Archived Mountain Voices

Bryson City and the widow Cline

Bryson City and the widow Cline

Before the settlement named Charleston became the village named Bryson City in 1889, it was a tract of land known as Big Bear’s Reserve, which was itself located in the same general area as a Cherokee village that had been ravaged in 1761 by a British expeditionary force under the command of Col. James Grant.

Big Bear (Yonah) was a Cherokee leader who lived in the general area in which the present day U.S. Post Office is located. According to James Mooney, he “was among the signers of the treaties of 1798 and 1805, and by the treaty of 1819 was confirmed a reservation of 640 acres as one of those living within the ceded territory who were ‘believed to be persons of industry and capable of managing their property with discretion,’ and who had made considerable improvements on the tracts reserved.” The mile square tract apparently included most of the flat land on both sides of the river west of the mouth of Deep Creek; that is, the central portion of present Bryson City. Later on in that same year, Big Bear signed a deed for the land, giving it over to a white man named Darling Beck.  

In a 1959 Asheville Citizen-Times article titled “Indian Twice Sold Land That Is Now Bryson City” (subsequently republished, in part, in Lillian Thomasson’s 1964 history of Swain County), Karl Fleming wrote: “History has it that Beck, who evidently was no darling, plied Big Bear with giggle-water and got his signature on a deed which exchanged the land for a promise of $50. Big Bear claimed he never got the money and about a year later, on November 25, 1820, he deeded his 640-acres of land to John B. Love [perhaps the largest land speculator in the western part of the state during that era] in return for a wagon and a team of horses.” 

A legal hassle commenced that made its way to the state Supreme Court in 1834, when the lower court’s decision in Beck’s favor was initially upheld. Love, however, was nothing if not persistent when it came to acquisitioning land. In 1841 his title was ruled superior by the court. Thereby, as Fleming noted in the conclusion of his article, “Love, who … came into possession of the land for a wagon and a brace of mules, turned a tidy profit by selling the tract to John Shuler for $2,500.” 

Through various trades, Shuler added lands to the mile square Big Bear tract, which were subsequently owned by members of the Burns, Bryson, and Cline families before being deeded in1870 to the commissioners of the newly-formed Jackson County. When Swain County was formed the following year, it did so by meeting the state requirements of locating a site for the county seat and procuring the land by gift or purchase. Lots were drawn up and sold at auction. According to studies conducted by Elaine S. Beck that were published in the Heritage of Swain County (1988) the store owner in Bear Springs in whose establishment the procurement meeting was being held was a Mrs. Cline, a widow, who “offered to donate twenty-five acres of her land to become the county seat, reserving three town lots for herself. The majority of the Commissioners gratefully accepted this offer. The acceptance was marred only by the resignation of N.S. Jarrett, who was disgruntled by the selection of Mrs. Cline’s land for the new county seat. 

As a result of this agreement much of downtown Bryson City, including the town square, was acquired from Lucy Ann Raby Cline (1828-1888) widow of Alfred Cline. 

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The online site devoted to Mrs Cline noted that, “A deed was prepared on 07 July 1873 from Lucy Ann Cline to Frank Leech, Chairman of the Board of Commissioners for Swain County, for a portion of the tract known as the Big Bear Reservation for the purpose of locating the town of Charleston and on which to erect a courthouse, prison and other necessary public buildings for the use and benefit of said Swain County.”

The mile-square village that became Bryson City was situated within a vast enclosure of ridges, partly in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains on the north side of the Tuckaseigee River, and partly in the foothills of the Cowees on the south side of the river.

Lillian Thomasson noted that “a town square was laid out on the south side of the Tuckaseigee River with the main street paralleling the river and extending an equal distance east and west from the square. A cross street, intersecting the square, as did Main, extended across the river, which was spanned by a wooden bridge, as far as the local Presbyterian Church. This street was appropriately called Everett.” 

Epp Everett was Swain County’s first sheriff and one of the wealthiest and most influential figures during its early years. 

After the arrival of the railway in 1884, business activities increased on the north side of the river. 

And by the turn of the century — thanks, in part, to Mrs. Cline — the mile square Indian allotment had become a full-fledged village or town not so very different from what it is today. 

(George Ellison is a naturalist and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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