Friday, May 15, 2009

Tiger and Sallie Whitehead

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.

11 comments:

  1. I have been there! It was one of the best days ever. Appalachian folklore class, good friends, a high ridge with dogwoods in bloom...

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  2. This was a very interesting and informative post Mark, I enjoyed it! Thanks!

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  3. Do you know if it's OK to be on this private property? I like to be adventurous but don't want to get in trouble with anyone.

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  4. Since it is private property, it is important to get permission from the cemetery owner before visiting the cemetery. I had spoken to a neighboring landowner who pointed the way for me, but before I post the directions, I will try to find out who the owner is and see if they would allow visits. I agree with you that it's best that we be respectful and ask permission first. Thanks very much for your note.

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  5. Beth Reine-HollowayOctober 28, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    I lived in Roan Mountain, TN all my childhood years. It's a beautiful place to explore and camp and see the great outdoors. Everyone is so nice and pleasant. I can't wait until I can move back and retire!!

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  6. After my friend Johnny Cash passed away I listened to his Personal File recordings, learning the lyrics to Tiger Whitehead and wondering on visiting there one day and about the story he retold in his own unique way. For me a visit would be in part about experiencing what John did when he took that now famous walk with Dr. Nat Winston over Grandfather Mountain and part about the life and times of James T and his wife Sallie.

    The words of John's song co written with Nat are:

    Wild blackberries bloomin' in the thickest on the mountain
    Sheep shire and water cress are growin' round the fountain
    Where a big black bear is drinkin' lappin' water like a dog
    Tiger Whitehead's in the bed sleepin' like a log
    Tomorrow he'll see bear tracks seven intches wide
    And by sundown he'll be bringin' in the hide

    Pretty Sally Garland comin' down the mountain side
    Where Tiger Whitehead's tryin' to nap a mill at the mill
    She sits down on a bearskin and she says you'll be my man
    I'll have me the best bearhunter in the hills
    A wild child was Tiger Whitehead and they say he killed
    Ninety-nine bears before he went to rest went to rest
    Once he left two bearcubs orphaned but he brought 'em right on home
    And Sally nursed the two bearcubs upon her breast

    Tiger now is eighty-five and he lay upon his bed
    And the bears he killed now numbered ninety-nine ninety-nine
    Some fellers trapped the bears but Tiger said just let him go
    If he ain't running wild he won't be mine
    But at night when the wind howls cross eastern hills of Tennessee
    And when the lightnin' flashes there's the strange thing that the people say they see
    An old grey headed ghost runnin' through the mountains there
    It's Tiger Whitehead after his one hundreth bear
    Wild blackberries bloomin' in the thickest on the mountain
    Sheep shire and water cress are growin' round the fountain
    Where a big black bear is drinkin' lappin' water like a dog
    Tiger Whitehead's in the bed sleepin' like a log
    Tomorrow he'll see bear tracks seven intches wide
    And by sundown he'll be bringin' in the hide

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  7. Does any one have a picture of James tiger whitehead because my grand mother is also an whitehead her name is bell whitehead my mother wants to find out who her grand father was because tiger whitehead had four brothers names Thomas,david , Carter, John I have a picture of them and my grand mother looks a lot like John but I really don't know if some one could help me that would be great my mothers name was Mary hill before she got married if some has the answers to my question you can reach me at rose mundy 118 penny lane sterling va 20164 thanks

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    Replies
    1. My mother is also a Whitehead. James' father is my GGGG-Grandfather. He actually has 5 brothers. I have a picture of Tiger. You can email me if for more info. I would love to trade family history and keep in touch with the Whitehead line.

      Sarah

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    2. James "Tiger" Whitehead is my GGGG-Uncle. I have a photo of him. I would like to get in touch with the Whitehead line.

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    3. tiger whitehead was also my husbands 5th great grandfather on his fathers side and our last name is Lowe we also have pictures of some of the other whiteheads that his father had remembered knowing

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