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.




Picture Post Card

My grandmother recently shared with me a small group of pictures that came from her own grandmother.  My Great-great grandmother lived from 1886 until 1977 so these are pretty old pictures and quite a treasure.

As I looked through them I flipped each one over to see if any names or identity clues had been left.  Several of them were setup to be mailed as a post card.  One had actually been used to write a letter, although no address is included so it was clearly mailed in an envelope.  I found this little glimpse of turn-of-the-century communication to be so charming I just had to share it with you.

The note is written to Elbert and Euphemia Hixson from her sister Lizzie. I have inserted punctuation (neither period nor comma was used throughout her writing) as well as paragraph breaks in hopes it’s a little easier to read.

Dear Phemie & Elbert,

We have been looking for a letter from you ever so long, are still expecting you all up here this fall.  I am thinking of visiting Tennessee next summer if I don’t change my mind. 

I believe we’ve had the driest time I ever saw.  My well gets low when I wash but soon fills up again.  Sure have fine water and I have my winter stove wood already up too.  That is a great relief. 

Write soon.

Lizzie Hixson



There you have it.  Less than 250 words written to a sister she had not heard from.  In that she manages to share travel plans, weather report and winter preparations.  She doesn’t explain the picture on the post card – maybe this was her usual writing stock and her sister would not have wondered about the image.  With both greeting and salutation on the card, I wouldn’t expect there was anything else in the envelope. 

Don’t you just wish you could ask her a whole bunch of questions after reading this?  I sure do. 




Country Roads

Ah, the thought of a country road conjures movie scenes, old tales and song lyrics galore. 

Now I didn’t grow up on a dirt road – in fact they’re pretty hard to find these days.  Nor do my children play in a dusty path, but you couldn’t convince them that they are missing anything as they pick through gravels and find even the tiniest depression that holds water for splashing little shoes.  A trip to the mailbox is full of adventure and watching them again brings to mind fanciful memories.

A couple of weeks ago I included a picture of Ernest Hall standing no doubt along the path to his father’s  Roslin, Tennessee farm with a split rail fence on one side and a barn on the other side.  He’s probably in his early twenties but the joy in his smile makes you think that the hard work on that farm has not begun to dim his spirit.

So many of the stories I’ve heard all my life include walks along the Plateau’s country roads.  I recently drove from I-40’s Plateau Road exit across to Hwy 62.  The first novel I wrote (and have yet to release but I promise I’ll get it out one day) was largely set in the Elmore Community along Clear Creek Road.  Two characters in the book needed to travel toward that Plateau exit and I sent them along the Keye’s Road.  Today that road is a very narrow two-lane roughly paved road.  It’s bordered by over-arching trees, fence rows and homes.  I couldn’t help but imagine walking along it in the early morning hours at the beginning of a long journey.  Of course, in those no-fence-law days so many people took the nigh-way that well-worn paths crisscrossed the mountain.  We mainly have to stick to the roads these days but it’s still fun to think of the quiet of those days without motorcars.  It challenges me to think of the distances my forefathers traveled on foot.  And it thrills me that I have enough stories that I can begin to picture their steps along these same routes.

Hmm, now that I think of it country roads are almost as much fun for me as they are for my children.

Drug Problem

I got a note from one of our blog readers, Mrs. Sandra Callison, who shared the following story.  I was nodding my head and ‘Amen-ing’ after about the second line and I wanted to share it here because I suspect there’s a sentiment in these lines that most folks who would care to read about Appalachian history would probably share.

I tried to research the author of this story but could only find that several other folks around the web had also shared it with no author’s name. 

The other day, someone at a store in our town read that a methamphetamine

lab had been found in an old farmhouse in the adjoining county and he asked

me a rhetorical question, "Why didn't we have a drug problem when you and I

were growing up?

  I replied, I had a drug problem when I was young: I was drug to church on

Sunday morning. I was drug to church for weddings and funerals. I was drug

to family reunions and community socials no matter the weather

I was drug by my ears when I was disrespectful to adults. I was also drug to the woodshed when I disobeyed my parents, told a lie, brought home a bad report card, did not speak with respect, spoke ill of the teacher or the preacher, or if I didn't put forth my best effort in everything that was asked of me.

soapy mouth.jpg

  I was drug to the kitchen sink to have my mouth washed out with soap if I uttered a profanity. I was drug out to pull weeds in mom's garden and flower beds and cockle-burs out of dad's fields. I was drug to the homes of family, friends, and neighbors to help out some poor soul who had no one to mow the yard, repair the clothesline, or chop some firewood and, if my mother had ever known that I took a single dime as a tip for this kindness, she would have drug me back to the woodshed.

  Those drugs are still in my veins and they affect my behavior in everything I do, say, or think, They are stronger than cocaine, crack, or heroin; and,if today's children had this kind of drug problem America would be a better place.

 God bless the parents who drugged us.

Livingston, Tennessee A City Surrounded by Beauty

As we continue our 1940’s tour of the Upper Cumberlands, today we’ll make a stop in Livingston, Tennessee.  For those of us native to the plateau, Livingston is distinctly “under the mountain”.  The nearest movie theatre to Jamestown, it was a frequent destination for young people.  Unfortunately, that theatre closed and with it some of the Livingston traffic surely turned another direction.  However, in 1940, hopes were high for the little town on Highway 52.

The 1940 census counted 1,527 people within the city limits of Overton County’s county seat.  It was strategically located with state highways leading directly to Celina, Jamestown, Cookeville and Byrdstown.  There was also a planned highway that would be designated Cordell Hull Parkway and would lead to Monterey. 

The March of Progress publication reports Livingston had, “nine different manufacturing and processing establishments in active operation; seventeen retail stores supplying the town and the country around; two drugstores, and an up-to-date hospital; the town enjoys the services of four hotels and five cafes… nine courteous filling stations and auto repair shops.”  The city was served by nine public utility agencies. 

Overton County Farmer in 1940. Can anyone identify the implement he's using?  Please leave a comment if you recognize it. My best guess is a planter

Overton County Farmer in 1940.
Can anyone identify the implement he's using?  Please leave a comment if you recognize it.
My best guess is a planter

Notice the pictures that were offered to represent Overton County.  The town shot shows off a line of 1930’s era automobiles.  The rural shot shows farm machinery pulled by an early tractor, with a second man required to ride on the implement.  I’ve mentioned several times on the blog how long horses and mules were still utilized in our rural communities.  In fact, I’ve just recently had an opportunity to visit with a World War II veteran who confirmed that at the time he was drafted, his father still did not have a car.  And, his grandfather actually never drove despite living until 1976.  So, I can’t help but wonder if the pictures were very carefully framed if not actually staged.  Of course, this being a promotional publication, we would certainly want to show the most progressive side of every community. 

The rich natural resources of Overton County are not touted quite so loudly as in some of the other communities.  Crawford was part of the Wilder-Davidson mining complex; while the operation was declining somewhat by the end of the 1930’s, it is surprising that this community is only mentioned in a long list of the rural communities of Overton County.  The Dale Hollow Reservoir wouldn’t be completed for a few years after this article was written and probably its recreational asset was not fully understood. 

The article is summarized with an invitation to tourists and industrialists alike.  Hospitality, friendship, willing and anxious laborers are presented as the best reasons to visit or relocate to Livingston, Tennessee.