The Ogles vs. the Gatlins: The family feud that built Gatlinburg

Ogles vs Gatlins

Gatlinburg was built on a rich and interesting history (photo composition/coloration by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com with sources from stock and public domain)

Category: ,
40 Comments

Disclosure: This site is sponsored by ads and affiliate programs. We may earn money from the companies mentioned in this post. As an Amazon, Tripster and CJ Affiliate we may earn from qualifying purchases.

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.

Randolf and Elizabeth Gatlin with their horses (public domain)

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.

Sources: tngenealogy.net. Click here to view the web story version of this article.

Disclaimer: While we do our best to bring you the most up-to-date information, attractions or prices mentioned in this article may vary by season and are subject to change. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any mentioned business, and have not been reviewed or endorsed these entities. Contact us at info@thesmokies.com for questions or comments.

Previous

Clingmans Dome controversy, the tower that weathered a media storm

What happened to the Lost State of Franklin?

Next

40 thoughts on “The Ogles vs. the Gatlins: The 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.

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

  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😂

  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.

  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

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

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

  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.

  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.

  15. I think the name should be changed to recognized the Ogle area true area and History.

  16. 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.

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

  18. When did the Maples come into the picture? I thought they were founding members of Gatlunburg.

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

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

  22. 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.

  23. 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 .

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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!

  28. 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

  29. 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.

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

  31. 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.

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

  33. 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..

  34. Don’t be ridiculous!!! It has been Gatlinburg all this time. What difference does it make?

Leave a Comment