History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Roy Myers

Roy Myers, lifetime resident of Tuckaleechee Cove, former logger and farmer, 84 years old, Mrs. Myers, 81 years old. Interviewed by Susan Bratton, GSMNP biologist at their home in Townsend, May 15, 1975

RM: My name is Roy Myers. Born August the sixth, eighteen and eighty-nine.

SB: Okay, Boney, want to talk about your father's cattle for awhile?

RM: Talk about Dad's cattle?

SB: Yeah, talk about your father's cattle. How many did he have all together?

RM: Oh, I don't know. He'd take 75. I think the most we ever had out there was about ninety something. I don't know.

SB: Are those cows with calves, milk cows, beef cows?

RM: There wasn't many cows along. There's yearlings and two-year-olds and calves that was weaned. Eight or nine months old, he'd buy 'em up, you know, in the fall and winter.


SB: You carried salt up on the mountains for those cattle, did you?

RM: Oh, I rode a mule, got up there, yeah.

SB: How old were you when you started doing that?

RM: Oh, I don't know, 'bout fourteen.

SB: Where did you take the salt?

RM: Up to where the cattle was.

SB: Was that up on Defeat Ridge?

RM: Yeah.

SB: How high up did you take that salt? Just to the Blowdown?

RM: Naw. Took it to the Devil's Nest, Eve's Garden, Chestnut Flats, Blowdown, Coffeepot Hollow, Elder Hollow. There's where your cattle run.

SB: Did they run all the way to the top of the ridge?

RM: Oh yeah. They'd go up to the top of the ridge. Hot weather, they'd eat out on the top when it got hot.

SB: And they were just running in the woods. Did you ever clear any openings for 'em, or did they just find whatever they could to eat?

RM: Oh, they just went around the hillsides themselves and off in them hollers. Move 'em from one holler to the other. I'd move 'em, sort 'em and bring some I was going to bring in. Along in August, the big ones going to sell, pasture them two or three weeks.

SB: Okay. When did they take all the cattle up to Spence Field?

RM: Oh, I'd say the first of May.

SB: Did sheep and horses go up all at the same time?

RM: Oh yeah. They'd take 'em all up, maybe a week or ten days going up there, but they'd go up, all up. That was when they opened, the first of May. The herder took charge of 'em.

FM: I thought they took them earlier.

RM: Well, they used to, but. . . . They took them the first of April, but I told you the weather got changed, they had to froze to death, nothing for 'em to eat up there..

SB: So they just waited because of the weather?

RM: Yeah, They used to plant corn all the time in this country in the first of March. Now they don't plant it till way up in April, I mean the last of March.

SB: Okay. When did they take the cattle down? The first of September?

RM: That's when they brought them off here, off of the Spence Place.

SB: Did they bring all the cattle down from the ridge at the same time? Did they bring them down from Gregory Ridge at the same time?

RM: Yeah. It was roundup time.

SB: And were they all taken to Knoxville then to be sold?

RM: No, the farmers took 'em home with 'em. Half of 'em they wanted to keep home, maybe they wanted to feed 'em, put 'em on feed, and sell 'em about the first of the year, the big ones.

SB: Where did you sell them when you sold them?

RM: Oh, sold 'em in Knoxville. Lot of 'em took 'em, shipped 'em to Baltimore, had enough of 'em to get a carload of 'em.

SB: So they drove the cattle from here to Knoxville?

RM: Oh yes.

SB: Did you ever go on any of those drives?

RM: Oh, I took 'em up, my daddy's cattle over there lots of times.

SB: How long did it take you to go from here to Knoxville with the cows?

RM: Oh, you leave, a day, you drive in a day.

SB: And then you'd spend a day coming back?

RM: Yeah. If you didn't get drunk.

SB: Were the cattle auctioned or did you sell them to a buyer?

RM: Oh, sell 'em to a pinhooker, auction 'em, sell them; either one you want, give 'em away . . .

SB: Okay. Who took their cows to Spence?

RM: Oh, Lord, I don't know. They come out of Sevier County, Knox County, Blount County, all these here counties.

SB: So how many different families, do you think?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't know.

SB: A hundred, two hundred?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't think that many, no.

SB: Thirty, forty families, maybe?

RM: Maybe fifty.

SB: Go through the part again about how they told the cattle apart. How did the families recognize whose cattle were whose?

RM: Well, the ears were marked different ways: swallow forks underbits, splits, ear splits . . .

SB: How did your father mark his?

RM: With a hog ring in each ear.

SB: Brass hog ring.

RM: Yeah.

SB: He was the only one in the whole mountains who did that?

RM: The only one I ever seen.

SB: Wasn't that more expensive than clipping their ears? Did they ever lose those rings?

RM: Why, Lord no. A steer with his ears cut all to pieces, he didn't look good. They wouldn't buy one for a feeder.

SB: So you could just pull those rings out again before you took them to market.

RM: Oh, just leave the rings in there. Wherever they went, whenever they butchered. . . . They didn't even flinch hardly when you snapped that hog ring in their ears.

SB: Did any of the cows have bells on them?

RM: Oh, Lord, my daddy belled every one of his'n.

SB: All the cows were belled.

RM: He put a bell on every one of 'em.

SB: Were all the cows at Spence Field belied?

RM: Oh no, no.

SB: Did some of the cows at Spence Field have bells?

RM: Oh, Lord, yes. Oh, I'd say over half of 'em was belled.

SB: What about the sheep?

RM: Oh, there'd be one or two out of a bunch belled.

SB: So what they'd do, each herd of sheep, they'd put maybe one bell on one sheep?

RM: Oh, no. They'd just . . . A man took twenty-five or thirty, he'd just put one bell on his'n; then they was marked too, just like the cattle.

SB: How many sheep, cattle, and horses were there in, say, the Spence Field area, between Little Bald and going up over Thunderhead, maybe not all the way down to Derrick?

RM: They run from the Russell Place down here, up below the Russell Field to the Derrick, and the bald in to the Tennessee River, a man had that from Gregory Bald to Tennessee River.

SB: Who were the herders up there?

RM: Well, the last one up there was Cable, Fonze Cable, but old Tom Sparks herded up there for years.

SB: How young was he when he started herding?

RM: I don't know. He was an old man when I was a boy.

SB: Did he ever tell you, did you ever meet him, or did he ever tell any stories about things that happened up there?

RM: Oh, yeah.

SB: Do you remember any of those?

RM: Yeah, I remember a lot of 'em.

SB: Got any good stories about things that happened on Spence Field when they were driving cattle up there?

RM: Well, this one . . . He (Tom Sparks) lived in Cades Cove. This is the best one . . . They come out of North Carolina over to Tennessee, get lost on Smoky Mountain, and he would come home every weekend, Saturday night, and go back Sunday night, Sunday evening. Go back Sunday night, and he was late a-gettin' goin' back, and hit a laurel thicket. He told me, he said he heard a fuss a-comin', never heard nothin' like it, said he'd stop and listen, kept goin' up till he met it, and there was a woman. Somebody brought her up there, and she had a six months old baby. Lost, and she couldn't find the way off. Finally found it off, it was dark. And he said, he told her, said, "Give me that baby," said, "Take hold of my shirt tail," says, "I'll take you back to the top of Smoky Mountain." Took her back. Greatest tale old Tom ever told me.

SB: What year do you think that happened in?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't know.

SB: Back Civil War time?

RM: Oh no. It was way since then. Tt was way since the Civil War. It's been 65, 75 years ago, I guess.

SB: It would be about 1900, maybe.

RM: Yeah. Maybe before. I never asked him when he was telling me what year it was.

SB: Did they ever lose any cattle up there? Some must have died during the summer.

RM: Oh yeah. Died and get killed by the lightning.

SB: They had a lot of lightning strikes?

RM: Oh several. Yeah, I've seen 'em killed.

SB: Large numbers at a time?

RM: Oh no. Three or four.

SB: Three or four? Did that happen every year?

RM: Oh yes.

SB: What about the sheep? Did they ever get struck by lightning?

RM: I never did see any sheep get struck by lightning. Horses sometimes would get killed, or I reckon somebody would steal 'em. They'd come up missing.

SB: So you figure somebody walked off with 'em. Did they ever catch anybody stealing horses, cattle, or sheep out of these woods up here?

RM: No, not in my lifetime, naw.

SB: Why was that? I'd think people would be stealing them.

RM: Well, I guess they do now, but not in my lifetime, not when I fooled with 'em. I looked after 'em.

SB: Who all stayed up there to herd them? Just one or two herders or a lot of 'em? How many people were up there total, usually?

RM: Just one, one herder. But going back into parts of North Carolina, this sawmill and that one, North Carolina and they'd stay there. Old Tom always had company. Always had a lot of beets. Old Tom told me I was the only man ever brought any thingup there to eat passing by.

SB: What did Boney forget to say?

FM: About what he done to the woman when he got her back up there.

RM: He said that he took the woman back to the top of Smoky. Well, he took her back to the cabin and let her stay all night, then she could come out in daylight.

FM: Show her the way off, the road.

SB: Got any more stories that the herder told you? Are there any about interesting things that happened on the balds, like on Spence or on Russell?

RM: Well, oh Lord, old Tom, feller killed old Tom up there.

SB: Really? What happened then?

RM: I don't know. It was a drunken racket, I reckon. Feller shot poor old Tom Sparks. That was before . . .

SB: What year was that?

RM: I don't know.

SB: Was it before World War I?

RM: Oh, I don't know that. I know I was a man. I don't know what year it was. It's been forty or fifty years ago.

SB: Well, it had to be before the Park was started, so maybe it was in the twenties. Did they have a still or something up around there?

RM: Oh, they made whiskey there all the time.

SB: At Spence Field.

RM: Somebody did, yeah. They didn't stay with old Tom. They had cabins in them hollers of their own, those whiskey makers.

SB: Were the whiskey makers' cabins way up on, way up on the hillsides, way up near Spence Field?

RM: Naw, they was down in them hollers, where there's water.

SB: So if somebody up there wanted to get drunk, they could do it anytime they wanted to.

RM: I reckon, if they had the money to pay for it.

SB: You were telling me about a little white steer of your father's who used to get into the mash.

RM: I don't know how I started in to tell you that. That still was up on the Middle Prong of the Little River, above Townsend. My Daddy had an old white stag he bought from some feller. He'd drink a fifty-gallon of mash every night. Drive him two miles from one holler to another, but he'd come back that night. They build a fence out of it around him; he couldn't get in to get to the mash, but he got good and fat. That liquor or mash made him fat.

SB: Let's go back to the number of cows. How many cows do you think there were on Spence Field? Did you say 1500 was about right? Or up through that whole area?

RM; Oh, I wouldn't know how to guess. I know two or three bunches brought over a hundred head at a time and the fellers would go up and take forty, fifty head at a time. I wouldn't know how to guess on the cattle. I never did ask. I've been there at rounding time at the gant lot. Had bullpens where the old bulls come in, put 'em in the bullpen, lay down the logs, keep 'em from tearing the fence down overnight.

SB: How many cattle did those pens hold, and where were they?

RM: Right on top of the mountain.

SB: They put them right on the open part of the field?

RM: Yeah.

SB: How did they do that? They just bring out a bunch of logs from the woods at the time they needed the pens, then take them down?

RM: Yeah. Split rails. Generally them old rails was there would last for five years.

SB: So they built the pens only when the cattle were up there. Or were the pens there all the time?

RM: Oh, the wind 'd blow 'em down in the winter time. They'd go, and they'd lay them back up. Maybe have to make more rails, cut poles.

SB: How big around were these pens?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't know. Couple of acres, an acre, anyway.

SB: So they just left the fencing out in the field and let the cattle graze in there?

RM: Wasn't nothing in there to graze. No water either. They'd eat it up, and some of them cattle stay in there for two or three days, and you'd have one to come in there and stay in there till the rest of 'em come. You wouldn't leave but just one head.

SB: So they'd go down in the woods and try to bring the cows in?

RM: Drive 'em in, yeah.

SB: And they'd drive 'em up on to Spence Field and up on to Russell Field?

RM: Yeah. I never was at the Russell Field roundup time.

SB: Did your father's cows get rounded up in that Spence Field roundup?

RM: No, no. Our cattle were down here on this Defeat Ridge.

Wasn't nobody's cattle down there but ours.

SB: So your cattle were all by themselves, and you just brought them in yourselves?

RM: By themselves, yeah.

SB: But you went and helped with the roundup at Spence Field?

RM: Oh, I went up to be with the gang. I liked to be up there.

SB: Did you all get drunk at the roundup too?

RM: No, I never did get drunk.

SB: How old were you when you first started going up to the roundup at Spence Field?

RM: Oh, I don't know.

SB: Fourteen? Fifteen?

RM: Oh, I was older than that. I'd say I was, eighteen or nineteen.

SB: How many people went tc that roundup? Lots?

RM: Everybody that had cattle. And they'd take drivers with 'em to help 'em drive 'em home.

SB: So that's what, a couple of hundred people, maybe?

RM: Oh, I don't know, no, not that many. Old Man MacMahan out of Sevier County brought a hundred head every year, and old Pete Sarrat out of Sevier County brought a hundred head every year. Old MacMahan had white faced cattle. Feller out of North Carolina had some strays, said it was his, his mark. It was his marked. He didn't think about hog rings. He rode up just about the time Sparks (unintelligible) getting his out to leave. Old Man Sparks aheard he was arguing with him. He asked old man MacMahan, he says, "Is that not your steer?" He said he looked like it. He says, "Run him in that bull pen." Says, "Catch him there, Roy." Took his ears by the thumb and his initials in there. Sparks looked at Calhoun and said, "When did you start spelling your name with an 'M'?" Yeah. Old man . . . That's the first one I'd ever seen marked in his ear. They got it that the last years, though, had a machine to put your initials in his ear. He had to wet his thumb and rub the wax off that old steer's ear.

SB: It was tattooed, was it?

RM: No. They got some kind of machine like this here . . .

SB: So back to the numbers. How many cattle, total? Fifteen hundred, maybe, and that many sheep?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't know. Why, Lord, yeah. Hogs, sheep, horses, and cattle.

SB: How many horses, about?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't know. Fifty or seventy-five mules and horse colts.

SB: Yearlings mostly up there?

RM: Yeah, and two-year-olds. They never took no yearlings.

SB: Did the herder have a dog?

RM: Oh yes, he had a dog.

SB: Was it a herding dog or just a dog for company?

RM: Dog for company and a cat for company.

SB: Did he have any chickens or anything up there?

RM: No.

SB: No chickens. How many hogs were there up there?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't know how many hogs. Them hogs stayed up there all winter, part of 'em.

SB: Stayed right up around Spence Field and in the forests around there?

RM: Off in them hollers. And them fellers out of Cades Cove go up and feed 'em come a snow.

SB: What would they feed them with?

RM: Corn.

SB: They'd feed 'em corn?

RM: Yeah, but they'd eat chestnuts and acorns.

SB: So they'd just leave 'em up on the mountain?

RM: Yeah.

SB: When did they butcher, usually? Did they butcher in the fall?

RM: Oh, yeah. They'd bring 'em . . . Got big enough . . . Like these wild hogs, how many of them do you guess is in the Park?

SB: Don't know. Couple of thousand, maybe. They're just getting over into Cataloochee about. They haven't gone all the way up into the Carolina side . . .

RM: Finally take this Park over.

SB: Yeah, they're just about to finish up this year.

RM: Government ain't got sense enough to know how to get rid of 'em.

SB: Nope. We were talking about burning before. We were talking about fires. Did they ever burn Spence or Russell or Gregory that you ever remember?

RM: I don't know whether them balds . . . I know they never was burned. There wasn't nothing there to burn.

SB: The grass was clipped down too short by the grazing?

RM: Them sheep and horses'd eat it up.

SB: So they didn't burn in the fall, and they didn't burn in the spring before they brought up the cattle, did they?

RM: Naw. They burnt it in the fall to pick up chestnuts. Burn the leaves so they could see chestnuts.

SB: So they burned the chestnut and oak forests just real light so you get a ground fire that would burn off those leaves?

RM: Why, you take it where ther's chestnuts, and where there wasn't no chestnuts . . . You set the mountains afire, it didn't just burn where the chestnuts was. It burnt the whole durn thing.

SB: Did it burn down in these coves?

RM: Oh, yes.

SB: Did it burn down in the ones that weren't cut over, like on the Butler tract? You know those real wet areas down at the bottom with the big hemlocks? Did those burn?

RM: Oh yeah. Burnt everywhere. Got dry . . .

SB: That had to be a ground fire was it? Just a fire through the laurel? In those low coves?

RM: Why, you take it, and it's right dry. Some man set a match to it, couldn't put it out, wind a-blowin'. That March wind a-blowin' sent it from one ridge to another, under your feet. You'd better be runnin'.

SB: Do you remember any real big fires up on the ridges up here? Like on Gregory Ridge or up that way?

RM: Oh Lord yeah. I knowed it up here at the Blowdown. Had all them CCC's out of North Carolina and Tennessee, too, a-fightin' that fire.

SB: Did you fight that fire?

RM: Oh, I was a-workin' for the government then. Yeah, I went.

SB: Was that a real hot fire?

RM: Oh, hot. Didn't know how to fight it, but that's another thing the government didn't know how to do. I told 'em the way they was fightin' it . . . I'd just set the whole thing afire and send it to North Carolina.

SB: Where did that fire start? Do you know?

RM: Oh, I don't know. Somebody set it out, throwed out a match to see it burn.

SB: What year was that?

RM: Thirty-six, wasn't it, Mother? When I was up there fightin' that fire. It was before I went to work for the (Alcoa) plant in thirty-six. Thirty-six, when North Carolina and Tennessee was full of them peckerwoods. Peckerwood army, CCC's.

SB: How big was that fire?

RM: Aw, I don't know how big it was, how many acres. It burnt over the whole mountains.

SB: Do you know how far it went from east to west, north to south?

RM: No I don't. I know the government men all come out of Washington. So you're ain't never goin' to show this to a government man?

SB: No.

RM: They brought pumps down here, pumps you could carry on your back in five-gallon cans, hoses. It'd pump water five hundred feet up, take a barrel up there to water out the stumps before the fire was done burned over and gone.

SB: Do you remember any big fires earlier than that, like when you were a boy? In the early nineteen hundreds or twenties?

RM: I know one where this West Prong burned up. I don't know which year it was. I guess about 1908 or 1909, wasn't it.

SB: They just let that fire burn? They didn't try to fight it?

RM: They didn't try to fight it.

SB: That had already been cut over, so that was a fire on logging slash, was it?

RM: Goin' up that river, every flat place they hit, they built a bridge for a train to go over. The steel was took up. They left them old strainers and pens up there, and they burnt them all down. Killed all the fish in the West Prong. The railroad was there. The steelers took it up; it was done.

SB: That was after they finished cutting. Were you working for the logging company then?

RM: No.

SB: They logged the West Prong first, and then they logged up around above Elkmont later?

RM: West Prong first, then the East next, and wound up on the Middle Prong.

SB: And then the Park was started and that was the end of that?

RM: Oh, the Park here was quarrelin' about it before they got into Elkmont.

SB: That was Townsend who ran that logging company, was it?

RM: Little River Lumber Company. Oh, they first come here talking about the Park. The company didn't want them to come, and they sent government men here and said they were going to take a mile from the top of the mountain down. Then they finally settled, and they come down 300 feet from the top and cut everything below there. Then the government went ahead to look at it. They'd just go back up . . .

SB: But they left the beech forest on the top of the ridge, didn't they? Near Silers Bald?

RM: Well, them little beeches were up there so high they weren't big enough to pay 'em to get 'em.

SB: So they went up as high as they could get, but they stopped when they got to that stunted timber.

RM: Might have been some of those little old beeches up there curlywood now. Some man knows what a curlywood tree was . . .

SB: What's a curlywood tree?

RM: It's curlywood. I don't know 'em, but I've helped load one of them.

FM: Well, was it beech, or what?

RM: All kinds of trees go curly in these mountains. A feller from Johnson City come here, helped 'em with a carload of curlywood. And they're gone, going to Indianapolis to factories. He'd go in these mountains and cut those curly trees and bring 'em down there and hire some feller with a team to drag 'em on down and take 'em, three or four carloads. They knowed what a curly tree was. I wouldn't know looking at it, but he did. He had two boys.

SB: What did they do with that wood?

RM: What wood?

SB: The curly wood.

RM: Shipped it to Indianapolis.

SB: What did they make out of it?

RM: Oh, furniture, put it over furniture.. Bought a buckeye board, and they'll . . . Like a cigarette paper, curly wood on the outside of it, before they got rich.

SB: Back to the cows. You were telling me before what the cows were eating. What did the cows eat during the summer and early spring? What did they eat in the early spring when you put them out early down in the hollows?

RM: Well, lamb's tongue, crow's foot, rich wheat. Come up early kind of like a wild onion, and it died down when hot weather come.

SB: I don't think I know those.. What kind of flower did they have on them?

RM: Oh yeah. Shut that thing down, and I'll tell you about flowers.

SB: You don't want to tell me about flowers with the recorder on?

RM: I betcha there ain't a government person workin' for 'em that ever seen 'em. Shut it down.


SB: Okay. Do cattle eat wild asters?

RM: You never did hear me talkin' about wild asters. They'd eat ivy in the spring of the year and get poisoned and die. in the spring of the year. Take the young 'uns out there, and come the snow or bad weather, and they'd eat the ivy.

SB: Poison ivy?

RM: Just that old mountain ivy.

SB: You were telling me they'd eat jewel weed, touch-me-not?

RM: Wild touch-me-not. Oh, yeah. They'd eat 'em, but they wouldn't eat 'em, not till up to last of July or August.

SB: Somebody told me hogs like touch-me-not, too.

RM: I never did see a hog that eat anything that you'd feed him.

SB: So they'd eat touch-me-not. Up on the balds, the sheep stayed up on Thunderhead?

RM: Oh sheep up on Thunderhead. That's where they'd stay, up there on them balds. The sheep didn't hit the hollers. He'd stay up where there's grass.

SB: So the sheep stayed mostly up where there was grass, and the cows came down into the hollows. And the horses stayed up with the sheep?

RM: Oh, the horses stayed on them balds too. Of course the sheep never let off them balds but to go down them hollers to get water.

SB: So what about at a place like Sheep Pen Gap. Were there any sheep pens there?

RM: Before my time. I don't know how come they call it that I'd like to know why they call this gap Crib Gap going to Cades Cove.

SB: What's that supposed to be called?

RM: I don't know how come they'd got the name. They say it's on that map. See if it's on that map. Shut this thing out and tell her.


SB: Tell me about the Drawer Gap.

RM: Well, I don't think it's on the map.

SB: I don't think it is. I don't think I've ever seen that one before. Where's Drawer Gap?

RM: It's up here on the Middle Prong.

SB: Oh yeah?

RM: It's changed the name.

SB: How did it get its name "Drawer Gap?"

RM: Can you not find Chestnut Flats, Eden Garden?

SB: No, this map's not of a scale to show it.

RM: Well, I'll tell you about it. Along that prong that timber is all growed up in briars and everything. Cattle was through there. I went over Devils Nest and started a bunch of cattle and was drivin' 'em through the long holler. Had on them old BVD underwear. You know they had rubber back there and got hanging loose. Them cattle found a way there before I knew there was a cut through there. I was a young man. They'd drop down. I couldn't walk. I just pulled 'em off and hung 'em in a bush. I told the fellers how to go through there after they'd growed up. They seen my drawers hanging there and called it Drawer Gap. Harry said it's on the map. He seen it on the map.

SB: It may be on one of these others. I'd have to look on the quad sheet and see if I can find it.

RM: But they've changed so many of these gaps. Don't know nothin' about 'em, and they changed 'em. There's an old deer stand out here.

SB: Yes, Mollies Butt is on that map. How did Mollies get its name?

RM: I'd like to know how. I've been on Mollies Butt a hundred times.

SB: What about Holy Butt. That's another one. I've seen on the map. How did that get its name? It's over somewhere Elkmont. There's a ridge over there called Holy Butt.

RM: I'd like to see one of them maps of the Smoky Mountains. I'd like to see the names of them ridges out from Thunderhead towards the Derrick.

SB: Thunderhead towards Derrick?

RM: Yeah, them ridges run all to North Carolina.

SB: Okay. Thunderhead to Derrick. There it is. There's Thunderhead. The first ridge over there is called Devils Courthouse. Not too many marked. There's Devils Ridge, Davis Ridge, Chimney Rocks. It's got some of the creeks marked on it— Deerhobble, Shut-in Creek, Starkey Creek, Devils Branch, Churnhole, Long Branch.

RM: Those towards North Carolina. One of them ridges from Thunderhead down towards the Derrick.

SB: On the North Carolina side there's Meadow Gap, Saddle Back, Chestnut Ridge, Blockhouse Mountain, De Armond Ridge. Do you want to see the map, Boney?

RM: The ridges. Shut this thing off, and I'll tell you about the ridges.


RM: When they settled up in North Carolina, now I've been told this; I don't know if it was so. And they wanted to make a road over it. Now they all met, what few of them there was. Some of them wanted to come down that Defeat Ridge, and some of them wanted to come down the Bote Mountain, but the Bote Mountain carried. The name of it was originally Vote Mountain; I guess that's right. The other mountain over there is the Defeat. They just changed the name of this one to Bote. I guess Vote Mountain is the right name for it. That was all, oh how many years. That's what the old people told me.

SB: Did any of the cattle, or sheep on the ridge ever get attacked by bears or panthers?

RM: Oh yeah.

SB: Did you have a lot of trouble with bears?

RM: Oh, not much. Bears killed 'em.

SB: How often did that happen? What could you do to keep the bears away from them?

RM: There wasn't many bears there. It took an awful big 'un to kill a calf. People hunted them and got fat and killed and ate them. I never did like them. My daddy brought some up there on this Timber Ridge. Jim Burns, oh, up in the summer time, he had eight or ten. He come down here and wanted to sell 'em to Dad, and Dad bought 'em. They were just three and four hundred pound steers. Bears killed one of 'em and it caught another one. Bear claws on his back. Guess he tried to catch him first, but he got away from him, and he grabbed another.

SB: Were there ever any panthers up there then, or were they all shot out by that time?

RM: I've heard old people tell me this here, but I never did see one.

SB: Never saw tracks or never heard one?

RM: I've heard things hollerin' in the mountains, but I never knew what it was. I know a dog wouldn't run it. Come around the cabin—I had some Plott dogs, they wouldn't run it. Had an old spotted dog I bought in North Carolina; he'd run it. The others wouldn't run it. I don't know if it was a wildcat or panther or what.

SB: They never bothered the sheep or the cattle up on Spence, at least in your memory?

RM: The wolves used to bother them on Spence Place before I can remember.

SB: So did you ever hear old Sparks talking about that?

RM: Yeah.

SB: What did he say about the wolves and bears up there?

RM: Oh, he said them wolves up there got to killin' the sheep. They all come up there and kill one. Get an old mother and said she had young 'uns. Three or four, I won't say which. They hunted for 'em and couldn't find 'em. Said there were two young that died. That's the only one he'd ever knowed of 'em killin' 'em.

SB: When was that?

RM: Oh, I don't have no idea.

SB: That would have been in the 1880's, 1890's, maybe?

RM: Maybe 1890's.

SB: And maybe that was the last wolf up there.

RM: That was the last one I'd ever heard of bein' up there.

SB: Was that the last one ever, probably, in the Park?

RM: How's that?

SB: Were there any other sightings or killings that you heard about since then?

RM: No. These wildcats, a lot of people would call them a wolf. Some of those wild cats could be pretty mean.

SB: Bobcats, you mean?

RM: I never heard them called a bobcat. I've always heard them called a wildcat. Them bobcats were a short tailed cat.

SB: Right. So what's a wildcat?

RM: Well, I don't know what the end of them was like. Like a copperhead snake. I've talked to many a man in the country was been in the Civil War. Some of them say a colperhead snake has his tail in a keen point, the others say it was a blunt tail, so I've never seen a copperhead to know of.

SB: Were there any disease problems with the cattle up on the balds?

RM: Oh no, I never heard of that foot and mouth disease till they seen it in the paper where they just killed 'em years ago and put 'em in a ditch. My daddy had a steer one time I guess had mouth disease.

SB: Did they ever get the trembles? Did they ever just lie down and not be able to stand?

RM: Used to be that in the Smoky Mountains. Called it milk sick. Nobody knew what it was.

SB: Oh, it's probably caused by eating white snakeroot, the plant up there with the white flowers on it. Blooms in the summer.

RM: That's what caused it? Did you ever see anybody that drank the milk from a cow runnin' out and had that disease? I know a man who'd look like he had St. Vitus's dance like that, and when he was a boy, the cows run out in North Carolina.

SB: They got milk sickness, and he got it?

RM: Now, what you said it was?

SB: White Snakeroot. They eat the white snakeroot.

RM: Looks like they'd all have it then.

SB: Yes. That's what I don't understand. I've heard people tell me that the reason that they grazed the cows up high was because they'd eat too much white snakeroot down low, but there's as much white snakeroot up on that mountain as there is down in the valley.

RM: Now, I've been here on Smoky Mountain, and I've seen three steers with milk sickness. Every one of them that found their way down the North Carolina side, I forget what cove it was. You drive 'em down and they go to get hot, and the last one I've seen was a feller name of Pete Sarrat of Sevier County. Got about a mile down from the top of the gant lot, and they got to walking stiff legged, and I told him he'd better stop that steer. Oh, he said he had to take 'em home. He didn't go farther than that little store, and just walked out there and laid down there and died. They got hot. It didn't seem to bother them till it got hot. That's the last one I ever seen with the milk sickness. But the cattle are just like humans. They die once in a while, and nobody knows what's wrong with 'em.

SB: How many do you think they lost every year?

RM: Oh, I wouldn't have no idea. Some of them got lost. Somebody stole 'em, I guess, on the North Carolina side. My daddy told me on at the Derrick, he took his cattle up there before he ever got to takin' out of there, I guess before I was born. In the May that he took salt up there, took so many pounds of salt for every steer, and this was back when old John Gregory was herding up there, before old Dave. And he asked him, "Where's my cattle at?" and he told them some was out, and old John called, said there was a white steer and a Jersey heifer come up. Old Shields says, "That Jersey heifer belongs to us . . .

(end of side of tape)

SB: How much were you getting for your steers driven over the mountains?

RM: Oh, three cents was a good price a pound. World War I bought for ten cents. I think they brought about ten and a half cents the next year and that was when I quit foolin' with 'em. Forty, fifty cents her last year, I heard. If I'd have had that, I'd have been a millionaire three or four times when I drove over them mountains.

SB: What kind of cattle did you keep? Herefords? Whatever you had?

RM: Well, we finally got to keeping Durham cattle. There was an old stock of cattle here called the Red Devil when I was a boy. Then they got the Durham and then the whiteface come next and then the Angus cattle.

SB: What was this Red Devil like? What did that cow look like?

RM: He was a heavy-bodied steer, short horns. I don't know whatever come of it. I think that's where they got the Angus. I know they breed that one. I've seen two or three of 'em that was as red as blood.

SB: There weren't any fences up on those balds, were there?

RM: Oh no. They just went where they'd please. And now the government's dug all of them trails all through the mountains, and a man couldn't take a bunch of cattle up there and never been a man. . . . The government doesn't have enough men in the army to keep a hundred head up there.

SB: What do they do? They head right back on down the trails?

RM: Just hit that trail.

SB: Did anyone ever cut up there? Like cut at Spence Field or out at Russell?

RM: Cut hay?

SB: No. Cut wood. Do you remember when Russell was cleared?

RM: Oh no. Nobody else don't. It always was a bald. I guess they don't know. Been down here across the river, Tellico Plains. There's a Stratton Bald. Oh, I've heard them talk about them balds as the same as here.

SB: Do you remember anyone doing any cutting on the bald edges to keep them open, like cutting any blackberries or cutting any small trees, killing any saplings?

RM: They'd cut 'em for wood.

SB: What size trees did they cut for wood?

RM: Oh, not too big. Cut 'em in the summer time as big as your thigh, drag it down, chop 'em up. They wouldn't cut 'em too big.

SB: Did they leave the larger trees standing, then, and cut the smaller ones in between?

RM: Just cut them down. There wasn't too many big ones up there on top.

SB: Did they cut away from the edges?

RM: Wherever they had a cabin, that's where (unintelligible).

SB: Where did they cut logs for the cow pens?

RM: Oh, just cut 'em around there and carry 'em.

SB: Just any old place around the bald?

RM: Yeah. Split rails. Cut a tree down, split it, and make rails.

SB: So Russell was always clear as long as you can remember?

RM: Oh yes. Russell and Thunderhead out at the Derrick.

SB: Derrick is just about closed up now.

RM: Growed up. How long has it been since you was up there?

SB: I was up there two months ago.

RM: The bald's all filled up with bushes, is it?

SB: There's trees all over Derrick. There's hardly a bald there at all now.

RM: How big a bushes are they?

SB: Small pole yellow birch about four inches across all over the place.

RM: I don't know. Maybe the Indians might have cut them balds in time. I don't know. They might have raised corn there.

SB: Do you think the soil's that good?

RM: Why yeah. Take this bottom right over here. Right out there where them houses is. I've picked up many a glass bead that the Indians made. Had one of these old drag harrows, made 'em ourselves. Drag them old disc harrows, they kind of kept the ground level. You could pick up Indian beads, arrows. Called it flint rock on the area where'd they'd shot the deer. But they got cuttin' harrows and big plows and turned 'em in so you hardly ever find 'em.

SB: Did you ever find any arrowheads or any Indian pottery up on the balds?

RM: No.

SB: Never any arrowheads up there?

RM: I never did hear of it. Them Indians stayed where there was water. They might have been up there in time. How many different tribes of Indians are there in the United States?

SB: I don't know.

RM: I've heard there was twenty-eight different tribes.

SB: There might have been more than that. On the balds, then, the cows just grazed on that grass real low. Did they ever eat any shrubs or young trees?

RM: Yeah, they'd eat leaves.

SB: Which ones did they like to eat?

RM: Oh, I don't know. I've seen them eat leaves and little bushes. I never did pay no attention to what kind they was gettin' it off of.

SB: Did they eat serviceberries at all?

RM: I don't know.

SB: Did they eat azaleas? Will cows eat mountain laurel and azaleas?

RM: No. They won't eat it. One that's never been out there and bit that ivy goin' up in the spring, he'd get a bunch of it and get sick. He'd starve to death before he'd eat it. The young ones that never been in the mountains get hungry, they'd eat it. That's ones that get poisoned.

SB: What about blueberry bushes? Do cows eat blueberry bushes at all?

RM: Oh, I don't know whether they would or not. Guess they would.

SB: Then they ate lots of little shrubs and trees.

RM: Oh, yes, and the mountains, the weeds grow up in the summertime. They'd eat them and the touch-me-nots.

SB: Do you remember the different weeds that they were eating in the summer?

RM: No. I don't pay no attention to 'em. All kinds of 'em. All those flowers I was tellin' you about a while ago. I'd like to see somebody that would have told me the name of them. They was thick. There was a weed that come up like a poke. But they never did come back no more.

SB: All around up here was sort of more open in those days than it is now. There were blackberries in your pastures?

RM: On the mountain? Oh yes. Goin' up to Bote Mountain here I went with a ranger, oh, fifteen years ago, and I couldn't see where the Defeat, Eve's Garden Branch, Chestnut Flats Branch, Devil's Nest Branch was. We went up the laurel in a jeep. Growed up, them pines. I told him when I was back 25 years old, I'd come out there some night with an axe, I'd cut 'em down. They kept 'em cut down. Goin' up and down the Bote Mountain, you could see the Defeat, see every holler over there, and now you can't see 'em. I ain't been there fifteen years up that Bote Mountain.

SB: You can't see anything now. In the winter you can see just a little bit between the trees. But you can't see all until you get up to Spence Field, and even then you can't see the Tennessee side well until you actually get right on top of Thunderhead. North Carolina side you can still see good from Spence Field.

RM: Where do you have to get on Old Smoky to see the lake?

SB: Oh, the lake. Fontana?

RM: Yeah, Fontana. Out to Thunderhead?

SB: You can see it from Thunderhead; you can see it a little bit from Spence; you can see it a little bit from Silers. Can't see it from Derrick.

RM: Well, when did whats-his-name fly the ocean?

SB: Lindbergh?

RM: Lindenberg.

SB: What was it? 1929?

RM: I don't know, somewhere in the twenties. But where was that wife? He went to meet that wife and married her down there. He was a-courtin' her.

SB: New Jersey? Didn't she come from New Jersey?

RM: No. She lived somewhere (unintelligible). Her daddy was a general or something in the army down here. Some of these islands somewhere. Now this brother of mine, died here last, almost a year ago. He was on Smoky Mountain with Fonze Cable and he said that airplane came over there, wasn't a hundred feet high. Said he come around Thunderhead right out the Spence Place. The sun was down. It wasn't dark, but it was gettin' dark. He said him and Fonze run out there, just him and Fonze was there and looked at that airplane. He was up there day or two and come in, and was tellin' about Lindenberg flyin', goin' to see his wife. He wasn't married to her. All they also said of Lindenberg that (unintelligible.).

SB: Probably was. He was probably flying over the mountains.

RM: Did you ever see his plane?

SB: Pardon?

RM: Did you ever see Lindenberg's plane that he flew the ocean in?

SB: It's in the Smithsonian in Washington. I think I've seen it. Spirit of St. Louis?

RM: Looks like a wheelbarrow, don't it.

SB: Yeah, it does, I guess. I don't think I'd want to fly across the Atlantic in that plane.

RM: Oh, it looks better than a wheel barrow, all them little wires. Looks like sixty-six holding the wings up.

SB: Boney, was there anything built on the grass balds aside from the herder's cabin and those pens? Is that all that was up there that was a structure?

RM: Oh no. No cabins up on the mountains. They was always down in the hollers where there was water.

SB: So the herders stayed in huts or tents or . . .?

RM: Oh, they had a log cabin, Old Tom Sparks had a good log house there. Two rooms to it. Wasn't very big. Had a fire place where he cooked over the fire. It was about as wide as this and I don't know how much longer. And he.. . . . One room was the bedroom. When he took that woman up there, she had to have something to eat for breakfast. Old Tom had to put the oven on, make her corn bread and some coffee. Fried her some meat. Old Tom said she went to sleep. He woked her up, a-settin' on that chair holdin' that baby while he got his supper. He waked her up, said she ate, said, "There's the bed. You take the baby and go to bed," says, "I'll go over and sleep here before the fire." Oh, I bet that, I'll bet . .

SB: So there was just a nice cabin. Was it down by the spring on the Carolina side?

RM: On the Carolina side, yeah. You know where that spring is?

SB: Well, there are two of them. The big one is when you come up Bote Mountain now and if you go off to the, sort of towards the right and go back over the bald, that's where the big spring is. There's where the shelter is, down there.

RM: They've got a new one out further towards Thunderhead, haven't they?

SB: Yeah, they've got two, one more towards Thunderhead and then one by the big spring. I think they may have, I'm not sure if they tore one of them down or not. They may have, but they had two cabins. Were they the only buildings up there? Did he have any outbuildings up there? Did he have any outbuildings or . . .?

RM: No.

SB: He had nothing except that cabin?

RM: That cabin.

SB: No fence or anything around it?

RM: No, not a thing in the world. Only fence there was as around, oh Tom he cleared up a patch about as big as this house right at the back and out of the woods and planted cabbages. The biggest cabbage heads that ever I've seen was up there.

I can remember I come out from North Carolina one time and met him out comin' around from Bone Valley towards Thunderhead, and he was coming from Thunderhead oh, about twelve o'clock. He went down there and (unintelligible) over in the course of (unintelligible) cabin. He made corn bread and put it in the oven and went out there and got a cabbage head and drenched it and just quartered it and put it in a big iron kettle and got about two pounds of butter and put it on. I thought it was the best meal I ever eat. That corn bread and more cabbage . . .

SB: He didn't have any milk cows up there, did he?

RM: No. Rarely, rarely. Lord, he wouldn't fool with milk. I wouldn't fool with a milk cow up there either.

SB: Not even. . . . So he didn't have any milk up there at all. Just corn bread and cabbage. And what else did he eat?

RM: Whatever he could carry up, beans or one thing or another.

SB: Did he ever hunt up on the top there?

RM: Oh, Tom (unintelligible) bear huntin'. Old Tom would be up there. (unintelligible) and chestnuts. He killed them bears.

SB: You used to go bear hunting, did you?

RM: Oh yeah. I'd go up there and see two kettles on the fireplace all the time for bear meat.

SB: You used to cook bear meat, did you? You were telling me about Walker who. . . . Was Walker the one that was drinking the bear grease?

RM: Oh yeah. Bob Walker. He lived down here at Walland. Old Bob's been dead ten or fifteen years. Yeah. Old Bob was there and the kettles didn't have no lid on 'em, just hung right on the fire and cooked all day and night. Ash would blow up on them, dust. . . . Old Bob Walker come in, grabbed a pint cup and just skimmed them up. Put a pint cup in there and drank a pint of bear grease.

SB: He didn't put it on his shoes, he drank it?

RM: Didn't do what?

SB: He didn't put it on his shoes, he drank it?

RM: Drank it. Turn off that recorder and I'll tell you what it done for him, too.

SB: What did it do for him?

RM: I don't know what it done. In about a week every time you'd see him, his pants looked like he'd set in water. Went through him, I reckon.

Bob was the best hunter was ever in these mountains. He was a young feller, Bob was about seven or eight years older than me. Bob called one of them old gobblers up in the spring of the year where they hunted for him, and he shot at him, and Bob, he killed it. Called him up, he could just gobble just like a turkey. He found one of them hens too, he killed 'em. Them old turkeys in the spring of the year when they go to gobblin', go to baitin', hear one gobble. Old Bob, he'd get in earshot before he could see he was comin', he'd gobble just like it only hardly as loud. He'd gobble again, and old Bob would gobble again a little louder, and he'd be right up on old Bob, old Bob would kill it. Only man I ever heard who could gobble like a turkey. You couldn't tell him from a turkey.

SB: He was a bear hunter too, though?

RM: Oh, bear hunter. Bob hunted for bears. One out here on the middle prong of the river, crossed over to the Defeat side, crossed the river comin' over on to Bote Mountain to get chestnuts. Crossed a big log across the river. Everybody'd come very evening, wait, couldn't get it. Old Bob told me he wet his thumb, see which way the air was moving, said the air was goin' from him, here he come. Killed him. Them bears used to be very wild. They'd wind you quarter of a mile. You couldn't get to 'em. Now they're thicker than the . . . Catch a dog, would kill one back then.

SB: Do you think there are a lot more bears now than there were then?

RM: Oh Lord yeah.

SB: What about the turkeys. There are not many turkeys now. Did they sort of disappear after the chestnut die-out?

RM: Oh, the turkeys was hunted out, killed out.

SB: They were hunted out.

RM: Turkey . . . Killed a turkey in the spring of the year, you had to go get yourself a mess of ramps to eat before you could eat. You know, what these ramps are, don't you? Grows in the mountain. You ought to go get yourself a mess of ramps and then go get you a dozen eggs, bring 'em over here and boil them eggs.

SB: Oh I like ramps cooked with eggs. That's really good.

RM: Well, what I'm going to tell you: boil them eggs and not eat any ramp. Cut one of them eggs open, then you'll eat your ramp. You'll have to eat the ramp so you can eat the egg. (unintelligible) turkey, on the mountain, kill a wild turkey, cook it, if you eat ramps first before you eat it, it just tastes like ramps.

SB: Were there any moonshiners back in there in those days.

RM: Oh yeah. They made whiskey ever since. . . . Carr's Creek over here was the worst place for whiskey. They made it over there, and I guess they're makin' it yet over there.

SB: They were making it in the Park, too, back in those days. In fact, they probably were after the Park was started even.

RM: Oh, they made it up here in Walker's Valley, up there at the Stillhouse Branch goin' up above Walker's Valley to Tremont. The Stillhouse Branch. That still stayed in service there for ten years. Five years anyway. I don't know how long it was.

SB: How big was that still?

RM: Oh, it was 75 gallons, I guess. Used to make it when they doubled it and singled it. They had it in a 90 and a 30 gallon, before they ever used this thump cask. Put it in a 90 gallon and run it off and then put it in a 30 gallon. That's what they called it, doubled it and singled it. That was the only way to make whiskey.

SB: Did your family ever make whiskey?

RM: No. My old granddaddy did but back years ago, before the Civil War. Wasn't ever a tax (unintelligible.). They put a tax on whiskey to pay the Civil War debt.

SB: I'm not sure. There may have been a tax on it in some places before that. I remember there was a whiskey rebellion sometime around the War of 1812. I don't think back in the Civil War times anyone could get back into these valleys to collect a tax if there was one. They would have had a hard time.

RM: (unintelligible) over in Millers Cove, during the Civil War went on the Union side, what few was left.

SB: Most of the people from around here were Union during the Civil War?

RM: Oh yeah, Union yet. All the old settlers. What few didn't go, they had to scoutin' around, and bushwhackers come over here from North Carolina and steal everything they had. Steal their horses and everything they had.

SB: Who were the bushwhackers?

RM: I don't know who they were. They were from North Carolina and come over here. My granddaddy on my mother's side over here in Wears Cove goin' over to Line Springs, you been over that road? They come over here and stole his horses and he was about 16 years old, and they went up there and stole what they could in Wears Cove, and he hid in that gap, killed 'em there, shot 'em, run 'em off, and he caught a mule, a five-year-old mule, and he hid it out in that holler, and old Uncle Dan, his brother, took it up in the holler and fed it there till the war was over. Bring her down and made a crop and (unintelligible) for him and take it up there and have it hid up there in a laurel thicket, hid his mule. They had a fight right up here at Beth El Church.

SB: Really?

RM: Yeah, and they killed one of 'em, one of them bushwhackers, and up there where (unintelligible)'s place is. That's where my granddaddy lived. My grandmother knit him, or someone did, a pair of socks. They were in his pocket and they buried him up at this graveyard, and granddaddy's socks, put 'em on him. Never did know who he was.

SB: Well, I think it's probably time to call it quits.

End of tape.

Transcribed by William Morgan, Christina Dombrowski, and Mary Lindsay.

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Last Updated: 07-Mar-2008