Cataloochee: a story worth telling

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Sep 02, 2013
Photo by: Shelby Harrell The first viewing of the Cataloochee documentary by Katherine Bartel was held last Tuesday. A final viewing of the completed film will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 in the sanctuary of Hazelwood Presbyterian Church.

On Aug. 27, the lights at Hazelwood Presbyterian Church were flipped off and a documentary was switched on, taking dozens of residents back to the year 1928 —when Cataloochee natives received some life-changing news.

The new documentary, directed by Katherine Bartel, tells the story of the Cataloochee natives who gave up their land for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A viewing of the film was held last week for friends and family of those involved.

“The historical society was looking for someone to tell the Cataloochee story,” Bartel said. “When they were working on historical interviews, they thought that they Cataloochee story should be preserved in a film. I love doing documentaries, and this was a story I wanted to tell.”

When the Cataloochee residents went to church one Sunday morning, the preacher announced that there was going to be a national park where they were living. The land that had been settled by their grandparents would no longer be theirs. The Cataloochee congregation left in tears that day.

“I went home from school every day and everyone was always happy and talking, but this particular day the porch was full of people,” Hattie Caldwell Davis described in the film. “Women were crying, and babies — I was six, so I cried too. I tried to ask my daddy what was wrong, and he couldn’t talk either.”

The Scot-Irish settlers who arrived in Cataloochee formed a special community with hard-working, close-knit families. To be the last to hear about the park movement, they were the most affected by it. The park service offered them a choice: to stay until the current generation was gone as tenants on the land, or sell at the value appraised by the government.

“My dad was bitter as long as he lived,” Cataloochee settler Raymond Caldwell said in the film.

Selling was heartbreaking, and the price was hard to accept. During the Depression of the 1930s, Cataloochee residents had to sell and find other land to farm. Worse than the financial loss, however, was the scattering of the community. Friends who were used to being together daily had to live many miles away from each other.

“Maybe they didn’t pay them as much as they wanted, but they paid them,” Paul Woody, a Cataloochee settler, said in the film. “I think it was a favor because we could never have sold it.”

Lillian Hannah-Stokes, a Cataloochee descendent who was interviewed in the documentary, said she was pleased after watching the first edition of film.

“I thought she did a really good job of presenting the history as well as the feelings of the local people,” Stokes said. “I know a lot of people are still bitter, but I think they do understand that (without the park preservation), now if they went back there, it wouldn’t be there.”

Still in the works

The film, which has been in the works for about three years, is still in the editing process. Bartel said she plans to shorten and continue editing the film before it’s complete. A second viewing for friends and family only will be held Sept. 14 at Hazelwood Presbyterian Church.

While working with the Cataloochee Council of the Haywood County Historical and Genealogical Society and the Motion Picture and Television Production Program at Western Carolina University, Bartel’s documentary begins with the original stewards of the land, the Cherokee, and includes the founding of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Harley Caldwell, the brother of Raymond Caldwell and president of the Cataloochee Council, said the documentary was long overdue.

“It should have been done 20 or 30 years ago,” he said about the film. “This tells the history for the younger generation.”

The Cataloochee Council will make DVD’s available to all Cataloochee settlers free of charge. For others, DVD’s will be on sale by the Historical Society. A special premiere will be scheduled for the fall here in Haywood County.

Bartel said the film continues to improve. In addition to seeking copyright permissions, Bartel said she currently was planning to bring Cataloochee musicians in the studio to record a live soundtrack for the film.

For more information, email Bartel at To see a trailer for the film, visit the Kickstarter page at:

“I think the film has a universal message about the way we relate to land,” Bartel said. “As Curtis Wood said in the film, ‘We only hold it for a time.’”