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History of Graham County

Graham was formed in 1872 from Cherokee County. It was named in honor of William A. Graham, United States Senator, Governor of North Carolina, secretary of the navy, and a Confederate States Senator. It is in the western section of the state and is bounded by the state of Tennessee and Cherokee and Swain counties. The present land area is 292.07 square miles and the 2000 population was 7,993. The first meeting of the county commissioners was ordered to be held at King & Cooper's store; commissioners were named to lay out a town as a county seat. The county seat is Robbinsville.

Graham County is practically enclosed by rugged towering mountains on all sides. The western range of the Great Smoky Mountains separating Graham from Tennessee is called the Unicoi Mountains. The southern boundary is the Snowbird Mountains circling to Red Marble Gap, then swinging northward to Cheoah Bald. The northern border is the Little Tennessee River inundated by Fontana Lake. The Cheoah range and the Yellow Creek Mountains traverse the northern part of the county completely boxing in Graham County on all sides with the exception of the rocky gorge of the Cheoah River below Lake Santeetlah where the Little Tennessee River enters the Tennessee River. It is then indeed little wonder that this region was one of the last regions of western North Carolina to be settled by the white men. Graham County, a part of the Cherokee treaty lands, was not opened to settlement until President Jackson ordered the removal of the Indians in 1838.

In 1838, there was not a road in Graham County except the old Indian trading paths. There is no record of travel by white man across the mountains of western North Carolina prior to the famous pilgrimage of Daniel Boone in 1769. However, it is believed that Hernando de Soto, in 1540, was the first white man to look upon the Great Smoky Mountains. It is possible that Boone and later pioneers followed these old Indian paths and other trails made first by deer, bear, and other game as they sought the easiest way to travel from one feeding area to another.

William Bartram, the first great botanist born in America, was one of the first white men to see the land which was destined to be Graham County. Bartram roved the hills and woodlands collecting and setting down notes of the plant and animal life of this Appalachian area, all of which is recounted in detail in his classic work, "The Travels of William Bartram." He established a rapport with the Indians probably unmatched except for Daniel Boone. His lovely descriptions have a poetic favor which only a master naturalist with his intense love of nature could have fathomed. According to Hiram C. Wilburn of Waynesville who traced William Bartram's 1776 trip through the mountains of western North Carolina, Bartram came "about six or seven miles down the Talulah towards Robbinsville," where he spent the night of May 27, 1776. He decided at this point to postpone his search until another time. The reason for his discontinuing of his research in this area is unknown, but he apparently did not return again to this region.

It is probable that John and Robert Stratton followed one such trail when they crossed over from Monroe County, Tennessee, during the 1830s and settled on Stratton Bald in the Unicoi Mountains between Sassafras Ridge and Santeetlah Creek. John Stratton lived there for ten years and reportedly caught nineteen panthers on old Laurel Top, making "panther bacon" of their shoulders and hams, thus earning the nickname "Bacon John." He arrived on Stratton Bald with nothing but his rifle, blanket, cooking utensils, and ammunition but earned enough herding cattle, selling deer, bear hams, and hides to buy a fine farm in Tennessee.

Ironically, the first wagon road in Graham County was brought about by the removal of the Cherokees. Soldiers under orders from General Winfield Scott moved into the area and erected Fort Montgomery on the Indians' ballground. The area overlooking Robbinsville is the present location of the American Components plant and the twenty-eight houses built by the Rural Development Authority. Fort Montgomery was constructed under direction of Dr. Dan F. Summey of Asheville for use in corralling the Indians in 1838 prior to removal to Oklahoma. A makeshift highway was built from Old Valley Town (Andrews) to Fort Montgomery near Robbinsville for use of the soldiers in evacuating the Indians.

Over this first wagon road came the first preacher, Reverend Joseph A. Wiggins, a distinguished Methodist Minister. The Rev. Joseph A. Wiggins, father of the late Walt Wiggins, was born on Alarka Creek in 1832, but moved to Graham County with his father Abraham in 1840. He found a few hardy white families. In the valleys, the Cherokees had their villages where they raised corn, barley, pumpkins, and ceremonial tobacco while they hunted wild game on the rugged mountain slopes.

There were no mills except a few grist mills. Wheat was packed on horses by an Indian trail a distance of about thirty miles to a mill five miles from what is now Bryson City. Indian relics were plentiful at that time at the Meadows on the head of Tallulah Creek.

Mr. Wiggins married a daughter of George W. Hayes for whom the town of Hayesville was named. There was not a church in the county and only a few log houses. He began preaching in 1859, and served for four years as chaplain in the Confederate Army. Afterwards he rode circuits in Southwestern Virginia, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina remaining stationed in Graham County. His great-grandfather Garland Wiggins and his wife's great-grandfather Edward Hayes served in the Revolutionary War.

Early history records only three families living in Graham County, known as Cheoah Valley at that time, prior to the arrival of the Wiggins family from Swain County. The three families were: Billy Crisp, who came from Haywood County, and settled near where Mountain Creek flows into Cheoah River and later moved to the Stecoah Community. Billy Crisp was an ancestor of Joel L. Crisp who served four terms as State Senator around the turn of the century. John Hyde settled near the old Ernest Cooper place on Highway 129 and put up the first gristmill in Cheoah Valley on a small stream named Hyde's Mill Creek. Isaac Rowen settled opposite the residence of John Hyde on the other side of the Tallulah River where was located more recently the farm of Rube Rogers who married the daughter of the pioneer settler. A little later of the same year Thomas Cooper came from Haywood and settled on Frank's Creek.

Andrew Colvard reportedly lived on Long Hungry Branch during this early period. The branch got its name from the fact that a party of hunters once was detained there by high waters until their rations gave out and they were hungry for a long time. The Stewarts of Santeetlah came from Georgia and the Lovins from Ducktown, Tennessee.

Other early settlers were: James Colvard who came from Tennessee and set up on Tallulah; the Sherills from Haywood settled in eastern portions of the county; Baxter Campbell settled near the West shore on Tallulah; James Carver from Tennessee near the mouth of West Buffalo; John Ammons below Robbinsville; Doctor Enos Hooper for whom Hooper's Bald was named went to West Buffalo; William Colvin came from Buncombe in 1850 and lived on Cochran Creek; Harwoods and Dentons settled on Sweetwater. Other early families were: Carpenter, Rhea, Rose, Phillips, and Rice.

In the Yellow Creek section, the early families were: Birchfields, Williams, Sharps, Colvins, and Johnsons from Tennessee. There were also the Shulers from Jackson County, Garrisons from Kansas, Ditmores from McMinn County, Tennessee, and Isaac Carringer from the eastern part of the state.

In the Stecoah Section were the Crisps, Taylors, Sawyers, Gunters, Deans, Cables, and Welchs. It was also about 1840 that a land grant was taken by Edward Delozier on what is now called Sawyer's Creek. In 1843, the Medlins moved from Macon County to Wolf Creek, a tributary of Panther Creek in the Stecoah section. Descendants of this family still own this original state land grant.

Some time between 1840-1843, Thomas Cooper and Colonel William H. Thomas established a trading post on Rhea Hill on the present Robbinsville school site. This store later remodeled and expanded by George Walker was operated by Thomas Cooper and is believed to be the first store in this section. A little later, Wiley King moved to this area and replaced Thomas in the enterprise, and the store became King-Cooper Store. The first post office was established in 1843 housed in the King-Cooper Store with Wiley King as the first postmaster The post office was originally listed as Cheoah Valley, changed to Fort Montgomery in 1849, and still later in 1874 the name was changed to Robbinsville. 

- Source: J.D. Lewis - Little River, SC


More Information

As of the census[2] of 2000, there were 7,993 people, 3,354 households, and 2,411 families residing in the county. The population density was 27 people per square mile (11/km²). There were 5,084 housing units at an average density of 17 per square mile (7/km²). The racial makeup of the county was 91.91% White, 0.19% Black or African American, 6.84% Native American, 0.16% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.13% from other races, and 0.76% from two or more races. 0.75% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 27.6% were of American, 15.1% Irish, 12.7% English, 10.6% German and 5.1% Scots-Irish ancestry according to Census 2000. 97.7% spoke English and 1.3% Cherokee as their first language.

There were 3,354 households out of which 27.10% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.80% were married couples living together, 8.40% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.10% were non-families. 26.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 2.82.

In the county the population was spread out with 22.00% under the age of 18, 7.30% from 18 to 24, 25.20% from 25 to 44, 27.50% from 45 to 64, and 18.00% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 95.30 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.60 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $26,645, and the median income for a family was $32,750. Males had a median income of $24,207 versus $18,668 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,237. About 14.40% of families and 19.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 24.30% of those under age 18 and 20.40% of those age 65 or over.

- Source: Wikipedia