I know this isn't about fly fishing, but it is about the Smokies.
Many of you may know of Lem Ownby, who was the last person who lived in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He lived in an old cabin up on Jakes Creek (above Elkmont). Lem was my grandmother's cousin. My grandfather and I visited him all the time when I was a kid - they were big buddies. I didn't know it at the time, but most everybody affectionately called him "Uncle" Lem. I called him that too, but it was because I really thought he was my great-uncle. I guess it was easier to explain "great uncle" to a young boy rather than "first-cousin-twice-removed" (I had to look it up).
When the National Park was established, Lem decided to take a lifetime lease, which meant that he could live there for the rest of his life. Lem was quite a character and he raised bees. As you can imagine, it was undoubtedly some of the best honey in these parts. Papaw liked the Linn honey, but I was partial to the Sourwood.
Lem was all but blind, and he could only make out shapes. One day while he was showing us his bee hives (for the umpteen hundredth time), he told my granddad and me that just a few evenings ago he heard a commotion when a bear was getting into his hives. I perked up when he said that he went out and ran it off. I immediately asked him how he was able to do that (being blind and all). He said he grabbed his shotgun and shot at it. I couldn't help but laugh having the visual of some old blind guy shooting aimlessly at a bear. I asked him how he could tell where the bear was to shoot at it, and he said he could hear it snorting. I told Papaw on the way home that I didn’t think I ever wanted to go hunting with Uncle Lem and we had a good laugh over it.
These are the only pictures I can find of Lem, and to my knowledge could very well be the last taken of him alive. He was somewhere around 93 years old, but nobody knows for sure. It had been quite a few years since I had been to see him, but I wanted to go because he was getting up in years. When I walked up, he was out milling around and I hollered at him from a distance so I wouldn't startle him, and l told him who I was. We sat on the porch of his cabin in a couple of old rocking chairs. When we sat down, he just rocked and didn’t say a word for what must’ve been at least 20 minutes. (That wasn’t too uncommon, but it was definitely a long time). I didn’t say anything either, and just thought that he didn’t realize who I was. Finally, I was about ready to leave, when he looked up in my direction and said, “How’s Doc?” (my dad) and “How’s Wilford?” (my granddad). He knew exactly who I was, he just wasn’t in any hurry. We talked for a while and he told a few jokes. That was the last time I saw him.