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

Plateau Today.jpg

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.




Early Life in Tennessee as recounted by Clyde Whittaker

[Clyde was born in Monterey, Tennessee in 1924.  His mother was 19 years old and he was her first child.  Clyde’s father was native to the Monterey area but his mother’s family lived in Martha Washington.  His sister June would be born 22 months later then a brother the following year. There were a total of 5 children.]

Clyde writes:

I am interested in sharing how different life was for me and my family from life today.  My earliest days I lived about half a mile down the road from Steve Welch’s house.  We rented a small house with two rooms in front, a porch across the front and a narrow room across the back which we didn’t use except in bad weather [when] Mom did the laundry there.  There was two beds and a pot-bellied stove in one.  The other room had a table and chairs and a small cast iron cook stove.  The stove was called a step stove because the two caps over the fire box was about three inches lower than the part over the oven which had a door on both sides.   It was so small that Dad made a platform to raise it about a foot to make it a good height for Mom to work.  It was a wood stove.  We burned coal in the pot-bellied heater. 

In those days if you bought or rented the usual small house there was not cabinets or appliances.  Usually not even a closet.  There was no running water, electricity or phone.  Most people didn’t have enough clothes to need a closet.  For water we had a well in the back yard.  A narrow bucket was lowered on a rope then a crank was turned to raise the bucket.  Wells in the area were usually 30 to 40 feet deep.  The water had a yellow iron oxide in it that would stain laundry so we had a large wood barrel at a back corner of the house to catch rainwater for laundry.  We called it the rain barrel.

I remember June and I looking through the fence near the road to watch people passing.  Cattle ran loose that time so you had to have your yard fenced.  There was only one or two cars passing per day but there would be wagons pulled by horses or mules.  It was a dirt road that was graded by horse drawn scraper two times a year.  Some rode horses to town.  One morning we saw a dead cow by the railroad track.  The railroad paid for cows it killed.  An uncle said, “When a cow is killed it suddenly become a $100 cow.”  A good cow at the time was $25 or $35.

We didn’t have many toys so we played with what we had.  We had two one gallon buckets.  We put a short piece of lumber on the two buckets and that was our car.  I used a bucket lid for steering the wheel.  No women we knew drove.

I had a little dog named Jyp.  My great Uncle Frank shot him because he chased his hogs.  It was a very small dog and couldn’t hurt the hogs.

I usually wore bib overalls and a blue shirt made by Mom and no underwear except in winter when I wore long Johns.  I took off my overalls and slept in my shirt.  I had at least two pairs of knickers in my young years but didn’t like them.

We didn’t have mattresses at that time.  We had a tick filled with wheat straw which sold in bales like hay.  The bed springs was an open array of springs not in a box.  I had no trouble sleeping on it.

One day a farmer with his mule drawn wagon stopped in front of the house.  The farmer asked Mom if she wanted to buy some mutton.  Then there was no refrigeration so if a farmer killed a cow or sheep except in freezing weather they had to sell the meat they didn’t want.  They put a sheet in the wagon with the meat on it then covered it.  He would go house to house in town until he sold the meat.  Mom told the farmer no.  I didn’t know anything about mutton but I told Mom she should buy some.  She called the farmer back and bought some.  To this day I remember how the cooking mutton smelled.  We probably threw it away.

All of this may sound like we lived in poverty, but we ate well and had good clothes.  Most working men lived in small houses that the poorest today wouldn’t live in.

Dad bought Mom a new sewing machine in 1928 for $75 which was a lot of money then.  Mom made many shirts and dresses over the years.  We moved into town near Grandma Whittaker when I was five.  I started school at six.  All twelve grades were in one building.  [There was] no running water the first year.  We had a girl and boys outdoor toilets.  There was a well with a hand pump near the back entrance.  Each class had a water bucket.  In lower grades the teacher would send two boys to fill the bucket and carry it back to the room.  Each kid had a telescoping cup that collapsed until you could put it in your pocket.  Each room had a large pot-bellied stove for heat.  The teacher would send two boys to the basement to get a scuttle of coal.  The teacher had to keep the fire going.  The following year we had running water, steam heat and indoor toilets.  In first grade a new girl joined the class, Mary Frances, wearing a red polka dot dress with bloomers of the same material that were three inches below the dress.  I thought she was the cutest girl I had seen.