Meet Mark Davidson

Wilderness Wildlife Week pigeon forge TN

I met several fascinating folks when I attended Wilderness Wildlife Week back in May. Over the coming weeks I will introduce you to all of them.

Pigeon Forge has hosted Wilderness Wildlife Week for the last 25 years as a tribute to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and its heritage. There are tons of presentations and workshops offered during the week-all FREE to the public. It’s a great event for people who are interested in anything related to the Smoky Mountain National Park as well as the general area of East TN and Western NC.  The Deer Hunter and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and hope to attend the event again.


Mark Davidson Appalachian Studies Teacher


One of the fascinating folks we met at the event was Mark Davidson.

If you’ve been reading the Blind Pig and The Acorn for a good long while you’ll remember how much I loved the book Dorie Woman of the Mountains written by Florence Cope Bush.

As I flipped through the brochure for the week Mark’s session Living Large in Logging Land: The Fred Cope Family Working for Little River Lumber Company jumped out at me. I told The Deer Hunter “I have to go to that one because I just love Dorie and Fred and the rest of their family.”

Doily made by Dorie Woodroof Cope Florence Cope Bush


Doily made by Dorie’s oldest child, Wilma Katherine Cope – Given as a gift to Mark Davidson

Mark’s session about logging and the Cope family was outstanding! I really enjoyed the subject matter covered and I so appreciated the honest manner in which Mark discussed logging in the mountains.

A few days later we sat in on another one of Mark’s sessions: Family, Faith and Freedom on the Frontier – The Scots-Irish in the Southern Appalachians. At the beginning of the lecture Mark asked the audience if they already knew where they wanted to be buried. As a few folks raised their hands into the air he said “There you go that’s an Appalachian trait.”

I know all about the sense of place and home that runs through most Appalachians, but I had never thought about that great sense of place following us into the grave.

Mark’s delivery was as entertaining as his subject matter.

Another interesting point he made was surnames traveled in herds. As people migrated from Pennsylvania down through the Cumberland Gap and beyond, they stayed in tight groups of family, causing areas of Appalachia to be heavily filled by certain surnames even until today.

Mark was gracious enough to allow me to ask him a few questions and to share his answers with you.


Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Maryville, Tennessee, and grew up in neighboring Alcoa. I’ve lived all my 65 years in Blount County.

In the lecture I attended you said you taught Appalachian Studies in high school. Was that your primary focus of teaching for your entire career? Overall, how did the students respond to your class?

I taught 38 years in the Blount County School System; 32 of those years were on the high school level, primarily teaching United States History, with a little World History mixed in. The last 10 years my major focus was Appalachian Studies. On the whole, students really enjoyed it. Every so often I run into one of my former students or even one of their parents. Many times they’ll mentioned something we studied and they have tucked that nugget away. Recently, a former student called me about the 1925 fire in the Tellico area during Babcock Lumber Company’s logging days . . . he was going to compose a bluegrass song on the story of the fire in the Jeffrey’s Hell section of the Citico Creek Drainage Basin.

Why Appalachian Studies? Did you always have a desire to preserve your heritage or was it something else?

In 2000 our system switched from the traditional 6 class period-a-day, 6 credit-a-year schedule to “block” scheduling. Block scheduling means only 4 classes a day, with 90-minute class periods. So you need additional course titles to occupy those 2 extra classes over a year’s time. (Each class is only 18 weeks long, or what we used to call a semester.) My department chair said, “You love the mountains so much, why don’t you teach a class about them?” So, I started the process, and added material year by year. It was just doing what you love, no grand cause, etc. But preserving the culture, sharing the heart of the people, the love of the land, the critters, etc. all come into play.

How long have you been giving lectures/workshops about Appalachia?

Going on 4 years.

Over the years I’ve met people who believe Appalachia is some far away place-some of them did not even realize they were living smack dab in the middle of Appalachia. Have you ever encountered this same phenomenon?

Certainly, some areas just have more folks. In settling the area, people craved fertile bottom land. There weren’t that many people who lived at high elevation. Many town and city dwellers have let the stereo-types tell them what an “Appalachian” person should be, and many therefore are afraid they’ll be called a “hillbilly”.

Since you’ve been teaching folks about Appalachia for so long, are there things you’ve noticed changing during that period of time? Maybe more or less of an interest?

In East Tennessee, I think folks are taking more interest in the study of Appalachia. Books, documentaries, museums, etc. are shedding a light on this whole idea. Knoxville’s WBIR-TV10 produced a series of 3.5 minute episodes of THE HEARTLAND SERIES. Over a thousand episodes were produced over a 25-year period, from 1984 to 2009. Originally produced to mark the 50th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nobody ever thought these programs would last for 25 years. Episodes are still being rerun in 2016. The programs are about “a people and their land”. Thousands of people attended their good-bye event, after the last show was filmed back in 2009. I would venture to say that with institutions like John C. Campbell Folk School, Western Carolina University, Appalachian State University, and the Penland School, the same things are happening in WNC.

How often do you teach classes? How can folks find out about them?

So far, we’ve done fall sessions and spring sessions at Pellissippi State Technical Community College, located on US 321, between Maryville and Friendsville, Tennessee. But, they could be held at other locations as well. I can be reached at [email protected] or 865-809-2533 (cell).

What if an organization would like for you to come to their meeting or event how far are you willing to travel?

I would love to have an excuse to travel anywhere in WNC, NGA, ET, SEK, SC Upstate,  or southwest Virginia.

Do you have writings folks could access? Have you written a book or articles?

Don’t have any writings to access. I do have an article in the ENCYCLOPEDIA OF EAST TENNESSEE. It was assigned to me as part of a class project. It was an informational piece on the East Tennessee Development District, written in 1980. Nothing memorable about it at all.

One of your sessions at WWW was about the family from the book Dorie Woman of the Mountains. You have a personal connection with some of the descendants from the book, did you know the family before reading the book or did you meet them later?

I have met several members of the Cope family since 2004. I probably read the book in 2003.

I believe Dorie is one of the best descriptive books about Appalachians. Many of the customs, traditions, and dialect used in the book are still alive and well in my area of Southern Appalachia. I remember you mentioned Loyal Jones too. His book Appalachian Values, in my opinion, is the best description of Appalachian traits that there is. What books do you recommend for folks interested in Appalachia?

It would be impossible to list all the books that would of benefit to those who love the mountains. However, in addition to DORIE:WOMAN OF THE MOUNTAINS, by Florence Cope Bush, I’ll mention eight others:


2) My personal favorite, VALLEY SO WILD, by Carson and Alberta Brewer, (the story of the Little Tennessee River, from Rabun County, Georgia, to its mouth, near Lenoir City, Tennessee)

3) THE FRENCH BROAD, by Wilma Dykeman

4) MOUNTAIN HOME, by Wilma Dykeman and (son) Jim Stokely

5) TENNESSEE: A HISTORY, by Wilma Dykeman


7) a story of the heart of a true citizen of Appalachia, AUNT ARIE: A FOXFIRE PORTRAIT, edited by Linda Garland Page and Eliot Wigginton

8) for fun, A BEAR IN THE BACK SEAT: ADVENTURES OF A WILDLIFE RANGER, by Kim DeLozier and Carolyn Jourdan


The back of Mark’s business card reads:

A series of non-credit classes for those who
love the mountains

I hope you enjoyed meeting Mark, his love for Appalachia shines brightly through the words he uses to teach others about his home.  If you live close enough to attend one of his classes I highly encourage you to do so or if you have an organization that would be interested in what he has to offer I urge you to invite him.


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  • Reply
    June 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Thank goodness for people like Mark, who understand the importance not only of preserving the culture, but also keeping it alive, and teaching others about it.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 17, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    Tipper—I thoroughly enjoyed your description of the talk by Mark Davidson along with your interview with him. Full marks to him for teaching courses devoted to Appalachian ways and sharing his insights. One aspect of the blog suggests to me something you might want to consider as future blogs; namely, have readers list their favorite books (say five or ten of them) on southern Appalachia or the mountains. While I wholeheartedly concur with a number of Mark’s selections he is somewhat Tennessee-centric in those selections, which is completely understandable given his geographical background. However, the fact that the entire operation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has always given the North Carolina side of the Park shamefully short shrift, never mind that Swain and Haywood counties between them hold appreciably more than fifty percent of the Park’s land, has always been a sore point with me. Park headquarters are in Tennessee; Park archives are in Tennessee; most of the research projects are in Tennessee; well over fifty percent of the Park’s annual budget focuses on Tennessee; there are exactly two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places in North Carolina (none in Cataloochee) while dozens of buildings and places in Tennessee have that designation; most of the Park’s bureaucrats operate out of Tennessee; Cades Cove gets worlds of attention while its N. C. counterpart, Cataloochee, is comparatively neglected, etc. It flat out frosts my grits.
    Now that I’ve traveled down that possibly xenophobic rabbit trail, I’ll get back to my main point, literature of the mountains. While I wholeheartedly concur with several of Davidson’s selections, I stridently differ with him on what he selects as his favorite, Carson and Alberta Brewer’s “Valley So Wild.” The book is flawed by sometimes slipshod research, imbalance, and a somewhat propagandistic overtone. The latter comes because the book was commissioned by the Tennessee Valley Authority, and anyone who has researched TVA very deeply knows that they are going to insist on being presented in a most favorable light and can be really insidious adversaries when something stands in their way. If in doubt, just check some of the records of how they handled the whole acquisition of lands portion of the building and flooding of Fontana Lake. Here’s my list, in no particular order of preference, although I would really like for it to be fifty books rather than ten and obviously I think highly of Parris’ works.
    1. Michael Frome, “Strangers in High Places.”
    2-5. John Parris, “My Mountains, My People,” “Roaming the Mountains,” “Mountain Bred,” and “These Storied Mountains”
    6. Margaret Brown, “The Wild East” (the best history of the GSMNP)
    7. Olive Tilford Dargan, “From My Highest Hill”
    8. Florence Cope Bush, “Dorie, Woman of the Mountains”
    9. Wilma Dykeman and Jim Stokely, “Mountain Home”
    10. The Foxfire books as a collection.
    Then you could get into favorite mountain cookbooks, favorite hiking or guide books, favorite memoirs, best books on regional natural history, etc.

  • Reply
    Barbara trent
    June 17, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    My mother’s brother, Tommy married Wilma Cope, so she was Aunt Wilma to us. She and uncle Tommy quilted and crocheted right up til they couldn’t anymore. Uncle Tommy was a preacher and had worked for the government in CCC camps in the Smokies. I have several photos of them if you would like to see.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 17, 2016 at 11:27 am

    My mother made doilies like that and some much bigger. Big enough to cover a small table.

  • Reply
    June 17, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Reading your column just keeps adding things to my bucket list!
    Seems Mr. Davidson could compile his class notes into a good reference book about Appalachia.
    Wonder why folks from “afar” get such distorted concepts about various locations. . . is it the media? the entertainment industry?. . .
    Texas may have as many misconceptions about it as Appalachia. We had an exchange student from Switzerland living with our family in the early 1990s. Poor boy was so disappointed that we didn’t meet him at the airport on our horses; and even more dumbfounded to learn we didn’t even own horses, much less a longhorn steer. He did allow as how we “spoke funny” – but then, he had learned English from a Scotsman.
    This year our daughter in Dallas has had an exchange student from Spain. Even though this girl is well traveled (having relatives in New York and Argentina), she thought Dallas was ranch land and everyone wore cowboy hats – perhaps from selective viewing of the old TV series Dallas. Somehow she made it the whole year without buying a cowboy hat; but we rectified that this past weekend – one week before she returns to Spain.
    When I was growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, once we got a TV, one of the main things we watched (besides the Ag reports and the weather) was a news magazine (perhaps 60 Minutes). They were doing a series on poverty in America around the time of Pres. Johnson’s Great Society programs being initiated. This particular evening they were focusing on our home area and opened with something like. ” In the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the poverty is even worse than in Appalachia!” (Appalachia had been featured the previous week, I believe.) The reporter obviously had firmly entrenched pre-conceptions and was rather condescending during his interviews with the locals. I particularly remember the glint in one farmer’s eyes and thought with a giggle, “if only the reporter knew what that man was thinking!”
    Guess it all boils down to, no matter how much we think we know, there is always more to learn.

  • Reply
    June 17, 2016 at 11:16 am

    It looks like you and the Deer Hunter had a good time at the Wilderness Weekend thing in Pigeon Forge. Sometimes it’s nice and necessary to just get-away for a bit. Pap and your Mom have taught you well and you’re Blessed beyond measure. We all appreciate you more than you realize, with your dedication to Appalachia…Ken

  • Reply
    June 17, 2016 at 10:02 am

    Tipper, you have outdone yourself lately with the posts. I would like to say thanks to Mark Davidson for his interest in keeping all aspects of Appalachia alive.
    Two things that really came to my attention is the fact that Appalachian families already know where they wish to be buried, and in our early history Appalachian families migrated or traveled in herds. This is so true of my Grandfather’s family, as we know for sure how and when the Green family traveled along with another family from NC to Southern West Virginia. Also, a tradition of keeping family cemeteries clean is a group effort here where many travel from out of state to join in the efforts. Many families bring their loved ones back from other states to be buried in the hills, and unfortunately this can be true when they become very ill.
    I was late reading yesterday’s post by David Templeton. It was a gem also. In my work years I often drove right by the memorial at Bartley #2 where coal miners were killed all those years ago. Being from this area, that mine disaster comes up often in reading of area history. I often wondered how the widows and children survived, as company houses had to be evacuated on short notice no matter the reason. I had read most widows moved to a nearby town called English.
    Referring to one of your previous posts, I suppose I am plumb foolish about anything Appalachia. I only wish my area was more into preserving the beautiful culture. FB is great in permitting groups, and one very interesting group is “Appalachian Americans.” They must monitor closely because the things we once took so for granted are now considered politically incorrect. I love the seamless flow of The Blind Pig!

  • Reply
    eva nell mull wike, PhD
    June 17, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Well Tipper: You hit the nail on the head this morning. Jim and I have gone to Maryville the last two evenings to visit with my brother David Mull and his wonderful wife, Donna. They live in Athens, GA, but they are in Maryville for this WONDERFUL flat picking music school for two weeks! Jim and I just went – as visitors – for dinner and a fantastic evening program of musicians from all over the WORLD! It is BETTER than any music program I have ever attended – even in my 20 years in NASHVILLE!
    Jim remembers a FRED COPE from the 1930’s who worked at Blackwood Lumber Company in East LaPorte, NC, where Jim grew up. Jim wants to know if Mark is a relative of Fred’s family.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    June 17, 2016 at 9:23 am

    Very informative. Now I’ve got to find the books on Mark’s reading list.

  • Reply
    June 17, 2016 at 9:19 am

    I have bought and read so many of the books I first heard about here on The Blind Pig. Mountain Home sounds like a good one. I just ordered a book that I can’t wait to read. How We Talked And Common Folks, two classic books together. It was written by Verna Mae Slone in the 70s and reprinted in 2009. The book contains old sayings, descriptive phrases, weather signs, superstitions and etc. It will be like reading 325 pages of The Blind Pig and The Acorn!

  • Reply
    June 17, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Love reading about Appalachian history even though I’m from West Tennessee. I attended UT Knoxville from 1981-1985, and I’ve always had a love for the mountains. Thanks for this article!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 17, 2016 at 8:52 am

    Mark is someone I would love to meet and talk to. I like to hear of natives who have made a career at home. Where I grew up many had to leave, as I did. Apparently his students were well served by his teaching.
    I really recognize the ‘surname herds’ point. That is one of the things genealogy teaches. Families were their own safety net, especially on the frontier. Where I grew up, individual drainages had family names; Jones, Coffey, Dobbs, etc. That pattern would be found to be widespread throughout Appalachia I expect and harkens back to the earliest days (unlike the fanciful ‘realty-speak’ names of the present day).
    The other thing about bottomland is also so true. Anybody who has seen “Sargeant York” knows how he longed for a bottomland farm and not a rocky hillside. As time went on after first settlement, descendants were pushed onto more and more marginal land for farming and on smaller tracts. That, in turn, set up the outmigration of the 20th century.
    I haven’t read all the books on Mark’s list but I can second his recommendation of “Bear in the Backseat”. I have never met Kim Delozier, the author, but he is another local native, from Seymour, TN. His books are a hoot in general but with somber notes as well.
    OK, guess I’ve rambled on long enough.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    June 17, 2016 at 8:31 am

    Thanks Tipper. Great info. I read Jim Webb’s book when it first came. His people came from some of my turkey hunting country. He paints a true picture of our ways and value system. Thanks for the reading list. Norma and my girls also loved The Tall Woman. Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 17, 2016 at 6:08 am

    Now I begin to see why you and the Deer Hunter enjoyed the WWW weekend so much. Mark sounds like the kind of guy you could listen to all day! I’m looking forward to hearing more about the conference.
    Perhaps you’ll be a presenter there some day. Have you read all the books on his list?

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