and the citification thereof.
an ancestral blog by Terrell Ledbetter, August, 2019 and revised January 13 2022. (This is a reminiscent tale as seen in the early 1950’s for the special, majestic valley known as North Fork).
For those mountain folks that grew up on the North Fork:
Nomadic peoples that became know as the Cherokee began living in the wooded areas of southeastern America over 10,000 years ago. These people lived along the headwaters of the Savannah, Hiwassee, and Tuckasegee and along the Little Tennessee.
The Pisgah people were a phase of the more modern Cherokee and signs of their existance has been found between East Asheville (specifically at Warren Wilson College) along the Swannanoa Valley, to the Black Mountain range beginning about 1000 AD. When Europeans first came to America, the Cherokee lived in towns in today’s eastern Tennessee, northern Georgia/South Carolina as well as far western North Carolina. In the early 1700’s it is thought that they lived in fifty-three towns, had a population of about 12,000 with 3800 being warriors.
But for centuries before the Europeans arrive, the Cherokee trekked to the east along the Suwa’li-nunna (Swannanoa River). The Cherokee, Tuscarora, and Catawba hunting in the river valley could look northward toward the tall horizon and see the majestic blacks that are now named Blackstock Knob, Potato Knob and Clingman’s Peak.
The word Suwa’li-nunna for Swannanoa River can be found on page 532 of Glossary of Cherokee Words published as Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees by James Mooney as originally issued in 1888. James Mooney was an American Anthropologist who worked at the Smithsonian Institute and who lived with the Cherokee from 1887 until 1890.
It might be noted that the word Cherokee had no meaning in their language. The word Chalaque was used by De Soto in 1557 to describe the tribe and the English began to call them Cherokee in 1708. The native people called themselves Yunwiya (the real people).
The Cherokee in particular came to the big blacks to hunt and collect herbal medicine from the high elevations. The blacks would be a long distance from most principle towns and the number of warriors to hunt this area would have to be relatively small. The trails were likely small and infrequently traveled.
Certainly most of their hunting was done on the lower elevations, but tracking the bears and big cats often required going high. Much of the plants and sprigs from balsam could only be gathered over 5000 feet in elevation and only the big blacks had the Fraser Fir. Resin from the balsam could be scraped and collected for use as an external medicine or internal use. It has been said that up to 500 different plants were used for medicine. Most importantly the majesty of the high, dark peaks rising four to five thousand feet above the Suwa’li-nunna gave the blacks a sacred feel. Some Native Americans believed that the spirits of eagles, ravens, and frost lived in the high places. Often they had “conjurings” in the high mountains. This place was special then and it remains so today. To the Cherokee and the Pisgah people who lived and hunted the blacks centuries before, it was source of their medicine and spiritual guidance. With such need for these medicines coupled with the thousands of years of inhabitance, I can imagine that foot trails along the Suwa’li-nunna feeder branches led all the way up to the southern-most blacks.
At the height of Cherokee civilization, their territory reached along the Blue Ridge Mountains (following the current Blue Ridge Parkway) up into what is now Wytheville, Virginia. I will make a personal assumption: the people traveled trails along the peaks to reach the western end of the Shenandoah Valley where buffalo were in abundance.
The blacks had to be fairly familiar to the Cherokee as Tsali and others hid in a cave at Clingman’s Dome during the removal of the Cherokee.
For ages the Cherokee and Catawba were at war with each other and the Suwa’li-Nunna was a main route between each other. There had been a large battle between Catawba and Cherokee where thousands were slain and wounded long before Colonist came over the mountain barrier from the east. It is not known what year this was but the injured and dead among both tribes was so great and heartbreaking that a truce had been struck and the Suwa’li-Nunna valley was agreed to be a neutral ground. This was years before an overwhelming smallpox plague of 1738 decimated half the Cherokee population and dwindled the Catawba down to hundreds. From that point on, there were larger priorities than fighting each other.
While De Soto came to the what is now Western North Caroline from headwaters of the French Broad, it is unlikely that he stepped through the Suwa’li-nunna. The traders who came to the Cherokee from Virginia traveled down the Holston River. In 1776, General Griffin Rutherford and 2400 men traveled along a trail from Old Fort through the Suwa’li-nunna to the Blue Ridge where they caught another trail that led to the first Cherokee town on the Tuckasegee near the modern town of Whittier. This could be one of the first treks by colonials through the Suwa’li-nunna. I can imagine that many men who witnessed the majesty of the blacks through the river valley were so impressed that they returned when lands were available.
Down in the North Fork Valley south of the blacks and on the boundary between Thomas Morris’ dairy and Frank Ledbetter’s land, and across from Grace Mixon, (just south of the Mountain View Church) stood a majestic dark pine. It was the tallest tree I have ever seen, over eight feet in diameter and over a hundred feet tall, maybe approaching two hundred feet. The bark was rough and very thick and the first limb was over fifteen feet off the ground and huge. I have no idea what kind of pine this was as I have never seen another. Not a white pine or southern pine because they don’t get that thick or tall. It was out of place as there were no others anywhere. It could have been thousands of years ago. Found over the years in the fields west of the tree were dozens of arrowheads and spear points. I have no idea why there would be such a collection of weapon heads, but it was apparently there had been a significant Native American event at the site. I have always wondered if this had been the site of the Cherokee/Catawba battle. That tree was eventually hit by lightning, split apart and burned. Whatever the event, I think the tree marked a significant event. As a side note to pine aging, my dad, Frank Ledbetter hiked to Mt. Mitchell around 1935 from North Fork and retrieved a burlap sack full of Colorado Blue Spruce and planted them in our yard. Twenty years later, these trees shined with the blue/green hue as typical of a Colorado Bruce Spruce. Many are still standing on my sister Tootie’s land about 85 years later. The trees are now a very dark green and stand thirty-feet tall. Point is that Canadian trees have grown or are growing in the blacks.
Of course the blacks refer to the Black Mountain Range of the Appalachain Chain, Blue Ridge region. There are eighteen of them, sixteen named, ranging in elevation from The Pinnacle (5665 feet) to Mt. Mitchell (6684 feet). The fifteen mile long range looks like an altered fishhook with Yeat’s Knob, Blackstock Knob and Potato Knob being the rounded hook end, and south end. The long straight shank heading northward consists of peaks such as Clingman’s Peak, Mount Gibbes, Mt. Mitchell, Mount Craig, Big Tom, Balsam Cone, Potato Hill, Gibbs Mountain, and Celo Knob.
To the west side of the range, the springs, rainfall and snowmelt flow to the Nolichucky. The ‘chucky is one of the best whitewater rivers in the east with huge hydraulics. To the east side of the range, the water flows to the Estatoe (Toe). But southward, between Balsam Gap (5331 feet) and Potato Knob (6398 feet), it collects into the Suwa’li-nunni. South from Balsam Gap and flanked to the west by a ridge running to Little Grassy Knob, the left-fork of the Swannanoa begins a southeastern trek. Large streams and branches including the Saltrack Branch, Glassmine Branch, Shadepen, and Stony Fork feed into the left-fork at varying elevations. South from Potato Knob, the right-fork begins a southwestern trek and is fed by the Morgan Branch, Big Branch, Little Branch, and Dry Branch. After the two forks converge (most of the way down the slope at about 2800 feet in elevation), the Long Branch, Sugar Fork, Chestnut Cove Branch and Shutt Branch merge into one larger river. Finally the Walker Branch enters from the high ridges on the east. The Swannanoa then runs west of Wallace and Allen Mountains near Black Mountain, and converges with a small stream of runoff which flows west from the top of Ridgecrest mountain. Here the full blown Suwa’li-nunna flows westward. The valley that stretched from Wallace Mountain upward to the Blacks is known simply as North Fork .
In 1785 a boundary was set (now Asheville) so that the Cherokee no longer had claim eastward of that point. That event opened up the lands such as the North Fork. Shortly thereafter, in 1791, Buncombe Country was formed and formal documentation of land grant transactions began.
By following the river upstream is a route the Native Americans and early North Fork pioneers could take to reach the blacks; enter the North Fork valley from either the left or right fork valleys, climb the left-fork of the river until Stony Fork Branch, then follow the branch origin to near Potato Knob. Before 1850, the horse trails followed this path. In the early 1850’s, Jesse Stepp (a pioneer resident of North Fork) built several cabins at the confluence of the forks. First of all, carriages could be taken to his house in the valley. He had arranged to provide horses at his home at lower elevation to get travelers to the cabins about four mile distance. From there, horses could be taken to the peaks. Jesse Stepp had also built a platform on the highest black, or so it seemed at the time. That was the peak now named Clingman’s Dome. After years of research, a taller peak was found to the north and later named Mt. Mitchell but that is another story.
In 1845, William Patton, a wealthy merchant who primarily lived in Charleston, purchased 750 acres in upper North Fork Valley. In 1850, Patton obtained another 4000 acres of land from the valley floor up the ridgeline to Potato Knob and Blackstock Knob. Patton built a mountain house in the 1850’s to accommodate guests high up the mountain near Stony Fork Branch. Horses could be taken from there to the summit. The trip upward, the stay at the mountain house, and the trip back would require three days. William Patton was first generation Irish in America with his father and grandfather living in Derry, Northern Ireland, the same as my Walker ancestor who came to America in 1720.
In the 1800’s many people who could afford the time and expense, travelled to the North Fork to spend days making their way up into the blacks. It was considered a special event. That is how captivating the area has been.
Official land transaction records for parcels around the North Fork Swannanoa are scarce in addition to the large one by Mr. Patton. I am still researching to find the records of the first to come. Here is what I have so far. Some of the names were misspelled by the recorder. This is the recordings complete with misspellings and inadequate location descriptions :
Robert Ingram, 50 acres on Dec 20, 1803, both sides of Cove Branch flowing into Flatt Creek of Swannanoa
David Taylor, plot unknown
Frederick Burnet Sr 1808 Sugar Fork
Frederick Burnet Jr Dec 20, 1828 50 acres on north fork of Swannanoa
Frederick Burnet Jr Dec 27, 1828 50 acres on west side of left hand fork of north fork of Swannanoa
Eldridge Burnett Nov 28, 1840 50 acres on north fork of Swannanoa including Big Cove
Robert Ingram Oct 26, 1816 100 acres on the head of the jumping branch to the waters of the Swannanoa
Hamilton Kyle had acres purchased land in 1805 but not sure he ever lived in North Fork, probably the Pigeon River area. He sold much of his land to Frederick Burnet Sr.
We know Jesse Stepp had much property toward the confluence. I have found no records
Nicholas Shoap 1828 150 acres at Sugar Fork
John Shope 1837 100 acres on waters of N. Fork of Swannanoa
The 1810 Federal Census listed these families as neighbors in the North Fork area: Hedgespeth, Radford, Thorton, Curtice, Kyle, Lakey, Postill, Fulwood, Ledford, Pinkerton, Ingram, Hamilton, Grear and Wylie. Some of those last names are familiar to the area now.
One of blacks called Pinnacle (5665 ft.) doesn’t quite fit within the fishhook curvature of the Black range. Pinnacle is east and then a tad south of Clingman’s Peak and stands as the northern point to a line of peaks that stretch south/southwest to the City of Black Mountain. The eastern side of the ridge line includes Montreat. The western side is Walkertown, my ancestral home. Walkertown is large central and eastern portion of North Fork that is the annex to the waters of the Swannanoa that come off the big slopes above.
This extensive ridge line begins with Pinnacle and follows with Graybeard and the Seven Sisters ( Big Slatey, Little Sister, Fifth Sister, Fourth Sister, Big Piney, Little Piney and Tomahawk.
Seven Sisters as seen from Lake Tomahawk, Black Mountain, North Carolina
Most of Walkertown from Wallace Mountain northward and westward up the above mentioned ridges was owned by Jonathan Young Walker, the first Walker in the valley. He had two sons, James Washington Walker and Daniel Young Walker who both stayed in the greater North Fork. Here I have to define greater North Fork. Personally I think I have arrived in greater North Fork when I turn the corner on North Fork Road and intersect the boundary of the eleventh hole of the Black Mountain Golf Course. This is the hole with a huge, ancient oak tree standing in the middle of the fairway. I believe this location was Daniel Walker’s Dairy and I think that Joan and Robert Goodson’s book has information on that as Joan is a descendent.
James Washington Walker was my 2nd great-grandfather and was married to Sophronia Jane Burnett, daughter of Frederick Burnett Jr (those stories in my other blogs.) Their sons were Albert Walker (Betty Creasman) and Julius (Jules) Walker (Roxanne Pittman). Albert was the father to my grandmother Bertha Lillian Walker while Jules was the father to Jennie Maude Walker. Maude married Thomas Blaine Morris, Sr. who had the large dairy farm you first noticed when you crested the North Fork Road incline by the church. Jules had built the large house, barn and other buildings in 1897 but sold it to Blaine Morris around 1926. Blaine and Maude lost sons Joe and Gordon in WWII. After Blaine’s death, my old neighbors, and Blaine’s son, Thomas and Grace Morris moved into the house. Their daughter Arlene is in the old property. Sons Mike and Jeff Morris later on inherited acreage on both sides of the North Fork Road all the way into Walkertown. I spent a lot of happy times with Mike and Jeff through the years and did not realized at the time that they were third cousins, having shared a common g-grandfather, James Washington Walker. Thinking about it, having Walker and Burnett grandparents, makes it highly likely to be related to just about everyone in the North Fork.
During my eleven to seventeen years, mostly during my Scout Troop days, I spent many afternoons climbing Wallace Mountain or Tomahawk. My neighbors did not mind as they only asked that I “don’t shoot a cow.” I spent many Sundays trying to keep up with super-mountaineer Jim Festus Page (four years my senior and a leader in my Black Mountain Scout Troop) on the way to the top of Graybeard. Jim Page was my childhood hero and lived up to the hype during his lifetime. He was a smokejumper in Oregon, and after graduating from North Carolina State in Forestry, he became a Forest Ranger in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska. This is the second largest national forest in America and as you would expect, full of grizzly and wolves. It was in hiking Graybeard with Jim Page that I ran across the old dirt toll road to Mt. Mitchell.
As an infant, I lived in North Fork while my Dad was in the Army Air Corps during WWII. We moved full time to North Fork in 1953. We would have moved in earlier but my mom rightfully insisted on an indoor toilet before we moved. At that time we did not have any central heating and my dad installed a potbelly wooden stove for warmth. I remember staying close to that thing a lot.
North Fork Road was not paved then, just a dirt road with potholes and gravel here and there. We were able to drive from the right fork to the left fork by crossing the Shutt Branch near the present day spillway. My Dad drove something like a ’39 Buick Coupe with me and my sister in the back, mom in the front. There were ample ponds of water on the road which prompted me to get my dad to splash through the puddles. One Sunday we came to the Shutt Branch and it looked a little higher than normal but someone in the back, and not my sister, urged him to drive through it despite my mom’s insistence to turn around. Halfway across, the car listed and started washing downstream. There must have been others having difficulty so there was some men able to swim out and to pull my mom, sister and me from the car. My dad didn’t tell me the full outcome when I saw him later that night, but we had a different car a few days later. Speaking of my sister Tootie; It was miraculous that she survived childhood. Other than the incident mentioned above, I hit her in the head with a rake, dropped a board on her head from my perch on the top of a sycamore, and I talked her into stuffing pebbles up her nose. But she survived and is a prime resident of North Fork.
I remember the chain gangs of convicts that worked with hand tools to prep the laying of the inverse penetration paving of the North Fork Road. I personally did not want changes. I remember thinking that maybe we are not mountain people anymore. In those days, the county brought around a “book mobile” once a month into the North Fork. I loaded up on leather stocking tales each time. But then again, we were getting city-fied.
In those days a dirt road connected the right and left fork roads. West of Shutt Branch, there was a makeshift parking area and a small bank. After parking and walking a bit, you would come to a wide spot in the river, with a non-frightening depth. This was one of the North Fork swimming holes and the one called “the swimming hole”. This is where I learned to swim. It was a very popular spot in the summer. A half-dozen years later my mom got my sister and I season swim passes for the Black Mountain Swimming Pool. The first big sign that I was headed for citification.
In the mid fifties, my dad and I were fortunate enough to have permission from the Walker’s to hunt on their land. The Walker family lived at the far north end of Walkertown Road, all the way up to near the top of Walker Branch at a large old home. I do not recall the owner’s name but they had damned up the creek in front of it to make a small pond. We walked far up the mountain, most likely between Big Cove at the reservoir and Middle Mountain on the east ridge at about 4000 feet elevation. The mountain was like none I have ever seen. There were abundant large oaks spaced generously with few annoying underbrush and pesky smaller trees. It was so easy to walk while gazing the tree limbs above for squirrels. I do not know why the forest was so immaculate at that time. I was awed by the amount of moss and grass undercover. I have always wondered if the Walkers had brush cleared all that land or it had been naturally attractive. And yes, my dad could pick off running squirrels in the high branches ahead with a 22 pump. He was an amazing marksman while I could not hit anything with my single 22, so on future trips I switched to a shotgun.
Thomas Morris to our north had a 400 acre dairy farm and his father Blaine operated one in Walkertown. I can still visualize the well-worn cow paths along the ridges heading out of and back to the milking barn and I can still hear the bell of the bell-cow bring the herd home. When hay was cut, many neighbors got together with the Morris’ to get the bales up on the back of the truck. I can remember a bale being passed up that had a snake hanging out. One year Walter Balew and I drove a few head of bulls all the way up to a high pasture above Walkertown. When the bulls were collected months later, one had been eaten by a preditor.
I remember climbing the packed earthen dike of the growing dam and picking up small fragments of blasting wiring and caps. I remember talks of relocating the old church and gravesites. It was a time of sadness, feeling badly for the families displaced and feeling gloom for citification of this special place. But it was the people that I remember most fondly. Unfortunately I did not know all but I can comment on what I do recall. At the top of the right fork on the right hand side was Jack Cordell’s old store. It was small and looked like a shack except it had some large sign on it. Jack was always there, sitting high, letting people come to him. I don’t know all that he sold there but I do remember the cold drinks, moon pies, and candy. We could walk up the hill to his store and back and a quarter could bring you a pocket full of treats. Downhill from Jack Cordell were the Shooks and Stones. Then my daddy’s place at the bottom of the hill on the left. Across the road were John Ballew, Grace Mixon and the Willets. Further up the road on the left was Grace and Harry Morris with Mike, Jeff and Arlene. To the west of my daddy’s house and facing the left fork was Bobby Burnett. Once over the rise at Wallace Mountain you would come onto Blaine and Maude Morris’ dairy. Gordon Morris, the Vanovers, and Burgins were there. I am sorry Mr. Burgin for hitting your truck with a dirt clog. My sister and her husband have a place on my daddy’s old five acres that he got from Blaine Morris in the depression years.
The cemetary at Mt View Church is the most sacred off all to me. My mom was buried there in 2011 beside my dad who was laid to rest in 1997. My grandparents Robert Reese and Bertha Walker Reese are there. My great-grandparents Albert Washington Walker and Nancy Creasman Walker are there as well as my great-great-grandparents James Washington Walker and Sophronia Burnett Walker. Many more are aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The North Fork is not just a nice place to live or a nice place to grow up, but it is a special place like no other. If you got to grow up there, then you had a charmed childhood.
In 1777. a spokesman for the Cherokee, Corn Tassel, made a statement to the Commissioner of North Carolina and Virginia. He said:
“The great God of nature has placed us in different situations. It is true that he has endowed you with many superior advantages, but he has not created us to be your slaves. We are a separate people! He has given each his own lands, under distinct and different circumstances; he has stocked yours with cows, ours with buffalo, yours with hog, ours with bear, yours with sheep, ours with deer. He has indeed given you advantage in this , that your cattle are tame and domestic while ours are wild and not only demand a large space for range, but an art to hunt and kill them; they are, nevertheless, our property as much other animals are yours and ought not to be taken away without our consent, or for something equivalent.”
I can only imagine what the North Fork was like in 1777 but what I imagine is golden. Of course Corn Tassel was correct. While the taking of the lands from the Cherokee, taking of the lands from our ancestors for the Asheville Reservoir is damaging to the soul, at least for now this majestic land is one of few in the East that much of it is still primarily preserved.
According to the1940 Census, the inhabitants of the right fork of the North Fork Road were:
Lorraine Pressley; G. Phil, Susie and Bill Morris; Hilda Roberts; Jewal, Ada, Dorothy and Norabelle Barlett; Hassel, Mary and Dillard Massey; Roscoe and Marsiz Hollified; Jas Creaseman; Luther, Lucy, Paula and Luther Jr. Vanover; James, Gardie and Hollie Ledbetter; Blaine, Maude, Joe, Scott, Thomas and Harry Morris; Ruth Woodcock; Van, Martha, Beula, Lee, Howard, and Margaret Willit; Grace, Ray and Mary Ann Willet; and John and Josie Ballew.