Appalachia Smoky Mountains

Winfred Cagle’s Wisdom

Today’s guest post was written by Don Casada.

Winfred Cagle’s Wisdom
Don Casada, October 2018

In Tipper’s 5 Things piece of October 4 (2018), she noted that Doc Watson, along with Pap and Granny, pronounced Georgia as “Georgie.” That brought to mind the wonderfully expressed wisdom in the words of a man named Winfred Cagle, who from his birth until his middle teens, lived in what is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

As some of Tipper’s readers will know, I’ve spent considerable time over the last several years both wandering through and studying the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the people who once called it home.  Many of our National Parks, such as Yellowstone, Grand and Bryce Canyons, and Yosemite are places where Nature shouts in an audacious, knock you back on your heels, voice.  Not so in the Smokies; this is a place where God speaks softly through creation, in hushed, holy tones.

The contrast brings to mind the Biblical story of when Elijah was fleeing Jezebel and the word of the Lord came to him (1 Kings 19:11-13):

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Unlike those other National Parks, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created from privately owned land. Most of it was owned by timber companies, but there were also hundreds of family-owned farms involved.

There is – in my mind – no question whatsoever but that having the land set aside for a National Park is a wonderfully fine thing. If it were not a Park, it would by now be populated by scores of gated communities.

But there’s a bitter which goes with that sweet – the homes which families had carved themselves, and the communities of neighbors around those homes, were permanent casualties. I have had a defender of the eminent domain acquisition process argue to me “But they were paid the market value.” My response is that there is absolutely nothing fair about fair market value when the transaction is involuntary. Mathematical relations cannot assess the value of connection to place and people.

But instead of me opining, let’s hear from Winfred Cagle, who spoke to this with firsthand knowledge, and did so far more elegantly and poetically than I ever could.

Winfred grew up on Toms Branch, which empties into Deep Creek about a quarter of a mile above the branch my father grew up on, Juneywhank Branch. Both of those branches have waterfalls near or at their mouths, so the wagon roads which went up the two streams are steeply pitched near the lower end. On school day mornings, Daddy said that he, his brother Hall and the Cagle boys would “whoop” back and forth across the Deep Creek hollow to each other, then meet at the bridge at the Billy Morris place where the Cagles crossed over to the west side of the creek. They walked together the final half mile down to the Deep Creek Elementary Schoolhouse, which stood immediately east of the Deep Creek Cemetery, just outside of what is now the Park boundary line.


Walking routes from the Cagle and Casada places to school

The Billy Morris home was used as the residence and headquarters for the rangers assigned to Deep Creek from Park formation until around 1960. It stood near the upper end of the trailhead parking area of today.


Billy Morris home at the mouth of Juneywhank Branch
Source: Open Park Network repository)

Winfred’s parents were Lee and Annie Clark Cagle. After being forced to sell their home place to the North Carolina State Park Commission in April of 1929, the Cagles moved to the Pine Log community of Bartow County, Georgia. Many of the Cagle family, including Lee and Annie and several children, remained in that area for the balance of their lives and are buried in the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church Cemetery there.

Below are passages extracted from interviews of and talks by Winfred Cagle, recorded in 1972 and 1973 by William J. Weaver, Jr. (Source: Great Smoky Mountains Park Archives, Oral History Collection). I’ve taken the liberty of attempting to reflect Winfred’s diction. The questioner was a young man in a Boy Scout troop in late 1972.

 “Question: When all the people that lived up here that had to move when they brought in the park and all that – was there much resentment by these people?

Winfred Cagle:

Plenty of it. Plenty of it. Uh, my dad might a-lived twenty-five years longer, could….should…if he coulda been allowed to have stayed on up here. Because see, he come in here, ever body – a free country. An’ he come up there and there wasn’t no road nor no nothin’, just went up there in the woods.

They’s three things that they was interested in. Was about a church, and where they’d be plenty of wood – cause that was their fuel, they had to keep warm in the winter – it was wood. And then the water. Now that was the three important things – church, wood, and water.

And they built the house, and then they cleared out, done all this hard labor, and that’s hard work when you just go into the woods and dig out and cut and chop and build a house. And then work and clur the fields and ditch the land and pile the rocks and….and build you a cellar and whittle out and cut and hew and slave and work and build all your buildin’s an everthing and git your fruit trees….

Now we had grapes and we had pears, we had plums, we had peaches and just about any brand that you’d grow. Elbertas and the Indian peach – the red one for picklin’ and all of this. We had the open stones and clings and ever’thing. Then we had plenty of pears an’ we had, apples of all brands. Just about, I guess we had, twenty-five or thirty different varieties of apples.


Then the people was, thought they was a-livin’ at home you know. Settled down an’ happy and they’d go to church an’ they’d work an’ they’d make a livin’ an’ had their families an’ ever’thing.

Then somebody come along and’ say “you got to git out. Got to move. We’re going to take this land and put it into a park.”

Well, at that time people didn’t know anything ‘bout parks – they just knew the people lived on Deep Creek. They kinda knew what was goin’ on on Deep Creek. But they didn’t care what was goin’ on out on Larkey ‘n down in Georgie an Mexico an’ all them places. They let them people tend to their business and live and be happy, and we done the same thing.


They come along an’ they thought it was something awful. And in one sense-way, it was. To just drive people out of their homes like they drove the Indians out one time. An’ take it over and put it into a park. Well, people didn’t understand it then about preservin’ our forests and the land and all of this thing. And they couldn’t read in the christial bowl what one day it would amount to or nothin’. But they thought, just bein’ drove out…uh…just like the Lord told Abraham when he told him to git up and go into a foreign country that I will show you. An’ He says, and…and…start over.

Well, that’s what we had to do. We had all of these things. We had our cattle. We had our buildings. My dad had worked I guess, uh forty years – maybe fifty years, I guess, building all these buildings and settin’ out all this fruit trees and building the roads and all these other things. You see? Set up to where we could just begin to live good.

But a lot of the people… we had a one-armed man up here lived on Indian Creek. An there’s a Needingham man who come up there and was going up the ridge with this one-armed man lookin’ over the land an’ kinda surveyin’. An’ he kinda hinted him a price, you know, for his place. An’ when he did, he flew mad an’ got him one of them chestnut limbs an’ he told him he’d kill him right there in the woods. An’ that one-armed man, he run him about a mile and a half down that creek. He run him out of the woods. He put him out.

That’s the only incident that I know that anybody just, just flew apart.

They had two banks down here. They had the old Citizen Bank here where the rock buildin’ is. They’s nothin’ in it right now – it’s this side Swain Drug store there. Well, lot of the people when they sold their land, took the money an’ deposited it in that bank till they could locate ‘em a place to buy. And that bank went bankrupt. The bank owners, don’t you see, took the money and I reckon divided it up and declared bankruptcy.

We got two thousand dollars for our place up there. An’ the fruit trees we had on it was worth that much. But at the time, in ’29, two thousand dollars was lots of money. In, in, a sense-way.

Now my dad – he wasn’t too bad to grumble. He always said if they’s a will, they’s a way. And be satisfied with what you’ve got and not worry about that that you’ve not got.

And that was, I thought, a good policy to foller.”

Some notes and comments

When Winfred said “Larkey,” he was referring to the Alarka Creek section of Swain County. Alarka Creek crosses under the modern day four-lane road about four miles west of downtown Bryson City. The Cagle home on Toms Branch was about the same distance north of town.

Winfred’s memory was excellent and reliable. His family was, as he said, paid exactly $2,000. The Park Commission records indicated that there were just over 66 acres – 15 in cultivated hillside, 15 acres of old fields, 10 acres in pasture and 26 acres wooded. Structures noted included a six room box house, six stall barn, an apple house, other buildings, and fruit trees. The description stated that “The land is rather steep but productive and well cared for” with all the fields surrounded by good fencing.


Ranger John Needham
Source: Open Park Network repository.

The “Needingham” fellow Winfred referred to being run out of the woods by a one-armed man wielding a chestnut limb was John Needham, a Park Ranger from Illinois who was placed in charge of the North Carolina side of the Park.  My father had his own encounter with Mr. Needham; maybe that episode will make for another story, another time.

Citizens Bank did, indeed, fail during the Depression, and depositors lost their money.  The combination of eminent domain taking followed by bank collapse doubly damned some families who had, as Winfred noted, been minding their own business until the power of eminent domain was applied. The only other bank in Bryson City, the Bryson City Bank, struggled, but survived those difficult years thanks to a cash injection by Louis Fischer, brother-in-law of bank President, Stanley Black.

I’ve walked over much of the Cagle property, and while some is steep, it is no more so than typical mountain land of the area. One of the most memorable features on the property is a monstrous boulder on the side of the ridge south of the home (see photo below).


Boulder on the side of the ridge south of the Cagle place (for size reference, note author in the yellow oval at lower left of the boulder)


There’s still plenty of evidence of the place where Winfred grew up having been a home – much of it vegetative. There are clusters of what we call double jonquils; they’re also found at other home sites along Deep Creek, including on Juneywhank Branch, Hammer Branch, and at the Jenkins place, just across the uppermost bridge on Deep Creek. There is also periwinkle, what my father called cow lilies (a type of day lily found at several home sites on Deep Creek, including the Casada place) and mock orange. Bits of broken canning jars, the white ceramic lids used on those jars, and broken pieces of dishware can be spotted around the home. There are no chimney remains. The Park Service, in its early days, completely removed all chimney evidence from most of the homes in the Deep Creek drainage, particularly those close to roads and trails in a sadly misguided attempt to give the places an uninhabited, natural look. The Cagles did a significant amount of work leveling the area around the home, and there is evidence of sled roads above the home.

Double jonquil, periwinkle and cow lily

My favorite bit of evidence is the cellar – or can house/apple house – which was dug into the bank on the opposite side of the road from the Cagle home. There’s a matching, slightly larger cellar area or on up the branch. It is also on the opposite side of the road from the old Hardy Clark (Annie Cagle’s father) place, next to the parking area for the Thomas Divide trailhead. I’d encourage Tipper’s readers who are in the area to drive up the gravel road along Toms Branch and see if you can spot the cellars.


Susan Casada in the Cagle cellar /apple house

The photo doesn’t give a good sense of the size of the dug out section; it is about 8 feet high at the rear and 12 feet deep. It would have been roofed and enclosed in front (at left). The road is just across a trickle branch out of the picture to the left.

In 1939, Winfred married Anna Belle Shuler, who had grown up on Galbreath Creek, just across the ridge east of Toms Branch. For a period, they lived in the Pine Log, GA community with his family, but made their way back to the place where both were born. Winfred worked for a time at Carolina Wood Turning Company – where he was working when he enlisted in the Navy during WW2. After the war, he worked for other local commercial businesses, including Riteway Cleaners and Pepsi-Cola (Toby Allman, historian of the Deep Creek Baptist Church said Winfred claimed that Coke was a cuss word). The couple lived most of the balance of their lives in a home alongside the waters of Deep Creek, a couple of miles from Winfred’s birthplace. Winfred died in 1993; Anna Belle followed him in 1996. They are buried at Swain Memorial Cemetery on Deep Creek, just a whispered whoop away from the resting place of the Casada boys of Juneywhank Branch.


Winfred Cagle; photo taken in the parking lot of the Deep Creek Baptist Church
Source: Michael Lindsay

Winfred and Anna Belle were active members of the church where Winfred served as Deacon for many years.  Quite a dapper fellow, don’t you think?


  1. NC State Park Commission records, State Archives of North Carolina
  2. Great Smoky Mountains National Park archives (recording, photographs), with special assistance by Archivist Michael Aday
  3. S. Census records
  4. Swain County Register of Deeds
  5. Personal recollections and knowledge of Delia Watkins, Toby Allman, and the author
  6. Michael Lindsay photograph
  7. Personal photographs

My friend and research partner, Wendy Meyers, published a piece on Winfred’s remarkable mother, Annie, a few years ago in her Reflections of Olde Swain. You can read it here.


I hope you enjoyed Don’s piece on Winfred Cagle as much as I did. Don sent along a snippet of the interview for you to hear too.

Hearing Winfred’s voice makes Don’s writing even more special.


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  • Reply
    Richard ( Ricky) Dale Cheek
    January 20, 2022 at 3:54 pm

    Winfred Cagle was my uncle and one of the kindest and good hearted men you could ever meet, His wife Annie Belle was my mothers sister, Lillian J Shuler Cheek. We visited them many times, one of my favorite memories was soon as you walked into there house, He would say grab you a soda water out of the ice box, always Pepsi, that’s where he worked. He would say put God first, then family and then the place you work, he said you cant go wrong with that.

  • Reply
    Keith Litttlefield
    December 20, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    My beloved uncle Winfred’s voice! Such as blessing to come across.
    I am 60 years old and he is the finest man I ever knew. Not really a close second.

  • Reply
    Leigh Anne Dockery
    July 23, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. My mom is Maxine Cagle Harkey, Winfred’s niece. I plan on sharing this with her and can’t wait. Especially for her to hear Winfred’s voice.

    • Reply
      D. Astin
      February 8, 2021 at 2:18 am

      Thank you for sharing these stories; it brings me greater faith about my own difficulties. I recently drove to Wilkesboro NC from California for business and it ended up being a wonderful life experience. At one point wben I was in need people helped me simply out of the goodness of their heart. I hope our world evolves to people having more respect for one another. Keep up the blogging!

  • Reply
    October 27, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    “To just drive people out of their homes like they drove the Indians out one time.” Yes. This.
    Good or bad, justified or outrageous, right or wrong. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the same thing: driving people out of their homes.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2018 at 1:01 am

    I’m late getting to this post, which, by the way, really gets to the heart of things. It reminded me of a pro “development” story that ran in the local newspaper a while back. The developer was pictured with his arm swinging out over acres of pasture, fields, and woodland with the caption, “I see this like a blank canvas just waiting to be painted with homes, roads, schools, and shopping centers.”(no, churches were not mentioned) I cringed as I read it! Just like I cringe when I smell that kerosene smell on what was once a productive field with its underground jungle (from microscopic creatures to earthworms and other critters that skitter through the soil) – all to make some big parking lot or “stabilize” the soil for some building. Such a waste! At least the parks have some “redeeming” value . . . .

  • Reply
    harry adams
    October 24, 2018 at 5:57 pm

    eminent domain is just words to let politicians say they are not thieves. Other governments just take what they want without trying to justify it. Never accept what the government says is fair market value. What is the replacement cost? I live on the edge of the city limits and cringe at the thought of some politician eyeing my acreage and deciding how much tax revenue could be made for him to spend if he took the land and gave it to a developer to build houses on. This has happened elsewhere.

  • Reply
    Sherry Whitaker
    October 24, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    Thank you for these posts both yesterday & today. I enjoyed them very much…church, water and wood. I love it.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Yes, I so enjoyed this. Thank you, Don!

  • Reply
    Joe Penland
    October 24, 2018 at 2:24 pm

    Don always writes such interesting and fact filled articles.

  • Reply
    Glynda P. Chambers
    October 24, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    Tipper I loved this story. I hope you will have more for us to enjoy. I love hearing and reading about the people of the earlier generations that so many people today don’t seem to care about. Thanks again for bringing this story to us.

  • Reply
    October 24, 2018 at 12:21 pm

    I really enjoyed this article. This sort of thing happened to my mama and her sister. After my grandmother died, Mama and her sister rented out the house. Then the city decided they wanted to tear down that neighborhood and put up modern (at that time) apartments. There wasn’t anything wrong with the houses except they were old, and could have used some sprucing up. Mama and her sister got a lawyer who helped them get more money for the place, because there was a lot of land. There was the lot with the house, and two more lots side by side, and the lots were narrow and deep. Well, the city built the these low-rent apartments and they have been nothing but a haven for drugs, and welfare families. It was not progress.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    October 24, 2018 at 11:46 am

    Don and Tipper thanks for sharing this great post. Amen to Jim’s thoughts from a fellow son of the Southern Appalacians.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    October 24, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Reminds me of one of my teachers–his family farm was taken when “Camp Campbell”, now Fort Campbell was established. He still felt the pain when I knew him in the late 70’s. He said it contained the best farmland here. Land Between the Lakes here in TN was also an area where this happened and there are still signs of life in earlier times–lots of family graveyards.

    This also made me think of Chickasaw State Park in West TN. The lake there and a series of rental cabins were done by the WPA in depression times. In this case, I’m sure there were removals but so much was preserved from logging. The cabins still stand and we have stayed there in them. It’s amazing to think of the work being done so long ago & still in use.

    People roam so easily in these times–I’m one of the few who can point out my original home which still has family living in it.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    October 24, 2018 at 11:26 am

    Reminds me of that tongue-in-cheek saying, “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” Even after the physical uprooting, there is the on-going economic displacement where big money from outside out-competes typical incomes locally so that the price of housing and land gets out of reach of many.

    And I think the idea of erasing the evidence of historic human use is short-sighted. It is more important to the purpose to leave the reminders so that future generations may see and consider. A friend of mine once said to me that the Eastern Wilderness Act by implication codified that wilderness is renewable. I shared that with a class of third-year forestry students once and one young lady said, “I don’t know about that.” Which is what standing chimneys would cause one to think about.

  • Reply
    Mike Cass
    October 24, 2018 at 11:22 am

    Excellent–thank you!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    October 24, 2018 at 10:05 am

    and Don,
    I feel somewhat rejected by the way those people was treated. I recon everything changes as time goes on, for what folks feel the need for progress.

    Don and Susan are friends of mine and along with Wendy Myers have written a nice Piece about the Great Smokey Mountains, that most of us had never known. Thanks! …Ken

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    October 24, 2018 at 10:03 am

    Don’s and Winfred’s words evoke both the joy and the sorrow of a free-spirited folk making a hard-earned life for themselves, only to be swept away. Being paid fair value may square the financial side of Eminent Domain, but does little for the wrenching calamity of being torn from the hills and homes they loved.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 24, 2018 at 9:54 am

    My parents and grandparents called it Georgie. I still say Georgie although I have learned to put the “uh” on the end when necessary. People from Georgia are not offended by it. It’s an endearing term unlike North Cackalacky where I am frum.

    Eminent Domain-The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America allows a governmental agency to take private property for the public good with just compensation. Just compensation does not equal fair market value! Never has, never will! Can you tell this is a sore spot for me?

  • Reply
    Don Byers
    October 24, 2018 at 9:16 am

    Great article! Was out there on the motorcycle the other day and rode the circle up Deep Creek and around by Gailbraith Branch back into Bryson City. Love anything on this area. My Grt-gndpa was Sumry Bryson, cousin to Thad Bryson. I read where Dan Bryson and Robert Byers founded Cold Springs Baptist Church. Robert was a Messenger of the Church. He had the paperwork necessary for establishing a Baptist Church. At that time he lived at Mountain Scene, a little east of what is now Hiawassee GA. Again, a great article and we really feel sorry for the people who had to give up their homes for the lake and the park.

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      October 24, 2018 at 10:29 am

      I found where a Robert Byers was instrumental in the founding of Brush Creek Baptist in Swain County in 1832. Cold Springs was a branch off Brush Creek. I don’t know if you have read this book written by John Sadoc Smiley but if not it might interest you. Robert Byers is mentioned at the top of page 9.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 24, 2018 at 9:06 am

    Kudos to my younger brother for this glimpse into the region’s past. Implicit in the “takings” background to the story Don relates here and for that matter in the whole history of the Park’s creation are innumerable human tragedies. Ultimately the Park’s creation was a blessing, but it behooves us all to remember that it came, as Winfred Cagle makes abundantly clear, at the price of great individual sacrifice. Hard-headed, heartless bureaucrats such as Ranger Needham, with little empathy and even less understanding of local people and their ways, worsened matters immensely. So did the “wipe it all out” mindset which somehow thought it would be best to remove all vestiges of human presence, of people having once loved this land, and indeed of history. It is always sad and shameful when we try to erase the past, because it shapes who we are in the present.

    If you doubt it, just ask yourself this one question: “Who would I rather meet through a miracle of time travel, Winfred Cagle or Ranger Needham?” I think the answer is obvious.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Steve Cox
    October 24, 2018 at 8:37 am

    Great post today. Many people forget the amount of sacrifice people gave. Whether it was Native Americans forced to give their lands to the white settlers or the early families forced to give their lands to the parks, dams, or highways to get us through this beautiful place. Someone gave up something they loved for us to enjoy these mountains.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    October 24, 2018 at 8:10 am

    My daddy and his family in North Carolina always called it, “Georgie”, also. “High as a Georgie pine”, he used to say when somebody had too much to drink. Thank you for sharing this with us. We tend to take the existence of the Park for granted, and forget what these families went through. I’m sure the same stories exist about the families who were bought out by the Tennessee Valley Authority to dam the rivers for power. Progress, I guess,

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 24, 2018 at 8:09 am

    Amazing what people did to make a home in the mountains, lots of hard work. Their needs were simple, a church, water, and wood. From those three things and a lot of work their world was built. That’s something to stop and think about. I expect I’ll be pondering that all day…a church, water, and wood!
    Thanks, Don, that’s a wonderful story very well expressed!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2018 at 6:31 am

    Wow, very interesting read, my heart goes out to those families, I love to go see where folks once carved out their lives in those mountains, but all that hard work put on public display, kinda made it bitter sweet when we did, and it was hard for me to not go away without anger and the spirit of resentment for them.

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