“There is an old weather bettion house
that stands near a wood
With an orchard near by it
For all most 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.”
The above poem was written by Louisa Walker. She was one of the infamous Walker Sisters who grew up deep inside the Great Smoky Mountains. Her grandfather built a cabin in Little Greenbrier Cove sometime in the 1840’s. When her father, John, came home from fighting for the Union in the Civil War, he moved his wife Margaret to the house and there they raised 11 children.
Eventually John and his wife passed on, and the children grew. The boys and one daughter married, and moved to build their own homes, but five of the Walker Sisters never married, and remained in the only home they had ever known.
With the dedication of the National Park in 1940, the land was wanted by the government. Of course the remaining sisters, Margaret, Polly, Martha, Louisa, and Hettie, refused to leave. Ultimately they came to an agreement with the government, and were paid $4750 for their land, with the understanding, they could remain in the house and on the land for the rest of their lives. The only stipulations were they could not hunt, fish, cut wood, or graze livestock.
The sisters being the enterprising ladies they were, welcomed the parks visitors to their home, and began selling crocheted doilies, homemade fried pies, toys, and Louisa even sold her poems. They thrilled in showing a modern society, the ways of mountain life. The sisters remained in the house until Louisa, the last remaining sister, passed away in 1964, at which time the Park Service took complete possession of the cabin and the land.
Recently, I made the simple two mile trek out to the old Walker Sisters place. I had heard it was a site to see and was recovering from an injury, so the hike seemed a win win.
As I made the walk that morning, I kept imagining what life must have been like as the Walker Sisters were growing up. The mountains almost seemed to whisper hidden secrets as I made my enjoyable trek through the quiet forest.
I was walking the exact path they used to walk. Maybe as they were headed to town, or to go visit friends. Did they skip and sing? Did they sometimes try and race each other home? How different life is now. Today we want to Quicken our pace, and speed to the next activity. But I imagined the Walker siblings never got in a hurry. They listened to the soft rustle of leaves, and maybe took the time to play in the near by stream. Perhaps they even took time to look for some hidden treasures along the path as they slowly and peacefully made the journey home.
Before you get to the cabin, you pass the school their father helped build.
As I made my way inside, I could almost hear the giggles, and whispers of the mountain children as they sat and waited for class to begin.
In fact I took a little time myself to sit and read a little of my hiking guide. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
As I made my way to the cabin, I just could not stop thinking of the sisters. This was the only place they had every known and they had been so happy. Now days we freak out if we lose power for more than 30 minutes. If the cable or internet go out….it’s the end of the world. We relish in our indoor plumbing, central heat and air, and store bought clothes. Rarely do we take the time for “visiting”, and we will scour the parking lot for 25 minutes looking for a parking spot close to the supermarket door.
These women fought to keep their home and their way of life. Would I do that now? Probably not. If someone were to offer me quick money, I think I would jump on it, and move on. The Walker Sisters however, loved their mountain way of life. Spinning their own clothes, growing their own food, making their own entertainment, it was just who they were.
Climbing a tree in the front yard, I wondered if at some point, they had climbed the same tree. Perhaps they played games up there, swung on an old swing, or just sat up there and looked over their amazing life.
Do children today even climb trees?
What a simple,yet beautiful life, these sisters led. Surrounded by vast and beautiful mountains, endless wonder all around them, and a strong love and appreciation of all they had. In a 1946 interview with the Saturday Evening Post, the sisters reported that their land gave them everything they needed, but sugar, soda, coffee, and salt. The code they lived by was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”
When have I EVER had to rely on the land around me for all I needed. I just run out the Super Walmart.
When did we become some lazy and high maintenance? When did we decide we need “stuff” to make us happy?
As I get older, the more I realize, the less I need. Perhaps this is part of the reason I long to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. For 6 months I would carry everything I need on my back. Did you catch that? Everything I need, not want.
Technology is a wonderful thing, and the minds that created such wonderful ideas as indoor plumbing, electricity, and air conditioning are purely amazing. But oddly, they have made us lazy, weak, and well…..needy. If we have to wear the same outfit two days in a row, we stress. If we get a little warm, or chilly at night, life is hard. If we had to work, and sweat to produce the food we ate, some of us would starve.
What a simpler time it was. A life that was full of hard work, yet simple pleasures and immeasurable beauty.
If you ever find yourself in the Smokies, make sure you check the Walker Sister Cabin out. Sure there is lots of shopping, good eating, and entertainment around, but slow down, take a stroll through the woods, and imagine just how peaceful life was back in the day. Sit on the porch and take in the scenery. I bet if you listen real close, you can hear the sisters singing as they work around the house.
Shhh…… just listen.