20 Mar 2020
The Walker Sisters, Margaret, Polly, Martha, Nancy, Louisa and Hettie, lived in what is now the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and continued to live there even after the park was established. The six sisters were never married and lived on the land that their father, John Walker, gave to them. Part of a family of thirteen, six of the seven women never married and stayed on the farm, and all four men married or moved away.
The Walker family lived on the property for a total of 98 years. Purchased by John Walker and expanded by his family, the farm eventually came to consist of 122 acres. There, the family developed. Some moved away. Some were married. But, after the death of their father, the farm was given to the remaining five sisters.
Here, they continued doing all of the work of the farm, getting everything they needed from the land. They grew food, raised livestock, and were completely self-sufficient on their farm. Everything they needed came from the land, and they were reliant on the ways of their father and grandfather, not using any newer technology that would have made their lives easier.
Living an independent life for such a long time, many had forgotten about them, and their land remained a microcosm of simple life until the establishment of the national park in 1940 by President Roosevelt. All of the sisters were paid and allowed to stay on their family property. However, with the establishment of the park, many practices they used to sustain themselves, such as hunting and fishing, were disallowed, making the sisters have to change their ways of sustaining themselves.
Shifting to tourism, the sisters sold crafts, food, and poems to those who came and visited them on their homestead in the park. Louisa, the poetess of the family, expressed many concerns about this shift, writing in one of her poems:
“…I tell you the truth.
For years it sheltered
By day and night
From the summer’s heat
And the cold winder blight.
But now the park commissioner
Comes all dressed up so gay
Saying this old house of yours
We must now take away…”
The Walker Sisters were all that was left of a culture that was considered a relic even in their time. Their unique way of life continues to show how people lived and worked in the Smoky Mountains over a hundred years ago.
Now, what’s left of their property, their cabin, corn crib, and springhouse, are on the National Register of Historic Places and are an attraction to all who come through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.