Story and image by Don McGowan
The census records for the year 1850 tell us that Cades Cove—that most idyllic valley in Blount County, Tennessee, in what is now the southwestern corner of Great Smoky Mountains National Park—was populated with 135 families accounting for 625 hearty souls. Six years earlier, on February 5, 1844, the second of Henry and Martha Oliver Shields’ ten children had made his appearance. His name was George Washington Shields, but he somehow became known to everyone as “Carter.” His mother Martha was one of the daughters of the cove’s founding European settlers, John and Lurena (Lurany) Oliver.
When Carter Shields was 18, he and his younger brother David (16) found cause on the Union side of the Civil War, and both joined the Army of the United States in 1862. A year later in March 1863, David died of a fever in Nashville while serving. Although wounded in May 1864, at the Battle of Resaca in North Georgia, Carter served until the end of the war in 1865, when he was honorably mustered out along with his regiment.
Carter returned to Cades Cove for a brief period and married Lorina Gregory in September 1865. For the next 41 years, Carter and “Lina” lived in Missouri and Kansas, finally returning to Cades Cove in 1906.
In 1910 Carter purchased the cabin, probably built in 1880 by William Sparks, that now bears the name we know so well: the Carter Shields Cabin. He and Lina lived there until 1921. Carter passed away at the age of 80 in 1924 and Lina at 82 in 1926, the year my own parents were born.
These are the primary details as they have come to us, but I somehow suspect there is much that we do not have recorded about Carter’s life that we may never know. There is a good story here that looks for a telling.
The Carter Shields Cabin is of special significance to me for this reason: freelance nature photographers are not usually blessed with the cover images of national magazines, and some years ago I was asked to create a cover for Preservation, the magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I chose an image taken in February of the Carter Shields Cabin with thick snow on the ground. I have taken many photographs of the cabin since then, including the photo accompanying this article, capturing it's beauty in all seasons.
Don McGowan owns and operates EarthSong Photography. For five years he was the staff photographer for Friends of the Smokies. He offers workshops and photography instruction in beautiful locations around the country, including the Smokies.