The Great Smoky Mountain Association has a great deal of information on the Walker Sisters, and they kindly allowed us to reprint a poem from Louisa Walker (spelling is hers):
There’s an old weather bettion house
That stands near a wood
With an orchard near by it
For almost one hundred years it has stood
It was my home in infency
It sheltered me in youth
When I tell you I love it
I tell you the truth
For years it has sheltered
By day and night
From the summer’s sun heat
And the cold winter blight
But now the park commisioner
Comes all dressed up so gay
Saying this old house of yours
We must now take away
They coax they wheedle
They fret they bark
Saying we have to have this place
For a National Park
For us poor mountain people
They don’t have a care
But must a home for
The wolf the lion and the bear
But many of us have a tltle
That is sure and will hold
To the City of Peace
Where the streets are pure gold
There no lion in its fury
Those pathes ever trod
It is the home of the soul
In the presence of God
When we reach the portles
of glory so fair
The Wolf cannot enter
Neither the lion or bear
And no park Commissioner
Will ever dar
To desturbe or molest
Or take our home from us there
-By Louisa Walker, with permission of Great Smoky Mountains Association
“Time Stood Still in the Smokies” is one of the most memorable articles I’ve come across in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post. It tells of four middle-aged sisters (one passed away about a year before the article) who lived contentedly in a Smoky Mountain log home built by their grandfather when Abe Lincoln was still practicing law. The Walker sisters lived as their forebears did, churning butter, spinning their own cloth, cutting wood for fuel and even stretching and drying sheepskin.
I was delightfully reminded of the article when I heard from a park ranger named Samantha. She had recently hiked to the sister’s cabin, which is now within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In her e-mail, Samantha wrote that the sisters “were introduced to the world in (I believe) 1949 through an article in your magazine. I would love to have a copy of the article…”
Actually the year was 1946, Samantha, and you are not the first to request this article. It tends to stick in people’s minds (like mine) years after they’ve read it. I had forgotten some of the humorous anecdotes and how delightful these sisters were, even if a bit prim.
Most American households in that year felt blessed not only with electricity and indoor plumbing, but vacuum cleaners, washing machines and modern kitchen appliances. Food came from supermarkets and clothing and household items from department stores. So why would you want to live as if it were the early nineteenth century?
It was not, author John Maloney wrote, “through the slightest trace of eccentricity or any dislike of progress, but simply because, as women without menfolk around, they have continued doing things in the ways and with the implements they know best how to use—which is to say, their father’s and grandfather’s methods and tools.”
The four unmarried sisters (but Polly died in 1945) continued the way of life they and their siblings (eleven in all) had always known. They had no interest in moving or changing.
“Why, they reason, should anyone want to worry about changes and improvements when the ground is so fertile, one of their two cows is always fresh, their spring flows freely, and heavy forests around them provide all the fuel they need? A sympathetic visitor can find no answer.”
We are shown photos of the sisters, ranging in age from fifty-six to seventy-five, at the spinning wheel, stretching and drying sheepskin and just enjoying an autumn respite on their front porch.
They raised fewer sheep than their folks did, but kept six or eight each year. “Any one of them can catch a buck or ewe,” Maloney writes, “hogtie it and hoist it, bleating and kicking, to the rack where they do the shearing.”
And they didn’t just card wool for their own needs.
“Martha showed me winter dresses she had made from their own wool while Margaret hummed away, spinning thread that would go into warm stockings for themselves or socks for nephews still overseas. ‘Guess it ain’t every soldier in Germany that can say his old-maid aunts raised his socks off’n a rocky mountainside for him,’ Hetty observed as she looked on. ‘I hear them Europe winters can be powerful cold, and we don’t aim for any of our folks to have cold feet, no matter where they are.’”
There’s a charming story about the sheep and the author and photographer, David Robbins. The photographer asked if they could catch one and shear it for a photo.
“Margaret got feed, called, ‘Here, sheepie, sheepie, sheepie!’ and got them almost within noosing range. Then they saw (the photographer) and bolted back up the mountain. No amount of calling would tempt them down again, nor would they follow a trail of grain we laid for them. ‘They won’t come down again as long as there’s anybody around with pants on,’ Margaret said, and we found she was right. ‘Sorry, no sheep pictures.’”
About the only thing they didn’t do was plow, and that was only because of their mule.
“In his old age that mule has got so bullheaded he won’t let us girls work him,” Margaret explained. “When we want land plowed or logs dragged down from the mountain for firewood, one of our relatives has to come and work him for us. A Tennessee mule has got to be handled special, and none of us can cuss.”
I hope you find this article as memorable as Samantha and I did. It’s a good example of the type of article people still remember years after they read them.
Riding the rails on a vintage train may be the ultimate joy ride, an irresistible combination of adventure, history, and romance. America’s scenic railroads curve through wine country, back country, mountains, and river valleys. You never know what’s around the bend, but on these seven lines, count on something spectacular. While you can usually get tickets on the day of the trip, buying them in advance (especially for the popular wine tours) is recommended, particularly for weekend trips.
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5 classic American rail journeys for your next adventure.
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Will passenger-rails experience a rebirth in America? James McCommons spent a year riding trains in his search for an answer.
|From the Archives: the Passenger Rail
Articles from the archive of America’s oldest magazine.
Full service to Silverton runs May 8 through October. Winter trips to Cascade Canyon, 26 miles, run November through May. Tickets start at $81 adults, $49 children (ages 4-11).* Deluxe seating, packages are available.
Maine Eastern Railroad
Hop aboard a restored Art Deco-era streamliner for a 57-mile ride along the rocky midcoast of Maine. The train travels between Brunswick, home of Bowdoin College, and Rockland, lobster capital of the world. (The Maine Lobster Festival in Rockland annually attracts 75,000 visitors, who consume more than 20,000 pounds of lobster!) The scenery changes from the first mile to the last. Every bend of the tracks—and there are more than 100 turns—and every one of the 33 bridge crossings reveals another photo op: deer, moose, wild turkeys, woods, clam diggers, and colorful buoys marking lobster traps. Luxe cars feature overstuffed, reclining seats, lots of legroom, and large picture windows.
Regular service runs May 23-October 25, 2010, with special holiday trains in December. Visit online or call for ticket prices.
Napa Valley Wine Train
Three hours, 36 miles, and a four-course gourmet meal make a trip on the Napa Valley Wine Train as much about the food as the views. It runs through the heart of the valley’s most storied wineries, such as Rubicon, Robert Mondavi, and Opus One. Think Orient Express, American-style. Most coaches have plush, overstuffed seating, hand-rubbed mahogany paneling, and velvet drapery. Sign up for a lunch or dinner excursion with reserved seating in a nearly century-old refurbished Pullman or elevated Dome car. If it’s strictly scenery you’re after, book a seat in the restored Silverado car. Lunch is optional and you can simply BYOZ—bring your own zinfandel (or favorite varietal) for a $15 corkage fee.
Year-round excursions. $49.50 adults, $25 children (age 12 and under) for Silverado car with a la carte menu; Gourmet trains start at $94 adults, $50 children (ages 2-12).* Crown and first-class cars extra.
Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
A century ago, a visitor described the young railroad that snaked through western North Carolina as “little more than two streaks of rust and a right-of-way.” These days, a trip aboard the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is pure joy. Choose between two routes. The Nantahala Gorge excursion is a four-and-a-half-hour, 44-mile round-trip ride crossing Fontana Lake on a 100-foot-high trestle bridge to breathtaking Nantahala Gorge. Warm, moist air over the cold water creates a mystical fog. The trip includes a one-hour layover at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a whitewater rafting and adventure resort. The Tuckasegee River trip travels 32 miles through old railroad towns with a layover in quaint Dillsboro, a town that looks something like a Thomas Kinkade painting and is known for its artisan shops.
Train aficionado? For an extra fee, enjoy the best spot of all with the engineer and a front-view seat in the cab of the locomotive.
Bryson City, North Carolina
Nantahala Gorge excursions run throughout the year. Tuckasegee River excursions run June 22-August 14 and October 4-28, 2010. $49 adults, $29 children.*
Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad
Herds of huge Roosevelt elk are prolific along the route of the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, but the “wow” moment of the 18-mile journey comes when the rolling stock crosses the Nisqually River trestle and towering Mount Rainier comes into view. The train navigates through valleys, over mountain streams and through the foothills of Rainier. There’s a leg-stretching stop upon reaching the “gem of the Northwest”—Mineral Lake, home to the 10-pound trout.
Some cars date back a century. Both diesel and steam locomotives are in service. Choose among a standard antique car, a roofless open car, or a windowless “clopen” car. New for 2010 is the Nisqually River Observation car. Originally built in 1917 as a mine rescue car, it’s been beautifully transformed into a first-class lounge.
Special holiday excursions are scheduled throughout the year. Regular excursions run Memorial Day through October. $20 adults, $15 children (ages 4-12).* Peak summer excursions extra.
*Ticket prices for all railroads subject to change and may vary by season.
With an estimated 8 to 10 million tourists each year, this summer the most visited park in the country is celebrating its diamond anniversary: 75 years. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s 800 miles of hiking trails, 700 miles of fishable streams, countless gushing waterfalls, blooming wildflowers, and auto tours offering panoramic vistas of an endless majestic horizon allure nature lovers from around the globe. And yet, the main attraction is—and perhaps always has been—the Smokies’ most famous resident, the black bear.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of the few places remaining in the eastern United States where black bears live in the wild, a draw for visitors expecting to get an up-close look. With approximately 1,600 bears in the park (or two bears per square mile), the odds are pretty good for visitors expecting to see a bear in its natural habitat.
Before the park was even 20 years old, it had already welcomed over 20 million visitors according to an article in the June 5, 1954, issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The article, “Our Most Popular National Park,” takes a look at the fixation tourists have with seeing a bear and several close encounters with the unpredictable creature.
“I’ve got my family. Come a long way—from Illinois. We want to see a bear,” pleads a visitor to the information desk.
In response to the public’s desperation to see bears, the Park Service advocated numerous safety campaigns to no avail.
“One couple decided to play it half safe—sit in their car and feed a bear through the window. The bear gulped a ham-on-rye, then reared up, put her paws on the door of the convertible and began thrusting her nose into the front seat. … The bear climbed in. The couple then jumped out the other door and stood by helplessly while their uninvited guest ripped the upholstery to shreds,” reports writer Don Wharton.
For a better understanding of the bear attraction and several other questionable tourist behaviors, see the full article below.