Historical homes and cabins, early primitive churches, old graveyards and many trails all serve to illustrate Cades Cove’s interesting and colorful past. Cades Cove, Tennessee, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, transports visitors back to the early 1800’s when life was harsh, but the inhabitants were steadfast in their determination to create a viable lifestyle.
These 6800 acres of valley were originally settled by the Cherokee Indians prior to 1787. They hunted and survived on the abundant buffalo and elk, long since gone from the region. An early settlement was called Tsiya’hi (place of the river otter) by the Indians. Although numerous at that time, these river animals no longer exist in the cove. However, you can still observe grazing deer, black bear and wild turkey, especially on an early morning drive through the Cove.
The earliest known settlers were John Oliver and his wife, Lucretia Frazier. That first winter in Cades Cove was harsh but the Olivers survived with the help of the Cherokee Indians. In the spring, the Olivers were given some cattle and two milk cows which helped them to endure until other pioneers arrived. Gradually more settlers moved into the Cove and brought with them new and progressive ideas which were instrumental in the settlement’s survival. Part of the Cove was swampland and a system for draining the water from the land was devised by a Pennsylvania Dutch settler. Other inhabitants were adept at various medical procedures and herbal treatments. Missionaries, ministers and mid-wives were welcomed and helped the early pioneers adapt to their new environment. The creation of a metal forging shop altered the abundant iron in the Great Smokies into much needed items of survival, including guns and farming implements. Mills were built to grind the various grains that grew easily in the Cove.
When the early settlers moved into the cove, the Cherokee were friendly and eager to learn their trades and become educated. At that time the Indians did not even have an alphabet. A particularly shameful period in American history happened in 1838, when President Andrew Jackson approved the Indian Removal Act. Thousands of Indians from several tribes were forced to leave their homeland and migrate to Oklahoma. This exodus allowed the settlers to move in and claim the land for lucrative agricultural purposes. During this grueling 1,000 mile march, later called The Trail of Tears, nearly one-fourth of the Indians died. After the Indians left, the Cove grew to a population of nearly 700 pioneers. Each farm averaged between 150 and 300 acres. With so many new people in the area, the Cove became fairly self-sufficient, except for the necessity of getting their dry goods and some other items from nearby Tuckaleechee Cove. However, as the west beckoned, many families left the cove with hope of a better future. Many others left the Cove to work in the new Alcoa factory or to take more lucrative jobs in logging. Finally, with the establishment of the Great Smokies National Park, and the death of the last resident in 1999,the population was reduced to zero.
The history of Cades Cove is an integral part of the story of the Great Smoky Mountains and visitors will want to allow ample time to explore the area. An eleven-mile one-way roadway circles the Cove making an auto tour an easy way to view the Cove. However, sturdy walking shoes are advisable in order to make stops along the way, leisurely exploring the old churches, the various homesteads, pioneer buildings and unique cemeteries. Only then can the visitor be transported back to another bygone era and truly appreciate the history of the Great Smoky Mountains.