Story and image by Don McGowan
It is closely estimated that William Marion Walker, variously known as Black Bill or Big Bill, owned more than five thousand acres, or about eight square miles, of prime valley and mountain ridge land in the Tremont and Tuckaleechee areas of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Blount County, TN. Included in this were the lands stretching from above the confluence of Thunderhead Prong and Lynn Camp Prong to the junction of Middle Prong and West Prong of Little River, a stone’s throw from the Townsend Wye.
The stories of his exploits as a farmer and a mountain man are the stuff of legend. After Walker married his first wife, Nancy Caylor, they became the first settlers along Middle Prong, some two miles upstream from the Wye. This land eventually became known as Walker Valley, or Walker Fields. He and Nancy had seven children, three of whom grew to adulthood. It was Walker’s rather unique interpretation of Biblical scripture relating to the bonds of marriage that added a layer of depth to his status as a legend. Walker did not favor a prohibition on matrimonial singularity, and he ultimately formed close familial relationships with two other women, Mary Ann Moore and Mary Stinnett. He is known to have fathered some 26 children, and perhaps more. It should be noted that there was apparent harmony among all.
Not long before Walker passed away in 1919, he sold 96 acres of his land situated around the Lynn Camp-Thunderhead confluence to Colonel W. B. Townsend, owner of the Little River Lumber Company in what is now Townsend, TN. Townsend had promised Walker that the forest would not be logged while he was alive, and indeed he kept his promise. Tremont was not cut until 1936, shortly after Townsend’s death.
Where Middle Prong rounds a great bend in its course, not far below its absorption of Spruce Flats Branch and just upstream from the site of the home place that Bill and Nancy Walker shared for many years, the stream slows and a series of pools are formed. Not only are they the delight of fly fishers—they are a photographer’s joy as well, for their reflections of fall color come leaping up from the water to remind us that there are multiple ways to appreciate the season’s hues.
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.