History of the Grassy Balds in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Earl McCampbell

Interview with Earl McCampbell by Mary Lindsay
December 16, 1975

Transcribed by Andrea Behrman and Michael Stein

ML: Did you herd, or did you just walk around up there a lot?

EM: Yes, I've been there. I've built the last . . . I helped build the last gant lot was built up there a little better than 50 years ago, on the Spence Field. And the, the Spence, the field there was bald. The Spence Field was bald, and then there's Thunderhead and there was three tops there. There's Thunderhead. . . . Let's see, Rocky Top, Thunderhead, and Laurel Top. There was three stops on Thunderhead. And two of them was bald, was Laurel Top had laurel grown on it. And they used to graze the cattle there, and they'd kept that all eat around there. It was just bald. There was nothin' there but grass. And well, I don't know . . . there's another bald on down the mountain there between the Spence Field and Gregory's Bald they call Little Bald. Then there's Gregory's Bald . . . I never was very well acquainted with it—I been there but never went there too much. But Little Bald and Thunderhead, why I've been there quite a little bit.

ML: About when were you there?

EM: Well, it's been a . . . well it's, from a, I'd say . . . oh about '15 on up till the Park took it over, after the Park took it over. I been there. I got to go up there last summer a year ago, a the man up at the . . . the school up there at Tremont took me up there in a jeep and I . . . that's the last time I've been up there, but I knowed all about the cabins there and the old cabins that used to be there years ago. They's up there. I tell you this one time about being up there, the old herders bein' up there on the mountain. Thomas Sparks, he was an ole man, and we went up there on Friday. There was an ole cabin up there on, on the range up there. And we went up there the prettiest warm day, you know, in April, and went up there and went to the cabin and stayed all night. Next morning we got out there, and I never saw the sky blue, I don't think, in my life as it was that mornin' . . . just about. He got out there and looked around there above. He says, "Boy," he says, "don't look right." Well, we went off down on the Eagle Creek fishin' stayed down there past 12 o'clock and we started back up there, and went to (unintelligible) along the cabin. Next morning we got up, and there was three, four inches of snow on the ground. Them cattle, they just go crazy, they go to walkin' and bawlin' with all that snow on the ground there. They want to try and round them up, get 'em into a field eat that ivy, mountain folks call it ivy, I think they call it rhododendron now. It poisons the cattle, you know, when they eat that green (unintelligible).

ML: Yeah.

EM: They went trying to get them away from there. So, by that evening, why, the snow all melted off, and they turned 'em back out a little. They took 'em down there where they had a field, but way down there what they call Russell Field land, they had the fence around it at that time. They run 'em in there in that field, you know, to keep 'em away from that ivy. They had some hay there in the barn fed 'em but them, that old Spence Field now is growed up; you wouldn't hardly know it.

ML: But what was it like when you first saw it?

EM: Well, it's, it's just a bald, I mean a grassy field. That's all, just a field, you know, no, no timber.

ML: No trees on it.

EM: No trees on it, just a . . .

ML: Were there any blueberries or . . .?

EM: No not any (unintelligible). The blueberries up there don't grow like they do down here, they grow on a bush. They grow oh, I've saw 'em a six or eight feet high, the blueberry bushes. They grow like bushes, down here the (unintelligible) don't grow very high you know. But, ah, there was nothing, nothing at all on it. The whole field you know, ah, some places they'd be a little bunches of laurel, maybe. But a it's pretty, pretty clear, I mean. The . . . run on down in the edge of the field there ah, they graze those cattle in there. There's a wild grass grows up there. It's . . . don't see none of 'em down here, and it's just like a lawn in there, you know. The cattle kept there grazed down, and in that timber around up there was the prettiest place you ever saw, you know, just looked like a lawn, you know, where it kept mowed down. Now then, why that's all closed in, growed up, you know, don't look like the same place. That's a, a, I saw a picture if you get a hold a that. I don't know, they might have that up at the Tremont, Tremont camp, up there, school. They had one up there of girls up on the mountain when I went up there two years ago. She had a picture that field there. A, my uncle drove the first truck that was ever up there, and he drove it up there in the field. They had made his picture there. And she had that up there.

ML: When was that? When did he drive that truck up?

EM: Oh, it's been, it's been more then, oh, around forty years ago, I guess.

ML: Just after the park was started, or just before?

EM: It was after the park took over, but he was working for the park when they took it up there. And a they have that picture up there, they have it. And I went up there ah, two years ago, they had a bunch of these college students working up there, and they had a camp up there, and one of these girls had that picture up there. I told her all about that all I knowed. He was the first one took the truck up there. Now then it's growed up in sarvis bushes till there's no field there it's just . . .

ML: Well, you can still see the field, it's just . . .

EM: Eh, you can still about where its been but then just a, well, it don't look anything like it did then.

ML: What were the woods around it like? Were they just big widely spaced trees with grass underneath?

EM: Yea.

ML: No little trees?

EM: No, trees in just around the edge of the field. Why, the timber grow right up to the edge of the field and then just big grass out of those trees around the field. Then, I can remember about 4 or 5 cabins being there in my life time, I tell you. The first one I went to was a ole log cabin there that didn't have any, just, well, it just split everything, ya know and made that, didn't have no lumber at all. Then they move that saw mill up there, down in the cove there, right off from them where they building the house out of lumber and (unintelligible). I don't know much else to tell ya . . .

ML: Well, did they have cattle on Little Bald?

EM: Keep cattle on them?

ML: Little Bald, that place that . . .

EM: Little Bald, yea. They keep all over that mountain everywheres up there. . . .

ML: Well, was Tom Sparks in charge of the ones on Little Bald?

EM: Yea . . . Tom Sparks was the herder there . . . him and oh, there've been several that I know of . . . old man Thomas Sparks and his brother Dave herd part of the time, and then there's a Jim Lawson who was up there a year or two, and then the Walker brothers, Bob and George Walker ah, was there. They built, George and Bob built a log cabin over there. The one ole log cabin got go down (unintelligible). They moved over there and built a new cabin, and it was there just a few years and it burnt down and so, ah, the ah, the Park's built a shelter cabin right close to where that cabin was at there. You been there, have you, you know where the spring's at then?

ML: Yea.

EM: Well, now the 'ole . . .

Mrs. EM: How 'bout that picture you had . . . is that'n around here? You up thar at that cabin?

ML: Asa Sparks gave me this one.

EM: There's ole man Tom . . . Tom, I knowed him. There's the old original cabin. I don't know what this is here . . .

ML: That's a logging camp.

EM: Logging camp . . . I wonder if that was up there . . . logging camp, 1908, yea that's (unintelligible). Must have been on up there—no, it wasn't on top of the mountain (unintelligible). That's ole man Tom, said he, it didn't look right, he knowed there somethin' in the air, that's snow a-comin' ya know.

ML: Even if it was clear. . . . Yes, did you hear how he died?

EM: Died?

ML: Yea.

EM: He . . .

ML: He got shot . . .

EM: Got shot up there. He got shot at that old cabin place there. That's not the cabin, though, that was there when he got shot.

ML: Who shot him?

EM: Ah, let me see ah, it was Earl Cameron. Yea, there's a—there's another picture of the old cabin:

Mrs. EM: Not as good as the one she got, though.

EM: Ah, he was mistaken, the man that wrote that there—ah, he tell about that being the cabin on that line . . .

ML: Yea, it's a bit on the Carolina side.

EM: Yea, it's over on the Carolina side. Now, if he had in mind that's cabin that was a Derrick, what's called Derrick, on between Thunderhead and Clingman's Dome, it was Derrick cabin they called it. It was on the line but he been, he was mistaken in that cabin as he was he said you read that way he said that's tellin' about in war time they'd scout up there you know 'uns they couldn't out of one state into the other. The law from Tennessee would come up there why they'd go up there to the other end of the cabin (unintelligible) North Carolina, why they'd go to the other end of the cabin.

ML: Was it all pretty open around the Derrick, was it woods?

EM: Derrick Cabin?

ML: Yes.

EM: No, no, it was no fields or nothin' there. It was just ah, it was just an open place in the woods, ya know.

ML: Did they run cattle in those woods around there?

EM: Oh, yea, they run cattle in there. Yea, all up and down that mountain. That old man Tom Sparks there, he travelled all up and down them mountains, and one night he was out there and comin' back from Derrick towards Spence Field and there was a panther jumped on him. He had carried a big ole Barlow knife, one of the great big 'uns, you know. He stabbed it with that thing; it was all that saved him. He didn't have no gun nor nothin'. He wasn't afraid; I don't know why. You can shut that off and read that if you want to and see what it says there.


ML: Let's try that again. . . . You said they burned the mountains all around but they never burned the actual field?

EM: Yea, that's it. But the Little River logged on the Tennessee side up there next to the Spence Field. . . . They got a fire in there, and they had one of the awfulest fires you saw in there, ya know. After they cut that timber out, they burned everything up . . . it never did . . . if the field ever burnt, I never did know anything about it. I never did see any sign of it in the field. It burnt up, pretty well up to it there.

ML: Yea, I guess, the animals kept the grass pretty short, did they?

EM: Oh, yea, they, the cattle kept it grazed down short you know, but it was burned right (unintelligible) time—a certain time of the year after it gets green why ya know it wouldn't burn at'all then. There in the wintertime, just certain times it'd burn. It burnt over the field if it ever hit the right time, but I never did know if it ever been burned. Let's see, I used to talk to Charlie Dunn, an uncle of mine who lives up there—have you?

ML: Yea, I tried to talk to him today and he said. . . . He seemed sort of reluctant; he wanted to save it all for his son's dissertation.

EM: He's the man that took that car up there. First one that went to Spence Field. Yea, he's . . .

Mrs. EM: Was it a car or a truck?

EM: Well, it's a pick-up truck (unintelligible). Ole man Jack Fisher, first ever took one up there, well, the mountain there but he lacked about two miles getting to the top. Was an old Cadillac car.

ML: Let's see, do you have any idea how many animals they had up there?

EM: How many what?

ML: How many animals they had up there?

EM: Oh, they different . . . everybody in the country would take their cattle up there you know round in the summer. They'd have six, eight or a thousand head of cattle up there.

ML: That was all the way from Derrick to Little Bald?

EM: Yea. It was ah . . . yea that herder would stay there, you know, and salt 'em and, ah look about 'em, you know, and so on. They run sheep and mules and everything else up there you know, horses.

Mrs. EM: (unintelligible).

EM: How's that?

Mrs. EM: What would he get paid?

EM: Well, it was 75¢ way back then and a dollar per head, you know, for a season. Make seven or eight hundred dollars for the season. And they had ah, I noticed the paper, let's see, was that in Tessy's (?) corner—that was talking about the name of the gant lot? What the gant lot was, you know. And one of 'em said one thing and one another. Yeah, they go in there in the fall of the year. They had this gatherin', what they call a milk sick. I don't know what it is: Somethin' they got in the fall of the year and the cattle get sick. They had to give 'em (unintelligible) on account of that. They'd go in there, you know, and everybody had their cattle in there, you know. Everybody had a—had his cattle all marked. They had a undercut or swaller fork in one ear, you know, and every man knowed his mark, and they drove, round them cattle up, everybody go in there to get that cattle, help round them up—round 'em up and bring 'em down there, and put 'em in that gant—that lot. And then every man would get his cattle out of there, you know and drive 'em off the mountain together, you know, his own cattle. That's what they really call a gant lot because they put 'em in there, maybe in there some of 'em be in there two or three days without anything to eat. And they called that gantin' 'em.

ML: Where was the gant lot on Spence?

EM: Well, the ole original one—the first one that I ever saw was there was right out, you know, where you go up into the end of the gap—the gap there going up into the field?

ML: Yea.

EM: It's right out—next to that next knob out there. And the one I helped build was on beyond—well—from the spring there at the cabin the trail goes round level right into that gap around there. Ah, I worked there about two weeks cuttin'.

ML: Did they have a rail fence around it?

EM: Rail fence around it; we cut that timber down, split them rails up and carried them on our shoulder, built that fence around that.

ML: Where did you cut the trees, from just right around there?

EM: Just right around. Close as we get 'em and close as we could find we (unintelligible).

Mrs. EM: How old was you the first time you was up there?

EM: Oh, I wasn't very old—big enough to get up there. don't guess I was over twelve years old.

ML: How old are you now?

EM: Now, I want you to guess.

ML: I don't know.

EM: I'm older than you think, I guess. I'm 78. Yes, it's been more than 10—ah, 65 years ago at least, first time I was up there. Quite a little change, now and then. They had a—those ah, girls and boys, college students, working up there. They had a tent camp right down, right down towards the Little Bald they called it down there from the Spence Field; it's down towards a dirt cabin, you know down that way about—oh, I guess it's about a mile down there they had the camp down there.

ML: Do you know anything about that sawmill on Eagle Creek?

EM: Oh, not much. I saw it's (unintelligible). Little after (unintelligible) they quit sawin'. See they moved that in there, and they got started a-sawin', and they got into some other man's land, and they got into a lawsuit over the land, and the mill just decayed there. It went down, and they carried it off, and they left the ole bar there till war time, and Park Service drug it out of there and sold it for scrap iron—you know, scrap iron was so short. That's a—they had a two room cabin there—good house there, you know, and they just a—somebody go in there you know, and they tear it all pieces, you know, and burn it to wood and finally they just tore it down, you know. That ole man Thomas Ferguson, he would carry provisions up there. Anybody would come along, he would eat off 'im, you know, and he never did charge 'em a thing. He would just give it to 'em, you know, just give it to them. They never did give him nothin', and they's all the time somebody crossin' back and forth across that mountain, you know eatin' off of 'im. Nobody went there without him givin' 'em somethin' to eat, such as he had.

ML: He must have gotten tired of people sponging off of him all the time?

EM: Yea, I couldn't have done that. No, I couldn't have done that hardly. I wouldn't mind giving them somethin' to eat if they was right hungry, but just make it a habit of it, why. . . . A kid go there, a boy, like wasn't no kid, why he'd look after them, need a bed at all, why, he'd fix them a bed. Last night I spent up there was in that shelter cabin. We rode horses up there. We got up there about oh, about 11 o'clock in the morning, and 'long about, it was raining then in the middle of the evening. That wind went blowin', you know, and they went coming in there and ah, I never saw such a crowd yet. Well, they couldn't all get in the house; they's some boys come up there that I knowed from over here that was going to lay out there in that rain. It was raining you know, just . . . and that wind blowin' . . . just blowed steady—wasn't no puffs just a steady hard wind—cold you know how cold it get there. . .I believe it was 23 stayed in that shelter cabin, couldn't no more get in. I told them boys about a cabin, an ole cabin that was way out the other end of the ole field at there that was still there then. I told 'em they might get dry at there, but they went out there and never did come back. I reckon they got to the shelter. Ah, they'd go up there in the fall of the year and bear hunt, you know. Oh, there'd be maybe whole bunch there bear huntin' in the fall of the year. They'd take their dogs and kill a bear or two.

ML: Did they have an easy time getting them or were they pretty shy?

EM: They was hard to get, they'd have to—there was an old bear hunter knowed 'bout which way they'd run—certain gap that they'd, stand for 'em. Ya know they'd send a man to those stands, and the man would take the dogs and drive, you know. He'd go drive the bear. And they'd get after one, you know, and he'd run over to that man in the stand, and he'd shoot it. That's a way they killed 'em then.

ML: Then what did they do with them, eat them and save the hide or something?

EM: How's that?

ML: What did they do with the bear when they shot it?

EM: Well, they'd eat it. They carried it out of there and eat it, you know. They'd have a regular bear feast there. They'd cook it right there, some of it. Carry it off the mountain then. It's cooked right well—there wouldn't be anybody now who could cook that bear meat make it taste like anything. My mother could really cook, and she knowed just how to—how to cook it. You cooked it with a pot with a lid on it, then, why, you couldn't eat it at all. Taste that strong bear meat taste, you know, and cooked it with lid off, why, that steam and all got out there, and it tasted all together different. I got hold of some—I worked at the plant down there, and we'd cook and eat some in there and I got hold of some bear meat. I took it down there—there's some of them never tasted it, you know, and they were eatin', eat up. And they was gonna cook it, you know. I said—he's a fella that knowed everything anyway, you know—"You don't want to cook that with your lid on your vessel, now, when you cook it," I said (unintelligible) "it will too." "Naw, it won't make no difference." Well, he cooked it with the lid on it, tasted it, and it had an animal taste, said it wasn't good at'all. I—my uncle killed one up here, and he come in there and got after his hogs up there, and they got up there and killed it. Mother cooked some of that, and I was driving a mail bus. Had a colored boy down there at Maryville who helped me get the mail from the post office down to the bus station right back of the post office there, and I—he took that up and I took that down there—some of 'em talk about some never tastin' none—this colored boy, I took some, slashed some pieces off, and I made a sandwich out of it. I took it down there and give it to some of 'em around there, and that colored boy got the mail down there, and he sat down there on that mail, you know, eatin' that sandwich, and he had awful big white eyes anyhow, you know, and he rolled them eyes around a time or two, and he says, "Earl—I tell you," he said, "that the best meat I ever tasted!"

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