Notes on Aquone.
By Joe Stepp.
The name Aquone is a Cherokee Indian name meaning "by the river " or "where the streams meet" roughly translated. For many centuries before the white man settled in this area Cherokee Indians lived here.
Before the Cherokee occupied this land there is much evidence of other people who lived in this valley. Not much is known about these first occupants of what we know as Aquone. Many crude spearheads,not made by Cherokees,have been found .In my small garden I have found many broken spearheads measuring three or four inches in length and up to two inches wide. All of the arrowheads and spearheads found around where I live are made from flint rock common to this area and was not brought here from other parts of the southeast as was claimed by noted historians writing about Indian tribes of the southeast. There is evident of villages on flat ground near streams and in many small high mountain valleys. Much broken pottery and other artifacts have been found in all areas of Nantahala Community. There is ample evidence to prove that other people lived in this area ( Nantahala) long before the Cherokee Indians were here.There is evidence of many Indian villages in the Aquone area as there is similar evidence of other villages throughout the entire Nantahala Community.
Around 1835 President Andrew Jackson made the decision to move the Cherokee Indians to Oklahoma. General Winfred Scott was given the job of rounding them up for removal to Oklahoma. Troops were assigned to General Scott for this purpose . An advance party of soldiers started across Wayah Gap from the east. They were ambushed by Indians near Wayah Gap. A villiage of several hundred Indians were located a short distance west of the gap. This was known to General Scott. A plan was devised to have the soldiers scale the steep mountains going up to the ridge between Wayah and Wine Springs Bald and from there launch a suprise night attack on the villiage. This attack was successfully carried out. It is said that every man,woman, and child in the village were killed.
General Scott and his soldiers advanced on down to the Nantahala River and what was later to be Aquone. All of the original village that was named Aquone is now covered by Nantahala Lake. Downstream on the river, about a mile below the center of Aquone;the center being near the point where Choga Creek emptied into the river.
A fort ,or stockade, was built near where Wine Spring Creek ran into the Nantahala River. This was built to hold the Indians for removal to Oklahoma. All the Indians that could be caught - some fled to the mountains-.The Indians were herded ( walked) over the mountain to Valleytown---present day Andrews-----. There they joined thousands of other Cherokees in preparation for the long trek to Oklahoma. This journey is known as " The Trail of Tears", because of the extreme hardship and suffering endured by the Cherokees, many died on this journey. An Indian chief named Junaluska
( I think) had fled to the hills. This Indian Chief agreed to surrender to General Scott if some of these Indians were allowed to remain in these mountains. The Indians are now living on the reservation in Cherokee and the Snowbird Indian lands of Graham County are descendants of those who were allowed to stay in these hills.
After the Cherokees were moved out of the land we now know as Aquone and the area comprising the streams running into Nantahala River around Aquone was open to settlers . The state divided up the land into quarter sections ( 160 acre tracts) for homesteading. People began moving in and establishing homesteads. By about 1845 quiet a few people had moved into the area.
One man, Nimrod Jarrett , ended up owning all the land along the Nantahala River from about a mile above where Jarrett Creek joined the river down into Nantahala Gorge below where the present rock and gravel buisness is now located.This happened by 1850.Mr Jarrett built a home in Aquone before 1850. This home was located near where the U S Forest service group campground is on Junaluska road. He is the only resident of Nantahala township known to have owned slaves, possibly eight or nine. The fact that nobody owned slaves probably is the reason most people then living in Nantahala refused to fight for the Confedercy, many went north to fight for the Union. Many refused to take sides and simply hide out. Most of the people now living in Nantahala get their present day political affilation from ancesters who first settled this area. This writer lost three great uncles in the Civil War, two died in battle and the other of the (fever) while serving in the Confederate Army in Mississippi, all three served the Confederate Army. My father's grandfather was a prominent union sympathizer and was appointed postmaster at Valleytown , now Andrews,after the Civil War. He let the widow of a prominent Confederate landowner, Squire Walker, take over the actual operation of the postoffice. Mrs Walker paid my greatgrandfather one barrel of meal each year. Squire Walker was taken from his home by Yankee soldiers and killed. Most long time natives date their present party affiliation from the Civil War era, and the fact that the vast majority of people living in Nantahala want less Government interference in their lives is the reason 2/3rd of the people areRepublican.
Nimrod Jarrett was bushwhacked and robbed while crossing Nantahala River near the Apple Tree place , down where the dumpsters are located on Junaluska Road. The time of his murder is not known to this writer.
In 1848 a stage line was established running from Asheville to Murphy. This stage run from Franklin across Wayah Gap, down thru Aquone and across the mountain to Valleytown ( Andrews) and on to Murphy. A way station ( overnight stage stop at Aquone) was established by the son-in-law of Nimrod Jarrett.--E.A.Munday--. This hostry provided lodging and meals for those traveling by stage or on horseback. By the time the Civil War started Aquone was a well established community, over 100 people lived there . People planted crops, raised cattle, sheep,hogs and poultry. Religion played a big part in most of their lives. Almost all were of Scotch-Irish descent and all Protestant. Until several years after World War 11 Nantahala remained 100% Protestant and almost 100% Scot-Irish, these being Scottish people moved to Northern Ireland before 1600. They raised flax for the linen mills of England until forced to immigrate to America when parliament imposed high tariffs on flax to protect the English flax growers. This happened from the mid 1600rds until after 1700.
Nimrod Jarrett sold land on the Nantahala River at Old Aquone in the late 1850's. This writers great grandfather bought land on the river and built a toll bridge; charging a fee , or toll for people, horses and wagons to cross.
My great grandfather's name was Jess Stepp, he was born in Buncome County near Asheville NC. At Stepps Gap near Mount Mitchell is a commerative plaque with a picture of my great grandfather, as he owned the land that included Mount Mitchell-over 600 acres--.
It was he who gave the small tract where Dr. Mitchell was buried. He had at least ten children, two of his sons and son-in-law died in battle fighting for the Confederate cause. His son, William C . Stepp married Laura Wright. They were my grandparents. Shortly after they were married in 1872, my grandmother took over the stage and way station at Aquone. She ran it until around 1910. The Great Western Turnpike Stage Line discontinued it's run at this time.
All the land in and around Aquone was open range, meaning livestock was allowed to run loose and all crops were fenced in. People used earmarks to show ownership of their stock. Until after World War 11 many sheep, hogs and cattle roamed freely. Hogs were fattened on the chestnuts that came from the thousands of native chestnut trees in the forest land,also acorns were plentiful as feed. Sheep were also common during this time. Many natives had over a hundred head of sheep roaming the mountains. My father and his brother George, had a greatnumber of sheep. During the depression in the thirties and early forties when many families had little to eat and no jobs, my dad would tell needy neighbors to go kill one of his sheep to feed their family. The blight that wiped out the American chestnut destroyed one of the most useful trees in our land. In addition to providing delicious nuts, which the Indians used in much of their diet, including to make delicious bread, it was also used as firewood,lumber, and as fence rails. It was even used as roofing shingles. These trees often grew to a great size, many of them having a diameter of eight feet or more and heights of well over 100 feet.
Western Turnpike stage quit running around this time. Shortly before the turn of the century, the great timber barons of the northeast reached the mountains of North Carolina . Starting decades before, these powerful timber interests had slashed thru the vast virgin forests of New York, & Pennsylvania. They gradually moved south. cutting much but harvesting only the best. At that time these mountains were coverer with huge trees. Many of the oak, chestnut,and other trees that were over six feet in diameter at their base. Decades later the big chestnuts were cut just for their bark,which was used for tanning leather( the acid from the bark). These large chestnut trees lay in the woods for decades until WW11. They became quite valuable as veneer logs, so people began dragging them out and selling them to veneer mills for a good price.
Aquone had a school, post office , and general store, as well as a water powered grain mill by the time 1900 rolled around. The Church of Christ, caller Campellites then in this area, was amoung the first to establish a congregation. Baptists also were here early. The Baptist soon became the dominant church and remains so today in Nantahala and all of southwestern North Carolina.
My Grandmother, Laura Wright Stepp, told many stories about things that happened, some dating from her childhood. When she was nine years old her Brother-in-Law, John Bent Tathem, husband of her older sister ( who was commander of the Confederate home guardin Valleytown (now Andrews) came to her father's home, located a few miles outside of what is now the town of Andrews,with a detachment of Confederate soldiers and took all the food, livestock and everything else of value they could carry. The bees were even robbed for their honey. My Great Grandfather was one of the most prominent Union supporters in the area. The Wright family were forewarned of this raid, so they hid most of the livestock and all else that was possible to cart away,in the mountains,after Laura Wright Stepp marreid and moved to Aquone, Bent Tathem would bring his wife over the mountains to see her sister , Laura Stepp, he was forced to wait in the wagon because he was not allowed inside the gate of Laura Stepp's home , but Mrs Stepp encouraged a close bond to develope between her children and those of Bent Tathem
My Grandmother, Laura Stepp, told of an incident that happened shortly after the Civil War, she and some of her cousins were walking down Nantahala Gorge to visit relatives who lived near the present day Nantahala Outdoor Center. They saw three Indians wading and fishing in the Nantahala River - two Women and a Man, one of the women was pregnant, the next afternoon as they were going back up the river, returning home, the same three Indians were fishing but, the one who was pregnant the day before had given birth and carried the baby on her back.
The period following the depression during Cleveland's presidency around 1895 was marked by a time of growth and prosperity at Aquone and the surrounding area. The big timber companies of the norht had reached the southern mountains, bringing with them huge sawmills and the resourses to harvest the timber for these sawmills, the mountains were able to supply the mills with a willing and able labor force. Most of the vast virgin forest was cut with little regard for future harvest or preservation.
On Sunday afternoons men would come from all over the area to Aquone- includind North Georgia and East Tennessee- to fight. This was boxing , without the padded gloves used today. Aquone was booming at this time being a center of the timber industry. My father told of the time when as a small child he saw his first Catholic. ( keep in mind that these mountains were settled by Scotch-Irish , Protestants who had deep and very old enmity toward Catholics dating bach hundreds of years to Irland and Scotland ) The Catholic he saw was an Irish timber boss who came down from the north with a large logging company. This Irishman was big but , not the devil my father expected to see.
Until after World War 1 ,Aquone enjoyed a period of relatively quite and prospertity. In the early 1920's plans were being drawn up to construct a power dam on Nantahala River. A company known as Talassee Power Company started buying up land along the Nantahala River with the intention of building a dam measuring 100 feet in height. This dam was to be located about a mile down stream from the center of Aquone. As this was to be a power dam , the property owners whose land would be covered by the water behind the proposed dam were forced to sell under the powers of eminent domain. My grandmother was among those forced to sell their homes. Most of the people affected by this dam project made plans to move out of the area. However, my grandmother bought a farm on Rocky Branch, at the elevatoin at about 100 feet above the high water level of the proposed dam. There she planned to live for the rest of her life. This was not to be.
Before Talsssee ever started their dam, they were bought out by a subsiduary of Alcoa-- Nantahala Power Company. By the early thirties Japan had invaded China and was causing much instability throughout all of Asia. Hitler had risen to power in Germany and there was much talk of war in Europe. All of this turmoil in Asia plus the rise of Hitler in Gremany prompted the United States to start building up our military forces.
. Aloco made plans to build a huge aluminum manufactoring plant in East Tennessee near Knoxville. Plans were made to build several power dams in Western North Carolina to supply power for this large plant. Alcoa made plans to build a much higher dam at the site below Aquone that had been for the 100 ft dam. The project laid out by Alcoa called for a 250 ft deep reservoir. The dam was to be a rock and dirt project.
This would be the biggest rock and dirt dam ever built east of the Mississippi River. This meant much more land would be needed.Many more families were forced to move out as their homes as the water backed up above this huge dam would cover where they lived, as mentioned before all this was done by the power of eminent domaim. The Federal Government considered this dam was needed for National Defence.
My grandmother was forced to move again, she was near 90 years old and somewhat feeble at the time she was forced off her land.
Preparations were made for the construction of Nantahala Dam, all the land to be covered by the reservoir was cleared of all trees and buildings, this included the general store, Post office, school, and Baptist Church. Two Baptist Churches were built by Nantahala Power & Light Co. ( a company formed by Alcoa ) One of these churches was built on Little Choga Creek. It is still there. The other was built across the public road from the present day Aquone Baptist Church,Above the cemetery.
It was also necessary to move the cemetery, more than a thousand graves were dug up and the remains reburied either at Little Choga Church or at what is now known as Aquone Cemetery. Many of those moved were buried in graves marked only by rohgh stone and no one knew their identity. A company known as Utah Construction Co. had the contract to build Nantahala Dam. At the beginning no local labor was hired by this company. Graduually a few were hired. Not until a local man from Andrewa challenged the construction superintendent to a fight and soundly whipped him were many locals hired.A large number of local men started lifelong careers helping to build the dam and related roads and tunnels, thus proving the strong work ethnic and ability of the people living in this area. More than forty men were killed in the construction of this dam, wages were very low at the beginning but were raised a little before the project was finished. Nantahala Lake covered one of the most beautiful small river valleys in all of America.
The dam was completed by the summer of 1941. All the people had been moved out of the land to be covered by water backed up behind the dam. All the bridges, buildings and any structures of any kind had been removed,also all the trees ,large and small had been cleared,leaving the entire land bare. Water started backing up above the dam in early fall of 1941, by late spring of 1942 the lake was full to the top of the overflow gates and began producing power. As Nantahala Power Co. had agreed to supply electric power to Nantahala community, by around 1950 power lines had been run to most of the homes , however, certain isolated areas of the community received power much later and a few
outlying areas never did get power- most noteworthy is the Clear Creek section which at that time had seversl families living there.
After WW11 ended a small amount of growth was noted around the lake. This was in the form of a boat dock with boats to rent with motors and fish bait.Also several fishing cabins were built on Jarrett Creek area and also in the Big Choga area. These were mainly owned by people from either the Franklin or Andrews area. Two small stores opened nere the north end of the lake, they are still there. Not until the early 60's did people from outside this area began to take a serious interest in buying land around the lake and near it. As time went on and more people discovered this unique land of ours , land prices have been going up and up. We also have many more rules and regulations to live by and our taxes have increased astronomicly.
Most of the people that were forced to move because of the construction 0f the Nantahala Dam are now dead and their descendents are long gone from this area. However, many descendents of these families who were moved now live in the surrounding communities.
Following is a incomplete list of the families living in and around Aquone prior to thr construction of Nantahala Lake.
Jarrett , Munday, Moore , Winfrey , Jones, Howard, Nelson , Garrett, Ghormley, Garrison, Derebrrry, Lee, Russell, Roper , Jacobs , Dalton , Hicks, Johnson, Kayler , Taylor, Bryant,Hay, Hughes, Faber, Ferguson, Dillard ,Wood, Stepp, Thomas, Bird ,Younce, Barnett, Gregory,Selby, Lambert , Coleman.
The history of Aquone would not be complete without a brief account of some of the killings and other tragedies that happened in the Aquone area.
Perhaps the most famous or well known murder in or around Aquone was that of Nimrod Jarrett, the largest land owner in Nantahala, he was wealthy and had been the only resident known to this writer who owned slaves up until the Civil War, this tragedy happwned as Mr Jarrett was crossing Nantahala River near his home which was located near the trash dumpsters now on Junaluska Road, Mr Jarrett was shot dead as he was fording the river on his horse . A search party was formed to find his killer. A footprint with a defective heel was found near the scene of the crime. During the search it was found that the footprint of one of the search party matched the print of the one noted at place where the killing happened.The man was taken into custody and later tried and convicted of the crime. For this terrible murder the perpetrator was sentenced to hang , this was done in short order.
Another murder that occured at old Aquone was that of Brock Birchfield. This happened in period shortly after 1900. Mr Birchfield was a timber cutting boss. He and several others were playing poker. Brock left the poker game and went to bed in the bunkhouse. One of the players came to the bunkhouse and shot Mr Birchfield in his bed. This writer knows very few details about this killing.
During a poker game in the early 1920's a fight broke out, Oz Wright shot and wounded Harley Baldwin. Harley then shot and killed Oz . Mr Baldwin served some time in prison, but not a long time. Coincidentally, both Brock Birchfield and Oz Wright were first cousins of my father, Craig Stepp. They were among about nine of my fathers cousins who died violent deaths.
Probably the most well known incident of violence in the history of Aquone was the murder of Jack Angel and Betty Grant
. This happened in the early 1920's. One Sunday morning Jerry Dalton was sitting on the porch of his family's home, which was located near Nantahala River in the heart of Aquone, when a car stopped just below where he was sitting. Driving the car was Jack Angel and with him was the Grant girl, she was wearing a dress that Jerry Dalton had recently bought for her, Jerry then went in the house and got a gun and came back out on the porch. The two people in the car saw Jerry with the gun . They got out of the car and started to run away. Both Jack Angel and the girl were shot in the back by Jerry Dalton. Mr Dalton was arrested and taken to the Buncome County jail from which on one had ever escaped. It was feared that he would escape from the Macon County jail or a lynch mob would take him out and hang him. Jerry escaped from the Buncome jail located on the thirteenth floor of the court house, no one had ever eccaped from this jail before. His means of his escape was never known. Months later he was arrested in Southern California, brought back to North Carolina to be tried for murder. Jerry was convicted of murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. He appealed to the Governer, The death sentence was commuted and he served six years before being released on parole. Jack Angel had many relatives living in the Franklin srea so, Jerry Dalton could not openly come back to Macon County to live. He did however slip back to Aquone many years later to see my dad, they had grown up together and were the same age. Jerry ended up being killed by a man who caught him out with his wife. He was killed by a frontal shotgun blast.
Another tragedy of a different kind happened in the early 1920's. The home of Charlie Jacobs and his family burned to the ground. This happened during the night. Two of Mr Jacob's sons were sleeping upstairs; their mother started up the stairs to rescue them but another son shoved her back and went up the stairs. All three brothers perished in the fire. There are many decendents of this Jacobs family now living in Nantahala Community.
From the earliest settlers the people who occupied Nantahala for the most part were law abiding citizens. We have always had laws and people to enforce them, our crime rate has always been lower that most mountain communities. About all natives have loaded guns in their homes and are able to use them. Even today the majority of the natives don't bother to lock their doors at night.
Although Nantahala had an early history of a considerable amount of violence, from the period dating to the late 1930's there has been hardly any violent crime in the community.
Shortly after WW11 a store keeper Weaver Cochran was knocked in the head and his store was robbed. The man who committed the crime was quickly caught, tried, and sent to prison.
In the late 1950's a woman shot a man who was fighting her husband. The man was not seriously hurt and no charges were filed in this incident.These are the only two notable acts of violence that have happened in Nantahala since before 1940.
At least 95% of the natives have loaded guns in their homes and know how to use them. Our very low crime is a strong arguement against any kind of restrictions of private ownership of firearms. It also shows we are a law abiding people.
Most of the natives here are honest hard working people, many have had to leave this area in order to find work , some became lawyers, doctors, chemists, accountants , engineers, one was president and or chief executive officer of a Fortune 500 company-- Norfork Southern Railroad.