Appalachia

The Dutch Oven Mystery


Back last summer, me and Pap made a trip to visit Charles Fletcher-you might remember I interviewed him for my Appalachian Writers series. I already knew Charles was a good writer but that day I discovered Charles is generous too-he gave me a treasure.

In 1954 Charles was working for Bowater in Cleveland TN. There was some grading work going on across from the paper machines, near the river. Charles took a little walk down there to see how things were progressing. While he watched the dozer push dirt-he noticed the blade unearth something. As soon as the way was clear, Charles ran down and grabbed the item. It was the bottom of a cast iron pot-the type that we’ve always called a dutch oven.


(pour spout or lip on pot)

The pot was rusted and dirty but still intact. Charles took it over to the guys in the machine shop and got them to sand blast it-once they did-the pot looked good as new.


Charles took the pot home and set it on the hearth of his fireplace. Sometime later a friend came for a visit and asked about the pot. Once Charles told her the story of how he found it, she said he ought to give it to her. The lady had a pretty good argument. She told Charles, her Mother had lived on the other side of the river-across from where the pot was found. Even better than that-she had a lid she just knew belonged with the pot. Charles said no he couldn’t part with the pot he wanted to keep it. As time went by the lady continued to tease Charles about giving her the pot. Eventually she turned the tables on the barter by giving Charles the lid. It fit perfectly.

 

One might think the mystery was solved-since the lid fit the pot-perhaps it was her Mother’s old dutch oven. However there is one more twist to the story. The area being dozed back in the 50s was where Cherokee Indians camped as they were being gathered up for the Trail of Tears.


If you know anything about cast iron-and I know some of you do-look at the marks-

  • could either piece be old enough to have belonged to the Cherokee or the people who were moving them?
  • do you think the lid and pot really go together or is it just a coincidence that they fit?

Of course there is no way of knowing who the pot belonged to for sure-but it’s fun to think about. And if you ask me-the story of how the pot and the lid came together makes a dandy story.

Tipper

 

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Auther Ray
    November 27, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    The Cherokee known as the early settlers who moved first were given a Dutch oven pot by the Government along with gunpowder & lead along with blankets and a rifle for each family member over 15 years old. So the pot could have belong to either party.

  • Reply
    Melissa P - Misplaced southerner
    March 18, 2011 at 9:40 am

    One more thought as to using that wonderful cast iron Dutch Oven… FRIED CHICKEN!!!! Nothing holds a temperature better than cast iron and yours looks deep enough to fry up a mess o’chicken! Yummmm! Guess I’ll have to make some this weekend now.

  • Reply
    Uncle Al
    March 17, 2011 at 8:16 pm

    Hey Tipper, Just so happens I have a twin to that cast iron dutch oven. Can’t recall where I got it. It has some indication of dates on the inside of the lid, which seem to be in the 1920’s. My pot also has a smooth bottom.

  • Reply
    Yvonne
    March 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    No southern Appalachian gal would be caught dead without her cast iron pots and pans! Enjoyed the post!

  • Reply
    Jen
    March 17, 2011 at 9:18 am

    What a fun story and the comments are truly interesting!

  • Reply
    Paul
    March 17, 2011 at 7:01 am

    I have to agree with most of the other commenters. They don’t seem to be a match, but they do go perfectly together!

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    March 17, 2011 at 2:33 am

    Great story, Tipper. As you know I love my cast iron, but it is heavy and sometimes just too heavy for me to use now. But I use my little cast iron pan and make the best cornbread.

  • Reply
    Leon
    March 17, 2011 at 12:31 am

    Season and use that thing! There’s no better way to work in the story than while you’re dipping stew out of it.

  • Reply
    SandyCarlson
    March 16, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    I think its downright dandy and interesting. Please let me know how it works out.

  • Reply
    Osagebluffquilter
    March 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Tipper, I love Wagner cast iron. It’s always my choise of auctions. But anyway, try this site for more information on your iron ware: http://www.panman.com/
    Patti

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 16, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    Tipper, that is a beautiful pot and lid, whether they came together or not. I love my cast iron pans. I’ve used them all my life. There is no better cornbread than a cake cooked in a cast iron pan!

  • Reply
    Douglas
    March 16, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    All I can think of is that dutch oven should be where folks can see it, not necessarily in a museum but in a someones home that gets a lot of traffic and someone should keep telling the story. Whats a nice pot without an often told story.

  • Reply
    Ken
    March 16, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    Tipper,
    I hope someone can help you with
    the Dutch Oven and Lid. I have an
    old Dutch oven pot and I found one
    at the flea market. They wanted an
    arm and a leg for the lid! But I
    did see another tea kettle with an
    8 and star on it but they wanted
    too much for it too. I’d say that
    pot is from the turn of the century, early 1900’s…Ken

  • Reply
    Anastasia
    March 16, 2011 at 3:06 pm

    What a happy discovery! And you are so lucky to own this precious pot. To me, the lid seems to fit the pot perfectly!

  • Reply
    Debby Brown
    March 16, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    Its a lovely pot and I’m sure it has a wonderful story behind it but I don’t think it involves the Cherokees. I work at Chieftains Museum in Georgia and I know a little about them. They used pots and pans just like the white settlers did, they were just as civilized as the white settlers. And pots went on the Trail of Tears but the Cherokees headed west in the late 1830s.. I do not believe that Wagner was in business making iron cookware until the 1880s or 90s.
    And so to my way of thinking they could have come from anytime since then. Just a little info to help with the mystery.. no Cherokee connection though. sorry!

  • Reply
    Rick
    March 16, 2011 at 2:06 pm

    That is pretty interesting and I can see why he did not want to part with it.
    Keep us posted if you find out more.
    Whitetail Woods™
    Whitetail Woods Blog / Deer Hunting and Blackpowder Shooting at it’s best.

  • Reply
    Melissa P - Misplaced southerner
    March 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I found that Wagner Ware originated in 1881. I’m no scientist, but the lid is definitely stamped. Don’t think they were using stamps as early as the 1800s (more than likely the 1940s or later). My guess is that although the pot is a #8 (probably an inside dimension?) and the lid is #8 they weren’t original to each other. I am pretty sure that the lid is later than the pot, and that #8 lids were made to fit properly on any #8 vessel. Would be interesting to see what everyone else thinks and if anyone finds more out.

  • Reply
    Luann Sewell Waters
    March 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Tipper,
    Wagner Mftg. didn’t come on the scene till 1891, well after the Cherokee removal. (the Book of Griswold & Wagner by Smith & Wafford). I believe they marked the bottom of all their pots, so the pot and lid are not likely a ‘match.’
    Also, the pot is probably 20th century made since there is no ‘gate,’ a narrow line projection, on the bottom. This is an indicator of the casting method. By the end of the 19th century, better control in casting provided vessels without gates.–Dutch Oven Chronicled –their use in the United States by John G. Ragsdale. This is a great read for those interested in Dutch oven history–and has recipes, too.

  • Reply
    Chef E
    March 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Love the story…funny how some people just automatically feel things go together…
    I am sending you an email…

  • Reply
    Pat in east TN
    March 16, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I sure can’t help you, but find others comments more then interesting.

  • Reply
    kat
    March 16, 2011 at 10:23 am

    What a great gift. Don’t know if they were made to fit each other but a good thing that they do and you’ll get some use out of it. Curious to know who really left it and why.

  • Reply
    Ethel
    March 16, 2011 at 10:03 am

    That’s a great story. I wouldn’t want to eliminate any of the possibilities, it’s too much fun to speculate! I LOVE my cast iron, do you cook in it Tipper?

  • Reply
    Nancy @ A Rural Journal
    March 16, 2011 at 9:51 am

    My husband and I collected quite a bit of cast iron a few years ago — I agree with B. Ruth. I believe the lid would have been from the 20s-40s and the pot would have been marked Wagner Ware also if it went with the lid.
    Great combination. Doesn’t matter if they “match.” 🙂

  • Reply
    Sandra
    March 16, 2011 at 9:19 am

    i am thinking probably not on the do the lid and pot go together, since these old cast iron are all interchangeable. could be, but i think not. you are blessed to have it given to you. what a treasure. I had no idea the Cherokee used cast iron, but i just googled and yes they did, so i am thinking it was theirs and that makes it even better.

  • Reply
    B.Ruth
    March 16, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Tipper,
    One other thought….Did Mr. Fletcher think to ask the lady why her family would separate the pieces or tote the cast iron bottom across the river from the homeplace? I don’t think one would pick blackberries in that heavy pot!
    Like the other search, I can’t wait to see other folks ideas and the experts thoughts…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    B.Ruth
    March 16, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Hey Tipper,
    Great story….
    It looks like your top is marked Wagner Ware….I do not think the bottom is the original to the top..as most times it would be marked as well I think…Now it has been a long time since we’ve bought and sold a lot of cast iron since we have been out of the business…but just about the time you think you know an item “up will jump the devil” and you have something different on your hands…
    I think they probably belonged to a family home there in the thirties or forties..not the indians movers…I’m guessing!
    Thanks Tipper

  • Reply
    Becky
    March 16, 2011 at 8:23 am

    Well, I don’t know if they “belong” together, but they seem to look great together now! And I think the story of their meeting is just dandy, too.
    And I wonder about who owned it and what they used it for.

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