On a chilly day last November we made a trip back to the Historic Lufty Baptist Church for The Pressley Girls to do a little singing.
Don and Susan Casada were our tour guides for the day. We started out with a short hike just down the road from the church. Our thinking was-while we were hiking the sun would rise high enough to be shining it's warmth on the church by the time we got there.
We got to the church about 1:00 and were surprised to see the small parking lot filled to capacity-there was even a bus! It didn't take but a minute of peering through the woods to figure out they were having a wedding at the church. It looked like there would be no singing and we were so disappointed!
Thankfully Don and Susan saved the day. Since they live fairly close by we decided to go hang out at their place for a couple of hours and then try it again. It was so chilly we thought surely the wedding wouldn't take too long.
Lucky for us-our logic worked and by the time we got back to the church the wedding folks were gone. They had even left the electricity turned on for us-which was a good thing since the late afternoon light was fading fast.
The girls got right to work. The freezing temps hurried us along-and we knew there was only so much daylight left. Right off the bat we got the main song we wanted filmed.
The next song proved a little more difficult and we kept having to start over. They almost made it through the song when the door suddenly opened and scared the beejeebus out of all of us! It was the caretakers coming to turn the electricity off.
Once they finished their job and cleared out we moved in front of one of the windows and finally got the second song filmed with the extra light. For the last 3 songs we had to move out into the foyer area of the church-where there was more light.
A few of my favorite photos from the day:
Even the cold temps couldn't keep the silliness away from The Pressley Girls.
We had handwarmers but they didn't offer much warmth for hands or noses. They finally heated up about the time we pulled in the driveway later that night.
The video below is the first song recorded on our return to the Lufty Baptist Church-a Pressley Girls original He Is Real.
(*Before you watch the video you need to stop the music player-the music controls are along the top of this page on the far left side-just under the Blind Pig logo. Click the center round button to stop the player.) *For those of you who have trouble viewing the video-go straight to youtube to see it by clicking here. In this video-The Pressley Girls.
I hope you enjoyed the chilly tale of our visit and of course I hope you enjoyed the original song by The Pressley Girls.
Even with the cold and the unexpected wedding-it was another fantastic experience at the Ocona Lufta Baptist Church.
During the months since we first visited Lufty Baptist Church, I've kept going back to the list of names I found in the book- Ocona Lufta Baptist Pioneer Church of the Smokies 1836-1939 written by Florence Cope Bush.
The book lists over a 1,000 names from church records. I even spent one evening writing down names that struck my fancy-thinking more than once if I'd read the book before I had the girls I might have named them Haseltine and Eximena or maybe Cpradela and Jessomay.
Many of the name entries were initials. I wrote about the numerous men I know from my own community whose names are initials way back when I first started the Blind Pig.
The initials in the church records may stand for names-or like the men I know-the initials may actually be the name.
As I read through the names some jumped out at me-I'm sure the uniqueness of the name was the reason-but for whatever reason I felt a strong connection to the following names and felt like once again bringing them to life:
- Cread Ayers
- Larentine Barton
- Emina Beck
- M.E.J. Beck
- Palestine Beck
- Teenzy Beck
- Emer Bradley
- Exemine Bradley
- J.C.R. Bradley
- Marsayas Bradley
- Manerva Bradley
- Moas Bradley
- Theodica Bradley
- Zadock Bradley
- Umphrey Braum
- Narciuss Carver
- Rintha Carver
- Arbazena Conner
- Bushrod Conner
- Grettie Conner
- Jahu Conner
- Darcus Elliott
- Etter Gibson
- Turzy Ann Gibson
- Clerecy Ann Griffith
- Kezziah Griffith
- Celinda Harris
- Severe Husky
- Arbasure Mack
- Pudan Matthews
- Arbazena McMahan
- Fieldan Minges
- Necisus Nelson
- Pleasant Roberts
- Hosey Ruff
- Rectaner Treadway
- Murcipa Watson
- Haseltine Bradley
- Eximena Beck
- Bittie Conner
- Cluria Beck
- Corda Beck
- Merphia Conner
- Dice Lambert
- Mrs. Calunbar Lambert
- Cpradela Maney
- Simans Mathis
- Shady Bales
- Algeria Dowdle
- Jessomay Redman
- Pollard Reagan
- Paralee Treadway
- Rube Broome
As I've already said-I didn't get a Cora Lee Mease story to go with our visit to this historic church. What I got is more of a connection or a thought than a story. At first, I was disappointed it wasn't like Cora's story-but I finally realized it is what it is-I asked for something-and something came. Drop back by tomorrow for the final post on Lufty Baptist Church and the Oconaluftee area.
And please-all you genealogists out there-if you recognize any of the names above from your family tree leave a comment and tell us about it.
*Source: Ocona Lufta Baptist Pioneer Church of the Smokies 1836-1939. Text by Florence Cope Bush. Over 1,000 names from church records. Copyright 1990 Misty Cove Press PO Box 22572, Concord, TN 37933-0572
A common phrase thrown around when the subject of Appalachia is discussed is 'sense of place.' Appalachians like their place. Whether their homes be mansions on a hill or cabins in a holler, they have historically been fiercely attached to them. I've shared a Loyal Jones joke with you before-the one about Appalachians having to be chained up in Heaven near the end of the week or else they'd try to go home every weekend.
I've asked myself if other inhabitants of this world have such an attachment to their place-but I don't have the answer to that question-because I've never lived nowhere other than Appalachia.
There are varying reasons behind our love for home. I'm sure some Appalachian scholar could explain each of them to you in great detail. Me-I like things simple. And in my simple mind I narrow that love of place down to three reasons.
First: There is a feeling-a sense of belonging to the actual terrain of Appalachia. It's the towering mountains that hover close; the sparkling water that sings a merry song to you; it's the wind in the trees that whispers secrets; it's the deep dark hollers that make you feel the presence of those who walked the trails before you. Appalachia is magic. People like me-who've lived here their entire lives feel the magical pull of belonging to Appalachia but people who move here feel it too.
Second: Generational ties to Appalachia are hard to break. In a 2010 Blind Pig guest post, David Anderson wrote about two of his ancestors. In the post he highlighted the fact that 10 generations later-the descendants of those ancestors are still abiding in Clay County NC. Take a minute to think about that-10 generations of the same family who walk the same paths; who speak the same words. 10 generations who are bonded with the same landscape and culture of Appalachia-never straying far from where their ancestors first settled.
Third: The physical landscape of the Appalachian Mountains has made it an isolated area. Appalachia as a whole was a very remote and hard to get to place-and in turn a hard place to make an exit from. It was too hard for people to leave-too hard for them to imagine a life outside the mountains-and it was hard for them to leave in a physical sense as well because their travel was restricted by the rugged terrain. Certainly modern transportation has removed many barriers of Appalachia's which have traditionally held its inhabitants close. Yet even now, portions of Appalachia could still arguably be called isolated. Murphy, the county seat of Cherokee County NC where I live, is closer to 5 other state's capitals than to its own. That =s being a long way away from the people who make many of your decisions. My entire life I've heard people say-Raleigh (our state capital) thinks NC ends at Asheville.
My series on Oconaluftee has born proof that a sense of place was important to the people who called the area home. Generations of families stayed put until their land was taken for the park-even then most of them continued to live somewhere in western NC with many of them choosing to remain in Swain County.
I don't agree with a lot of things scholars say about Appalachia-but I do agree a sense of place is at the heart of Appalachia and its culture. The thought reminds me of a song Pap and Paul sing-The Hills That I Call Home written by Bob Amos.
A line from the song says: Yet I found no peace within me till the day that I returned For there's two things you can count on as the troubled world we face Every season has an ending and every person has a place.
Appalachia is my place.
In 2004 Kathy Wiggins interviewed her grandmother, Maisie Fisher Queen Young. Mrs. Young tells about the Lufty Baptist Church-and the area in general. Ms. Wiggins included many old photos of the church with the interview-sort of a look back in time while you listen to her grandmother talk.
Ms. Wiggins has posted the video on youtube, today I'd like to share it with you. *If you have trouble getting the video to play-jump over to youtube and watch it there:
Hope you enjoyed her voice and the photos as much as I did!
*Source Kathy Wiggins.
Photo and description from Highland Homeland: The People of the Great Smokies.
Before leaving for Lufty Baptist Church, Alfred Dowdle and his family of Collins Creek pose for Joseph S. Hall, who was studying linguistics in the Smokes for the Park Service.
The photo above reminds me of Sunday mornings at Pap and Granny's when I was little. A big breakfast with gravy, biscuits, sausage from Chambers over across the GA line, jelly, honey, and if I was lucky a bowl of chocolate gravy too; Mull's Singing Convention on the tv; Pap rushing us all; piling in the backseat with Paul and Steve; staring out the window and counting the trees as they went by. Even though it was always the same route, I never got the same number of trees counted-funny to think I thought I could ever get it right.
In 1976 Dwight Childers talked with his uncle, Frances David Childers (1893 - 1983), about how people lived when he was a boy in the mountains of NC.
At that time everybody in the whole world, Virginia and everywhere, was livin’ like I was. The’ [wudn] none of this fancy stuff then. I’ve traced back and found out about people ‘t knowed. All lived like I did. Just scratch and scratch, that’s all the’ was to it.
Between the time when Frances was a child in the mountains of NC and today-there have been boom times and bust times.
Since my area seems to be stuck in a bust time-I'd wager, many people here would feel sorta like Frances described "Just scratch and scratch, that's all the' was to it."
Since it was music that first introduced me to the Ocona Lufta Valley-leave a comment on this post to be entered in a cd giveaway. (Giveaway ends Sunday Feb 24 at 5pm)
*Source: www.Childers-Sheperd.org. Dwight Childers retains sole copyright of material.
(Photo of Roy Author Childers courtesy of Dwight Childers. Copyright belongs to www.childers-shepherd.org)
Yesterday I posted an interview with Frances David Childers, today we'll hear from his younger brother Roy Arthur Childers.
Roy Arthur Childers was the sixth child of Thomas Clingman Childers, Jr. (1871-1957) and his wife, Bertha Elizabeth Lambert (1878-1942). In 1973, Roy was interviewed by his son Dwight about his childhood days spent in the Ocona Lufta Valley.
Couches Creek Memories (Interview with Roy Arthur Childers conducted by Dwight Childers 1973. www.Childers-Sheperd.org retains sole copyright)
The things I remember about the most was riding to the field and back in a sled drawn by oxen. I remember about the sled runners going up over the rocks you know, up to one side and the other over the rocks. They was pullin' so slow 't they [wudn] no danger you know. And it would tickle me to death to ride that sled on the hillside to gather corn, see. They gathered all the corn with oxens then.
That was up on that mountain there, and then up in the cove. That was where I was born, in a one-room log house. The last time I was up there, the barn was there; the' was the old log barn there. So I doubt that the's anything there, because the park officials burnt up and tore up ever house that was in them mountains, done away with them I reckon to keep people from slippin' in there and campin' in 'em.
We done most of our farming . . . half of our farming in what we called the cove on in above where we [lived].
He had over a hundred acres.
I think he paid a dollar and a half a acre, or something like that. I don't remember us ever havin' a surveyor in there. They just bought it from one to the other. My daddy bought this from his brother-in-law, Aunt Sarie's husband, John Smith. His sister owned it before we did. She was his half-sister. I think they bought it before they was married, before they had any children.
That [the name "Couches Creek"] dates back as far as I can remember. The' was some Couches that lived on that creek before that I remember anything about it. That's where it got its name. That's what I've heard.
[Families on Couches Creek]
Dee Ashe was the first . . . Penn Hyde, now Penn Hyde lived down near the mouth of the creek, and he had great long hair down on his shoulders. And then the' was some Rolands lived way back in another cove there. The' was several families lived on Couches Creek at one time. Some Rolands lived back on the east side of Couches Creek, and then Dee Ashe lived there. And then we lived there, and then Carry Nations lived on above us. He raised a family up there. And then Will Brown lived on the right-hand prong.
When me and Gerald was up there the last time we went up to Carry Nations. All the remains we could find there was an old bedstead. I've helped Carry Nations hoe corn for twenty cents an hour on them hills up there. He worked at Mingus Creek in a loggin' job. He walked from the head of Couches Creek to Mingus Creek ever' day.
[An Ordinary Day on Couches Creek]
Well, my job was to carry water to 'em in the corn field, take their dinner you know. I remember one day, I was takin' their dinner to the older ones that was workin' in the fields. That was on up the creek. We had two or three places we farmed at. It was on up the creek at another field up there. Now it's all growed up into woodland. And I was crossin' this creek an' I had a little old red hat on, and I was takin' their dinner, an' I was crossin' that creek and fell in, an' lost my hat. It washed away. It was a little old felt hat, with a brim. It worried me a lot, but I went on and took their dinner to 'em. Never did find that hat.
[The field dinner] was beans, an' whatever we made there on the place, beans and vegetables, corn bread. In a lard bucket. That was our food then. We made our own molasses. You never did see an old cane mill, did you?
My job was, too, during that time . . . huntin' the cows, in the mountains. I was evidently seven or eight then.
We didn't get too much schoolin', because bad days we couldn't go and then if they needed us to work in the field we'd have to stay there and work.
I'd take the dinner to the others in the fields, and then in the evenin' later on, my job was to hunt the cows up. An' I'd have to go barefooted, see, and back then the' was plenty of chestnuts. I remember a hittin' my heel on them chestnut burrs, an' I'd have to set down then an' pick chestnut burrs out of my feet. Where I could find a tan bark log, I'd walk the log, see. The' was a lot of vegetation then in the woods. The old cows had bells on 'em. Sometimes you couldn't hear 'em. You'd have to go up on a high ridge somewhere to hear 'em. Then they'd be on in the holler. An' I'd walk them logs as far as I could go, barefooted.
An' get up a little kindlin' of a evenin' you know.
Roughage . . . We raised corn; we didn't know what hay was. You fed your hogs, your cattle, your steers, we fed our cows nubbins, the little tender ends you'd break off the corn. An' use the rest for bread.
I enjoyed this interview as much as the one Dwight did with his Uncle Frances. I guess my favorite part was where he described riding a sled around the mountains. I've heard Pap tell so many stories about sleds from when he was little-from the time the horse ran away and took them for a wild ride to hauling things like Papaw Wade's new stove. I liked the part about Penn Hyde and his 'great long hair' too.
If you want to hear more from Roy Arthur Childers jump over to Dwights site for more of the interview!
(Photo of Frances David Childers courtesy of Dwight Childers. Copyright belongs to www.childers-shepherd.org)
Frances David Childers was the firstborn child of Thomas Clingman Childers, Jr. (1871-1957) and his wife, Bertha Elizabeth Lambert (1878-1942). In 1976 Dwight Childers had the foresight to conduct an interview with his uncle, Frances. Here are Dwight's words regarding the interview which can be found on this page of the www.Childers-Sheperd.org website:
This is a transcript of selected passages from an interview of Francis David Childers (1893-1983) which I taped in December, 1976, when I visited Uncle Francis in Asheville. My father Roy Childers was present also.
In transcribing the sound of his voice to words on paper, I have resorted to special spellings and punctuation in order to represent the sound of his speech as exactly as possible. I have done this because his speech sounded beautiful and graceful to me, and I wanted to convey as much of the actual quality as I could. I certainly had no intention of creating any sort of comic “hillbilly” effect. I am very proud of my own heritage as a mountain person, and trust that you will understand the spirit of this transcription.
- Dwight Childers, December 1976
As I told you yesterday, Dwight has graciously allowed me to share research from his wonderful website. Today I'd like to let you hear from Francis himself, by sharing two portions of the interview Dwight conducted. Both interviews give insight into the rugged landscape of the Ocona Lufta Valley and the country which surrounds it.
Moving Around To Make A Living (Interview with Frances David Childers conducted by Dwight Childers 1976. www.Childers-Sheperd.org retains sole copyright)
Now we started moving from there over across the ridge, to another little old house. He moved to where he could find land to tend. That’s all the way he had o’ livin’. Now we didn’t have nothin’ but some beds; we carried ‘em across the hill, and when we got there, there was an old chair there, that was lined with a black skin; scared me. Pa said “Aw, it’s just a bear skin. Won’t hurt you.”
We stayed there a year I think, or more, then we moved to Couches Creek, four miles across the mountain, the divide up there, you know where that was, above the old Cole place. The main divide goes between Mingus’s Creek and Couches Creek. And we carried the stuff, what little we had, in there, and holed up in that log cabin. The puncheons [floor boards] was made out of logs and hewed. The’ [wudn] nothin’ fancy to it. The cracks was in it, but they had the most of ‘em stopped. And the walls was logs; they was daubed with mud. We stayed there some years; I don’t know how long it was. Must have been about seven or eight years there. Then we moved down to the . . . called the John Smith place, on the creek. This was up in the cove, before we moved down to the John Smith place on the creek. Well, right in there, it all wound up. We must ‘a’ stayed there about seven or eight years, too.
Now we done all the loggin’ out of the cove down to the John Smith place where the saw mill set right over there in that little flat place, sawed all the timber we could get in there, and that helped pay for the place.
We had two yokes of bulls. The first ones was Bob and Bally, and the next ones we got was Doc and Jerge, two red bulls, and these others was big horny . . . one was a bay, and the other was white-spotted, and they made our livin’, most of it.
We rented the sawmill. They brought it up: One half for the other.
Well, I’d say that went on for about seven or eight years in there. We worked that, farmed that old land all we could. It got so it would make nothin’ much. Pa went to the cotton mills. Took us all to the cotton mills. He thought he’d get more money. I worked in the cotton mill, weaved and all that stuff. He stayed there a while, a year or two . . . come right back to the mountains again, back to the old John Smith place. I don’t know . . . he moved three or four times away from there to the cotton mill, before we finally left.
When this loggin’ job got done, the saw mill went out. Had some lumber left; they hauled it in to Whittier, on wagons, about thirty miles.
Crossing The River (Interview with Frances David Childers conducted by Dwight Childers 1976. www.Childers-Sheperd.org retains sole copyright)
When I was little — must ‘a’ been two years old, not over that. I remember -- how I done it I don’t know. Ma and Pa had our bay mare, and we took that mare. . . . and went across the mountain, up Luftee river, and across that mountain, through the Indian Gap, that ’as the way we went. I know right where it is. We went through there, a little low place in the mountain.
It came a terrible rain, come a great flood through there, down the Pigeon River. Logs, rocks, and everything was comin’. They crossed that river.
Put Ma and me on that mare, and there ’as a big log a comin’. He said go on out there; that mare’ll take you through. That log’ll get gone before you get there. It did. It went on through, and I remember she laid me down in a bunch of bushes. She sent the mare back. That mare went right on back, got Pa, and brought him across.
Ad the’ ‘as an old house over there, and they ‘as blockadin’ – makin’ liquor. He said we’ll have to go in here an’ stay the night. I didn’t hear it, but that was what Ma said. I must have been about dead. Well, I remember now, this. We went in. Now these was men of men. The’ w’u’dn’ no jokin’. They was layin’ in the bed, everywhere settin’ around was them big rifles, was right there, stickin’ up. I remember seein’ that. Now how could I remember seein’ that, ‘t that age. Must have been so strange, so much of a thing ‘t it just banged in there. [I was] about two years old, couldn’ ‘a’ been over that. They was carryin’ me. Well, I don’t know what happened. We went on. I was too young to remember what happened after that, but we stopped in the Sugarlands – Gatlinburg – we called it Sugarlands then, it was right above there. Well, he went on down through there and rented a little old place somewhere in Tennessee. I never
remember what happened after that. He was huntin’ a way to make a livin’, a farm, or something like that. He wa’dn loaferin’ He tended a little place down there a while, but I don’t remember after that what went on. I don’t know where we went after that.
I thoroughly enjoyed both interviews. My favorite part of the first one, Moving Around To Make A Living, was the part about the bear skin chair scaring Frances. I bet that was a story told many time through the years by his father and his mother. It reminded me of Chatter. When she was just a little bitty thing being potty trained, she was terrified of a cat shaped toilet brush holder Granny had in her bathroom.
My favorite part of the second interview, Crossing The River, is the part about his mother and him riding the horse across the swollen river and sending the mare back for his father. Back in the day, when The Deer Hunter and I rode horses, I was always scared to cross large creeks or rivers-and the only ones we ever crossed were shallow enough for the horse to walk across. I can't imagine seeing a big log wash down a river then ride a horse across it while holding my child.
If you enjoyed the interviews above as much as I did-jump over to Dwight's site and read some more about Frances David Childers.
Ever since I stepped foot in the Historic Lufty Baptist Church I wanted to know more about the people who called the area home before it was part of the Smoky Mountain National Park.
Florence Cope Bush's book-Ocona Lufta Baptist Pioneer Church of the Smokies 1836-1939 told me about William Henry Conner. I learned more about William and his son Dock Conner by discovering a reprint of a newspaper article that was published in the Knoxville Journal in 1976, The Saga Of The Dock Conner Family written by Vic Beale. Most interesting was a recorded interview with William Henry Conner which can be heard on the Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English website.
Don Casada shared the story of Robert and Elizabeth Beck Collins in his guestpost Robert and Elizabeth Beck Collins - Pioneers of the Pioneer Church of the Smokies.
I enjoyed learning about the folks above so much, that I kept researching to see if I could find any other firsthand accounts from folks who lived in the Oconaluftee area during the years Lufty Baptist Church was still open.
I searched Ancestory.com; I searched every NC genealogical site I could find; I Googled every imaginable phrase I could think up about people who called Ocona Lufta Valley home and came up with zilch in every instance.
But one day I finally hit pay dirt! I haven't a clue how I found the website full of fascinating stories-I was jumping from one site to another thinking I'd never find anything interesting when bingo I landed on a genealogical treasure trove of Western North Carolina managed by Dwight Childers.
I'll use Dwight's own words to introduce the scope of his website to you:
"The purpose of this project is to discover and remember our ancestors in western North Carolina, and beyond. The name "www.Childers-Shepherd.org" has been chosen simply because it describes our immediate patch on the vast quilt of family connections surrounding us. These two families provide a starting point for our discovery but do not intend to exclude any of our many cousins or any part of our extended families of different names. The limitations are time and energy rather than any rigid notion of what constitutes a meaningful connection."
After stumbling onto the website, I contacted Dwight and he graciously and generously allowed me to share some of his research work here on the Blind Pig & the Acorn. (Dwight will of course retain all copyright)
Today I'd like to share the story of Dwight's ancestors: Thomas Clingman Childers, Jr. (1871-1957) and his wife, Bertha Elizabeth Lambert (1878-1942) both were members of Lufty Baptist Church. Thomas and Bertha were married in Swain County in 1893. They had 12 children, and also raised their grandson, Edward Roberson after his mother, who was their oldest daughter, died. (to see the list of their children go to this page of Dwight's website)
The follow history appears on this page of the site: www.Childers-Sheperd.org.
Several of the children were born at the home Thomas and Bertha established on Couches Creek, near Smokemont, a few miles up Highway 441 from Cherokee. (This is the next creek north of the Mingus Creek Mill, which is now a museum.) They purchased the land of about one hundred fifteen acres from Thomas's half-sister, Sarah Ward Smith. This land later became part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Some descendants have enjoyed hiking up the creek to the old homeplace over the years. The buildings were removed long ago, but signs of habitation, including stones from the old chimney, now fallen, remain.
By late January of 1920 (when the census was taken), they were in the Upper Hominy section of Buncombe County. Children remaining at home were Naomi, Roy, Ruth, Bonnie, Edmund, and grandson Edward Roberson. On 7 May 1930, the census of Beaverdam township, Haywood Co NC, found the family thus: Thomas, 56, farm laborer; Bertha, 52; Bonnie, 16; Henry, 14; Edmund, 12; and grandson Edward Roberson, 12. The value of their house and land was $750.
By 1935, according to the 1940 census (taken on 9 April), the family had moved to the place on what was Wiggins Road in Upper Hominy township, Buncombe County. In 1940, daughter Bonnie, son Edmund, and grandson Edward "Ted" Roberson were still at home. Bonnie was listed with the occupation of "reeler" in a rayon plant; Edmund was a farm laborer; Ted was unemployed. Soon, both Edmund and Ted would be abroad in active service in different theaters of World War II. (Ted enlisted 18 Jan 1941 at Fort Bragg, NC; Edmund enlisted 22 May 1942 at Fort Jackson, Columbia SC.) According to a family story, Thomas stopped shaving when the boys left home and pledged to resume only when both boys had safely returned from the war.
I hope you enjoyed the first taste of information from the www.Childers-Shepherd.org genealogy website. Come back tomorrow when we'll hear from Thomas and Bertha's oldest son Francis David Childers (1893-1983).
*Source: www.Childers-Sheperd.org. Dwight Childers retains sole copyright of material.
Today's post offers a peek at the landscape which surrounds-The Lufty Baptist Church (also commonly called Smokemont Baptist Church). Below you'll find three separate sources who each knew or know the area intimately-2 from the past; 1 from the present.
In their 1883 book, The Heart of the Alleghanies, Wilbur G. Zeigler and Ben S. Grosscup related their impressions of travel from Bryson City, N.C., then known as Charleston, to Cherokee, N.C., then called Yellow Hill. Their route took them down the Tuckasegee River to the Oconaluftee River, and they following the latter river to Yellow Hill.
Two hour’s ride through the sandy, but well cultivated valley of the Tuckasege brought us to the Ocona Lufta. From this point the road follows the general course of the stream, but, avoiding its curves, is at places so far away that the roar of the rapids sounds like the distant approach of a storm. At places the road is almost crowded into the river by the stern approach of precipices, and then again they separate while crossing broad, green, undulating bottoms. . . .”
- Wilbur G. Zeigler and Ben S. Grosscup, The Heart of the Alleghanies (1883), pp. 37 – 38.
The book, Highland Homeland: The People Of The Great Smokies, written by Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stockley offers the following details about the terrain of the Ocona Lufta Valley:
By far the most ambitious road project was the Oconaluftee Turnpike. In 1832, the North Carolina Legislature chartered the Oconaluftee Turnpike Company. Abraham Enloe, Samuel Sherrill, John Beck, John Carroll, and Samuel Gibson were commissioners for the road and were authorized to sell stock and collect tolls. The road itself was to run from Oconaluftee all the way to the top of the Smokies at Indian Gap.
Work on the road progressed slowly. Bluffs and cliffs had to be avoided; such detours lengthened the Turnpike considerably. Sometimes the rock was difficult to remove. Crude blasting-complete with hand hammered holes, gunpowder in hollow reeds, and fuses of straw or leaves-constituted one quick and sure, but more expensive method. Occasionally the men burned logs around the rocks then quickly showered it with creek water. When the rock split in the sudden change of temperature, it could then be quarried and graded out. Throughout the 1830s, residents of Oconaluftee and the nearby valleys toiled and sweated to lay down this single road bed.
The desire and effort to conquer the wilderness also prompted the establishment of churches, and to a lesser extent, schools. In the Tennessee Sugarlands, services were held under the trees, until a small building was constructed at the beginning of the 19th century. The valley built a larger five-cornered Baptist church in 1816. Prospering Cades Cove established a Methodist Church in 1830; its preacher rode the Little River circuit. Five years later the church had 40 members.
Over on the Oconaluftee, Ralph Hughes had donated land and Dr. John Mingus had built a log schoolhouse. Monthly prayer meetings were held there until the Lufty Baptist church was officially organized in 1836. Its 21 charter members included most of the Turnpike commissioners plus the large Mingus family. Five years later, the members built a log church at Smokemont on land donated by John Beck.
Don Casada, who has studied the area encompassed by the Smoky Mountain National Park extensively, had this to say about the water drainage of the Ocona Lufta Valley:
Then at the Ravensford area, the Luftee and Raven Fork join. According to some drainage area measurements that I made a few years ago, at the point where they join, the area that feeds Raven Fork is about 80% of that drained by the Luftee above their junction. But according to my eyeballs, Raven Fork has more volume. Raven Fork is fed by waters that fall as far east as Balsam Mountain, which is the western edge of the Cataloochee Valley.
This is probably way more than you want to know, but here's a way of maybe quantifying its size: The Luftee drainage area (including that of Raven Fork) within the boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is right at 100 square miles, which is more than 50% greater than the area drained by Cataloochee Creek and more than twice the area drained by Hazel Creek. (both Cataloochee and Hazel Creek have been mentioned in previous Blind Pig articles).
Below Ravensford (visitor center area), which was the area of Swain County that was first settled by white folks, the Luftee is a relatively peaceful stream, but it is fed from some of the most rugged terrain of western North Carolina, particularly on the Raven Fork.
As you and some of your readers know, together with Wendy Meyers, I'm researching old home places in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Something that the two of us find both intriguing and inspirational is the distances and terrain traversed by folks to attend worship services.
Based on known home locations of some of the members listed in "Ocona Lufta Baptist Pioneer Church of the Smokies" by Florence Cope Bush, it is certain that folks were coming from at least 3 miles away. They came from well up Bradley Fork and above Collins Creek to the north. And they came from feeder streams that flowed from both east and west into the Luftee down below (south) of the church such as Couches, Tow String, and Mingus Creeks. Miles alone don't tell the story. Some of these folks lived well back up these feeder streams in areas where even wagon travel was unlikely (sled roads were common), and there was hundreds of feet of elevation change involved.
It is highly likely that most of these folks came to church on foot, and they'd have come in all sorts of weather. Today we're apt to grumble about having to walk from the house to the car when it's drizzling a little rain.
The more I study these folks, the more amazed I am at their perseverance, strength, make-do intelligence, and right-mindedness in terms of the priorities of life.
The Ocona Lufta Valley was and is a rugged area of Western NC. If you'd like to see video footage of the whitewater of Ravensford check out this video on Youtube. The video actually ends at about 2 minutes and 50 seconds-but the song being used for background music plays the whole 4 minutes and 27 seconds. *Update: Tipper, the area where the kayaking video is shot isn't Ravensford - it is on the Raven Fork.
The two names are connected, of course, but there is also an important distinction.
The Ravensford area lies close to the mouth of the Raven Fork of the Oconaluftee, and I'm sure that at some point in time there was an actual ford in the lower area. I'll have to do some digging to see what I can find there. Ravensford is the broad flat bottomland section where the Cherokee High School now sits. That area was once the location of the Ravensford lumber mill, a huge operation. It was formerly in the park, but is now part of the Cherokee Indian Reservation - as is several hundred acres on the west side of the Luftee below the park entrance.
On the other hand, Raven Fork is the name of the stream which runs by the Ravensford area. It is a relatively sedate stream as it passes there, but as the video shows, anything but sedate about ten miles above. Those kayakers are in what is called the Raven Fork Gorge which is, as you can gather from the video, very rugged territory. There's a section in the gorge where the 40-ft topographic map lines are so close together that you can't tell one from the other.
Drop back by tomorrow to hear from someone who called the Ocona Lufta Valley home.
1. Photo: WCU Digital Collection Travel WNC
2. Don Casada
3. Highland Homeland: The People of the Great Smokies: Author: Dykeman, Wilma; Stokely, Jim. This item is in the public domain. Book contributor: Clemson University Libraries