Gatlinburg. It really should be Ogleburg. Or Oglesville. Maybe Oglestown.
I mean, at the least, White Oak Flats.
The name “Gatlinburg” shouldn’t have even made the top five.
The town that became Gatlinburg was first settled by a South Carolinian named William Ogle in 1802.
Ogle found his “Land of Paradise”, started a homestead and went back to South Carolina to collect his wife and seven children.
He died before the family could move, but his wife, Martha Jane, her brother Peter Huskey and the Ogle children came to the mountains and fulfilled his vision.
After the War of 1812, many veterans and their families came to the area – providing the now grown or growing Ogle children the ability to put some branches on the family tree.
The area, which became known as White Oak Flats for the abundance of trees, was rife with Ogles. Ogles here, Ogles there.
Ogle, Ogle, everywhere an Ogle.
Who was Radford Gatlin?
It was into this Ogle-rich environment a man named Radford Gatlin brought his wife Elizabeth in 1854.
Gatlin was an interesting man. The well-educated Georgia native was a jack of many trades, renowned for beautiful penmanship and grammar.
He was a real estate speculator. A politician, a teacher, a militia captain, a minister and a merchant.
And he was, apparently, not an entirely popular man.
Gatlin first made his mark in Tennessee in Jefferson County, where he was living by 1825 at the age of 27-ish. By 1838, he’d amassed about 220 acres 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 – though 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 was quickly ordained a full minister.
Then Gatlin was kicked out of his Sevier County 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, and 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 would 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.
How did Gatlinburg get its name?
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 within.
There’s no record of how, but with the post office in his store, the name of the town officially changed from White Oak Flats to Gatlinburg.
The feud between Gatlin and the Ogles
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.
The Gatlins and Ogles get into a fight
Tensions were simmering 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 in the fight 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’s barns and stables are burned down
Shortly after the fight, Gatlin’s barns and stables were burned down with grain and horses inside.
His cattle were killed in the woods. 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 and brother and others claiming he was afraid they were plotting to burn down his house, kill 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 wasn’t 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.
And then Gatlin left Gatlinburg
It’s unclear exactly when Gatlin left Gatlinburg.
He returned for a while to Jefferson County where 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 claimed the man killed three with a dagger. An account published by an Atlanta newspaper quickly became distributed as war-time propaganda.
When federal troops occupied Jefferson County in 1863, Gatlin and his wife went to Georgia and eventually South Carolina where they lived out their days.
So now we have Gatlinburg, named after an ill-liked man who assaulted the Ogles and only lived in the town less than a decade. You reckon it’s too late to change it?
Did you know the story behind the feud between the Gatlins and the Ogles? Let us know in the comments.