In late 1983, the Governor of the Great State of Tennessee came to Cades Cove to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Residents of Blount County, of Tennessee, of other states and perhaps of other countries came along. A horde of media representatives came also. The Governor’s car stopped just east of Hyatt Lane to offer privileged transportation to the sole native son still residing in Cades Cove, the “crown jewel of the Smokies”. The Governor left disappointed, with the same vacant seat at his side. Kermit Caughron watched his departure, turned to his wife of forty one years, the former Lois Shuler, and sighed, “Why celebrate”?
Kermit Caughron knew Cades Cove. He was born there on May 5, 1912. Except for four years, he lived his life there. He was educated there. He learned to play there. He learned to work there. He met his God there. He learned his heritage there. He learned to respect nature and the environment there. He learned to love there. In 1933, he learned to cry there. His Cades Cove changed forever.
To millions of visitors of the GSMNP, Kermit Caughron was “Mr. Cades Cove” or “the Bee Man”. Few appreciated that he represented the fifth descendant generation from the pioneers of Cades Cove, John and Lurany Oliver and Robert and Margaret Shields. Few appreciated that he represented the transition from survival with the Native Americans to survival with the tourists and federal regulations. Few recognized that his love for the Cove was far greater than the promise of a “normal” life replete with “modern conveniences”. Few appreciated that routine trips were made to surrounding communities to give the best of each year’s honey to former neighbors. Few appreciated his intelligence, savvy with the stock market and wit. Fewer still appreciated the loyalty and sacrifices of his wife and family who “stood by his side”!
Kermit and a family member were “working the bees” near sunset. A very interested visitor stopped his car and leaned against the split rail fence, gesturing for attention. The family member elected to approach the visitor and inquire of his need. When the family member returned, Kermit asked “What’d he want?” “Wanted to take your picture” was the response. Eventually, after the immediate task was completed, Kermit ambled across the field. Presently he returned to help “work up the honey”. The visitor remained at the fence. Kermit turned to the family member and said “Whistle at that guy”. After whistling, the family member observed the visitor departing and asked “What was that for?”. Kermit replied, “That feller is crazy! He wanted to know how we got the bees to come home at night!”
Kermit permanently moved from the Cove on April 5, 1999. “Mr. Cades Cove” was laid to rest in his familiar bib overalls. A significant chapter of the “Cades Cove Story” ended then. His spirit, like that of the Olivers and the Shields remains to watch over his beloved Cove. Along with Russell Gregory and Henry Shields, Kermit Caughron has joined the “Home Guard”.
In February 2002, family members labored with the Cades Cove Preservation Association to DISMANTLEand remove the former Cades Cove residence of Kermit Caughron. “Why celebrate”?
We would like to thank Mike Clemmer, renowned dulcimer maker and owner of the Wood ‘N Strings dulcimer shop in Townsend, who constructed a dulcimer using some of the wood from the Kermit and Lois Caughron house.
Many thanks to all who showed an intrest and conrgatulations to the winner.
The Caughrons were the last family that lived in Cades Cove. Kermit, my Dad, passed away in 1999.
Mike made the dulcimer and gave it to the Cades Cove Preservation Association to use for fundraising. The mission of the CCPA is to preserve and protect the cemeteries, churches, old pictures, stories, and culture of Cades Cove and its residents.