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.
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.
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 County; Southern Appalachian English.