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What You Don't See in Cades Cove - Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Cades Cove

Can you visualize this Cove in 1850, supporting the 685 members of 137 households?

Settlers first entered the Cove legally after an Indian treaty transferred the land to the State of Tennessee in 1819. Year after year they funneled through the gaps, driven by whatever haunted them behind or drew them in front, until they spilled over the floor and up the slopes. Most of them traced their way down the migration route from Virginia into east Tennessee (now more or less Interstate 81). Tuckaleechee (modern Townsend) was the last point of supply before the leap into Cades Cove. A few years later pioneers moved directly over the mountains from North Carolina. 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.

The people of the Cove did not enter, settle and become shut off from the rest of humanity. They were not discovered by Park developers, still living a pioneer lifestyle. From the beginning they kept up through the newspapers, regular mail service, circuit riding preachers, and buying and selling trips to Tuckaleechee, Maryville and Knoxville. They went to wars and war came to them. They attended church and school, and college if financially able. A resident physician was here most of the time from the 1830s on. Telephones rang in a few Cove homes about as early as anywhere else (1896).

Although remote and arduous, life here was little different from rural life anywhere in eastern America in the nineteenth century. Household and farm labor were done according to one's age and sex. Men produced shelter, food, fuel and raw materials for clothing. Women cooked, kept house and processed things the husband produced. Children and the elderly took care of miscellaneous loose ends when and where they could. In this way the home was an almost self-contained economic unit. The community was an important aspect of life to the settlers in a rural society. It was an extension of the household by marriage, custom, and economic necessity . . . a partnership of households in association with each other. The community was democratic in a general sense: there were few extremes of wealth and poverty; there was widespread participation in community affairs; and, no clearly defined social classes locked people in or out. There were common celebrations like family gatherings, "workings," and funerals. Politics was tied to state, regional and national affairs. Law enforcement was personal in many ways. Justices of the Peace applied common sense, based on common law.

In 1820 this was frontier country, newly acquired by the State of Tennessee from the Cherokee Indians. Families did not simply wander in and say to themselves, "My, how pretty, let's settle here." The land was owned by speculators who bought it from the state. Settlers bought it from the speculators, whose intent was to make money. In this way Cades Cove became a typical cumulative community . . . a miscellaneous collection of people who were not oriented toward a common purpose, as in the early religious settlements of New England. It grew without a fixed plan, and families chose land that was available and affordable whenever they arrived. Most of the people came from established communities in upper east Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and western North Carolina. Very few were "fresh off the boat."

By 1850 the population 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.

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. Huge trees were cleared by girdling them with an axe. 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 summer on the balds (grassy meadows "bald" of trees) high above the Cove, white deer, bear, wild turkey and domestic hogs ranged the woods.

The Civil War shattered Cades Cove. No slave ever worked the Cove, and the mountain people shared few cultural ties with the South. Still young men fought for both sides.

Cades Cove Cultural History

Historic Structures in Cades Cove:
Blacksmith Shop
Cable Mill
Cades Cove Methodist Church
Cades Cove Missionary Baptist Church
Cades Cove Primitive Baptist Church
Cantilever Barn
Dan Lawson Cabin
Elijah Oliver Cabin
Gregg-Cable Cabin
Henry Whitehead Cabin
John Oliver Cabin
Shields Cabin
Tipton Place

 


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