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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
Subscribers Edition Stories & Photos
The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit.

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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Julius J. Conner and family, from
North Carolina and Tennessee to Skagit County

By Noel V. Bourasaw, Skagit River Journal of History & Folklore, ©2004
(JJ at 23)
J.J. in 1900 at age 23, when he married Sallie

      The story of Julius J. Conner is a fine exposition of how a family relocated from the Great Smoky Mountains to the Pacific Northwest. You will find below how J.J. and other members of the family made their mark on both regions. We are lucky to have the resources of his granddaughter Sara Butler, who made a scrapbook for her mother with both newspaper articles and photos spanning a century. In addition to a profile of the family's century-long history here, we explore in depth how their other family members who stayed behind made a mark on the ancient trail and road between North Carolina and Tennessee, with their businesses from cattle-raising to stores to tourist accommodations.
      This story also gives us a chance one more time to dispel the old put-down myth that people who migrated from Tarheel were ignorant crackers. After reading about this family, one would certainly be hard-put to do that. I did not grow up in a Tarheel family, but I was surrounded by them in the Utopia district on the north shore of the Skagit river, just west of Lyman and south and west of Minkler Lake. We were all poor out there in the boonies then, but each family made do and "putting on airs" was a sin just as much as any other. Some of the smartest folks to graduate from local schools were Tarheel and many of the wisest who lived here were the same. J.J. and his wife Sallie were both teachers back in Tarheel and, after moving to Washington in 1900, they lived in both Lyman and Sedro-Woolley, as well as a few other Skagit valley locations, but they always remembered their Tarheel roots.
      J.J.'s last business was the old grocery and service station, which was located at the corner of Borseth Street and the Cook road — across from Bingham Park, when that was the main road out of town. The building was opened in 1919 by the LaPlant family as the second gas station in Sedro-Woolley. The store went out of business sometime in the 1980s and then was partially restored by Domino's Pizza in 1992. Domino's moved to a downtown location in early 2004, but meanwhile, Peggy's Organica Bakery opened in the west portion of the building in 2002. Peggy's has expanded to fill the entire structure and will open their takeout section and caf?? by Christmas 2004. We have a feeling that Julius would have enjoyed Peggy's handmade breads, which probably resemble the kind that his mother, Margaret, and wife, Sallie, made a century ago in old wood-burning, iron stoves.

We have recently received a book about the Ocona Lufta Baptist Church in Swain County, North Carolina, in which the Conner family was especially active. Read more below about this church and the county, courtesy of Peggy Lambert, who read the original story on our site.
      We hope that other families who have preserved their Tarheel history will share copies of their information so that we can add to this experience. We are also working with a North Carolina professor/research who is plotting the migration of families and individuals across country from North Carolina to Skagit County from the 1880s on. As the saying used to go in the town of Sylva, whenever anyone was missing for awhile — no matter where they went, chances were that they would be described as "gone to Sedro-Woolley."
      The Conner story includes these sections:

Profile of J.J. and Sallie Conner family
By granddaughter Sara Butler, from memories of her mother, Helen Conner Butler
(Woolley house)
Son Frank visited in 1957 and this photo was taken on the front steps of the Conner house on the west side of Metcalf Street across from the ball park. From l. to r.: Goldie, Frank's wife, Sallie, J.J.

      Julius Jason "J.J." Conner (1877-1963) and Sarah Jane "Sallie" Parks Conner (1880-1965) were my grandma and grandpa and I remember them very well. They lived in a house right across from the Sedro-Woolley ballpark on the west side of Metcalf Street and they had a goldfish pond in their yard. I remember thinking that if I were real quiet, I could probably see fairies and enchanted frogs. But mostly all I saw were the hardiest goldfish in the world, who seemed to survive freezing winters and neighborhood cats. The house is still standing today in 2004.
      The nice thing about living across from the ballpark was that the circus came to town every year and set up during the night. I remember the excitement of getting to stay overnight at grandma's and watching the circus workers using the elephants to pull up the tent ropes. Grandma always told the story of looking out her kitchen window one day to see two elephants in the yard. One of her boys had told the elephant handlers to bring them on over, they could water the elephants in his yard.
      J.J. was born in the mountains of North Carolina near Smokemont. Sallie was born in Swain County, North Carolina, not far away. Both were schoolteachers before they got married and J.J. went to business college in Columbus, Georgia. They were married on Aug. 15, 1900, in Asheville, NC. They moved to Washington that year and made their first home in Belfast, north of Burlington. Their home was by Friday creek at the corner of Prairie road and Old Highway 99.
      J.J. was a logger. The logging business was booming at that time. The Butlers were hard at work in the logging business as well, just across the hill to the south. The first three Conner children; Frank, born 1902; Ralph, 1903-1990; and Margaret, born 1907; were born during this time. In 1904, Sallie packed up the lunch basket and her two children and took the train back to visit her family in North Carolina. While she was there, she gave birth to Jack (1904-1978).
      In 1908, the family moved a few miles west over the hill to Bow, near Chuckanut drive and Samish bay. During this time, Helen was born (1910) and J.J. and his brother, Jim, ran a saloon. Apparently this occupation was not looked upon with favor by Sallie, as they only stayed in Bow for three years. It was years later that Helen found written on her birth certificate, "saloon proprietor" as her father's occupation. Her mother had not shared this information with her.
      Their third home was in Lyman in 1911 where J.J. ran a grocery store called Conner and Howard Groceries. They had a team of horses and they delivered groceries to the people in the area, since many did not have any means of transportation. Helen remembers their house burned down and they moved into another home by the Baptist church. She started school in Lyman and stayed there until fourth grade. Lewis (1911-1934), Don (born 1913) and Ona (born 1914) were born while the family lived in Lyman. Grandma and Grandpa Parks came out from Tennessee for a visit. Helen remembers going to the railroad station to meet them. During those days, no food was provided on the trains so people had to pack enough food to last them for the trip. Margaret still has the basket they packed with food for this trip.
      In 1918, Byron (1918-1966) was born and the family moved to Sedro-Woolley. J.J. went back to logging during this time, joining Uncle Jim to run a gyppo logging camp by Maple Falls. During the summers the family went to the logging camp. Favorite memories are of swimming in the mill pond and eating huge molasses cookies made by the camp cook.
      In 1939, J.J. went to work for Skagit Steel; the plant was right behind their house in Sedro-Woolley. Skagit Steel made parts for planes and machines used during World War II. Since this could have been a target for enemy aircraft, grandma used blackout curtains at night during the war so no lights could be seen. The whole town was blacked out during this time. After the war, around 1948, J.J. bought the little corner grocery store by the park and owned it for 12 years. I really don't remember much at all about the little store that Grandpa had, except where it was and what it looked like. I remember that Grandpa had a little path that he used, walking out the back door and over the railroad tracks, through the Skagit Steel yard and then to the store by Bingham Park.
      Memories of granddaughter Patti Conner Bourgault, daughter of Helen's brother Ralph . We moved to Sedro-Woolley in 1957 when I was in third grade to help Grandma and Grandpa Conner with the store, etc. I can remember my little short mother, Margaret Smith Conner helping run the store and pumping gas. Dad was the new manager of the local office of Puget Sound Power and Light. Sister Sally helped a bit and even raised a family of raccoon babies in the back room. I just remember sitting by the register, close to the penny candy, and helping write down in ledgers what the people bought. The old wood floor was creaky and there was the lingering smell of smoke from a fire. We jokingly called the store "the little mint" probably because it never really made any money.
      J.J. Conner died in Burlington on Oct. 30, 1963, and Sallie died on Dec. 23, 1965, also in Burlington; both were age 85 at their death.

The Saga of the Dock Conner Family
Transcribed by Don Conner, Yakima, Washington, Dec. 27, 1976
Story by Vic Beale, Knoxville Journal, Aug. 16, 1976

(Family at Indian Gap)
Jehu's wife Nellie and son Willard at age five, near the state line at Indian Gap in 1926. The family went there to salt their cattle and have a family outing

      The upper end of Pigeon Forge [Tennessee] was one unbroken farm of 115 acres when Dock F. Conner was finally able to buy it for $17,000 in 1926. Dock had been coming through the farm for years, driving cattle on the hoof from the higher ranges of the Smokies, down the Indian Gap wagon road through the unpaved mountain hamlet of Gatlinburg, on down the twisting curve of the west prong of the little Pigeon river. Where the river flattens and the valley suddenly widens for the first time was where the farm lay, on the west bank of the river. Dock camped there with his cattle many a night, resting for the two-day push on to the livestock market in Knoxville.
      Sometimes to get a better price Dock would take his cattle by rail to the ultimate market, Chicago. He rode in the cattle car with them, to see that they were properly fed and watered, so they'd bring top price for condition. So Conner had the cash to buy the Pigeon Forge farm he had wanted so much for such a long time. And he made the money raising cattle on the free range of the Smokies, in the wake of the big logging operations, early in this century.
      The Conner homeplace was on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, a 300-acre farm that stretched up and down the banks of the Oconaluftee river [often referred to as the Lufty or the Luftee, and sometimes the Ocona Lufta], across from where Collins creek empties into it, and about two miles north of the present-day Smokemont Campground [North Carolina]. Dock's father, Rev. William Henry Conner (known locally as Henry), bought the Luftee farm from the Collins family before the Civil war. Henry moved to the farm during the war, when Dock was eight years old.
      His busiest years as a trader appear to have been when he was middle-aged and past. The farm on the Luftee was a collecting point for the yearlings he bought each spring, most on the North Carolina side in the counties of Haywood, Swain, Jackson and Macon. Each springtime, Dock and the late Good F. Ownby made the rounds of the families they'd been buying from down through the years. These mountain farmers would raise steers to yearlings, one of several head, in anticipation of the Conner-Ownby visit. [Journal Ed. note: Dock married Margret Emeline York at Smokemont on April 9, 1876.]
      Weighing was by guess, but it was said of them that they seldom missed an animal's weight by more than a very few pounds. They paid the farmer the most recent market price of which they were aware. They bought several head from a farmer on Deep creek in one instance, and when they got home they learned that the market was significantly higher than the price they had paid him. So they returned to Deep creek and paid the man the difference. It was a mountain way of doing business that enabled Dock to stay in business.
      When they had gathered enough cattle to make it worthwhile, they, meaning members of the Conner family usually would start a drive back into the mountains, looking for good grazing in the river valleys, on the heads of creeks and on the ridge tops. The pounds that the put on that summer, assuming that the market didn't go down drastically, represented a profit. Dock almost always sold off all his cattle in the fall. Sometimes he sent them east through Asheville to the market in Richmond, Virginia.
      Where the cattle had been grazing when it was time to take them out of the mountains often determined whether they would be driven north and west into Tennessee, or south and east through Carolina. The mountain land was still owned by the lumber companies until it was purchased for the creation of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Logging on most tracts was completed in the 1920s or earlier, and from then until the [National] Park Service began patrolling was when the free range was most plentiful. Anybody who owned cattle was welcome.
      The Conner family started moving to Tennessee in 1937, first to Gatlinburg and then to the Pigeon Forge farm Dock had bought 11 years earlier. He lived his last years here with the family of his son Charles W "Charlie.". And less than a handful of years after Dock died in 1948, Pigeon Forge lots with 100 feet of road frontage and 150 feet deep were selling for more than he had paid for 115 acres.

The Conner Saga, part 2
Story by Vic Beale, Knoxville Journal, Aug. 30, 1976
(Jehu and Dock)
Jehu, Dock and Margret Conner, at left, with other unidentified members of the family, and hounds on front steps, in uniform of the mountains, gallus overalls, at the new house sometime after 1910. The others are unknown.

      All nine children of Dock F. Conner were born in the big log house built on the Oconaluftee river well before the Civil War. Their mother died there in 1895 when the youngest, Cretta, Charles and John, were two, four and six. "A faint memory of her" is all that the surviving son Jehu has after 81 years. Only the two oldest daughters, Jennie Paul, 95, of Brevard, North Carolina, and Ruth Whaley, 93, of Pigeon Forge, can remember their mother in a personal way. Cretta, also of Brevard, was too young to have any recollection of her, as was Charlie, now deceased. But photographers were far away, during Margaret York Conner's young womanhood in the remoteness of the Oconaluftee. And there was no known picture of her. A frequent lament, even among the older children, was "If only we had a picture of her."
      Jehu remembers it was sometime after 1910 that they built the new frame home. They later were to regret tearing down the fine old log house, which was built by the original settlers of that tract of mountain land, the Collins family. Closest in age of the boys in the family, and with much in common after the death of their mother, Jehu and Charlie learned to work together as soon as they were old enough or chores around the home and barn. The log home had two, vast, hungry fireplaces, one seven feet wide and one five.
      Then the new frame house had three fireplaces, one in every major downstairs room. Wood was the only fuel, and because they liked to get their job done and over with, both boys became skilled axemen. Charlie was born left-handed but was partly talked out of it when he was very young. He perfected his skill at right-handed throwing by mailing rocks across rivers. But he swung an axe, with awesome efficiency, from his left.
      The main road across the Smokies now runs along the west bank of the Luftee, across the river from the Conner homesite. On a busy day in peak tourist season it is traveled by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cars. The transmountain road of Jehu's youth ran directly past the home and at its best was impossible for automobiles and scarcely passable for horse-drawn wagons. Most of the small amount of traffic was people walking or on horseback, except for livestock drovers there was little commerce between North Carolina and Tennessee by way of the Smokies.
      Jehu and his wife, Nellie Bradley Conner, had been married about ten years when they made their first trip across the mountains to Tennessee in 1926. Son Edwin was almost nine years old and Willard was five. The four of them rode horseback the 18 miles from Smokemont to Indian Gap, with Jehu's father, Dock, riding along so he could return the horses. Jehu and Nellie and sons then walked the 14 miles or so down the Tennessee side into the Sugarlands, where a nephew, Everett Whaley, met them in his automobile. Everett then transported the Conners to the farm Dock had bought at the end of Pigeon Forge earlier in the year. It was their first holiday outside of North Carolina. They rode the railroad from Sevierville to Knoxville, and then rode the K&A railroad to Maryville.
      Sometime before the modern highway was completed by way of Newfound Gap in the 1930s, Wiley Oakley was guiding hikers across the Smokies via the old trail through Indian Gap. The Conners remember that Wiley's groups would walk from Gatlinburg to Dock Conner's home the first hard day. They'd be fed an ample country supper and if there weren't beds enough in the home proper the rest would sleep euphorically on the fragrant hay in the barn. After breakfast they'd walk to Cherokee six miles down the river. They'd return to the Conner home that evening for supper and sleep again. Next morning, after breakfast and lunch packed for the over-mountain trek, they'd head back to Gatlinburg. It was work, especially for Nellie Conner, the only woman at home then, to do the cooking for such a group, and to wash the dishes and the bed linens. "We didn't think of it as hard work at that time," says Nellie. She did all the washing by hand on a scrub-board and all her ironing with an oil-fired hand iron.
      The Oconaluftee valley had its first big invasion of outsiders when construction of the logging railroad was begun sometime after 1916, as recalled by Jehu. The first actual cutting of timber was two or three years later. Jehu and Charlie never did work directly for any of the three lumber companies that operated in succession up all the forks of the river. But their brother-in-law John Freeman ran the company commissary at Smokemont.
      Charlie had his own meat market at Smokemont, supplying beef to he lumber company and loading it on the logging trains upbound to the camps where the lumberjacks stayed. Jehu and wife ran a general store at Smokemont from 1922 until they left the North Carolina side of the Smokies early in 1949. The store building and their home beside it were at the end of the bridge where campers today turn from the main highway to enter Smokemont Campground. Their business in the first years was with the old families who had stayed in the valley and with those employed in the logging operation. They said their land at Smokemont about 1928 for inclusion in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In quick succession then the lumber company yielded its lead and took up its rails and ceased operating, and its employees who had moved in there, from wherever, departed.
      The Conners continued to operate the store, under lease renewed by the Park Service a year at a time. The Depression came, and although most of the families left in the valley were the old families who made it all right before logging days, but many of them were having it hard now. This of course was before food stamps and jobless pay, and the Conners felt called upon to help a few of those who needed temporary help. Finally the Hutomobile highway across the Smokies was completed in the 1930s, a campground was installed at Smokemont and there began to be some summer tourist business for the Conner general store. [Ed. note: we double-checked the Hutomobile spelling in the article and searched for such a highway anywhere in reference books and the web and we cannot find it anywhere. The modern Highway between Knoxville, Tennessee, and Sylva, North Carolina, through Pigeon Forge, the Cherokee Indian Reservation and the Great Smoky Mountains is U.S. Hwy. 441.] It was an interesting time for Jehu and Nellie, who now had three sons, from oldest to youngest, Edwin, Willard and Dan.
      Charlie and his childhood sweetheart Ella Beck had married in 1911, when both were about 20. The Becks also were a pioneer family in the Luftee valley; a nearby mountain, Beck's Bald, was named for them. Six of their seven children were born during the Oconaluftee years, when Charlie was building fame as a Smoky Mountain guide. The youngest son, Doug, was born after Charlie and Ella moved to Tennessee in 1937. Dock Conner's two oldest sons, Julius J. [our Skagit County subject] and [James Franklin], had moved to the state of Washington soon after the turn of the turn of the century. They worked there in the lumber industry and came back to Tennessee only once, after 36 years.
      Another of Dock's sons, John, next above Jehu in age, died in a logging camp in West Virginia. Charlie died in 1969, a month shy of being 78 years old. His wife, Ella, died in 1974. Of Dock Conner's four daughters, only Julia Freeman is dead. Jennie Paul, Ruth Whaley and Cretta Corpening survive, along with their brother Jehu, in a family remarkable for its longevity.
      Charlie, born in 1891, was the youngest and of his principal assignment from an early age was to keep the herds out of sections where the bears were known to be bad. In spite of his frequent encounters with bears, Charlie did not become their out-and-out enemy. He shot at several that were menacing his livestock, but most of those got away. Of the two that he "killed dead" in his long life, one was a mean, stock-killer bear that weighted more than 500 pounds, a very large specimen for a black bear. Wild game, including the black bear, was abundant. But it is said of Dock that, never in his 93 years, did he kill a bear.

(Charlie Conner)
A family outing at Charlies Bunion, Ellie and Charlie in the center, sister Ruth at the far right. Click on thumbnail for full-size photo.

      Charlie spent days at a time in the mountains away from home over a period of maybe 40 years. He knew the local name for every river and fork, every hollow, ridge and mountaintop. When surveys were begun preliminary to the planning for Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Charlie's knowledge of the mountains meant that he would be called upon often as a guide. Horace Kephart, explorer and author, set out in 1929 with the intent of writing down, on a topographical map, the local names of landmarks. Charlie Conner went with him. In those days, Charles was suffering from an ingrown toenail. When they came across a rocky peak that day, apparently it reminded him of his afflicted feet. Charlie remembered saying something about it to Kephart: "Horace, that little peak on the state line looks like the knot on my sore foot." Kephart smiled and made a new entry on the map. He showed it to Charlie. "Charlie Conner's Bunion" was what it said. Thereafter the name was shortened to Charlies Bunion, the possessive apostrophe left out in the mapmakers' tradition. Charlie Conner himself never referred to the knot as a "bunion," because it wasn't a bunion. Apparently that's what Kephart assumed it was, and good-natured Charlie didn't try to correct him. Perhaps if Charlie had corrected Kephart, hikers today would instead be enjoying the view from "Charlies Sore Toe."
      Ed. note: Ruth Conner Whaley, often mentioned in the story, was the longest-lived of any of Dock Conner's children. Born on Dec. 18, 1883, she lived to almost 102, dying on Nov. 16, 1985. The fourth of nine children, she had eight of her own and Everett was the second eldest. Horace Kephart was one of the prime instigators of naming the Great Smoky Mountains as a national park.

The Conner Saga, part 3
Story by Vic Beale, Knoxville Journal, Sept. 13, 1976
      Tennessee finished a road to Newfound Gap on its side of the Smokies in the late 1920s and North Carolina joined it there about 18 months later, in the early '30s. From then on it was one busy tourist season after another for Jehu and Nellie Conner in their little general store with gasoline pumps at Smokemont. They had sold their property to the National Park Service and were leasing it back a year at a time, with the understanding each summer might be their last.
      Most of the automobile travel at first came from the Tennessee side of the Smokies. It was almost a regular happening for drivers to misjudge the distance and run out of gasoline on the return trip. If they were still on the North Carolina slope they could coast the downhill miles to the Conner gasoline pumps. The Conners seldom slept a full, uninterrupted night.
      They ran the business more than 20 years under the lease arrangement. The Park service made certain conditions, one of which was that they continue to operate without electricity. So, until they closed the store forever in 1949, the refrigeration was from ice hauled daily from Bryson City [North Carolina], and the light for the store and their nearby home was from pressurized oil lamps.
      "Pretty good light," Jehu remembers. The Conners meanwhile kept looking for a likely place to resettle when the day finally came that the Park Service would decide it was no longer advisable to have a store operating inside the [Smoky Mountains] national park boundaries. "We wanted us a good farm," Jehu says. He found it in 1936 on a visit to Pigeon Forge with his father, Dock Conner. Ten years earlier, Dock had bought 115 acres at the upper end of Pigeon Forge for $17,000, a considerable sum even for that very desirable property.
      And now, in 1926, an adjoining tract of 62 acres was being sold on a mortgage foreclosure. "Bid on it," Dock advised his son. Jehu ran the bidding to $8,000 and the property became his. He and his brother Charlie later bought parcels of their father's farm. Jehu and Nellie thus became the owners of a fraction more than 101 acres which lay astride what in a few years would be one of the most heavily traveled tourist highways in the United States. Both say that in 1936 they had no idea it would turn out that way. Gatlinburg was being built as a resort village, true. But it was also true that hotelkeepers in Gatlinburg still were outnumbered by farm families who milked their cows twice a day.
      John and Nellie built a new home on their Pigeon Forge property in 1948. Actually she stayed at Smokemont and ran the store while he commuted to Tennessee to supervise the building. Thus they were ready for the final move from Smokemont in February of 1949. They left the Oconaluftee valley almost a century after Jehu's grandfather, Henry Conner, had settled there as a Baptist missionary to the Cherokee Indians.
      Jehu was 60 years old when they moved to Tennessee [in 1949] and Nellie thought perhaps he was ready to "slow down" a little and this was the first chance he'd ever had to do any serious flatland farming and he went about it vigorously. Then the state bought right-of-way for a new four-lane road through Pigeon Forge and Conners soon were separated from their livestock by heavy traffic. It also became rather risky to cross the highway with farm machinery.
      About 25 years ago, in the early 1950s, they offered some of the property across the road from their home at auction. The sale of 36 lots — each 100 feet wide by 150 feet deep — attracted a crowed of persons who foresaw a burgeoning tourist industry. It was the beginning of serious resort development for Pigeon Forge. Historically, from Indian times, the principal middle route across the Smokies has been along the Oconaluftee river on the North Carolina side, crossing into the West prong of the Little Pigeon river on the Tennessee side.
      Starting with Henry, five generations of Conners have now lived along the main road and they've all fed and sheltered travelers, first those who came on foot and later those who came by car. There are enough younger Conners growing up in tourist-related business to make it likely there'll be more.

Addendum: Cole Cathey and the last pictchfork of hay
Bear-hunter Cathey more than a hired hand
      Cole Cathey was a bear-hunter who lived with Dock F. Conner above Smokmont. Cathey was a hired hand who lived there more like a member of the family. To Dock, he was always "Cole." Of all the work that needed doing, Cathey liked best to look after Dock's beef cattle.
      The cattle stayed in bear country in summer on the higher slopes of the Smokies, mostly in the upper valley of the Oconaluftee river. Cathey's job was to find grassy places in the woods that had been cut over by logging companies. He'd leave a few head here, and a few head there, according to how much grass there was.
      He'd carry a sack of salt, and spread some in a protected place where rain wouldn't wash it away. Maybe the salt would keep the cattle in that area until Cathey returned to herd them to a fresh grassy spot. Cathey wore a waterproof "duckback" coat with inside slots to hold the high-powered rifle cartridges he used in hunting bear. He carried a rifle on most of his cattle-herding trips. Cathey was also good about going ahead with work that wasn't as much fun as tramping the mountains.
      Everett believes it was in 1924 that his granddad Conner and Cathey were getting in hay from a field beside the river. It was a narrow field, but nearly a mile long, where Dock grew most of his crops for cow and horse feed, and corn for meal.
      A storm came up, with lightning, rain and hail. Dock hurried to the barn with the horses and wagon. Cathey followed but stopped to scoop up a forkful of hay to hold above him like an umbrella. It was almost dark by the time Dock put up the horses and fed them. Supper was ready and Dock ate, believing Cathey would join him any minute.
      Finally Dock went to the nearby house where his son Charlie was living, and asked his help to see what had happened to Cathey. Charlie took a lantern and found Cathey dead in the hayfield. Lightning had struck the pitchfork.
      The lightning knocked the heels from his shoes and tore his clothing to strings and tatters. It exploded all the high-powered rifle cartridges in his ammunition pockets. Cathey's watch was stopped forever at 5:30.

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(J.J. and brother James)
(Dock at 80)
(Back home in Tennessee)
Far left: 1952 picnic, from l. to r.: Sallie, J.J., brother James Frederick and his wife Tony. Center: Dock Conner in the late 1930s at age 80+, after the road across the Great Smoky Mountains was completed, and most of his family were settled in Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina around the Oconaluftee river. Right: In 1934, J.J. returned home the first time to see his family since and Sally moved to Washington right after their wedding in 1900. At Dock's farm in Tennessee, from l. to r., with the sisters as bookends: Helen Conner, Sallie, J.J., Ona Conner.

Julius J. Conner letter home to Dock
From business college in Columbus, Georgia, Sept. 19, 1898, 703 3rd Ave.
My dearest father,
      As we have arrived safely, I'll attempt writing you a few words. We are in good health and are liking the situation very much. I think there can be no doubt of it's being a good school. We just entered school this morning, Wednesday. We came to Atlanta and stopped off with Robert Hyde and Bob Donby [could be Ownby]. We stayed with them from Saturday night till Tuesday. I don't think I would like to belong to the Army. Columbus is a beautiful place. I don't have any idea how long we will remain here. Can't tell yet.
      We had to buy $10 worth of books apiece and expect there is plenty of books if I only can grasp the knowledge contained in them. If we come through all, I know we can carry on any kind of business easily and if I stay in the bounds?? of health, I aim to do so, too. I have means to keep me here 8 months. We have a nice boarding place. We pay $10 per month for board, too. This place was highly recommended by the college and we accepted it all right enough.
      Well, how are you all getting along? I hope you are all in good health. How is the baby? Tell Jim and John to write to me. You will hear from the college teacher. He will report how we are proceeding with our work. Write and tell me everything now. I can't write much this time for I have several letters to write anyway. I want to hear from you all early.
      Handwritten and signed Julius Conner [had changed the spelling of his name by now. Julious given name at birth]

Click on these thumbnails for full-sized photos
(Helen at Memorial Hospital)
(Nurses at Memorial Hospital)
(Helen at Lyman Grade School)
Far left: Helen Conner and an unknown child in front of the old Memorial Hospital on State Street in Sedro-Woolley. Opened in 1929, the year of the big stock market crash, the hospital remained in that location — where State Street Alternative High School is today in 2004 — until 1964. Helen later worked in Dr. Charles Hunter's clinic, at its original location downtown and then in the new clinic, built at the corner of Murdock and Ferry streets in 1953.. Center: Some of the nurses that Helen worked with, also taken in 1932. Can anyone identify the others?. Right: Helen's first grade class at Lyman Grade School in 1917. Helen is the third child from the left in the middle row..

Miss Helen Conner weds Fred Butler
Sedro-Woolley Courier-Times, November 1936
      Mr. and Mrs. J.J. Conner of this city announce the marriage of their daughter Helen to Mr. Frederick Butler, son of Mr. and Mrs. Silas Butler of Burlington, on Nov. 20, 1936, at Oak Harbor, with the Rev. Mr. Dann of Oak Harbor reading the service in the presence of the couple's attendants, Mr. and Mrs. Laurence LaPlant of this city.
      Mrs. Butler attended the Sedro-Woolley schools, and after her graduation from high school, attended the Providence Nursing school in Seattle, following which she was a member of the Memorial hospital staff, and later office nurse for the Hunter-Simpson clinic [then at the northwest corner of Metcalf and State streets]. Mr. Butler was graduated from the schools of Burlington, and also attended the University of Washington, where he was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Both are members of pioneer Skagit County families. They will soon take residence in their new farm home near Burlington.

Update 2006: Peggy Lambert and the Ocona Lufta Baptist church
(Ocona Lufta church)
Ocona Lufta church, from the Florence Cope Bush book, courtesy of Peggy Lambert.

      When the mail arrives for the Journal, we never know what treats will appear. In my childhood days while growing up in the Utopia district east of Sedro-Woolley, I was allowed, on Christmas Eve, to open one present and I always played detective to guess which pretty paper surrounded a new locomotive or car or supplies for my Lionel train set. Yesterday, I felt the same excitement when I found a large package from Peggy Lambert of Cherokee, Swain County, North Carolina. She grew up in Conner country back there and she wrote me earlier that she had special gifts to share.
      Peggy sent an email a few weeks ago and said that she was editing an article for a quarterly bulletin, The Bone Rattler, of the Swain County Historical and Genealogical Society, when she was directed to our site and this original story. She explained that the Society in Bryson City has a group of volunteers who work to record and communicate the rich history of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, the avenue for Western exploration in the early nineteenth century. She has Conners in her family tree and her husband's grandfather, George Jackson Goforth, moved his family from the mountains to Washington state in 1911-1912 and settled in Lewis County. Peggy knows her family history intimately and knows the memory of the elderly, as witnessed by her father who "is 100 yrs. and 8 months old, but he had a stroke five years ago and is in Tsali Care Center, some days he can make a good sentence and other days not so good. Finally said my name after three years."
      Further, she offered to send me a book called Ocona Lufta Baptist Pioneer Church of the Smokies, 1836-1939, compiled by the late Florence Cope Bush in 1990 (with the help of her daughter, Margaret Cope Bush), and the book arrived in the package yesterday. Although I have a stack of books and magazines that scream, "Read Me First!" nearly every day, I put them all aside and read Bush's book this morning. It is crammed full of 1,000 names along with many photos, and transcriptions of records from a century of congregants.
      If you are a Tarheel, you will want this book. I was entranced with the songs and prayers that were familiar to me from family vacations back to Missouri to visit my beloved grandmother, Effie Jane Noel Kirks, who was the clerk of her Elkhorn church for decades until her death in her 90s. As I thumbed through the first chapter, I could see how the people in the photos reminded me so much of my own relatives on the hard-scrabble farms of the Midwest. They all look so tired, so weary after caring for large families, hunting for food to bring back home, or working in the mines or farms for 12 hours or more a day. Young Dixie Carver is noted under her photo as being age 12 but she already looks 30. Her mother, Hettie, wears a pretty plaid dress, presumably for her wedding to Julius Carver of Bradley Forks, and holds a sheaf of wildflowers. She is beautiful but already looks tired. Another photo shows the Smokemont store that the Conners built
      Still another photo — of Rev. Henry Conner, heads a section about his key role in the early days of the church. The Lufty church rose on the site of the original Mt. Zion Baptist Church, which was informally organized in 1829 near the Arneechee ford of the Oconaluftee River.

(Ed Conner)
Ed Conner, from the Florence Cope Bush book, courtesy of Peggy Lambert.

      Later, church members decided a more accessible church site should be located because of poor traveling conditions which made attendance difficult for the elderly and infirm. An organizational meeting was held June 6, 1836, [and among those attending were Samuel Conner and Masy Conner]. Minutes from this first meeting indicate two places of worship were established, one on each side of the Ocona Lufta River. This was to accommodate the members who had difficulty traveling to one church site. It is assumed the early settlers had not built enough bridges to make traveling convenient.
      The members resolved that the church would meet in the homes of Brother Samuel Conner and Brother Jacob Minges [or Mingus], each one in their turn, until they could get a regular meeting house. Prayer meetings would be held in the homes of Brother Conner and Brother Minges on each fork of the river, between each monthly meeting. . . .
      In 1880, a building committee consisting of William Alexander, J.H. Queen, H.J. Beck, W.H. Conner, M. Treadway and F.M. Barton was appointed to consider a new church building. As in previous years, no more is said about the new church or the committee in the records. . . .
      January 18, 1896, a committee consisting of John R. Kinsey, T.M. Jenkins and W.H. Queen apparently located a suitable site and proceeded to build the church now standing.

      Although the beautiful church building still stands in the forest, the Lufta Baptist Church closed in 1939 after the federal government condemned properties for inclusion in the new federal park. Rev. Dan and Patsy Lambert joined with other families to form a new church in the nearby town of Cherokee. The Lamberts carefully preserved the original church records on which the book is based. As the author noted, the Lamberts hosted the Lufty Baptist Church homecoming and officiated at many weddings, some more formal and modern, and others that were based on the austere mountain rites of yesteryear. Another section of the book provides the setting for the original church, establishes historical context and leads up to when Rev. Henry Conner took over:
(Ed Conner)
The Smokemont store that the Jehu Conner family owned for many years, from the Florence Cope Bush book, courtesy of Peggy Lambert.

      Lufty Baptist Church is part of pioneer America. Established June 6, 1836, it served as a home church for people on their way north, south, east and west across the Great Smoky Mountains. Settlers whose names are found on the early rolls and in the church minutes appear in later history as residents of other states and participants in events creating the world today.
      Ships were still bringing immigrants to our shores and people needing more and more land when the little Baptist church was brought into being. In their quest for a home, the new Americans pushed into territory claimed by the Cherokee [Indians]. Demands from these new citizens forced politicians in Washington, D.C., to make the decision to end the Indians west.
      Lufty was a unique church in a unique setting. It is difficult to image the original church was organized two years before one of the saddest events in our history took place. The government removal of the Cherokee Tribe started in 1838. The Trail of Tears, the Cherokee name for their journey into the Oklahoma territory, left the Lufty Church in a settlement filled with confusion.
      General Winfield Scott searched the Ocona Lufta area for Indians who did not want to leave their homes. An estimated 1,000 Cherokee hid in the mountains and caves along the Ocona Lufta River and escaped the Federal troops. Many of the soldiers were not familiar with the mountains and couldn't find the Indians. The North Carolina Volunteer Militia was ordered to answer the muster call to help locate and collect the Cherokee for the January journey to the West. A few church members participated in the roundup and removal process.
      Twenty-eight years later, Lufty Baptist Church was there when the first shot of the Civil War was fired at Fort Sumpter, South Carolina. This war touched the heart of everything American. It divided families, churches and communities. Lufty was no different. The internal struggle was evident in the documents preserved by the church.

      That chapter continues with fascinating details of how the church, the river communities and institutions coped with the four years of the war. William Henry Conner was a son of Jacob Conner, who arrived in the mountains of western North Carolina at the time that the Baptist faith was gaining acceptance in the area where the Calvinistic Protestants held most sway, and where the Moravians and Methodists were conducting mission work. Brother Henry professed faith in Christ in June 1847 and became a member of the Ocona Lufta church, but when he began preaching in 1850 he moved to the Shoal Creek church. He was assigned to preach at Ocona Lufta in 1860, just in time for the Civil War, and he and his wife, Rachel (Swaringen), lived there for the rest of their lives. Their son, Franklin "Dock" Conner, told his grandson, Charles Conner, of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, that William died on March 14, 1887, after he was thrown into the icy waters of Deep Creek, when his wagon overturned. Until Mrs. Mrs. Bush wrote her book, there was sadly little record of the importance of Henry Conner's term as preacher. She noted that he witnessed more than 1,500 conversions and baptized more than 1,000 people during his ministry. His son, Wiley Evans Conner, preached at Ocona Lufta before he moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and served as pastor of the Fourth Avenue Baptist Church.
      Genealogists will marvel at the detailed lists of congregants of the Ocona Lufta church over the years. One section lists everyone in the church from 1836 to the 1890s, with records of baptism, preaching dates, reception into the fold, dismissal, birth, death, eulogy, etc. Some examples are:

      A.D. Carver: Received by experience, October 1886.
      Aden Carver: Received and baptized, October 1864; Dismissed by letter, November 1876; Dismissed by letter, August 1881; Served as Sexton of the church from January 1908 to March 1910.

      By the way, Aden Carver never recognized the border splitting the Smoky Mountains between two states, and at age 90, he crossed the mountains to join the Civilian Conservation Corps in Gatlinburg, probably the oldest member of the CCC. He joined to help restore the region to its original beauty after the lumber companies moved out and the U.S. government moved in. He died a decade later, in 1945, at age 101.
      As Mrs. Bush explained, the records of the church include warts and all. "Business was conducted using a strict set of rules and regulations. The officials met in regular meetings and promptly dealt with the business brought before the church committee. Letters of dismissal were granted upon request from members. Complaints were given serious consideration. Sometimes members were called to appear before the committee to explain their behavior." Many of the records are delightfully recorded in the original handwriting of the church clerk. The full family trees of a few of the prominent families are also detailed, including that of the very colorful Henry Jackson Beck, a charter member of the church and longtime deacon who conducted a mass marriage ceremony where 400 couples from the Cherokee area were united. Some of the couples wedded for a piece of legal paper, having joined years or decades before in informal unions in their mountain villages. Beck, whose home was Beck's Bald, was married three times, himself, outlived two wives, and fathered 22 children, spaced out between all three mates. One of them married into the Conner clan. This is a feast of a Tarheel history book. You can order it by contacting Swain County site for the association.

Links, background reading and sources
      Ed. note: we met Helen's daughter, Sara, when we researched our stories about the Silas Bulter family. Sara has been the principal source for both the Butler and Conner stories on the site, as well as providing information about the Kirkby family of Burlington. See these links:

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Story posted on Nov. 10, 2004, and last updated on Feb. 13, 2006
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