. In addition to the book I mention, a woman wrote an M. A. thesis a few years ago focusing on a selection of cemeteries in the Park. I've read it but don't recall her name or the title, although I do recall she did research at Cades Cove and Cataloochee.

07-30-2009, 03:52 PM
Great post.

fly fisherman DK
07-30-2009, 06:36 PM
Nice report, I would like to see all of the old graveyards in the park someday. I bet seeing those bears was cool too. I wonder if 4 cubs is a high number for a black bear? It seems like it would be, but i'm probably wrong.

Daniel Koeppel

07-30-2009, 07:34 PM
i have photographed over 100 cemeteries in the park and visited all but 31 located on the northshore....many are single grves and require diligent searching........................
on the ada mcdonald death 2 weeks after giving birth in 1918.....that was a year of the flu pandemic that killed a lot of people withing the confines of what is now the park

Jim Casada
07-30-2009, 07:46 PM
Sam--Drop me an e-mail (jimcasada@comporium.net). All the North Shore cemeteries are in Swain County and I can probably give you some help in your quest. I'm really intrigued by your efforts. Jim Casada

07-30-2009, 08:03 PM
jim, thanks....i've got the list and gps coordinates....however there is a non-listed by the park on newton bald and i would like to find it....it's listed in the swain county cemetery list...
i missed the northshore because i'm getting longer in the tooth and no longer like lotsa nights out......

07-30-2009, 08:12 PM
Hi Slip,
Nice pictures. The brookie is pretty and that is the longest set of picnic tables I've seen. My family and I enjoy visiting old cemetaries, esp those in the park. I have never visited those on the North Shore. Do you have to take a boat over to get to them or can some be accessed by trail from the Road To No Where?
Thanks for the post.

07-30-2009, 08:24 PM
where they are, ya need to take the boat...or extend yourself to hike over....most are in the hazel creek watershed....the road to nowhere is exactly that

07-31-2009, 09:22 AM
Do you guys know what cemetery is the oldest in the park. I have heard there are some Indian burial sites somewhere on straight fork. I have covered most of the water in the park. but I am really interested in exploring the cemeteries.

Jim Casada
07-31-2009, 11:39 AM
I don't have a definitive answer, and without question there are Indian burial grounds within Park boundaries dating back countless centures. However, for settlers and date-specific information, I would think that the oldest cemeteries would be those in areas first settled. That means lower Luftee, Cades Cove, Proctor area, etc. Jim Casada

07-31-2009, 12:12 PM
Someone told me that there is a cemetery behind Elkmont camp ground. Is that true?

07-31-2009, 02:18 PM
Thanks for the post. Sounds like a great way to spend the day with your (in my case) wife.
Hope everyone has a good weekend,

07-31-2009, 08:40 PM
behind the elkmont campground you will find the levi trentham cemetery....begun in 1928 when emaline died....interesting story, levi wanted to bury her next to his first son down by jakes creek and had two sons dig a hole...they didn't want her there, close to the creek, and told levi that...he disagreed...late in the night, the two boys poured water in the hole so that levi found it the next morning...so the cemetery is on the hill.....the grave and marker of the first son was lost during elkmont campgrounds construction

07-31-2009, 08:56 PM
Thanks for taking the time to reply and the interesting story. Next time I'm there, I'm going to look for it.

08-03-2009, 05:42 PM
I was at the elkmount cemetery this past week, the gate was locked.

I can trace my family back to the 1850's N.C old Haywood county and down into Fannin county Ga.
If anyone runs across the some history or grave markers for names Newton or Barlow, I'd sure like to be contacted.

08-03-2009, 09:04 PM
newton bald is located south of smokemont....4 miles up the trail....has a jenkins cemetery up there somewhere

I was at the elkmount cemetery this past week, the gate was locked.
newton bald is located south of smokemont...trail is 4 tough miles.....has a missing jenkins cemetery up there somewhere

I can trace my family back to the 1850's N.C old Haywood county and down into Fannin county Ga.
If anyone runs across the some history or grave markers for names Newton or Barlow, I'd sure like to be contacted.