How Smoky Mountains Locals Traditionally Celebrate Thanksgiving

by Craig Garrett
Scenes from Maggie Valley, North Carolina and Great Smoky Mountains National Park - stock photo

Recently, a volunteer of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park looked back on how mountain residents first celebrated Thanksgiving. For over 50 years, Robin Goddard has been giving her time to the park. She explained how centuries ago, the mountain people used to celebrate the winter season and holidays. Even though their version of Thanksgiving in 2022 wasn’t comparable to the traditional holiday celebrations we have now, she said that the atmosphere at these events was similar.

The Walker Sisters Place was a homestead located in the Great Smoky Mountains of Sevier County, Tennessee. The farm belonged to the Walker Sisters— five spinster sisters who became local legends for upholding traditional ways of living. Today, only the cabin, springhouse, and corn crib remain standing.

“The Walker sisters, most people born and raised here know who they are but they were very instrumental in things that I’ve done in the past, and I spend a lot of time with them.” So harvest time, was of course in the fall, and everybody was getting ready for the holiday seasons,” Goddard told WATE.

“The Walker sisters had many apple orchards. And the harvest time and Thanksgiving were to thank God for giving them the harvest. And so apples were very important.”

Harvest staples like apples and pumpkins were vital to the early settlers of the Smoky Mountains

While apples were a staple, pumpkins were an early favorite as well. However, the Walkers developed a taste for the gourd in an odd way. “Their dad fought in the Civil War and was captured and put in Andersonville prison,” Goddard explained. “And a farmer who lived outside of the camp, felt sorry for the prisoners and threw pieces of pumpkin over the fence. So that the prisoners would stay alive.”

“They used to tell me all the time, we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for pumpkins. And the reason was, they wouldn’t have been born, their dad stayed alive and returned and married their mom and they spent a lot of time making sure that their pumpkin mounds are very beautiful.”

Goddard explained that pumpkins are still grown in the Walker family. “There’s a great nephew who makes wonderful pumpkin mounds today,” she said.