Sheep in the Meadow . . Cows in the Corn!
Article Author: By Marian Bailey Presswood, Polk County Historian
Polk County Heritage
Sheep in the Meadow . . Cows in the Corn!
By Marian Bailey Presswood, Polk County Historian
Neither of my parents used profanity, but I’ll bet my dad came as close to it as he ever did in his life when the old cow would find a hole in the pasture fence and escape - eating up his, or the neighbor’s garden or corn patch. Where is Little Boy Blue when you need him?
You’ve heard of how difficult it is to herd cats, well let me tell you that herding a stubborn old cow back into it’s own pasture ranks right up there with herding cats. Sometimes it would take the whole family to coax her back home. And you’ve heard of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence? Trust me - that’s a cow’s motto to live by.
Now what in the world brought that on, I’m sure some of you who never chased a cow in your life are asking. Well, for one thing I’ve been researching James’ Presswood side of the family this week hoping to find the maiden name of Jane Presswood, his great great grandmother, wife of Leander Presswood - with no luck so far. But while doing the research in our files at the PCHGS Library, I ran into the oft told story of herb doctor Elijah Newton Cronan, who had what was said to be the last saloon up on Chilhowee Mountain. The family connection was that Elijah’s daughter, Sarah, married Leander’s son, John. Early historians J. D. Clemmer and John Shamblin loved to tell what probably is an embroidered version of the story. But, nearly always they led into the story by first telling about the cow camps on the mountain where he lived, and that’s where we’re going with this article.
And, the second reason for this story is to appease an old timer, a very old timer, named Pat Gregory, who as you all know is full of old timer stories, either known first hand or handed down from his father Watson, or grandfather Joseph. Several times lately Pat has said to me, “Why don’t you write a story about the fence law, it sure did give us a fit when they enforced it and made us fence in all our pasture land,” - which was considerable. I don’t know how many acres, but it probably went all the way from where they lived on Oak Grove Road to the farm where Pat now lives near Pleasant Grove Church. I’m sure it took many a roll of barbed wire to fence in all that land, which would have been a big expense and a time consuming job.
Now, let’s go back to pre-fence law and tell you that from long before the county was formed in 1839 until about a hundred years later - I didn’t look it up - folks just turned their livestock out and let them roam. If they ate up yours or the neighbors corn - tough luck. But most people had their gardens rail fenced in rather than their pastures, so that wasn’t a common occurrence.
So, let me just tell you what News editor, John Shamblin wrote in 1938, and he quoted an earlier article taken from the Chattanooga News 25 January 1916. The headlines read, “Clemmer Camp Passes Into Ownership of the US Government. Historic Camp on top of Chilhowee Mountain and its Story.” (I’ve excerpted and added notes as follows:)
“There will soon pass out of hands of an individual, and into the hands of the government, the last of what is known in this county as the cattle camps. For a number of years the farmers of Polk County have been in the habit of driving their young cattle and mule colts over the mountains and turning them out on the open range during the summer months. The land was owned by individuals, in lots ranging from a few hundred acres to thousands of acres, and all together containing some 25 to 30 thousand acres.”
If you’re wondering what cattle had to eat on the mountain seeing how they look today, you need to know about the burning off of the underbrush every few years. That practice allowed the grass to grow so the cattle had an abundance of good green grass to eat, whereas the heat and sometimes drought would have dried up the pastures down in the lowland. From about 1852 until 1890s or so, James’ Great Great Grandpa Leander Presswood’s was the only house back on Clear Creek between Hooper and Presswood Mountain, so they just set the fire and let it burn itself out - with no threat to homes.
“About the first of May the farmers would begin to drive the livestock over to the range and let them stay until frost, when they would all be rounded up and brought back and put on the market. They would go over about once a month or so to ‘salt’ the cattle, and since nearly every farmer had cattle there they would arrange to all go at the same time - and what better reason to have a big gathering - it was party time! Since they would stay several days or a week at a time, and in order to have some place to sleep and do their cooking they built small cabins, which they called camps.
The government has bought up all this range land, to be used as a forest reserve, except the property consisting of a few hundred acres owned by John Clemmer, and on which is located the old Clemmer Camp. The government agents have just notified Mr. Clemmer that no free ranging of livestock would be allowed on any of the lands purchased. This camp is located just four and a half miles from Benton and two miles from the top of the Chilhowee Mountains, and save for one house and family there is not a house or any family nearer than three miles of it. Now, the distance from this camp to another house on the settlement has no significance, except for the fact that it was there that was located the last licensed saloon in Polk County.” (I might continue the story of ‘Doc’ Cronan and his saloon next week.)
Note: James and I made a trip back to the old Harrison tincamp on Biggs Spring Branch on Clear Creek this past summer, which was one of the last and best known camps. On the site of an older cowcamp it had a dipping vat to run the cattle though to help control ticks, a nice spring to supply water, not only for the cows but for cooking, and so it was a favorite hunting camp for many years afterwards. Infuriating many of the old timers, it was torn down by the Forest Service around 1980. There was many a jug of moonshine emptied, and many tall tales told around the campfire there over the years - oh, if those rocks could only talk. On second thought, it’s probably a good thing they can’t!
But you can write, and I hope you will talk to your older folks and write down their memories of those ‘olden’ days - it’s YOUR heritage, preserve it!
Pictured on front page with her prized cow is Lossie Barnhill, wife of Dr. J. D. Nuchols, and 2nd wife of Dyke Higgins.
Polk County News | P.O.
Box 129 | 3 Main Street | Benton TN 37307
phone: 423-338-2818 | fax: 423-338-4574 | email
web site development Lisa Affordable Web Sites