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