My Pioneer Aunt Safroni
By Mrs. Amanda Sue Kiser, Swain County
In 1837 a wagon train consisting of three or four families began their journey across the Smoky Mountains into North Carolina where they planned to settle in the fertile valleys of the Tuckasegee River
During the last of the warm fall days, the wagons were forced to halt near what is now known as Gatlinberg – then only a trail in the wilderness. My great aunt Safroni Huffman Jones had picked this time and place to be born. She was ushered into a word of hardship and danger. The covered wagon in which she was born was the only home she knew until she was a year old.
Before her mother was strong enough to resume the journey, heavy winter snow storms and freezing blizzards came covering the mountains they had to cross, making further progress impossible. It was a long hard winter. When spring came with warm rains melting the ice, the wagon train joyfully resumed its journey.
The group finally reached Caney Fork near Rich Mountain, where they cleared land and built cabins. Here great aunt Safroni and her brother Alias Huffman, who was my grandfather, spent their childhood. Their log cabin was miles away from a doctor or school with only a blueback speller for their education. There was always fear of Indian attacks and wild beasts.
Aunt Safroni was taught to card and spin, to weave cloth and to gather wild roots and herbs, which they dried and carried to market to buy the few necessities their humble life in the wilderness required.
In this wild country Safroni grew up, strong, happy and carefree. She met few people until she was seventeen. Then “a great hunter” by the name of Calvin Jones came along. They fell in love, eloped in a covered wagon and were married before her enraged father could overtake them. They pushed deep into the mountains. All they carried in the wagon were a few dishes, cooking vessels, several yards of hand woven cloth that her mother had taught her to make. This and 100 acres of timberland near Bald Mountain, which Calvin’s father had left him, summed up the total of their possessions.
It was a long hard journey as they were forced to stop many times to cut fallen logs and trees from the bath as it was only a hunter’s trail and about 75 miles from the nearest settlement. On the fifth day they camped beside a large clear stream and decided it was an ideal place to build their cabin home.
They lived in the covered wagon and cooked over an open fire until they could clear the timber, cut logs and build the cabin. With only an ax to work with (no saw, hammer or nails), the work was slow and hard.
Meanwhile they also had to clear enough land to plant corn for bread. They dug roots and herbs and dried them. They dried bear meat and venison and hauled it 75 miles to market. This was their means of earning money to supply their needs, flour, sugar, coffee, salt and thread to make the cloth into clothing.
Winter came before the cabin was finished. They had to move in before the floor was laid as the board had to be chopped from logs and it was slow work. Auntie said it was her happiest day when she could walk across the house without falling through. She then felt like she had a home.
She made this wilderness her home for 25 years, which seemed like heaven to her. All of her children were born there. She carded and spun the weave cloth for clothes for them all. She even made uncle’s suits. She would plow an oxen and tend the crops when uncle had to go to market.
Other settlers began to move in and they built a small combination church and schoolhouse. But as the children grew older, they began to long for the outside world, better homes and better schools, so they moved down to the settlement, Caney Fork, to a more modern life.
As time changed, the children had families of their own and Aunt Safroni grew old and feeble. Time had changed for her also. She was 99 years old as she related this story to me. She lived to reach 101 years.
As she sat in her big arm chair with warming pads, electric lights, radio, telephone and an automobile that could take her places in a few hours that would have taken weeks in her earlier years. She had the world at her fingertips, push a button and like a magic carpet, her every wish was granted.
As she listened to her children complain about how hard it was trying to stretch a dollar to meet the budget, she would laugh and say “Now, if you had lived back in my covered wagon days, you would have thought it a fairy tale if anyone had told you about all this push button magic.”
As I look back it seems like a dream. She would take up her corn cob pipe and say, “You girls can have your cigarettes, my old pipe brings back memories of the good old covered wagon days.”
"My Pioneer Aunt Safroni" was published in I Remember When in 1978. This collection of reminisciences was collected and published by The North Carolina Extension Homemakers Association, Inc., all rights reserved.