Wednesday, November 6, 2013

great papaw's place

Jim Bales place on Roaring Fork, Great Smoky Mountains

If you could go back a century, to the northern slope of Mt. Leconte down the watersheds of Roaring Fork, Baskins and LeConte Creeks you would find hundreds of homesteads. 

Papaw Homer Daniel Bales
Mountaineer farmers trying to scratch out a living on land too poor, too sloped to have much of a garden. Most grew what corn they could, also potatoes, beans and, of course, apples. But the rocky land was on the side of a mountain. 

Papaw Homer Bales (Jim's son) liked to tell the story of a cow that once fell out of its pasture and broke its neck. 

All that changed with the coming of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The hundreds of mountaineer farmers, what Horace Kephart called "Our Southern Highlanders," sold their land and moved elsewhere to start over. Most bought bottomland that was flatter, easier to farm.

It has always been a source of pride for me that two of the homesites that the park officials decided to keep and maintain as a testament to those rugged people and their hard-scrabble lives would, for me, be "family."

Their homes were saved not because of who they were but where they were. Each was located on the one road the park decided to also keep and maintain: an old wagon road now called Cherokee Orchard Motor Nature Trail, a one-way ribbon of asphalt designed for modern day covered wagons that weaves its way around the steep slopes. Today, the area is known as the Roaring Fork Historic District.

Emma and Jim Bales married 1893.
The first family home you encounter is on the right after a bridge that crosses Roaring Fork. It's the homesite of my great grandfather (great papaw for us Southerners) James Wesley "Jim" Bales (1869-1939) who was married to Emma F. Ogle (1880-1902, yes she married and died young). It's where my own papaw Homer Bales (1899-1998, yes, almost 100 years) spent his boyhood. 

The next parcel down the narrow winding road belonged to Jim's brother, Ephraim Bales (1867-1926) married to Minerva Reagan (1873-1936). Great, great grand uncle Eph's cabin is noteworthy because it's basically two cabins with an open breezeway called a "dog trot" in between, all covered by one roof. I've been told that when Eph and family lived there the dog trot was closed off and filled with kids, as indeed records show they had 13, although all did not survive their infancy. 

Life was tough on the north side of the mountain, days were short, nights were long, winter's cold. Cabins cold. Grandma Pearl told me that a pail of water in the kitchen could freeze overnight. Hard times. First one up lights the fire. 

I love it when people send me photos taken there. 

The beautiful autumn ones at the top and bottom of this post of Jim's and Ephraim's homesites were taken by Rex McDaniel. 

And here's a precious one with little Sara peeking out the door of "papaw's place," as if to say, "Come and get it, supper's ready. Beans and 'tators, little cornbread. Take your boots off before you come in." 

Luckily, little Sara lives on good solid, bottomland where life is a little easier.

Thanks, Rex. Bless you little Sara.  

- Stephen Lyn Bales, fifth generation hillbilly

Home of Minerva and Ephraim Bales

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