Appalachia Civil War Letters

Taking a Trip to Civil War Days in Cataloochee NC

Photo by suzi phillips cataloochee nc

Photo by Suzi Phillips

On a cold April day we set out to find the place Henry Grooms, his brother George, and Mitchell Coldwell were killed by Teague’s Home Guard during the Civil War in the Cataloochee area of Haywood County, NC.

Don Casada was able to pinpoint the general area of the murders through his extensive research on the subject.

Cataloocheed grooms tune

It was one of those bright early spring days that fool you into thinking its warm, and it sort of is as long as the sun is hitting you directly. But as soon as a cloud waves its way over the sun or the wind begins to stir you realize old man winter is trying his best to hold on just a little bit longer before he leaves for good.

The girls have been playing Bonaparte’s Retreat/Groom’s Tune for at least 3 or 4 years. The song is said to be the fiddle tune Henry played just before his death. Once we learned the story behind the song Chitter begin telling it everywhere we played. After making such a strong connection with the tune, we were all super excited to visit the place and let the girls play the song right there as sort of a remembrance to those who died.

Hiking in cataloochee haywood co nc to sing

As luck would have it, Chitter wasn’t feeling well and she was pretty much miserable for the entire trip, but she’d tell you she wouldn’t have missed it for the world and she’s glad she went. She carried a blanket along and wrapped up in it every time we stopped to talk or to see a new sight.

A highlight of the trip for all of us was meeting Blind Pig Reader, Suzi Phillips. The Grooms event took place practically in her backyard and she was gracious enough to tag along with us and help point out things we didn’t know.

Bonapartes Retreat or Grooms Tune

The girls brought skirts to wear because they wanted to look nice in the video. It was so cold we tried to convince them to wear their jeans or at least wear their blue jeans under their skirts but they weren’t having none of that for the video.

Grooms Tune Cataloochee NC

Once we started filming they had a hard time keeping their fingers warm enough to move and keeping their instruments in tune was almost impossible.

You’d think there wouldn’t be much traffic on a cold April morning way back in the mountains of Cataloochee, but there was! Finally Don walked up to the next curve to hold traffic until we finished the song we were filming.

The girls, mostly Chitter, were disappointed with the video. They wanted it to be perfect.

The cold and Chitter not feeling well made for many mess ups. We finally made it all the way through the song and even though it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for, we called it done. I reminded the girls the reason they were doing it was for the men who died, not for their own perfection.

I thought the video turned out pretty good. It captured a day we’ll never forget as well as gave remembrance to the men who died.

Grasshopper for good luck

When Chatter went to put her guitar back in the case she found she had a little friend.

Family cemetary Cataloochee NC

The girls put their pants on under their skirts and with Suzi’s help we went on across the mountain to find the grave where the Grooms brothers and Mitchell Coldwell are said to be buried.

Sutton cemetary cataloochee nc

It seemed warmer down off the top of the mountain and we were all excited to see the graveyard. Like many old cemeteries in Appalachia, the Sutton Cemetery is spread out along a small ridge line.

I J White buried sutton cemetery cataloochee nc mt sterlingThe hand carved stones in the cemetery are among the prettiest and neatest I’ve ever seen. Most looked to have been crafted by the same hand.

As you can see, we found what we were looking for. Certain historical records say the Grooms brothers and Coldwell were all buried in the same grave and at a later date, the family of Coldwell set the stone for him.

We’ve played the song and told the story of Grooms Tune for so long that going to Cataloochee was like completing the circle for us. As silly as it sounds standing near the gravestone had a feeling of home or maybe it was more a feeling of kinship. Either way it was a good feeling and one that we’ll never forget.



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  • Reply
    Samantha Lackey
    August 29, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    I really enjoyed reading this. The Grooms are part of my husband’s ancestors and we are hoping to visit Cataloochee soon. Could someone tell me the easiest way to find this grave? I am not familiar with the area at all.

    • Reply
      Sean Noland
      August 12, 2019 at 9:03 am

      Great blog!

      Stood at that spot Saturday and soaked in the history- spent last two days up there, learned how that horrible war directly impacted my family, all these families and that whole beautiful valley.

      This year was my first Cataloochee homecoming – won’t be my last.

      2nd Sunday in August – you owe it to yourself to go there and see it if you have kin from Cataloochee.

  • Reply
    October 1, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could learn history this way?!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 1, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Tipper–I for one know the answer to B. Ruth’s question–it’s look away, look away, look away, Dixie land. However, and doubtless it’s just my tin ear, I remember part of the lyrics as “Then hoe it down and scratch your GRAVEL . . .
    I’m guessing younger readers are less likely to have heard those verses.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Interesting Story, and I thought the Girls did very well.. and a Beautiful area..

  • Reply
    Evelyn Richardson
    September 30, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    Tipper, thanks! I enjoyed your post! I loved the video!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 30, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    The girls were disappointed that the video wasn’t perfect? I’m not. It is as perfect as it needs to be. It is real people with acoustic instruments in a wilderness setting. The wind in the microphone accompanying them is not imperfection, it is reality. What I heard and saw is as close to what the Grooms men and their brother in law would have experienced 152 years ago as you can get. Who knows they might have been there for the reenactment.

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Funny thing that Sarah Teague Casada are Jim and Annette’s Great Grandmother but Don seems to disavow the relation to her. The Grooms/Coldwell story shows how the War of Northern Aggression divided neighbors and even families. The inhumane acts occurred on both sides with many murders committed in Western North Carolina by Bushwackers and Raiders with Union sympathies, many of them were locals and many were from East Tennessee. Many people do not realize the major cause of the war was economic, the US budget just prior to South Carolina’s cessation was 90 million dollars and 80 million dollars was tariffs charged on southern products (mainly cotton) shipped from Southern Ports. This was an effort of Northern Textile producers to set the price on cotton which England and France were paying more for. North Carolina voted not to join the Confederacy on their first vote but changed their vote when they were ordered to raise troops to attack South Carolina.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 30, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    I don’t remember those lyrics Don!..ha Deny, deny of course!
    The only lyrics I remember are the ones Charline posted about the “hoochie-coohie dance”…Ha
    Yes, those were the bygone days of youth! I guess the “devil” made us do it! ha
    Speaking of lyrics…
    Who knows these lyrics or title from the 5th verse of this song? It is one of the many songs being sung during the Civil War! Along with
    “John Brown’s Body”, “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp The Boys are Marching” and “Just Before the Battle, Mother” which is so sad!
    Dar’s buckwheat cakes
    and Injun butter,
    Makes you fat
    or a little fatter;
    —- —-! —- —-!
    —- —-! —– —-‘
    Den hoe it down an scratch
    your grabble, To —– —-
    I’m bound to trabble.
    —- —-! —- —-!
    —- —-! —– —-.
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Yes Jim, that azure sky is gorgeous! I thought for a minute it was photo enhanced but decided it wasn’t!

  • Reply
    Annette Casada Hensley
    September 30, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Tipper, today’s blog is wonderfully written. It really takes the reader along with you and, of course, the video and photos just add flavor. Thank you for making this cold trip and for sharing it with your readers. Did you notice that Don Casada says that his brother Jim and sister Annette (me) are related to Teague but doesn’t claim that kinship himself?!!

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm

    This is one of many reasons I like
    the Blind Pig and the Acorn. You
    seem to go that extra mile so folks
    can see the real Appalachia.
    Chitter and Chatter really did well
    on Groom’s Tune even if it was
    harsh conditions. (That’s about my
    kind of weather tho.)…Ken

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Well done! That’s just about the way I larn’t it, ‘cept maybe a bit speedier. My thanks to Chitter and Chatter for caring enough to keep these old tunes alive..

  • Reply
    Doris Noland Parton
    September 30, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Thank you for the lovely video and music honoring my children’s paternal relatives. I also want people who do genealogy to know that in my early years of genealogy (I started in 1977), I thought my kids and their Aunt Dolly Rebecca Parton (entertainer) descended from the Henry Grooms who was killed, but she wasn’t. Henry Grooms and his brother George were Dolly’s 3rd Great Granduncles and Mitchell Coldwell/Caldwell was married to her 3rd Great Grand Aunt, their sister. Dolly joins in the parents: Henry Grooms and Anna/Anera Anderson.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Oh, this is just delicious- my kind of story, both past narrative and present day, as well as the comments of other readers.Very touching and real. I love the rendition of the tune. My Daddy played it on his fiddle, of course, but it was commonly sung among clusters of school girls, “All the girls in France do the hoochie-coochie dance.”

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 30, 2015 at 10:11 am

    In response to Jack’s question about the location (I really appreciate someone who – like me – wants to see things on a map), I’ve posted a couple of map snippets showing the location where the girls played (on the Mt. Sterling road, about a third of a mile above the Little Cataloochee trailhead) and another showing it in relation to the Sutton Cemetery (with I-40 and the Walters Dam thrown in for better reference points). They are here:
    Note the name Dude Branch in the upper left corner of the first image. One of these days, Tipper might do a piece on Nancy Kerley, aka Nance Dude – whose saga ranges from Cataloochee to a Swain County Courthouse, then on to Raleigh and finally, back to Conleys Creek in Swain.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    September 30, 2015 at 9:42 am

    Thanks Tipper for sharing. I was hunting this past spring in the mountains of southwest Virginia and found an old graveyard along the spine of a ridge in the woods. The graves ran in a line following the ridge top for at least 100 yards. Most died in the late 1800’s. It was sad to see so many graves of children.Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    September 30, 2015 at 9:32 am

    Well Tipper,you shore provided a wonderful post today. I have walked that trail with our dear friends of THE SMOKEY MOUNTAIN HIKERS. But I hope to make it again with my grandsons before too long. Our son has a cabin up on Rich Mountain but the road is so steep we have to ‘catch a ride’ as I am too chicken to drive up to the top anymore!
    Wish we could make your Sunday afternoon concert but we’ll be back in TN on Saturday!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    September 30, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Tipper, WOW, what a great post. The song was beautiful and could not have been more powerful than being played where the actual events took place. This is the way history should be done whenever possible. Thanks so much.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 30, 2015 at 9:10 am

    I’ve known you were a great storyteller for a long time, Tipper- you captured our day perfectly! I’m freezing (it was cold!), yet warmed by the memory of spending a wonderful day with new friends. The girls sound absolutely wonderful, frigid fingers and all! Thank you again for including me, I had the best time 🙂

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 30, 2015 at 9:07 am

    The place where the girls were playing was on the road near the mouth of Indian Grave Branch. That location was based on the description in “Cataloochee, Lost Settlement of the Smokies” and was mentioned by Ken Wise in an article he wrote in the Fall, 2007 Great Smoky Mountains Colloquy:
    One interesting thing recorded in the Powers/Hannah account (and mentioned by Wise) is the quotation from Clark Medford regarding the tune:
    “It is a sad one, running much to the minor key, musicians say. Dogs often howl whenever it is being played.”
    The tune is anything but a sad one, and although I’m no musician, the only minor key part that my ears detected was the part that b. Ruth used to sing when she was a girl which goes:
    “There’s a place in France
    Where the women wear no pants
    And the men go round….”
    Better stop there in the interest of keeping this a G-rated blog;-)
    One final note: Brother Jim and sister Annette are related to John Albert Teague, whose home guard did the shooting. He was the 2nd cousin, as I recall of their great grandmother Sarah Teague Casada.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 8:47 am

    Looks kinda like you are up near Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center, Purchase Rd. Could you post a map or some general directions? I thought the video was excellent. Y’all done good. Tell Chitter to chill and not be such a perfectionist. She’ll live longer.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2015 at 8:34 am

    History is so much more interesting when not studied as a memorization of facts as we did in school. The way you have presented this, Tipper, just makes one want to keep digging in to find out as much as possible. These lives of long ago just come alive. Anybody can mention history, but few can actually bring it to life and create interest.
    You are so fortunate to have Don to research facts and bring forth these stories. It is even more rare to have children to share your interest.
    Those young ladies are just so very gifted. Each time I see them on here, I am so impressed by parents who encouraged their talents. It seems most young people are just walking around down here with a lack of interest in anything of value. You are doing somethin’ right.

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    September 30, 2015 at 8:27 am

    What a worthy walk back into history, and a fine tune.The Grooms boys and Mitchell Coldwell must have smiled.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 30, 2015 at 8:16 am

    Great story! I enjoyed the “Grooms tune” played in the open air, at the men’s approximate departed site!
    I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall, down around someone’s home, that knew the story of murders…however, didn’t know the girls were up there
    on a cold morning playing the tune, and the melody drifting though the valley…Ooooh That would’ve skeered me alright!
    Great job girls…Great pictures, too!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…My bones are aching this morning. I feel a damp nip in the air along with wet leaves falling quickly to the ground. Cardinals, chipping and chirping around the feeders letting me know if the feeders aren’t filled again soon, that they might just starve to death on this nippy morning! ha

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 30, 2015 at 7:53 am

    That is quite a story and journey honoring the murdered soldiers. War is an ugly thing, I don’t even like to think about it.
    My hat is off to your whole group for making this journey in cold weather and feeling bad! Your girls have certainly inherited your sense of time, place, and how to honor it!
    I’m looking forward to the folk festival this year. Though I’ve been to many, this will be the first one I’ve attended since I moved to Brasstown Road.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 30, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Mighty fine girls, mighty fine. I’ve had the privilege of hearing the twins play Grooms Tune in person (they performed it last year at the “Pickin’ and Grinnin'” which always closes the annual meeting of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association) and it’s a pure joy to listen to and watch them play.
    I don’t know whether it struck anyone else, but in two of the photos the sky is that bluer than blue hue that you sometimes get during springtime in the mountains after the passage of a strong front. The azure, slean as a bobwhite’s whistle and deeper than a lovely blue-eyed maidens eyes, is breathtaking.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Karen Larsen
    September 30, 2015 at 6:57 am

    I love this closing of the circle. And I really love that your family is so respectful of the past. Thank you. I don’t comment often, but I always read your blog!

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