In The Year 1795 They
Came to Bent Creek
The first white settlers began to settle Bent Creek as early as 1795, even though the water shed was still being used by the Cherokee Indians. A dense forest oak, chestnut, spruce, walnut and yellow poplar provided shelter for them and their animals as well as food.
There was a good supply of deer, bear, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, ruffled grouse, quail and wild pigeons, as well as fish from Bent Creek and the French Broad River. Predatory animals such as fox, wolves and panthers roamed the forest.
David Allison was granted a large track of land for speculation purposed in 1776. It extended from Sandy Mush and Turkey Creek to Mills River. This track consisted of several thousand acres. It also included all of the upper part of Bent Creek and Boyds Creek.
Abraham Rundals (Reynolds) was granted seven land grants from the state of North Carolina, beginning February 25, 1800 on both sides of Bent Creek, totaling 1,540 acres below the David Allison grant and near the mouth of Bent Creek. He built his log house on Bent Creek near the mouth of Boyds Creek and lived peaceably with the Indians who roamed over the country and at times encamped at their two camps on Bent Creek.
Some times 200 Indians lived at the camps above and below his home, till their forced removal in 1838. He was a farmer and Baptist Preacher. His wife Mary Leazer died in 1813 and was buried on the farm in the family cemetery with a four year old son who died earlier. Abraham was buried beside her in 1848.
From 1800 to 1900 one hundred and four homes ranging from log cabins to comfortable two story buildings were constructed in the Bent Creek community.
The Duke house was a four story frame structure put together with locust pins and fireplaces on each floor. They hunted and fished and cleared the land (often burning the woods to clear it) for themselves and their animals. They built grist mills and saw mills on the creeks. Owners of large tracks of land were generous to unfortunate fellows who had no land and allowed them to be tenants and build cabins and clear the land and farm for five years free. If he remained longer, he paid one third of what he made.
Many young couples got a start and were able to buy land there or elsewhere. Land went from fifty shillings per hundred acres to $10.00 per hundred acres in 1854. After the civil war land was $2.00 to $3.00 per acre then $10.00 per acre to 1900. The Vanderbilts purchased all the Bent Creek land between 1800 and 1809 from $2.50 per acre to $41.00 per acre averaging $10.00 per acre.
Early settlers were strong, self reliant and independent. They had to build their houses and furniture, produce their own meat, dairy products, poultry and food from the soil. Sheep and flax furnished thread to be spun into cloth and made into clothes, socks, caps and mittens. Shoes and harnesses were made from their own leather, plows, hoes, axes, nails, horse shoes etc. had to be made on their own anvils, (as well as bullets and gun powder). Wood for heating and cooking was a daily chore. Trips by groups were made to Georgia and South Carolina to sell herbs, chestnuts, chinguapins, furs, meat, honey, fruits, butter, eggs, brandy whiskey, bees wax, forest products and stock to drovers who collected, cows, pigs, mules, sheep and turkeys.
Several grist mills and saw mills were built on Bent Creek, also a number of churches and schools.
Abraham Reynolds received land grants in 1800, William Jones 1801, Jimmie Case 1836, Edward Stewart 1821, Armstead Carland 1835, James Case 1836, Watt J. Hoxed and Bill Berry 1816, William Case 1838, Russell Jones 1847, William Tate, Tom Creasman, Steve Jones, Dr. Burgin McByre, John Jones, George Cagle, James Binson, Col. L.M. Hatch, Pink Jones, Frank Hayes, Henry Cagle, Melvin Cochrane, Billy Ledford, Wilson Boyds, Andrew Johnson 1807, Joseph Alexander 1807, Clyde Case, Bill Penland, Bennie Lance, David Allison (for speculation purposes), William E. Pressley, Billie Russel, Bud Lance, Will Green, Doke Hall, Bud Jones, Harve Jones, Russel P. Lance, Will Jarrett, Ike Bishop, Bill Candler, Jess Case, Will Lance, Bill Crockery, Merret Cagle, George Jones, Dale Moore, Bobby Boyd, Sam Lance, Jim Spain, John Barber, Sam Brooks, Will Cagle, William Case, Russel Jones, William Warren and Henry Case.
Many of these people are buried in the Sandy Bottom, Reynolds, and Sardis cemeteries.
James Case had a grist mill and saw mill and blacksmith shop on Bent creek in 1808. The family continued to operate it until 1880, Sam Brooks bought it and continued to operate it till 1900.
Wilson Boyd had a similar operation (near the lake and camp ground) in 1865 when Colonel L. M. Hatch from Charleston, South Carolina bought it and expanded the whole enterprise. Col. Hatch sent lumber and lumber products to South Carolina. He employed quite a few Bent Creek men in his business. Russel Lance constructed a blacksmith shop and grist mill at the mouth of Laurel Branch on Bent Creek. A flood washed his dam and mill away in 1910.
Bennie Lance built a blacksmith shop and grist mill on Boyd Branch in 1810. The last mill to be built was John Powell’s grist mill on Rocky Cove Branch, 1880-1895. Maurice Ingle had a furniture factory and made furniture and chairs at the end of Boyd Branch Road. John Barber and Ike Bishop had a blacksmith shop and made plows, wagons, tools, nails, guns, horse shoes, and shoed horses.
Community activities consisted of log rolling, house raisings, fence building, quiltings, milasses making, road building, church meetings, square dances, bean stringings, corn shuckings, shooting matches, ball games, wrestling, running games, as well as three months of school for the children.
In 1900, George Vanderbilt started buying the old homesteads from the old settler heirs. Many were reluctant to give up their farms, but some of them had borrowed money and could not repay it, so they became discouraged and sold their land. Otheres saw their neighbors leaving and every thing was changing so they sold too. Only seven far sighted settlers refused to sell.
By 1909, Vanderbilt had bought most of the land. He tore down the old houses and barns so he could turn Bent Creek in a park like the large estates in Europe.
Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt sold the Bent Creek land to the Federal Government in 1917. It is now called the Bent Creek Experimental Forest.
Sources: Interviews with Sam Parker, Mrs. Chambers, Billy Joenes, William A Nesbett (paper) Mrs. Cook, and others.
Written by: Sara Reynolds Beatty