Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Lessons From Cades Cove and the People Who Once Trod These Great Smoky Mountains

Bert Gildart: Leave the Cades Cove People Alone.

That’s a sentiment that prevailed around the early 1930s, and suggests the independent ways that were so typical of the people who once inhabited this rich farming area in the Great Smokies—before this 521,085-acre mass of land became a national park.

We visited the Cades Cover section of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, located not far from Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and few places have struck me as being so rich in culture—or so poignant in its legacy. The feeling is one that Janie and I apparently share with about two million other people, for each year that’s the number of people that drive the 11-mile loop road that accesses some of the original structures still remaining.

These, of course, are the same structures the government condemned just prior to establishing the park as a park. How they accomplished this condemnation is somewhat of a mystery, for not only had it uprooted farmers in the Smokies, but as well it uprooted people throughout most of the Appalachian Mountains to create Shenandoah and the Blue Ridge Parkway—the 450-mile long link that connects these two national parks.

Could such a massive displacement occur again? Historically, this is the same area from which the Cherokee were displaced, creating the infamous Trail of Tears, a forced march in which many died. Apparently, given the right circumstances, man’s treatment of the unsophisticated is reoccurring, and that’s a lesson for all of us.

But there are other lessons to be learned from that which the displaced left behind, and appreciating that is about all we can do now, realizing that today’s men and women of the park service have taken what they have been handed and have done remarkable job interpreting a bygone era.

Cades Cove interprets that resourceful group as a community. Preserved here are several churches, old grave yards, a large number of personal dwellings, cantilevered barns, old rail fences, old grist mills, and exquisite pastures that at times are dotted with deer. In season, volunteers reenact the part of many of the displaced, explaining how they build homes, “carded” wool into threads, made soap, and all the other skills necessary to survive in a raw and sometimes very unfriendly country.

Also contained here is the invisible, the stories that are told by the remains of these skillfully constructed structures and the suggestions that one of America’s most independent and resourceful people once lived here. In part, that may have been their undoing.

Tour of the cove is best appreciated by stopping at the various pullovers and then walking to the point of interest that each stop provides, and the first of these is the John Oliver cabin. It is the oldest log home in the cove and it was at this home that my appreciation of the people who farmed this land was kindled.

From this land, he and members of his family obtained all they needed for survival. They cut trees and knew how to convert them into boards and roofing shingles. They grew cotton for cloths and knew had to convert that cotton to thread and the thread into dresses and pants. They grew corn for sustenance and sometimes for moonshine, understanding the concept of distillation. They butchered and ate their own hogs. They also ate bear, venison, squirrel, Ruffed Grous, quail, rabbit and the fish they caught in surrounding streams.

They built dirt roads and traveled over them to visit neighbors and, as the community grew to 1821 in 1850, used them to attend one of the several churches in Cades Cove.

At the Primitive Baptist Church, we meet Frank and Anna Marie Stefanick, a couple who were volunteering their services to help out the interpretive program provided at Cades Cove. Because our eyes had been drawn to the epitaph of Russell Gregory and the word “Murdered,” they explained that life in the cove was not always peaceful, and that Gregory had been killed shortly after the Civil War by a bushwacker in a dispute over a dead cow.

As coincidence would have it later in the day we again ran into Frank and Anna Marie at a book store in the cove. Knowing our interest, Anna, who had once taught writing courses, suggested several titles. One that has kept me riveted is a book developed by a high school English teacher which has garnered much critical acclaim entitled The Foxfire Book.

The book was developed by Eliot Wigginton and his students, who interviewed a number of Appalachian people. From these interviews Wigginton developed a magazine and a series of comprehensive books that cover everything from Snake Lore and Faith Healing to the Building of Log Cabins. As well there are vignettes of the lives of many of these Appalachian residents which provide such fascinating information that I’ve been reading the book in my every spare moment.

Obviously, the legacy of these independent people is substantial, and though I lament the way in which they were displaced, more then likely civilization as we now understand it would have displaced them. This way we remember their immense skills with a sense of nostalgia and such great admiration that now we are discovering that we can not, in fact, leave the Cades Cove people alone.

2 Responses to “Lessons From Cades Cove and the People Who Once Trod These Great Smoky Mountains”

  1. Adam Maffei Says:

    “Obviously, the legacy of these independent people is substantial,” Such is true about you both!

    Bert, Janie, Susan and I wish you the best of Thanks Givings!

    Might we assume that “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” — Lao Tzu” is one of Mr. Gildart’s favorite mantras?

    See you down the road,

    Adam & Susan

  2. Eva Jorfan Says:

    My husband loved Cades Cove. His mother grew up across the mountain from the cove. She used to tell about visiting in Cades cove. She said there was a road going in to the cove from the west. This was before it became a National park.