time stood still in the smokies sep

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  • 7/24/2019 Time Stood Still in the Smokies SEP





    The Walker s ist ers, whose collective age totals 261 years, enjoy a short rest 011 the front po rch. Their

    log-ca bin home was built by th eir gr a ndfather when Abe Li

    .n co ln was s till pr ac ti

    c in g I,aw in Illinois .



    ]Iy .TOH N J l l\. ~

    F you are curious about how you r great-great

    grandfather Hved - how he raised his family,

    grew his own food, prod uced his cJotbjng and

    existed without benefit o supermarkets or mail

    order catalogues. I'd li ke to take you back up LiUle

    Greenbriar Cove, in the heart of Tennessee's Great

    Smoky Mountains, to spend a leisurely autum n a Ct-

    ernoon with tbe Walker sisters



    J a ne,

    sevent.y-five; Martha, sixty.eight; Louisa, si.xty

    two; and Hetty. fift.y-six. There, su rrounded y

    heavily forested peaks t.hat in this range reach more

    than 6000 feet above the vaUey floors. you could

    look around you and say, with conviction, Well,

    here I am back in the early nineteenth century, and

    it isn't 8 bad, after ai l.

    The Walker sisters very definitely are out of this

    century. although when you taste some of their

    Dutch-oven-baked cornbread or sweet potatoes lib

    erally smeared with butter they have just churned,

    you'll realize they are very much a part of this

    world. But they have kept any touch of these mod

    ern times away from their hearth, not through the

    sligh test trace

    of eccentricity or any dislike for

    progress, but simply because, as women without

    menfolk around, they have continued doing things

    in the

    ways and with the implements they know

    best how t o use- which is to say, their father's and

    grandfather's methods and tools. The rocky moun

    tainsides seem to respond to their touch . When I

    visited them, just as frost was putting the last

    splasbes of colo r on high banks of forests that hem

    them in, their



    and cellars were full


    they were settling down for winter with complete


    This mountainous section of East Tennessee s l

    is peopled by descendanta of Daniel Boone and

    John Sevier and their contemporaries. The Walker

    sisters' grandfathers both were men of this inde

    pendent, space-loving breed. Pushed out o


    ginia by plowed land that left no room for game to

    multiply, they found the freedom they wanted in

    Tennessee's mountains. Wiley King, their maternal

    grandfather, found a little cove near where Fighting

    Creek and Little Ri ve r join boulder-tossed waters.

    And here, while Abe Lincoln still was practicing law

    in Illinois. he built the house that is as solid today

    as it was when its yellow-poplar Jogs first were

    chinked with red mountain ( Cu rHirl lwd un ~ l g e 82



    D A V ID



    Deep in the mountains of

    East Tennessee, the 'Valker

    s isters are st ill l iving in the

    early 19th cen tu ry . and

    finding i t not so bad, ei ther.

    On nil s ides th e peak s of th e Creat


    moki es



    6000 fccl.

    or mor

    e ul}()\c


    e f

    dl eys


  • 7/24/2019 Time Stood Still in the Smokies SEP


    Tn th is cabin, with nothing but th e impl e m en ts and m e thod s of their fo rehears, th e

    Valkers g rind th e ir m ea l, ca rd th e ir own wool and spin cloth for dr esses and blanke ts .

    Every thread

    tha l wenl

    into th ese colorful


    e t s



    sp un

    by th e s isters on the ir own o ld bu t s l ill e ff i c ie n t wheel.

    Cutti n g wood for fuel, sh ea ri n g s h ee p or even s ir e t chin g and

    dry in g s h eepsk il is all in th e day s work 10 th e four Walke rs.

    Sp innin g t ime is a social t ime, and during th e wint e r month s a s Illuny a s five wheels kept go in g . Be fo re

    the s ix-fool-wide fir e pl ace Mi ss Margare t s lnnd s t th e spinning wh eel while Mi ss Martha ca rd s th e wool.


  • 7/24/2019 Time Stood Still in the Smokies SEP




    (Conlinu ed f rom Ili ge 16)

    clay. In its one la rge roo m, wi t h a loft

    for t he ch ild re n, he reared his fa m ily.

    J ohn Wa lker , wh ose fa mily a lso ha d

    migrated (rom Virgin ia a

    nd settled ju st

    across Cove M oun ta in in Wears Va lley.

    married W iley's youngest da ugh te r,



    J ane, soon a f


    r her f




    death, a nd mo ved in to become t he

    man oC he King fa mil y . In due ti me,

    t he old cabin w ith i ts o ne roo m and loft

    was overflow ing wi t h e le ve n childre n.

    A second ca bin a lrea dy s ta nding on

    King land was moved log by log a nd

    reassembled to form new cooking a nd

    eating qua r te rs for t his la rge brood .

    Today, although five of the eleven

    ch il .ren are dead- t hey all lived past

    t he half-cent ury ma rk and a ll bu t

    t he Cour unm a rr ied s isters have moved



    {ro m Li tt le Gree nbriar


    ve, the

    home is exac tly as it was whe n J ohn

    Walker was ca rried across the moun

    ta in to join his wife in t he fam ily bury

    ing ground in the next va lley. And so

    fa r as the four spinster s isters- who

    were five until PoUy died in the spring

    of 1945- a re concerned, it will rema in

    that way. Why , t hey reason, should

    anyone wa nt to worry a bo ut cha nges

    a nd improveme nts whe n the ground

    is SO fertile , one of their two cows is

    always fresh , th e ir spr ing flows freely ,

    a nd heavy fores ts a round the m provide

    a ll

    the fu el




    d ?

    A sy mp




    v isitor ca n fi nd .no a nswer.

    When their gra ndfat her a nd father

    were living, people in th is region grew

    t he ir own s hee p, card ed thei r wool a nd

    spun t heir own cloth for dresses, su its,

    bedcloth ing a nd even sa ddle bla nkets

    for t he ir mules . Threa d for looms a nd

    k ni tt ing needles was t wirled ofr wheels

    be fore t he six-feet-wide fi replace in the

    Wa lke r home t he n, a nd still is today.

    Ma rtha showed me win te r d resses

    she had made Crom t he ir ow n woo l

    while M a r





    m med a way sp in

    n ing t hrea d t hat wo uld go in to wa rm

    stockings for t hemselves or socks fo r

    ne phews st ill overseas. u Guess it a in ' t

    every so ldier in Ge rma ny that ca n say

    his old-ma id a un ts ra sed his socks o ff'n

    a rocky moun ta ins id e for him ," Hetty

    obse rved as she looked o n... hear

    t he m Europe win ters can be powerful

    cold, a nd we don ' t a im for any of our

    folks to ha ve co ld feet, no matter where

    they a re."

    As g irls t he s isters watc hed t he ir Ca-

    t her shea r shee p a nd lea rned how to



    h the


    lwith homem



    ye soa

    p in

    prepa rat ion for ca rd ing. T oday they do

    it t he mse lves , using t he sa me clippers

    John Wa lker bought in Se vierv ille fi fty

    ye ars ago. They do n ' t ra ise as ma ny

    shee p as t he ir fat her did, but keep only

    six or eig ht grown a nima ls each yea r,

    selling la mbs or occas iona lly butcher

    ing one for their own tab le. But a ny

    one of t hem ca n catch a bu ck or ewe,

    hogt ie it a nd ho ist it , bleat ing and kick

    ing, to the rac k where t hey do the

    shear ing.

    Whi]e t h


    were descri bing t he



    cedure we co uld hear t he lead sheep' s

    be ll in t he fie lds above the cabin. Pho

    Dav id R obbins asked t he m

    to catch o ne and shear it for a ph o

    togra ph. Margaret got feed. called,

    " Here, sheep ie, sheep ie, sheepie .. and

    got th em almost wit h in noosing range.

    Then t hey saw R obbins and bolted

    bac k up t he moun ta i n. No amount of

    calling would tem pt t hem down again ,

    no r would they fo llow a trai l o f grain

    we la id for t he m. (' They won ' t come

    down again as long as the re 's a nybody

    around wit h pa n ts on ," M a rga ret sa id,

    a nd we fo und she was right . Sorry, no

    sbee p p ic tures.

    Blank ets a nd co verlets the sisters

    weave on loo ms Crom the ir h ome-g rown

    wool a re muse um pieces. The blanket s ,

    great snowy piles oC hem, used to good

    advantage during co ld winters here, a re

    soft and fl uffy and light as you 'd imag

    ine a queen 's bla nk

    et to be . E very

    thread in t hem was spun on the o ld but

    sti ll efficient wheels t he ir father buil t

    soon a f


    r he




    rea ri


    a fa mil


    The co verlets fo llow designs t hat we re

    popular in M art ha Was hingto n's day ,

    an d a ll o f them ha ve na mes- Bona

    par te's M arch, D ouble Bow Kn ot, Sea

    S he ll, a nd Was hington' s Ring a nd

    Dia mond .

    At t imes during win te r months as

    ma ny as five whee ls ha ve bee n ke pt go

    ing in t he great liv ing roo m, gett ing t he

    t hrea d rea dy for more coverlets or

    blankets or winte r ga rm ents. And spin

    ning t ime is a mu ch enjoyed socia l