A trail crosses a small footbridge across Tiger Creek and winds its way up to a small, secluded hilltop graveyard, a fitting resting place for Tiger Whitehead and his wife, Sallie. Tiger was an east Tennessee legend -- Tiger Creek and Tiger Valley were named for him. The inscription on his tombstone reads, "The noted hunter - James T. Whitehead - Born 1819 (Killed 99 Bears) - Died Sept. 25, 1905. We hope he has gone to rest."
As the story goes, this bear hunter was named Tiger after a traveling circus lost a tiger and commisioned him to hunt it down. In just a few short days, he brought it back from the thick woods alive. Tiger was almost killed once when he only wounded his target and the black bear charged him. Not having time to reload, Tiger shoved the butt of his gun into the bear's mouth and then reached for his knife and killed it. It's also said that when he was near death, his friends trapped a bear and brought it to him, trying to help him reach the 100 mark. But Tiger said, "No! If it's not free and running wild, I can't kill it."
Next to Tiger's grave, lies his wife, Sallie Garland Whitehead. She was just as much a character as her husband. Her tombstone tells her story: "Sallie Garland - Wife of James Chambers and James T. Whitehead - Age 97 years - She was not only a mother to the human race, but to all animal kind as she gave nurse to one fawn and two cubs. She is now resting from her labor." Interesting that there were numerous pennies left by visitors on her grave. While her gravestone does not indicate her dates, her great-great-grandson emailed to tell me she was born in 1803 and died in 1900.
In the early 1970's Johnny Cash played a concert in Jonesborough, TN -- the next day, his friend Dr. Nat Winston took him to see Grandfather Mountain in NC. On the way, he stopped off to show Johnny the graves of these local legends and to tell him their story. Johnny wrote the song which he included on a 1975 children's album. He actually tells the story of their visit to the grave on the album "Personal File" which was released after his death.
Click here and here to read more about Tiger and Sallie;
Click here to read the lyrics to Johnny's Song; and finally,
Click here to see a wonderful painting inspired by Cash's song.