The Blind Pig Family Goes To Hazel Creek

The blind pig family goes to hazel creek, nc
Last Sunday, The Blind Pig Family went to Hazel Creek. During the summer months The North Shore Cemetery Association organizes Decorations for each of the cemeteries along the North Shore of Fontana Lake. (to find out more about their great organization-click on their name)

Beautiful sunrise in andrews nc
As we headed towards Andrews early that morning-there was a beautiful sunrise.

Ferry ride to hazel creek
Since Hazel Creek is most easily accessible by boat-there were boat rides to enjoy.

Decoration day at hazel creek
There was a simple service. Singing hymns in a cemetery is always a moving experience if you ask me.

Tipper Pressley and Mildred Johnson
There was time spent with my good friend Mildred Johnson.

Going to decoration day at proctor

And just like the Decorations of my youth-there was a table loaded down with delicious food.

We visited the Higdon Cemetery and the McCampbell Gap Cemetary (also referred to as the Wilson Family). Both were smaller than the other cemeteries I’ve been to on Hazel Creek. The first time I ever visited a cemetary on Hazel Creek-I wondered at the new headstones that had been placed in front of some of the old rock ones. (I wrote about the first time I ever visited Hazel Creek here)

Not long after that first trip, I was told the reason for the new headstones. Every year the number of people who actually lived on Hazel Creek is becoming smaller and smaller. It’s very important to them-that the graves are marked so future generations will know who has been lain to rest where. Who buys the stones and places them? The North Shore Cemetery Association-and they do it by donations. Donations of money to buy the stones-donations of time from a person who’s willing to take them over and set them.

Tom and Minnie Wilson Graves, hazel creek nc

A few things I especially enjoyed about the trip: At the Higdon Cemetery I discovered 3 Wilson graves all in a row-Tom, Minnie, and an Infant. Are they related to Pap? I don’t know.

There was a boxwood at the head of the infant grave-kinda spindly and tall but still quite healthy looking. I wondered if it was planted for the baby? I wondered if it was planted by Tom or Minnie?

A black man buried at hazel creek
At the same cemetery there was one grave off to the side by itself. You can see it above-the stone simply says “A Black Man”. I don’t know if I was being overly emotional on Sunday or what-but as soon as I saw the marker tears sprang from my eyes. I felt sadness for a man who was buried without anyone recording his name. I felt gratitude towards the North Shore Folks for giving him a marker too.

I don’t have any photos of the McCampbell Gap Cemetery. My camera doesn’t do well in low light areas-like woods. But even if I had a better camera-I’m almost positive I couldn’t have captured the feel of the cemetery. Most all old cemeteries in the area are on ridge tops. Even though the folks doing the burying were heartbroken with loss-their common sense urged them to save the bottom land for crops.

There were only a few graves in the cemetery. The folks who’ve been before-and are quite knowledgeable about the area-couldn’t recall for sure how many there should have been-the numbers thrown around were between 4 and 8 (there were no new markers). The walk up was steep-steep enough to weed out most of the folks from the first cemetery we visited. On the way up we passed an obvious house place-the chimney and foundation partially still intact but mostly fell to the side.

As we walked up the final stretch-I was surprised to see how small-how narrow-how tightly perched on the ridge the cemetery was. But my surprise was soon replaced by a feeling of home. Oh I have no relatives who were buried there-no loved ones who had to leave their homeland for the better good of society. As far as I know I have no family members who were even remotely connected to Hazel Creek.

Yet I know beyond a shadow of a doubt-those were my people. They were the kind of people who said “come go home with me” or “don’t rush off you ought to just spend the night.”

The language of those people still springs forth from my lips and I hope it will also spring forth from the lips of my children and my grandchildren. The echoes of the lives they made with their own hands still rings in my ears.


If you’d like to see the Decoration schedule or information about donating money for a marker go here: Fontana North Shore Historical & Cemetery Association.




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  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    I am speechless. What an amazing and touching story… God bless you!

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 9:40 am

    Anything on Hazel Creek brings back memories. Back in the early 70’s I used camp in there for a week, hiking down from Clingman’s Dome, or boating in from Fontana. Camped at Bone Valley most times. Fun exploring the remains of an old shay engine on Cool Spring Branch and catching trout for supper. Thanks again.

  • Reply
    August 27, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Very interesting post, Tipper. There is a cemetery on what was once my Grandparents land that I would love to revisit and get pictures of the headstones. And do a little research on.

  • Reply
    August 26, 2011 at 7:31 am

    Back here on the coast(flatlands), if you spot a small cluster of trees out in the middle of a field, it is often a family graveyard. And it is usually on the highest rise on the property. “Closer to heaven” is the saying.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    August 26, 2011 at 4:22 am

    great post — “stay all night” is what my grandparent’s cousin would say every time when they visited – by foot, no car, etc.
    All cemeteries are special to me, and I’ve only seen those tiny markers just recently. I have a great great uncle whom I never met, but he does not have a marker – and it disturbs be greatly. I wonder what the cost would be of those tiny markers?

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    August 25, 2011 at 11:54 pm

    Lovely & poetic! I love old graveyards & always wonder about the people & their stories. PS-Uncle Arley always said, “Just stay with us” whenever we left him (what he really meant was, “Get the heck out of my face & off my place!”). Thanks for the memory-it made me laugh out loud.

  • Reply
    Mary Rutherford
    August 25, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    Oh my Tipper, every time I read your lovely words you bring me home. One of my favorite burial places is at the Island Home Baptist Church in Anderson County, Tennessee. A good many of my family rest there. As a child I was always fascinated by a narrow grave covered by mounded cement. The cement was decorated with embedded mussel shells from the nearby Clinch River. Years later my father told me the heartbreaking story of how the young man was drown in the river and his family mourned him by covering his grave with the shells. He was fifteen. Rest peacefully, James Franklin Adkins.
    I have recently begun to take photographs for a genealogical website as a volunteer. They provide a free service for those searching for family graves. It means a lot to someone to be able to see tangible evidence of an ancestor even if they can’t visit the grave in person. I hope you won’t mind if I share a link for anyone interested:

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Call me weird, but I love cemeteries. They’ve always brought me thoughtfulness and peace.
    When my sister’s boys were very young, I’d take them to one with a picnic. They could roam and run to their hearts desire because they were safe within its fences, and I liked to think their playful laughter brought joy to those buried there.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    August 25, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Tipper: thank you so much for including us in you trip ,i always feel that we are right along with you. many of my neighbors are from the hegdon and wilson familys. still planing our trip. so we may pop into one of your shows in sept. regards k.o.h

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 25, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    I just recently discovered this site and am tickled I did. My aunt Violet worked at John C Campbell Folk School a long time ago. My dad worked for the National Park Service and every year his crew camped at Hazel Creek. They spent the week cleaning and fixin up the graves there. In April of 1974 he had a heart attack there. His co-workers did CPR and took him by barge back across the lake but he died a week later in Swain County Hospital. I don’t know what the Park Service does now but at that time they took care of the roads, trails and cemeteries.

  • Reply
    Tim Mclemore
    August 25, 2011 at 5:23 pm

    Cemeteries are always a reminder to me how short life really is, it’s a place we all will end, if time last. Being prepared to go on vacation, or some other event is a natural part of everyday living, so many don’t prepare to die, and it’s a natural part of life also, that is what’s sad to me.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    August 25, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Thanks for another wonderful post…You have such a wonderful family…I see what you see, I hear what you hear and I think I am feeling in my heart what you are feeling when you write something like you wrote today…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    tipper as always your posts move me.. and the part about the black man.. made tears come to my eyes also.. along with the song playing.. really made me emotional.. thank you for celebrating the lives of those long gone… you truly are a kindred spirit and im so glad to know you 🙂
    big big ladybug hugs

  • Reply
    Elizabeth K
    August 25, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Wonderful post Tipper. I love cemeteries too, they are just so peaceful. I photograph interesting headstones and like to read them.
    Here’s a link to some gals who create art from primitive headstones, may be of interest to some:

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    Your words from the Sunday trip
    through a mountain cemetary surely
    moved me…Ken

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    August 25, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    There’s an old cemetery near Mama’s old house that has held a fascination for me all my life. One stone inscription reads “How many hopes lie buried here”. I have wondered about that person my whole life. There is also an old mill stone at the head of one grave. The trees are huge and beautiful and it is such a peaceful place–wouldn’t mind ending up there myself. My best friend & spent many days of our youth wandering around in the old cemetery.
    There is a slave cemetery outside the fence with very few markers–but the grave sites are obvious, and I think there is an effort going on for better preservation. During the Civil War a church stood nearby & was used as a soldiers hospital. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a ghost there at any time.

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I loved this story (as I do all of your writings). I was doing just fine until I scrolled down and saw the the picture of the stone that was off to the side that said “A black man”. That one pushed me off the porch figuratively speaking. Now I have been lying like a dog a trottin’ all morning telling all the folks my allergies are acting up. Fact is, I’ve never had allergies.
    I’m glad you wrote this.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    August 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    And I wonder, where are their progeny? Is there anyone, anywhere, who knows of these people and holds their memory. The baby who died would have been in her eighties now and all of the family folds have been scattered and are gone. Who goes back to a gravesite? Some do; most bury their dead and, even as the grave sinks away, don’t routinely go back. Someday, someone doing family geneaology rubs the gravestone name and confirms the root.

  • Reply
    Barbara Johnson
    August 25, 2011 at 11:27 am

    When my youngest ,who is now 7, was about 3 or 4 we would go for long walks in our town. One of the walks took us through the town’s beautiful and historic cemeteries. When he asked about the tombstones and the grave sites I always told them “those people are in Heaven now”. After that every time we passed a different cemetery he would call it Heaven. It took him until just recently to understand that the cemetery was not heaven.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    August 25, 2011 at 11:13 am

    Thank you for this, Tipper. I enjoy cemeteries, also. When I see a small cemetery in East Tennessee, I always wonder if the folks there were planted there or relocated for the nearby TVA lake. The important thing is that the graves can be found. I get peace from visiting with my ancestors when I find them. I like to think that they appreciate my coming to visit them.

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 9:54 am

    I loved your story! For some reason I am more at peace in a cemetery than anywhere else. I have always loved reading the names and wondering about their lives, especially if they were very young.
    When I was younger my siblings and I were out exploring an old cemetery in the mountains, and as children often will we explored where nobody had been for many many years. Below the old dirt road was an unattended area with numerous graves, and some had huge trees growing up through them. One in particular had a small rusted wrought iron fence around it and contained the name of a Civil War veteran. The dates viewed were mostly from the 1800’s. I had heard a few years later fence was gone and the tombstone crushed. I googled the vet, and actually found him on a genealogy site recently.
    It is wonderful that you are able to care for these cemeteries, as some old forgotten cemeteries will just become a memory in some child’s mind. Some sprang up near the coal camps, and others left behind the logging camps. Interesting!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 25, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Tipper–As you know, cemeteries draw me with a magically magnetic pull, and I’ve written a goodly number of magazine pieces on subjects such as “Trails to Tombstones” over the years. I’m also fascinated by the epitaphs one sometimes finds. They can be powerful, poignant, and sometimes downright eerie, such as:
    “Stranger as you pass me by, As you are now so once was I. Now prepare to die because as the worms ate me they will soon eat thee.”
    Incidentally, the first two phrases are very common on mountain tombstones.
    As for your question about how many graves were in the McCampbell Gap Cemetery, there’s a fine book done by the Swain County Genealogical and Historical Society, “The Cementeries of Swain County,” which contains a wealth of information (the Hazel Creek drainage is in Swain County). It has the occasional mistake and some omissions, but on the whole it is amazingly complete and certainly interesting.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 9:16 am

    I love visiting old cemetery and this one would be on my list. Your family is beautiful. and when the photo of the black man came up my eyes filled with tears, so if i had been there with you we could cry together.

  • Reply
    Robin Naneix
    August 25, 2011 at 9:11 am

    Wow! I wonder if the Higdon cemetery has my relatives. I am sitting here in Utah and reading the Blind Pig when I see this article…my family is from Andrews and last names were Higdon and Beavers! I can’t wait to move back home…til then this web site helps to keep the inner fires burning. Thank you, Robin

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    August 25, 2011 at 9:02 am

    Tipper you sure can make us feel what you are feeling…that’s just dang good writing! Sounds like another great trip and I know the company was good! Sorry I missed it.

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    August 25, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Well Tipper, you did it again! The words and photos just bring on the teas and memories of folks laid to rest so many years ago! This morning I was just talking with my sister over in Hayesville. She had been to the Funeral Home last night. Her words of sadness about a beautiful lady who had passed on made me realize how precious those years of living in the Cove were for our BIG families!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    B f
    August 25, 2011 at 8:50 am

    yeah …… remember “you all come back… just anytime”and this one too “just stay and eat with us “also
    “it was a man and womarn”and also this “you better be in here by 9 o-clock “also you and yourn”
    well thats enough for now

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 8:41 am

    “Do not lose heart, we were made for these times” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 8:35 am

    I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading todays post. My fathers family has such a cemetery…high on a mountain top, peaceful and quiet. It is very hard to get to but I love being there! It gives me such a peaceful feeling and some kind of connection that is unexplainable.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 25, 2011 at 8:12 am

    Tipper, your thoughts touch my heart. The lone head stone of A Black Man brought tears to me also. In the mountain cemetery, in the woods away from “civilization” prejudice slips away and is replaced by the small family society that lived there.
    There are parts of the old ways that we desperately need in this day and time. But time waits for no man and our experience is what it is. Thank you for reminding us there was another time with different values.

  • Reply
    August 25, 2011 at 7:52 am

    I enjoy cemetery visits, thanks for writing about yours.

  • Reply
    Debby Brown
    August 25, 2011 at 7:49 am

    A normal Thursday morning, the only thing to look forward to is I have a tour to give at the museum, and then out of nowhere , you take me on a trip up into the mountains. I travel along with you, I see the sunrise, I smell the water, I feel the dust as it rises from the road and touches my skin. I hear the singing, the laughter of voices, letting the fellowship and friendship fill my heart.
    I could write so much more about how special your writing was today.. but I take up too much room, so I will just say: Thank you for letting me share your trip, it was a lovely day.

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