Monday, September 30, 2013

A Remarkable Woman

Annie Clark Cagle, taken at Deep Creek homeplace
(Courtesy:  Glenda Cagle Garland on

I frequently find the inspiration for a story when I look at old pictures, and today's is no exception.  This beautiful woman is Annie Clark Cagle (1876 - 1954), who lived in Swain County from the late 1800's until 1929.

As one leaves the Deep Creek section of the Park via the graveled Galbreath Creek road, at least 5 old home sites are passed before reaching the Park boundary.  One of these, lying to the right side of the road where Tom's Branch passes under the road on its way to becoming a beautiful waterfall, was the home of the Lee and Annie (Clark) Cagle family. 

Google Earth view of the area near the Cagle homeplace
(Google Earth)
It was once quite an impressive homestead, as is outlined in the North Carolina Park Commission document shown below.

Assessment of the Lee and Annie Cagle Homestead by the N.C. Park Commission
(Courtesy:  NC Archives and Don Casada)

Annie Clark (1876 - 1954) was deeded this land by her brother, David Hardy Clark; it  was a part of her father's farm that he had established after moving his family here from Haywood County.  Around 1891 at the age of 15, Annie married Henry Lee Cagle and they settled on this land, close to family, to make a home.  Between 1894 and 1919, Annie gave birth to 13 children, (four girls and nine boys) and raised them here.   In 1929, the family was forced to sell their beloved home in the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and relocated to Bartow County, Georgia, where one of their married daughters was now living.  They took with them all of their children still living at home, including son Winfred, who had been born in 1915 (the 11th child).  Being homesick for the mountains, Winfred returned to Bryson City just a few years later and lived here for the remainder of his life, dying in 1993.  Winfred was a great teller of tales about the early days in these mountains, and was interviewed in the early 1970's by several different people.  The recordings of these interviews are retained at the Park Headquarters at Sugarlands along with the transcripts, which total nearly 150 pages.  The transcripts provide a fascinating glimpse into life as it was in the Deep Creek and Galbreath Creek area in the 1920's, and I plan to share much of this in later blog entries. 

The 13 children of Lee and Annie Cagle, late 1950's
Winfred is on the first row, third from the right
(Courtesy:  Glenda Cagle Garland on
But for today, I'd like to share what he had to say about his mother, a remarkable woman of the Smokies.  (In order to preserve Winfred's wonderful mountain vernacular, I have left his speech patterns intact in this transcription.  It may be slightly harder to read, but conveys a much greater sense of the way in which it was told).

The Clothier

'Mother.....well, she made all of our soap. In fact she made all of our clothes.  She made, all of our overalls.  Made our hats.  Our shirts an' ever'thing we wore she made 'em right with her fingers right in th' house.    She'd knit us mittens to wear to school.  An' we'd wear, uh wool socks that would come up, just oh 'bout well a finger length an' a half below the' knee. And ......she made 'em so they'd stay right up on your legs an' they woudln't fall down. She ribbed them at the top y' know where they'd stay snug, snug to y'r leg and they didn't, bag down into your shoes.'

Joe Queen's Barn, with pasture in the background
(Courtesy:  GSMNP Archives)

'We'd go up to Joe Queen's up on the mountain. (Author's note:  Joe Queen's home that Winfred refers to here is the cabin at the Oconaluftee Pioneer Farmstead).  ....An' we'd buy a tow sack, packed full of wool. He had a mountain...just lots of sheep up there. An' we'd buy a tow sack full of wool, for a dollar. 'S all he could pack in. Then we'd bring it down; we'd pick the cuckleburrs out of it. An' y' had two sets of cards. Now, this w's the' kind y' make, fix your wool out of. We'd pick th' cuckleburrs out of that wool. They's one of them cards you, card it with, an' it straighted it out. Then our mother took, th' other cards, an' you card it. Then y' run 'em backwards. An' it rolled it off into a little roll just 'bout as big as a broom handle an' about that long. These little rolls of this wool. Then she had this spinning wheel she put it on, this spindle. Put a shuck. Take a piece of shuck an' put it on that spindle, an' tie that, uh, wool on that, 'n' start that spinnin' wheel it'd spin that into thread. Out of th' wool. 

The Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier, carding and spinning
(Courtesy:  The Saturday Evening Post)

Then she took that, an', put it, if we wanted say she wanted t' fix us some, uh dark brown, if we wanted dark brown socks, she'd go out to a walnut tree, an' dig around the walnut tree an' skin some of th' bark off of th' walnut roots. Put it in a pot, an' boil it. Real good.

Then take all that bark out of there an' that was good dye. Then she put that wool in there, the thread after she made it in, put it, made it into what they call hanks. I'd say it'd be about, th' string of thread strand of thread would be about two hundred fee long. Make a strand put it in that an' you'd dye it. Then you take it out an' hang it up on the clothes line, an' dry it.....

 I don't know how she done it for thirteen of us, but she did.' 

The Gardener

'We had two big gardens. An we raised a fall mother sowed her own seed. Raise these plants an' set 'em out late in the summer. An' they'd make, oh huge cabbage heads. Now they have the little cannon ball now, or hamburg cabbage, th' small head but, what she grew then was.....some of 'em 'd weigh six or seven pounds.' 

Old Cabbage Field

The Doctor
'My mother.....she could make, I always tell people that she could make anything she wanted to or cure anything. They didn't make that...she made her own salve, made her own medicine an' ever'thing. I guess the first time that any of us, ever had a doctor with any of us one of my brothers took typhoid fever, back in the 20's, and, he was sick for, 'bout thirteen months. An they's thirteen of us. And never, we didn't never was a one of us in hospital.....

 And my mother made a salve..... I'm gonna make up some, this spring just quick as the leaves comes on the trees.....and she made it, she used beeswax, bammygills buds (balm of Gilead) and this wild chestnut leaves, an' white oak bark and dogwood bark, an' slippery elm. c'd just put it on any kind of cut place or skinned place and just about overnight hit'd heal, just bring th' scab right on that 'n' just hit'd heal......

.......I know, after, we moved to Georgia, they's a lady there, next door to us ..... she had some kind of a spell.... St. Vitus's Dance or something (see notes at the bottom)  an' she fell in th' fire an' burnt all of her clothes off of her an' burnt, 'bout 75% of th' skin off of her body.' doctors had done ever'thing for her.....She was gittin' worse all the time. Just....she was just a solid bandage of gauze from her toes to the top of her head on one side, burnt, over half of her hair off , an' burnt th' skin off of her an' when it did grow back her arm growed down to her side. An' burnt one of her ears smooth off.

 An my mother told....her husband, she said,' if the doctors has give up and can't do nothin' for her ........I can make you some salve if you'll let me, make it an' apply it. I can heal that, an' she'll be well an' going to the field.'. He says, 'She's yours, you can have her.'   My mother made up a box of this salve and so she went there an' got some pieces of white cloth you know. An' she would warm this salve and apply it on this cloth an' then she'd put it on these places. An' hit just healed that lady right up. An' she got up an' was a walkin' an' would carry her husband's dinner to the field to him when he was a workin'.

I believe she could've cured leprosy if there'd been any around with the salve she made. 'An the medicine. She could make medicine or salve for anything, measles or anything.' 

A DIY salve for burns
What makes Annie Clark Cagle so worthy of remembrance?  Was it her seven-pound cabbages?  The half-bushel lunch basket she packed each morning to feed her children at school?  The excellent health she kept her family in?  The clothing she made for her entire family? 

Signatures of Annie and Lee Cagle
(Courtesy, Swain County Register of Deeds)
No, in my mind what makes Annie Cagle so amazing is that she would have been an ordinary mountain woman of the time.  In a day and age in which we may purchase ready-to-wear clothing at stores on virtually every street corner, it is difficult for us to conceive of the toil these women undertook to provide something as simple as a pair of socks for their children.  In a day and age in which one may shop for their doctor and may find remedies for many ailments even at the gas station, we cannot conceive of the idea of having to plan the planting and tending of the garden for the manufacture of next year's medicine.  Yet such matters that seem so trivial to us today, consumed the daily lives of women in these mountains from the wee hours of the morning until late at night, from early childhood until their death. 

Annie, surrounded in her picture by her chickens, cows and outbuildings ... paradoxically symbolizing both domestic tranquility and grueling toil at the same time.....stands as a worthy representative for the thousands of mountain women that raised up members of America's 'Greatest Generation' here in the Smoky Mountains.

Truly, she was a remarkable woman.

Notes to the Reader:

St. Vitus Dance is the historic term for Sydenham's chorea, a disorder characterized by rapid and jerking movements, and which is a potential complication of strep throat or rheumatic fever.  A video of a girl with this disorder may be viewed at this link.

Annie Clark Cagle, her husband Lee, and many of their descendants are buried at the Mount Pleasant Church cemetery in Pine Log, Georgia.  Winfred Cagle is buried at the Swain Memorial Park.

Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Bartow County, GA

Sources: for census, birth and death records
Christine Proctor
Glenda Cagle Garland
GSMNP Archives
North Carolina Archives
Photos:  Don Casada, Glenda Cagle Garland, GSMNP Archives, Swain County Register of Deeds,,,,,,


  1. Very interesting and enjoyable article. I have a cabin near Galbreath Creek Road, the branch runs right next to the house, and I enjoy hearing what the area was like before the park came into existance. It is amazing how tough and self sufficient these people were. I have passed this old homestead hundreds of times and never noticed it, but I will be looking for it on my next visit to the area. Thanks and I look forward to more articles.

  2. Great article, as usual.

    Up the steep holler to the south of the Cagle place stands a rock (link below) which is a metaphor for the folks who carved out a place to call their home - who, to use the words of Winfred Cagle - "they built the house, and then they cleared out, done all this hard labor - and that's hard work when you just go into the woods and clear the fields and ditch the land and pile the rocks and...and build you a cellar and whittle out and cut and hew and slave and work and build all your buildings and everything, and get your fruit trees....."

  3. I am glad you enjoyed it. There is virtually nothing left of the homestead with the exception of walnut trees, so it is not surprising that you have missed it. As with virtually all of its counterparts in the Deep Creek section of the park, this home and its outbuildings were thoroughly destroyed by the CCC. Additionally, after the leaves fall, the cellar of the home is visible a very short distance from the road. I have not yet uncovered any pictures of the home (I do have one of the barn, which I will share in a later post), but continue the search.

  4. Don - that rock is very, very impressive...surely an apt metaphor for the Cagles and others of their ilk. I really like that passage of Winfred's oral history.

  5. As I always do when a new name appears, I went to my family tree to see if Annie Clark was there. I found her! I think. She was married to Leander H Cagle. When I looked back at your post it brought to mind that my great grandfather was named Leander was called Lee. The name Leander was familiar from my school days. A classic Greek myth was of Hero and Leander. Hero lived on a island, if memory serves me, and Leander swam to be with her, guided by a light she had lit for him. Then one cold day, she could not keep the fire lit and he perished in the sea between them. When she saw his plight, she dove into the waves and joined her love in eternity.
    My grandfather was Leander Martin DeHart, not Lee Andrew. His parents, though isolated were not uneducated. They named one of their sons for a character in a Greek myth.

  6. Given the extent of your tree on Ancestry, I would not doubt that she is there!

    I well remember the myth of Hero and Leander, and think it very interesting that your grandfather was named after a Greek character. The stereotype of the uneducated mountain 'hick' could not be more wrong.

  7. A comment regarding this blog has come up in the gmail account I have linked to it, but is not showing up here. I wanted to provide contact info here in the event you wished to get in touch. My email address is Thank you for reading!

  8. Richard ( Ricky) Dale CheekJanuary 20, 2022 at 12:45 PM

    I love this, My mother Lillian Shuler Cheek was Winfred Cagle's wife Annie Belle's sister. We use to visit them every summer and play in deep creek next to there house. He was one the best men I ever knew, soon as you walked in he would say go get you a cold soda water out of the ice box. Always had cold pepsi in there. I live in Gray Court South Carolina.