View Full Version : A Tidbit of Park History

Jim Casada
11-23-2011, 10:07 AM
Since at least a few of you who follow this forum have an interest in history, I thought I would share an anecdote connected with the ceremony and FDR's talk which sort of constituted the Park's official opening. The Park had been around for a number of years when FDR traveled to Newfound Gap, but it still did not have the geographical configuration it does now. That would come a few years later with the completion of Fontana Dam and the flooding of the lake. At that point TVA removed folks living along the reaches of all the streams and branches flowing into the Little Tennesse River's north shore. It wasn't pretty. I won't go into detail here, but TVA's exercise of eminent domain was about as heavy-handed and heartless as is humanly possible. If you read some of the comments of so-called social workers or agents with TVA, you would know there is a special place in **** reserved for them. Enough of that though. I mention it simply because one individual who attended the inaugural Park ceremonies was from lower Forney Creek (or Forney's Creek, as it was known at the time).

My father was present at the event, but he got there the easy way--by car. But George Monteith, a bachelor who lived on lower Forney's Creek, went by shank's mare. He hiked from less than a half mile from where Forney's emptied into the Little Tennessee River, up to the headwaters of the creek, out the main ridge line from the Clingmans Dome area to Newfound Gap, listened to the speeches from FDR and others, turned around, and hiked back home. I have no idea of the exact mileage he would have covered in a single day, but it probably would have been somehwere in the area of 40 miles.

I knew George Monteith well as a boy and young man, but I had no idea of this remarkable perambulation until after his death. I knew him as someone who was a remarkable fisherman with a cane pole (he was, in effect, Tenkara fishing long before the Japanese term and method was ever heard of in these parts). Give him a long cane, eight or 10 feet of line, and a Tellico nymph--it was time to get grease in the skillet and sift some corn meal.

I have no idea whether this will interest anyone else, but I thought it worth sharing to sort of test the waters.

Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

11-23-2011, 10:30 AM

Interesting story. My Dad was born & raised in E. Tn, near the town of Treadway. He, and his Dad (my grandfather) related similar stories to me about the heavy handed way that the TVA dealt with the landowners. The local people were thankful for the electricity when it finally got to them, but the animosity about TVA lasted a long time. :frown:

Thanks for sharing with us.


11-23-2011, 10:34 AM
That's quite a feat Jim. Thanks for sharing that.

Do you know of any books that are written specifically on the removal of the people living on the north shore? Maybe a book about the building of the dam has a chapter on the removal of residents?

When my dad used to work for TVA fisheries he got a hold of some old case studies that were distributed to employees about the "relocation" of the residents of Loyston and the controversial building of the big valley levee during the construction of Norris Dam. I would think that there were similar case studies or documents on Fontana dam.

Jim Casada
11-23-2011, 10:57 AM
Grannyknot--I'm almost certain that there are detailed case histories in the TVA archives in Atlanta. My brother has done far more digging into this than I have and I'll try to remember to ask him. As for books, Lance Holland's Fontana has useful information. Far more detailed, although a dry-as-dust read is TVA's official account, The Fontana Project.

There is still considerable animosity directed at the TVA in Swain County, and there was actually a petition/lawsuit aimed at having Alcoa, rather than TVA, build Fontana. The lead petitioner and organizer was Jack Coburn (Coburn Knob in the Park is named for him and he provided the site where Horace Kephart is buried). He was probably the most influential man in the area.
He and his wife, along with a sister-in-law, died in a wreck in the Nantahala Gorge shortly after the petition had gone to authorities. Many folks felt the wreck, which saw their vehicle end up in the Nantahala River, it was highly suspicious. I know exactly where it occurred and it is a straight stretch of road (unusual in the Gorge). Locals suggested that a truck had intentionally run them off into the river. Who knows, but what is indisputable is that TVA was capable of mean, underhanded activities in its land dealings and legal proceedings.

Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

11-23-2011, 12:16 PM
Thank you Jim, very interesting, especially your last comments. Definately a point to ponder. I always enjoy reading history but it's always better when handed down or told from a story teller as this is. As you pointed out, a lot of the "official" records are dry as dust. Living in the center of Civil War country I have some official volumes on the battles and batteries but it's always more interesting to read the quoted accounts or like Outdoor Life magazine phrases it "This happened to me".

11-23-2011, 04:47 PM
that was a great story, thanks.
there is still animosity toward tva here. i used to work with a great guy, darrell, a few years ago. an older dude, he grew up fishing the little T where tellico lake now sits. i loved and hated talking history with him because he did have alot of anger directed at tva and a couple of senators from tennessee. the conversations always started out great, about how beautiful it was and the best trout fishing in the southeast and usually ended with him red in the face. i was afraid he would go into cardiac arrest.

Rog 1
11-23-2011, 05:02 PM
While I am not from the "mountains" my mother's family is and I still have blood kin in the area...several years ago my fishing buddy and I were on our annual fall trip and were coming down from Ramsey Cascades...at the parking lot were two gentlemen walking the area and looking at the water....as luck would have it we were engaged in conversation about out luck at fishing and soon discovered the older gentleman had grown up in a cabin at that exact spot....wish I could remember his name but just can't pull it up.....I do remember he was a preacher living around Pitman Center....but he relayed about having been raised on the mountains and how they were moved out by the government....I did look up his name and he has taken part in local festivities where he spoke on his family's history....my uncle's uncle lived up on Greenbrier and he and his cousin would catch grasshoppers in the apple orchard, place them in match boxes for bait containers and fish up through the gorge above where the foot bridge is today...My grandfather's grandmother's maiden name was Porter...had wondered if there was a connection with Porter's Creek in Greenbrier...but found out the creek is named for one of the surveyors that mapped out that part of the Park...later found out that he was from Virginia where our "Porter" had come from so maybe there is a far off connection...stuff like this is just amazing....Happy Thanksgiving.

11-23-2011, 07:47 PM
i have always been fascinated by the history of that area and what it must have been like back then. Lots of change, a lot good but definitely some for the bad as well. Please keep up these type stories as they are fascinating to us outsiders and while kephart is great it is always more interesting to hear form the actual local perspective.

thnaks and keep em coming


Jim Casada
11-24-2011, 08:25 AM
rbaileydav--For what it is worth I guess I could be considered a Kephart scholar (I wrote a lengthy Introduction to the University of Tennessee Press reprint of Camping & Woodcraft, edited a collection of his writings on firearms published by Palladium Press, and have published numerous articles on him over the years). From that perspective, along with the fact that I had the opportunity to interview a number of folks in Bryson City who knew him well in their later years, I'll make a number of points about him:
1. Although he had a box of flies among his belongings when he died, no one ever remembered him fishing and I don't think he ever mentions personally fishing anywhere in his writings.
2. His depiction of mountain folkways in Our Southern Highlanders is terribly unreliable and unfair. He demeans us, especially in the revised edition from the 1920s, and adopts all sorts of stereotypes.
3. His information on mountain linguistics or speech patterns, on the other hand, is spot on.
4. On a personal level he was a sorry individual, abandoning six children and a wife to come to the Smokies. Drink was the great burden of his life and he never overcame its deadly hold (literally deadly as he died in a wreck after visiting a local moonshiner).
5. Once he abandoned his family, he did absolutely nothing to help them.
6. His greatest mastery lay, without much question, in camping and cooking, and I personally nominated him for the American Camping Hall of Fame. He was, along with Theodore Roosevelt, an inaugural inductee.
7. I presented my views of Kephart at a symposium at the Univ. of Tennessee Library early this year. Anyone interested in a great deal more detail can visit the Tuck Reader (an on-line publication) and read an abbreviated version of my remarks.

In closing I would note that my father knew Kephart and had no use for him. That was generally true in Bryson City and Swain County, according to Dad (who died this past year at the age of 101), although there were a few notable exceptions.

Jim Casada

11-24-2011, 01:25 PM
I cannot imagine that kind of a hike even if spread out over several days. Just the few miles we hiked up Deep Creek took us a couple of hours, some brusied feet, and one toe nail. Seems like the folks of the pre-park era had to work pretty hard, even at the simple aspects of daily living.
Thanks for sharing!


11-24-2011, 02:14 PM
I can't imagine riding a mule for 40 miles...ouch, makes my backside hurt just thinking about it.

Jim Casada
11-24-2011, 09:50 PM
BlueRaiderFan--Evidently you didn't get the meaning of "shank's mare." George Monteith didn't ride a mule. He walked the whole distance. "Shank's mare" is a traditional Appalachian term for walking. Sometimes I wrongly assume that everyone here grew up in the Smokies and is familiar with mountain talk. I should know better. Now that you understand it wasn't a mule, you'll probably find the feat even more impressive (although like you, the tought of riding a horse of mule that kind of distance gives me mental images of posterior pain).
Jim Casada

11-25-2011, 10:55 AM
Jim, is perambulation a traditional mountain folk word also?;)Just joshin' you.

TVA is capable of the same mean,underhanded activities today but now uses lawyers and eminent domain laws instead of henchmen who run folks off the road.Just ask the folks who lost some of the best bottomland in the state so an outfit called Cooper Communities out of Arkansas could sell land that they stole for 300 dollars an acre for 100,000 dollars for a quarter of an acre.(lakefront lots)

Jim Casada
11-25-2011, 12:28 PM
mora521--I reckon you got me there. I never heard anyone from the mountains (except me) use perambulation. However, in one of those exquisite pieces of useless knowledge you acquire while pursuing doctoral studies in history, I did read a book entitled A Perambulation of Kent written by a great English walker back in Elizabethan times.
As for TVA shenanigans, my favorite story on the lighter side (and I have nothing but disdain for the policies and implementation of policies pursued by TVA through the decades) comes from a good friend's attendance at afamily reunion at Almond back in the late 1960s or early 1970s (the friend is the guy shown fishing on the cover of my book on the Smokies). An uncle of his was a TVA employee, and the reunion was of folks who had lived at Bushnell, which was flooded by Fontana. My friend got his uncle off to the side and asked him: "Just how much would you pay me not to let this fine crowd know there's a TVA infiltrator in their midst?"
He was joking, of course, but locals had absolutely no use for the TVA and sometimes that disdain carried over to employees (although the person in question here was a truly fine fellow).
Jim Casada

Rob Johnson
11-26-2011, 01:56 AM
Good stuff Jim. The history is so important. Do you have a story about the Wonderland Hotel? I think I heard a story about an airplane crash at Elkmont where the campground is now. Maybe Mr. Brewer from the Knoxville newspaper wrote it? Do you know anywhere I can find that? Been awhile since I've read it. Keep it up with the stories. Thanks, ROB

11-28-2011, 09:06 AM
Mr. Casada,
I also formed that opinion of Kephart after reading more about his background on the U.T. website and some other documents. I only regret that I had already bought several of his books when I learned some of his background, otherwise, I wouldn't have probably even bought them. I know he had strong points but it seems the most important things in life he could have ever left as a legacy, his family and children, he completely failed at, and didn't seem to have a bit of remorse for it either. I cannot respect someone with those credentials, no matter what else he may have lent to the Nat'l Park effort, or to the hobby of camping and woodcraft. He seems to have been a really strange character.

11-28-2011, 09:18 AM
Mr. Casada,
I also formed that opinion of Kephart after reading more about his background on the U.T. website and some other documents. I only regret that I had already bought several of his books when I learned some of his background, otherwise, I wouldn't have probably even bought them. I know he had strong points but it seems the most important things in life he could have ever left as a legacy, his family and children, he completely failed at, and didn't seem to have a bit of remorse for it either. I cannot respect someone with those credentials, no matter what else he may have lent to the Nat'l Park effort, or to the hobby of camping and woodcraft. He seems to have been a really strange character.

Bran, you should pick up a copy of "Smoky Mountain Magic". While fiction, it has a foreward by Kephart's great-grandaughter (I think), who gives an alternative view of his lifestyle, which is apparently the overwhelming view of his remaining family members.

Lots of writers and historians (Frome is a prime example) portray him as a less than morally sound individual, for lack of better words, which, for all I know is very true, but it's always nice to get the other side of the story.

11-28-2011, 09:24 AM
I'll take a look at that, thanks! I did read Frome's view of him and some other accounts that I found just browsing the internet but it's interesting that his family would have anything positive to say about him, I guess that's what you're inferring. I think I may even have bought that book already and just have not read it. Seems like I bought several books, then read about his life, lost interest in him and put them on the shelf. I'll look when I get home this evening and see.

Jim Casada
11-28-2011, 10:01 AM
Grannyknot and Bran--I don't know how to put this but bluntly. Kep's modern-day family members are in denial. Recent research by Janet McCue into Kep's pre-Smokies life is quite revealing in that regard.
Otherwise, there's simply no denying certain basic facts: (1) He left his wife and six children under the age of 18 and pretty clearly never contributed to their needs in any appreciable way after leaving St. Louis. Folks in Bryson City who knew him said that Laura (his wife) often wrote him virtually begging for money, and every time such a letter arrived Kep would go on a week-long drunk. Five different sources, all of whom knew Kephart quite well, told me as much (S. W. Black, a local banker and my next-door neighbor when I was a kid; Buddy Abbott, who served as the chauffeur and general factotum for Jack Coburn; Dr. Kelly Bennett, a local politician and tourism promoter; and Petey and Helen Angel, the grandchildren of the woman who owned the hotel where Kephart lived for hears). Interestingly enough, two of them, Abbott and Doc Kelly, where great admirers of Kep even as they recognized his weaknesses. Doc Kelly served as the primary moving force for the Kephart Memorial Association. Incidentally, Mike Frome, who is a meticulous researcher and skilled writer, interviewed even more folks and reached exactly the same conclusions as I did. My thoughts are summarized in a lengthy Introduction to the Univ. of Tenn. Press reprint of Camping & Woodcraft and in a presentation I made at a sypmposium at UT early this year. The latter is probably available on-line and if not and you are interested, e-mail me and I'll send a copy of my remarks. (2) Staunch friends such as Abbott, Doc Kelly, Coburn, and a few others nothwithstanding, most local folks did not like Kephart. (3)If you want to take that much time, compare the treatment of the "Highlanders" in the original volume of Our Southern Highlanders and the revised edition from the early 1920s. There's no doubt whatsoever that Kephart yielded to sensationalism and stereotyping (probably at the urging of his publishers) in order to sell books. I find that very troubling. (4) Interestingly, today's family never mentions the fact that the mountain people literally saved Kephart's life. He was drunk as a lord when he arrived at Medlin in 1904 and was picked up by Granville Calhoun and his wife. They nursed him back to health through DT's and all sorts of trouble, yet Kep never, to my knowledge (and I'm deeply versed in literature by and about him), acknowledged this.
I'm actually somewhere between mystified and amazed at the perspective of today's Kephart descendants, and I'm particularly troubled by their willingness to distort historical fact. I guess family loyalty has to be a factor, but I would add that they will have absolutely nothing to do with me and other students of the man who try to paint a fair picture--a man of great abilities in some areas and feet of clay in the bargain. One of his grandsons actually told me, back when the Introduction to Camping & Woodcraft was about to come out, that I couldn't say anything about his grandfather's drinking and abandonment of his family. This man was a preacher, so I politely asked him why it was wrong to tell the truth. That ended our exchange, then and there (and of course the material was published).
Obviously this is more than most folks probably care to hear, but I've spent 50 years studying Kephart off and on, and I feel very comfortable in saying that he was an alcoholic (in fact, that's indisputable, and even the family tacitly acknowledges as much) and that he was a miserable husband and father. On the flip side, he did a great deal as a progenitor of the Park and no one was a finer student of woodsmanship. He earned the moniker "Dean of American Campers."
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

11-28-2011, 10:13 AM
Rob there was an airplane crash at Elkmont campground. Jeff Wadley a member of this site detailed it in his book Mayday Mayday about plane crashes of the Smokies. A man named Rooster Williams bought a Curtis Jenny and used to fly out of a small landing strip where the modern day campground is. In 1925 he crashed into a large rock there and was unhurt but the plane was finished. The rock is still there in the campground and I think Jeff's book has a pic of it and a lot more about it.

11-28-2011, 12:31 PM
Again Mr. Casada, very interesting conversation. As to the family, I'm sure they would be somewhat in denial of the truth as I know I would also be in that situation. They're not the sort of things you're proud of great grandpa for doing, you know, and they have a reputation to uphold, but, as you said, it's the truth.
It's a tragic tale except for the part about helping to nurture the idea of making the Smokies something for all generations to enjoy, and for that, we can all be thankful for everyone that played a part.

11-28-2011, 03:37 PM
I am not sure if anyone posted a link to the "Tuck Reader" artcile, but it is a good read and very informative. It's just my opinion, but personaly I consider the thoughts shared by locals such as Mr. Casada and many others to carry alot more weight as coming from those who themselves or whose families lived alongside Mr. Kephart. Family members being human are prone to want to hide or forget even the facts when such facts paint a less or other than flattering picture of a family member.

The more I have read of the region over the years, the more obvious it has become to me that people are just people. I believe it was in Mr. Dunn's book that certain things were shared that were less than flattering about certain regions in or around Cades Cove, yet the words used to describe a less than positive region were specific enough that you could clearly see those mentioned were an isolated group. In other words, simply put you could see that among the good folks there were some that were less than savory and that those who were less than savory were an/the exception. I suspect that some find it difficult to acknowledge others, such as Kep, were less than perfect, perhaps that is because we would then find ourselves confronted with our own imperfections. Truth be told, none of us are perfect, some of us don't even come close...me personaly I am trusting a Savior who is and rejoicing every day.

Link to the article mentioned


Jim Casada
11-28-2011, 09:25 PM
pmike--Yes, that's the link. I checked and was pleased it's still in the Tuck Reader archives. The article is a somewhat shortened version of the presentation I made at the UT Library. It was accompanied by lots of slides, mostly taken by my brother, Don, who ran the power point as I talked. Some were really telling, such as photos of mountain cemeteries which gave the lie to Kephart's statement about unmarked and untended graves, along with some vintage stuff showing homes of the supposedly no-good "branch-water" people and especially lovely flowers around old home places. They still bloom almost 80 years after creation of the Park and close to a century since Kephart first wrote his book.
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

11-29-2011, 12:21 PM
Just thought I would add that the "Reader" has several articles written by Mr. Casada and I have sure found each I've read to be both interesting and informative. I can't begin to express my gratitude to Mr. Casada and other locals for the insights and information posted about the region and it's history. From way back in the early 60's and my first vacation to the Smokies I have loved them...kind of a love at first sight :) Over the years my interest in and appreciation for the region has only increased. I have always dreamed of living in or at least much closer to the mountains, but thus far it has eluded me other than a month or so that I lived in the Tennessee foothills. Being able to read the history and about the experiences of others has been more of a blessing to me than words can describe!!!

Thanks to each of you and God Bless,

11-29-2011, 07:23 PM
Mr. Casada, I really enjoy your insight on the Park and interaction with the people of the surrounding (and overtaken) communities. I have some good friends whose family lived on Hazel Creek before the lake was built and still return for the annual reunion. As much as I treasure the Park for all its current attributes, I think we all gain more appreciation for the sacrifices made by so many for it to exist. Please continue to interact with this forum as I thoroughly enjoyed your book, Tuck Reader articles, any contributions here.
Jedidiah Green

12-05-2011, 10:21 PM
Mr. Jim

I hunt a lot and cover many mountain miles in a day but, a 40 mile trek is unbelievable. I can hardly drag myself to bed after I cover 8-10 miles chasing dogs up and over these mountains. Those were MEN back in those days.

Good to read some history from you again Jim.

LA MantaRay12
12-05-2011, 10:50 PM
Mr. Casada.

I would love to hear more about Mark Cathey and the area around Indian Creek. Mr Cathey sounds like a very interesting gentleman. I would also love to hear more about the area of Cataloochee...as many years as I have been going to the Smokies I have never been to Cataloochee and started reading about the area in your book...very intriguing. I can't wait to go back and see the area. Would also like to hear more about the adventures of Jim Casada and Bill Rolen...couple of fish catchin' mountain fellas.

Your book was very interesting and I really enjoyed the way you intertwined the history of the Smokies with the fishing information. What's next on the horizon?

12-06-2011, 10:22 AM
I have read this thread and post with much interest. So much history there in the mountains. I was born and raised in Ohio. "Shank's mare" was a common reference to walking. My father used to say, also, "Walking ain't crowded." Another expression is going by "ankle express."

Jim Casada
12-06-2011, 04:54 PM
John and Charles--I've written a lot on Mark Cathey and you can find some of that on line in the archives of the Tuck Reader. As for shank's mare and a general love of history in the region, let me recommend a daily blog operated by a dear friend of mine who is a treasure and who loves all things connected with mountain culture--it is Tipper Pressley's Blind Pig and the Acorn. Just google it and then, for information on "shank's mare," look at her blog from two or three days back. It came out of a guest blog provided by my brother, Don, in which he used the term. I do the occasional guest blog as well, although my contributions are always on mountain culture rather than on fishing.
Jim Casada

Ky Tim
12-06-2011, 06:24 PM
Mr. Casada,
I also formed that opinion of Kephart after reading more about his background on the U.T. website and some other documents. I only regret that I had already bought several of his books when I learned some of his background, otherwise, I wouldn't have probably even bought them. I know he had strong points but it seems the most important things in life he could have ever left as a legacy, his family and children, he completely failed at, and didn't seem to have a bit of remorse for it either. I cannot respect someone with those credentials, no matter what else he may have lent to the Nat'l Park effort, or to the hobby of camping and woodcraft. He seems to have been a really strange character.

Bran, I would urge you to have no regrets over buying Kephart's books. If you wait to find a writer who had no emotional or lifestyle issues, you will miss out on some very good stuff. It seems like they all have some strange disposition and lots of serious flaws, but if they written works are well done than I would just take the enjoyment from that.