“Every time I go back to that old Caldwell (1903) house, memories come flooding into my mind. I close my eyes , my imagination plays tricks on me, I think I smell the warm, freshly backed gingerbread or the stack cakes filled with spicy applesauce, made with dried apples, stacked ten thin layers high. I think I can smell cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Another time I almost get a whiff of the good sugar cured country ham they are frying or the good hot cornbread or biscuits.” — Hattie Caldwell Davis, from her book, Reflections of Cataloochee Valley and its Vanished People in the Great smoky Mountains.
Hattie Caldwell Davis, one of the third and last generation born in Cataloochee. was only a youngster when forced to leave her home in the Cataloochee Valley, a home that still stands today alongside Rough Fork. Other homes have been saved, along with barns, cemeteries, a school house, church and spring houses. They are all open to the curious, free of charge as a welcome reminder of a bygone era.
The Palmer house also offers a casual museum of artifacts, photos and maps to help orientate oneself. The Park service has recently added restrooms, although, as this is a wild and natural park, one won’t find stores or shops.
Elk of Cataloochee Valley
By Bob Grytten
It’s 7:30AM and an eerie bugling sound echoes through the valley. Mist hovers over the open fields, hardwoods rise sharply toward the first light just edging over the mountain peaks. My heart is racing. More bugling, then another off in the distance. We’re here to catch a glimpse of these wild creatures, racks 4-5 feet across, towering over the massive chestnut body of the Eastern Elk…
Fifty years ago these wild creatures roamed unabated in these areas of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park near Waynesville, NC. Indians hunted them, settlers came and hunted them to extinction. About ten years ago, they were reintroduced to the Cataloochee Valley, once a prosperous proud settlement of the 1860s. The test to return Elk to the park and a more natural balance is working. Today a thriving herd of Elk lives amongst the restored homes, the old church, school and outbuildings. And they are a photographers’ delight – especially in the fall, the time of the Rut.
The velvet on the antlers is gone, replaced by smooth implements of battle. Battle for dominance of harems – the female Elk. A time of breeding. A time of growing the herd, and survival… Facing off with the older dominant bulls, young bulls challenge the right to the herd — but, in skirmishes the dominant bulls do not go quietly. Throughout the valley their bugle echoes the sound of battle, and warning off — ‘this is my territory and my girls – approach only with caution. Don’t test me!’ This is the rut.
The road into the Park from the North Carolina side, near Waynesville, begins at Cove Creek off Rt 276 by I-40 – a twisty paved two lane, once the original oxen trail blazed by ancient settlers. It rises more and after about 15 minutes turns to gravel. Some folks freak out and turn back.
Rising upward, crossing the Eastern Continental Divide, we finally enter the gates of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, now descending toward the peaceful Cataloochee Valley and a paved road that extends the length of the former settlement. Cleared fields past the campground, hiking trails and rushing water, the ranger’s house and there they are – the Elk. — Reprinted in part with permission. Originally published in AAA Go Magazine