History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Seymour Calhoun

Seymour Calhoun interviewed in Bryson City, North Carolina by Mary Lindsay, January 28, 1976. Granville Calhoun present and contributed a few remarks

ML: Now, let's see, could you tell who you are and how old you are?

SC: You have to tell your age? (laughs)

ML: Yes, you have to tell.

SC: Seymour Calhoun, age 79 last September the sixteenth.

ML: I see, and, let's see, you grew up on Hazel Creek?

SC: Right, I grew up and stayed there some fifty odd years.

ML: How old's your father now? He must be over a hundred.

SC: Yeah, he was a hundred years old the fourteenth of last March. So he was raised on Hazel Creek too, in there, from the time he was. . . . Grandfather moved in there when he was four years born, lived there for years up till 1940. Let's see, he come out about '46, I guess, when the TVA taken all the property over.

ML: Let's see, and your father ran cattle up on the mountain, didn't he?

SC: Yes'm. Yeah, they, well we run several head of cattle of our own, and also we herded cattle for other people too at the same time.

ML: Whereabouts did you herd them? Let me see if this (tape recorder) is working. Okay, let's see. About how many cattle did you herd altogether?

SC: Well anywhere from . . . I guess when there's several at one time, anywhere from five to seven or eight hundred head.

ML: Whereabouts was this?

SC: That's from Clingman's Dome. We had the mountain leased from Clingman's Dome to about, let's see, there'd be four and six, ten; six, six, twelve, about sixteen miles of the mountain was in our range for herding. That's west down toward, you know on Spence Place, that's out from Cades Cove.

ML: So you had where the Spence Field left off over to Clingman's Dome.

SC: Now, and another, there's other folks from Tennessee started at our, about half way between Spence Place and what we call Hall's cabin, that was where the line was and they ranged on down the mountain, plumb on down to Spence Place, Russell Field, and on towards Gregory Bald and down in there to the end of the mountain.

ML: Where was the Hall Cabin? Was that at the head of Hazel Creek?

SC: Head of . . . No, it was, ah, Hazel Creek goes to the right (east), and Hazel Creek heads out at Clingman's, at Siler Meaders. The waters on Siler Meaders, four miles out from Clingman's Dome is the headwaters of Hazel Creek, and the Hall's cabin is back to, back the other way, and it was on the waters of Bone Valley Creek that comes in and goes, Hazel Creek goes this way, and Bone Valley back to the left.

ML: Let's see. So you herded cattle on Silers Meadows? Did you ever go to Andrews Bald?

SC: No, I never was right out on Andrews Bald. I been out there at Siler Meaders, but just going out, right out on Andrews Bald, I never. Now, my father there, he might, he was in there, and then he operated, opened up, a copper mine at Siler Meaders, was up there. Will it interfere with that to ask him this question?

ML: No.

SC: Papa, how long was you there at Siler Meaders opening up the mines?

GC: Huh?

SC: How long did you work up at Siler Meaders opening up the mines?

GC: Two, two years.

SC: About two years.

ML: When was that?

SC: See, what year was that? 1903 or 4, wasn't it?

GC: Yeah, I guess . . . (unintelligible).

SC: Somewhere on in there. And then of course he was in there on up till they herded cattle, and he was on the mountain in there, and up till the Ritter Lumber Company and they come in there in 19 and, they come in 19 and 9; and so we quit in 19 and 10 or 11. We quit ranging cattle on account of that timber. The railroad was in there then, cutting timber, and the cattle got scattered. We couldn't do nothing with 'em. We just quit then at that time.

GC: (unintelligible)

SC: Yeah, I know it, I thought you was in there about a year, between a year and two years on the mining there.

Now this Hall's cabin, we'll go back to that, was, ah, it was on the waters of Bone Valley. The water, the spring there, I mean, one spring on the North Carolina side come down on the Bone Valley side, that's on the North Carolina side, and the spring for the cabin, a little spring right next the top of the hill, it's on the Tennessee side. That was their cabin, was there, was for hunting and ranging, cattle rangin' and hunters, and they had a club there and went every year for their bear hunting in there for years. Appalachian Hunting and Fishing Club owned the cabin, or owned the rights in there to hunt every fall of the year. But the Sparkses, now the Sparkses, they ranged their cattle that was started down there, they ranged down around there to Spence Field and all down in there was belonged to the, they called that belonged to the Sparkses, they had that leased from, well, I don't know there's one side of the mountain was belonged, was owned. All the timber rights and land nearly belonged to the Townsend Lumber Company on the Tennessee side, and on the North Carolina side was the, was Ritter Lumber Company and the Montvale Lumber Company owned most of that side. But Papa had a lease on this, up on his part he had a lease for 99 years with the Tennessee, with the Town send Lumber Company to range cattle.

ML: Did someone stay up there to look after them?

SC: No, not regularly, go about, well, tried to get up there at least once every two weeks.

ML: And you salted them and . . .?

SC: Um-hunh. I salted them, got 'em. . . . Now they ranged 'em from March, about the fifteenth of March or the first of April until the fifteenth of September was. . . Course they called that gatherin' in their cattle and everybody that had cattle on the mountain come there and gathered them up and separated them, and each feller got his cattle that belonged to him.

ML: Did you build any sort of a pen to put them in?

SC: We had a, oh, there's eight to ten acres in a big, there's a lot where they put them in. They just put 'em in there when, in separating the cattle out, just had some lots that each man put his cattle in there, just until he'd get it out, and get them out of the way. They didn't, but they just had a big field in there when we'd go to put 'em up, just eight or ten acres, maybe more.

ML: Whereabouts was this? Near the cabin?

SC: Right up at the cabin. The cabin set right in the middle of it, and the cattle . . . this field was, I mean was, the cabin was in the field and it was fenced off in there. And then now in the summertime, we never let the cattle in there. They kept that there, we kept the cattle out until they gathered them up. And then when they didn't gather them, that left the grass, you see, was in there, and that took care of the cattle for a night, overnight or two nights or whatever they spent in there without having to feed them.

ML: Were the cattle belled? Did they have bells on them?

SC: Oh, yes, they had bells on them. You could hear them bells. My grandfather had about, why I think he had about a hundred bells. Ah, the cattle is, well it just, when they'd get out, go together with all sizes bells from that long to great big ones, you could hear all kinds and all tones of bells. They used bells and marking in the ear; they didn't brand their cattle. They tried that a little while, but that was too, they didn't like it on account of in branding them a hot brand, you know, it would burn them up. A lot of them, it caused them to get inflamed, and they quit that. Just used their marks. They had one secret mark in the ear. You put it in a tattoo, just like, you know, just like a tattoo, and thay tattoed the name, the initial in your cattle's ear there, and if you got into a dispute as to who, whose cattle it was, you could go and look in his ear there and find out about it, whether it was yours or somebody else's.

ML: Did they run any particular breed up there, or did people just have . . .?

SC: No all kinds. Didn't have no particular kind. Oh, maybe one feller would bring up a, he'd maybe have some particular brand or kind, but they didn't keep them separated when they got up there, they was just all together, all kinds of them, from the little calves on up.

ML: Did anyone have any sheep up there?

SC: No, we didn't on our end of the mountain. Now Tom Sparks at the Spence Place, they had sheep there, a lot of sheep, and hogs.

ML: What about horses and mules?

SC: Well, there wasn't very many up there. Sometimes after the, in the summer after they'd finally get their crops laid in, maybe some of the natives would take their mules and horses up there and turn them on the mountain for a month or two just along late fall, but none ranged much. But, ah, they, going back to the sheep there, I know that there was an old man that was there at Spence Place, and it come up a thunderstorm, right heavy thunderstorm on the mountain, and he went back under to get out of the rain, he went back under this rock cliff, and the lightning hit. The sheep was down below him, and they all kind of huddled up, and the lightning hit them and killed 79 of them. He told me about it, and he said he was a-watching it. He was under that rock, had got back there out of the rain, you know. He said that this lightning, said that, ah, when it's heavy lightning looked like it, looked just like that, and every sheep just went down like that, and there was 79 of them.

ML: That's a lot of sheep to lose.

SC: All at one stroke, anyway.

ML: Did any animals ever get milk sick up there?

SC: No, there was not no milk sick up that far. There was one patch of milk sick down on Hazel Creek; that was way down, oh, not very far up on the creek. There was just a little patch in one little section, maybe as big as a block here or something that had a little milk sick, but there was none up on the mountain where they ranged their cattle.

ML: What did they think caused it?

SC: Well, it's a mineral, I suppose, it's a mineral substance. At least it's cattle, where they're sick, they just, they go there and lick it just like they would where salt's been poured out, and it's, you never find it on the south side, it's on the north in dark coves. And you, it won't, you clear it up if it's, where it's at, if you clear the ground up, you get shed of the milk sick thing, you can go and it does away with it. It has to have shady ground.

ML: Did any animals ever get eaten by bears or panthers?

SC: Ah, cattle, once in a while. Not many back in them days. Once in a while a bear'd catch a hog, cattle very seldom. Of course there was at that time the chestnuts. The woods just a, well, you could rake, I went and just raked chestnuts up like that where they'd fallen, and the bear at that time never, you very seldom ever heard of a bear ever a-killing cattle. Maybe it would, might be a calf or a hog or something. But it was very unusual in them days for the bear until about the time when they left down there, the bear began to come in there and kill the cattle. I know at my grandmother's old place, my brother lived there, we had to take our cattle out on account of the bears killin' them around the house.

ML: I guess the chestnut was pretty dead then.

SC: Oh yes, they was dead, practically all of them.

ML: Did anyone ever set fires up there?

SC: Once in a while you'd get a fire out but very seldom, 'cause people that knowed about settin' fire out . . . now they'd accuse a hunter of settin' fire out. Now that's a, is something that if a man's a hunter he'll never let the fire go out if he could help it. The only fire that gets out is a man goin' off and thinkin' maybe his fire was out or somethin'. But just go out and intentionally set it, that they don't do it, 'cause if you go and burn it off, burn it off, there ain't no more, there ain't no more huntin' in there for the next several years.

ML: So you didn't burn the leaves off to find the chestnuts or anything?

SC: No, there wasn't no use to. You could just rake them up. They just raked 'em up where the ground would be steep and they'd roll down. Why, I'd go out and you'd just rake 'em up like that, handfuls of 'em, go out and pick of a day and pick up all you could carry out of a night.

ML: Were there any highbush blueberries up on Silers Meadows?

SC: Oh, yeah, there was blueberries up there.

ML: Were they all around the edges of the woods or on top?

SC: Well, they was more or less on . . . you might say they were scattered out from the side, not too many on top but just under the top around on these higher hills you got the blueberries. Then we had a berry, we called 'em buckberries, I don't know where . . . they was on a tall branch like this and they'd get as big as the end of your thumb. They was right deep and had a curve just like a deer's eye, you know, sort of, and they called 'em buckberries on account of it. And the little blueberry, it only comes up about this (knee) high and they don't get any higher than that, but these buckberries, they'd get a great bush, oh, maybe that high. And then we had the gooseberry; it was about the same as the, I mean it growed up in tall bushes.

ML: And otherwise Silers Meadows was all grass?

SC: I suppose it is now. Of course it is now, but back then it wasn't. Back when they ranged cattle and for years afterwards it was just a field that had been cleared up. It was called Silers Meadows on account of old man Siler back before the Civil War went in there and was clearing it all, cleared acres and acres up there. He was planning on making a horse ranch out of it. He's from Macon County over here, the old man was, and that's on account of the whole top of the mountain was cleared up there.

ML: Now there's not much grass left; it's all big patches of briars and daisy like things.

SC: Oh yeah, it went just quick as the cattle got took off it, went to growing up then. I guess cattle helped to keep it down, you know, 'cause the grass would grow if the cattle wasn't in there; the grass would grow that high all over that mountain in there.

ML: How short did the cattle keep it?

SC: Oh, they. it was cut all lingths as far as that goes. Maybe you'd have one almost to the ground, anybe another bunch here, it all depended on how many cattle there was and how hongry they was. (To GC) 'Bout how close did the cattle keep the grass bit down in the Smoky Mountain, and I was saying it was all lengths from close to the ground to knee high. Just depended on where it was and how the cattle would range.

They'd vary. At some places the cattle would stay in and not hardly ever move out, and then other places, they'd move from and go back and forth and the others was like a home barnyard maybe. They had certain places on this mountain along them balds that they'd just stay up there more or less all the time.

ML: Did they ever eat rhododendrons?

SC: Well, yes once in a while they would in the spring of the year. Get poisoned.

ML: That would poison them.

SC: Oh, yeah, rhododendron would poison 'em. Yeah, I've had to fool with him, I know what that. . . . Do you know what kind of medicine it takes for 'em?

ML: No.

SD: Well, you can take. . . . Take the fattest old meat that you can get, just . . . where its old, like they, you know people used to have it around the meat house and get right old and . . . just take it and when they're poisoned, cut a piece off and churn it in their mouth and give 'em, and they'd chew that meat up. Then watch out because as quick as that meat hit their stomach, they'd go to vomiting, and they'd just vomit every bit of that poison out, and that was. . . If you had to give to 'em a second time, you might as well just go off and leave him because he'd get over it just as quick as he'd vomit that poison up. Yeah, I've had to cut off many a piece of fat meat in there and kill the cattle.

ML: What were the woods around Silers like?

GC: (unintelligible)

SC: Oh, yeah, he says they had the old man from Tennessee that brought up a hundred cattle, he was a big farmer and raised a lot of hogs, and he just brung up, bring great big sides of meat, just bring a hundred pounds or so up with his cattle just in case one of them did get poisoned.

ML: Did you ever have any get caught in a late snow in the spring?

SC: Yes. One time I tell you, you know they call it the big freeze. They froze to death nearly all of them on the mountain.

SL: When was this?

SC (to GC): When was them cattle. . . . What year was it the cattle all froze to death nearly on the mountain. Was that eighteen hundred and up in the 1890's or something along in there, wasn't it?

GC: Yeah . . . (unintelligible).

SC: Cause it was back in 18 and 80 or I mean 1890 or somewhere in there.

GC: (unintelligible)

SC: Yeah, I know. He said the cattle run off the mountain when it got this weather or blizzard come, and they run down into. . . . We called head of the creeks to get out of that, and they eat this laurel or rhododendron, we called it laurel you know, rhododendron at that time, and that snow was in there and they eat that, as many of them got poisoned and froze to death too in there. There's several, I don't know lot of them in the mountain. Hundreds of head of them froze to death and got poisoned but the snow stayed, as you know, and they couldn't eat and they eat this poison, and it helped, of course, kill a lot of 'em. Well, that and the cold weather too just about broke all of them.

ML: What were the woods up there like? Were they. . . . Did they have many seedlings or sprouts underneath.

SC: Oh, yeah, they was just woods.

GC: (unintelligible)

SC: Yeah, I know it. He's telling how come Bone Valley named. It was on account of cattle freezing to death, and there was so many bones left in there after, and it was called Balley Creek up till then, then they called it Bone Valley. But going back to the woods. Why the woods then, they was just native timber. It was in there and never been cut nor nothing, just like the good Lord made it.

ML: So the cattle didn't keep sprouts from coming up or anything?

SC: Oh, they kept a lot of it, but that just helped it. If it didn't . . . If they didn't keep it eat up the first thing you know you just had a big briar patch in the and get that, all that young growth would come up, just make a thicket, and it wouldn't be nothing for the cattle. They'd have to go back, get off the grass and go to just eating the limbs. So that just kept, made the good grazing where the cattle kept eating it.

ML: So it was all, mostly grass under the woods?

SC: Uh-huh. It'd be grass underneath. You see, the big timber at that time was never been cut, and the big trees was high trees, and under it was just little old sprouts and things just like come up there on the hill now. 'Cause that timber in there all along that creek in there, Ritter Lumber Company cut it out in there. Trees in there four and five and six foot over. They cut some at a mill there, we cut some boards that was 54 inches after the tree was squared down. Poplar, that was poplar. That's a great big tree, after you square it down, 54 inches.

ML: Did you ever go to Spence Field while Tom Sparks was herding up there?

SC: Yeah, I was there. You see, we lived down there, just down on the creek down there, just four miles from the Spence Place down on Hazel Creek side in there. We was just down there. When I was a boy just coming up, the cattle, they drove 'em up and made big cattle drives, and they'd go up by our place and out and by the Spence Place going towards Knoxville and I'd commonly see sheep, cattle, hogs. They'd drive up there and across the mountain. And we lived about. . . down from the Spence Place about three, let's see, three, about five miles from the Spence Place down to our home.

ML: Did people from this side of the mountain sell their cattle in Knoxville?

SC: No, not much. The Tennessee cattle now, up on Hazel Creek, up there on Hazel Creek was where they bought the cattle. I mean they bring 'em there, and most of the time these Tennessee fellers would come and herders and want to buy cattle, would come up there because they gathered the cattle and had the weighing scales there, and they bought 'em by weight. They'd weigh 'em there and then drive 'em across the mountain, but if they just bought 'em by the head, then of course they'd just buy 'em in the lots up on the mountain. But when they come down here they was . . . . Everybody that bought cattle knowed in September when they'd be there, and they come up wantin' to buy cattle, they come to where they kept 'em there above . . . on the head of Hazel Creek. That's down from . . .

ML: Did you have a big roundup when all the owners came up and picked out their cattle?

SC: Oh, yes. You had to get all the cattle in together, and then each man came and got his cattle, and that's when we spoke about the tattooin' in his ear or his mark. Each man had a mark, had their ears marked. And they, you see, and the cattle would get together and they'd have half a dozen people that'd have cattle in there then just run 'em all together and then each . . . in the lots where you'd have to separate 'em out then.

ML: What did the Spence Place look like when you were up there?

SC: Oh, it just looked like a big farm. It was all cleared off and just looked like a big grass farm like you'd have a big meader or a farm. It was all around there.

ML: No briars or trees or . . .

SC: Oh, there was nothing but a few trees back—I mean few. . . . Of course you had oak trees, some oak trees, and then your chestnut trees was scattered around, beech and stuff like that, but the main place then was just like a farm. It was all cleared up. It was nothing on it, just grass land, back till you get back a certain. . . . Well, it was just like you had a farm, if you had a farm in the wilderness. This here up to where you'd cut it out was . . . and of course timber started there then.

ML: Did you ever hear any stories about anybody cutting—clearing that place off?

SC: No, I don't know as I ever did. I might have, but. . . . Of course it had been cleared in times gone by, I guess, but I might have heard it said about it because we lived in there, and you know how when you come up and live 50 years in a place you don't pay much attention to it when you're used to it every day. (To GC) Wanted to know about Spence Place, whether it was cleared or who cleared it. (To ML) It was there before the Civil War.

GC: It was a long time before the war.

SC: Yeah, now right on down the mountain what they called the Russell Place that was six miles on down below Spence Field going west and it was cleared up. It was just about like Spence Field or bigger in there, and it was cleared up. I think the Russells or somethin' out of Tennessee had herded cattle up there, and they had their popular cabins, and it was called the Russell Place on account of they had their cabins or home, maybe lived there at that time.

GC: They moved (unintelligible).

SC: I thought the Russells moved in there and lived there.

GC: Yeah (unintelligible) good place.

SC: And then farther of course the next place. . . . You go on down the mountain was called the Gregory Bald. That's going way on down like goin' from Fontana Village and goin' up out thataway. That was gettin' down to what we called the foot of the mountain there.

ML: Did you charge people a dollar a head or something for looking after their cattle?

SC: Dollar. Well, I believe a dollar was about the minimum price. It might have been a little more than that, but most of them was a dollar.

ML: And they provided their own salt, or did you?

SC: No, we had to. We bought the salt and took care of them for a dollar a head. But you see, you take three or four hundred head in there and back them days there was no work back on that creek in there, you know. Oh, there might have been a little which you could take, and if a feller could make three or four hundred dollars through the summer months, for about two or three months there, he had a pretty good living, you know, and salt you know, didn't cost practically nothing, 25, 30 cents, 50 cents a hundred at the most. And they didn't put rock salt out like they do now, they just had loose salt. And you cut a tree down and cut you a hole cut in the tree, and then just go out and pour that salt, cut it where the cattle could get to it, up, so the cattle couldn't tromp, and then just pour them holes full of salt in there, and if the cattle wasn't there when you was a-saltin', if they wasn't around there, you could just pour that salt in there and they'd come. After they stayed there just a few times, you could go callin', and maybe you wouldn't know—hear 'em or nothing where one was at hardly, and you'd go to callin' them directly you'd hear the bells beginnin' to ring then, and maybe late in the evening—and it would take them some time, possibly all night nearly, to get 'em to come back out, but they'd all drift back there to that salt, we called 'em salt logs.

ML: How did you call them?

SC: Su caaaaalf!


ML: Doesn't work indoors, does it?

SC: Or holler just any way. When they knew you was there, that's was about all you had to do because they knowed it was saltin' time, and they, you never did get as much salt as they needed of course.

ML: Did you take advantage of that opportunity to count them and see if they were missing:

GC: (unintelligible).

SC: Yeah. There was no use countin' 'em much 'cause you couldn't count 'em because you might—The gang that would be in this holler with this salt today, and maybe they'd start on top of the mountain and run the next day, and the next day they'd be way down there; and if you did, you'd be a-countin' the same cattle over and over. And the only count you did was when you gathered them in in September, tenth to fifteenth of September, and then you counted them up to see where you lost any or what went with 'em. And they didn't lose very. . . . Very few, wasn't many cattle lost unless lightning or something like that would hit 'em some time and maybe kill several of 'em along there right on top of Smoky Mountain you'd get like one time there in the spring right when they first brought 'em up there, they come a blizzard that froze a few to death, not the main one that froze so many of 'em, but this. . . . Drove 'em out there, and they was hot coming up that mountain from the Tennessee side. My Uncle was a-drivin' them, and he drove 'em, and they come along and hit that mountain, and it started this here blizzard, and they just froze on the . . . except now them that run off, a lot of them when he seen that it was a-freezin' and it was going to freeze everything to death, he just tried to, he just scared 'em and run 'em off, let 'em go off, you know, in the head of the creeks. Well, they never froze, it was just along the top of Smoky Mountain was the ones that froze. They got down, when they got a little ways, they got down out of that storm you see, and it was warm . . . I mean down in the heads of the creeks where they was out of the frozen wind.


You take the government claims on this, about these trails and on . . . that that country up in there was not never logged nor nothin', you know, was I don't know what all. And right where they claimed it never been timbered, never been cut nor nothin' like that, I've rode boxcars out—on top of them—out of there when the railroad was up there, be on top of a boxcar with the train, brakin' the cars comin' out where they claimed the timber had never been cut.

ML: Is there any uncut timber on this side of the mountain?

SC: Oh yeah. There's acres and acres, hundreds of acres of it that was never cut. Because they got up in there and through the war, it was World War I, they was in there and there was lot of it. Timber got high, and they was getting a good. . . . Loggin' companies was runnin' into, get a lot out of 'em, and they went and left a lot of the acreage back that they never did go back and cut it. There's hundreds of acres in there that wasn't cut, but a lot of them where they claimed it hadn't been cut had been, because I was raised on it and was up on them creeks and like I said, I'd rode boxcars down out of the top of 'em over there, log trains. You take. . . . The biggest part though of the timber that's up here never been cut is up here on Deep Creek in this section. Down there where it was at, there'd be, oh maybe several acres on the head of one creek, you'd go up one week and they hadn't been up there, and maybe that creek would have a good stand of timber that hadn't been cut. Maybe you'd go over the hill on the other creek right on the other side of it, and it would all be cut out, and it wasn't nothin' in big acreage, you might say. Only right along next to the top of the mountain on the far—on the Bone Valley Side in there, there was quite a little bit never been cut because they never did go back in there and cut it.

End of tape

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Last Updated: 07-Mar-2008