The following story originally appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Smokies Guide. Back issues of the official Great Smoky Mountains National Park newspaper are available to read online or download at the GSMA Smokies Guide archive.
The Story of the Cades Cove Pumpkin
The John Oliver Cabin in Cades Cove was built in 1821, three years after the first family of white settlers arrived and nearly starved to death. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/tn0273/.
When John and Lucretia Oliver crossed over Rich Mountain into Cades Cove in the fall of 1818, they had no shortage of worries.
For one, they had their one-year-old daughter Mary in tow.
For two, they were headed into a wilderness with very limited supplies, no shelter, and a narrow range of skills (John was a charcoal maker by trade and Lucretia an orphan who worked as a servant).
For three, Cades Cove was owned and occupied (at least seasonally) by Cherokee Indians, and the Olivers were trespassing.
John Oliver learned of Cades Cove from a fellow soldier, Joshua Jobe, whose wife’s family, the Tiptons, were involved in land speculation in the area. The Cherokee settlement known as Tsiyahi (otter place) was still active in the cove at the time of the Olivers’ arrival, and the Smokies remained Cherokee territory until 1819, when the Treaty of Calhoun legally opened the area to white settlement.
The Olivers spent their first night in Cades Cove in “an abandoned Indian hut” according to historian Durwood Dunn. They then proceeded to build a crude wooden shelter as winter descended.
Unwisely, the Olivers had arrived in the cove too late to grow any crops. They had no milk cow or cattle or sheep. According to Lucretia, the family nearly starved that winter. In fact, they may well have perished if not for the Cherokee.
“Realizing the plight of the Oliver family, the Cherokees generously brought them dried pumpkins which kept them alive until spring,” writes Dunn in Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community.
Like the pilgrims at Plymouth two centuries before, the hapless newcomers were rescued by the people they would soon displace. After surviving the first winter, John’s brother brought cattle, and the Olivers became legal landowners.
Their second cabin, built in 1821, still stands in Cades Cove where it is preserved by the National Park Service.
Read Dunn’s full account of the Olivers’ first winter in the Smokies constructed from primary materials found in the Oliver family collection in Cades Cove: The Life and Death of a Southern Appalachian Community available in the GSMA web store.
The University of Tennessee Libraries’ “Fifty Years in Cades Cove” collection contains three handwritten memoirs by John W. Oliver (1878–1966) accessible online. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian is also an excellent trove of archival records, history, and educational materials.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park occupies the traditional lands of the Cherokee (ᏣᎳᎩ, Tsalagi), now the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the Cherokee Nation, and the United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee.
View of Cades Cove from the first overlook on Rich Mountain Road looking south. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/tn0292/.