Monday, March 30, 2015

An Epic Journey, part 2: Rolling and Sliding from Clay to Swain County

From Don Casada:  This is a continuation of family journeys.  Part 1 mostly concerned itself with my great-grandparents, Will and Sarah Casada, but did touch on the marriage of their third son, Joseph Hillberry to Minnie Price (my grandparents).  This article picks up with the lives of Joe and Minnie in their early years together and sees them through a move to Swain County.
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In their beginnings

Minnie Price and Joe Casada exchanged vows at the home of Reverend J.S. Brooks in November, 1903.  Where did Joe and Minnie Casada first live afterwards?  I don’t know, and like seventy-eleven other things that I wonder about, it’s too late to ask someone who might could’ve helped answer that question.  My suspicion is that they made arrangements to rent a place, but they may have also lived for a while with Joe’s parents, Will and Sarah Casada. 
It was about four years later in August, 1907, shortly after the birth of their third daughter Annie Jo, that Joe and Minnie bought their first property in the Downing(s) Creek area.  Given the fact that they paid but $200 for 100 acres, there was probably no house on the place. They turned around and sold it two years later – just after their fourth child and first son, Commodore (name, not title) was born.  The sales price was $350, so they’d apparently put up a rough-cobbed home to live in or made other improvements.  The home location appears to have been in the area toward the eastern end of Jarrett Road (approximately in the area denoted by the orange rectangle on the Figure 1 map).  They purchased the property from J.O. Smith, the father of Lawrence Smith, for whom the road noted on the map was named.

Figure 1:  Map of the area from Hayesville east to lower Downings Creek Road (Google Maps)

In 1910, Minnie’s brother Will and his wife Lillie Carter, along with their first four children and Lillie’s sister were living near the Coleman-Shearer couples who had raised Will and Minnie.  The Coleman home areas along Jarrett Road are marked by the green rectangle in Figure 1.  Will, unlike his brother-in-law Joe, stayed put.  Today, in fact, Price descendants still live along this section of Jarrett Road. 
 
The first photo we have of Joe and Minnie, along with their first three children, Lelia Kate, Jura Samantha, and Annie Jo (L-R in the photo) is shown in Figure 2.  Will and Lillie Price, with daughter Laura Ellen are shown in Figure 3.
 
Figure 2:  Joe and Minnie Casada family in 1908

 
Figure 3:  Will and Lillie Price Family in 1903
After selling their first home place, Joe and Minnie moved to the north a few miles, and rented a home in the beautiful Tusquitee Valley, where they were found when the 1910 census was taken.  Curiously, the census taker failed to record the presence of their first son, Andrew Commodore, who had been born in August, 1909, but did note that Joe’s younger brother, Tom, was living with the family.
 
After a couple of years of tenant life, Joe and Minnie purchased another piece of land in 1911, closer to where Minnie had grown up – not far from the Coleman and Price homes.  They paid $300 for a 40 acre tract, or $7.50/acre.  They stayed here for about three years before selling the place for $550. 
During this era, a country man’s intelligence was judged by his trading ability.  Clearly, Joe traded well and/or worked hard to have earned such good returns on property investments in Clay County.  The annualized rates of return for the first and second properties were 26.8% and 20.5%, respectively. 
 
Such financial success would prove to be elusive for the balance of Joe’s life.  My father (Commodore) recalled that after moving to Swain County, Grandpa made one bad trade after another.  The family attributed this to a case of scarlet fever, and an accompanying elevated temperature which had a lasting impact on his thinking. 
 

Perspectives on moving

The sale of the property in the Jarrett Road area, just east of Hayesville, preceded the journey from Clay County to Swain County one hundred years ago this winter.
Grandpa clearly had a case of itchy feet.  Having moved at least twice with his parents, he then moved at least thrice between the time of his marriage to Minnie and when the family left Clay County. 
 
Picking up and moving on was an integral part of his life experience, and would remain the case until he was over a half-century old.  Based on my studies of the folks who made their homes in the Great Smoky Mountains during the same time period, this was actually a quite common pattern.  Families who built a home and stayed put for the balance of their lives were the exception, not the rule; there was considerable local and regional movement of families.
Of course this completely contradicts the stereotyped lives of stationary isolation painted by Horace Kephart in Our Southern Highlanders.  Whether the examination is by personal anecdote, as presented herein, or by more comprehensive primary source-based (e.g., deed, court, and census record) study, the conclusion of an unbiased observer will be the same: the majority of the folks who lived in the mountains of Western North Carolina from the mid-19th century through the early 20th century moved from place to place with alacrity.  The portrait of lives lived in remote isolation might, in the words of Judge Felix Alley, “sell books in the north,” but it is terribly flawed with respect to reality.

An aborted repeat of the journey

It was early in 1915 when Joe and Minnie set out on what would be an epic journey through the eyes of my then five-year old father.  Daddy’s earliest, and most vivid, memories were connected to that trip from the lovely Hiwassee River valley to an isolated tract on upper Juneywhank Branch of Deep Creek.  Everything seems bigger through a youngster’s eyes, and it’s common for adults to go back to a place they’d not seen since childhood and find it to be much smaller than their memory’s etching.  So I had always assumed that stories my father told were those seen through the exaggerated lens of a child’s eyes.
Having driven or walked as much of the route as it’s practical to do, and having given consideration to the overall circumstances, I find that trip beyond epic – it is intimidating just to consider..  Even though I’ve spent considerable time wandering deep in the backcountry of the area, I’ll freely admit that I find myself wanting in both gumption and know-how to make such a trip by myself – let alone with a wife and six children, the oldest being ten years old, in tow.
 
Several years ago, while my father was alive, I made some rough guesstimates of the route that Joe would have taken.  So one day the two of us took off on a drive to Hayesville and then followed the first portion of what I then thought to be the route they’d taken.  After going up the road from Tusquitee through Tuni Gap, our appetites for food overcame our appetite for further travel, so we made a detour to Elsie’s in Andrews where Daddy demolished a dinner of beef liver and onions, mashed potatoes and green beans, then had – as I recall – a piece of chocolate pie for dessert.  Even at the age of 100, he had a keen appetite, and could put away as much food as I could after I’d been on a twenty-plus all day hike through the mountains.  As was his wont to do after lunch, he settled into a nap in the front seat of the car, so I just drove on back to the house.  We never finished the other segments of the journey which were drivable.


After a more careful reconsideration

Two fairly specific details of the trip, etched in his memory were: a) coming down through the Burningtown area of Macon County and b) spending a night near the Little Tennessee River after a heavy rain.
I recently undertook a more careful study of the roads available at the time to hone in on the route details.  Fortunately, a pair of 1906-1907 USGS topographic quadrangle maps for Nantahala and Cowee districts provides substantial insight. A study of those maps, informed by my father’s recollections, has led me to the conclusion that the route they took closely followed the one I’ll discuss below – which was a bit different than what I’d earlier guessed.  A set of map snippets accompany this article to help clarify the route.  An overall journey route overlaid onto a Google Earth view is available.
 
They set out on this trip in late January or early February – certainly not an optimal time to be moving in the mountains, particularly when the route chosen would cross what is now the Appalachian Trail.  While it is understandable that there would be a need to reach the new home in time for planting of crops, one would think that waiting until March might have been a better choice (although March weather can also be dicey).
Whatever the thought process, it was during this most difficult time of the year that Joe and Minnie set out for a new home in a small covered wagon which held all their earthly possessions.  By now, they had six children: Jura, Kate, Annie, Commodore, Hall, and baby Hattie.  The four older children (Jura, Kate, Annie and Commodore), ranging in ages from five to ten, walked the entire way.  Hall, then three and a half, had enough energy to tag along by foot part of the time, but would have also ridden in the wagon with his parents and baby Hattie as well. 
It was a trip of about 60 miles, which I suspect took about a week.  I’m going to make a stab at the days involved by map and notation below.  Of course I really don’t know the daily itinerary; this is simply my best judgment, based on a study of the topography accompanied by consideration of the ages of the children and their endurance as well as that of the stock.
 
The beginning: Day One
From their home along Jarrett Road, they went to Downings Creek Road, followed it across the ridge to where it connected with Peckerwood Road and then continued on down into Tusquitee.  Along the way, they’d have passed what was then the Chigger Hill School – now the location of the Oak View Baptist Church.  An enrollment sheet from 1911 had Jura Samantha Casada listed, along with thirteen Moore, seven Moss, four Garrison, and a smattering of other children whose numbers totaled thirty.  Ironically, my mother, Anna Lou Moore, who was less than two years old and living a thousand miles away in the Midwest at the time, was related to almost half of that class.  The Clay County connection had nothing to do with my parent’s meeting, by the way; they met at a square dance in Haywood County, a hundred miles away from Clay County.

Figure 4:  Oak view Baptist Church, former Chigger Hill School location

I’ve often wondered if Joe and Minnie and their litter might not have been bid farewell at the Peckerwood junction, not far above the Chigger Hill School, by some of the other Casadas who came over from the Licklog Branch area – knowing that this might well be the last time they saw the family.  I don’t know for certain, but suspect that Joe never saw his parents again, even though it was more than a dozen years later that they died.
After crossing the bridge at Tusquitee – where Joe’s father Will Casada would conduct the wedding of Roy Galloway and Lona McClure two years later, they likely passed by the tenant home where they’d lived in 1910.  It is certain that they passed immediately in front of the lovely home of William Patton Moore.  My mother, Anna Lou Moore, lived in this home for a short period after her mother died.  She was but a tyke of three or four, but her grand-uncle apparently made quite an impression on her; she affectionately referred to him as “Captain Billy.”  The attractively restored home overlooks an equally beautiful section of the Tusquitee Valley (Figures 5 and 6).
 

Figure 5:  Home place of "Captain Billy", William Patton Moore
 

Figure 6:  Beautiful - and level - upper Tusquitee Valley, viewed from the W.P. Moore home place

Beyond the Moore home, they followed the Tusquitee Turnpike northeast across Tusquitee Gap and down into Aquone.  In later years, the more commonly used route going toward Aquone was up Tuni Creek, but at the time, the Tusquitee Gap Road was more developed.  It’s my guess that they’d have spent the first night in the upper end of the Tusquitee Valley (marker 1 on Figure 7).  This would’ve made their first day’s travel about ten miles, with most of it over relatively level terrain.


Figure 7:  First part of the journey.  Travel route is marked in green, first and second night's estimated stops marked with red dots.  The gray dot marks the William Patton Moore home place.  Map snippet is from 1906 USGS Nantahala Quad.
Days Two and Three
Starting out from upper Tusquitee on the second day, they began some more serious climbing.  Although gaining more than a fourteen hundred feet in elevation before passing through Tusquitee Gap, the grade is moderate along the entire length – about 500 of elevation gain per mile.  Much of their climb to Tusquitee Gap would have passed through old-growth, primeval forest.  The area was later logged by Andrews Lumber, which ran a rail line up Tuni Creek, a few miles to the west, according to Logging Railroads of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, Volume 2, by Thomas Fetters.  As can be seen in the map in Figure 7, in 1906 the road up Tuni Creek was a double-dashed line for a ways before dropping to a single-dashed line – essentially a footpath – meaning that at the time, wagon travel across Tuni Gap would not have been practical.  Although I’ve covered up the road across Tusquitee Gap with the green line to mark the route, the entire road was marked as a solid double line, indicating a higher quality road. 
While Joe and Minnie’s wagon and the children’s footsteps followed the same route that the road traverses today, a major difference between then and now is that today the road has a fine leveled bed of gravel.  A two-wheel drive vehicle can readily handle it under normal conditions.  A century ago, especially in the areas that saw little sun during the winter, it would have been a muddy and/or snow-covered mess much of the time.  
 
Based on my own observations when wandering the western NC area, some of the finest stands of timber in these mountains can be found in the elevation range corresponding to that on either side of the Tusquitee Gap (3000 to 3500 ft), so they surely would have passed some fine old-growth yellow poplar as well as the dominant tree of much of the area at the time, the American Chestnut.  Today, the view looking back down from a short ways below the gap is through timber of a size which suggests that at least some of the area has been logged well after the 1920s (see Figure 8).

Figure 8:  A view back down the Tusquitee Creek drainage from a short ways below Tusquitee Gap.
After crossing Tusquitee gap, they began the descent toward the Macon County community of Aquone, now under the waters of Nantahala Lake.  While the ascent to the gap on the morning of the second day would have quickly removed them from areas of human habitation, the descent would bring them back close to homes in fairly short order.
Even today, a careful observer heading in the direction of the lake (which can’t be reached by vehicle from this direction) will note evidence of former human habitation, such as decades old apple trees still hanging on or a spring surrounded by a bed of periwinkle.

Figure 9:  Old apple trees in an area which has - for unknown reasons, been kept cleared.



Figure 10:  Periwinkle around a spring; a latter-day PVC pipe makes clear and cold water handy for a thirsty traveler.
The combination of the climb and descent would’ve taken a toll on the horses and children, so I suspect that the second night was spent in the Aquone area (marker 2 on Figure 7).  At this time, there were quite a number of families living in the area, as indicated by a web site dedicated to families of Old Aquone. 


Figure 11:  John L. Moore family of Aquone.  Captain Billy Moore is standing in the left foreground.  Source:  Old Aquone Website.
One such family was that of John L. Moore, shown in the Figure 11 photo.  John L., seated on the porch, had taken the side of the Union during the Civil War.  At the time of the photo, his family was being visited by William Patton (Mama’s “Captain Billy”, also known as Irish Bill) Moore, who is standing just off the porch in the foreground.  Captain Billy had led a Confederate cavalry company during the war, spending considerable time in Tennessee –the home state of J.L. Moore.  Former differences between these Moore men, who were unrelated as far as we know, had apparently been set aside.
Incidentally, during the period when the Joe Casada family lived on Tusquitee, the home which they rented was near that of W.P. Moore, and in fact possibly owned by him, so they would have been well acquainted with him and his family. A number of the Moore children in the class with Jura at Chigger Hill were grandchildren of Captain Billy.

Figure 12:  A view towards Tusquitee Gap from the road east of the former Aquone community.
Old Aquone now mostly lies under the waters of Nantahala Lake.  The photo shown in Figure 12 is taken from near the Wayah Road which today winds around the east side of the Nantahala Lake.  The yellow line marks the approximate route that would’ve been followed by the Joe and Minnie contingent a hundred years ago.
From Aquone, their journey continued along a relatively well-developed road toward Kyle (Figure 13).  Like Aquone, Kyle was a thriving community, as illustrated by photos on the Nantahala website.
My conjecture is that they spent another night in the Kyle area, even though it was a relatively short trip from Aquone to there.  The horses would have been still recovering from the climb over and descent from Tusquitee Gap, and there was a significantly more challenging climb, and particularly difficult descent facing them.  Whether my grandfather knew what he was getting into before beginning the trip is not known, but surely the folks around Kyle would have let him know that he had a tough road ahead.
Day Four
Leaving Kyle, they turned east to make the ascent to Burningtown Gap.  By mountain standards, this is quite a gently-sloped grade.  Maintained Macon County roads still follow the same route as far as the Burningtown Gap.  Each year, hundreds or thousands of hikers cross the gap on a perpendicular orientation to that of the road.  The Appalachian Trail passes through the gap, which is a bit over 4200 feet in elevation.  Even though Burningtown Gap is more than 500 feet higher than Tusquitee Gap, the ascent is even gentler, at well under the 500 feet per mile climb they had experienced coming up out of the Tusquitee Valley.


Figure 13:  Map snippet 2, showing the route from Aquone across Burningtown Gap
The gentle ascent is exceptionally misleading, however.  A look at the topo map (Figure 13) makes it clear that the descent down to Burningtown would be considerably steeper than the ascent from Kyle.  As it turns out, the map doesn’t begin to tell the story.
 
An often-told tale
It was a very short portion of the journey which had the strongest hold on my father’s memory.  He recalled that the family came to a steep downhill section where the road was completely covered in a thick sheet of ice.  Grandpa stopped the wagon, took an ax, and chopped a pair of ruts in the ice, spaced the width of the wagon wheels apart.  He then unhitched the team and managed to get both horses (or mules – I don’t recall) and all the children to well on below the frozen stretch.  Leaving Minnie on the wagon to depress the brake (for what good it would do on ice), he got both sets of wheels into the ruts, and then taking the wagon tongue in hand, pulled it over to the bank so that the front wheels would run sigogglin in the ruts.  Somehow, they managed to maneuver through safely. 
When concluding a retelling of that story, Daddy would first shake his head a few times, purse his lips, then incline his head a bit to one side, make a slight nod forward, and observe “They say that the Lord looks after fools and cripples, and there wasn’t a cripple in our outfit.”
Getting a fuller appreciation
To be honest, I’d always thought that my father was just spicing up the tale a bit when he talked about the road being steep.  As it turns out, I was wrong; he was grossly understating the circumstance. 
As noted previously, the trip occurred in mid-winter, a time when ice is likely to accumulate on roads or paths, especially those without good ditching.  Add to that a further complication – the vast majority of the descent from the Burningtown Gap takes place on the north side of a ridge.  Then compound that with the obvious steepness suggested by the density of the topographic map lines, and you can – at least conceptually – begin to appreciate the situation. 
It’s often been my experience that simple map topography can be misleading.  By far the best way to understand the nature of an area is to put your feet on the ground and walk it.  So on a balmy afternoon – February 7 of this year – my wife Susan and I decided to do just that.  I figured ahead of time that there were likely several switchbacks which didn’t show up on the map, and which would mitigate the steepness of the traversed slope.
 
That figuring proved wrong.  What we found is that the old road is not just steep – it is exceptionally steep, and there are but two switchbacks on the entire road.  I picked the location of the photo, taken by my wife, Susan, in Figure 14 because there was such good sunlight on that section of the road.  That was not the norm when we struggled, huffed, and puffed our way up the old road on February 7, 2015.  Well over half of the first mile of descent from Burningtown Gap sees little or no sunlight throughout the winter.  Even on the day we hiked, when the air temperature reached a balmy 60 degrees (I’m in short sleeves in the photo), and there had been no precipitation for several days, there were sections of residual ice and snow.

Figure 14:  Section of the Burningtown Gap Road.  I'm standing (dark blue shirt at top of the photo) about 50 or 60 yards away, and close to half that much higher in elevation.
 
To give a sense on how steep the road going down into Burningtown is, let me offer a hiker’s perspective.  I’ve hiked all of the maintained trails on both sides of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and have followed innumerable old unmaintained wagon roads, sled roads, and foot paths in the Smokies.  None of them are this steep over the distance involved.  The steepest maintained Smokies’ trails have a long-term slope of around 700 feet per mile, although there are shorter sections that are a bit steeper.  Keep in mind that these are not intended for rolling traffic – just hiking. The Burningtown Gap road drops 700 feet in 0.7 miles, more than 40% greater than that of a steep Great Smoky Mountains hiking trail.  Keep in mind that this is also over the longer haul; there are short sections of the road which are significantly steeper.  It is difficult to convey how steep some of these sections are without walking them, but perhaps the photo in Figure 14 will give a bit of a sense.  With the exception of an ATV  geared down into double-ought low, you couldn’t get me on a rolling vehicle under any conditions, let alone a wagon with nothing but the dubious combination of a hand-levered shoe brake and equine “whoa” back power.  But throw in ice on the road, and things get carried to beyond absurd.
There’s prima facie evidence that someone had attempted to take a truck either up or down the road several decades ago.  Regardless of the direction it was heading, it didn’t get to where it was going (Figure 15).

Figure 15:  A truck that didn't make it.

That my father’s telling in later years actually understated the slope is consistent with my own experience. Steepness generally has little meaning to a boy who spends his days wandering around these hills of home.  I recall climbing across Massie Gap on the way from Canebrake to Noland Creek as a ten-year old youngster.  The climb left no impression on me whatsoever – not a bit more than walking across town on the level sidewalks of Bryson City.  Five plus decades later, the same climb leaves me huffing and puffing and sucking wind during numerous stops along the way. 

Down in the Valley
I suspect that by the time they reached the relatively flat bottom of upper Burningtown valley, Grandpa Joe’s ears had been thoroughly blistered by Minnie, a woman small in stature but with a tongue which more than made up for whatever she lacked in size, particularly when it came to dealing with Grandpa (from my recollections, her demeanor around others was generally calm and restrained, but when it came to Grandpa, there was no holding back).  I also suspect that the physical stress of the descent would have left the horses worn out, so it’s my guess that they spent the fourth night near the uppermost homes on Burningtown Creek of the time (circle 4 in Figure 13).
Upper Burningtown Valley is a truly lovely place.  In the 1819 cession treaty between the U.S. Government and the Cherokee nation, the new boundary line followed the Little Tennessee River up the river from the Tallassee area in Tennessee (below the mouth of Abrams Creek) all the way to the mouth of the Nantahala River. But at that point, the boundary line switched from a river course to a mountain course – adhering to the ridgeline which divides the Nantahala drainage from that of the upper Little Tennessee.  The Appalachian Trail now follows that ridgeline, seen in the distance in Figure 16, and passes through Burningtown Gap.  By running the dividing line along that ridge instead of continuing to follow the river, all of Burningtown Valley fell out of Cherokee territory and into the hands of the state of NC (along with all of modern Franklin and the Iotla and Cartoogechaye valley areas). 

Figure 16:  Upper Burningtown Valley - scores of fine bottomland acres coursed by a pretty stream.
It is a virtual certainty that Minnie had never seen the Burningtown Valley, and one can imagine that riding through such a lovely spot might have at least somewhat tempered her temper. With by far the worst of the climbing and descending behind them, Joe might have tried to calm her, saying the worst was over.  And so it was, but they still had troubles facing them in the way of the Little Tennessee River. 
 
Day 5
It is about 12 miles from the uppermost homes on Burningtown to the mouth of Burningtown Creek.  While the road winds a bit, overall it’s a relatively easy stretch – especially compared to the crossing of Burningtown Gap.  So my estimating has them completing the trip to somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of Tellico Creek, about a half mile below the mouth of Burningtown Creek, on the fifth day.
At that time, and for some years afterward, there was no bridge across the Little Tennessee.  Today, the Lost Bridge crosses the river a short ways above the mouth of Burningtown Creek, following the road and section marked in magenta on Figure 17, which is a snippet from the 1907 Cowee topo, reprinted in 1921.  

Figure 17:  Section of the 1907 Cowee map, reprinted in 1921, with the continuing journey marked in green.  Note that the map snippet has been rotated so that north is to the right.
As luck would have it, the night that they reached the Little Tennessee, it – to use an old expression – fell a February flood.  All of the children were brought up into the wagon for the night.  Six children and two adults huddled in a small wagon for the night is the sort of thing that would make a memory for anyone.  It certainly did for my five-year old father; one which was second only to the wagon being maneuvered through the ax-hacked ice ruts. 
Figure 18:  Shallow Ford of the Tennessee River
Although Daddy never stated this to be the case, it would not be surprising if they had to wait for the river to subside before crossing.  The photo in Figure 18 was taken in the area of the Shallow Ford of the Little Tennessee (location indicated on the upper right portion of the map snippet in Figure 17), with the water at normal winter level.  While there is a visible set of shoals across the river, in this writer’s eyes, the idea of crossing even that in mid-winter in something that floats would be scary.  The idea of relying on purchase provided by horse’s hooves and wagon wheels to transport two adults and six children is beyond terrifying for the fellow writing these words.
But the fact that I’m a-writing and you’re a-reading these lines are proof that Grandpa “got ‘er done.” 
 
The balance of the trip, following the route of the old Tennessee River Road, originally constructed in the 1830s, to around the mouth of Sawmill Creek, cutting north towards Lauada, then following the route that would later become NC 10 and yet later US 19 past Jackson Line, on to Bryson City, across the bridge in the middle of town, then up Deep Creek would’ve been a two-day journey of utter mundaneness in comparison to what they’d been through. 

Home again, home again, jiggety-jog
The only point which might’ve raised Grandma’s hackles during the balance of the trip to their new home was after they’d passed the home of another Captain Billy – in this case, the Captain Billy Morris place, which stood next to the modern-day parking area above the Deep Creek Campground area, near the mouth of Juney Whank Branch.  Grandpa would’ve “Hawed” the horses just before they reached Shytle’s Branch, where they turned sharply to begin the steep ascent of the old road up Juney Whank Branch.  That initial climb, which first approaches and then parallels the stream as it climbs to above Juneywhank Falls, might well have reminded Grandma Minnie of earlier parts of the journey; it is steep.  But it is also a short-lived climb, and soon they’d be on a gentle slope, passing by homes owned by the Lollis and Wiggins families before completing the “country mile” to that uppermost home on Juneywhank Branch which they’d purchased.  Along the way Minnie might have seen the tentatively-reaching blades and maybe a few swollen buds of jonquils as well as a patch or two of yellowbells, both hallmarks of the homes of simple, raw-boned mountain folks who scratched out a living from meagre acres but still found time for things of frivolous beauty – if beauty is ever frivolous.
Bringing no works of art to the log cabin, they joyed in the handiwork of the Master Artist manifest in whiter-than-snow blooms of bloodroot, dew drops on sarvis, and salamanders in their rocked-in spring.
Although lacking the acre upon acre of bottom land lying alongside the Hiwassee in Clay County, this former home place of a Cherokee fellow named June Whank would become a hardscrabble farm writ large in the memories of not only my father, but his siblings and their descendants, yours truly included.  I personally bushwhack up to the home several times each year.  The soil is exceptionally fertile; several second-growth poplars, including one which has grown to 3.7 feet in diameter in the 80-some years since the park was created are in the former garden area, as are a number of fine Spanish oaks (southern red oaks), red maples, ash, black walnuts, and handful of locusts with some of the largest trumpet creeper vines that you’ll see.  The trees around the home are markedly larger than those lower down in the Juneywhank drainage.  

Figure 19:  Family and Friends Gathered near the Casada home site on Juney Whank Branch
The land, home, and outbuildings were purchased from the heirs of Alfred Jefferson Parris, all of whom had decided the place wasn’t fit to live on after the family patriarch passed on to his eternal reward, his remains buried in the Deep Creek Cemetery.  That cemetery, which stands next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park line today, would become the resting place of the remains of three members of the Casada family: baby Hattie, who died of diarrhea two months after arriving on Juneywhank, sweet sixteen-year old Kate, who died in 1922 of tuberculosis caught while helping a Deep Creek neighbor deal with the same ailment, and Percival, the baby of Joe and Minnie, who also died of tuberculosis in 1944.
As it turns out, Minnie made the trip expectantly, though perhaps without knowing it.  Seven months after their arrival at the cabin home, daughter Jessie was born.  Jessie, along with sister Emma, also born on Juneywhank Branch, would be the first in the family to attend college.  The two of them worked to help cover their costs at Maryville College in Tennessee, helped along with financial support from older siblings who recognized the value of education.  Both Jessie and Emma, daughters of parents with 6th and 7th grade educations, became school teachers.
Travelers in an unknown world
Joe’s feet continued to itch.  The family moved around several times in the Bryson City area before settling in a home along the river just above town, almost directly across from the mouth of Deep Creek.  Throughout my youth – in fact well beyond the time when they’d passed, I had it in mind that they’d always lived in that same old home.  It wasn’t until years later that I cared a whit about their personal life stories, paid attention to tales told by their children, and then even later began to study on the details.
I’ve personally worked in forty-two of the fifty states and in a number of foreign countries on several continents, and traveled in others.  The same is true of siblings and cousins out of the Joe and Minnie Casada line.  But I would aver that nary one of us – in fact, not the lot of us combined – has traveled as extensively as did Joe, Minnie, and their six offspring in that single week, sixty mile trip from Jarrett Road to Juneywhank Branch a century ago.
It was, indeed, an epic journey.
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Thank you, Don, for this wonderful and exceptionally well-researched tale.  None of us in this day and age can truly conceptualize the extraordinary undertaking that this journey would have been for the Casada family, and for countless others who migrated into and out of our beautiful area. 
Readers, please stay tuned next week.  Don has written an epilogue to the story which includes information on how one can visit the Casada home place on Juney Whank Branch.
 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lemmons Branch on a Spring Day

It makes me glad that so many of you have read and enjoyed the first part of Don Casada's tale of his father's move from Clay County to Swain County.  He has already written the second part of this tale, and I will be publishing it later this week.  But today, I'm simply posting a few pictures and words from an outing today with my family.
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A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Hazel (Lemmons) Cook, who was born on Mouse Branch and lived there for the first 8 years of her life. Those of you who mountain bike or hike will know that the waters of Mouse Branch that are not under the waters of Fontana Lake are located in the Tsali Recreation Area straddling Swain and Graham Counties.  Hazel's ancestors are those for whom the nearby Lemmons Branch is named.  At the time that TVA surveyed the Lemmons Branch area, there were two families still living there. 


1942 TVA map of Lemmons Branch area

One of the home sites is now underwater, but the other is not and is easily accessible off the road to the Lemmons Branch boat ramp.  My family and I decided to investigate today, and found a simply gorgeous site with an outstanding chimney.  While Mrs. Cook did not live here, some of her relatives did.

The old road leading to the home, which has clearly been maintained by the US Forest Service
 
The chimney, a field of daffodils, and a magnificent old walnut tree


The chimney was double-sided and remarkably well-preserved.


The home's spring was beautifully 'rocked in'.

 Mrs. Cook had mentioned visiting a small cemetery as a child that was close by.  The TVA map of the Lemmons Branch area corroborated her story (as shown above).  The cemetery is evidently referred to as the 'Welch #2' cemetery and lies on land that was owned by Forest Denton at the time of the Fontana Lake removals.  I could find no indication that this cemetery had been moved by TVA(likely because it was old, the graves were only fieldstones, and those buried there could not be identified), so my family and I set out to find the cemetery after our home site visit. 


Navigating the old Lemmons Branch Road heading to the lake


The Lemmons Branch embayment

Despite the fact that my husband and I had plotted the cemetery's likely location using Google Earth and the TVA map and almost certainly located the site of the cemetery, we were disappointed to find no fieldstones standing in the area....only an iron surveying pin nearby.

An iron surveying pin located near the probable cemetery site

That's OK though - it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the daffodils were in full bloom.....and now the elusive cemetery has given me an excuse to go back.  'Twas hard to be disappointed.

Daffodils in bloom at the Lemmons Branch home site
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Sources:
Don Casada
Carol Cochran
Google Earth
TVA Map # 504-21
 

Friday, March 6, 2015

An Epic Journey, Part 1: The Preparation

As my readers well know, Don Casada and I are good friends and research partners.  Don's late father, Commodore Andrew Casada (07 August 1909 - 29 January 2011), was born in Clay County but moved to the head of Swain County's Juneywhank Branch (in the present-day Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Deep Creek section) when he was 5 years old.  2015 marks the 100-year anniversary of his family's journey from the beautiful Tusquittee Valley to Swain County.  In order to commemorate this journey and to impart an understanding of what a tremendous undertaking this was in the early 20th century, I've asked Don to write a piece about it.  Part 1 of 'An Epic Journey' is below.  I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.
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A trip from Hayesville to Bryson City nowadays is one that can be made in less than an hour and a half – whether you go up Shooting Creek, across Chunky Gal Mountain, down through Cartoogechaye and on through Franklin, or take the alternate route through Peachtree, Marble, Andrews, and the Nantahala Gorge.  Other than dealing with the throngs of tourists floating the Nantahala in summer, either way makes for an enjoyable ride and view from the climate-controlled comfort of a vehicle.
It was not always so, and that’s why Wendy asked me to write this little story of what was – in my five-year old father’s eyes – an epic journey.  She knew that it occurred one hundred years ago this winter and told me it was a story that needed telling.  She was right.

But before we begin, I hope that Wendy and her readers will indulge me with some background circumstances which led to the journey.  The old adage “you can’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been” is just as true here as in our own personal lives.
In the beginning

My great-grandparents, Sarah Ann Ball and William Ambrose Casada, were each born in Madison County prior to the onset of the Civil War.  While both the Ball and Casada families had members involved in the war (on the side of their native southland), both families were far, far below financial circumstances that would have led them to have any sort of stake in the slavery aspect of the war.  The same was true for the majority of families in these hills that we call home, of course. 

At some point in the years after they were married (1871), Will undertook work as a tenant farmer for a couple of considerable means, Kope Elias and his wife, Timoxena Siler, granddaughter of Jesse Richardson Siler for whom Silers Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains is named.  The law office of Elias was located in Franklin – the home place of his wife and parents-in-law, but he owned property and practiced law throughout the WNC area (Wendy’s readers may recall that Elias took on a civil case on behalf of Ruffin DeHart, former slave, and forced the suit to be dropped).  Ironically, Ruffin and his wife Susan had once been the “property” of folks in my maternal line – the DeHarts from whom they took their names. 

By 1891 – the year in which she turned forty – Sarah had given birth to nine of her ten children, all the while living in the Sandymush/Turkey Creek area of south Madison and north Buncombe Counties which she and Will had always called home.  According to family tradition, it was at about that time that Kope Elias asked Will and Sarah to move to Swain County to help validate the worth of property in which he was interested and then continue their tenant farming labors on that land.  One of the larger (500 acre) tracts he acquired was in the Governors Island (Kituwah) area – some of the finest bottomland which is so scarce in Swain County. 


Southward View from Turkey Creek Cemetery, Sandy Mush area
(Don Casada)


 We know that the Casadas were in Swain County by the fall of 1892, because in that year’s fall term of Swain Superior Court, Will was convicted of affray (public brawling) which involved a cousin of his, J.F. Teague (who would later become the sheriff of Swain County) and a couple of Thomas fellows.  Teague got off with payment of his portion of court costs; Will was fined $10 plus court costs.  One of the Thomas boys was similarly fined while the other got off with a fine of only $5. 

I should note here that great-grandpa Will was a Baptist minister – or more to the point, what my father called “hard shell” Baptist.  Now it could well be that Will’s conversion and decision to go into the ministry took place after the affray, but it’s also quite possible that it was one of his sermons which initiated the aforementioned affray.  The story I’m about to relate was passed on by my father.  Based on the combination of my father’s reliability and some all-too-common traits of Will’s descendants (not including yours truly, of course), it is unfortunately altogether believable.

Will was once asked to preach the funeral service for a fellow whose life had taken him well astray from the straight and narrow way.  Will agreed to take on the job, aware that the departed as well as those left behind would generally have nothing to do with church or matters of a spiritual nature.  And so it was that after reading some scripture, Will laid down his Bible, pointed his rawboned finger toward the casket and said “Now there lies one that’s gone to Hell.”  Turning his finger’s aim to sweep across the family of the deceased, he continued “…and that’s exactly where the rest of you-un’s are headed if you don’t straighten up.” 

One could easily understand how a serious row might ensue.

Will did become well enough accepted in the Swain County area to be asked to conduct several weddings (though likely not by the offended family).  At that time, weddings in churches were quite rare; most often they were held in private homes, as well as in such intriguing locations as “on the Galbreath Creek road” and (later, in Clay County, where he conducted several dozen) “on the Tusquittee bridge.”  One marriage ceremony which Will handled in Swain County took place in the home of John Elander Davis.  Davis built his home high above Indian Creek, along the Thomas Divide, a location which was taken for inclusion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park some three decades later.  Park Service employees responsible for cultural preservation matters considered the Davis cabin to be particularly well built and representative of the time.  It was taken down log-by-log and stone-by-stone, then reassembled at the Visitors Center along the Oconaluftee River, just above Cherokee.
The John Elander Davis home at the Oconaluftee Visitors Center, GSMNP
(Don Casada)
Moving on, once again


After the Will and Sarah Casada family had lived in Swain County for about a decade, Kope Elias called on them to move again, this time to an area near the Hiwassee River in Clay County.  It could well be that they wanted to move, but my suspicion is that now in their fifties, both Will and Sarah would have preferred to stay put.  Whatever their preferences, they picked up and traveled on.  Most of the children who had come with them from the Sandymush area, including their third-born son and my grandfather, Joseph Hillberry Casada (born in 1878), as well as the only child which Sarah had birthed in Swain County, a youngster they called Laddie, went along.


Just around the bend from the Elias property in Clay County – on Jarrett Road - there lived a pretty young woman by the name of Minnie Price.  Minnie’s mother had died when she was three years old, and she was taken in by a childless couple, Samantha Shearer and Andy Coleman.  That Coleman couple lived right beside another Coleman boy/Shearer girl couple –James and Laura, who were also childless.  James and Laura took in Minnie’s older brother, Will, so the orphaned siblings grew up alongside one another.  The homes, which are identical in design, stand on a lovely piece of land adjoining the Hiwassee.  

The James and Laura Coleman home and lands off Jarrett Road near Hayesville
(Don Casada)




 











We don’t know the details of the raising of siblings Will and Minnie Price, but it was likely a complex combination of hard work accompanied by at least a token of affection.  The former is indicated by the fact that in 1900, both Will and Minnie are listed not as children of the couples, but as “Bound” residents of their homes, suggesting a circumstance of indentured servitude.  On the other hand, the fact that Minnie named her first daughter, Jura Samantha, and her first son, Andrew Commodore (my father), for the Coleman-Shearer couple who had taken her in implies at the very least a sense of indebtedness, if not affection.  Similarly, two of Will’s children would be given names of James and Laura. 


It wasn’t long after the arrival of the Casada clan that Joseph Hillberry, known as Joe, took to seriously courting young Minnie Price.  The two were married in November of 1903 by a minister in the Methodist-Episcopal Church, J.S. Brooks, and set out on a new course together.  Minnie had just turned 18 and Joe was 25 when they said their vows.  The wedding took place in the home of the minister, J.S. Brooks, and there is no evidence that there were members of either family present. 

By the standards of today, both the location and lack of fanfare might seem shocking, but it was the standard of the time.  Of the thirty six weddings which Joe’s father, Will Casada conducted in Clay County, we know the specific location of thirty one.  Of those thirty one, twenty seven were in private homes, including fourteen in the Will Casada home.  It appears that the witnesses were frequently whoever happened to be handy – such as the wife of the preacher or a neighbor.  Perhaps the fact that I have a bit of a phobia about being around large crowds has a lot to do with it, but in my view, the old way of getting hitched was far superior to modern ways.
Before we change directions to follow the paths of Joe and Minnie, let’s return to close out the story of Joe’s parents, Will and Sarah.
After a few more years of working for Elias, Will, Sarah, and their oldest son Leroy – a bachelor – had accumulated sufficient funds to buy a place to call their own.  On January 2, 1907, they purchased 100 acres along Licklog Branch and Peckerwood Road for $450.  Will and Sarah turned 60- and 56-years old later that year, and both of them called that place home – the only one they ever owned – for the next twenty years.  No longer in use, the home they built with their own hands on land acquired after decades of toil, still stands, though it is unoccupied.  Ironically, it was sold after their deaths to a couple who had lived on Indian Creek in Swain County, having been forced out when the National Park was created.  Baxter and Docia Parris Laney lived out the balance of their own lives there.  Interestingly, the groom in one of the weddings which Will had conducted in Swain County was George Laney, the younger brother of Baxter, so the Laneys and Casadas would have already known each other.  The former Laney and Casada home place is now in the good hands of the Laney’s grandson, Wade Patterson, a Clay County native with a deep and abiding affection for his people and the place that he calls home.

The Casada/Laney home place on Licklog Branch in Clay County
(Don Casada)

A different side of Will


There is a family story about their youngest son, Laddie, which is as touching as Will’s funeral sermon was harsh.  Laddie was, to use an old term which rightly reflects specialness, “touched.” Grandma Minnie said that Laddie, though weak-minded, was possessed of limitless patience and kindness.  Aunt Emma told the story – no doubt passed on from her forebears – that animals sensed the special nature in Laddie, and that birds would even come light on his shoulder.  Laddie died at the age of thirteen (cause unknown) exactly two weeks after Will and Sarah acquired the home on Licklog, and was buried in nearby Union Hill Cemetery.  According to Laddie’s older brother, Tom, the family dog so loved Laddie that each day he would go from the house to the cemetery and lie on Laddie’s grave until someone came to retrieve him in the evening.  A half year later, that faithful companion crossed over to join Laddie. 

The simple words on Laddie’s tombstone, which no doubt came from his father, reveal a softer and considerably more insightful side to that hard-shell Baptist preacher:

Of such is the kingdom of heaven


Well, here we are with a lot of words spent and I don’t even have Joe and Minnie anywhere close to starting on their journey which Wendy asked me to write about.  Please come back and see us; the tale of their going is a-coming.
Gravestone of young William L. "Laddie" Casada, a boy who was truly touched
(Don Casada)