snow in the Smoky Mountains
November 23, 2022

The first European settlers arrived in the Smoky Mountains during the late 1700s and they quickly learned how to live by hunting wildlife and producing crops. A typical life for an early settler in the Smokies included tasks such as farming with hand tools, hauling grain to the local mill, and raising cattle and sheep. While there were always challenges to face, the winter months were particularly harsh due to the cold temperatures and lack of farming activities! Despite these conditions, here are 3 ways that the early settlers spent winter in the Smoky Mountains:

1. Hunkered Down Inside Cabins

Cades Cove cabin in the winter

The early settlers in the Smokies lived inside log cabins, where they did their best to keep warm during the chilly months of winter. Due to the construction of these cabins, the cold wind could easily squeeze through the tracks or even down the chimney! The snow fell frequently in the mountains, so families were often forced to spend most of the day indoors. Since loneliness and boredom could quickly settle in, they would read their bibles, make quilts or sing ballads to pass the time. Some folks wrote ballads about local places or events, and these songs may have given birth to early bluegrass music!

2. Eating Food That Was Stockpiled for the Winter

Another way the early settlers spent winter in the Smoky Mountains was by eating food that had been carefully stockpiled for the season! While the menu may have lacked fresh produce, the settlers could eat quite well during the winter if there had been a good season of crops and livestock! Fortunately, apple trees were abundant in the Smokies during the time of the early settlers and were a major part of their local diet. The settlers also found ways to preserve the fruit to last well into the winter months. Other typical menu items in the winter might include cornbread, salted pork, chicken, potatoes, dried green beans, and chestnuts.

3. Keeping Busy with Schoolwork

Schoolhouse Gap Trail in the Smoky Mountains

The children went to school during the winter months since there was no extra help needed on the farm during that time. The school year lasted only about 2 to 4 months, as it was back to farm business as usual once the weather warmed up in the spring! The average child in the Smokies received only 3 to 5 years of education, which was just enough to read, write and do simple math. The school teacher taught all grades and often boarded with a local family in the community. The teacher would get paid $1.00 for each child but would receive crops in lieu of money from those families who could not afford the $1.00 fee.

While the winter season was tough for early settlers to the Smoky Mountains, it is now a special time of year to experience the unique beauty of the Smokies! You can hike the most popular trails without the crowds or even see a frozen waterfall – just check out all these things to do during winter in the Smoky Mountains!