Cades Cove was once a remote place in the Great Smoky Mountains. One of the few ways through the Smokies and into the cove was along Indian trails. Some of those trails were improved into roads. One of those trails was called, appropriately enough, Cades Cove road. The name was later changed to Rich Mountain Road. By either name the road was one of the main routes through the Smokies between Tuckaleechee and Cades Cove.

Rich Mountain Road has a number of famous views of Cades Cove and today’s Smoky Mountain visitors face the temptation to travel up Rich Mountain Road to see those views. Smokies tourists may use the road but shouldn’t unless they don’t mind leaving Cades Cove before finishing the auto tour most of which lay beyond the roads turn off. Rich Mountain Road is a one way dirt road which exits The Great Smoky Mountain National Park after twelve mountainous miles.

Cove roads which went to Maryville through the Smoky Mountains could be difficult to travel for the Cades Cove population and their teams of horses. You see the trip to town and back took three days. One to go. One to buy or sell goods, or perhaps visit and one to come home again.

Though Cades Cove was generally a self sustaining community, pioneers bought things from Maryville such as medicine and remedies such as Camphorated oil, catnip tea, Castor oil, Epsom salts. As time went by, general stores such as the Giles Gregory store, sprang up in Cades Cove where medicine, seeds, sugar, kerosene, yard goods and hardware supplies. Products could be purchased with money or by trading products such as eggs. Still, the larger town of Maryville had a more appealing selection and so the trips from the Cades Cove continued. If on a trip to Maryville, the family was selling rather than buying, chances are they were selling chestnuts which grew in abundance in Cades Cove. Unfortunately disease eventually killed the majestic chestnut groves.

Early Cades Cove Life

Life in Cades Cove in the early history of settlement in the Smokies was very different from life today. There were none of the modern conveniences that we take for granted and the pioneer mind set was quite a bit different from our own. The Cades Cove pioneer was profoundly influenced by the serene pastoral environment of the Smokies cove. As a people they were closer to God as well as the land. As you walk through their cabins, farms, mills, and churches you can feel times in which they lived. Therefore, as you stand before the beautiful vistas on which they stood, look at Cades Cove through their eyes. A sense of awe will come over you for the majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains and the graceful cove they enfold. Those who do will have a better understanding of the men and women who came to this Smoky Mountain valley before you.

What was it like to be a Cades Cove pioneer?

Traveling through Cades Cove, many like to project themselves backward in time. Should you do the same, you will learn a little of what it was like to live in the Smokies in the 1800’s. It is helpful to ask yourself the following questions. What might it have been like to bump over this Smoky Mountain road in a wagon pulled by horses? What would it have been like to move to the Smokies where the native inhabitants may be angry at your coming, lived a very different lifestyle, and spoke a different language? What would it be like to face the daunting task of clearing the land in hopes of creating a prosperous farm? The first step of clearing the land was done by girding the trees with an ax to kill the tree so enough sunlight would reach the forest floor in that first year to support a garden. Imagine then building a cabin, cooling food that would spoil in the cool springs or streams, hunting and fishing for food. Of course you would need to do that while as quickly as possible also planting a garden so you and your family would not starve over the first winter. What would it be like to tend and harvest the garden and preserve the yield and to know your families survival depended upon your success. Imagine slaughtering your own livestock if you were lucky enough to have it and preserving the meat for later consumption. Imagine chopping down the deadened trees to use for buildings and fences or to burn them into fertilizer. In short image what was it like to be a Smoky Mountain pioneer.

First Cades Cove Pioneers faced adversity in settling in the Great Smoky Mountains

John and Luraney Oliver were poor and had to be frugal in their preparations for their move to Cades Cove. They could have had little more with them than their seed, and a few tools yet, in 1818, toting one child and expecting another, the Olivers struck out from Carter county to the promise of the Smoky Mountain cove, Cades Cove one hundred miles away. Their journey was exhausting and yet, whether out of necessity or pure pioneer grit, John and Luraney simply walked into Cades Cove, rolled up their sleeves and went to work building their dream.
Though the Oliver’s historic settlement in Cades Cove may have been simple, it certainly was not easy. For one thing, the Olivers had to be convinced to move to Cades Cove in the first place by their friend Joshua Jobe. Once he brought them to the cove, they must have questioned the wisdom of having followed him into the wilderness. Once the Olivers were in the cove Joshua left them, intent on going back for more settlers. They would not have been concerned that Joshua would want to return to the cove as he had purchased land in Cades Cove from his father-in-law and intended to settle there. But would he return? It was common knowledge that settlers in the Wautauga Valley had been forced by the fierceness of the Cherokee Nation to live in forts. And so the issue of safety and living among the Cherokee was a real concern. With such stories about, the Olivers must have wondered would Joshua Job be killed by the Indians before his return? Would they?

As it turned out, the Olivers plight of living alone with the Native Americans turned out well after all. With the work of clearing the land and building their cabin, the Olivers didn’t get enough crops harvested and preserved before the harsh winter set in. Had it not been for the kindness of the Smokies tribe, the Cherokee, who shared their food with the Olivers, they would have surely starved.

Life for the young couple had been so grueling that come spring when Joshua Job returned, he had to give Luraney two milk cows in order to convince her to stay in the Smokies! And stay they did. The Oliver’s offspring still lived in Cades Cove when the Great Smoky Mountain National Park was formed in 1934.

Cades Cove Honeymoon Cabins

The Oliver’s original Cades Cove cabin stood fifty yards or so behind the cabin now identified as their cabin. It like all the Smokies cabins was built of the same natural materials found in the Great Smoky Mountain Park today. Even the shingles on the roof were made of the trees. John and his wife were as much a part of the land as were the bear, deer, fish and other living things of the Smoky Mountains. The cove society they began and participated in was a practical organic one which ebbed and flowed naturally with the┬áseasons and times.

In the Smokies in the 1800s even the needs of youth were taken care of in a practical way for their day. For instance, the cabin, still standing and preserved by The Great Smoky Mountain National Park service and identified as the Oliver’s cabin is actually the honeymoon house which the their family built for their son to use when he married. Such cabins were quite common in the Great Smoky Mountains. Typically honeymoon houses were built on the parents property near the main house.

Honeymoon Cabin Construction

Enfolded in the Smokies, the Oliver’s honeymoon cabin really must have been a nice place to live. Built in the 1850’s it had a good roof with a strong stone chimney, reflecting the character of the Smoky Mountains themselves. Their Smokies honeymoon house boasted two stories of living space and was constructed of logs hewn into timbers. Timbers are logs that are squared off with a broadax. Notches are cut in the ends of the timbers and then are placed one on top of the other to form the walls. Spaces between the logs were filled with mud to keep out pests and wind. Sometimes the inner walls of other cabins in the Smokies were papered old newspapers giving rise to games that were sometimes played involving the news on the walls. However, most of the materials needed to build the cabins were natural to Cades Cove except for the luxury of window glass.

Courtship and marriage in Cades Cove usually happened when the couple was very young

Life expectancy was much shorter before the modern age of medicine so the average life spanned was approximately forty-five. Perhaps this is one reason many Smoky Mountain people were married as teenagers and why the honeymoon house idea caught on. Courtship between teens in the Smokies often began as at social gatherings which included all ages such as church meetings and picnics, or events revolving around work. Those would include chestnut harvest, corn huskings, molasses makings and beanstringings, some of which included competitions. Perhaps the Oliver’s son met his bride at such a social gathering. Often mountain women who didn’t marry by age twenty faced living their lives as “old maids.”

Young and old had a role to play in Cades Cove pioneer family life

Cove life reflected the premise that each family member had an important place in the family and a job to do. For instance, the Great Smoky Mountain honeymoon houses allowed newly weds a stable environment in which to begin marriage. Close to the main house the young couple could help on the farm and also receive help as needed. Also beneficial, the Smokies honeymoon cabins provided that the groom’s education about running a farm could continue. His bride’s education about running the house also continued and the couple had help watching their children while still providing much need privacy and a sense of independence. Some of the log homes in Cades Cove had a hole cut in it just beside the chimney. Appropriately named a granny hole, the makeshift window allowed the elder woman to cook while keeping an eye on the younger children. And so, married, housed, childcare provided the young couple had a stable environment in which to start their lives together. Because of the stability of their situation, they could save money to buy their own land as desire, circumstance or need arose.

Typically, a cove family included a mother and father, children–nine in the case of the Olivers, and often a grandparent or an unmarried aunt. Though the cabins were small and the families large, there was much love among the family members who watched over and cared for each other as long as they lived.

Cades Cove Divorce Rate was surprisingly low

Now with all the early marriage going on in Cades Cove, you might think divorce must have been rampant but if you thought that, you would be wrong. Divorces were extremely rare in the Smokies as elsewhere in the country in the 1800’s. Perhaps low divorce rates seems even more surprising when you realize Smokies couples often raised ten to twelve children within their crowded cabins most of whom were delivered by “granny women” a colloquialism meaning midwives

Cades Cove Children had homemade toys

Children every where play and in Cades Cove it was no different. Their toys were often home crafted out of wood. Some other common toys were flips, marbles, and tops.

Cades Cove Population grew dramatically in the early years of settlement

Drawn by the fertile limestone based soil of Cades Cove, the population reached 700 by 1850, just thirty one years after John and Luraney began their Smokies home. All the children who grew up there did not stay, however, some leaving for other nearby settlements while others joined in the great western expansion known as “Manifest Destiny” which was happening in the late 1800’s. Manifest Destiny was the belief that God had ordained that the white man should settle in the land of the American Indian and that it was God’s will manifested by the events of the day.

Eventually Modern Conveniences Came To Cades Cove

Over the years progress did come to the Smokies as in other places in the United States. There was a post office which opened in the 1830s and Cades Cove residents had phones by the turn of the century. Refrigeration was achieved by using the springhouse as a cool place to store butter or milk.