In Bill Hart’s longtime acquaintance with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – his book is called “3,000 Miles in the Great Smokies” – he encountered many storytellers. One day, returning from a fishing trip on Eagle Creek, he and his friend Bob Foxx met Alvin Jenkins, a marina worker who ferried them across Lake Fontana.
“Unbeknownst to us,” Hart recounts, “Mr. Jenkins was a natural storyteller.”
“Quill Rose”, one of Jenkins’ stories begins, “lived well up Eagle Creek in a secluded spot…a great place to make illegal white liquor.”
The story then turns to Rose’s stature as a leader of nature and an expedition into the woods he made with a friend.
As was the custom, Quill and his companion sought accommodation in a cabin along the trail. That night, several young men staged a rough fight to intimidate the new guests.
“After the mock battle raged on for a few moments,” Hart records Jenkins saying, “Quill pulled out his long-barreled pistol and called out to his friend, ‘John…let’s kill those SOBs before they get hurt.’ “”The fighting stopped.
The remoteness of Eagle Creek is a matter of record. To get there, writes Jim Casada in his authoritative guide, “Fly-Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” you must hike heavy or hire a commercial shuttle service that operates out of the Fontana Marina.
Casada evokes an Eagle Creek father figure from a time before Quill Rose: Yonaguska, the Qualla Cherokee Chief. At Eagle Creek, Yonaguska had a confrontation that changed her life and gave her a new name: “Drowning Bear”.
The figure of Quill Rose returns for Casada, inevitably. Casada describes him as over 6 feet tall, weighing 250 pounds, with steel blue eyes. In 1913 Horace Kephart upheld Rose’s legacy in his now classic “Our Southern Highlanders”.
Quill, in Kephart’s offering, tells a story of bigger bears, issues a prophetic warning about “guns”, and disdains the practice of whiskey aging. Once, while Kephart was accompanying a detective on a manhunt in the Sugarlands (called “Blockaders Glory”), Kephart attempted to win a cabin owner’s hospitality by telling him stories of Quill. Pink.
“Quill Rose!” exclaimed the man. “Why, I saw a picture of him…in a book ‘borrowed from’ the Furrin women (who) came here and founded a settlement house….It was called ‘Our Southern Highlanders’ .”
Rob Neufeld wrote the local history feature, “Visiting Our Past,” for the Citizen Times until his death in 2019. This column was originally published on September 16, 2009.