The Ogles vs the Gatlins: The Odd Family Feud That Built Gatlinburg

downtown gatinburg today and ogles general store circa 1923

Gatlinburg owes much of what it is today to the influence of the Ogle family. Pictured lower right: The original Ogle's store circa 1923 (public domain)

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.

It’s surprising that the town of Gatlinburg is named what it is. Radford Gatlin was a Georgia native who purchased large amounts of land from the Ogle family, but he was overall an unpopular person who was engaged in many petty lawsuits and feuds with the neighbors. Ultimately, he left town and only lived there for about a decade.

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.

ogle general store 1923
The influence of the Ogle family can still be seen, and felt, throughout Gatlinburg today. Pictured: The original Ogle’s General Store in Gatlinburg. Charles Ogle on right; circa 1923 (public domain)

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.

the top of the gatlinburg space needle
In modern-day, Gatlinburg is home to several tourist attractions and next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

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.

Sources: tngenealogy.net.

Have a question or comment about something in this article? Contact our staff here. You may also contact our editorial team at info@thesmokies.com.

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62 thoughts on “The Ogles vs the Gatlins: The Odd Family Feud That Built Gatlinburg”

  1. I love learning new things. This name change needs to happen ONE more time and transition to Ogles Corners, Ogles Point, Ogles Place, Oglesville, Ogle City, Ogle’s Mountain(s), or whatever the OGLES deem appropriate!!!!
    And this story should be told loud and clear, and MANY times over.

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      • William “Billy” Ogle was my 6th Great-Grandfather. My dad was Verlis Ogle and I love hearing all the stories about my family.

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  2. My mother was an Ogle. Her father was Ora Erastus Ogle. If anyone has any information about him, I would love to know

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  3. Thank you for sharing. I absolutely loved learning this tidbit of information, absolutely amazing!!!!
    But yes I think it’s a little late for change in the town name😂

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  4. My Father grew up in Gatlinburg,in the 1920’s and the story he and my Grandfather always told was that Gatlin was so disliked be all that they promised if he would leave town they would name it after him, and so he did.

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  5. I agree that evidently Gatlin was a scoundrel to begin with and why they named the town after him I’ll never know but changing the name now everybody knows Gatlinburg by that name and changing the name but only confuse people

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  6. No the name is great. It is recognized everywhere as the special place it is. Gatlin was progressive and did not want to exclude anyone from the church no matter their opinions. Sounds like he was wronged by people burning all his property. He had real reason to fear his life was in danger. The courts were unfair in not supporting his claim that he feared for his life.Sounds like they all ganged up on him and his wife (for past things he had done with roads and property) when no one was paying attention. Sounds like the same stuff that is currently happening. This is all very interesting. He did have the first post office that put our town on the map & a general store. I had read other places he was pretty progressive. That is good. Gatlinburg is a wonderful little town. I would not change the name. It represents progressive thinking According to other things I have read. Besides the Ogle name is everywhere you turn.

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  7. The part about the town being named after him because of the post office in his general store makes a lot of sense. Back then, early settlements were named after railroad posts and post offices. So it makes sense that the name Gatlinburg stuck due to the post office being in his store and therefore named after him. Awesome story and some great history about the town I love.

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  8. I never knew that’s how Gatlinburg got it’s name! That’s a pretty interesting article. I enjoyed reading it very much. I wouldn’t change the Gatlinburg name. It would just be strange to have to call it anything else. People have gotten together and want to call the Tri-Cities area the Appalachian Highlands and I don’t get it. It’ll always be the Tri-Cities in my book. Most people wouldn’t know what you were talking about if you called it the Appalachian Highlands. There are all kinds of highlands in Appalachia! That name could refer to a lot of places. Gatlinburg will always be Gatlinburg.

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  9. Rename it Partonville, after all Dolly has helped Gatlinburg more than anyone. Dolly helped many families after the fire ravaged the town. What better way to honor her.

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  10. Tim Ogle has heard the same story I did. Many years ago, when I was in junior high, we were required to write our autobiographies. One of my classmates was a Gatlin. She wrote that Gatlinburg was named after her ???-grandfather because it was agreed the town would be named after him if he left. He did and they did, according to her very interesting story.

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  11. Ogles, Whaley’s, Maples, Reagans & McCarters founded the areas. 5 families. Ogles & Whaleys property owners. Maples built lodging like Maples Inn, Reagans were restaurants, hardware and supplies, McCarters were lumber and transportation like horses (McCarter’s Stable). Apparently they dislikes Gatlinnso bad they asked him what it would take to get him to leave. Said you name the damn town after me, I’ll leave. They did thinking to just get rid of him, but the name stuck with visitors, so they couldn’t go back to White Oak Flats. Basking Creek used to be Bear Skinners Creek where bears were brought to process the hides and meat for sale. Fast talking Northerners when saying Bear Skinners Creek, it sounded like Baskins Creek and that stuck.

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  12. The name Gatlinburg can’t be changed. I mean Johnny cashes song, “a boy named sue wouldn’t ever be right! 🤣

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  13. Seems to me that pushy big mouths usually get more credit than they are due. Nasty should not be rewarded. Ogleberg it will be in my mind.

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  14. I agree with Tim Ogle. I grew up there and I am originally a Whaley. The story taught at Pi Beta Phi was that the unpopular Gatlin was promised the town would be named after him if he would leave town.

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  15. I have never heard these details before. I heard he was a slave owner, etc. Having read this, it’s a wonder he wasn’t strung up.

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  16. I always heard that he was a disliked individual and if he would agree to leave the town they would name it after him…

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    • I’m pretty sure Maples were more in Sevierville till the 1830s. I have both Maples and Ogles in my family tree. 😉

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  17. This was a very interesting article, love the history of it. We love Gatlinburg and we knew the Ogles own a lot of business and property.

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  18. I am a 7th generation direct decendant of William Ogle. He’s my grandpa! I love our family history! And although it would be nice to go back to the name White Oak Flats, it would be confusing to people who know the town as Gatlinburg!

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  19. As an East Tennessean, a name like Oglesburg would seem excessive in this me too culture. Leave it alone

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  20. My Grandfather (Forrest David Ogle) was a grandson to Thomas Ogle. He told me the same story as the one published but with a whole lot of extra explicatives. He grew up in the Gatlinburg area until 1929 when the whole country was hurting and he left and went to find work on the railroad.

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  21. Adding to the namesake story. I too was a Pi Beta Phi student with the understanding that Gatlin was an unliked slave owner who was asked to leave town and did so with the stipulation of the town that the town be named after him .

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  22. Am I the onky one whi sees that the ogles burning his livestock could potentially mean they were not entirely good people?

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  23. OK I have seen Hatfield and McCoys several times and I’m ready for a Gatlin and Ogle. This story would make a wonderful play for a local theater as well as enlightening visitors on some local history. Thank you for this article.

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  24. Interesting read, but it doesn’t line up exactly with other stories that I have read about how the Gatlinburg name came about. Both stories panned Mr. Gatlin as not well liked but the other story I read, claimed that the people of the area wanted him gone so he agreed to leave if they would name the area after him, hence the name Gatlinburg.

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  25. My husband and I have been going to Gatlinburg since 1966! Miss the Mom and Pop restaurants and the shops that were once there but we return at least once a year!

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  26. My deceased husband is a ogle and I live going down there every chance I get he would of love to hear about this ,I know I do

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  27. I’m a Trentham my side of the Trentham’s own the Sugarland went the visit station is there was the Trentham grease mill The Trentham riding stables and graveyard are still there Great Gr8 paw Trentham was the postmaster of WhiteOak Flat . Great uncle Levi’s Trentham was one of the settler of Elkmont the house there is being redone. Gladys Russel Trentham has a lot of good reading about the area.

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  28. Don’t change history leave gatlinburgS name alone it was obviously ment to be it just wouldn’t be the same.

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  29. Please keep the name. I have so many memories there. My wife and I spent many winter nights every year up on Mount Harrison in chalets my the fire gazing out over those beautiful mountains. If Gatlinburg’s name was changed it would spoil my memories.

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  30. I enjoyed reading all the different familys and what they went through back in those days.I would like to read more. Thanks

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  31. Not Many Ownby’s in the Mountains any more. My Family were from Virginia then moved to the area of wears valley elkmont . Though my direct kin are from North Georgia. Interesting story..

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  32. My family I frequently come down and spend time in Gatlinburg. We never knew the story behind this u til I read this article. Very interesting. Is there a book you can buy and read about it in depth? Like the Walker sisters??

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  33. I have been visiting Gatlinburg for 50 year and did not know this. Love learning this type of information about my favorite place!

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  34. I lived outside Gatlunburg for many years. I love it thete. And I miss it so much. I loved the story. I would hate it if the name was changed. I do miss all the little mom and pop cafes and shops. I still visit and spend as much time as I can there. I don’t shop as much now that those little places are gone. I try to buy as local as I can. That area use to be a crafters paradise. I wish the town would bring back that crafters area. I will support the locals. We use to shop at Battles grocery store. I knew a couple of Ogles who worked there. No, even though Gatlin was a scoundrel, when I here the name Gatlinburg, it has a very big warm place in my heart

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  35. My husband and I just passed through Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge for the very first time last week. It is a beautiful place no matter it’s name. Several others had the same idea, as traffic was dense, but do they know the history? We went to the Lodge cast iron outlet and to Ole Smoky distillery. Awesome! Our next trip will be Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge. So much to see and do there. A rich history needs telling. Back in those days, God was forefront, land was worth more than gold and you’re name was just as important. Hence the reason Mr. Gatlin wanted to leave his mark. It worked! I think the two families could tell their own sides and make a documentary together. I love history and knew nothing until I saw this. Now, I need to know more….

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  36. This was a good read. My Ogles clan hails from the Manchester TN area, having been there forever and a day. Trying to change history has become a real problem in today’s time. I say leave the name Gatlinburg.

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  37. It seems to me that with the history of Fussin & Feudin between the Ogles and the Gatlins there should be a Dinner Show locally named after them instead of families from WV and Kentucky??
    Just Sayin 🤪👍🏻

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  38. Ogles, Regans, Huskeys and McCarters, OH MY!!! There were MANY better people that could’ve had our favorite Recreation Village named after them. I’mma leave the rest unsaid. Gatlinburg it is and forever shall be. Ain’t gonna keep me away!

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  39. WOW! Who knew and who really knows the truth?
    I grew up hearing the area referred to as The Smokies. Pops would say we’re going to the Smokies for this or that.
    The first time I heard the name GATLINBURG was in the announcement of a Gaither Family Event. Still, the Smokies come mind. I will live with that. I do regret such ugliness clouds that beautiful friendly town.

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  40. Copies of this article could be laminated and placed at various businesses around town (with a petition right beside it) to change the town name to include Ogle. Ogleburg, Ogleville, Ogletown, or whatever the family would prefer.

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  41. William and Martha were my 4th great grandparents and I don’t think I’ve heard about this before thank you for some family history

    Reply

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