The story of Cades Cove is the story of the community that existed 115 years ago, between 1821 – when families began moving into the cove to settle – and 1936, when the area became part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Who were the people who came to make their homes here? What was life like for them, somewhat separated from the mainstream of American development, in this secluded – though not isolated – mountain area? What is our debt to those who sacrificed their ancestral homes so that we and the generations to follow can know and share these meadows and mountains?
Cades Cove is nestled in a beautiful valley of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is reached by following the natural meanders of a beautiful mountain stream for several miles until the road leaves the stream and climbs to enter Cades Cove, which lies imbedded in the midst of surrounding mountains. The cove stretches 5 miles in length and 2 miles in width, and is completely hemmed in by mountains. As you wind along the modern highway into the cove, you might well wonder how the first man found this secluded spot and how the first settlers managed to get their families and belongings over the rugged mountains into this place.
Cades Cove stood out from among the Great Smokies as land that could be tamed. Nature had created in the cove a flat mountain valley of fertile land that was attractive to Agrarian people. It was only a matter of time before pioneers on their way westward would stop here and stay. They would settle, clear the land, and raise their crops and livestock. As more people came in to the area, they would form governments, churches, schools, and community ties.
The Europeans were the first people to settle in the Cove in 1818. Most migrated from the Watauga Settlement in Northeast Tennessee. Before their arrival, Cades Cove was part of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee called the cove Tsiyahi, “place of the river otter.” In addition to river otters, elk and bison lived in the cove. The Cherokees never lived in the cove; they camped and hunted in the cove for weeks, perhaps months at a time, and used the cove as a summer hunting ground. Arrowheads are common throughout the cove.
Cades Cove was not yet open for settlement in 1818; it was still part of the Cherokee Nation. A few white settlers may have already been in the area, but no one could legally own land there until 1819 when the Cherokees relinquished their claim through the Calhoun Treaty. However, there is no evidence that Cherokee Villages existed in the Cove.
Cherokee removal opened Cades Cove and surrounding areas for settlement without fear of Indian harassment. Beginning a new life in Cades Cove was basically the same for everyone. The East end of the Cove was settled first, being higher and drier than the swampy lower end. Girdling them with an axe cleared huge trees. The first crops were planted among the soon-dead timber. After a few years the standing trees were cut down, rolled into piles and burned. Orchards and permanent fields followed quickly on the “new ground.” Common sense told farmers to reserve the flat land for corn, wheat, oats and rye. Their homes circled the central basin, and pastures and wood lots hung on the slopes. Apples, peaches, beans, peas and potatoes were supplemented with wild greens and berries. Meat was varied and plentiful. Cattle grazed in the summer on the balds (grassy meadows “bald” of trees) high above the Cove. White deer, bear, wild turkey and domestic hogs ranged the woods.
Settlers first entered the cove legally after an Indian treaty transferred the land to the State of Tennessee in 1819. A few years later, pioneers moved directly over the mountains from North Carolina. Over the trails and roads they came, carrying their few household goods, their tools, their Bibles, their seeds. They came to clear the forests and make their living from the loamy soil. They built sturdy cabins from the trees that fell, and then built barns and corncribs and fences. The earliest pioneers must have been a heterogeneous group, with many different motivations driving them westward. But as the more restless ones moved on, those who remained in Cades Cove became more cohesive, bound by a common manner of life. Life was not easy in the small community. The people worked hard and enjoyed their pleasures when they could. They all came equipped with personal belongings, and the tools and skills of an Old World culture, enriched with what they learned from the Indians. Among other early families were Olivers, Tiptons, Shields, Burchfields, Cables, Sparkses, and Gregorys.
Cades Cove was a prosperous valley and it would return a good living for those who used it well. Each family provided for its own goods. Separated from the main American marketplace, people here had little use of cash in the day-to-day life of the Cove. They depended upon themselves and their neighbors for the food and few comforts they enjoyed.
When school was in session, the children had few chores, since they were usually leaving home quite early. A school day was from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, and those who had to walk several miles left home early and returned home late. The usual chores were to stack the woodpile beside the front door and to fill the stove box in the kitchen.
Not all occasions associated with the home were chores and school. There were weddings and happy times in Cades Cove, and social events at holiday times. For instance, a peculiar type of socializing marked Christmas Eve. Many of the young men and occasionally young women as well, would gang up on horseback or on foot and go from house to house serenading. This consisted of parading around the house several times, shooting guns, raising cowbells, and yelling loudly. The custom was for the host to come out after a few minutes and share a bit of liquid Christmas joy with the group. The people of Cades Cove were very independent; they enjoyed their occasional social in the community churches, schools, and homes.
In sum, the “good life” in the cove was realized through industry, frugality, neighborliness, and loyalty.
Of the forty-four families in Cades Cove in 1830, only thirteen were still in the cove in 1840. Only four of these thirteen were there in 1850. The Tiptons left in the 1840’s but returned in the 1850’s for the rest of the life of the cove. Only two families, the Shields and the Olivers were actually there throughout the life of the cove. Some families (Burchfields, Sparks, Anthony, and Gregory) entered in the 1830’s and persisted.
The population of the Cove by 1850 peaked at 685. With the soil growing tired and new states opening in the West, many families moved out in search of more fertile frontiers. By 1860, only 269 people remained. Slowly, human numbers rose again to about 500, just before the park was established in the late 1920s.
The settlers of Cades Cove came and went over roads that were rugged and crude, but tied the secluded valley to outlands throughout its history. The original roads were called Indian trails. These pathways had served the Cherokee as access through Cades, Tuckaleechee, and Wears Coves – to the settlements of the Holston Valley to the northeast. They were trade routes as well as warpaths.
Between 1928 and 1936, what was to be the final transfer of Cades Cove land occurred. The State of Tennessee purchased 105 parcels of land to be part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Resident owners held a total of 11,273 acres. In exchange for their land, they received a sum of $442,950.00 or about $39.00 per acre. This was considered a fair price at the time. The money paid to them cannot erase the debt we still owe these people for giving up their ancestral homes. Many families moved out immediately when the land sales began in 1928. Only a few chose to remain on their homesite when the privileges were offered to them. The few families that still lived in the cove were leases of the National Park Services, raising horses and cattle to maintain the open meadow nature of the valley. The park authorities allowed several families to remain in the park subject to certain restrictions. The number of families has gradually dwindled so that none remain today.
The history of the people of Cades Cove…
The exact date of the Olivers’ arrival in Cades Cove is not clear. Members of the family claim that John and Luraney Fraizer moved into the cove in 1818; and if so, they were there illegally since the area was Cherokee territory until the Calhoun treaty in 1819. They gradually invaded their territories as fast as new lines were established. There is evidence to indicate that pioneer families had tried out the cove even as early as the 1790’s.
John Oliver settled in the cove with his wife, Luraney Fraizer Oliver. Luraney was a bound girl. This meant that her parents were either deceased or one of them had died and the other no longer could take care of her. Old records in Carter County reflect a John Fraizer placing two of his children on public suffrage. This in essence, was a type of welfare system of the late 1700s, and children who were orphaned or whose parents could no longer care for them were “bound out” by a court order to families to care for them. In turn, these children were kind of like indentured servants until they attained majority age.
John Oliver met Luraney Fraizer and started courting, and then the war of 1812 came along. This is the war where Tennessee got the name as the Volunteer State due to the large numbers of Tennesseans who volunteered to fight. John Oliver marched from East Tennessee into the Horseshoe Bend area of Alabama and fought with troops under the command of Gen. Andrew Jackson. After the battle of Horseshoe Bend, John Oliver returned to Carter County and married Luraney Fraizer. They were extremely poor people. He worked as a collier cutting firewood and burning it to create coke – to fuel iron smelters in the area.
There was little future in this work so it was no surprise that he would be interested when approached by a friend, Joshua Jobe, about settling in a place called Cades Cove. This was before the Calhoun Treaty of 1819 when Cades Cove was within the Cherokee Indian Territory and off limits, supposedly, for white settlement. In any event, Jobe convinced John and Luraney to go to that area and settle. Joshua Jobe accompanied them to the area and then left after they were entrenched in the cove.
The trip from Carter County to Cades Cove, a distance of about 125 miles, took some eight to 10 days. The travelers probably followed the Indian Warpath, which tread from upper East Tennessee down toward the Dandridge area. They probably came through Wears Valley into Townsend and across Rich Mountain into the cove. At that time, there were only trails and no roads. The travelers would have had little more than the clothes on their backs, a rifle, a good ax, knives, possibly a fork or spoon, a Dutch oven, maybe a skillet, a few blankets, fire- starting materials, and little more.
They had a newborn baby and possibly at that time Luraney was pregnant with another daughter. They probably entered into the cove and saw a place of rare beauty, but also a place filled with fear and danger. Bear, mountain lions, panthers, wildcats, and other kinds of wildlife permeated the forests. The land was not cleared and wandering bands of Cherokee populated Cades Cove.
During the first winter in the cove, John and Luraney lived with their baby in an old Indian Reservation. They almost starved to death and were saved from starvation only by the generosity of the Cherokee in the cove. The Cherokee gave them pumpkins and other kinds of food to stave off the condition in which they found themselves in. The food from the Indians, and the wild game that John Oliver shot, saw them through a very rough winter.
The next spring, Jobe returned with other settlers and a community was born. Like many other pioneers that were to follow, the Olivers appeared to have a good life in the cove. Both Jane and Luraney are buried in the cemetery at the Primitive Baptist Church. They had nine children, and as far as anyone knows, neither of them saw a doctor at any time during their lives. John Oliver died around the time of the Civil War, and Luraney lived until the 1880s when she died at 90-some years of age. She was able to obtain a pension as a widow of a solider, in the War of 1812.
When they first entered the cove, it is likely that John and Luraney, who were both illiterates, thought of the 23rd Psalm. They both trusted that the Lord was their Shepherd and that he would lead them “beside still waters.” The path to the still waters in Cades Cove was certainly in the “Valley of the Shadow of Death” in view of the Indian and wild animal threat. In Cades Cove, they dwelt in the earthly house of God until their deaths.
The first Tennessee grant to land in Cades Cove was registered March 23, 1821 in the name of William Tipton for 640 acres in Cades Cove, as assignee of Aaron Crowson. William Tipton was granted two sections to consolidate several previous entries. Although William Tipton never lived in the cove, this was the first recorded legal land title for Cades Cove following the Calhoun Treaty.
William Tipton was a revolutionary soldier who came to Cades Cove from Carter County, Tennessee. Relatives and friends soon surrounded him from Carter County. Among those to whom he sold land were his brother Thomas and Thomas’s son-in-law, Joshua Job; his daughter, Martha Hart; his sons Jacob and Isaac, Thomas Jones and others. Peter and Daniel Cable, Robert Burchfield, James Sparks, and Richard and William Davis are all mentioned as being in the cove before 1830. In fact, their family names can be found on the tombstones in the cemetery in Cades Cove.
State grants continued to be issued through 1890, although those after about 1870 were for title confirmation only, and not for new lands. In all, thirty-six grants were recorded for Cades Cove from 1821 through 1890. The State of Tennessee usually required a fee of a $1.00 per acre for land grants.
For a while, the Cades Cove area remained in the hands of a few grantees; such as William Tipton, the Calloways and the Murray brothers, who claimed ownership to almost the entire watershed of the cove. But eventually, the grant land was sold off, and sometimes in an entire section. Through the years, some individuals established sizable estates. By the late nineteenth century, most of the large estates had been divided and ownership dispersed either by sale or by inheritance.
Robert Shields, another Revolutionary War Veteran, brought his family, in-laws and all, from Virginia to Sevier County, Tennessee. They built a fort at the base of what is now called Shields Mountain, near Pigeon Forge, because they were invading the territory still contested by the Cherokees. The Cherokee Indians, while watering horses outside the fort-killed one of his sons, Thomas, and the son-law. The son-in-law was Joshua Tipton.
In 1819, after the signing of the Calhoun Treaty, the family (already with at least 3 children), moved into the valley of the Little Tennessee River near Chilhowee. Early in the 1820’s, a typhoid epidemic broke out in that community and the family moved on to the headwaters of Forge Creek in the Cades Cove area. The spot they chose was an isolated cove, upstream from where the Gregory Ridge Trail leaves the stream to ascend the ridge. Later they moved out into the cove, first settling on the property of William Tipton, what is now the Tipton-Oliver place.
Robert purchased 1,600 acres of land from William Tipton in 1831. Along with several other men, he opened a bloomery forge to produce a low-grade iron, and with David Emmett built the first overshot water-powered grist and flourmill in the cove. Robert Shields was elected Justice of the Peace of the Sixteenth Civil District, as soon as the district was established and served until he died in 1850.
In June of 1825, Peter and Dan Cable purchased a tract of Cades Cove land. Dan Cable never lived in the cove, although he is listed again in 1836, as a co-buyer with his brother, of the remainder of Thurman property. Another brother, Samuel Cable, moved across the mountain to the headwaters of Hazel Creek, giving rise to the community of Cable Cove. Peter Cable brought his wife, Catherine Hallows to the cove, and the family is recorded in the 1830 census. There were three children, all born in Cades Cove prior to 1830. Peter Cable was active in the community in the early years of the settlement. He was co-founder of the Primitive Baptist Church, and he and John Oliver were agents who signed for the original gift of land to the church by William Tipton. He sold his property to Daniel Lawson in 1856.
John P. Cable was the nephew of Peter Cable, the son of Benjamin. He was born in Carter County, Tennessee in 1819. John married Elizabeth Whitehead, possibly also of Carter County, and they brought their family to Cades Cove in 1867. There is no record of any children being born after that date. The Cables purchased land in 1868 and 1869 for G.W. Feezell. In 1882, John entered for a state grant to consolidate title to a small tract of land lying within the boundaries of his purchase. On this newly purchased land, John P. Cable constructed a water-powered sawmill and gristmill.
Daniel Lawson was the son of Howell and Mary Bird Lawson of Greene County, Tennessee. The family moved to Blount County prior to 1850, although it is not clear whether they first moved to Wear’s Cove or Tuckaleechee Cove. Dan went to work for Peter Cable in Cades Cove and married his older daughter Mary Jane in 1850. Dan Lawson was an influential citizen of the cove and Blount County. He was a postmaster and served for several years as a Justice of the Peace. He added to his original purchase from Peter Cable, especially taking advantage of the public sales of the land of D.D. Foute. Lawson eventually owned a strip of land, running south to north, across the center of the cove. The present Cable Place is a part of the Lawson Home, probably the first portion constructed. From time to time, frame additions were built as the family grew, until the final structure was a rambling style home.