History of Cades Cove
Abundant wildlife in Cades Cove and the promise of good hunting brought the Cherokee Nation to this part of the Smokies for hundreds of years before the first white settlers arrived. The most popular explanation for how Cades Cove got its name is that the settlement was originally called "Kate's Cove," named for the wife of a Cherokee Indian chief. The same Indian chief lent his own name to Abrams Falls, a popular destination among the many Cades Cove hiking trails.
Today, thousands of Smoky Mountain visitors take the Cades Cove Loop Tour to see historic structures that have been preserved to look much they way they did in the 19th century.
John and Luraney Oliver
A poor couple named John and Luraney Oliver were the first permanent settlers of European descent in the area. Convinced to move by their friend Joshua Jobe, the Olivers traveled a hundred miles from Carter County, TN with one small child and another on the way. Arriving in Cades Cove in 1818 with hopes of building a better life, the Olivers faced a disheartening first year.
With the work of clearing the land and building a cabin—and their friend Jobe having gone back for more settlers—the Olivers were unable to harvest and preserve enough crops before the harsh winter set in. If not for the generosity of a compassionate Cherokee tribe, John and Luraney certainly would have starved to death. Returning the following spring to find the Olivers' hopes dimmed but not extinguished, Jobe gave Luraney two milk cows to convince her to stay at the Cades Cove homestead.
Typical of the European immigrants and their descendants, there was no Indian treaty in place to allow legal access to the Smoky Mountain land when the Olivers arrived in Cades Cove. Thankfully, the Calhoun Treaty was ratified the following year, and the Olivers purchased their land in 1826. Through the years more settlers from Virginia, North Carolina and upper East Tennessee joined the original pair, and by 1850, the Cades Cove population had reached 700. Members of the Oliver family still lived in Cades Cove when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was formed in 1934.
Historic Structures in Cades Cove
Today, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park service maintains the historic buildings in Cades Cove. An auto tour or bike ride along the 11-mile Cades Cove Loop Road allows guests to see original homesteads, barns, businesses, pasture and farmland. The well-preserved buildings along the Cades Cove tour route include the John Oliver Cabin, Elijah Oliver Place, the Becky Cable House and the neighboring John Cable Grist Mill. The Cades Cove Methodist Church and the Primitive Baptist Church—which serves as the final resting place for the original couple—still stand, and these beautifully preserved buildings welcome couples for weddings in the Smoky Mountains.
Frontier Life in the Smokies
Life in the Smokies in the 1800s was difficult, and even women and children weren't exempt from hard work. Children were trained as soon as they were old enough to perform chores, and they worked in the family business when not in school. In fact, school generally came second to the needs of the family across America, leading to the tradition of summer break so that schoolchildren could help with chores during the growing season.
In Cades Cove, both boys and girls worked in the fields and could hoe corn, pitch hay or whatever farm chore needed to be done. By age eight to twelve, children were entrusted with large responsibilities such as tending animals and milking cows. Cades Cove children were taught to cook dinner and were tasked with tending younger children when the adults had to be away on three-day trips to the larger town of Maryville.
Perhaps most surprising, some small children in Cades Cove during the Civil War were given the task of watching for Confederate soldiers that harassed the residents of the Cove, none of whom had ever owned slaves and many of whom were Yankee sympathizers. If Confederate soldiers were seen in Cades Cove, the children were to blow a horn to warn their families.