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If you’ve spent any time in the Smoky Mountains, you’ve likely heard a tall tale or two. These colorful stories may not stick strictly to the facts, but they are always entertaining! Some of the best legends in East Tennessee have been passed down for generations, usually just by word of mouth. Here are three of our favorite tall tales from the Smokies:
Supernatural Revenge in Cades Cove
In their book “The Granny Curse and Other Ghosts and Legends from East Tennessee,” authors Randy Russell and Janet Barnett share the story of a marital spat with supernatural consequences.
Back in the pioneer days, Cades Cove was home to Basil and Mavis Estep, a married couple who lived in a two room cabin on Whistling Branch. Mavis was born during a thunderstorm, and due to a local superstition, she believed that she was destined to be struck by lightning. Throughout her life, Mavis was always wary of staying out in the rain and she never slept in a metal bed, fearing that it would act as a lightning rod.
Ultimately, it wasn’t a thunderstorm that took Mavis’s life but an illness. When her health declined, Mavis made Basil promise her two things. First, she made him swear that he would never sell her quilts, which she lovingly sewed for the family. Second, she gave Basil permission to remarry after her passing, but she implored him to never, ever put any of her quilts on a metal bed. Basil pledged to follow Mavis’s wishes.
Less than a year after Mavis died, Basil married Trulie Jane Lawson, a young woman who also lived in Cades Cove. It wasn’t long before Trulie Jane talked Basil into buying a metal bed for their cabin. On one frigid evening, Basil and Trulie decided to use one of Mavis’s quilts to keep warm. In the middle of the night, a brilliant flash of light burst into the cabin and knocked Trulie Jane right out of bed.
When the smoke cleared, she found Basil lying on the floor, charred to a crisp, where the metal bed had once stood. Strangely, there were no thunderstorms in Cades Cove that night, just the stray bolt of lightning that took Basil Estep’s life.
The Missing Gold Mine in Greenbrier
In the years following the Civil War, the richest man in Greenbrier Cove was local blacksmith Perry Shults. While most men in the area had no money, Shults always had plenty of coins to spend. What was the source of Perry’s wealth? Rumor had it that Perry Shults had discovered gold in the Smoky Mountains!
After uncovering a shallow streak of gold with his pick and shovel, Shults chartered a mine in search of a great fortune. To throw potential robbers off his trail, Perry played his cards close to the vest. He always took different routes when visiting the mine, and he never even told his wife the details of his operation.
Shults had another reason to be secretive: he was using gold from his mine to counterfeit coins! Perry used the forge at his blacksmith shop to melt gold nuggets into authentic looking money that he could spend in town. The key to Shults’s counterfeiting project was stolen gold coin reproduction plates that were given to Perry by a friend who used to work for the U.S. mint.
When federal agents caught wind of Shults’s scheme, Perry allegedly tossed the treasury plates into the Pigeon River and stopped his illicit activities. Some people say that Shults fled from the Smoky Mountains and left a treasure trove of gold coins buried somewhere in the Greenbrier area. Others say that Shults sayed in Greenbrier, but suffered a stroke before he could tell his wife where his fortune was buried. Regardless of what happened to Perry Shults, no one has managed to find his buried treasure or discover the location of his secret gold mine…yet.
The Origins of “Boogertown”
There are many communities in the Smoky Mountains with strange names, but none of them rival Boogertown. Located in Sevier County, this area is officially known as Oldham, but it is far more famous for its unusual nickname. So, why would anyone choose a name with “booger” in it?
The answer lies in the meaning of the word “booger”. Decades ago, a “booger” didn’t have anything to do with Kleenex. Instead, the word referred to a ghost or hobgoblin. A “booger” was related to the idea of a “boogieman”, a monster who lives under your bed or creeps around at night.
There are a number of stories that supposedly explain the origins of the name Boogertown. In one tale, a Civil War soldier was riding through the area when he saw a pair of mysterious eyes peering at him through the bushes. The frightened man believed that he was being stalked by a booger in the woods. Later, he realized that the eyes did not belong to a ghost, but rather a cow! Nevertheless, the soldier’s sighting of a “booger” gave the town its memorable name.
According to another version of the story, mentioned in Smoky Mountain Living Magazine, there really was some sort of monster haunting the area. Local livestock were being killed by an unseen force, and the townspeople decided that a booger must be responsible. We may never discover the truth behind Boogertown’s backstory, but listening to all of the theories and tall tales sure is a lot of fun!
For even more fascinating stories from East Tennessee, check out these 3 Cherokee Legends from the Great Smoky Mountains!