Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Remembering Nellie Martin, A Cherokee Woman from Deep Creek (Part 1 of 2)

This blog entry is a 2-part article published simultaneously, but to fully appreciate and understand the one you must read the other (and vice versa). My research buddy, Don Casada, and I teamed up to write about one of our favorite projects thus far - the placement of a cenotaph for Nellie Martin, a Cherokee woman who lived and died in the Deep Creek/Indian Creek area. We have spent countless hours in the research and writing of these pieces, revising many times, but the resulting articles are ones which we hope will honor Nellie's legacy and the legacy of other Cherokee who inhabited the area but are "known only to God". I wrote this article, which is focused primarily on what is known about Nellie and her family. 


Back in 2011, when Don Casada and I first started our historical research on home sites in the Swain County portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we made a couple of trips to the park's archives, which at the time were located in a basement of the park headquarters at Sugarlands. Annette Hartigan, the archivist at the time (now retired) was an enthusiastic supporter of our research and was always well prepared for our visits with items she thought we might find of interest. 

Figure WM1: The two cabins at the Bumgarner place, approximately 1.7 miles from the Turnaround. According to park records, the smaller cabin was built by Indians. It is likely very similar to Nellie's cabin at the Turnaround. (Source: Open Parks Network)

On one such trip, she pulled out several field notebooks kept by Charles Souder Grossman (Figure WM2), an architect who, during the 1930s and 1940s, worked with historian Hiram Wilburn to document the homes and artifacts left behind by former residents of lands that became the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We found many exceptionally interesting facts amongst his notes, but one entry in particular stood out, for it detailed a conversation Grossman had with Will Jenkins, who lived in a home across the last bridge on Deep Creek at the current intersection of the Deep Creek Trail and the Loop Trail. 

Figure WM2: Charles Souder Grossman.
(Source: Open Parks Network)

I have included a picture of the first page of the relevant notes below (Figure WM3), but they are not particularly easy to read and I have provided a verbatim transcription below, courtesy of Don.

 “Litha Baumgarner Place – Originaly called Junie Wank Place (Indian).  Litha still living on Lands Creek with nephew.  Litha now about 80 yrs old. (Note: this is incorrect – the Junie Wank place was well-documented in deeds to have been located on what we know as Juney Whank Branch.)

Lived there with her father Ephraim Baumgarner.  New house built about 38 years ago.  Pounding mill Litha’s son built pounding mill.  40 years ago stood at Will Jenkins place. 

Also an Indian Cabin stood at Turn Around (Nellie Martin Place) on Deep Creek Cabin built of round log. Chimney lined with stone & mud outside with small poles at bottom with smaller poles & split poles at the top of chimney.  Cabin about 12’ x 14’.  As a rule Indian cabins were smaller than the White cabins.  Had 1 window in lower side opposite the creek (west).  Door in upper side (east).  Chimney in north end of building.  Stood just below two big apple trees which are still standing.  Floor of rough lumber.  Got it from a little saw mill on Indian Creek.  Nellie died and was buried near the cabin.  She had her crib keys in her pocket and was buried with them.  The crib door was never opened but a new door was cut in the other end.  Crib stood below house of split chest logs about 8’ x 5’.

Will Jenkins place built by George Jenkins his Daddy about 30 years ago.  Originally the Corntassle Place (Indian.

Went to Nellie Martin Place with Mr. Jenkins & was shown site of Indian Cabin & crib also Nellie Martins grave.

Across the bridge from the Jenkins Place and on the ridge known locally as graveyard ridge Mr. Jenkins showed me 7 or 8 Indian graves.”

Figure WM3: May 14, 1937 notes on Nellie Martin captured by Charles Grossman. This is one of three pages from which the above transcription is taken. (Source: GSMNP archives)
 Nellie is largely an enigma, with what we know about her being bits and pieces gleaned from Cherokee Rolls and US Census records. She was born somewhere between 1842 – 1845 and was the daughter of Oo nu naga ar mar u (Cherokee last name Chu-chu, English last name Martin) and his wife Sorgiu nie glug hi (English name Nancy Martin), both of whom were born in the remote Turtletown area of Polk County, Tennessee. Nellie’s place of birth is not known for certain, but per their Guion-Miller applications (see the sources for a link to a great  overview of the Cherokee enrollment records mentioned in this article), her brother Suate was born in 1846 on Indian Creek (Figure WM4), as was his brother George (born in 1858). Therefore, even if she was not born there, she most certainly grew up on Indian Creek. (Side note: I was absolutely elated to find out that the Martins had lived on Indian Creek as the names of its Native American settlers have proved elusive. Their documented residence there also supports the long-rumored origin of the name of the nearby Martins Gap, through which runs the trail of the same name that connects the Deep Creek and Indian Creek trails.)

Figure WM4: First page of Suate Martin's claim for Eastern Cherokee nation enrollment (part of the Guion-Miller Roll), dated February 3, 1908. It is important to note that the Cherokee spelling of the Martin family's names varied considerably by the Roll being taken. (Source: Fold3.com, Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909, Record #15711)
Nellie appears to have been one of at least seven children (Figure WM12), several of whom died as teens or young adults. Nellie does appear to have had some schooling and learned to read and write at some point, perhaps having received some schooling from her parents (the Indian Creek School was not established until the early 1870s and would very likely not have educated Indian children). At some point she married, as the Hester Roll of 1884 records her as being a widow (Figure WM5); the name of her husband is unknown as no marriage record was able to be located. We also do not know if she had children. The 1880 census (Figure WM6) records a boy, Jonas Martin, in the household who may have been her son. However, he appears to have died before the Hester Roll was taken as he does not appear in conjunction with her record or that of either of her surviving brothers.

Figure WM5: 1884 Hester Roll - entry for Nellie (solitary line on top) and her brother George and his wife (bottom). (Source: National Archives, Image M1773-09-013)

Figure WM6: 1880 Census showing the George Martin household. (Source: Ancestry.com)
On May 23, 1878, Nellie acquired, courtesy of Thaddeus Dillard Bryson, a 100-acre tract adjoining the Jenkins land; this land contains what we now know as the Turnaround. This transaction was made on the same day on which he acquired the Bryson Place, at which she (and almost certainly other members of the family) had been living. These transactions are better detailed in Don’s article. The fact that the land was deeded to her suggests that her husband may have been deceased by this time. The reason for T.D. Bryson’s kind gesture is unknown, however, the 1880 census (Figure WM6), taken two years later, paints a sad picture of the family:

  • The family was headed by the unmarried George, age 20
  • Nellie was reported to be an “idiot” and “insane”; perhaps suffering from a mental illness or a neurological disorder affecting her brain (for those interested, here is an interesting article on the categorization of such individuals in this particular census)
  • Her elderly mother Nancy is also listed as being an “idiot”. In light of Nancy’s advanced age, senile dementia is a not implausible reason for having been assigned this classification.
  • Jonas Martin is a 6 year old child in a household in which the women may have been unable to care for him.

The land granted to Nellie was much further downstream of the Bryson Place and closer to assistance should the family have needed it. T.D. Bryson was known to have been a generous community benefactor and may well have chosen to provide for what he saw as a family in significant distress. 

Grossman’s records show that after receiving this gift, the Martins built (at minimum) a small cabin and corn crib and also planted apple trees that were still standing in 1937, when Grossman talked with Will Jenkins. They likely farmed the land in the Turnaround (Figure WM7), some of the very little relatively flat and arable land in the area.

Figure WM7: The Deep Creek Turnaround as it looked in 1937. This picture was likely taken from very close to the Hunnicutt home, which Don and I believe to have been the prior site of the Martins' home. (Source: Open Parks Network)
By the time the Hester Roll was taken in 1884, Nancy (and likely Jonas) had passed away; Nellie joined them in death soon thereafter. She was buried near her cabin, likely on the ridge that terminates just before one reaches the Turnaround (known in later deeds as Indian Grave Ridge – see the discussion on this in Don’s article). On August 31, 1885, Suate and George, her brothers and heirs, sold her land for $200 to William P. Shuler, and moved away from Deep Creek and Indian Creek, leaving only their surname on a remote gap to record their former lives there.

 It was Don’s and my strong feeling that as Nellie’s burial was well-documented, we should somehow mark her grave. We have done so, with the Park Service’s permission, for other individuals whose gravesite locations were passed down by family members over the years, and felt that the evidence in this case for a stone was very strong. Armed with the notes from Grossman and deeds proving that Nellie had owned property in the area, we approached Heath Bailey who was then the Park’s archaeologist to see if the Park Service would agree to allow us to place a stone bearing a cenotaph for Nellie if we (Don, Frank March [a fellow park researcher], and I) purchased it. Approval was granted on June 19, 2018, and on October 23 of the same year, the stone was placed by Don and Frank in the middle of the Turnaround. Though almost certainly not the location of her actual grave (see Don’s piece for a detailed discussion of this), it is a fitting location for it, so that people can observe it and ponder the lady whom it memorializes.

Figure WM8: The likely location of Nellie's burial on Indian Grave Ridge just above the Turnaround, where Marion and Columbus Hunnicutt are known to be buried. Susan Casada is standing at their graves and I am standing where the Hunnicutt home was known to be (some of the foundation stones are still there) and where we believe the Martin cabin to have been located. A detailed map of the Turnaround area is shown in Figure DC 13 in Don's piece. (Photo credit: Don Casada)

I would encourage interested readers to visit Nellie’s cenotaph (Figure WM9). The Turnaround is located approximately 2.1 miles from the gate at the main Deep Creek trailhead, by following the main Deep Creek Trail. The stone is located in the middle, approximately two-thirds of the way to the far end of the Turnaround in the middle and is visible from the trail (more easily visible in winter).

Figure WM9: Nellie Martin's cenotaph. The "Chis-e-li" spelling of her Cherokee name was pulled from the final deed transferring ownership of the Martin place at the Turnaround to Pate Shuler. 
(Photo by the author)
Over our lifetimes, Don and I have been at the Turnaround hundreds of times – never knowing, until 2011, the fascinating history that lay just fifty feet away from us. Of all the historical work I have done, the work associated with memorializing Nellie Martin ranks exceptionally high on my list. While the white settlers of the Deep Creek section of the park are relatively well-documented, quite the opposite is true for the Native Americans who lived in the area prior to that time. Evidence of their existence there has come only in the form of a few found arrowheads and pipes, a couple of graves on Indian Creek that are believed to have Cherokee-language inscriptions on them (Figure WM10), references to home places such as the June Whank and Corn Tassel places, maps of reserves taken out in conjunction with the 1819 Cherokee cession treaty, and interviews with descendants of the original white settlers who had told their grandchildren that Indians were living on the creek at the time they moved there. The research we have conducted to give personhood to an individual who has, heretofore, resided only in a few census roll lines, represents an important step in establishing a far more complete human history of Deep Creek.

Figure WM10: Gravestone with what are believed to be Cherokee language engravings; Parris Cemetery on Indian Creek. (Photo credit: Don Casada)
Postscript: In his notes, Grossman remarks that he was taken to see seven or eight Indian graves across the bridge from the Jenkins Place. The misnamed “Wiggins 2” graveyard (see Figure DC8 in Don’s piece) continues to be maintained by the Park Service and today only five stones remain (two of which appear to be footstones) (Figure WM11). The graves are oriented between thirty and fifty degrees off an East-West orientation, which further supports the oral tradition that these are Indian graves. The identities of the individuals buried there are not known. Corn Tassel was known to have lived at what later became the Jenkins Place so these graves may belong to members of his family. However, given Nellie and her family’s close proximity to this cemetery at some point (at least some of the family having moved over the mountain from Indian Creek), one wonders if any of these graves might belong to members of the Martin family (Figure WM12). We will almost certainly never know. (Note: If you wish to visit this cemetery, the trail takes off to the left up a mountain just before you reach the last bridge on the Deep Creek Trail. It is an arduous climb of about one-tenth a mile.)

Figure WM11: The Indian Cemetery on Deep Creek near the Will Jenkins homeplace (above the last bridge on Deep Creek). (Photo by the author)

Figure WM12: Second page of Suate Martin's claim for Eastern Cherokee nation enrollment (part of the Guion-Miller Roll) showing his siblings. Ironically, Nellie does not appear to be listed. (Source: Fold3.com, Eastern Cherokee Applications of the U.S. Court of Claims, 1906-1909, Record #15711)


Great Smoky Mountains National Park Archives
Individual Contributors: Don Casada, Annette Hartigan, Mike Aday, Frank March, Heath Bailey, Susan Casada, Jim Casada
National Archives and Records Administration (Mullay Roll [1848] Siler Roll [1851], Chapman Roll [1852], Swetland Roll [1869], Hester Roll [1884]. An excellent description of what was collected by the various rolls can be found at this link: Eastern Cherokee Census Rolls, 1835-1884 (archives.gov)
Open Parks Network.org
Swain County Register of Deeds

Deep Creek: A Place to Wander and Ponder (by Don Casada) (Part 2 of 2)

This blog entry is a 2-part article published simultaneously, but to fully appreciate and understand the one you must read the other (and vice versa). My research buddy, Don Casada, and I teamed up to write about one of our favorite projects thus far - the placement of a cenotaph for Nellie Martin, a Cherokee woman who lived and died in the Deep Creek/Indian Creek area. We have spent countless hours in the research and writing of these pieces, revising many times, but the resulting articles are ones which we hope will honor Nellie's legacy and the legacy of other Cherokee who inhabited the area but are "known only to God". This article was written by Don and is focused primarily on the geography and history of the area in which Nellie and her family lived. 


In 1859, more than two decades after the bitter Trail of Tears, three men from Waynesville – R.V. (Robert Vance) Welch, W.W. (William Wayne) Battle, and J.R. (James Robert) Love – paid $5,000 for 50,000 acre North Carolina Land Grant (LG) 587, a boundary which covered the majority of the land between the upper section of Oconaluftee in the east and Welch Divide in the west.  Parts or all of entire major and minor drainages were within the boundary, as illustrated in Figure DC1.

Figure DC1. N.C. Land Grant 587 boundary – from Forney Creek to Oconaluftee. (Map by author)

The history of the land embraced by Jackson County, NC Land Grant 587 will be covered in a separate article to be published on Reflections of Olde Swain.  The land is now entirely within Swain County (formed in 1871 from parts of Jackson and Macon).  It is a story which touches on many people and landmarks of the county’s history.  

But a transaction of principal interest here involves the sale by the grantees and their heirs of 1100 acres in the very heart of Deep Creek – the Bryson Place – and an interconnected 100-acre purchase a few miles downstream.   

Will Thomas and T.D. Bryson strike an agreement

On September 21, 1868, Will Thomas signed an agreement which read:

I agree to let Col. Thadeus (sic) D. Bryson have the unimproved Martin tract of land on Deep Creek, including one hundred acres to be run in a square or oblong square to include the Martin improvement for the sum which the land and improvements may be valued to be worth at green back prices by John Millsaps, Wm Cathey, & Lt. Wm Morris or a majority of them.

And I agree to make a title for said land to the said Bryson or his Assignee upon credit being given on our own contract.  Green back rates

                                                                                       Sept. 21 1868

                                                                                        Wm. H. Thomas

We the undersigned referees have examined the Land and value the same at one hundred and fifty dollars in Green Back. 

Oct. 24th 1868                                                                       Wm. L. Morris

                                                                                             John A. Millsaps

                                                                                              Wm. H. Cathey

The wording of the agreement is confused – Thomas agreed to let Thaddeus Dillard (T.D.) Bryson acquire an unimproved Martin tract which included the 100 acres of the Martin Improvement – an utter non sequitur.  As we’ll see, the apparent intent was to express his willingness to sell 100 acres of land which had been improved by the Martins, with the improved section accompanied by an unspecified area of unimproved land.

The Martin Improvement would later be known as the Bryson Place.  A photo of the Bryson Place cabin taken almost 70 years later (1937) by Charles Grossman is shown in Figure DC2.  Clearly, instead of a single cabin, it is actually two cabins built at different times, with a small gap in between the outer walls, but connected by an internal passageway.  While the portion on the left has stovepipes sticking out the roof, it originally had only a chimney at the far left.  Could one of these two sections have been the cabin of the Martin Improvement? 

Figure DC 2. Bryson Place from the north.  Open Parks Network

Another, more likely possibility, appears in a photo from the Horace Kephart Special Collection at Western Carolina’s Hunter Library shown in Figure DC3.  The smaller structure in the foreground of this undated photo (likely around 1910) does not appear in later photographs of the Bryson Place.  The small, south-facing window is similar to that of the smaller Bumgarner cabin shown in Figure WM1 in Wendy’s accompanying piece.  As noted by Charles Grossman, that smaller cabin was Cherokee-built, and the same may very well be true here.  The fruit trees, both in the foreground behind the unknown couple and in the left background, beyond the cabin, appear large enough to be several decades old. 

Figure DC3. Bryson Place, from the south.  Southern Appalachian Digital Collections, Hunter Library

Regardless of which – if either – of the cabins in these photos was erected by the Martins, in 1868, they were clearly living at the place which Thomas agreed to sell, had been living there long enough to have cleared the land, build a cabin, and made the other necessary changes to warrant the title “Martin Improvement.” 

It seems entirely possible that the confused wording in the agreement was a result of Will Thomas’s dementia; he was declared insane the year before signing the agreement.  Less than two years later, when the 1870 Jackson County census was recorded, 64-year old W.H. Thomas was the first person listed in the Qualla District.  His profession was given as State Senator, Merchant & Farmer.  In the column reserved for identifying ailments, he was listed as “Insane.”  Thomas had formerly served as State Senator, but was not serving in 1870, and in fact had not served in that capacity since 1862.

All of the individuals named in the agreement would have been well acquainted  The three referees – Billy Morris, John Millsaps and William Hillman “Hill” Cathey – were all residents of the Deep Creek area.  Millsaps was a physician; Morris and Cathey had served in the Civil War and were brothers-in-law (Cathey’s wife was Nancy Morris, sister of Billy).  Millsaps and Morris in particular owned considerable lands on Deep Creek.  Cathey’s place on Indian Creek was relatively small in proportion, but was still in excess of 150 acres.  Bryson and Thomas would have been well acquainted, as both had represented Jackson County in the state legislature (Bryson in the House, Thomas in the Senate).  Hill Cathey served in Thomas’s Legion during the Civil War. 

The agreement which Thomas signed wasn’t proven until fifteen years later, when Probate Judge W.A. Gibson approved it on Nov. 3, 1883 and it was registered the same day by Nathan Byers Thompson, Register of Deeds.  This delay may have been a factor in the next subject – duplicate deeds.

Figure DC4. Billy Morris, home place. This site is located just above the parking lot at the gate to the Deep Creek trail.  Morris photo courtesy of Jim Estes. Home photo: Open Parks Network

Deeds in duplicate

On May 23, 1878, T.D. Bryson purchased 1,100 acres of land on Deep Creek in two separate tracts – a 1,000 acre tract and a 100 acre tract.  The boundaries were not defined.  The deed read:

The undersigned do this day sell to TD Bryson one thousand acres of land on Deep Creek in Swain County and adjoining lands lately purchased from Wm H Thomas and now occupied by Samuel Elliott at 33-1/3 cents per acre and also one hundred acres adjoining Geo. Shuler on Deep Creek where Joe Feather lives at one dollar and fifty cents per acre and we authorize E Everett to make deeds in pursuance to a power of attorney now effected reserving ¾ of the minerals in the lands this 23rd of May 1878.  The said parties acknowledge the payment therefore by a credit of one hundred and twenty dollars on RV Welch’s note and three hundred and sixty three on Samuel L. Love’s note to be surveyed at the costs of the undersigned this 23rd May 1878.

Atest (sic)                                                                                                    RV Welch

E Everett                                                                                                     RGA Love

                                                                                                                    W.L. Hilliard

RM Henry                                                                                                   Saml L Love


The wording of the deed is – somewhat like the agreement language – jumbled in that it says the one thousand acres adjoins lands lately purchased, yet the adjoining one hundred acres is specified after the thousand acres in the deed.  Regardless, the 100 acre tract is clearly the same one referred to as the Martin improvement in the 1868 agreement; the price is that indicated by referees Billy Morris, Hill Cathey, and John Millsaps.  It is noteworthy that in the ten years since the agreement signed by Thomas, Samuel Elliott had begun to occupy the unimproved section and Joe Feather (a Cherokee man) was then living on what was previously described as the Martin improvement.  No record has been found of George Shuler owning land within miles of this area. Joe Feather and his family are mentioned in the 1880 census, but his and another Indian family appear to be located in the Galbraith to Cooper Creek section. 

A year and a half later, on November 4, 1879, the deed was proven in the probate court of Samuel B. Gibson, who ordered it to be registered.  No boundaries were given in the deed; the entire deed is listed above.  Notably, the deed was proven in court one day shy of four years before the original agreement, as noted above.

It was not unusual for deeds to be registered more than once in the early years of Swain County, in part due to nuances in the legal process.  The land which would become known as the Bryson Place was one such example.

On May 25, 1879, a year and two days after deeding both the 1,000 and 100 acre tracts to T.D. Bryson, the Loves, Welch, and Hilliard, along with their agent Epp Everett, created a deed for the 1,000 acre tract to Mary C. Bryson (wife of T.D. Bryson), but this time with boundaries specified:

Beginning on a pine in the line of a hundred acre tract bought by T.D. Bryson of W.H. Thomas, runs North 62 East 229 poles to a stake, thence North 28 West 439 poles to a stake; thence South 62 West 389 poles to a stake; then South 28 East 389 poles to a stake in the line of said hundred acre tract; thence with its line North 62 East 160 poles to a chestnut, its beginning corner; thence with said line South 28 East 50 poles to the beginning.

The deed noted that this formerly unimproved tract was now “known as the place where Elliott now lives.”  Sam Hunnicutt, in 20 Years Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains, referenced the Elliott place as both a Camp and an Improvement.  The area today is boggy and rhododendron-infested.  Exactly where the camp or improvement was located is unknown.

Then on November 15, 1883, “W.L. Hilliard, of Buncombe County, North Carolina, Guardian of Wm. H. Thomas, a lunatic”, executed a deed to Mrs. M.C. Bryson, assignee of T.D. Bryson of Swain County for the one hundred acre Martin improvement, and explicitly noted that the bond associated with the agreement had been registered in book D (4) pages 103-104.  With Thomas having serious financial issues, the $150 payment was made by crediting Thomas’s indebtedness to Bryson, which was over $900.

It appears that, in part, this second edition of the deed was established to acknowledge that the original agreement signed by Will Thomas had not been registered until Nov 3, twelve days before this deed to Mary.  But in addition, while the earlier deed to TD Bryson provided no boundary calls, the deed to Mary Bryson did:

Beginning on a chestnut and runs South 28 East ninety poles to a stake, passing a pine, the beginning corner of a one thousand acre tract bought by T.D. Bryson from the Executors of Jas R. Love & R.V. Welch at fifty poles (then) South 62 West one hundred and eighty poles to a stake, then North 28 West ninety poles to a stake, thence North 62 East one hundred and eighty poles to the beginning, passing a corner of the said thousand acre tract at twenty poles and containing one hundred acres.

The deed notes that it includes “what was known as the Martin improvement” – connecting it to the original agreement signed by Thomas in 1868.

Seeing Nellie Home

On the same day that the original deed from the extended Love family (Hilliard, Welch and their Love brothers-in-law) to T.D. Bryson was registered – November 4, 1879 – agent Epp Everett, acting on behalf of W.L. Hilliard, S.L. Love, R.V. Welch and R.G.A. Love, executed and had registered another deed which read:

 Know all men by these presents that we Wm L Hilliard, SL Love and RGA Love as executors of James R. Love and RGA Love and RV Welch for themselves by their agent E Everett have this day bargained and sold unto Nelly Chis-esli (Indian) one hundred acres of land in the County of Swain and State of North Carolina on boath (sic) sides of Deep Creek above and adjoining tract of land known as the Corntassel place for the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars paid to said parties of the first part by TD Bryson the payment whereof is hereby acknowledged.

This tract embraced the land which included the section which has long been known as the Turnaround.  A photograph of the Turnaround appears in Wendy’s article Figure WM7.

Figure DC5. Portrait of T.D. Bryson in Swain County’s Administration Building, courtesy of the Bryson family.

What led T.D. Bryson to purchase the land for Nellie and the rest of her Martin family? 

Both the Martin improvement and the land at the Turnaround involved a nominal 100 acres and the price for each was the same: $150.  That suggests that there was already some sort of improvement in the area of the Turnaround since there is nothing regarding other characteristics of the land which would make it more valuable (excepting its closer proximity to other families).  In Wendy’s piece on the Martins, she offers a well-thought out conjecture, namely that Bryson was looking out for the welfare of the Martins, a family which was under significant stresses at the time.  It is also reasonable to assume that Will Thomas’s concern for them was a key element of the arrangement.

The deed defined the boundaries of the tract and its relation to the Corn Tassel Place – which adjoined it.  In Figure DC6, the combined Bryson tracts, as laid out by the N.C. Park Commission, the tract purchased by T.D. Bryson for Nellie, and the Corn Tassel Place tract are marked in relation to the overall Deep Creek drainage.  Also indicated are the Bumgarner Place and the Deep Creek trailhead, located at the mouth of Juney Whank Branch.  The upper end of today’s parking lot sits immediately in front of where the Billy Morris home place stood. 

Figure DC6. Map of locations within the Deep Creek drainage (by author).  CLICK HERE for a detailed topo.

The map snippet in Figure DC7 shows the Bryson Place tract based on the deed from the Bryson family to the N.C. Park Commission.  The Bryson Place cabin stood at the extreme lower end of the tract (marked with the black dot).  The Martins Gap Trail comes across from Indian Creek, passes through from Martins Gap on its way down to the Bryson Place; both can be seen at the lower right portion of the map.  The gap and trail were obviously named for Nellie and her family.  Just north of the cabin, Elliott Cove Branch empties into Deep Creek from the east, named for Samuel Elliott who occupied (but did not own) the land when the Brysons purchased it.  Above it, Pole Road Creek, named for a pole road used to extract lumber from its boundary, enters from the west.  Then just above the geographic center of the tract, Left Fork joins Deep Creek’s main prong.

Figure DC7. Map of the Bryson Place tract (by author)

The map of the Bryson tract as mapped by the NC Park Commission varied slightly from the original dual tract deed.  That most likely had to do with survey methods of the 1870s vs those used by William Neville Sloan, a native of Franklin and great-grandson of Jesse Richardson Siler, namesake of Silers Bald.  Sloan trained in engineering at North Carolina State College in Raleigh and came back to his mountain home land to practice both surveying and engineering.  The survey of this tract, and for that matter, every tract purchased by the NC State Park Commission lists Sloan as the surveyor.  Sloan was assisted by chain bearers and brush clearers the likes of Mark Cathey (a son of Hill Cathey) and Sam Hunnicutt.  Hiram Wilburn, who also worked for the Park Commission, noted that Mark Cathey, who was in his upper 50s at the time, could clear brush twice as fast as men half his age.

The children of T.D. and Mary Bryson – Judge T.D. Bryson, Dr. Daniel Rice Bryson and their missionary sister, Mary Bryson Tipton – allowed both the Bryson cabin and the boundary to be used as a community commons.  The community which benefitted – including the family of the author – failed to fully acknowledge and appreciate the Bryson family spirit of sharing not only this but other Bryson lands in Bryson City, the town named for their father.  Cathey, Hunnicutt, and dozens of others (including the author’s father) spent countless nights at the old cabin.  Days were spent wandering the roughs and wading streams of Pole Road, Left Fork, Elliott Cove Branch, Nettle Creek and the entire upper reaches of Deep Creek, all because the Bryson family shared with the community, including the folks of the town named for T.D. Bryson, Sr. 

In stark contrast, such was not the case with large tracts of land acquired by individuals who did not make their home here.  Phillip Rust, a wealthy Boston native who married Eleanor Dupont, great-granddaughter of the founder of the Dupont Corporation, hired wardens to patrol his 4,365 acre estate on Noland Creek.  The Stikeleather-Smathers group, largely composed of individuals from Asheville, did the same for their 7600 acre Hazel Creek estate, composed of lands acquired after Ritter Lumber left Hazel Creek. Both estates were established after the original Park formation.  The lands were posted and the local hoi polloi were run off by the wardens. 

How bittersweet the survey work must’ve been for Cathey, Hunnicutt and others who recalled days of hunting, fishing, and backwoods companions who included preachers, teachers, politicians, a convicted murderer, northeastern blue bloods of the first rank, and fellow branch water folk.  In his classic 20 Years Hunting and Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains, Sam Hunnicutt names men whose lives in so-called civilization matched those categories, but he never mentioned anything about them personally; his was an egalitarian outlook.  In Sam’s eyes, those wandering the wilds of the Great Smoky Mountains were fellow creatures in an especially sweet part of God’s creation – a place where neither social rank nor fortune was a consideration.

The Hunnicutts had their own special connection to the Turnaround area.  An enlargement of the area where the 100 acre tract purchased by T.D. Bryson for Nellie and her Martin family is shown along with the Corn Tassel Place tract in Figure DC8.  The Jenkins Place home stood along Deep Creek immediately to the east of the uppermost bridge where the Deep Creek loop trail connects.  Other area features are highlighted, including three separate home places on both sides of Deep Creek which were, at one time or another, occupied by various members of the Hunnicutt family. 

Figure DC8. Martin & Corn Tassel Tracts in relation to the homes of Billy Morris and Hill Cathey (Map by author).
Nellie’s family leaves Deep Creek

On August 31, 1885, the Martin Turnaround tract was sold.  The deed reads:

This Indenture made and entered into this the 31st day of August A.D. 1885 by and between Suate Martin and his wife Da-ga-nu Martin and Geo. Martin heirs of Nellie Chis-e-li deceased of the County of Swain and State of North Carolina, parties of the first part and Wm P. Shuler of the Same County and State part of the second part.  Witnesseth: That the said party of the first part for and in consideration of the sum of two hundred dollars to them in hand paid…..

Nellie had been listed in the 1884 Hester Roll, so her death occurred between 1884 and the end of August of 1885.  In that 1880 census, her age was given as 35, suggesting a birth year of around 1845 – thus the range of life listed for Nellie on her cenotaph marker in the Turnaround as circa 1845-1885. 

The Martin property was sold to William Payton “Pate” Shuler in 1885.  In 1895, Shuler and his wife, Narcissus, sold the Martin tract as well as the Corn Tassel tract (which had been acquired separately) to George Jenkins.  Around the first decade of the 1900s, Jenkins erected a two-story home on the east side of Deep Creek (see Figure DC9) and farmed the land on both sides of the creek, including the Jenkins Fields which extended from just below the last bridge on Deep Creek almost half a mile down the west side of Deep Creek. 

Figure DC9. Jenkins Place home in 1937, several years after it was abandoned. Source: Open Parks Network
In 1908, Jenkins and his wife, Cora, sold the entire Martin tract to William Spurgeon Hunnicutt for $150 – the same price that T.D. Bryson had paid the Love heirs almost three decades before.  Although there had been improvements made by the Martins, the improvement value had been lost to nature and time. 

In 1912, Spurgeon Hunnicutt and his wife, Lottie, set off the eastern part of the property and sold it to Spurgeon’s oldest brother, Waitsel Avery Hunnicutt.  The deed language proved to be a significant element in our assessment of the actual location of Nellie’s grave and home.  It read:

"Beginning on a bunch of white walnuts in the old Corn Tassel line on the east side of Deep Creek at the lore (sic) end of the old field & runs up said creek 38 poles to a chestnut on bank of Deep Creek then NE with the meanders of the Indian Grave Ridge to the old line then S71E 57 poles to a stake and pointers thence S 40 poles to a stake the line of said Corn Tassel Place then with this line W 79 poles to the beginning.  Containing 35 acres more or less being a part of the tract of land bought from Georg. W. Jenkins of one hundred achears (sic).

The section of the original Martin tract which Waitsel purchased is marked in yellow in Figure DC10.  The reference to Indian Grave Ridge is the first that has been found.  It continued to be used up until the time the land was taken by the N.C. Park Commission.  A closer relative perspective which includes the elements noted below as well as the Turnaround road and ford locations is provided in Figure DC13.

Figure DC10. Original Martin Tract purchased by Spurgeon Hunnicutt, with the eastern section sold to his brother Waitsel highlighted and the Indian Grave Ridge which was part of the boundary noted. Map by author.

Family patriarch, Marion Hunnicutt, died around 1904 and his son, Christopher Columbus Hunnicutt, died in 1923, per the Hunnicutt family.  According to family tradition, father and son were buried on Indian Grave Ridge, just above the home which had been built there.  The home was logically sited immediately adjacent to a spring. 

On the other hand, the concept of siting a home in the middle of the almost level bottomland of the Turnaround, and also more than 100 yards away from a spring, would be at complete odds with virtually universal practice of Smoky mountain settlers, whether Cherokee or White.  As Wendy and I have considered the overall layout of the Turnaround area, we have concluded that by far the most logical location for Nellie’s home was exactly the same location as that chosen by the Hunnicutts along the lower end of Indian Grave Ridge. The spring was right next to the house and siting the home there also didn’t occupy the most arable land.  Conservation of bottomland was such a priority that the original road up Deep Creek was cut into the side of the hills in order to keep all of the best land free for raising of crops.  The spring for the Waitsel Hunnicutt home – which we also believe to Nellie’s home – is shown in Figure DC11.  Wendy Meyers is standing in the old road, which wound around the slope on the east side of the creek.  The old wagon road begins on the east side of the former ford at the Jenkins Place and connects to today’s Deep Creek Trail at a rock wall which was built by the Hunnicutts, according to family tradition.

Figure DC11. Spring next to the Waitsel Hunnicutt home; Wendy Meyers is standing above the spring next to the old road which wound around the side of the ridge instead of along the precious bottomland.  

Finally, the fact that Will Jenkins reported that her burial was adjacent to the house also fits well with naming the ridge “Indian Grave Ridge” – since both the home and graves were at the nose of that ridge.

Waitsel sold the tract he had purchased from Spurgeon to Ed and Mollie Shuler in 1925.  They retained ownership until the land was taken by the NC Park Commission.  Another tract of land which had formerly been owned by the Hunnicutts included the Turnaround proper as well as land on the west side of Deep Creek.  When taken by the N.C. Park Commission, it was owned by Tom and May Edwards.  The Park Commission report indicated it was “a six-roomed ceiled and weather-boarded house in good (repair) located on three acres of level land, beside the creek.”.  No one was living in the home, which was “being held for recreation purposes.” 

A Serendipitous Homecoming

Around 2002, Jim Estes was walking up the Deep Creek trail to fish above the Bumgarner Bend when he encountered a fellow in his early 80s at the Turnaround.  The older fellow had been fishing himself, but was seated on the log of a fallen tree waiting on a nephew to finish fishing.  It turned out that the fellow was James Hunnicutt, the youngest son of Sam and Leah Hunnicutt.  James was born at the mouth of Hammer Branch in 1921, but pointed Jim to where the family had last lived – at a home site on the other side of the old ford at the Turnaround.  It was the six-room house mentioned in the Park Commission report.  That home is one which was incorrectly marked on the 1931 map of the eastern section of the Park.  That map showed the home on the eastern side of the creek, but both the N.C. Park Commission records and extant physical evidence (see Figure DC12) place it across the creek, near the Turnaround ford, as shown in Figure DC13.  I likely would’ve never located that spot had it not been for Jim Estes passing along the personal memories of James Hunnicutt.

Figure DC12: Author with yellowbells/forsythia, chimney remains at the Hunnicutt home place across Deep Creek from the Turnaround. 

Figure DC13: Layout of the Turnaround area and features which have been discussed. Map by author.

James noted that his extended family also had another home place just southeast of the Turnaround – where his grandfather Marion and Uncle Christopher Columbus Hunnicutt are buried.  See Wendy’s Figure WM8.  

Jim Estes was himself raised on Deep Creek.  His folks, including g-g grandparents Billy and Sarah Louisa Morris and g-grandparents Goldman and Harriett Estes, were living on Deep Creek when the Martin family moved to the Turnaround.  His family knew the Hunnicutts well. 

Those two sons of the Smokies had a homecoming-like sharing of memories of their common family lore.  In the Figure DC14 photo, Sam Hunnicutt is standing at the left, with frying pan in hand.  The man and woman to the right of Sam may be a Reeves couple, according to Jim Estes.  Jim’s grandfather, Ellis Estes is on the horse.  To the right of the horse are Tom Clark, Cora McCracken Estes (expecting Jim’s father, Jack, born in July, 1917), and Laura Estes Clark.  Rena Cagle, the daughter of Lee and Annie Clark Cagle who Wendy wrote about previously is in the white hat behind unknown boys in front and Bonnie Rogers is to their right.

Figure DC14: Group of Deep Creek folks on a fishing outing. Photo courtesy of Jim Estes.

Deep Creek calls its own

Deep Creek called to James Hunnicutt and Jim Estes, for it is a place that calls its children home – to cast flies in holes named by their forebears decades before, visit old home places, drink from the same rocked-in springs that quenched the thirst of their ancestors, to recall their oft-told tales and to simply remember. 

The Places of Beard, Blanton, Bryson, Bumgarner, Cagle, Casada, Cathey, Clark, Cline, Corn Tassel, Durham, Estes, Hunnicutt, Hyatt, Jenkins, June Whank, Laney, Lollis, Martin, Massie, McCracken, Monteith, Morris, Morrow, Parris, Queen, Randall, Shuler, Shytles, Styles, Swaim, Teague, Thomas, Waycaster, Wiggins, and others are integral to the history of the Deep Creek drainage. 

Today, fallen chimneys, rock walls or foundation stones, boxwoods, daffodils, yellowbells, japonica, mock orange and the like are visual markers for the former home places.  They are all now Pondering Places, where in solitude or with a small company, lives once eked out with the combination of a Protestant work ethic and then common (now rare) know how are remembered.  We owe it to them and ourselves to also recall acts of sympathetic generosity like that of the Brysons for the Martin family and the community at large.  

Precious memories, may they linger….



Jim Estes, Wendy Meyers, Annette Hartigan, Mike Aday, Ed and Dan Bryson, Jason Brady
NCPedia article, Thomas, William Holland (gives date of him being declared insane as March 1867)
NC Park Commission Records, NC State Archives
Swain County Register of Deeds 

Note: questions for the author of this piece, Don Casada, may be directed to him at doncasada@hotmail.com.