Tennessee Mountain Stories

More about The Cumberland Plateau

Here are two short articles from Harry Lane’s Tennessee Memorie

Here’s More About the Cumberland Plateau

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Mountains on a Plateau? That’s the situation of the Crab Orchard Mountains, which are located on the eastern side of the Cumberland Plateau…at least, that’s the situation if one considers these small peaks to be true mountains, and many would not.  Local usage, however, makes these “mountains,” and so the matter shall stand.

This section of the Cumberland Plateau is quite interesting geologically, for it represents the norther end of an up-folded part of the earth’s crust, (an anticline) that, farther south in the Sequatchie Valley area, has cracked off along the fold and moved up and over another portion of the plateau.  North of the relatively stable Crab Orchard Mountains is the enormous block of rock that is dislocated along the Pine Mountain Thrust Fault.

This district lies a few miles east of Crossville, Tennessee; the name “Crab Orchard” is well known also, as we have seen, for the building stone that is quarried in this area.  The source of the name is a village that is nestled at the base of these mountains.

The highest of these “mountains” lie about 3000 feet above sea level.  A few miles farther north, the dissected edge of the plateau itself, called the Cumberland Mountains (however confusingly!), reaches even higher, to 3534 feet at Cross Mountain, the loftiest point between the Smoky Mountains and South Dakota’s Black Hills.

 

The Mystery of Standing Stone

Remnant of The Standing Stone located in Monterey, TN today.

Remnant of The Standing Stone located in Monterey, TN today.

So completely has white civilization altered the environment of the Cherokee Indians within two hundred years that a place and a monument of considerable significance to Indians of the Cumberland Plateau have almost disappeared from view and from memory – the major damage having been done during the past century.  Until the coming of the railway at the turn of the century, there existed on the edge of the plateau at Monterey an Indian monument known as Nee-Yah-Kah-Tah-Kee by the Cherokees and as Standing Stone by white people of the area.  The structure was apparently reverenced by the Indians, but the railroad people evidently dynamited the Standing Stone, and only a fragment of the stone (sandstone of the Plateau Caprock) remains today – mounted at the crest of a masonry monument in Monterey in 1895 by the Improved Order of Red Men.

Mr. Lane’s artsitic rendering of the original Standing Stone

Mr. Lane’s artsitic rendering of the original Standing Stone

Much speculation, but almost no proofs, continues to be cast about as to the real nature of the Standing Stone.  Some indications are given that the monument was in the shape of an animal, perhaps a dog, but no one knows for sure.  So much for the white citizens’ concern about Indian relics during the last century!  It is also uncertain whether the monument was natural or carved.  Whether it was a natural formation or something carved by Indians long forgotten (the author prefers the natural formation explanation), it was located in a place that must have had meaning for the early travelers across the Plateau.  Apparently, the route past the Standing Stone began as a game trail that was widened by Indian and the European settlers who succeeded them, to become the Old Walton Road of the nineteenth century and eventually a motor road that leads down the escarpment to Buck Mountain, Algood, and Cookeville on the Highland Rim.  The effort needed to reach the Standing Stone by a grueling climb from the rim up the western escarpment may have led to the reverential feeling that Indians seem to have exhibited toward the monument.  Perhaps this difficult climb seemed rewarded by a view of the unusual formation or carving, whichever it was.  It is not unusual for such pilgrimages to be accomplished up steep slopes or flights of stairs to an object or place of worship.

One is reminded at this juncture of Taoist pilgrimages up 6,700 stone steps to the crest of the Tai Shan in China, the Shinto pilgrims’ climb up Mount Fujiyama of Japan, Buddhists’ upslope struggle onto Shri Pada peak in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), the great flights of steps up the sacrificial way of the Mexican pyramids, and the 3,000 stone steps that the Judeo-Christians follow as they make pilgrimages up Mount Sinai.  In any case, the Standing Stone, before its destruction, held an imposing position overlooking the Highland Rim a few miles to the west and some 700 feet below the Plateau’s edge.

 

 

 

The 3 States of Tennessee

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I’m really excited to share this week’s chapter of  Harry Lane’s “Tennessee Memories”.  Remember last week we learned that Mr. Lane studied both geography and geology. How fascinating to look at my home through the eyes of these scientific disciplines!  Culturally and historically, the western, middle and eastern portions of Tennessee are unique.  Turns out God laid it out that way.

The article is lengthy so I’m going to share excerpts here, mainly the description of the plateau. 

According to some folk, Tennessee is three states in one:  East, Middle, and West Tennessee.  These are often indicated to be the three Grand divisions of Tennessee.  The boundaries, like most boundaries, are somewhat arbitrary.

Nature has deal in larger numbers in dividing Tennessee into regions.  There are seven to ten natural regions in the state, depending upon the way one counts ‘em.  Here is the way we’ll count ‘em:  nine natural regions as follows, from east to west.

(1)    The Unaka Mountains (also known, more popularly, as the Blue Ridge).  The mountain area of easternmost Tennessee continues eastward into North Carolina, southward into Georgia, and northward into Virginia.  The highest portion of this mountain area is known as the Great Smoky Mountains, or simply the Smokies.  This area is not only the highest mountain mass in Tennessee and North Carolina, but also the highest of the eastern United States…

(2)    The Ridge and valley.  This section of the state consists of alternating ridges and valleys all oriented northeast – southwest.  Some of the ridges attain altitudes up to 2000 feet or so, while the valleys are generally hundreds of feet lower.  The valleys usually are underlain by limestone that produces rich soil and a productive agriculture… With the exception of forestry or grazing of livestock, the ridges are essentially unused for agriculture.

Many of Tennessee’s best-known cities and towns are located in the Ridge and Valley.  These include Knoxville, Chattanooga, Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport, Morristown, Cleveland, Athens, Harriman, Oak Ridge, Rockwood, Dayton, Sweetwater, Etowah, Maryville, Lenoir City, and Loudon.

(3)    The Cumberland Plateau.  The only plateau in Tennessee, the Cumberland is a sandstone-capped highland that reaches above 2000 feet in its highest elevations.  In places nearly level, the Plateau crest is in many other places severely dissected by natural (geologic) erosion, and the terrain resembles hills or mountains more than it does one’s image of plateaus (which are usually depicted as smooth-surfaced uplands).  The Cumberland Plateau extends northward into Kentucky and southward into Alabama.  The plateau has a sandy soil that has proved relatively unproductive, as compared to soils in other parts of the states – such as the limestone-based soils of the Ridge and Valley or Central Basin.  The escarpments on the eastern and western sides of the Plateau also proved to be impediments to settlement and economic development, since accessibility has been hampered by these steep barriers.  Much wilderness persists here, as a consequence , and this has become a valuable commodity in recent decades, as an attraction to vacationers and retired persons, many of whom seek relief from urban settings in the peace of the Plateau.  A number of resorts and retirement communities have been established there to serve and attract such people.

Crossville, in Cumberland County, is the largest Plateau town.  Others of consequence include Jamestown, South Pittsburg, Oneida, and Monterey.

(4)    The Sequatchie Valley.  This interesting valley has been cut into a fold in the rocks of the Cumberland Plateau by the river that bears the same name, Sequatchie… One of the most scenic parts of the state of Tennessee, this valley is also agriculturally productive.  Pikeville and Dunlap are the towns of the valley.

(5)    The Highland Rim. The next territory westward from the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim… Often… viewed as consisting of two parts, the Eastern and Western Highland Rims.  On the east, this province represents a bench-like or terrace-like area that emerges from the western escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau.  …Generally the Highland Rim is 200 to 300 feet higher than the Central Basin that it surrounds.  In places smooth, the Highland Rim is also hilly and irregular in many places – like so much of Tennessee…

There are many towns that are well-known to Tennesseans that are located on the Highland Rim.  Prominent among these are Clarksville, Cookeville, McMinnville, Sparta, Springfield, Tullahoma, Winchester, Hohenwald, Lawrenceburg, Dickson, Waverly, Savannah, Portland, Dover, and Ashland City.

(6)    The Central Basin.  This section of the state is one that was sought by white settlers soon after initial settlement had begun west of the Blue Ridge Mountains…The Basin has been called the “Tennessee Bluegrass” because of its resemblance to the rich Kentucky Bluegrass Basin to the north.

(7)    The Western Valley  of the Tennessee River.  This small region serves as a boundary between the Western Highland Rim and the Coastal Plain (or West Tennessee Plain).  This portion of the Tennessee Valley is quite interesting in the fact that the river has reversed its course from the southward-flowing stream that it is in the Ridge and Valley of eastern Tennessee.  Between the eastern and western segments, the Tennessee flows through a gorge that it has cut across the Cumberland Plateau (the segment of the plateau known as Walden Ridge), dipping far southward into Alabama  before it heads the opposite direction across Tennessee and Kentucky, finally emptying into the Ohio River near the mouth of the Cumberland River.  It is difficult to explain why the great river would do this, for much the shorter course to the sea lies southward through Alabama; the puzzle intrigues and troubles geologists who study the problem.

No large towns or cities belong strictly to the Western Valley…

(8)    The Coastal Plain, or West Tennessee Plain.  This portion of Tennessee belongs to a region that is vast, and which extends from Long Island, New York, to the Mexican border (and even beyond that)… the Atlantic-Gulf Coastal Plain…  The immediate valley of the Mississippi River, however, is usually considered separately from the Coastal Plain, and so it is in Tennessee…

The largest city of the state, Memphis, lies at the southwestern edge of this province.  Jackson, Dyersburg, Millington, Union City, Paris, Humboldt, Milan, Martin, Brownsville, and Camden are among the other towns and cities of the area.

(9)    The Mississippi Alluvial Valley.  This part of Tennessee is small – only about 900 square miles.  It is floodplain land of the Mississippi River…

There are few towns on the alluvial plain of the Mississippi.  This sparseness of towns probably is more the consequence of the small size of the whole region than of flood dangers or any negative factors.  Tiptonville and Ridgely belong to the Alluvial Valley.

Meet Harry Lane - Author of Tennessee Memories

Last week I introduced Tennessee Memories by Harry Lane. His son (and one of my favorite people!) Derek Lane shared a little more information about the author so I want to pass that along to you this week.

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Harry Lane (1936-2013) loved Tennessee, though he didn’t live here until his late twenties. He grew up in the hot coastal plains region of southern Georgia, studied geology at Georgia and geography at Kansas, and only moved to Tennessee when he began teaching geography at Tennessee Tech in 1964. He very much enjoyed the tremendous variety of landscapes in Tennessee, from the mountains in the east, to the Cumberland Plateau just east of Cookeville, to the Nashville Basin, and the fertile plains of the west. His love for the state extended to the four-season climate, the interesting place-names, the Scotch-Irish mountain heritage of many Tennessee residents, and its music. He even bought a ‘mountain dulcimer’ from a local craftsman and learned to play it. From the early 1980’s on, he captured many of the state’s natural wonders on film, and was also a painter in oils, watercolor, and acrylic. He was always a skilled writer, and his hobby list also included stone masonry, wood-working, calligraphy, and occasional poetry. Many of his former students remember him as a good instructor, a demanding but fair and kind professor. His wife of almost 53 years, Melba, still lives in Cookeville, and his three sons and four grandchildren live in Utah, Tennessee, and Illinois.

Tennessee Memories by Harry Lane

Harry Lane in the center with his brothers Larry and Emory

Harry Lane in the center with his brothers Larry and Emory

A couple of decades ago, a professor from Tennessee Tech named Harry Lane wrote a booklet of “Tennessee Memories.”

Mr. Lane was born in South Georgia and traveled throughout the United States and Europe; yet he loved the Tennessee mountains and I have really enjoyed reading about his affinity for our homeland. I hope you too will enjoy these writings as I share them over the next few weeks.


What is this place called Tennessee?  By Harry Lane

Unedited introductory article of “Tennessee Memories”

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Once upon a time, the Lord made a place that had a very pleasing variety of land-scapes, from mountains, hills, and valleys to plains and a plateau.  He blessed this place not only with beautiful landforms, but also with a benign climate that is not excessively hot in the summer nor exceptionally cold in the winter.  He blessed it with autumns and springs that are lovely enough to make angels sing and sinners smile.  The “bottom lands” of the river valleys, the limestone lowlands between the eastern ridges, and the plains of the west, He made fertile and productive, and He cloaked the whole of it with verdant forests, cut by fresh, sparkling waters of innumerable streams.

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This favored place stretched for hundreds of miles from the mountain in the east to a great river valley on the western border.  The Lord peopled this land first with a stout-hearted population having reddish skins.  These people named the eastern part of this territory – and the large river that crossed it – Tanasi.  The people with white skins, who came much later form far across the eastern ocean, used this name to signify a larger region; the spelling became Tennessee, and so it remains today – Tennessee, sixteenth member of the United States, renowned and loved by Americans everywhere, but most of all by its own citizens.

Tennessee is called home today by some four million persons, but it is known to all Americans and many foreigners as the state that has produced folk heroes and famous historical figures such as Andrew Jackson, Sam Houston, James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson, Sam Davis, Cordell Hull, and Sergeant Alvin York.  It is known as a state that retains much scenic splendor, for the volunteers who have fought with valor in many wars, and as the home of country music and walking horses.

Tennessee is renowned for the great mountains that cross it in its easternmost part – mountains shared with North Carolina – that are the highest in the eastern United States.  It is known for the national park that is located in those Great Smoky Mountains – the largest and most-visited park east of the Mississippi River.

The state is famous internationally for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a giant socio-economic undertaking that has resulted in the harnessing of a great river system for multiple purposes:  flood control, improved water transportation, power production and industrial growth, and recreational opportunities.

Tennessee’s name has been sung by millions of tongues across the U.S.A., for its name has been an integral part of a thousand songs, many of which have become internationally popular.  This is partly due to Nashville’s prominence as the country music capital; more broadly, the city has become of the most important electronic-recording centers in America – producing a broad spectrum of recordings while focusing on country music.

Perhaps most of all, Tennessee’s name evokes from many millions of Americans “down home” thoughts and feelings – thoughts of grass-roots America, rich with valuable traditional and folklore, keeping still its scenic beauty and its contact with the past while belonging to modern America with its countless advantages and opportunities.

In short, Tennessee is a varied land, rich with scenery, human resources, history, and tradition.  One of the best keys to the hold that the state places upon the minds of its people is that, although many leave the state, a great proportion of those who do so eventually return.  Few can resist the call of the Volunteer State.







Zenith Coal Mining Community

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Janice Matthews Smith discusses in her book, Looking Back, the mining operation and surrounding community of Zenith, Tennessee.  Zenith today is a forest, high bluff, a few homes and no sign whatsoever of industry.  However, in 1913 the O&W Railroad arrived at Zenith and as always happened where the train stopped, a community grew.

This community, as with so many early 1900’s communities in Appalachia, grew around coal mines.  The first mines that were opened weren’t very profitable.  However, other areas proved worthy of the investment and the mining operation continued in Zenith for thirty years.

Across the Eastern United States organizing and strife surrounding unions in coal mines has become legendary.  Fentress and Scott counties can claim their own share of that drama and the violence in Zenith actually broke the community and ultimately ended the mining operation.  Mrs. Smith records no less than 4 shootings at the mines.

The first victim she lists is an unnamed man shot in then neck in a home, although she doesn’t say if it was his own home.  “Union men hid behind the bluffs and surrounded Zenith” at that time.

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The second shooting involved Sheriff Wolford Smith.  He was shot from the bluffs hitting him in the leg when he stepped out of the company store.

The next law enforcement officer involved in a Zenith shooting was Sheriff Taylor who responded to a call that Bud Markel was at the company store with a .38 special.  Bud Markel was not a local man but had come to work in the mines.  He befriended Ed Slaven and stayed in the Slaven home.  However, he drank and he was a mean and destructive drunk.  Mr. Slaven told Bud he’d have to change his ways or find somewhere else to stay.  He got drunk again and went into the company store with the weapon and that’s when Sheriff Taylor was called in.  Markel offered to surrender, allowing the sheriff to move in close to him and then he shot him in the chest.  His friend grabbed the sheriff’s gun and shot Markel.  Both men died from their wounds.

At least one more shooting is remembered when someone shot into the store at Mt. Helen.  No one was reported injured at that time.

The final shooting victim Mrs. Matthews details was Cap Woods.  He was tasked with driving the payroll from Union Bank in Jamestown to Zenith; concerned by all the violence in the area he swapped trucks with a foreman from the mines, although the foreman drove Mr. Woods’ truck along behind him.  As the pair reached “Noah Buck” hill, shots were fired from both sides.  Ten men were arrested and fearing a lynching, they were held in Nashville until the trial when all were cleared.

The Zenith mines closed around 1941 leaving many men unemployed.  Some went to work in the Wilder coal mines while others found mining positions in Kentucky and Virginia.  Still others went to the logging woods which continue to employee folks on the mountain today.

The railroad tracks were taken up from Zenith in 1955.