History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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George Monteith

George Monteith interviewed by Mary Lindsay Bryson City, North Carolina, January 28, 1976

GM: About all I could tell you is that . . . we'd go to the mountains every week and see about the cattle and . . .

ML: Well, how many cattle did you have up there?

GM: There's a hundred and ninety-two.

ML: Whereabouts were they?

GM: Up Silers Meaders. Up on head of Forney.

ML: When. . . . When did you take them up there?

GM: We . . . the company took them up, you know, had them took up in, long first of . . . I guess it's in last of April.

ML: And they left them up there till . . .

GM: Left 'em up there the whole summer. We'd bring 'em back in the fall.

ML: These belonged to a lumber company?

GM: Yes. Norwood Lumber Company. We had to salt 'em once every week.

ML: Did they ever get milk sick or anything?

GM: No, never did get milk sick. Sometimes a bear killed one.

ML: Did you go out and kill the bear after that?

GM: Oh, we'd run it off. We never did get to kill it. They caught it in a trap a time or two. Yeah, we catched the. . . . They'd, kill the bear, or somebody would, you know. It'd kill the cattle.

ML: And did you ever get any struck by lightning?

GM: Huh?

ML: Did you ever get any struck by lightning?

GM: No. But there's plenty of lightning played all around there in them trees. Yes, there's one place up there that lightning struck a tree about every time it; . . . it thundered. Every tree up there was lightning struck from top to bottom. In Mule Lot Gap.

ML: Did the lumber company just have cattle up there?

GM: Yeah, they just had cattle. See, they had a sawmill at mouth of Forney, and they got their logs up in there too, you see, where we was herdin' cattle. We'd ride the train up of Monday and come back of Thursday every time. We'd stay up there so many nights a week with 'em, with the cattle. It'd take us about that time to get to see all of 'em. We'd see 'em once a week, you know, salt 'em. And I'd fish of the evening.

ML: What did the lumber company do with their cattle?

GM: They killed 'em theirselves.

ML: Oh, to feed the loggers?

GM: Uh-huh, to feed the loggers.

ML: Did you ever run into anybody else herding up there?

GM: Oh yeah. We'd see lots of people that had cattle up there. Granville Calhoun off of Hazel Creek, you know that bunch from down in there, had cattle up there. They kept their 'uns up Hall Cabin, but they come back up to Silers Meaders too. And about everybody around here, down there at Forney had cattle up there. The Coles and Monteiths, we had some ourselves belonged to us out there, you know. Monteiths and the Coles kept cattle and Hyatts. There's several people kept cattle up there.

ML: Was there any one herder whom people paid to look after their cattle, or did they just let them wander?

GM: They just let them wander around.

ML: And they took salt . . .?

GM: Norwood Company's the only one that paid us. We'd get paid for, and Daddy did, for lookin' after their cattle.

ML: Other people'd just come up . . .

GM: And other people come there.

ML: And have 'em salt every few weeks?

GM: And give their cattle salt and go on back home. But they didn't get no pay for that, but we did. Course it wasn't much.

ML: Did you ever get any killed by a late snow in the spring or anything?

GM: Ah, no, not cattle. Now back in my dad's time, sheep froze to death down there, but I didn't know nothin' about that, you know, just what he told me. Sheep'd freeze to death down there in the spring of the year.

ML: Did they take sheep up on the mountain?

GM: Yeah, they'd take 'em up. Up so far, then they wouldn't take 'em out where the cattle was. But there's lots of 'em got killed there, froze to death. I've heard them talk about it, but I didn't know anything 'bout that myself, you know, 'cause there wasn't no sheep out there when I went in.

ML: What did Silers Meadow look like when you were herding up there?

GM: Well, it was just a big field.

ML: Were there any briars growing?

GM: There was briars and grass and what we call 'em, honeysuckle bushes. They call 'em something else now, but we called 'em honeysuckle bushes. Yeah, there's plenty of blackberries and, and right smart of strawberries. I'd pick strawberries on there and eat 'em when we was there.

ML: Were there any big tall blueberry bushes?

GM: Yeah.

ML: Were they right out in the open or more . . . .

GM: It was right around the field on each side. Yeah, I picked a water bucket full and fetched 'em home. Put 'em in the freezer then, see, you could put 'em in the freezer back after I, long, well, it's been four or five years ago.

ML: And did you ever have any problems with your cattle eating rhododendron or stuff that poisoned them?

GM: Do you mean get poisoned? Ah, no, we never lost any that way, but if they got hold of a whild cherry, it'd kill 'em. Whether they's a-cuttin' timber—but ones cuttin' timber wouldn't let the cattle come down where they was at. It'd kill 'em if they ate that there wild cherry bark, I mean leaves after it wilted. We never did have no trouble out in the mountains with the cattle. They didn't die out there from diseases like they did in the settlement. Too healthy, I reckon.

ML: Well, did a lot of them die if they were kept down low?

GM: Yeah. You see, a lot of cattle would die down in the settlement. I don't know what they had. They'd just die. They would never say anything about it.

ML: Did you ever hear anyone tell about anybody cutting down the trees on Silers or . . . ?

GM: No, nothing on, just firewood. We've all cut wood down for firewood, you know, to keep fire overnight. Now, there wasn't no timber up there fit to cut. They's just little old beeches. I guess you been back in the mountains, ain't you? They's just the beech trees, you know, and they don't grow high. But we cut beeches all over the place for firewood, dead 'uns. Couldn't cut, since the Park took over, can't cut no green 'uns. Have to have everything dead. (pause) There's wild hogs in the mountains, too.

ML: Yeah, tearing it up. Were the woods underneath, underneath the trees, was it all grassy?

GM: Well, there's grass and then young bushes come up from under it, too, you know.

ML: Did the cattle eat any of those?

GM: They'd eat the leaves when they'd need it, but there's plenty of grass for 'em to eat without eatin' leaves. 'Cause that what the mountain was covered up in, grass.

ML: Did you ever go to Andrews Bald?

GM: Yeah, but we didn't have no cattle there.

ML: Did anyone have cattle there?

GM: If they did, I didn't know of it. If they did, they had it from Noland, back up there. I don't know nothin' about Noland back up where they kept their cattle. They didn't come up on our end. See, we lived at Forney's Creek, and everybody down in there would put their cattle up there, and Hazel Creek put their 'uns in there too, you know. See, they had Hazel Creek and Forney joined together. And the rest of them don't join. So, them two creeks, cattle run everywhere. Horses, too.

ML: Were there any trees on Andrews when you first saw it?

GM: Yeah.

ML: What kind?

GM: They's little beeches and stuff like that, you know, like there was at Siler Meaders.

ML: Were they all around?

GM: They was all around the field.

ML: But not any out in the middle of the field?

GM: Yeah, there was a few scattered in here and yonder. Yeah, there was a few scattered just out in the field. And they are yet. And a few of them there rhododiniums or what you call laurels—I call red laurel. There's some of them out in the middle of the field, or was when I was up there.

ML: Did anyone ever have a cabin up there?

GM: Yeah. A company had a dance hall there. But I can't tell you much about it 'cause we never went there for the dances. But they did, they had a log cabin built there purpose to have dances in it, you know. Course the company eat there too, you know, when they was up there. They'd, somebody cooked up there when they had dances.

ML: Did they bring women up from the valley for those dances?

GM: They'd come from everywhere for the dances. You see, they could ride up on the train on about mile and a half from the top, and they'd walk the rest of the way.

ML: That's funny. That's the last thing I would have expected.

GM: No, it's sort of funny, they had a dance hall way back there, but they did. It stayed there till the Park tore it up, I reckon.

ML: No. I think somebody said something about a tree falling on it or something like that.

GM: Well, the trees might have fell on it. See, there's one up here at, they had a, some man owned property up there before you get up to Deal's Gap, I mean Soco Gap. reckon it's Soco.

ML: Indian Gap?

GM: It's right up there close to the Indian Gap under the hill. There used to be somebody who owned that, and the Park went and burned it up. Some man had it there when he was workin' there at the lumber company. (Referring to puppy in room). Well, that's a case.

ML: He must think my fingers are good to eat.

GM: Its teeth are sharp. Now, I guess that's all I could tell you about it. Course, we killed lots of rattlesnakes comin' in and out, you know, when we'd walk.

ML: Now, how high up would you find rattlesnakes?

GM: Well, about a mile to the top. Bout a mile to the top of the mountain. Then I found, killed one right in the Gap, at the Double Springs Gap. He'd curled up in there. I never thought a snake bein' there, you know. I was up and looked down, and there it was, layin' there, and I took a big rock and throwed it right on it and killed it. That's the first I'd ever seen there, and he was just crossin' over from Tennessee to North Carolina, one way or the other. I don't know which way he was goin', but he didn't get to go.

ML: Let's see. . . . And you grew up on Forney Creek?

GM: Forneys Creek and around Bushnell. Was born in Bushnell. That's a straight mile down below Forney. And was on Forney the rest of the time till we moved up here.

ML: 'Bout when were you born?

GM: Eighteen and ninety-nine. You can guess how old I am there.

ML: Did you ever see any panthers up there?

GM: Never seen a panther in my life. Not on the mountains. Seen wildcats, foxes, bears, deers. There's a few deers way back too, you know, and plenty of 'em now.

End of interview

Transcribed by Andrea Behrman.

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Last Updated: 07-Mar-2008