History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

The settling of Walnut Grove in Campbell County, between the Powell and Clinch rivers, began many years ago. In the 1770's no white man had ever set foot between the rivers or had seen what is now called Walnut Grove unless it was the longhunters from North Carolina. An assumption of the name Walnut Grove possibly came from the many walnut trees surrounding the area. Historians claim that the Indians called the Clinch River "Turkey River" or "Pellissippi."

Years before the Revolutionary War, Frank Irwin and a younger brother crossed the mountains of North Carolina, now Tennessee. They both took part in the Battle of Kings Mountain, a very decisive encounter for the Continental Army. It should be noted that Frank could have possibly fired the deadly bullet into the body of General Ferguson, the only Englishman. Frank's brother was possibly killed in this battle.

After the Land Grab Act, about 1789, Frank Irwin and William Hancock ventured west among the Indians and the wild animals. They arrived on the Holston River and then pressed forward to Big Valley where Frank met and married Nellie Lyons. In this area Frank purchased 1,000 acres, possibly from the Indians.

While on a hunting venture one day, Frank forded the Clinch River and found the valley between the rivers, Walnut Grove. Frank and William Hancock became the first settlers, each buying 500 acres of land and building shelters or huts about 1 1/2 miles apart. Frank gave a filly and a rifle for his share of the purchase. William built his homestead on Powell River, which later became the home of Henry Irwin.

John Stout built on the Clinch River; William Ridenour built on Powell River, William Bolinger built further down; William Lett built near Hancock; Joe Campbell built farther down on Powell River; Martin Nelson built farther down between the rivers; Abe Sanders built on Frank Irwin's land.

Frank Irwin was the first blacksmith, cobbler, and mechanic for the whole neighborhood. A lady named Robinson reared six children in a hut on Martin Nelson's land. Frank Irwin later built a house that later became the Silas A. Walker property. Here he reared four children.

Presenting themselves as properly as could be expected, the men wore long hair to their shoulders and long beards. The women wore long hair and long dresses. All clothing was home made from cloth they had woven; some being from hides and furs of animals. These pioneers were very inventive. They cut out and prepared paths, by-ways, bridleways, and roads to travel from one house to the other and to reach places such as the hominy pounder. The hominy pounder was constructed as a rude mill that would mash corn into rough meal.

Roads were later laid out for sleds, oxcarts, and wagons. Building of these roads was to let them run up hollows in the center to the top of the hill and straight down the hill on the other side or along the tips of the ridges. These roads had to be laid out so the vehicles would not turn over.

Initially, they fought and killed wild animals and Indians. Because the forest was of great thickness, only a small bit of land could be cultivated. However, a large number of hogs could be raised in the woods. Horses were few as they had to more-or- less depend on the steers, cows and heifers for their plowing.

Wild game such as bear, deer, turkey, pheasant, along with other small animals and birds were plentiful. Raising of hogs and sheep was quite easy in the wintertime, but wintering the cattle and horses was somewhat more difficult. They caught and tamed wild pigs and hogs.

Ridding the forest of the many trees was no easy task. The land was so plentiful with the huge forests that there was no market for them, and so, they, without the proper tools to cut them, would kill the trees by cutting a ring around them.

The soil was rich and unused and a few people produced around 35 bushels of corn per acre with 50 per acre tops. Oats was raised but no wheat. Their hay crop consisted of crab grass, which they pulled by hand.

Their working implements were very limited as well as their tools, livestock, and clothes. Their foodstuffs were of no variety. Their furniture was hand made after some time in settlement. Their dogs and guns were just about the most important possessions they had. They had nothing to sell and buy and nothing with which to buy.

These early settlers depended on God and the land on which they lived, and were solid in their beliefs of survival. They had gatherings for worship in their homes. Here they discussed their problems and taught the children to read and write.

Could we, in our great environment of today, possibly relate to the early settlers in Walnut Grove? These folks were wholly sensible people who could face the test and pass it with glory.

Time Line

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