ARLEDGE FOLKLORE from Western North Carolina

Note from Pam Wilson: This story from ON THE BANKS OF THE OKLAWAHA (Vol. 2) by Frank L. FitzSimmons (Golden Glow Publishing, Hendersonville, NC, 1977, pp. 100-103) tells about the Green River Cove, where the ARLEDGE family settled in the early 1800s, having come from Fairfield County, SC. Along the river, there is a stone with an imprint that looks very much like a very large footprint, and it was long ago given the name the "Devil's Footprint." In the 1980s, after reading this story and getting directions from my local cousins, I was able to find this interesting landmark (however, I hiked the long away around from the bridge rather than plunging into the river and swimming across, as Mr. FitzSimmons did in this account)! I have made many trips to the Green River Cove, and found old cemetaries up on the ridges, though I have yet to have found Amos' famous gold.

Thanks to Sandy Levi Parker for transcribing this story by Frank FitzSimmons.


A Trip to the Foot Print

Over the years I had made several exploring trips through Green River Cove in an attempt to locate the Devil’s Foot Print on the banks of the river. I finally found it with the help of my friend, Keith Arledge, who was born and raised on the Howard Gap Road near Saluda in Polk County.

At the time we made the trip together to Green River Cove, he was living in Hendersonville and was district manager of the Duke Power Company. Since time immemorial, people of Henderson and Polk counties have kidded each other. It is a standard saying among Henderson County people that no one ever admits to having been born in Polk County. Recently a group of civic leaders, among whom was Keith Arledge, met in the Henderson County Commissioners office in the Court House. Bill Dalton was chairman of the Board of Commissioners at that time. Someone in the group asked Mr. Arledge where he was born. He answered, "In Polk County." Mr. Dalton asked him again where he was born and Mr. Arledge again said, “I was born in Polk County.” Dalton said, “I heard you the first time but just wanted to hear you admit it twice. You are the first person I have ever heard admit that he was from Polk County.”

[NOTE FROM Pam Wilson: Many details of this account of the family history are not correct, as far as we now know] The Arledge family is of Scotch-Irish origin and came to America from Scotland as so many of our pioneer settlers did. There were three Arledge brothers that came and one of them, Amos Arledge, received a grant of land from the State of North Carolina which included all the land in what is today known as Green River Cove in Polk County. This was not long after the Revolutionary War. Amos Arledge became a man of wealth and prominence for his day. In a period when few mountain men owned slaves, the records show that at one time he owned 80.

Levi Arledge [PW: grandson of Amos] also became a land owner in Green River Cove and John B. Arledge [PW: son of Levi] was famous in the days now gone as one of the early Baptist preachers of the area. He served at one time as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and of Silver Creek Baptist Church. These were two of the first Baptist churches in Polk County and they are still active. So eloquent was the Rev. John B. Arledge that records show that people would walk for miles to hear him preach. All of these men are ancestors of Keith Arledge. A brother, Thurston Arledge, is a Representative of Polk County in the State Legislature. With this background it is easy to understand why I asked Keith Arledge to help me find the Devil’s Footprint after I had made several unsuccessful tries to do so.

It was a warm, clear, spring day when we took Highway 176 from Hendersonville through Saluda to the home of Keith’s uncle John Spurgeon Arledge who is a retired employee of Duke Power Company. These two know Green River Cove like a book. A visit to the Cove in the springtime is a thing to be remembered but it is a drive to take slowly and carefully because the road into the Cove makes 22 sharp, hairpin curves down the side of the mountain in a distance of only two or three miles.

Green River rises in the extreme southwestern part of Henderson County where Henderson and Transylvania counties join. The river flows in a northeasterly direction across the entire southern length of our county. Lake Summitt was created by throwing a dam across Green River. In the flat valleys it is at times a smooth, slowly flowing stream that takes its name from the green reflection of its water. In other places, such as Pot Shoals, it is a dashing, foaming stream, and when it passes through what is called Green River Narrows it is a raging torrent. Then as it passes over Fish Top Falls and enters the cove, it becomes once again a comparatively quiet river.

Green River Cove, in generations past, was one of the most fertile and productive agricultural areas in Western North Carolina. Hemmed in by mountains on all sides that kept out the cold winds from the north, spring always came earlier in the cove than in surrounding areas. The first vegetables of the season always came from Green River Cove and it was the first area to produce truck crops on a commercial scale. At one time commercial cabbage growers of Henderson, Transylvania and Buncombe counties planted seed beds in the cove to produce early cabbage plants.

The flood of 1916 washed out or covered with sand and debris the best lands along the river. [See Volume I "The Fateful Years"]. The people began to move out and today the cove is largely growing up in timber, going back to nature. It is now a land of ghost houses, abandoned and vine-covered, the roofs falling in and in many places only a rock chimney standing stark and lonely to mark where once was a substantial, happy home. The waterfall, about a mile before Green River enters the cove, is called Fish Top Falls because that is as far as the fish can go upstream in the spring during the spawning season. It is from this waterfall that the post office, the older people remember, takes its name, Fish Top Post Office. In the days before Rural Free Delivery, the mail was taken either on foot, by horseback, ox cart, buggy or wagon from the old Blue Ridge Post Office to Dana and Upward and across the mountain to Decatur and Fish Top Post offices.

John Spurgeon Arledge, Keith Arledge and I entered Green River Cove below Fish Top Falls and drove down the road that winds along the river. We passed the old weather beaten Tom Pace place where Fish Top Post Office was located in a front room to serve the people of the cove before the 1916 flood. We passed the now-abandoned Jim Newman home and farm where Logan Newman was killed many years ago in a tragic accident while he was grinding cane to boil into sorghum molasses. We stopped to get Lewis Denton to go with us. Mr. Denton, tall and lank, a typical mountain man, has spent his entire life as a land surveyor in these mountains. Now retired, he lives in the cove because he enjoys the quiet, easy way of life. Mr. Denton lives in what is possibly the only modern house in the cove, at the foot of Chimney Top Mountain across from Raccoon Mountain. When we told Mr. Denton what we wanted he said he would be glad to go with us to the Devil’s Footprint, but he said, “Let me get my pistol first.” I asked him why he wanted his pistol. “To shoot rattlesnakes,” he said. “I wouldn’t walk anywhere in the cove at this time of the year without my gun."

We turned down a narrow road, that was scarcely more than a trail, that ended on the river bank. “We’ll have to wade the river here. The Devil’s track is on that big slab of rock yonder on the other side," he told us. At this point Green River is several hundred yards wide: shallow in some places; deep, swift and treacherous in others. The large boulders in the stream bed were slick and smooth and the sink-holes between boulders were neck deep. Taking off our clothes, the four of us plunged waist deep in the cold, rushing water; struggling against the current, half walking and half swimming; slipping on the slick river rocks. Keith Arledge, Spurgeon Arledge, Lewis Denton and I gradually made our way across the river. When we came out of the cold water we paused to catch our breath and to let the sun dry and warm us. There was no possibility of anyone being shocked by seeing four men standing on the river bank without clothes because we didn’t see a single person on our trip through the cove. Mr. Denton led us to the gray slab of rock and there in the middle of it was moulded a perfect footprint. The heel, instep and toes were perfectly outlined two inches deep in the rock. The footprint was the size of a man’s foot that would wear a number 15 or 16 shoe.

The four of us were looking at an imprint the Indians told the first settlers was made thousands of years ago when the supernatural monster, breathing fire and brimstone, came through Green River Cove. What really made the footprint and how did it come to be there? Who knows or will ever know? Our silent awe was broken by the dry, humorous drawl of Mr. Denton. "Boys,” he said, "The Devil didn’t make that track. That’s the footprint of the first Arledge who ever came to the cove and he made it when he hit this rock because the Devil was after him, trying to run him out of the cove."

We waded back to our clothes, dressed and drove through the cove while Spurgeon Arledge and Lewis Denton pointed out deserted and abandoned homes in the midst of timber where 75 years ago there were fertile productive fields. They pointed out Cochran’s Bottom, a small field that took its name from the owner who was bitten by a rattlesnake and died there. A doe deer ran down the road in front of our car for several hundred yards before plunging into the underbrush. We paused at the abandoned homestead of Levi Arledge where stands what is said to be the largest persimmon tree in America. We left the Cove at Silver Creek Baptist Church. Here is one of the oldest settlements in Polk County, dating back to about 1785. The church takes its name from Silver Creek nearby because it is said that the pioneers mined silver along the creek banks. At the church we turned back and retraced our way. Spurgeon Arledge pointed out the graves of Levi, Isaac and Mary Arledge, where the ancestors of Keith and Thurston Arledge peacefully sleep in solitude. Nearby was the chimney of the house where Amos Arledge, the first one in the cove, burned to death when he was a very old man, living by himself. And so ended our trip through Green River Cove where we found the Devil’s Footprint - in a land that once knew a slow, easy way of life; a land that is rapidly being reclaimed by nature.

[Postscript by PW: Today, in the 1990s, the Green River Cove is again being developed, and many modern homes line the road where only 10 or 15 years ago it was near wilderness. However, the Cove's mystique and natural beauty survive, as do old orchards and sites of 19th century homesteads.]

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