For years before this valley known as Cataloochee Valley was homesteaded. The people from Western North Carolina used it for hunting, fishing, and allowing their cattle to graze in its lush fields. The Cherokee Indians hunted buffalo and elk in the valley for food and clothing. The Indians there also hindered some people from coming into this area for fear of being attacked.
In 1814 a gentleman named Henry Colwell claimed 100 acres for his own, but it wasn't until sometime around 1835-1836 that Mr. Colwell's son James, his grandson Levi, and Young Bennett came in and began clearing Henry's 100 acres and building cabins to set up permanent residence. In 1837 the Colwell and Bennett families became residents of Big Cataloochee. Soon after that more families began to move into the area. The Palmers, who eventually owned 750 acres, the Hannah's, and the Cooks, just to name a few. They farmed the rich fertile soil, created orchids, raised livestock, sent their children to a one-room school house that only went up to grade 7. They believed and trusted in a higher power and lived rewarding lives.
But as the population grew, so did the need for a better way to travel. So, there was a toll road built from Cove Creek to Cataloochee. The toll road was not much more than a trail carved out through the rough terrain, just big enough to ride your horse on. When the settlers traveled this road, they were charged a fee for one man and one horse. If they had anything else with them such as a pack mule, cattle, or hogs they had to pay extra for each animal. Before long the need for a better road was realized, and in 1856 work began on the Cataloochee Turnpike, which was completed in 1861. Then in 1920 they modernized the turnpike to accommodate wagons.
During that same year (1920) there were two things that began to threaten the people of Cataloochee: influenza and lumber companies.
Many people became ill with influenza. Some were lucky enough to recuperate and others were not. Those that did not, many of which were small children and young adults, can be found in the historic cemeteries dotting the country side of the valley.
Then there were the lumber companies. Once travel into the area became easier the lumber companies looked at the beautiful timber and saw profits. They bought up land covered in lush timber, built camps, railroads and began stripping the country side of trees and creating a wasteland.
In the early 1930’s the U.S. Government purchased the valley from the residents and turned it into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many believe that if it were not for the government taking over the valley all the forests would have been destroyed by the loggers. Most of the people took their checks from the government, packed up, and left with heavy hearts and tear filled eyes. Others however decided to fight; they sued the government, and got a slightly higher price for their land; but still packed up and left the valley. Some homesteads were burned to the ground, others were left to simply return to the earth, and some were moved to other areas of the park. There are some buildings that have been preserved as historical sites and still stand today. These can be viewed and appreciated by visitors. The barren land that was created by loggers has now turned back into lush forests; the crop fields have turned into grass lands, and the streams flow freely through the valley.