History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Paul Adams

Paul Adams, pre-park Smokies hiker and founder of LeConte Lodge. Interviewed by Susan Bratton, Park Biologist and William Morgan, volunteer, August 3, 1975 at Adams's home in Crab Orchard, Tennessee

PA: I was born in Paxton, Illinois, September the fourth, 1901. Paul J. Adams.

SB: When did you first come to Tennessee?

PA: In 1918. The fall of 1918 my parents moved to Bamanta, Illinois; (I) started kindergarten with her (his wife); we are kid sweethearts. Then we moved to Decatur about 1910 or 11, and then to Burnsville, North Carolina about 1914. And of course, me having already been in the Ozarks, I had to climb every mountain there was over there. (Mr. Adams relates his first climb in the Smokies and Mt. LeConte.)

But really my learning the Smokies begins in 1919 or 1920, and I was determined to learn the whole range. So I started in, naturally, down at Parson Bald. I started at Calderwood where I started from . . . and then into the old Deal's Gap Road up to Ridge Road, that old sled road that went up on Parson's. Then I found many more ways to get into Parson's and Gregory's. But they've changed so many of those streams up there now that it's pitiful. I can't keep up with it.

WM: The names you were getting back then were maybe just from the local people?

PA: Nope, nope. They were on the Geological Survey maps of that time.

WM: Then the Park Service came in . . .

PA: Then the Park Service came in and found seventeen Mill Creeks in the Park and had to change the name of the one off LeConte to LeConte Creek, and I don't blame them, because I can remember when there were seventeen tub mills on that one creek.

SB: What did Parson and Gregory look like the first time you saw them?

PA: Grassy.

SB: How big were they?

PA: I would be afraid to estimate the acreage on Parson and Gregory. I never estimated it ever, I don't think, in my journal even that I kept at that time. I really don't know.

SB: You were saying before it was hard to tell the difference between them.

PA: It was, because they had . . . just like that film on Gregory's there. . . . They had cut out a lot of the trees in order to get grass to grow, so that they could herd sheep and cattle and horses up there, but on Parson and Gregory there were no stumps. They had been cleared prior to my going up there, but I heard about it from some of the old timers such as Nathan Burchfield.

SB: What did Nathan Burchfield say about the clearing? Who did it and when?

PA: He did part of it, and part of it was done in his father's day.

WM: When did you talk to him? Was that about 19—?

PA: About 19— . . . I think I met Nate Burchfield about 1919 or 1920.

WM: And it had already been done? The clearing had already been done by then?

PA: Yeah. And the grass was very, very luxurious. A man in 1921, I think it was, '21 or '22, he was herding 5,000 sheep up there at the time. Now "Uncle Nate," as the mountaineers called him, was part Indian. His hair came down below the shoulder, and he had a beard. I've had many interesting times up there with Nate Burchfield.

WM: What bald was he on? Where was his cabin? Where was he at?

PA: His cabin was down near this spring I showed you a picture of.

WM: At Moore Spring?

PA: It was just a shack. It was a frame and then covered with clapboards.

WM: The herders were friendly to hikers then that really showed an interest in coming up in the area, and they would help you out then and if you needed it.

PA: Oh yeah, yeah. Now Nate, of course, kept whiskey around his place all the time. He made it. The best stuff I ever got from him, though, was muscadine brandy. Now just muscadine brandy . . . It's so powerful that you just can't drink it by itself, so he split it, half with corn and half with muscadine brandy.

And I know that stood me in good stead a year or two after that when I had worked over to Thunderhead 'cause Sidney Klent and I had started on over to Silers Bald and were coming back to Spence Cabin for the night. Well, here was Tom Sparks, John T., his son, and Wade, his son, all up there at Spence Field herding cattle and horses and makin' whiskey down on the North Carolina side. Now Sidney went down to their still later on and took several pictures, and I told him, I said, "Now, Sidney, if you go down there, I say you want to remember one thing: Those fellows are going to resent it." But Tom wants some pictures. Now I says, "If you go down there and those fellows resent it too much, for God's sake have enough sense to pick up a piece of wood and put it in the furnace; then you're just as guilty as the rest of them." I said, "I've done it many times, and you might as well do it." But there was three generations of Sparkses up there that summer, and I think that was the summer of 1923, either 1922 or 1923.

WM: Where were the Sparkses herding during that summer?

PA: Spence Field. Well, Nate Burchfield claimed he owned 5,000 acres of that land up there on Gregory Bald. I don't know whether the old man did or not, but he claimed he did.

SB: Do you remember when Tom Sparks was shot?

PA: Yeah. I was living on the top of Mount LeConte then. If I had known it, I would have gone to his funeral. (He tells how he made friends with those people in Cades Cove by bringing them ammunition whenever he went to the mountains.)

SB: Did Tom Sparks ever tell you any stories of things that happened at Spence Field, or did Nate Burchfield have any good stories about things on Gregory?

PA: No, not particularly. I think Tom Sparks was a better story teller. He told one night, it was a beautiful night. Some people had come up with a team and wagon up the Bote Mountain to Spence to camp, and we were sitting out there near the pinnacle of Spence Field and Thunderhead listening for foxes, and Tom told of the time that he was attacked there at Thunderhead by this panther.

SB: You remember the details of that?

PA: No that hasn't been published.

SB: You remember stumps around Spence Field, around the edges. What part of the field were they on?

PA: They were on the North Carolina side mostly. They were slowly enlarging it.

SB: What about the piece going up Thunderhead? You know where it comes off the flat and you go on up the slope . . .

PA: That's always been bald; that's always been bald.

SB: Do you remember any stumps on the other balds? Like at Silers or Andrews?

PA: I remember some at Silers, even in 1925; and down at Andrews, there stumps there, too.

SB: On the edges?

PA: On the edges of the fields. They'd cut those, drop them and use the tree for firewood of course, but they slowly enlarged three places, Andrews and Silers and Thunderhead.

SB: Who was herding at Silers and Andrews in those days?

PA: I can't think of the man's name. He lived there in the Hall Cabin. He was from North Carolina, but I can't remember his name.

SB: Was that mostly sheep, cattle? What did they have up there?

PA: That was sheep and cattle both. Down at Andrews Bald, I don't believe I've ever been to Andrews when there was actually any herding going on, because that was an offshoot of Forney Ridge. I have been back to that bald a time or two since I left the Smokies.

WM: Have you noticed that it is grown up?

PA: It's growing up, growing up fast.

SB: Up on Gregory in the twenties, what were the azaleas like? Were there any around the bald edges?

PA: Oh yes, yeah, lots of 'em.

SB: But not on the bald? Were they on the balds?

PA: Not right on top of the balds; not right on top of the balds.

WM: Were the herders paid by the families that grazed?

PA: Yes, I think so. I knew a Mr. Murray down at Chilhowee that drove his cattle in on Gregory's and Parson's, oh, every other year. Anyway, he'd drive his cattle up there, and Nate Burchfield would take care of them for him and salt them.

And the only thing I remember about the Russell Place was this enormous gant lot, and of course there the cattle at the end of the season were driven into it and separated by crops in the ear and by other markings, so that every man could claim his own. But as far as a bald being there, there wasn't any. It was what we would call bald like at Parson's and Gregory's.

WM: This was at Russell?

PA: This was at Russell.

SB: How big was that gant lot?

PA: Oh, that gant lot must have covered an acre and a half or two acres. Had divisions, all made out of rails, split rails made out of chestnut oak, mostly.

SB: Do you remember there being bears around the balds or the herders having problems with bears?

PA: None to speak. Once in a while they'd come in, but they have more bears up there now than they did back then.

SB: Do you remember any other stories about panthers or wolves?

PA: Well, of course in my little Mount LeConte book, I tell about the wolf we had there on LeConte, but I have never seen a panther in the Smokies nor any tracks. I have seen them in North Carolina and been chased by 'em in the Blue Ridge, but I never seen any in the Smokies at all.

SB: Do you ever remember any fires on the balds? Any burning up there?

PA: You mean forest fires?

SB: No, I mean did you ever remember the settlers setting those areas on fire or the forests surrounding them?

PA: No, no.

WM: What about lightning killing cattle or sheep or horses? Did you ever hear of that?

PA: I've heard of it; I've never seen it.

SB: You must have been there for the big forest fire that came up the side of Clingman's Dome or the fire that came over the Bunion.

PA: Oh, I was there on Mount LeConte during the Bunion fire, and the Champion Fiber Company didn't try to do a thing about it. Finally the rain came. It never crossed into the Tennessee side. I do remember another forest fire they had up there. They had one above Cherokee Orchard about 1923 or 4. But they got that one out. There on Balsam Point, Andy Huff lumbered that out there for three or four years, about '23, 4, and '25. He took out the select timber. Then a fire got in there in 1926.

WM: This was on the slopes of LeConte?

PA: Yeah. It was after I had left the top of Mount LeConte, but I remember that fire very plainly.

SB: How big was that fire?

PA: Over most of that. It was between the shoulder of that ridge that runs down towards Park Headquarters and the one that comes back towards Bullhead. They fought that fire. I remember twice that we had to go into the valleys, my two boys and myself, and help fight small fires.

SB: Back to the balds again. Do you ever remember any berry bushes on the balds or around the edges back in the twenties? Say, serviceberries around the balds?

PA: Oh, serviceberries were thick around the edges, and some huckleberries and some high bush, some low bush. I don't remember any winter huckleberry in there.

WM: At Spence or at Gregory's.

PA: At both of them.

SB: How did the edges look then? Were they relatively clear due to the grazing?

PA: Yes. They were relatively clear. And then of course you ran into your shrubs and then your trees like any other natural balds. I've always held that those balds up there were natural to begin with. Of course all of them were enlarged by man when he wanted to herd his flocks up there in he summertime.

But they would bring them in within a two or three week period. Word would get out that Burchfields were going up there or Sparks was going up there, those other people were going in, and they'd be receiving cattle and sheep. You know how news travels in these mountains.

WM: You said old Nate Burchfield thought he owned the land up there. Had he been living up there before he started to herd up there, or had he been up there so long that he thought he owned the mountains?

PA: That might have been. He lived in North Carolina when I knew him, and he came up there to herd sheep, and he always came by Deal's Gap and then hiked on up.

WM: None of them would stay there all the time, then.

PA: Well, in the summertime when they were herding, somebody would stay there with them all the time, with the herds all the time.

WM: I mean, did the herders stay, live on the balds year round?

PA: No, no. They'd all come off in the winter time.

SB: Wasn't the Russell Place a rinning farm part of the time? The Russell Place at Russell Field?

PA: Yeah, yeah. And on the North Carolina side, if I remember distinctly, there was quite a farm house, and a good spring.

SB: Were there many people going up to visit the balds when you were around there?

PA: No, not too many, not too many.

SB: The Sparkses sold whiskey, though, didn't they?

PA: Oh yeah, Laws yeah, they sold whiskey there. They brought a lot of whiskey down, too. They brought it down and would take it into Walland and into Knoxville, other fellows would. Once bought a gallon of whiskey from John T. Sparks.

SB: What did you pay for it?

PA: Eight dollars a gallon, two dollars a quart.

WM: You said you remember when he (Tom Sparks) was shot. Do you remember any of the surrounding events?

PA: He was shot in the back.

SB: Tom Sparks?

PA: Tom Sparks, shot in the back.

WM: A drunken foray?

PA: A drunken foray.

WM: It sounds like that the people who hiked the Smokies back then were the absolutely dedicated type. Nobody else got back in there.

PA: They were the dedicated type, naw.

WM: People like yourself and Harvey Broome.

PA: Yeah. If we couldn't find a trail, we made one. I mean we got to our destination all right. I've been lost up in there many, many times, and I've always righted myself, and I've come out to find out where I made the mistake. Because back then your Geological Survey maps were not correct. And often we would have to climb a tall tree to find out how the main ridge ran.

End of tape

Transcribed by William Morgan

This tape was lost after it was transcribed, and therefore I have not been able to check the correctness of the transcription or restore portions that were deleted by Mr. Morgan. M.L.

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Last Updated: 07-Mar-2008