Gatlinburg was named after a disliked man who lived there for less than 10 years
Gatlinburg really should be Oglesburg, Oglesville or maybe Oglestown. I mean, at least, White Oak Flats. The town that became Gatlinburg, you see, was first settled by a South Carolinian named William Ogle in 1802. As one of the first settlers, Ogle found his “Land of Paradise”, reportedly worked with the Cherokee and started a homestead. Afterward, he went back to South Carolina to collect his wife and seven children. But he passed away before the family could move. However, his wife, Martha Jane Ogle, her brother Peter Huskey and the Ogle children came to the mountains, fulfilled his vision and built a cabin. The area, which became known as White Oak Flats for the abundance of trees, was rife with Ogles.
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Who was Radford Gatlin?
It was in this Ogle-rich environment a man named Radford Gatlin brought his wife Elizabeth in 1854. The well-educated Georgia native was a jack of many trades, renowned for his beautiful penmanship and grammar. He was a real estate speculator, politician, teacher, militia captain, minister and merchant. And he was, apparently, not an entirely popular man.
Gatlin first made his mark in East Tennessee in Jefferson County, where he was living by 1825 at the age of 27-ish. By 1838, he’d amassed about 220 acres of land in Jefferson County. Notably litigious, Gatlin was engaged in many “petty” lawsuits against his neighbors, most of which he lost. Gatlin sold his land in 1842 and moved to Sevier County – not really far from his Jefferson County home. In Sevier County, he represented the 12th district on the County Court. He and his wife became members of the Paw Paw Hollow Baptist Church. He was, at first, a part-time pastor and, due to his penmanship, a clerk. But he was quickly ordained as a full minister.
Gatlin gets kicked out of church
It wasn’t long until he was embroiled in controversy, having penned a letter critical of the Tennessee Baptist Convention over a missionary Baptist program at Jonesborough in 1842. Reportedly, the letter stated that neither anti-missionary nor pro-missionary Baptists should be denied fellowship at the church. His letter was determined offensive. So a committee was sent to investigate the trouble at Paw Paw Hollow. Gatlin refused the committee entry and was reported as most “rude and uncivil.”
A second attempt by the committee to investigate may have led to extensive fisticuffs in the churchyard. The donnybrook lasted as much as half the day, witnesses reported. Gatlin later told the committee they could use the church if they would not discuss the subject for which they’d come. And they were to make up their minds in 10 minutes. The committee, instead, met with church members in a shed, drew up articles of complaint and kicked him straight out of the church.
White Oak Flats becomes Gatlinburg
In 1854, Gatlin and his wife sold their land for a tidy profit and bought 50 acres of Ogle land for $30 in White Oak Flats. In addition, Ogle claimed 5,000 acres from a massive land grant of more than 100,000 acres. The larger grant included many areas that had already been settled and may have led to some uneasiness among Gatlin’s neighbors. Gatlin opened a general store and eventually, the area’s first post office. There’s no record of how, but with the post office in his store, the town’s name officially changed from White Oak Flats to Gatlinburg.
The Gatlin and Ogle feud
Amazingly, this doesn’t seem to be the impetus for the feud between Gatlin and the Ogles. The plan for the main road going through the town wasn’t much to Gatlin’s liking, so he convened a grand jury and had it changed to run alongside the Ogle land he had purchased. When no one paid much attention to the first grand jury ruling, he did it again. For the record, the current road runs along the path Gatlin demanded.
Tensions simmered when the Gatlins and Thomas Ogle Sr. got into a fight that ended with both Gatlins charged with assault. Elizabeth Gatlin had been striking Ogle’s cattle with a stick. When he approached her, she gave him a bit of the same medicine. According to witness reports, she hit him in the hand with the stick, which he caught and jerked her to the ground, where she continued to pop him with the stick.
It took two years but Mrs. Gatlin was convicted and fined a dollar. Mr. Gatlin, who at some point intervened between his wife and Ogle, was also convicted and fined a dollar as well. He was granted a new trial, convicted again and appealed both cases to the Tennessee Supreme Court, which upheld the local rulings. Now, all this time later, we don’t know who was in the right, but this much is clear: Don’t mess with mountain people when there’s a mess of them and only one of you.
Gatlin leaves Gatlinburg
Shortly after the fight, Gatlin’s barns and stables were burned down with grain and horses inside. Mr. Gatlin was one of the earliest people on record to mess around and find out. No indictments were made. Soon after, Gatlin swore out a peace warrant against Ogle Sr., his son, brother and others claiming he was afraid they were plotting to burn down his house and harm him and his wife. I mean, I get it. I think old Radford Gatlin had figured out just what kind of situation he’d wandered into. This was no Missionary Baptist churchyard fight. The case was dismissed as frivolous and Gatlin was told to pay the court costs. The Supreme Court granted Gatlin an appeal but affirmed the decision of the local court.
It’s unclear exactly when Gatlin left Gatlinburg. He returned for a while to Jefferson County. While there, he penned a breathless and completely false account of a lone Civil War soldier who stopped the burning of the rail bridge across the Holston River. Gatlin exaggerated the number of “Lincolnites” and made a few claims. However, an account published by an Atlanta newspaper quickly became distributed as wartime propaganda. When federal troops occupied Jefferson County in 1863, Gatlin and his wife went to Georgia. Eventually, they went to South Carolina where they lived out their days. So, in summary, now we have Gatlinburg, TN, named after an ill-liked man who assaulted the Ogles. Interestingly, he only lived in the town for less than a decade.
A look at Gatlinburg today
Today, Gatlinburg has many family attractions including Ober Mountain (formerly known as Ober Gatlinburg), Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and SkyPark, home of the longest pedestrian bridge in North America and more. Tourism is strong in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. These towns are known as gateway cities to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States. It sees an estimated 14 million visitors on vacation each year.
Did you know the story behind the feud between the Gatlins and the Ogles which built the town? Let us know in the comments.