Skip to content

White Top, The Summit of Virginia

Chapter XXI
The Days of Yester-Year,
W. H. T. Squires, M.D., D.D.


“Thar it is, plain enough if ye have eyes to see, jest in front of you.” The garrulous old man slipped an enormous quid of tobacco into his cavernous mouth, brushed his lips with a soiled coat-sleeve and pointed to a magnificent mountain which lifted its head like a proud and mighty monarch against the azure sky.

“How long does it take to climb to the top?” I inquired.

“To climb to the top? What fur do ye want to climb to the top?”

“Well,—” I did not know why I hesitated under his steady eye, “I came here to climb it—to get the view, you know—they say it is line.”

“You ain’t tellin’ me you come here just fur to climb White Top?”

I protested that I had no other purpose.

“You come clean acrost Virginny aridin’ on cars and payin’ hotel bills jest to break your neck a- climbin’ that ‘ar mountain?”

I felt condemned as I stood before this upland ancient, a heinous faddist, an extravagant spend-thrift, an idler and a truant from important duties. “No, indeed, I do not wish to break my neck, I answered pleasantly, “but White Top is the roof of Virginia. It is 5,520 feet high and the highest point in the state, except Mount Rogers, which only 199 feet higher. They say that from the summit three great states are spread at your feet.”

“Young man, I’ve been a-livin’ here all my days, nigh on seventy year, and my pa he was born in this here valley and I ain’t never heard tell of no ‘Mount Rogers’ as ye call it. There ain’t no sech. If you air a-meanin’ Balsam, thar it is, a leetle higher than White Top a-peepin’ at ye dver yon gap. Mount Rogers-.” It would be impossible to express in black and white the contempt with which he uttered the last two words.

“Yes, it is called Balsam locally, but the state geologists and the government maps always note the peak as ‘Mount Rogers.’ You have been to the top of Balsam, no doubt?”

“No, I ain’t never been thar and what’s more I ain’t goin’.”

“They say the foliage is so thick on the summit that it is impossible to get any view, and besides, it is surrounded by other heights, while White Top stands out alone. The mountain was named for Professor Rogers.”

“Whar did he teach school?”

“At the University of Virginia, and for a while at William and Mary. He established the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a great geologist and I think the mountain a fine tribute to him, don’t you?”

The rustic ancient evidently had notions only hazy about professors, geologists and memorials. He made no reply. Like a good general I determined to press my advantage.

“White Top and Rogers, or Balsam as I should have said, are the two highest peaks north of Carolina.”

“They is higher mountains in York state.”

“The Adirondacks are not so high. Mount Marcy, the highest peak in New York, is only 5,344 feet.”

I spoke with an air of authority, and great wisdom. Had I not refreshed my memory only the day before by a peep in to the World Almanac?

“They is higher mountains in New England then,” contended my friend doggedly. “I disremember the names.

“Mount Washington is higher than Mount Rogers, I mean Balsam, but that’s the only one.

“Wall I don’t cyer nothin’ at all about it,” he replied contentiously as he spat deftly at a cur ten feet away. “It ain’t doin’ nobody no good to climb it. That’s what I say. But it ain’t no business o’ mine if you do break your fool neck.” With that Parthian shot he retreated into his cabin and slammed the door behind him. I recalled Washington Irving’s description of Mrs. Rip Van Winkle. “A tart temper never mellows with age, and a sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use.

I trudged up a steep, red road, which twisted like a corkscrew through a deep ravine, cool and damp, shaded bv noble forest trees. A rivulet by the road-side murmured a cheery welcome. It hastened down the ravine to meet me, gathering to its bosom many springs, some of which dripped unceasingly from huge, black borders thrust out of the mountain’s side for all the world like broken ribs. Other springs started from beds of rich, rank fern or bubbled up beside beds of soft gray-green moss.

The ascent, pleasant though steep, climbed for perhaps half a mile to a hamlet of unpainted cabins, built of slabs and odd ends of rough timber from a mill nearby, and wedged between the red road the the steep mountain slope. From each modest home a well-worn path led to a spring-house, within which, I knew, crocks of milk were set in bubbling water, fresh, sweet, cool and inviting. Each house was also provided with a pig-sty every whit as conspicuous as the spring-house, but far less pleasing to the eye, not to mention the nose. Each family had a dog or litter of dogs, duty bound to race and yelp at the heels of every passing man or brute. Howsoever hungry a mountaineer may be he will divide his starveling store with “mongrel puppy whelp and hound, and cur of low degree.”

The children fled within their cabin refuge as the curs came bounding forth furiously barking. It would seem to be Nature’s law-the smaller the home the larger the family; a generous compensa tion, no doubt.

My trail left the road at the top of the hamlet, and ascended through the private park of the highest slab-manor, deftly dodging spring-house, pig-sty, tilted backyard, sagging fence corners and a barn that clung tenaciously to the hillside. I marvelled at the miracle of the mountaineer’s barn, for it attains a wider angle from the perpendicular than Pisa’s famed tower; and that despite the wintry blasts that come hurtling down the mountain, or the fierce gales that come whistling up the valley.

“Yes, sir, ye go right up the pasture. It’s two mile to the top. All the folks climb this way, though I ain’t never been up meself.” These were the reassuring words of the lady of the manor. I remarked encouragingly to myself that two miles was merely a pleasant half-hour’s walk on a level. The house-wife’s direction “right up the pasture” was no metaphor, for the pasture was vertical. I recalled Bill Nye’s funeral oration over the farmer who had taken a fatal plunge to the bottom of his corn-field as he attempted to plow along the top. These grassy hillsides were steeper than any flight of stairs. From time to time when my footing was secure, I mopped my brow and caught a deep breath of the air delightfully pure and fresh.

At the top of the pasture a chestnut reared its stately head. Its broad drooping leaves shone brightly in the sun and fluttered like banners in the gentle breeze. The prickly pods were filled with fruit and hung heavily awaiting Jack Frost who will come tripping down the mountain some September night and crack the burrs and set the nuts rolling like marbles down the pasture. What a good time the squirrels will have then, and the numerous boys and girls of the hamlet!

I rested long in the shade of the chestnut, and watched the cattle browse on the hilltops far below. The women were gossiping over the rickety fences that bounded their meagre garden patches. I was egotistical enough to imagine that they spoke of the stranger who had climbed along the red road and into the green pastures; and humble enough to imagine that like the ancient mountaineer at Konnarock they thought it foolish for a man to ascend the trail with only a map, a kodak and a pad of paper! Just fancy!

A fine field of ripening corn stood well-tasselled and in martial ranks atop the chestnut’s loftiest limbs. As I lifted my feet lazily from one furrow to the next they had grown incredibly heavy. It was row above row until with intense satisfaction and a sign of relief I reached the decaying fence that marked the uppermost boundary of the cornfield and the lowest boundary of the wildwood. Alas, for the inconsistency of niortal man! I was soon to wish for the corn, as in the corn I had regretted the vertical pasture, and as in the pasture I had fain climbed again through the drab hamlet of slab cabins and along the pleasant ravine. Each change was a change for the worse, as the old lady said with a sob when she had tucked three husbands snugly away and married a fourth!

Alexander Pope was a wise philosopher:

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast,
Man never is but always to be blessed.”

The wildwood had promised easy travel; vain and barren vaticination! Innumerable paths and trails threaded the emerald lights of the forest. I chose the most likely, and at each of the many forks, like a good politician, I followed as the majority lead. But, unfortunately, the paths were poor guides. They invariably turned from the steep and narrow ascent into easy and seductive valleys below. Again like a good politician I found that nothing is less to be trusted than a majority. They lead you aright today, but they blast your cherished hopes tomorrow.

There was nothing for it but to set my face toward the bold ascent and t:rudge doggedly upward, with the sunbeams, when here and there they struggled through the leafy roof, falling aslant over my right shoulder, for my face was set south.

The way became increasingly diflicult; each slope inviting steeper altitudes. The loam was perfumed with the pungent tang of the firs, and as soft underfoot as a Persian carpet. Here and there the soil gave place to rocks, sharp, loose and slippery. Every step was an agony lest some venomous serpent, a copperhead or rattlesnake, hidden in the decaying trees or disturbed by the upturned stones should arise to strike his fangs into me. The mountaineers had assured me that no “pisen snake” inhabited these lofty climes. They glide only below 3,500 feet. But I was not convinced and kept an eye ever alert, for I was sure that if one copperhead was out for business that afternoon it would be my luck to meet him. It has been an item in my homely philosophy that if there’s one man among the thousands in the city whom you do not wish to meet he is certain to turn up at the corner. For all my search that day I found only one snake, and, sure enough, he wriggled across my path after I had returned to the valley.

But even the deceptive paths, the exhausting climb and the perpetual fear of serpents could not blind me to the exquisite beauty of these sylvan aisles. Alternate lights and shadows fell from the wattled branches of the great trees as the breeze in passing caressed them. I have stood in awe before the wonderful east windows of the cathedrals of York and Milan, the richest glass, each claims, in the world. But never has art been able to produce such fair lights, such gentle shadows, such tints of green and blue and brown as nature has painted so prodigally here. If one raised his eyes the foliage of the forest was laid in delicate meshes against the sky hne like an intricate pattern of lace wrought by the skillful hand of a woman. The coverts of the forest were broidered with ferns, of many varieties, some stiff and coarse, some delicate, rare and fragile. The shining leaves of the rhododendron festooned many a sylvan vista.

A woodsy incense delightfully fresh and pungent breathed from the trees, especially the conifers. Over all hung a silence almost absolute. There was not a bird to chirp a cheery note, for the birds like the snakes and the mountaineers content themselves with lower levels.

The trees of the wildwood were crooked, bent and gnarled, many were very old and hastening to the decay that sooner or later overtakes us all. The log-men had cut out the dendroid giants years before. Otherwise the forest was as the earliest pioneers had found it, as the Cherokees had hunted through it, as the hand of God had left it.

As the altitude increased so did the thickets of laurel and spruce. To side-step one was only to fling oneself into another. At this painful game of dodging I was sure to lose. The tangled thickets conspired against me like rational beings. They reached out hands to hold me, they locked arms to hinder me and they twisted their coils and tendrons to ensnare, entrap and trip me. If I beat one down another laid me on the rocks. I was sorely buffeted, smitted on the hands and face. The laurel had an especial antipathy to eye-glasses. They would none of them! I was now at 4,000 feet, as I guessed, for the lashorns black, taut, absolutely uncompromising, began to spring from the rocky soil. I struggled slowly onward hoping that each vantage gained would open an avenue of escape. For two mortal hours I fought valiantly. I thought sarcastically of that woman who had said it was “only two mile to the top.” Had I come twenty I could not have been more weary or dispirited.

To my consternation I found all further progress blocked by a wall of rock-a huge boulder, black and slippery, rose directly in front and over me. This was an obstacle which bid fair to end my adventure. I rested for a long time under its damp brow and scrutinized it with care, if perchance I might negotiate it.

“Often the greatest obstacles of life may be turned to blessings if one has the wit to use them.” I recalled such inspiring sentiments in eloquent sermons delivered in days gone by. Before me lay an opportunity to put my theory to a test. I set my feet upon the rock and little by little I rose above the thickets and the tallest trees. It lifted me like a ladder to the brilliant sunlight far over the wildwood and, lo, I had gained at last the margin of the pastures that adorn the noble mountain summit like the tonsure of some mediaeval monk.

The joy of the deliverance was only equalled by the glory of the matchless vista that spread below me. There lay green in the golden sunshine the glory of mountain and valley spread miles and miles before me, forests, and fields, and farms, a landscape wild and wide, ridge rolling over ridge, valley opening beyond valley, craggy summits standing at tip-toe to peep over the lofty crests of purple mountains. Far away on the rim of the world ghostly heights appeared, dim, wrapped in cloud, misty, vague, indistinct like ephemeral fragments of a world of dreams.

The sky was as blue as a sapphire, flecked here and there with long white wisps of cloud floating lazily. Like a thirsty soul, I drank in the details of the magnificent panorama. All the fatigue and exhaustion of the ascent were forgotten, as no doubt all the sorrows of this life will be lost with one glimpse of the glory of heaven.

The open pastures on the summit of White Top grow to incredible rankness and thickness. Here the snows fall first in autumn, while the harvests are still ungarnered on the farms below. Here they linger longest in the lap of spring. Here the gloss of the sun on the lush turf gives a whitish tone to the green, so that the noble brow of the mountain, like that of an aged head, is always white. The Cherokees who came up from Georgia to hunt here called this mountain Konnarock, but the pioneers and their descendants have ever known it by the less euphoneous name of White Top.


I do not know how long I lay in the lush grass upon the mountain crest, beside a spring of water; cold, as if drawn from ice. The sun, neither high nor low, hung in a sky nearly cloudless. Yet there was a haze that defined and transformed every object. The lofty mountain was mine alone, and all the world beside. About me there was perfect solitude and almost complete silence. This was the time, the place, to catch fleeting visions of the heroes of the Days of Yester-Year. They floated into memory, as at times a long-forgotten melody sings itself to one unbidden. In the intangible fabric of my day-dream I saw them march again, these mountain men, along the green valleys of the frontier. I saw them push boldly into the trackless wilderness, working mightily while yet it was their day and passing silently to their long reward.

Before the veil of obscurity was lifted from these lands a restless pioneer, Stephen Holston, pushed into these valleys, and made his habitation for a few months at the fountain-head of a tiny river, ever since known as the Holston.

He broke camp, took the trace again, followed the flow of the river he had named, and travelled as far as Natchez on the mighty Mississippi. But Stephen could never rest. He wandered back and died at last, in Culpeper, his native Virginia county. Humble, rambling, shiftless Stephen[1] has left his name securely upon the lips of uncounted millions. Did ever a man acquire so substantial a memorial from so trivial a circumstance?

Far to the west of the Holston country the misty ramparts of a mighty mountain rose on the horizon. In the brilliant sunlight it appeared hazy, immaterial, shrouded in cerements of trailing vapor. I had dimbed to the summit of that range in days gone by, and I knew Clinch Mountain as the ridgepole of the Appalachians. Beyond it I had often explored other valleys, rich, populous and teeming with an ever-increasing population.

William Clinch was a long hunter, a contemporary of Stephen Holston. He ranged the highlands then unknown. To the authorities at Williamsburg and London the hunting grounds of Clinch were beyond the rim of the world. Clinch carried his furs to the James and the Chesapeake, where he sold them to the traders for a mere pittance.

William once had a mortal duel with an Indian on the banks of a mountain river. He crowded his red antagonist into the water and actually scalped him amid-stream. From that day to this it has been Clinch River.[2] The long valley and lofty mountain took the river’s name. Like the Holston, the Clinch is a head-spring of the Tennessee.[3]

A forested range rose to nearer and clearer view than yonder distant heights of Clinch. Dr. Thomas Walker was a native of Gloucester County, Virginia, where for generations the family had been seated in Abingdon Parish by the salt tides of the Chesapeake. In later years Dr. Walker bestowed the name of his native parish upon a little frontier settlement, and Abingdon abides to this day, with its classic English and ancient Virginian name, an indirect memorial to one of its founders.

As a young man Dr. Walker practiced medicine at Fredericksburg, but the wild region beyond held a fascination for Tom Walker which he could not resist. He moved to Albemarle County and introduced the pippin to that community, the fame, the favor and flavor of which has since filled a hungry world.

When he was still a young man, thirty-three, he joined the first party of explorers who penetrated into Southwestern Virginia and Kentucky (1748), and wrote the journal for the expedition,[4] a classic now in the “Winning of the West.” He tells how they pushed beyond the valleys of Holston and Clinch and discovered intricate hills and tedious fastnesses seamed with rich beds of coal. Dr. Walker named these distant mountains the Cumberlands for William, Duke of Cumberland, son of George II, uncle of George III, the victor of Culloden Moor. He might have honored a better man.

Unfortunately these rich borderlands were contested by four rivals. The French laid the oldest claim. The rivers which drained these valleys, sought out wild passes in the Cumberland range, and fell at last into the Ohio, “La Belle Riviere,” as they delighted to call it-hence this was a part of New France.

The British insisted that these were the “back parts of Virginia,” to use a homely phrase constantly found in colonial grants and old deeds.[5]

The mighty Iroquois, or Northern Indians claimed this land as a conquest from the Cherokees, while the latter as stoutly denied that this, their favorite hunting-ground, had been wrested from them by their inveterate foes.

The French claim was extinguished in the blood and agony of the French and Indian War. When peace was declared (1763) King George III forbade any settlement beyond New River-to the chagrin of the colonial Virginians and the wrath of the impatient Scotch-Irish pioneers. The King even commanded those who had previously settled beyond New River to retire. But one may be sure they never obeyed that command. The King was a long, long way over land and sea. The Scotch-Insh were never famed for implicit obedience! The prize was worth a chance for these lands were fair and fertile.[6]

After five years of persistent effort Dr. Walker, representing this colony, secured from the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix,[7] New York, a treaty relinquishing their claim. But almost simultaneously a British officer signed a treaty with the Cherokees ceding all lands west of New River to them forever! The disappointment of Dr. Walker, the disgust of the Virginia authorities and the rage of the impatient Scotch-Irish, awaiting their chance to press eagerly forward into the new lands can be imagined.

Dr. Walker was promptly dispatched to South Carolina and he returned betimes with the long- desired concession.

King George lifted the ban and the pioneers came with a rush. In two years (1768-70) settlements were made in all the Hoiston valleys of Virginia and far southwestward into Tennessee.[8] Every month saw the frontier men push further along the swiftly flowing rivers. Uncounted thousands turned westward and followed the trace of Daniel Boone to Kentucky. For years after the Revolution the steady, silent, significant march of the mountain men continued, until at last they debouched upon the plains of Alabama and filled the cotton fields of Mississippi, not to mention the great common-wealths beyond the mighty river. From the lovely land that hes west of the noble brow of White Top with memories of long-hunters, statesmen and compelling events, I turned to a wilder vista, lying immediately south. There were glimpses to be had here and there of little rivers, gathering their floods per petually from those rock-ribbed hills and winding down the blue vales like silver serpents, visible here and there between the thick foliage of the wild wood.

At White Top the Great Smoky Mountains begin. On their majestic heads they carry the Tennessee-Carolina state line southward and westward. The boundary is festooned along the skyline as if it were attached to the lofty headlands and allowed to fall gracefully into the deep valleys intervening, and over the ramping rivers that drain between them. The state line reaches an unparallelled altitude at Clingman’s Dome (alt. 6,644 ft.) far to the south near Georgia.[9] This ambitious height almost attains the altitude of Mt. Mitchell (6,711 feet).[10] It lacks a meagre sixty-seven feet of wresting the crown from that famed monarch of the East.[11]

To view these alpine heights is to recall the story of Daniel Boone.[12] Near White Top a splendid forested peak is known by the commonplace name, “Snake Mountain.” One grows impatient with the stupid nomenclature. No doubt a snake was once killed here’. This should be Boone’s Mountain for the intrepid Daniel used the noble peak silhouetted against the glowing western sky as his guide through the lofty hills. From the Yadkin he laid his trace to this peak.[13] He passed under its dark shadow and leaving the summit now behind him, a sentinel to the east, he toiled to the distant ramparts of the Clinch.

Daniel Boone was born near Philadelphia to parents of English and Welsh blood.[14] When he was a lad of thirteen, his father, Squire Boone, removed from Pennsylvania to the banks of the upper Yadkin. Daniel’s education was of the scantiest, but he was deeply learned in the lore of field and forest. He understood both the wild animals, and wilder Indians that roved them. He loved the lofty solitudes, the sweep of the great rivers, the boundless plains and fertile valleys waiting since Creation’s dawn for the hand of man.

At twenty the youth married Rebecca Bryan and built his own log cabin, but the call of the great wilds was upon him. With six, sturdy companions he set forth to locate a trace from Carolina to Kentucky (May 1, 1769). Patriotic societies of ladies have set markers along Boone’s trace.[15]

His path followed the Watauga for many miles. The musical name of that mountain stream suggests a story of Landon C. Haynes. General Nathan Bedford Forrest, the famous Confederate chieftain, once introduced Haynes as a man from the “land God forgot,” referring to Eastern Tennessee. A brilliant burst of spontaneous eloquence was the orator’s reply to the pleasant irony.

“I was born in East Tennessee on the banks of the Watauga, which in the Indian vernacular means ‘beautiftil river;’ and beautiful it is. I have stood upon its banks in my childhood and, looking into its glassy waters, beheld there mirrowed a heaven with moon and planets and trembling stars, and looking upward have beheld the heaven above, which the heaven below reflected. Away from its rocky borders stretches a vast line of cedars and hemlock, evergreens more beautiful than the groves of Switzerland. . . There stand the towering Roan, the Black and magnificent Smoky Mountains upon whose summits the clouds gather of their own accord even on the brightest day. . O beautiful land of the mountains, with thy sun-painted cliffs, how can I ever forget thee!”

On the Watauga in plain view from the summit of White Top at a ford called Sycamore Shoals the heroes of Kings Mountain gathered.[16] These men where the same who had pushed over New River, cleared their farms in the wilderness and built their log cabins since 1770.

Col. Patrick Ferguson had harassed the Carolinians into temporary submission. At least Colonel Pat supposed it was submission. If Colonel Pat had known the men of Tar Heel Land better he would have been very conservative in claiming any kind of submission from them! Colonel Pat heard of the restless Scotch-Irish over the mountains. He sent a bold message (for even Colonel Pat) to Col. Isaac Shelby living at King’s Meadow (now the city of Bristol). If the over-mountain Whigs “did not desist from their opposition to British arms, he would hang their leaders and lay their country waste with fire and sword.”

Colonel Shelby, tradition has it, called on Col. John Sevier, “Nolichucky Jack,” and they sat on a log side by side, as he read that fiery and (for the author) fatal missive. They laid their plans then and there to raise the over-mountain men: a task not at all difficult. Whoever heard of mountain-men declining a fight? Especially if they be Scotch-Irish?

William Campbell[17] was constantly on the warpath against Tories and Indians. His brdther-in-law, Arthur Campbell[18] of Royal Oak[19]~ was also ready. The day was set, September 25, 1780.

They came a thousand strong. “Their fringed and tasseled hunting shirts were girded in by beadworked belts, and the trappings of their horses were stained red and yellow. On their heads they wore caps of coon skin or mink skin with the tails hanging down, or else felt hats, in each of which was thrust a buck’s tail or a sprig of evergreen. Every man carried a small bore rifle, a tomahawk and a scalping knife. Very few of the officers had swords and there was not a bayonet in the army.

Samuel Doak preached a powerful sermon, which has never been forgotten in those parts. His subject was “The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon.”[20]

They marched eastward along Daniel Boone’s trace and found their enemy where the two Caro- linas join. It took the mountain men just one hour to answer Colonel Pat’s message to Col. Isaac Shelby. Never was battle shorter, sharper or more decisive. When it was done Colonel Ferguson lay dead,.and his entire army was with him dead, wounded or prisoners.[21]The mountain-men had lost only twenty-eight of their number. Parson Doak[22] was right. It was the sword of the Lord and of Gideon.

August days are usually misty in this land of brooks and rivers. The mountain heights stand forth most conspicuously in the dead of winter when the land is locked in killing frosts; but few there be who have the courage to climb these inhospitable summits in winter.

The lofty head of Mt. Rogers, black with the foliage of the lashorns was already veiled in mist. Clouds trailed gracefully down its steep sides, like drapenes, and disappeared in the gray-green valleys below. Between the clinging cerements one glimpsed thick forests with here and there a humble cleanng. Thin wisps of smoke rose from remote cabins and thickened the mists above. Along the eastern horizon there was already a suggestion of approaching night. I knew full well that the purple shadows along the eastern slopes would lengthen and deepen until they enfolded the whole glorious landscape. I would fain having spent the night on this lofty pinnacle under the friendly stars. But there is not the slightest shelter. Man is chained to his necessities. He cannot stretch his tether five hours beyond a kitchen, nor sixteen beyond a mattress. How are we bound by the trivial and inconsequential!

There could be no doubt that the sun had a mind to set, and that on schedule time. His decided in clination to the lovely valleys of Tennessee, and the face of my watch brought me to my feet. Memories of Thomas Walker, Pat Ferguson and Daniel Boone vanished before the more practical necessities of the hour. A night under the stars might be delightful, but the idea of night in the wildwood, groping among thickets and fallen trees filled me with apprehension.

Reluctantly—how reluctantly let those judge who love the silence and the solitude of great heights, and who yet must needs dwell in thickly populated cities—I turned my back upon the bewitching beauty of these mountain scenes and entered the forest, prepared to challenge the rhododendron thickets once again.

The descent was easier. I leaped downward from terrace to terrace, and from log to log, dodging each abatis the logman had left. The sun had ceased to shine upon me for I had entered a deep scar upon the shoulder of the mountain. The twilight of green shadows was pleasantly perfumed by the firs, the laurel, the thick moss and the leafy mould. The profound silence was broken, as I thought at first, by the echo of a distant whistle, but it was too prolonged. It must be the soughing of the breeze far overhead as it swayed the gothic arches of oak and elm. Again a poor guess! It was water, there could be no doubt about it. And I found it in the bottom of the gorge, a pleasant, merry, little brook, as clear as crystal, cutting its way through moss and ferns, racing from one deep pool to another, in each of which it rested before taking another plunge. It made the tiniest cascades, and tunnelled great rocks which planted themselves awkwardly in the way as if they would hold it forever in this mountain glen. If from the purling stream a nymph had risen, or if a fawn had come stepping down the woodland paths I should not have been startled. This, indeed, was the place of all places to find them!

The Scots call a stream like this a burn; to the English it is a brook, but prosaic Americans call it a branch and let it go at that. I knew this runnel was bound for Laurel Branch of South Fork of Holston. As I drank of it and cooled my forehead I wondered when these waters would be wandering past Knoxville and Chattanooga; nay when they would slip under the bridge at Memphis and lap the busy ferries at New Orleans or lose themselves in the briny waves of the Gulf.

Sidney Lanier sang a sweet lullaby at the cradle of the Chattahoochee. It must leave the cool shades of its forested home, bid farewell to fern and laurel for stern duty beckoned it to the parched and thirsty fields below. The poet listened to the murmur of the infant river as it sang:

“I am fain for to water the plain
Downward the voices of duty call
Downward to toil and be mixed with the main,
The dry fields burn, and the mills are to turn,
And a myriad flowers mortally yearn,
And the lordly main from beyond the plain
Calls o’er the hills of Habersham,
Calls through the valleys of Hall.”

The insistent rhythm of the lines sang themselves through my mind as I followed the lead of the brook to the haunts and habitations of civilized man. And its lesson, too, may well he pondered. Real happiness is found, after all has been said, not in the pleasant solitude and quiet coverts of retreat, but in struggle and service for the multitudes, in the dust and heat and strife of the plains below.


  1. “Holston, a branch of the Tennessee, named according to Haywood, for it discoverer”—Henry Gannett, Origin of Place Names, p. 159.
  2. “Clinch, a river in Va. And Tenn. Named for Gen. Duncan L. Clinch”—Henry Gennett. This is certainly an error. The Clinch was named before Gen. Clinch was born.
  3. “We crossed Clinch and Powell’s River and Cumberland Mountain and came by Col Rockcastle’s river”—Felix Walker in DeBow’s Review (1854).
  4. A large part of Walker’s Journal is quoted in History of Tazewell Co. By W. C. Pendleton, a scholarly and valuable local history. Also in Boone’s Wilderness Road, Hulbert.
  5. The phrase is used by Dr. John Thomson in Explication of the Shorter Catechism (1749) referring to Amelia and neighboring counties in the very centre of Virginia.
  6. Middle New River Settlements, David E. Johnston
  7. New Utica, N.Y.
  8. Historic Sketches of the Holston Valley, Thos. W. Preston.
  9. Named for Senator Thos. Lanier Clingman of N. Carolina, whose picturesque career in the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Confederate army and in private life finds in this lofty mountain a fitting memorial.
  10. Named for Dr. Elisha Mitchell (1793-1857), who was drowned upon the mountain, and who is buried on its summit.
  11. The figures are from the World Almanac, 1925, which were supplied by the U. S. Geological Survey.
  12. A brief but beautiful description of the “Wilderncss Road” by CASTER GOODLOE, Scribner’s, May, 1908.
  13. Historic Sketches of the Holston Valleys, Preston, p. 159
  14. Sketch by Dr. J. I. Mombert
  15. We are about to lose fine old words from the vocabulary of Virginia. The path through the wilderness was always known in the South and Southwest as a TRACE, not a TRAIL. We submit that trace is a better word, altho the lexicographers now mark it obsolete. The other word is POCOSON, which should, by no means, be allowed to die.
  16. A valuable contribution to the local history of the mountain land is Historic Sullivan by Oliver Taylor.
  17. The Campbell Family, Margaret J. Pilcher.
  18. Sketch of the Campbells in Appleton’s Cyc of Amer. Biography
  19. Now Marion, Va.
  20. His text was Judges 7:20.
  21. The War of Independence, Chap. 7, JOHN FISKE. King’s Mt. and Its Heroes, DRAPER. South Car. in the Revolution, McCRADY.
  22. He was so called in his life time and is still referred to in these parts affectionately as “Parson Doak.”