Appalachia Oconaluftee/Smokemont

William Henry Conner And Son – Dock Conner

Appalachians have a sense of place

The small graveyard we visited just off the side of Highway 441 was the grave-site of William Henry (WH) Conner and his wife Rachel Gibson Conner.

In the post, History Of Lufty Baptist Church, I mentioned Reverend William Henry Conner played a significant role in the success of Lufty Baptist Church.

According to the Ocona Lufty Baptist Pioneer Church Of The Smokies 1839-1939 William Henry Conner was crossing Deep Creek in a wagon when it overturned. He developed pneumonia from the accident and died on March 14, 1887. The book shares that his funeral wasn’t held until November of that year-1887-but doesn’t offer any explanation for the lengthy wait.

Also found in the book are the church minutes regarding W.H. Conner:

Elected as supply pastor May 1862-June 1863; September 1865; February 1867; December 1872; May 1874; February 1877; and April 1878. Delegate to various meetings from July 1864 to July 1880. Gave up charge of the church January 1868. Member of building committee October 1880.

William henry conner and rachel gibson conner oconaluftee graveyard

Rev WH Conner Born Sep 27 1827 Died Mar 14, 1887; Rachel Gibson wife of Rev WH Conner Died July 1885.

Don Casada pointed out it was interesting for William Henry to have been driving a wagon in Deep Creek when it turned over with him-because Deep Creek is a fair distance from Oconaluftee when you’re traveling by wagon.

Dock (D.F.) Conner was one of William Henry and Rachel’s sons. I found a reprint of a newspaper article that was published in the Knoxville Journal in 1976, The Saga Of The Dock Conner Family written by Vic Beale. The article seems to shed light on why W.H. Conner might have been traveling far from his home. See the relevant portions of the article below:

The upper end of Pigeon Forge [Tennessee] was one unbroken farm of 115 acres when Dock F. Conner was finally able to buy it for $17,000 in 1926. Dock had been coming through the farm for years, driving cattle on the hoof from the higher ranges of the Smokies, down the Indian Gap wagon road through the unpaved mountain hamlet of Gatlinburg, on down the twisting curve of the west prong of the little Pigeon river. Where the river flattens and the valley suddenly widens for the first time was where the farm lay, on the west bank of the river. Dock camped there with his cattle many a night, resting for the two-day push on to the livestock market in Knoxville.

The Conner homeplace was on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, a 300-acre farm that stretched up and down the banks of the Oconaluftee river [often referred to as the Lufty or the Luftee, and sometimes the Ocona Lufta], across from where Collins creek empties into it, and about two miles north of the present-day Smokemont Campground [North Carolina]. Dock’s father, Rev. William Henry Conner (known locally as Henry), bought the Luftee farm from the Collins family before the Civil war. Henry moved to the farm during the war, when Dock was eight years old.

The article goes on to explain the cattle operation involved the whole Conner family-so perhaps William Henry was driving cattle or visiting the Deep Creek area for another reason related to cattle when his wagon overturned.

Wh conner and rachel gibson conners grave

The headstone for William Henry and Rachel was added at a later date-as you can see the older markers standing straight. There were a few other graves in the small cemetery but none with markers which told who they were.

After we looked at the graves, Don suggested we look at a homesite nearby-it was the homeplace of Dock Conner.

The church minutes listed in Ocona Lufty Baptist Pioneer Church Of The Smokies 1839-1939 tell us this about Dock:

Received and baptized July 1871. Teacher of the Bible class May 1877. Delegate to meetings July 1877, July 1879, and March 1884.

The article written by Vic Beale tells us more about Dock:

His busiest years as a trader appear to have been when he was middle-aged and past. The farm on the Luftee was a collecting point for the yearlings he bought each spring, most on the North Carolina side in the counties of Haywood, Swain, Jackson and Macon. Each springtime, Dock and the late Good F. Ownby made the rounds of the families they’d been buying from down through the years. These mountain farmers would raise steers to yearlings, one of several head, in anticipation of the Conner-Ownby visit. [Journal Ed. note: Dock married Margret Emeline York at Smokemont on April 9, 1876.]

Weighing was by guess, but it was said of them that they seldom missed an animal’s weight by more than a very few pounds. They paid the farmer the most recent market price of which they were aware. They bought several head from a farmer on Deep creek in one instance, and when they got home they learned that the market was significantly higher than the price they had paid him. So they returned to Deep creek and paid the man the difference. It was a mountain way of doing business that enabled Dock to stay in business.

When they had gathered enough cattle to make it worthwhile, they, meaning members of the Conner family usually would start a drive back into the mountains, looking for good grazing in the river valleys, on the heads of creeks and on the ridge tops. The pounds that they put on that summer, assuming that the market didn’t go down drastically, represented a profit. Dock almost always sold off all his cattle in the fall. Sometimes he sent them east through Asheville to the market in Richmond, Virginia.

Where the cattle had been grazing when it was time to take them out of the mountains often determined whether they would be driven north and west into Tennessee, or south and east through Carolina. The mountain land was still owned by the lumber companies until it was purchased for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Logging on most tracts was completed in the 1920s or earlier, and from then until the [National] Park Service began patrolling was when the free range was most plentiful. Anybody who owned cattle was welcome.

The Conner family started moving to Tennessee in 1937, first to Gatlinburg and then to the Pigeon Forge farm Dock had bought 11 years earlier. He lived his last years here with the family of his son Charles W “Charlie.” And less than a handful of years after Dock died in 1948, Pigeon Forge lots with 100 feet of road frontage and 150 feet deep were selling for more than he had paid for 115 acres.

Fascinating to think about how familiar William Henry and his son Dock were with the Oconaluftee area. I’m positive they knew every creek-branch-and laurel hell within 50 miles.

When Dock was 84 years old he was interviewed about his life in Oconaluftee by Joseph Sargent Hall. I found the interview on the Appalachian English website.

D. F. “Doc” Conner (Oconaluftee, Swain County, North Carolina) was age 84 when interviewed. He was self-educated and the owner of a country store.

I was borned in Jackson County eighteen fifty-five and was about eight years old, I guess, or nine, moved from that county to, my father did, to, to Macon County, and we were there for about six years, I think. And then we, my father moved to, to, into this county known as, it was Jackson at that time again, but was finally made to, so called to be Swain County, a new county struck off, and that was here on the waters of Luftee River. I stayed there from the time I were about fourteen years old, I think, on up till today on this river known as the Oconaluftee River, and I’ve been here in these mountains ever since, reared up just, just come up. And now I’m a-gittin’ up in years, eighty-four, I think, been here in the Smoky Mountains ever since, since I was about maybe fourteen years old. Of course, we are here in the park now, the park area. Our lands is turned over to the, to the, the Smoky Mountain National Park.

By reading historical documents connected to the Lufty Baptist Church one can clearly see William Henry and Dock played a significant role in the church. From Bushrod Conner’s baptizing in August of 1836-all the way through to the 1900s Conners show up in the minutes.

The sheer number of Conners listed in the minutes tell me-the Conners played a significant role in all of Oconaluftee. Like the rest of Appalachia-families tended to stay put in the Oconaluftee area-as long as they had a home.


*Sources: Ocona Lufta Baptist Pioneer Church of the Smokies 1836-1939. Text by Florence Cope Bush. Over 1,000 names from church records. Copyright 1990 Misty Cove Press PO Box 22572, Concord, TN  37933-0572; Julius J. Conner and family from North Carolina and Tennessee to Skagit CountySouthern Appalachian English.


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  • Reply
    Lucy Sanford Trantham
    May 22, 2014 at 11:36 pm

    Was happy to run across your blog, I am working on our church history (Crabtree Baptist – Haywood County)for our 200 year anniversery. Rev. W.H. Connor served from 1875-1876. I didn’t have any info about him. I’m trying to get some information on all our pastors from 1814 and a picture if possible. We have a picture of him but it is kind of blurry. Would you have one to share with our church? So happy I found this blog.

  • Reply
    January 20, 2013 at 1:43 am

    So interesting! I love visiting old cemeteries and wondering how people lived and died. When our sister’s boys were little, we’d visit them with a picnic, and I’d get the boys to practice their addition and subtraction with the birth and death dates on the headstones. There’s a small old cemetery in Cary, NC, behind the assisted living center on Kildaire Farm Road, where every several children in a family died within a few days of one another. We always wondered what happened to them, one of the influenza epidemics we thought, and felt sad for the mom and dad, going on to live without them.
    A small cemetery borders the back boundary of our property. In it are graves, very old and newer, of families whose names are still prevalent in our little town.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    January 17, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    You are doing a great job with the Ocona Lufty history and the people who established the church. They had their rules and regulations
    much like all Baptist churches.
    When we were very young we went to church at the little Indian Church at Birdtown called
    Echota Baptist. We had a pastor by the name of Ben Busheyhead and he preached in the Cherokee
    language. We didn’t know what he said half the time. He would speak some in English.
    I’ve remember what he said one Sunday. He said, “I can just hear those little turtle doves say, Please don’t kill me.”
    He must have been preaching to the mean boys with their slingshots.
    At the church my grandpaw went too they were strict. He didn’t go one Sunday because he had to move a family off of Mount Noble with his horses and wagon. The man had a gallon of moonshine in the wagon and when the church heard about it they “churched” him, as like put him out of the church. He never went to church any more.
    Mr. Charles Flether, I have never saw a fullblood Indian man ride a horse in the old days, in fact they didn’t have horses, they had steers that they used to plow their fields. Also we don’t
    call the women, wives or any female a” Squaw.”
    That is a derogatory name.
    That would be like calling my father a “Squawman” because he married my mother who was ½ Cherokee.
    I use to like the Lone Ranger and Tonto movies.
    “High Oh Silver and Away.” Or something like that.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    January 17, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Tipper , What great history work you have done for us. I eagerly look foward to hearing the recording when we get home from vacation. Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    January 17, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    That was very well done! I enjoyed
    reading your research of the Conner family and their way of life in the Occonalufty Valley.
    My favorite thing your wrote is
    the story of Cora Lee Mease, a
    real treasure. Thank you for letting us view these Appalachian
    treats through your eyes…Ken

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    January 17, 2013 at 11:07 am

    I’m compelled to walk through old graveyards and often wonder about stories of the people buried there. This was a great read. Thanks

  • Reply
    Lonnie Dockery
    January 17, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Great story Tipper! I really like that.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    January 17, 2013 at 10:27 am

    These are the Collins for whom Collins Creek is named. I’m awfully tempted to tell you more here, but I’m thinking that Tipper may have another article related to the specific Collins fellow for whom the creek – as well as Mount Collins – is named. The first thing we did that day (after stopping at the visitor’s center) was to go visit the Huskey Cemetery where the fellow in question is buried.
    I’m going to assemble some additional Collins information for you today, and will get it to you through Tipper.
    A sad thing to pass along here – yesterday a section of Highway 441 collapsed up above Collins Creek. From pictures I’ve seen, I think it’s about four miles north of Collins Creek, in the area of Aden Branch. I expect the road to be closed for months to come; it was a major slide.
    Yesterday, I walked up Indian Creek about four miles. It was absolutely roaring the entire way. If it’s been higher during my six decades plus, I’ve not seen it. Along the way, I noticed two places in the Deep Creek road (park section, which sees very little vehicle traffic – basically rangers) where the road was cracking and falling. With continuing rain and apparently snow on the way, I fear there’ll be more to come.

  • Reply
    Brian Blake
    January 17, 2013 at 10:14 am

    Fine piece of research, Tipper! You have given us a penetrating glimpse into the lives and character of Appalachian people in the hard world of the not so distant past. Great-grandfather John Y.F. Blake, born in 1856, was Doc Connor’s contemporary. We think of the two boys growing up as the Civil War crashed upon them.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2013 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for researching and posting. Your writing is so descriptive, I can almost see the cattle drive through the hills.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 17, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Does anyone know of a connection between William Henry Conner and Roy Minyard Conner? Roy and his wife Lessie Ayers Conner are mentioned several times in the Foxfire Books. His birth place was Oconolufty in Swain County. There almost has to be a connection.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    January 17, 2013 at 9:38 am

    The Oconaluftee that you saw on your recent visit
    Is not the Oconaluftee like I saw it when I was stationed
    In the CCC camp up the mountain of highway 441.
    There were several homes in the Smokey Mountains along the highway.
    It was not unusual to see an Indian men riding a horse
    With his squaw following along behind. If you asked him why his wife was not riding he would answer. Sqoaw
    Don’t have horse.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    January 17, 2013 at 9:20 am

    That is a great story and a wonderful piece of history. I could sit and read stories like that all day long! You can tell by his voice in the recording that he was a kind man but I’ll bet he was as tough as whit-leather.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2013 at 8:57 am

    What a great post and interesting piece of information! I never knew that young steer are referred to as yearlings. I keep learning about the early Applachian times. I also appreciated the pictures.

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    January 17, 2013 at 8:41 am

    I added your information and pictures for Rev. Conner to Thanks for finding him and the great story.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 17, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Tipper, you’ve done such a fine job of honoring the Conner’s and this church, and the spirit of these magnificent mountains. There is no doubt you are driven by pure love.
    I am fascinated how you find a little slice of time and replay it for us filtered through your eyes. It is a rare talent you have!
    Some day, when I am long gone, you can tell my story.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    January 17, 2013 at 7:54 am

    Old graveyards tell many stories, don’t they? Often not the stories found in history books, but stories of real people and hard lives. This was a great read, Tipper. Thank for for the work you must have done to find this information and honor Mr. Connder’s memory.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    January 17, 2013 at 7:40 am

    Such a wonderful post today, Tipper! Such rich history! I am so inspired when I read about how our ancestors’ faith and integrity permeated their lifestyle–like the Conners going back to pay the difference when they found cattle prices had increased! And the fact that the Conners bought land from the Collins family, and there’s a Collins Creek at Oconaluftee excites me. My maternal ancestors were Collins! I think there may be a connection there! Thompson Collins went from NC to N Georgia, had large holdings of land–and raised cattle, too! I’m interested in learning if Collins names are listed in the membership of the book Florence Cope Bush wrote about Ocona Lufta Baptist Church of the Smokies!

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    January 17, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Fascinating story,, no doubt a hard life. The audio portion is great, his voice reminds me of a Preacher that we were friends with who was in his late 80’s Bro. Louis Smith, their voices are so much a like it’s amazing.. I have mixed feelings when I read or here of those folks having to turn over the land to the govt. Just as I am when they drove a lot of the Indians out..

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