Let’s look at conditions in the area that was to become Cumberland County which made this region a prime location for Open Range in its early years.
Aug. 15, 1797, Francis Baily writes this description, in part, of the Crab Orchard, “It is a fine large plain, or natural meadow, containing many hundred acres, and covered throughout its whole extent with a tall, rich grass, surrounded on every side by the neighboring mountains, and watered with several fine springs, which flow from one end to the other.”
Ramsay’s Annals of Tennessee adds, “…a vast upland prairie, covered with a most luxuriant growth of native grasses, pastured over as far as the eye could see, with numerous herds of deer, elk, and buffalo, gamboling in playful security over these secluded plains…”
During the Bicentennial of Tennessee Statehood, the UT Plateau Experiment Station devoted a portion of its property to cultivating the native grasses that would have grown wild on the Cumberland Plateau. The grasses would have supported such animal populations as described in Ramsey’s book. Perhaps some of the young people who toured the UT Station that year will remember the tall grasses.
This was Native American hunting ground, with the Cherokee having primary claim. Creek, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Chickamauga’s also hunted here. The signing away of these lands, and others in the area, in the treaties with the government was at the center of the murder of at least one tribal chief. Native American artifacts that are on display with other county artifacts, in the case in the large courtroom of the Cumberland County Courthouse, were donated to the county by Mr. Lindell Agee of the Burke Community.
The first settlers of Sequatchie Valley came to the area of the Burke Community, Head of the Valley, in lower Cumberland County, from Maryland prior to 1800. A part of the news they took back to Maryland to entice others to come help settle the area was the fact that there was such a variety of nut-bearing trees and native wild grasses for grazing their livestock.
This informed the prospective settlers of the good news that they would not have to provide winter pasture for their animals. This meant that they could travel to Tennessee at any time of the year. If there had not been sufficient mast and native pasture they would have had to wait to travel until they could plow up land for pasture after they arrived at their new home.
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Old Uncle Gib is a weekly historical feature published each Friday. Old Uncle Gib is a pseudonym that was used by S.C. Bishop, who founded the Chronicle in 1886. Bishop actively published the Chronicle until 1948.