A rosette and a mountaintop recall a Civil War murder
by Rob Neufeld
The road to Noland Gap in Haywood County ascends 800 feet in a mile and a half, leading to a crest where Ultima Junaluska Development of Atlanta has recently constructed the subdivision, Avalon at Junaluska Highlands.
Here, the realtors’ website entices, you can experience “what ‘sitting on top of the world’ really means.”
The landscape has changed. Now, at the entrance to the new community, Signature Row Boulevard forks from Valhalla Cove to travel via the greenery of Tapestry Trail to Sleepy Hollow Drive, formerly connected only by a ridge along Utah Mountain.
Same place, generations ago
In 1860, sitting on top of this world meant the families there could live and farm in peace, and, according to family lore, turn corn into liquor, which historically involved evading taxes imposed much more heavily on whiskey than on wine.
That year saw the completion of the Cataloochee Turnpike, built by Jonathan Valley farmers to move livestock from East Tennessee and the Cataloochee area to eastern markets.
The turnpike, Hattie Caldwell Davis notes in her book, “Cataloochee Valley,” was completed “just in time to be used by Teague’s Scouts” during the Civil War.
“Captain Albert Teague of the Home Guards and his Scouts had been active in raids on the Union sympathizers, especially in the Big Bend section…where it was mostly prounion in sentiment in at least ten or twelve families. Several of these were known as outliers.”
The myth of Unionist sentiment in Western North Carolina stems from changes in loyalty late in the war, due to conscription and the course of the war; attempts to get federal benefits during Reconstruction; and one erroneous, much-quoted source (“Knocking at the Door” by Alexander Hamilton Jones).
However, if there was one region where Unionism was strong, it was along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, a battleground for loyalty and east-west supply routes.
Cold Mountain fear
When, in 1862, the Confederacy enacted conscription, draft-dodgers hid in caves, supplied by their women. Teague’s men followed the women to the lairs and, in one famous incident, found and shot three men, “George and Henry Grooms and a simple-minded man named Mitchell Caldwell,” an article in the Fall 2007 issue of “Great Smoky Mountains Colloquy” stated.
Before being executed, Henry played “Bonaparte’s Retreat” on his fiddle. (Clark Medford said, in his 1961 “The Early History of Haywood County,” that it was Anderson Grooms, not Henry, who was present. Some accounts say the fiddler was the dim-witted one.)
The story made it into Charles Frazier’s novel, “Cold Mountain,” with the location moved, and the names Grooms and Caldwell changed to Stobrod and Prangle.
Remembeing the shot sheriff
Now, we are back at the entrance to Avalon, Jan. 24, 2013. Lynn Noland, a Haywood County attorney, has brought family members and local lawmen together to transfer a framed rosette to Bobby Suttles, the Sheriff of Haywood County.
Noland had received the rosette from Chuck Jenkins of Rockport, Washington, who revealed it had belonged to his great-grandfather, John Phillip Noland, Sheriff of Haywood County, who’d been murdered on September 22, 1862 when he’d followed JoAnn Robinson up what is now Breckenridge Road from the old county jail, where she’d been visiting her husband, Bud, arrested for draft evasion.
John Franklin, a Robinson neighbor, was the sheriff’s target.
“Sheriff Noland was attired in a black hat, long black frock coat, black trousers, a white shirt, and a black “string” or “bow tie,’” Lynn writes in his family history.
“On his left lapel he wore a crimson fabric ‘rosette’ as his badge of office. The original official sheriff’s badge had been donated for its metal in furtherance of the Confederate war effort.”
As JoAnn Robinson neared the crest of the ridge, she gave a pre-arranged signal to her kin, hiding in the laurels, Lynn relates, having heard the story from both Jenkins and Lourena Troutman, granddaughter of Phillip Noland, in 1982.
“The words from the old hymn, ‘How Firm a Foundation,’ floated through the clear mountain air…A heavy lead ball struck Philip Noland in the throat, knocking him from his horse. He died there in the high ridge gap that now bears his name.”
Guilty go free, and othe legacies
The county arrested James H. Franklin as one of the outliers who caused Noland’s death, and sentenced him to death in a week devoted entirely to capital offenses in mid-October, 1862. There is no record of the sentence being carried out.
Several Robinsons, including Bud and JoAnn, fled west. Some family members changed their name to Roberson to distinguish themselves from the assassins. In 1868, the Union Army dropped charges against the Unionist killers.
Noland family members continue to live in the Rogers Cove and Jonathan Creek areas.
Lindon Nichols, Philip’s great-grandson, worked for many years installing septic tanks and water lines for developers, sometimes having to park a bulldozer in front of his backhoe to avoid slipping downhill as he dug into the stony soil, which offered little dirt for fill.
A four-time-great-grandson of Philip Noland tells about his love for fishing and how now he is sometimes picked up by police for trespassing on streams he’d used to fish unbothered.
Lynn Noland relates how, in staging the ceremony on Noland Gap, he is fulfilling Jenkins' wish to honor the “memory of all Haywood County law enforcement officers who have given their lives in the line of duty.”
See a video of the pilgrimage and ceremony.
Family members and lawmen gather at the spot where Sheriff Philip Noland had been shot and killed in 1862. Lynn Noland is holding the framed rosette; Lindon Nichols holds a portrait of Philip; and Sheriff Suttles is to Nichols’ left.
Sheriff Philip Noland, photo courtesy Lynn Noland.