Monday, August 26, 2013

A Goldmine Branch Childhood (A Story of the Cole Hyatt Family - Part I)

For those who are receiving this twice, I offer my apologies.  I appear to be having 'new blogger issues' and was having difficulty getting the feed to go through to subscribers.  I have taken out the troublesome issues, and will hope that this one will come through to you.

Lawrence Hyatt, a cousin to Christine Cole Proctor and Leonard Cole of last week's article, is another of those individuals who has contributed immeasurably to my study of the former families and communities of the North Shore of Fontana Lake.  I have spent countless hours with him, in-person, on the phone and through email, learning something new every time we speak.  When I originally set out to write about Lawrence and his family, I had intended to do it as a single article.  However, he has plied me with far too many good stories to limit his family to a single entry.  Therefore, I am publishing the story of the Cole Hyatt family's life until around 1940 in today's entry, and will finish Lawrence's tale next week.
The Zach Beasley home place, modern-day.  Note the front
porch steps within the fence.

For me, there is something truly sacred about the area surrounding the Old NC 288 Boat Ramp just west of Bryson City.  I love to sit in the pavilion built on the foundation of the former Zach Beasley home place, look down at its stone steps, and drink from the spring just beyond it.  I enjoy sitting in quiet contemplation of the lives lived at this place, and of the lives of all the people who once called the land to the west of here, 'Home'.  I look down on 'Old 288' below and think of all the travelers who once hastened along this byway....tow town, to home, to work, to church and to other pastimes.  I also think of of the last trips people made along this road....some filled with eager anticipation of a new life ahead, and others filled with sadness and longing for the homes they would never see again.

Nathan Columbus and Effie Brendle
(Photo provided by Lawrence Hyatt)
Nathan Columbus Brendle built this home in the early 1900's on land which had been in his family for decades.  Together, he and his wife, Harriet Effie Sitton, raised 12 children here.

The former Nathan Brendle home, bought by Zach Beasley in
the 1920's.  (Photo placed by David Monteith)

One of these children was a daughter by the name of Fannie Olive, who was born in 1895.  She was a striking young woman, with olive skin and dark hair reflective of her family's Cherokee ancestry.  On a day sometime around 1911 or thereabouts, a tall, dark and handsome young man from Goldmine Branch happened to pass by on his way to town and spied the raven-locked beauty.  Thereafter, he decided that walking or riding his horse to town was far preferable to taking the train, and he began to make frequent trips to Bryson City to court the comely Fannie.  Abraham Cole Hyatt and Fannie Olive Brendle were married at the Brendle home place on September 16, 1912.

Cole and Fannie Hyatt Family, circa 1917/18
Photo provided by Lawrence Hyatt

They moved to Goldmine Branch, where they resided near Cole's parents, Elias David Brendle and Polly (Buchanan) Hyatt.  Their first home there was a tiny cabin, but as soon as he could, Cole set to building a new home for his wife and the children they began welcoming to the family in 1914.  Hand-planing  every board, and hand-riving every shingle while working full-time for the Norwood Lumber Company, he steadily built a four-room home for his growing family....a true labor of love.  On a visit to his old home place in 2011, I must admit to having a tear in my eye as I watched Lawrence holding one of those boards left behind when the house was torn down for its lumber in the late 1940's.  The board had been preserved in the water of the branch near the home, almost as if waiting for his return.  In this home, Cole and Fannie raised 7 children:  Walter (1913), Dillard (1916), Wade (1919), Gertrude (1923), Oliver (1925), Lawrence (1934), and Lucille (1936).

Left:  Cole Hyatt home on Goldmine  Branch (NARA);
Right: Lawrence Hyatt holding a board from the home.
(Photo by Don Casada)
During the week, Cole went to work and the children went to school once they were old enough.  They attended the Forney Creek School until it was closed in 1940; subsequently, the children attended school at Bushnell.  On Sundays, the family went to the Forney Creek Baptist Church, where Cole was a deacon and a trustee.  Afterward, they would frequently join the family of John and Emeline Cole for Sunday dinner.  John and Cole were second cousins and their families were (and remain) exceptionally close.

Life during that time was one of hard work for all members of the family, children included.  It was very much a subsistence lifestyle, with very little money to pay for even the most basic of necessities.  This became even more pronounced after Norwood burned in 1925 and Cole's occupation became primarily that of a farmer.  He hewed oak crossties off the property and sold them to the Southern Railway, worked as a local man with the CCC, and picked up odd jobs with local businesses and individuals to supplement the family's income when he could.  Lawrence recalls that even during these times, there was never any shortage of his mother's excellent food but does point out with a laugh that, even with little money to go around, Fannie still had her scruples about what would and would not be served at her table.  Possum was strictly forbidden, and she only cooked a raccoon once.  Frog legs were similarly verboten, as she claimed that on the one occasion she'd tried to fry them, the legs had started jumping around in the hot grease!

More than economic privation, the one shadow that loomed over the family for many years began in 1940, when 3 year-old Lucille began to stumble about the house and was subsequently diagnosed with infantile paralysis:  polio, as we now call it.  Fortunately for the Hyatt family, the local doctor sent Lucille to a polio specialist in Asheville who was able to bring the progression of her disease to a rapid halt.  Compared to other children afflicted with the condition who often died or became paralyzed, Lucille was fortunate.  Her disease created weakness in the left arm and leg and a left foot that turned inward, forcing her to limp.  Despite a series of corrective surgeries, Lucille never experienced a full recovery and today, at the age of 76, continues to experience sequelae from her disease.

 A poster from the 40's / 50's, spreading
awareness of polio.

In spite of difficult times, life was one of happy and oft-amusing memories for a young Lawrence.  He recalls panning for gold with his father on Hyatt Branch after the fields had been tended.  He is also reminded of taking corn for grinding at the mill of his neighbor and local schoolteacher Evion Hall, and seeing what new invention or plaything the inventive Evion had created.  However, many of his stories tend to center around memorable interactions with animals.  He can remember many a day that a truck would pass by the home on the way to Will Jenkins's home, loaded with some new form of livestock.  Due to Will's extensive livestock hobby, this was a constant and entertaining show.  Lawrence also had his own share of entertainment with the family's animals. 

Push the "Play" button on the link below to listen to Lawrence describe a particularly interesting encounter with a member of the family's cattle herd.  This was recorded during the previously-mentioned trip to Lawrence's home site.


Aside from battles with domestic animals, the Hyatt family often encountered problems with wild animals, bears being one of the most difficult to deal with.  Near the present-day tunnel at the end of the Road to Nowhere, Cole Hyatt had a large apple orchard in which he also planted corn.  Despite the presence of a nine-rail fence about 5 feet in height, a particularly troublesome bear was laying waste to the apple trees.  Cole was forced to set a large bear trap there, which he hid in some bramble to catch the unsuspecting beast.  Every morning, he would walk a mile and a half from home to cover the trap with a large chestnut board so that passers-by would not be seriously injured by inadvertent springing of the trap.  Every evening, he would walk back to uncover it.  This continued on for quite some time, with the bear continually evading the trap.  On a July morning in 1940, Cole and Fannie had to take young Lucille to Asheville for the first of several corrective surgeries on her foot.  As Oliver was not the oldest boy in the home, care of the trap fell to him for the day while Cole was gone.  Feeling certain that this day would be as equally uneventful as recent ones had been, an unarmed and unsuspecting Oliver came through the gate into the orchard and headed toward the trap.  Suddenly the bramble in which the trap lay began to shake violently and something large began to put up a terrible commotion. 
Black bear in an apple tree
Photo at httyp://
Strongly motivated by fear and a desire for self-preservation, Oliver made it back to the house in record time to get his father's shotgun and pistol. The level-headed Gertie directed Oliver to go and fetch Will Jenkins so that he would not be alone in dealing with the bruin.  Oliver did, and passed the pistol to Will.  Upon reaching the orchard and hearing the ruckus the bear was putting up, a nervous and excited Will began shooting wildly into the air, creating quite a commotion but not managing to land a single shot where it counted.  Despite some weakness in his knees, 15 year-old Oliver dispatched the bear, and he and Will managed to bring it back to the Hyatt barn.  That evening, when Cole returned home and heard the news, he asked Oliver, "Son, how did you make it over the fence?"  Oliver's reply?  "Dad, he said, "I jumped it!"  The next morning, Cole went up to the orchard to assess the prior day's events and found that Oliver's footprints could only be found in every other corn row - seven feet apart!
1940 would be marked not only by Lucille's polio and Oliver's adventures with bears, but would prove to be a turning point in the life of the Hyatt family.  A wealthy Delaware businessman, an estate on Noland Creek, a World War, and a dam named Fontana would converge during the following six years to create a period in their lives punctuated by intense happiness and economic prosperity, but which would end in an agonizing loss that they would carry with them for the rest of their lives.
Their story will conclude next week.
Acknowledgements and Sources: (
David Monteith
Interviews with Lawrence Hyatt, Christine Proctor, and Leonard Cole
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) - Atlanta
Photos courtesy of Lawrence Hyatt, Don Casada, and above-noted websites
Swain County Marriage Records
Swain County Register of Deeds office (
The Swain County Heritage Book


  1. Excellent!
    The Nathan Columbus Brendle was my 1st cousin 4X removed.

  2. Glad you had a connection to this story, Ed. I'm betting you'll find many more on here in the next several months.