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Of Mountains, Mountain People, and Mountain Waters That Call Their Children Home

Today's guestpost was written by Don Casada, Don also provided all the photographs.

Hazel creek basin

Looking northeast up the Hazel Creek basin from the south side of Fontana Lake

Of Mountains, Mountain People, and Mountain Waters That Call Their Children Home
written by Don Casada 

Close on the heels of dog days, on a warm September morning, a shuttle boat carried a gathering of folks across Fontana Lake. Shortly after leaving the launch area at Cable Branch, the boat passed over the streambed of what was once a fine mountain river. 

From way back in the mountains, hundreds of feeder streams laughed, jumped, played, and sang along their descending way. Boisterous waters showered diamond sprays of life onto the stream banks where ramps, sarvis, squirrel corn, bluets and yellow root reaped the blessings of their contagious joy. They were living, life giving waters. 

Trickles became branches, branches became forks, and forks became creeks. The accumulated collections fed the Oconaluftee, Tuckasegee, Nantahala and Little Tennessee Rivers, waters eons older than the Cherokee names which predated the arrival of white men. The Tuckasegee, a man among men flowing on an east-west course, met the south-to-north flowing lady of the Little Tennessee. It was love at first sight, and the couple was married near the place that would become the little town of Bushnell. Tuck, the gentleman, defied human convention and took on the name of his bride. Although they called themselves the Little Tennessee, it was Tuck’s east-west course that they followed from that point on, in deference to his better judgment. For Tuck, unlike the sweet Little T, drew much of his life blood from the Great Smoky Mountains which they would skirt along the rest of their way. Of all those who traveled these mountains, no one knew every holler like Old Tuck.

Now more mature in demeanor than in their earlier rambunctious ways, the two that were now one inclined to a gentler course, as if on a front porch swing of a Sunday afternoon. But they could still kick up their heels every now and then. Like all couples, they’d occasionally have their issues, separating to the left and the right around Calhoun Island near Wayside. Differences resolved, they rejoined hands downstream, and the family continued to grow along the way.

Damned by progress and dammed by the TVA, laughter and family ties along this section of the Little Tennessee have been silenced and broken for seven decades. The life-giving energy from North Carolina Counties of Jackson, Macon (Macon’s part includes a charitable donation from Rabun County, Georgia), Graham and Swain is deadened by the dam, harvested by turbines, and sent by wires without payment into Tennessee. The formerly vibrant river lies buried beneath 370 feet of stagnant water and silt accumulation at the point where our boat passed over.

Our destination was Hazel Creek, a place where unhindered waters still flow and echoes of laughter yet linger, unreachable by the roads of an uncivilized world. There are those who despair the lack of road access to this land, including some of our little company. A sense of betrayal by the same federal government – which took the land that many called home - underlies the despair. But were there now a road to this place, I fear that the song it sings softly in minor mountain key would be lost in the discordant strife and the noise. That has certainly been the case for Cades Cove, located just across the spine of the Smokies, where an armada of automobiles daily assault what was once a place of perspicacious people imbued with both the spirit and ability to make do.

There are reasons aplenty to go to this place and others like it. I routinely find myself seeking the refuge of walking and crawling, sometimes tumbling and sliding through these mountains, most often alone. Whisperings of advice and signs of parental affection – as well as stern admonitions – from these mountains (which are indeed our parents) are most readily perceived by the wonderfully lonesome, if somewhat prodigal, child.

But on this day, I was glad to be in the company of some like-minded companions. Though seeking a place, ours was not a search for solitude. We were intent on congregating, committing, honoring, and remembering. 


The particular place on Hazel Creek to which we were headed has been known since the late 1800s as Proctor. Sometime before 1830, Moses and Patience Proctor settled here and began raising a family. Their home place was on what is now known as Shehan Branch in Possum Holler. It empties into Hazel Creek – or directly into the lake itself when it is full – almost four miles from where Hazel Creek once emptied into the Little Tennessee River. 

  Robert Brazier Map of 1833

Robert Brazier map of 1833.  The red dot marks Proctor, the blue ellipse indicates Cades Cove 

The Proctors had come over the main spine of the Smokies from Cades Cove. If it was solitude and elbow room they sought, they found it. Based on the sequence of names in the 1830 Macon County census (this area is now in Swain County, but Swain wasn’t formed until 1871) and knowledge of where other families located, it was likely well over a half-dozen miles to their closest neighbors. Something just felt right about this particular place, so they carved out a home and a life for themselves and their children here. Bradshaws, Cables and others were soon to come to the area, but it remained sparsely populated for decades. 

In 1848, Joseph Brackett composed the Shaker Hymn, Simple Gifts. Though penned a thousand miles away near the northeastern end of the Appalachian Mountain range, the words could well have applied to the lives of Patience, Moses, and their children in the Hazel Creek valley:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free,

‘tis the gift to come down where you ought to be.

And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.

Times and seasons pass; lives and circumstances change. The Civil War took away two of their sons, Moses, Jr. and Mansfield. Moses, Sr. died, perhaps of a broken heart, in 1864.  Patience lived to see the end of the war and the return of two sons and a son-in-law, but according to family tradition described by Duane Oliver in Remembered Lives, she was never the same. She died in 1870, and is buried beside Moses on the ridge near their home.

Over time, their children and their children’s children drifted to and fro, ranging up the river and across the mountains back into Tennessee. Ritter Lumber Company arrived and set up a massive operation in the early 1900s, providing hundreds of jobs - for a time. But by the late 1920s, the raw materials of the entire Hazel Creek basin had been sawn, kiln dried, cut to dimension, and shipped away to become floors, furniture, books and toilet paper, so Ritter Lumber closed shop. While there were still several dozen families who owned land and lived in the area, including some descendants of Moses and Patience, the vast majority of the Hazel Creek drainage was now owned by land speculators such as Jack Coburn and James Gudger (to whom Ritter had sold its vast holdings). Private fishing waters were established, with uninvited natives unwelcome.

Physical connections to vestiges of life as it had once been were completely severed by the construction of Fontana Dam in the early 1940s. Exercising powers of what might be called pre-eminent domain with a will, TVA acquired all lands on the north shore of Fontana, removed the people and turned the land over to the Department of Interior for inclusion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is worth noting here that the entire area along the north shore of the Little Tennessee had been coveted for the Park since the 1920s; in fact, it had been included in the original park outline, drawn in 1926.

In the course of a century, Hazel Creek witnessed the coming of the first white settlers, an era of slow increase in families on subsistence farms, followed by a period of rapid industrial and job growth, an equally rapid loss of resources – and thus industry and its jobs. By the time the 1930 census was taken, there were but two dozen individuals on the entire north shore who listed saw mill or logging as their trade, and most of these were well to the east of Hazel Creek. 

Just over a decade later, there was to be no more permanent human presence. 

And yet…..even now, there is something about this place which seems to want people around, and it keeps calling its children home. I have, by shank’s mare, traveled the length and breadth of the Smokies. In most of the places I walk, I get a sense that my mountains are content with the occasional passerby, preferring to speak in private, at least with this itinerant pilgrim. But lower Hazel Creek and the Proctor area in particular seem to me to be a section which asks when I’ve traveled there alone: “Well, it’s good to see you, but why didn’t you bring the rest of them along with you?”

I reckon Proctor just couldn’t stand the idea of not being able to come to Elisabeth Holt’s 16th birthday party, so it reached out across the miles, and called her home. Just as her sister Caitlyn had before her, she chose to be baptized in Hazel Creek near the place where their fifth-great grandparents, Moses and Patience, lived, raised a family, died, and are buried. 

Baptism is an affirmation and a public, personal statement of faith. When I asked the girls why they chose this place, Caitlyn indicated that she did so to affirm her gratitude and connection to all her forebears, and especially to her Pawpaw Troy Proctor, who had died a couple of years before. Elisabeth echoed Caitlyn’s thoughts about the family, and went on to say “but it’s also because I feel really connected to the mountains – it’s my favorite place to be.”

 Proctor cemetery hazel creek

Celyn Holt, Christine Proctor, Caitlyn Holt and Elisabeth Holt at the grave of Moses and Patience Proctor

It is the element of baptism – water – which truly distinguishes the Southern Appalachians, and in particular, the Smoky Mountains from other mountain ranges. The Smokies are a temperate rain forest, with the upper reaches receiving over 80 inches of precipitation a year. The combination of abundant water and elevation range make this place host to an incredible variety of wildlife. Over a hundred species of trees grow here, and the spectrum of wildlife could be described as enthusiastically exuberant. 

Before the baptism, the Angelettes, Chitter and Chatter, sang of waters, recalling when John baptized Jesus in the River of Jordan. Dennis Cole, in lifting his cousin Elisabeth from the water, said “buried with Him in baptism, raised again in newness of life.” Water goes whithersoever the Trinitarian spirit of evaporation, condensation, and gravity wills it to go.  I was struck by the thought that molecules of water which once flowed in the Jordan could very well have been transported across both miles and millennia, and were right there in the Hazel Creek’s cleansing flow on that day.

Along the edge of the pool where the baptism took place, grew a cluster of brilliant red cardinal flowers. Closely associated with water themselves, they flourish along streams, seeps and springs. Words of Isaiah, put into song by Fanny Crosby, came to mind.  Fanny, though blind from childhood, could see further and clearer than most of us ever will:

Though your sins be as scarlet,

They shall be as white as snow.

Though they be red like crimson,

They shall be as wool.


Elisabeth Holt and Dennis Cole after Elisabeth’s baptism

As Elisabeth emerged from the water, her appearance was a radiant white. A light breeze or angel wings rustled through sycamore and oak leaves nearby. The glow of the sun and the Son was reflected in her countenance. Somewhere known only to God, but I suspect it was not all that far away – perhaps just across the river, resting beneath the shade of the trees, generations of Proctors – Moses and Patience, James and Malinda, Jeff and Sarah, Harvey and Minnie, and Christine’s husband Troy – assembled and together sang the song which Elisabeth’s grandmother Christine had requested of our group (but at which we failed miserably):

“Yes, we’ll gather at the river,

The beautiful, beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at the river,

That flows by the throne of God.”

Hazel Creek was stripped sadly bare a century ago. Then the Little Tennessee River and a way of life were flooded by TVA and taken for the national park. But in spite of it – and in an ironic and bittersweet way, perhaps because of it –the Possum Holler and Proctor area which we visited on this day was far more like the promised land of Moses and Patience than if there had been no dam and no national park. There would certainly be no calling of children home to a theme park at Proctor.

In a way, the circumstances are somewhat akin the betrayal of Joseph by his brothers. As Joseph would later say, in forgiving them, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Whatever the case, on this day, there were smiles on earth and in heaven. A child had come home, to the place where she belonged – to the place just right.

Irrespective of legal title, these mountains belong to Elisabeth. What is more, she belongs to them. No matter where she may wander upon this earth, neither they nor the living Savior who have claimed her will ever let her go.


I hope you enjoyed Don's post as much as I did! Leave him a comment and I'll make sure he reads it.


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Do you have any information on Toy/Troy/Roy Proctor born 1891 son of William Proctor?

I found this story (author is member Shag2Cat on

Family of Moses Treadway (of Daniel, Daniel, Richard, Richard)

Moses Treadway born 12 Mar 1812 in Anson Co., North Carolina, married/partners with two women. He was listed in the early Swain County History as County Commissioner. He married Mary Ragsdale on 01 January 1829. Mary was born ca 1810 in North Carolina. Moses and his family were listed in the 1850 Union Co., North Carolina Census; Moses 38, Mary 40, Francis M. 16, Henry 14, Steven 10, Eli 9, Evalina 3/12. Moses was listed as a farm laborer in the household of Lewis and Mary Smith in the 1860 Wilkesboro, Wilkes Co., North Carolina Census. Moses and Mary separated/divorced. Mary and her children; Francis, Henry, Steven, and Evalina left North Carolina by Ox cart toting their belongings, a rooster, and a dog, and traveled to Alabama before 1858. Family tradition states that the dog was lost along the way, but showed up 3 months later (This story was given to me from John Hudson, handed down to him from his Uncle John Lazenby, Jr.). Mary and her children except for Francis were listed in the 1860 Fayette Co., Alabama Census records. Mary was also listed in the 1870 E-Division, Fayette Co., Alabama Census, and the 1880 Fayette Co., Alabama Census records, living with Mary Berreyhill, and next door to her son Francis (Thank you Claudia Angel). Mary died on 27 August 1885, and is buried in the Turkey Nest Hill Cemetery, Walker Co., Alabama (Thank you for Mary's information John Hudson). Moses and Mary's children were:

1. Infant, b: 1830, Anson Co., NC. 2. Infant, b: 1832, Anson Co., NC.
3. Francis Marion Treadaway, b: 16 Sept 1833, Anson Co., NC
4. Henry G. Treadway, b: 12 May 1835, Anson Co., NC.
5. Steven Treadaway, b: 1839, Anson Co., NC
6. Evalina Treadway, b: Jul 1850, Union Co., NC

Please note that the part of Anson County that Moses and his family lived in, became Union County in 1842.

Moses was married/partners with his cousin Mary Polly Stegall. Not sure if they ever married or not

as no record has been found . Mary was born in 1820 in Anson Co., North Carolina, the daughter of John and Thesa Stegall. John was the brother of Elizabeth Stegall who married Moses Treadway, Sr. Family tradition states that Moses and Mary lived in Alabama for about 3 years and then came back to North Carolina. Mary and her family were listed under Stigall (Stegall) in the 1850 Union Co., North Carolina Census records 2 doors down from Moses; Mary Stigall 30, Margaret 8, Menzia 7, Nicholas 5, and Louisa 2. Mary and her family were listed in the household of her stepson Eli Treadaway in the 1860 Jenkinston, Union Co., North Carolina Census records, all under Treadaway. In the 1870 Union Co., North Carolina Census records Moses, Polly and their children were listed together. Mary died 1896 and is buried in the Walnut Grove Baptist Church Cemetery, Wilkes Co., North Carolina. Their children were:

7. Eli Asco Treadway, b: 23 Oct 1840, Union Co., NC
8. Margaret Elizabeth Treadway, b: 10 Mar 1842, Anson Co., NC, married David Laws. David was born ca 1840 in NC. They were listed in the 1880 District 8, Washington Co., Tennessee Census. Margaret died on 22 April 1890 in North Carolina. 9. Miniza Ann Treadway, b: 10 May 1844, Union Co., NC
10. Louisa Treadway, b: 1846, Union Co., NC
11. Nicolus Treadway, b: Dec 1848, Union Co., NC
12. Elvina Treadway, b: Apr 1850, Union Co., NC, married John Allen Smith on 07 Sept 1862 in Wilkes Co., NC. They migrated to AR.
13. Mary Rectanna "Pocahantas" Treadway, b: 10 May 1852, Union Co., NC 14. Moses Washington Treadway, b: 07 Sept 1855, Union Co., NC

Moses died 07 Nov 1890 and is buried in the TowString Cemetery, Oconaluftee Twp., Swain Co., North Carolina. Note: It is said that Moses was the first white man to have been buried in that cemetery.

Mr. Casada,
Thank you so much for your beautiful words! I love that when I read this I get the same rush of powerful emotions I felt that day. I am truly honored to be included in this lovely piece about the mountains.

Your site is so great! My parents and I read it daily. Thanks again to Chitter and Chatter for the wonderful music, and thanks to all three of you for coming across the lake with my family and me.

To everyone who made the trip Hazel Creek on September 9, 2012,
I only spent one day with the group of you, and yet I feel connected to you all. That is what the mountains do, and that is what a Jesus experience like my baptism does. I feel so very blessed to know you all, and to have had you there at the most important day of my life. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for showing me such love and support.

I will see you on the next boat across Fontana.

Elisabeth Holt

Thank you, Don, for such a beautiful 'painting' of your home.It does indeed call,inspire and provoke all the senses.
I will consult your map site, as I have a map-brain and am a map-freak, especially historic.

This is a wonderful article - it enlightens me more about the area that my great-grandparents lived upon during the late 1800's (George Addison and Matilda Herren Brooks). Thank you, cousin Christine, for sharing this story and your lovely family with us all.

I wrote a long "Thank You" to Don, Tipper and my good friend Christine Cole Proctor and posted it here but is has disapeared again. Guess it was the "Little People"again. I'm to tired to write it again.

Peggy L.

One of the most beautiful stories I have ever read Mr. Casada! Love the pictures.

This was wonderful and I was fortunate enough to be in the Proctor area twice, many years ago. My Samuel Cable was the second family with the Proctors. My dad, Jacob Cable, "Little Jake" son of George left Proctor at 17 but always spoke and loved the area. Thanks for letting us share with you.

Don, my soul needed filling today-thank you!

This is a dossy of a story.. I really did enjoy it.. Thanks for the story Don..

Thanks for the reminder of "Home"

Thanks for the post Don and Tipper. I am not from the mountains but married into a family from there. I was 17 the first time I went to Bryson City with my boyfriend, Dennis Cole and future family. I fell in love with the area and visit as often as I can. I was at Hazel Creek for the Baptism of Elisabeth. It was a glorious day and I was blessed to be a part of it. Thanks again. Teresa Cole

Don, I so enjoyed your post! :)
A truly beautiful and poignant slice of the love we all share for our mountains and what a serene and lovely location for a mikveh.
Tipper, from your description I could almost feel the gentle passing of the Ruach HaKodesh that day. Thank you both for a wonderful start to my shabbat!

I really enjoyed Don's story of
life in the Smokies. When he mentioned the town of Bushnell, I
was reminded that my Dad and Mom
once lived there, right after they
were married.
Last fall, along with Tipper and
others, I was privileged to attend
a meeting at Bryson City, where Don and his partner shed lots of
light on the events at Hazel Creek.
Thank you Don for this amazing and
well-written project...Ken

What a wonderful story and a glimpse into the past.

Thanks to many for the comments.

I just noticed an error in names -for which I am responsible. It should be James Gudger Stikeleather (or Jim) who, along with Jack Coburn owned most of the land in the area.

I'd originally and inexplicably written his given name as "George" instead of "Jim." I caught it last night and sent Tipper a comment in the wee hours of this morning, but the Stikeleather last name got lost in the shuffle.

Stikeleather had just under 22,700 acres of land in the Hazel Creek area that was taken in the combination of the original park formation and in conjunction with the Fontana project. He also had purchased over 900 acres of land in the Cataloochee area which was taken by the park.

Located in Asheville, with strong influence in the Asheville Chamber of Commerce, he rubbed shoulders with western NC elite, including the Vanderbilts. His company letterhead title noted "Real Estate" and "Investments" with subtitles of "Timber Lands", "Mineral Lands", "Water Power", and "Game and Fish Preserves".

Great job Don! I enjoyed that. Thanks Tipper.

Don Casada's words touch a chord with me and remind me of former days, friends and family long gone, but not forgotten.
He paints a picture with words that are a poignant reminder of days that were sometimes hard, but rewarding.

Don's account of the bind the mountains has on us who grew up in the hills and hollers of Appalachia is touching, memorable, thought-provoking and beautiful. I agree that Don could have found his way as a writer, too! In fact, in this essay, he is "already there." I followed with delight and much nostalgia the boat and its people, the baptism, and especially the description, so wisely and differently stated, of the streams and the area. This is definitely my kind of writing! Thank you Don; and thank you, Tipper, for giving us this treat through Blind Pig. The Proctors are like "my" people; for my ancestors came to settle "my" beautiful Choestoe Valley along Nottely River and between Bald and Blood, the two highest mountains in North Georgia!

Beautiful and evocative. Thanks Don.

You have a gift of putting words into
a language that is well understood by
those who love the mountains. Thanks for sharing! Tarbaby

I enjoyed Don's story very much. I'm thinking he touched all of us with the glory of the mountains.
Don't all of us want to snuggle back in a safe place and be hugged by God? That is the feeling that I recieved from Don's story. It is hard to share our treasure that our ancestors found, but we should because all people need a big Appalachian mountain hug...
Thanks Tipper, and Don

What a great story! It was obviously from the heart.

That photo of looking up Hazel Creek basin really makes one pause to think about the beauty of the high country.

The photo of the baptism of Eliazbeth (to me) was a powerful scene. I would suppose that the song that was sung that day, "Shall we gather at the river" is the song (or one of the songs) that would be sung at most baptisms; It was sung at mine.

Tipper--Forgive me for a small measure of brotherly pride, but as is so often the case, Miss Cindy is right on target. I'm a putative wordsmith (which is to say I earn my daily bread through the written word), but I've told Don on more than one occasion that he may have missed his calling. He could have functioned as a writer just as well as he does as an engineer.

Familial pride aside, the real theme here is one I suspect the vast majority of Blind Pig readers realize to the depths of their being. It is an abiding, unfathomable, but nonetheless real and abiding love for what John Parris called "These Storied Mountains" and Leroy Sossamon styled "The Backside of Heaven."

Simply put, these mountains hold our souls.

Jim Casada

those mountain stories mean so much to me. My ancestors came from Swain and Macon counties and we spent our summer vacations there every year by The Little Tennessee River. They worked from sun up to sundown but always had food to eat. I treasure the stories about Needmore because that is where many of them lived and it makes me sad that there is only the swinging bridge left but not in the same place as I remember. Really enjoyed reading this.

Only the title is a little wordy, Don. The rest of your story is well written speaks volumes about and for a people who were pushed from their homeland in the name of progress and civilization. Not only our white ancestors but our red brethren who preceded them. Your map shows most of the land west of the river is still Cherokee Indian Land. So the Trail of Tears is yet to happen. But civilization?? and progress?? cannot be stopped. I'll stop now before I start to preach. Anyway I really enjoyed your post!!

Thank you for how you put it into words. My family is from the Tn side in Cades Cove. The only way I know to describe it to my husband, is that when we are there, it is tho the very DNA in my blood cries out HOME

This was a beautiful and informative write up. I really enjoyed reading it and learning about the rivers/streams.

Great piece Don. it's my honor and privilege to know the Procters. Though my home place lies up the Little T several miles I can now more readily identify with those who left the area due to the Park and Fontana Lake since it is now owned by the Nature Conservancy and administered by the NC Wildlife Commision. I am more fortunate than they since roads allow me to visit Needmore where I was raised but I can still identify with the feelings of loss those removed as well as their descendants feel. The sweat equity we invested in these hills and vales while making a living is what I think draws us back to a large degree as well as the remembered good times we enjoyed with our families and friends. After a few generations in these encapsulated mountain communities everyone was related by blood or marriage so everyone shared the feeling of belonging to the communities that one doesn't find in larger more diverse communities.

Loved the post Don, It is one of my keepers. God Bless, Grandmother Joy.

Don thanks for sharing these wonderful words with all of us. I feel a calling to these precious mountains even though I have no connections to people there. I often feel like the stork made a mistake and dropped me in Florida instead of the Smoky mountains. Maybe one day I'll find a little plot of land there to call my home.

I was well acquainted with one of the families that had to relocate from the waters of Fontana Dam. Pat Cable, a son of the Cable family moved to Canton, NC and was employed by the paper mill there.
I fished several times with one of Pat’s sons and he pointed out some of the places along the shore line about the family.
Enjoyed your write-up.
Charles Fletcher

Truly inspiring.

Beautifully written,Don, Thank you! Your love of these mountains shines through every word. You honor us all as you honor the mountains that call to all of us who live here.
So, what happend to the rivers, mountains, and it good, is it bad? Yes, it is life.

Thanks for a story well told, Don. Seems Jim isn't the only wordsmith in your family.

Echoes of my heart too.
Enjoyed much!

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