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Online Exhibit: Hall Cabin: Encounter with a Lost Camper

Maps and Photo of Hall Cabin

In 1906 I spent the summer in a herders' hut on top of the divide, just west of the Locust Ridge (miscalled Chestnut Ridge on the map), about six miles east of Thunderhead. This time I had a partner, and we had a glorious three months of it, nearly a mile above sea-level, and only a half a day's climb from the nearest settlement. One day I was alone, Andy having gone down to Medlin for the mail. It had rained a good deal - in fact, there was a shower nearly every day throughout the summer, the only semblance of a dry season in the Smokies being the autumn and early winter. The nights were cold enough for fires and blankets, even in our well-chinked cabin.

Well, I had finished my lonesome dinner, and was washing up, when I saw a man approaching. This was an event, for we seldom saw other men than our two selves. He was a lame man, wearing an iron extension on one foot, and he hobbled with a cane. He looked played-out and gaunt. I met him outside. He smiled as though I looked good to him, and asked with some eagerness, "Can I buy something to eat here?"

"No," I answered, "you can't buy anything here" - how his face fell! - "but I'll give you the best we have, and you're welcome."

Then you should have seen that smile!

He seemed to have just enough strength left to drag himself in to the hut. I asked no questions, though wondering what a cripple, evidently a gentleman, though in rather bad repair, was doing on top of the Smoky Mountains. It was plain that he had spent more than one night shelterless in the cold rain, and that he was quite famished. While I was baking the biscuit and cooking some meat, he told his story. This is the short of it:

"I am a Canadian, McGill University man, electrician. My company sent me to Cincinnati. I got a vacation of a couple of weeks, and thought I'd take a pedestrian tour. I can walk better than you'd think," and he tapped the short leg.

I liked his grit.

"I knew no place to go," he continued; "so I took a map and looked for what might be interesting country, not too far from Cincinnati. I picked out these mountains, got a couple of government topographical sheets, and, thinking they would serve like European ordinance maps, I had no fear of going astray. It was my plan to walk through to the Balsam Mountains, and on to the Big Pigeon River. I went to Maryville, Tennessee, and there I was told that I would find a cabin every five or six miles along the summit from Thunderhead to the Balsams."

I broke in abruptly: "Whoever told you that was either an imposter or an ignoramus. There are only four of these shacks on the whole Smoky range. Two of them, the Russell cabin and the Spence place, you have already passed without knowing it. This is called the Hall cabin. None of these three are occupied save for a week or so in the fall when the cattle are being rounded up, or by chance, as my partner and I happen to be here now. Beyond this there is just one shack, at Siler's Meadow. It is down the summit, hidden in timber, and you never would have seen it. Even if you had, you would have found it as bare as last year's mouse nest. For nobody ever goes there except a few bear-hunters. From there onward for forty miles is an uninhabited wilderness so rough that you could not make seven miles a day in it to save your life, even if you knew the course; and there is no trail at all. Those government maps are good and reliable to show the approaches to this wild country, but where you need them most they are good for nothing."

"Then," said he, "if I had missed your cabin I would have starved to death, for I depended on finding a house to the eastward, and would have followed the trail till I dropped. I have been out in the laurel thickets, now, three days and two nights; so nothing could have induced me to leave this trail, once I found it, or until I could see out to a house on one side or other of the mountain."

"You would see no house on either side from here to beyond Guyot, about forty miles. Had you no rations as all?"

"I traveled light, expecting to find entertainment among the natives. Here is what I have left."

He showed me a crumpled buckwheat flapjack, a pinch of tea, and a couple of ounces of brandy.

"I was saving them for the last extremity; have had nothing to eat since yesterday morning. Drink the brandy, please; it came from Montreal."

"No, my boy, that liquor goes down your own throat instanter. You're the chap that needs it. This coffee will boil now in a minute. I won't give you all the food you want, for it wouldn't be prudent; but by and by you shall have a bellyful."

Then, as well as he could, he sketched the rout he had followed. Where the trail from Tennessee crosses from Thunderhead to Haw Gap he had swerved off from the divide, and he discovered his error somewhere in the neighborhood of Blockhouse. There, instead of retracing his steps, he sought a short-cut by plunging down the headwaters of Haw Creek, thus worming deeper and deeper into the devil's nest. One more day would have finished him. When I told him that the trip from Clingman to Guyot would be hard for a party of experienced mountaineers, and that it would probably take them a week, during which time they would have to pack all supplies on their own backs, he agreed that his best course would be down into Carolina and out to the railroad.

- Our Southern Highlanders, Second edition, pages 62-66.

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